For the last two weeks my family and I have been driving across the country visiting family, friends, and making a brief stop for my husband’s work. By the time we get home, we will have gone through thirteen states within these United States. Each state with its own unique character, landscape, and beauty. The crown jewel for me is the state of my childhood: Montana. I now live across the country, but my family still lives in Montana.
Each time we visit Montana, I take my husband and daughter to my favorite mountain spots. My husband has taken up fly-fishing and my daughter fishes when she can catch something. I tend to hike or sit alongside the mountain streams. There is a line from Norman Maclean’s short story, turned movie, A River Runs Through It in which he says: “I am haunted by waters.” I am too.
This quote came to mind as I sat on a familiar boulder near a stream in my favorite mountain range. I closed my eyes and listened to the rushing water. It’s a sound that seems much clearer to me in higher elevations. It’s a sound that penetrates deep within my soul. A reminder that we are called in Christ to living water and that the Spirit hovers over the waters.
The climax of our trip was a drive along the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, which is located near Livingston on the way to Yellowstone National Park. It was a brisk day when my husband and I drove through one of the most beautiful places in the country. It’s mid-spring, but snow fell in the higher elevations as the sun shone in the valley. You can feel the rain and the snow in the wind in Montana in ways I’ve never experienced anywhere else I’ve lived.
I sat by the river, taking in the glorious sight as my husband fished. The mountains rose like cathedrals to the heavens, giving glory to God. As I meditated on this spectacular sight, I was once more reminded that our culture and the Church is starved for wonder and beauty. We are too busy to see and hear God in our surroundings. We have been given His Real Presence, but we no longer believe in a truly meaningful and transformative way. There is no greater sense of the loss of transcendence in the Church than the lack of belief in the Real Presence.
This lack of faith is evidenced by the fact that we no longer seek to build beautiful buildings to house His Real Presence and to give glory to Him. Instead, we have stripped all sense of wonder and beauty from our worship and from our daily lives. Everything is viewed as a utility. We no longer seek to raise our eyes to heaven. We want to raise them to ourselves. It’s too often about us or the world.
So often, we lack supernatural faith and we can no longer see the invisible the way previous generations could. We mock those generations as superstitious or ignorant. I think they knew much more than we do these days. We cannot see the workings of God’s action in our lives, while they would see God in everything. Even as Catholics, too many of us have become functional materialists and question whether God’s providence is at work throughout the day.
I see this in my interactions with my brothers and sisters in Christ, whether laity or priests. When I mention that God is clearly acting in a certain way or sending signs to help someone along the way, I am often met with incredulity, doubt, and even indifference. We no longer see connections to the people we meet, the gifts we are given by God, and the signs He gives to guide us towards His will and our eternal home. On multiple occasions I’ve pointed out that God often works through anniversaries, numbers, saints, people, dates, and the liturgical calendar only to be met with unbelief.
This doubt makes sense given the lack of transcendence in our daily lives. Without this connection to beauty, goodness, and truth, we become cut off from our center and we fall into spiritual blindness. We can no longer see how God is guiding us and we begin to walk the path on our own and in our own way. That is where so much of the Church finds herself today.
Western culture, with its fast pace and constant task-oriented focus, has led us to abandon the things that draw us out of the mire towards God. We find ourselves firmly planted here on earth when we are made to soar towards God. The Rockies are a signpost to where our eyes are to be fixed: upwards towards our Creator. We spend all of our days looking down at our phones and computers. We go to churches that have been stripped of beauty and replaced with a lifeless beige, so our souls become heavy and we reduce discipleship to tasks and utility. Mass is one more thing to check off of our list.
This is no way to live. Intimacy with God is not primarily found in tasks. It is found through prayer, adoration, and transcendent beauty. The Christian disciple is meant to be free. We are supposed to be witnesses to the things beyond this world. How can we be those witnesses if we are chained to the things of this world, devoid of beauty and wonder, and lacking in supernatural faith?
Beauty leads us beyond ourselves. Wonder leads us to the shores of the mystery of Our Triune God. If we live without wonder, beauty, and deep faith then we will never move outside of ourselves. We cannot become saints if our eyes are always cast downward towards the earth. If we never wonder at God’s goodness and beauty, how can we fall in love with a God of utility? That is to love a false idol, and it is why we are increasingly irrelevant to our culture.
There is not a single saint who lived without supernatural faith. The saints could see reality better than anyone else. They could see the invisible because they lived in the Holy Spirit who showed them the interconnectedness of all things. They knew that God was at work in the smallest of details and connections. They followed him when others sought the things of this world, safety, comfort, and doubt. They praised God for the tiniest of flowers and the grandeur of the highest mountain peaks.
The crisis of faith gripping the Church can only be overcome through a return to wonder, beauty, and supernatural faith. The starting place for this return is in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. True wonder is learned through adoring Him in the consecrated host. It is in adoration that we learn how to see as He sees, love as He loves, forgive as He forgives, and to live a life of wonder. The answer to our crisis of faith is in the tabernacles of our churches.
The God who made the Rockies is the God who dwells in the consecrated host waiting for each one of us. We are renewed when we adore Him. We are strengthened when we rest in His peace. Our souls become attuned to beauty through adoration. We also give praise to God on a mountain hike or while casting a fly rod. We honor Him when we build beautiful places of worship to house His Real Presence, but we are transformed in His beauty when we spend time adoring Him in the Holy Eucharist.
All the beautiful places I have been in my life cannot compare to the beauty of His Real Presence. We are starving for Him. The beige buildings, lack of wonder, constant doubt, and crisis of faith are because we no longer turn to Him with our whole hearts. We only want to give Him a little of ourselves. We don’t want to surrender everything because we know it will cost us everything. This is a universal problem in the Church in the West that plagues the laity and the priesthood.
The crisis of faith can only be answered through a return to wonder, beauty, and above all else adoration of Our Lord’s Real Presence. The beauty that surrounds us on a daily basis is meant to be a healing balm for our tired souls, but it always points us to the Source of everything. It is in the consecrated host that we find the beauty, wonder, joy, peace, and faith we seek.