Sacred Art

“I think we need a more contemplative stance towards life, to see the deep religious and human truths that are there. We can only go so far with words and books. There is another level within us, a symbolic level or image level, that touches us very deeply. I think artists have the privilege in the Church, and they have had it throughout history, to open up that level so that people can see the mystery of God. The artist speaks, not just literally, but symbolically. I think visual images, if they are well done, can move us there. That’s a ministry.”
—Brother Michael Moran, C.P.

“In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art.”  — Pope John Paul II

I’m really intrigued by the artists who are working to create contemporary sacred art. While our religion may be steeped in tradition, our lives are vibrant, changing, and expressive — and the art in our homes and churches should reflect that. At least a little more than they do right now.

My home parish is extremely modern, and I do feel like there are things lacking in our worship because of it… while the sculptures and stained glass in our church are more contemporary, they don’t really “speak” to me. They don’t have the emotional pull, the awe-inspiring factor, the contained beauty that reflects the faith and the life of the Church. And if we lose sight of the glory that art should bring to our faith, then we lose the point.

But let me show you some of the amazing things I have discovered recently:

First of all, I’m thrilled about this upcoming publication: Benedict XVI and Beauty in Sacred Art and Architecture. It doesn’t sound like it will be released here shortly or anything, but I can’t wait to read it.

My friend Chantelle sent me a card with this image on it for Christmas this year:

Sacred Heart, 1994. by Joseph Fanelli.

I’m pretty much obsessed.
(here’s the website to order prints)

Then there are incredible projects like this:

Communion of Saints tapestry (selected)
the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA
John Nava, 1999-2002.

You can visit the Cathedral’s website to view all the tapestries (and others that he did), and  read about the backstory and process.

The artist, John Nava, can be found at his personal website. And while he doesn’t create sacred art exclusively, his work is definitely worth browsing. You can find images of the tapestry installation process and other projects in his archive, too.


Lastly, for length’s sake, there is this editorial about sacred art from It touches on a few things that really ring true to me: sacred art is hard to find, art can be a call to conversion, and it is authentically Catholic. The Protestant Reformation tried to abolish artwork, icons, etc., in favor of a skewed view of worshiping things over God. The truth is, and always comes back to the point that all of these things are tools for teaching, worship, reverence, glory, inspiration, and awe. They bring us closer to God, they capture our emotion and our imagination, and they chronicle our collective journey.

Every society, every culture defines itself, at least in part, by the art created by its members… and it leads me to wonder what we are saying, as a community. Even moreso, I KNOW, as an artist, you cannot create what is not within you. There is a supernatural quality about the way artists infuse their ideas, beliefs, and personality into what they create — so where are these people? Where are these artists that have the love of Christ, the love of our Church, and a desire to communicate that love with others? It should be welling up and overflowing from the creative hearts of all of us, for God is the ultimate inspiration of creativity and expression — He is Creator and Imagination and Inspiration and Expression!

I wonder why it is difficult to find contemporary sacred art. I wonder why we aren’t inspired. Maybe it has something to do with how liberal and society-minded the modern art community is. And maybe it has something to do with how easy it is to quickly fall into an individualistic attitude: my work is my own, unique opinion, and I don’t want to be informed or defined by anyone or anything else. Sometimes I feel like the art world says you are nothing if you are not independently unique. And too many people in that world, to be honest, desire the “intellectualism” of agnosticism or atheism… it is a constant struggle to be superior to your peers, even in being more open-minded, more free-thinking, and more accepting than everyone else.

My heart was made to understand God as Creator — I find beauty and majesty wherever I turn. Even as I create, I am amazed that God has given me such ability. When I begin a still life or figure drawing, I struggle with the “letting go,” and until I reach that point — of letting my creation become what it will become — it is nothing. A painting, a drawing, a sculpture… all will be overworked and lacking. My work is uninspired, unauthentic, and suffocated by my own attempt to control it.

And it constantly reminds me of what that means in my life. The longer I refuse to “let go,” the more I am attempting to control what I become. And no matter how great I might think that will be… it pales in comparison to the greatness in store for me — the greatness in the mind of the Creator. So amazing!

And I just love art. 🙂


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