Category: Art


AMDG

Pedro-Arrupe-at-prayer11

Fr Pedro Arrupe

I have been enjoying a few days in Valladolid with a group of Jesuit theologians who are preparing for ordination. They are taking part in what is called the ‘Arrupe Month’. Fr Pedro Arrupe, then the general of the Jesuits,  noticed that in the 1970’s there was a curious phenomenon of men who left the order (and often the priesthood) soon after they had been ordained.  It was almost as though even after the long period of formation they were expecting something magic to happen – and had a rather superficial expectation of what the ‘ontological change’ that the sacrament of ordination conferred, really meant.   So Fr Arrupe’s letter issued on December 27, 1979 addressed this – and now there is  a period set aside for a deepening of self-knowledge and Jesuit identity to help prepare the Jesuit Scholastic for ordination to the priesthood. I have joined them for a couple of days to give some input on thriving in (not just surviving) the first years of priesthood.

PictureWe are staying at a fascinating and beautiful College – the Royal English College ‘St Albans’ in Vallodalid.  It was founded by the English Jesuit Robert Persons in 1589, during the English Reformation, as a seminary to train Catholic Priest for the English and Welsh Mission, at a time when it was illegal to do so in the UK.  It has an impressive legacy of alumni who are saints – many Jesuits,  although not all – who would eventually be executed on their return to Britain.   Their portraits line the corridors.  In today’s climate of Islamic violence we have to be careful about the narrative of martyrdom – although it is worth noting that none of the Catholic men and women executed were perpetrators of Violence.  Although it fair to say that Fr Persons was agitating the Spanish King to invade so that England could return to becoming a Catholic country. This  resulted firstly in the famous failure of the Armada.  A second attempt was foiled in Cadiz by Walter Raleigh ….  but we will come to that in a minute.  The College, well endowed, and beautifully kept, still has the patronage of the Spanish Royal Family.  When you enter the college you are greeted with a picture of the King & Queen of Spain with an affectionate and personal message to the College. This Royal patronage is important when you think of how the Jesuits where expelled from Europe, from different countries on numerous occasions, so you can see how it is good to know you have powerful allies ….  things can change however.

44423190For me the jewel in the crown in Valladolid is ‘La Vulnerata’ or the Wounded One  – a disfigured statue of Mary in the chapel.  After Sir Walter Raleigh defeated the Spanish Fleet in Cadiz and took control of the city in 1596,  some of the English troops started a riot (like the football ‘fans’ in Marseille). The soldiers dragged the statue  to the market square where they desecrated it.  The priests and seminarians of the English College in Valladolid brought it to Valladolid and installed with great solemnity in the College Chapel in 1600.  They wished to make reparation for the desecration of their fellow country men.  Every year during Holy Week the statue is processed along the street, where it is met by a huge paso or float, which has a large depiction of the Crucified Christ resting on top of it. The two images meet, and dance to each other for a brief period—then the Vulnerata comes back to the College

gress-CZESTOCHOWA-650x340A little like the famous Image of the Icon of the Black Madonna of Czetochowa which was similarly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430… and has now become the most visited shrine in Poland, and revered by Catholics and Orthodox alike.  The potential power of our vulnerabilty is a spiritual paradox.  Christ glorious risen body still carried his wounds as St Thomas can testify. The popular devotion to these disfigured images of Our Lady are striking – they seem to unlock a mysterious power in peoples hearts. Many people point to John Paul II visits to Czetochowa as the start of the fall of communism, how this icon of the suffering Poland and the first Polish Pope drew millions together in defiance of the authorities.  Pope Francis will be visiting next week during the world Youth Day  celebrations,  I hope the Queen of Poland draws the 2 million young people expected to attend, to her heart.

AMDG

One of the great treasures of our faith are Christs’ Glorious Wounds.  The Counter intuitive Jesus’s risen Glorified Body still bears his wounds.   These glorious wounds of Jesus – divinely resurrected – humanly wounded….  Are a mystery that is worth pondering and praying over.  This is the same man who hung on the cross – yet now he is different.  Why keep his wounds? If he has defeated death – why still carry the holes in hands and his feet – the terriWounded-Handsble wound in his side….

Of all the post-resurrection narratives this encounter with doubting Thomas is one that we can especially sympathise with –  Thomas has been devastated by Jesus’ death – he loved him – he left all he had to follow him…  his sense of loss is bewildering.  As they say, once bitten twice shy, he doesn’t want to get his hopes up just because the others are talking about ‘seeing’ him, he isn’t going to be taken on that emotional roller-coaster again.   We have all been their – we have been hurt, let down, sometimes it is hard to trust again. Thomas’s reaction is beautiful in its humanity – the struggles with faith, the dark clouds of doubt that can sometimes seem to accompany us,  all of this is so real to us.

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_ThomasBut note Jesus’s reaction – his gentleness – the intimacy – he doesn’t scold Thomas – no impatience with him – no wagging his finger at him.  Jesus knows that he is upset because he loves him. ‘ Here are my hands – Touch my side’. If we think of the wounds of his passions – the holes in his hands and feet were he was nailed to the cross – it is perhaps the wound in his side that is most significant.  The Romans wanted to see if he was dead – they broke the legs of the two thieves crucified with Jesus  – but with Jesus – so as not to break his bones as Isaiah had prophesied – the centurions lance had opened his side and pierced his heart – and blood and water had flown out from his side, baptising the Centurion.

This encounter with Thomas shows forth the power of Jesus’s mercy – ‘Doubt no longer but believe’ …..  and that this wound, particularly on the side of Christ – which Thomas was invited to inspect with his fingers ….  This wound became very important in the development of Christian devotion. In the first millennia of the church the devotion to the Holy Wounds grew – but it wasn’t until the twelfth century that that grew into a devotion to the Sacred Heart in the Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries.  The wound on the side of Christ – gave us access to the heart of Christ  – it revealed to us his sacred heart, full of Love for mankind.

faustine2At the beginning of the twentieth century – The Polish mystic Sister Faustina reportedly had a series of visions &  inner locutions (conversations with Jesus) . She was declared a Saint of the new millennium when her compatriot, John Paul II canonised her in the year 2000, thus showing official church approval for her claims of mystical experiences. Perhaps the most important of those was in 1931 – in the short lived peace between the devastation of the Two World Wars. Faustina wrote that Jesus appeared to her as the “King of Divine Mercy” wearing a white garment with red and pale rays emanating from his heart and was asked to paint this image. Further instructions to venerate the image came including the desire to mark the first Sunday after Easter as ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’. Which the Pope also officially declared at the start of this millennium.Vilnius Original.Nancy'sMain Image

Perhaps what is most instructive an entry in Faustina’s diary – where she was told that –  Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to the Divine Mercy.  In these times of terror and widespread fear, particularly for many Christians around the world – we feel the need for peace.  In the Extraordinary Year of mercy – we are asked like Thomas and Faustina to find peace and healing in the wounds of the risen Christ.  That our own wounds and our woundedness does not make us bitter, angry, isolated but that they too can be transformed into channels of God’s grace.

As Simon touched Jesus’s wounds – we are invited in this Holy Year of Mercy to invite the Lord to touch our wounds…. Instead of finding more and more inventive ways to hide our wounds from him, to pretend everything is fine – that we can cope – let’s remember those who couldn’t hide from Jesus or society and their encounter with him.  The lepers whose wounds were so obvious – no makeup could disguise their rotting bodies. As they presented their disfigured flesh for Christ to touch and cure, we can present our disfigured souls, asking him to touch and to cure. St. Faustina would say that all that is necessary is for us to leave the door of our heart ajar and God will do the rest.  Then in astonishment and joy we can reply as Simon did, ‘My Lord and my God!’

This is the transforming power of Easter – this is our hope in the resurrection – represented by the beauty of the light of the Paschal Candle here amongst us.

Homily Given in Holy Name Manchester – 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday –  April 2nd 2016

salvador-dali-christ-of-st-john-of-the-crossSalvador Dali believed that Christ of St John of the Cross was his religious masterpiece. It is influenced by a sketch found in the spiritual diaries of the Spanish Mystic and Carmelite, Juan de Yepes y Álvarez who became known as John of the Cross.  A sketch in his spiritual John_of_the_Cross_crucifixion_sketchdiaries of a vision he had received, made a great impression on Dali – he described the image as being ‘like a Crucifix presented to the lips of a dying man’ .  When Dali came to paint the image he used a Hollywood Stuntman, Russel Saunders as the model for Christ – and actually strapped his body to a gantry to help Dali envisage the pull of gravity on the Human Body.

Historical Context

In 1948 Dali had returned to Spain after the war, he had rediscovered his Catholic Faith and visited Pope Pius XII in Rome where he sought and was given approval for his new religious themes.  He had studied Nuclear Physics and felt that the discovery of the atomic nature of the universe was proof of the existence of God. This mix of science and religion 2would lead to a new Nuclear Mysticism according to Dali and in 1951 he published his Mystical Manifesto stating his ambition to paint a new type of Crucifixion.  Paintings of the crucified Christ had focused on the pain and humiliation of the Crucifixion- however Dali said in his manifesto ‘ I want my next Christ to be the painting containing the most beauty and joy, more than anything that will have been painted up to the present.’  It is worth noting that unusually for paintings of Christ on the Cross – it is devoid of pain, blood and the crown of thorns.  Dali associated the nucleus of the atom with Christ and was influenced by the ideas of the mathematician Luca Pacioli – paying attention to the triangle formed by Christs arms and the cross.

Theology

The background to the Painting is Port Lligat – the area of the Catalonian coast were Dali lived for most of the latter part of his life.  This is a reference to the universal relevance the Crucifixion, its historical significance and supra-historical effects.  When we celebrate the mass we believe that we cut through time and space as we are united with the one eternal sacrifice of Christ on Golgotha, we are not just remembering or ‘re-enacting’ his last supper.  So by placing Christ against the background of his home, Dali is performing what would be called in Jesuit spirituality a Composition of Place.  The crucifixion of Christ is as relevant here and now, in 1950’s Spain or in 21st Century Manchester as it was 2 millenia ago in Palestine.

It is also worth reflecting on the beauty of the male image. In Dali’s own words – The metaphysical Beauty of the Christ-God and make his Christ ‘as beautiful as the God that he is’.   Christian Theology has often been interested in the tension between the  ‘Theology of the Cross’ and the ‘Theology of Glory’ .  Christ on the Cross is one of the most powerful images in human culture, but for Christians it represents the wisdom of God and the self-abandoning love of Christ.  Seen through the eyes of faith the cross presents unique insight into who God is and how he chooses to save.  Seen through the eyes of the world the cross is a brutal, humiliating public form of torture or capital punishment.  Because of this St Paul talks of ‘the scandal of the cross’ – a stumbling block to the wise.  Usually Christian iconography – especially in Spain – focuses on Christs suffering in order to elicit feelings of devotion in the believer.  A danger of an exaggerated Theology of the Cross is to see creation as irrevocably fallen, The Theology of Glory on the other hand would see creation as essentially good and have an eschatological focus on the resurrection and ultimate victory of good.  Perhaps Dalis – new type of Crucifixion is an attempt to marry the two.

Paintings Reception & Impact

dali_and_honeymanWhen a Scottish Art Historian, Dr Honeyman, acquired the painting for the Glasgow Art Gallery – students at the Glasgow School of Art and members of the Church of Scotland vehemently protested its purchase.  For some it was a waste of money and should have been spent on contemporary Scottish painters, for others it was blasphemous and encouraged idol worship.  The public however flocked to it and it was observed how men would instinctively take their hats of viewing it and boisterous school groups fall silent in its presence.  It has recently been voted Scotland’s favourite painting and is now by far the most valuable painting in the collection – a wise investment!

There is a fascinating 28min documentary about in on the Radio  4 Website