U.25 — CCC 1699-1729
In this podcast, Emily and Edmund discuss the challenges and strategies for presenting the Church’s teachings on morality effectively to a modern audience, and the significance of approaching catechesis and…Watch
What role does ‘beauty’ play for our catechesis in the modern world? Emily and Edmund welcome Dr. Jem Sullivan, an expert in catechesis and sacred art, and professor at the Catholic University of America. Together they explore how beauty is a path for catechesis, including architecture, sacred music, paintings, sculptures, mosaic, and stained glass.
(00:04) Edmund and Emily welcome you to this episode of Real+True’s podcast. They introduce the topic of this podcast, “Catechism and beauty, especially in art.” Emily welcomes this podcast’s guest, Dr. Jem Sullivan who serves as associate professor of practice in Catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America. Dr. Sullivan is the author of four books on catechetical themes: A Study Guide to the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults; The Beauty of Faith: Christian Art and the New Evangelization; Opening the Door of Faith: A Study Guide for Catechists and the New Evangelization; and Believe, Celebrate, Live, Pray: A Weekly Walk with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
(04:22) Dr. Sullivan explains that beauty is not a “luxury for elite few or sidebar to the liturgy but architecture, sacred music, paintings, sculptures, mosaic, stained glass” is central to our Catholic faith.
(13:27) “Beauty speaks the language of the incarnation.” Our hosts and guest discuss the role of beauty in evangelization, pulling on wisdom from St. John Paul II, G.K. Chesterton and Pope Francis. They highlight how beauty breaks down barriers and is a “pre-sacrament” and a “path for catechesis.” Edmund makes this point that catechesis is an opportunity for souls to fall in love with Jesus.
(23:40) A story from Pope Benedict XVI: The only really effective argument for Christianity: the saints the Church has produced and Catholic art. They discuss the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the power of the image on the tilma, and how God communicates himself through the miracle on the tilma.
(28:20) Where can a catechist turn to learn more about art? Dr. Sullivan shared that art is for everyone, not just art expects– but the tradition of sacred art is grounded in the belief that art is for every person. Dr. Sullivan mentions looking for local art in your diocese’s cathedral. Emily asks Edmund, “why do you believe we need beauty?” The podcast ends with practical tips for living out a love for sacred art and making it part of your life.
Edmund: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Real and True Podcast. I’m your host Edmund Mitchell.
Emily: And I am your co-host, Emily Mentock
Edmund: And on The Real+True Podcast, we’re gonna be exploring the mission of Real+True. We’re gonna be unlocking the Catechism for the modern world, and we also want to help equip you with ways to use the Catechism in evangelization and catechesis. So we’ll be interviewing experts and we’ll be sharing a bit of the behind the scenes of the process of helping people unlock the Catechism for the modern world.
Emily: And the topic of today’s episode is catechesis and beauty, especially in art.
Edmund: Yeah. So beauty was mentioned only in a single footnote in the Catechetical Directory of 1997. So the Catechetical Directory is a document the Church puts out that mainly deals with the method of catechesis. And in 1997, there’s only one footnote. However, with the recent publication of the new Catechetical Directory in 2020, it’s noted as one of the essential criteria for catechesis. So this is in the Directory, paragraph 175, and he even says it’s a source of catechesis in paragraph 109. Yet I feel, and, and I think many people experience this, a few catechists, um, give beauty, its due place in catechesis. And we can learn from this, even if we’re not a formal catechist, if we’re walking with others closer to Jesus and helping others get closer to Jesus, we can use beauty, as a tool in evangelization and catechesis.
Emily: And we’re really excited today to invite into this conversation, someone who knows way more about it even than we do, Dr. Jem Sullivan. So let me tell you a little bit about her. Dr. Jem Sullivan is an associate professor of Practice and Catechetics at the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, in Washington D.C. and she teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in the history and theory of catechetics. So that’s really her catechesis, um, expertise. She teaches it to others now, she’s forming catechists currently in her work. Um, she was also appointed to serve as a member of the International Council for Catechesis under the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization in Rome, which is new now, the Dicastery for Evangelization. Also her research and publications focus on liturgical catechesis and the place of beauty and the arts in catechesis and evangelization.
She is the author of four books on catechetical themes, uh, which we will get for you in the show notes. And also she is the host of a podcast called Echoing Faith Today that engages discussion on contemporary themes in catechesis, in evangelization, in the Directory for Catechesis. So Jem shared with us before the interview, how she’s so passionate about the Directories, you know, so for how to sort of how to catechize, um, but also she has this passion, um, for art and beauty, and we were just so honored to talk with her in our conversation today. So why don’t we, we dive into sort of the start of our conversation. I think that for, um, catechists and just Catholics all over the world, you know, we’ve heard a lot about leading with beauty over the past 10 years, especially. This has been in a lot of conversations about evangelization in the modern world, and it’s definitely true.
But I feel like leading with beauty or the place of beauty in our evangelization, in, in our catechesis is one of those things where you start to hear it so much that it loses like its true meaning, you know, it’s almost like it becomes a little bit of a cliche, not, not in a bad way, but we hear it so much that I think it’s important to sort of pause and go back and say, Well, what does that mean? What, what does this, what role does this effectively play in our catechesis and evangelization today?
Edmund: Yeah. I remember sitting with a group of people who were tasked with revitalizing the catechesis at their parish. And it was this committee that had met for six months. And when I came in, I asked everyone, you know, what is catechesis? And they went around the room and everyone gave a different definition. And, and they saw that after six months, all of them were not on the same page about what catechesis was. So it’s so important for us to define these terms that we use so much, like evangelization and beauty. So we wanted to hear from gem as a professor who knows this stuff, to kind of give us that definition of beauty for catechists or those involved in evangelization. And to give us an idea of, of, of what it actually is.
Dr. Jem Sullivan: The Catechism tells us that beauty is the visible form of truth and goodness. It also says that the search for truth, goodness, and beauty is written by God on each human heart. God has created us for more than just the facts of this world, of all the creatures created in this vast universe. God has made us human beings with the capacity to create and to appreciate experience beauty in all around us. So for instance, the beauty of a sunrise, the fall leaves, everything’s changing colors. Now, the ocean waves, the beauty of each human person made in the image and likeness of God, or the beauty of works of art that awaken and call us out of ourselves to stand in awe before God, who is the Divine Artist. Right? Uh, beauty opens the door of faith. So we begin to see the world with the eyes of faith and praise God for the greatest gift of his son, Jesus, the Word made flesh. So in the Catholic tradition, you know, beauty is not just a luxury for elite few. It’s not a sidebar to the liturgy, uh, the art, architecture, sacred music, painting, sculpture, mosaic, stain, glass, all of this is central essential to our transformation in the sacramental presence of Jesus.
Edmund: I think it’s so good what Jim said, that beauty is not a luxury for the elite. This is something that’s necessary, right? It’s, it’s a right that we have to see our faith as beautiful. And even some of the most beautiful spaces in our churches, they’re, they’re set up for public worship. They’re set up for the public to come in and experience the beauty of the Church.
Emily: Yeah, exactly. But of course, you know, the flip side of that, um, and I think we’ve seen this played out, you know, in art throughout the ages and maybe even a little bit in, in beauty of art throughout the Church too, is that if beauty is for everyone, then the question people start asking, well then can what is beautiful be determined by anyone? Um, and so we asked Jem to clarify a little bit more then about how the Church talks about our experience of beauty. And so finding that balance between our personal experience and also that like inherent beauty or that transcendental beauty, and here’s what she had to say about that.
Dr. Jem Sullivan: I’m gonna just kind of a little detour back to the 12th century, if I may. St. Thomas Aquinas gives us a really interesting kind of perspective on this. You know, first he gives us sort of a definition that’s almost like, what is that? Right? He says, Beauty is that which when seen pleases. So that’s pretty much like what we can experience in our everyday life. You see a beautiful sunset, you walk down the street, the fall leaves are changing. It’s just, it pleases our eyes, our senses. Um, so in that sense, that’s kind of a definition of beauty, right? Beauty is that which then when seen pleases, but then St. Thomas Aquinas will go a little step further and say, But here’s some qualities of being of beauty that really belong to the beautiful thing itself. So it’s not just me and my subjective saying, Well, this is beautiful or not, but there’s something in reality itself.
And so what are those qualities? And Thomas Aquinas will say, first of all, it’s harmony, proportion of the, what we’re looking at. Secondly, it’s has a certain unity. It’s not fragmented, it’s not broken down. And 30 he says, is clarity. There’s a certain radiance. So you look at a beautiful sunset, uh, look at a beautiful painting. Something’s radiating from that reality, uh, that is, that is in fact pleasing to you. So I think those, those elements really kind of speak to our experience of beauty every day, right? We experience that which is beautiful, whether it’s in works of art, in nature, uh, in the beauty, the dignity of each human person made in the image and likeness of God. All of these are ways in which we experience beauty in the, in the world around us. And all of those elements help us to see something about truth and goodness in the world.
Edmund: So, Emily, what are some ways that you experience beauty?
Emily: Oh, that’s such a great question. You know, I’m definitely a big nature lover. I experienced beauty like obviously I think the way everybody does, like sunrise, sunset, rainbows. But also just in sort of like the, the awe and grandeur of it. Um, like we had a foggy day here in Detroit the other day, and it was weird. It was beautiful in its own unique way, just even like that, that sort of thing in nature. Um, but also I experience beauty a lot in music. Um, I don’t wanna come across like, I’m disagreeing with what Jem just told us as how the Catechism defines beauty as the visible sign. Um, but I have to say that a little bit, I think of it as, as like a sensible sign, something that is perceived by the senses besides just your eyes. Um, so for example, I was in Mass today and, um, the choir at Mass was performing this really beautiful song.
Um, obviously I couldn’t see the song, um, but I definitely was moved like emotionally and spiritually. And I felt like the song, the beauty of the song, and the beauty of the words and the melody and um, all of those things like were moving my heart to Jesus, uh, for how beautiful they were as well, was an encounter with God as beauty, but also that was accompanied by looking up. We have in our parish this big beautiful mosaic of, um, Christ the Good shepherd over the altar. And, um, so it wasn’t even just listening to the music, but also reflecting in my heart, like with that beautiful mosaic as well. So it is of course the, the visible. But yeah, I would say it comes from, from all different sorts of things, cuz we have a good, beautiful world that God created.
Edmund: Yeah. And I think a lot of people experience beauty in so many different ways. There’s so many, you know, nature and music and art, and I mean, the, the role of art in catechesis is so huge. And I think we often, sometimes we miss this, in my experience working with catechists or teachers or evangelists, sometimes we miss it. Often it’s not our fault. It’s just that there’s been an over emphasis on, on intellectualism or on the intellect, right? And human persons are, we could say that the faith is about the hand, the head and the heart, right? There’s the intellect, the will, and then there’s the heart, right? The Catechism, um, describes the heart as the innermost being where I am, where I make this place of, um, encounter with the Lord. And Pop Benedict said that Christianity is not the result of a, of a lofty choice or an ethical idea, but it’s an encounter with a person.
And so often in Catechesis, we just, sometimes we present the faith just like an intellectual, um, endeavor. Like, here is this idea in the same way I could be a Republican or, or I could, I could be a flat earth or not, or I could be, you know, there’s all these different intellectual ideas and let me just, you know, give you some reasons you should believe this intellectual idea. But no, um, catechesis is about an encounter with Jesus Christ. So that means there’s more at stake here. And art is one of the ways that we can see this. We see that even people that aren’t super religious, um, have this desire for art. I found maybe you have this experience too, Emily, people that aren’t that religious, but still say, But I still go out to nature every Sunday, or I still go experience an art gallery because I want to have this experience of, of something deeper there in Catechesis where we’re able to kind of get past maybe people’s intellectual resistance and have them actually experience God right there in the moment.
We can put people in touch with God through the transcendentals. And so that’s really what’s important in catechesis, is helping people to see how God sees the world. And one of the last things I’ll say that’s so, um, so crucial, and one of the things I kept hearing throughout this interview is that really there, there’s two options. One is that just the material world exists, or the other option is that there’s something more than just the material world. And even people who are so committed to their faith sometimes struggle to really believe and, and embrace the fact that there’s another world, there’s a spiritual world out there. But when we get in front of art, it’s very hard to argue against that experience of there is something otherworldly happening. When I encounter beautiful sacred art or music, when I encounter something that’s moving and, and beautiful, you kind of, you kind of sidestep the intellectual and go straight to the heart and say like, Well, there’s something more here. And in catechesis we can use that to help people see with eyes of faith through art and beauty in catechesis.
Emily: And Jem shared a lot about how the popes have talked on that exact thing too.
Edmund: Yeah. So I love what she says here when she kind of unpacks what the popes have said about it.
Dr. Jem Sullivan: Um, you know, popes in recent years have reflected on the relationship of catechesis and beauty, uh, from Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. They’ve all said that the encounter with beauty can be a concrete mode of catechesis. And as you pointed out, Emily, the Directory for Catechesis in published in 2020 are places catechesis within the evangelizing mission of the Church. And then it says, “Beauty is one of the seven sources for catechesis.” It says it’s a way of evangelization is the way of beauty. Why? Because true beauty speaks the language of the incarnation, which is what God, the invisible, all powerful God becomes visible in Jesus Christ revealing to us the face of the Father. So that’s kind of the measure of true beauty, is that, is it really speaking something about, is it reflecting something of the mystery of God?
So here’s what the Directory for Catechesis says. The images of Christian art when they’re authentic, disclose through sensory perception that the Lord Jesus is alive, present, and working in the Church and in history, in our time. Images can help people to have an experience of the encounter with God through the contemplation of their beauty. And then Pope Francis, of course, said this really beautifully, and I, if I could just share this quote, um, from Evangelium Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel. He says, “Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the way of beauty.” And why? And he gives a reason. He says, “Because proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling our life with splendor and joy, even in the midst of difficulties”. And then he says this, “Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus.”
I think that’s just really profound, right? To think that that’s really the measure is this work of art, is this beautiful experien-ce of nature or, uh, what have you. Is this leading me in some way to encounter the love, the mystery, the, uh, mercy forgiveness of God? I think what Pope Francis seems to be saying is that every expression of true beauty is a potential path leading us to encounter Jesus Christ. Uh, in a certain sense, a beauty then can serve as a pre sacrament. This is a phrase that Pope Jean Paul II use in one of his, uh, beautiful poems on the Sistine Chapel. He says, Art is a sa pre sacrament. What does that mean? It prepares the soil of our heart, opens our minds, turns our wills to the grace of God’s loving mercy and presence in our lives, and especially in the Eucharist.
You know, at the heart of catechesis, we say, uh, at the heart of catechesis is the person of Jesus Christ. All of the Church’s, cate activities in one way or another are inviting a person to this living encounter with the Lord. Um, and so that, that’s really what we we’re looking at. How does, how do we, how, how does beauty then serve this goal of catechesis? Again, a wonderful quote from the Directory. It says, um, “If a pagan asks you, show me your faith, you will take him to a church and bring him before the sacred icons.” Isn’t that fascinating? It’s not. I’m gonna show you, if a pa show me your faith, I will show you page 10 of the Catechism, or I will lead you to this, this particular doctrine of the Church. It says, I will, you would take him to church and show him, bring him before the sacred icons.
Why? Because the icon is a window into eternity. It’s leading us to something that is transcendent, something that’s not of this world. And so beauty really, uh, that if catechesis begins with and in includes beauty, it can be invitational, it can reach into the human heart, breaking down the barriers to faith. Um, and it lifts us up in awe and wonder through beauty, the experience of beauty, uh, to God who is revealing to us, uh, his love in Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit. So as Paul Francis says, beauty is a privileged path for catechesis.
Emily: I love that Pope Francis said that beauty is a path for catechesis because that is something that we who work on this project believe so much. And I think it’s really a foundational principle for the work that we’re doing on Real+True.
Edmund: Yeah, it’s literally something we talk about a lot, that our missions is to unlock the Catechism for the modern world. And we do that by making captivating, relevant, and beautiful content.
Emily: But obviously, like, you know, I think I do think our videos are beautiful, of course, but in a different way than the Pieta is beautiful, or a Caravaggio painting is beautiful or, uh, so many other grandiose cathedrals. It’s a different kind of beautiful looks, very different. It feels different, uh, than some of those things. And so I told Jem that this was gonna be a hard question, but I wanted to ask her very directly what place, um, she thinks in her expertise, a project like ours with a much more, a digital form of beauty, a more modern form of beauty. Like has in the conversation when she’s talking about beauty as a transcendental and beauty as this way that’s gonna help people encounter to Jesus, what, what would an animated video look like in that conversation? And I think she had a great answer to it.
Dr. Jem Sullivan: Yeah, that’s a great question, Emily. And I think that that’s something that the Church is really sort of looking forward to with anticipation in terms of how this digital continent now is going to be kind of like the cathedrals of the 12th and 13th century, right? Um, that, that in fact, this is now the continent. This is the, this is the backdrop against which we’re going to see forms of beauty, creativity, um, that really are speaking to people in the visual language of today. I think that’s something that the Church has always said, that this, this development, there’s never been a time in the 2000 years of the Church’s history that we do not find expressions of art, right. From the catacombs of Rome, the ancient catacombs to the Byzantine and Romanesque basilicas to the gothic cathedrals of the 12th and 13th century, to the baroque, the Renaissance, the great flowering of Christian art and the Renaissance, the baroque, this the digital continent, continent is now our sort of context
And I think, so the Church, there’s a certain, and you know, that from the, uh, Directory for Catechesis talks about this quite extensively. Um, there’s a certain hopefulness, there’s a certain anticipation looking to see how, um, exactly uh, people like yourselves who are engaged in the digital world are going to now reflect the beauty. At the end of the day. It’s always reflecting back the beauty of God’s love, mercy, the sending of his Son Jesus, Jesus who dies on the cross for us, rises again so that we might have new life in, in him. Um, that’s really the message of the gospel Kerygma, right? And so all of these ways in which we can communicate that are, are, are there for us. Um, so I I’m very excited, uh, to see what’s going to come out. And you are already doing it. So many people are shaped by it, are influenced by it, and, and are being formed in the faith by it. Uh, and you can look back and say this, this is now sort of the, the cathedral of today. You know, the, the stone and stained glass windows, the sculpture, um, that’s taking the form of digital media now, um, in the various ways in which you can communicate the gospel through that.
Edmund: I love that Jem said the cathedral is catechesis in stone and stained glass. I love that concept cuz I came across that concept almost a decade ago, and it’s what really helped me see the Catechism in a new lens. The idea that these ca these cathedrals were, were catechesis or even a Catechism in stone and stained glass, that people who couldn’t read at the time, they could read the church building itself and they could read dogma in it. And that dogma was evangelizing. And so a lot, a lot of times we have this, um, false dichotomy between evangelization and catechesis, but actually the, the rich dogmas and doctrine of the faith, it is objectively beautiful. Like the Church’s teaching on the incarnation is beautiful. And if there are ways for that dogma to inspire art or to inspire a beautiful presentation of catechesis of the dog, of the dogma, doctrine, like it should resonate with us, it should change us. And art, beauty in catechesis allows that to happen. It allows people to experience the beauty of the Church and the doctrine, not because it’s just in a sentimental way, but it is objectively beautiful, um, what we believe in what God has revealed for us, um, to, to respond to.
Emily: Yeah, I think you’re exactly right with, with all of those points that you just said. But I think it’s also important for us to consider that like beauty and beautiful things, or art for catechesis isn’t just like a strategy for catechizing. It’s not like, oh, we’re just like, oh, how do we make our teaching more beautiful? Let’s like make a pretty painting to go along with it. You know, like the cathedrals weren’t just built like to do that and God didn’t make beauty just through like the hands of human artists either. Um, God is beauty, right? Like the beauty as a transcendental. And so beauty has been present in all of the seasons of the Church’s evangelization and renewal Yes. Often in the form of beautiful art, but also in, in, uh, in other ways too.
Edmund: Yeah. I remember Chesterton writing about, uh, St. Francis and saying that he, this was a man who was in love. This isn’t a man, this isn’t just someone who’s, like we said with the Pope Benedict quote, This isn’t someone who’s just given over to an intellectual idea. Um, his, his religion, his faith has become less of an idea and more of a love affair. And so in catechesis and evangelization, are we, are we giving people an opportunity to fall in love with Jesus, not just intellectually ascent to it? And that’s something that’s, I mean, maybe some people go, ah, this just like overly romantic, but that is actually what we’re doing in catechesis. And it’s a shame. It’s, it’s a disservice to those being catechized or evangelized if we don’t give them opportunities to fall in love with God. And, uh, in the Catechism, it, it says periods of renewal in the Church are intense moments of catechesis. And if the Directory says that beauty is an essential, essential part of that catechesis, then that means that beauty and renewal go hand in hand. And so we don’t need thousands and millions of new, uh, Catholics to just intellectually ascent to, to the beliefs or the doctrines. We need them to encounter those doctrines in a way that they fall in love with it.
Emily: Yes. And Jem shared a great story from Pope Benedict that I think that captures us really well in a way, way that I think will, in really inspire all the catechists listening to this podcast. Yeah.
Dr. Jem Sullivan: You know, Pope Benedict in an interview he gave, uh, some years ago, he said this, he said, “The only really effective apology for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her room.” I think that’s really interesting. Um, the two most powerful paths for evangelization and catechesis Pope Benedict is saying comes down to the lives of the saints. Um, why? Because the saints give us a lived theology of holiness, right? When you encounter a saintly person, it’s hard to argue with the witness of a saintly life. Um, saints are not perfect, but their holiness attracts us in the same way that a beautiful work of art attracts us. Um, because why? They’re reflecting the face of Jesus in the world becoming as it were, God’s masterpiece, God’s work of art. Um, and then he said the second argument is beauty in the form of art.
Um, and this again, what he’s saying here is that sacred art not only just sort of decorated the interior and exterior spaces of our church buildings, but in fact was a powerful tool for evangelization and catechesis for generations. Um, if I could share two examples, if you don’t mind, um, uh, from history really that kind of make this point. So the, to answer your question first is of course, the image of our Lady of Guadalupe, right? Revealed to Saint Juan Diego on his tilma venerated by millions of people around the world. If we look back into history, when our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego in 1531, the Church was in the midst of the reformation. And as the reformers were breaking away from the communion of the Catholic faith, they took with them entire nations and peoples in the same way. At the same time, in the new world, one single image there was an image, uh, begins the evangelization of the American continent.
As new nations and new peoples of this continent were now coming to faith in Jesus Christ just as the body of Christ was being torn apart in the 16th century in Europe. At the same time, the mother of Jesus, uh, appears to, uh, the peoples of this continent, uh, sh leading us to her son Jesus, uh, showing us again the power of a single image in the early evangelization of the Americas. And then another example is, of course, the 12th and 13th century of those great gothic cathedrals, right? Um, we don’t know the names of the artists who built these cathedrals. They didn’t sign their names. Like people, artists sign their names on works of art today. They didn’t do that in the Middle Ages, but we do know is that these cathedrals became Catechisms in stone and stain glass.
Why? Because again, the faithful were reading on the walls of the cathedral in the painting, in the, uh, stain glass in the windows and so on. They were reading the meaning of their faith that they had professed in the creed. The same faith that they spoke in the words of the creed now took the form of the beautiful in the sacred art that surrounds them. And,so I think that that’s how in the past the Church art has become a tool, a means of evangelization, and it should be all the more today in the visual culture that we live.
Edmund: The story of our Lady of Guadalupe is so powerful. I’m glad that she brought that up. And I think for those of you listening at home, like go, go review and refresh the actual story of it. Because what’s so powerful is that through an image, through art, God was able to say something very, very powerful. You know, you say, um, you know, picture’s worth the thousand words like the, the, the image of our Lady of Guadalupe, we see Mary with this dark complexion and this mixed in, uh, mixed with indigenous and Spanish features. Like imagine a person, uh, they are seeing this image like God is, God is one of us, God is for us, right? They see themselves in this painting. And so it shows and represents the unity of all people. And so we can show and not just tell in catechesis and allow people to be moved at the heart.
Emily: Yeah, I love that. I was able to look at the, to go on pilgrimage to the tilma once. And I guess I can just endorse that it is, it is so moving as an image the same way. I think a lot of people are moved by sacred art, and I think that that’s why it’s important for catechists to look at ways to not, you know, artificially create those moments, but also make sure that we’re presenting people with opportunities for them. Um, and so on that note, just very practically speaking, I asked Jem, you know, where should a catechist who wants to learn more about art either for themselves or use art in their classrooms as that sort of, to create opportunities for that pre-sacrament like Pope Francis was talking about, um, where should they go to start to learn more about this?
Dr. Jem Sullivan: Yeah, that’s a great practical question. And, you know, catechists tend to be concrete, pastoral, uh, practical people. So that’s a great question, Emily. Um, you know, I think first thing of is to say that most people are intimidated by art. I mean, they’d love to go to an art museum or love to be out in nature, but then when it comes to actually using or, or having art play a role in the catechesis, they get intimidated. They feel like, I’m not an art expert, I’m not an art historian. You know, I think that’s the first step to overcome that, that sense that this, the art, um, of the Church, sacred art is just for the, the, um, elite historians or connoisseurs of art. In fact, for 2000 years, the art that the Church has produced and, uh, fostered, um, was for ordinary people like you and me, people who went to Church every day, some, the, the, the faithful person in the pew who would look up at the walls and the, the beauty of the sculpture and painting and stained glass windows and see the faith that they had professed in the creed now, uh, made visible in the beauty of the cathedral or the Church or the chapel itself.
So to kind of overcome that sense, like, I can’t do this, you can do it. Uh, and, the whole tradition of the Church’s sacred art was really aimed for all of us, uh, and has been a, a tool, a means of catechesis and evangelization. So that’s the first thing. A second thing is, you know, the digital continent has made, uh, access to art so much easier. Now you can just go online. There’s, every museum has extensive galleries, uh, online galleries you can access, uh, um, so much of the sacred art of the Church now online. So look there, I would say first, second, look for, look for local expressions of sacred art. So the churches, your, your own parish church, your cathedral in your diocese, uh, your, your local communities, um, there’s beautiful art there that reflects the local culture, the history, uh, the people of your community, what’s important to them.
So the patron saints that are part of the ch um, parish life. So look locally as well, you can look sort of online, but look at those beautiful examples of sacred art, whether it’s architecture, painting, mosaic, stain, glass, all of those wonderful expressions of art. They’re all around us. Um, because the Catholic Church has always been, uh, in many ways for 2000 years, the church has been the principle patron of the arts. This is a cultural role that the Church has kind of lost today. But for 2000 years, that was a role that the Church played to be the principle patron of the arts. So there’s a lot of examples, uh, from that that, um, that gift that the Church gives us, um, for catechists to look at.
Emily: Wow, this has been so inspiring. I really loved our conversation with Dr. Jem Sullivan and truly learned so much from her. Um, and so I think there’s just a few more points that we should discuss before we wrap up this episode all about art and catechesis. Um, so the first one was in our preparation for this podcast, um, you highlighted a quote, um, from Pope Paul VI famously saying, uh, this world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. And I guess I’d love to ask you, Edmund, uh, why do you believe that the world needs beauty?
Edmund: Yeah, I think Jem summarized a little bit where she said that it’s not just a luxury. I mean, it’s a, it’s a necessity. It’s, it’s something. It’s something we, you know, we get thirsty when we don’t have water. We get hungry when we don’t have food. And I do think the human person does not flourish when he’s not in a context of seeing beauty and like true beauty like we talked about. And so the world really needs that beauty because, um, God is beautiful and the world needs God, like human people need God. So I think we definitely need that. And also, it reminded me a lot of this interview reminded me that some people who are starting to come back to the Church, you think of Jimmy Fallon or Shia LaBeouf or some of these people, um, not to make this like a Latin Mass versus non Latin Mass or whatever, but they all talk about the beauty of a Mass, of going to a Mass. And, and there was something beautiful that bypassed their intellectual, uh, maybe resistance to God. And I think that’s something, um, that we should take note of, that many, many people are hungering for true beauty, not just a passing worldly beauty.
Emily: Yeah, I think that’s a really great point. And of course there’s no beauty without artists, right?.
Edmund: Yeah. Yeah. And, um, Jem wanted us to mention Pope St. John Paul II’s Letter to Artists. It’s an amazing short letter that Pope John Paul II’s like encouraging artists and talk about how we need them. And one of the great poll quotes from that is, “Beauty is the vocation of the artist.”
Emily: Yeah. I think that is such a beautiful and powerful quote, and I’ve been really blessed to, for many years to work with a lot of different Catholic creative people, right? This is even how we met from a group of Catholic creatives, um, and Edmundo as well, our other co-founder for this project. And I’m really grateful that the, the creatives, the artists that we have working on this project, I think understand that, you know, beauty as their vocation in all the work that they do. But I think especially, um, for this project, we’re trying to bring out the truth and beauty of the Catechism, and I’m really just grateful to how they bring that, I think authentic, um, understanding of that vocation to the work that they’re doing as they’re helping us create these videos and share them or graphics or, you know, whatever it is, and sharing them with people all over the world.
Edmund: Yeah. Yeah. So maybe just to end with some practical tips. I remember when I was, so I went to Franciscan University where I majored in Catechesis, and one of our professors Sister Johanna, I remember her slamming the table multiple times and saying, “Buy sacred art’ when you work in parishes as a catechist or evangelist or whoever, like set aside some of your budget. And she even said, even if you’re just a volunteer, set aside some budget for sacred art. And in today’s day and age, it’s, it’s actually not that hard to, to find some public domain, uh, images and take it somewhere where you could just get it printed. So one place is art.com, you can have, um, uh, images printed in various sizes. And one of the first things I did in, in the last two parishes that I worked at, as soon as I got there, one of the first things I did was create a line item once a year to, to acquire a big piece of sacred art.
And so definitely buy sacred art, or if you’re just, let’s say you don’t work formally in a parish, buy sacred art for your house like once a year, set aside. I mean, come on $100, $200 bucks for a big print of some piece of sacred art. And if you are looking for, uh, ideas like, well, what sacred art should we get? Or what, what type of, um, painting, There are plenty of places you can go to find, uh, where people will break down some of the sacred art and like the meaning behind it. Um, uh, a few places to start, I would say is if you look up Fra Angelo’s, the Annunciation or Caravaggio’s The Calling of Matthew, those are two really, really good ones. One of my, two of my favorites. Um, and they’re great because the more you reflect on them and the more you dive deeper and deeper into the painting, the more you see, uh, what the artist was really hiding in there, which are all these different references to our faith and what we believe.
Um, another practical tip would be, um, if you go to catechetics.com, or I believe it’s the, um, magazine or the publication put out by Franciscan University, they have a, a part of their website and a part of all their magazines where they take a piece of art and they break it open, um, from a catechetical perspective. So what are the dogmas and doctrines that we can see in this art? Um, so that would be, that would be some of my tips. Emily, what do you think about that? Do you have sacred art in your home?
Emily: I have some sacred art. Yeah. I would say I’m not super educated in art and art history or sacred art, but I do have some, most of it’s been, you know, gifted to us, you know, either at a wedding or something like that, or I’ve picked up places or art pieces that, um, from traveling, I was gonna say, and I thought Dr. Jem did a great job noting this, um, in her last comment about also being able to look at, uh, for local art. When we were in Rome presenting at the International Congress on Catechesis, uh, we also got to visit, you know, you don’t go to Rome, don’t go around and visit some beautiful, uh, sacred spaces, right? And, um, we went and visited The Calling of Matthew painting, and it’s in a, a basilica, um, I think it’s basilica or a church.
It’s basilica, I think. Yeah. Um, and it’s there, uh, meaning like, it’s, it’s not in a museum. It’s there like, because it was made at one time kind of as local art. That it was there for, for that church there in Rome. And so, and it’s still in that spot. It’s like on the side wall of a side altar. It wasn’t like commissioned as one of the greatest works of art to ever be created. It, it’s there to add to the catechesis of that space. Right. And so I thought that, um, whether you like know to start or not or feel ready to dive into exploring the classic sacred art or not, I just really, the only thing I would add to everything that you shared, which I think is really helpful and practical, is to also look at the art that’s in your own parish, or being made by the local artists around you.
Edmund: Yeah. If you’re gonna be helping other people. So the idea is as, as we send you forth to be evangelists and catechists and to, and to walk with other people, this idea is we can use art and beauty to open people up to, to God. Well, we first have to learn how to do that. If we want to help other people learn how to do this and experiences, we have to learn how to do it. So putting, and even I was just thinking as you were talking, it could be something as simple as like, just print it out on 8.5 X11 from your computer, but put it somewhere like maybe your dinner table or your sacred space. Yeah. Somewhere where you’re gonna see it often and just allow yourself to start having this conversation, this meditation on that work of art. And you’d be surprised over the course of a couple weeks how new things start speaking to you and coming out of that, of that, uh, painting or art. Um, so just developing that sense of being able to meditate and have that conversation with God about the art is, is so helpful. And you can start today.
Emily: I think that’s a great final call to action. Thank you so much Edmund, and thank you everyone for joining us for our conversation today with, uh, Dr. Jem Sullivan from Catholic University of America, Um, and for be listening to The Real+True Podcast. This podcast and the Real+True project as a whole is on a mission to unlock the beauty and truth of the Catechism for the modern world to help people encounter its pulsating heart, Jesus Christ. We believe that the catechism is the faithful echo of a God who desires to reveal himself to us and desires for us to respond. It’s not just a textbook or a set of rules. Um, and so our mission is to transform the Catechism into a living voice by creating beautiful, captivating, and relevant videos, stories, animations, podcasts, um, that you can use. Because all of these videos are free, translated into multiple languages, um, and available on basically every social media platform, to use it in ways that hopefully will inspire others as well. Help us unlock the Catechism for the modern world. Join in this mission. Learn more at realtrue.org. Subscribe to the podcast on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcast, or wherever you get your podcast.
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