“Through his ‘artistic creativity’ man appears more than ever ‘in the image of God.’” — Pope St. John Paul II
In the midst of a secular culture often antagonistic to faith, many Catholics are turning to the arts to build a stronger heritage of Catholic culture and to share the truth, goodness and beauty of this culture with the world around them. Some of these artists are finding this beauty in the written word; others in the painted image — and still others in a mug of beer.
Pointing Others Toward God
Jules Miles, creator and host of the “Mystery Through Manners” podcast, was inspired to venture into podcasting when she found herself turning to secular podcasts for the type of show style she was looking for.
“Catholic podcasting has some incredible shows about theology, apologetics and prayer, but if I wanted to enter into beautiful storytelling, I had no choice but to go to the secular world,” Miles discovered. “But the light of our faith is founded in the oral tradition. It made no sense that our very foundation has its roots in the power of stories and yet Catholics weren’t taking advantage of the medium.”
So she did. Miles’ first podcast series made “the case for fiction,” because, in her words, “in a storytelling podcast, it made sense to start with the storytellers.”
The more Miles explored the topic, the more intimately she understood that good fiction is genuinely important in the lives of everyday Catholics. “Good art — specifically good fiction — communicates the transcendental power of beauty, which moves our hearts and enriches our minds (even if it’s not explicitly Catholic!) and ultimately points to the source of all beauty, God himself,” she elaborated.
Miles also found that good fiction can mirror Christ’s own storytelling style. “When Our Lord wanted to teach important theological concepts, he did so in the realm of story, in parables. In the same way, fiction takes abstract, theological ideals and brings them into everyday life.”
Believing in the ability of Catholic writers, in this case fiction writers, to share authentically Catholic lessons with a modern audience — even if not explicit when doing so — Miles shared an impactful discussion she had with Phil Klay, winner of the national book award for fiction for his book of short stories called Redeployment. In episode four of her podcast, when Miles told Klay about her dissatisfaction over the abrupt ending of one of the stories, Klay replied: “Jules, I wanted people to be left with the longing.”
His response had a deep impact on her. “This is at the heart of good Catholic fiction: allowing the reader to sit in the messiness and chaos of life and sometimes not receive the answer we hope for,” Miles summarized. “In doing this, Catholic authors are very subtly (and beautifully) pointing the reader to the source of all fulfillment and longing, God himself. What could be more important than that?”
Art for the Glory of God and Heritage
But writing isn’t the only creative avenue to orient us toward God, the source of all beauty. Other crafts can also usher in a revival of Catholic culture in the modern world. Jared Staudt, author of the book The Beer Option: Brewing a Catholic Culture Yesterday & Today, contends that food and drink also play an essential role in Catholic culture.
“Particularly through the bread and wine of the Eucharist, our work meets the transforming grace of God,” Staudt commented.
Turning to the topic of his new book, he explained how he came to recognize that something as common as beer could become an avenue for sharing the faith and the heritage of Catholic culture. “Beer can continue this sacramental view of life as we bless God and enjoy each other’s fellowship in our festivity. If we drink beer the right way, in moderation, friendship and in festivity, it becomes part of the joy of life and our thanksgiving.”
As a Benedictine oblate, Staudt discovered more and more how beer has been shaped by the monastic tradition of work and hospitality. “It struck me that monks, who renounce the world, remain the best brewers in the world, because they order beer within their life of prayer and brew for the right reasons. They take the time to make a high-quality product, to support the abbey and for charitable giving, and ultimately for the glory of God.”
Staudt thinks Americans have largely lost the sense of the beauty in food and drink. “When everything is quick and easy, we no longer expect or even welcome complex and robust flavors that may challenge us to expand our palate. Beer is one way that we have redeveloped a local artisanal culture, bringing people together to experience innovative and locally crafted products.”
Regardless of the medium, art by its nature has the ability to orient the soul toward the divine and connect Catholics in authentic fellowship. “All that we do should be ordered toward God, including our food and drink,” Staudt argues. “Beer provides one small image of Catholic culture — a product of our artistry, with a long Catholic heritage and the potential to engage others in the faith outside of church.”
The Transcendence of Beauty
Many, when they think of art, envision color transforming a blank page or a captivating scene in nature.
“My earliest memory of painting comes from when I was 3 years old, and my mom and I would sit at our kitchen table with children’s watercolors,” explained Katrina Harrington, the artist behind the hand-lettered and painted art at RoseHarrington.com. “As I grew up, my love for art continued, and I always found joy when creating. Beauty is a ladder to the divine, and I think a lot of the modern world is craving that transcendence.”
When “want, need and divine assurance collided,” Harrington opened her shop, Hatch Prints, in 2015. She credits Pope St. John Paul II with much of the “boom of Catholic artisans” today. His championing artists and their importance in the Church helped remind Harrington and other artistic Catholics that their created beauty is an offering of love to others.
Art also becomes a powerful means of catechesis.
After learning about Mary Gardens and the practice in the Middle Ages of calling flowers by religious names to help catechize and increase devotion in the faithful, Harrington designed her botanical-rosary print, depicting 20 flowers, each representing one of the 20 Mysteries of the Rosary. “It is my hope that these paintings help others to identify flowers throughout their day that offer them reminders to pray or [remind them] that God loves them.”
Hatch Prints later became “Rose Harrington,” a home to botanical rosary art inspired by the tradition of Mary Gardens. Harrington believes her faith enlightens and transforms all of her work. “My Catholic faith acts as the water to my paintbrush; it’s life-giving! When I say ‘Yes’ to the Creator Spirit, he surprises me with his inspiration and his finishing touches.”
Katie Warner writes from Georgia.
Her website is KatieWarner.com.