Friday, March 2, 2007


The poor of the world need more than the crude fundamentals of food and shelter, they also need beauty.” This is not the exact quote as I could not find the reference this morning, but it does explain why I will never apologize for the Church commissioning works of art. (Okay, I take that back, there are a few works of art for which I apologize, but at least they tried.)

“The One, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful: they come together and they go together. When all is said and done, we will be saved by the Beautiful (and) one of the things we are in danger of losing today is the Beautiful.” (Fr. Benedict Groeshel giving a retreat for priests.)

Having this in mind the Church has always been a Patroness of the Arts. Yet today, in the most affluent society ever to exist in all of history, we relegate our purchases of “art” to mass-produced pieces ordered from catalogues. Now, like being able to find a McDonald’s hamburger in any city or hamlet in the world, you can find a Catholic Church with the exact same crucifix as the one in your hometown. This, in turn, means artists do not find a market for nor hone their skills on religious art. The chain effect is that it then becomes more and more difficult to commission works of art from artisans who understand Christian symbolism and the difference between art for art's sake and liturgical art.

Find a way to be part of the cure. There are many ways in which this might be done depending on your resources and level of influence (of which you have more than you realize.) Seminarians from the seminary of the Diocese of Cleveland have a “John Paul II Night of the Arts” each year in which they celebrate prayer and art. Poetry, music, improvisational comedy, artwork, photography, and the theatrical arts are presented for the community.

Occasionally money is donated to a parish for a “work of art.” When this happened at my last parish we decided to ditch the catalogues and hire a local artist to create a piece for us that would be unique to the parish. We had the parish crest made in stained glass for the school. And for my Aunt’s eightieth birthday my cousin had a piece commissioned from the same company as her gift (see below).

Find ways in which you can support the work of artist. Clevelanders will have a unique opportunity to do so on March 25th. The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus will be performing Rachmaninoff’s “All-Night Vigil (Vespers – all of it) at Severance Hall (a great opportunity for Lenten reflection) to raise money for the Chorus.

Even if you have no monetary resources, go to that concert in the park and take young ones with you so that they can learn what it is to enjoy the arts. When they grow older they will appreciate art and be promoters of it. Rob, who visits Adam’s Ale from time to time has a website on which he posts his short stories. The first one is a heart-wrenching story of what happens when the Theology of the Body is forgotten or ignored and persons sexually use each other as a means to an end. (WARNING: SEXUAL CONTENT) But venues such as this allow you to give encouragement to artists in our midst.

Here are just a few more suggestions of ways in which Catholics can promote the arts in general:
* Become a member of a local arts organization. It does not have to be great. Even the local community theater forms budding artists and trains youth how to attend the theater.
* Attend live performances.
* Donate to worthy arts organizations.
* Promote the use of primary source artists in your home, school, business, parish, and community.
* As much as possible, influence arts toward the promotion of the dignity of the human person and the glory of God.
* Develop your artistic skills.
* When possible, employ live musicians in lieu if recorded music.
* When purchasing souvenirs, look for original or hand-made works of art or arts and crafts. (Why go to Italy and bring something home made in China?)
* Consider sponsoring a performance or art show in your home, community, or parish.
* Try to purchase recordings or pieces directly from the artist when possible.
* Consider donating to a scholarship for artists.
* When enjoying a street or park performance, donate as well as you can when the plate is passed.


Rob said...

For a long time, when I was growing up and doing my wanna-be socialist act in college, I thought the Church should tear down those old cathedrals ("built by slaves," I muttered grimly. It's fun being grim when you're twenty) and replace them with modest places of gathering ("just like Jesus wanted," I would assert).

Then, I realized that people wanted to worship God, not simply give him a place to live. Poor people didn't want to go from their poor homes to an equally poor church, indistinguishable from any other building. They wanted to pool their resources and see some majesty.

Of course, this doesn't reflect poorly on those places where this kind of outpouring isn't possible or hasn't happened. I just think we should avoid the kind of thinking I did as a younger man, when I would purposely go to mass in tattered clothes (and, on one occasion, barefoot!), thinking that I was somehow in "truer communion" with the apostles, who were poor.

But the apostles weren't "playing poor" like I was. They were giving all they had to God. It just wasn't much in the way of material goods. So why is it wrong for a richer people, like ourselves, to give a great deal of money to the Church? Or to pay for grand cathedrals and great religious art?

Rob said...

Oh, and thanks for mentioning my story, Father. I hope it doesn't offend anyone. I have a tendency to write about the morally compromised, without meaning to glorify but rather criticize certain lifestyles.

Fr. V said...

Thanks Rob,

I think the more sensitive one becomes about the power and beauty of sex married to the teaching of TOTB, that story just becomes more and more heart wrenching. There are a lot of powerful lessons that can be learned from it.

uncle jim said...

I truly believe we are charged to seek after those things - one of my favorite self-reminders comes from St Paul in Phil 4:8

Fr. V said...

"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

Thanks Uncle Jim.