Beauty will save the world. A philosophy professor of mine said that once, quoting the famous Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It really struck a chord with me, especially since I was pursuing a career in Drama and Creative Writing, something none of my practical and successful relatives could understand. A recipe for disaster is what they called it.
I wanted to make beautiful things. I knew it wouldn’t make me much money. I knew it would be difficult to find a job, get a role, or be published. What I didn’t know was what a useful tool my artistic abilities could be in spreading my faith. Any kind of art (drawing, singing, acting, or writing) can be used as a tool for evangelisation
The True, the Good, and the Beautiful
Bishop Robert Barron, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, has a lot to say on the subject of using beauty to evangelise. “The best evangelical strategy is one that moves from the beautiful to the good, and finally, to the true.” He explains how our world today has slowly blurred the lines that differentiate between good and evil, and between truth and falsehood. Society has made these concepts subjective. Subjective truth. Subjective goodness. People no longer accept something as true or good just because they are told it is. But beauty is harder to define, and therefore harder to corrupt.
Bishop Barron explains how this can be a useful tool for evangelisation: “The pattern is more or less as follows: first the beautiful (how wonderful!), then the good (I want to participate!), and finally, the true (now I understand!). A young man watches a skillfully played game of baseball, and it awakens in him a profound desire to play as well as those whom he admired; and then the actual playing of the game teaches him, from the inside, the rules and rhythms of baseball. A completely inadequate way of drawing a kid into the world of baseball would be to start with a clarification of the rules or with a set of drills. Rather, show him the beauty of baseball, and he will want to play, and having played, he will know.
I highly recommend this post by Bishop Barron for further reading on the subject of art and beauty in evangelisation:
The Artist’s Power
Bishop Robert Barron is not the only person to make this discovery about beauty and evangelisation. Saint Pope John Paul II, before he became Pope, was a founder of an underground theater during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The actors performed in secret at night in people’s homes, because what they were doing was punishable by imprisonment or even death. But for the Polish people at this time, the art was worth the risk. It spread hope through the country during that difficult time.
In 1999, during his papacy, John Paul II wrote a letter to artists, which begins: “None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.”
Artists of all types (actors, writers, directors producers) often get a bad reputation, whether it be for “not having a real job,” or “being corrupted by show biz.” But a Pope, recently canonized a saint, says that an artist is an echo of the Creator Himself.When we consider this, it’s no wonder that the artist is so under attack by the forces of evil. Movies, music, and theater are not evil in themselves, but very often these mediums are used to send negative messages. What if we turned that on its head? Suppose we used this great weapon of our talent and creativity to send a positive and redeeming message?
Art in Evangelisation
This doesn’t mean we have to make only movies, books, and songs about overtly Christian topics. For the purposes of evangelisation, it’s often better not to, since this can be perceived as “preachy.” Many of the most powerful books or movies I’ve ever experienced have no overt Christian themes in them at all. But they still contain truth, and I recognized the truth because the art was beautiful.
In my own experience working for NET Ministries, I’ve spoken to dozens of youth who said their favorite part of a retreat was the dramas and sketches my team and I perform throughout the day. The sketches have absolutely no religious relevance whatsoever, and in fact, it would be foolish to try and find any. But they still do something very important. When young people hear the word, “retreat,” they think, “a lecture about religion from some boring people.” On NET, the last thing we want to be is boring. We want to evangelise, but if the youth are going to listen, they have to find us relatable. If you can make someone laugh, you have a better chance of getting through to them on more serious topics.
Another professor of mine told me that Drama makes the invisible visible. This is very true for the dramas that we present to the youth during ministry. Most of them show a person’s struggle to find meaning in their life, and how that meaning is found in Jesus. These dramas are very powerful, especially when the youth watching relate the drama back to their own life. Almost every youth I talk to after retreats say that the dramas impacted them very deeply. Drama lets us see things that usually only happen in our hearts and minds. Even though we all know it’s just a guy standing up front in a white T-shirt, watching a drama is like meeting Jesus.
About Hannah Kubiak
Hello, my name is Hannah Kubiak. I am 22 years old, and I come from Westmont, a small suburb of Chicago, Illinois. I just graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville with a degree in Drama, but before I get out there and audition, I will be spending this coming year serving the youth of Ireland! I’m thrilled to be here and can’t wait to see what this year will bring!