In his newly released book “Meditations on Vatican Art,” author Legionary Father Mark Haydu encourages readers to experience masterpieces from the Vatican art collection in a meditative and prayerful way.
“People need and want beauty, they’re starved for it,” Father Haydu told the Denver Catholic Register Nov. 16 while at St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial during a stop on his U.S. book tour. “On a moral level beauty is holiness, so they’re starved for interior peace. On an aesthetics level, they’re starved for harmony, beauty and transcendence.”
“Meditations on Vatican Art”—which quickly sold out 500 copies at the Centennial signing—is a 216-page, full-color hardcover collection of works thoughtfully selected from the 300,000 pieces contained in the 12 Vatican Museums. It includes pieces by masters such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Cano and Pinturicchio. Each is paired with reflections based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, scriptural meditations, history and contextual notes to help readers understand the artist’s perspective and meaning, and questions for reflection.
“It’s enough art to put you in the context, learn something new, and increase your cultural background,” the priest said. “And just what you need as a platform to go into the message of the art and have a spiritual experience.”
Father Haydu, 41, originally from Akron, Ohio, has lived and studied in Rome for 12 years. He has served as the international coordinator of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums for the last six years, since his 2007 ordination. In that role, he guides the activities of patron chapters in both Europe and the United States, including a Colorado chapter, and manages the development for restorations.
The book was born of his desire to evangelize with art, he said: “To share the faith through art as a priest, and not just a fundraiser; but as someone whose first concern is helping people discover God through beauty.”
Father Haydu has also served as a spiritual director for seminarians, offering expertise in the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. He holds bachelor’s degrees and licentiate degrees in theology and philosophy from the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome.
“It’s important for Catholics, for anybody really, to learn to go to God through what they see,” he explained. “Our path to God is always through our senses, so if we’re able to educate our senses to see things, hear things, smell things; then connect them to a spiritual message, we do our spiritual life a huge service.”
It mirrors Jesus’ approach to evangelism, he said.
“(Jesus) took the mundane and ordinary and gave it a supernatural message,” he said. “He saw his Father in everything, so all he needed was a seed or tree or vine or water, to connect to God and put out a life lesson.
“That’s huge help for our spiritual life if we can do that.”
Divided into five sections—Encountering God’s Love, Encountering Self and God’s Mercy, Encountering Jesus Christ, Jesus’ Passion and Death and Living the Beauty of Resurrection—the book can be used to create a personal retreat, Bible study, text for prayer group or a spirituality group, guide for personal prayer, or simply used to relish the beauty of art.
“Find a time within your daily routine that will enable you to spend 15 to 30 minutes with God,” he suggested. “And may the images and meditations enable the Spirit to move and lead you on your own journey to God.”
The book is available at www.liguori.org, on Amazon or in Catholic bookstores.