FIYH 32-33: The Arts and Popular Culture

Picking up on yesterday’s theme of cultural engagement, the arts add more insight for the preacher’s task:

[32] Regular and sustained contact with the world’s greatest literature or with its painting, sculpture, and musical achievements can rightfully be regarded by preachers not simply as a leisure-time activity but as part of their ongoing professional development. The same can be said of attention to modern entertain­ment media-television, film, radio-or to the theater. Dramatic presentations that deal sensitively with significant human issues can provide a wealth of material for our reflection and our preaching, both in its content and in its form.

The preacher must naturally be able to dialogue with and analyze music, art, and drama. A pure art history for-its-own-sake approach won’t do. Some critical thinking is needed: seeing where the arts intersect the cares and concerns of the day, and how that history impacts the present. Come to think of it, church musicians would greatly benefit from this sensitivity too.

Don’t forget pop culture:

[33] If preachers are to know and understand their congregations today, some familiarity with popular forms of entertainment may also be necessary. We need not spend whole afternoons watching soap operas, memorizing baseball statis­tics, or listening to the latest hit albums. Yet if we are totally unaware, or give the impression that we are unaware of the activities and interests to which people devote a good deal of their leisure time, energy, and money, it will be difficult for us to make connections between their lives and the Gospel, or to call them to fuller, richer, and deeper levels of faith response.

And remember, the engagement with the arts is not first and foremost an appeal to one’s own aesthetic tastes. Art is a window to the culture, and the culture forms believers as surely as anyone else. It’s not enough, for example, to decry the shock experience of provocative modern art. An intelligent and engaged preacher must know why provocation is attractive in modern America, how much the parishioners indulge it in other ways, and look to a homily as an attempt to counteract the underlying tendencies.


(All texts from Fulfilled in Your Hearing are copyright © 1982 USCCB. All rights reserved. Used with permission.)

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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