“Every expression of true beauty [is] a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus.” Pope Francis
“The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes.” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI)
Beauty is evangelical; it has the ability to open hearts to God. As Cardinal Ratzinger so beautifully imagines, it is an arrow that pierces our hearts and lets truth enter. Far from simply being an abstract notion, this is precisely what happened to me. In 2002, I was lost, a baptized Christian whose faith in Jesus Christ had fallen by the wayside, living without purpose, meaning, or joy. In the midst of that confusion, I traveled to Europe. It was meant to be a carefree, aimless trip of a few months, a low-budget and less structured version of the storied “Grand Tour”. Little did I know that it would change the course of my life.
Through the great churches of Europe, through the sacred art and architecture, I found God, or rather, He found me. Beauty humbled me, wrenched my heart open, and became the “path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus.” I climbed the dome of Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s and caught a glimpse of my own littleness. I stood before Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child and wept at the reality of the infant God. I looked upon Christ crucified in countless paintings, murals, and statues — and gave my life to Him. Because of beauty, I found the Catholic Church, fell in love with her, and was convinced of the truth of her teachings. That is the power of sacred art.
Those works of art that I encountered were the fruit not only of a culture of faith, but of a system of patronage, an environment in which art and artists were promoted and financially sustained. That system, by in large, no longer exists, especially not for truly sacred works of art. As our namesake, Pope St. John Paul II, wrote so plainly in his Letter to Artists, “the Church needs art.” The John Paul II Foundation aims to help meet that need — to promote sacred art by partnering with artists who share our belief in the evangelical potential of beauty.
Sacred art can change lives; it changed mine through the transcendent beauty I found in the great churches of Europe. I invite you to join me as we spread that beauty to a world in desperate need of its transforming power.
Father Michael Burbeck
Founder and Director