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SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

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". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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