“What makes Bach so successful among the Japanese?” I asked him. O’Hara replied, “Bach gives us hope when we are afraid; he gives us courage when we despair; he comforts us when we are tired; he makes us pray when we are sad; and he makes us sing when we are full of joy.”
Pope Francis realizes that in our postmodern framework, appeals to the true and the good often fall on deaf ears. Indeed, if the dictatorship of relativism obtains, then who are you to tell me what I ought to think or how I ought to behave? This is why the Pope calls for an active exploration of the via pulchritudinis (the way of beauty). It is best for the evangelizer to show the splendor and radiance of the Christian form of life, before he or she would get to explicit doctrine and moral commands. This involves the use of classical artistic expressions of the Christian faith as well as contemporary cultural forms. Indeed, says the Pope, any beautiful thing can be a route of access to Christ.
This is precisely why moralizing and intellectualizing are often non-starters in regard to persuasion. But there is something unthreatening about the beautiful. Just look at the Sistine Chapel ceiling or the Parthenon or Chartres Cathedral or Picasso’s “Guernica”; just read The Divine Comedy or Hamlet or The Wasteland; just watch Mother Teresa’s sisters working in the slums of Calcutta or Rory McIlroy’s golf swing or the movements of a ballet dancer. All of these work a sort of alchemy in the soul, and they awaken a desire to participate, to imitate, and finally, to share. Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the great advocates of the aesthetic approach to religion, said that the beautiful claims the viewer, changes him, and then sends him on mission.