Begging at the Beautiful Gate

As I write this reflection, we are still basking in the afterglow of the Resurrection. The Church in this Easter octave rejoices in the temple of the Lord’s own body, raised up and made glorious for us to behold.

But this temple is not yet seen by all. The rising of Jesus has not kept some from still falling into doubt. Some continue to ask for proof. Some, also, lie just outside this glorious portal to Life incapable of entering in without our help, our words, our witness. Like the crippled man in one of my favorite Easter octave readings.

In 1 Acts 3:1-10, we find a man longing to enter the temple. He is a man who has been set aside by his culture as useless, hopeless, even cursed by God. He is a veritable spokesperson for the cult of the ugly and the rejected. Every day he is “carried and placed at the gate of the temple called ‘the Beautiful Gate’… to beg for alms from the people…” But he can never enter in.

It strikes me that this man represents much of our present culture. In this post-modern, post-Christian era, stripped of the transcendent meaning of the human person, ignorant of the power and purpose and high destiny of every human life, fed with lies about the true image of the Church and what She proclaims, many are either seen as cogs in the machine of a utilitarian culture, or we are simply ignored and abandoned if they cannot contribute to the success of that machine.

They are the “hollow men” of T.S. Eliot’s poem:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
Shape without form, shade without color…

Aristotle, however, once wrote that “nature abhors a vacuum.” In other words, when we attempt to eradicate the sense of the sacred or the beautiful as essential to our humanity and grasp at only what seems useful or functional, we ache to fill that hole in our hearts with something. Anything. But the pop culture’s kitsch can never quench this infinite thirst. The consumerist mentality eventually consumes us all. And yet all the while this “Beautiful Gate” looms above our heads. Beckoning…

Herbert McCabe once wrote “Into the great temple of truth, the church of God, there are two gates: the gate of wisdom and the gate of beauty… The Catholic Church has these portals ever open. She welcomes from time to time a few philosophers and thinkers who crucify themselves by thought but she welcomes unceasingly the countless numbers who come for Her color, for Her song, for Her smile as they go afield for the warmth and light of the spring sun…”

To return to our friend lying in the shadow of the “Beautiful Gate”… It is at the very hour of mercy, “the three o’clock hour of prayer” that we see Peter and John going up to the temple area. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”

In the very midst of this cult of the ugly, the Beautiful beckons. Easter joy sings in all humility, “Look at us!” See what great things the Lord has done! Even if this fallen culture of use and abuse should darken the sky of hope, we still hold the imago dei in each of us. Deep within our person, inscribed in our humanity. The cult of the ugly cannot crush it! St. John Paul II once cried out to those living in the shadow of a culture of death, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.”

Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong. He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God. 

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” – C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

In his exhortation, Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis wrote, “Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.” (EG, 15)

Our world sits begging at this Beautiful Gate. Our fellow, fallen away Catholics sit begging at this Beautiful Gate, even though they may know it not. Have we forgotten what power lies within? Let’s rise and walk! Let’s enter in and follow that ache in us all to be filled with Easter joy! Let joy be “the net of love that catches souls” in the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. – Psalm 24:9

Beautiful Gate
Gustave Doré Peter and John at the Beautiful Gate

Bill Donaghy

Bill Donaghy has spoken internationally on faith and the New Evangelization since 1999. Through his work with the Pontifical Mission Societies, Bill gave hundreds of talks on the spirituality of mission to young people throughout the greater Philadelphia area and beyond, creating a teaching and speaking ministry known as MissionMoment.org. He holds an Associates Degree in Visual Arts, a Bachelors in Philosophy and a Masters in Systematic Theology. In addition to his full-time work for the Theology of the Body Institute, Bill teaches at Immaculata University. He and his wife, Rebecca, live outside of Philadelphia, PA with their four children.

 

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