While nothing can replace the experience of an on-site retreat at a tranquil monastery or retreat house, for professionals in today’s world, such arrangements are rather difficult to actualize. In the meantime, it’s nice to know that other options are out there when it comes to cutting out time in the day for serious spiritual edification. This Christmas, I was given two fantastic books that combine art history with a thirty-day, Ignatian retreat-like experience. Father Mark Haydu, LC, STL is the author of Meditations on Vatican Art and Meditations on Vatican Art: Angels.

Father Haydu is the international coordinator of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museum, so he is exceptionally qualified and up to the task. With Haydu’s help, each day the reader focuses on one priceless work of art currently housed in the Vatican. He gives a brief introduction to the artist and some background information on his particular masterpiece. Haydu spends most of his energies however presenting the work of art through a spiritual and theological lens. What is this painting communicating to me? What did God intend for us to see in Carravaggio’s The Deposition of Christ? How does Raphael’s The Disputation of the Blessed Sacrament strengthen my faith in the Real Presence? How does a representation of Satan in Corrado Giaquinto’s Satan Before the Lord help me to resist temptations? How can light and darkness depicted in a fresco help me understand the reality of grace and sin in my own life? How does Ludovico Carracci’s dramatic representation of Abraham and Isaac help me trust God, even in challenging times. These are the deeper questions that Haydu takes up in his excellent books, questions that the Vatican’s incomparable paintings are perfectly suited to address.

Father Haydu’s books make an excellent gift. While you’re at it, pick them up for yourself as well. During your lunch break downtown or in the quiet evening hours when the day’s noise is hours away, slowly read one meditation at a time and, just as carefully, let your eyes rest on these sublime gifts from God which have inspired souls and saints for centuries.