Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Knowing the mysteries of faith through sacred art

By BISHOP JOEL M. KONZEN, S.M. | Published February 23, 2024  | En Español

One of the themes that Bishop Robert Barron speaks on frequently is the role of beauty in evangelizing. He talks about the rich heritage that our church and world have in the visual—sacred images that call out to us, from a simple church steeple to the various depictions of the nativity of Our Lord. An Atlanta native, Jimmy Mitchell, has pursued this topic in a book he wrote entitled “Let Beauty Speak.” 

Bishop Joel M. Konzen, S.M.

This week I happened to visit two retreat sites in the archdiocese, both filled with a variety of sacred art, ranging from a stark crucifix to multiple images of the Blessed Mother in the many cultures around the world. People, of course, find the doors to the spiritual in many different forms, but sacred art has been one of them from the time of the first churches in Rome and elsewhere to museums containing great paintings of biblical events. 

A constant for us Catholics in the depiction of our faith is what we know as the Stations of the Cross. Every Catholic church and chapel has some version of these stations, meant to assist us in reliving Christ’s passion in the Way of the Cross. For Lent, there are many aids to meditation, but one of the most universal is the Way of the Cross. Some of us would have memories of the times and places in which we have walked that Way, imitating the route of Jesus from condemnation to crucifixion. 

When we follow the Way of the Cross, we offer our prayer at each station while we meditate on the image of Our Lord’s suffering in the course of his journey to Calvary. I remember someone who was not Catholic once raising a question about whether the discussion and portrayal of Christ’s death needed to be violent. Could it not be more demure and restrained? There may indeed be a limit to how realistically we need Christ’s death to be shown, but the Stations of the Cross and the crucifix in each church do need to remind us of the price of our redemption. I believe that we Catholics have long understood that we don’t get to the resurrection by a wholly sanitary path. We were meant to know and to feel how great a gift Jesus gave us by virtue of his sacrificial passion and death. 

And maybe that is precisely the point of sacred art, to help us to know and to feel the mysteries of our faith. When I see on Dec. 12 at Our Lady of the Americas the majestic depiction of the miraculous events at Tepeyac, I can’t help but be moved by the scene and how it speaks of the appearance of Mary to St. Juan Diego. Hearing the story is one thing, but seeing a wondrous representation of that story makes it come alive in a way that the narration alone cannot do. 

Sister Wendy Beckett, a Carmelite who gave talks on how to see and appreciate art, published a very slim volume, “Meditations on the Mysteries of Our Faith,” in which she highlights one painting for each of the weeks in the Lenten and Easter seasons. She uses the themes of the Gospel readings for each of the Sundays.  

If we cannot get to the Way of the Cross, there are ample images available also on the internet for our meditation this Lent. If we enjoy the gift of sight, we do well to use that gift to place ourselves with Jesus on his agonizing but ultimately life-giving march with the cross on his back. With or without the use of sacred art, may you be moved to offer prayers of thanks for his saving acts, asking his help to ‘repent and believe in the Good News.’