"What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation – if not beauty?” —Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to artists gathered in the Sistine Chapel (2009)
In his message at the annual meeting of Pontifical Academies, Pope Francis spoke of ‘sparks of beauty and love’ as necessary to heal and mend humanity. In dialogue with speakers from a variety of fields – art, science, music, literature, sport – the Sparks of Beauty series seeks to encourage a new imagining to Catholic spirituality in 21st century Australia.
This year, the Sparks of Beauty program has taken place in some of Melbourne's most notable locations – the National Gallery of Victoria, Federation Square and the State Library of Victoria. The purpose of hosting at these venues is to encourage conversations about spirituality and faith to take place outside of the usual spaces and 'in the marketplace'.
Missed the sessions this year? Scroll down to read more about the 2018 Sparks of Beauty program.
Sparks of Beauty in Literature (October 2018):
Stories that make us with best-selling author Michael McGirr
In October, the Archbishop's Office for Evangelisation hosted a conversation with best-selling Australian author Michael McGirr, who delighted literature aficionados at the State Library Victoria. McGirr, who is also Dean of Faith and teacher at St Kevin’s in Toorak, spoke about the power of literature through his experiences in literary education and his passion for reading which can be read about in his latest release Books that Saved My Life.
He spoke of various experiences with literature touched on in his book, spending particular time on the first book to have ever ‘left him winded’; Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Reading it as a boy in Year 7, he talked about his intention to read the book as an escape when his father was terminally ill in hospital. ‘I’d entered that book as a kind of escapism and came out of it understanding a completely different time, a faraway place,’ he explained. ‘You find out something profound about yourself. I’m really grateful for those lessons.’
Sparks of Beauty in Sport (September 2018):
In the Zone with football players Mervyn Keane and Emma Kearney
An integral component to the fabric of Australian society, sport plays a vital role in establishing communities and fostering belonging. Its capacity to bring various individuals together mirrors the way in which religion magnetises people of faith. In September, the Archbishop's Office for Evangelisation welcomed Richmond FC legend Mervyn Keane and AFLW All Australian, North Melbourne footballer and cricketer, Emma Kearney, to discuss Victoria’s second religion, football.
Through sport, the ‘sparks of beauty’ Pope Francis refers to glimmer brightly nationwide, fuelling a sense of fraternity and identity. However, the constant broadcast and public examinations so frequent in sport can place considerable demands, pressure and scrutiny upon its participants. Accepting vulnerability is fundamental for sportspeople and spectators alike, and both speakers ended by stressing the importance of caring for mental health and pointed to communication as being a crucial step in responding to it.
Sparks of Beauty in Science (April 2018):
Exploring the Skies with Vatican astronomer Br Guy Consolmagno SJ
“Only by discovering other planets, do we have a really good idea of understanding what it is to be a planet. ... Only by discovering life elsewhere will we really understand what makes life, life. ... I’m not afraid of finding other intelligences out there—I’m thrilled. I’m not afraid when something in my science challenges something I’d assumed all along in my faith, because I’ll tell you what happens all the time in my science—this bit of science challenges this bit of science, and I don’t throw my hands up and say, “‘The heck with science,”’ but say instead, “‘Wow”, which we know is the first step to a scientific breakthrough... to be able to say “I thought I understood God, but now I see something that makes me realize my picture of God was way too small.”
Br Guy Consolmagno SJ is the president of the Vatican Observatory, one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. Having studied planetary sciences at MIT and the University of Arizona, Br Guy worked as a researcher at Harvard and MIT, served in the US Peace Corps in Kenya and taught physics at Lafayette College before entering the Jesuits in 1989. Since 1993, he has worked as an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory, and was appointed president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation in 2014.
Sparks of Beauty in Art (February 2018):
In conversation with artist and educator David Menzies
Over 60 people gathered in the surrounds of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) to engage in reflection about the connection between beauty, goodness and the spiritual life. Led by artist and art educator, David Menzies, the group were encouraged to open their hearts to sparks of beauty. David commenced his presentation by sharing a story that prompted his journey into the world of art: the image of a sandal from 3000 years ago. This ancient sandal provoked a range of questions in him: Who wore it; what was their life about; how did they find meaning in their world 3000 years ago? It is a curiosity that has never left him, and one which he says can be used when reading art: What is the world behind the artwork? Who is the artist, their context, their purpose? What story does the artwork tell? Who is the viewer? What is their context? What is their aesthetic literacy?
David then offered his reflections on the Triennial exhibition which curates the work of 100 artists from 32 countries – an extraordinary accomplishment. David noted that for some, art galleries are 'the cathedrals of the modern world'. These spaces provide a portal into the spiritual world too, as they offer an entry point to pondering the great mysteries of life. The group, for a short period of time, were invited into the world of the artists. ‘It’s good for the soul’, one participant noted.
"Architects and painters, sculptors and musicians, filmmakers and writers, photographers and poets, artists of every discipline, are called to make beauty shine especially, where darkness or drabness dominate everyday life. They are custodians of beauty, heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity, as my predecessors have repeatedly stated. I invite you, therefore, to care for beauty, and beauty will in turn heal many wounds that mark the hearts and souls of men and women today.”
—Pope Francis, “Sparks of beauty: giving a human face to our cities” (2016)