WASHINGTON, DC — A footnote led to the rediscovery of an artists’ retreat led by Bishop Karol Wojtyla, future pope and saint, and the first Theology of the Body Institute book produced by its new branch of ‘editing.
“God is Beauty: A Retreat on the Gospel and Art” includes the retreat given during Holy Week 1962, an introduction and commentary by Christopher West, president of the institute, and reflections by various contributors.
Bill Donaghy, a senior lecturer at the institute, hopes readers will walk away with an understanding of “the incredible and essential importance of beauty in our lives. Capital ‘B’…Beauty! he told Catholic News Service.
Donaghy contributed one of the thoughts and interviewed Irish sculptor and teacher Dony MacManus for the book.
“The pope is actually saying that God himself is beauty. It’s not some kind of ornamental or extravagant concept (only) if you have time for it, or if you’re an artistic person,” he said.
“We must be as receptive to beauty in our lives and all its forms as it comes to us in the same way that Mary, Martha’s sister, was receptive to Jesus, simply resting at his feet, drinking in his beauty and her words,” he said. “Jesus said she chose the best part. We have to do that too. We have to waste time with beauty.
A second major element of this wonderful retreat would be our recognition of the place that art occupies in the contemporary world. Cinema has become such a powerful art form today. What does it say?” Donaghy said. “What does the power of movies in people’s lives have to tell us?
“There is a powerful scene in the retreat where the Holy Father (then a young bishop) walks through pagan sculptures near the Baths of Diocletian in Rome. He said this exposure to their art opened his eyes to the gospel in a profoundly new way. He said he had come to understand the gospel anew.
Art can also be a means of evangelism, Donaghy noted.
“Is there a song, piece of music, or movie that has captured you and brought you closer to God?” He asked. “St. John Paul II later wrote in his “Letter to Artists” (in 1999) that this can be a bridge to religious experience. Evangelism can take place here. We share this experience with others and let’s hear their experience of how beauty through art has touched them.
“Artists contribute to the work of evangelization by first letting themselves be touched by the God who is beauty, truth and goodness,” continued Donaghy. “Their art must be a translation in their own medium of this encounter with God. In this way, their art becomes real, authentic, even vulnerable.
“We desperately need art like this in the church today. Not something put on an assembly line or produced non-custom. Art is the fruit of our encounter with God. In this sense, this retreat is aimed at both non-artists and artists.
West found the footnote on the Holy Week retreat that led to the publication of “God Is Beauty.” The footnote was in a book on St. John by Polish theologian Stanislaw Grygiel. West had the retreat material translated from Polish into English and obtained the necessary permissions for the institute to publish it, making it available for the first time in English.
Grygiel, a close friend of the pope, saw the retreat “as inextricably linked to the catechesis of Saint John Paul II which has become known as the theology of the body,” Donaghy said.
This theology refers to the teaching that the Pope gave in weekly conferences between September 5, 1979 and November 28, 1984, and published together under the title “The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan”.
The pope proclaimed that human bodies were vehicles of union and communion between people and with God, and said that the best reflection of divine love was the love between husband and wife.
Readers of “God is Beauty” need not familiarize themselves with this theology because the retreat was given “before the pope began to write his catechesis on human love and the sacramentality of reality”, according to Donaghy.
“I would say knowing and practicing our faith gives you the grammar to understand his thoughts,” he said.
Wojtyla gave the retreat when he was Auxiliary Bishop of Krakow, Poland. He was appointed archbishop of Krakow in 1964, made a cardinal in 1967 and elected pope in 1978.
“For 60 years, this retreat has remained largely hidden, and TOBI Press is fortunate to finally be able to bring it to light,” Donaghy said, and its rediscovery coinciding with the institute’s launch of its publishing arm. was “providential”.
“Beauty is part of our institute’s ethos in every class we teach,” he told CNS. “An encounter with God in this way – with our intellect and our heart through a kind of way of beauty – has only been magnificently confirmed by this pre-papal book.”
The Theology of the Body Institute, based near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, “is dedicated to making the profound richness of St. John Paul II’s theology of the body accessible and applicable in the lives of men and women everywhere,” Donaghy said.
It offers in-person and online classes, live events, clergy and parish enrichment programs, and pilgrimages. It has a master’s program in theology of the body in collaboration with Pontifex University.
There is also an institute YouTube channel; an “Ask Christopher West” podcast, with nearly 1.5 million downloads; and a “community of patrons” for those who want to become members. The community numbers several thousand.
“God is Beauty” is a major theme of the institute’s upcoming event, “Experience Revealed,” May 13-15. It is held online and in person; attendees can register for free at RevealedExperience.com. Topics “seen through the lens of the theology of the body will include gender, art and beauty, suffering, and speaking to adolescents about navigating the current climate of sexual chaos.”
Wojtyla’s retreat “is just as much for non-artists as it is for artists,” Donaghy noted, because anyone can make their life “a work of art.”
“There is a whole section in the retreat on, you might say, the art of virtue. This is where we can become this masterpiece of God,” he explained. “Like paint or wood or clay in the hand of an artist, our task is to surrender to his hands. It is a life of receptivity, vulnerability and openness to the movement of the creative spirit. of God.
Beauty “is so important to our own spiritual growth and maturation,” Donaghy added. “Beauty slips under the radar of our reason. Beauty captures our imagination and it touches our hearts. It is this delightful encounter with God as beauty that begins the work of our sanctification.