Do Pagans Go To Heaven or Hell?

The author of the interesting and challenging blog site on sacred art and its analysis called Catchlight sent me two questions yesterday. They related to my last post which was entitled Fatima Messages, Pagans in the Vatican, and the End Times.

Paul, your protestations begs the question, do pagans go to Heaven? If so, why? If not, why not?      from Bernard Gallagher

These are excellent questions.

Before I attempt to answer them my readers should understand that I am a committed Roman Catholic. These questions will be answered through the lens of the teachings of my faith. That Faith is based on a foundation of Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and two thousand years of Catholic scholarship. Also, the philosophical reasonings of two extremely erudite scholars, Peter J. Kreeft, Ph.D, and Rev Ronald K. Tacelli, S.J., have assisted me through the insights of their many books.

First,

a) The Roman Catholic Church says that Jesus Christ, is the Word of God, the Son of the Father, begotten not made and consubstantial with Him. He is the Messiah, the Savior. We see His Revelation through His life; and through His passion, death, and resurrection redeemed mankind from their sins. His divinity is also expressed in His position as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

b) He is known to mankind through the historical Gospels, the Epistles of the Apostles, the erudition of the Church Fathers, Doctors of the Church, and the teaching authority of the Church.

c) He is also known through the extraordinary scholarship of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, The teaching authority of the Church, (as found in its Magisterium), is the Church’s responsibility to give to the world an authentic interpretation of the Revelation of God as found in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

d) Additionally, let us not forget the importance of the testimony of the angels and the saints, of whom the Blessed Mother Mary is the greatest. All of these facts contribute to mankind’s understanding and witness of our Savior Jesus Christ.

e) Jesus commissioned His Apostles (the first bishops) to make known the free gift of His graces. These critical graces are found in the Seven Sacraments of the Church, beginning with the keystone Sacrament, Baptism.

Hagiasophia-christ-1
An icon of Jesus Christ. It is found within the former Eastern Rite Church of Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom). The Church was built in the early 6th century and is located in Istanbul, Turkey (formerly Constantinople). It has been a museum since 1935.

Second, let’s refer to what Jesus Christ says in response to Nicodemus’ questions concerning eternal life in the Gospel of St. John, John 3: 1-21: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus continues to question Him, and Jesus responds, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…You must be born again.”

Baptism into the Christian faith is again stressed in another passage of the Gospels. The Gospel of St. Matthew, in its very last passage deals with the commissioning of the Apostles, which occurred after His resurrection and before His Ascension back to the Father. Jesus emphasizes that combined with their preaching and works they must baptize faith-filled individuals because of Adam and Eve’s sin. Humanity’s broken relationship with God must be healed. It was healed through the death and resurrection of the Father’s Son Jesus the Christ. Jesus death, on our behalf allowed the formation of the Church and the Sacraments to be instituted to provide the grace to a broken humanity. Baptism is the Sacrament that makes this happen. It makes an individual’s body and soul a member of God’s family. Matthew 28: 18-20: “Jesus drew near and spoke to them saying, “all power in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” 

Third, it appears, within the Christian faith, that we can come to specific conclusions that will provide a springboard for my response to Mr. Gallagher:

  1. If the human race was alienated from God, and the spiritual relationship with Him was broken, then a loving and merciful God would not give up on His children. Thus, through the course of history God has slowly manifested and revealed Himself to humanity starting with our spiritual parents, Adam and Eve, then through the patriarchs, leaders, and prophets of the chosen Jewish tribes culminating in the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus the Christ. God desires us to love Him and conform to His Laws. He has given us reason and free will. He has given us the ability to think and act not like robots but as free men and women. His revealed truths and laws must be evangelized and faithfully kept by individuals and mankind as a whole. The “Good News” must be spread by the Church as a whole and individuals, too.
  2. The First Commandment applies, as we see in Exodus 20: 1-6ff: “I, the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides Me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves…you shall not bow down to them or worship them. For I the Lord am a jealous God…inflicting punishment on those who are wicked and hate me…and mercy on those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
  3. Through Scripture and study of the Catechism united with faith we also know that Jesus Christ, as the consubstantial only Son of God, is the promised Savior. Now, have the Amazonian pagans, or the new pagans of the 20th and 21st centuries been exposed to that truth?
  4. He freely offered Himself for our eternal salvation. This was accomplished through the words and actions of His human ministry and ultimately through His Passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Have apostates, pagans, or other non believers been exposed to that truth?
  5. We see God through faith in Him, participating in prayer, Scripture study, good works, and the sanctifying grace found in the Seven Sacraments. Have pagans been exposed to these truths?
  6. As Jesus Christ said Himself, the Sacrament of Baptism into the family of the Holy Trinity is a mandatory necessity. Have apostates, pagans, and nonbelievers, been exposed and evangelized to that truth? 

A multitude of volumes  have been written on the above six points. I may have missed some critical ones, for which I apologize. For the sake of brevity, however, allow me to move on to specifically answer the questions of Mr. Gallagher.

Fourth, so, are pagans going to Heaven or Hell?

In a nutshell, I would never presume to know God’s mind, except from that which He revealed through Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. I would never make a judgement on another person’s soul as he or she are seen by God at the time of their death and individual judgement. Unknown to the world, even a great sinner may suddenly, in their last moments, repent of their sins and ask for mercy. But, make no mistake about it, Scriptural Revelation, and the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church and specifically the words of Jesus in the Holy Scriptures, specifically says that there is a Hell (Matthew 10: 28; 22: 13. Luke 16: 26; etc.); there is a Heaven, and, damnation into Hell for all eternity.

Some additional issues:

  1. Let’s take a look at three major Greek philosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. They were scholars who lived and died  before the birth and ministry of  Jesus Christ. They lived within a pagan society whose members believed in a multitude of pagan gods. Their society was polytheistic and pantheistic.  Are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in Heaven or Hell?
  2. The answer is, “I don’t know!”
  3. But Jesus said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14: 6). Wouldn’t that statement preclude the Greek philosophers entrance into Heaven?
  4. The answer is “Not automatically.”
  5. Why? What do we know? We know that those three philosophers were men who searched for the truth, not only about  themselves as individuals but about the world itself. They searched after the truth. They made the sincere effort to find the truth by thinking, questioning, analyzing reality, both physical and metaphysical. They used all the evidence at their disposal to do so. They lived, before the Son of God was incarnated. They did not have the witness, of Jesus Christ, and to His specific and eternal revelation as the Son of God, both human and divine. They also probably did not have any exposure to the history of the Jewish people and God’s revelation to them.
  6. But, in the time after the Incarnation and Ascension of Jesus, a person who had the opportunity to be exposed to the teachings of the  Christian Faith (in the Protestant and Anglican churches, and the full expression of it in the Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church), would have a critical free choice to make.
  7. If they are pagan, agnostic, atheist, Christian, deist, Satanist, etc, and they would then, after an effort to know the truth, reject Jesus Christ out of intentional misunderstanding, intellectual arrogance, stubbornness, cultural and historic prejudices, selfishness, willful rejection of Christian Revelation, narcissistic impulses, apostasy, or some evil influence, they would be freely putting their eternal soul into mortal sin. They would be facing the eternal punishment of Hell because they chose the path, through their own free will, of “definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed in Heaven (confer page 269 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,  2nd edition).
  8. God is loving and compassionate, filled with mercy (for those who sincerely repent of their sins). God is merciful; however, our God is a God of Justice. Why would Jesus Christ be Incarnated to minister, suffer, die, and resurrected if the Holy Trinity would give mortal sinners “A get into Heaven free pass?” The “Pass theory” doesn’t make sense, it is illogical, bogus, and yes it is a lie. There are dire consequences for freely turning your back on Jesus Christ: Hell.
  9. But do today’s pagans turn their backs?
  10. The key to answering that question is: Have they made the effort to know the Truth? Have they been exposed to the truths of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures? Have they been evangelized by courageous and selfless missionaries who are willing to undergo all sorts of hardships and possibly even martyrdom for the sake of their flocks eternal souls? Have they deliberately turned their backs on the truth and revelation of God through the Christian Scriptures, and the presentation of the Apostles, Church’s Doctors and Fathers, and the bishops and Pope in unison as they all present the truth on faith and morals?
  11. The Church’s duty and responsibility is to bring, without arrogance or condescension, the Holy Scriptures, Sacred Traditions, and the Holy Sacraments to the world. If its bishops, priests, deacons, and laity shirk or compromise their duties and teaching authority, die in the state of mortal sin without sincere repentance, give bad example through public and private sin, then they will be denied entrance into Heaven, too.
  12. Is the Church giving sufficient resources to the missionaries in the field? Are we able to inspire young men and women in today’s world of the necessity and challenge to enter the life of a missionary? Have we thrown in the towel?
  13. This is my great concern about what I see in the Church today. The Christian churches should not be about assimilation of pagan cultures into the Faith in order “To learn from them,” or in a “spirit of dialogue” and accommodation.
  14.  The Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church have the complete and total revelation of God to humanity. We have the complete revealed truth of God, and the example of what it means to live in the heart of the Father, through the Redemptive Act of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
  15. Matthew 28: 18-20, relates Jesus’ specific command. Our duty is to compassionately and without arrogance teach pagans and other non-believers about Jesus Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
  16. It is intellectually and morally irresponsible to give the impression that apostates, heretics, or pagan/polytheistic cultures can add to the Deposit of Faith. We are either for Him or against Him. We either understand the gift of the Deposit of the Faith or we don’t. There should be no waffling.
  17. We either proclaim His truth effectively and with conviction or we will see the Church continue to decline, make compromises, and cause confusion, anxiety, division, and resentment among its faithful,
  18. The Gospel of Luke 18: 8 challenges us to examine our own hearts: “When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?” 
  19. To paraphrase Kreeft and Tacelli, If we have a diamond of immense and extraordinary  value (our Catholic/Christian Faith) why would we go about the world seeking additional baubles?
  20. Refer also to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd edition, 1997, pages 311-324) which has an excellent section on the Sacrament of Baptism.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you

The Assumption of Our Mother Mary – We Venerate Her Today

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A 21st century icon by Marek Czarnecki, an American Roman Catholic iconographer. 

We celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. In her honor let us review some the Church’s truths; dogmas which progressed to the point of Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaiming the meaning of the Blessed Mother’s life and her Assumption into Heaven.

We are able to see this progression through Sacred Scripture, the various early ecumenical Councils of the Church, the individual writings of the early Church fathers (such as St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. John Cassian, St. Vincent of Lerins, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. John of Damascus, and the Gothic Missal of the 6th century).
The Church’s movement through the process of unfolding the truths that were to become its dogmas progressed over time. Below are a few key occurrences which provide evidence for the debate and development proclaiming the dogmas of the Church.
• In AD 313, the Emperor Constantine declares that Christians can freely worship throughout the Roman Empire, thus, providing for a peaceful development of Christian communities, formal places of worship, and the continuation of theological scholarship and Scripture study.
• In 325, the Council of Nicea declared that the Father and the Son are consubstantial  (that is, having the same substance);
• In 381, the Edict of Emperor Theodosius declared that Christianity is the official religion of the Roman Empire (the Roman Empire formally collapsed in 476);
• In 431, the Council of Ephesus proclaimed that Mary is the Mother of God, that is, mother of the human nature of Jesus: Mary is declared to be the Theotokos, the God Bearer –  Mother of the Son of God’s human nature.
• In 451, the Council of Chalcedon declared that two natures, both human and divine, coexist in Jesus Christ;
In 1950, Venerable Pope Pius XII, in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, declared the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of the Faith. Dogmas are defined as the set of principles of the Church which are unquestionably true, and must be accepted and believed if a person is a member of one of the Rites of the Catholic Church.
Pope Pius XII tells us in this Apostolic Constitution that “from the second century the holy Fathers present the Virgin Mary as the new Eve, most closely associated with her Son, the new Adam.”
“She is subject to Him in the struggle again the enemy (Satan).”  Confer the Book of Revelation (chapter 12, verse 1 ff) on her role in the war with the  deceiver of mankind.
Pope Pius XII continues: “Hence, the august Mother of God, mysteriously united from all eternity with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a virgin inviolate in her divine motherhood, the whole hearted companion of the divine Redeemer who won complete victory over sin and its consequences, gained at last the supreme crown of her privileges: to be preserved immune from the corruption of the tomb, and like her Son, when death had been conquered, to be carried up body and soul to the exalted glory of Heaven, there to sit in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal king of the ages.”
Mary is not a goddess. Eastern and Western Rite Catholics do not worship her, rather, we venerate her as the greatest of all the saints.
Catholics view the Blessed Mother Mary as an intercessor. As our spiritual Mother she intercedes with Jesus, similar to our biological mother interceding on our behalf with our biological father. Eastern and Western Rite Catholics do this because this example of her intercession is seen in Sacred Scripture, when at the Wedding Feast of Cana Mary intercedes with her Son to help the newly married couple avoid embarrassment and additional expense.
Mary is always present and truly cares for all of us. We should never ignore her.
May Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother bless you and your loved ones on this holy day of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.
P.S.  I’d like to thank all the new followers of this blog who came aboard this summer. I pray that you continue to find my posts beneficial. I would like to thank Mr. Marek Czarnecki for use of the image of his beautiful icon of the Assumption of Mary. I had the pleasure and good fortune of studying with him during one of his workshops a number of years ago.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

Sacred Icons and Sacred Images – the Nicene Debate Continues!

AyaSofya
A photo of the inside of the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) church in what is the present-day city of Iznik, Turkey. Iznik was called Nicaea prior to the rule of the Ottoman Turks . This photo shows the interior of one of the rooms in the  building complex that served as the location for the First Council of Nicaea (AD 325). Also, in the late 8th century the Seventh Ecumenical Council met in this building, too. That Council met to debate and decide the issue of iconoclasm (should sacred icons and images be prohibited and destroyed). The written arguments of St. John Damascene (Damascus) won the day and sacred icons were allowed to continue to be made. Iconoclasm was to raise its ugly head again in later years, and came to full fruition during the Protestant rebellion/reformation, the French Revolution, and worldwide Communism in all its cultural forms.  This photo of the inside of the Nicaean building is from Bryan Cross’ website: calledtocommunion.com. It was posted in May, 2010. Thanks Bryan!

I would like to thank one of my readers who identified the  contemporary icon of St. Spyridon (thanks Carol!). The iconographer is the Catholic priest William Hart McNichols. He is a very talented artist who paints traditional icons and sacred images. At times, he steps out of the bounds of the traditional approach and adds his own personal interpretation of the person he is portraying. His artistic vision is unique.

John Daly from Australia emailed me this morning to provide further grist for our mill concerning St. Athanasius, St. Spyridon, and the Council of Nicaea. One of the participants in his iconography school is a Greek Orthodox lady who is the sister-in-law of an Orthodox priest. He is coincidentally named Athanasius.

John had the opportunity to discuss with her the icons that we were analyzing in my posts of the last few days. She provided John some valuable information by explaining  that her mother had given her a beautiful sacred image of the First Council of Nicaea and specifically St. Spyridon’s role in the debate with the heretic Arius. The sacred image is below.

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Greek Orthodox sacred image of the First Council of Nicaea. Notice St. Nicholas on the lower right about to possibly physically strike Arius who reacts by pulling away. On the left you see St. Spyridon, holding a brick with flames streaming upward and water puddling below it to the floor (confer yesterday’s post of April 16th to obtain the explanation of that imagery). The room of the actual Council, as portrayed in this sacred image is quite ornate.

Also, like the sacred icon we examined in yesterday’s post we see the Emperor Constantine, dressed in the royal robes of Byzantine reddish purple (almost a maroon) sitting on the right. On the Emperor’s right we again observe a bishop, maybe its Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, Egypt. In front of him we again see a deacon, dressed in what is either an alb or dalmatic (he would have to stand up to see all the garments).

In the above sacred image, the deacon is again seated at the scribe’s desk. This makes sense, since a deacon serves the administrative needs and report’s directly to his bishop. That is true to this day; yet, throughout the world today the local bishop has his deacons serving in parishes, hospitals, prisons, etc. rather than in an administrative capacity in the local chancery. Notice the bishop is behind the deacon scribe to facilitate accurate communication.

The above sacred  image, which I have never seen before John Daly sending it to me, is very well done. The painter has captured the meaning of the Council as a whole and two of its major participants: St. Nicholas’, in his famous interaction with the heretic Arius, and the great oratorical and mystical abilities of St. Spyridon challenging Arius, too.

Is the deacon pictured in the painting from the Latin Rite or is he Orthodox? Truly, there is no way to accurately tell because the deacon is seated, and what is showing of the deacon’s stole is inconclusive. Depending on the angle of view both the Western and Eastern Rites’ deacon’s stole placement looks the same.

In today’s painting and in yesterday’s post of the icon, the deacon is seated and the possible vertical panel on the Eastern Rite and Orthodox stole is in shadow or not detectable, yet, the panel that drapes from left shoulder and gathers at the waist is visible, and would appear, as you see below, in both Latin, Eastern, and Orthodox Rites!

Just between you and me, I think the deacon depicted in the icon, from my April 16, 2019 post and today’s, is St. Athanasius from Alexandria, Egypt. The Catholic Church, the Eastern Rites in union with Rome, and all the Orthodox Churches venerate St. Athanasius as a great saint and designate specific feast days for him. He belongs to all of us.

The deacon’s stole in the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church that are in union with Rome; and, the Greek Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, and Coptic Orthodox deacon stoles look like this:

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Orthodox deacon’s stole in a royal Byzantine fabric (in  what appears to be a royal maroon purple) is bordered in gold thread with gold crosses. Originating at the left shoulder, gathered at the waist, with the fabric of the stole hanging vertically on the left shoulder both in the front and the back. The stole is worn on top of  the ornate gold and white dalmatic.

The cassock, alb, stole, and dalmatic all have the same meaning and functions in both the Western and Eastern Rites of the Church. In today’s Western, that is, the Latin Rite (Roman Catholic) tradition, a deacon wears the rank of his ministry and ordination, the stole, over the alb but under the dalmatic. Latin Rite deacons would wear their stole’s in this manner:

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A Roman Catholic deacon’s stole running from the left shoulder and gathered at the waist, then hangs vertically under the right arm. It is worn on top of a white alb, and under a dalmatic. The dalmatic is only worn during Holy Mass. When the deacon performs baptisms, marriage and funeral services, liturgical prayer services, and formal blessings, etc. the deacon would not wear a dalmatic, so the deacon would appear as in the above photo wearing a simple white or cream colored alb and a stole in the appropriate color..  The stole’s fabric in the photo above is dyed dark purple for Lent; during the season of Advent a purple stole is used, too; sometimes, it is of a lighter purple than the Lenten penitential purple. A white stole would be used for Baptisms. Marriages, Funerals, Holy Thursday services, and during the Easter and Christmas season. Red stoles would be worn at Palm Sunday and Good Friday services, Pentecost, and on the feast days of martyrs.
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A Roman Catholic deacon’s dalmatic which is worn over the white alb and the stole. The dalmatic is in the corresponding color to the stole. The color green is worn during “Ordinary” time (which is the liturgical period that borders the great seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter).

I’ve really enjoyed this lively information exchange. Thanks to all who participated in it!

May you have a blessed Easter Tridiuum of the Passion and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Peace be with you.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

St. Athanasius and St. Spyridon: A Correction and Another Interpretation – Let’s Take A Closer Look!

I am always very appreciative of my readers writing to me and providing new information and interpretations of sacred icons and images. Happily, that occurred last evening when a reader, Mr. John Daly from Australia, provided me with information on the second icon that was in yesterday’s post on St. Athanasius. Let me provide you with that image so we will have a reference point:

THE_FIRST_COUNCIL_OF_NICEA
This is the sacred icon of a bishop confronting a heretic at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). Mr. John Daly of Melbourne, Australia informed me that we should take a closer look at the details of this icon because of how it depicts the bishop’s castigation of the heretic. I concluded erroneously that it must be St. Athanasius since he was a pivotal orthodox figure at the Council. Even though he was a deacon at that time, and not a bishop at the Council, he was ordained a priest and bishop about three years later, so the iconographer just inserted him as a bishop. Mr. Daly recommends a closer look to discover that it is St. Spyridon of Cyprus.

Mr. Daly is correct – it is St. Spyridon (born AD 270, died 340).

Let’s take a look at the reasons for this correction:

  1. The bishop castigating the heretic Arius is wearing a distinctive hat. The hat is unique. It is shaped like a beehive. It is made of woven straw and was traditionally worn by Cypriot and other shepherds tending their flocks – an apt metaphor for a bishop caring for the flock of his faithful.
  2. St. Spyridon was from the island of Cyprus, and eventually became a bishop serving the people of Trimythous, thus, he would have been invited to the First Council of Nicaea as were all the other bishops in Christendom.
  3. At another time, possibly in Cyprus, St. Spyridon was involved in a debate with a pagan philosopher whom he ultimately converted to Christianity. Besides his theological arguments about the Holy Trinity, the good bishop used a piece of pottery or a brick, to demonstrate to the philosopher how you could have one single substance be also composed of three separate substances (pottery and bricks consist of clay, water, and are unified by the substance of fire).
  4. The story of his discussion with the pagan philosopher continues and says that as soon as St. Spyridon finished speaking the piece of pottery or brick burst into flame, water dripped from it, and clay ash remained in his hand. Well that would have been enough to place me on the road to conversion, and so it was with the philosopher, too. If you look closely at the icon above you can perceive the fire bursting out of the brick and the water puddling beneath it. Hmm, I didn’t see that! As Sherlock Holmes once said, “Watson, you see, but you do not  observe” (taken from the story A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir A.C. Doyle).  Wise advice.
  5. Mr. Daly also relates that it was [and probably still is] common for an iconographer to fuse the two incidents of St. Spyridon converting a pagan, and St. Spyridon at the Council of Nicaea debating with the heretic Arius.
  6. There it is: the beehive woven straw hat, the bishop’s vestments, the water, fire and ash metaphor, the confrontation with an individual that has an opposite argument, and the public venue for both incidents.
  7. So where is St. Athanasius in this icon? Mr. Daly offers that in the upper left corner of the icon, we see an individual portrayed as listening intently to St. Spyridon. He is dressed in a dark alb with a white collar. He suggests that this is St. Athanasius. That argument makes some sense because, as a deacon, Athanasius may not have been up front with the bishops, rather he possibly would be located near the altar ready to perform his diaconal duties. At the same time he is still involved in the proceedings, and/or ready to respond to the needs of his bishop – Alexander of Alexandria.  You notice the priests and monks in the back of the room, too, in dark conical monastic hats and cassocks.
  8. My only issue with that interpretation is that the figure portrayed in the upper left does not have a nimbus (halo) circling his head, nor is he wearing his deacon’s stole; however, the scribe in the lower left corner is wearing a deacon’s stole. My stole comes across my chest from the left shoulder and is gathered at the right hip; and the scribe’s stole does the same thing. Is this individual St. Athanasius? There appears to be writing on his stole. I have no proficiency in Greek so I cannot be of help there.
  9. The scribe in the lower left corner has a halo, too, and so do all the bishops. Did the iconographer think that all the bishops present were saints?  This is not unlikely, since they produced a Creed for Christendom in three months. Truly, a stunning achievement. It indicates that the assembled bishops were very clear in their own minds what the Faith, based on Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, was all about. The bishops all appear very animated and involved in the Council proceedings. It’s obvious that the Holy Spirit was working within that Council!
  10. There is a lot going on in the upper part of this icon, too. Christ, as a young child, is found walking across what appears to be an altar towards another bishop. That bishop on the upper right is seen discussing some issue with, possibly, another dissenter (a priest, or deacon; even though the priests and deacons in attendance didn’t vote, they certainly could influence the bishop of their diocese on issues and arguments).
  11. Sadly, I believe that the only existing documents that we have concerning this Council that are still in existence are the Nicene Creed itself, the procedural rules of the Council, and Emperor Constantine’s address to the assembled bishops. It is said that many of the bishops came, returned to their dioceses, and then came back to the Council. This probably contributes to the fact that we don’t have all the names of the participating bishops, just those mentioned in other documents or in the stories that were passed on through to the faithful (confer Anna Erakhtina’s article The “Model of Meekness,” and Slapping Arius, at http://www.orthochristian.com, May 22, 2016, specifically the contribution by Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin. He discusses the documents available to us today). If anyone has additional information on the actual participants please tell me your source, and the participants, and I will spread the information through a post.
  12. St. Spyridon was also known as a miracle worker, especially for his successful intervention (caused by the prayers of the soldiers and sailors of the Catholic Rites) in the 1716 battles with the invading Ottoman Turks on the Greek island of Corfu.

John, thanks again; this was a fun interaction.

Additional images of St. Spyridon:

ST. Spyridon Orthodox
A contemporary Sacred Icon of St. Spyridon showing his beehive woven straw hat, his bishops stole, the blazing potsherd or brick with water dripping from it, and his holding the book of the Gospels (dogmatic truth based on the Holy Scriptures and the Sacred Apostolic Traditions of the Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church. If anyone knows that artist that is responsible for this beautiful icon please tell me and I will credit him/her in this post. Icon found on Wikipedia and originates at St. Spyridon Orthodox Church in Loveland, Colorado (thanks to them for posting the image of this magnificent icon).
220px-Zemen-monastery-st-spiridon
A medieval icon of St. Spyridon, wall fresco, Bulgarian Orthodox, found in the  Zemen Monastery, Bulgaria. Photograph may have been taken by I.E. Stankov in 2012 using a Canon EOS 600D camera.

In the Roman Catholic Church, St. Spyridon is venerated on his feast day, December 14th; and on December 12th in the Eastern Rites and the Orthodox Church.

Thanks for stopping by and reading this post.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

Saint Nicholas Slaps a Heretic! A Reflection Appropriate for Palm Sunday

The extensive Gospel reading for Palm Sunday relates the Scriptural and historical truth that Jesus  triumphantly entered Jerusalem, yet, five days later He was arrested, put on trial, tortured, and executed.

As you know, the religious and secular leaders of Israel did not accept Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. They were adamant about the fact that Jesus was just a man and that His claims, teachings, and healings were all fraudulent.  Their disbelief took place during the first century, yet, two hundred years later there were Christians saying the same thing.

The questions came down to, “Who is Jesus Christ? Is He a man? Is He God? Is He both?”

These were the same questions that the people of Jerusalem, some of them waving palm branches, and their leaders were asking each other.

In the year 325 scholars and clerics were still grappling with those questions, too.

Many deacons, priests, and bishops of the Church had settled the question in their own mind, yet, all of Christendom was not in agreement. Emperor Constantine was worried; as a military man he knew trouble when he saw it. Religious disagreements could easily spread into civil war. Something had to be done.

Stories have come down to us through the centuries that St. Nicholas of Myra, a faith-filled bishop, decided to defend Sacred Tradition and the Scriptural interpretation of the reality of Jesus as the Son of God the Father. The story relates that he not only vigorously defended Sacred Tradition but became so worked up that during one of the debates he slapped the author of this heresy which was called Arianism.

But, was it a verbal or physical slap?

Let’s take a brief look at some of the details:

th
Partial icon of the “incident” at the 1st Council of Nicaea. Immortalized in an early icon. The Early Church was well aware of the importance of this Council in debating and agreeing to the specific dogmas of the Church that would be ultimately proclaimed in the Nicene Creed. All catechumens that enter the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass proclaim their belief in the great Sacred Mysteries and historical truths of the Nicene Creed.

Who: Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bishop, (Myra, an Ancient Greek city on the coast of present day Turkey),  vs.  Arius, priest from the diocese of Alexandria, (Alexandria, a city on Egypt’s Mediterranean coastline). Emperor Constantine, Roman Empire, centered in the new city named in his honor: Constantinople (present day Istanbul, Turkey). Constantine convenes an ecumenical council of bishops from the five major patriarchies of Christendom (Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Rome).

What: Supposed incident of Bishop Nicholas “slapping” the priest Arius, at the first ecumenical Council of Bishops: the Council of Nicaea. This was the first Council since the Council of Jerusalem (held in the first century and was attended by luminaries such as St. Peter and St. James).

When: Late Spring and early Summer of the year 325.

Why: The incident concerned the critical issue of who is Jesus Christ, and whether Jesus Christ is “the same in being and the same in essence” as God the Father. Arius was promoting the heresy that Jesus Christ was “just a creature” of God and not a divine Person of the Holy Trinity.

Where: Nicaea, an ancient city in Asia Minor; it is the present day city of Iznik, Turkey.

As it applies to sacred art, the Council of Nicaea provided a specific creed: a set of theological proclamations that impacted  sacred artists from the 4th century to the present day. It is stated clearly in this Creed that God the Father has communicated His love, mercy, and laws to humanity through His revealed word in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. This action culminated in the ministry, passion, death, and resurrection of His incarnated Word, His Son Jesus Christ.

The Nicene Creed definitively proclaimed that Jesus Christ is the same in essence, and the same in being, as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. So we have the great Mystery of the Incarnation, the nature of Jesus Christ: He is both human and divine – the Son of God – One Person with two natures – human and divine.

orthodox_icon_of_our_jesus_pantocrator_of_sinai._large
The above is a 6th century sacred icon of Jesus as Pantocrator. Pantocrator is a Greek word describing the all knowing, all powerful Son of God: Jesus Christ. The Council of Nicaea declared that Christ, as God, is consubstantial: Jesus is the same in essence (substance) and in being as the Father and the Holy Spirit. Also, Jesus possesses two natures: human and divine. This is truly a great Mystery of the Church. The sacred artist of the above icon, probably a monk, used hot pigmented wax (the encaustic method) to render this likeness. This sacred icon is currently located in St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. The face has a striking resemblance to the face on the Holy Shroud of Turin.

The day-to-day proceedings and debate notes of the Council have been lost to history, so we will never know if St. Nicholas gave Arius a physical or just a verbal “slap.” Regardless, St. Nicholas made his point and contributed to giving us the gift of the Nicene Creed.

In AD 381, the Nicene Creed was edited and amended at the First Council of Constantinople (thus, the Creed is called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Try to say that phrase fast, three times!😃).

Thanks for visiting with me. May you have a prayer-filled Holy Week.

Sources for the above post are found in my bibliography post, entitled Early Church Fathers – A Short bibliography of February 8, 2019. I relied primarily on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s works, also Aquilina and D’Ambrosio’s volumes.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

 

 

 

Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32. The Prodigal: Which Brother Are We?

I once heard a friend repeat a quote by the author Katherine Mansfield: If you wish to live, you must first attend your own funeral.”

How true. We begin to live life perceptively only when we project ourselves to the time of our own death, imagining how we’ve lived our life and wondering whether we’ve met the mark.

Depending on our frame of mind, and perspective on life, we may not include the spiritual in our self-assessment, or, only give it a passing thought. That is why Mansfield’s phrase may be viewed as spiritually deficient.

In today’s Gospel on the parable of the Prodigal Son there are family members that Jesus is requiring us to understand. The behavior of these people, the father and the two sons, provokes four questions. Questions not so much about our secular situation but our spiritual – our relation to God, and, each other.

At first glance, the younger son impresses us as an individual who is quite selfish. When he requests his inheritance from his father, he isn’t just asking for the cash, he is in effect saying to his father: “I want to live my life now and without any strings attached. To me you’re unimportant, this family is unimportant. Just let me get on with my life and give me my share right now.”

Are we living in  a way that categorizes God? Are we willing to acknowledge  Him only because we want to get something out of Him? Do we play upon His charity and generosity?

If this is so, if we have the younger son’s attitude, we end up like him – swimming with the pigs.  What will be our inheritance? It will undoubtedly be spiritual poverty and secular discontent. Sadly, sometimes people understand this only in the last few months of their life, or, in the moments right before their death.

Jesus is teaching us that the prodigal son was only able to enter into a state of recovery when he “attended his own funeral.” When he was able to perceive his own personal endpoint, his own material and spiritual poverty. He was finally able to admit that he was grievously wrong only when this realization slammed into his consciousness.

His new perception demanded that he learn the root causes of his problem, reject his worldly self, and humbly ask for repentance. He needed to realize that his father and family were all important to his happiness. This required acceptance of and humbly requesting his father’s mercy and love.

This perception did not demand psychoanalysis. He did not need years of therapy on a psychologist’s couch. He had the intelligence to figure it out because he confronted himself as he truly was and extended that personal analysis to his family and surroundings. He acknowledged his sins, and how truly needy he was of his father’s love and mercy.

We are half way through the Season of Lent. Like the younger son, have we confronted our own faults, our lack of perception, and yes – our own sins?

The Prodigal says: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you.”

This is the turning point in the Prodigal’s life. It can also be ours.

Improvement begins with a decision to change the way we do things, the way we behave and perceive reality, both in a secular and spiritual sense. If you are a Western Rite Catholic, this is accomplished in three ways: Sacramental Confession, prayer, and resolution of purpose. Reconciliation is always possible. Our God is a God of justice, but also, a God of infinite familial love and mercy.

Do we behave like the younger son or the elder son? Are our hearts cold?

What the younger son ultimately accepts the elder son initially rejects. At first, the elder son resents the generosity of the father’s love – he resents the generosity of the act of forgiveness. It appears that he is unable to accept his repentant brother or his generous father.

Does this, in any way, apply to us? Do we ignore the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s love for us; do we resent people who have converted, changed their spiritual way of life? Or do we continue to judge them as if they were still enveloped by their sins? Do we verbalize our resentment or question their repentance? Are we unwilling to repent of these attitudes? Are our hearts cold?

I am a sinner and you are a sinner. There are very few people on this earth that are living saints. Regardless of whether our sins are small or large, visible or hidden, it is paramount that we remember the words of St. Paul: God the Father “reconciles us to Himself [through the passion and death of His Son] and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him [Jesus Christ] to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5: 17-21).

We need to take stock of ourselves this Lenten season, repent and return to the Father’s embrace. This can only be done through the Sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation – a Sacrament made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

the-return-of-the-prodigal-son-illustration-for-the-life-of-christ1.jpglarge
Painting by James Tissot (French; 1836 – 1902). “Return of the Prodigal Son.”

Thank you for reading this post.

 Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Holy Trinity – Communication Through Word and Art

Is communication just a trait of human beings? Is it a trait of God?

The Dogma of the Holy Trinity is one of the great Mysteries of the Christian Faith.  All Christians acknowledge and accept that The One True God, the divine Holy Trinity, are three separate and distinct Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity is not three separate Gods. They are one God in three Divine Persons. This is known as the dogma of the “consubstantial” Trinity: each of the three Persons is God – completely and entirely.

These ideas were debated and verified by the assembled bishops at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 and subsequent Councils (specifically the ecumenical Council of Nicaea/Constantinople in AD 381).

In the 13th century the Fourth Lateran Council stated: “Each of the Persons is that supreme reality (nature, essence, and substance) of God” (confer Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, paragraphs 198 through 315, pp. 54-84).

These three Divine Persons relate and communicate among themselves and desire to communicate and relate with Their creation. This is verified through Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the historic teachings of the Apostles, the Ecumenical Councils, and the saints of the Church.

The  first of Their creation, the nine choirs of angels, communicate with God and each other, too.

Obviously, human beings communicate and relate through speech, behavior, and the written word, though at times, not very well. To a much lesser extent, there is “communication” in the other members of the animal kingdom (by instinct, chemical, and behavioral signals) and in the plant kingdom (through chemical signals).

God the Father has communicated specifically through His Word, the incarnated Son, Jesus Christ. In accordance with the Father’s will the human Jesus is “born of a woman” into space and time through the great Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ.

Jesus agreed to humbly obey His Father’s will. Through His Incarnation the Divine Son Jesus expresses His two natures: human and divine. He does this while “hiding” the full majesty of His divinity (except for the moments of His Transfiguration, Resurrection, and subsequent appearances to His Apostles).

The Holy Spirit (as the Council of Florence stated in 1439) “Is eternally from the Father and Son; He has His nature and subsistence at once from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration (the life-giving breath of God).”

“When the Father sends His Word to His Creation He also sends His Breath. “Jesus and the Holy Spirit are on a joint mission, while at the same time being distinct but inseparable. It is the Son who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, while it is the Holy Spirit that reveals Him.” (please refer to page 181 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, also pages 54 through 90).

The Holy Spirit communicates and spiritually shapes us through the Holy Scriptures, liturgical and private prayer, the teachings of the Western and Eastern Rites of the Church, and with the Father and Son in the seven Holy Sacraments (in the Eastern Rites – the Holy Mysteries).

The solemnity of Pentecost recalls the full expression of the Holy Spirit’s “Fruits and Gifts” to the Apostles, and through the Holy Sacraments to us, too  (refer in the Christian Scriptures to the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2, verses 1 – 42; and in St. Paul’s letters to the Galatians chapter 5: verses 22 ff; and 1st Corinthians chapter 12, verses 4 ff; also refer in the Hebrew Scriptures  to the book of the prophet Isaiah chapter 11, versus 2 – 3).

iconorininal
“The Trinity”: early 15th century; egg tempera and gold on wood panel by St. Andrei Rublev (1370 – 1430).  St. Rublev was a Russian Orthodox monk. He resided and “wrote” with egg tempera paint to produce images of God, the angels, and the saints in sacred  icons. He lived at St. Sergius Monastery in Moscow, Russia. His sacred icon above captures some of  the truth of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity communicating with each other. God the Son, Jesus Christ, is the figure in the center of this painting.  You see two of His fingers extended to express His human and divine nature, and in a pointing gesture, to the “Cup of His Blood”  made manifest through His Redemptive sacrifice. In this masterpiece you observe the colors blue representing divine life and purple madder/burgundy signifying Christ’s humanity. God the Father is on your left and God the Holy Spirit is on your right. The Holy Spirit is garbed in blue and in green as a symbol of new life and spiritual growth through prayer and the Holy Sacraments (Holy Mysteries). God the Father is painted in both blue, green, and a very light, transparent gold ochre. The First Council of Nicaea (AD 325) verified and promoted the Dogma of the Holy Trinity. This Dogma was reaffirmed, and further explained by the Council of Nicaea/Constantinople in AD 381.

 

trinityicon
A contemporary copy of the original Trinity by Rublev.

God the Father sent His Son to be born of a woman through the fecundity of the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ changed the Universe. God became flesh and walked among us. Why?  In order to teach, heal, and redeem us from our sins. The New Covenant with His creation is written in His Blood. There is, if you have the gift of faith, ample proof that God wants to communicate with you.

It is up to each man and woman to honestly determine whether or not they are ignoring Him, and if so, to decide what to do about it. Time is short.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.

God is a God of Compassion

“God of all compassion, Father of all goodness,

to heal the wounds our sins and selfishness bring upon us

You bid us turn to fasting, prayer, and sharing with our brothers and sisters.

We acknowledge our sinfulness, our guilt is ever before us;

when our weakness causes discouragement,

let your compassion fill us with hope

and lead us through a Lent of repentance to the beauty of Easter joy.

Grant this through Christ our Lord.”*    Amen.

 

*Roman Breviary – Vol. 2; Third Sunday of Lent, Evening Prayer I, Closing Prayer, pg. 210.

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_-_The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Detail_Father_Son

Rembrandt-The_return_of_the_prodigal_son
Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1661–1669.

Christ in the Wilderness: Lent – the Season of Preparation – Luke 4: 1-2.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, He was famished. (Gospel of Luke chapter 4: verses 1-2)

In the extraordinary painting  below, we see Jesus after He was led into the desert wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He is surrounded by rocks and sand. He sits on a boulder, hands in front of Him. His eyes are filled with the knowledge of reality, of passions, power, and pain, ego and emptiness, sin and self aggrandizement.

This painting may move us from the awareness that in the desert wilderness Jesus is not only thinking through His ministry, Passion, and death but is also viewing our lives – our ministries, our passions, our death.

What do we see?

Let us examine His face.

christ_in_the_wilderness_detail_400

We see the seriousness of the forthcoming temptations; the physical, mental, and the spiritually violent struggle with the devil. It is written plainly upon His emaciated face.

We see the irrefutable fact of Jesus’ humanity.

We see that He is like unto us, except for sin.

This is the face of our Savior; but the victory is not His, yet.

His temptations, public ministry, Passion, and death are still to occur.

What do we see?

We see a man who knows His Mind. He knows His Body, Soul, and Spirit.

He knows His freely accepted duty to accomplish His Father’s will.

This is not the face of a defeated man. It is the face of a determined man who is also Lord and Savior.

**679px-Kramskoi_Christ_dans_le_désert

Observe Christ’s clenched hands, gaze deeply into His eyes, and you will see the artist’s portrayal of a Savior that is already, at the beginning of His ministry, aware of the viciousness of the tempter and the burden of our sins. Sins accepted by Him, and through His Passion and death, makes all things new.

christ_in_the_wilderness_detail_400

Jesus had to confront in that desert assault whether or not He was going to be faithful to His mission.

The Gospel passage above challenges us with the same questions: are we going to be faithful to the Commandments, to our Baptismal promises, to the mission given us in Confirmation to live and practice the truths that He taught us?

Are we going to be faithful to the spiritual power and grace given to us, not just when we feel like it, but even in the most difficult of circumstances?

As disciples of Christ we are on a daily basis constantly revolving around the axis of temptation and sin – faith and grace. We understand that temptation, in and of itself, is a test – it is not sin. It is only sin when we willfully place ourselves in its shackles, when we give into its fueled power to overwhelm our body and soul. That power  – a deadly power – obtains its animus and energy from the original tempter and liar – Lucifer himself.

Hell is real. It is not a mental construct. To say that it doesn’t exist is to call Jesus a liar, and His Passion, death, and Resurrection meaningless.

Jesus the Christ lived heroically in the face of Hell’s demons and witnessed to the power of God’s grace.

But you say, I am not Jesus Christ, I am a weak man or woman, boy or girl.

I say true, we all are; but by virtue of our faithful reception of the Holy Sacraments (Holy Mysteries) of Reconciliation (Penance/Confession) and the Holy Eucharist we have the power of Christ’s grace within us. A power, freely given by God and unmerited by us, to resist and overcome temptation and sin.

If we do sin – if we do “miss the mark” – we have a remedy.  We follow St. Paul’s advice: pick yourself up, dust yourself off (confess your sins), and confidently continue on your journey. We must do our part in cooperation with God’s love and mercy.

The Season of Lent is a time of joyful repentance, prayer, and fasting.

Let’s remember the  words of Nehemiah, who in the Hebrew Scriptures says: Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength! (Nehemiah 8: 9-10. 5th century BC)

***

The painting above was created and completed in the late 19th century by Ivan Kramskoi. He was a gifted Russian painter, noted portraitist, draughtsman, and teacher. The painting is entitled Christ in the Wilderness.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Portions of this essay may be used in accordance with correct notation and bibliographical insertion; contact deaconiacono@icloud.com for more information or questions.

Apologists – Additional Saints Prior to the Council of Nicaea

Today’s post will continue to add to my two previous posts: The Apologists (Defenders of the Faith) – Part 7, and The Apologists – Comparing Icons. 

The men below are also known as the Ante Nicene Fathers. The word Ante (before) refers to the fact that they defended the Faith during the terrible persecutions of the first three centuries of the Church (the Domitian, Decian, Valerian, and Diocletian persecutions). These persecutions occurred prior to the Council of Nicaea (AD 325).

The Council of Nicaea was called by the Emperor Constantine in order for the assembled bishops, and their representatives from throughout the Empire, to discuss, debate, and establish the basic elements of a Creed for the Catholic Church (Eastern and Western Rites).

Prior to calling this Council, Constantine had proclaimed the toleration of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. He accomplished this through the Edict of Milan. This Edict (AD 313) did not mandate that Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire, that was to be done by a later Emperor – Theodosius I – in AD 380. The Edict just allowed for Christianity’s toleration as a religion.

The list below provides the additional Apologists who significantly contributed to the defense of all the aspects of the Early Christian Faith, such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Seven Sacraments, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, etc.:

St. Justin Martyr, (born circa AD 100), an excellent writer, debater and teacher. He defended the Sacraments of the Church, especially the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the genuineness and inerrancy of the four Gospels, the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, how reason can come to know God, the Sacraments, God’s revelation and inspiration, etc. He also saw some aspects of ancient philosophy as a precursor of the Christian faith, and wrote two powerful defenses of the Faith to the Emperor and the Roman Senate. He was martyred, along with six other Christians, in AD 165.

St. Justin Martyr is a very important witness to the developing beliefs of the Catholic Church (Western and Eastern Rites) because he is discussing and describing many of the primary dogmatic and doctrinal beliefs of the Church which would be established over one hundred and fifty years later in the Nicene Creed (AD 325), and clarified and confirmed in the Council of Constantinople in AD 381.

St-Justin-Martyr-e1464838721698
A sacred icon of St Justin Martyr, martyred AD 165. He was a powerful teacher, writer, and Defender of the Faith as it was passed down to him from Apostolic Times.

St. Melito of Sardis, (died circa AD 185),  a scholar who saw the immense value and importance of the Hebrew Scriptures and how they contributed to the Christian Scriptures; in AD 175, wrote a defense of the Christian Faith which was published in a letter to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He was also instrumental in teaching and explaining the two natures of Jesus Christ: one divine and one human. His explanations kept the two natures separate, and teaches that Jesus was truly human and truly divine. He fought the Christological heresies that were developing at this time (especially Marcion’s heresy concerning Jesus’ physical body).

Tertullian, (died circa AD 222) a powerful, yet, at times, tactless writer and lawyer. He wrote on many aspects of early Church theology. He also wrote a spirited defense of the Christian Faith in a letter to the Roman Emperor. Interestingly, he is known for his description of the members of the Christian Faith: “See those Christians, how they love one another,” and “The blood of Christians is [the] seed [of the Church].”

St. Hippolytus of Rome, (died circa AD 236) in his book – The Apostolic Tradition – sets down a manual of liturgical prayers and tradition and it refers to an order of the Holy Mass. The current Eucharistic Prayer 2, in the Sacramentary (liturgical missal) used in the Western Rite, is attributed to the central prayer found in his The Apostolic Tradition.

Origen of Alexandria, (died AD 254), a genius in speculative theology who wrote extensively on subjects such as the belief in One God, the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Sacraments of the Church, etc. He was a voluminous writer and died a martyr.

St. Cyprian of Carthage, (born circa AD 200); he was a student of Tertullian. St. Cyprian was a tireless theologian and worker for unity within the Church, and through his patient and good-hearted efforts solved many controversies and squabbles. As a bishop he proclaimed that he was willing to welcome any pagan or heretic into the Church who confessed their sins, were willing to do penance, and were baptized. His defense and scholarship on the Holy Sacraments is considered important. He died a martyr in AD 258.

In my next post, Part 8, I will briefly discuss the Golden Era of the Apostolic Fathers (AD 325 – 430) whose blossoming occurred after the Council of Nicaea; also in that post, I will discuss and list the Post Nicene Fathers (circa AD 430 – AD 800). In Part 9, I will briefly list some of the important Church Councils of the 5th century and how they affected the Church’s sacred art.

Please review the bibliography page (found at the post of February 8, 2019). It provides the sources that I have been using in this specific sequence of posts on Church history.

Thanks for visiting with me. On this Ash Wednesday allow me to offer you my best wishes for a productive and prayerful Lenten Season.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

 

Icons – Important Similarities/Differences

Can you pick out the seven similarities between the two sacred icons of Church Apologists that are below? The differences?

IconPM-Irenaeus-2
St. Irenaeus of Lyons (died circa 201). Famous for his manuscripts Against Heresies. He used 21 out of the 27 books of the New Testament in his writings and sermons.

 

SAINT-CLEMENT-I
St. Clement of Alexandria, Egypt.  Born AD 150, died AD 215.                                                               Famous for his manuscripts on the Blessed Mother Mary as the New Eve, the significance of the Holy Eucharist, and other catechetical works.

Let’s take a look at the two icons above.

Both are correct in the way they are represented. From an artistic and symbolic point-of-view there are distinct similarities.

They have seven similarities: the beard (signifying experience, authority, and that the saint is an elder); a large, high forehead (signifying Christian wisdom as influenced by the Holy Spirit which is visualized through the saint’s works and knowledge); the Holy Cross upon the priest’s stole (it appears as a garment that circles the neck and extends down the torso which signifies Christ’s Redemptive suffering and the saint’s  willingness to give witness and suffer for Christ); the presence of the book of the Gospels (the revealed truth of God through His Son, Jesus Christ); the script of the saint’s name at the top or side of the icon; and the halo circling the head (representing the sanctity of the saint).

There are two absolutely necessary and critical indicators that designate a valid orthodox icon or sacred image: the artist must distinguish the person represented with his or her name, and, the icon must give witness to their life and ministry to the Church.

How does the sacred artist accomplish this requirement?

The artist needs to follow this rule: if the person(s) represented is/are a cleric (deacon, priest, or bishop) they need to be clothed with the proper vestments of their rank, and prototypical appearance. If their physical appearance is known (such as St. Therese of Lisieux or St. Maximillian Kolbe) they must be represented in a correct and accurate manner. The artist must also represent some aspect that distinguishes their ministry, such as the Book of the Gospels.

This is also true if the person(s) is/are a martyr, holy man or woman, monk, etc. This is, again, necessary since  the faithful need to know the name of the saint so they “may honor, revere, and give salutation to them and aspire after them” (from The Seventh Ecumenical Council: Concerning the Holy Icons).

The differences between these two icons of Church Fathers are primarily in the icons’ age, the colors used by each sacred artist, the adornment of the garments and book of the Gospels, and whether or not the halo, and area surrounding the figure is gilded. Many of these differences reflect the specific culture the sacred artist lived in, the time period of the artist’s life, and the artistic resources (such as pigments) that were available.

Historically, violent disputes broke out between icon supporters and icon destroyers. The situation came to a head in October AD 787, when the 2nd Council of Nicaea, among other issues, reinstated the validity and necessity of the veneration of holy icons/images. It specifically quoted: Genesis 31: 34; Exodus 25: 19 ff; Numbers 7: 89; and Hebrews 9: 5 ff;) in support of their position. The Council Fathers especially cited various passages of the Fathers of the Church which proved to be critical in the authority of their proclamation. They were also heavily influenced by the writings of St. John Damascene. The Council documents were signed by the Byzantine Empress Irene, as many as (or more than) 300 bishops, and two legates of the Pope.

Sacred icons, sacred images, statues, etc are never worshipped. Worship belongs to God alone as represented in the Holy Trinity. The holy personalities represented give witness to unity with Christ and point us in the truthful –  orthodox –  direction. We venerate sacred statues, icons, and sacred images – never worship them. (See the documents of the 7th Ecumenical Council of the Church (AD 787) to reiterate this position).

Church tradition also warns the sacred artist who paints sacred icons to guard against unnecessary innovations and artistic flourishes. Please remember that in my blog I make a distinction between sacred icons and sacred images. My articles on this subject can be found in the Category window found on the top, right hand side, of my Home Page. You may find that my article A Canon for Catholic Sacred Artists, found in the Category: Sacred Artists, in the month April, 2018 (once there, scroll down to April 2, 2018 and you’ll find the article). That article has a short section in the Notes following the ten elements of my suggested “Canon” that express my opinion on the differences between sacred icons and sacred images.

Thanks for visiting with me. My best wishes for a relaxing weekend.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you. Deacon Paul Iacono, at deaconiacono@icloud.com.

 

 

 

Fra Angelico’s Four Reliquaries for the Church of Santa Maria Novella – Part 4 of the “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition

Today’s post is Part 4 in my series that began on May 16, 2018 concerning the recently concluded exhibition of extraordinary egg tempera paintings by the Dominican friar Beato Fra Angelico. The exhibition was held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts during the Spring of 2018 and was entitled Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth.

Nathaniel Silver, Associate Curator of the Collection for this exhibition, includes in his book, Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth, articles by eleven scholars. Each paper is a quality contribution to scholarship. There is one article authored by Chiara Pidatella, entitled “The Provenance of the Four Reliquaries for the Church of Santa Maria Novella.” It clarifies and answers the confusion surrounding the provenance of the four reliquaries. Ms. Pidatella has written an important paper in that it compiles the documentary evidence that proves that the four sacred images within the reliquaries in the sacristy of the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, were painted by Fra Angelico. These reliquaries and other Angelico masterpieces were on display in the Gardner Museum.

A reliquary is an ornate elaborately constructed box, frame, etc. that is made of wood or precious metals and contains the remains of an individual or multiple saints. These remains may be small or large particles of bone, hair, etc of the deceased saint.  Depending on the design of the frame the openings for the relics are contained in the top or bottom, and in the center if it is a box with lid. You can see the potential opening for the relics at the top of the frame in The Dormition and Assumption of Mary.  It would be within the top circle that is vertically sliced in the center, the relics would be put in that small opening behind “the doors.” It should be noted that Colnaghi & Co. built a new frame for that painting in 1899. I presume they were loyal to the original design of a gabled early Renaissance reliquary, and that the vertical slice is actually an opening for the relic(s).

The reliquaries in the exhibition are embellished with four extraordinary paintings of events in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Ms Pidatella says that “The fact that the saints whose relics they [the reliquaries] contained are not explicitly named suggests that the relics were of minor importance, especially in comparison to others mentioned in the same documents and described with great precision (particularly those decorated with gemstones and precious metals). The third inventory also confirms that all four reliquaries stayed together in the sacristy until at least 1772″ [Pidatella, p. 25]. 

The history of the movements of the four reliquaries is interesting. I won’t go into the historic details yet one incident deserves mentioning  (I recommend that you purchase the book, Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth, 2018, Gardner Museum, and Paul Holberton, London). The incident concerns the events of the early 19th century when the French government was required (under orders from Napoleon) to make an inventory of Italian artworks. The result being the French government took a very hard stand in relation to Italian art. Ms. Pidatella mentions their belief “that only France deserved to exhibit works from the most important moments in the history of art” (emphasis mine) [Pidatella, p. 27].   Pretty cheeky.

While three of the reliquaries remained in Florence, the Dormition/Assumption of Mary reliquary (one of four seen below) made its way into a collection of an English family headed by Rev. John Sanford (1777 – 1855; he was the chaplain to the Duke of Cambridge, brother of the British King George IV). This acquisition occurred  in the early 19th century; however economic difficulties led to Sanford’s daughter, Anna Horatia Caroline Methuen, to put this Angelico painting on the market. When this occurred Bernard Berenson recommended Isabella Stewart Gardner of Boston to purchase the piece, which she ultimately did in 1899, for £4000 [Howard, p. 18, Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth]. The Dormition and Assumption of Mary painting then became the first Fra Angelico to be displayed in the United States. Its current frame (that you will see below) was commissioned by Colnaghi & Co.(art dealers) in 1899. Their focus was to frame it in its original gable design {Howard, p. 18-19, ibid].

It is my privilege to present to you my quickly snapped photos of these masterpieces of the four reliquaries (through the courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) . I will also provide my photograph of the back of one of the reliquaries to show you the wooden panel on which the egg tempera paint was applied. You will see that the panel was covered with a decorated piece of paper-like parchment. The reliquaries are approximately 24 inches tall by 15 inches wide.

The Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi (painted 1426-27) egg tempera and gold on wood panel. This frame is not slightly tipped to the right in reality. It was my attempt to snap a photo before someone stepped in front of me; I didn’t realize the photo was tipped at the time!

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The above two are closeups of the Annunciation and Adoration. Slight tipping resulting from a quick snap occurred here, too. The green squares to the left of Mary’s head are not part of the painting. I did not use a flash. I don’t know what they are, possibly security lights. Notice the extraordinary grill work in back of the Virgin Mary, the angel Gabriel, and the Magi.

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The Dormition and Assumption of Mary (1433-34, egg tempera and gold on wood panel). Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1899, making it the first Fra Angelico painting in America. The painting shows in the lower section the Dormition (falling asleep, death, and above it the resurrection of Mary, the Mother of God ( that is, Mother of Jesus’ human nature) and her simultaneous Assumption into Heaven. The angel, dressed in a blue garment to the left of the frame, is one of a number of larger than life size posters that graced the black walls surrounding the exhibit. These poster angels were copied from Fra Angelico’s paintings. They provided a dramatic effect to the entire exhibit.

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The above is a closeup of Mary which has also been expanded into a larger than life size poster image found in the above Assumption painting. This image was the first you saw as you rounded the second floor stairs into the exhibit at the Gardner Museum. It was taken from the above reliquary on the Dormition and Assumption of Mary and introduced visitors to the beauty of the exhibit.

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The Coronation of the Virgin (1429). The lower image within this reliquary is contained in a small rectangular panel called a predella. It shows the Adoration of the Christ Child by Mary, St. Joseph, and six angels. It also is completed in egg tempera, gold, on a wooden panel. You see more poster angels taken from the Dormition and Assumption of Mary painting in pink and blue garments to the right of this reliquary on the black walls of the exhibit.

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This is a closeup of the Coronation of the Virgin found within the above reliquary. Below are gathered a group of saints. The saint looking over his shoulder at the viewer near the extraordinary translucent stairs is Saint Peter holding the keys of Heaven. St. John the Baptist is on his left. Dominican saints, St. Peter Martyr and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas are also present, St. Francis of Assisi showing the stigmata in his hands, two deacons (St. Stephen, the first martyr (protomartyr), and possibly the deacon St. Benjamin, and some Old Testament prophets. St. Thomas Aquinas (above within the  bigger photo) is looking at the viewer. He is situated next to a pope (the Benedictine Gregory the Great?), possibly placed in that position because both Aquinas and the pope were not martyrs.

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The Madonna della Stella (The Madonna of the Star, 1433/34). Within the predella are the major saints of the Dominican Order (Order of Preachers). Saint Dominic (middle) flanked on the right by St. Thomas Aquinas and on the left by Saint Peter Martyr. The small circular photo of the Church of Santa Maria Novella on the back wall of the exhibit accidentally was included in my quick snap of this picture.  It is interesting that it appeared, I did not plan it. It is the church that the four reliquary paintings were originally housed before they were split up during the last two and one-half centuries.  Presently the Gardner Museum has the Dormition/Assumption of Mary reliquary staying in its collection and the other three will be returned to the Museo San Marco in Florence, Italy.

 

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Closeup of the Madonna della Stella, showing the symbolic colors of the garments worn by the figures. The color blue represents divine attributes, which in the Blessed Mother’s case, represents the belief that she was always immaculate – without sin – and that the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her resulting in the Incarnation taking place within her physical body. The presence of her immaculate nature was within Mary from the moment of her conception. The Latin Rite, the Eastern Rites in union with Rome, the Coptic Church, and the Orthodox Rites believe that Mary is not God, or a goddess. All of these Rites and Churches do not worship Mary; she is venerated by them. Worship and veneration are two very different concepts; they should never be equated.

The color red of Mary’s inner cloak (as well as Jesus’ outer cloak) represents their human nature. The orange trim of her cloak represents the specific spiritual illumination, and self knowledge, of her status as the Mother of Jesus’ human nature, not His divine nature.

With the two lower angels you notice that the blue/red colors are reversed. The inner cloak is blue representing their spiritual illumination and unique qualities/functions, yet, their outer cloak is red. This is done because Fra Angelico represents them all with human features, but, in the case of the two lower angels he represented their outer cloaks as red. I can place no other interpretation on it other than to say that because Jesus and Mary were resurrected from the dead, and have new physical bodies (with unique and specific qualities) the angels dressed in red outer cloaks may be serving Mary’s physical needs (whatever they may be) in Heaven. Heaven is viewed as both a physical (while different from ours) and a spiritual dimension.

As you know, angels are spiritual beings living within the divine atmosphere of Heaven. According to the Latin Rite (Roman Catholic) and other Rites, there are nine “choirs” of angels; each choir possesses specific attributes and functions. Fra Angelico may be distinguishing one “choir” from another through the different colors of the angels’ garments. Angels are pure spiritual beings; they do not have human features or bodies. They are represented that way in Latin and Greek Rite paintings, and some of them in the Holy Scriptures, in order to give the observer/reader a way to relate and understand their functions.

The Dominican Order was keen on expressing the theology of illumination as expressed in the Blessed Mother, their founder – St. Dominic (who illuminated Europe with his sermons against heretics) – and the illumination of the doctrines and dogmas of the Catholic faith provided through the writings of 13th century theologian St. Thomas Aquinas.

For Mary, Fra Angelico expressed that illumination through the orange pigment of Mary’s inner garment and the extraordinary gilding of the rays of light emanating from Mary and Jesus’ bodies. Notice that Fra Angelico shows the love between the two by having the child Jesus place His head close to His Blessed Mother as if He is about to give her a kiss with the Madonna lovingly holds Him.

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Closeup of the Madonna della Stella; also showing a lovely lavender angel on her left.

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The back of one of the reliquaries showing the structure of the wooden panel, and its decorated paper covering. On the front Fra Angelico applied a base coat of gesso, and then his egg tempera paints and gilding.

I hope you enjoyed viewing my four part series on this extraordinary work by Beato Fra Angelico – Fra (Friar) Giovanni di Fiesole. My deep gratitude to Peggy Fogelman  (Director), Nathaniel Silver (Associate Curator) and the very talented staff  of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for bringing these masterpieces to America. For my wife and I it was a once in a lifetime experience. Congratulations to them and my sincere thanks, too.

I will be featuring some of the remaining single paintings within this exhibition at appropriate times during 2018-19. Some of the remaining Fra Angelico images from this exhibit are the marriage of St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother, the Deposition (taking down) of Jesus from the Cross, another painting of the Dormition of Mary, and events in the life of of Saints Cosmas and Damian.

June 12, 2018

© Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018 – text and photos. Photos were taken through the courtesy and generosity of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. I took the photos with an iPhone 6, no flash.

 

Fra Angelico and the Armadio degli Argenti – Part 3 of the “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition

Today’s post is Part 3 in my series that began on May 16, 2018 concerning the recently concluded exhibition of extraordinary egg tempera paintings by Fra Angelico. The exhibition was held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts and entitled Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth.

Today’s  painting concerns a major piece of the exhibition – the Armadio degli Argenti.  The four panels of which the Gardner Museum only showed one is also known as the “Silver Chest.” It was commissioned in 1450 and completed in 1452, three years before Fra Angelico’s death.

This panel (123 x 160 cm) includes eleven compartments: The Road to Calvary, The Disrobing of Christ, The Crucifixion of Christ, the Entombment of Christ, The Descent into Limbo, The Three Marys at Christ’s Tomb, The Ascension of Christ, Pentecost, The Last Judgment, The Coronation of the Virgin, and the Lex Amoris (Law of Love). The panel is seen below.

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This panel is one of four that decorated a large cupboard-like chest. The chest contained highly valuable silver votive offerings that were donated by the faithful of Florence to the Church of Santissima Annunziata. Their donations were in honor of a miracle working fresco of the Annunciation of Mary in a side chapel of that church.

The entire chest was commissioned by Piero di Cosimo de’Medici during the church’s restoration. The paintings within the thirty-six “compartments” are painted in egg tempera and gold on a wood panel (The Last Judgement occupies two compartments).

In 1782, the panels were separated from the chest in, thankfully, an unsuccessful attempt to sell them. In 1812 they began their journey to the Galleria dell’Academia, and finally to their current resting place – the Museo di San Marco.

Some close-ups of the panel are found below.

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The “compartment” above was entitled Lex Amoris (Law of Love) by Fra Angelico. It shows a menorah covered with scrolls on which are written items relating to the New and Old Law, and emphasizing the New Law as superior. The scrolls specifically relate to the Sacraments of the Church and specifics of the faith. We also see the twelve Apostles and the twelve Hebrew prophets on each side of the menorah showing that they are all connected through the holy Cross of Christ (top center with red and white standard). The purpose of this panel is to explain that in the coming of Jesus Christ you see the fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy of the Messiah, which does not stand alone, but is related to other events in Jewish history. Notice the female in the lower left corner holding a shield which proclaims “Lex Amoris” (Law of Love) versus the Jewish tradition of “Lex Timoris” (Law of Fear). In her right hand she holds an open book. A beautiful allegory of faith that is beautifully executed by Fra Angelico.

IMG_1762The above photo is one of the thirty-six panels describing events of the New Testament, in this case the Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Notice Jesus’ mother Mary at the top center of the image with the Apostles and disciples (Peter is on her top right, and John is on her top left). They are receiving the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit symbolized by the tongues of fire. A curious crowd gathers below the upper room as described in the Acts of the Apostles. IMG_1760

This is a close-up photo of one of panels in the Armadio degli Argenti in this case showing part of the image of the Last Judgment. Notice one of the angels dragging a sinner from the right side of Christ, the abode of the saved – to the left side of Christ, the abode of the damned prior to their being cast into hell.

The beautiful book, published in union with the Gardner Exhibition, Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth – was edited by Nathaniel Silver and published in 2018 (Boston, London). It was extremely helpful (pages 210 – 215) in my commentary.

photos (iPhone 6, no flash) and text © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018

Fra Angelico – “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition – Part 2 – Ascension, Pentecost, the Last Judgement

I hope you had a blessed Feast of Pentecost!

Please read Part 1 of “Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth” (posted here on May 16, 2018) in order to receive a proper introduction to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s extraordinary exhibition that, unfortunately, closed this weekend..

As you moved into the gallery that exhibited this once in a lifetime collection of Fra Angelico paintings you first saw the beautiful painting entitled The Ascension of Christ, The Last Judgement, and Pentecost (the Corsini Triptych). It is painted in egg tempera with gold leaf on a wood panel. Fra Angelico painted it during the years 1447-1448, seven years before his death in 1455. It was loaned to the Gardner Museum from the Galleria Nazionali d’Arte Antica di Roma – Galerie Barberini Corsini, Palazzo Corsini.

My photographic images of that painting are found below:

The Ascension, Last Judgement, and PentecostIMG_1686

The following quotation is taken from the Exhibition’s commentary found on the right side of the painting. Mesmerizing in its detail, Fra Angelico’s painting pictures three biblical events. At left, Christ ascends into heaven over the heads of the Virgin Mary and the  Apostles. At right, a masterfully foreshortened dove – the Holy Spirit – descends to earth. The story culminates in the center. Christ passes judgment over the living and the dead, saving the worthy (left) and condemning the wicked (right). While the damned cower from fearsome devils who attack the poor souls with claws, angels embrace the blessed.

“This small devotional triptych – a painting with three parts – served a cultivated individual, probably a cleric (deacon, priest, or bishop) in Rome.” Please compare its three episodes to others in my upcoming posts. In the above painting Fra Angelico adopts a vertical presentation. This energizes the connection and communication between heaven and earth. The Gardner Museum’s curator remarked that this technique “enlarges the central scene, and emphasizes” the Catholic Church’s spiritual power.

Fra Angelico, as a Dominican priest, desired to present that Jesus’ act of Redemption (passion, death, and resurrection), and His Ascension back to the Father, made possible the moment of Pentecost. Christ’s actions enabled the eventual opportunity for our free will to choose to accept His Truth and be fed by the Spirit’s power. It is the Father and the Son’s will to have the Holy Spirit nourish us through His grace. This grace is available to us through the proper administration and worthy reception of the Holy Sacraments. Thus, we come to the central panel –  the Last Judgement. Did we freely accept His Sacramental grace or did we ignore, and thereby, reject it? At that moment will we be on the right or the left of Christ?

Allow me to make some personal points on the three close-up photos below. In the first panel of this painting, notice the gold work around the body of Christ. I was allowed to closely examine it. I have never seen a painting’s gold work done with such precision and delicacy. It is not just gold leaf that is applied in a flat manner to the panel. It appears to be actual raised strands, or threads of gold, all applied with great precision. As you slowly move left or right around that part of the painting you notice the light catching the gold and literally radiating and shimmering around the image of Christ. IMG_1745

The Ascension, with Pentecost below.

Second, the image of Pentecost, with the Blessed Mother in the center of the Apostles as the dove hovers and the fire of the Holy Spirit descends upon them and gives them the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:23; 1st Corinthians 12: 4 ff; Galatians 5: 22 ff).

Notice St. Peter, filled with conviction, speaking to the assembly of men below (“Peter’s Discourse” found in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2, verses 14 ff.). Also, notice the clothing on one of the men who gather outside of the upper room listening to Peter: the detail of the lace work on the bottom of one of his garments, and the shadows on the man’s red leotard/shoe. If you stand away from the painting at approximately eight to ten feet to take it all in (as you see in the panoramic top photo) you don’t notice all the detail; but the blessed Fra with his extraordinary perception, noticed the need for it, and he painted it in. A master of detail, and as a true maestro, he knew how to successfully accomplish it. Wonderful!     The last two close-up pictures are below.

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My photos (through the kindness of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), and            my text © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018. Photos taken with an iPhone 6, no flash.

 

St. Joseph’s Art Workshop, Lesson 2: Obtaining, Drawing, and Applying the Sacred Image to A Panel

If you click on the Tab in the Menu titled St. Joseph’s Art Workshop, and scroll down, you will find my recent addition (as of April 26, 2018) on painting a sacred image. That new post – LESSON 2 – describes obtaining, drawing, and applying a sacred image to a wood panel. Enjoy!

April 26, 2018         © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018

St. Joseph’s Art Workshop – Part 3: Pigments and Mediums

Good day,  I just posted, starting at # 8 in the list, Part 3: Pigments and Mediums, required to paint the sacred image. Please note that the pigments in bold face are the ones you need to purchase for the sacred image in Exercise Number 1. Please remember that you will have to scroll down in the St. Joseph’s Art Workshop Tab in the Menu at the top of the site in order to reach the new post. Thanks.

April 17, 2018              © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018

 

The Canon of a Catholic Sacred Artist

Allow me to suggest to my fellow Catholic sacred artists a “canon” of ten fundamental propositions. These ideas and proposals are my personal musings. They assist me in organizing my thoughts and behavior. It is my hope that they will act as an organizational tool for the interested reader, too. They may also assist you, as they have for me, in providing clarity to our foundation and purpose as sacred artists.

The term “Catholic” in this document refers to the Latin Rite (Rome) and the more than twenty Rites of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches that are in union with Rome. Sacred artists within the Orthodox Rites and the Protestant denominations may also find some of the proposals helpful in their work.

The use of the term “canon” refers to the the original Greek word, kanon, which indicates a “model” or “standard.” My suggestion is that the following “canon” acts as a “model” for the sacred artist since this is the first in-depth publication of my thoughts on this subject and there is no consensus by the Catholic sacred art community as to its acceptance by a majority of artists and commentators in the field. Consensus may or may not be achieved in the future. Please consider these thoughts as a beginning, a starting point.

This post is a revision of a previous post in March 2017 with a similar theme. Also, as mentioned earlier, I will eventually discuss the spiritual and artistic values of Beato Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro – Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, 1395 – 1455). I would be remiss if I did not say that he was my model for this post. I perceive Fra Angelico as being an artistic and spiritual giant of Latin Rite art who exemplified, in his behavior and sacred art, many of the ideas found in the “Canon” below.

The reader should also view the Explanatory Notes that follow the ten propositions to obtain commentary.  I have provided a list (which is also a starting point) of five organizations in the Explanatory Notes below to assist you in your own studies. If you are aware of other organizations or Catholic colleges that promote the sacred arts, please contact me with that information. You are invited to reflect on these ideas in the Comments Section or, if you wish, send me a private email at deaconiacono@icloud.com.

The Canon of a Catholic Sacred Artist

1) The Latin Rite, and the more than twenty other Rites of the Catholic Church that are in union with Rome, have a traditional foundation: Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the dogmas and doctrines of the Church. This foundation ultimately impacts the Catholic sacred artist within a specific cultural tradition. Catholic sacred artists accept and believe in this foundation.

2) A Catholic sacred artist’s first priority is to develop his or her personal holiness in light of the prayer and Sacramental traditions of our Church; specifically, worship through attendance at the sacred liturgy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, reception of the Sacraments, and liturgical prayer – through the Liturgy of the Hours and/or sacred music.

3) A Catholic sacred artist understands the value of the Adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Christ (the true icon). Eucharistic Adoration is necessary, and highly recommended, because it is based on the artist’s desire for friendship with Jesus Christ, the need to express that friendship in an act of praise and thanksgiving, and Jesus’ desire for friendship with the artist. Within that prayer form, which requires the development of interior silence and stillness of soul, the sacred artist receives inspiration and solace. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has reminded us in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, page 90) that “Communion only reaches its true depth when it is supported and surrounded by adoration.” The word “adoration” is used because we are acknowledging the Real Presence of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

4) Creativity within Catholic sacred art is influenced by many ideas, the foremost being the expression of the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. The creativity of the sacred artist should always be disciplined by the truth that the artistic product must be able to be clearly understood by the viewer or listener so that it may aid their worship and veneration of God, His saints, and angels.

5) Catholic sacred art brings artistic life to Christ’s Gospel message and the witness of the historic and spiritual personalities of the Church. Sacred art, in all its various forms, contributes to the New Evangelization of the Catholic Church.

6) Catholic sacred art can be a sacramental if  it conforms to the aesthetic, semantic, and theological principles of our Faith.

7) Catholic sacred artists believe that the Sacramental grace of God strengthens personal faith and allows them to become co-creators of artistic beauty. The artist becomes a co-creator when he/she attempts to make a beautiful artifact and ensures that the attributes of the artifact are truthful, good, and beautiful.  For the Catholic artist, God is the source of all beauty, truth, and goodness.

8) Catholic sacred art is a critical part of the liturgical work and prayer of the Catholic Church. An artist’s creative act of making their art form, and the finished product, is not just art; it is communion with God. Sacred art, therefore, is a cultural artifact that turns our heart, mind and soul towards God in praise, penance, petition, and thanksgiving,

9) Catholic sacred art enhances the sacred liturgy of the Church, and may make a significant contribution to the praise, thanksgiving, and repentance of the viewer or listener.

10) Catholic sacred artists are willing to continually learn not only about their Faith and Church traditions, but to professionally grow by increasing their awareness of developments within Catholic sacred arts, its present day contributors, networking and sharing ideas, and continually improving their personal artistic techniques within their artistic discipline.

Explanatory notes – the numbers below correspond to the number of the specific statement above

1) Culture is the fundamental engine that propels history; and the foundation stones of any culture is its Faith. An acceptance of the importance of a faith tradition (and tolerance of other faith traditions) by the people of a nation or continent significantly contributes to the growth of its inhabitants; rejection of the role of faith has shown that a culture will be stunted and eventually collapse. Within a culture that is growing in a positive manner there is the belief in a critical idea: tradition. This idea applies to faith and religious systems, political life, scientific exploration (such as the scientific method), the arts, etc. Tradition, however, is not an idea that is, in its application, suffocating to an individual’s growth or creativity. Positive change can certainly occur within a culture that follows specific traditions.

Briefly let us apply this word, tradition, to the Rites of the Catholic Church. A Rite represents a church tradition about how the Holy Sacraments are to be celebrated. There are over 23 Rites within the Catholic Church, of which the Latin Rite (Roman Catholic) is the largest with over 1.5 billion members. The other 23 Eastern Catholic Rites are in union with Rome, however, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, have not been in union with Rome since the 11th century.

Faith in Jesus Christ and the Nicene Creed has been the mortar between the foundation stones of every culture of Eastern and Western Europe for millennia and for hundreds of years in the Americas. Our Faith and its religious tradition must be viewed in two ways: a small “t” relating to cultural norms of behavior within our specific Rite, and, a capital “T” referring to Church Tradition. This idea of Sacred Tradition was specified by Jesus Christ, the Apostles, the Fathers of the Church, and the many hierarchical pronouncements proclaimed by Ecumenical Councils and Popes (such as the Nicene Creed, or the 7th Ecumenical Council and its promotion of sacred icons). This understanding is in association with the teaching authority (the Magisterium) of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and Eastern Catholic Rites that are in union with Rome.

Colin B. Donovan, STL informs us (confer EWTN website) that when we consider the transmission of faith we must acknowledge that historically there are three major groupings of Rites: Roman, the Antiochian (Syria) and the Alexandrian (Egypt). The Byzantine Rite, the fourth major Rite, developed out of the Antiochian. These various Rites came into existence because the Apostolic ministry, within different cultural centers of the Roman Empire, ultimately saw the elements of the Faith being “clothed in the symbols and trappings” of a particular culture. This was promoted because the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith required that the Church become “all things to all men so that some might be saved” (see First Corinthians 9:22).

Historically, the four major Rites ultimately gave birth to over 20 liturgical Rites that currently exist, are in union with Rome, and to this day are serving the faithful. Applying this idea we can say that it is incumbent upon sacred artists within these Rites to ensure that their art provides a clear, unambiguous message to the world (in relation to the “t” and “T” of  tradition). This demands faith, loyalty, and trust by the artist in Jesus Christ and the truths of the Church.

2) Rev. Deacon Lawrence Klimecki from Pontifex University has written insightfully on his blog about creativity, beauty, the role of the artist, and sacred art. He asks an important question: “What is sacred art? Is it liturgical art? Devotional art? Art with religious themes? The Catholic artist must address the issue of “who” is the audience? What purpose and need is the “sacred” artist trying to meet” in their creative act of making art, architecture, music, poetry, drama, or literature? In trying to answer Deacon Klimecki’s valuable questions we may begin by saying that the term sacred, from the Catholic Church’s cultural point-of-view, is any idea or artifact that refers to, and makes visible (if possible) the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, His saints, and angels. It also critically assists in a person’s worship of God and veneration of His angels and saints. Sacred artistic artifacts convey or represent the dogmas, doctrines, artistic styles within a specific time period, and the historic personalities of the Faith.

Sacred art, in all its various forms (architecture, painting, sculpture, stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, metalworking, music, etc) are the visual and auditory means through which we are assisted in our desire, through our soul, intellect, and senses, to be in union with the all knowing, all powerful, and beautiful God of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Sacred art, therefore, is a cultural artifact that turns our heart, mind and soul towards God in praise, penance, petition, and thanksgiving, 

Catholic sacred artists undertake a great spiritual responsibility. This responsibility requires that the artist be firmly rooted in faith, the reception of the Holy Sacraments (especially Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist), and personal and liturgical prayer. Besides Eucharistic Adoration, some prayer aids for sacred artists would be participating in sacred music and/or praying the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) either alone or in a group.

3) Saint John Paul 2, in note 61 of his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (The Church Comes from the Eucharist) explains that “By giving the Eucharist the prominence it deserves, and by being careful not to diminish any of its dimensions or demands, we show that we are truly conscious of the greatness of this gift. We are urged to do so by an uninterrupted tradition, which from the first centuries on has found the Christian community ever vigilant in guarding this ‘treasure.’ Inspired by love, the Church is anxious to hand on to future generations of Christians, without loss, her faith and teaching with regard to the mystery of the Eucharist. There can be no danger of excess in our care for this mystery, for “in this sacrament is recapitulated the whole mystery of our salvation.”

What is prayer? The saints tell us that prayer is the turning of the heart toward Our Lord, His Blessed Mother, the angels and the saints and allowing our mind and heart to sincerely speak words of love, praise, thanksgiving, and repentance to them. The sacred artist enters into communion with the Heavenly Court through the union of their prayer with creativity.  This communion comforts and assists the sacred artist in their work. Unity allows a sacred artist to walk the various paths of Holy Scripture and experience the moment that the Scripture, or a story of the saints, presents to the soul. This experience feeds and transforms the sacred artist by affecting the clarity, line, form, and colors of their art (a tip-of-the-hat to my friend and teacher Dr. George Kordis and his seminal work on line, color, and form). This may also be how Beato Fra Angelico experienced the Crucifixion, and according to Vasari, as he painted he wept over the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice. In this process Fra Angelico prefigures Ignatius of Loyola by about 125 years in the ability to experience the words of Holy Scripture within his imagination. The use of the word – “imagination” – does not mean or imply “fantasy,” nor does the person in prayer “make-up” images not found in the Gospels or Church history. St. Andrei Rublev, Beato Fra Angelico, St. Ignatius of Loyola and others utilized this type of prayer experience to affect their work.

4) While remaining loyal to Sacred Tradition, the Church’s artistic tradition is fluid and is always affected by the artist’s creativity and understanding. This may lead to new styles and interpretations of artistic expression. These new expressions, however, are never vulgar or disrespectful, and will provide no confusion as to the meaning of the images within the art form. Sacred art, while not exclusively catechetical, does certainly play a role in the catechesis of the faithful.

5) Also, the Western Rite, and the Eastern Rites, affirm that preaching the Gospel message through (word, service (Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, and sacred art), and celebrating the Holy Sacraments is critical for the evangelization, spiritual health, and salvation of God’s people.

6) Icons, sacred images, woodcarvings, calligraphy and other sacred arts if based on the Holy Gospels and Church Tradition spread the Good News of the Gospel. The sacred arts are sacramentals when they point the way to God. Sacramentals are blessings. The seven Sacraments provide the grace that interiorly heal and nourish us. Sacramentals, however, assist us in the exterior visualization of Our Lord Jesus who made that process possible through His Incarnation and Redemption of humanity. It also assists us in the visualization of His angels and especially His Blessed Mother and the saints, who modeled Jesus in their own lives.

An icon is a sacred image (confer John 1:14). An iconographer follows specific traditions of craftsmanship and specific elements of Theological (Scriptural and dogmatic content), Semantic (the visual language of the icon, appropriate perspective, the use of light, line, and color to create form, and correct use of signs and symbols within the icon), and Aesthetic principles (the quality of beauty with the icon itself). These three principles are based upon the sacred Tradition of the Church. The history of the Western and Eastern Rites illustrates that the sacred artist has continually moved through different artistic periods and technical understanding. Within sacred art artistic styles change (this may be a good thing), but the truth of the Faith, and the witness of the Church’s spiritual giants – the witness of Jesus Christ and His saints – cannot.

David Clayton, Provost at Pontifex University,  has pointed out that we need to remember and apply the two ideas of  St. Theodore the Studite (AD 759-826) in his criteria which must be followed if an icon is to be considered a sacramental, thus, worthy of veneration: 1) The icon must display the title of the saint or feast day represented, and,  2) the image needs to display the essential physical characteristics and attributes of the saint represented, such as keys for St. Peter; a book of Scriptures, a bald head, or sword for St. Paul; dalmatics, the Book of the Gospels, or thuribles, for deacons; or the gaunt figure of St. Mary of Egypt, etc.. Each angel or saint has a specific name and attributes.

The Roman Catholic Church moved out of an Iconographic period into the Gothic period, and then into the Baroque period. The Greek and Russian Orthodox Church and many of the Eastern Catholic Churches in union with Rome stayed within the period of Iconography that developed out of the early centuries of the Church. Cultural conditions (such as geographical location, political influence, and the affect of the Western European Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries), access to earth pigments, artistic differences and changes in style all affected the Iconographic period within the Eastern Rite of the Church.

It is important to note that within the Latin Rite a sacred image is a religious image that is created of a historical holy person or religious scene; however, the artist allows their full creativity and personal interpretation to enter into the craftsmanship and artistic process (an example being Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel).

Historically, personal creativity and technique, and the change of specific artistic styles are present within Eastern Rite iconography. Their sacred icons are affected by the culture, historical moment, style, and geographical location of the artist (examples being Coptic vs. Greek, or, Novgorod vs. Moscow). The Eastern Rites, those that are in union with Rome, and those that are not, believe that the sacred icon must be faithful to Sacred Scripture, historic reality, and the Traditions the Church.  The icon’s meaning must be easily recognizable by the viewer. The artistic style may change but there is no room for personal interpretation to change the way Christ, His angels, or saints are portrayed (an example of this would be portraying Christ as doing some action outside the truth and witness of the Gospels, or having Him beheaded rather than crucified). Sacred icons should never be static and “flat.” The personality of the sacred artist is present in their art, and yet, that is not the most important issue.

A sacred icon is made in a specific manner. The techniques of production (from type of board to board preparation, drawing of the image, the necessity of line giving form to color – “its logos” as discussed by one of my teachers, George Kordis, the type of perspective, the predominant use of egg tempera and natural materials – earths and minerals, the lack of symmetry, moving from dark colors to light, and the final blessing by a priest or deacon) are taken seriously by the Orthodox and Eastern Rite Churches. It is my opinion  that if a Latin Rite artist decides to paint a sacred icon, out of respect, they should study and follow the traditions of the Eastern Catholic Rites and the Orthodox Church. This can be accomplished by either studying with their iconographers or with Roman Catholics who have studied with them and follow their traditions of iconography.

I do believe that a Latin Rite sacred artist may paint a religious image in the style of a sacred icon, but, must be careful to explain the difference between the two types of representation. I currently follow this methodology of differentiating a sacred image (religious art) from a sacred icon, and, religious art painted in the style of a sacred icon. My basis for this is respect for the Orthodox and Eastern Rite traditions and how they view their sacred art forms. Yet, it must be admitted that the “traditions” of Orthodox sacred art were primarily formalized by the Greek artist Photis Kontoglou (1895-1965), and the Russian artist and historian Leonid Ouspensky (1902-1987). Thus, these two scholars, within the last one hundred years, outlined what they believed was the historic “tradition” of Orthodox painting, and this “tradition” became formalized within the Orthodox community.  A Catholic artist from another Rite, or within the Latin Rite, may not be concerned with these issues. I believe, however, that the Latin Rite sacred artist must not only be aware of the currents within the Orthodox sacred art community but be respectful of it, too.

In his book Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI provides a wonderful overview of the three periods of sacred art within the Roman Catholic Church (Iconographic, Gothic, and Baroque).  You will notice that even though he discusses the Renaissance he does not include it within the three traditions. High Renaissance artists were not inspired purely by prayer or catechesis in the production of their art. For many their motivation was the desire to please themselves, their patrons, or the profit motive. Renaissance sacred images do have spiritual value and some can motivate the viewer to prayer and communion with God.

An example of an icon is St. Andrei Rublev’s image of Christ, or his icon of the Holy Trinity. An example of a sacred image is Pietro Annigoni’s image of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus in Joseph’s workshop, or Masaccio’s Holy Trinity. A sacred image painted in the style of an icon is my rendition of St. Michael Holding the Holy Eucharist. Pictures of these icons and images are found below.

7) The attributes of the sacred artifacts are beautiful. These attributes conform to the three basic elements of beauty as defined in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas: clarity – the listener or viewer can discern what the artifact is, what it means, and that it reflects a “radiance” to those who perceive it; proportion – the listener or viewer can discern the artifact’s unity, order, harmony, and the correct relationship of its individual parts;  and integrity  – the listener or viewer is able to understand the “wholeness” of the artifact. Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Certainly it is affected by the individual’s culture, geographical location, historic period, and other issues; but, we can also say that it is objective, in that people of Faith do not deny the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of God.

Within the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Churches, it is believed that “Our justification comes from the grace of God which was merited for us by the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Sacramental Grace is a participation in the life of God. Justification is conferred through the Sacramental grace of Baptism. “Grace is the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to His call to become [members of His family], children of God, adoptive sons and daughters, partakers [through the Holy Sacraments] of the divine nature and eternal life” (confer John 1:12-18; 17:3; Romans 8: 14-17; 2 Peter 1:3-4). As the Council of Trent teaches – grace is known by faith – and faith, in association with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, produce good works. Our Lord teaches in Matthew 7: 20 “You will know them by their fruits” (confer Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, paragraphs 1987 through 2005).

8) Contemporary Greek artist and iconographer, Dr. George Kordis, writes of this principle in his book Icon As Communion. Numerous authors have written in this field, to name a few, with the titles of their books:  Sister Wendy Beckett’s Real Presence, Meditations on the Mysteries of Our Faith, and  Encounters With God; Paul Evdokimov’s The Art of the Icon; David Clayton’s The Way of Beauty: Liturgy, Education, and Inspiration; John Saward’s The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty; Christoph Cardinal Schonborn’s God’s Human Face; Jem Sullivan’s The Beauty of Faith; Monsignor Timothy Verdon’s Art and Prayer; and Jeana Visel, OSB, Icons in the Western Church.

9) In the Roman Catholic Church, liturgy as defined in the New Testament, “refers not only to the celebration of divine worship but also to the proclamation of the Gospel and to active charity” (confer Luke 1:23; Acts 13:2; Romans 15:16, 27; 2 Corinthians 9:12; Philippians 2: 14-17, 25, 30. Also, review the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, paragraphs 1066 through 1209).

The work of a sacred artist (this of course includes all the sacred arts) can be viewed as a liturgical act because it provides a service to our neighbor, in that the sacred art elucidates and visualizes the reality of the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. The sacred artist assists the Church in making the reality of Christ present within the community of believers. Sacred artists, by providing this service, are participants in active charity. They aid in providing a “visible sign of communion in Christ between God and men” (confer paragraph 1071, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition).

10) Transformation in Christ is a Sacramental, prayerful, intellectual, and fellowship process. A Catholic sacred artist must be involved in all four of these transformative elements in order to reach their full potential. A student of this process would be remiss if they did not investigate the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine on these issues.  St. Augustine writes beautifully in his Confessions on the truth and the beauty of God, one paragraph begins: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you”….  Artists are wise to remember that their art must not only be good and truthful in its message, but beautiful as well because they are reflecting the truth, goodness, and beauty of God Himself.

Catholic sacred artists, as they study the various manifestations of sacred art over the last two millennia, should network and become aware of the contributions of contemporary leaders and contributors in the various fields of Catholic sacred art. The Catholic Art Guild, The Catholic Artists Society, The Foundation for Sacred Arts, and the Institute of Catholic Culture are organizations to help you discover contemporary issues in Catholic sacred art; they also occasionally provide seminars and lectures in sacred art. Pontifex University, an on-line Master of Arts Degree program in Roman Catholic sacred art, is also another opportunity for a sacred artist or student who desires to advance their knowledge and understanding of sacred art.

Some of the recent Popes have expressed valuable insights on beauty, sacred art, and the role of the sacred artist. A few examples: the many writings of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI such as, his 2008 homily in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in which he discussed the architecture and stained glass windows of St. Patrick’s as a quest for truth and faith; his Meeting With Artists in November 2009, his 2002 comments “The Feeling of Things: The Contemplation of Beauty,” and his  book The Spirit of the Liturgy. Professor Matthew Ramage’s January 2015 essay “Pope Benedict XVI’s Theology of Beauty and The New Evangelization” (found in Homiletic and Pastoral Review), is an excellent introduction to Pope Benedict XVI”s contributions to truth and beauty in sacred art.

Emphasis must also be placed on the absolutely critical document for any sacred artist: Pope Saint St. John Paul II’s Letter to Artists. Pope Pius XII’s 1947 encyclical, Mediator Dei, from a liturgical point-of-view it explains in paragraph 187 that “Three characteristics of which our predecessor Pope Pius Xth spoke should adorn all liturgical services: sacredness, which abhors any profane influence; nobility, which true and genuine arts should serve and foster; and universality, which, while safeguarding local and legitimate custom, reveals the catholic unity of the Church” (Pius XII referenced this from an Apostolic Letter of Pope Pius X of November 1903). These three principles, when united with the principles of aesthetic, semantic, and theological truth, provide the Catholic sacred artist with a firm foundation on which to build their creative work.

Thank you for reading this and I look forward to your comments. Please see the images below, too.

Pax Christi,   Deacon Paul O. Iacono

Originally posted April 2, 2018; updated June 2, 2018

Fra Angelico Institute for Sacred Art.

Copyright © 2011- 2018 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Images:

Christ-Pantocrator.-Andrei-Rublev.-1410-1420s.-The-central-part-of-the-iconographic-Deesis-of-Zvenigorod.-Moscow-The-State-Tretyakov-Gallery

St. Andrei Rublev’s icons: Christ (completed 1410, above) and his                                         The Trinity (1411, or 1425-27)trinity-rublev-1410

 

Masaccio_Holy_Trinity

Masaccio’s sacred image: Holy Trinity (completed 1428, above) and

Pietro Annigoni’s sacred image: St. Joseph the Worker (altarpiece, completed 1963, below)annigoni, st joseph

Deacon Paul O. Iacono’s sacred image done in the style of an icon: of St. Michael Holding the Holy Eucharist, (completed 2015-2017). Please see my post on this blog of September 29, 2017 for a brief explanation.

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My text/last photo, Copyright © 2011- 2018 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

 

Paul in Arabia and Damascus

Galatians 1:15-18 relates St. Paul saying: “But when God, who had set me apart from the time when I was in my mother’s womb, called me through His grace and chose to reveal His Son in me, so that I should preach Him to the Gentiles, I was in no hurry to confer with any human being, or to go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me. Instead I went off into Arabia, and later I came back to Damascus. Only after three years did I go up to Jerusalem to meet Cephas (Peter). I stayed fifteen days with him.”

St. Paul’s wanderings were not without profit. Galatians, being the first Epistle after Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, relates Paul’s working through how his life had changed since his theophany of Jesus Christ. It relates his plan for spreading the Good News, debating issues of Jewish Law, and invoking all to live in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Time undoubtedly was spent praying about how the Lord was working in his life, what the Lord was requesting of him, future plans, settling up business affairs in Damascus,  and other large and small personal issues.

We all go through periods similar to those just described by St. Paul. So has it been for me. No theophany was experienced (!) but personal and medical issues have had their affect. The lessons learned echoes what is read in the first chapter of Galatians. I am better for it. For all types of adversities are allowed by the Lord, not because He wants us to suffer, but “to burnish us,” to make us shine with the virtues of fortitude, humility, and patient endurance. As the Saint says: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit…”

I see from the subscription list that this blog site has not lost any subscribers, in fact over the last two years of inactivity it has increased in membership. Thank you! I have plans for new posts for the upcoming months, specifically a series on the spirituality and virtues of Beato Fra Angelico and how they influenced his art. Are the virtues of a 15th century Italian Dominican priest transferable to us? I believe so, because, in reality, they are based on the Beatitudes that all Christians, regardless of Rite or denomination, hold dear.

May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Thanks, talk to you soon.img_2151The above sacred image is an unfinished copy of St. Paul based on St. Andrei Rublev’s masterpiece. It is being painted by Deacon Paul O. Iacono. It is egg tempera on a gessoed wood panel.

Copyright © 2011- 2017 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Sacred Artist’s Cultivation of Silence

I recently received a post from the always challenging and informative blog entitled Catholicism Pure and Simple. It features a short film by the Benedictine monk Abbot Christopher Jamison, O.S.B.

In this film Fr. Jamison speaks about silence and how critical it is for our well being. He mentions that its cultivation is a necessary prerequisite for certain types of prayer. The good news is that we can begin the process of cultivating silence by setting aside at least five minutes but no more than thirty minutes during the day. During that time we participate in an ancient Christian technique of developing awareness of our breathing, the silence that is within us, and the need to enter into this type of prayer in order to hear the still, quiet voice, of God. I’ll have more about this ancient Christian prayer technique in future posts.

Finding silence is especially important for the sacred artist. Sacred artists must prepare themselves prior to picking up the tools of their art and creating a sacred image. They accomplish this  through the cultivation of prayer throughout the creative process. The disciplines of silence, fasting in its various forms, and repentance for sins are important components of the Christian artistic and soul journey.

What is especially helpful about this ten minute film is that Fr. Jamison and a parishioner demonstrate the process of cultivating silence through an actual short period of silent relaxation and spiritual meditation. It is a simple yet profound moment that demonstrates how easily you can connect with the rhythms of your body and soul, and in the process, develop your prayer life with the Lord, His angels, and saints. This film is not only necessary viewing for the sacred artist but for all who are interested in a mature relationship with God.

David Clayton Has Another Great Idea for Catholic Evangelization

The following essay was written by David Clayton a lecturer in sacred art, author of the very fine book on the implementation of the New Evangelization of the Catholic Church entitled The Little Oratory – A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home, successful blogger, fellow sacred artist, and friend. His essay captures the imagination that Catholics need to develop if we are to be effective witnesses of the truth of Christ and His Church in today’s world. The following essay takes you through an experience of evangelization that a Protestant church in Nashua, New Hampshire has developed into a welcoming and community based operation. Please take a relaxed moment with a cup of tea or coffee to allow Clayton’s Catholic application of a successful idea to seep in and stimulate you. Think about whether it could apply to your parish, your Catholic college, or within your Diocese, share it, pray about it, and gather some friends to implement it if you are moved by the Spirit to do so.

Contact David at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts: thewayofbeauty.org/contact/

A Model for A Cultural Center for the New Evangelization
by DAVID CLAYTON on JULY 4, 2014
Going Local for Global Change.

How About a Chant Cafe with Real Coffee ..and Real Chant?

There is a British comedienne who in her routine adopted an onstage persona of a lady who couldn’t get a boyfriend and was very bitter about it (although in fact as she became a TV personality beyond the comedy routines, she revealed herself as a naturally engaging and warm character who was in fact happily married with a child). Jo Brand is her name and she used to tell a joke in which she said: ‘I’m told that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I know that’s nonsense – guys will take all the food you give them but it doesn’t make them love you. In fact I’ll tell you the only certain way to man’s heart…through the rib cage with a bread knife!’

Well, wry humour aside, I think that in fact there is more truth to the old adage than Jo Brand would have acknowledged (on stage at least). Perhaps we can touch people’s hearts in the best way through food and drink, and in particular coffee.

There is a coffee shop in Nashua NH where I live called Bonhoeffer’s. It is the perfect place for conversation. They have designed it so that people like to sit and hang out – pleasing decor, free wifi, and different sitting arrangements, from pairs of cozy arm chairs to highbacked chairs around tables. The staff are personable and it is roomy enough that they can place clusters of chairs and sofas that are far enough apart so that you don’t feel that you are eavesdropping on your neighbors’ conversation; and close enough together that you feel part of a general buzz of conversation around you. There is not an extensive food menu but what they have is good and goes nicely with the image it conveys of coffee and relaxed conversation – pastries, a slice of quiche or crepes for example. It has successfully made itself a meeting place in the town because of this.

This is all very well and good, if not unremarkable. But, you wouldn’t know unless you recognized the face of the German protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the cafe logo and started to ask questions, or noticed and took the time to read the display close the door as you are on your way out, that it is run by the protestant church next door, Grace Fellowship Church. Furthermore a proportion of turnover goes towards supporting locally based charities around the world – they list as examples projects in the Ukraine, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Haiti and Jamaica on their website. Talks and events linked to their faith are organised and there are pleasant well equipped meeting rooms available for hire. I include the logo and website to illustrate my points, but also in the hope that if Bonhoeffer’s see this they might push an occasional free coffee in my direction…come on guys!

Well, it was worth a try. Anyway, back to more serious things…the presentation of their mission does not even dominate the cafe website which talks more about things such as the beans they use in their coffee, prices and opening times and the food menu. The most eye-catching aspect when I was nosing around is the announcement of the new crepes menu! There is one tab that has the heading Hope and Life Kids and when you click it it takes you through to a dedicated website of that name, here , which talks about the charity work that is done.

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I went into Bonhoeffer’s recently with Dr William Fahey, the President of Thomas More College, just for cup of coffee and a chat, of course, and he remarked to me as we sat down that this is the sort of the thing that protestants seem to be able to organize; and how we wished he saw more Catholics doing the same thing.

I agree. What the people behind this little cafe had done was to create a hub for the local community that has an international reach. It is at once global and personal. I would like to see exactly what they have done replicated by Catholics. But, crucially, good though it is I would add to it, and make it distinctly Catholic so that it attracts even more coffee drinkers and then can become a subtle interface with the Faith, a focus for the New Evangelization in the neighborhood.

I don’t know how to run coffee shops, so I would be happy with a first step that copied precisely theirs – the establishment of coffee shop that competes with all others in doing what coffee shops are meant to do, sell coffee. Then I would offer through this interface talks and classes that transmit the Way of Beauty, many of which are likely to have an appeal to many more than Catholics (especially those with a ‘new-age spiritual’ bent). There are a number that come to mind that attract non-Christians and can be presented without compromising on truth – icon painting classes; or ‘Cosmic Beauty’ a course in traditional proportion in harmony based upon the observation of the cosmos; or praying with the cosmos – a chant class that teaches people to chant the psalms and explains how the traditional pattern of prayer conforms to cosmic beauty.

Another class that might engage people is a practical philosophy class that directs people towards the metaphysical and emphasizes the need of all people to lead a good life and to worship God in order to be happy and feel fulfilled. This latter part is vital for it is the practice of worship that draws people up from a lived philosophy into a lived theology and ultimately to the Faith. For it is only once experienced that people become convinced and want more. This works. When I was living in London I used to see advertisements in the Tube for a course in practical philosophy. These were offered by a group that had a modern ‘universalist’ approach to religion in which they saw each great ‘spiritual tradition’ as different cultural expressions of a single truth that were equally valid. The adverts however, did not mention religion at all but talked about the love and pursuit of universal wisdom that looked like a new agey mix of Eastern mysticism and Plato. The content of the classes, they said, was derived from the common experience of many if not all people and from it one could hope to lead a happy useful life. They had great success in attracting educated un-churched professionals not only to attend the class, but also to go in to attend more classes and ultimately to commit their lives to their recommended way of living. They were also prepared to donate generously – this is a rich organisation. Their secret was the emphasis on living the life that reason lead you to and not require, initially at least a commitment to formal religion. Most became religious in time, which ultimately lead some to convert to Christianity – although many, because of the flaws in the opening premises and the conclusion this lead to, were lead astray too. It was by meeting some of these converts that I first heard about it. There is room, I think, for a properly worked out Catholic version of this.

Along a similar line are classes that help people to discern their personal vocation, again using traditional Catholic methods. Once we discover this then we truly flourish. God made us to desire Him and to desire the means by which we find Him. While the means by which we find Him is the same in principle for each of us, we are all meant to travel a unique path that is personal to us. To the degree that we travel this path, the journey of life, as well as its end, is an experience of transformation and joy.

Drawing on people from the local Catholic parishes I would hope to start groups that meet for the singing of an Office – Vespers and or Compline or Choral Evensong and fellowship on a week night; and have talks on the prayer in the home and parish as described by the The Little Oratory. This book was intended as a manual for the spiritual life of the New Evangelization and would ideally be one that supports the transmission of practices that are best communicated by seeing, listening and doing. These weekly ‘TLO meetings’ would be the ideal foundation for learning and transmitting the practices. They would be very likely a first point of commitment for Catholics who might then be interested in getting involved in other ways. It would enable them also to go back to their families and parishes teach any others there who might be interested to learn.

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We could perhaps sell art by making it visible on the walls or have a permanent, small gallery space adjacent to the sitting area (provided it was good enough of course – better nothing at all than mediocre art!). All would available in print form online as well of course, just as talks could be made available much more widely and broadcasted out across the net if there was interest. This is how the local becomes global.

What I am doing here is taking the business model of the cafe and combining it with the business model of the Institute of Catholic Culture which is based in Arlington Diocese in Virginia. I wrote about the great work of Deacon Sabatino and his team at the ICC in Virginia in an article here – thewayofbeauty.org/2012/09/the-institute-for-catholic-culture-an-organisational-model-for-the-new-evangelisation/ called An Organisational Model for the New Evangelization – How To Make it At Once Personal and Local, and have International Recognition. His work is focussed on Catholic audiences, and is aimed predominently at forming the evangelists, rather than reaching those who have not faith (although I imagine some will come along to their talks). By having an excellent program and by taking care to ensure that his volunteers feel involved and are appreciated and part of a community (even organising special picnics for them) Deacon Sabatino has managed to get hundreds volunteering regularly.

Another group that does this as just well is the Fra Angelico Institute for Sacred Arts – https://fraangelicoinstitute.com/ – in Rhode Island. It is  run by Deacon Paul Iacono. I have written about his great work here. The addition of a coffee shop may give it a permanent base and interface with non-Catholics and even the non-churched.

I would start in a city neighborhood in an area with a high population and ideally with several Catholic parishes close by that would provide the people interested in attending and be volunteers and donors helping the non-coffee programs. It always strikes me that the Bay Area of San Francisco, especially Berkeley, is made for such a project. There is sufficiently high concentration of Catholics to make it happen, a well established cafe culture; and the population is now so far past ‘post-Christian’ that there is an powerful but undirected yearning for all things spiritual that directs them to a partial answer in meditation centers, wellness groups, spiritual growth and transformation classes, talks on reaching for your ‘higher self’ and so on. Many are admittedly hostile to Christianity, but they seek all the things that traditional, orthodox Christianity offers in its fullness although they don’t know it. Provided that they can presented with these things in such a way that it doesn’t arouse prejudice, they will respond because these things meet the deepest desire of every person.

Here’s the additional element that holds it all together. As well as the workshops or classes I have mentioned I would have the Liturgy of the Hours prayed in a small but beautiful chapel adjacent to and accessible from the cafe on a regular basis, ideally with the full Office sung. The idea is for people in the cafe to be aware that this is happening, but not to feel bound to go or guilty for not doing so. I thought perhaps a bell and announcement: ‘Lauds will be chanted beginning in five minutes in the chapel for any who are interested.’ Those who wish to could go to the chapel and pray, either listening or chanting with them. The prayer would not be audible in the cafe. So those who were not interested might pause momentarily and then resume their conversations.

From the people who attend the TLO meetings I would recruit a team of volunteers might volunteer to sing in one or more extra Offices during the week if they could. If you have two people together, meeting in the name of Jesus, they can sing an Office for all. The aim is to have the Office sung on the premises give good and worthy praise to God for the benefit of the customers, the neighbourhood, society and the families and groups that each participates in aside from this and for the Church.

When the point is reached that the Office is oversubscribed, we might encourage groups to pray on behalf of others also in different locations by, for example singing Vespers regularly in local hospitals or nursing homes. I describe the practice of doing this in an appendix in The Little Oratory and in a blog post here: thewayofbeauty.org/2012/12/send-out-the-l-team-making-a-sacrifice-of-praise-for-american-veterans  Send Out the L-Team, Making a Sacrifice of Praise for American Veterans.

As this grows, the temptation would be to create a larger and larger organization. This would be a great error I think. The preservation of a local community as a driving force is crucial to giving this its appeal as people walk through the door. There is a limit to how big you can get and still feel like a community. Like Oxford colleges, when it gets to big, you don’t grow into a giant single institution, but limit the growth and found a new college. So each neighborhood could have its own chant cafe independently run. There might be, perhaps a central organization that offers franchises in The Way of Beauty Cafes so that the materials and knowledge needed to make it a success in your neighborhood are available to others if they want it.

I have made the point before that eating and drinking are quasi-liturgical activities by which we echo the consuming of Christ Himself in the Eucharist (it is not the other way around – the Eucharist comes first in the hierarchy). So it should be no surprise to us that food and drink offered with loving care and attention open up the possibilities of directing people to the love of God. If the layout and decor are made appropriate to that of a beautiful coffee shop and subtly and incorporating traditional ideas of harmony and proportion, and colour harmony then it will be another aspect of the wider culture that will stimulate the liturgical instincts of those who attend. (I have described how that can be done in the context of a retail outlet in an appendix of The Little Oratory.) We should bare in mind Pope Benedict’s words from Sacramentum Caritatis (71):

‘Christianity’s new worship includes and transfigures every aspect of life: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1Cor 10:13) Here the instrinsically eucharistic nature of Christian life begins to take shape. The Eucharist, since it embraces the concrete, everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progressive transfiguration of all those called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God (cf Rom 8:29ff). There is nothing authentically human – our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds – that does not find in the sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived in the full.’

So Jo Brand, we’ll put away the bread knife and offer the bread instead!

Step one seems to be…first get your coffee shop. Anyone who thinks they can help us here please get in touch and we’ll make it happen!

Contact David at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts: thewayofbeauty.org/contact/

Copyright © 2009–2014 David Clayton. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Mass at Harvard – Is It A Hate Crime?

News reports have been circulating the story that Harvard University’s Memorial Hall will be the site of a Satanic Black Mass on Monday evening May 12, 2014. The Satanic Mass, by its very nature, is a spiritual crime against the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Catholic Mass and everything that it stands for – specifically the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the real presence of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is hosting this despicable event. Its promoters and supporters know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it, and the attempt to sugar coat this blasphemy by saying that it is an attempt to promote cultural understanding is preposterous and vile.

Reports from the Catholic News Agency (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/priest-sees-deluge-of-support-against-harvard-black-mass/) state that “Early media reports included confirmation from Priya Dua, a spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, which is staging the event, that a consecrated host would be used. However, updates to the initial reports said that Dua later retracted her statement, saying that there had been a miscommunication and no consecrated host would be used.”

It is my belief, and the belief of over one billion other Christians in the Latin, Greek, and Russian Rites, that a consecrated host is the most sacred and precious object on earth and the “source and summit” of our faith. I do not understand, how is it not a crime if the original intent is to show a ritual that promoted the desecration of the Mass in its Word and Matter?

If a person or organization desecrates a Koran, or promotes racism or sexism would we not vociferously object and demand justice?

Would Harvard University allow a reenactment to occur in Memorial Hall in which students were shown how to desecrate a Koran, or stone  a woman because she desired an education, or bullwhip a racial or sexual minority for their culture or personal views. What’s next, a symposium on teaching the elite student body of Harvard how to tie a correct knot for a lynching?

We are not taking about an avant garde theatrical performance in which the boundaries of good taste can be obliterated and the right of free speech can be stretched. We are talking about a Satanic ritual that has for many years had the express purpose of spewing hate and ridicule against the specific liturgical and spiritual meaning and reality of the Catholic and Orthodox Mass.

Catholics in the Harvard and MIT communities and the Archdiocese of Boston are wisely protesting and engaging in prayer and witness to this affront to all Christians.

Allow me to pose two questions: What is the definition of a hate crime, and, is Harvard University, by allowing this event to take place in Memorial Hall, condoning a hate crime?

Laws.com states that a hate crime is “an intentional, deliberate, and methodically-charged crime executed in order to cause harm or damage with regard to a specific victim chosen as a result of prejudice, racism, bias, and unlawful resentment.” It goes on to say, “The following are commonly associated with charges of a Hate Crime:

a. Prejudice: Unfounded opinions that are preconceived in nature.

b. Bias: Favoritism that is not based on empirical or pragmatic reasoning.

c. Aggravated Felony: A classification of an intentional, premeditated crime that is severe in nature.

d. Defamation: The slandering or unjust conveying of libelous sentiment.

e. Ethnicity: The country or nation of origin belonging to an individual or entity.

f. Racism: Preconceived prejudice resulting from bias with regard to race.

g. Religion: The process of spiritual belief latent in an individual.

h. Sexual Orientation: The nature and particularity of the sexual attraction latent in an individual.

i. Unalienable Rights: The right of every citizen to ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’.

j. First Amendment: The right of every citizen to the Freedom of Speech.” (http://criminal.laws.com/hate-crimes)

Don’t some of the above ten articles apply to this situation?

Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants believe that the Holy Trinity is the repository of all truth, goodness, and beauty. In the Trinity’s love and mercy for humanity they have shared themselves with us through word, grace, and sacrament. The ministry, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ won for us the opportunity to be fully participating members of God’s family. Christ’s resurrection is the proof of His victory over sin and Satan. With this in mind we should not be afraid, but we do need to be prudent.

Jesus warned us that Satan, and his minions, still prowl the earth searching for souls to devour. We must be as innocent as doves but as clear eyed as the eagle. Let us pray this afternoon and evening for the Harvard Catholic Community that they may have the strength to witness, in a non-violent Christ-like manner, against Satanic hate.

Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

Eugene Burnand and The Greatest Easter Painting Ever Made | Crisis Magazine

Clicking on the attached link found below produces an excellent article by Elise Ehrhard in Crisis Magazine describing the Swiss painter Eugène Burnand’s late 19th century masterpiece The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection. 

One writer has described this painting as a visual Lectio Divina since the observer cannot help but feel the joy, hope, and love of these disciples for the Lord. 

May you and your families experience an Easter season filled with the healing love of Christ.

The Greatest Easter Painting Ever Made | Crisis Magazine.

 

Christ in the Wilderness, a Russian Artist, and a Challenge

In the late 19th century a Russian painter, the noted portraitist, draughtsman, and teacher Ivan Kramskoi painted a haunting image of Jesus alone in the desert. It is a painting which expresses the internal struggle of the flesh versus the spirit. It portrays Jesus, in the early morning hours and the cold air of the dawn, with the sun rising over His back.

He is surrounded by small boulders and sits on a rock, hands in front of him, eyes filled with anguish and pain. This portrait of Christ in the desert is not one of victory; looking closely at His face you recognize the seriousness of the struggle and the irrefutable fact of Jesus’ humanity.

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Observe Christ’s clenched hands, gaze deeply into His eyes, and you will see the artist’s portrayal of a Savior that is already at the beginning of His ministry aware of the viciousness of the tempter and the burden of our sins that will weigh upon Him.

Kramskoi’s painting is so powerful because it shows not the physical tearing that was to come in the scourging and crucifixion, but the sensual, psychological, and spiritual battles that would challenge the mission and authority of Jesus Christ.

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Jesus had to confront, in that very first desert assault, whether or not He was going to be faithful to His mission; was He going to be faithful to the anointing that He received from the Father and the Spirit at His baptism?

The Gospel challenges us with the same questions: are we faithful to our Baptismal promises? Are we faithful to the Commandments? Are we faithful to the call that we received at our Confirmation to live and practice the truths that He taught us, not just when we feel like it, but everyday – even in the most difficult of circumstances?

As disciples of Christ we are on a daily basis constantly revolving around the axis of temptation and sin – faith and grace. We understand that temptation, in and of itself, is a test – it is not sin. It is only sin when we willfully place ourselves in its power, when we give into its power to overwhelm our body and soul, – a deadly power that obtains its animus and energy from the original tempter – Satan himself.

Christ lived blamelessly in the face of evil, but you say, I am not Christ, I am a weak man or woman, boy or girl. I say true, we all are, but by virtue of our faithful reception of the Sacraments we have the power of Christ’s grace within us.

Unlike Christ we don’t enter the wilderness of our own temptations alone. When we do face the anguish of our own sin, our own desolation in the face of Satan’s onslaughts, when we peer over the edge of the pit of sin – Christ’s witness tells us “Do not despair. Do not dwell in the pit. Do not accept the pit of sin as being permanent.” Jesus Christ tells us that He has instituted a Church that, with all its human sins and imperfections, still exists – in purity – to convey through its clergy the grace of God.

One of the first things that you notice about Christ in this portrait is that here, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the artist has Jesus’ hands clasped together. Yet, when you walk into a Catholic or Orthodox Church, and look at the crucifix or an icon of one, you see Jesus as He ends His ministry on the Cross, with His hands unclasped, and stretched out, stretched out for each one of us.

This Lenten season we need to reach out our hands to the One, who 2000 years ago, stretched out His hands for our Redemption – and who still reaches out for us today. Reach out to Him in prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and through Jesus, reach out to those around you who are suffering in the same way, and lead them back to the love of Christ.

Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Sin and the Sacred Artist

Our society is quite adept at pointing out the sins and foolishness of others. Cable TV, radio talk shows, and various web sites love to dwell on the ignorant and immoral actions of politicians, celebrities, and the man in the street. But, as sacred artists within the Christian Tradition, what does Jesus require of us?

Jesus demands that we become countercultural. He requires us to be more concerned with our own sinfulness rather than the sins or inadequacies of others.

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When we first heard it years ago, last Sunday’s Gospel of Matthew 5: 17-37 must have caught us off guard – with talk of plucking out of eyes and cutting off of hands. Today, as adults and sacred artists, we certainly would have a difficult time practicing our craft if we took Jesus at His word. As you know the graphic figures of speech that Jesus uses are meant to shake us up – to provoke a reaction in us by vividly describing what we should figuratively do rather than falling into certain types of sin.

The vivid images that He uses emphasizes the truth of how dangerous these sins are to our souls. He uses this phrase twice: “it would be better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.”

What is He saying?

Human nature, combined with the age that we live in, contribute to our forgetting the essence of this Gospel and reflecting on its purpose. It is apparent that Jesus is emphasizing the following three truths: 1) Sin is real; 2) We will be judged on our sins; and 3) Gehenna, that is, Hell, is a real place: the place of eternal sorrow and separation from God.

Now, in the last fifty years, there exists some Catholic and non-Catholic theologians that would disagree with all or some of these three Scriptural truths; in fact, some of them would even cast doubt on the authenticity of the Holy Scriptures. But make no mistake; it is the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church that we will be personally judged, not by these theologians, but by Jesus Himself.

So, it is wise and prudent for us to understand that Jesus is not mincing any words in this section of Matthew’s Gospel. For Jesus is challenging us to take seriously God’s perception of reality, and the truth that we can, through our personal and social sinful acts, be separated from God not only in this life but for all eternity, too.

Jesus’ words are timeless because He cites pride, anger, vengeance, unlawful divorce, lust, and lying as problems that affect not only the Jewish community – but our community as well. Jesus knows our hearts; and He knew the hearts of the men and women that stood before Him. His goal was to teach and heal us, and most importantly, willfully sacrifice Himself so that we would be redeemed of the stain of Original Sin and the subsequent sins of our life.

Jesus-Picture-Carrying-Cross-The-Passion-Of-Christ-Movie

So Jesus is presenting us with an opportunity to be a student in His school of discipleship. Jesus’ school, however, demands that we be honest with ourselves, as artists and as Christians, and recognize and strive to eliminate all sins –  all  barriers – to being His disciple. For how can we produce sacred art in the Tradition of the Church if we are carrying the burden of unrepented sin?

We pray that the Holy Spirit uses us as His instruments to promote the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, His angels and His saints. It follows then that if we are His instruments we must make every effort to model ourselves after Him.  Rather than just copying the image of the sacred model, as a fellow artist Jesus desires us to become the model – alter Christus – another Christ.

I don’t need to tell you that, over the last fifty years within the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church in certain parts of the world, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is widely ignored as a throw back to the Middle Ages. This attitude by American and European Catholics is based on poor catechesis and, possibly, an unwillingness to accept and repent of their own faults and sins. We may have forgotten the reality of sin, but  Jesus, our Judge, has not; and why hasn’t He?

It is because sin is the reality of our separation from Him – and He is always aware of it. It is the reason why He suffered and died for us; however, along with this is His desire to share His mercy with us – if – we want it. Christ’s mercy is always available to us; and as Catholics we are blessed to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation to spiritually cleanse us from our sins. Why would we cast aside such a valuable gift?

Today, Jesus is calling us to repent – let us not turn a deaf ear, and a hard heart, to Him.

Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. This essay is a modified form of a homily I delivered last week at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Wakefield, Rhode Island, USA. Photo Credits: “Jesus,” and “Jesus Carrying the Cross” from Mel Gibson’s classic film: The Passion of the Christ.

“The Nativity” – Presented by the Jim and Jane Henson Family Puppets – Christmas Eve on CBS

Floridian Sean Keohane, a member of the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts, and a participant in the beautiful CBS/Paulist Production of “The Nativity” sent me the following information on an American television Christmas Eve Special that will be broadcast this Tuesday evening on CBS at 11:30 PM. You will want to set your DVR’s to record the show. I am sure that it will prove to be quite beautiful and a wonderful addition to your enjoyment of the holy Christmas season.  Sean is an artist and has been working with the famous Henson puppeters and the Jim Henson Creature Shop. He included a note and some pictures from Cheryl Henson that I would like to share with you.

Merry Christmas to all and best wishes for a safe and secure New Year, Deacon Paul and Jackie Iacono.

“A special note from Cheryl Henson:

I want to let you know about this special presentation of our mother’s puppet performance of “The Nativity” that will be a part of a CBS special on Christmas Eve. Heather Henson and I worked with Father Eric Andrews at Paulist Productions to remount this beautiful classic production as a tribute to Jane Henson. Mom had created this production over the past five years together with Heather and Sean Keohane in Orlando. The piece workshopped at The National Puppetry Conference at The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. From there, Mom sculpted the heads for the first group of puppets which were then built and costumed by the New York Workshop. In remounting the show, the workshop made a few important additions, a bowing donkey and two shepherds among them. Vandy Wood designed a beautiful light weight set with a blue back drop dyed by Jason Weber. Everyone who worked on the show did a spectacular job.

We were blessed with an excellent team of performers who we know from shows we have funded through the Jim Henson Foundation and from the Henson workshop. Amanda Maddock directed the puppets for the television production, working with storyboards from Sean Keohane and Heather Henson. Chris Green, Erin Or, Eric Wright, Ulysses Jones, Yoko Myoi, Amy Rush joined her as puppeteers, delivering elegant breath taking performances.

We couldn’t be prouder of how this came together quickly to create a lasting tribute to our mother. There will even be mini documentary tribute to Jane included at the end of the commercial free hour. In addition to Jane Henson’s puppets, the show also includes the kites of Curtiss Lee Mitchell, flown by Curtiss and Heather Henson. The extraordinary spirit kites that they performed at mom’s service in April take flight over three spectacular songs; “Ave Maria,” “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” Everyone on the production agreed that all church services should include kites. They help the spirit soar!

We miss our mother and are glad to be able to celebrate her this holiday season. Please tune in or record this production if you can. Happy holidays and thank you for being a part of this community that she loved so much.

Cheryl Henson”emailed_image_v3

lizandmaryThe Visitation” Mary and Cousin Elizabeth in Jane Henson’s ‘Nativity Story’ for its premiere at St James Catholic Cathedral in Orlando, 2010, Puppet heads sculpted by Jane Henson, tabletop puppets built and costumed by the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Photo by John Henson.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Apocalypse and Christian Duty – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

It has been said that we are living between times – between Advents – in the times between Christ’s first coming – as an infant in the manger, and His second coming – as Lord and Judge of this earth. Our Scriptures challenge us today – the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – with an important question: “Do my actions in public and private indicate that I am a disciple of Christ, dutifully preparing to meet the Lord?”

You see, we could spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure out the signs of the times, discussing this visionary and that seer, trying to determine whether or not we are in the actual last days before the Second Coming. We could speculate on how various personalities in the media discuss the deterioration of political effectiveness, the degradation of cultural discourse, or our precarious economic situation. We could also become unsettled over the apocalyptic scenario of what continues to occur at the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, the possible demise of its nuclear core, and the resulting catastrophic impact on the Pacific region.

Troubled times were also prevalent two thousand years ago when St. Paul penned his letters to the Greeks of Thessaly. St. Paul was alarmed that the gossiping about current events and apocalyptic speculations were causing disruptive behavior. The Greek word that Paul uses to describe their behavior refers “to actions that interrupt the truthful announcement and living out” of the Good News of Christ. He carefully tells us that these alarmists are false prophets if they are causing such unease as to reduce the effectiveness and the realization of the Gospel in the lives of the people.

So what does Jesus and St. Paul suggest?

First, we need to take them seriously and not be overly concerned about when the last days will come. Christians should be alert – but not worry; rather, like Noah upon hearing the word of God, they should prepare and rejoice. We need not worry because we have plenty to do in the interim by concentrating our attention on our duties to love God with our whole heart and our whole soul, repent of our sins, and love and assist our neighbors, too.

St. Paul, echoing Christ, is very specific on this point, he says, “Your love must be sincere. Detest what is evil, cling to what is good. Love one another with the affection of brothers and sisters. Anticipate each other in showing respect. Do not grow slack but be fervent in spirit; He whom you serve is the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient under trial, and persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12: 9-12)

Let us pray that whatever the role we find ourselves in, we faithfully carry out the duties the Holy Spirit has asked us to complete. Each of our jobs and duties are important in the eyes of God. How, and in what spirit we perform them affects our life, and the lives of others, both on earth and in eternity. So let us be worthy of the trust, love, and friendship that Jesus has for us. If we do that, and live in the prayer and grace-filled life of His Word and Sacraments, we will have nothing to fear.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. I will deliver this homily at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island on Sunday November 17, 2013.

God’s Playfulness – Video and Verse

If you have a moment, click on this link, expand the very brief video to full screen, then sit back and enjoy the playfulness of God and the gift of His creative grace. After watching it, I composed a few verses, which I share with you.

http://www.guideposts.org/video/mysterious-ways/the-miracle-of-flight?int_source=MysteriousWays&int_medium=RN&int_campaign=Starlingmurmurations

Thanksgiving 

Grace, the gift of God’s energy; the sharing of Divine life. 

God plays with His creation – mutual joy crashes in on our senses, like the lovely waves of the starlings’ wings, to drench us with His beauty.

Grace, God freely shares His friendship.

We are graced.  

We rejoice and give thanks.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. I would like to thank nature photographer Dylan Winter for the incredible starling murmurations video and for the Guideposts website for featuring it. 

St. Francis of Assisi, Faith, and Grace

The following is my homily for the 27th Week in Ordinary time delivered at St. Francis of Assisi Church Wakefield, Rhode Island USA, October 6, 2013. The memorial of St. Francis of Assisi was celebrated on October 4th. 

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This weekend, as the Church remembers the life of St. Francis of Assisi, let’s pause for a moment and examine the virtues that energized Francis’ life.

We can begin by saying that he was a simple man. He pursued simplicity. This does not mean that he was of limited intelligence, or that he pursued simplicity for simplicity sake, rather, it means that he was successful at eliminating everything from his life that did not enhance his love of Jesus and service to his fellow man.

In other words, he was continually aware of the four eternal goals of life: keeping our soul in the state of grace, awareness of judgment by God, eternal life, and companionship with God Himself.

He realized that “to be simple is to see things with the eyes of God. St. Francis pursued simplicity because he innately knew that God Himself is simple.”

Other characteristics of Francis’ life are the virtues of faith and love. St. Francis understood that by praying for faith, by acting faithfully and lovingly, his spiritual life would be stressed – like an athlete preparing for a match – enabling him grow stronger in faith and love of God. He knew that if he committed himself to it God’s grace would assist him in this spiritual exercise.

In St. Francis’ life story we see his extraordinary reaction to his father’s demand for repayment for the fabrics he took, and sold, to benefit the poor.

How did he react when accused by his father?

In innocence and detachment he publicly disrobed –  a humble nude standing majestically in the Assisi town square.

Michelangelo should have attempted to sculpt that scene in marble. For what was the scene?

It was the image of the young Francis, not confronting the Goliath of military invasion, rather, the Goliath of a garden serpent (in the form of acceptance by society and his father’s love) who tempted him to return to the sweet life, “la dolce vita”.

But it was also the image of the grace of a Divine call to live a virtuous and detached life, filled with love for God and His creation.

The simple grace of Francis’ vision would be the stone that would bring down the giant of his own ego and worldliness.

Now let’s apply this to our Gospel (Luke 17: 5-10).

In today’s parable Jesus demonstrates the power of faith for overcoming temptation and obstacles.

But what did Jesus mean when He said that our faith could move trees and mountains? (see  also Matt.17: 20; Mark 11:23)

In the Middle East  – even to this day – the term “mountain mover” is used for someone who could provide the solutions to great difficulties.

So when Jesus tells us that if our faith was just the size of a mustard seed we could “uproot trees and mountains,” His emphasis is on His grace working in conjunction with our faith.

The gift of His grace is sufficient to assist us in dealing with our problems. Jesus doesn’t say that all our problems will instantly go away, rather, He says that we will be able to endure them, and yes, like Christ Himself, even overcome them.

So, we know St. Francis of Assisi today because he responded, in a heroic way, to the specific grace that he was given as a disciple of Christ.

Faith and grace was infused into his soul, and ours, at the moment of Baptism. If we choose to participate in Christ’s Sacraments, and do so on a regular basis, grace will build upon grace, and like Francis, our perception will become clearer, we will understand our personal Christian duty, and know how to respond to it.

With today’s Gospel, and St Francis in mind, we can say that God wants us to respond to His grace and scale the mountains of our own difficulties – to climb upon the crosses of our everyday life – because it is through this effort that we receive, in His love, the ability to be His partners in eternity.

At the end of his life, if St. Francis had been asked the question of what did he accomplish, he would have probably answered that he accomplished – nothing.

Rather, he may have said that it was as a loving disciple of Christ that he responded to the gift of God’s grace – and that it was God’s grace working through him that enabled him to perform good deeds and loving actions.

Let us pray that, in the spirit of St. Francis, we respond to God’s grace with the same faith, love, and generosity of spirit.

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hand of st francis bellini

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Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Notes on the art: The first image of St. Francis is a 13th century contemporary image of him. It is found in the Benedictine Monastery in Subiaco, Italy. Thanks to Digitalnun at www.ibenedictines.org. The second and third paintings are by Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516). Bellini painted this around 1480. The third painting is a close-up of a section of this painting by Bellini which shows a curious and loving rabbit peeking out of his den just as St. Francis receives the stigmata. The last photo is of a cloak that was worn by St. Francis. You may observe it and other personal items of St. Francis, such as his prayer book, slipper, and a cincture in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy. Quotations on simplicity based on a 1936 sermon by Fr. Ronald Knox. The reference to “mountain mover” and its usage in the Middle East was provided by D. Schwager. My thanks to him.

The Virtue of Christian Responsibility

This weekend’s Gospel (26th Week in Ordinary Time) about Lazarus, and a rich man by the name of Dives, is filled with very concrete images about the virtue of Christian responsibility.

Jesus’ message is twofold: first, He is saying that during his earthly life the rich man was not applying the teaching of the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures which speak of the obligation to hospitably help those around us.

Jesus is also challenging us by mentioning that the rich man sinned. In the Hebrew language the word sin means to “miss the mark” and the rich man Dives clearly missed the mark.

diveslazarusdrawn by an unknown illustrator of petrus comestar's biblehistorialecrop

Father Ron Rolheiser tells us that the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with the concept that giving to the poor was never a negotiable moral option. Rather “it was an obligation” which stated  “giving a certain amount to the poor” in your community was “prescribed by law.”

For example, in the book of Leviticus (25:23) Moses clearly states that nothing is really ours because everything belongs to God. “We are only its stewards and guardians.” We may enjoy it because we worked for it, but with the understanding that our enjoyment is possible because God Himself allows us to earn and take pleasure from it, yet, everything ultimately belongs to God.

How does this apply to us?

The answer brings us to the second part – the silent challenge within Jesus’ parable. Missing the mark, that is, sin, is a deliberate human act that denies or defies the teachings of God. Ultimately, it is an act of narcissism – an act of self-absorption – an act of self-will that puts “the almighty me” first, and the laws of God and His Church, second.

Jesus challenges us to examine how we put our trust in other things: pleasure, pride, power, or possessions – to the neglect of God. What did Dives – the rich man – trust? From the parable we see that he trusted in his wealth. Now, there is nothing wrong with wealth; wealth, however, can become a problem – and lead to sinful behavior – when we as its stewards fulfill only our own needs to the detriment of those suffering around us.

The rich man committed a sin of omission in that he failed to help a needy person that was right in front of him; so the rich man’s wealth, which in itself was morally neutral, enabled him to make the decision to become gluttonous, avaricious, and selfish. This leads us to understand that the root of all sin is pride and the inability to consistently act with humility before the Lord.

Jesus’ challenge in this story is extremely applicable, for we need to determine whether we are going through our lives committing sinful acts with little regard for the consequences of our behavior. When this happens – we – like Dives – miss the mark, and ultimately, we will go unfulfilled in this life, and like him, unfulfilled in the next so, what must we do?

Well, if Dives – the rich man – trusted in his wealth, Lazarus – the poor man – trusted in God. In fact, the name Lazarus means God is my help. Despite a life of misfortune and suffering, Lazarus, in humility, did not lose hope in God.

Like Lazarus we must rediscover, or discover for the first time, the joy and freedom of completely trusting in God.

And what does this mean?

It means that the virtue of Christian responsibility demands that  we perform our work, worship God alone, and acknowledge that He is our only lasting treasure. By doing that we will escape the deadly trap that befell the rich man – for when we love God with all our heart we never forget to help those in need.

Let our prayer be: Lord, increase my thirst for You and for Your way of happiness. Give me a generous heart so I may responsibly share with others the wealth you have given to me.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved The above is a homily that was delivered by Deacon Paul O. Iacono on the weekend of September 28/29, 2013 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island USA. Notes on the painting: The painting above is an illustration drawn by an anonymous illustrator for the Petrus Comestar (Peter Comestor) Commentaries on the Gospels. Peter Comestor, a French priest and scholar, died in Paris in 1178. He was considered one of the three most learned men in France during his lifetime.

The Gospel of St. Luke 12: 49-53 – The Sword of Christ

The following is a homily that will be delivered by Deacon Paul O. Iacono at St. Francis of Assisi Church, South Kingstown, Rhode Island on the weekend of August 17/18 2013.

In our first Scriptural reading for this weekend (Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10) we see the prophet Jeremiah thrown into a well as a result of his faith-filled preaching. He was lowered into a mud filled cistern in an attempt to shut him up and tame his ability to disturb the people’s apathy.

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A month ago we witnessed the spiritually uplifting events of Steubenville East held here in South Kingstown, in which Catholic teenagers and young adults from all over the Northeast gathered together to worship God and share experiences in a faith-filled setting.

The following week we saw Pope Francis travel to Brazil, express his love, teach, and witness to as many as three million people at World Youth Day.

But when these young people returned home you can be sure that advice was given to some of them, by well meaning people, who said, “Its great that you had an uplifting experience but don’t get carried away and go off the deep end.”

What does that kind of talk do?

It throws cold water on the fire of enthusiasm – it attempts to tame and control a person’s faith.

All people, regardless of age, who desire to live out and practice the Holy Scriptures in their daily lives must guard against being tamed by the world, and even at times, by some well meaning people within the Church.

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The message of this weekend’s Gospel (Luke 12: 49-53) is counter cultural. The Gospel does, at times, cause trouble. It can set a soul on fire with love for God and fellow man, and that soul then understands through wise spiritual counseling, the mission it has been given by the Lord to continue His work here on earth.

The saints all experienced this fire, this blaze of mystical love and desire for God that not only consumed them, but – by their witness –  those around them, too.

Jesus tells us in St. Luke’s Gospel that He wants to inspire a mystical fire – a blaze of faith, love, and action, and yet, He knows this will cause division; Jesus is exclaiming that His peace is not the peace of the world.

The peace and love that Jesus offers to us is often at odds with the frauds, shams, and counterfeits of this world: the politics, economics, and religious expressions that do not lift people up in love, unity of purpose, and individual liberty, but tear them apart, in anger, stress, and confusion.

When the Gospel of Jesus Christ becomes a blaze roaring in our souls the Holy Spirit gives us the gifts of fortitude and perseverance. These gifts strengthen us to stand up to pagan society both in a public and private way. This strength makes us dangerous, and historically has been a cause for division in the eyes of societies – from the time of the Roman Empire to the world today. Why else would members of the entertainment world and the news media attack the Catholic Church’s beliefs, its clergy, religious, and laity alike?

They attack a Church weakened by the public and private sins of her people but still bold enough to proclaim the Gospel.

They attack because they know the Gospel message is dangerous to their agenda.

They attack because they know that a core group of faithful followers, that cross denominational lines and who truly still number in the millions, cannot be bought off or intimidated. 

My brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ’s Redemption of mankind brought us salvation, peace, and love; but the sword He carries does have two sides – for it sharply divides those who take the Cross and the Gospel seriously from those who do not.

Today’s Gospel challenges us to know that like Jesus, Jeremiah, and the saints we must expect misunderstanding, ill treatment, and possibly even death when we glorify God by living a Gospel centered life.

Our faith provides us with the grace and love of God. Yet, the Cross refines our perspective to see that God’s love is a purifying fire of salvation and covenant that demands that  His people not compromise with the world, or declare a bogus truce with evil. So when you stand before society proclaiming your faith – do not be afraid. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and the witness of His Blessed Mother and the saints – in the end all will be well.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The first image of Jeremiah in the cistern was painted by the artist Marc Chagall; the second image is by Paul Hardy. Thanks to Wikipaintings for the images.

St. Peter’s Affirmation of His Love for Christ Is A Model for Us

In our Scriptures for the 3rd Sunday of Easter we have the extraordinary contrast of St. Peter’s deeds in the first reading with that of his behavior in our Gospel. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we see Peter’s defiance of the priests and the elders in the Temple. This defiance is in direct contrast to his cowardice two months earlier on the night of Jesus’ arrest; and it also differs from what we visualize in today’s Gospel.

The events of this Gospel occur before our first reading and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This Gospel recounts the third appearance of Jesus to the disciples after the resurrection. St. John tells us that even though Jesus had commissioned the disciples in His first two appearances, to go out and spread the Good News, they are still a little shaky on what they should be doing.

Their confusion caused them to be stressed, and like all of us today, they relieved their stress by returning to some activity they were comfortable with – in their case it was fishing, but they weren’t successful, they fished all night long and came up empty.

As dawn breaks upon the Sea of Galilee, John first notices someone standing on the shore, and that person called out to them: “Have you caught anything to eat?”

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They respond – “No.”   So this Person tells them where to fish – and their nets overflow. John, at that point realizes who it is, and tells Peter  –  “It’s the Lord!” and Peter immediately swims ashore. They all arrive to find that it truly is Jesus and He has made breakfast for them! After their shared meal, Jesus gets down to business: He begins to test Peter.

It is natural for us to feel uncomfortable for Peter. He is being asked three times whether or not he loves Jesus. The humiliation of the public questioning must have stung him and yet Jesus continues to ask, and He responds to Peter’s affirmations with:  “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus is asking Peter to totally bare his soul to Him. In Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus on Holy Thursday night, in his propensity for loudly proclaiming his devotion to Christ, in his subsequent denials, in his guilt, in his sins, in his pre Pentecost lack of action  – Peter is, ultimately, a reflection of all of us; but Peter is dramatically different – from us and from the other Apostles, because it is in this flawed man that Jesus continues to recognize and affirm “the rock,” on which His Church would be built.

Peter’s answers on that Galilean beach, and his willingness to publicly say that his deeds would follow his words, became the affirmation of his most inner self back to the Lord. His sincere “Yes” enabled him to become a leader, a man of deeds, and not empty words. His affirmation enabled Peter to receive the grace of Jesus’ mercy and love, and this enabled him to complete his mission to be the shepherd, the leader, the Vicar of His flock.

Pentecost provided Peter and the Apostles with the final graces of total transformation. A Eucharistic banquet on the beach and the confirming fire of the Spirit at Pentecost enflamed these once confused and dejected men to go out, and in the name of Jesus Christ, transform the world.

We have received the sacramental grace of the Spirit   in Baptism, many of us have received the grace of Confirmation, and we are fed on a weekly basis through the Eucharistic Banquet at Mass. Similar to Peter and the Apostles, we are on that Galilean beach surrounded by the  love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

My brothers and sisters by the virtue of the Sacramental graces that we have received, we in turn, have the same mission. For we are required to tend the flock – the lambs – the sheep – of our own families, friends, strangers, and help open their hearts to the love and mercy of Christ.

Let us pray for the continued outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that will enable us, like St. Peter, to stand up in the marketplace of our lives and feed the flock that we have been called to shepherd.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The above was a homily delivered by Deacon P. Iacono at St. Francis of Assisi Church Wakefield, Rhode Island on Sunday 4/14/2013. Notes on the artist: The painting of Christ Appearing on the Shore of Lake Tiberias is by James J. Tissot (15 October 1836 – 8 August 1902). Tissot was a French artist who spent much of his career in Britain. He was born in 1836 to a family of Italian descent in the port town of Nantes, France. His father, Marcel Théodore Tissot, was a successful drapery merchant while his mother, Marie Durand, assisted her husband in his business and designed hats. His mother was also a devout Catholic and instilled pious devotion in Tissot from a very young age. In 1885, Tissot experienced a re-conversion to Catholicism, which led him to spend the rest of his life illustrating the Bible. To assist in his completion of Biblical illustrations, Tissot traveled to the Middle East in 1886, 1889, and 1896 to make studies of the landscape and people. (source: Wikipedia article on the artist, and the Brooklyn Museum: www.artabase.net/exhibition/1868-james-tissot-the-life-of-christ).

Evgeny Baranov’s Miniature Icons and Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov Icon Carvings

My sincere thanks to Jonathan Pageau at the Orthodox Arts Journal,  http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/, for permission to repost his wonderful presentation of the sacred icon miniatures of Russian artist Evgeny Baranov and the spectacular icon wood carvings by Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov.

We must take care when we paint/”write” large icons, yet, to complete an icon miniature or a wood carving, with such grace and spiritual truth, demands in my humble opinion, even more skill and patience! Enjoy, and be filled with astonishment!

To see all of Baranov’s miniatures please visit their site:www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/miniature-icons-by-evgeny-baranov/ .

To see the lovely icon wood carvings of the Asbuhanov’s please take a look at the last two images in this post, if you would like to see all of their work please visit this site: /www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/the-russian-master-icon-carvers/

Miniature Icons by Evgeny Baranov and Russian Master Icon Carvers

April 9th and 10th, 2013

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Here are some of the most astounding miniature icons I have seen.  They are made by a Russian artisan named Evgeny Baranov who is also a very good goldsmith as you will see below.   These pictures were taken from his facebook page.  I have been trying to get a short interview with some more details, and my lack of Russian seems to stand in the way…  but really, the work stands on its own.

Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov are a Russian couple who are leading the rediscovery of icon carving in the Russian Church.  Their works grace the collections of Russian politicians from Gorbachev to Putin, European royal families and church authorities from the Russian Patriarch to the Pope of Rome. 

Their works are often large and highly detailed, like wooden lace as they include much chip carving into the patterns of clothing, backgrounds and frames.   There is a certain folk aspect to their work, especially in some of the faces which do not follow the more usual formal tradition of icon carving but are often effective nonetheless.  They recently had a show of their work in Moscow and so I thought it a good opportunity to put up some of their icons.

Despite their great success, they are warm and quite generous, just like their carvings.

More pictures can be found on their website:  http://www.azbuhanov.ru/

Here  also is a detailed article on their recent Moscow show.

[The first five images below are the work of Evgeny Baranov and the last two wood carvings are the work of Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov.]

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The Magnificat of Mary – A Beautiful Analysis By The Venerable Bede

In this morning’s selection from the Office of Readings in the Roman Breviary, the Venerable Bede, an English monk  presents a beautiful analysis of Mary’s joy-filled song – The Magnificat.

Bede was born in the year 673 and died in 735. He lived in Northumbria, primarily in the two monasteries of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. These monasteries had accumulated a wonderful collection of Greek, Latin, and early Church manuscripts. Bede spent his life studying, writing, and dictating the results of his research and prayer. He is known primarily for his most famous tome which is The Ecclesiastsical History of the English People. This work resulted in later generations giving him the title “The Father of English History.”

In 1899, Pope Leo 13th made Bede a Doctor of the Church. Bede was a skilled translator, linguist, and writer. His ability to compose insightful spiritual essays, and skill in making the writings of the Early Church Fathers accessible to his fellow Anglo-Saxons, significantly contributed to the growth of Roman Catholicism in England.

Let us take a moment today to dwell upon one of his perceptive and rich essays on the Blessed Mother. In the selection below, Bede provides us with a beautiful essay on Mary’s response to the knowledge that she will be the mother of the Savior. Her poetic song is known as The Magnificat, and it is said in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth (and possibly Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah) when they rejoice in the knowledge that they are both pregnant (The Visitation).

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Mary’s song of joy, faith, and trust is here separated by Bede and some of its key phrases are analyzed by him for our prayerful consideration. Mary’s words appear in bold italics, Scriptural references are in plain italics, Bede’s are in regular print. The entire Magnificat can be found in the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, verses 46 – 55.

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Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Bede’s comments, he has Mary thinking these thoughts: “The Lord has exalted me by a gift so great, so unheard of, that language is useless to describe it, and the depths of love in my heart can scarcely grasp it. I offer then all the powers of my soul in praise and thanksgiving. As I contemplate his greatness, which knows no limits, I joyfully surrender my whole life, my senses, my judgment, for my spirit rejoices in the eternal Godhead of that Jesus, that Savior, whom I have conceived in this world of time.”

The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

“Mary looks back to the beginning of her song, where she said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. Only that soul for whom the Lord in His love does great things can proclaim his greatness with fitting praise and encourage those who share her desire and purpose, saying: Join with me in proclaiming the greatness of the Lord; let us extol His name together.”

“Those who know the Lord, yet refuse to proclaim His greatness and sanctify His name to the limit of their power, will be called least in the kingdom of Heaven. His name is called holy because in the sublimity of his unique power He surpasses every creature and is far removed from all that He has made.”

He has come to the help of His servant Israel, for He has remembered His promise of mercy.

“In a beautiful phrase Mary calls Israel the servant of the Lord. The Lord came to his aid to save him. Israel is an obedient and humble servant, in the words of Hosea: Israel was a servant, and I loved him.”

“Those who refuse to be humble cannot be saved. They cannot say with the prophet: See, God comes to my aid; the Lord is the helper of my soul. But anyone who makes himself humble like a little child is greater in the kingdom of Heaven.”

The promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.

“This does not refer to the physical descendants of Abraham, but to his spiritual children. These are his descendants, sprung not from the flesh only, but who, whether circumcised or not, have followed him in faith. Circumcised as he was, Abraham believed, and this was credited to him as an act of righteousness.

The coming of the Savior was promised to Abraham and to his descendants forever. These are the children of promise, to whom it is said: If you belong to Christ, then you are descendants of Abraham, heirs in accordance with the promise.”

The Responsory Prayer (Luke 1: 48 – 50) follows this reading:

“From this day all generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me, holy is His name. He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation.”

Beautiful words and images to bring us into the eve of Christmas. May you all have a holy and joy filled Christmas day and good fortune in the New Year! You are in my prayers.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Notes on the paintings: The first sacred image is a contemporary sacred image written/painted in the iconographic style; I do not know its author. The second sacred image of Mary lost in ecstasy as she sang The Magnificat, was completed by James J. Tissot, a French painter (1836 – 1902). This painting currently hangs in the Brooklyn Museum. The medium is opaque watercolor over graphite on gray woven paper. It is approximately five by ten inches in size. Bede’s commentary is taken from The Liturgy of the Hours, Volume 1. Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York, 1975, page 362.

 

Gaudete Sunday In Light of the Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means, “Rejoice!” – and we visualize this by the rose-colored vestments and candle in the Advent wreath.

Yet, it is so difficult to rejoice in light of the unspeakable horror and evil that befell the 27 innocent children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut, or the 22 children and an adult who were slashed by a man wielding a knife in a city in China, or the teenager arrested in Oklahoma for plotting to kill his fellow students and bomb his high school; and this all occurred on the morning of December 14th.

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, at the Vigil service at St. Rose of Lima Church on Friday night, spoke of the fact that true evil had touched the community of Newtown and that this evil would continue to have repercussions for many years.

Its consequences would be long lasting because it would continue to test the faith of the children and all those families and residents affected by this tragedy. He went on to say that it would be “a test not only of our faith in God, but faith in our fellow man – our community.”

He was right in saying that, given that the forces of darkness have always preyed upon mankind in an attempt to subvert and infect the beauty of the most significant element of God’s creation – our fellow human beings.

Through distortion of the good, and the promotion of rage and evil, the forces of darkness attempt to drag mankind down into the despair, and loss of God, that they themselves feel.

But, the knowledge of that ancient cosmic distortion of God’s creation, perpetrated by Satan himself, on a spiritual and historical level, is the exact reason for our celebration of the solemnity of Christmas. It is the reason for our rejoicing – for the moment of the birth of the innocent Savior marks the beginning of the end of the period of time that evil will reign on this earth.

We cannot help but remember another madman, King Herod, who upon learning from the Magi of the birth of this innocent child, gave the order to kill over a hundred children, and their parents, if they attempted to get in the way of his psychotic depravity. And we remember another grieving mother, Our Blessed Mother, who witnessed the horror of the killing of her child – and the tears that must have flowed from her.

Rage against motherhood, rage against childhood, rage against innocence: in two thousand years of Christian history this has become the sad spectacle of man’s inhumanity to man; it appears nothing has changed.

But, if we are a people of faith, we have opened our minds and hearts to understand that the birth and death of Jesus Christ – has, in reality, changed everything.

Today, Gaudete Sunday, we are called to rejoice, as St. Paul tells us “Rejoice in the Lord always” – not just in good times but in bad, as well.

How do we do that?

How do the parents, and husbands, and wives, the teachers and children, the communities of Newtown, Columbine, Aurora, and many other cities and towns in America, and the world, surrounded by the darkness of evil and senseless violence – do that?

To a secular person the answer would come simply from psychological and grief counseling that would occur over many years. Yet important as that is, it is not the only answer.

A close reading of the letters of St. Paul show us that it was St. Paul’s faith – the knowledge in his mind and heart that he shared a deep personal relationship with the Savior of the world – that enabled him to withstand all sorts of evil.

It was that mental memory of who Jesus was – what He preached – how He suffered and died – and the truth that Jesus – the Word of God and the Light of the World – had resurrected from the dead and had appeared to him – face to face – mind to mind – to express His love for all of us and to say that evil would never endure – it would never in the end – win.

It is this focus, this trust, this faith that enabled St. Paul to deal with his problems and maintain joy in the knowledge that all the evil that he faced, and that ultimately would kill him, was overcome by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul tells us today “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

My brothers and sisters, the Apostle Paul does not speak empty words. They are there for us to hang on to with dear life in times of great trial and grief as we turn our heavy hearts over to Jesus and Our Blessed Mother.

It will be many, many years before the grieving parents, and the innocent children and adults heal from the trauma of Friday morning; yet, St. Paul tells us that healing is possible.  The Blessed Mother’s life – and Jesus Himself – tells us that healing is possible: through daily prayer, faith, trust, and the love of God Himself. When we pray we must not forget these families or the families throughout the world who suffer, and walk the path to Calvary, carrying their own crosses thrust upon them by a violent world.

It is at times like these that we truly understand our own fragility and brokenness – and realize that we are not able to survive without the grace of God and the support of the people in our own families and community.

So on this Gaudete Sunday, our hearts and prayers go out to all the grieving people of Newtown, and we remember that we are called to rejoice in the truth that, even though evil swirls all around us, Jesus our Savior loves us – was born and was killed for us – and He will never abandon us; with that knowledge, and His grace and strength, we can endure any tribulation.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.  Sermon delivered by Deacon Iacono on Sunday December 16, 2012 at St. Francis of Assisi Church and St. Romuald Chapel  Wakefield, Rhode Island USA

St. Lucy – Patron of the Blind

On December 13th of every year we remember the life and death of Saint Lucy. Lucy was the virgin martyr who was put to death in the year 304 during the great persecution started by the Emperor Diocletian.

St. Lucy is one of those saints whose feast day came at the time of the winter solstice, and because the name Lucy is derived from the Latin “lucis or lux” which means “light” a song was written that had this refrain: “This is the feast of St. Lucy Light, the shortest day and the longest night.” In the 6th century, with the advent of Pope Gregory the Great’s liturgical reforms, her feast day lost that significance and concentrated on the manner of her death.

The legend of St. Lucy’s martyrdom centers on the fact that she was a Sicilian maiden who had vowed perpetual virginity in honor to God; however, complicating this vow was the fact that her father had promised her in marriage to a Roman citizen.

When she told the man of her determination to remain unmarried, he accused her before the governor of being a Christian. Since being a Christian was, at that time a capital offense,  she was sentenced to death. Her executioners tried to burn her alive but according to eyewitnesses that attempt, remarkably, didn’t work.

Roman executioners were especially known for their sadistic brutality (the Empire believed it made more of a psychological statement to the masses), so they then decided to gouge out her eyes and put her to the sword.

She is artistically portrayed as either holding her eyes on a plate or in a small container. This is the way she is painted in the image below by Jacopo del Casentino (also known as Jacopo Landino), a Florentine painter working in the early 1330’s. He was the student of Taddeo Gaddi,  who in turn had been the student of Giotto. Tragically, Jacopo’s son Francesco Landino was blind, yet, overcame this major challenge in his life (maybe with the help and intercession of St. Lucy?!) and became a successful composer.

In this painting you see St. Lucy portrayed with her eyes restored, while at the same time holding her severed eyes in the cup. Del Casentino was attempting to portray Lucy in an eschatological way, in other words, being present with God in Heaven.

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In Heaven, her spiritual eyes are fully functional, yet, she is still holding her severed physical eyes to give testimony and witness to her heroic martyrdom for the Christian faith. Del Casentino, painting in what the Western Rite of the Catholic Church would call the Gothic period (AD 1100 – 1400), correctly shows her in a red cloak, symbolic of her martyrdom, while her inner tunic is blue – symbolic of her holiness/sainthood. Similar to the Iconographic period, the background is pure gold leaf, symbolic of Heaven itself.

Nine years after her execution, in AD 313, the Edict of Milan stated that Christians could worship freely and without any persecution. Lucy’s body was then brought to the Roman emperor Constantine’s new capital city – Constantinople (present day Istanbul, Turkey). In the early 13th century, after the Crusaders sacked Constantinople, her relics were brought to Venice where they presently rest in the Church of San Geremia.

Because of the manner of her torture she is the patron saint of the blind, and all those with ailments of the eyes. She is also the patron saint of the Venetian gondoliers, who because of their devotion to her wrote the famous song – Santa Lucia – which would be sung to their patrons as the ferried them around the canals of Venice. The song, however, is also claimed by the boatmen of the Bay of Naples who also, according to custom, sing it as they ferry people and cargo around the Bay.

The celebration of St. Lucy’s feast day is still common in Scandinavia and Italy and is celebrated with festivals of light and special St. Lucy cakes, resembling a frosted “Danish Twist” with candles on it. A recipe for such a cake can be found here at the Women For Faith and Family website: http://www.wf-f.org/stlucy.html.

It is interesting that the Church chose the Gospel about the bridesmaids with their oil lamps to accompany this feast of Saint Lucy. For our Gospel speaks about preparation. It asks us whether we, as Christians, are really focused on what is most important in life: our faith-filled devotion to the Lord, willingness to suffer for Him, and preparation for His return.

At a time when Christians needed encouragement to patiently and heroically suffer for their faith, her example led many others to witness to the faith in the same way. We all need heroes, and the saints as uniquely Christian heroes show us how to live, and sometimes, how to die for our faith.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Immaculate Conception of Mary – The Beauty of the New Eve

We are about to begin the second week of Advent and as you may know the word Advent has its root in the Latin word adventus which means “coming.” The liturgical term adventus is similar to the Greek word parousia which refers to the Second Coming of Christ at the final judgment of the world.

Through the millenia Church scholars have linked these two words together because they hope to instill within us the understanding that we are on a spiritual journey. In this journey we experience the waiting period – the longing – for the coming of Jesus, the actual birth of Jesus, and then, we again experience the waiting time for His return at the Second Coming.

As part of our preparation for the great solemnity of Christmas, the Catholic Church, in both the Western and Eastern Rites, remembers the significance of Mary’s immaculate purity as being a necessary part of this entire spiritual journey.  For in her humble “Yes” to the invitation to be the Mother of the Messiah, Mary becomes the New Eve – the mother of Jesus – and the Mother of the Church.

Our sacred Tradition tells us that Mary was the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne. They were devoted Jews who raised their child to be loyal and pure within the Jewish holy tradition. Mary was born within the royal line of King David and was betrothed, and later married under Jewish law, to Joseph, a respected Jewish carpenter from Nazareth.

Little is known of Mary’s day-to-day life other than the references to her in the Gospels. Those early references indicate that she was a loving, concerned, and devoted person. During her Son’s ministry she attended the wedding feast at Cana, was present at Jesus’ crucifixion, and was most likely with the Apostles at the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

The most famous Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah are Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:1-4. In all three prophecies the Mother of the Messiah plays a prominent role.”Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” [Isaiah 7:10-14].  The name Immanuel in Hebrew means “God is with us.”

As the mother of Jesus, and the wife of Saint Joseph, Mary is the greatest saint. She is the model of faith, purity, and maternal devotion for all Christians. Mary is called the Blessed Virgin because our Sacred Scriptures tell us that she conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, so Saint Joseph is the foster father, not the biological father, of Jesus.

To become the mother of the Savior, Mary was “enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” (Lumen Gentium). Mary freely gave herself to God with complete trust even in the face of possible confusion about what was happening to her, and she freely responded and consented to God’s Will for her life. Mary’s “Yes” to God’s request that she become the Mother of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus, enabled our Redemption to occur.

What is the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception?

The Church teaches that Mary was conceived without sin.  This is the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception which we celebrate on December 8th of every year. This Solemnity explains to us that Mary received from God a special grace which is known as Prevenient Grace. Prevenient Grace is a “grace that comes before.” This means that prior to Mary’s biological conception, God decided that in His plan for salvation history He needed a totally pure woman to be the New Eve – to be the New Ark – free from all stain of sin and free from any future sin.

This was possible through God’s gift of Prevenient Grace which was given at her conception. Mary burned with God’s grace, purity, and love – gifts that were freely given by God.  She, like the burning bush that Moses confronted, was enriched by these gifts and, like a warming fire, softly radiated the grace of God’s love to those around her.

As The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 491, the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception means that “Mary was redeemed from the moment of her conception.”  Pope Pius 9th  announced this Dogma when he said: “Mary was preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” This was accomplished through the power of God. He willed and acted so that Mary should be free from the stain of sin. Mary, as the angel Gabriel described is “full of grace”… “Hail Full of Grace / Rejoice Highly Favored One.”

The Fathers of the Eastern Catholic Church also agree with this truth and verify it when they address the Mother of God as “the All-Holy” (Panagia) and celebrate her as free from any stain of sin.

Theotokos-the-burning-bush-Inner-Liturgy-of-the-Heart

An interesting article entitled Mary in Scripture, on the EWTN website, explains “The angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary is of great consequence for our understanding of Mary and Marian doctrine. The greeting has been variously translated as “Rejoice highly favored” and “Hail full of grace.”

The object of the varied translations is the Greek word kecharitomene which refers to one who has been transformed by God’s grace. The word is used only one other time in the New Testament and that is in the Epistle to the Ephesians where Paul is addressing those who, by becoming Christians, are transformed by grace and receive the remission of sins. It is clearly significant that Mary is considered to already have been transformed by grace before the birth of Christ.” ( Confer the article “Mary in Scripture” at this site: http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/MARYINSC.htm

So, we see that God intervened and did not allow the stain of Original Sin to be passed to Mary. She – as the pure vessel – would receive the redemptive grace of God before the actual Redemption took place. This is logical and filled with common sense. Why would God the Father have His Incarnate Son be conceived in a woman who was tainted by the stain of Original Sin? As the Scriptures state – we do not put new wine into old wineskins. To make a commonplace analogy: would any self respecting surgeon, cook, artist, or musician use soiled instruments as they were healing, creating, or performing a masterpiece in their art?

The Christian scholar Origen (AD 185 – 254) made a very interesting observation, he said,  ”Because the angel greeted Mary with new expressions, which I [Origen] have never encountered elsewhere in the Scriptures, it is necessary to comment on this. I do not, in fact, recall having read in any other place in the Sacred Scriptures these words: “Rejoice highly favored one, O Full of Grace. “ Neither of these expressions is ever addressed to a man: such a special greeting was reserved only for Mary.” (quote taken from the article referenced above – “Mary in Scripture.”

In the year AD 431, at the Council of Ephesus in present day Turkey (attended by over 200 bishops from throughout Christendom), Mary was named Theotokos (the God Bearer) and a model of Christian living. “Mary is truly “Mother of God” since she is the mother of the eternal Son of God made man, who is God Himself.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, #509).

She is called the New Eve because just as the original Eve brought sin and death into the world, Mary, as the bearer of spiritual life, brought Jesus (the New Adam) into the world. This provided the opportunity for grace, Redemption from Sin, and salvation to impact and transform mankind for all eternity.

Since 1964, Mary has been honored as the Mother of the Church She is called The Mother of the Church because through her free choice she cooperated with God’s plan to be the Mother of God – mother of our Redeemer. As a result of His life, ministry death, and resurrection He was able to transform us into a new people and build a new “arc of salvation” (the Church) for us.

By the 700’s the Catholic Church celebrated four major Marian solemnities: the Annunciation (Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would be the Mother of the Savior), the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, and the Birthday of Mary. The Immaculate Conception became popular by the tenth century. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Louis de Montfort, Pope John Paul II and many other saints of the Church have written extensively on Mary and her role in the Church and in the lives of individuals. The Church teaches that Mary was assumed into heaven with body and soul united. 

Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and all of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches DO NOT worship Mary. WORSHIP IS RESERVED FOR GOD ALONE. The Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church pay respect and reverence to Mary but never worship her.

ourlady2

The meaning of Our Blessed Mother Mary for us today is that, especially at this time in history, we must remember that she spiritually pleads for mercy on behalf of us before the throne of God. She does this in the same way that a mother would intercede with the father on behalf of her children. She loves us with the love of a true mother – for she sees not only our faults but our inherent goodness, too. Please God that we respond to the graces she has to offer us. Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Some sources on the concept of Prevenient Grace: “Every time we begin to pray to Jesus it is the Holy Spirit who draws us on the way of prayer by his prevenient grace” (#2670 Catechism of the Catholic Church). “That grace is preceded by no merits. A reward is due to good works, if they are performed; but grace, which is not due, precedes, that they may be done [St. Prosper].” Can. 18. #191 Council of Orange II A.D. 529 (Second Council of Orange).  St. Augustine also wrote extensively on the concept of grace; and my Associate Pastor Rev. Joseph R. Upton, also mentioned it in his beautiful sermon for this solemnity’s vigil Mass on December 7, 2012 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island.  Special thanks to the blog: http://classicalchristianity.com/category/holyfathers/theotokos-mary/ for the Orthodox sacred icon of Mary and the Child Jesus surrounded by the Burning Bush.

Our Blessed Mother’s Poverty of Spirit

Our Gospel today (Luke 21: 1-4) asks us to reflect on how we express our love for God.

At first glance, the poor woman in the Gospel looks reckless. Yet, love, regardless of whether it is for God or another person, doesn’t calculate all the percentages.

Many times, it just blissfully provides whatever the beloved needs, even to the point of true sacrifice on the part of the lover for the beloved. The lesson here is simple: love has greater value than material possessions.

This  Gospel reminded me of Our Blessed Mother Mary’s actions in a few Gospel accounts which speak about her presence, love, and the willingness to intercede with her Son; these actions reveal the condition and generosity of her heart.

So our Gospel is not just about what we contribute to the collection basket. It is all about the condition of our hearts – the state of our generosity to the Lord.

You see this Gospel challenges us to ask ourselves this question: “When we give to others, whether it is money, time, talent, or just a sympathetic ear, do we do it out of love or out of a sense of obligation?”

Mary and the poor woman’s witness is that our generosity should always be linked to God’s spirit of charity. These women show us that true selfless generosity must always come from the heart and that we must be willing to give of ourselves for the love of God.

This may not mean cleaning out our bank accounts and giving it all away, a few like St Francis of Assisi, were called to do that; but the vast majority of us are called to clean out our hearts of all those things that interfere with our witness to God’s spirit of love and generosity in our own lives.

As we conclude this liturgical year, and look forward to beginning a new one next weekend, let us pray to Mary to intercede with her Son so that we, too, may share in her poverty of spirit and love of God’s charity.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

We Are All Blind – We Are All Needy

There are three parts of this morning’s Gospel that we should highlight. The first is that the blind man is petitioning the Lord for His help. The lesson from this is that we should never feel guilty or selfish in our continuous requests for assistance from God.

At times we become so overwhelmed with our cares, that we stop our appeals. This may occur out of frustration, a sense of futility, distraction, or weakness of faith.

This sense of frustration directly leads to the meaning of our second highlight, which is the reaction and rebuke of the crowd. The crowd, in its frustration to quiet the blind man – actually censured the man’s faith, attempting to get him to stop and go away. We too, at times, may feel the frustrated rebuke of our own wills which, like the crowd, is molded by the consequences of Original Sin.

Rather than scream at us, our wills may quietly yet incorrectly whisper in our ears that our prayers are not heard, and that we should stop, and retreat, from the Lord’s presence. This, in turn, leads to the Gospel’s final highlight which contradicts our inclination to retreat and run away from prayer. You see, the blind man gives witness to the importance of courageous personal faith.  He shows us that the public rebuke by the crowd did not discourage him because he had faith.

How do we obtain the faith of the blind man? The answer is simple to say, but difficult to implement, because we must first acknowledge that we, too, are needy. The blind man knew that he was in need of Jesus’ healing power, His grace, and he didn’t allow the screams of his own anxiety, or that of the crowd, deter him from petitioning Jesus.

The blind man engaged his heart, mind, and will to not only petition but to believe that the Lord would respond and heal him. His actions, in their clarity and simplicity, are a model for us, too.

As we approach our Thanksgiving holiday, let us remember to give thanks not only for our material blessings – but for the most important spiritual one – the joyful knowledge that our baptismal faith in the Lord and His Holy Sacraments have healed us from the darkness of sin and given us the ability to see the saving power of Jesus in our own lives.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved     Image source:http://joshmcclellan.files.wordpress.com

St. Teresa of Avila – On Love

On October 15th we celebrate the Memorial of the great Spanish saint and the first woman declared a “Doctor of the Church” – Teresa of Jesus, also known as Teresa of Avila.

Saint Teresa grew up in the early 1500’s and at the age of 20, entered the Carmelite convent in Avila. She freely admitted that for twenty years she had a very difficult time with prayer and distractions. Compounding the problem was the lifestyle of her fellow nuns. In the 16th century, Spanish convents were very relaxed places since a festive, vain, and worldly attitude was prevalent. The idea of strict discipline, contemplative prayer, and living a life of poverty and service was not a priority.

At the age of forty, Teresa’s life suddenly changed. While she was praying she had a profound religious experience. She fully realized the depth of the sacrifice God’s Son Jesus had made for humanity and vowed to pursue a life of spiritual perfection, centering on poverty and developing the art of mental prayer known as contemplation.

She realized that the Carmelite convent that she was living in was not contributing to her spiritual life; and with characteristic energy, she decided to break away from it. With her friend St. John of the Cross, she founded a reformed Carmelite order for friars and nuns known as the Discalced Carmelites. Her new order met with great hostility both from within the Church hierarchy, the regular Carmelite Order, and from the local parishioners, yet, she didn’t give up on her vision of reformation from within the Church.

What does her witness have to say to us today?

First she teaches us the value of perseverance. Both in prayer and in the vision we have been given by God to do whatever He asks us to do. Getting up, going to work every day, reforming a religious order or providing a home for your loved ones, completing your work for the Church – all of this – no matter how mundane or important, is fulfilling the will of God and is evidence of your love for Him.

Second, her life was a model of charitable patience. St. Teresa of Avila received a great deal of verbal, emotional, and spiritual abuse by fellow Catholics. This woman suffered both from physical and mental pain. The physical pain was caused by numerous ailments, however, her emotional pain was caused by people, fellow Catholics, that should have known better, yet, sadly, were far from practicing the cardinal virtues or willing to see the need for internal reformation.

But most importantly, her experiences give us a wonderful description of the art of contemplation and love of God.  In one of her books she says, “Mental prayer, in my opinion, is nothing other than an intimate sharing between friends – between Jesus and ourselves; it means frequently taking the time to be alone with Jesus whom we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much about saying a lot of words, but to love much, and do those actions which best stirs you to the love of our Lord. [What is this spiritual love?] Love is a desire to please God in everything.”

Saint Teresa of Jesus died in 1582 at the age of 67. She disliked gloom and always attempted to radiate joy, cheerfulness, and good spirits. In spite of her many physical ailments and emotional sufferings she kept her sense of humor and her vision of reformation: of self and of her beloved religious community. Her books are filled with optimism as well as a profound understanding of prayer, human nature, and spiritual warfare. We would be wise in applying to our own restless spirits the advice she gave to her fellow nuns, she said:  “Let nothing trouble you, let nothing make you afraid. All these things pass away. God never changes. Patience obtains everything. God alone is enough.”

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.   Notes on the painting: The above painting is by one of the great painters of the early 19th century – Francois Gerard. Gerard, who died in 1837, painted this masterpiece of St. Teresa of Avila ten years earlier. It was commissioned for a hospital and before its placement was shown in the salons of Paris. It is one of the great masterpieces of French Romanticism. It is painted in oils, on canvas, and measures approximately 3 feet by 5.6 ft.

Saint Monica – Patron of Mothers

Today is the memorial of St. Monica, the extraordinarily faith-filled mother of St. Augustine.

In the year 321, Monica was born in Algeria into a family that was devoutly Christian. As a child she was baptized a Christian and was raised to be a dutiful wife. She was given in marriage to a bad tempered, adulterous pagan official, by the name of Patricius.

In examining the life of Saint Monica one is struck by the extent of the abuse she and other women endured throughout their marriage. Under the laws of the time Monica’s husband could physically and emotionally abuse his wife. Compounding the problem was the fact that Patricius’ mother also lived with them and she, like her son, ridiculed his young wife. Monica had three children with this man and, of course the most famous was her oldest, the man that history now knows as Saint Augustine.

But it is important to reflect for a moment on how she dealt with all the stresses of her life: family relations that mistreated her, children that ignored her model of conduct and faith, a culture that looked the other way when her husband abused her. The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could easily have made her a miserable woman, a sour daughter-in-law, and a depressed parent, yet she didn’t become any of these; instead, she became a saint. A saint that is known for two major personal qualities: her love of Jesus Christ and her prayerful persistence in bringing her physical family into the family of God. This beautiful painting, by artist John Nava, (http://johnnava.com) eloquently captures her spirituality and desire for prayer and union with Christ.

Monica was upset to learn that Augustine had accepted the Manichean heresy and was also living an immoral life. Manichaeism stated, among other things, that there is no all knowing good power, so there is neither lord nor savior. She was so angered by his beliefs that she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house and became enraged when he explained to her that his belief trumped her faith in Jesus Christ. She threw him out of the house, but later pursued him and attempted to reason with him.

Monica took comfort in the fact that she had a dream that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that moment she vowed to continually pray and fast for her son and to remain close to him so that she would have the opportunity to discuss her faith with him. The histories tell us that she in fact stayed much closer than Augustine wanted.

One night Augustine told Monica that he was going to the docks to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he himself set sail for Rome. Monica was stunned when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she booked passage on the next boat. When she arrived in Rome, she learned that he had left to travel to the city of Milan in northern Italy where he hoped to obtain a teaching post. Monica pursued him to Milan, and it is in Milan that both mother and son came under the influence of the great saint Ambrose who was bishop of Milan.

Bishop Ambrose became Monica’s spiritual director, and ultimately, she accepted Ambrose’s advice. He advised her that what she was doing was correct – that prayer and fasting would have its affect on the situation. He commended her persistence and directed her to keep the faith, and in humility, accept her circumstances. Monica did exactly that, and in Milan, became a leader of devout women, some of whom were also being abused by their husbands.

Ultimately, Saint Monica won the day; her abusive husband, mother in law, and her youngest son and daughter were all baptized into the faith. Augustine, too, eventually saw the logic of his mother’s faith, became a catechumen, and took religious instruction from Ambrose. In the year 387, Bishop Ambrose baptized Augustine into the Catholic faith in Milan’s cathedral.

Saint Monica was an exemplary mother; a woman who perseveringly pursued her wayward family not with threats but with prayerful cries to heaven. Let us pray that she intercedes for all mothers in our day so that they may learn to guide their children to God. Let us also pray that she teaches mothers, through her example of prayer and fasting, to remain close to their children, even prodigal sons and daughters, who have sadly gone astray.

St. Monica, pray for us.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Painting of St. Monica is copyrighted by John Nava. All Rights Reserved.

Saints Pontian and Hippolytus and Our Call to Duty

Today we celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Pontian, who was the lawfully elected successor pope to St. Callistus during the early 3rd century. St. Pontian was considered a criminal by the emperor Maximinius and banished to the silver mines in Sardinia – an exile which meant certain death. We also celebrate today a saint by the name of Hippolytus, who was a priest in the Church of Rome at this same moment in time.

Saint Hippolytus is recognized because of his brilliance and profound scholarship. He is considered to be one of the finest theologians of the 3rd century, and is the source of the 2nd Eucharistic Prayer recited at Mass. Hippolytus’ most important work is a treatise known as The Apostolic Tradition; and scholars such as Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, (at http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com) tell us that it provides “an enlightening and extensive glimpse into the liturgical and devotional life of Roman Christians around the year 200.” The statue found below is of Roman origin, found in the mid 16th century. It has the name Hippolytus carved into it as well as references to works of other Apostolic Fathers. The image is presented through the courtesy of Dr. D’Ambrosio.

Controversy, however, erupted when St. Callistus, was elected to the papacy. St. Hippolytus considered Callistus to be a liberal since Callistus extended absolution to new converts who had committed mortal sins such as adultery and murder. Hippolytus contested the election, violently disagreed when Callistus was affirmed, and then made history by declaring himself pope, thus becoming the first anti-pope in the history of the Church!

As a result of his action he divorced himself from full communion with the Church. When Pope Callistus was martyred, in the year 222, Hippolytus began disagreeing with his successors – the last being Pope Pontian.  Hippolytus’ theological differences and self-imposed actions didn’t mean anything to the Romans for they arrested him, too, and exiled him off to Sardinia; and there, St. Hippolytus – the anti-pope met St Pontian, the true pope and lawful successor to Pope Callistus.

In the silver mines of Sardinia, Pope Pontian abdicated his office, making way for a lawful successor to be elected, and Hippolytus renounced his anti-papacy and was absolved of his sins by Pontian. Fully reconciled they died together for the faith in the year 235.

So, what does this have to do with us?!

Our Gospel today (Matt 17: 22 – 27) provides the answer, for in it our Lord and the Apostles were confronted with the arrogance of the officials who implied they were evading the local taxes.  Jesus attempts to clarify His position not only for St. Peter but for the officials as well.

Jesus is basically saying that, yes, they must pay the tax; the reason being they must not do anything to put a stumbling block in the way of people understanding His ministry and message. Again we see Christ not getting political. He is not ranting about the just or unjust qualities of the Temple tax, or Roman occupation. He is beyond that, and demands that the Apostles, as His successors, not give a bad example to the people.

This is a lesson that St. Hippolytus, for all of his brilliance never learned. He did give bad example to the Church of Rome in declaring himself an anti-pope. His dissension and attacks were not productive or helpful in a highly charged environment which constantly witnessed Roman persecution.

Yet, St. Hippolytus ultimately saw his sin, repented of it, and along with Pope St. Pontian, did his duty and defended the true faith with his life. We must always do the same, and whatever our calling or ministry may be, we must never become a stumbling block that prevents others from seeing and believing in Jesus and His Church.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved   Images of all the popes are found in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, Italy. The custom of having a mosaic of a deceased pope put on display was started by Pope Leo the Great.

Holy Saturday Meditation: Something Strange Is Happening

“Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on the earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve.

The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won Him the victory. At the sight of Him Adam, the first man He had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

…For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

…a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from  your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven… the kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”

The above quotation is from an ancient homily of the Catholic Church from its earliest centuries and is found within the Divine Office of the Roman Catholic Church. It is taken from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday.

The first image of “The Harrowing of Hell” was painted by the Florentine painter Fra Angelico between the years 1437-46. The second image on this same subject was completed around the year 1315 by an artist of the Orthodox Church who painted this wall icon in fresco. It is presently found in the Chora Church in Istanbul, Turkey. The third image of the “Harrowing of Hell” is by the head of the Moscow school of icon painters from the late 15th century – the master Dionysius. This Russian Orthodox  icon was completed around 1481.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Good Friday Meditations

It was about nine in the morning when they nailed Jesus to the cross.

From noon until three o’clock there was darkness over the whole world.

At three o’clock, Jesus cried out in a loud voice: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

It is finished.

When we were His enemies, God reconciled us to Himself by the death of His Son.

Realize that you were delivered from the futile way of life your fathers handed on to you, not by any diminishable sum of silver or gold, but by Christ’s blood beyond all price: the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb chosen before the world’s foundation and revealed for your sake in these last days. It is through Him that you are believers in God, the God who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory. Your faith and hope, then, are centered in God.  (1 Peter 1: 18-21)

“Awake, O Sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

 

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The painting, Christ’s Crucifixion, is by the Spanish master Diego Velazquez (1599 – 1660); it was completed between 1631 – 32.  All the Scriptural quotations are taken from The New American Bible (1970) Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. The “Awake, O sleeper…” verse is taken from an ancient homily from the first centuries of the Church.

The Solemnity of the Annunciation – The Confident Sacrifice Of A Pure Heart

Many years ago, Blessed John Paul 2 spoke to the seminarians of Rome on this, the Solemnity of the Annunciation. He began his homily with the phrase: “Fear not!”  Echoing the archangel’s comments to our Blessed Mother he was trying to calm the natural anxiety of those young men as they  prepared for their Gospel ministry in the world. The Pope counseled them that “We must all accept the call. We must listen [to the Holy Spirit],  and use the grace that we have received from God. We must shore up our strength, and say, “Yes” in confidence and certainty to the call that we hear from the whispers of the Holy Spirit.”

Upon hearing the message of the archangel Gabriel, the ultimate decision by Mary that “Let it be done to me according to your word” conclusively and forever changed cosmic and spiritual history. For at the moment she said “Yes” to Gabriel, our salvation and redemption, through the Cross, began.

Let us not forget, however, that Mary’s “Yes” had a tremendous affect on her, too.  It required a great cost from her personally because it resulted in the Crucifixion – it resulted in the sacrifice of her own son Jesus – and – the sacrifice of her own heart.

Blessed John Paul 2 speaks of this when he says:  “Mary in a particular way – unlike any other – experienced mercy, and at the same time, made her participation in the revelation of the Divine Mercy possible with the sacrifice of her own heart.  Such a sacrifice is closely bound up with the Cross of Her Son, at which she was to stand at Calvary… No one has experienced the mystery of the Cross as did the Mother of the Crucified…. Mary is therefore the person who knows the Divine Mercy most deeply. She knows the price; she knows how high it is.”

He goes on to say, “Maybe there is another point: for all people are born at Mary’s Yes.” This must be understood: such a Yes in imitation of Mary creates joy, a new life, a breath, a blessing;” it creates opportunities for us to  sacrifice our own hearts in imitation of her and the Holy Family.

So as we enter the 5th week of Lent let us celebrate this Solemnity by trying our best to live like our Blessed Mother – a person with complete confidence in the Lord. Let us say Yes to God in imitation of Mary and allow the Lord to work wonders in our own lives, as well.

Images in order of appearance: A 13th Century Byzantine icon of the Annunciation from St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai; Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Annunciation (1898); John William Waterhouse’s Annunciation (1914); and Bartolome E. Murillo’s Annunciation completed between 1660 -1665, and please don’t forget to do some research and take a closer look at one of Fra Angelico’s versions of the Annunciation! Please also notice that in Waterhouse’s and Murillo’s renditions both artists have included the tradition that Mary was in the process of sewing the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the outer room which housed the Altar of Incense in the Temple in Jerusalem; other artists, such as El Greco, do that too.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Artist As Contemplative – Part 4 – A Meditation on the Scourging of Christ

In this series on the Artist As Contemplative it is my hope that you are exposed to some different techniques that may assist you in your prayer relationship with Our Lord.

The last post in this series specifically mentioned that we do not need to use many words during prayer. This may be uncomfortable for us at first since we have developed into a species that appears to constantly need some type of noise, talk, music, or in some cases, cacophony going on inside our mind. I am not a social psychologist so I will not venture a reason for such a trend within American society, other than to say that it may be an attempt to buffer the anxiety that people, especially the young, feel.

We must reduce the amount of noise, superfluous talk, and loud dissonant music that hammers our nervous system. We have to do this in order to allow sacred silence the opportunity to blanket us with its warmth so we can settle into a comfortable conversation with Christ.

St. Teresa of Avila is very helpful in this regard. Fr. Peter-Thomas Rohrbach, O.C.D.  clearly states in his wonderful book Conversation With Christ that the prayer doctrine of St. Teresa is clear: “Prayer does not consist in involved, complicated reasoning, but in thought which is productive of conversation with Christ.” So prayer, productive prayer, is conversation with Jesus.

Fr. Rohrbach then goes on to provide an actual demonstration of true meditation provided by St. Teresa of Avila in her own autobiography.

She says: “We begin to meditate upon a scene of the Passion – let us say upon the binding of the Lord to the columns. The mind sets to work to seek out the reasons, which are to be found for the great afflictions, and distress, which His Majesty must have suffered when He was alone there.

It also meditates on the many other lessons, which, if it is industrious, or well stored with learning, this mystery can teach. This method should be the beginning, the middle, and the end of prayer for us: it is a most excellent and safe road until the Lord leads us to other methods, which are supernatural…   it is well to reflect for a time and to think of the pains which He bore there, why He bore them, Who He is that bore them and with what love He suffered them.

But we must not always tire ourselves by going in search of such ideas; we must sometimes remain by His side with our minds hushed in silence. If we can, we should occupy ourselves in looking upon Him Who is looking at us; keep Him company, talk with Him; pray to Him; humble ourselves before Him; have our delight in Him, and remember that He never deserved to be there. Anyone who can do this, though he may be but a beginner in prayer, will derive great benefit from it, for this kind of prayer brings many benefits; at least, so my soul has found.”

The beauty of this approach is that it is completely natural for us to do what she directs in prayer. If we look again at the passages that I have highlighted in bold face you will see that this prayer behavior is the same we would express if we were with a close friend or relative experiencing a troubled or stress filled moment in their life.

So the watchwords here are sensitivity, awareness, and humility. Sensitivity because we need to be willing to listen, and humility in knowing we don’t have all the answers, and the awareness to know that sometimes it is necessary just to keep someone company, and quietly talk to them, without trying to provide solutions.

But it is more than that, isn’t it; because in our prayer we are talking to God. We are talking to the Son of God who suffered for us, because it was the Father’s desire, which He willingly accepts in order to accomplish the salvific act of our Redemption. Our ability to keep ourselves humble before God, delight in His Divine Presence, and remember His Life and Death is critical for a healthy prayer experience.

Our intellect and will working with the faculty of our memory of scenes from Sacred Scripture provide us with the ability to soak ourselves in the meaning of Christ’s great sacrifice. For this is who we are as Catholics, Orthodox, or Protestants – people who bring the images and truth of Scripture and the saints of our traditions into our prayer life.

Does any of this apply to sacred art? Yes, as sacred artists, St. Teresa of Avila would probably say, “Paint and use the best quality and Scripturally correct icons, paintings, sculpture, etc as prayer aids. We need these aids to help the entire person: mind, heart, soul, and body to be focused on Him.”

I’d also venture to suggest that she would say “If you are a sacred artist produce a piece of sacred art that correctly portrays the Scriptural Jesus, the Blessed Mother, His angels, and saints. Remember, a sacred artist must be a person of deep prayer.”

St. John Damascene (Damascus), thirteen hundred years ago, in his writings and teachings very clearly stated that when we do this it is not idol worship. We believe that the Son of God became man; therefore, He became the iconthe image – of God for us to see, hear, touch, scourge, and crucify – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

This is not idol worship, just as it is not idol worship when you have a picture of your deceased parents on your bureau – you are not making an idol of them – your are not worshipping them – rather, you are remembering them through a celluloid image – an image which helps you relive what they taught and how they loved you – and still do from beyond the grave. So never fear your imagination – or images of the Lord – as long as you guard yourself with images and imagination that are focused with correct theology, semantics, and aesthetics.

I’ll let Father Rohrbach have the last word, he says: “St. Teresa presents us a crystal-clear picture of meditation: the mind furnishing matter for the heart’s talk with Christ. And above all, her fundamental rule that prayer consists not in thought, but in love.”

The above image of St. Teresa of Avila is considered to be the closest likeness to her. It was painted in 1576 when she was 61 years old.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Feast of St. Joseph – Universal Patron of the Church

At the birth of Christ, the seven hundred year old messianic prophecies of the prophet Isaiah became an historic reality. On a yearly basis, we celebrate and remember that moment on the Feast day of St. Joseph, the patron of the universal Church; for we see in Joseph not only a loyal husband and foster father of Jesus – our Savior – but also a man of conviction and prayer.

Upon hearing that Mary is pregnant Joseph is filled with pain and anger. Understandably, at first, he is not ready to say “yes” to Mary and her story of divine intercession – there are few men that would.  But through divine intervention and the sending of His angel, God makes another request, for the angel relates God’s message: “Joseph, Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.”

We call St. Joseph a confident man because – ultimately – he, like Mary, says “Yes” to God. He has confidence because he proclaims his trust in God. With Joseph’s “Yes,” his anger subsides and is replaced with a joyful nurturing spirit that enables him to exert leadership and act as a faith-filled father and loving husband.

Joseph, from that moment, grows in love for his wife and unborn child and through the years, like all fathers, he grows in love and intimacy with Jesus.

An intimacy not only of physical closeness and rapport – but of soul – an intimacy of prayer and meditation that filled his heart and mind with awe; this intimacy and proximity to Jesus meant that he was constantly exposed to the same grace that Jesus gives us in our Eucharistic adoration of Him.

Pope Pius 11th, in his teaching on St. Joseph in March 1928 said, “All Joseph’s sanctity lies precisely in the completely faithful accomplishment of his great and humble mission, so high and so hidden, so splendid and so surrounded with shadows.”

We are truly graced if we realize, like St. Joseph, that we must make ourselves vulnerable to God -– vulnerable to the gifts of God – by exposing our heart, and soul to God’s love – and trusting God – through His Sacramental grace, to turn our hearts, so that we, too, may fulfill the mission – simple or profound – that we are asked to complete in life.

Saint Joseph, pray for us.

Sacred image of St. Joseph and Jesus by Pietro Annigoni. It hangs in the Church of St. Lawrence in Florence, Italy. It was painted in 1963. Thanks to the website of the Oblates of St. Joseph for the painting by Annigoni.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Artist As Contemplative – Part 3 – Prayer Tips

Today, we are asking our good friend, St. Teresa of Avila to help us in the process of thinking clearly about prayer.  She is a worthy mentor – for she cuts to the heart of the matter in a practical and meaningful way.

In her Book of Foundations, she makes many important observations that will help us become more focused on what we are doing in prayer. This focus will in turn help us with our artistic creativity.

A few examples of her perceptive thoughts:

“The first thing I wish to discuss, as far as my limited understanding will allow, is the nature of the essence of perfect prayer. I have come across people who believe that the whole thing consists in thought, [but] if they become distracted and their efforts to think of good things fail, they at once become greatly discouraged and suppose themselves to be lost. It must be recognized that not everyone has by nature an imagination capable of meditating, whereas all souls are capable of love.”

It is my belief, however, that as creative people, artists are very capable of meditation because it involves the imagination. It is crucial, however, that they learn the proper process, and especially for them to remember, if they are a Catholic Christian, that St. Teresa of Avila happily gives sound advice and clear direction to conversation with Christ.

St. Teresa continues, “I am anxious to explain that the soul is not thought, nor will it be controlled by thought – it would be great misfortune if it were. The soul’s profit, then, consists not in thinking much, but in loving much.”

“Do not imagine that I want you to make long meditations on our divine Savior or much reasoning or profound and subtle conceptions. If you cannot do more, [just] keep your eyes fixed for some moments on your adorable Savior [really present in your church’s tabernacle, or, who as Love personified, was nailed to a cross for our Redemption].”

“[Rather than] spending time in prayer profoundly investigating some subject on which they are meditating [you should] place yourself in the presence of Our Lord and converse with Him, heart to heart, without fatiguing the understanding, and tasting the happiness of being in His company.”

The Lord doesn’t need many words from us – less, truly is, more; but He does thirst for our creative and heartfelt love.

As creative people, we necessarily have many things on our “to do” lists. You don’t need me to tell you that 21st century life is exhausting. With that in mind, St. Teresa’s advice is all the more relevant. For we should avoid at all costs making our prayer life another intellectual challenge – another task – that saps the little energy we have left!

She counsels us to meditate using some simple techniques of, at first, opening our mind and heart to the stillness – the quiet – that two friends experience in which they can be in each other’s company and not have to constantly be talking. The subconscious – or conscious – stress of having to keep up the conversation is gone. It is like a husband and a wife, who after many years of marriage, can be in each other’s company, enjoying moments that could stretch on for some time, and yet, not needing to say more than some words of awareness, support, agreement, or recognition.

My next post will provide a meditation by St. Teresa on Our Lord’s Passion.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Artist As Contemplative – Part 1: The Proper Approach

All artists, by their very nature, contemplate. They are natural born contemplatives.

In its dictionary definitions we see that the word contemplate means: 1) “to intently look at something, 2) to study carefully, and 3) to have in mind the possibility or a plan of action.”

A person whose artistic skills are expressed through photography or the enhancement of physical beauty through fashion or cosmetics can certainly contemplate the meaning of beauty and maintain its traditions or break out and establish new ones. The same is true of a sculptor, painter, musician, needlework artist, poet, writer or any person working within other artistic mediums. For they, too, can “look intently at, study carefully, or have in mind the possibility of a plan” to create beauty or a new interpretation of it. As you see, at first glance there is no overt mention of religious or spiritual themes in these definitions.

Now let’s go a step further and ask a few questions: 1) Can the Christian artist (who has a natural contemplative spirit by virtue of being an artist), establish the artistic process as a vehicle for authentic prayer and union with God? 2) For example, did our friends Vincent Van Gogh or St. Andrei Rublev experience authentic prayer moments in their creative process? 3) When we look intently at  Starry Night or Christ the Redeemer – the Savior of Zvenigorod (seen below) do we feel comfortable using them in our conversation with God, and if not, why not?

Okay, as the old saying goes, “What does this have to do with the price of eggs?”

Young or old, there are times in our lives when we put up barriers in our minds to pursuing some study or some plan of action. This is especially true when it comes to the whole idea of prayer, and specifically, meditation and contemplation. People have a tendency to say, “Oh, that’s for holy people. I’m a sinner. I could never do it nor do I have the skills to do it. Bottom line, no one has ever taught me how to pray other than saying rote memory prayers.”

Good point. That perception is held by many people, especially Christians that have fallen away from the church of their ancestors. But is that belief just another mind barrier?

It is an established fact of being a Christian that we can be in touch with God, specifically His Divine Son, Jesus. We do believe, if we are Christians, that we all have the ability to enter into deep spiritual union and friendship with God by virtue of our Baptism. Baptism was the first very important step, and then, after that, the friendship of Christ is developed through our weekly worship and daily prayer life, our Scripture study and our Sacramental life. It takes effort, yes; but as Christians we understand that we enter into that relationship with Christ by walking with Him through His ministry and onto the path to Calvary.

The reader might say, however, “I am not a Christian. What does this have to do with me?” Even if the artist is not Christian they have the ability to enter into deep spiritual union with God through their own faith traditions. All the major religions of the world speak of and promote prayer; and all artists, even if they are not Christian, can enter into spiritual union with the Divine through the creative process.

But there is a little known maxim in Catholic Christian prayer practice: if you can think and if you can read (at the second grade level) you are capable of meditation; let me repeat, you are capable of experiencing authentic, prayer filled, and profound contemplation of God.

A quick example of this is the story that Father Peter-Thomas Rohrbach, in his important and delightful book Conversation With Christ that I discovered forty-five years ago. He tells of a young Catholic girl’s experience on receiving her first Holy Communion. He says, “The story is related of a small girl who, after the reception of her first Holy Communion, was questioned tenderly by her parents as to what she had done when she arrived back at her pew and prayerfully bowed her head. The girl hesitated momentarily, and then said in her thin, small voice: “‘I prayed to Our Lord for Mommy and Daddy, and for my sister Helen, and my brother George; and then I recited the alphabet to Our Lord and told Him a ghost story.'”

Father Rohrbach continues, “We, of course smile indulgently at the naivete and innocence of the small child; but after reflecting on the story, we might suddenly wake to the realization that the girl possessed the proper approach to prayer – she was actually talking to Our Lord. What she said to Christ was relatively unimportant, what she did was decidedly important: she entered into immediate contact with her Friend, Christ. If we could learn to converse with Christ as she did, we would be making successful prayer; if we could adopt her attitude for the conversation period of our meditation, our problems in this regard would be at an end.”

So, this is what we hope to accomplish in this blog’s series on The Artist  As Contemplative – to learn and develop the proper approach to prayer. My posts over the next month or two will deal with different approaches to prayer that an artist might use to assist in their artistic creativity and in their prayer life; and ultimately, to explore and apply the idea that contemplative prayer is unspoken prayer of the highest order; for it is in contemplative prayer that a person is united to God and ponders His truth, goodness, and beauty.

My next post will discuss the eight simple steps of prayer that has been promoted by the spiritual studies and athleticism of the nuns, brothers, and priests of the Roman Catholic Order of Carmel – Discalced Carmelites – over the last four hundred and fifty years. It is my perception that these simple steps are essential in mastering the procedure of spiritual contemplation and meaningful prayer with Our Lord. Subsequent posts will demonstrate other approaches to Christian prayer, some new, some very creative, and others ancient tried  and true techniques that the Church – both Eastern and Western Rites – have expressed over the last two thousand years of its history.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Making Room In Your Heart for God, Prayer, and Creativity

The Gospel of St Mark, chapter 9: 14-29, challenges us to ask ourselves the question “How does the effective disciple of Jesus live his or her life?” Clearly the ineffectiveness of Jesus’ disciples in doing His work is evidenced when the father of the possessed boy complains to Jesus that His disciples were unable to help his son, and even questions the power of Jesus to intervene on his son’s behalf.

Jesus responds with disappointment tinged with anger over the actions of some of His disciples; people who took it upon themselves to act in Jesus’ name but were not prepared to do so – for they did not ready themselves through prayer, fasting, and good works.

Jesus was upset with them for their lack of preparation. He implies that they were not effective co-workers. They were not ready to share His mission because they believed  they could remain who they were and still carry out the work of Jesus.

At that point in Christ’s ministry they didn’t realize that they had to be willing to cooperate with Him and transform themselves into His Life; a transformation, which accompanied by the grace of God, demanded great effort on their part.

In private, Jesus’ disciples asked Him why they didn’t have any success. He said, referring to the evil spirits,  “This kind can only come out through prayer.”

An Internet friend of mine from West Virginia, Fr. Paul Wharton recently said, “the transcendent knowing of God in prayer is making room in myself for an experience of His loving presence deep within me and all around me.”

This is such an important point, for we must make room for God deep within ourselves. As spiritual people we must guard against the weakness evidenced by the disciples in this Gospel. They thought they were acting like Christ, they thought they had His power in their lives, but they had not made room for Jesus in their hearts, and when faced with the enemy they were unprepared – they were helpless and impotent.

So, as creative people – as artists in our various fields – how do we become effective disciples of Jesus Christ? I believe our effectiveness is based on four concepts: 1) the grace of God coming to our hearts and souls through Christ’s Holy Sacraments; 2) our willingness to open our hearts and allow God to go deep within our souls so that He may evangelize us; 3)  our personal effort to be transformed into His Gospel Life through prayer, Scripture study, and our  unique approach to the creation of sacred art; and, 4) our faith and trust in His ability to lift us up, like the possessed boy, out of our suffering – or to give us the strength to bear what we are asked to endure.

These four concepts have an important part to play in our creativity and productivity as sacred artists. We must see ourselves, and the various arts that we produce, as part of His divine mission to first, evangelize ourselves, and then, through our art, those around us.

As we approach Ash Wednesday and the first week of Lent, I would like to raise your attention to a series of posts that I will publish during Lent dealing with the idea of prayer as it applies to our creativity. I will explain and explore with you a few valuable methods that I have learned over the years and one that I have recently been made aware of by a fellow member of the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts.

I pray that you will profit from these upcoming posts and that they may help you in your process of becoming an effective disciple of Christ and an even more creative and Spirit filled person! May the Lord bless you with a happy and creative Lent.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved     Thanks to starrymantle.blogspot for the sacred art rendition of today’s Gospel; and if you have a chance check out Fr. Paul Wharton’s blog at http://heartsonfire33.wordpress.com/2012/02/17/adrian-van-kaam-1920-2007-on-prayer/

Perilous Times For People Of All Faiths

There is a very striking phrase from yesterday morning’s Gospel:  Mark says, “…and when they got out of the boat, the people at once recognized Him…”  – they immediately recognized Him. The question that begs to be asked is “If they immediately recognized Him – what did they recognize?”

Was it just the fact that they identified a teacher of profound importance, or a powerful prophet, or a new healer with extraordinary ability?  Or did they recognize the fact that this person was someone totally above and beyond that – a man truly sent from God – to do God’s will and to meet all of their spiritual needs?

Possibly, St. Mark desires to communicate that besides the truth that Jesus was capable of performing astonishing healings, there was the blatant truth that the simple people of Israel were approaching Him with faith – they were approaching with expectant faith.  They brought their sick and demon possessed to Him because they instinctively knew that He could heal them and, more importantly, that He would heal them. What does this teach us? It teaches us that their faith was alive – their faith was confident.

Yesterday, I wore a red dalmatic and stole as I assisted our Assistant Pastor Fr. Joseph P. Upton at Holy Mass. We wore red in honor of St. Paul Miki, a Japanese Jesuit Scholastic, who along with twenty-five of his companions including two other Jesuits, six Franciscans, fifteen Franciscan tertiaries, and two laymen were all put to death on February 5, 1597 on the order of the ruler Hideyoshi.

These martyrs gave witness to Christ within a hostile society whose people and rulers were unable to see and accept the Truth. Their courage speaks volumes as to the ability of average men and women to stand up to tyranny and promote the truth and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. These martyrs were able to defy governmental tyranny because their faith was alive and confident.

This is not a political blog. It is a blog that is intended to promote the prayer life, the artistic appreciation, and creation of sacred art by its subscribers; but, we cannot fail to observe with sadness and deep concern all of the repugnant and anti-Constitutional acts that have been imposed on the Catholic Church as an institution, and upon its individual members within the last few weeks (here, most recently, I speak of the bishops, priests, and deacons who serve within the Armed Services who were told not to publicly read a letter of opposition from the Catholic bishops in response to the Executive Branch’s mandate to impose its Health and Human Services Policy throughout the nation).

As primarily artists of faith we cannot fail to see the implications of the Administration’s actions. They are embarking the ship of state on very dangerous waters. These are perilous times for people of all faiths.

I cannot and should not fail to mention the witness, a week or so ago within our own State of Rhode Island, of the courageous students, laypeople, and clergy who gathered at the State House to pray in favor of the Pro-Life movement. They were met not with the opportunity, guaranteed by the Constitution, to freely express their views – rather, they were met with opposition members of various groups (one being identified as Occupy Providence) who shouted them down, prevented them from expressing their prayer, and pelted female high school students with condoms. Is this what public discourse has come to in our State and Nation?

As you may know the forces of secularism will stop at nothing in their attempt to shout down the Pro Life’s right to freedom of speech; but we should remember that the Pro Life Movement mirrors the witness of the simple people of Israel in yesterday’s Gospel – and the testimony of the martyrs – because like them they are willing to publicly stand up to the forces of darkness and say – with charity  – “Our faith is alive and confident – we believe in Jesus Christ and the witness for life that He embodies – and the darkness of secularism will never stifle the shining light of His Truth.”

As writers, as artists in various media, as musicians, and as performance artists who may be Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or Jewish, or members of other faiths – it is critical that we do not lose sight of what is happening in our society. We cannot pursue our art in a vacuum. Rather, we pursue our art, and the Holy Spirit as well, so that our faith and confidence will be strengthened, and our sense of gratitude will be increased, for all those within our Church – and those from other denominations – who courageously witness to the truth of the Gospel and promote the value of life in their  prayer, art, and social action.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Thanks to/redemptores.blogspot.com/2011/02/st-paul-miki-companions-m.html for the image of St. Paul Miki and companions.