One of the simplest ways for persons to examine their lives is to ask this question: in what ways have you introduced someone to something truly good, beautiful, or true?
To be human is to receive much that is transmitted from one generation to the next, whether it is the love of God, the love of family, the Christian faith, or a love of life. To be blessed is to receive also knowledge of favorite pastimes, games, crafts, hobbies, books, and sports.
The enjoyment of music and dance, the games of chess and cards, the pleasure of art, the delight of cooking, the beauty of calligraphy, and the craft of woodworking all require an introduction.
To be blessed is to receive these introductions to good things and genuine sources of joy from someone who shared a hobby, knowledge, or a great love for outdoor adventures that they joyfully communicated to others. To be rich is to have many introductions to the sources of lasting happiness.
As C.S. Lewis remarked, not to have experienced and tasted certain quintessential human pleasures like swimming in the ocean or tasting wine or reading the great books is not to have lived.
But one does not randomly learn or discover these treasures of human enrichment: he needs an introduction or invitation.
A Simple Invitation
An act of introduction assumes the nature of a simple invitation. “Would you like to join our reading group that meets once a month to discuss one of the classics?”
“Why don’t you join our devoted group of retirees who walk daily for exercise?”
“Why don’t you come to a Catholic Mass with us since you have many questions about the faith and a great admiration for the moral teachings of the Church?”
“Have you ever tried square-dancing? Come and we’ll show you how much fun it is!”
All human beings welcome invitations as expressions of good will, friendship, and kindness. All things good, whether great or small, are intended to be shared or communicated, whether it is an invitation to a dinner, the recommendation of a book, or an offer to go on a tour with friends.
All human beings by nature are designed not only to receive but also to give—to enjoy invitations and learn from the introductions of others but also to reciprocate with similar gestures of affability and thoughtfulness.
A cheerful introduction and gracious invitation can open a whole world to another person who simply needed someone to lead him to the place and open the door. So many happy marriages have followed from introductions of friends to friends.
So many minds have acquired a passion for learning and a keen interest in a subject from the reading of a good book or a favorite author recommended by an acquaintance. So many consciences have been awakened in the midst of conversations and exchanges between people in social situations where men and women share their wisdom.
So many persons have been introduced to the holy, the sacred, and the transcendent because of exposure to beauty—Gregorian chant, the art of Leonardo da Vinci, the music of Bach, or the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Sometimes even a casual reference to some masterpiece of art like Dante’s Paradiso or Shakespeare’s King Lear can pique an interest, or mention of some sight of natural beauty like Assisi in Italy or Cape Cod can engage a person’s mind to explore it.
Welcoming into Rich Worlds
These introductions represent the continuing education of all persons who need others to welcome them into the rich worlds or full joys they received for them to share and pass down to others.
As Blessed Cardinal Newman writes in The Idea of a University, when a person discovers another unknown dimension of reality,
“He will perhaps be borne forward, and find for a time he has lost his bearings. He has made a certain progress, and he has a consciousness of mental enlargement; he does not stand where he did, he has a new center, and a range of thoughts to which he was before a stranger.”
To introduce others to the good, the beautiful, and the true, then, expands the consciousness and increases the sources of happiness. Newman compares this experience of mental enlightenment to an Englishman who has lived in a quiet village all his life entering a large city in a foreign country or to a person looking through a telescope for the first time dizzy “in a flood of ideas” or to a prisoner suddenly discovering his freedom.
Happiness depends on this sense of growth, enlargement, and stimulation that new interests awaken, and “We seem to have new faculties, or a new exercise for our faculties, by this addition to our knowledge.”
These introductions and invitations also create civilization and culture which depend upon the transmission of the traditions, stories, songs, pastimes, ideals, and manners of the past from an older generation to the young. From grandparents to parents to children these introductions create a way of life and a clear sense of the normal, the natural, and the moral. The best of the past persists because it is true, it works, it makes sense, and it never ceases to enrich human life.
What if family Bibles, family history, old recipes, ethnic ways, and proverbial sayings were not received or handed down?
What if schools did not teach the classics or introduce the next generation to what Matthew Arnold called “the best that has been thought and said?”
What if families did not pass on their Christian faith to their children?
When these attractive, inviting introductions to the highest things never take place, another kind of education follows that does not lead to the true, the good, and the beautiful but to the tawdry, the banal, and the superficial.
Perpetuate the Best of the Past
Newman explains how nature abhors a vacuum and how the unfilled voids in a person’s mental life soon have other occupants: “If you drop any science out of the circle of knowledge, you cannot keep its place vacant for it; that science is forgotten; the other sciences close up, or, in other words, they exceed their proper bounds, and intrude where they have no right.”
Not to introduce, instill, and perpetuate the best of the past is invite invasion from rivals and enemies who will fill the space and teach strange doctrines instead of traditional wisdom, Siren songs instead of classical music, multicultural literature instead of classics, and worship of false gods instead of God the Father.
Every person who has received a treasure or heirloom of the past must not hide his light it under a bushel but share the gift by teaching it, handing it down, introducing it, and inviting others to taste and see its goodness.
One mother teaches her daughters and sons how to bake bread.
One father teaches his sons and daughters how to swim or coaches their soccer or baseball teams.
One grandmother teaches granddaughters how to sew or crochet or the songs she learned in her childhood.
One grandfather tells the story of his whole life from its simple beginnings to its final chapters. One teacher teaches the good and great books—even Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Dante—to several generations of students.
One priest preaches the truth in its integrity and sublimity, no matter whether it is in season or out of season, rather than tickling the ears of listeners by telling them what they want to hear.
One family shares its love of children and gifts of friendship and hospitality with other families to affirm the goodness of God’s teachings about generosity with life, love of neighbor, and love of God.
These are not mere gestures of good will but doors that can open to worlds of enlargement that multiply human happiness, transmit the best of the past, and pass on the riches of the tried and true to the next generation so that civilization persists by handing down the highest standards of manners, morals, and education in the most human and personal of ways.