Our world is an ugly place. Disease, cancer, war, hunger, greed, murder, abuse, and countless other appalling things have existed throughout human history. Because of the original sin of Adam and Eve, humanity fell out of communion with God. Thankfully, God had a plan. A redemptive plan of salvation. Through the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, God provided a pathway for us to return to Him. Two thousand years later, not much has changed with humanity. Human nature is always the same. Self-centered. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Catholic Church as a harbor and teacher of truth.
Baptized Christians are called to a life of grace. This is best lived out by participation in the Sacraments. Life on earth is temporary. Our true home is Heaven. St. Therese of Liseux said it best, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home.” Nothing is wrong with admiring the beauty this world has to offer. It only becomes an issue when the good of the created world is preferred to the good of God.
Beauty and Goodness
According to Bishop Robert Barron, “Begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which leads you to the truth.” His quote always intrigues me. Think of the things you consider to be beautiful. Things that immediately come to mind are the beauty of a sunset, a smile, or the kindness of a stranger. Those are truly beautiful things or actions. Beauty always points us to the good.
Saint Pope John Paul II described the relationship between goodness and beauty in this way, “beauty is the visible form of the good” (Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists, 1999, no. 3). Throughout Church history, holy art in the form of icons, sculptures, and architecture has reminded Christians (and the world) of the Good News of Jesus Christ. In this article, I will provide three reasons why sacred art is desperately needed to help us recover a sense of beauty in an ugly world.
Inspiration Not Mere Entertainment
A major difference between modern art and sacred art is their purpose. The former seeks to entertain whereas the latter aims at a higher purpose—inspiration of the heart, mind, and soul. In his 1999 Letter to Artists, John Paul II describes the motivation of artists as, “they must labor without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves. There is therefore an ethic, even a ‘spirituality’ of artistic service, which contributes in its way to the life and renewal of a people” (no. 4). Holy art seeks to serve others and the Other—(God). Gazing at those holy individuals will help inspire you to lead a holier and virtuous life.
Drawing us into the Paschal Mystery
A second reason sacred art is needed to help this fallen world is because it draws us into the life of Jesus. “Thanks also to the help of artists ‘the knowledge of God can be better revealed, and the preaching of the Gospel can become clearer to the human mind’”, declared St. John Paul II (Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists, 1999, no. 11). Sacred art largely consists of scenes from the Gospels. Entering any Catholic cathedral or basilica causes an immediate reaction of wonder and awe. We gaze at the glorious murals, statues, and music that exist.
In college, I went on a trip to Europe. My favorite part was visiting the glorious cathedrals in Rome and France. I experienced the tangibility of the Gospels during those church tours. The marble statues of Christ and the Apostles transported me into the New Testament. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the primary subject matter of sacred art is Jesus, Mary, the saints, and scenes from the Gospel (CCC 2502). Sacred art helps draw our minds deeper into the Mysteries of our Faith.
Navigates the Soul Toward Heaven
Along with inspiring and drawing us closer to the Good News of the Gospel, sacred art helps to remind us that our ultimate destination is not here on earth, but in Heaven with God. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his August 31st, 2011 General Audience, “Art is able to manifest and make visible the human need to surpass the visible, it expresses the thirst and the quest for the infinite.” Holy art acts as a doorway to the supernatural.
Sacred art is not the end, but rather a vehicle to help us pray. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1192 teaches, “Sacred images in our churches and homes are intended to awaken and nourish our faith in the mystery of Christ. Through the icon of Christ and his works of salvation, it is he whom we adore. Through sacred images of the holy Mother of God, of the angels and of the saints, we venerate the persons represented.”
The statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in my dining room reminds me of her closeness to her Son Jesus. Gazing at images of saints also help guide me closer to Christ and ponder the reality of Heaven—full love and communion with God!
Sacred art is vital to a renewal of the increasing de-Christianization of nations and cultures around the world. Bring back beauty into an ugly world by owning holy art in your home and workplace. Be an advocate for change and promote the Gospel while adding beauty to your surroundings.
Visit Holyart.com for high quality and original Catholic artwork for your home, parish, or business.
G.K. Chesterton stated in Christmas and Salesmanship, “Gratitude, being nearly the greatest of human duties, is also nearly the most difficult.” As a father I know all too well how difficult it is sometimes for my children to express gratitude to me. On the other hand, as a husband I struggle to tell my wife how thankful for all that she does. Not only do I need to improve on my attitude of gratitude within my marriage, I need to focus on having a thankful mindset in my spiritual life and relationship with God. In celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, I came on my top ten reasons for why I am thankful for Catholicism!
Eucharist: The Bread of Life Discourse in John 6 has Jesus preaching the most profound truth in the history of the universe. Jesus said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). The Catechism of the Catechism Church calls the Eucharist the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). Every Sunday I experience the miracle of being able to receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ!
Holy Trinity: God is love. Love entails relationship. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the Mystery that God is a Communion of Three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am grateful for the revelation of this truth. I am able to ponder the depth of its truth without it growing stale, it always remains fresh and profound!
Incarnation: The most solemn moment of the Nicene Creed occurs when we profess: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” At this point, we bow to recognize the amazing fact that God became a mere human. St. Athanasius had this to say about the Incarnation, “God became man that man might become God” (On the Incarnation). I am thankful that God sent his only Son-Jesus Christ—to become a bridge for humanity to access God.
Confession: I have experienced real, tangible, and concrete healing when I receive God’s healing grace’s in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through frequent reception of Penance, I have been able to overcome sins that dominated me in my youth. I have also been able to recognize sins that hid in the background previously. As a result, Confession provides me with graces to root out sinful tendencies and to grow in holiness.
Divine Mercy: While I experience Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, I want to treat this topic as a separate point. I used to view God as a wrathful Judge. My scrupulosity leads to a judgmental mentality—that I struggle with still today. However, through the intercession of the Divine Mercy saints of the 20th century such as St. Maria Faustina, John Paul II, Maximilian Koble, and Mother Teresa my awareness that God is a Merciful and Just Judge has increased!
Mary: My relationship with our Blessed Mother has improved over this past year. In celebration of the centenary anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima, my wife and I consecrated ourselves to Jesus through St. Louis de Montfort stated, “[Mary] is the safest, easiest, shortest and most perfect way of approaching Jesus and will surrender themselves to her, body and soul, without reserve in order to belong entirely to Jesus” (True Devotion to Mary). I learned that Mary is the greatest witness and advocate for God. Her desire is to lead ll her children to Jesus Christ.
Saints: Along with Mary, the saints in Heaven provide a model for me to follow to help me grow in holiness. Reading about the lives of my favorite saints [St. Athanasius, John Paul II, St. Amelia, St. Bernadette, St. Pius IX, St. Maria Faustina, and St. Maximilian Koble—to name a few] helps provide concrete examples of what holiness looks like and how I am able to emulate their trust in God in my own life.
Hope: I am thankful for the hope that the Catholic Church teaches and provides me daily. Attending Sunday Mass, going to Eucharistic Adoration, meeting with my monthly Catholic men’s group, and teaching Religious Education at my parish are ways that I receive [and pass on] hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1843, “By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it.”
Sacred Tradition: I am a history buff. In fact, I earned my undergraduate degree in history. The Catholic Church is a storehouse and guardian of 2,000+ years of history and tradition. While lesser important traditions pass away and give way to more appropriate devotional practices that fits the needs of the faithful, Jesus Christ knew that stability and consistency of truth is essential in mankind’s relationship with God. The Catechism tells us in paragraph number 96-97, “What Christ entrusted to the apostles, they in turn handed on by their preaching and writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to all generations, until Christ returns in glory. ‘Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God’ (DV 10) in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.” I am thankful that Jesus instituted the priesthood and office of the papacy to have truth passed on through the ages.
Beauty: The final fact about Catholicism in my top ten list that I am grateful for is the beauty I experience. Catholic cathedrals and basilicas are places where I have experienced beauty in an ineffable way. During the celebration of the Liturgy, I experience the beauty of God in both song and sight. The icons in my local church allow my prayers to be better united to God. I am pointed toward higher realities when I meditate with the aid of sacred song and holy images.
Lord, we thank you for the goodness of our people and for the spirit of justice that fills this nation. We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the land and the challenge of the cities.
We thank you for our work and our rest, for one another, and for our homes. We thank you, Lord: accept our thanksgiving on this day. We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.