Category Archives: Art

Musical Mystagogy: Conversion of St. Paul

Carolyn Pirtle
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Today we celebrate an unusual feast: the conversion of St. Paul. There are countless stories of other holy men and women who experienced profound conversion: St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Mary of Egypt, St. Francis of Assisi, and in our own day Blessed Oscar Romero and Servant of God Dorothy Day. Indeed, one does not become a saint without experiencing not simply a momentary conversion but a lifetime of conversion, a continual turning away from sin and turning toward Christ. And yet St. Paul’s is the only conversion that appears on the liturgical calendar. Why? Because when Paul left Saul behind—the one who had made it his life’s mission to wipe out Christian communities—the entire trajectory of Christianity changed. After his conversion, Paul became the Apostle to the Gentiles, traveling and teaching and dying for the sake of spreading the faith to all peoples in all corners of the world, and in his epistles, he continues to draw souls to Christ even to this day.

Conversion on the Way to Damascus (Caravaggio, c.1600–1601)
Conversion on the Way to Damascus (Caravaggio, c.1600–1601)

In the first reading for today’s feast, we hear Paul himself relate the story of his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, a scene that has been famously depicted by many artists (twice by Caravaggio alone). In many cases, these paintings focus on the moment in which Saul falls to the ground as the catalytic moment of his conversion. This moment was indeed the beginning: Saul sees a blinding light, falls to the ground, and hears a voice he does not know asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 22:7; see also Acts 9:3ff). Yet, this moment was only the beginning. Saul did not rise from the ground as the fully-fledged Apostle to the Gentiles he would become. On the contrary, he was rendered blind and helpless by his encounter with the light of Christ, and it was only with the assistance of his companions that he was able to reach Damascus at all. Then, it was only with the help of Ananias that he regained his sight, discovered the truths of Christianity, and was initiated into the community through Baptism. In other words, Paul’s conversion that we celebrate today was not a just singular moment that could be captured in a painting or a snapshot; rather, beginning from that singular moment, his conversion encompassed a lifetime of turning away from his old ways in order to follow the way of Christ, the way of the Cross.

Felix Mendelssohn, 1809–1847
Felix Mendelssohn, 1809–1847

Felix Mendelssohn’s musical depiction of St. Paul’s conversion in his oratorio Paulus, op. 36 helps to capture this ongoing sense of conversion in a way that perhaps a painting cannot. Musical performance by its nature involves a journey through time, and as such, it can serve as a powerful metaphor for one’s journey through life. The story of St. Paul’s conversion unfolds over several movements in this oratorio, beginning in the fourteenth movement. This movement consists of two parts: in the first part, Acts 9:3–6 is proclaimed in a recitative (sung speech) by a tenor narrator, a baritone (Paul), and a three-part treble chorus (the voice of Jesus). The jagged tenor melody soars at the moment the narrator describes the blinding light. The strings create tension-filled harmonies through a technique called tremolo (literally meaning “trembling”). The hesitant baritone melody conveys the fear that must have overcome Saul. All of these elements work together to create an incredibly dramatic moment, translated from the German below:

And as he journeyed, he came near unto Damascus
when suddenly there shone around him a light from Heaven: and he fell to the Earth;
and he heard a voice saying unto him:

Saul! Saul! Why persecutest thou me?
And he said: Lord! who art thou?
and the Lord said to him:
I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutes.

And he said, trembling and astonish’d:
Lord, what wilt thou have me do?

The Lord said to him: Arise and go into the city,
and there thou shalt be told what thou must do.

What is perhaps most striking about this section is the way in which Mendelssohn chose to set the words of Jesus by using a three-part treble chorus, a marked departure from the model set forth by the Passion oratorios of Johann Sebastian Bach (who greatly influenced Mendelssohn), where the words of Jesus were sung by a bass soloist. The effect is stunning: the drama described above melts away as Jesus speaks; the tension is dissolved and the voice of the risen Christ is heard as something utterly luminous, radiant. Whereas in Caravaggio’s paintings we see the light enveloping Saul through the beauty of chiaroscuro, in Mendelssohn’s setting of Jesus’ words, we hear this light pierce through the darkness, and its radiance penetrates the listener’s heart just as it must have penetrated Saul’s. When we hear or read Jesus’ words proclaimed in Scripture, we might interpret his question to Saul as accusatory, as judgmental; but here, these words are set in such a way that we hear Jesus genuinely questioning this lost son of his. This is the Man of Sorrows speaking, the Good Shepherd himself reaching out to a lost sheep so that he might be brought into the fold. In setting the words of Jesus this simple, vulnerable way, Mendelssohn makes a profound theological statement, calling to mind to the self-emptying love of Christ wherein power is made perfect in weakness. In a way, the unexpected vulnerability of this music hearkens back to the Incarnation itself, when the eternal Word stripped himself of glory to be born of the Virgin, as well as the Passion and Death of Jesus, when the Word made flesh emptied himself all the more for our sakes by enduring a horrific and humiliating death in order to redeem the world from sin.

It is this gentle, merciful beauty that attracts, that draws Saul in, that illuminates his heart even as his eyes are blinded; it is the beauty of his encounter with Christ that provides the catalyst to Saul’s conversion. Yet neither Saul’s story nor Mendelssohn’s oratorio ends with this moment of conversion; Saul must arise and follow the command of Jesus by proceeding into Damascus to find Ananias. Saul must become Paul. And to do this, he needs the love of Christ shown forth in the merciful witness of those around him.

It is at this point that Mendelssohn’s music itself turns, transitioning into a triumphant choral response to the narrative that has just unfolded. Throughout the oratorio, the chorus is designated in the score as Stimme der Christenheit, or the Voice of Christendom, and so it gives voice to the Christian community, encouraging Paul on the road toward Christ. The text Mendelssohn set for this movement (Is 60:1–2) also makes a theological statement by providing a beautiful complement to what has preceded it:

Arise, shine! For thy light is come,
and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and gross darkness [thick clouds] the people.

But shall arise upon thee, the Lord,
and his glory shall be seen upon thee.

This is the moment of Paul’s illumination; he has been visited by the very light of Christ, the glory of the Lord has shone upon him, and the Christian community is now exhorting him to arise (as we hear in the glorious ascending melodies) and follow that light (as we hear in the intricate imitation and echoes) so that God’s glory might be seen not only upon him, but through him as well. And for us listening, this music can provide a moment of illumination as well. Just as the Scriptures are never read as a simple story but are proclaimed so that they may take root in our hearts, so too is this music a moment meant to serve as a proclamation, reminding us that we are on our own road to Christ, that we must allow his light to heal our spiritual blindness and be converted ourselves. This music serves as a reminder that, in our Christian journey, we are both Paul and the chorus: called to lifelong conversion and called to encourage others along their path of discipleship.

As we listen to the voice of Christ and the voice of our fellow Christians represented in the chorus, may we pray for the grace of continual conversion for ourselves, and for the conversion of those who continue to persecute Christ in the members of His Body throughout the world. May we hear in this music the radiance of Christ’s light and allow it to permeate our hearts all the more deeply, so that we, like St. Paul, might continue on our journey toward Christ.

St. Paul, pray for us.

Dwelling with Love Incarnate: Part 2

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Editor’s Note: This second of two posts is part of a lecture given to inaugurate the Institute for Church Life’s 2nd annual International Crèche Pilgrimage, Dwelling with Love Incarnate. 

Dwelling with Love Incarnate: Part 1

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

 

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

 

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,

Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;

Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,

The ox and ass and camel which adore.

 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,

Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

 

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

This hymn, a text written by Christina Rossetti, rifts upon a number of the motifs that were implicit in O Magnum Mysterium. The silence of the bleak mid-winter is intensified through a placing of the Nativity in an English village, covered with snow. Worship is offered by the angels, yet the marvel of the Incarnation is upon display in Jesus’ drinking of milk from his mother’s bosom, worship being offered most fully through the tender kiss of a mother upon the cheek of her son. Yet, at the end, the hymn takes a turn common in devotional poetry of the time. The contemplation of the pastoral nativity demands some response by the poet and reader alike. A shepherd might bring a lamb, a Wise Man would bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but me—what is left but to give myself?

In this sense, Rossetti’s poetry functions almost Eucharistically. God’s action has unfolded in the Incarnation and what remains but the giving of oneself as a return-gift to the infant Son. And the icon of this return-gift is the blessed Virgin herself, who offers the kiss of love that the poet now desires to give to the Son. Such poetry is self-implicating, wooing one to participate in the gift of what takes place in the hidden indwelling of the God-man.

The liturgical poetry of Romanos the Melodist takes up this same perspective, where the reader of the poem, the singer of the hymn assumes a central role in the drama of salvation. In his hymn on the Nativity, Romanos invites the reader to assume the Marian role in the story:

“For I am not simply your mother, compassionate Savior;

it is not in vain that I suckle the giver of milk,

but for the sake of all I implore you.

You have made me the mouth and boast of all my race,

and your world has me,

as a mighty protection, a wall and a buttress.

They look to me, those who were cast out

of the Paradise of pleasure, for I bring them back.

May all things understand that, through me, you have been born

a little Child, God before the ages (The Nativity, 23).

While also reflecting upon the role of Mary in the drama of the Nativity, the hymn forms the reader to see him or herself as the Marian actor in the drama. In this age, as this hymn is sung, the Christian is also to become the place where Christ is born into the world.

Indeed, it is the very pedagogy of the crèche scene to invite us to participate within our own time in the Incarnation. The “Painted Houses” of South Africa uses tribal imagery to demonstrate how God’s dwelling among us might put an end to the hostility between rival factions.

SouthAfrica_PaintedHouses

The material of the banana tree of Paraguay incarnates the Christmas narrative into the agricultural milieu of that country.

Paraguay_VegetalReign

Alaska’s own wintry background is now where the Savior of the world is born.

UnitedStates_OnlyIciclesAreForReal_

The crèche scenes are moments in which the story of Christmas is seen in its contemporaneity—the world grown weary through sin and death, now renewed through the glory of the Incarnate Word.

The family that keeps watch before the crèche participates in this drama of salvation. And indeed, this drama is unfolding even in the mundane world of family life. Cardinal Marc Ouellet writes, “…the love of Christian spouses and the richness of their family relationships become a sacred sign, a vehicle and sanctuary of a greater Love, the love of the Trinitarian, incarnate God, who enters into a humble and indissoluble bond with their community of life and love” (Divine Likeness, 53). The love of the Father poured out in his Son and then given over to women and men in history itself is still become manifest in the nuptial union. The family becomes an incarnate and inculturated sign of God’s love for the world to contemplate. Each of the families, in their own particularities, reveal something about the triune love of God made manifest in the Incarnation: the couple with a plurality of children, the elderly couple who now live alone, the family forced into migration, and the infertile couple who open their house to care for the poorest of the poor.

In this way, the nativity set can renew family life insofar as it reminds them that although domesticity is often mundane, it is in fact a participation in the drama of salvation in this time and place. It is a participation in a drama where there is not only joy but also signs of sorrow that mark the human condition. And the set invites us, just like the poetry of Christian Rossetti or Romanos the Melodist, to assume our role in the drama.

Born On a New Day

You are the new day.

Meekness, love, humility

Come down to us this day:

Christ, your birth has proved to me

You are the new day.

 

Quiet in a stall you lie,

Angels watching in the sky

Whisper to you from on high

“You are the new day”.

 

When our life is darkest night,

Hope has burned away;

Love, your ray of guiding light,

Show us the new day.

 

Love of all things great and small

Leaving none, embracing all,

Fold around me where I fall,

Bring in the new day.

 

This new day will be

A turning point for everyone.

If we let the Christ-child in, and

Reach for the new day.

 

Christ the Way, the Truth, the Life;

Healing sadness, ending strife;

You we welcome, Lord of life,

Born on a new day.

You are the new day.

A relatively modern carol, “Born On a New Day” is an adaptation of a secular song, one that promises the renewal of humanity through the burgeoning hope of love. The irony of the song, of course, is that the language of “new day” is fitting for the feast of Christmas. The hope of newness, of God’s renewal of the created order, is in fact at the font of the season of Advent itself, where we await the glad tidings of the Savior, who comes to renew all things.

And indeed, the crèche itself captures this newness through the presence of the Magi, who come from the ends of the world to greet the king whose power is made manifest in weakness. T.S. Eliot, in his “Journey of the Magi,” gives voice to these kings who have returned to their land:

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

With the coming of this new day is a necessary death, a giving up of the old dispensation for the new. Can we participate in a world grown tired from the reign of sign and death, when we have gazed with wonder upon the king who dwells among us? Is this not the reign we long for?

The new day that we long for, that was supposed to be inaugurated through the birth and death and resurrection of the beloved Son, seems so far away. The tragedies in Paris, together with the suffering of the Syrian migrants now denied homes make this patently clear to us. Should we turn away from this weary world? Should we give up on the project of waiting altogether?

LambThe crèche, as one might imagine, serves as a kind of medicine against this hopelessness, this world weariness of those who await the Incarnate Word’s reign on earth. To put up a crèche each year, in the midst of a world that has grown callous to the life of the unborn, to the suffering of the migrant and immigrant, to the prisoner condemned to death is a supreme act of hope. It is akin to the role of the tabernacle lamp, described by Charles Peguy in his poetics of hope in The Portal of the Mystery of Hope:

One trembling flame has endured the weight of worlds.

One vacillating flame has endured the weight of time.

One anxious flame has endured the weight of nights.

Since the first time my grace flowed for the creation of the world.

Since my grace has been flowing forever for the preservation of the world.

Since the time that the blood of my son flowed for the salvation of the world.

A flame impossible to reach, impossible to extinguish with the breath of death (Peguy, 5).

The family who each year puts up the crèche scene is doing more than following the liturgical calendar. Rather, they are manifesting to the world a hope that cannot be defeated by a politics or culture of death. Hope is born anew in the heart of the child, who recognizes for the first time the fact that that little babe in the crèche scene is Savior of the world; hope is born anew as the family prays before this scene each evening before darkness descends upon the world; hope is born anew when the family becomes the love they receive in this crèche.

Indeed, the manner in which hope is kept alive in the hearth of the domestic church is the reason why something so small as setting up a crèche scene is integral to the new evangelization. Secularity will ultimately not be defeated by intellectual argument alone; individualism cannot be destroyed by building a philosophical case alone against the irrationality of the position; nor for that matter will the coldness of the human heart toward the suffering of the unborn be “fixed” through a really fine op-ed. Rather, the hope of the Incarnation is passed on as a living flame from family to family, each time that they place in the infant Christ as the center of their home, manifesting to the world once against the fact that God is love. This, in fact, is the new day.

Conclusion

The Christmas crèche is thus more than a nice tradition, whereby Christians throughout the world mark the arrival of the season, just as they put up lights upon their homes or drink coffee out of a red cup from Starbucks. Rather, it is an embodied practice of remembering what the Father has accomplished through the humility of the Son, who is Love made flesh; it is an invitation to participation in this narrative again and again, renewing each season the hope for salvation that comes from God alone. It is a practice that serves as a bastion against a practical atheism that lives as if God is not more. It is a practice that renews from year to year the memory of the story that makes sense of all other stories.

And perhaps, it is the simple practice of praying before and setting up this crèche in the context of the domestic church that might be a source of renewal for the world itself. For as Cardinal Ouellet writes:

Evangelizing the family’s various relationships in the image of the Trinity, cultivating its sacramental life and consciousness, and revealing to the family the divine missions in which it participates; all of this could have a planetary impact on the mission of the Church and the future of humanity (76).

For the family to gaze with love upon the crèche, to contemplate the wonderful mystery taking place, and to pledge to become this mystery for the world: in this way, even now, the possibility of a new day, a new world of love can come into being. For when we dwell with love incarnate, we may find (perhaps even against our wills) that we become this love that we abide with: “Jesus, immortal boy, let this your birth give/to us peace and joy” (Adam of St. Victor 5.11).

Hidden Annunciations

Renee RodenRenée Roden, ND ’14

Teacher and Playwright, New York City

 

And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. [Mary], having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of greeting this should be. (Luke 1:28-29)

The Annunciation is a moment in history that is frequently depicted in Western art. And for good reason, given that the moment when the eternal God took up form as a human inside the womb of the Virgin Mary is certainly a contender for the title of Most Important Moment in all of Creation. Throughout the millennia since that moment, myriad artists have captured the moment in paint and pen—from ancient iconographers to pre-Raphaelites. Take, for example, this famous painting by Leonardo DaVinci. The painting’s composition is fairly typical an image of the Annunciation: Mary sits in a landscape that combines both elements of a private bedchamber and a garden landscape, to emphasize the private and intimate moment of conception occurring. She is a “garden enclosed” (Song of Songs, 4:12) In her chambers, the Virgin is pondering the Scriptures—the Word of God—and lo and behold Gabriel appears, and announces the Word of God will take flesh inside of her.UntitledOne of the most captivating images is, in my mind, Botticelli’s mystical and intriguing image of the Annunciation. For in this painting, the Virgin and the angel appear to be in separate spaces. In the Da Vinci painting, Gabriel and Mary exist in a common visual world. But in the Botticelli painting, a strong column cuts the picture in half, demarcating a clear, sharp divide between the world of the angel and the world of the virgin. Although Mary humbly inclines her body in response to the words that Gabriel speaks, indicating he has had some effect on her, she does not seem to see him. There is a distance between the two figures that implies a divide between their two planes of reality. In this moment Botticelli has captured the divide between the supernatural and the natural that the Incarnation bridges.

This painting suggests to me that perhaps the revelation of Gabriel to Mary was, like many revelations of the divine in our lives, not as clear as we imagine it to be. As we ponder this great mystery from our privileged position of the future, we see the story clearly. Oh, of course, Mary, the Immaculate Conception, must, in this moment clearly understand and accept God’s will for her life, because she was conceived without the stain of original sin, and thus she is fully open to God’s will, etc., etc. The story is quite clear to us.

But Mary, even in this moment of divine revelation, during which she learns of her role as the Mother of God, does not have a full understanding of what is occurring. Gabriel greets her with the words: “hail, full of grace” and Mary, the Evangelist tells us, is troubled. She does not understand what this greeting means.

Untitled 2When Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, she identified herself in a manner that was also troubling for Bernadette’s contemporaries. She identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. Not just as “one immaculately conceived,” but as “The Immaculate Conception.” St. Maximilian Kolbe dedicated his life to understanding this mystery, and teasing out the mystery of who Mary Immaculate is, and why she identifies herself as THE Immaculate Conception. Maximilian begins with attempting to understand the relationship between Mary, the Mother of God, and with the Holy Spirit, her spouse and the Third Person of the Trinity.

In the reflections he wrote in the hours before he was arrested by the Gestapo, on the night of February 17, 1941, Maximilian Kolbe wrote that the Holy Spirit is “The flowering of the love of the Father and the Son.” Thus, “the Holy Spirit is, therefore, the “uncreated, eternal conception,” the prototype of all the conceptions that multiply life throughout the whole universe. The Father begets; the Son is begotten; the Spirit is the “conception” that springs from their love.”

Maximilian Kolbe describes the Holy Spirit as the “uncreated Immaculate Conception,” the eternally conceived in the love between the Father and the Son. And Mary, who was so closely united to God, “most completely filled with this love, filled with God himself, was the Immaculata, who never contracted the slightest stain of sin, who never departed in the least from God’s will. United to the Holy Spirit as his spouse, she is one with God in an incomparably more perfect way than can be predicated of any other creature. Thus, Mary is the created Immaculate Conception.

St. Maximilian goes on:

“In the Holy Spirit’s union with Mary we observe more than the love of two beings; in one there is all the love of the Blessed Trinity; in the other, all of creation’s love. So it is that in this union heaven and earth are joined; all of heaven with all the earth, the totality of eternal love with the totality of created love. It is truly the summit of love.”

The title of Immaculate Conception is truly magnificent. Mary has been given the gift of belonging to the fundamental reality of the Trinity in a very intimate way. Thus, the Immaculate Conception, meaning Mary’s intimate union with the Trinity, becomes an image for us of how deeply God loves us, and how keenly He thirsts for our union with Him. He desires each human being to be brought into the deep union of the trinity, with no spot of original sin, no obstacle to mar the perfect gift of love between Creature and Creator.

Mary’s revelation at Lourdes is truly astounding: for Mary reveals herself using a name for herself that she would never have been able to fathom during her earthly life. This humble handmaiden of the Lord did not know who she truly was, during her life here on earth. Mary of Nazareth could not have known she was the Immaculata, for the accomplishment of the mission of the Immaculate Conception was the death and Resurrection of her Son. Mary’s own purpose on earth would never be fully clear to her unless viewed through the lens of the Paschal Mystery.

Certainly, Mary knew something of the mission God had given to her: to be the mother of Jesus, who she knew was the Son of God, the one who would redeem Israel. But she did not know the depth of her own vocation. When we see Mary as the Immaculate Conception, we see her as an image of how God wishes we all could be: united so intimately with Him, with no blot of sin to mar our union with Him. Mary knew nothing of this. She did not know that, as the Immaculate Conception, she would become a model of discipleship, the pinnacle of all creation, a sign for all time of how God wishes for each of us to be united to Him.

Although Mary proclaims in her Magnificat that from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1: 48-49) she could not have fully understood her own importance, nor how true that statement would be. For the historical Mary of Nazareth could not see herself with the clarity with which we see her today. The full truth of her own Magnificat would remain hidden from her her entire life on earth.

For Mary would never know this name for herself–the Immaculate Conception–until she had entered into the beatific vision of heaven. The hiddenness of her own vocation reiterates the great beauty of this sign of God’s love for us all. It causes me to wonder what sort of graces we all have been blessed with, that we will never fully understand until we have finished our pilgrimage and are finally home with God.

This brings to mind the fifth of the glorious mysteries of the Rosary: Mary is crowned queen of heaven and earth. Unlike the other mysteries, this mystery of the rosary is not in Scriptures, or apocryphal sources (such as the narrative attributed to St. John, that narrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin), But perhaps it deserves its place in the mysteries of the rosary, as a marker of the “most highly favored one,” the one who is full of grace, finally coming fully into her own, finally understanding that mysterious greeting of the angel so long ago. What a surprise it must have been to Mary, the woman who identified herself solely as the handmaid of the Lord, to learn how highly exalted her place was in heaven.

Perhaps we will not be able to fully understand ourselves this side of heaven. What marvels God is working in us and through us now, that we will never be able to see until we have finally fully entered into heavenly union with God. In the words of St. Paul:“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, is what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2,9).

St. John’s University and the Playful Gravity of Time

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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This week, I’m visiting St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN for a series of workshops on hosting the St. John’s Bible at Notre Dame in an upcoming academic year. Like the rest of the Midwest, St. John’s is awash with autumnal color, sign of the beautiful death that the land is presently undergoing. And of course, like many universities, the passing of time is ubiquitous on campus as midterm week gives way to the second half of the semester, which will give way to Christmas celebrations (and in this case feet of snow).

Yet, the playful gravity of time at St. John’s feels different, because of the liturgical practice of the monks, who are the illuminati among us Catholics at marking time. Morning Prayer and Noon Prayer and Evening Prayer. The bells ring out from the Abbey Church, calling all those present to awareness of time’s passage. Indeed, at other schools, bells ring constantly. But, in this case, the bells that ring are markers of a community’s actual prayer (instead of a reminder that it is in fact 8:00 PM). At St. John’s that 7:00 AM bell is an audible sign that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ has sanctified all the hours of the day and week and year.

MarcelBruerSince arriving on campus, I have attended three liturgies in this Abbey Church, all at different times of day. At Sunday evening Vespers, the wall of stained glass glowed forth with the power of the Resurrection, every hue of that massive panel fulfilling the fullness of its colorful vocation. Last night, at the Eucharistic celebration of undergraduate students, the stained glass reflected the darkness of night, the only light emerging from the Eucharistic liturgy playing out within the walls of the Church. This morning, at Lauds, the stained glass windows awakened with the sleepy choir of monks and guests, once again revealing its colorful hues as the Canticle of Zechariah came forth from our lips, the daybreak from on high.

This practice of marking time intrinsic to the Benedictine charism might offer something unique to Catholic higher education in a secular age. University discourse tends to refer to some distant future in which all knowledge will be discovered, in which progress will be made, in which endowments will grow. Yet, here at St. John’s, a radical alternative time interrupts again and again. The time not of capital campaigns, of curricular reviews, but the playful gravity of time embodied in the Christo-centric Liturgy of the Hours.

If I was a student at St. John’s, perhaps, I could not help but discover that this grounding in time, in the present celebration of the mystery of Christ, might actually be the most important part of my education on this campus. That to be a young person is not to wish away time, to hope for the day in which I will have the perfect employment opportunity, the right spouse, the ideal living situation. Instead, it is to let the present be infused with the reality of God’s activity, to perceive my vocation hic et nunc, here and now. My vocation as student. As one seeking a form of life, which will give shape to a life of discipleship. The time for salvation, the time for formation, the time to be fully human in Christ is not a distant hope. It is the time that is unfolding within the rural landscape of this Abbey Church and University.

In the midst of trends in Catholic higher education that strive for increasing graduate research, international immersion for undergraduates, and constant updating of curricula to remain up to date, it is helpful to keep before our eyes the playful gravity of the time that the monks celebrate day-to-day. And perhaps wonder, in the midst of a higher education landscape full the apostolic vigor of Jesuits and Holy Cross and Dominicans, if the marking of time that the Benedictines embody might actually be the key to renewing Catholic higher education in a secular age.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that the renewal of education and the Church comes from the sons and daughters of Monte Cassino.

 

 

 

Pondering the Sanctification of Our Ways (On Hobbit Day)

It is an odd fact about my life: I love small things. Small babies, small children, small dogs, tiny cabins, cozy rooms. And since my generation lives in a world driven by images, some better than others, (via Snapchat, Instagram, Tinder, etc) in times when I fall into the stereotype of that image-driven generation, hqdefaultI have spent more time than I care to admit sitting around with girlfriends looking at pictures, or Buzzfeed posts, or YouTube videos, or stories. (Usually, they’re titled something along the lines of, “BABIES TRY LEMONS FOR THE FIRST TIME! THIS IS A HILARIOUS MUST-WATCH.”)

My own affinity for the small, my genuine and deep-seeded love of children, and my desire to protect the innocent is probably rooted in my own psyche andnativity_icon1-227x300 my own life story—but the affinity also stems from an amazement at the reality of the Incarnation. I never cease to marvel at the fact that the Savior of our world came to the world as a tiny, vulnerable, crying, needy infant. The Word who always was allowed Himself to be nurtured and loved into maturity. (That could be another piece, another day.)

And so all of that being said, The Lord of the Rings has always been a place where loves of different sorts collided for me. I find Tolkien’s writing beautifully crafted, his imagination fantastic, and his ability to reflect on deep truths in the lens of myth-making and story-telling absolutely brilliant. I also find hobbits entirely lovable. In fact, for a long time, I loved hobbits simply because of their smallness.

When it came time to write a senior thesis, I eventually settled on writing it about the way the chief four hobbits Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin grow in virtue throughout The Lord of the Rings. My chief encourager in this line of thinking stemmed from a place where JRR Tolkien commented that, “…the structure of The Lord of the Rings was, “planned to be ‘hobbito-centric,’ that is, primarily a study of the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble” (Letters 237).  As I thought to myself about writing, the process went something like this:

  • A kind of spirituality of smallness, a’la Therese of Lisieux, check.
  • Lord of the Rings (a somewhat pathological obsession, my friends will testify), check.
  • Tolkien’s brilliance from his letters and interviews, check.
  • And I even managed to throw in something on patristic theories of the atonement. Relationship to historical Christianity, check.
  • Thoughts about vocation and call (one of my other obsessions)- check.

(An insight to me internally at this point: ALL OF THE THINGS I NERD OUT ABOUT WERE ABOUT TO BE IN ONE PLACE.)

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“THIS IS SO GREAT!” I thought. “I’ll write all about hobbits, and why we love them, and why it’s beautiful that they’re small, and how important their smallness is to who they are, and yadda-yadda-yadda- yadda” (I can rant to myself for quite a long while). But sometimes, something happens when you write. Sometimes, you find that you were quite wrong in your instincts. Delving into a topic means that you have to permit your long-held ideas and conceptions to grow and mature. And at times, to be crushed. (Gulp.)

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Endearing, Pippin. But according to Tolkien, I can’t love you for the sake of second breakfast alone.

It turned out that my own instincts about the place of humility, smallness, and the little in Tolkien’s fictional world were (quite simply) wrong. Not all wrong, but mostly wrong. I had an idealistic and romantic vision in my head of Tolkien’s hobbits as a preferred race, a race we ought to love and value for nothing more than their small, quiet ways of life and their quaint customs. The work I did delving into Tolkien’s own thoughts quickly and totally crushed that tendency towards over-romanticization of the small and childlike in Middle Earth out of me. The Ring cycle is still definitely about the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble. BUT, I came to find, this means we ought to appreciate the hobbits who willingly and freely undergo the process of what it takes to be sanctified and ennobled; we should not overtly romanticize the entire race.

Even though the trilogy thematically focuses on the “sanctification of the humble,” the situation is not so simple as loving hobbits because they are small, comical, innocent people who enjoy gardening and over-eating and time with family. Tolkien’s hobbits are often endearing and comic characters, to be sure, but it is not endearing-ness alone that makes one a saint, or Tolkien’s fictional equivalent of one. Simply put, the hobbits of Middle Earth who become heroes are revered because they demonstrate the Church’s definition of sanctity; they exhibit levels of heroic virtue.

screen_shot_2014-10-16_at_4.23.10_pm__largeThe Catechism, in a compilation of the Tradition, says that:

A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions (CCC 1803).

So the fictional saint-making in the context of The Lord of the Rings  stems from how our hero hobbits reacted to adversity and what exactly they did with the roads set before them– not from an innate  sanctification via innocence and ignorance. On those paths, the hobbits themselves were “enlarged” and “sanctified” for the sake of all of Middle Earth, because they continually tended toward and chose the good. (Though not always; saints in our real histories aren’t perfect either, but we can’t treat that here).

The_Hobbits_of_Hobbiton
“You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.”

The hobbits Sam, Merry, and Pippin demonstrate a heroic faithfulness for the sake of friendship, coupled with a steadfast courage that persons of their size and background should never have had. Frodo demonstrates a willingness to die for the sake of the entirety of the people of Middle Earth. Effectively, they all are given grace (by an unnamed providence, in this fictional context) in order to continue persevering in the realities presented to them. Take, for example, the hobbit Sam’s reflection on heroes that he shares with Frodo:

“…We shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to just have been just landed in them, usually—thetumblr_lg5u8beBEh1qgb6vio1_500ir paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten….” (Tolkien 711).

It is true, unfortunately, that a post of this nature can’t possibly capture the entirety of the thesis– nor treat all of the nuances involved fairly. But suffice to say, the more I studied and expanded my understanding, the more I came to love Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. I saw just how much they all grew in courage, how much they sacrificed their own wants, totally abandoned any understanding of personal safety for the sake of friendship, loyalty, duty, or even a more complex understanding about the good of all. By the end of things, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin all actually had been “enlarged, or sanctified,” as Tolkien had desired to show, because they had acquired and continually acted with levels of courage, fortitude, and loyalty that absolutely none of the “Big People” ever expected hobbits to exemplify.

Although (alas) hobbits are fictional, many of us- myself very much included- feel ourselves to be hobbit-like in the scheme of the wider world. We feel small, or sometimes insignificant, or at the least unprepared for the path that has been set before our feet— for the illness of a family member, for the loss of a job, for loneliness in our own path, for difficulties with children, for the impossibility of a class load, for difficulty with responsibilities that “by rights” as Sam would say, we shouldn’t have. But understanding Tolkien’s thought means that if we understand ourselves as a “hobbit in faith,” we do not have the ability to flee to our respective Shires. We cannot content ourselves with pipe-smoking, gardening, entertaining family, and the like. There’s a huge key here to understanding vocation: understanding how we are called to respond to God and the realities of our lives does not mean constantly longing for peace and quiet and a return to (or discovery of) a place of safety.

For evil to be defeated in this world, we have to cooperate with the hand of Providence, even when that means the Way before us is frighteningly unknown or dangerous or not what we expected. To be a hobbit in faith means that we courageously continue, whatever the road before us, knowing that if we keep trying to follow the will of God, good may come of our current Road—even if this means a great deal of suffering and scarring on our part. Sam’s thought on this in the darkest of times communicates this more eloquently:

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. F7e19f0098d7cf5dd31615656e13915aaor like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach” (Tolkien 922).

Evil, and evil’s affinity for self-deception, will mean that child-like humility and a recognition of one’s smallness may allow for the grace of God to work in ways that will surprise all of us. The Road does not ever quite end, as Tolkien says; “it goes on and on.” It is our part to follow, and to keep following that Road that is at our feet, knowing that Christ is Himself our Road and our Way. We are all homo-viator: man on the journey, pilgrims seeking heaven. Thus, to be a hobbit in faith means to accept the Road that one’s feet have been set on, even if we in no way sought out our particular path, or even if we fear where the Road might be leading in the short term. And so we accept our Road, knowing that Christ our light, Christ our Way, Christ the beautiful, and Christ the victorious seeks us as we continue journeying Home.

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Practicing Easter: Building the Church

Hope BoettnerHope Bethany ’15

Theology Undergraduate

Fellow, Center for Liturgy

Springtime means a number of things. It means the smell of freshly cut grass, the return of thunderstorms, and the bane of allergies. But this springtime through this reflection brings together two of my favorite things in a new way. It brings together a) baseball and b) a concrete example of a way that theological thought—the way we think about and grow in our faith—truly does impact our daily lives.

field-of-dreams-poster-artwork-kevin-costner-amy-madigan-james-earl-jonesThe connection here is a little more subtle than a church softball league, so I will explain. In the baseball movie classic Field of Dreams, a down-on-his-luck Iowa farmer begins (without really understanding why) building a baseball diamond in his cornfields. He is prompted to do this by a few rather mystical experiences, including the whispered, repeated phrase, “If you build it, he will come.”

My home diocese, the Diocese of Knoxville in Tennessee,  isn’t building a baseball diamond. But she is embarking on a building adventure of her own. This past weekend, members from all corners of the diocese (along with leaders of the wider Church) came together to celebrate the groundbreaking of the building project for a new Cathedral. Originally, when Pope John Paul II created the Diocese of Knoxville in 1988 by splitting it from Nashville, the already existing Sacred Heart Parish was chosen because of its size and central location to serve as the Cathedral parish. But the diocese has grown and changed in the last twenty-five years, and with it, the Cathedral parish demographics have increased and changed dramatically. In deciding to build a Cathedral, Catholics of East Tennessee are coming together to build; we are remembering and honoring the past and (short) history of our diocese and we are getting ready for the future, for a new chapter in which we will stand more on our own feet as a maturing diocese.

From left, Father David Boettner Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam, Governor Bill Haslam, Bishop Richard Stika, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Cardinal William Levada participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sunday, April 19, 2015.   (SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)
From left, Father David Boettner Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam, Governor Bill Haslam, Bishop Richard Stika, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Cardinal William Levada participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sunday, April 19, 2015.
(SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)

Although I was privileged to go home for the weekend and participate in the events associated with the groundbreaking, I have mostly been watching this entire process unfold from afar. My home diocese has been my home in many ways for nearly my whole life. As a daughter of the Diocese who loves her home, while living (in happy exile) away from home and majoring in Theology at Notre Dame, I have been geeking out quite a bit as it all transpires.

I am watching my home Church come together, work together, and learn together about why and how we think about our sacred spaces in the way that we do. I am seeing tutorials on the meaning behind church architecture reach people; I am watching as people transition from hesitancy about the need for a new Cathedral to excitement, pride, and willingness to go the distance and to be a part of this effort. I am seeing a countless number of individuals devote their time, their talents, and their efforts in order to make all of this happen. And most importantly, I am seeing first-hand the way that physically building a new Cathedral church is teaching, forming, and building up the Body of Christ in East Tennessee.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, greets guests at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sunday, April 19, 2015.   (SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, greets guests at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sunday, April 19, 2015.
(SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)

This weekend, I saw hundreds and hundreds of people work together and come together for this moment. (Apparently the final count was 1200 local folks, 12 bishops, 3 cardinals, a governor, and two mayors.) This time in Knoxville diocesan history clearly has become a teaching and formational moment. It has taught and re-taught us about our need to worship God rightly so that we may live rightly, not just as the parish of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but as the entire diocese and all of her members. The tagline of the Cathedral campaign itself packs a theological punch about this rightly ordered way of looking at church building: “Home, Where We Worship, Teach, and Serve.”Home-Campaign-Logo_RGB

Thinking about building, thinking about the seasons of life, and deciding to build has helped all of us who call ourselves a part of the diocese of Knoxville to realize that the Mass, the liturgy, and the life of the Church (both local and universal) is not simply about “we the people.” The Church is actually about the Trinity; the Church only exists because the love of the Trinity overflowed and continues to overflow to creation. God’s overflowing, self-giving, and ever-expanding love explains the basic fact of why we are here. But reflecting on God’s love also helps us understand the fitting priority list for our lives and that if we don’t worship rightly we cannot live rightly—and this is why I’m so proud of the “Worship, Teach, Serve” tagline.

Reflecting on worship and on what it means to build a fitting space for the “home base” of the Diocese (the baseball jokes continue) also means something else. It means that we realize our lives of faith mean more than the sense of community or feeling of belonging that we encounter when we gather for the liturgy. In the Mass and in other liturgies, we (the people of God) participate and pray in hope and in confidence of the fulfillment of God’s promises to us.

But we ourselves, though we are the people and the assembly of God, are not actually the main focus of the liturgy. The Mass and the liturgical life of the Church is not meant to inspire and entertain us, so that we come back next time for more. The liturgical life of the Church is meant to take all of us up into the love of the Trinity, so that we glorify our Creator and are strengthened by the sacraments in order that we may then go out and participate in the work of the Trinity. We do this by helping to sanctify the world with Christ’s love and Christ’s beauty. Paraphrasing Mother Teresa, we make something beautiful for God by our lives and our loves.

Design of the interior of the Cathedral
Design of the interior of the Cathedral

There’s a pertinent phrase in liturgical theology “lex orandi, lex credendi” that can help us think about this. It means that the law of prayer is the law of belief, or more colloquially, what we say in prayer reflects what we truly believe. Building decisions with churches and with this cathedral extends this “lex orandi, lex credendi” to “lex aedificandi, lex credendi.”  Aedificandi means build, and so what we build and the way we build it reflects what we believe, too. In his book Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy, Denis McNamara says that “architecture is the built form of ideas; church architecture is the built form of theology. As go the ideas, so goes the architecture . . . all architectural decisions are theological decisions.”

Actually, the self-gift (kenosis) of Christ on the Cross forever changed the way that we see our lives and think about beauty. Because Christ’s gift of Himself to the point of death transformed even the worst suffering into the opportunity to give and in that giving to become something beautiful for God, everything in our lives can be transformed by Christ’s work on our behalf. Here and now, in our local churches, we have a chance to give of ourselves, in our daily life. This occurs for Christians all over the world in a significant way through the celebration of the liturgy. By investing prayer, thought, time, energy, and our own personal resources into the building of our local churches (both physically and metaphorically) we also participate in another way in that mystery of self-gift and self-emptying in order to help build the Kingdom of God in new ways.**

In the book Theology in Stone by Richard Kieckhefer, this theological understanding that what we build and the way we build it says something about what we believe is inferred from the title itself. Kieckhefer also makes the comment that

“art in a religious setting can serve as a sacrament of grace, and the capacity to see oneself as worthy of beauty is one dimension of recognizing oneself as by grace made worthy for grace—the sole condition for beginning to receive it” (99).

New Dome 041415(1)Our churches should be fitting, beautiful places for God to be housed, where we can enter more deeply into the mysteries of the Faith so that we can recognize that we are called to be where God is—because God is worthy of the beautiful. And since God is the author and source of all beauty, and since our ultimate call is to become more like God, we are worthy to sit and contemplate God’s love and God’s beauty in beautiful places so that in better understanding God’s beauty we can go into the world and share that beauty.

So how is a building project or thinking about building up and supporting a local church practicing Easter?

Many of our first readings in the Lectionary this time of the year are drawn from the Acts of the Apostles, where we hear the stories of the early Church growing and building, coming together to break bread and to hear the Word of God. In East Tennessee, we are building and re-building our growing local church, so that we may have a place to come together as an entire diocese. Like the members of the early Church, we do this so that we may hear the Word of God in the Scriptures and break bread together in the Eucharist. The book of Ecclesiastes helps us think about this in another way highlighting tbe seasonal, liturgical factor of life.  There is a season for everything. The season of spring is baseball season, like I mentioned earlier. But in East Tennessee this year, spring is also church-building season. It is a stone-moving season, and a planting season for the seeds of faith.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together” (Eccl 3:1–5a)

1397951614000-ghostfieldAt the end of his own season of building in Field of Dreams,  Ray Kinsella realizes that his baseball diamond building project was not about the baseball players who came, or the field for its own sake. Instead, it was actually about re-building his relationship with his own father, through a simple coming together in playing a game of catch.  At the end of Field of Dreams, Ray is asked by his father, “Is this heaven?” Ray responds by stammering out, “…This.. it’s… it’s Iowa…”

In the movie Field of Dreams, because of his building project, Ray experiences the healing and growth of relationships in his life, including his father. The comparison with the Cathedral project in Knoxville wasn’t meant to be trite. Because in the building and completion of a Cathedral for the Church in East Tennessee (or anywhere where the people of God continue to build) we see a closer glimpse into the call of our eternal relationships with our Heavenly Father and with each other.  Our Father in Heaven wants much more than the time spent in a game of catch with us; He wants time with us for  all of eternity. The glimpses of that heavenly call  show us little glances of the beauty of God’s image for the world in His new, restored creation made possible for us by Christ’s defeat of death and promise of eternal life.

East Tennessee isn’t heaven. But I swear,  sometimes, it is pretty close. And I do think that the new Cathedral, upon its completion, will be a little bit like a glimpse into heaven.

 

 

 

**We obviously do this too by the way we serve the wider people of God. The website for the campaign, http://www.sacredheartcampaign.org/, puts it this way: “While we aspire to glorify God through our worship, we plan to continue our work to help the poor. The Diocese of Knoxville provides over $6 million in ongoing charitable services to the poor and marginalized every year. Over the next 5 years, we will have spent more on charitable initiatives than we will have spent on the building of the cathedral.”

 

For more information, visit:

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus website: http://shcathedral.org

Diocescan Website: http://dioknox.org/ ; also http://dioknox.org/32538/ground-broken-for-new-sacred-heart-cathedral/

McCrery Architects: http://www.mccreryarchitects.com/

 

Joseph, Husband of Mary: Model of Fidelity

Tim KenneyTimothy J. Kenney
’14 MTS Candidate 

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

What do you get when a high school theology teacher marries theology grad student?

What?

A ton of religious art.

Get it? If not, a quick look around my apartment would show you that this isn’t just a bad joke, it’s the reality of what your friends think to buy when you major in theology. Outside of the dishware and bed sets that you register for at the domestic wonderland that is Bed, Bath and Beyond, unwrapping wedding presents can be a fun indicator of what your guests really think of you (I’m pretty rotten at giving original gifts and as such truly appreciate someone who possesses the skill). My wife Rylee and I soon discovered just how lucky we were in the company we keep. The general theme of gifts seemed to be religious art and wine and, lest our apartment resemble a bachelor pad, Rylee has insisted our décor emphasize the former rather than the latter. As such the holy statues, icons, nativity sets, and crosses that our friends and family sent our way have filled our little apartment with an intentionally Catholic décor, provided us with the opportunity to grow spiritually as we settle in domestically, and has made what were at first blank white walls radiate the comfort of home and Christ.

Throughout this time one image has begun to stand out above the rest. A particularly common theme, very appropriate as a wedding present for a young married couple, were images depicting the Holy Family. I have long had a love for Our Lady and Talladega Nights taught me the theological magnitude of the Baby Jesus. But as I’ve sat reading or writing on our couch, something else, or rather someone else, has increasingly drawn my attention from the icon hung on our wall. A figure generally relegated to the background has increasingly pressed forward and become the focal point of the image in my mind. More and more I have found myself drifting off in thought, eyes transfixed on the tall bearded figure of St. Joseph, lovingly embracing his wife and adopted son.

I can’t really claim to be unacquainted with St. Joseph. Having attended St. Joseph Grade School and St. Joseph High School, both of which are located in St. Joseph County and situated on the St. Joseph River, its safe to say I’ve heard of him once or twice. Even one of my favorite saints (evidence of 9 years of Holy Cross education), St. André Bessette, C.S.C.,  was known for his remarkable devotion to St. Joseph. And yet despite my best efforts and the cards being stacked completely in his favor, I’ve never really been able to connect with the world’s most famous carpenter.

This all began to change following our relocation to Massachusetts this August. The day after we were married, Rylee and I loaded everything we owned into a U-Haul truck. Romantic, I know. Then the next morning at 5 AM we rolled out of South Bend and headed for Boston. Before we had been married a month we had moved 1,000 miles across the country, settled in a new apartment, Rylee had started a new job, and I was knee deep in Karl Rahner, at work on my master’s degree. Talk about a whirlwind.

To say the process was at times disorienting would be a dramatic understatement. Trying to find any semblance of stability seemed impossible because everything about our new life together had to be handled in the short term, as temporary. Rylee and I were living in Boston, for now. I was working toward my MTS, for now. We were just starting out as a family of two, for now. But in what felt like less than a week the conversations among friends shifted from why we came to BC to where we wanted to do PhDs. I was just beginning the marathon that is grad school and had no real answer to the question, “What are you doing after this?” We had no idea where we would be in two years, let alone what I’d be doing at that point. But whatever the future held, it seemed impossible to see the MTS as anything but transitory, a waiting room for the real world that lay beyond.

On top of all this was the reality that I wasn’t just a student and this wasn’t just a continuation of my 4 years of college. I was a family man now and had as much of a responsibility to another person as I did to myself. This was one of the hardest places for me to find firm ground precisely because we were trying to figure out just what it meant to be a family when there are only two of us. I had so many wonderful examples in my life of what it meant to be a great father, but what I had failed to prepare for was how to be a great husband.

And so I sat, eyes locked on the image of Joseph. I didn’t seek him out, I didn’t know why my prayers turned to him. All I knew was that one night long after my wife went to bed exhausted from a day of teaching high schoolers, I sat up willing myself to read, increasingly aware that not only did academic success determine my livelihood, but also that of my family. My attention drifted upward, past the pages of the book in my hands to the far wall, and came to rest on Joseph, holding his wife with a strong, stable, and determined love that I knew was never overcome and never defeated by any adversity that came his way.

I finished my reading and went to bed. After I turned out my light, a lone image stood silhouetted against the white walls of our bedroom. Another image of the Holy Family, this one a beautiful wood carving, it sits atop our dresser and is the last thing I see every night before I shut my eyes. Carved from a single piece of wood, Joseph isn’t just the background; he is the canvas on which his family is grounded. Mary is carved from his side and the two are united as one. I paused for a moment as I looked at the statue, turned and put my arms around my wife. She is my stability. “This one at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). Together with her, I will build my family. My vows to her, made before God, are the commitment of a lifetime and the focal point of my life’s work.

Today is the feast of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary. He was such an extraordinary husband that the Church proclaimed an annual feast to celebrate it. We don’t just remember him because he married an immaculate woman. We remember him because he lived out his vocation so completely that it brought him to God. He does not just blend in as the third person of the Holy Family. He shines out to husbands everywhere, holding up the example of how to fully commit oneself to the vocation and sacrament that is marriage.

In a time when nothing about where I am, what I am doing, or where my life is headed seems certain or stable, Joseph reminds me to look at the walls of this apartment, and most especially to the woman who made them a home, and remember that this is my vocation. Despite the fluidity the next few years may contain in terms of location and occupation, regardless of whether our family expands in 1 year or in 10, my commitment and my role is modeled for me perfectly in the life of St. Joseph.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

Meet Mary: An Experience of Sacred Art

Danielle PetersDanielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt, Sisters of Mary

Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

Ever since I had heard about the exhibit “Meet Mary” hosted by the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), Meet Mary1I decided to add this event to my itinerary when going to Washington for the Right for Life March. And I am very glad I did!

The encounter with Mary took place in a most beautiful setting; a 78,810-square-foot Washington landmark, formerly a Masonic Temple, near the White House. Refurbished in 1983 in accordance with the highest design, museum, and security standards, NMWA truly offers an ambience fitting to the most honored woman throughout history.

Already from afar, the banner covering the façade of the museum with an image of Our Lady and the large letters “Meet Mary” immediately caught my eye. It awakened sentiments of joy and expectation to be able to actually encounter the Mother of God in our nation’s capital! And indeed, immersing myself into the sacred and uplifting atmosphere of this special encounter fared like an oasis for body and soul amidst the busy and noisy traffic I left behind.

While it is difficult to convey the beauty and elegance of the exhibit, I would like to highlight some aspects which uniquely facilitate a personal encounter with Our Lady. Before viewing the exhibit on the second floor of the museum, there is the possibility of a virtual tour that explores the concept of womanhood within the social and sacred functions Mary’s image has influenced through time. This comprehensive view featuring global representations of Mary, including the Virgin of Guadalupe and Black Madonnas from Europe and the Caribbean, is accessible online and I highly recommend it: http://nmwa.org/global-icon.

Encountering Mary in paintings, on vestments, in a statue made of Chinese porcelain, in Indian manuscripts, or in Latin American representations, stretches our imagination regarding both her person and mission. The featured works of both female and male artists from the Renaissance and Baroque eras accentuate Mary as an approachable person, as for example in a marble relief showing Mary as a nursing mother who is tickling her laughing baby boy; or as a woman who interacts with her extended family and later with Jesus’ disciples. Prior to the Renaissance, most artists depicted Mary “above the clouds,” as a person who is somewhat removed from the life and realities of the common folk. Partly encouraged by religious orders at that time, the conceptualization of Mary between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries encouraged artists to emphasize Christ’s human sensibility, and, in turn, to depict his mother in more down-to-earth terms. Thus the more than 60 paintings, sculptures, and textiles from the Vatican Museums, Musée du Louvre, Galleria degli Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, as well as other public and private collections—some exhibited for the first time in the United States—create a unique encounter with Mary who is both servant and Queen; virgin, mother, and wife; daughter and friend. Each of these roles need to be pondered in the religious and social environment at “the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4)

The spacious display areas provide a conducive ambience to consider six aspects related to Our Lady: Madonna and Child; Woman and Mother; Mother of the Crucified; A Singular Life; Mary as Idea; and Mary in the Life of Believers. Prayers, hymns, the Litany of Loreto, or poems written in large letters on a wall near or opposite the works of art contribute to a personal encounter with Mary of Nazareth. Since most of the artwork and explanations can be viewed online, I would like to highlight several pieces which greatly enriched my meeting with Mary.

Meet Mary2To begin with, I was taken in by this cosmic presentation of the Annunciation with Six Prophets by an unknown Artist (Flanders, late 16th c.), which was hitherto never shown in the U.S. It is said that heaven and earth stopped breathing to await the Virgin’s response to the angel. This print by Cornelis Cort of a fresco by Federico Zuccari in Santa Maria Annunziata al Collegio Romani (which was destroyed mid-17th century), captures well the breathtaking moment. Above Mary and the angel, we are allowed to take a glimpse into eternity, where the Father takes the highest place; beneath Him, the Dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, is ready to overshadow Mary. The space between the Holy Spirit and the Annunciation scene is illumined by the bright light of the Sun, the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. Hovering above the clouds is a multitude of angels; all focused either on God Father or on the dialogue between the angel and Mary. Flanking her and Gabriel are six Old Testament prophets who foretold Christ’s birth.

Pondering this dramatic portrayal, God’s faithfulness to His covenant with humanity comes to mind. Knowing our fickleness like no one else, God takes the initiative one more time, asking a teenager for her consent to cooperate in the mystery of Christ. From a purely natural point of view, God’s message appears to be an unreasonable request for an adolescent. Yet, the drama picturing the fullness of time tells us that Mary is not just the girl of Nazareth. Her countenance, her name—full of grace—her fiat, everything is placed in the rays of the Sun. She is the new Eve, virgin and mother, completely ready, entirely surrendered, and through her free consent she is intimately interwoven in God’s plans, like no other human being ever was or will be. Her answer, given with the obedience of faith, teaches us that God in a way makes Himself vulnerable and dependent on us. He waits for our answer of love and surrender before actualizing His salvific plan. There are many possibilities to say “Yes: to God in life or to refuse Him. Adam and Eve, imprisoned in the left and right upper corners of the picture, are a reminder that we all play a part in the drama of salvation.

Meet Mary3In the section Mary in the Life of Believers we come across the work of one of the three women artists featured in the exhibit. About Sofonisba Anguissola (1532–1625) the museum guide explains:

[She] was the first known woman artist to achieve international fame. At a time when women were discouraged from rendering theological subjects (because they were thought to be too challenging for their intellect), Sofonisba depicted herself painting the Madonna and Child in a particularly affectionate pose.

Completed in 1556, the Self-Portrait at the Easel draws attention to the artist’s skill of using implied or actual lines to attract the viewer into the scene. Named after Hannibal’s granddaughter, who was known for her beauty and charm, Sofonisba created equally beautiful and charming work, “likely inspired by St. Luke who, according to legend, painted the Virgin from life.”

Meet Mary4The image of Mary presented in the Gospel of St. Luke contributed to the popular tradition that the evangelist not only painted her literary image but also produced a visual representation  of her life. In the section Madonna and Child we find such a rendering. St. Luke the Evangelist in the Studio (ca. 1625) was painted by another female artist featured in the exhibit, Orsola Maddalena Caccia (1596–1676). An Ursuline sister, Caccia, who “ran a bustling painting studio in her convent in northern Italy, is represented by six paintings in the exhibition, the largest number of her works ever to have been exhibited in the United States. Her large-scale Marian compositions are highly animated, packed with architectural details, still life elements, and myriad figures that expand imaginatively upon Mary’s life.” Unique to the picture on the left is Caccia’s depiction of St. Luke not only as a painter but also as a sculptor of Mary and Child. The open and closed books on the shelf behind St. Luke, the ox, and the angels, symbolize the writing and person of the evangelist, while the painting of a town’s silhouette, as well as the flowers on the ground and table, point to Mary’s origin and virtue.

Encountering Mary through the lens of these two female artists reminds us that each one of us holds an image of Mary in his or her heart. We are invited to carve this image within ourselves and to allow it to radiate through our being and acting.

Meet Mary5Finally, since we are looking forward to Pope Francis’ coming to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, let us meet Mary as wife and mother of the Holy Family and as a member of her extended family. The exhibit features a number of nativity illustrations. An ornate example is the enamel on copper Adoration of the Magi (ca. 1490–1500) from the Limoges Workshop in France.   Mary takes center stage and wears an expensive blue and gold cloak. Her crown is similar to that of the Magi, symbolizing her royal status. The jeweled flowers at the edge of the image enhance the eminence of this woman. St. Joseph’s raised arms seem to indicate his astonishment about the majestic guests visiting his humble abode. While he is puzzled by their appearance and extraordinary gifts, the infant Jesus on Mary’s lap eagerly accepts the gold from the king kneeling before him.

Meet Mary6My personal favorite among the representations of the Holy Family is the Nativity by Sister Orsola Maddalena Caccia. The explanation of the painting reads: “As if to avoid waking the sleeping infant Jesus, Mary leans forward in her chair to gently place him on a pillow, perhaps just having nursed him. This otherwise quaint domestic scene is attended by heavenly angels and the young Saint John the Baptist, who looks out at the viewer and gestures for silence.” St. Joseph, in a rather young portrayal of Jesus’ foster father, watches on; yet it is the mischievous look of Jesus’ cousin which adds to the charm of this idyllic family harmony. The cross he holds in his small hands is nevertheless a clear foreboding of the future of the newborn while the young John may be still unaware of his own mission as precursor.

The Holy Family with St. Elizabeth and St. John is a print by Elisabetta Sirani (1638–1665). In her short life Sirani, who was trained by her father in the School of Bologna, produced more than two hundred paintings, drawings and etchings. The print on the left shows Mary and her relative Elizabeth together with their two sons, while St. Joseph is seen in the background holding his carpentry tools.

Conspicuous to all three images of Mary’s family is the rather remote position of St. Joseph. Yet, even while standing in the background, he is silently waiting, observing, pondering the mystery and his role therein.

In contrast, the painting by Federico Barocci (Urbino, ca. 1535–1612) picturing the Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1570–73), focuses on the father-child relationship. Known for thoughtful and sentimental images of the young Holy Family, Barocci presents Mary as a peasant woman in a relaxed position. She has removed her straw hat and rests her bare feet as she gathers water. It appears as if Joseph wanted to allow his wife time to refresh herself with the water from the wellspring. Meanwhile he distracted his baby boy with cherries from the huge tree in whose shadow the Holy Family can find some respite amidst their worries about the unknown future. The painting illustrates the importance of the father in the family and recalls Pope Francis’ encouragement to fathers to spend time playing with their children, thereby developing a personal and lasting relationship.

Iconic and devotional, but also laden with social and political meaning, my meeting with Mary was greatly enhanced through the depictions of all the artists, among them Botticelli, Dürer, Michelangelo, Pontorm, and Rembrandt. The invitation to meet Mary in our nation’s capital is still possible until April 12, 2015. For me it was time well spent.

Performing Beauty: What is Liturgical Beauty?

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

As I mentioned earlier this week, I am teaching an undergraduate and graduate level course on liturgical aesthetics (Performing Beauty: Liturgy, Theology, and Aesthetics–see the link for the syllabus). One of the key requirements of the graduate course is that students are required to keep a blog as they go along, enabling their learning to extend beyond our little community. Each week, I hope to feature a short collection of some of the “bests” of these blogs for your own reading. In this way, I hope that the question guiding our class (what is liturgical beauty) generates commentary among our readers here.


 

CPearce

Cathy Pearce

Religion Department

West Catholic, Grand Rapids, MI   

What is Beauty?  

What is beauty but a moment stopped in time

Standing in awe of the spectacular painted sky

In the early morning to gaze at the glow

Of God’s bidding a kissed color-filled hello


What is beauty but a whiff of a scent

That causes one to turn and bend

The scent of aromatic fragrant care

Of a lilac, God’s gift to sweeten the air


 What is beauty but the sound of a child

Stirring in the pew in front of you

Who coyly reaches out with innocent care

A soggy cracker, a treasure for you to share.


 What is beauty but a chorus of one voice

The old and the young, the rich and the poor

In full anthem singing God’s glory

In sacred space together reflecting on the Story


 What is beauty but a God who forgives

Sharing Christ’s life and love in eternal sacrament

The Son’s body and blood poured out for our salvation

An ever abundant gift, a blessing for every nation…

Continue reading Cathy’s blog.


 

image1Katie Yohe

Providence Christo Rey School

Echo 11

When learning a new topic in the classroom, it is important to differentiate instruction as much as possible to ensure total engagement. It’s obvious to every teacher that you can’t give up on confused students, but rather try different approaches to reach them. And when participating in different liturgies, it is important to engage as many feasible signs to be as present and transforming as possible. The ideal situation would be a liturgical celebration exploding with signs of beauty. But what if it’s not exploding at first glance or listen? Just as it is usually up to the teacher to differentiate instruction based on the learners in the classroom, it is up to the worshipper to find the beauty in the celebration.

When I was attending Mass in Ghana in a crumbling cinderblock structure with a partially rusted and deteriorating tin roof, convinced the old, warped wood benches would collapse beneath me, it would have been easy to drift off and get distracted because at first glance the beauty couldn’t be seen anywhere! My gaze and wonder may not have been on any statue or monstrance made of Gold. Instead, my focus was swooped up by Christ’s presence in the drumming and the bright kente cloth sewn into the priest’s vestments.Sacrosanctum Concilium explains, “…It is necessary for the faithful [to come to the liturgy] with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace…” (10). Being in the right frame of mind allows the worshipper to find the beauty that is always present.

It is essential to continue learning and continue finding and experiencing the most efficacious way to glorify God (10). As intelligence can be achieved differently, the mystery of Christ can be participated in differently as well. However, because we are discussing God and our innermost desire to be in a loving relationship with Him, we want to participate in the Paschal Mystery with our entire being. From our eyes contemplating the stained glass window to our ears being engulfed with the hymn, the more senses activated and the higher level of activation means the more present we are at the table of the Lord. The importance of experiencing the liturgy as beauty is even more vital than creating a classroom full of learners to a teacher. It may not be noticeable at first, but whether you are teaching or preaching, the beauty is present in the learner and the liturgy. The key is finding the beauty in all things.

Continue reading Katie’s blog.


CReuterCaroline Reuter

Roncalli High School

Echo 11

Why are there benches in art museums, upon which people may sit and stare? Why, when listening to Bedřich Smetana’s The Moldau do I desire to press “repeat” for days on end? Why, in encountering beauty, is there within me the desire to prolong the experience infinitely?

Beauty is that which draws one’s entire being towards contemplation, wonder and a deeper sense of reality. It leads a person beyond the confines of oneself. It provokes the desire to act on what has been seen or heard, to share the experience with another, and to transform one’s very self into something greater, into something more conformed to the beautiful itself. Beauty captivates not just the mind but the heart as well.

How might the beautiful be found in the liturgy? Certainly one might encounter beautiful music, architecture, artwork and stained glass. One may also experience more subtle expressions of beauty—in well-timed silence, in the careful unfolding and placement of a corporal on the altar, in the steady swaying of a thurible and the slow rise of smoke, and at the sight of masses of people simultaneously kneeling towards the elevation of one host.

However, although beauty in the liturgy is certainly possible and even desirable, is it necessary? How might beauty be an intrinsic element of the liturgy of the Church?

Liturgy may be defined as the official public prayer of the Church. The mystical Body of Christ, with Christ as its head and the Church as its members, unite as one flesh in the praise and worship of the Almighty God. Liturgy involves both God’s glorification and the sanctification of the members of Christ’s body (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10).

God’s very nature provides one answer to the question of beauty’s necessity. Encountering one of the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty points one towards He who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The presence of beauty in a liturgy can lead to a desire for the Infinite, as well as a desire to know the origin of this beauty. He who is the source of all beauty, the Creator of the universe, is the same He towards which all of liturgy is oriented. Hence, liturgy, which by its definition leads one towards God, ought to involve the true, good, and beautiful, and never their opposites.

One characteristic of beauty is that it draws a person outside of oneself. Liturgy, likewise, has this aim—of transforming self-centeredness into gratitude at the wonder of one’s being and thanksgiving directed towards God. Sacrosanctum Concilium mentions that part of the Church’s very essence is directing the visible to the invisible (2). What is beauty within the liturgy, if not that which, through tangible means, draws the mind and heart towards the invisible God?

The Church, itself a visible sign of God’s presence on earth, is rooted in an incarnational worldview. The externals of our world matter, for God himself became visible in this same world.Sacrosanctum Concilium emphasizes the faithful’s awareness of the liturgy and of their being led to “fully conscious, and active participation…which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” (14). How might full awareness of one’s participation—rather than just a bystander’s simple observation—in the mysteries of Christ be promoted? If one’s environment is elevated, if one walks into a liturgy and finds the atmosphere different than a school board meeting or a play, and if one is somehow drawn in and transformed by what is seen and heard, will not observation itself be transformed into participation? A full awareness of what the liturgy is can be promoted through the externals, through one’s surroundings. An elevated environment—one of order and harmony—promotes the elevation of one’s entire being and spurs one to a deeper consciousness of that which is really real. Would not one then want to “actively engage” in this beauty that is directed toward the Beautiful? (SC 11).

Continue reading Caroline’s blog.

 

 

I Cry Mullarkey: A Misreading of Balthasar

Tim O'MalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Contact Author

This semester, I am teaching a course entitled Performing Beauty: Liturgy, Theology, and Aesthetics.  We recently read a short piece by Hans ur von Balthasar in his Explorations in Theology (Volume 1: The World Made Flesh) entitled, “Revelation and the Beautiful.” The lecture offered an account of what Balthasar is doing in the essay. Placing beauty under the shadow of the cross, he sketches the contours of a theological aesthetics in which the human being encounters the glory revealed in the crucified and risen Lord, a beauty that must be enfleshed in a program of discipleship. At the same time, he speaks against the claim that only what is religious is beautiful. Beauty offers an object for contemplation, a way of gazing at creation as sheer openness, sheer gift, sheer delight. The artist or craftsman, Christian or not,  can offer to us an encounter with the beautiful, one that changes our perspective upon the world. And the Christian artist, in particular, must (attuned to the saving beauty of Christ himself) reveal to us what precisely the world is.

It is thus, with some surprise, that I found myself reading Maureen Mullarkey’s essay at First Things : Beauty, Balthasar, and Boilers. A frank assessment of the piece must note that it offers a similarly impoverished reading of Hans urs von Balthasar as she provided for Pope Francis several weeks ago. Balthasar functions, like Pope Francis did not as interlocutor, but as a prop in an already composed argument regarding philosophical and theological snobbery. Addressing Balthasar’s claim that beauty has left the world, Mullarkey writes:

When it does descend to things, speculation is often colored more readily by status—a socioeconomic bias—than by perception. Remember Henri de Lubac’s comment that Balthasar, his acolyte, was “perhaps the most cultivated man of his time.” It is tempting to ask if the flattery might have been less fulsome if Balthasar had whistled and played the harmonica instead of the piano. Even if he performed with the eloquence and delicacy of the great Belgian jazz musician Toots (Jean-Baptiste ) Thielemans, odds are that de Lubac’s tribute would have had a dent in it.

There exists tremendous beauty in man’s ingenuity in creating the ravishing abundance of goods that deliver us from mere subsistence. All the implements and resources that permit us to live longer and more easily deserve honor in discussions of what constitutes beauty. In reality, there is no inherent opposition between beauty and serviceability. Those who presume to hold a measure—the aesthetician’s sword of Merlin—by which to determine true beauty and fix it in place pride themselves unnecessarily.

Mullarkey’s argument is simple enough. Balthasar may speak “beautifully” about beauty but his snobbishness, his attachment to high forms of art, results in an aesthete, who cannot perceive the beauty of the ordinary. Of craft. Of human life. Of boilers.

Of course, to accept Mullarkey’s argument means that you have to presume with her that Balthasar has no interest in the mundane. That his attachment to “high” forms of art means that he could not vonBalthasarcomprehend the ordinariness of beauty. The proof that such a claim is true rests upon Mullarkey, who asserts without evidence. She quotes Balthasar on beauty only once, out of context, refusing to give her interlocutor the benefit of the doubt.

Mullarkey would not have had to look hard to refute her own argument. Indeed, Balthasar perceives beauty in such art insofar as it reflects upon the depths of the human condition–the things that really matter to people located in time and space. Life and death. Love and marriage. The dramatic living out of nature and grace.  He sees human life as striving toward art, toward the creation of a form that seeks to survive death itself:

I face the contradiction of my existence squarely, for I know that the matter into which I want to sink a definitive form will not hold up, whether it be the matter with which I am working as a craftsman or the matter of my hours ticking away, and it will be taken away from me on my last day with absolute certainty. What I will be able to say then at best it: in my clearest moments, in my positive basic decisions, I would have liked to make of my existence something lasting, valid, even though I knew that most of this existence would at least disintegrate into trash and decay. Not only my biological, but also my personal life, which I have tried to shape into something meaningful, will end…(Hans urs von Balthasar, Life Out of Death, 20-21).

Balthasar’s lament for the beautiful is not a European cri de coeur against boilers and modern art and craft. Rather, it is fear that in modern life, we no longer live as if there is meaning in the world. We too often cease to function as poets of the possible.

Of course, he finds the most beauty not in these art forms but in the hidden beauty of Christ himself. Christ, who is the only artist who forms the human body entirely into a work of art. He writes:

The living body that achieves this is the world’s supreme work of art and love; in it, the ugliest side of our history, in all its realism, is transformed from within into what is most beautiful: bearing, forgiving, and transforming Love…(Life Out of Death, 37).

El Greco CrucifixionFor Balthasar, the truest form of beauty is thus not revealed in high forms of art. Rather, true beauty is the revelation of total, Absolute love become flesh. A “becoming” that still takes place, a logic of self-gift, which unfolds in the Eucharistic rites of the Church.

For this reason, theology itself is not meant to be an art form divorced from human existence. Instead, it must live in vital contact with reality, the festive and “erotic” contemplation of the Fathers and the medieval Church. The saint is a source for theology for Balthasar precisely because it is in the enfleshed life of the saint (and not just those saints who published tomes) in which the mysterious beauty of the Word made flesh is manifested.

As Cyril O’Regan has made clear in his recent study of Balthasar, his interest in sanctity is not a fascination with the bizarre or esoteric. Rather, as O’Regan writes,

…as Balthasar insists again and again, what is important about the saint is not an individual genius or idiosyncrasy. To think this is fatally to succumb to the subjectivist modern paradigm. The saint is an ecclesial person whose aim is to excavate the unrepeatable call or mission that defines them and to which he or she bears witness. In this sense the less idiosyncrasy the better; for idiosyncrasy is what darkens the self that would be a mirror of Christ (The Anatomy of Misremembering, 79).

That is, it is the sheer forgettable and mundane beauty of the saint that enables the saint to become a divine artwork. The saint is not religious genius or specialist. He/she is the one who submits him/herself into the mundane life of the Church. And this, ultimately, is the artwork that interests Balthasar. The transformation of humanity into the beautiful Beloved of the Song of Songs.

Mullarkey bludgeons Balthasar, just as several weeks ago she ripped apart Pope Francis. While she had an easier time critiquing the Pope for an encyclical that has not been published, it’s more difficult to accuse Balthasar of the snobbery she does, because it’s possible to actually read what he said (whereas the Holy Father has not yet written this encyclical at all). If one immerses oneself in his writing, one discovers a theologian acutely aware of what it means to be a modern human being in the world; a theologian well aware that the most beautiful is not the highest forms of visual art, poetry, or music. It is a life conformed to the self-emptying, self-giving mystery of Christ. And it is those who conform themselves to this mystery, who become the greatest artwork of all.