Pope Benedict recently returned to a topic which appears to be close to his heart: the role of artists in the Church.
In his weekly audience he spoke of the ways in which art "resembles a door open on to the infinite, on to a beauty and a truth that go beyond the daily routine" and specifically mentioned Paul Claudel, the great Catholic poet and dramatist.
What I really like about the pope's comments was the way in which he started his talk: "In this period I have recalled several times the need for every Christian, in the midst of the many occupations that fill our days, to find time for God and for prayer." Easier said than done? Well, it depends, at least in part, on our conception of prayer.
According to the Pope, "The Lord himself gives us many opportunities to remember him. Today I would like to reflect briefly on one of these channels that can lead to God and can also be of help in the encounter with him. It is the way of artistic expression, part of that “via pulchritudinis” — the “way of beauty”, of which I have spoken several times and whose deepest meaning must be recovered by men and women today."
Pope Benedict has spoken of the Way of Beauty before but this is, I think, the first time he has explicitly linked Art and prayer: "some artistic expressions are real highways to God, the supreme Beauty; indeed, they help us to grow in our relationship with him, in prayer. These are works that were born from faith and express faith. We can see an example of this when we visit a Gothic cathedral: we are enraptured by the vertical lines that soar skywards and uplift our gaze and our spirit, while at the same time we feel small yet long for fullness...."
"Dear friends, I ask you to rediscover the importance of this path also for prayer, for our living relationship with God. Towns and villages throughout the world contain treasures of art that express faith and beckon to us to return to our relationship with God. May the visits to places filled with art, then, not only be opportunities for cultural enrichment — that too — but may they become above all moments of grace, incentives to strengthen our bond and our dialogue with the Lord so that — in switching from simple external reality to the more profound reality it expresses — we may pause to contemplate the ray of beauty that strikes us to the quick, that almost “wounds” us, and that invites us to rise toward God."
It puts a different gloss on what we're doing as English teachers.