In order to believe in heaven, we must see it.
This inspiration came to me on the feast of the Transfiguration back in 2013. Seeing Christ in glory in the Transfiguration helped the disciples to believe in Christ even after the passion.
Art in the church should show us the glories of heaven, so that in seeing them we might believe in them.
First and foremost a work of religious art should be a way of communicating the truth of our religion: that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself; that he died for man out of his great love for us, to destroy sin and death, and rose again, to lead us to union with him and the Father and the Spirit forever.
This mystery of the faith should be present in every painting in some way. Obviously, not every painting is of the passion or even an episode of Christ’s life but even if it is of an obscure saint, in some way this message should permeate and shine forth from the picture, otherwise it is just a more or less nice picture illustrating an episode from history but with little to say about our salvation. Conversely, a painting may not be of great merit, artistically speaking; it may be crude or naive but if it somehow communicates the message of the gospel then it is doing its job.
We must also consider that a work of art is a two-way process involving an artist and a viewer.
Art is a way of communicating. It uses a language. ‘Heart speaks unto heart’ as Newman said. Religious art speaks about the faith.
It is easier to speak of the faith to one who has faith. One who has some grounding in the faith understands signs, symbols, idioms with ease, as one who speaks a language fluently. And yet religious art is not just for Catholics.
Art can also be a tool for evangelisation.
How can one who has no faith receive something from a picture? How can we speak to him at all?
It must have beauty, that is, it must be attractive. The message of the gospel is attractive. The person of Christ is the most beautiful picture. The Sermon on the Mount speaks of a man who is supremely attractive because he is divine; he is full of the Spirit of God; on his face one can see God, like the Saints, like Mother Teresa.
Even the crucifixion, that horror of horrors, which made people scream their faces and turn away, appalled, seen with faith, a great paradox, can be a thing of beauty when we see it as what it truly is: God loving us, pouring out the last drop of his blood to redeem the wickedest of men.
The message of salvation is a ferocious tidal wave of love. What artwork can do it justice? As humans we become bored of art, used to it, familiar, take it for granted. Similarly, we get bored of salvation, take it for granted… Just as we renew devotion by contemplation perhaps we would do well to contemplate the old works of art and avoid indulging an unhealthy appetite for novelty.