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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aidan Hart’s New Book on Sacred Iconography

The article below is reblogged from the always informative Orthodox Arts Journal. The article is the 9th in a series about sacred iconography that was written by Brother Aidan Hart, a British iconographer. Brother Hart has written extensively on all aspects of sacred iconography and has recently published a very comprehensive book on the subject called Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting. The editor at the Orthodox Arts Journal highly recommends it. Brother Hart’s articles are available at his website and he also offers sacred iconography workshops in Britain. This nine part article is well worth the effort of perusing through all of it. His series contains many gems of information that will add to your knowledge of the sacred arts. Links to his site and the series are provided for you below.

Designing Icons (pt.9): Perspective Systems in Icons [from Orthodox Arts Journal]

April 16, 2013

By 

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 Editorial note:  We have convinced Aidan Hart to post a chapter from his new book. “Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting” which is being hailed as the most comprehensive book to date on practicing the art of Iconography.  At 450 pages, with 460 paintings, 150 drawings and covering everything from theology and design to gilding and varnishing, it is a prized possession for anyone interested in the traditional arts.  The chapter being serialized over the next weeks is called “Designing Icons”.  You will see why Archimandrate Vasileos of Iviron called this book the “Confessio of a man who epitomizes the liturgical beauty of the Orthodox Church”.  More details about the book on Aidan’s website.    

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In this section, Aidan discusses the different perspective systems used in icons.

This is part 9  of a series.  Part 1Part 2 Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8

Inverse perspective.

With inverse perspective the lines of a building do not converge on a point on the horizon, inside the painting, but instead they converge on us, the viewers. This serves to include us in the action depicted. The Orthodox hymns make it plain that a sacred event in the past is still acting on us today: “Today Christ is born”, they say, “Today Christ is risen. Let us join with the angels in praising His third day resurrection!”

The Hospitality of Abraham / "Old Testament Trinity" by Fr. Silouan

An example of inverse perspective.  The Hospitality of Abraham / “Old Testament Trinity” by Fr. Silouan

Inverse perspective also gives us the sense that the persons depicted are looking out at us. It is as though the image is drawn not from our own point of view but theirs, and ultimately, God’s. We have already discussed the meaning of repentance as being a change of seeing. We could also explain it as a change of perspective, where we realize that we are not the centre of the universe, but God.

Inverse perspective also draws our attention to the real space between the image and ourselves. The emphasis is on the grace coming to us through real space, rather than us being drawn into an imaginary world or reconstructed scene within the picture. Iconography is above all a liturgical art, designed to be part of a larger sacred dance that involves the church building, the space within the building, the hymns sung within it, and the liturgical movements during services.  As Gervase Mathews puts it:

In the Renaissance system of perspective the picture is conceived as a window opening on to a space beyond…The Byzantine mosaic or picture opens onto the space before it. The ‘picture space’ of Byzantine art was primarily that of the church or palace room in which it was placed, since art was considered a function of architecture.[1]

Flatness

Icons do not attempt to create a great sense of depth. They do use enough highlighting and perspective to affirm that the material world is real and good and part of the spiritual life. Nevertheless, things are kept somewhat more on a plane than in naturalistic painting. In a group icon, like that of Mid-Pentecost for example, people in the rear will be shown the same size, or sometimes even larger, than those closer. Every person is thus kept intimate with the viewer. The mystery of the person overcomes the limits of physical space and distance.

an example of flatness. Mid Pentecost, by Aidan Hart

an example of flatness. Mid Pentecost, by Aidan Hart

Why else do icons retain this flatness? It helps us to pass through the icon to the persons and the events depicted. The aim of the icon is not to replace the subjects depicted, but to bring us into living relationship with them. This explains why statues are not as a rule used in the icon tradition. Their three dimensionality makes them too self contained. Where sculpture is utilized it is kept to base relief.

Romanesque cross by Aidan Hart

Romanesque cross by Aidan Hart

Flatness can also be seen as a intentional weakness, a deliberate imperfection that constantly reminds us that this image is not the reality but a door to its prototype.

There is also an honesty in this flatness. There no attempt to make the picture plane what it can never be, a three dimensional object, let alone the real thing itself.  Incidentally it is this honesty to the picture plane that inspired the American art movement called colour field painting of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Planarity also gives much greater freedom to arrange things according to their spiritual importance rather than being limited to their position in three-dimensional space. The figures within the icon of Christ’s birth, for example, are often arranged in three bands to represent the heavenly, earthly and unitary realms, and also in a circle centred on the Christ child

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This symbolic arrangement would not be possible if the event were depicted naturalistically, with figures receding toward the distance.

Multi-view perspective

Sometimes a building is shown as though seen simultaneously from left and right, below and above. This helps us to see things as God sees them, and as they are in themselves and not merely as they appear from our single view-point, limited as this is to one place at a time.

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The same multi-view perspective is sometimes applied to time, where the same person is depicted more than once in the same image, such as with Christ in the Nativity icon. The icon tradition can also place an important person in an event at which they were not historically present, but in which they later came to participate spiritually. Icons show things from the view of divine time (kairos  in Greek) and not merely chronological time (kronos). One example is Saint Paul in the Pentecost icon (fig. PentecostIMG copy.tif). He was not even a believer at the time of Pentecost, but later came to be great among the apostles and a pillar of the Church together with Peter, who is shown opposite him.

Isometry

In this approach the sides and edges of an object are depicted parallel, neither converging nor diverging. This affirms how a thing is in itself, rather than how it appears to us. All things have been called into unity in Christ, and this unity preserves and strengthens the integrity of each thing, rather than reducing it to a numerical one. Unity presupposes relationship which in turn presupposes otherness, though not separateness. Isometry affirms this otherness.

An example of isometry

An example of isometry

Hierarchical perspective

Often a personage who is more important than others will be enlarged. A typical example of this is the Virgin in the Nativity icon (see Nativity icon posted above). Conversely someone might be made particularly small to make a spiritual point. The Christ Child is often depicted thus in Nativity icons, to emphasize God the Word’s humility in becoming man for our sakes.

Vanishing point perspective

Although inverse perspective is more commonly used, we do also find instances where lines converge toward a point in the icon’s distance. This is not pursued in the systematic, mathematical way devised by the Renaissance painter, architect and sculptor Alberti Brunelleschi. In fact when this system is used you are likely to find as many convergence points as there are objects. This in itself transports the viewer out of the static vantage point assumed by mathematical perspective, and presupposes instead a much more dynamic experience – surely something closer to our actual experience of life.


[1] Gervase Mathews, page 30.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miniature Icons by Evgeny Baranov and Russian Master Icon Carvers

April 9th and 10th, 2013

By 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Easter 2013

“The splendor of Christ risen from the dead has shone on the people redeemed by His blood, alleluia.”

“Our Redeemer has risen from the tomb; let us sing a hymn of praise to the Lord our God, alleluia.”

“Alleluia, the Lord is risen as He promised, alleluia.”

Fra_Angelico_024

God our Father, by raising Christ Your Son You conquered the power of death and opened for us the way to eternal life. Let our celebration today raise us up and renew our lives by the Spirit that is within us [through our Baptism into Your Life]. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” Amen

Notes on the painting: This painting by Fra Angelico is found in one of the “cells” (cell 31), that is, one of the rooms that were used by Dominican friars as their personal living quarters in their priory, or what is today called the Museo de San Marco, in Florence, Italy. The painting portrays Jesus Christ, after His resurrection on Easter Sunday morning, entering into that spiritual place where the souls of the righteous deceased were waiting for their expected liberation by the Messiah. Christ’s hand is extended to Adam, Eve is behind him and St. John the Baptist is next to her, followed by all the righteous from past history. Jesus, the Son of God, will now lead them into Heaven, to rejoice forever with the Trinity. The door to this spiritual place has been shattered, catching a demon under its fall. Other demons cower in a corner, totally overcome by the beauty, majesty, and spiritual power of God Himself. Jesus Christ’s image is one of love, mercy, tenderness, and welcoming. He is happy to be there and to be the source of their personal spiritual Redemption and liberation. This Redemption was made possible by Jesus’ bloody sacrifice and death on the Holy Cross which is represented on the standard that He holds.

This painting is a fresco and is approximately 5 feet by 6 feet in size. It is called Christ Storming Hell, and is also known as Christ in Limbo. It was completed between 1437 and 1450.

We pray that  you have a Happy Easter Day and a grace filled Easter Season!

The quotations are taken from volume 2 of the Roman Breviary – The Divine Office, page 524-526, antiphons and closing prayer for Easter Sunday morning.

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

Good Friday

“Come, let us worship Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who redeemed us with His Precious Blood.”

“If we wish to  understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. Sacrifice a lamb without blemish, a one year old male, commanded Moses, and sprinkle its blood on your doors. If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possible save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of  the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.”

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

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

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

It is finished.

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

An innocent Jesus sacrificed for us, the guilty.

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

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

Copyright © 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Notes on the painting: Christ’s Crucifixion, is by the Spanish master Diego Velazquez (1599 – 1660); it was completed between 1631 – 32.

All the Scriptural quotations are taken from The New American Bible (1970) Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. The “Awake, O sleeper…” verse is taken from an ancient homily from the first centuries of the Church. First quotation is from The Roman Breviary: The Divine Office, volume 2, page 467. The second quotation is from The Catecheses by Saint John Chrysostom (AD 347-407), archbishop of Constantinople, Byzantium (present day Istanbul, Turkey). His Catecheses is also found in volume 2 of the Breviary, pages 473-475.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Meaning of Lent: Repentance and Renewal

The following is a homily that was delivered at St. Francis of Assisi Church and St. Romuald Chapel in Wakefield, Rhode Island USA by Deacon Paul O. Iacono on the weekend of the 5th Sunday of Lent –  March 16/17, 2013.

Last week’s Gospel related the story of the prodigal son; this week the prodigal daughter stands before us.

These two people start with dissent against authority and its commands. Their actions led to life altering, almost near death experiences. They end their self-destructive journey with a conversion that speaks to all repentant sinners of the availability of the astonishing love, mercy, and forgiveness of God.

In last week’s Gospel, the merciful father pardons his prodigal son; today, God’s merciful Son pardons the sinful daughter.

Last week, the oldest son questioned the father’s reasoning; today, the Jewish elders question Jesus’ reasoning, and He responds to this challenge with questions of His own.

Jesus’ first challenge is to the mob: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

This inquisitive command forces even the most proud and dogmatic of them into uncomfortable moments of self-reflection, and to see in that mirror their own sins – which results in their silently walking away.

Then Jesus turns, and looks at the woman – twenty-four hours earlier she was beautiful and appealing. What does He see now?  A woman whose feet were bloodied from running in panic through the streets, clothes torn, hair askew, mind and heart filled with panic at her impending death.

Her defiance of the 6th Commandment was gone; as she was running for her life defiance gave way to abject terror and remorse, and when finally caught, her grief gave way to despair.

In lust’s name, she had betrayed married love – publicly humiliated and publicly condemned – she stood surrounded by the mob – waiting for the first rock to be thrown – staring alternately at Jesus and the ground.

But, Jesus’ second challenge is to the woman herself. His challenge doesn’t wound her, rather, she comes into full contact with Jesus’ Sacred Heart. His words, spoken from His heart – caresses her heart; and as their eyes meet He says:    “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.”

Stunned with disbelief she must have stood there for a few moments, staring into Jesus’ eyes, the realization of His forgiveness washing over her – her heart filled with a new sense of hope and an overwhelming awareness of the invitation to live in His love and mercy.

The woman caught in adultery was blinded by her own lust, caught in the web of darkness she was unable to hear and speak to God, yet, what does Jesus do?

Ben1047ChristAndTheWomanInAdultery1659MunichW

He opens her eyes and ears; He gives her interior light; He covers her nakedness with a mantle of love and mercy and renews her ability to live a life that respects the laws of God.

At that moment Jesus blessed the adulterous woman with all the graces that are available to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation

In the stories of the prodigal son and daughter, we have a new awareness that in our own ways, we too, are prodigals; and relief – relief in the knowledge that when we do Sacramentally repent, and attempt to sin no more, we receive extraordinary graces and the invitation to live in the love of divine mercy.

This is the meaning of Lent my brothers and sisters. For it teaches us that we have no reason to fear Christ – no reason to fear reconciliation with Him – for He freely offers us His Sacramental strength so that we may walk in His freedom, be renewed, and become more like Him.

Like the prodigal son and daughter, let us put aside our sinful ways, and grasp the hand of our merciful God in Sacramental Confession. Let us trust in Him; for Jesus’ love is vast and the waters of His mercy, to those who repent, continually refresh and satisfy our deepest longings to rest in Him.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Notes on painting: The above artwork is a preliminary sketch by Rembrandt for his finished painting on Christ and the  Woman Taken in Adultery (1644). I thank art historian Gary Schwartz for providing an image of that sketch at his website: www.garyschwartzarthistorian.nl/. Rembrandt’s finished painting is now displayed at the National Gallery in London, England.  

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.”

 

Theophilus, the Art of Iconography, and the Contemporary Sacred Artist – Part 2

Please take a moment to read the first part of this multi-part essay that I posted a few days ago. I am requesting that you do this in order for you to understand my perspective on creating contemporary sacred art within the Latin Rite.

Creating sacred art for me is a service ministry. It is a ministry through which a sacred artist unites him or herself to God’s Redemptive efforts. If you are a Baptized Christian who has been educated in the faith, regardless of the Rite or the denomination, you know that the Christian faith requires you to cooperate with the grace that the Holy Spirit provides to you through Scripture and the Sacraments. If one does this, and maintains a disciplined prayer life, you are cooperating with the Spirit in the duties that you must perform in your life.

For a Christian, human history is more than the individual searching for God. As the book of Genesis (3: 8-9) tells us, God walked through the Garden of Eden searching for us – for our spiritual parents: “When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

The Lord asks that question of us, too. 

Jesus is constantly calling out to us, constantly searching for us, constantly knocking on the door of our hearts hoping to hear our loving response. Christianity is the faith through which a searching God shows Himself to be so loving and so merciful as to persevere, to the point of sacrificing His own Son, in the effort of bringing rebellious humanity back into His family.

So the history of Christian sacred art shows us that people desired sacred icons (Greek, eikon: image) to reference that sense of family, in the same way that we have photographs today of family members, living and dead, which remind us of the love shared and their importance to our lives. These photographs or images are not idols. Even if a loved one does kiss a photograph or a sacred icon or image, the meaning behind that gesture is that the kiss – the love and respect – is not meant for the celluloid, or the wood and pigment; rather, it is meant for the prototype, for the person it represents, the loved one, God, His saints and angels.

Unfortunately, the faith family that is the Church split in the Great Schism of 1054. The Latin Rite and the Greek/Russian Rite split along cultural, theological, philosophical, political, and artistic lines. This Schism is one of the great scandals that has affected Christ’s Church.

The Schism, however, did not affect trade and the exchange of ideas among the laity. Commerce continued and new products, artistic materials, and techniques were evaluated, bought, and sold. The development of the Latin Rite artistic tradition after the Schism indicates that in Western Europe the linking of faith with the creative impulse was very strong and did much to solidify and unify the various cultural groups within the Latin Rite.

But, what was the Latin Rite tradition post AD 1054? What were the techniques of the Latin Rite artists of the Romanesque and early to mid Gothic period? Were there artistic manuals that were more than just recipe books on preparing pigments and varnishes and which discussed the spiritual underpinnings of the artisan’s art?

Where to begin?

As mentioned before, I happily discovered Pope Benedict XVI’s book –The Spirit of the Liturgy. This became my starting point, with its expression that the three periods within the liturgical art of the Latin Rite can be found in the Iconographic, Gothic, and Baroque styles of art.

I was searching for the techniques that Catholic artists would have used approximately one thousand years ago. Sacred artists within the late Iconographic period and early Romanesque period (AD 900 – 1300) would have approached their art within a disciplined theological, semantic, and aesthetic viewpoint. As Western Europeans, however, they easily accepted innovation and even experimentation if it provided a final product which met the artisan’s demanding and critical eye, and especially that of the master artisan of the workshop.

In the Spring of 2012 I discovered a twelfth century book entitled On Diverse Arts by Theophilus the Presbyter (translated by Hawthorne and Smith, Dover Press, 1979, 216 pages). This book is the critical corner stone of my attempt to link contemporary sacred art with its medieval roots. For Theophilus the Presbyter – a twelfth century master artist – is an individual who can still effectively speak to us in our own time. Theophilus has the perspective and the attitude that provides us with a foundation for our spiritual view of art.

This does not mean that we are slavishly going back in an attempt to reproduce the twelfth century. To do that would not be honest, rather, while staying true to the theological, semantic, and aesthetic beliefs of artists like Theophilus we are able to reinterpret and refresh our current situation in light of the contributions and truths discovered and lived in the past. Truth, goodness, and beauty are not limited by space and time.

O Beauty, ever ancient, O Beauty, ever new.

One of the key ideas of Theophilus that needs to be shared with Christian sacred artists is that the Holy Spirit is moving through our creative efforts, and is actively involved in the artist’s daily work. It is my belief that Theophilus sees the role of the artist as a person with a specific vocation, a calling, who is to unite his call by God to create beautiful works of art with his own prayer life and the Catholic spiritual view of reality.

Many, but not all art historians, believe that Theophilus is the pen name for a Benedictine monk by the name of Roger of Helmarshausen. Roger was a master at metalworking, specializing in gold and silver, and lived in the Benedictine monastery located in the town of Helmarshausen in modern day Germany.

In his manual, On Diverse Arts, Theophilus not only lays out his spiritual vision in three specific prologues to his chapters on painting, glassmaking, and metalworking but he provides specific directions and guidance to fellow artists. For example, he lays out – step by step – the process for creating a sacred image: the types of pigments to use, specific colors for the base coat, shadows, colors to use for hair, beards, skin, drapery, etc.

Theophilus’ union of a sincere spiritual perspective with technical guidance shows him to be a master teacher and mentor. He accomplished this within his own Benedictine monastery at Helmarshausen and his reputation expanded throughout the Rhine-Meuse River Valley in Germany.

In my next post I hope to discuss the spiritual importance of Theophilus’ three chapter prologues, and ultimately their relationship to the contemporary Catholic sacred artist.

In my fourth post in this series I will discuss a marvelous doctoral dissertation on Theophilus that was written in 2010 by Heidi Gearhart, Ph.D.

And in my fifth and last post in this series I will discuss how, in the mode of Theophilus, I am developing a practical sacred art workbook that provides step-by-step advice for the contemporary sacred artist. I have two of the four chapters completed and I will probably self-publish it for my sacred art workshops prior to a publisher (hopefully, :{) !) formally printing it.

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

The Penitent Magdalene and the Way to True Conversion of Heart – A RePost Of Fr. Jason Smith’s Essay

As we begin the season of Lent I thought you would enjoy this article by Father Jason Smith. It contains a magnificent sacred image painted by George de La Tour (1593 – 1652). La Tour is one of my favorite artists; I especially enjoy his beautiful sacred image of St. Joseph teaching the child Jesus. During his lifetime La Tour was considered to be the painter for the French nobility. His son Etienne became his pupil and followed his father’s style so closely that it is very difficult for today’s art historians to determine the author of certain paintings within their collection.
La Tour was a master of the chiarascuro (light/dark/shadow) technique. He developed this technique in new ways, adopting a softer, gentler, and simple approach to presenting the interplay of light, shadow, and color.  After his involvement with a Franciscan led spiritual revival he eventually devoted himself to religious subjects. His two paintings on Mary Magdalene are masterpieces of this style of art and they truly speak to the soul who is interested in listening.
The de La Tour family unfortunately died in 1652 as a result of an epidemic that devastated his city.
The essay below was written a few years ago by Fr. Jason Smith. Fr. Smith’s essay on the truth, beauty, and meaning of de La Tour’s painting reflects the Lord’s ability to use sacred artists to express His continual grace and mercy to us. It is my wish that you spiritually profit by the painting and its analysis. Thank you Fr. Smith for posting this fine essay.

The Penitent Magdalene and the Way to True Conversion of Heart   By Fr Jason Smith, published at the Biltrix blog 

“I have found no better representation of conversion and penance in art than The Penitent Magdalene, by George de La Tour. Though simple, it expresses the essential elements behind every conversion, and we can find in it powerful lessons to apply to our own life. Let’s take a closer look.

The Penitent Magdalen, George de la Tour

The painting presents Mary at the very beginning of her conversion, on the night that she met Jesus Christ for the first time. Her life is just as it was the day the Lord crossed her path. Yet the subtle but evocative tension in the painting makes it evident that her world has been shaken and she knows she must change.

She has returned home, alone, and cannot sleep. She sits down at her vanity which until this afternoon was the center of her life. La Tour paints nothing superfluous here; only those things most dear to her, things to which she has clung for happiness and fulfillment, but that have only served to leave her feeling empty inside: Her richly embroidered clothing, her silver mirror with its carved and gilded frame, her fine jewels and her string of pearls which, while tossed aside, are still within her grasp.

Interestingly enough Mary’s head is turned away from the viewer—leaving us to imagine her expression, and even better, identify ourselves with it—and, while facing the mirror, she is not looking into it. She is gazing far beyond; she has realized there is something more to life then what is external, then in those things which she has placed her security and happiness. The Lord had cast seven demons from her life, seven lies that she had believed about God and about herself; this night, however, she is finally free of them, but she knows that the changes she has to make and which still lie ahead will be hard.

The flickering flame of the candle is the primary source of light. It is soft, calm, inviting, strong, and supersedes the light of an ordinary candle. It keeps the menacing darkness away. It illuminates her face and her heart—primarily her heart—to show that she has focused on the core of who she is, and subtly shows the love that she has felt that day. Yet it also shines on the mirror and on her robes and on her jewels—the light of Christ has begun to enlighten everything in her life. It is the power of the Holy Spirit through which all true conversion and penance is inspired.

She holds a skull, which at first seems macabre, and certainly was not a fitting decoration for her vanity, but is symbolic of the gravity and seriousness of the assessment she is making of her life. Her hands are folded calmly upon it and it rests gently in her lap; this is not an anxious and tense conversion, but a realistic one. She knows her life will end; she recognizes her mortality; she is asking herself what is truly important in her life—not her mirror or her jewels—and she is preparing her heart to die to those things.

But what will she exchange them with after she gives them up? What will tomorrow morning bring? She stares into the darkness looking for an answer but there is no reply. Conversion always requires faith. The answers and the way are presented gradually. There is a natural trepidation when it comes to change, conversion, stepping out to follow the Lord, and, yes, penance—but this is only a smaller aspect of a larger and more liberating truth, which Pope Benedict expressed so well in his inaugural homily:

Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.

Conversion and penance should never be thought of as a loss but as a transformation, an exchange, for something greater: From what is bad to good, from good to better, and from better to best. In reality the Lord does not ask us to give anything up; rather, he asks that we chose the better part, to go from vice to virtue, from complaining to gratitude, from bitterness to forgiveness, from vanity to humility, from lust to love, from anger to patience, from discouragement to hope, from where we are to where we know we are called by the Lord to be.

Conversion and all it entails is a calling of love and is not reached with an empty white knuckle attitude. Notice how gently her hands are folded upon the skull. It is not angst but Christ’s transforming love that impels and inspires her to change. The strength to do this does not come from within one’s own will, though the will is certainly needed, but from the light and the guidance and the power and the fire of the Holy Spirit active in an open heart. Notice how Mary’s garments show how open her heart is.

I’m not certain if George de la Tour ever underwent a conversion himself, but through candlelight and shadow, a mirror and jewels, a skull and robes, and a facial expression we can’t see, he captures the essential elements of one: The love of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

Fr Jason Smith

Penitent Magdalene essay: Copyright © 2012-2013 Fr. Jason Smith. All Rights Reserved

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

Pope Benedict 16th – Evangelization Demands Courage and the Truth

No sooner had Pope Benedict announced his planned abdication of St. Peter’s chair when the attacks on him began to appear. I am posting on this story because the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts is primarily concerned with evangelization of the Catholic faith through the prayerful study and creation of the sacred arts. Be that as it may, when a vicious and false attack occurs on the Church or a member of the clergy it is incumbent upon us as Catholics to respond with courage and the truth.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, based in New York, and headed by Bill Donohue, Ph.D is in the forefront of presenting the truth when the Church is attacked. It deserves our support and prayers.

The following re-post which concerns an attack on Pope Benedict 16th (found below after my comments) is from their website http://www.catholicleague.org/.

Bill Donohue wrote the post which tells the truth about the Pope’s actions and it deserves to be read by every Catholic. We cannot sit idly by while the Church is being attacked. If you read this blog then you are interested in sacred beauty and the truth, goodness, and beauty of God that the Church has faithfully taught for two thousand years. Yet, it is very easy to get lost in beauty. We must support the arts, but we must not retreat into them. Saying, “Well, there is nothing I can do about it.” Wrong. There is something you can do about it.

There are two ways to support the Church in this effort: first through your prayers for those who are in the front-lines fighting on behalf of the Church, and second, through your actual involvement by defending the Church when you see or hear it attacked. We are in a very dynamic spiritual war. We cannot sit on the side-lines. The Lord Himself said that we need to choose – one side or the other – but don’t be neutral. He was very specific about the truth that He is sickened by neutrality (confer Revelation 3: 13 – 22; Romans 16: 17-18).

The re-post of Bill Donohue’s article concerns a now dead atheist British journalist named Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) who loved to attack the Church and any public figures who he believed were wrong or, in his opinion, frauds (from Mother Teresa, to Winston Churchill, to Princess Diana).

The article that Bill Donohue wrote and published this morning relates some of the lies that Hitchens told concerning Pope Benedict 16th. These lies have been picked up and resold as the truth by another journalist by the name of Andrew Sullivan. I have posted this article by Donohue so you can be armed with the truth.

We must unite as a force for truth-filled evangelization and arm ourselves with the facts. Donohue’s article contains the facts – arm yourself with them and use the grace you received at your Confirmation to patiently, but firmly, inform those that malign our Catholic faith, the papacy, and Benedict in particular, with the truth.

Here is Bill Donohue’s article:

Hitchens is Back from the Dead

February 12, 2013

“Bill Donohue takes note of the resurrection of Christopher Hitchens:

Hitchens has been brought back from the dead by Slate and Andrew Sullivan, but it won’t do them any good. Yesterday, they republished a hit piece by the atheist from 2010 that was vintage Hitchens: the man was a great polemicist but a third-class scholar. Facts never mattered to him.

Hitchens said the scandal “has only just begun.” Wrong. It began in the mid-60s and ended in the mid-80s. Current reports are almost all about old cases.

Hitchens said Munich Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger (the pope) transferred an offending cleric to another parish. Wrong. Ratzinger’s deputy placed the priest in a new parish after he received therapy (the tonic loved by those pushing rehabilitation), and even the New York Times admitted there was no evidence that Ratzinger knew about it. By the way, there were 1,717 priests serving under him at the time.

Hitchens said Ratzinger wrote a 2001 letter to the bishops telling them it was a crime to report sexual abuse. Wrong. The letter dealt with desecrating the Eucharist, and the sexual solicitation by a priest in the confessional (the letter cited a 1962 document detailing harsh sanctions).

Hitchens said Ratzinger was obstructing justice when he crafted new norms on sexual abuse in 2001. Wrong. He actually added new sanctions and extended the statute of limitations for such offenses.

Hitchens says Ratzinger ignored accusations against Father Marcial Maciel. Wrong. It was Benedict who got him removed from ministry (he was too infirm to put on trial) and put his religious order in receivership.

In short, Hitchens’ hatred of Catholicism allowed him to swing wildly. That he should be resurrected by Slate and Andrew Sullivan makes them all look incompetent, as well as vicious.”

Copyright © 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Pope Benedict 16th and the Virtues of Humility and Patience

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

Pope’s Legacy is Secure

February 11, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Mary, The Holy Mother of God – The Sign of Our Unity

We celebrate on this the first day of the New Year the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.

Mary, by this very title, is the Holy Mother of the human nature of Jesus Christ. We receive insights on how the Church came to this title within the Holy Scriptures; for through a prayerful reading of them we come to an understanding of who this remarkable young woman was and what she means for us today. Three evangelists, Matthew, Luke, and John help us with this in their presentation of Mary as a woman who was clear minded, humble, intelligent, devout, loving, immensely strong, and quietly, yet fiercely, devoted to her Son.

Our beautiful Scriptural readings for this Solemnity (Numbers 6: 22-27, Galatians 4: 4-7, and Luke 2: 16-21) help us  approach today’s celebration through the perception of Mary herself. Today’s Scriptures remind us that Mary and  Joseph were devout Jews who understood the importance of faith, family devotion, tradition, and the fulfillment of the Jewish Law itself. It was with Holy Scripture – Hebrew and Christian – in mind, and the sacred tradition provided by the Apostolic fathers, that the debate over Mary’s title rested upon.

The designation of Mary, as the Holy Mother of God was debated and decided upon at the third Ecumenical Council of the Church. It was held in the year 431 at the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor. This Church Council was known as the First Council of Ephesus and was attended by over 250 bishops from the four (soon to be five) patriarchates of the Catholic Church: Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and eventually, in 451, Jerusalem (Jerusalem, at the time of the First Council of Ephesus was part of the Patriarchate of Antioch, Syria). Now that the formal persecutions by the Roman Empire had ended, the fifth century saw much activity within the Church to formally secure theological positions on both Christ and the role of His mother in salvation history. The catechesis of the people was paramount. Using their gifts of reason and the Holy Spirit, combined with the Holy Scriptures, and the sacred Tradition of the early Church the assembled bishops determined to safeguard the Truth of the Church while simultaneously further establishing the foundations for the  catechesis of its clergy and laity.

But at the heart of the matter, for all Christians, Jesus is the human incarnation of God Almighty. He presents to us in His Person, the true, physical Presence, of God; and with His Divine Nature intact, He in turn with a true human nature, could then call us His brothers and sisters. We are, through Him, and Mary’s maternity, adopted sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven. Mary is the Mother of Jesus’ human nature, and, she is the Mother of the Church.

How do we know this?

We know it because Jesus said it was so: “Whatever you did for the least of My brothers and sisters, you did for Me” Matthew 25:40; and let us not forget John 19: 26-27: Jesus saw His own mother, and the disciple [John] standing near whom He loved; He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” And from that hour, he took his mother into his family.” 

Such is the love of God for His creation.

Theotokos

While doing some other research a few weeks ago, I was struck  by some quotes from the three main leaders of the 16th century Protestant revolt. While certainly these men steered their new churches along a different path from the Tradition of the Western and Eastern Rites, the quotes provided below show them to have an understanding and love for Mary as the Holy Mother of God and the significance of her perpetual virginity.

Martin Luther: “It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin… Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact.” (Works of Luther, Vol. 11, pages 319-320; Vol. 6, page 510.)

John Calvin: “There have been certain folk who have wished to suggest from this passage [Matthew 1:25] that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! For the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph’s obedience and to show that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company… And beside this Our Lord Jesus Christ is called the first-born. This is not because there was a second or a third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to the precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or no there was any question of the second.” (Sermon on Matthew 1:22-25. Published in 1562.)

Ulrich Zwingli: “I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel, as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.” (Zwingli Opera, Vol. 1, page 424.)

Perhaps, in God’s Divine Plan, the beautiful and holy virgin Mary – the Holy Mother of God – will be the cause for the reunification of all the Christian Churches: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.

As a fellow Christian, please consider making the following prayer that I wrote a few hours ago part of your own prayer arsenal for the New Year: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, keep us within your most precious and immaculate heart. Through your maternal love, intercede with your Son to remove the painful scars of division and hurt that lie within our own hardened hearts. We implore you to ask your Son to strengthen us with His Truth, Goodness, and Beauty so that we may always fulfill His Divine Will. Amen.”

Copyright © 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Notes: Source of the sacred icon of the Holy Theotokos with the Christ: http://en.lpj.org/2011/12/30/solennite-de-marie-mere-de-dieu/ 

Protestant leader quotations taken from http://blackieschurchmilitant-apocalypsis.blogspot.com/2008/01/perpetual-viginity-of-blessed-virgin.html

 

The Christmas Star of Bethlehem – Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Even though the vast majority of us are not astronomers, the famous star of Bethlehem still has a great ability to intrigue us especially as it relates to its actual astronomical occurrence. As Christians we believe in the Christmas story, not as legend or myth, but as an actual historical occurrence which led to the Redemption of mankind by the Son of God – Jesus Christ.

There are many elements of the Nativity of Christ that are expressed by the evangelists, and one of the most interesting is the illumination of Israel by a brilliant star at the time of the actual birth of Jesus. The Christmas Star has intrigued artists and poets in its ability to shed light on the truth of the cosmic meaning of Christmas; and in recent years some research has been done using computer animation and astronomical programs to determine if, when, and where it actually occurred.

The EWTN network usually airs a contemporary and extremely popular documentary entitled The Star  (of Bethlehem) (please examine the filmmaker – Rick Larson’s site – for a wonderful, multipart, overview of his documentary: www.bethlehemstar.net/

The following post attempts to determine the birth date of Jesus Christ in light of the astronomical evidence. The quotes I provide are taken from a fascinating study entitled Probable Date of Birth of Christ found in this website: www: copiosa.org/christmas/birth_date.htm by Father William G. Most (Fr. Most’s article offers a summary of the work done by  E. L. Martin, in his book The Star That Astonished the World, ASK Publications).

“In the evening of June 17, 2 BC, there was a spectacular astronomical event in the western sky. Venus moved eastward seemingly going to collide with Jupiter. They appeared as one star, not two, dominating the twilight of the western sky in the direction of Palestine. This conjunction had not happened for centuries, and would not happen again for more centuries. Jupiter was considered the Father, Venus the Mother.

Then not many days later, Venus came within 0.36 degrees of Mercury. On September 11 came the New Moon, the Jewish New Year. This happened when Jupiter, the King planet was approaching Regulus, the King star. Further, there were three conjunctions of Jupiter and Regulus within the constellation of Leo, the lion, which was considered the head of the Zodiac.

Now Genesis 49:10 had foretold there would always be a ruler from Judah, whom Jacob called the lion, until the time of the Messiah. The star Regulus, which astronomers called the King Star, dominated Leo.

The Magi, being astronomers and astrologers, would surely read these signs. (The three conjunctions with Regulus were August 12, 3 BC; February 17, 2 BC, and May 8/9, 2 BC). In Hebrew, Jupiter was called sedeq = “righteous,” a term especially pertaining to the Messiah.

On September 11, Jupiter was close in the constellation of Virgo, the virgin. On September 3rd of 3 BC Jupiter was in conjunction with Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo — Leo the Lion, which was associated with Kings, and the Lion of Judah, as foretold by the dying Jacob in Egypt in Genesis 49:10.

Also, on December 25 of 2 BC, Jupiter stopped for 6 days over Bethlehem. This is a normal motion for Jupiter; it stops twice, and reverses its seeming movement. This may have been the very time the Magi came with their gifts. This was also the time of the Hanukkah festival, during which it was customary for Jewish Fathers to give gifts to their children.

The shepherds watching their flocks in the fields indicate a date either in late summer or early fall.

E.L. Martin [whose research this article is based on] thinks the birth of Jesus was in September, 3 BC (Jupiter in conjunction with Regulus), and the probable date of the Magi was December 25, 2 BC (Jupiter stopped for 6 days over Bethlehem).”

Please don’t forget when we speak in BC time, the “ladder of time” comes down from let us say 10,000 BC to 1 BC, in a descending order, so 3 BC comes before 2 BC.

In AD time (Anno Domini, a Latin phrase which means “the year of Our Lord” the “ladder of time” is ascending, so, we are currently in the year 2012, but as of midnight December 31st, we will then be in the year 2013, or two thousand and thirteen years since the birth of Christ. When this Gregorian Calendar system was developed and applied to western Europe, approximately five hundred years ago, they did not have the sophistication of computer/astronomical observations to correct the date of Christ’s birth, if we agree with Martin’s research, to the year 3 BC.

“The above span of dates (approx. 16 months) coincides with The Slaughter of the Innocents, where Herod killed all males under the age of two years. Herod died shortly thereafter. Interestingly, More than 600 planetariums here and in Europe have revised their Christmas star show to match this work of E. L. Martin.”

594px-Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-18-_-_Adoration_of_the_Magi

The above painting is entitled the Adoration of the Magi by Florentine painter Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337). The Star of Bethlehem is shown as a comet above the child. Giotto witnessed an appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1301.

“Magi were not really just astrologers. They served as court advisors, going from one royal court to another. It would not then be difficult to suppose they had come from a great distance with gifts. In those days all astronomers were acquainted with astrology. They were also mathematicians.” This is the end of Fr. Most’s article.

For more information check out Fr. Most’s website: copiosa.org/christmas/index.htm. As you go down this index on the left hand side you will see Fr. Most’s complete article on the Probable Date of the Birth of Christ. His site has some very interesting articles that can be very helpful in explaining to people – especially children – the origins of Catholic Christmas traditions.

220px-Nativity_Icon

The above icon was written (painted) in Russia and displays, in a lovely catechetical way, the entire Nativity narrative: the angel’s appearance to the shepherds, the Star of Bethlehem (appearing as a disk with a shaft of light coming down to the cave of the birth, the actual birth of the child Jesus being wrapped in swaddling clothes by His Blessed Mother – Mary, the coming of the Magi, the washing of the child Jesus, and St. Joseph being visited by an old man in furs (some refer to this last image as the temptation to doubt that confronted Joseph.

Soon after the dream visitation by an angel, St. Joseph realizes the nature of this Child. He understands that he is given the responsibility to care for Him and His mother and raise the child as if He was his very own. St. Joseph does exactly that; he is the epitome of quiet, loving leadership, and a model for all fathers.

St. Joseph is silent throughout the entire Gospel narrative. Yet, his actions speak louder than words. We see in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 1: 18ff) that he ultimately had a thoughtful plan to quietly divorce Mary when he learns that she is pregnant; however, he is not stubborn or hard of heart, for when the angel Gabriel visits him and tells him what is happening he does not rebel and say “No, I will not do it” out of pride or ego. Rather, he changes his plan and trusts the angel’s message which was sent by God to him.

This is so important – and it should speak volumes to us – if we, too, have open hearts and minds to hear what God is telling us in prayer, Scripture, and the grace of the Holy Sacraments. These three sacred tools, along with a holy orthodox spiritual director, will assist us on our path – and like the Star of Bethlehem – lead us to the Christ.

In the immortal words of Tiny Tim Cratchit: “… and a Merry Christmas, everyone!”

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

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

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

visitation

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

00.159.19_PS1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

December 21, 2012 – The Archangel Gabriel’s Greeting to Zechariah

A very clear narrative greets us in the Gospel by St. Luke. He tells us that both Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were both righteous before God: walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord – they were blameless; but they have no child. Elizabeth was barren and both were elderly. We read of Zechariah silently bringing his heavy heart before the Lord – even after all those years – it was still burdened with disappointment. The couple probably remembered Psalm 112 which says:

“Happy the man who fears the Lord, who takes delight in his commands. His sons will be powerful on earth; the children of the upright are blessed.”

Zechariah was a priest, and on that day – by lot – it was his turn to enter the chamber within the Temple called the Holy Place and burn incense on the special altar. The Holy Place was a small chamber that led to the Holy of Holies, which housed the Ark of the Covenant.

For whatever reason, Zechariah that morning carried his disappointment with him into the Holy Place; and while he was there the archangel, Gabriel, appeared on the right side of the Altar of Incense. Gabriel tells Zechariah not to be afraid and that his prayer was heard before the throne of God. Gabriel continues with the joyous news that Elizabeth will bear a son, and that he will be called John – which in Hebrew means – “the Lord is gracious.” This child will grow and be great before the Lord, and even from his mother’s womb – he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.

But, in a typically human way, Zechariah questions the archangel’s announcement. His query must have been different in tone. It must have had the typical masculine attitude of “Are you kidding me!” Zechariah’s tenor makes Gabriel, and possibly God, indignant – and Zechariah is struck speechless for his insolence.

In Scripture, few lines later, we see Gabriel’s announcement to Mary. She questions him, too, as “How can this be since I do not know man? But Gabriel does not strike her speechless. We have to be struck by this difference. What does it teach us?

It is clear that God knows our hearts. God knew what was on Zechariah’s heart when he was in the Holy Place. Zechariah does not trust the message or the messenger, and by inference – he does not trust God. God knows his heart; and disciplines this good man. Like Zechariah, we, too, may disbelieve God. In our sophistication or position in life we may say “Well that’s fine, but, the Scriptures don’t apply to our situation, or this specific teaching was acceptable years ago, but, too much time has passed and it doesn’t apply to my problems.

The Gospel says that Zechariah and his wife were good and righteous people. It was mentioned that he kept all the Commandments and ordinances. Yet, when his big moment comes – where is all that goodness and righteousness? It might still be there in his heart, but, there was also a pocket of doubt – a crevice of skepticism – that was significant enough for him, as a priest of the Almighty God, to be struck speechless in punishment for not trusting Gabriel’s message.

As sacred artists, as Christians, this Gospel asks us to stop, and check our souls in this last week of Advent. It asks us how patient, confident, and trusting have we been of the Lord’s message to our hearts, and have we allowed this to carry over into our actions? Have we become more interested in all the hype about the end of the world from a pagan culture, or, have we trusted in the Word of the Lord and His messengers?

Zechariah learned the hard way that when the Lord prepares us for His coming He desires us to be alive, awake, and alert to His call and to trust His message. So, our prayer in these last days of Advent should echo that of Zechariah, who in the months of speechless waiting, most likely in his mental prayer said,  “Lord, I believe; cleanse me of my disbelief. Lord, I trust, heal me of my distrust;” and it should also echo that of Mary – who in humility and expectation waited patiently for the graciousness of the Lord to take fruit in her womb.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Thanks to angels-angelology.com for stained glass window image

Gaudete Sunday In Light of the Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we do that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Lady of Guadalupe – An Icon of The Woman Who Will Crush The Serpent

Today’s feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of all the Americas, recalls the apparition of our Blessed Mother on the hill of Tepeyac in present day Mexico City. This approved apparition occurred from December 9th through the 12th 1531. Guadalupe is the Spanish translation of the Aztec phrase that Juan Diego heard Mary associate herself with – the name, interestingly, in Aztec means “she will crush the serpent of stone.”

In the same year as this Marian apparition, rebellion and protest against the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church was sweeping Germany, France, and England. While millions of people were leaving the faith in Europe, the  Blessed Mother, through the miraculous image that appeared on Juan Diego’s tilma, convinces millions of people to enter the Catholic faith in Central America.

As the European rebellion was tearing down millennia of Church theology and sacred tradition, Our Lady was building up the understanding of both the Spanish clergy in Mexico and the Native American population of the love of God and the assurance of her compassion and protection.

Our Lady spoke to Juan Diego in his native dialect. She identified herself and said:  “Juanito, the humblest of my children, know and understand that I am the ever virgin Mary, Mother of the true God through whom all things live. It is my ardent desire that a church be erected here so that in it I can show and bestow my love, compassion, help, and protection to all who inhabit this land and to those others who love me, that they might call upon and confide in me. Go to the Bishop of Mexico to make known to him what I greatly desire. Go and put all your efforts into this.” (footnote 1)

You probably know the rest of the story. The Bishop is told of this event, disbelieves Juan Diego, and then the bishop asks for a sign. Juan Diego reports back to Mary and is told by her to cut the Castilian roses that are growing and put them in his poncho which is called a tilma. The tilma is opened in front of the Bishop and other witnesses, the roses fall out, and the miraculous image of Our Lady appears on the tilma.

But is this story true?

Here are some of the historical facts:

1) The extraordinary conversion of multi-millions of Native Americans, and the Aztecs in particular, who, as a blood thirsty civilization, were known to kill as many as 20,000 human beings in one day to appease the blood lust of their primary god.

2) The roses that Juan Diego cut were native of Damascus, Syria, and did grow in Spain, but were unknown in Mexico at that time.

3) The tilma, or poncho, that Juan Diego wore was made of the agave fibers traditionally used by the Native Americans. These fibers were a natural substance that should have deteriorated within 35 years, and yet, today, the 481st anniversary of the event – this tilma is still in excellent condition.

4) Through scientific analysis done over the last forty years, it has been determined that the pigments used on the tilma are not of natural or man-made material, and there is no glue or sizing on the tilma to fix the pigment in place. Plus the colorization or iridescence of the image on this “icon not made with human hands” would not have been able to be produced by a human artist in the 16th century. This iridescent effect would have been seen only in nature.

5) Our Lady is represented in the colors and dress of a pregnant Aztec princess. Modern astronomical research has shown that the stars on Our Lady’s image are in the configuration of the stars in the heavens on the nights of the apparition in 1531.

6) Most remarkably, a microscopic analysis of Our Lady’s eyes was completed by Peruvian engineer and optical scientist Dr. Jose Aste Tonsmann (who trained at Cornell University and worked at IBM). He magnified the iris of the Virgin’s eyes 2,500 times and, through mathematical and optical calculations, was able to identify the witnesses of the Guadalupan miracle at the moment Juan Diego unfurled his tilma before the bishop and other witnesses [the bishop was Juan de Zumarraga, the Franciscan bishop of Mexico City.] (footnote 2)

But most importantly, these few miraculous facts about the icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe, do not stress the key issues of this apparition:

1) You see, Our Lady came to the Mexican people – as she comes to us this Advent season – as a pregnant young woman who is promoting life and her protection – not only for her unborn child – but for all of us.

2) Our Lady calls to us through this icon to stress that she loves us, has compassion for us, sees our tears, and desires to offer us her love and comfort.

3) As the Mother of the incarnate Son of God she also points to her Son, and desires a church to be built so He can be properly worshipped, the people receive His graces, and so she can be there to assist us in our prayers to God.

4) Mary has always reminded us that He is the One, True, All Powerful God who desires our love, respect, and obedience.

As the Roman Breviary says this morning: “Who is this that comes forth like the dawn, as beautiful as the moon, as resplendent as the sun? You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel; you are the fairest honor of our race. O Virgin Mary, how great your cause for joy; God found you worthy to bear Christ our Savior.”

And as the Book of Revelation tells us, God has found Mary worthy to crush the head of the Serpent. All praise, honor, and glory be to God! And may the Blessed Virgin’s love help transform us into the image of Christ. Amen.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Footnotes and  sites to investigate for more information:

(1) From a report by Don Antonio Valeriano, a Native American author of the 16th century; as published in the Supplement of the New Feasts and Memorials for the General Roman Calendar – The Liturgy of the Hours.

(2) “Science Sees What Mary Saw From Juan Diego’s Tilma”   Zenit News Service, 2001.

Zenit News Agency. Science Stunned by Virgin of Guadalupe’s Eyes. 1/14/2001

http://www.miraclehunter.com/marian_apparitions/index.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ourlady2

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

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

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

What Does Charles Dickens Have To Do With St. Francis Xavier?!

The novels of Charles Dickens have always been a favorite of mine, for contained within them are so many marvelous and accurate observations of human nature.

For example, in his novel The Christmas Carol, Dickens knew that each of us carries within our hearts and memories an accumulation of past Advent and Christmas seasons – seasons that dramatically influence the way we prepare and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

All of our past and present preparations for the Solemnity of Christmas either enriches or diminishes our love for our Lord and for those who will share in His birthday with us.

With this in mind, possibly we can admit that our past Advent preparations have not been as good as they should have been; maybe we were more concerned with the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of the season rather than the state of our hearts and souls.

If this is so, then we should joyfully take the prophet Isaiah’s advice and “Climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways and we may walk in His paths.” (Isaiah 2: 3).

The prophet’s instruction in this morning’s reading  demand that we remain alert and awake, to the promptings of His voice and the movement of His Spirit.

Perhaps, most importantly, he demands that we spend time in prayer – learning and reflecting on the fact that Advent is a time of penitentially preparing for Jesus to enter our lives right now by being born into our hearts.

If Christmas Day is to be especially meaningful for us this year, we need to embrace Jesus not just as the past babe in the manger or the future righteous king; but as the present healer, Savior, and teacher who alone is capable of touching our hearts and bringing joy into our lives.

It is in this spirit of healer and teacher that we also remember today, the witness of one of the founding members of the Jesuit Order, St. Francis Xavier, who preached throughout Asia and brought the love and hope of Christ to those who lived in darkness and ignorance of the Redemptive sacrifice of Christ.

st-francisxavierbody-7128321

The above photograph is of the incorrupt body of St. Francis Xavier S.J. He died on this day in 1552. Forensic pathologists have examined his body and have concluded that while it is decomposed in spots, the body is, for the most part, incorrupt. It presently resides in the Church of the Baby Jesus in Goa, India. Xavier possessed indefatigable zeal, extraordinary and heroic faith, and desire to spur others to see themselves as missionaries; because of this he is known as the patron saint of all missionaries.

Charles Dickens, the 19th century English writer has captivated many people with his extraordinary ability to paint word pictures of unforgettable characters and scenes. But, what is it that links St. Francis Xavier with Charles Dickens?

Charles Dickens

It could be said that they both, as very gifted men, had the ability to speak to the heart of their listeners. They desired to touch not just the emotions, but the will of their audience. By that I mean that they both desired to see that their listeners had an experience which took them beyond themselves into a realm that opened their minds, hearts, and wills to act on the message that was being given. Who can disagree with Xavier’s ability to sway the hearts and minds of the Indian people who desired to hear him and follow his call to turn their lives over to Christ?

And what of Dickens?  Because of their emotional and psychological impact he was known to have people faint at his public readings of his most loved stories. Who can forget the haunting and cutting words of the Ghost of Christmas Present when he says to Scrooge “Are there no poor houses? Are there no prisons?” after showing Ebenezer the scrawny bodies of Ignorance and Want.

As we begin this Advent Season, let us pray that we possess the faith, hope and love of St. Francis Xavier, and, yes, even the gift of a Charles Dickens’ story, to express that our Lord will quietly work in our own lives to prepare our hearts to be ready to hold and comfort Him on Christmas morning and throughout the year.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Lumen Christi Award

Teresa Rice, prolific essayist and insightful commentator at the catholibertarian.com blog has nominated The Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts for the Lumen Christi award.

This is our fourth award nomination, and I must say, I am also deeply touched an honored by it. Thank you very much.

I am told that I must answer three questions, and then nominate another blogger.

First, “the name of my favorite saint,” well, its a split decision: St. Thomas Aquinas and Beato Fra Angelico. For Aquinas expressed the truth, goodness, and beauty of God through scholarship and Angelico expressed it through artistic creativity.

Second, “Name my favorite part of the Mass”: the moment of the Consecration of the Holy Eucharist and Precious Blood and then my reception of the Divine Presence; the Eucharist – “the Source and Summit” of Our Faith.

Third, “My favorite part of being a Catholic.”  I hope my answer does not fall into the category of spiritual pride. “The favorite part” is the knowledge that, over a two thousand year period, the truths that Jesus Christ handed down to the Apostles have been continuously protected, expressed, evangelized, and elucidated by elegant teachers of the Church – in both the Latin and Greek Rites. These teachers were not afraid to explore the meaning of our faith as well as investigate and contribute to secular fields of study. Fine Catholic men and women have contributed much to world civilization; and with God’s help, will continue to do so in the future.

My nomination: I nominate the blog called The Pulpit: bigpulpit.com  It is compiled by Tito Benedictus and it is one of the finest resources for insightful, meaningful, and always thought provoking articles from around the Catholic world: Latin Rite, Eastern Rites, Coptics, and the Orthodox Rite. It is truly a cornucopia of information. Check it out!

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Thought you might enjoy my homily for this weekend’s solemnity of Christ the King:

Today, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrate the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe; yet, our Gospel presents to us a scene that recalls Good Friday. For we again hear and visualize Pilate’s interrogation of Christ and His kingdom.

In the Book of Revelation Jesus is given the title King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:16); and today, at the heart of this Gospel, we are challenged to respond to that title.

It is a challenge that implores us to answer the most important question that we will ever confront:

Do I recognize – accept – and live my lifeas a witness to the truth that Jesus Christ is my Lord and King?” 

In 1925, when this solemnity of Christ the King was first instituted by Pope Pius 11th, the Pope realized that humanity was beset by all sorts of conflicting thoughts, ideologies, movements and distractions that continually cried out for attention and acceptance.

Pius 11th knew that the situation had to be addressed and that he needed to clearly state to the world that Jesus the Christ should be the only King of our hearts and souls.

“The Pope understood that “the claim of Christ came first: Pax Christi in regno Christi: the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ (as related by Fr. Ronald Knox).”  In other words – the peace of Christ comes only when we live our lives within and according to the kingdom of Christ.

We are here today because we know this to be true. Yet, there are many Catholics, and maybe even some of us – clergy and laity alike – who are similar to the people that Pope Pius was addressing in 1925.

We are conflicted. We are distracted. We are beset by numerous loyalties that, when examined are truly not of Christ – loyalties whether social, political, sexual, or financial that are more akin to the Kingdom of Darkness and Shadows – the Kingdom of Deception  – than the kingdom of Light and Truth.

We are beset by numerous confusions or lack of comprehension that affects our entire understanding of who Jesus is, what He accomplished on the Cross, and is capable of doing  for us in our own lives.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the statistics. There are approximately 68 million Catholics in this nation, but only 30% – or 21 million of them – actually practice their faith on a weekly basis and these numbers hold true for even our own parish.  (Gallup Poll, Parish census)

Based on these numbers alone, we must again ask the question: “Is Christ our King?”

If Catholics do not participate in the great prayer of the Kingdom of God – which is the Holy Mass – and have no understanding of the reality of Christ’s true presence in Holy Communion, and rarely receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation because they have lost all awareness of the concept of sin and have convinced themselves that they do not sin – will they receive the welcome of God’s love and fellowship at the time of their deaths?

My brothers and sisters – Jesus Christ is truly our Lord and King – but He will never force Himself on us. He gave all of us, repentant and unrepentant, the gifts of reason and free will; and through the Sacraments He freely gives to us the gifts of His saving grace.

Jesus does not want mankind to be robotic in their love and worship of Him; we can freely choose to be members of the Kingdom of Light  – or  –  the Kingdom of Darkness.

Remember Christ’s words in His Gospel – ‘Choose one Kingdom or the other’ – regardless of what the pundits say – there is no middle ground.

Next weekend we begin a new liturgical year, and as we do so it is incumbent upon us, in this Year of Faith, to evaluate ourselves and do everything we can to accept, practice, and proclaim that Jesus Christ is the king of our lives and souls – not just for an hour on Sunday – but for all eternity.

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

Thanks to livingscripture.wordpress.com for the icon of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The artist of this image was not listed.

We Are All Blind – We Are All Needy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Josaphat Kuncevych – A Saint of Forgiveness and Unity

In this morning’s Gospel from St. Luke (17: 1-6) we hear Jesus imploring His disciples to teach and practice the art of forgiveness toward those who hurt and abuse us, our families, and friends.

Jesus is teaching that it is so important for people who want to be considered His disciples to follow His example and in no way offer a bad example or scandal to others. Jesus is emphasizing the power of faith to assist us in our efforts to be His disciples. People of faith possess the grace to forgive others.

Our desire to model Jesus enables our hearts to be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit. This, in turn, empowers us to demonstrate our faith and yes, do the impossible in touching and moving the dead weight of a person’s soul who is mired in sin and dissension.

Faith is infused into our souls at the moment of our Baptism. It is increased at our First Holy Communion and every subsequent Communion, and is increased further still when we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. The grace of Faith is given to us so that we may possess the spiritual energy to develop a personal relationship with God, and, those around us.

With today’s Gospel in mind we can say that God expects more from us than we can do by ourselves. You see God wants us, with His help, to scale the mountains of our own difficulties and to climb upon the crosses of our everyday life. It is through this stress and burnishing that we receive, in His love, the personality that makes us ready to be His partners in eternity.

We are given numerous examples of this truth through the various saints of the Eastern and Western Rites of the Church. Today we remember Bishop Josaphat Kuncevych who died in 1623. He was born in Poland, and raised within the Ukranian Orthodox Church. He however, as a young adult, converted to the Latin Rite of the Church, became a monk of St. Basil, and ultimately was ordained a bishop.

His fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church, and his outstanding ability to convince members of the Orthodox Rite to unite with Rome while still preserving their Slavonic rite and liturgy, led to his murder and martyrdom for the Church. His enemies dubbed him “the thief of souls.”

St. Josaphat Kuncevych took today’s Gospel to heart. He is, as Pope Pius 11th said of him “the great glory and strength” of the Eastern Rite Slavic Church. He literally was a mover of the mountain of disunity, and energetically believed that there should be fraternal bonds of respectful love, liturgy, and unity between the Eastern and Western Rites of the Catholic Church.

Let us pray today for St. Josaphat’s intercession to obtain the grace of his strength, love, and sense of forgiveness so that we, too, may carry out the Lord’s desire to see the various Rites of His Church living in love and unity.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

St. Teresa of Avila – On Love

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

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

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

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

What does her witness have to say to us today?

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

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

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

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

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

The Virtues of St. Francis of Assisi – A Model For Sacred Artists

In our celebration of the memorial of St. Francis of Assisi we must pause for a moment and examine the virtues that motivated and energized his life.

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

In other words, he kept to what was essential in life: “God, the state of our soul, judgment and eternal life.” He realized that “to be simple is to see things with the eyes of God. St. Francis pursued simplicity because he innately knew that God Himself is simple” (from a sermon by Fr. Ronald Knox, 1936).

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

Thus we see his extraordinary reaction to his father’s demand for repayment for the fabrics he took, and sold, to benefit the poor. How did he react when accused? He publicly disrobed; a humble nude standing majestically in the town square. Michelangelo should have attempted to sculpt that scene in marble. For what was the scene?

It was the image of the young Francis, not confronting the Goliath of military invasion, rather, the Goliath of a garden serpent who tempted him to return to the sweet life, la dolce vita. It was the image of the grace of a God given vision to live a virtuous life. Its simple grace would be the stone that would bring down the giant of his own ego and worldliness.

The magnificent Florentine painter, Giotto (1226-1337), born the same year St. Francis died, painted these virtues of St. Francis at work when he portrayed Pope Innocent III’s dream of Francis holding up the pillars of the Church.

It was St. Francis, and his fellow friars that would live in their daily lives the virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These virtues, within the Franciscan perspective, would sweep the imagination of Europe and even gain respect in the Mid East.

How does this apply to an artist? Sacred artists must strive for balance in their spiritual and artistic life. Giotto is a wonderful example for us because he combines the principles of action and contemplation. Like Francis, Giotto was balanced. He achieved simplicity in his portrayal of spiritual truths, and was able to witness  continual dedication to combining action (art) with contemplation (prayer during the creative process).

Giotto was a master of painting sacred images that made St. Francis’ life come alive. For example, he captures the spirit of Francis in the Holy Land and brings a favorite story about him to life. In the year 1219 during the Fifth Crusade, Francis traveled to the Holy Land, where he was captured and beaten by the Muslims.

St. Bonaventure tells us in his history of the Franciscan Order that St. Francis was brought before the sultan Al Kamil, and he preached to him about love and the meaning of Jesus’ life. When Francis finished his sermon he then challenged the Sultan’s imams to a religious test to determine which was the true religion – Islam or Catholicism. The painting below, entitled Trial by Fire by Giotto, illustrates the drama of that moment.

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

The Sultan’s eyes lit up – now this is a man of faith!

His imams, however, felt that they had better things to do.

But from that moment on Al Kamil was so impressed with Francis that he gave the Franciscans safe passage to travel and stay unhindered, anywhere, in Muslim occupied territories; and as a direct result of this act, eight hundred years later, if you go to Jerusalem you will see that the Franciscans are still the Catholic Religious Order responsible for the maintenance of the holy shrines.

Theologian Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio teaches us that “St. Thomas Aquinas explains that a virtue, like a physical muscle, is a habit – a power or capacity – that gets stronger when its exercised – and atrophies – when it is not.” St. Francis shows us that faith and love, prayer and service are the main muscles in our spiritual body; and for artists they are the virtues that keep our lives balanced. Are we not all artists?

The life of St. Francis of Assisi was, itself, a work of art. For it was one in which the person, Francis, cooperated with the grace of God and allowed himself to be sculpted by the Divine Artist Himself; may we all be as courageous to do the same.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

St. Therese of Lisieux and the Christian Way of Beauty

On October 1st we celebrate the memorial to Saint Thérèse of The Holy Face, also known as St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St Thérèse  – The Little Flower. She was born Therese Martin in France in 1873 and died from tuberculosis 24 years later in 1897. When she was fifteen she entered the Carmelite monastery at Lisieux and took the name Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

She lived a life of simplicity, humility, and trust in God. “Therese never went on missions, never founded a religious order, and never performed great public works. Her only book, published after her death, was a brief edited version of her journal called Story of a Soul,” and in it she dramatically proclaims, “’Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I  to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.’

Her spirituality and her method of achieving holiness is known as “her little way” – her little way – let’s examine for a moment what that means.

Therese saw herself as a child of God. She liked to keep things simple and focused. Trust, especially trust in God, is a childlike, not a childish  virtue – childlike, because its qualities consist of innocence and being down-to-earth. She believed that life presents many challenges and opportunities for grace. This was a young woman who tolerated great emotional, physical and spiritual suffering, yet, she was able to rise above all of it.

Her “Little Way” coaches us to do the ordinary things of life with extraordinary love. A smile, a note or email of encouragement, a phone call or visit, joining your suffering to the suffering of Jesus and Mary, being positive rather than giving in to the impulse to be grumpy, doing simple unnoticed tasks to help another person – deeds done with the love of, and for Christ, who is within each person – this is the heart of her “little way” – her Christian spirituality.

Saint Therese would say that the smallest action, done with love, is more important than great deeds done out of obedience or self-gratification. She was an average person who saw that our daily life is truly not average or ordinary because it provides us with the opportunity for union with Jesus and His life giving energy and grace.

We can also see her greatness in her method of prayer; again, Therese teaches simplicity – talk to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a direct, personal and genuine manner. She tells us, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

“She did not like long repetitive prayers; in fact, she was known to fall asleep during community prayer.” What she excelled at was prayer from the heart; she prayed from her heart as a child speaking honestly and trustingly to a parent they love.

We honor Saint Therese today because she was faithful to the Gospel of Jesus and the heart of His message.  So many Catholics are drawn to her because she has shown them that sanctity through simplicity is possible for all of us. She helps us understand that short heartfelt prayers, and simple deeds done with love for both Jesus and neighbor, are a sure path to union with Christ. She truly lived the Christian way of beauty.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Special thanks to the website the Society of the Little Flower – http://www.littleflower.org/ for information about St. Theresa’s life; and to the iconographer Guillem Ramos-Poqui who painted this beautiful icon of St. Therese of the Holy Face in 2009. It measures 29″ by 251/2 inches.

St. Robert Bellarmine, Galileo, and the Glory of God

Today, September 17th, the Church celebrates the memorial of Cardinal Robert Bellarmine. St. Robert was born into a noble Italian family during the crisis filled 16th century – a time of great artistic and scientific achievements and a time of heart breaking dissension within the Catholic Church.

In 1560, St. Robert entered the Society of Jesus, became a teacher, and was ordained ten years later. St. Robert’s Jesuit superiors sent him to the Catholic University in Louvain and there he developed a reputation for scholarship, disputation, and eloquence. When he returned to Rome in 1576, he became a professor of theology and began the systematic dismantling of the Protestant positions on faith and spirituality.

His book Disputations on the Controversies of the Christian Faith criticizing and refuting the Protestant errors was so effective, and caused such a stir throughout Europe, that special faculty positions were established in Protestant colleges in an attempt to refute Bellarmine’s positions.

So why is Saint Robert Bellarmine important for us today?

First, his witness as a scholar and cardinal expresses that the Church must always remain vigilant in its mission to promote the truth and protect its Apostolic and Sacred Tradition. Second, Robert Bellarmine as a Jesuit was loyal to its motto, which is “All for the greater glory of God.” In that motto, you have the structure of a Jesuit’s life, of Saint Bellarmine’s life, for through it he was able to weigh issues in the balance of whether or not they promoted the truth of God’s glory. Allow me to provide a very brief example.

Bellarmine was involved in the early stages of the astronomer Galileo’s difficulties with the Church. In 1615, Cardinal Bellarmine was interested in, and open to, various types of scientific research. He recognized that indeed, the Church’s own astronomers had validated many of Galileo’s scientific observations, and he was certainly knowledgeable of the fact that Cardinal Barberini (the future Pope Urban the 8th) had spoken with Galileo and gave Galileo his personal support.

So what was the problem?

Cardinal Bellarmine said in an open statement that, because Galileo’s scientific theories were not sufficiently supported with solid evidence, then Galileo should follow the position of the Church and call his theories a hypothesis and not scientific fact; and very importantly, he went on to say that, if Galileo’s theories were solidly proven to be true, then care must be taken to interpret Holy Scripture only in accordance with these new scientific truths.

Galileo rebelled against this common sense position. He demanded that his theories be acknowledged as scientific truth and publicly said so. The Holy Office, St. Bellarmine, and the other cardinals had no other choice than to censure him.

They did so not because they completely disagreed with his scientific theories, rather, the censure occurred because Galileo was promoting his ideas as scientific truth when, in reality, he did not have conclusive proof to do so. It should be remembered that St. Bellarmine, in dealing with Galileo, did so “in a sympathetic and not in a heavy handed way.” Bellarmine saw his duty to reason and ethics, and, the decision’s impact on a continent in social and religious turmoil.

Cardinal Bellarmine died in 1621. He was canonized in 1930 and made a Doctor of the Church  a year later.

Galileo had some virtues, however, prudence does not appear to be one of them. As the years went on he continued to do his research; but ultimately got himself into trouble again when he published a book which made his friend, Pope Urban 8th, look like a simpleton.

As a result of this insult, in 1632, he was called to Rome to stand trial for a second time. At that trial the ideas in his new book were examined, and sadly, the case was mishandled on both sides. It was unfortunate that Cardinal Bellarmine was not there to add his reason and judgement. Galileo died ten years later while under house arrest. Many of those years were spent in continued research and writing on various scientific topics.

Cardinal Bellarmine desired to see God glorified, and understood that science, music, art, and architecture were just a few of the ways to do it. He said in one of his essays: “May you consider truly good whatever leads to your goal of the glory of God and your eternal salvation with Him. May you consider truly evil whatever makes you fall away from it.”

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Our Lady of Sorrows – Seven Sorrows – Seven Graces

Today is the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The Roman Breviary tells us that in a sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux he explains that “The martyrdom of the Virgin is set forth both in the prophecy of Simeon and in the actual story of our Lord’s passion. The holy old man said of the infant Jesus: He has been established as a sign which will be contradicted. He went on to say to Mary: And your own heart will be pierced by a sword.”

Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. That feast asks us to remember that it was through the Cross, through the violent execution of our Lord, that our redemption took place. The triumph of the Father’s love for His creation, and the Son’s sacrifice, was able to reorder a sin filled world.

As St. Andrew of Crete reminds us “the legal bond of our sin was cancelled and through His death we obtained our freedom and death was trodden underfoot.” Today, the Church in its wisdom again reminds us of the scene of Christ’s victory – and the people that witnessed it.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux eloquently reminds us that along with the death of Christ you have Golgotha being the scene of the martyrdom of Mary. He stresses the phrase, the martyrdom of Mary, because Jesus, as Mary’s child, held a unique and special place in her heart. This is true of the relationship of every mother to their child or children.

All mothers will tell you that every one of their children is special to them; all the more so with Mary, who knew and understood the role that her child was to play in our lives. So when the lance tore through His chest and entered His heart, the prophecy of Simeon, uttered so many years earlier flooded into her mind: “He has been established as a sign which will be contradicted, and your own heart will be pierced by a sword.”

Mary witnessed the execution, she saw the spear tear through her Son’s lifeless body and the violence of that act ripped through her as well. Her body and soul filled with pain and, at that moment, she suffered the martyrdom of every mother who witnesses the death of an innocent child.

At Golgotha, watching the agonizing death of her Son, our blessed Mother, in obedience to the Father’s will for her life, stood by the Cross not only to witness the death of her obedient Son, but to hear her Son say that she was to now be the mother, not only of John, but all of us who believe in Him as Lord and Savior.

Through the sufferings of Mary, the mother of God, we have been made sharers in Christ’s passion. Through Mary’s original obedience to the Father’s will and invitation, we have be given the supreme gift of being able to participate in His Sacramental life, which enables us to share in His rising to everlasting life.

The Church has identified “Seven Sorrows” of Mary: 1) The prophecy of Simeon, 2) The flight into Egypt, 3) The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple, 4) The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross, 5) The Crucifixion, 6) The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross, 7) The burial of Jesus.

According to the 14th century visions of St. Bridget of Sweden, mystic and patroness of Europe, Our Blessed Mother Mary grants Seven Graces to all souls who honor her on a daily basis by saying seven Hail Mary’s and thinking about the above Seven Sorrows. The Seven Graces are: 1) Mary will grant peace to their families; 2) They will be enlightened about the divine mysteries; 3) They will be comforted in their sickness and assisted in their work; 4) They will be given additional graces as long as what the soul asks for does not violate the will of Jesus or the eventual sanctification of their own soul;  5) Mary will defend the soul in their own particular spiritual battle with the demons, and, will provide her protection to them; 6) The soul will be helped at the time of their death and will experience seeing the face of the Blessed Mother; 7) Mary told St. Bridget that she obtained these graces from Jesus so those souls who are in the state of grace and spread this devotion among their families and friends will be attain Heaven.

St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy (2: 10-12) directs us to the Scriptural truth of these ideas when he says, “I bear with all this for the sake of those whom God has chosen, in order that they may obtain the salvation to be found in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. You can depend on this: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we hold out to the end we shall also reign with him.” These words, while not said by Our Blessed Mother, were in reality, lived by her.

our-lady-of-sorrows

Let us pray that through Our Lady of Sorrows, her love and grace shall bring the hearts of all of us to her Son, so that His Heart may reign in the hearts of all mankind.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Notes on the paintings: The first painting is an archetypal Gothic Lady of Sorrows from a triptych by the Master of the Stauffenberg Altarpiece, Alsace, c. 1455. The  second image is of a 15th century sculpture for a cathedral door showing the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady (by Adriaen Isenbrandt, circa 1490 – 1511). The third image, The Madonna in Sorrow, is by the 17th century Italian artist Giovanni Salvi (also known as Sassoferrato). The fourth painting is by William- Adolphe Bougereau, a French realist painter (1825 – 1905).

 

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross of Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

Mary – The Mystical Spouse of the Holy Spirit and the Wife of Joseph

The question may be asked “How is the word “spouse” used in reference to Mary and the Holy Spirit?

We have all read the nativity accounts of St. Matthew and St. Luke and if you are a Roman Catholic you believe that Sacred Scripture is the foundation on which we build our theology; however, Sacred Tradition and the scholarship and teaching of the Magisterium of the Church are also very important.

Sacred Tradition, scholarship, and the Magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church) act as the counterbalance for our understanding of God’s Truth in Scripture. These elements, together with Sacramental grace, prayer, and good works help us live our life in Christ.

Theologians, saints, and mystics have used marital language to express the love of God for His Church and the mystical relationship between our Blessed Mother and the Holy Spirit. The use of marital language in relation to Mary, the Holy Spirit, and the Church has a long and varied history. A few recent examples of a pope and documents of the Church using this language are Pope John Paul 2 in numerous homilies and encyclicals, and the very important document that resulted from the Second Vatican Council entitled The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church – Lumen Gentium.

If we go back to the earliest writings of the Church, and quickly examine some sources, we see the “marital and spousal” aspect of this mystical language used in a second century AD document called the Odes of Solomon; and as we proceed up through history we see mention of it in the writings of St. Augustine (4th century), St. Ildephonsus, archbishop of Toledo, Spain (7th century), St. Germanus, patriarch of Constantinople (7th century), Cardinal St. Peter Damian (11th century), St. Bonaventure (13th century), Emmanuel d’Alzon (19th century), and, in the many scholars of the 20th century, such as Cardinal Joseph Suenens, Karl Rahner, Pope John Paul 2, Rev. Peter Damian M. Fehlner, F.F.I., and Pope Benedict 16th.

A few examples of how the word “spouse” is used in these theological contexts may be helpful. In 1979, on Pope John Paul 2 first pilgrimage to the United States, he gave a sermon on our Blessed Mother at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and made this point in relation to Mary:

“…Through her, the Sun of Justice was to rise in the world. Through her, the great healer of humanity, the reconciler of hearts and consciences, her Son, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, was to transform the human condition and by his death and resurrection, uplift the entire human family. As a great sign that appeared in the heavens, in the fullness of time, this woman dominates all history as the Virgin Mother of the Son, as the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, and as the Handmaid of humanity.” (excerpted from Mary’s Yes – Meditations on Mary Through The Ages, edited by John Rotelle, O.S.A., Servant Press, Ann Arbor, 1988)

In his important 1986 encyclical on the Holy Spirit  “The Lord and Giver of Life” (Dominum et Vivificantem) Pope John Paul 2 continues to use these expressions to help explain his insights:

“…It is the [2nd Vatican] Council that says to us: “The Blessed Virgin…overshadowed by the Holy Spirit…brought forth…the Son…, he whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren namely the faithful (cf. Romans 8: 29). In their birth and development she cooperates with a maternal love”; she is through “his singular graces and offices…intimately united with the Church…. [She/Mary] is a model of the Church” (Lumen Gentium, note 63). “The Church, moreover, contemplating Mary’s mysterious sanctity, imitating her charity,…becomes herself a mother” and “herself a virgin, who keeps…the fidelity she has pledged to her Spouse. Imitating the Mother of the Lord, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, she preserves with a virginal purity an integral faith, a firm hope, and a sincere charity” (Lumen Gentium note 64).

Pope John Paul 2 continues, “Thus one can understand the profound reason why the Church, united with the Virgin Mother, prays unceasingly as the Bride to her Divine Spouse, as the words of the Book of Revelation, quoted by the [2nd Vatican] Council, attest: “The Spirit and the bride say to the Lord Jesus Christ: Come!” (Rev. 22: 17).

The Church’s prayer is this unceasing invocation, in which “the Spirit himself intercedes for us”: in a certain sense, the Spirit himself utters it with the Church and in the Church.”

So, we see in these few examples that the Church has used this type of mystical language to help express and make meaningful the divine union of Mary and the Holy Spirit. This, of course, was made possible by Mary’s humility, and the grace of the Holy Spirit which fashioned Mary from the moment of her conception.

God has given Himself as a divine Gift to mankind. This mirrors the gift of self that a husband and wife make of themselves to each other; or, the gift that a consecrated virgin makes of him or herself to God. Our eternal destiny has been played out on this field, for with mystical insight we understand that a divine proposal was made to this young woman Mary, and using her free will and reason, she consented to the request to become the Theotokos – the Mother of God. It is important to remember that she consented, in humility, and out of her profound sense of love, service, and faith in God. These are the characteristics of all consecrated virgins, and the characteristics of all faith-filled wives and husbands who freely give the gift of themselves to their spouse in recognition of their marriage covenant.

At the moment of her “Let it be done to me according to your word,” her Spouse, the Holy Spirit, dwelt within her and uniting with her blood conceived the child Jesus in her womb. This was the divine act of conception – the miracle of  the Incarnation – resulting in a natural child and the full flowering of Mary’s motherhood. In practical terms, her consecrated virginity was not disturbed. She was an immaculate virgin before, during, and after her pregnancy. During her pregnancy and after the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family was exactly that – a holy family. Her legal husband Joseph understood and respected her vow of consecrated virginity, and she dedicated herself to being a model wife and mother – a woman who supported her husband Joseph in his work and her Son, Jesus, in His future ministry.

Glory and Praise to God! Praise be to the Mother of God, Mary, most holy! May she always intercede with her Son for mercy on our behalf!

Notes on the paintings: The first painting of the Annunciation is by Fra Angelico (Brother John of Fiesole, died 1455) and is done in egg tempera on wood; completed between 1430-32 it is found in the Museo Diocesano in Cortona, Italy. The second painting is also by Fra Angelico it was painted between 1430-32 and is done in egg tempera on wood. It measures approximately 76 inches by 76 inches and hangs in the Prado Museum in Madrid. The third painting is by Benozzo Gozzoli entitled Madonna and Child Giving Blessings.  Painted in 1449, it is egg tempera on silk and mounted on wood. It is currently located in the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome. It is approximately 100 inches high by 51 inches wide.

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

The Nativity of Mary – Our Blessed Mother

On September 8th the Church celebrates the feast of the birthday of Mary, our Blessed Mother.

Tradition tells us that Mary was the daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne. She was betrothed to and later married Joseph, a respected Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. Little is known of Mary’s life other than the references to her in the Gospels. She attended the wedding feast at Cana, was present at Jesus’ crucifixion, and was with the Apostles at the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

St. Andrew of Crete puts this feast day, celebrated since the 5th century, in perspective for us when he says: “[In the great play of salvation] today’s festival, the birth of the Mother of God, is the joyful prelude, while the final act is the union of the Word [of God] with human flesh.  Through Mary’s birth we are led away from slavery and toward the Truth. We are led away from darkness and toward the Light. Therefore, let all creation sing and dance and unite to make a worthy contribution to the celebration of this day. Let there be one common festival for saints in heaven and people on earth. Let everything join in festive celebration, for today, [through the birth of Mary] this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for [her Son] who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for her Creator.”

We give praise to our Blessed Mother today. We celebrate her being the new Temple, the pristine Tabernacle, our Virgin Mother, who gave birth to our Redeemer. Mary, through her life, gave witness to the true meaning of trust and charity.

Father Joseph R. Upton, the chaplain for The Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts and assistant pastor in my parish, mentioned in a sermon a few years ago that three births are celebrated in the Church’s calendar: John the Baptist, Mary, and Jesus. All three of these people were devout Jews. It  is through them, and their understanding of trust and charity, that we can see that the Jewish people have always been a people who truly love God. Their love expresses a deep sense of trust, because in love we see that their devotion is based on the virtues of faith and hope which expresses itself in word and deed. Fr. Upton went on to say, “Mary is the bridge” that allows not only the Jewish people, but all people, to see that God has fulfilled the promise that He made to their ancestors.

Mary, our Blessed Mother, enables that promise of redemption to be fulfilled through her “Yes” to the invitation to be the spouse of the Holy Spirit, which enabled the birth of her Son, Jesus to occur. Mary’s personal qualities of simplicity, humility, love, faith, and hope combined into a dynamic personality who, as she grew to adulthood, betrothal, and marriage to Joseph, enabled her to exemplify to all generations the meaning of a life that is full of grace.

Scholars remind us that “The angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary is of great consequence for our understanding of Mary and Marian doctrine. The greeting has been variously translated as “Rejoice highly favored” and “Hail full of grace.” The object of the varied translations is the Greek word kecharitomene which refers to one who has been transformed by God’s grace. The word is used only one other time in the New Testament and that is in the Epistle to the Ephesians where Paul is addressing those who by becoming Christians are transformed by grace and receive the remission of sins. It is clearly significant that Mary is considered to already have been transformed by grace before the birth of Christ.”  So, we see that God intervened and did not allow the stain of original sin to be passed to Mary. She – as the pure vessel – would partake of the redemptive grace of God before the actual Redemption took place. Her “Yes” to God’s request that she become the Mother of the Incarnate God, Jesus, enabled our Redemption to occur. The scholar Origen (AD 185 -254) wrote: “Because the angel greeted Mary with new expressions, I do not, in fact, recall having read in any other place in the Sacred Scriptures these words: Rejoice, O Full of Grace. Neither of these expressions is ever addressed to a man: such a special greeting was reserved only for Mary.” (this quote is from http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/MARYINSC.htm 

We must remember that Catholics do not worship Mary. Worship is reserved for God alone. The Latin or Western Rite (Roman Catholics and those Eastern Rite churches in union with Rome), and the Eastern Rites  (Orthodox churches) pay respect and reverence to Mary but never worship her. We pay special reverence to her because, she as the mother of the Redeemer, deserves that respect and honor. We also acknowledge her in a special way because Mary intercedes (pleads for mercy on behalf of the Church) before the throne of God in the same way that a mother would intercede with the father on behalf of her children.

Thank you Blessed Mother for all you have done for us – and – Happy Birthday!

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.  The above painting is by Fra Angelico. It is entitled Madonna with the Child and Angels, completed between 1435 and 1436. It is egg tempera on wood and measures approximately 27 inches by 4 feet 6 inches. It is in the Diocesan Museum in Camerino, Italy. Thanks to the Art Renewal Center website for the image: http://www.artrenewal.org/pages/artist.php?artistid=241&page=2
 

St. Gregory the Great – Laborer in Christ’s Vineyard

Today is the feast day of Saint Gregory the Great, pope and doctor of the Church.

Gregory was born in the year 540 of a noble Roman family who believed in the value of education and public service.

At the age of thirty he was appointed mayor of Rome; but after his father’s death, he decided to leave politics and become a Benedictine monk. Around the year 575, he transformed his family’s home into a monastery dedicated to the Apostle St. Andrew; he also established several monasteries on his father’s estates in Sicily. But in the year 579, he was ordained a deacon. Historians have mentioned that ordination was not really what Gregory wanted for his life. He enjoyed studying Scripture and music, writing, praying, and living the life of a Benedictine monk.  At that point in Church history, to be ordained a deacon meant that you were going to have a very public life assisting the local bishop in political, economic, and ecclesiastical affairs.

Pope Pelagius 2 saw Gregory’s talents and tapped him to become his papal ambassador to the imperial city of Constantinople. In Constantinople he gained a great deal of experience in both secular and ecclesiastical politics. Seven years later he was recalled to Rome and was appointed Deacon of Rome and acted as the Pope’s counselor. In 590 when Pope Pelagius died from the plague, the people elected Gregory to be the new pope.

Saint Gregory the Great is a model for all of us. For he, as today’s Gospel (Luke 4: 16-30) implies, also had the Spirit of God upon him. The Lord had anointed him as “the servant of the servants of God” to bring glad tidings to the poor and announce liberty to those captured by sin. The histories tell us that Gregory did not seek to be ordained a deacon or elected a pope; yet, once in those positions he valiantly labored in Christ’s vineyard to perform God’s will as he understood it.

He wrote beautiful and insightful works on theology and the pastoral care of  souls. He implemented some liturgical reforms especially in the area of music. The music that we know today as Gregorian chant developed from his impetus; however, his true greatness is found in his humility, his gentleness in dealing with all types of people, his steadfast devotion and love of Christ, His Scriptures, and prayer. All of these traits, combined with God’s grace and Gregory’s love for the people, helped him solve the practical everyday problems of Christ’s Church in a manner that provided a path for others to follow.

St. Gregory the Great was able to establish a model of the papacy that we still have with us today – the model of the pope, yes, as a suffering servant, but one who is also filled with joy at the challenge of laboring for the people of God in all their various needs. St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.

The image of Pope St. Gregory the Great is from the Vatican grottos and is made available through the courtesy of orbiscatholicussecundus.blogspot.com.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Saint Monica – Patron of Mothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Monica, pray for us.

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

The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is the memorial of the Queenship of Mary.

Through the centuries, sacred icons and images have expressed the Queenship and Coronation of the Holy Theotokos – the Mother of God. The icon The Virgin Salus Populi Romani, a 5th century icon, displayed in the Church of Saint Mary Major in Rome, and seen below, shows the Blessed Mother dressed in typical first century Middle Eastern garb as she holds her Son who gives a blessing. This icon is reputed to

be a copy of one that was painted by St. Luke the evangelist who tradition states knew and spoke to the Blessed Mother.

A 6th century icon of Mary and Jesus displays a coronation theme portraying the Blessed Mother and her Son in Heaven. Mary sits on her throne with Her Son on her lap, surrounded by St. Theodore on the left and St. George on the right, while two angels look up as the hand of the Father gives a blessing. This icon is found in the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula.

Iconic images painted (“written”) by orthodox iconographers of both the Latin, Greek, Russian, Coptic, and other Rites agree with images found within our Holy Scriptures. For example, a Gospel passage tells us “… the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” This Scripture explains that the Lord willingly takes the initiative to come forth, with hands extended,  to meet us and share the reign of His kingdom.

In sacred art we visualize this not only in the extension of Christ’s hands on the cross – but also, in the extension of the infant Jesus’ hands, to give us a blessing as He sits in His mother’s lap, or is caressed in her arms, an image that is found not only in the above sacred images but in numerous statues found in Latin Rite churches throughout the world.

The prophet Isaiah also speaks of Christ in regal terms as Emmanuel (God is with us) and the “Prince of Peace.”  We can even get apocalyptic and speak of the Books of Daniel and Revelation which recall the truth that the world will be transformed through the birth of the Redeemer, made possible by Mary.  She is a “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars… who gave birth to a son, a boy destined to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and His throne.”  So we see that Mary enables the incorporation of the reign of God into the world. She is the woman destined to crush the head of the apocalyptic serpent.

St. John of Damascus wrote about this in the 8th century when he says of the Blessed Mother that she “has become the terror of demons, the city of refuge for those who turn to her. [He has her say:] Come to me in faith, O people, and draw as from a river of grace. Come to me in faith, without doubt, and draw from the mighty and certain source of grace.”

Last week, on the solemnity of the Assumption, we recalled Blessed John Paul 2 saying  “…the Assumption of the Mother of Christ in Heaven forms part of [the Lord’s teaching about] His victory over death, the beginning of which is found in the death and resurrection of Christ.”

So in today’s memorial, Mary, the humble daughter of Joachim and Anna and the chosen daughter of our Heavenly Father, is garbed in the majestic robes of a queen. She takes her rightful place next to the throne of her resurrected and ascended Son.

Why? 

Because the Church desires to teach us that Mary is privileged,  beyond all other women and men, to be the first and most significant human being to participate in the glory, triumph, and reign of God. By her very willingness to become the Mother of God, the Theotokos, she agreed to become our spiritual Mother, too.

In this beautiful sacred image by Blessed John of Fiesole, also known as Fra Angelico the great Dominican artist of 15th century Florence, portrays the moment of Our Lady’s Coronation with the Heavenly court surrounding her.

We observe men and women saints that were alive thousands of years after Mary’s Coronation observing the event.

Why did the good Friar do that?

He is expressing the fact that Heaven is within the eternal now of the Trinity, so it follows that all the saints are knowledgeable of the truths of Heaven. If we carefully observe the painting we see that the knowledge of that coronation moment is known by St. Thomas Aquinas. We see him looking out at us (in the lower left corner), noting the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, and the fact that God desires this coronation for His beloved and humble human daughter, the Queen of Heaven.

The Blessed Mother, in her regal beauty, authority, and power, has not left us orphans. She is “the Living Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Inviolate Mountain, the ladder” that joins Heaven and earth. Mary is the “One who Shows the Way”  (as the Greeks would say the Hodigitria) to her Son and to our Heavenly reward.

If we remain faithful and loyal to the teachings of Jesus Christ, as expressed through our Sacred Scriptures and our Church, and act on that faith, then we, too, will reign alongside our Heavenly Mother and give praise and glory to God.     Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, pray for us.

Sources: John Paul 2, L’Osservatore Romano, August 15, 1983; Pope Pius 12th – encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, October 11, 1954.         Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Assumption of Mary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saints Pontian and Hippolytus and Our Call to Duty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Feast of St. Lawrence – Deacon and Martyr

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Lawrence, a deacon and third century martyr. St. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome who ministered to the people and acted as the Pope’s administrators.

Lawrence died in the year 258, four days after four other deacons (their names were Januarius, Vincent, Magnus, and Stephen) and Pope Sixtus II were martyred as a result of celebrating the eucharist (Holy Mass). Their arrest occurred in the cemetery of Callistus. On the same day, by the order of the emperor Valerian, they were beheaded.

There is little historical evidence remaining on St. Lawrence. His Acts had been lost by the time of St. Augustine in the 4th century. The tradition of the Church states that he was a native of northern Spain and was ordained by Pope St. Sixtus around the year 257. The Pope made him responsible for the distribution of the Church’s alms.

Carl Brandon Strehlke mentions (in his contribution to Lawrence Kanter and Pia Palladino’s magnificent collection of essays and images on the life and works of Fra Angelico) that controvery with the story ensues at this point – the date of his martyrdom. Some accounts state that  Lawrence was martyred under the emperor Decius (AD 249 – 251) and others insist that it was under the reign of Valerian (253 – 260). Regardless, the Church’s tradition states that Lawrence was martyred soon after the emperor Valerian issued an edict in early August of 257, requiring all bishops, priests, and deacons to be denied a trial and immediately be put to death. Valerian’s  command was carried out.  Lawrence is purported to have said, as the Pope and the deacons were being led to torture, “Where are you going, Holy Father, without your son? Where, O Bishop, without your archdeacon? Before you never approached the altar of sacrifice without your servant, and now you are going without me?”  Pope St. Sixtus was said to have commented that he would soon follow them.

The emperor Valerian’s administrators came to St. Lawrence and demanded access to the wealth of the Church. Lawrence asked for a few days to assemble it; but, ever resourceful, between the 6th and the 9th of August, St. Lawrence distributed much of the treasury to the poor. On the third day, when he was supposed to hand over the monies, he presented himself to the prefect, and then led them to a room in the Vatican. There he presented the blind, the poor, the sick and maimed, and with the force of  a saint declared:  “Behold the jewels of the Church!”

Valerian ordered that Lawrence be taken out and martyred – slowly – in payment for his cheeky behavior toward imperial dignity. On August 10, 257, St. Lawrence refused to renounce our holy Faith, and subsequently was roasted on a gridiron used for beef cattle. Legend says that he was of good humor to the very end – instead of giving in and releasing information on the whereabouts of the remaining two deacons and the additional monies, he simply said to the Roman executioners: “I’m done on this side! You can turn me over now!”

You can understand that this story of faith and heroism had to be proclaimed and visualized. And close to 1200 years after the event, one of the finest painters in the Western tradition – Fra Angelico – was called to complete the task. The good Dominican friar was selected by Pope Nicholas V in 1447 to decorate a Vatican chapel dedicated to the two most famous archdeacons of the Church – the first century martyr St. Stephen of Jerusalem, and the 3rd century martyr – St. Lawrence of Rome.

Fra Angelico successfully completed the task the Pope set for him. He linked the narratives of their stories together so that they convincingly expressed the main elements of each saint’s life. They are true catechesis as well as beautiful art. I have included one of my favorite images from Fra Angelico’s rendition – it portrays St. Lawrence in an exquisite rose colored dalmatic (the garment which signifies the deacon’s service and loyalty to his bishop – in this case the bishop is Pope Sixtus II). It shows him distributing the Church’s monies to those in need. It was painted (fresco) between 1447 – 1449 and is approximately 9 by 7 feet.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Fr. Richard Reiser’s Beautiful Icon of the Transfiguration

The article that is found below my opening comments, and the image of the Transfiguration, is reblogged, through the courtesy of Fr. Richard Reiser, St. James Catholic Church Omaha, Nebraska. I really enjoy Fr. Reiser’s iconographic style. He is able to convey the Scriptural truth of the Transfiguration while, at the same time express it in contemporary language accessible to contemporary Christians. Bravo, Fr. Reiser! Thank you!

Fr. Reiser studied with noted master iconographer Philip Zimmerman who founded the St. John of Damascus Icon Studio in Pennsylvania. My first teacher of iconography, Rev. Peter Pearson, studied with Phil in the early 1990’s.

I especially enjoy this icon of Fr. Reiser and the way in which he expresses the “glorious memory” of that moment of the Transfiguration, as I expressed it in the post on Monday August 6th, as rivers of uncreated rainbow light – passing from Christ to the Apostles. The memory that would give them hope.

Notice also, as Father Reiser pointed out to me in an email, that St. James is larger than the other saints, resulting from the fact that he painted this icon for his parish church – St. James Parish in Omaha, Nebraska.


                                                                                     Icon of the Transfiguration (Mark 9: 2 – 10)

God our Father in the transfigured glory of Christ your Son, You strengthen our faith by confirming the witness of Your prophets, and show us the splendor of Your beloved sons and daughters.

As we listen to the voice of your Son, help us to become heirs to eternal life with Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Each icon panel measure 36″ x 54″  Church of St. James, Omaha, Nebraska

copyright Fr. Richard J. Reiser, iconographer

TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD       

An Article by Fr. Richard J. Reiser  

A HISTORY OF ICONS

An icon is a religious work of art done in a symbolic and stylistic manner. Its main focus is not with realism but with spiritual realities.  The icon was a favorite art form that developed in the early Church and became the preferred style of religious representation for the Eastern Orthodox Church.   In the Roman Catholic Church, mosaics and types of statuary were the prominent styles of art used for religious representation.

Realism or accurate perspective is not a primary concern in iconography. The main purpose of an icon is to draw the viewer into the realm of the holy through contemplation. An icon in this sense means to “see through to the divine,” or to be a “window to heaven”.  In icons, the details of the eyes should draw the viewer into a vision beyond the present. The perspectives are more subject-centered as a way of focus, rather than relying on realistic horizon lines.  The icon does not, after all, represent the material world, but the realm of the Divine.

The stoic faces on the figures in icons suggest that the holy ones, whose lives of service work are now accomplished on earth, now contemplate and rest in the presence of the Divine (signified by the light [halo] which surrounds the heads of the holy figures).

THE TRANSFIGURATION ICON

The two-panel icon of the Transfiguration has been done in a contemporary method and should be understood as a religious painting done in an iconographic style since it was not written (painted) following the strict rules of traditional icons that included rigorous fasting, special prayers, and special mixing of pigments with egg whites. This icon is written with acrylic paints.

The two oaken panels each measure 36″ x 54″, and their rounded tops echo the architectural detail found elsewhere in the church.  The event of the Transfiguration is found in Matthew 17: 1 – 8 and Mark 9: 2 – 8.  The naming of the icon (Transfiguration) is done in English, but in a contemporary Slavonic (Old Russian) style of lettering.

The images on the panels are of Jesus Christ, St. Elijah (1), St. Moses (1), St. Peter, St. James, and St. John. Jesus Christ and St. James are larger than the other figures to give them prominence; Jesus, since he is the main figure of the Transfiguration, and St. James, since he is the patron of the parish.   The icon is designed to invite the viewer to participate in the event of the Transfiguration by allowing the light coming from Christ in the first panel to confront the viewer, then, inviting the viewer to connect the light of Christ to the apostles in the second panel.   The rays of light that emanate from Christ were done in a stained-glass style that reflects the shape and colors of the stained glass found elsewhere in the church (2).

THE MOUNT TABOR PANEL (at right)

The central figure of the right panel is Jesus Christ, clothes in white and surrounded by light in the traditional manner which depicts Him in glory, along with the creedal statement of “Light from Light.”  The aureole (the gold-leaf background) which surrounds the entire body of Jesus.   Christ’s halo contains the traditional Greek letters that identify Jesus Christ as “I Am,” the title of God given to Moses in Exodus 3:14 and given human expression in Jesus as the divine Son of God.   The Greek letters to the left and right of the aureole are the traditional abbreviations for “Jesus Christ.”   High right hand is raised in the traditional gesture of blessing where the two joined fingers represent the two natures (human and divine) of Christ.

A scroll is held in Christ’s left hand and is symbolic of Christ being the Word that became flesh (John 1:14).

The haloed figure of Moses to the right of the Christ figure bows in deference towards Christ who is the completion and fulfillment of the law. Moses reverently holds the two tablets of the Ten Commandments without directly touching them.  They symbolize the law with the word Torah (3) inscribed on them in Hebrew. Moses is represented as the younger man than he was at the time he received the tablets of the law.   The garments of Moses are brownish red and blue.

The haloed figure of Elijah to the left of the Christ figure, also defers to Christ as the completion and fulfillment of the prophets. Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. His garments are green and blue.

All three figures on the right panel stand atop Mount Tabor (4).  The mountain suggests the place of God’s revelation to Moses in the Old Testament when he was given the law (Deuteronomy 5), and the place where Elijah the prophet experienced the voice of the Lord in the gentle breeze (1 Kings 19: 8 – 13). Icons of the Transfiguration show Jesus Christ as God’s full revelation by being presented on a mountain.

THE APOSTLES PANEL (at left)

The apostles panel of the left is divided into three plateaus each supporting one of the apostles closest to Christ. The center plateau is larger and bright and it supports St. James. He is shown humbled on his knees, because of the experience of the Transfiguration.   He is reaching forward while attempting to secure stability and balance on the rocky plane.   He is presented with his hand shielding his face from the light.  His outer garment flows in the wind generated by the force of the transfigured Christ. The trees representing creation also bend by the power of Christ’s transfiguration. He is attempting to seek Christ, but with difficulty. The halo surrounding his head marks him as a saint. His outer garment is purple and his undergarment is green.

The upper plateau supports St. Peter who is held back from the force of the Transfiguration by a ledge where his feet are supported.   His outer garments flows in the win. As the leader of the apostles, he points to the light and to Christ. The haloed figure is presented with the traditional gray hair and beard suggesting wisdom. Positioned on the rock, he is named by Christ as the “Rock” on which Christ will build His Church. His outer garment is the traditional gold, and his undergarment is green.

The haloed figure of St. John is the bottom figure. He is the brother of St. James. His right hand shield his face from the light.   His outer garment flows in the wind. His left hand reaches forward clinging to the rock. A ledge supports his forward right leg and holds him which his back leg waves freely with the force almost releasing his sandal. His beardless face is the traditional way of depicting his youth. He is said to be the youngest of the apostles. His outer garment is green and his undergarment is blue.

The maize-colored border of both panels reflects the color and stained glass of the central rose windows in the church (5).  The medallion on the right panel border holds a piece of rock from Mt. Tabor. The medallion on the left panel border holds a relic of St. James.

THE INSCRIPTION

The inscription on the back of the icon panels reads:

The Transfiguration   Feast – August 6    Blessed by Fr. Richard Reiser   August 6, 2006

Donated by Colleen Mahoney in memory of the William and Colleen Mahoney Family

Fr. Richard Reiser, iconographer

Notes:

(1) In the Orthodox tradition, both Elijah and Moses are considered saints.

(2) A similar technique with the fishing net was used by Brother Robert in the “Calling of James” icon in our church.

(3) The first five books of the Old Testament’ they present all of the 613 laws and interpretations that are central to Judaism.   In Jewish services the scrolls of the Torah are still extravagantly decorated and venerated with respect when they are proclaimed.

(4) Mount Tabor is more of a geographical mound in the area of Galilee and not a mountain as such.

(5) This border also is found on the “Calling of James” icon.

Copyright © 2012 Reblogged image and article by Fr. Richard J. Reiser. All Rights Reserved

We Receive and Give Awards – We Are Deeply Touched!

The Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts is truly honored to receive three blogging awards. Teresa Rice at Catholiclibertarian has nominated this blog for three awards: The Illuminating Blogger Award, The One Lovely Blog Award, and The Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

Teresa Rice’s blog at Catholiclibertarian is dedicated to discussing contemporary issues through the lens of being a faith-filled Catholic as well as a person who has a mixture of conservative and libertarian political views. Teresa’s columns are always well written, insightful, challenging and dogmatically faithful to the Catholic Church. We are proud, honored, and humbled by her confidence and support for our mission – which is to evangelize the truth, beauty, and goodness of God through the prayerful study and creation of sacred art.

We also received notification this morning that reinkat has awarded this blog an award, too. We are truly touched to the heart by these awards from our readers. We admit, however, that the entire impetus for the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts, and this blog, is the work of the Holy Spirit. He deserves all praise, honor, and glory. Everything that we do here develops out of prayer, is performed in prayer, and hopefully, is sustained through prayer. Again, thanks very much. As part of the Award system I am happy to nominate fourteen other bloggers that I regularly read and find illuminating in various ways. Their names are found below.

The conditions for accepting The Illuminating Blogger Award are:

1) Add a picture of the award to your blog post.

2) Thank the blogger who nominated you and include a link to their blog.

3) Nominate 5 to 10 other Bloggers and inform those selected that they have been nominated.

4) Say seven interesting things about yourself to give some insight into what you are like, interested in, etc.

I am happy to award the writers of the following blogs The Illuminating Blogger Award because all of them make you think and provide illumination in various ways. Some of them promote the arts – in all of their various forms; others promote humor (in these days anyone that promotes clean intellectual humor deserves a prize!). A few are promoting the Catholic faith (which from my point of view is very good!), and some are just a lot of wacky fun.

The following blogs are not ranked in any order of one being better than another.

The blogs Catholiclibertarian, reinkat, and Biltrix would have been on the list but they have already received the award.

Here are the blogs that receive the most prestigious Illuminating Blogger Award from me.

1) Via Lucis Photography: http://vialucispress.wordpress.com/

2) Stephen Hipperson: stephenhip.wordpress.com

3) Matthew James Collins: matthewjcollins.wordpress.com

4) The Way of Beauty:  http://thewayofbeauty.org/

5)A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons: http://iconreader.wordpress.com/

6) Hearts on Fire: http://heartsonfire33.wordpress.com/

7) Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine: http://drboli.wordpress.com/

8) carlausery: http://carlausery.com/

9) Chicquero: http://chicquero.com/

10) hesychastic: hesychastic.wordpress.com

11) Elliot in Gotham: http://elliottingotham.wordpress.com/

12) clotildajamcracker: http://clotildajamcracker.wordpress.com/

13) The Big Pulpit: http://bigpulpit.com/

14) knowsphere: http://knowthesphere.wordpress.com/

Here are the seven Award required “interesting things” I will divulge about myself:

1) I sing Christmas songs throughout the year.

2) I enjoy reading about British personalities, fictional and non-fictional. An example being Winston Churchill and what made him tick as a man and personality. Another character that I enjoy is Sherlock Holmes. Very few people are aware (ahem, or care!) that I wrote a definitive monograph in the early 1980’s on the True Location of 221B Baker Street. It was published in the Baker Street Journal to loud huzzahs.

3) I became fascinated with the French Impressionists in college, yet, today, have a deep affection for Cezanne as a man and as an artist.

4) I enjoy solitude, or, the company of very small groups of people.

5) I have had a deep affection for Scottish Terriers since I was in elementary school. Our third Scottie has a huge heart and an extraordinary sense of loyalty for close family members. He has a toughness that is quite admirable; he has been battling cancer for 15 months. Our vets are astounded by his longevity owing to the fact that veterinary science and experience said he had four to six months to live.

6) I would have absolutely no problem eating apple pie as a dessert for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Let’s not forget snacks. You may ask: Who has a dessert for breakfast? Answer: interesting people.

7) I have a fascination for the woodcuts and drawings of Brother Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.; yet, I have a deep interest and desire to emulate the artistry of Italian painters from the 12th through the mid 15th centuries. There is a spiritual purity in their work; however, I am far from even approaching some sense of true understanding of them and would appreciate anyone who knows of specific research and tomes that could assist me in the understanding of their techniques.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Transfiguration of Christ

Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. This feast has been celebrated since the 5th century.          It was inserted into the general calendar of the Church in 1457 by Pope Callistus III in order to celebrate the defeat of the advancing Moslem army in the Serbian city of Belgrade. Today’s feast was announced in Rome on August 6, 1457, and was placed in the calendar to occur forty days before the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, on September 14.

Let’s reflect for a moment on today’s Gospel account (Mark 9: 2-10). Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He took Peter, James, and John to the top of Mount Tabor. He knew that His Passion and Crucifixion would be so absolutely terrifying, that when the complete horror of the crucifixion settled in over those three Apostles that they needed to have, in the back of their minds, this moment, this glorious moment, of the Transfiguration.

By remembering its truth, beauty, and power they would understand that Jesus walked to His death under His own free will.  No government, no authority – religious or secular – forced Him to go to the Cross. He went under His own power – a power that was completely obedient to His Father’s will. The Father sent Jesus to call and redeem humanity so that we, under our own power – under our own free will, could choose to enter back into relationship with the Father. After the Redemption occurred, Jesus in turn, sent the Holy Spirit to defend us, from all the various worldly and demonic forces arrayed against us.

The Transfiguration is so important to all of us because at the moment in which Jesus’ glory is manifested the identity of Jesus becomes clear not only for the Apostles but for us, too. When we reflect on this moment we recognize what the Apostles came to understand: that the Crossis not the end of the story. There is something more that lies beyond the Cross – not only for Jesus – but for all who believe in Him and are baptized in the name of His Divine Family.

There is an ancient Church hymn, called the Kontakion of the Transfiguration, which has been sung in Greek for thousands of years, it declares:

“You were transfigured on the mount, and Your disciples beheld Your glory as far as they could bear it O Christ our God, so that when they should see You crucified, they would remember that Your suffering was voluntary, and could declare to all the world that You are truly  the radiant splendor of the Father.”

The glory of our faith is that the Holy Trinity desires  this transfiguration for us, too. If we cooperate with God’s grace, spend time with the Lord, and walk the narrow path of holiness, we too, will be resurrected and experience the power of His transfiguration.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The icon of the Transfiguration is through the courtesy of Fr. Richard Reiser, St. James Roman Catholic Church Omaha, Nebraska – Copyright © Richard Reiser.

Thank You! Our One Year Anniversary!

We are so very grateful to everyone who has visited this website over the past year. It was on August 1, 2011 that I posted my first essay. By midnight tonight over 13,000 people, from 106 nations, will have visited this site and, hopefully, been spiritually fed by the discussion on issues concerning sacred images and iconography, prayer, and reflections on the Holy Scripture.

May God continue to bless all those who have an interest in sacred art and move them to deepen their prayer life by using sacred art as a focal point in their meditations.

Thank you!

May the Blessed Mother continue to intercede for all of us.

Peace and Victory in Christ!

Deacon Paul and Jackie Iacono

Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The above image on The Annunciation was painted by the great American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner. It may be seen at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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

 

Summer 2012 Workshop in Painting Sacred Images – A Few Reflections

Over the past six years I have participated in numerous workshops in sacred art and have produced a number of sacred images, each of which helped me understand the techniques of this sacred art.

In 2006, I participated in my first workshop at St. Michael’s Institute of Sacred Art at St. Edmund’s Retreat in Mystic, CT. The instructor was Peter Pearson, an Episcopal priest from Pennsylvania. He introduced the class to the beautiful and prayerful experience of painting a sacred image in the Russian Orthodox tradition; however, rather than using egg tempera paints (in which you mix the yolk of an egg with natural earth and mineral pigments) he taught the techniques using acrylic paints.

A note on acrylics versus egg tempera pigments. I personally believe that they are both valid materials to use. I have studied and painted images in each of these techniques and I personally do not have a solid preference, although, I believe it is helpful for a student to learn the techniques in acrylic first and then study sacred imagery using egg tempera pigments. I find both materials – natural or synthetic colors – enjoyable.

There are some people in the Internet community who become quite exercised over the fact that there are artists creating sacred images using acrylic paints. It is not necessary to get into, as Pearson would say, “the egg wars” debate, other than to mention that all sides are respectfully entitled to their opinion. Neither the Catholic or Orthodox faith exclusively owns sacred art, imagery, or iconography. Church art has always been (for at least the last 1500 years) an outgrowth of the Catholic and Orthodox creative spirit desiring to unite art with prayer. It was certainly part of the early tradition of the Roman Catholic Church prior to the winds of Western civilization moving the Catholic artists’ barque into Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque ports of call.

In the late 20th and early 21st century, a growing element of the sacred art tradition of the Roman Catholic (and the Eastern Rites churches which are in union with Rome) has revolved around reestablishing traditional sacred imagery and iconography as part of the Catholic artistic heritage. Sacred iconography has always been a part of the Orthodox churches liturgical tradition, and they are to be saluted and commended for keeping the bright light of this sacred art tradition alive within the Church community.

It is probably part of the Western European/American mindset to accept and utilize new developments in artistic materials and techniques. This is why I believe some of us do not have any problem using acrylic paints. Acrylics are synthetic paints (composed in a lab) rather than natural earth or mineral pigments. My personal spirituality does not think that the Lord is concerned with the materials used in prayer, rather, He is interested in the intent and the creative outcome of that sincere prayer. You use what you think works, have fun with, and is readily available. There are many ways to catch a fish – as the Lord said to Peter – “throw out your nets again!”

So, on a practical level acrylic paint can be fun to work with, but it can also be problematical. Years ago Peter Pearson recommended a line of paints to us from the Chroma company called JoSonja. These paints are primarily used in the decorative crafts, yet, because of their color lines, they fit the bill for painting in a more traditional way – similar to the Russian tradition. By this I mean that the Russian Orthodox colors are primarily muted, unlike the Greek Orthodox who had a wide range of brilliant colors to choose from for their artwork. Geography and geology play an important part in understanding the color palette and artistic techniques of a civilization.

The nice thing about the JoSonja line of paints (available at DickBlick.com and other outlets such as Jerry’s Artarama) is that they are inexpensive but of surprisingly good quality. They also have an entire range of mediums, (such as flow medium and glazing medium) which are essential in getting the results you want, especially for the multi thin layering and highlights of the image’s face. The JoSonja line has also produced a polyurethane satin varnish that compliments the chemistry of the paints and mediums in their line. It was used on my sacred image for the recent workshop and went on without any problem. I applied this varnish with a one and one-half inch flat wash brush from Princeton Art and Brush Company (item # 4050 FW). It has very fine and soft bristles – perfect for streak free varnishing. I must give you a warning: work quickly as the varnish dries rapidly. It is non toxic and cleans up with soap and water.

I produced a manual for the workshop which explained each step, yet, found myself talking more than I really wanted to, owing to the fact that this was the participants first sacred image, and for many, their first venture into art in many years. A sacred image workshop should be a place in which the participants can enter into prayer while they paint; hopefully, the next workshop will more conducive to this necessary element.

All the adult participants were very good sports and reacted with quite a bit of patience to some of the more difficult parts of the process. They were all happy with the results and want to embark on another workshop – which is good news! Please find below a few photos from the workshop and the Mass at which the sacred images were blessed. You can see the images in the sanctuary in front of the altar. I am behind the altar to the left vested in a green dalmatic, and Father Joseph Upton the Institute’s chaplain, has his hands raised as he recites the blessing over the sacred images. Thanks again to everyone who participated and see you soon!

Copyright photos and images © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

A Sacred Image – The Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ

You are probably thinking, the poor old fellow has made a mistake in his spelling. Shouldn’t the title read “Son” of Justice?

When I made my preliminary drawing for this sacred image (it is based on the drawings and wood carvings of Brother Martin Erspamer, O.S.B) I desired to have an appropriate name for it.

One evening a passage from Evening Prayer in the Divine Office caught my attention. It was the final prayer and it read: “Father, yours is the morning and yours is the evening. Let the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ, shine for ever in our hearts and draw us to that light where you live in radiant glory.”

Sacred image copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

That prayer really struck me; there was the title: Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ.

My intent was to have the image direct the prayerful observer to meditate on the truth that Jesus Christ is the Sun, which as a result of His obedient sacrifice on the holy wood of the Cross, shines in our hearts; and through his death and resurrection redeems us of our sins and guides us back to the Father. He is the Son and the Word of the Father. He is the Light of the World. He is also the Sun of Justice, in that we as individuals will all surely have His light illumine our souls and be judged by His standards.

This sacred image is a gift for Fr. Joseph R. Upton. A wonderful and holy priest who serves as the Chaplain of the Fra Angelico Institute for Sacred Art.

The face and garments are not  painted in the language or style of traditional iconography in an attempt to emulate the woodcarving methods of Bro. Erspamer.

I am happy to say that when you are praying in its presence it does provide comfort to the soul.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono Essay and photos – All Rights Reserved

A Most Amicable Teacher – The Insights of Artist Robert Henri

One of the great pleasures of life is discovering and becoming friends with people who have a similar philosophy of life – especially when it comes to understanding truth, goodness, and beauty.

Some of us may have been fortunate to have had the experience of great teachers in our lives. In my junior year of high school I experienced  teachers of English and history who opened up for me the nature of those two subjects and introduced me to the idea of inquisitive scholarship. On an undergraduate level I remember three teachers in particular – one in comparative literature, the second in physical and cultural anthropology, and the third in the philosophy of education that definitely influenced my own desire to someday walk into a classroom and teach my own class.

I spent thirty years in the field of education. Two of those years were in an administrative role, and twenty-eight were in the classroom. During that time I had the opportunity to study not only the philosophy of education but implement it as well.

In the process of the great adventure of being a classroom teacher, you come across individuals and books that have a marvelous impact on your own style and understanding of the art and craft of becoming a quality teacher.  For example, Gilbert Highet, first introduced me to viewing teaching as an art, and the truth that all who desired to be great teachers must become artists of their craft. Another who molded my teaching behavior (literally like a potter molding a vase) was Haim Ginott. Listen to this beautiful and critical phrase which discusses the power that a teacher has over the lives of their students (from his book Teacher and Child):

“I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

Another teacher that influenced me was Robert Henri. As artists we may all benefit from the wisdom of Henri. He was an influential artist, art teacher, and critical force in the American art community during the early 20th century. Henri died before I was born, yet, in reading his wonderful book The Art Spirit, published in 1923, I find a kindred spirit, a brother in arms, our weapons: our brushes, our helmets: our words that inspire others to see themselves as artists.

Allow these paragraphs from his The Art Spirit  to roll around inside your mind and touch your heart:

“Art when really understood is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing. When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his [or her] kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he [or she] opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he [or she] opens it, shows there are still more pages possible. Art tends towards balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living – very good things for anyone to be interested in.”

So, Henri implores us to see ourselves as artists; to see ourselves as people who desire to create beauty, express truth as we understand it, and to always keep the book open – in a spirit of charity and goodness. Robert Henri can teach us a great deal. He continues to teach and prod me to create everyday. Maybe he will touch your mind and heart, too.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Photo of Robert Henri courtesy of the Parrish Art Museum:http://www.parrishart.org/.