The Connection Between Art & Mission: Cécile Martin-Houlgatte
Cécile Martin-Houlgatte, a Consecrated Woman of Regnum Christi celebrating her 30th anniversary of consecration, is an artist who gives spiritual accompaniment to artists, writers, and singers, and also holds expositions of her own paintings and photographs. She is currently the director of her community in Rome and studies Theology of the Arts at the Catholic University of Paris.
As a Consecrated Woman, where did your interest in art come from?
Before consecrating myself to God I studied the history of contemporary art in Paris and I also did some painting. A few years ago, a woman in New York invited me to paint something for a gala dinner to help raise money for a charity in Cheshire, CT. So, after 25 years I returned to painting and, this time, I did it for God and the painting sold. After that other individuals asked me for the same painting of the Sacred Heart. I was very impressed by the power and reach of this painting when it was in the offices and homes of people on Wall Street. I reflected on this and realized that this was not just my private work. I was doing something missionary in nature, and I had to reflect to see if God wanted me to continue doing something more in this field.
After working in the United States I was in Paris, France for three years. There, my interest and joy at being in the world of the arts came back to life. Several circumstances confirmed this pastoral approach. One was very unexpected. One day during Christmas time I was visiting a prison. During the conversation with the inmates, one came up to me and asked me what I did. I said to him, “I am a missionary.” He told me that he didn’t think I could be a missionary. I asked him “why not?” He answered, “when I saw you come in to mass and now as we are speaking only one word comes to mind – art.” Yes, this was for me one of the many moments when God confirmed that perhaps I should continue serving the Church by working for the Evangelization of Culture, by being a “missionary of the arts.” Little by little several encounters continued to confirm this, as well as discernment in prayer and through my directors.
What do you currently do in regard to art?
- Offer spiritual accompaniment to artists or individuals who work in the world of the arts.
- Give testimonies about my commitment to God and the arts.
- Paint and take photographs that are sometimes in exhibitions or that can be found on my website.
- Seek to respond to whatever need or request comes to me. I received invitations to ecumenical meetings on beauty and art, invitations to give my testimony on the radio, opportunities to accompany artists, etc.
What can you tell us about your private audience with Pope Francis and the “Diakonia of Beauty”?
On February 17th Pope Francis had a private audience with a French group called the “Diakonia of Beauty” on its 10th anniversary. I was able to be with them since I know this group of artists. It was a very intimate encounter where the Holy Father was very present to each person from the beginning to the end, with a look and a smile of goodness that marked each one of us. He offered us very motivating words and invited us to “encourage our contemporaries to follow the via pulchritudinis (Way of beauty).” He reminded us that the Sacred Scriptures often speak of the beauty of the universe which points to the Beauty of the Creator by analogy. The Scriptures remind us that each one of us is called by vocation to be an instrument and guardian of beauty.
Afterwards, each of us had the opportunity to greet him; it was an unforgettable moment.
What did you experience, what stayed with you after that encounter?
First of all, the Holy Father’s attitude of openness greatly impressed me. From the beginning to the end of the encounter he radiated goodness, openness and serene joy. His words also motivated me to continue on this path of living and promoting the dialogue between beauty and faith, though it is not always easy. To continue evangelizing in the culture of art, in the first place by allowing myself to be evangelized through this medium.
Several of the Pope’s ideas keep turning about in my mind and heart. Beauty has the ability to create communion between God, man, and creation, between past, present, and future. It attracts people from different and distant places to the same place and to the same vision, even people of different languages. Have you seen the incredible communion that a concert often creates? Or a theatrical performance? An art expo? It is something wonderful! This really motivates me. Through my poor collaboration in the evangelization of Culture by my apostolate of the arts, I hope, God willing, to be able to contribute in some small way to the encounter of people among each other and with our God, who seeks only to love them infinitely and to receive their love, through the experience of Beauty.
The Pope also told us that the Church counts on us today to help our brothers and sisters to have a tender and compassionate heart, a renewed gaze of love toward the world and toward others.
He emphasized that beauty is the source of joy because it puts us in touch with Divine Goodness. This seems to be to very important… and necessary.
What is your hope for the evangelization of culture through art?
First, the Church is making many efforts to rebuild the relationship with the world of contemporary art. For example, the Holy See has spent several years at the Biennale de Venecia, a cultural institution for contemporary art, asking artists to express themes of the faith with very modern techniques and very contemporary styles. I hope to be able to support these efforts. I hope not to be an obstacle to what God is doing in this pastoral approach to beauty and art, and so to help faith and art to continue engaging and supporting one another. Second, I hope that this fosters joy and peace in many people. Lastly and above all, I hope that through the arts and through beauty Christ’s face will be revealed, who is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.
You can view Cécile’s art on her website and in this video of her expositions.
This article is a translation of the Spanish original published by the Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi.