Recently convened for their annual meeting in Castel Gandolfo (Aug. 25-28), the group of 40 former theology and philosophy students of then Professor Joseph Ratzinger were given the task of discussing this sometimes ‘nebulous’ term. Added to their ranks were academics who have chosen to study the thought and writings of Joseph Ratzinger – a suggestion first put forward by Fr. Twomey himself - creating a veritable ‘think-tank’, with some surprising results.
In the first part of this two part interview, Fr. Twomey speaks of how the concept of New Evangelisation is a thread that runs throughout the teaching and writing of Pope Benedict XVI, then Professor Ratzinger. He brings us back to their first meeting over 40 years ago, when as a young Irish missionary priest, he sought out the ‘promising and brilliant theologian’ in his ‘simple’ Bavarian home to ask to study under him. Fr. Twomey takes us on a journey from the Münster and Tübingen years, through the establishment of Ratzinger’s first ‘Doctoral colloquium’, to the Regensburg years and finally, Rome. He speaks about why the New Evangelisation calls for ‘God’s humility’ and why – contrary to popular belief – secularisation is not wholly negative. http://www.radiovaticana.org/en1/Articolo.asp?c=516626
He said “On several occasions during this period, I have recalled the need for every Christian to find time for God, for prayer, amid the many occupations of our daily lives. The Lord Himself gives us many opportunities to remember Him. Today I will touch briefly on one of these channels that can bring us to God and also be of help in encountering Him: it is the path of artistic expression, part of that "path of Beauty ", of which I have spoken several times and which man today should recover in its deepest meaning”.
Pope Benedict continued "perhaps sometimes, before a sculpture, a painting, a few verses of a poem or a song, you have experienced deep within an intimate emotion, a sense of joy, that is, you have clearly perceived that in front of you there was not only mere matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a series of letters or a combination of sounds, but something bigger, something that speaks, capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message; of elevating the soul. "
"Works of art are the fruit of human creativity, which question the visible reality, trying to discover its deep meaning and to communicate it through the language of shapes, colours, sounds." The work of art, in short, "is an open door on the infinite," which "opens the eyes of the mind, of the heart."
However, he added, “there are artistic expressions that are true paths to God, the supreme Beauty, indeed they help nurture our relationship with Him in prayer. These are works that are born of faith and express faith. One example of this is when we visit a Gothic cathedral; we are enraptured by the vertical lines that shoot up towards the sky and draw our eyes and our spirits upwards, while at the same time, we feel small, and yet eager for fullness ... Or when we enter a Romanesque church: we are spontaneously invited to recollection and prayer. We feel as if the faith of generations were enclosed in these splendid buildings. Or, when we hear a piece of sacred music that vibrates the strings of our heart, our soul expands and helped to turn to God. A concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, in Munich, directed by Leonard Bernstein, again comes to my mind. After the last piece of music, one of the Cantate, I felt, not by reasoning, but in my heart, that what I heard had conveyed to me truth, something of the truth of the great composer’s faith and this pressed me to praise and thank the Lord and beside me was the Lutheran Bishop of Munich and spontaneously, feeling this, I said to him, you know, its true, a faith and beauty so strong irresistibly expresses the presence and truth of God".
Pope Benedict then spoke of how certain artists have touched our lives : "How many times have paintings or frescoes, the fruit of the faith of the artist, in their forms, their colours, their light, encouraged us to direct our thoughts to God and nourished in us the desire to draw from the source of all beauty. What the great artist, Marc Chagall, once wrote remains true, that for centuries painters have dipped their paintbrush in that coloured alphabet that is the Bible. How many times, then can artistic expressions be occasions to remind us of God, to help our prayer or for the conversion of the heart! Paul Claudel, a poet, playwright, and French diplomat, in the Basilica of Notre Dame in Paris, in 1886, while he was listening to the singing of the Magnificat at Christmas Mass, felt God's presence. He had not entered the church for reasons of faith, but to in search of arguments against Christians, and instead the grace of God worked in his heart".
The Holy Father concluded: “I invite you to rediscover the importance of this path for prayer, for our living relationship with God. The cities and towns all over the world preserve works of art that express the faith and remind us of our relationship with God. Visiting places of art, it is not only an occasion for cultural enrichment, but above all it can be a moment of grace, an encouragement to strengthen our relationship and our dialogue with the Lord, to stop and contemplate, in the transition from simple external reality to a deeper reality, the ray of beauty that strikes us, that almost wounds us in our inner selves and invites us to rise towards God. "
And then he greeted all English speaking pilgrims present: I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially those from Scotland and Malta. Today we reflect on the need to draw near to God through the experience and appreciation of artistic beauty. Art is capable of making visible our need to go beyond what we see and it reveals our thirst for infinite beauty, for God. Dear friends, I invite you to be open to beauty and to allow it to move you to prayer and praise of the Lord. May Almighty God bless all of you!