St. Athanasius – Coptic and Eastern Orthodox Icons

St. Athanasius of Alexandria was “the Lion” of the Council of Nicaea. He was instrumental in providing well argued testimony rebuking the heretic Arius during the Council’s debates. His verbal skills, as powerful and commanding as a lion, shredded Arius’ arguments. His eloquence convinced the assembled bishops of the correct dogma that Jesus Christ has two, separate and distinct, natures (divine and human), and that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. The heretic Arius insisted that Jesus was “just a creature” of God.

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A contemporary icon, completed in The Egyptian Christian Coptic style, of St. Athanasius of Alexandria standing on the back of the heretic Arius (seen in very dark colored clothing) at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). Athanasius is seen in front of the assembled bishops from the Eastern and Western Rites of the Catholic Church. He is holding the Council’s accepted conclusions in the document known as the Nicene Creed. Notice that he does not have a bishop’s mitre on his head similar to the bishops sitting in attendance behind him, and is dressed in what appears to be a deacon’s dalmatic with cape. The style of this sacred icon is very similar to the style of the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church’s sacred art; yet, the inscription above his head is in Greek rather than Coptic. Image found at churchofourladyofkazan.org; (thanks to them) throughWikipedia images.

The Council’s main purpose was to address the divine nature of Jesus Christ and the concept of HIs being the Son of God the Father. This had to be done in order to squash the Arian heresy once and for all. It was also to establish a date for the celebration of Easter, resolve organizational and clerical issues, and the development of Church law (what today is called Canon Law). They were also attempting  to settle a schism that had occurred in Egypt. That schism was being fomented by another bishop who had enlisted with the heretic Arius.

The Council was also tasked with development of a Christian Creed that would provide unity of belief for both the Eastern and Western Rites of the Church. This unity of belief was critical since the Church needed a formal set of beliefs  that could be used as a catechetical tool and a binder that kept all the cultural and geographical “Catholic” churches together.

The Council of Nicaea basically resolved all the main issues of its agenda. It was a stunning achievement. The priest Arius was banished for promoting heresy and his ideas declared anathema. Yet, the problem the Council still faced was convincing Arius’ followers of their heretical errors. Banishment or not, an unrepentant Arius continued to spread  his opinions fomenting confusion throughout the Empire.

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The above image is another example of a sacred icon, however, it is not completed in the Coptic style which originated in Egypt. It is an Eastern Orthodox icon (Greek, Russian, or one of the many other Eastern Rites of the Church), completed centuries after the Council ended in the summer of the year 325. It shows a non-heretical bishop castigating the heretic priest Arius (who is raising his hand in an attempt to stop the speaker). The bishop, because of his hat (mitre), appears to be labeled with Athanasius’ name found at the bottom); however, he is not clothed in a deacon’s dalmatic, nor did deacon’s wear that style of hat. It is believed that Athanasius was not ordained a priest and bishop until after the Council ended. The Emperor Constantine sits on the right dressed in imperial clothes and it may be surmised that it is Bishop Alexander of Alexandria (the bishop of Arius’ and Athanasius’ diocese) who sits to the immediate right of the Emperor.

The Eastern and Western Rites of the Catholic and Orthodox Church have always believed that sacred icons and sacred images are always venerated by the faithful; they have never and are never worshipped.To worship sacred icons, sacred images, statues, and other visual reminders of the glory of God and His saints is against the 1st Commandment (confer Exodus 20: 2-17, and Deuteronomy 5: 6 – 21). If anyone worshipped those visual images they would correctly be called idolaters. Worship is for God alone, that is, the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; Three Divine Persons in One God.

Our Savior Jesus Christ is One Person with two natures: human and divine; that is a state of being which is part of the great Mystery of the Incarnation of God into human existence.

Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, sacrificed in Jerusalem through His Passion, Crucifixion, and death. Jesus, following His Father’s will, suffered and died for us in order to atone for all of humanity’s sins (past, present, future). God the Father and God the Holy Spirit responded by raising Jesus from the dead on the third day, ultimately enabling Jesus to interact and be seen by His Apostles and hundreds of disciples.

Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Love, incarnate in our Savior.

Thanks for stopping by.

May you continue to have a prayerful Holy Week and a joyous Easter Season.

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:

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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.

 

 

 

St. Joseph’s Art Workshop: Lesson 4 – Applying Color and Modeling the Face

Just wanted to notify the people who are following the art lessons in my St. Joseph Art Workshop tab that I just published Lesson 4: Applying Color and Modeling the Face. You need to go to the Menu tab above and click on Lesson 4 to see it.

My next post in the St. Joseph’s Art Workshop tab will be Lesson 5. It will be the last post in my Art Exercise of Painting Sacred Images using Acrylic Paint. 

Thanks.

 

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.

 

Fra Angelico – The “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition – Part 1

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts is the only venue in America for the extraordinary “Fra Angelico: Heaven on Earth” exhibition. This amazing collection of reliquaries which express the life of the Virgin Mary, and other paintings of the greatest painter of the Early Renaissance, will be on display until this Sunday May 20th, 2018. Earlier incorrect media reports had the last day as May 28th.

I will be posting my photos of the Gardner Museum’s exhibit starting with this post and continuing on through the upcoming weeks and months. The exhibit consists of more than just the exquisite four reliquaries and it will be my pleasure to bring to you my photos of all of it. I am grateful to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for allowing me to take photographs of the exhibit.

I will proceed with the first photo showing the image that you see as you climb the stairs of the Museum to the second floor where the exhibit is located. That image is of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by angels as she ascends in a vortex-like movement, toward God the Father. The reliquary containing the complete image was acquired by Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1899. This is the first time in history that all four reliquaries are reunited since they were split up and acquired by collectors and museums around the world.

My wife and I were privileged to visit the Museum and exhibition last week. Words cannot describe the restored reliquaries and paintings in this display.  I am not embarrassed to say that at one point I was choked up with emotion as to the beauty, technical skill, narrative brilliance in explaining Sacred Scripture, and the theological depth that Fra Angelico expressed in these sacred images.

Beato Fra Angelico (birth name Guido di Pietro) was a Dominican friar and known by his religious name as Brother John of Fiesole. The first historical record of Fra Angelico as a painter is the 1418 record of payment for a painting commissioned by the church of Santo Stefano al Ponte in Florence. Fra Angelico is believed to have been born in the late 1390’s and died in 1455. He is buried in Rome at the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. He was beatified (beato) by Pope Saint John Paul 2 on October 3, 1982, and in 1984 the Pope declared that Fra Angelico was the patron of Catholic artists (that is why I named this blog after him). Beato Fra Angelico’s feast day is celebrated every year on February 18th.

As you come up the stairs  leading to the second floor of the Museum and turn the corner you first see an enlarged version of Fra Angelico’s Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin located below. This image is showcased because it is found within the reliquary acquired by Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1899.

Adj ASSUMPTION FRA A.

This enlarged version of the Virgin Mary is found within the reliquary, and is its centerpiece, seen below.Dormition and Assumption

The above outer frame and base, which contains Fra Angelico’s painting, is known as a   reliquary. A reliquary is a container which holds the relics (bones, hair, etc) of deceased holy people or declared saints of the Roman Catholic Church. The reliquary allows the faithful to venerate, not worship, the life, deeds, and mortal remains of the person whose relics it contains. Fra Angelico painted the four reliquaries’ images specifically for the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence between the years 1424 through 1434 The painting is rendered in egg tempera, oil glazes, and gold. It is simply stunning.

There is another separate painting in the exhibit which concentrates just on the dormition of the Virgin Mary. I will show that to you in the next post.

The “Heaven on Earth” exhibition is made possible with the support, in part, by the Robert Lehman Foundation and the Massachusetts Cultural Council (the Council receives its funding from the State of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts). The media sponsor is WBUR in Boston. The Museum’s Executive Director, chief conservator, curators, conservators, and support staff brilliantly provided the technical expertise and planning for this exhibit. The companion book, edited by Dr. Nathaniel Silver (with contributions by more than ten experts) is also very well done and a worthy addition to your library.

Photos and text © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018. Thanks again to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for this beautiful exhibit and enabling the public to enjoy, be edified, and to take photos of it.

St. Joseph the Worker and Sacred Artists

Today, May 1, is the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker. I chose him to be the patron of St. Joseph’s Art Workshop (found within this site’s Menu Tab at the top of the page) because he is, of all the saints, the most important next to Our Blessed Mother. He was a righteous man (in the finest sense of that spiritual word), a devout and very prayerful Jew, a carpenter, the beloved spouse of our Blessed Mother, and the foster father of Jesus Christ. Today we honor him as a worker. A worker in the professional sense and a worker in God’s vineyard.

Saint Joseph provides us with a model for some of the attributes that all Catholic artists should cultivate: the proper use of time, patience in learning the techniques and meaning of our work, and the daily work itself – making a prayerful commitment to find some time during the day to learn something new about sacred art and practicing the skills necessary for its proper construction.

You will find below a few of the phrases, prayers, and Scripture readings from today’s Divine Office (the Liturgy of the Hours) for the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker.

Come let us worship Christ the Lord who was honored to be known as the son of a carpenter.

God made him the master of His household, alleluia, alleluia. He gave him charge over all His possessions. 

Saint Joseph faithfully practiced the carpenter’s trade. He is a shining example for all workers, alleluia. 

A reading from the letter of Paul to the Colossians (3: 23-24):  Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord rather than for men, since you know full well you will receive an inheritance from Him as your reward. Be slaves of Christ the Lord.     

The just man shall blossom like the lily, alleluia, alleluia.

All-holy Father, you revealed to Saint Joseph Your eternal plan of salvation in Christ, deepen our understanding of Your Son, true God and true man.

God of all righteousness, You want us all to be like You, may Saint Joseph inspire us to walk always in Your way of holiness. 

God our Father, creator and ruler of the universe, in every age you call man to develop and use his gifts for the good of others. With Saint Joseph as our example and guide, help us to do the work You have asked and come to the rewards You have promised. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Saint Joseph, please pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Stained glass image of St. Joseph with the Child Jesus

May 1, 2018

© Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018

St. Michael and the Archangels

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On this day, September 29th, the Western Rite of the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast Day of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael (the Eastern Rite celebrates it on either November 8th or 21st depending whether or not they use the Gregorian calendar).

Pope St. Gregory the Great (AD 540 – 604) mentions in one of his homilies: “You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.”

Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, as angelic spirits, have no gender; and are designated saints by the Western Rite and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church as a result of their special status as messengers of God. We discover this in Holy Scripture (specifically the books of,  Genesis 28: 12-13, Daniel  9: 22-23, Tobit 12: 15,18,20, Luke 1: 26-56, the Epistle of Jude 1: 9, and Revelation 12: 1-17). The designation “saint” also refers to their ability to intercede for the people of God at the throne of God. The Western and Eastern Rites do not worship the angels or the saints. Worship is relegated to God alone – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The angels and the saints are venerated – offered great respect – but never worshipped. 

I painted the above sacred image of St. Michael a number of years ago. Instead of inserting the typical military shield that is associated with this archangel, I inserted a representation of the Holy Eucharist. The Western and Eastern Rites believe that a validly ordained priest, upon saying the words of consecration during the Holy Mass, through the sacred power of his ordination to the priesthood, converts the substance of the bread and wine into the true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Worthy reception of the Eucharist (meaning the recipient is not in the state of Mortal Sin) enables the recipient to be transformed into the life of Christ.  Christ’s life strengthens us in our daily spiritual battle. Thus, St. Michael is holding the Eucharist as a representation that Jesus Christ, in the Holy Eucharist, is our shield – our true defense – against the wiles of Satan. The Holy Eucharist has embossed upon it IC, XC which is the Greek abbreviation for Jesus Christ, and the letters NI KA (Nika), represent the Greek word or phrase, “victory,” or, “our victor”). You will notice that the blue lower wings are in a different position. The blue wings on the left of the image are slightly elevated.  I painted it this way to  emphasize the truth that St. Michael is always here to assist us in our spiritual battle. He is always ready to move, to “fly” to our aid and intercede for us. Pope Leo XIII reminds us in his famous exorcism prayer to St. Michael, that Michael helps us when we sincerely call upon him at times of sinful temptation.

St. Michael in the iconography of the Church is always represented with a shield. The shield may say “Who is like God?,” which was his response to Lucifer when the latter attempted to storm the throne of Heaven. St. Michael brings us the message that evil, sin, and the demons are real. We are in the midst of a spiritual war; but God is victorious and has given His Church – His people – the help that it needs through the Holy Scriptures, the Incarnation and Redemption, and the seven Holy Sacraments.

St. Gabriel’s message to us is that God loves His creation so much that He desires to enter into it, to redeem it, and provide for its salvation; however, He will not force Himself on humanity, and needed the young virgin Mary’s consent in order for this to take place   (refer to Luke 1: 26-56 for the account of the Annunciation). The name Gabriel means “the Strength of God.” He is God’s major “ambassador” – the angelic representative of God to humanity.  You can see this in Fra Angelico’s beautiful painting at the very top of this site’s masthead which represents him in a majestic and very dignified manner. Church tradition believes that he is the angel that also announced the good news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, prior to Jesus’ birth comforted St. Joseph upon his hearing of Mary’s pregnancy, and consoled Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

St. Raphael’s message is that God heals us. He is found specifically in the Old Testament book of Tobit healing and ministering to humans. His name means “Medicine of God.” He cured Tobias, defended Sara, and assisted a young man on his pilgrimage with advice and companionship.

One of my former pastor’s, Father Nicholas Smith, mentioned in one of his morning homilies that the angels are here “to defend, serve, and help us. They are part of God’s family, and therefore, a part of ours.” These are beautiful words of comfort and consolation. Through our baptism we are members of God’s family, but until Father Smith’s homily, I never realized that the angels are part of our family, too!

May these three Holy Archangels help us this day, and every day, in assisting  us on our path to God.

(Besides the Holy Scriptures listed above, I recommend a book entitled: St. Michael and the Angels, published in 1983 by TAN Books, it is filled with approved and scholarly sources on the nine choirs of angels).

(My sacred images and essays copyright 2009-2017, Deacon Paul O. Iacono)

 

 

 

 

The Gospel of John 1:35-42 – An Invitation to Follow Jesus

In our Gospel today we hear John the Baptist proclaim “Behold the Lamb of God.”

We see in our mind’s eye, Andrew and another disciple, probably St. John, listening to the Baptist say those words.

Immediately after Jesus walks by they look at one another and, without saying a word, begin to follow Jesus.

Jesus, sensing their presence, turns and seeing them says,

“What are you looking for?”

They say: “Rabbi where do you live?”

They didn’t presume to say, “Rabbi we want to be your companions – we want to learn from you.” Rather they instinctually knew that this man, whom John the Baptist had proclaimed “The Lamb of God,” was the Lamb of God – the promised Messiah; and they wanted to be with Him.

In what must have been an astonishing moment for them, Jesus in turn says, “Come, and you will see.”

What did they see in those three years they spent with Him? That is what John believed he had to write down.

Those three years, and then the following years of John’s own ministry, had to be written down.

Two thousand years later we experience his excitement in the short clips of his memory as we read the significant facts and unique moments of what he experienced.

For in those facts and moments are contained the unique vision of John’s Gospel and Epistles.

They proclaim his experience of the truth that the Word of God – the Mind of God – was incarnated into the man Jesus, the Son of God.

This was done so that the Father could fully express the meaning of His love and His desire to share that love with His creation.

“Rabbi, where do you live?”

“Come and you will see.”

But this is the 21st century; and many of us do not hear the call of God to “Come and see.”

Maybe Jesus is calling to us and we are too distracted, or hurt, or swallowed up by life’s events; or maybe we don’t know how to see or listen to His message, or are just not listening at all.

But the message of this Gospel is that Jesus’ call – His invitation – is always open.

He invites us, like Andrew and John, to join Him for the afternoon and share a simple meal of bread and wine.

He invites us to be baptised into His family so we can receive the many gifts He desires to give us.

He invites us to know His laughter and joy; and He invites us to suffer with Him by knowing loneliness, sickness, heartache, and loss.

“Rabbi, where do you live?”

“Come and you will see.”

Our imagination can visualize a small Hebrew home, with a low doorway so large animals would not wander in.

IEC-exhibition

We can imagine that this is where Jesus lived: in a small but adequate house on a simple Hebrew street.

Jesus, and any visitors, would have to bend down to get through the door.

We are asked to bend down, too.

We are to lower ourselves in humility, patience, reconciliation, and love.

For how are we to live with the Creator of the Universe if we, in the light of the One who loves us, are unwilling to honestly look at our own souls, ask for the forgiveness of our sins, and implore His mercy?

Ultimately, we respond to Jesus’ call by inviting Him into our heart. For that is where He truly wants to live, and rest, and share a simple meal of bread and wine.

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The above post is my homily for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. Year B. I delivered this homily at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island on January 18. 2015 at the 8 AM and 10 AM Masses. It was updated on January 11, 2019.  Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved  Thanks to the blog Clerical Whispers for the photograph of a typical Hebrew street scene. Their site can be located at: http://clericalwhispers.blogspot.com/2012/05/exhibition-recreates-gospel-village-for.html

 

The Way of Beauty On-Line Course and Reimbursement Scholarship Opportunities

The mission of the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts is to teach the truth, goodness, and beauty of God through the prayerful creation of sacred art.

We are happy to announce that we have recently entered into a partnership with Thomas More College of Liberal Arts to present a wonderful on-line course to anyone interested in Catholic Culture and the sacred art of the Church. We also have a special opportunity for teachers of history, art, religion, and the humanities in Catholic high schools of the Diocese of Providence who complete this course.

Thomas More College of Liberal Arts is offering an on-line course entitled The Way of Beauty. This course has been designed by David Clayton and is being successfully implemented at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. David is an Oxford University graduate, sacred artist, published author and broadcaster, and holds the position of Artist-in-Residence and lecturer in Liberal Arts at the College. David is passionate about Catholic art and music, the forms it has taken through the centuries, and the reinvigoration of Catholic culture. David’s blog can be found at www.thewayofbeauty.org.

As stated on the College website the Way of Beauty course “focuses on what shapes a Catholic culture and what makes it beautiful. It discusses the general connection between worship, culture and beauty particularly through the prism of visual art. The course program consists of a 13 episode video series and an e-book written by David Clayton. This book is only available to those who take this course. Participants who complete the on-line program are eligible to receive 25 hours of Continuing Education Units endorsed by Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The College is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Time spent in this program may also be able to be used towards later college credit offerings.” The cost of the on-line course is $99.00.

For the 2014-2015 academic year, The Fra Angelico Institute will provide reimbursement scholarships, through a competitive selection process, to Diocese of Providence high school teachers who enroll and complete the Way of Beauty on-line course.

In an attempt to provide a competitive atmosphere among the teachers, The Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts will provide a total of five reimbursement scholarships, one per high school, to Catholic high school teachers with the best implementation process.

In order to enter the competition to receive the reimbursement scholarship an interested Diocesan teacher will:

1) Notify the Fra Angelico Institute of their interest through our email at frainstitute@cox.net.

2) Formally register by clicking on the tab and following the prompts for the On-Line Course through www.thewayofbeauty.org.

3) Through the teacher’s personal Google account, participate in the program which consists of 13 on-line videos (approximately 30 minutes apiece) produced in association with Catholic TV.

4) Read the e-book – The Way of Beauty: Liturgy, Education, Art, and Inspiration. This e-book has been written exclusively for this course.

5) Submit on school stationary a statement from the teacher that the course has been completed, a one-page summary of how the course will be actually implemented in their curriculum, and one or two suggestions on how the course may be improved.

6) Submit a letter from the principal of their high school stating that they support the teacher in their desire to implement the goals of this course.

Using the US Postal System, these documents should be mailed to: Deacon Paul Iacono, Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts, St. Francis of Assisi Church, 114 High Street, Wakefield, RI 02879.

We hope you enjoy the course and best wishes to the teachers who compete for the reimbursement scholarships!

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.

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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.

PREPARE! Bruno Mars in Light of Matthew 5: 13-16

If you had the opportunity to watch the Super Bowl half-time show last weekend you saw that there were a number of symbolic messages that were being sent by the producers and main performer of the show; interestingly, variations on these messages continued to be sent throughout the game in the form of the commercials.

The singer Bruno Mars’ half-time performance sent one specific message – one specific word – that flashed three times behind him at the beginning of his act, the word was: prepare.

Prepare. But prepare for what?

The verb prepare in and of itself, is a neutral word. It means to “to make someone or something ready.” A negative intonation on that word might carry the meaning that we are to prepare for a terrorist attack, war,  plague, the collapse of the dollar, or increased government dysfunction.

But our concern here is about our Catholic identity and even though much of the world has either turned against Christianity or is indifferent to it, let’s look on the positive side, and say that we are to prepare for something good, something holy, even if, in the process, we might become uncomfortable.

Only the producers know the answer as to why the message to “prepare” was used so often during some of the Super Bowl commercials and half-time show; yet, does its presence last Sunday, in the light of this Sunday’s Scriptures, carry a message for us now?

Figuratively when we chew on the hearty meal that is our Holy Scripture we experience personalities called by God, who at first, are reluctant to prepare and respond to His call.

For example, Moses tells God that he is frightened to speak to the people. The prophet Isaiah humbly tells the Lord that impure speech has passed his lips and this makes him unfit to be His prophet. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, bluntly says that she is too old and tired to have a child; and Peter confesses that he is just too sinful. In Sunday’s Epistle, Paul declares to the Corinthians that he came to their sophisticated audiences with “weakness, fear, and much trembling.

To their credit all of these people ultimately prepared and responded with a sense of hope and trust. From their witness we learn that nothing is impossible with God; for He takes ordinary people and, through His grace and their prayerful preparation, transforms them into His salt, light, and lampstand. He does this so that His disciples may enhance the bland flavor of today’s society and preserve and penetrate it with the richness of Christ’s message, thereby becoming a welcomed light that guides people on their spiritual journey.

So the challenge of Sunday’s Gospel is “Do we exclude ourselves from the promise of discipleship because of our lack of preparation?”

Now, you could say “Well let the ordained clergy do it: the deacon, the priest, the bishop. Or, let the brotherhood or sisterhood do it, because I’m just too busy or I’m not “called” in a formal way.” But if we hold that attitude we are ignoring the grace of our Baptism and Confirmation, we are rejecting the truth that we are all called and gifted.

Now what does preparation entail? It demands that we pray and continuously use the Sacraments available to us, especially Reconciliation, so that grace may transform us into disciples that are the salt of the earth.

Isaiah reminds us today, “to share our bread, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, and clothe the naked when you see them.”  He clearly tells us “Do not turn your back on your own.”  But important as that work is, we are not called to be just a Church of social workers. We are called to be a holy Church, a pure Church, a prayerfully prepared Church that responds to the Redemptive act of Jesus’ life so that our family and friends will be transformed, through God’s grace and our efforts, into fellow disciples of Christ.

As we begin thinking about the Lenten season, let us double our efforts this year to be prayerfully prepared for whatever may happen, and with confidence put our fear, weakness, and trepidation aside and give glory to Our Heavenly Father, by radiating the love and truth of Jesus to those around us.

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Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono.  All Rights Reserved. Photo courtesy of: Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio (from his Facebook Timeline Photos).

Baptism, Discipleship, and the Art of Lorenzo Lotto

In our Gospel last week we stood at the banks of the Jordan River and witnessed Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Today we hear John announce to all that the Spirit of God rests upon Jesus who is described as the Lamb of God and the Light of the World. John goes on to say that Jesus is not an angel, a prophet, nor a magician; rather, He is the incarnate Son of the Most High God. John reminds us that as the “Lamb of God” Jesus has a specific mission. His role is to teach and preach, and most importantly, it is to heal, and that healing can only occur through sacrificial service – specifically through the sacrifice of His own blood.

We are just one month past the celebration of the birth of Jesus and today our Gospel reminds us of the purpose of His mission.

Five hundred years ago a beautiful painting was completed by the Italian artist Lorenzo Lotto entitled the Nativity of Christ. Lotto presents the typical stable scene, yet, his spiritual insight focuses on one specific artistic touch: he places on the wall behind a kneeling St. Joseph the image of a crucifix with the body of Christ emanating a beautiful glowing light that spills out onto the wood of the cross and the stable itself.

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To my knowledge, Lotto’s innovation was the first time such an insight had been seen in Western art, but its originality is emphasized by the fact that your eye naturally moves from the crucifix, through the eyes of Joseph and Mary, and then down to the open arms of Jesus. Here as an infant, on the wood of the manger, He freely opened His arms to Mary and Joseph; and as an adult carpenter, He freely laid Himself down upon the wood of the Cross, to be sacrificed in an open embrace of love for all.

The challenge of this Gospel is that Christ offers us, as His disciples, the model of sacrificial service. No matter who you are, or what your age or station in life, you can perform sacrificial service to those around you. But it must be offered in the same redemptive spirit that Christ offered His service: with spiritual love and compassion for the souls of those in need. By virtue of our own Baptism we are all called to serve others as Christ has served us. You may be a mother or father caring for children or elderly parents – this care, if offered in the spirit of Christ – is sacrificial service. You may be a sacred artist, laboring quietly and prayerfully to create beautiful images that will assist yourself and others in prayer. This creative labor is sacrificial service.

You may be a child or teenager that courageously doesn’t participate in the bullying of another and comforts the one injured – if offered in the spirit of Christ – this is sacrificial service. You may be an adult – sick or aching from the pain of years of courageous work for your family or on behalf of the Church’s needs, such as supporting the pro-life movement or other social and moral justice issues. You see, if in prayer – you offer up your pain and efforts for souls in need – this is Christ-like, redemptive, sacrificial service. So as we offer sacrificial service on behalf of others, we turn our mind to God and place ourselves in His presence. This presence is a moment of prayer for us.

Allow me to make a recommendation: when we offer sacrificial service we should say the first verse of Psalm 70, which says, “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me.” By saying this prayer, awareness of our Baptismal discipleship takes root. For it is in that short verse that we successfully unite ourselves to Jesus in the Jordan River, and like Him, receive grace from the Father to continue our mission, even if it ends up on Calvary.

As we travel through the dark days of winter, let us not forget that the Light of Christ is always present to us, and that Jesus’ arms will always remain open to patiently help us as we serve others.

God come to our assistance. Lord, make haste to help us.

***The above homily will be delivered by me at St. Romuald Chapel at 10 AM, and Noon at St. Francis of Assisi Church, South Kingstown, Rhode Island, USA on Sunday January 19, 2014. Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Notes on the Painting: Lorenzo Lotto’s Nativity of Christ was completed in 1523. It is painted in oil on wood, and is presently in The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Mary and Joseph’s “Yes” – The Risk of an Open Heart

Our Gospel today (4th Sunday of Advent, Matthew 1: 18-24)) provides us with the story of a young couple, Mary and Joseph, who through their pondering of God’s request for understanding and trust provide humanity with the opportunity for divine Redemption. It is in their collective “Yes” to the angel’s request, that God’s plan could be fulfilled. His strategy for humanity’s Redemption was patiently planned and executed. It was a plan, seen in the Holy Scriptures, that shows Him searching for His broken human family, seeking ways in which He can communicate His desire for love and friendship.

God is very methodical in His attempts to search for His lost children. The first question ever asked in Holy Scripture is found in the book of Genesis. It is there that God asks the question: “Where are you?” He asks of the first family, Adam and Eve, “Where are you hiding?”  We know that they were hiding because of their sin; because of their collective “No” to God’s request of them to stay away from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

With their sinful actions, God set into motion His plan for our Redemption – a plan that ultimately saw His entrance into human history to teach, heal, and redeem it from the sins of our spiritual parents. At the birth of Christ, the seven hundred year old messianic prophecies of Isaiah became a historic reality; and on a yearly basis, we celebrate that moment at Christmas.

But today we also need, in light of our Gospel, to pause and rejoice in remembrance of Mary and Joseph’s courage and willingness to say, “Yes,” to God. We need to consider that their “Yes” was not a simple act – it contained enormous risks since Mary’s circumstances after that “Yes” were at the very least – precarious.

She was a young woman, probably in her mid teens, engaged to be married, and is suddenly pregnant, not from the man she loves, but, by an unseen Holy Spirit of God; moreover, what about Joseph? He was a successful carpenter in Nazareth who had fallen deeply in love with Mary, was publicly betrothed and ready to live a happy life with her. Then the news: “I’m pregnant.” As a result under Jewish law, Mary faced a public humiliation and stoning and Joseph, stunned and confused, faced feelings of betrayal, pain, and anger. Understandably, at first, he is not ready to say “yes” to Mary and her story of divine intervention, there are few men that would.

But through divine intercession you have God, through His angel, making another request:

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“Joseph, Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” With Joseph’s “Yes,” to this request his pain and anger subside and are replaced with a joyful nurturing spirit that enables him to take leadership of the situation and begin acting as a faith-filled stepfather. So the collective “No” by our spiritual parents Adam and Eve, is now trumped by the collective “Yes” of the first Christian family: Mary and Joseph.

Now it may be hard for us to relate to this Gospel. Our lives may be filled with anger, worry, family resentments, and disappointments. We may conclude that this story really doesn’t relate to us because the sharp axe of pain and frustration has severed the roots of our own sense of joy, hope, and love. If that is our dilemma, we must call out to God for His direction and try to remember, that in this Christmas season we can, with His help, change our focus. We can say, maybe for the first time with maturity, “Yes” to God and His call to us. You see the story of Mary and Joseph and the Christ child is absolutely relevant. For the angel’s request to Joseph of “Be not afraid” applies to us, too.

The request of  “Be not afraid” involves many different opportunities: the opportunity of forgiving others who have hurt us; or confronting our own sinfulness and unburdening ourselves of our sins, or the opportunity of being a person who desires to seriously investigate their faith and explore the reasons why we believe.

You see all of this involves the same risk that Mary and Joseph experienced: the risk of exposing our mind, heart, and soul to God’s love and allowing Jesus, through His sacramental grace, to be joyfully born into our own hearts and to give us the courage to truly live as a Catholic Christian.

So my brothers and sisters, as we make our final preparations for the celebration of Christmas, let us make every effort to imitate Mary and Joseph by saying “Yes” to God’s call, and in so doing, open the doors of our own hearts to provide a loving home for the Lord.

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Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. This is a homily that Deacon Paul O. Iacono delivered at the 8 and 10 AM Masses at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island USA on Sunday December 22, 2013. Information on the painting: This painting was completed by Gaetano Gandolfi (1734 – 1802). It is entitled Joseph’s Dream, is oil on canvas, and is approximately 37 inches high by 30 inches wide. It was completed in 1790.  Information on the mosaic: Detail of the apse mosaic in the St Joseph’s chapel of Westminster Cathedral. It was installed in 2003, and the designer is Christopher Hobbs who worked with mosaic artist, Tessa Hunkin. – See more at: http://elmiradominicans.blogspot.com/2011/12/holy-family-of-jesus-mary-and-joseph.html#sthash.vVewiGgP.dpuf

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.

Roger of Helmarshausen O.S.B. – Theophilus the Presbyter: Part 3 – The Prologues

Last February, in Parts 1 and 2 of this article, I shared with you some thoughts on an important figure in the history of Western European art: the Benedictine monk, Roger of Helmarshausen, also known by his pen name, Theophilus the Presbyter.

Dom Roger was born in the late 11th century during a dramatic time in Western European history. In 1066 the Normans successfully invaded England and defeated the Saxons, which forever changed the history of England and the Continent. In 1084, St. Bruno founded the Carthusian Order in France, and in 1098 the foundation monastery of Citeaux saw the beginning of the Cistercian Order.

In 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade in an attempt to restore Christianity to the Holy Land. In 1115, St. Bernard became the abbot of the monastery of Clairvaux; and remained its abbot until his death in 1153. In 1120 we have the extraordinary sculptor Gislebertus working on the tympanum of Autun Cathedral in the Burgundy region of eastern France, and in 1150 we have Abbot Suger beginning the rebuilding of the abbey-church of St. Denis in Paris, which ushers in the beautiful Gothic period in Western art and architecture.

It is within this dynamic and exciting environment of the early 12th century that the Benedictine monk, Roger of Helmarshausen (considered by many, but not all scholars, to be Theophilus the Presbyter) compiles and writes his important manuscript De diversis artibus (On Divers Arts), also known as Schedula diversarum artium, or simply the Schedula. His book contains three chapters of which only one (the most extensive and detailed) deals with metallurgy, the other two deal with painting and the making of stained glass.

Many scholars believe that On Divers Arts was written/compiled between the years 1100 and 1140. Besides its importance as a medieval artistic treatise, On Diverse Arts is known as containing the first very early description of oil paint, thus, conclusively proving Georgio Vasari (1511-74) was mistaken in claiming that the van Ecyk’s were the first to develop the use of painting in oils.

Dom Roger’s artistic skills revolved around metallurgy, specifically in the crafting of exquisite gold and silver liturgical furnishings, an example of which can be seen in the image below of a Portable Altar, c. 1120, Oak box, clad in partly gilded silver, feet of gilded bronze, 165 x 345 x 212 mm (approx. 6.6 by 13.6 by 8 inches), found in the Cathedral of Paderborn, Germany.

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Dom Roger’s contributions to the understanding of late 11th and early 12th century Western European sacred art are so numerous as to be out of the purview of this post to catalogue them all. My goal today is to mention how specifically a contemporary sacred artist in the Western Tradition could benefit in reading his book On Diverse Arts.

This is my main point: if a sacred artist picks up Dom Roger’s book and quickly scans through the Prologues to each of the three chapters in the book they will miss the entire point of what he was trying to accomplish. It is a book that requires the reader to view its contents not as another medieval manuscript of pigment recipes or the social anthropology of a highly skilled 12th century artist. Clearly, Dom Roger is inviting us into his working world and the spiritual perception of the application of prayer to work, which is true to the motto of his Benedictine Order: Ora et Labora.

Each of the three prologues discusses the development of specific spiritual values in relation to the sacred art (painting, glass making, or metalworking) the student is pursuing. There is a progression through different skills and obstacles that the student must master in order to reach the heights of individual artistry.

St. John Climacus and other Patristic Fathers in discussing a soul’s spiritual journey speak of a similar progression up the “ladder of ascent” to the Godhead and spiritual union with God. The soul’s journey is fraught with problems and obstacles, yet, those souls that persevere are rewarded for their efforts. Dr. Heidi Gearhart, presently of Harvard University, also speaks of this idea in her research on Dom Roger when she identifies the intention that he is interested in a progression forward, an ascent, through different and more complex art forms to the pinnacle (in his mind) of artistry – which is Dom Roger’s own specialty: the art of gold, silver, and bronze metal work.

The First Prologue to the chapter on painting emphasizes the need for the sacred artist to be humble in his/her approach, they should not neglect the wisdom of the past, nor should they be idle or selfish with the artistic gifts they have received. They have the duty to pass on to their receptive students the wisdom of the arts that they have been given by God, and have gained through study, and experience; and lastly, your art should always give glory to God and to His holy name.

In the Second Prologue, which is the preface to the chapter on glass making, we read that Dom Roger is emphasizing his adherence to the guidance of Holy Wisdom. In a passage of mystical quality he says “I drew near to the forecourt of holy Wisdom and I saw the sanctuary filled with a variety of all kinds of differing colors, displaying the utility and nature of each pigment…” He goes on to say that he can accomplish superior effects through the use of glass alone, thus, “without repelling the daylight and the rays of the sun.”  We wonder whether Abbot Suger in Paris was familiar with Dom Roger’s experiments with glass prior to or during his renovation of the abbey church of St. Denis – the precursor of French Gothic churches.

The Third, and last, Prologue, the preface to the art of metal work, takes us into the recesses of Dom Roger’s soul, for in this preface he is stressing that the Holy Spirit bestows on the sacred artist the grace of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. These Seven Gifts: Fear of the Lord (which means that we do not desire or act to offend God in any way), Understanding, Counsel (Spiritual Prudence), Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Wisdom have been given to us through the compassion of God. These Gifts are given to the artist who sincerely desires them through the Sacraments of the Church, sincere prayer, and activity, which acknowledges the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. The sacred artist should always be open to cooperate with the grace of God. Dom Roger implores his students to understand that their work should reflect the truth that it is executed under the authority, direction, and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Dom Roger’s perspective is solidly within the Benedictine tradition of attempting to live within a state of spiritual wisdom, and to transfer that wisdom, through teaching and practical workshop application, to another generation of monk/artists. Humility, creative technique, investigation, silence, prayer – listening to Holy Wisdom – enable him to succeed at his art.

His approach is to remain true to his spiritual values as a Benedictine. He recognizes the absolute significance of the role that the Holy Spirit plays in assisting, molding, and inspiring the artist in his or her efforts to create artworks which give glory to God and to share their knowledge with those who are willing to learn.

My next post on this subject will present a brief overview of some salient research by an outstanding scholar of this period of European art history: Dr. Heidi Gearhart of Harvard University.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved         The quotations are taken from the John G. Hawthorne and Cyril S. Smith translation from the Latin of Theophilus’ On Divers Arts, published by Dover Publications, New York, 1979.

Pope Benedict 16th and the Virtues of Humility and Patience

May the Peace of Christ be with you on this unique day in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
Today we commemorate the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes which reminds us that the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858 at Lourdes, France. Her message was clear and concise to the young Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” She requested Bernadette to tell the local clergy that a church should be built on the site of the apparition so that the sick and suffering might come to find comfort, and healing of both body and soul.
A beautiful church was built, and on a yearly basis hundreds of thousands of people  come to Lourdes to be in prayerful union with the suffering Christ and His Immaculate Mother.
In 1992 Pope John Paul 2nd declared this day as the “World Day of the Sick.” He said that this day was to be a “special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church, and of reminding us to see in our sick brothers and sisters the face of Christ, who, by suffering, dying, and rising, achieved the salvation of humankind.”
John Paul 2 in his later years provided a great witness to the nobility of the elderly since he modeled for us the suffering Christ. His successor and close friend, Pope Benedict 16th, has also given us the witness of a man who silently suffered many troubles while valiantly leading the Church and protecting its traditions and spiritual truths.
With the news this morning of Pope Benedict’s announcement of his planned resignation on February 28th the Church has entered a transitional period which has not occurred since Pope Gregory 12th resigned the papacy in 1415.
What does this tell us?
It tells us that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Holy Catholic Church. Christ is the Head of the Church and we, faith-filled clergy and laity, are its Body.
The papacy, originating with St. Peter, has provided the Church with the leadership that was and is required in any continually maturing and growing institution.
The papacy has, at times, been on a roller coaster ride of popularity, yet, throughout the two thousand years of its history it has never done anything to confuse or limit the truths found in the revealed word of God or the Traditional faith and moral teachings of the Church itself.
People may like the personality or find the historical stance or perception of one pope more acceptable than another, yet, if one truly looks at the history of the papacy, without the proverbial axe to grind, you find an institution based in the humanity of Jesus Christ giving Peter “the Keys to the Kingdom” (Matthew 16: 13-20) and which continues to be guided and protected by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
That wisdom guided, and continues to guide, Pope Benedict 16th, for his decision to resign his office speaks volumes about his understanding of the virtues of humility and patience. Humility, in that he understands that owing to his age and physical condition, it is right to turn over the chair of Peter to another man; and patience, in that he knows (and lovingly trusts) that the Holy Spirit will patiently guide the Cardinals to select a new pope who will continue to lead the Church with love and fidelity to Christ and His teachings.
We wish Pope Benedict 16th well and pray for the continued blessings of the Holy Trinity to be with him. We thank him for his great gifts of teaching, scholarship, and leadership to the Church over the long history of his service to us as deacon, priest, bishop, cardinal, and pope.
We must continue to remember him in our prayers.
The Catholic League for Civil Rights
http://www.catholicleague.org/ just posted a wonderful summary of the Legacy of Pope Benedict 16th, I have reposted it below for your edification.

Pope’s Legacy is Secure

February 11, 2013

“Bill Donohue offers seven good reasons why the pope’s legacy is secure:

Religion for Pope Benedict XVI is as much a public issue as it is a private one.

In 2008, he warned American bishops against “the subtle influence of secularism,” holding that “any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted.”

The pope made it clear that religious freedom was not only a God-given right, it was “the path to peace.”

He knew religion could be abused, leading even to violence. His much misunderstood 2006 Regensburg University lecture was really about the uncoupling of religion from reason (reason not united to faith also leads to violence).

The pope reached out to dissidents on the right and the left, seeking to bring them to communion. Not all his efforts succeeded, but his attempts were noble.

No one did more to successfully address the problem of priestly sexual abuse than Joseph Ratzinger. Just weeks before he was chosen to be the new pope, he spoke bluntly about this issue: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Him!”

Addressing those who still blame Jews for the death of Christ, the pope settled the issue with authority by pointing out that no one should be blamed since, as he argued, the crucifixion was necessary for God’s plan of universal redemption.

The pope’s many references to what he called “the dictatorship of relativism” were a constant reminder that one of the greatest threats to freedom today is the abandonment of the search for truth.

Pope Benedict XVI’s willingness to step aside comes as a surprise this Monday morning. What is not surprising is his humility. Indeed, it is one of his most defining characteristics, one that separates him from today’s ego-centric public figures.”

Copyright © 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

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.

419px-'St-1._Lucy',_painting_by_Jacopo_del_Casentino_and_assistant,_c._1330,_El_Paso_Museum_of_Art

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.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross of Jesus

Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

During the first 280 years of its life the Catholic Church was severely persecuted. The symbol of the Cross, the symbol of public humiliation and excruciating death, was rarely used in our Christian iconography. But this doesn’t mean that the early Christians were reluctant to express their devotion to the Cross. Writing in the year 204, the Christian theologian Tertullian said: “At every going in and out, when we put on our clothes, when we sit at table, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign [of the Cross].”

In the year 313, the Emperor Constantine signed the Edict of Milan which proclaimed toleration for the Christian faith within the Roman Empire. Constantine’s mother, Helena, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and with the support of the local bishop, excavated the area known as the site of Golgotha.

Tradition states that portions of the true Cross, with a partial nameplate still attached was found, resulting in Constantine ordering that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher be built over the site. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the Cross placed inside it.

So the feast that we celebrate today marks the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the year 335. That Church was unfortunately destroyed by the Muslims in the year 1009, only to be rebuilt centuries later, with the new occupants, all Christians from different Rites of the Catholic Church, vying for control of the site.

Unfortunately, even among our brother Christian Churches – Orthodox, Latin, Ethiopian, Coptic, there have been numerous clashes and conflicts over the control of the site. It is as if these guardians of the Church had not internalized the meaning of the true Cross, the meaning of what happened on that site 2000 years ago, the meaning of the supreme sacrifice of God’s love.

Our Holy Scriptures tell us that Moses lifted up the bronze serpent, a sign of sin, and the people were healed. Jesus makes an analogy of the serpent with the healing power of the Cross, since it is a sign of our sin and our redemption.

The meaning of the Cross takes on a new dimension as a result of  the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, resurrecting Jesus from the dead. The Resurrection transforms the Holy Cross into a sign of Christ’s victory over sin and the opportunity that we have to personally choose to accept His victory and make it a part of our life.

God, through the instrument of the Holy Cross, shows us the level of His love for His creation. The Father shows His love for us by giving us the best He has, His Son, and His Son shows His obedience and trust in the Father,  through His willingness to become a perfect offering, a pure sacrifice, back to the Father on our behalf.

Let us pray that we, on a daily basis, attempt to imitate this profound love of God. Our love is strengthened by the truth of our faith, and by the historic reality of the Cross. When we do this we will understand that the crosses that we carry, and the sufferings that we endure, unite us to the Lord, and help us transform our lives into His.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.  Notes on the painting: The above fresco painting and its close-up were completed by the Italian painter Masaccio during the years 1425-27. It is currently located in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy. This is a very important painting in the history of western liturgical art for it combines the images of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (the white dove that appears as a scarf or collar around the Father’s neck). Current research mentions that the brilliant engineer and architect, Philip Brunelleschi, may have been consulted by Masaccio since he had continued the research into the ideas of linear perspective. You can view this sense of linear perspective in this painting in the three dimensional aspect of the vaulting behind the figures. Brunelleschi had continued the studies on linear perspective that were started by the famous painter from Siena, Peter Lorenzetti, in the early 1300’s.

The Assumption of Mary

St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:30), sets that stage for this great solemnity: “Those God predestined He likewise called; those He called He also justified; and those He justified He in turn glorified.”

Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Assumption/Dormition of Mary. This is an ancient celebration documented as occurring as early as the 400’s, probably soon after the Council of Ephesus in 431 declared Mary the Theotokos: the Mother of God.

In a homily on the solemnity of the Assumption, Pope John Paul II used  John 14:3 as a Scriptural foundation for understanding the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. In those verses Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also.” Our belief is that Mary’s rising to Heaven is the pledge of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to His disciples: “…where I am, you will be also.” Mary, as our spiritual Mother, through Christ’s promise beckons us to follow her.

With this celebration comes the renewal of the truth that Mary not only belonged to Christ as His Blessed Mother, but that she was truly raised on high as our Queen of Heaven. Beautiful Mary, is in her simplicity, the true sign that informs the world of the humility, love, and mercy of her Messiah Son.

Today we acknowledge Mary as a Queen, who takes her place in the throne room of God, not to have power over us, but, rather, to intercede for us as the perfect mother and faith-filled disciple. We witness this truth in this exquisite painting by Beato Fra Angelico completed in the year 1430.

In the “fullness of time” after millennia of human history, the Father of Mercies saw in Mary a loving and lovable woman who possessed great courage. She is the person who in her simplicity and purity would be completely open, totally surrendering, and free from the pollution of pride or self-will.  She was the woman who would be the New Eve, the mother of the living, the mother of a new creation.

She is, as the Eastern Rite proclaims, the All Holy One, the Panagia, who as our spiritual mother shows us the way by guiding us to her Son who through His Redemptive Act and Redeeming Grace enables us to be reborn into eternal life. The Divine Office in Evening Prayer I for the Assumption (the second antiphon) reminds us: “Through Eve the gates of heaven were closed to all mankind; through the Virgin Mother they were opened wide again, alleluia.”

It is through our own rebirth, through water and the Spirit, that we are able to bear fruit and imitate Mary in bringing the newborn Christ to others. St. Maximus the Confessor speaks of this when he says “Every soul that believes, conceives and gives birth to the Word of God according to faith. Christ is the fruit, and all of us, are mothers of the Christ.” (from Vladimir Zelinsky’s  “Mary in the Mystery of the Church: The Orthodox Search for Unity” found in Mary CoRedmptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate – Theological Foundations II. M.I. Miravalle, S.T.D., editor).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 966) states, “The Immaculate Virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up, body and soul, into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of Lords, and the conqueror of sin and death”

This proclaims the wonderful news that the Assumption of Mary is a participation in the act of her Son being raised from the dead, and so is a Sign, a Sign that points to our own resurrection and union with God. The Eastern Rite liturgy says on  this solemnity: “In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the Source of Life.”

Our Blessed Mother’s words in her beautiful Canticle, and her personal destiny, are inseparably linked to our own – for she is one of us; and by keeping our focus on her Son, we too, through the grace of God, will experience His mercy which lasts from age to age on those who fear Him.

In these very troubled times may Our Lady of the Assumption always keep us close to her heart.

(Additional sources: 1 Corinthians 15: 20-27;  Revelation, Chapters 12 and 19; Lumen Gentium, 59; and Pope Pius XII in his Munificentissimus Deus (November, 1950).  

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

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.

The Demons Say “We Are Legion.” Jesus says “Trust Me.”

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contain the story of the demoniac from the territory in northern Israel called the land of the Gerasenes. They describe the fact that the demons had united within this man for a specific purpose – to torment this poor sinner and to terrorize the countryside with demonic power so concentrated – that the evil was unable to be controlled.

Unclean spirits fueled the demoniac’s actions; and as Jesus steps out of the boat onto the shore the demoniac immediately confronts Jesus and the demons within him beg to be left alone.

Jesus enters into dialogue with the possessed man. He asks him his name, and the demons respond, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” The disciples, hearing this response would have been horrified because a legion, at that time, was no small force – in the Roman army a legion encompassed  6,000 soldiers.

What’s left of the possessed man’s free will had run toward the Lord – and the psalmist tells us to do the same because they both realize who God is, the magnitude of His power and mercy, and that true healing, security, and protection from evil can only be found under His protection.

 

Psalm 91 alludes to this, and uses military language to express its message as it says: “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but [evil] will not come near you Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation.”

At times, our technologically driven society has desensitized us to the wonder of Jesus’ mercy, or, like the people in the city – upon hearing of the demoniac’s healing – recoil from Mercy’s power. Like them we may be satisfied with our own circumstances, we may feel that we do not need to be healed or evangelized, that we don’t need the grace of God’s mercy in the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Recon-ciliation,  what an extraordinary mistake – what a rejection of God’s grace that would be for us.

Perhaps we are afraid to pay the price of liberation from the power of evil in our lives. Yet, what is the cost to us? Is it the cost of being healed of our sins? The true cost was paid by Jesus Christ in His suffering and death upon the Cross.

The cost, having been paid by the Son, provides the opportunity for the Father and the Holy Spirit to freely give us the grace that Christ has merited for us. The only thing that Jesus requests of the healed demoniac is that he go home and give witness. Jesus says,  “Go home to your friends, and [and in thanks] tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.”

The only price that needs to be paid is the price of thankful witness – the price of unselfconsciously showing others that we have turned away from evil – and that God has changed our lives through the power of His grace and mercy.

The freed and healed demoniac was asked to evangelize his friends, and we, are asked to do the same. Interestingly, the territory of the Ten Cities – the Decapolis – which were primarily Greek and pagan territories was an extraordinarily difficult missionary area. The now healed man was asked to go into that territory – to those Ten Cities –and preach to them of his healing and deliverance. He was, in no uncertain terms, a missionary – a missionary to the Gentile people of the Decapolis. It appears that he was successful, because, Mark (in his Gospel’s 7th  chapter, vs. 31ff) speaks of the hopeful crowds from the Ten Cities bringing Jesus another man to be healed.

So what is the final message of this Gospel for us today? It may be that even though, thank God, we may not be possessed by one or thousands of demons, we are still tempted, we fall, and we do sin.

So we are always in need of God’s mercy – and after repenting of our sins and receiving God’s forgiveness, mercy, and healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation we need to give thanks to the Lord; and like the healed demoniac, share the story of our spiritual journey, healing,  and God’s love for us with all those who will listen.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

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.

The Immaculate Conception – A Time To Reflect On The Meaning of Mary

1) Mary’s Personal History

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 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.

 2) Mary Prefigured in the Hebrew Scriptures

“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.”

 3) Mary as Mother and Saint

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 she conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit (this is part of the Mystery of the Incarnation).  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 (confer Chapter 1 in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew), 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 today.

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.

An interesting article entitled Mary in Scripture 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 scholar Origen (AD 185 -254) made a very interesting observation, he said,  “Because the angel greeted Mary with new expressions, which I 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.” (This quote is also taken from the article referenced above – “Mary in Scripture.”)

 4) Some of the Titles of Mary

In the year AD 431, at the Council of Ephesus (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, 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 build a new “arc of salvation” (the Church) for His people.

By the eighth century (700’s) the Catholic Church celebrated 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, and the Birthday of Mary. The Immaculate Conception became popular by the tenth century (900’s). 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.  This is the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary.

5) Mary as Intercessor

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

The meaning of Our Blessed Mother Mary for us today is that, especially at this time in history, we must remember that she spiritually intercedes (pleads for mercy on behalf of us – the Church) 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.

This painting is by Sano di Pietro an early Renaissance painter. It is entitled Our Lady of Mercy and was painted in the 1440’s. Sano di Pietro was from Siena.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

Beauty Built on Gospel Values

David Clayton, artist in residence at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire, has written a wonderful essay that capsulizes the essential nature of what Pope Benedict 16th is saying about creating a culture of beauty. It should be required reading by all seminarians, clerics, and laypeople who are interested in evangelization and the recreation of a culture of beauty based on sound Gospel principles and the appeal to our innate sense of the beautiful. Please copy and paste the link below into your search engine bar and it should pop up for you.

http://thewayofbeauty.org/2011/10/the-psalms-and-the-evangelisation-of-the-culture/             

 

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Our Lady of the Rosary

All the events of human history have to be backlit by the reality of our faith that God does not abandon His people. An example of this truth is today’s memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. This memorial was established by Pope St. Pius 5th in thanksgiving for the Catholic victory over the Muslim army and navy at the famous battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571. Many rosaries were said by the European faithful during the battle to stem the tide of the Islamic invasion. The admiral for the Catholic Fleet, Andrea Doria, had the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe (seen below) in the stateroom of his flagship. Prior to the battle King Philip 2nd of Spain had given the Mexican icon of the Blessed Mother to Admiral Doria.

Our Gospel today tells us that our Lord God chose Mary, a humble Hebrew teenager, to be the finest being within His creation. She was offered the opportunity to be the counterpoint to the sin and evil that consumed the world. She was offered the opportunity to be the Theotokos- – the Bearer of God – the Mother of the Messiah.

It is God’s will to have beauty and purity, mercy and justice, exist along side the evil that Satan – with man’s complicity – brought into the world; and it is the Father’s will, through the actions of Jesus and His mother Mary, that they overcome and defeat the evil that Satan spawned.

God is an artist. His palette consists of many different colors. He uses the darks as well as the lights to achieve His end. We too, are artists. Like Mary we have a choice. Mary chose to humbly accept the will of God for her life, even though she did not foresee and understand all that was to take place. She decided to paint the structure of her life – and the life of her family – with the colors of faith, humility, love, and joy. Did the masterpiece of her life include the darkness of suffering, pain, and loss; yes, of course it did, but those dark shadows did not muddy the joy and happiness she was to know in doing the will of God – it was not to interfere with her accomplishing her grace filled mission for the family of God.

It is through the humble statement of Mary to the angel Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” that our salvation was made possible. It is through Mary’s “Yes” that the Holy Spirit, in an intimate and personal encounter with her, was able to accomplish the pledge made to King David that “the time of the fulfillment of God’s promises and preparations [will begin].” (CCC # 484).

As Catholic Christians we understand that the prayer that we call the Holy Rosary was given to St. Domenic (Domingo de Guzman) in 1208 by the Blessed Mother. If prayed with reverence and attention, the Holy Rosary through the recitation of the four great Mysteries: Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious, recount the entire life of our Lord and His ministry to us. Mary gave this prayer to St. Domenic so that it might become a vehicle for meditation and contemplation on all that her Son did for us. It is not meant to be a tool of mindless recitation. To say that would be as callous as saying that Michelangelo used his sculptor’s tools to just break marble.

Mary understood – and understands – that we need a process in which we can reflect on the saving actions of her Son, while at the same time, intoning – either privately in silence or audibly in a group – the beautiful prayer of the angel Gabriel at her Annunciation, the prayer that Jesus Himself taught us, and the famous doxology of the Glory be.

Faith, humility, love, and joy – these virtues will help us become better sacred artists – and better people, and the Holy Rosary is an important tool to help us achieve our goal.

The painting below is by Fra Angelico and shows St. Dominic, the Blessed Mother, and St. John the Evangelist. Fra Angelico inserted St. Dominic into the scene in an attempt to suggest to his fellow friars that Dominic’s prayer was so mystical and so intimate that he united himself to the Cross of Christ – and that he embraced the Cross in faith, humility, love, and joy. It is a worthy suggestion for us to contemplate, too.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

St. Francis of Assisi, Simplicity, and Sacred Artists

Today is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. He is one of the patrons of the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts. St. Francis reminds us how we admire, and should emulate, the virtues of the saints. When we meditate on the life of St. Francis  – three characteristics of spirit – three virtues –  emerge.

First, 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 tried, and was successful, at eliminating everything from his life that did not lead to, and enhance, his understanding and love of Jesus. In other words, we can see that he kept to what was essential in life: “God, the state of our soul, judgment and eternal life.”

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” (Fr. Ronald Knox 1936).

Other characteristics of Francis’ life are the virtues of faith and love. St. Francis understood that by increasing his faith, by praying for faith, by acting faithfully and lovingly, his spiritual muscles would be stressed, and as a result, he would grow stronger in faith and life.

Giotto (1226-1337), born the same year St. Francis died, painted these virtues of St. Francis at work when he portrays Pope Innocent III’s dream of Francis holding up the pillars of the Church. It was St. Francis, and his fellow friars, that would promote, and live in their daily lives, the virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience that would sweep the imagination of Europe and even gain the respect of the Eastern world.

One of my favorite stories about him that also illustrates this point occurred in the year 1219 – during the Fifth Crusade; Francis traveled to the Holy Land – where he was captured and beaten by the Muslims. St. Bonaventure tells us in his history of the Franciscan Order that St. Francis was brought before the sultan Al Kamil, and preached to him about love and the meaning of Jesus’ life. When he finished his sermon he then challenged the Sultan’s imams to a religious test to determine which was the true religion – Islam or Catholicism. The painting below, entitled Trial by Fire by Giotto,  illustrates the drama of this moment.

“Francis said to the Sultan: “Please have a bonfire lit, and have your imam, along with me, enter the fire – so let it be that his God is the true God whoever emerges from the flames unhurt.”

The Sultan’s eyes lit up – now this is a man of faith. His imams, however, felt that they had better things to do.  But from that moment on Al Kamil was so impressed with Francis that he gave the Franciscans safe passage to travel and stay unhindered – anywhere – in Muslim occupied territories; and as a direct result of this act, eight hundred years later, if you go to Jerusalem you will see that the Franciscans are still the Catholic Religious Order responsible for the maintenance of the shrines in the Holy Land.

Theologian Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio teaches us that “St. Thomas Aquinas explains that a virtue, like a physical muscle, is a habit – a power or capacity – that gets stronger when its exercised – and atrophies – when it is not;” and St. Francis, tells us that faith and loveprayer and service are the main muscles in our spiritual body.

Francis refused to let his spiritual muscles become weak. He exercised them regularly, we could say heroically, so that he would be able to endure all the tests, all the trials, that life presented to him. We need to ask ourselves, however, how did he do it? How did he exercise his spiritual muscles?

The answer is that he balanced himself. He was in harmony with the Lord, and, with himself as a person. He achieved this balance by harmonizing his active life (the life of an ordained deacon serving within the world) with the life of the Spirit (prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, contemplation, Penance, and the Eucharist). Like the holy Gospel account of Martha and Mary, he imitated the Lord’s understanding by seeing that both were correct, service and prayer, both had their place and both were absolutely essential – especially prayer.

What a wonderful witness he is to us. His life and work always has something to teach, and challenge us,  to greater acts of simplicity, service, prayer and love in our own lives.

As sacred artists we should be humble enough to study and learn from sacred artists who have come before us, but most importantly, we need to study sacred artists that are balanced in their spiritual and artistic lives. One artist that we need to study is Giotto because he is a wonderful example of a sacred artist that combined the principles of action and contemplation. He was balanced. He achieved simplicity in his portrayal of spiritual truths, and as a result, was able to witness to us the need for continual dedication to strive, within our own spiritual and artistic traditions, to serve the Lord and our fellow man by expressing beauty through our sacred art.     St. Francis of Assisi pray for us.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved