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

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

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

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

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

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

John, thanks again; this was a fun interaction.

Additional images of St. Spyridon:

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

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

Thanks for stopping by and reading this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Painting by James Tissot (French; 1836 – 1902). “Return of the Prodigal Son.”

Thank you for reading this post.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Holy Trinity – Communication Through Word and Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A contemporary copy of the original Trinity by Rublev.

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

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

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

God is a God of Compassion

“God of all compassion, Father of all goodness,

to heal the wounds our sins and selfishness bring upon us

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

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

when our weakness causes discouragement,

let your compassion fill us with hope

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

Grant this through Christ our Lord.”*    Amen.

 

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

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_-_The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Detail_Father_Son

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

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

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

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

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution.

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

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

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

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

          The above was written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

 

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

What is Art?

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

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

My lecture had  three major goals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for joining me today.

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 12, 2018

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

 

Fra Angelico – 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.

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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.

The Sacred Artist’s Cultivation of Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Beauty – “The Great Legacy” of Pope Benedict XVI

I am interrupting my series on Theophilus the Presbyter and the affect he had on the development Medieval art and technology with this post that just came in from the Catholic News Service/EWTN.

The following article is very important and relevant to our understanding of the significant role that his Holiness Emeritus Benedict XVI had in moving the Church forward while appreciating and applying the beauty of our faith, in all of its component parts, to our holy liturgy, prayer, and devotion to our Eucharistic Lord. This understanding contributes to our appreciation of what it means to be a member of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. The complete article appears below:

Beauty in liturgy the ‘great legacy’ of Benedict XVI

By Carl Bunderson

VATICAN CITY, March 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) .  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will be remembered in Church history for his work to recover the beauty of traditional liturgy, according to Bishop James D. Conley.

The head of the Lincoln, Neb. Diocese, who has been reading Benedict’s writings on liturgy for decades, said these works “will remain a great contribution to liturgical theology for years to come.”

“His great legacy,” Bishop Conley told CNA Feb. 27, “will be the re-discovery of the beauty of the traditional liturgy.”

Benedict awakened a “new way” of looking at the ordinary form of the Mass – the liturgy which came after the 1960s Second Vatican Council – “with a greater attempt to be more attentive to the rubrics.”

In the former pontiff’s view, Mass should be celebrated with beauty, dignity, and in continuity with the tradition of the Church, Bishop Conley noted.

Benedict’s liturgical legacy also includes his “blessing” of those “who have a great attachment to the old Mass” and who are in union with the Holy See, the bishop said.

In 2007, Pope Benedict released a directive titled “Summorum pontificum,” which in a “watershed moment,” gave every priest permission to say Mass using the 1962, or pre-Vatican II Missal.

“He made it one of his priorities to…introduce the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, trying to show that the pre-conciliar liturgy of the 1962 Missal is the same liturgy as the Roman Missal of Pope Paul VI,” the bishop explained.

Pope Benedict “allowed the traditions to harmonize…so the cross-pollination could take place; so the very best of the reforms of the post-conciliar liturgy could be enhanced and influenced, by an open, unbiased acceptance of the Mass that preceded it.”

Bishop Conley believes that Pope Benedict has allowed the pre-conciliar liturgy to flourish alongside of the post-conciliar liturgy “in a hope that some of the transcendence, the beauty, the tradition, the Latin” will permeate the new liturgy.

The Pope’s own manner of celebrating Mass, including subtle “symbolic gestures” have “sent a message” and have had “a catechetical value” for both priests and faithful, said Bishop Conley.

These gestures include distributing Communion to the faithful kneeling; beautiful vestments and those which had fallen into disuse; ensuring a cross and candles are on the altar; and celebrating facing the same direction as the faithful, all elements of a “reform of the reform of the liturgy.”

“He even created a new way of looking at the two traditions,” reflected Bishop Conley, “the extraordinary form and the ordinary form.” Pope Benedict coined these terms in “Summorum pontificum,” to refer to pre and post Vatican liturgies respectively.

“They’re two parts of the same form, and of the same Roman rite: that’s what he really wanted to emphasize by that change in language.”

Transcendence and beauty

Pope Benedict has long been “trying to recover that sense of transcendence and beauty of the liturgy,” reflected the bishop.

Part of this effort was his involvement in the translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal. Bishop Conley noted the former Roman pontiff’s concern that the Latin prayers be translated both accurately and “also with a sense of beauty in the language.”

The bishop also noted Pope Benedict’s creation in November of a “Pontifical Academy for Latin.” He sees this as tied to the Pontiff’s desire to increase the use of Latin in the Church’s life, including in her liturgy.

Bishop Conley also noted how Pope Benedict’s vision was shaped by the Liturgical Movement of the early 20th century, an effort that called for a reform of the Church’s worship, led largely by Benedictines.

“He knew the great players of the Liturgical Movement back before the Council,” the bishop said.

One of his major writings on the liturgy was his 2000 work The Spirit of the Liturgy. That publication hearkened back to a book of the same name by Father Romano Guardini, known as one of those “great players.”

In The Spirit of the Liturgy,  Benedict – as a theologian writing before his rise to the papacy – encouraged a “New Liturgical Movement” that would recall the best elements of the first Liturgical Movement.

Benedict’s concern with beauty and liturgy is not one of mere aesthetics, Bishop Conley noted, but flows from a recognition that liturgical prayer is the “source and summit” of the Christian life, as the Second Vatican Council taught.

“A lot of people are talking about the impact that he’s had on the Church, and you certainly have to say that the liturgy is going to be one; primarily because he took such a personal interest in it and he believed that…everything flows from prayer,” said Bishop Conley.

“That’s what he said when he announced his resignation, that he made this decision after deep prayer. And now he’s going to a life of deep meditation and contemplation, and all that centers on the Eucharist, and the liturgical worship of the Church, which he very much has a profound love for.”

 

A continuing influence

Doctor Horst Buchholz, director of music at the St. Louis archdiocese, told CNA Feb. 25 that Pope Benedict has offered such a wealth of teaching on the liturgy that his influence has yet to come to full fruition.

“There has been no Pope since Pius X, or even before, with such a fervent love for liturgy and Sacred Music like Benedict XVI…We still have to accept, digest, and adapt many of Benedict’s thoughts and directives on liturgy and Sacred Music,” he said.

Buchholz commended Pope Benedict’s example of including the use of the Gradual at his recent Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Gradual is an ancient form of singing the psalm between the readings that may replace the responsorial psalm.

“The Gradual is rarely, rarely ever sung, so that is a very good sign, that people are even aware that there is an option like that,” largely through the example of the Pope’s Masses.

Illustration, not imposition

Jeffrey Tucker, publications director for the Church Music Association of America, agreed that Pope Benedict has led by example in liturgy.

“I knew he would show us the beauty of the Roman rite in a way people hadn’t seen it before, and inspire people through example,” he said to CNA Feb. 20.

Tucker called Pope Benedict a liberal, “in the best sense of that term.” The Roman Pontiff provided “a kind of license” for the pre-conciliar liturgy, he said, and integrated “the reformed Mass into the tradition of the Roman rite more generally.”

“The reforms at St. Peter’s Masses and (papal) liturgy generally have been astonishing, extraordinary, especially from a musical standpoint,” Tucker said.

He pointed particularly to the use of the Introit, the official text from the psalms meant to be sung at the beginning of Mass, at every large Mass said at St. Peter’s recently.

“He’s worked to make the Roman rite more true to itself, which is very encouraging for those of us at the grass roots level, because now we can point to papal liturgies as a useful example of what we’re seeking to accomplish in our own parish lives.”

Tucker praised the fact that while Pope Benedict did make minor changes in liturgical laws, he recognized that “beauty itself, once it’s liberated, compels belief in a sense.” He described the Pope as working not through imposition, but with “inspiration, illustration, example – putting beauty on display and creating a kind of global hunger for solemnity and seriousness, and ritual.

Charles Cole, director of the schola at the London Oratory, told Vatican Radio Feb. 24 that “under the pontificate of Benedict XVI there has been a particular focus on the relationship of the liturgy and music and this remarkable heritage and its grown to ever greater prominence.”

In 2007 Pope Benedict wrote an apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist, “Sacramentum Caritatis,” cementing some of his teachings on the liturgy into the Magisterium.

Writing for The Catholic Herald, Dom Alcuin Reid, a Benedictine monk, said that “his conviction expressed therein, that ‘everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty,’ was reflected in papal liturgies. These became master classes on how to celebrate the modern liturgy in continuity with tradition, where the best of the old and of the new serve to raise our minds and hearts to God.”

Bishop Conley concluded with CNA by remembering the Pope’s constant example of reverence and beauty in celebrating the liturgy.

“When I first came to Rome in 1989 as a priest-student, on Thursday mornings he would celebrate Mass in a chapel of the proto-martyrs inside the Vatican.”

“It would be a Latin Novus Ordo mass, always Novus Ordo, but always celebrated very reverently and with a great sense of transcendence. So not only by his writings, but by the way he celebrated Mass, he was teaching.”

 

St. Teresa of Avila – On Love

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

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

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

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

What does her witness have to say to us today?

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

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

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

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

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

The Most Holy Name of Mary

This is my third post in as many days on Our Blessed Mother Mary. September is an appropriate time to remember the significance of Mary in the life of the Church and, more importantly, in our own lives. For as the Mother of God she is, necessarily, the mother of our own spiritual life. She nurtures us to understand that her Son is always there for us. He does not impose Himself on us and neither does Mary. They desire us to freely choose kinship with them.

Today, September 12th is the memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary. The name Mary is one of the Greek forms (others being Maria and Mariam) of the Hebrew Miriam (Miryam; and in Aramaic, Maryam). Webster’s Dictionary defines its meaning as “rebellion,” another dictionary refers to the name as meaning  “strong.”

It is interesting to note that Mary’s name contains within it the seed of understanding who and what she means to the Church. God the Father, from all eternity, fashioned Mary in His mind to be His future daughter. The Holy Spirit, at  her immaculate conception, shaped her heart, mind, soul, and body. The incarnate Son of God, Jesus, was in turn shaped by her own womb, and at the end of those nine months, gloriously born to become the Redeemer of Man.

Our Catholic Catechism speaks of this when it says, “Mary, the all-holy ever-Virgin Mother of God, is the masterwork of the mission of the Son and the Spirit in the fullness of time. For the first time in the plan of salvation and because his Spirit had prepared her, the Father found the dwelling place where his Son and his Spirit could dwell among men. In this sense the Church’s Tradition has often read the most beautiful texts on wisdom in relation to Mary (confer Proverbs 8: 1-9: 6; Sirach 24). Mary is acclaimed and represented in the liturgy as the Seat of Wisdom. In her the “wonders of God” that the Spirit was to fulfill in Christ and the Church began to be manifested.” (confer paragraphs 721 – 722ff in the Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Are these ideas prefigured in her name?

If we are to use the terms “rebellion” and “strong” as the meaning for the name Mary then we may ask “Rebellion against what? Strong for what ends?”

The Church’s Tradition, from the earliest centuries, teaches that Mary was to was to be the faith-filled instrument that God would use to enable the Son of God to enter into the world of men, as man and God. She was the instrument of faith, humility and obedience that would model the skills that we personally need in order to rebel against the forces of this world, the forces of Satan, himself. Her name, along with the victory won for us by her Son, is the rallying cry for all who desire to see the forces of Satan destroyed. Her name – Mary – sustains us in our own fight, our own rebellion, against the serpent and his wily attempts to seduce us, too.

Satan’s victory at the Tree in the Garden was short-lived. St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon in the second century, speaks of this when he says, “The Lord came visibly to his own domain and was sustained by his own creation which he himself sustains in being. By his obedience upon a tree he reversed the disobedience shown because of another tree. The seduction to which the betrothed virgin Eve had miserably fallen victim was remedied by the truth happily announced by the angel to Mary, another betrothed virgin. As Eve, seduced by a [fallen] angel, turned away from God by disobedience to his word, so Mary, receiving the good news from an angel, bore God in her womb in obedience to his word; and as Eve had been led to disobey God, so Mary obeyed him. Thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.” (excerpted from Mary’s Yes, edited by John Rotelle, O.S.A. Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, MI).

The most holy name of Mary also provides us with spiritual strength. As the angel Gabriel announced, and as our Catechism explains, she is full of grace. These graces, however, do not lie dormant within her. The Catechism explains: “The Holy Spirit prepared Mary by His grace. It is through Mary, that the Holy Spirit prepares men and women into communion with Christ.”

The strength of her humility, faith, obedience, and prayer act as the four cornerstones to assist us in modeling our life on hers. This appeals to humble people; and indeed, the first to witness the birth of the Redeemer were St. Joseph and the shepherds.

Mary is an example of  faith, hope, holiness, obedience, love, and prayer. As “the Daughter of the Father, the Mother of the Son, and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit” she assists us in uniting ourselves to her Son. Her quiet strength, like many human mothers down through the centuries, enables her to meet our needs in both body and soul. We are her spiritual children. Let us run to her with all our cares, with all our spiritual and bodily illnesses, with our anxiety, fears, and despair. She is here to not only comfort us, but to strengthen us, through a multitude of graces, so that we may be powerful witnesses of faith in Christ in the spiritual war that is waging all around us.  May the Holy Name of Mary always give us strength to realize that Jesus Christ is our one true Savior and the fount of all mercy.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

(“Daughter of the Father …etc” passage is taken from a meditation by Father Emanuel d’Alzon, 19th century founder of the Augustinians of the Assumption, excerpted from his book Mary Our Mother, Our Model, Our Queen, translated by M. Angeline Bouchard from the original French, Trente Jours avec Marie. which received the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur of the Church). Notes on the sacred images: The first painting is by the 17th century Italian artist Giovanni Salvi (also known as Sassoferrato). The title of the painting is The Virgin at Prayer. It is in the National Gallery of Art in London. The second image is a close-up of the Blessed Mother’s face that was sculpted by Michelangelo in 1499 for his extraordinary sculpture known as the Pieta. Michelangelo was 24 years old at the time he sculpted this masterpiece! It is located in the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

St. Clare – Our Holy Friend and Lover of God

The Church honors today, August 11th, the holy woman, consecrated virgin, founder and Abbess of the religious order known as the Poor Clares, and dear friend of St. Francis of Assisi. We know her by her Anglicized name: Clare.

She was, however, born Chiara Offreduccio in Assisi, Italy on July 16, 1194.

The Italian language has always been especially tuned to convey, through words and sounds, a delicacy and refinement of spirit. Her Italian name, Chiara, gives witness to this observation, since its English equivalent means – clear.

The image above by Simone Martini (1283 – 1344) conveys this quiet asceticism in his lovely fresco of her completed between the years 1312 and 1320 and found in the lower basilica of San Francesco in Assisi (image courtesy of  www.berthemorisot.org/index.htm ).  To the historical and spiritual observer, St. Chiara’s life is very clear in its direction and goal. It is well known that she was influenced by her fellow citizen of Assisi, Francis, yet, an examination of her life shows that she was directed and formed by her profound love for Jesus in Scripture and in His real presence in the Eucharist.

A letter from her to a close friend, Blessed Agnes of Prague, shows the depth of her own mysticism and the clear guidance that directs another onto the correct path: “Happy indeed is she who is granted a place at the divine banquet, for she may cling with her inmost heart to Him whose beauty eternally awes the blessed hosts of heaven; to Him whose love inspires love, whose contemplation, refreshes, who generously satisfies, whose gentleness delights, whose memory shines sweetly as the dawn, to Him whose fragrance revives the dead, and whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of that heavenly Jerusalem. For He is the splendor of eternal glory, the brightness of eternal light, and the mirror without cloud.”

This great mystic of the Church also led a life of austere poverty, chastity, and obedience, yet, her life, as the Divine Office tells us, was “rich in works of charity and piety.”

St. Chiara, passed on to the heavenly banquet on August 11, 1253.

The following beautiful images are from the excellent website: http://www.sacred-destinations.com  I thank them for the courtesy of providing the images.

The first photo is the church of San Damiano, which St. Francis restored when, after praying before the crucifix within its broken down walls, heard the Lord’s voice saying “Francis, rebuild My Church.”

The second photo is the image of the interior of San Damiano Church. It is this crucifix, painted in a unique Byzantine icon style and which is known as the San Damiano Crucifix, that spoke the words that changed the direction of Francis’ life, and, the life of the Church.

The third photo shows the interior of the room that St. Clare died in on this day 759 years ago. Tradition states that her bed was in the upper right corner of the room.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

St. Peter Chrysologus’ Appeal By Christ To Be Transformed

Today is the memorial of Saint Peter Chrysologus.

Peter was born in the late 4th century in northern Italy. In 424, after serving as a deacon and priest in Emilia, he became bishop of the Italian city of Ravenna. Little reliable information about St. Peter’s life survives, except that he successfully drove heresy and the remnants of Roman paganism from his diocese by doing two things: providing exceptional pastoral care to the people and by giving practical yet passionate sermons. St. Peter’s brief sermons were so inspiring that he was given the title “Chrysologus” which means “of golden speech.”

He was declared a Doctor of the Church in the 18th century. In order to be called a Doctor of the Church the Pope and Cardinals must agree that the individual possessed three main characteristics during his or her life: truly outstanding holiness; a depth of doctrinal insight; and a body of writings which the Church recommends to people as authentic and life giving. These three qualities contributed to Peter’s success in ministering to the people of his diocese.

Our Gospel today speaks of the tiny mustard seed growing into a large bush, or the tiny yeast germ enabling the flour to rise. This theme of transformation is at the center of the story of the Incarnation. In a homily on this theme, St. Peter beautifully describes how Jesus is able, through His two natures, to touch and transform us. Christ meets us on a daily basis in prayer, and especially through the Scriptures and His real presence in the Holy Eucharist.

By means of these two marvelous gifts St Peter explains that we are able to identify with Jesus and be converted like the mustard seed and yeast germ, into something so much greater –  we are transformed and divinized into the life of Christ Himself. In one of his homilies, he has the Lord speaking and appealing to His people. He says,

“Listen to the Lord’s appeal: In me, [your Lord] I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as the Lord, but why not run to me as your father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing my bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death.

These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart. My body was stretched on the cross as an icon, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love. I count it no less to shed my blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as your father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.”

May the Lord continue to raise up men and women with St. Peter Chyrsologus’ gifts to feed and care for His people.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.

Image of St. Peter Chrysologus courtesy of info@crossroadsinitiative.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

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

The Interview: continued…

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

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

Not all participants are Catholic, but all are Christian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

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

The Interview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Holy Saturday Meditation: Something Strange Is Happening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Artist As Contemplative – Part 3 – Prayer Tips

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

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

A few examples of her perceptive thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Artist As Contemplative: Part 2: A Simple Step Into Prayer By St. Teresa of Avila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Artist As Contemplative – Part 1: The Proper Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Triumph of the Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows by Jed Gibbons

Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation – or Triumph – of the Holy Cross.

The early Catholic Church was intensely persecuted during the first 280 years of its life – so 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 our 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 – vying for control of the site! Unfortunately even among our brother Christian Churches there have been numerous clashes and conflicts over the control of this holy site. It is as if all of us – as guardians of the Church’s holiest site – had not internalized the meaning of the true Cross – the meaning of what happened on that site 2000 years ago – the meaning of the Father’s supreme sacrifice of His Son for the sake of His creation. God’s love was raised up on Golgotha that day and Satan’s venom was forever neutralized, but the sting of Satan’s original bite in the Garden of Eden still remains.

The truth of our Scripture readings 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. When the Father, through the Holy Spirit, lifted up Jesus in the resurrection, the Holy Cross was no longer viewed as a sign of evil and sin – rather it became a sign of Christ’s victory and our salvation.

Our Savior, 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 take upon Himself all sin and become a perfect offering back to the Father on our behalf. The Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts chaplain, Fr. Joseph Upton, gave a beautiful homily today at morning Mass in which he emphasized that every day, we too raise up Jesus on the Cross. In every Mass, we have re-presented the sacrifice of Jesus for us. We commemorate His act and we thank Him for it in His gift of Himself to us in the Eucharist. We unite ourselves to the Triumph of the Cross through the Mass.

As sacred artists, on a daily basis, we must attempt to imitate this profound love of God in our creation of artistic works, and in our families and community. Our love must be strengthened by the truth of our faith – and by the triumph 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. Our Blessed Mother is our model for this transformation.

Tomorrow, September 15th, is the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. The Invitatory prayer that begins the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours says, “Let us adore Christ, the Savior of the world, who called his mother to share in his passion.” Those words reminded me of a beautiful illuminated miniature by Jed Gibbons, a very fine artist from Chicago. I met Jed when he was teaching at the St. Michael’s Institute for the Sacred Arts at Enders Island in Mystic, CT. Jed has produced some truly inspirational work (his Stations of the Cross in the chapel on Enders Island are exquisite) and this piece that you see below captures not only the theme of the Triumph of the Cross but the truth of the Church’s teaching that Mary shared in the passion of her  Son. This piece is entitled   Maria, Mater Misericordiae (Mary, Mother of Mercy); it was completed in 2006, and was done in historic earth pigments and 23 karat gold. It measures 6.75 by 9.25 inches. I thank the Foundation for the Sacred Arts website for the image.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Image copyrighted by Jed Gibbons All Rights Reserved

 

A Reflection on St. Matthew 14: 22-33

Today’s Gospel reading cuts right to the heart of the matter – and asks the question: do we have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ?

St. Peter certainly came face-to-face with that question. As a commercial fisherman he knew how dangerous that storm was and that his boat and companions could easily perish in its waves. Then, suddenly, Jesus appears – walking on the water. The companions respond – “It’s a ghost!” Jesus calms them and says “Get a hold of yourselves! It is I. Do not be afraid!” Peter speaks up and says, “Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you across the water.” Jesus responds “Come.”

Peter gets out of the boat and begins to walk toward Jesus, but when the wind begins to buffet him he becomes frightened and begins to sink. He cries out “Lord, save me!” Jesus at once stretched out His hand and caught him.”

Jesus want us all to walk toward Him – in faith – on the “water” of our life. He wants us to cast aside our fears and commit to Him with a radical faith. We are all like St. Peter; we want to walk on the water toward Jesus but the winds of doubt mingle with the inner turmoil of our own hearts, and the circumstances of our own life, to affect our faith. Peter’s faith was tested – as ours is – everyday. His example of calling out to the Lord – in faith – should be our prayer, too, especially when we pick up the tools of our art and begin to feel the winds of self-doubt and dissatisfaction brush against our cheeks.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Welcome to the Fra Angelico Institute

Our First Post

As our first post – on August 1, 2011 – I would like to explain that the mission of the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts is to promote the creation of Christian sacred art and unite the creative process to the artist’s personal prayer life. Over the coming months we will be discussing various topics within the sacred arts, the creation of sacred art, important sacred artists from the past and present, and the development of our personal prayer life in union with our personal creative efforts.

The Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts was founded by myself and my wife Jackie in 2009. I am an ordained Roman Catholic deacon in the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. Professionally, before my retirement, I was a teacher of history and the humanities. I have studied and created sacred art since 2006. I am a sacred image painter.

An Amazing Revelation!

In my very first sacred art workshop, that was conducted by the talented and very fine teacher, Rev. Peter Pearson, I was profoundly struck by the impression that the actual creation of sacred art was of great importance to the improvement of my own personal prayer life. As I followed Peter’s directions in the creation of a sacred image, I realized that the truly spiritual connection I was experiencing was not the result of anything artificial, rather, it was the yearning of my soul to “connect” with the Person  coming into view on the wooden panel (the image that I was painting was an interpretation of St. Andrei Rublev’s icon of Jesus). It became very clear to me, as it had to so many other artists down through the centuries, that the creation of sacred art, regardless of what medium or form it takes, is a profoundly spiritual and prayerful act – IF – the artist decides to open up their mind, heart, and soul to the whispers of the Holy Spirit.

Join Us In This Exciting Adventure!

We think that the Institute is an exciting adventure in art and prayer. Currently we have over twenty people from the Diocese of Providence who are members, and, a few from out of state. The ideas and images that you will be seeing are meant to be educational, inspirational, and practical in the improvement of your development as a sacred artist. You may be a seasoned artist – secular or sacred, or, you may be a complete novice – all are welcome. In future posts I will explain the different categories of art you may want to explore and – if you are an experienced artist – display and express your creativity in the galleries on this site.

As Roman Catholics we have a specific theological perspective and faith tradition, however, please consider following us if you are from a different Christian denomination. After all, my teachers of sacred art are Episcopalian, Russian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic; and the participants in the sacred arts workshops that I have attended have been from many different Christian and non Christian denominations. Thanks for your interest and we look forward to your comments.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved