Talking with some parishioners after mass yesterday, I learned about several “Screens on the Green” – outdoor film initiatives here in DC (for more info, check out this LINK). What really excited me was not the possibility of strolling over to Lincoln Park to see Casino Royale (July 16)… No what really enthralled me about this young couple was their excitement about going to see the film together… and with a touch of elegance. They were planning out their picnic, looking forward to selecting some meats, cheeses and maybe even a little vino to compliment the evening. It reminded me of a line from Hello Dolly, “We’ve got elegance. If you aint’ got elegance, you can never hope to carry it off.”
Elegance has very little to do with living in a ritzy manner, per se. It’s more about acting on our best impulses. The concept goes back to the Greek understanding of beauty, “kalon.” For the Athenians, the beauty of nature was characterized by kalon or “elegant order.” So when human beings live elegantly, it means that we bring a certain degree of purposeful order to bear upon a given activity. Put another way – as St. Thomas Aquinas might say – “virtue is in the action… the living-out of the idea.”
These two young adults, planning their movie-night were so excited to DO something about their love for each other… their commitment became manifest in a plan that they are actually going to carry out and live… and that dear friends, is very elegant. It’s not so much about whether you’re buying a bottle of wine or a six-pack of diet coke… It’s about carrying out our desires to live as the best version of ourselves.
If we take our meditation a step (maybe a small leap) farther, we find that this concept of the elegant even touches on the sacraments. Christ left us things to do and to do beautifully as the most clear living-out of his life among us. Thats why parishes where sacraments are well celebrated are so much more satisfying than places where they are not… because the community sees itself doing something about realizing its highest aspirations. Just as a girl might reasonably question a boy, “If you love me so much why didn’t you bring me flowers? Why didn’t you do something about it?” Christ will ask us, “Did you care for my little ones? [c.f. Mt 25] Did you celebrate the sacraments I left you when I said, ‘Do this in memory of me.’? And did you do it in a slipshod or an elegant manner?” [c.f. Mk 14:15] …just something to consider.