I have reached that age where I prefer to listen to people talking on the radio as opposed to singing. Since my musical tastes and preferences are varied and frankly, a little weird, I could never find a radio station that beats musically to the same drummer as I do. But that is what Spotify is for anyway.

Most of my driving to and fro is now done to the dulcet tones of sports talk radio. When the topic covers a sport I do not have much interest in, I switch to a nationally syndicated Catholic station. 

I was making my Saturday pilgrimage to a home improvement store, listening to the weekend priest/host of this station, when something caught my ear.

The priest was reading a letter from a listener who was concerned that the Church spends too much money on unimportant things and not enough money on the poor. It is a common complaint that I have heard many times. My snarky response usually goes something like, when you’ve been around 2,000 years and have a billion adherents, you do wind up collecting stuff. 

My personal snark aside, the priest gave a much better answer: It is all about beauty.

The priest respectfully disagreed with the letter-writer that a church should look beautiful for a number of very good reasons. First, it is a sacred space, the only space on planet Earth where bread and wine become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord and Savior. That fact alone should make us all want to be cathedral builders.

But the priest had another important reason. He recounted a parish of his that had a large soup kitchen operation and a church that was in shambles. There was rotting plywood where stained-glass windows should have been, and doors that were askew on tired hinges. He made it a No. 1 priority to change that, while at the same time increasing the services provided by the soup kitchen. His defense for spending money on a church building in a very poor parish was that beauty is a proof of God, and it does not matter whether rich or poor, true beauty is sought by seeking souls.

As the priest so eloquently explained, beauty is like another proof of God: love. Like love, we cannot feel or taste beauty, but understand it perfectly when we see it. And when he talked about beauty, he was clear that he was not talking about a popular culture, like People magazine’s “Most Beautiful People in the World” kind of measuring stick. He used the simple example of a sunset. Every sunset is just the sum of its meteorological parts, a series of atomic-level groupings imprisoned by scientific formula and laws. Yet, it inspires and touches our souls, just as the beauty of the Notre Dame Cathedral or the works of DaVinci, in a very democratic way.

As fate, or divine intervention, would have it, a few days later I was indulging a guilty pleasure: the PBS series “Antiques Roadshow.” For the uninitiated, it is a show where people bring family heirlooms or garage-sale finds to antique experts to evaluate. It is part family history, cultural history, and game show, as sometimes there is true excitement, like when the $2 vase from the neighborhood thrift shop turns out to be a product of the Newcomb College Pottery school, made by one of their artisans in 1901, and worth enough to send a kid to college.  

On this particular rerun episode someone came to the roadshow with a pencil sketch by the late neo-impressionist primitive artist Jean-Michel Basquait. I realize there is a big element of subjectivity in all art, but the work presented looked to me like it was drawn by a 3-year-old in a hurry. But the appraiser on the show could not say enough about it and placed a value of $400,000. I would not be making any friends in the rarified air of modern art salons, but I would not give 400 cents for that drawing. 

I thought of the priest on the radio and his take on beauty, and the need we all have, rich or poor alike, to see it and appreciate it as a gift from God to us. I counted my blessings that I did not have enough money to buy the Antiques Roadshow drawing, and that sunsets, snow-capped mountains, and the cooing of a newborn baby come free of charge.