Building Lives of Beauty

I recently travelled to South America as one of the millions of pilgrims who celebrated World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. I went with no particular agenda, save that at some point on my journey God would give me something to inspire me on my Christian walk.

The universal nature of the Catholic Church really struck home during those weeks. From the massive celebrations of the Eucharist on Copacabana Beach, to the tiny classroom in one of the shanty towns of Lima, I saw so clearly how we are all journeying to the same God. He spans time, place, and culture. The hospitality of the Peruvians, the awesome natural landscapes of Argentina, and the undeniable passion of the Brazilians we encountered all struck me deeply. However, it was not until our final day in South America that I found what I was looking for.

The nature of the pilgrimage was that we saw a lot of different sights, both religious and non-religious alike. We were always on the move, and even when we weren't moving about, our time was often spent communally with our group. I longed to just have an extended moment to consider all I had encountered, and so on our final day in Rio I found a quiet church hidden in the streets of the city with a few friends, and we spent an hour individually praying to fully receive the graces of our pilgrimage. Someone told me that I simply must check out the side chapel, because it was absolutely beautiful. I obliged, and went into the side chapel to pray. I was struck not just with that room, but with images from all the churches I had seen in South America. It WAS beautiful. They were truly magnificent. I was struck by the skill required for the intricacies, the expense that must have been born to afford such fine materials, and the extended time that must have been devoted to building such houses of worship. So much had gone into creating these places to encounter and house Christ.

In my heart, I felt a desire well up within me. Should not the external only be a mere expression of our internal realities? Surely such extravagance in physical buildings should not outdo the place we build for Christ in our hearts. I imagined the work that must go into creating physical buildings, and was convicted that these temporary places, and temporary things, should not have more of my time or my energy than the eternal dwelling within. I really wanted to give whatever I could to create a place within where He could dwell; to creating a life that served as a place of worship that is always welcoming others into worship and drawing them into the mystery of God.

I was saddened momentarily, for I could think of nothing at all I could offer that would be worthy of building such a place for God. I was reminded of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, and then of the woman who gave all she had at the temple. Of course! It was not so much the quantity of what I had to give, but rather the spirit that I gave it in. I realised that all I could give to Jesus to build a life where He could be present and worshipped was everything I had- the joys and sorrows of my life. He is able to use what we give, transforming it into beauty that we could never conceive of our own imagination. In truth, this is the offering of the Eucharist. When we unite our joys and sufferings to His offering, they are transformed in a beautiful way. Each little brick we build with our lives is a brick as long as we hold onto it. But if we give every brick that comes of our hurt, our good works, our joys and sorrows over to the Great Architect, He will help us to build lives of worship. When we dedicate everything we are to Him, we are giving Him permission to let His Spirit work in our lives to create a place for Him to dwell.

Building a cathedral takes many years. Our lives are not a moment but a continuous journey of creating and offering. Every time I see a beautiful church now, I let it become to me what it is supposed to be- a place to be led to Christ, to encounter Him, and to worship Him. As I let this notion fill me, I pray that each little building block of my life may go towards creating something of the same in a non-physical sense. Every hurt, every smile, every tiny death to self, in His hands they have the power to create beauty beyond even the most magnificent of the world's basilicas.