All of us have people in our lives that we want to help grow and change. We may want to help our spouse overcome a struggle or be more helpful. We may want to guide our children to be more polite and responsible. Or we may want to encourage our parents to take better care of their health. For me, as a priest, I’m passionate about bringing people to Jesus and helping them grow.
But sometimes we make a critical mistake: we give people advice in a bad way. We talk to them in a frustrated tone, or complain, nag, and whine about their defects. Do we ever shout when we’re trying to correct someone? When we help people like this, it’s not very persuasive.
Today, Jesus reminds us of a fundamental truth that we all take for granted but that is so fruitful in helping us to help the people we love. In the Gospel, Jesus is transfigured: “The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Lk 9:29). Pope Francis comments on this, saying, “Jesus is revealed to the three disciples as transfigured, luminescent and most beautiful… His face is so resplendent and his robes so white that Peter… wishes to stay there.”
The truth that Jesus is reminding us of is that beauty leads us to God. E.g. When we see a beautiful sunset, this makes us think of God. When we’re in a beautiful environment, we’re ‘uplifted.’ When we meet a virtuous person, he or she points to God. Jesus is beautiful, beauty moves the soul, and Jesus is calling us to make everything beautiful, because beauty is persuasive.
Last May I gave the homily on why getting drunk is a sin. I knew it would make many of us uncomfortable. I could have told you, “The Bible says getting drunk is a sin and those who do it and don’t repent are going to hell.” That would have been a lot of fun but also completely ineffective. So I tried to explain how drunkenness is harmful for the body, how it takes away our free will and ability to love, and how it lacks virtue. Explaining the reasons is a beautiful way of speaking, and it’s persuasive. So, when we’re trying to help the people we love, do we give them good reasons?
Dr. Ray Guarendi, a family psychologist, says, “The harder the words for another to hear, the softer the tone needed to get them across” (Marriage: Small Steps, Big Rewards, 26). So, if we’re going to give people difficult advice or point out where they need to improve, we should soften our tone. We could, for example, say very gently and with a calm voice, “You were driving kind of fast, weren’t you?” Or, “Can I talk to you about something, please? You know, it really hurts when you show up late for dinner.” Or, “Watching pornography is bad for you, and it hurts me and the family.”
I loved the style of Fr. Lucien Larre, who was here last Sunday. He gave crystal-clear doctrine with gentleness. When he told us not to go to Communion with a mortal sin on our soul, we could see on his face that he wasn’t angry, but was concerned.
When it comes to helping our young children, because they tend not to listen to reason, instead of shouting or adding extra filler like, “I’m warning you!” “I mean it!” or “Now!” we could calmly say, “If you swear, you’re losing your phone,” or “If you skip your chores, you have to do an extra one.” Calmly stating what’s expected with a clear consequence if it’s broken is a beautiful thing!
God is calling us to make everything we are and everything we do beautiful, because people are drawn to beauty! So, when we’re with other people and speak to them, let’s smile, because not only does smiling make us look more attractive (so say some studies) it also beautifies a conversation. Let’s also dress beautifully. We feel great when we wear beautiful clothes. They need not be expensive, but should be comfortable, modest and look smart. Dressing well shows that we respect ourselves and respect the people we’re with. And let’s clean our homes. My maternal grandmother, who never owned a home her entire life, but worked hard with very little, said, “You can be poor, but tidy.” A beautiful home helps us relax and be at peace.
The renovated confessional was designed to uplift us, as if we’re going home, but, because it’s our Father’s home, it’s elevated. This past Tuesday the grade 2s went to Reconciliation for the first time. And one of the girls afterwards said to her mother, “When can we go again?” (Why doesn’t everyone say that?) The experience was so beautiful that she wants to be there another time. Her younger sibling then said, “I want to go too. Why can’t I go?” Fr. Larre pointed out well that, when he was a child in Saskatchewan, the confessional at his church was a dingy sin bin. Our old confessional was the same: with an exposed light, ugly walls, a small uncomfortable kneeler, and it smelled. Children, when they’re in any environment, are too young to articulate why they like or don’t like it, but have an instinctual response to beauty. If they don’t see beauty, they don’t want to be there. That’s why it’s a good thing, for ourselves and in a particular way for our children, that we continue to beautify ourselves, our church, and our parish on the inside and out.
Bishop Robert Barron says that, if the Church is to be fruitful in showing people the genius of Catholicism, then we have to lead with beauty. Many people in our culture are not interested in truth because they don’t believe in truth and don’t want to be told what’s true. They’re not interested in goodness because they don’t want to change the way they live. But they’re still attracted to beauty. When a homily is beautiful, people listen. When a church sings beautiful music and executes it at a very high level, when our churches are clean, when people at church are more friendly and joyful than anywhere else, this wins people over! That’s why we’re going to work on learning each other’s names again in March.
Look at it this way. When I heard Fur Elise by Beethoven at age nine, that’s when I wanted to learn to play the piano. The beauty of it inspired me. Whenever I see a Jackie Chan movie, I want to train! His moves are so awesome that I want to do Wushu again. When I see Roger Federer hit the tennis ball effortlessly and with perfection, I’m inspired to play tennis. When I met an amazing priest, that’s when I first thought about being a priest. When people see the beauty of Catholicism, they’ll want to join.
The old altar servers’ surplices had rips, were stained, and didn’t fit, and that’s one reason why they were often left on the floor in the sacristy. They looked so bad that no one would wear them in public and even thrift stores wouldn’t take them. (But they’re good enough for God’s sacred liturgy?) We ordered the new ones from Rome and Poland. The young men have bought them themselves so that they learn responsibility, they learn to take care of their uniform, and they learn a good life lesson that generally you get what you pay for. They’re now dressed like a team, their ‘jerseys’ fit and match, and we’re showing that Mass deserves more than our basketball, soccer or hockey team.
People know beauty when they see it. The most beautiful thing is a beautiful person, on the inside, a person who is principled, virtuous, thoughtful, and kind. That interior beauty should be matched by the way we carry ourselves, how we dress, our smile, our homes, our churches and our liturgies. The people we love will listen to us when we speak beautifully, by giving reasons and by our tone of voice. Beauty is persuasive, it leads to God.