Roman Catholic Sacred Art: A Prayer to Accompany The First Theological Theme

“And only where God is seen does life truly begin.

Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is.

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.

Each of us is the result of a thought of God.

Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.

There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ.

There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him.”

          The above was written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

If I may add just a few lines inspired by his thoughts:

There is nothing more beautiful than to become aware of what Jesus sacrificed for us in order to make us members of His family.

There is nothing more beautiful than when we repent of our sins, implore His mercy, and amend our lives, in love for Him.

There is nothing more beautiful than an innocent child in their mother’s womb and  being cared for by a loving parent(s).

A relevant theme: as Americans, regardless of religious creed, we need to remember the sixty million nine hundred and ninety-six thousand, nine hundred and ninety-four abortions, that is, the murder of 60 million, 996 thousand, 994 innocent children, that have been surgically murdered since the Roe vs, Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1/22/1973. This number does not include those abortions that have been chemically induced. The estimate for chemically induced abortions in the United States is approximately 250 million children.

In the United States today one abortion is performed every 20 seconds.

World statistics, which began being tabulated in 1980, total: 1,522,353,500. murdered children.

In the world today one abortion is surgically performed every second.

The source for these statistics is a non partisan reproductive health and family planning organization known as the Guttmacher Institute. These statistics, tabulated minute-by-minute, can be found at: http://www.numberofabortions.com

What can Americans do? Those that are against abortion can do three things: physically protest by legally, prayerfully, and peacefully demonstrating in front of abortion clinics and through legal and peaceful mass demonstrations. Catholic Americans that are unable to do so because of age, employment, or health concerns can prayerfully say the Holy Rosary every day. The Rosary can be found on-line by just entering the title – Holy Land Rosary. This will take you to a number of sites, some contain music, others such as the one (which I find very beautiful in its pace and view of Holy Land sites), linked here, is prayed by a Canadian Catholic priest and his Holy Land Tour group: https://youtu.be/a3Z3Sfp_0bA

You can say a prayerful Glorious, Joyful, Sorrowful, and Luminous Rosary at this site. An entire Mystery of five decades can be prayed in under 20 minutes. Save it to your phone, say it while driving or performing other tasks with the intention of interceding with Jesus and His Blessed Mother to touch the hearts of mothers and medical personnel so they do not proceed with the abortions.

A child or children’s lives depend on our prayers.

God bless your daily efforts to end this Satanic scourge of the world’s children.

Thank you.

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Closeup of the face on the Holy Shroud of Turin. At right is a forensic artist’s recreation of a potential human likeness of the image found on the Shroud.

 

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

Roman Catholic Sacred Art – Part Five: The First Theological Theme

In the past four posts I briefly reviewed the following topics: Part 1: What is Art, Part 2: Roman Catholic Sacred Art – Categories, Part 3: Roman Catholic Sacred Art – Painting Schematic, and Part 4: Roman Catholic Sacred Art – Three Major and Minor Stages.

Today in Part 5, I would like to provide you with a brief review of a major, historically based, theological theme that directly impacts the creation of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Greek/Russian sacred art.

It is an historical fact that in the year AD 30, the Roman historian Tacitus writes in his Annals that “The Christ is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, under the emperor Tiberius.”

It is a belief of all devout Christians that Jesus, the Son of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary. His ministry to the Israeli people was the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy. At the end of His ministry He was unjustly tried by the Romans, condemned to death, tortured, crucified, and died in reparation for our sins. Three days after His death, through the power of the Father and the Holy Spirit, He rose from the dead and was seen and interacted with the twelve Apostles and hundreds of His disciples. Before His ascent to Heaven the Apostles are told by Jesus to “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” (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28: vs. 19-20).

St. Paul explains to us in his letter to the Colossians (1:15) that Jesus Christ is the image, the icon (eikon) of the invisible, all powerful, God. Our foundation from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures explains that God communicates with us through historic events, His prophets, and His Son Jesus (“God is With Us” – Emmanuel).

orthodox_icon_of_our_jesus_pantocrator_of_sinai._large
6th century painting of Jesus as Pantocrator (all knowing, all powerful)

The Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, communicate among themselves, too. The Father communicates with His creation through His incarnated Son. The Father discussed His plan for our eternal salvation, with His Son, and the Son  – Jesus, the Christ, agreed to both the Father’s plan for our Redemption and His Incarnation into human history. He also agreed to humbly obey His Father’s will.

Thus, through His Incarnation, Jesus expresses his two natures: human and divine. He does this while “hiding” the full majesty of His divinity (except for His Transfiguration and Resurrection). The full ramifications of the Incarnation of Jesus is one of the great mysteries of our Faith. It demands of us humility, faith, and loving obedience to God’s revealed teachings.

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15th century painting by St. Andrei Rublev of the Holy Trinity (Jesus is in the center)

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ changed the Universe. God became flesh, thus, all matter is good. Nature’s matter – its water, mineral, plant, and animal life – and its living beings – must be enjoyed and respected in obedience to God’s Laws.

Thus, we have our first theological theme: God the Father has communicated His love and laws to us. He has achieved this through His revealed word in the Scriptures, and the ministry, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, the Christ. Our Redemption by Jesus has made it possible for the Holy Spirit – the Sanctifier – to  express the love of the Holy Trinity to us through the Sanctifying Grace of the Seven Holy Sacraments.

Through theologically based sacred art these truths come alive. We are able to experience the life of our Redeemer  and the historic life of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. This is all made visible to us through the painting, sculpture, music, drama, literature, poetry, and architecture of two thousand years of gifted artists.

Thanks for visiting with me. My best wishes for a great weekend!

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

 

 

What is Art?

Hello!  Glad to be back after a series of learning experiences which took me away from the keyboard. I see from the website’s analytics that we are still popular on a worldwide level (thank you!). I also appreciate and thank all of the hundreds of subscribers that have stayed with this blog and continue to use and enjoy the material I’ve presented and the many tens of thousands that have popped in and out over the past seven years.

Last week I made a church presentation (a power point lecture) on “Our Blessed Mother and Sacred Art Applied to Prayer.” For the upcoming weeks, during the Advent and Christmas seasons, I will be presenting to you – in short form – my lecture notes accompanied by relevant sacred and religious art. This is probably one of the busiest times of the year so I will be blogging it to you in small doses on a frequent basis. If you use any of it in your work, ministry, or studies please reference me. Thanks.

My lecture had  three major goals:

  1. What is Art and its forms of sacred, religious, and absurd religious painting?
  2. What are the major/minor stages of  sacred art within the history of the Roman Catholic Church?
  3. How do we apply sacred art, specifically in reference to the Blessed Mother, to the prayer form of Lectio Divina?

Let’s tackle the first part of the first goal: What is Art?

My perception is that art is a process in which an artist: 

  1. Creatively thinks,
  2. Makes a product (there are seven major historical disciplines in which products are made: architecture, drama, literature, music, painting, poetry, and sculpture),
  3. Intends that the product will cause a reaction/response (for the artist alone and/or from the public).

The above process occurs in all seven major disciplines of art. More recent historical artistic disciplines such as photography, computer art, grand and small scale landscape architecture possess this process, too.

Also, Professor Dennis J. Sporre has discussed that “Art has four functions: artifact, entertainment, social and political commentary, and therapy. These functions, or options, are not mutually exclusive, nor is one more important than the others” (found in his book The Creative Impulse, Prentice Hall, 4th ed., 1996. When I taught Humanities years ago this highly valuable book was one of the foundation blocks of my lectures and activities).

Tomorrow I will discuss Roman Catholic sacred art within the discipline of painting.

Thanks for joining me today.

Copyright © 2011- 2018 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.

Lesley Green – A Rhode Island Sacred Artist

One of the great blessings the Lord has granted me is the privilege of meeting so many wonderful people who are interested in studying and creating sacred art. An example of this is the fine Rhode Island artist, Lesley Green.

Lesley is no stranger to art. She has been interested in it since adolescence and received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. She continued to pursue her studies while taking time out to marry and raise a family.

I first met Lesley a number of years ago, when my wife and I started the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts.  We invited people from around the Diocese of Providence to come to our first informational meeting. I could tell upon first meeting her that she was highly motivated to consider studying and prayerfully create sacred art.

My first workshop in sacred art soon followed that meeting and Lesley came to learn the basics of how to paint a sacred icon. Her excitement and interest were, and still are, gratifying to see. She continued to make rapid progress with me and took the advice that I give to all of my students: “Branch out, and study with as many other sacred artists as you can.”

I firmly believe that a sacred artist needs to be exposed to, not only a variety of artistic talents and skills, but to the prayerfulness of other iconographers as they practice their ministry in sacred art. As a result, she has since enjoyed studying with Rev. Peter Pearson and Michael Kapeluck, two artists from Pennsylvania who paint in the Russian Orthodox style.

Lesley realizes that her art is more than art for art’s sake. As a committed Roman Catholic she understands that her art is a dramatic form of silent evangelization of the Word of God. She takes seriously the invitation of St. John Paul 2’s 1999 Letter to Artists to participate in the “call” to the vocation of a sacred artist. He tells us that in doing so we fulfill our personal responsibility to do our part in spreading the Good News of Christ. He says,

“In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art.  Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God.  It must therefore translate into meaningful terms, which is in itself ineffable.

Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colors, shapes and sounds, which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.” 

It is this “aura of mystery” that Lesley is prayerfully attempting to make visible to the viewer of her art. For, as sacred artists, we are all called to make visible the “ineffable mystery” that is God, His angels, and His saints.

Lesley’s most recent completed icons of Saint Gabriel and St. John the Baptist are quite lovely. I especially like the fact that St. Gabriel is shown holding the Holy Eucharist. As you know, the Archangel Gabriel was depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures as being a healer, especially of the eyes. This sacred icon aptly shows that the source of the Archangel’s power is Christ Himself. The second icon showing St. John the Baptist in a prayerful pose indicates that even in Heaven he continues his mission of imploring us to repent of our sins.

St. Gabriel the Archangel and St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

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

 

The Little Oratory – A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home – A New Book by Clayton and Lawler

Friend and fellow sacred artist David Clayton, in association with Leila Marie Lawler, has written a wonderful book entitled The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home. Sophia Institute Press published this book in the spring of 2014.

In a beautiful writing style that is truly accessible to all readers, Clayton and Lawler explain the purpose of a home oratory, the role that prayer, chant, and sacred art can play in the life of an individual or family, and the significance of maintaining a faith filled prayer life with young and adolescent children.

The word oratory derives from the Latin oratorium, and orare, which means to pray. An oratory is a sacred space set aside for prayer and meditation. A little oratory refers to a space within a home that is recognized as the home’s sacred space, and which is used as a focal point for individual and family prayer. It may be small as a simple shelf containing a crucifix and sacred art, or it could be a larger corner table space. The authors perform a marvelous service in reviewing all the questions that a family, single parent, or individual will face in designing their home’s sacred space.

I was happy to read chapters and sections that describe how to keep children on track during prayer, the length of a daily prayer time, leadership of the family prayer group, praying with a breviary (The Divine Office) and Holy Scripture. There are also sections on how to introduce the rosary into family life, and many other valuable and pertinent issues such as the role that chant and sacred art plays in the life of today’s Roman Catholic.

The Little Oratory is divided into twelve chapters and eight appendices. It contains lovely in-text illustrations by Deirdre M. Folley, and eight sacred images drawn and painted by David Clayton. These sacred images by Mr. Clayton may be separated from the binding of the book so that they can be framed and prayed with during each liturgical season of the year. They also provide for you a publisher’s website through which you can download additional images and line drawings that may be used for children’s activities.

You may ask why does each Catholic home need a little oratory? Good question, for the answer reaches to the heart of who we are as 21st century Catholics. It is obvious that we are surrounded by a secular society that bombards us with continuous messages that can easily distract and exhaust us. In response to this onslaught we need to make a space within our homes that is a quiet and reflective corner that focuses on God and will allow us to recharge our minds and rest our souls. This sacred space will be a visual reminder of the holy presence of God, the Blessed Mother, the angels and saints in our lives. So our little oratory acts as a bridge between our homes, our parish church, and the Lord Himself. It is a link that connects us with Divine Word, Song, and Image during the course of our week. Through the authors’ efforts families and individuals relearn, or learn for the first time, the necessity of understanding and respecting the idea of a sacred prayer space in the home

The Little Oratory – A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home is a valuable and resource filled book. Every Catholic that reads it will come away refreshed and filled with ideas on how to bring the life of the Church into their home. It can be purchased on-line or through any major bookstore. This paperback’s cover price is $19.95.

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

 

The Last Supper – Jesus as Servant, Christ as Sacrifice: An Evening Meditation

At the Last Supper, on the night He was betrayed, our Savior entrusted to His Church the memorial of His death and resurrection.
This memorial came to us through the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, a memorial that He intended would be celebrated forever by His Church in the magnificent prayer that is known as the Holy Mass.
Let us adore Him, and say:
Jesus, sanctify Your people, redeemed by Your blood.
Lord, You humbled Yourself by being obedient to the Father’s will, even to accepting death, death on a cross.
Please give all who faithfully serve You the gifts of:
obedience to Your Holy Word found in Your Gospel,
service to our neighbor because they are reflections of You,
and patient endurance in all our troubles and tests.
Christ Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, (1852-56) by Ford Madox Brown (1821 – 1893), Tate Britain, London.

(Meditation based on the Intercessions, Evening Prayer for Holy Thursday, found in the Roman Breviary: The Divine Office, volume 2, page 465. Thanks to the Catholic Artists Society for the posting of Ford Madox Brown’s painting, please visit their site and consider becoming a member: http://catholicartistssociety.posterous.com ).

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

 

 

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.

Icons, Icon Painters, and Praying With Sacred Icons: PART 3

My favorite sacred icon of  Our Lord Jesus Christ is the 6th century encaustic icon of Christ Pantocrator (Christ The Almighty One) from St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula.

This sacred image was a paradigm shift in the way early Christians viewed and portrayed Jesus Christ. This icon (shown below) is not the thin young  Messiah of the Catacombs, or the Roman nobleman presentation of the first four centuries of Church art (for examples confer Pierre du Bourguet’s book on Early Christian Painting). The Sinai Christ Pantocrator is portrayed as a robust Semitic man, who knows exactly what He is about, what His mission is, and what He expects of His followers in their living out of His Gospel life.

Interestingly, recent research has shown that when the image from the Shroud of Turin is compared to the image of Christ in this icon of Christ Pantocrator there are many points of similarity between the two images; possibly implying that the painter of Christ Pantocrator had seen the facial image found on the Shroud of Turin.

Allow me to suggest that when we are painting a sacred image/icon we must prayerfully enter into conversation with the Heavenly person we are representing, we must research his or her life, and then view what the Traditional forms of their representation has been in the history of sacred iconography.

We should then explore how we could make the truth of the Lord’s or a saint’s holy witness speak – using the language of the palette – to the 21st century. We should learn from the past, and absorb and pass on the beauty that is found within Holy Tradition.

Yet, at the same time, we need to constantly examine the work of some of the fine icon painters in the world today, people like my teachers: Peter Pearson, Marek Czarnecki, Anna Gouriev Pokrovsky, and Dimitri Andreyev. I have recently been influenced by the work of  Ksenia (Xenia) Mikhailovna Pokrovskaya, originally from Moscow, and now living in Massachusetts. Not to be missed is the work of Vladimir Grygorenko from Dallas, Texas. His sacred icons have a richness and luminous quality that is very beautiful and spiritual. We must also become familiar with the work of British iconographers Brother Aidan Hart, and David Clayton; the Norwegian Solrunn Nes, and the Russians: Archimandrite Zinon from the Pskov-Caves Monastery, and Philip Davydov and Olga Shalymova from St. Petersburg, Russia –  all of these people, and many others, prayerfully create beautiful icons that speak to 21st century people who are willing to listen. The wonderful news is that there are many sacred artists and iconographers – known and unknown – that are prayerfully engaging the ancient traditions of Catholic and Orthodox art, and prayer from the heart, throughout the world.

As we enter into our study of sacred art and iconography we need to first start with a survey book which gives us an overview of the sacred artistic tradition of the Eastern Church. We should first examine the great little book Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church (ISBN 0-89236-845-4; translated by Stephen Sartarelli and published by the J. Paul-Getty Museum, 2004) and use it as a starting point to observe the styles and techniques of the various regional traditions over the last 1500 years.

We don’t have to “like” all the styles of the images that icon painters, from various cultures, have portrayed down through the centuries. But, we must respect their efforts because, hopefully, they were created in the true spirit of prayer, and each of them can teach us something about technique, color, symbol and theology.

When we begin our studies with a teacher of iconography, and sit down to draw the sacred image and apply the paint and gold-leaf, we must remember that we have a sacred responsibility to the faithful who view our sacred icons and images. These images must be correct from a theological, semantic, and aesthetic point-of-view. Our call, our ministry, is to lead the viewer to prayer and communion with Christ and His Saints, not to a secular admiration for an avant-garde or cavalier attitude toward our Holy Faith, or the people who died witnessing to it.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Part Two: Icons, Icon Painters, and Praying With Sacred Icons

The sacred icon is a visual aid that helps the person enter into a conversation with God, an angel, or a saint. If a sacred icon is to be painted with this purpose in mind then it it is a major responsibility of the sacred artist to construct the icon so that it may serve, rather than interfere with or destroy, that purpose. Thus, it is necessary for the sacred artist to curb the desire for ornateness, since it might detract from the prayer itself by focusing the viewer’s eyes on embellishment versus Person, or saint. 

Of all the physical features in an icon, in my opinion, the most important are the eyes. The eyes of the person represented in the icon – Our Lord, the angels, or the saints – are critical. They normally look out at the viewer. They are painted this way because icons, which should be painted in a spirit of deep prayer, are trying to establish or renew our relationship with the Heavenly person portrayed. So, as in typical conversation, we look at the person and they look at us. Yet, in many cases the eyes of the Blessed Mother, as the greatest of the saints, do not look at us; they are usually looking at her Son, or, are looking away from the viewer, or present us with  a “distant gaze.” These particular types of steady and intense looks of the Blessed Mother may also be seen in statues – especially those of medieval France. Please note the following link to an excellent site which shows some of these gazes in statues of Mother Mary and the Christ Child:

vialucispress.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/the-thrones-of-wisdom-dennis-aubrey/  By the way, I highly recommend Dennis Aubrey and PJ McKey’s site for your subscription.

Sacred icons are the traditional form of artistic expression of the Eastern and Western Rites of  the Catholic Church from approximately the 6th century on. The Western Rite moved away from purely painting sacred icons in approximately the 12th century and moved into the Gothic Period of sacred art. The Eastern Rite continued to develop its devotion to sacred icons with differences being seen within the various cultural areas of Orthodoxy – from Greece, to Serbia, Russia, Crete, etc.

As mentioned above, the use of a sacred icon is of practical spiritual value in that it is an aid in prayer. On an additional note, when we pray with a sacred icon, we are doing the same thing as when we speak to someone that we know and love. We speak to them, we may be in their physical presence, or we may be on a phone or computer connection with them, but we are with them in the sense that we are focusing on them at that moment in time – either physically facing them – or –  on a phone or computer screen. So when we pray to an icon we are looking at it in the same way we would look at someone in a face-to-face conversation; for that is what prayer is: conversation with God, Our Blessed Mother, the angels, or a particular saint.

Some people have a tendency to get themselves upset over the use of the term iconographer (icon writer) versus icon painter. The word graphein in Greek means “to write,” and it also means, “to paint.” A linguist and museum curator by the name of David Coomler informs us that in the Russian language the English word “write” is pisat, and the word “paint” is pisat. So, in Greek and Russian we have a double meaning for one word that represents both “to paint” and “to write;” however, this doesn’t transfer into the English language since in English we obviously have two different words to express graphein and pisat: write and paint.

I have no problem with people saying “I am a sacred icon painter.” The reason being – it is correct English. The term iconographer, however, is used and you see it in numerous books and in conversation in non-Russian or Greek formats. When people ask me how I identify myself – as an icon painter or an icon writer – I respond that I am a simple “sacred artist”!

Yet, we have an obligation to be truthful to our Holy Faith, so, when we paint icons we need to be attentive to and follow Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. In that sense, we are “writing” icons because we are scribing into visual form – using paint rather than just ink – the images from Sacred Scripture and Tradition. I may be breaking a grammatical rule in saying that; yet, I feel that it is appropriate owing to the nature of what we are trying to do in painting sacred icons.

May I suggest that as icon painters we must be conscious of the truth that the images that we copy of Our Lord, Our Blessed Mother, the angels, and the saints (saints prior to the 14th century) were and are built on our human imagination, for we do not have an actual authentic portrait of Our Lord, or Our Blessed Mother. There is consensus that St. Peter had a full head of hair and full beard, while St. Paul had a bald or balding head and full beard. I can say that because recent archaeological discoveries in Rome have continued to show those pictorial images for these two saints.

Still, that being said, we cannot be absolutely sure of this because we have no photographs, or, first century portraits of them; but, we do have a sacred tradition that portrays them that way; but this is not true for many of the saints – unfortunately, we just don’t know what they looked like. So we have to be very careful in our portrayal of saints, and remember, that basic cultural and historic research will help us in painting a quality sacred icon or image.

The above photo shows a recent interesting archaeological discovery that occurred in June 2010: The link below shows the cameraman filming  paintings of some of the earliest known images of the Apostles Peter and Paul (these ceiling paintings date from between AD 350 and 400) in a catacomb located under a modern office building in Rome. The images were uncovered using lasers and were under thick deposits of calcium carbonate. ((AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)) Click on this link below to see more photos:

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/06/22/ancient-icons-apostles-peter-paul-rome/#ixzz1voqaPpKJ  Thanks to this site for the information.

 Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Icons, Icon Painters, and Praying With Sacred Icons: Part One

A few issues have come up in discussing some basic terms with people. I would like to be clear on how I have come to understand these words because it may affect how we view our “ministry” to be painters of sacred icons and or sacred images.

From my understanding, the word icon in English, Greek, and Latin, is the word for image. In our usage as sacred artists, it refers to a sacred image of Our Lord, Our Blessed Mother, angels, or specific saints. The purpose of a  sacred icon is that, as a piece of sacred art, it  focuses an individual in prayer.  A sacred icon is a specific type of sacred art. It is created following certain traditions – tradition with a small “t” and a large “T.”

Many sacred icons are presented with a simplicity of style, the use of color, the types of colors used, the use of symbols, etc. A sacred icon is different from a sacred image, in that the sole purpose of the sacred icon is that it is to be used as a focal point for personal or communal prayer.

A sacred image, however, may have been commissioned by a patron for personal prayer, but it may also have been commissioned for the pure enjoyment of its beauty. In the case of Renaissance sacred art, the Roman Catholic Church became the patron of many pieces of sacred art in order to affect the communal prayer of the faithful who came to the small churches and the great basilicas for Holy Mass.

With a sacred image (such as a religious image painted by Michelangelo or Leonardo) you have the artist’s personal imagination heavily influencing and entering into the creation of the beauty of the image, possibly even manipulating and combining Scriptural passages for the purpose of the story the artist would like to tell. Yet, even though I have just made that statement, the truth of the matter is that it is not always so clear cut. We do have icons, such as the famous Nativity icon of the birth of Christ, in which you have numerous Scriptural passages – conveying different events – being used to convey a catechetical sequence surrounding the birth of Our Lord – and all of this is done on the same icon panel!

In a sacred icon, the imagination of the artist is present, yet, it is supposed to be subordinate to his/her faith’s perception of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (how the early Church viewed their beliefs and expressed them within their specific cultural tradition). So, if a sacred artist is painting a sacred icon, he or she is aware of the theological, aesthetic, and semantic rules that have been developed and followed through the centuries. These rules – “the Canon of Iconography” – are affected by cultural area and religious Sacred Tradition.

For example, a Coptic sacred icon (see image below), by a painter of the Egyptian Coptic Church will express the image of Christ and a saint (in the icon below an abbot of the Coptic Christian Church) somewhat differently than a Greek or Russian Orthodox painter; and yet, there is nothing wrong with this, as long as the painter is not fomenting apostasy or heresy.

All of that being said, sacred images, for example, by Renaissance painters, can certainly be used to focus an individual in their personal prayer, as do the beautiful stained glass windows of the great Gothic cathedrals. Care must be taken, however, in selecting appropriate images for use in personal prayer. It is my perception that the type of image a soul uses in personal prayer – sacred icons (from the Eastern Rite) or sacred images (from the Western Rite) – is a matter of personal preference and certainly does not  indicate that one type is better or “more truthful” than another. Eastern and Western sacred artists are both working off of their own perceptions and spirituality; there are disagreements with this, but we must always remain charitable with each other.

Within the last twenty years there have been many Western sacred artists that have rediscovered the beauty of painting sacred icons, and are trying to be sensitive to the Eastern Rites’ traditions,  as they bring it back into the consciousness of the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Churches, thankfully, never lost appreciation for their tradition.

I will post Parts Two and Three on this same theme in the upcoming days. Be sure to look for them on-line or in the archives. Thanks.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The image of Christ and the Abbot – a panel depicting a monk with Christ. It was excavated in the early 20th century from a monastery in Egypt and is located in the Bawit room at the Louvre. Thanks to: Photo by Clio 20, CC attribution share-alike 3.0. I believe the icon dates to about the 7th century.

ORO et CREO: I Pray – I Create – Part Two – A Wonderful Idea For Your Church

This is the second part of a three part series with Jamie Medeiros, an artist whose parish is in Tiverton, Rhode Island, and Deacon Tom Lambert, a Permanent Deacon within the Diocese of Chicago, and whose parish is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Chicago, Illinois.

Please be sure to read Part One of this two part interview in order to obtain a complete understanding of what the Lambert/Medeiros model of prayer and the creation of art is trying to accomplish. It is a model easily applicable to any Christian parish, within any Christian denomination, in the world.

The Interview: continued…

5) Is there any specific format that you use – such as – do you gather after Sunday Mass, do you say specific prayers together, or do you say prayers in individual meditation? Are all the participants Catholic?

Jamie: We begin in the church with some music (to help us transition from our busy days to awareness of God’s presence) and a brief reflection or guided meditation (usually a quote from Scripture or contemplative reading, followed by questions to think about).  We then begin our hour of prayerful creation.  We each go to an area of the church we are drawn to and create for an hour.  As we create, we let the images, questions, and movements guide us in our conversation with God.  Sometimes getting in the creating “zone” helps us rest in His presence. After one hour of prayerful creation, we meet in the front of the church and discuss our prayers (if we feel comfortable doing so).  Everyone places their artwork out for others to see and each of us explains what was going on, what we were thinking about, how it lead us to our results, etc.  There is a closing prayer.

Not all participants are Catholic, but all are Christian.

Deacon Tom: [He answered the format question in the previous post]. It is a parish ministry offered for members of our parish. We do occasionally get non-parishioners.

6) Does the “create” side of the session happen simultaneously with your prayer, or have you divided it – such as 10 minutes for prayer, 50 minutes for “create” after the communal or individual prayer session? Or do the participants desire for it to happen spontaneously?  What types of art are being produced: sketches, paintings, literary, etc. Have you ever had any formal or informal showings of the art that has been produced? Would your parish be open to displaying the art produced?

Jamie: For Oro et Creo, the prayer IS the creation (the Benedictines use the motto Ora et Labora – Pray and Work, we use Oro et Creo – I Pray – I Create, because creating can be prayer).  Our format is basically– an opening prayer, one hour of prayerful creation, and a closing prayer.  The opening prayer varies in length depending on what reflection I find for the week (usually having to do with current liturgical season, daily readings, or creation [the creative process]).

The type of art that is being produced are drawings, paintings, poetry, photography, and mixes of all of these. We have not had any exhibition of works yet.  We have talked about it.  I’m sure our parish would be open to it.

We definitely want to make sure that the practice remains prayerful and that participants are not pressured toward “perfection” of a work because others will see it, but it remains a space for a deep listening and responding to God’s voice.

Deacon Tom: [See previous post, question # 3]. We haven’t had any formal showings of the participants artwork. We have talked about the possibility of displaying the art but most are content to do this as a form of personal prayer

7) Do you have any guidelines that would be important for other parishes within the Diocese or other Dioceses around the world to be conscious of so that it would develop with the minimum number of personal or organizational potholes?

Deacon Tom: We are open to movement of the Spirit and the priority of art as a prayer experience. Silence [during the creative moments] is an important aspect [of what we are doing].

Jamie: I second what Deacon Tom said, “We are open to movement of the Spirit and the priority of art as a prayer experience.” Silence is an important aspect [of the creative moment].

8) Would you mind having people contact you – through your blog  or email – about the process?

Jamie:  Not at all.  They can email me at: medeirosjamie@gmail.com, at my website: www.iliveinhope.com, or blog: jamiedmedeiros.wordpress.com

Deacon Tom:  People can contact me at  olmcinfo2@aol.com  or Deacon Tom Lambert         Our Lady of Mt Carmel Parish    708 W Belmont, Chicago, IL 60657        773-525-0453 x 21.

In the third and last post of this series I will offer a personal reflection on what they have accomplished.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

ORO et CREO: “I Pray – I Create” – Part One

Soon after an article appeared in our Diocesan newspaper (The Rhode Island Catholic) in June 2011 on the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts, I spoke on the phone with a talented artist by the name of Jamie Medeiros. We talked about the mission and goals of the Fra Angelico Institute and then she explained to me the mission of a group that she started at her parish in Tiverton, RI. Her group’s name is Oro et Creo (I Pray – I Create). I was fascinated by her description since it clearly was another example of the Holy Spirit’s continuing witness to get Catholics, and Christians of all denominations, interested in uniting the dual impulse of prayer and the creation of sacred art in all its various forms.

The following interview (the first part of a three part series) with Jamie Medeiros and Deacon Tom Lambert illustrate how their combined efforts and continuing positive influence have opened up the creative and spiritual impulses of many people.

The Lambert/Medeiros model can easily be replicated in your parish – regardless of where you are in the world. As of last week, this website/blog on The Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts, is read by people in 63 nations and on every continent except Antarctica. As far as I am concerned, these numbers are a clear example of how the Holy Spirit utilizes all resources to touch people’s hearts and move them back into a closer relationship with Him. Regardless of where you live in the world, and whether your parish is Roman Catholic, Greek or Russian Orthodox, Middle Eastern Catholic, or one of the Protestant denominations, the Lambert/Medeiros model of Oro et Creo, which unites personal prayer and the creative impulse within a church setting and in community with other artists, is a powerful tool of evangelization.

The Interview:

1) What inspired you to establish the Oro et Creo community?

Jamie Medeiros (St. Theresa’s Parish Tiverton, Rhode Island):     In Chicago at Our Lady of Mt.Carmel I had befriended one of the deacons [Deacon Tom Lambert] who had picked up art in his retirement.  He asked if I would meet one of the RCIA candidates [Belinda Cook Blakely] who was a student at The Art Institute of Chicago.  All three of us met after Mass one day and began a discussion about this common thread of art and God.  We discussed the fact that there seemed to be a lot of artists in our parish.  We joked, “we should start a group!”  The Deacon didn’t miss a beat.  He said, “We SHOULD start a group.”  We proceeded to discuss what it might “look like” if we started one.  This was just at the beginning of Lent [2008].  We all saw the movement of the Holy Spirit and thought the timing of this discussion was remarkable.  We picked a day, wrote up a blurb for the bulletin and decided to see if anyone would show.  They did.  We named it Oro et Creo after the Benedictine motto Ora et Labora (Pray and Work).  It is a time to pray while creating.  We continue to sit in wonder of the role of it as ministry for its participants.

Deacon Tom Lambert (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish Chicago, Illinois): Oro et Creo started at Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church, Chicago when I introduced Jamie [Medeiros] and Belinda [Cook Blakely], two artists, to each other. They then approached me to start Oro et Creo because they didn’t find much connection between art and God in their work environments. Although both have moved on, Jamie to start an Oro et Creo group in Rhode Island, the group they started [here in Chicago] is still going on. For the translation of Oro et Creo I applied its meaning of ” I pray – I create” which says (to me) out of my prayer comes my creation. It is an invitation, a prayerful desire for one to create not a command to others, which is how I see Benedict’s Ora et Labora applying to his monks. [Deacon Tom and Jaime are using the phrase differently then St. Benedict, since St. Benedict was speaking in the imperative, that is, he was giving a command to his monks: “Pray and Work.” Deacon Tom and Jaime, however, are using Oro et Creo, the Latin is spelled differently because it  applies to an individual who prays and then creates, or creates while they are in a prayerful state – I Pray – I Create].

2) How long has your Oro et Creo sessions been in existence, what Church did it begin in, and is it taking place right now – name and geographical location?

Jamie: Oro et Creo first met during Lent 2008.  We began it at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Chicago, Illinois.  They are still meeting weekly on Monday nights.  Here in Tiverton, Rhode Island, Oro et Creo began the summer of 2010, meeting weekly, and now meets once a month on Mondays (7 pm) at St.Theresa’s Church in Tiverton.

Deacon Tom:  We meet weekly at Our Lady of Mt Carmel Parish 708 W  Belmont, Chicago, IL

3) Is the clergy involved in any way? Can people in your area join at any time and who would they contact and when would they show up?

Jamie: Here in Tiverton, our Pastor approved the program and likes to hear updates.  People are welcome to show up.  We meet at St. Theresa’s in Tiverton, RI on the first Monday of every month at 7 pm, unless it is a Faith Formation GIFT week.  People are welcome to email me with questions.

Deacon Tom: I am involved as a participant and [Parish] staff representative. The leader of the group is a layperson who is an artist.

4) How often do you come together to pray and create? Where do you actually meet – in the Church Hall, in the Church, at someone’s home?

Jamie: We currently meet once a month on Monday nights from 7 – 8:30ish pm.  This is open to change, depending on the seasons/ availability.  We meet in the Church.

Deacon Tom: We meet weekly. We start at the parish ministry center where we gather until everyone arrives. Then we have an opening prayer and then go in silence to the church or chapel. We sketch in silence for about an hour or more. People can sit anywhere in the church outside the sanctuary and sketch whatever they choose to do. Some bring pictures with them to sketch. We then go back to the ministry center where people may or may not choose to show the group what they were working on. Then a closing prayer is said. [Italics and boldface are my emphasis – Deacon Paul Iacono].

Part Two of this Interview with Jamie Medeiros and Deacon Tom Lambert will soon follow. In it they provide additional insights into this wonderful model which can easily be applied in your setting. Come on, what are you waiting for?!! Call one of your friends or church members who is creative, approach the parish clergy for permission to use the church for one hour a week, apply their model and get started!

 Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

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 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 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 2: A Simple Step Into Prayer By St. Teresa of Avila

In our last post, The Artist as Contemplative – Part 1: The Proper Approach, we discussed the need to have the proper approach to prayer. One of the assumptions that I have is that if you are reading these posts you are a creative person. You may be an actual working artist, or, you may be attracted to art in one of the various forms it takes and are considering taking the first step in its exploration. Even if you are just beginning to explore a specific art form it is important for you to consider yourself an artist. This is not a fraudulent act. It is the perception of yourself as you truly are as a creation of God – a naturally creative person.

The Lord has made all of us creative beings, and regardless of our job or profession we should make time in our life to develop this creativity and allow it to be expressed. If we have no time for prayer and personal creative growth then we may be in a situation that is truly unhealthy for us. Our Sacred Scriptures tell us that our God is a jealous God – He specifically said that He wants “no other gods before Him” – that is a very sobering thought. So, quiet, prayer time – even if it is only thirty minutes a day – is critical to our spiritual, physical, and creative health.

If we make time for prayer, God’s grace and energy will cascade over into our creative life.  This is very important to artists, regardless of what media or medium we work in, since it demands that we focus our attention on one thing: talking to God in a natural way – talking to Him as we would talk to a close and intimate friend. 

This is difficult for many people. Childhood ignorance or anxieties may still be with us. There may have been bad influences from teachers, members of the clergy and religious life, and others (including, at times, parents) who took a limited view of prayer and taught a specific prayer style to the detriment of other approaches.

By remaining positive we see that a key idea in the prayer process is to remember that when we have a conversation with someone our intellect is remembering ideas and images. We are using those ideas and images in our actual conversation. This allows the conversation to proceed from one point to another and allows ideas or issues to be shared. This is also true in conversation – that is, our prayer – with God. Our intellect, memory, and silent conversation skills within our mind cooperate together to naturally express ourselves to God. Just like the story, in my preceding post, of the little girl receiving her first Holy Communion. She expressed her prayer to God in a natural manner, which made sense and allowed her to share the concerns or ideas with the Lord that were on her mind at that time. Her prayer was a perfect natural prayer.

In examining the teachings and prayer process of St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1585), the Spanish Carmelite, Father Peter Thomas Rohrbach, O.C.D. breaks her basic prayer technique into a simple step formula. He says the goal of prayerful meditation is conversation with Jesus. You achieve  this by engaging your visual memory  with a specific spiritual passage. This con-versation with Jesus about the passage moves to consideration of events within your own life. This process is actual conversation with Jesus in which He, like a good friend, is quietly listening to you.

St. Teresa of Avila (seen above in the portrayal by Gérard) is not promoting a prayer life which is filled with complexities, intellectual knots, and unnatural irritations, rather, she is presenting a style which reminds us of a wise old person who has no need of thinking about numerous paragraphs of words to say to God in prayer. The wise one enters their prayer time thinking about God, and specifically His Son, Jesus – the true icon (image) of God. They then allow their love of Him to take over – and fill the blessed silence of that present moment – not with many words – but with much love. You see this is the goal: to move from quiet conversation to quiet meditation – in love – of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty.

In my next post I will provide you with a meditation taught by St. Teresa of Avila. With  this Lenten meditation you should easily exercise your spiritual muscles. Also, it will help you take some time to reflect on St. Teresa of Avila’s approach and application to other moments in Jesus’ life and yours, too.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.  Thanks to avila.com for the image of St. Teresa of Avila by artist François Gérard (1770-1837).

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/

The Joy Filled Christian – A Sermon on Survival in the Face of Tribulation

Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “Rejoice!” The Church has us  visualize this by the rose colored candle in the Advent wreath and the rose colored vestments. Gaudete Sunday appears at the midpoint of the Advent season, and we pause to rejoice and reflect on the marvelous work of God and His plan of salvation for us.

Our readings show us Isaiah speaking of the splendid work of God – – St. Paul telling us to “give thanks and rejoice always,” not just in good times, but in all circumstances, and our Gospel describes St. John the Baptist testifying that the Light of the World would soon begin His ministry.

But today’s reading from St. Paul may have given you pause and trouble: you may say:  “You mean I’m to rejoice even if I have just lost my job, even if corporate and governmental corruption has destroyed my retirement income, even if I am mourning a deceased loved one, even if my husband, wife, or child is sick, or has abandoned me, or wants nothing to do with me?

Remarkably, St. Paul’s message is “Yes, give thanks, and rejoice!” 

Although, let’s be careful, he is not saying for us to put on blinders and act like Pollyanna. St. Paul knew what trouble was. He had plenty of trials to deal with, his letters to the various churches of Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy are filled with numerous personal problems and tribulations.

Yet, through all of that, he kept his vision focused firmly on Jesus. It was that mental memory of who Jesus was, what He preached, how He suffered and died; and the truth that was well known to St. Paul and many others 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 those Paul was persecuting, and to ask him to stop, and to follow Him as Lord.

It is this focus, this trust, this faith that enabled St. Paul to deal with his problems.  

It is this focus, this trust, this faith that enabled him to maintain joy in the knowledge that his eternal salvation was certain through faith in Jesus Christ.

St. Paul’s focus was on his eternal salvation through Jesus – not on the trials of this world.

But how does St. Paul keep his focus?

You see, Paul links the ability to possess sincere joy with praying; because joy is a gift from God. It comes to us through His grace – it is a specific fruit of the Holy Spirit.

So, joy enters our world when we humble ourselves to receive God’s grace and see the real meaning of our life as a child of God – when we look at our own fragility and brokenness – and realize that we are not able to survive without the help of God.

Joy will come into our life when we realize that survival depends on our developing a prayer filled and Sacramental relationship with Christ – which leads to our being sanctified by His grace. This relationship can only occur when we seriously view our prayer life – and Christ’s Sacraments – through the eyes of a trusting and knowledgeable child – rather than that of a worldly wise adult.

We must be humble enough to start with daily traditional prayer; however, there will come a moment in which these prayers move us into a dialogue, a conversation with our Lord, and this is the heart of prayer.  Saints Paul, John the Baptist, and Isaiah all spent time in deep conversation with God. It is through their prayer life that the gift of God’s joy was able to fill their hearts.

So on this Gaudete Sunday we remember that we are called to rejoice through prayer in the truth that, regardless of how dismal our personal circumstances, Jesus our Savior loves us – and will never abandon us.

Let us remember that our lives should be a testimony, not to sorrow, guilt, or fear, but to the mature trust and joy that delights in the knowledge that – by virtue of the saving power of Jesus Christ and His Sacramental grace – we are redeemed children of God, who with His grace and strength, can endure any tribulation.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The above is a sermon Deacon Paul O. Iacono gave at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island on the weekend of December 10/11, 2011 Scriptural references referred to in this, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, were from Isaiah 61: 1-2, 10-11; 1st Thessalonians. 5: 16-24;  John. 1: 6 -8, 19-28.