The Arts (Music, Books, Film)

Can the arts (music, artwork, drama, movies, literature, or architecture) be a resource for mental health? Absolutely!


Once when she was attending a conference in Paris, Jane Goodall, a scientist known for her studies of chimpanzees, ducked into Notre Dame Cathedral for a moment of peace, and when the organist began to play Bach’s Toccata and Fuge, she experienced a reawakening the Christian faith of her childhood, and changing her career path from anthropology to ecological activism.

The number of stories like this (Amazing Grace!) is probably endless.

  • St. Louis Jesuits: The St. Louis Jesuits are a group of priests and seminarians whose music changed the Catholic Church and the world as it continues to inspire many. Over 50+ years, they have written 50+ songs. You can hear their music at Mass many Sundays and anytime on YouTube. Come to the water!
  • Spotify Playlists of Traditional and Contemporary Christian/Catholic Music: Spotify is a music streaming platform that can be utilized in a free trial format for listeners. On this app or website, you can type in ‘Christian’ or ‘Catholic’ and find pre-made albums with traditional or more contemporary songs. Once you find an artist or a genre you like, you can listen to more of that type of music and even create your own custom playlists.

Books too can be a resource for faith and mental health. CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein, Thomas Merton, and Flannery O’Connor are perennial favorites whose works have helped many Catholics to keep the faith or to convert to it. There are many, many other authors whose influence has and continues to be profound.

Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill is a lyrical narrative history of the world before and after Jesus:
“Two thousand years ago a man was born into a family of carpenters in occupied Palestine. He was a small town Jew born in a bad time for Jews. Their land was no longer their own and they had been made to bow before a succession of conquerors who had diluted their proud culture. His name, as everyone knows, was Jesus of Nazareth–or as the Jews of his own day called him, Yeshua. As everyone knows, he preached a message of mercy, love, and peace and was crucified for his troubles. This unlikely character has long been accounted the central figure of Western civilization. We count our days by his appearance on earth and there are no serious suggestions for replacing him as the Icon of the West.” (Cahill, 1998)

The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen
“In this book, Henri Nouwen combines creative case studies of ministry with stories from diverse cultures and religious traditions in preparing a new model for ministry. Weaving keen cultural analysis with his psychological and religious insights, Nouwen has come up with a balanced and creative theology of service that begins with the realization of fundamental woundedness in human nature.” (From the Henri Nouwen website)

Mountains Beyond Mountains is a book by Tracy Kidder about the life and work of Dr. Paul Farmer, who until his unexpected death from a heart attack in early 2022 at the age of 61, was one of the most influential physicians in the world and whose approach to medicine was based on Catholic teachings.

Father Thomas Berry was a Catholic priest who called himself a ‘geologian’ (a theologian with a special love of the earth). His work provides a cosmic context for ecology and faith. Some of his best-known books include, The Great Work, The Dream of the Earth, and Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as a Sacred Community.

Other modern Catholic authors who inspire include Mary Gordon, Brian Doyle, Paul Elie, James Martin, SJ, Gary Wills, to name just a few.

  • A Hidden Life is a film by one of the most respected modern directors, Terrence Malik, about Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer whose Catholic faith led him to refuse to swear allegiance to Hitler. The movie is profound and inspiring.
  • Babette’s Feast is a feast for the heart as well as for the eyes and the palate. Pope Francis has called this his favorite movie, and it might just move to you to take the next step. Come to the water (and to a seven-course meal). Watch it on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or other streaming services.