The words of the title are especially relevant for our times, and can hardly be overstated. When it comes down to it, beauty is often regarded as superfluous to our daily existence, despite the lip service it is paid. Our decisions and actions over and over again reveal our empty homage as we lay our offerings upon the altars of productivity, efficiency, comfort, and profitability. This is both a cause and an effect of a world where we have more of everything except time, particularly time for the things that really matter. Frankly, it is usually what really matters that requires the most time of us, both to appreciate and to cultivate. And the truth is that we surround ourselves with aesthetic distractions and false beauties precisely because we are afraid of real Beauty. As TS Eliot once profoundly observed, humans can bear very little of reality, and perhaps modern humans can bear it the least. Beauty, truly perceived and experienced, is an arrow which pierces the transcendent depths of our souls with a wound that never closes, and most would rather avoid this wound altogether then attend to the (divine) reality which it discloses. As von Balthasar pointedly remarks in the introduction to his Theological Aesthetics, whoever denigrates Beauty will find that he can no longer pray, and soon will no longer be able to love. The inability to do either is everywhere evidenced in our modern world – perhaps nowhere more painfully so than in the very places where it should be most present, such as our Christian culture, if we have the humble self-awareness to see it, let alone admit it.
And so, from the “scenic” way home to a classic art exhibit, from a well set meal to the smells and bells of a High Mass, this is a call to give Beauty its due, at every level of our existence, not just the rare moments where it can be “afforded”, because in the end, it is our time spent with Beauty that cultivates beauty within us—it is by contact with the beautiful that we ourselves become, however slowly and falteringly, transformed into its radiance.