Author: Sacred art is a medium towards a conversation with God

When writing, an author will inevitably have moments where there is a struggle for inspiration -- moments where they will search for inspiration in many different corners. Father Mark Haydu was no exception, but unlike other writers, he could write in the Sistine Chapel.

"I got in there before the work started and sat down in the chapel and looked up at God's created hand and Adam's potential human hand and started meditating and started writing," Father Haydu said. Father Haydu is the international coordinator of the Patron of the Arts in the Vatican Museums and recently published his first book with Liguori Publications entitled, "Meditations on Vatican Art." He is on a nationwide book tour and recently stopped at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in midtown St. Louis to present "Healing from Within: The Power of Meditating on Beauty."

"I'm trying to bring the beauty of the Vatican collection to many people who wouldn't otherwise get there," Father Haydu said. Along with presenting the art to people through his book, Father Haydu said another goal of the book is to teach people how to pray using sacred images.

"Religious art is meant to be understood, read and enjoyed in a sacred context, but it's removed from that often and placed in a museum," Father Haydu said. He hopes his book pairing art with meditations will help people enjoy sacred art as a medium toward a conversation with God.

The book follows the path of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and is intended for daily meditation and reflection on a piece of sacred art and Scripture. Each day begins with an introduction to help the reader put themselves in God's presence.

"Then you start to get your imagination by using the work of art and the Scriptures and really those two should set you on a dialogue, you can go on your own to talk with God and return to the work of art when you need to," Father Haydu said.

One piece of art that will stand out to the casual observer is a painting entitled "The Embrace" by Pedro Cano and is one of the only pieces of modern art in the book. The painting depicts Pope John Paul II embracing his mentor Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski at the pope's Mass of Installation. The painting places the two characters in an indistinguishable setting and the separate figures seem to be one.

"The mutual self-giving love makes this exchange striking, recalling indeed the embrace of the prodigal son and his forgiving father," Father Haydu wrote. Haydu later described this work as one he found powerful and healing for himself. Along with encouraging and teaching imaginative prayer, the book aims to help people see God in all things, another Jesuit ideal.

"All of us are surrounded by beauty, but learning to see the glory all around us is a real art," Father Haydu wrote in the introduction to his book. He spoke of how often people perceive the material world as an obstacle and distraction, but because God became incarnate he saved all things and in a certain way all things reflect Him.

"Many things, if you sort it out, you can get to where God is, even in a very negative thing," Father Haydu said.

In his presentation on how art heals, Father Haydu told a story from an interaction with Pope Francis. Father Haydu said, "Holy Father, a lot of the people that I work with (who) are donors to the museums, well-to-do people, they're nervous; all this talk about the poor, we're worried that maybe you're going to want to sell the Vatican collection."

Father Haydu said Pope Francis laughed and later said, "Nobody needs beauty more than the poor."

The spiritually poor and materially poor need the beauty of art which, as Father Haydu described, "makes you dream of what is possible, it lifts you out of your present circumstances, it shocks you."

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