A hard lesson on beauty for Catholics

May 31, 2013
Source: District of the USA

But it seems today, that Catholics have dispensed with art and culture—as if these things no longer matter. Nicolosi pointed out—correctly—that this mentality has originated from "within the Church" itself, as testified by "contemporary church buildings"...

Pastor's Corner

1st Sunday of May: 5th Sunday after Easter

Screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi gave a talk in Denver last month about how to give a powerful message. Her presentation "Evangelization and media: re-thinking the Catholic sub-culture," did not hide the major challenges Catholics face today.

We reproduce here some of her observations quoted from a recent CAN article.[1]

The Church was once called 'the patron of the arts'… Christianity once produced such works as the Milan Cathedral, Handel's Messiah, and the sculptures of Michelangelo... As Pope Benedict said, the music at the liturgy should not be like any music you hear anywhere else—you should know immediately, 'oh, this is of God.' …Well-made secular works such as Finding Nemo actually raise important questions in the minds of fathers: 'Am I a good dad?'"

In recounting the legacy of Christian storytelling, the screenwriter mentioned as examples:

The Divine Comedy, Pilgrim's Progress, Anna Karenina, Brideshead Revisited, and the works of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Tolkien, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy."

Screenwriter Nicolosi also pointed out that "none of these books were written for the Catholic subculture... and yet are profoundly Catholic." She went on to point out the problem of "contemporary works of Christian storytelling" which are not only inferior from the standpoint of their literary art, but also are "created in the sub-culture for the sub-culture."

But the "great works" though "written for the mainstream" nevertheless contain underlying Christian notions which though are not overt in their approach in theological matters, nevertheless "permeate their worldview." Dissimilarly though, those created in a "Christian sub-culture" and thus with overt religious ideas, "fail to incite a theological response from the reader or viewer."

One example she gave was Archbishop Fulton Sheen. For 20 years he hosted a nationally-broadcasted radio show, and later was on television throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, demonstrating how Catholics can exercise a positive influence in the secular world around them. She further emphasized again (about the quality of art): "Fulton Sheen used to be on network television not because he was Catholic, but because he was good."

But it seems today, that Catholics have dispensed with art and culture—as if these things no longer matter. Nicolosi pointed out—correctly—that this mentality has originated from "within the Church" itself, as testified by "contemporary church buildings, modern liturgical music and a general absence of artistic endeavors." Our glorious artistic "heritage has been replaced by the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, "Our God is an Awesome God," and Rainaldi's statue of John Paul II in Rome." She further emphasized “Nothing cheap, facile, or banal will do it. Don’t you dare put something out ugly and say the Holy Spirit inspired you to do it.”

Nicolosi continued her lecture by insisting:

We’re not just supposed to be in the culture; as Catholics, we're supposed to be important in the culture, and right now, we're completely in our own little room."

Drawing her insightful conference to a close, she presented a 5-step recipe for how the Church can change the current unfortunate situation (following in paraphrased form):

  1. Identify persons capable of representing Catholicism in society; to this end, talented speakers, media representatives and singers should be encouraged.
  2. The Church needs to begin training artists again; why is there not a single Catholic school of arts among the top 20 film studios in the country?
  3. Make the arts important again by patronizing beauty. It is important to compensate architects and artisans for their work – once we were accustomed to rewarding the efforts of creating beautiful art.
  4. Work with media professionals—Catholic media that is poorly done does not evangelize: "ugly, shoddy, embarrassing work is not orthodox Catholic—it's another kind of lie."
  5. Finally (and most importantly), pray that God will give a flood of inspiration to create beauty: "Ask God to send a Mozart, and that we'll recognize him."

In the midst of the wreckage left by the passage of the post-conciliar Barbarian Hordes, Barbara Nicolosi strikes a resounding drum to galvanize a paralyzed, deaf and dumb crowd of Catholic leaders. This is refreshing and hopeful, for it demonstrates that despite that the Church is practically in a survival mode due to the crisis, nevertheless—as was the case with the systematic collapse of the Western Roman Empire—voices of reason continue to ring out to Catholics to restore and regain their role as the salt of the earth.


1 Article source and quotes from an article published by the Catholic News Agency, "Screenwriter: without beauty, media fails to evangelize" on March 5, 2013.