So today I got to thinking (have you missed that hook? Because I sure have!) that the movie Beauty and the Beast can be used as a perfect metaphor for why I find it so difficult to defend the faith sometimes. Just to be clear this is not an admission to shortcomings in Catholic doctrine- quite the opposite in fact. I find the truth of the Gospel and the rich mysteries of the church so compelling, in such perfect harmony with natural law and what I’ve experienced to be true, that it breaks my heart when others don’t see it too. I guess I should explain that a lot of my debates have been with the well-informed, well-educated, and extremely skeptical (bordering on the cynical and apathetic for some- but not all). They are extremely comfortable in the realm of what can be proven and submit to human authorities like doctors (either of medicine or in the realm of academia), scientists, philosophers, public figures/celebrities and the like. And this path can only get you so far. Herein lies our metaphor for Beauty and the Beast. (I’ll bet you’re really curious now but bear with me I’ll explain in full.)
In Beauty and the Beast the prince and all the other servants of his castle are plunged into a spell when he fails to be kind to an elderly woman seeking his help. (Let’s compare this loosely to the fall of mankind from our spots in Heaven into our earthly exile as punishment for our own sin.) So with our first comparison in place, it’s time for another. In today’s modern age something weird is happening. As our culture becomes more and more wealthy, materialistic, and atheistic we are encouraged to live our curse (if you will) to the fullest, instead of dreaming about the day when we will be free of that curse- which is always the day (if you know your fairy tales) when you fall in love, when you get what your heart desires most of all, above all other things. So what this means for debate is that when I come from my perspective of freedom and restoration or, to continue our metaphor, being “human again” I’m met with arguments of how great it is being a chair or a table. How living in the enchanted castle is pretty sweet (at least it’s rent free!) and having the beast for a master is not so bad. It’s a denial that will ultimately keep them from the thing their heart wants most of all, simply to have the freedom to love and be loved in turn.
To drop the metaphor now, an atheist can tell me that this life is all there is and accuse me that my belief in God is just my way to shield myself and deny the cold realities of life. An agnostic can tell me that they are “spiritual” and like the light, generalized feelings of love, but that the deep, ritualistic and sacrificial love of religion is not worth pursuing. A cynic can tell me in exasperation that I’m neither smart nor discerning and that I believe a pack of lies. A hurting soul or a person with a bad experience of the church can simply let their actions speak and walk away. A person trapped in sin can simply never come at all, believing the lie that they are unworthy of love in the first place. And all I can ask any of them at that point is that they look past the tables and chairs and try, for just a moment, to believe with the heart of a child. To embark on the greatest adventure of all, what I think should be the very definition of life in the dictionary: the process of learning how to love. A difficult, arduous, exciting, romantic, and ultimately worthwhile pursuit because, whether we are willing to admit it or not, whether we have discovered it yet or not, the path of love always leads us to the thing our heart desires the most, above all other things: God.
Hefty, but true. Because when we really try to walk down that path, begging through prayer for the graces to do what we cannot do ourselves, that enchanting transformation begins to occur. Our eyes begin to see, our ears begin to hear, and our hearts begin to soften, and eventually overflow with love. And the further you walk down this path the more you get to experience the greatest gift of joy and freedom possible while still in exile: the opportunity to share everything you have discovered on the path with your neighbors. This is the simple truth of the gospel, the moral of the greatest story ever told.