Evangelization will be carried out by bringing beauty to Catholic culture and liturgy, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln told a group of scholars and pastors gathered for an interdisciplinary conference. “The work you’re doing is essential to the formation of Christian culture. The Church needs you … the work of evangelization is too important,” he said Oct. 2 at the 2014 conference of The Society for Catholic Liturgy, held at St. Mary's Cathedral in Colorado Springs. “The ugliness of secularism demands that we proclaim the 'via pulchritudinis' [way of beauty] in the cathedrals and chapels and parish churches across the country,” he said. The Oct. 2-4 conference included the celebration of Mass, in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms, and of Vespers with Bishop Conley and with Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs. It was among the best-attended annual conferences The Society for Catholic Liturgy has held, according to one of the group's board members. Bishop Conley delivered the keynote address at the conference. He called The Society for Catholic Liturgy “a true sign of hope” for the renewal of liturgy. The bishop noted that the lead-up to the Synod for Families, being held in Rome Oct. 5-19, has been “strange,” noting the discouragement brought on by some “to discard basic components of sacramental theology because of the difficulties they represent” and said he has “been baffled” by some bishops' conferences which “seem to have equivocated on doctrinal issues: cohabitation, contraception, and divorce in the face of increased secularization.” “It seems that in some of the corners of the Church, the universal call to holiness — to greatness and to virtue — is being drowned out by a tide of mediocrity and secularism.” It is in this context of secularization that the importance of beauty and liturgy is so essential to evangelization, Bishop Conley continued. “Beautiful liturgy glorifies God, and awakens a natural human desire for beauty. Music and art and architecture draw men to the transcendent, and to the mystery of the beautiful Trinity.” He asked those present to “imagine the transformation of our Church — of culture, in fact — if beautiful liturgy awakened Catholic souls to wonder, to conversion. Imagine the consequences of beautiful liturgy awakening souls to Jesus Christ.” The bishop then suggested three principles essential to promoting beauty in the liturgy: gratitude, charity, and steadfast commitment. Regarding gratitude, he referred to the situation of Christians in Syria and Iraq who are singled out, brutalized, and executed merely for going to Mass. We in the U.S., he said, “are obliged to gratitude for our freedom to celebrate the Mass,” noting that we “have the freedom to go to Mass every day, without threat to life or limb, without fear of reprisal, without even inconvenience, really, Not one of us has been called to martyrdom, yet.” Bishop Conley said that the way of beauty cannot be proposed without charity. Those who have been well-formed in liturgy “are stewards of a great mystery, but we must be stewards of humility, as well,” he said. “We are called, above all else, to charity … charity means that we bring souls into deeper communion with Christ and his Church in humility, patience and generosity, without condemnation or disrespect.” Turning to the steadfast commitment to evangelization, he noted the importance of patience, and pointed to the example of Pope Francis. “Each of us is called to evangelize along the 'via pulchritudinis' in the places that need it most: in the ordinary parishes and dioceses and seminaries of this country,” Bishop Conley said. “Most people will know the Mass through their experiences at their local parish. These are places where transformation of the sacred liturgy can bear tremendous fruit. They are also the places where change might be most incremental — where we might work for years to introduce even occasional use of chant or polyphony, or where reintroducing the use of Latin might be a challenge. These are places where the Society for a Catholic Liturgy can have a real and profound impact.” He added, “I am convinced that the kind of incremental change that brings liturgy to everyday places will bring more souls to Christ.” Bishop Conley continued, noting that Pope Francis, as a spiritual son of St. Ignatius of Loyola, has a “demonstrated reverence” for the Church's liturgical worship. In Latin America, the bishop reported, common liturgical events included the invitation of entire communities to “concelebrate” Masses, the attempted consecration of sweet potatoes, and liberation theologians singing socialist anthems. “This is the context in which Jorge Bergoglio became the auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, and then archbishop six years later,” Bishop Conley stated. “To combat those abuses, Bergoglio spent time with the priests of his diocese, and … he restored a semblance of order to the liturgical life of the archdiocese. In fact, he restored a semblance of order to a presbyterate that had, for the most part, lost its identity.” “The Holy Father worked seriously to restore the dignity of sacred liturgy — to ensure that the faithful had the opportunity to attend valid, licit, and reverent liturgies. Archbishop Bergoglio's efforts exemplified patience, charity, and steadfastness, Bishop Conley maintained: “We can learn from the charity of Pope Francis. We can learn from his choices. And we can be encouraged by his leadership.” Concluding, Bishop Conley asked that “in the midst of interesting times, may our hearts be fixed on the cross, which stands as the world turns.”
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