St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
The last seven days will be remembered by many. As well as political changes in the UK the Dublin, there has also been the horrific fire in London. In the midst of so much violence and uncertainty are we idiots launching an International Flower Festival? In a town marked by tragedies over the years, is this the best we can do with our time and talents?
Firstly, the floral displays that we will see over these next days are works of beauty. And our scripture readings are just some of the many that exalt beauty. Beauty and religion have always been intertwined. As Richard Dawkins pointed out recently, you cannot understand so much of English literature – and I would add, other literatures and art – without a knowledge of religion which has been the inspiration for so much beauty over the centuries. As Keats wrote "a thing of beauty is a joy forever, (for) its loveliness increases." Beauty seeks to speak a language that talks to the heart and not just to use words that address the head.
And beauty is not just an optional extra in human and divine wisdom. We live in a world functional superficiality is often preferred to the time-consuming creation of beautiful things. And if we do not believe in the possibility of beauty in the created world, we will very soon fail to believe that there is any beauty in human beings or in their relationships. A throw-away culture demeans rather than enhances us as human beings. As the famous Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar put it, We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. It takes courage and faith to believe in beauty and to champion it in a world of much transience and superficiality. There was a time when those who created things of beauty became celebrities. We risk descending into an assumption that the only beauty is in being a celebrity. Today you celebrate the human capacity for the beautiful and, in an often harsh world that nourishes the heart. Our hearts desperately need the nourishment of beauty and people who dare to believe in it.
Secondly, beauty is not merely an aesthetic experience, nice to have but ultimately a luxury for the few who can afford it. Von Balthasar puts it as follows.
Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.
Beauty is an attribute of the divine. Psalm 84 puts it this way, how lovely is your dwelling place, Lord God of Hosts. Truth, beauty and goodness are intimately linked in the revelation of God. When you seek to create beauty, you seek the truth, even when it is uncomfortable. Goodness, truth and beauty liberate us from the despairing trap of expecting nothing but evil, lies and ugliness. And that offers the healing that Jesus offers. He was people to be able to retell their story and see beauty in it, even if they are only little nuggets in a hard, cold rock. Some management literature speaks of 'spiritual intelligence'. That is not the ability to say prayers. It is the ability to take the rubble of our past and make it into a foundation on which to build the future, rather than just leaving it as a mass of rocks on which to gash ourselves or to throw at others in anger. It means the ability to turn the detritus of the past into compost rather than just leaving it unprocessed to smell in the corners of our lives. Beautiful things help us to develop eyes that see where others don't, to dream, to hope and to love. Beauty stretches our hearts. The beauty of flowers and of floral arrangements can open the door to healing and to the divine. God can seduce us through the beautiful into seeking the one who is the way, the truth and the life.
Thirdly, we remember our dead today. After all, if night is darkest just before the dawn, flowers are at their most beautiful just as they prepare to fade. But in divine eyes, - to misquote Gray's Elegy – no flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air. And we are more beautiful and precious than all the beauty of nature. If that is how God clothes the grass in the field which is there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, will he not much more look after you? All human life is beautiful, all human life is precious, all human life is sacred. We spit in the face of beauty if we judge that some life is worthless and can be used in my service. Christian faith tells us that we are of eternal beauty and value, no matter at what age we die. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and will be raised up in glory on the last day. The beauty in flowers invites us to see the beauty in every human – and to know that no-one's life is wasted or irrelevant before God. We belong to a Church in which everyone is a 'first-born child' and a citizen of heaven. The flowers invite us not just to believe in the beauty of God but in the beauty of each human being. Because of the beauty of divine love, the hard wood of the Cross became the plant on which the beauty of Resurrection grew.
It is wonderful that we have so many creative spirits here this weekend. Thank you for the ministry of beauty that you carry out. I hope many will come to see these displays and enjoy them. But I hope many of the visitors will be enabled to see something of the beauty of God and of the beauty in themselves. And then, as these flowers fade and die, they will have left being seeds of hope that new blossoms will come again in the quiet soil of our hearts. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, it loveliness increases.
15th June 2017
St Mary's Oratory, Buncrana
 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/06/11/richard-dawkins-religious-education-crucial-british-schoolchildren/?WT.mc_id=tmg_share_fb  Keats, J., Endymion