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.