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Rediscovering a New Path to God – Praying Through Art

Prayer is demanding – especially in such a noisy world. When we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that it isn’t always easy to hear God’s voice, to connect with God. We constantly need to seek new ways to do so. Prayer is a “battle” as the Catechism reminds us (#2726), but it’s a battle we can always win, if we just keep fighting. Jesus promised as much: “Seek,” he said, “and you shall find” (Matthew 7:7).

A little while ago, Pope Benedict spoke about a place we can go to find God, to help our life of prayer. This place has been central – dramatically so – in my own spiritual journey. The Holy Father seemed to be speaking right from his heart as he encouraged all Catholics to go back to this place in their efforts to find God in prayer. Here’s what he said:

On several occasions in recent months, I have recalled the need for every Christian to find time for God, for prayer, amidst our many daily activities. The Lord himself offers us many opportunities to remember Him. Today, I would like to consider briefly one of these channels that can lead us to God and also be helpful in our encounter with Him: It is the way of artistic expression, part of that “via pulchritudinis” — “way of beauty” — which I have spoken about on many occasions, and which modern man should recover in its most profound meaning… Dear friends, I invite you to rediscover the importance of this way for prayer, for our living relationship with God. (Wednesday Catechesis, 31 August 2011)

I didn’t grow up Catholic. In fact, I didn’t grow up with any faith. After I became an evangelical Christian as a teenager, I imbibed deep prejudices against the Catholic faith. And yet, God had created me to be his priest. How could I hear that calling through the thick walls of my anti-Catholicism? I couldn’t. But God found a way around those walls. It was the “way of beauty,” which during my college years and through my studies in history and art history became a way of profound prayer for me, though I wasn’t expecting it. I fell in love with the Church (the cause of every priestly vocation) only after I had fallen in love with Catholic art, architecture, and culture. Art was the Trojan Horse God used to invade and conquer my heart.

I would like to answer the Pope’s invitation to “rediscover the importance of this way for prayer,” and, with God’s grace, to help you do so as well. And so, in the coming weeks, I will try to start posting some brief spiritual reflections on great works of Catholic art. Instead of academic reflections, I will try to make them bridges to prayer, to a new place where we can encounter the God who has us “engraved on the palms of his hands” (Isaiah 49:16), since that has been my own experience. I hope and pray that these reflections will not add to the noise of the world, but help open up a path away from it, and into God’s quiet embrace.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published two other titles: "Meditations for Mothers" and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", Inside the Passion--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, Meditations for Mothers, and A Guide to Christian Meditation.

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  • CathleenBooth

    Your contributions could never be noise; they are Vivaldi’s Oboe or Haydn’s trumpet, cutting through the noise to speak to the heart with truth and beauty. I look forward to your new series.   

  • Joanna

    Very true.  I find sacred music or ecclesiastic art very helpful.  Otherwise, the noise ‘out there’ keeps on getting into my head and thoughts.  

  • Guest

    Fr. John.  This is one old lady who looks forward to your Posts with unsuppressed anticipation.  You have been a great Spiritual Guide to me. Walking with you in this my 4th and  Final Lap of Life is a great Grace God has bestowed on me. Be blessed

  • feyfifer

    I have a remarkable picture of Christ’s face…reportedly drawn with a single pencil stroke!..I’d be happy to share it..but how do you upload images here?

  • Avila Power

    Dear Fr, thank you for giving us this great opportunity of receiving Spiritual Direction through your site. I love reading every word about what you advise.
    My worry is that as I live in Australia and am a pensioner and widow it will be quite impossible to donate to the website. I feel bad at having all this wonderful reading at my disposal without contributing to your appeal. Please advise me.
    Thank you once again. Its also quite difficult to find a Spiritual Director here as I do live in a semi-rural area and priests are very short.  Anyway if you are Ok with me receiving your link every day I will be most grateful and will promise to always keep you in my prayers.  God bless you for the great work that you are doing in the vineyard of the Lord.

    • Anonymous

      No worries. Please pray for us, tell others about us, and encourage others on the site. This is more than enough. Be blessed.

    • Jmbroadnax

      Avila, have you ever heard of Skype?  I use it to give spiritual direction to those a distance from me, as well as receive supervision of my own practice of spiritual direction – the priest is in W. Virginia and I am in Texas and we find this a quite satisfactory way of giving and receiving direction/supervision.  If you are interested and download skype free, would be willing to give spiritual direction this way.  You may contact me that way via bjul32 and I am in Central Time Zone

  • Anonymous

    :o)

  • Christine Ann Hickey

    How wonderful and exciting it is that you are doing this!  Beautiful art, particularly religious art, has always held my interest and enjoyment.  Art can stir my soul and to combine it with prayer sounds fantastic!  I’m looking forward to this with great anticipation.  What has drawn me to the Catholic faith are the many aspects of beauty manifested by her.  Thank you, Father  

  • Penguintrble

    As you reflected I feel the true love of God is expressed in so much array, while I experience in nature, his love for us is abounding

  • George Pressler

    Fr John,  I am so happy to see you starting this series.  As you may remember when we met in Rome years ago, as you conducted an incredible personal tour of St Peters, I discussed my collection and presentation “The Art of Healing” which includes over thousands of images of art forms (paintings, sculpture, weavings, carvings, ceramics) from all over the world, through all the ages.  The majority of these are derived and inspired from all the religions of the world.  I still offer this presentation to numerous organizations and it is so well received.
    Thanks.

  • Kathy

    That is exactly what I need Father.  I”ve been looking for beautiful pictures that can be used as a focus during the Rosary, and I’ll be waiting very eagerly for your posts.

  • Jmbroadnax

    Thank you Fr. John – I use your Scripture book regularly in my practice of spiritual direction – having learned about you and this book through friends in St. Louis.

  • Ana

    Looking forward, God Bless. Ana

  • Liz

    I pray the Rosary and Devine Mercy through music. I meditate while walking in my woods. I’m going to love praying to God through art. Can’t wait dear Father. God bless you always for all you do.

  • Wguilmette

    TKC! 
    Hello Father
    I love this post regarding art, I have a beautiful picture of the last supper in my dining room, it is by Salvadore Dali The Sacrament of the Last Supper 1955, although some people find it to be too modern I have meditated on it and realize
    that we are all called to be disciples, it really does help put things back into perspective for me, I am thankful for all the different pieces of art to reflect on
    God Bless you
    Wendy

  • Avila Power

    Thank you Jmbroadnax for your reply. I was truly amazed to see and read your reply. You were very kind and I appreciate your gesture. Unfortunately I am not very technological minded and when you say down load skype I don’t think I would be able to do that.  I love Fr John and Dan and the way we can receive spiritual direction. I do my best and hope that I am achieving some measure of spirituality. It is so necessary in today’s world.  On another topic……..  I am very excited , as I have ordered the whole series on Catholicism by Fr Robert Barron, and I sincerely hope that through this I will be able to spread the message of our wonderful Faith and how fortunate we are to be able to receive the powerful Word through this medium. I see the series is getting great coverage in America. I have already told my friends in South Africa about Catholicism, so hopefully they will aim to get it for their Parishes.
    Thank you once again for your caring. God bless you and yours.  

  • SHerry

    My path in life has always been visual. I pray the rosary and to try to keep from distraction using art. Thank you for doing this for this community.