I first fell in love with poetry as a little boy. My mother used to recite poems to me. She was a working-class Mexican-American without much education, but these poems, which she had learned in school, meant a great deal to her. Just as I turned 20, I found myself constantly reading and memorizing poems. I kept scribbling in a notebook. Nothing else gave me such pleasure. Without planning to, I had become a poet. That’s how a vocation happens: You don’t choose your calling. It chooses you.
What appeals to me most in poetry is the sound: the tune of the words. A poem should be speech raised to the level of song. Poetry is the most concise, expressive and memorable way of using words to describe our existence. It is a special kind of language hidden inside our everyday speech. The music of poetry creates a sort of enchantment that allows us to feel emotions, images, sensations and ideas more intensely.
Poetic inspiration is a mysterious and involuntary thing.… What Catholicism does is inform my work. Whether the poem is about an angel or an alleyway, my way of seeing the world (and sensing what lies beyond the visible world) is always Catholic. For me, Catholicism is not a subject matter; it is about how I understand my existence and lead my life, not just how I write. The Catholic artist sees humanity struggling in a fallen world. We long for grace and redemption, but feel a deep sense of our own imperfection. Evil exists, but the world is not evil. We experience reality as sacramental: The world is shimmering with signs of sacred things. All reality is mysteriously charged with the presence of God. We also perceive suffering as redemptive...
Catholics believe in beauty as a fundamental mode of perception. For us, beauty is not about the external attributes of being pretty or decorous. Beauty is the exhilaration of perceiving the true shape of a thing in a way that lets us look into the center of its existence. It is our most powerful and natural way of knowing reality. As Thomas Aquinas observed, "Beauty makes us delight in the very act of knowing.”
One of the glories of Catholicism has been that it understood the ability of beauty to speak to people directly. Since the end of the 19th century, Catholicism and the arts have gone in different directions. That separation has diminished both the Church and artistic culture. The Church has lost one of the most important ways in which it speaks to the world. Parishioners are incarnate beings whose senses are dulled by pedestrian liturgy, banal art, amateurish music and graceless architecture.... When we worship, should we not exult in the glory of God? Should we not offer God our best? ‘My soul doth mediocritize the Lord’ is not an inspiring motto.”
Let’s be as literal as possible and take the example of a beautiful church. The architecture of a church creates a space that physically and imaginatively allows a certain posture of spiritual attention and alertness to occur. It doesn’t dictate the theological content of that attention.… Art awakens and enlarges our spiritual hunger. It doesn’t force-feed us. Art acknowledges the intelligence and volition of its audience.