No one knows how to build another Chartres Cathedral. As time takes its toll on brick and mortar, and vandals and arsonists destroy, the wonders of Christendom slip away. We Catholic lovers of tradition stand by helplessly sounding forth the lament: “Jerusalem remembers in the days of her affliction and bitterness all the precious things that were hers from days of old” (Lam 1:7). It would seem that the restoration of beauty in art and culture is a cause now entirely lost.
Christ Who knows all things, knows that those faithful who seek the restoration of beauty do so not as aesthetes or antiquarians but as the bride who went about the streets in the dark of the night seeking Him Whom her soul loved (Song 3:1-2). The Bridegroom does not hide away from the bride forever. Even in his Lamentations, Jeremiah states, “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him” (Lam 3:25). Our tears are warranted, but we must now dry them and go about the business of tunneling through the barricade called Modernism that stands on the road to restoration. Truly, Christ has left a way for us; it just happens to be a very little one.
Countless souls have embraced the so-called Little Way of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux in the practice of moral virtue and advanced to sanctity as a result. The Saint describes her Little Way succinctly: “It is the little way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute self-surrender.” But just as the moral realm contains abundant potential acts of love like low-hanging fruits ready for harvest, so the material realm contains opportunities for small victories of beauty. All too often, well-meaning Catholics give up on the material realm entirely and, while living virtuous lives of great spiritual beauty, they allow material ugliness to pervade their homes, their attire, and their churches. This apathy towards the preservation and promotion of beauty in the material realm is against the will of God Who specifically placed man as steward of material Creation. Perhaps we can’t embroider vestments like the nuns of the Visitation or compose Masses like the monks who produced the Kyriale, but we can lovingly care for altar linens and do our best to learn the art of Gregorian chant. Likewise, we can’t build a Gothic cathedral, but we can at least make our homes places of beauty. In the quest for restoration, we must become spiritual children humbly content with the small works of children, never too tired to cheerfully do our best and never dreaming of giving up the fight.