A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Beauty of Pope’s Message Lost

by John Waters

Last year Benedict XVI visited Spain, and during a weekend in Barcelona consecrated as a basilica the spectacular Sagrada Familia designed more than a century ago by the great architectural genius Antoni Gaudi.

There was a fantastic story to be related here about the extraordinary life and vision of Gaudi, and of what the Pope called the immense catechesis of the basilica. For the most part, however the media reports told us nothing of this.

The persistent theme of reporting this event was ‘Pope denounces gay marriage and abortion in Spain.’ These issues were presented as examples of the ‘aggressive secularism’ purportedly denounced by the Pope at the Consecration Mass.

I have studied the texts of the two homilies delivered by the pope in the Sagrada Familia last Sunday and can find nowhere the terms ‘abortion’ and ‘gay marriage’. In fact Pope Benedict’s reference to ‘aggressive secularism’ was made on his flight from Rome in response to questions from journalists; and he was not denouncing secularism but speaking of the possibility of a relationship between secularism and faith.

Pope Benedict at the Sagrada Familia

Appropriately, given the venue, the pope spoke of the importance of the family. “Only when love and faithfulness are present can true freedom come to birth and endure. For this reason the church advocates adequate economic and social means so that women may find in the home and at work their full development, that men and women who contract marriage and form a family receive decisive support from the state, that life of children may be defended as sacred and inviolable from the moment of their conception, that the reality of birth be given due respect and receive juridical, social and legislative support.

“For this reason the church resists every form of denial of human life and gives its support to everything that would promote the natural order of the sphere of the institution of the family”.

To describe the above as a denunciation of any kind is fatuous. In fact he was speaking about nothing but the blindingly obvious: that humanity is generated out of the sexual relationships between men and women.
Anyone reading such headlines wherever Pope Benedict goes could be forgiven for thinking him obsessed by abortion and homosexuality. But to follow what the pope says and writes is to know that what he is obsessed by is beauty, which he described in Barcelona as “ one of mankind’s greatest needs” He spoke of the Sagrada Familia standing “as a visible sign of the invisible God…to the One who is Light, Height and Beauty itself”.

Beauty, he said, reveals God because, “like Him, a work of beauty is pure gratuity; it calls us to freedom and draws us away from selfishness”

But beauty is a quality all but unknown to modern journalism which appears to have offered itself as the agent of an unprecedented cultural blackmail. Increasingly it seems that, for as long as any faction remains disgruntled with any element of religion, and for as long as religious leaders hold to the tenets of their faiths, the media will decline to report the actual content of religious events, and will instead insist on placing the dissenters and their disgruntlements at the centre of the story.

John Waters is an Irish-born journalist, author and playwright. www.johnwaters.ie

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