An explosion of light, which God’s word brought forth from nothing, rent asunder the first night, the night of Creation.—Pope St. John Paul II, Homily, Easter Vigil, 2002.
In the beginning, there was light. Yet neither the creation account in Genesis 1, 3 nor the Big Bang theory proposed by physicist (and Catholic priest) Georges Lemaître fully accounts for this light. Rather, God Himself is the light – not merely lumen, but brilliance, claritas – that was in the beginning and before all beginnings.
For St. Thomas Aquinas, claritas is one of the four characters of risen glory, attributable to the overflow of the soul’s glory into the body. Yet God has destined the whole of creation for glory: The goal of worship and the goal of creation as a whole are one and the same—divinization, a world of freedom and love, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy.
In and through Christ, we live in a redeemed world. This redemption, though completed in Christ, is by no means complete among us – not in the Church, nor in us as humans, nor in the created order. St. Paul calls upon the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8, 21), the Church (Eph. 4, 13) and the individual believer (Col. 1, 24) to complete this work on Earth. The work of redemption – and even more the work of glory – is ours as well, as we seek to unfold the Eucharistic potential of the created world of which St. John Paul II wrote.
We live in a critical time for this work. Day by day, technology is bringing the other three characters of glory – impassibilitas, subtilitas, agilitas – within reach. Virtually indestructible synthetic substances, probing the sun, nanotechnology, remote surgery, 3D printing – all these technologies and more have reordered the limits of matter, mastery and motion. The face of the earth is already being renewed… yet we do not always see ourselves renewed, nor do we see the earth cherished and loved. Indeed, we see our planet and ourselves in grave danger, danger in which technology has had no small part.
Something is missing; the light is missing. Redemption and glory will cover the earth only when we recognize matter and the material world as sacred, as holy. Neither scientific materialism nor a wholly spiritualized religiosity will save us; the physical world is in no way so dead or so neutralized as to submit to such reductions. We need a telos, a goal, greater than ourselves – and that telos must motivate us to care for the least, both among our brothers and sisters and throughout the whole creation.
St. Augustine writes that nothing can be loved, save that which is known. Through exhaustive research, intensive communication and powerful analytics, GoodLands is guiding the Church toward a deeper geospatial self-understanding, the better to serve her mission of service and care for creation. Through GIS technology, which has transformed maps from static Cartesian planes into dynamic tools for spatial analysis, GoodLands offers the Church a mapping of her place in the temporal world – her holdings, her material potentialities – more exhaustive that any she has known in two millennia. This empowers the Church to pursue ecological preservation, public health and social justice; to foster the beauty of creation, support for life in all its forms, and appropriate honor to God through care for creation, all of which will require just and prudent management of the lands under her control and protection.
In addition to being an essential character of glory, claritas is one of the three characters of beauty. Art is always co-creation, always involves receiving and transforming being. The beauty of art reaching to meet the beauty of nature in a spirit of docility, reverence and protective care redounds a brilliance which no technique can lend, which witnesses to future glory. Through the ARISE Project, ecologically and spiritually aware artists in the Catholic tradition turn to focus this beauty upon the needs of the land.
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI expressed the aspiration to consecrate the world so that it may become a living host, a liturgy. We believe as Catholics that the Eucharist is glorified matter here and now, is glory in our midst. With specific reference to claritas and to letting this claritas overflow as art and as sanctification, Sacred Beauty seeks through relationship to Jesus in the Eucharist to go on ahead, to foster and anticipate the glorification of creation as flowing outward from the altar, like the water which flowed out toward the right side of the temple in Ezekiel 47, which empties into the polluted waters of the sea to freshen them.
And this is glory: to see claritas, to see diffused throughout creation the brilliance in which creation began. No human power can generate such light – yet all our human works have brought us to this point. This time and these opportunities have brought us all together. Bearing this light forward to the whole created order will be a work of many hands and of many gifts, but before all and above all, it will be a work of grace. For the light does not belong to us, but we to it – to Him. In the words of the Easter Vigil, the Church’s ultimate celebration of glory: Lumen Christi. Deo gratias.