Wednesday, December 22, 2010

And the Word became flesh

Maestro de Sopetrán
La Natividad
Mixed media on Panel
103 cm x 60 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

The Prologue of John is one of the Gospel readings for Christmas Day. It is so well known it really does not need repeatiing. Though mystical and rather mysterious it communicates Truth

But here it is:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be

through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;

the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

A man named John was sent from God.

He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name,

who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.

John testified to him and cried out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'"

From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace,

because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him."

Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Dei makes constant reference to this passage from The Gospel of John. The Word to be proclaimed is Johannine. The Pope said:

" I would like to present and develop the labours of the Synod by making constant reference to the Prologue of John’s Gospel (Jn 1:1-18), which makes known to us the basis of our life: the Word, who from the beginning is with God, who became flesh and who made his dwelling among us (cf. Jn 1:14).

This is a magnificent text, one which offers a synthesis of the entire Christian faith.

From his personal experience of having met and followed Christ, John, whom tradition identifies as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20), “came to a deep certainty: Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate, he is his eternal Word who became a mortal man”.

May John, who “saw and believed” (cf. Jn 20:8) also help us to lean on the breast of Christ (cf. Jn 13:25), the source of the blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34) which are symbols of the Church’s sacraments. Following the example of the Apostle John and the other inspired authors, may we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit to an ever greater love of the word of God."

In many ways the Apostolic Exhortation is a sustained commentary on The Prologue to the Gospel of John. Some of his reflections are almost as poetical as the Gospel itself.

Here is one of his memorable passages on The Prologue of John:

"Saint John powerfully expresses the fundamental paradox of the Christian faith. On the one hand, he says that “no one has ever seen God” (Jn 1:18; cf. 1 Jn 4:12).

In no way can our imaginations, our concepts or our words ever define or embrace the infinite reality of the Most High. He remains Deus semper maior. Yet Saint John also tells us that the Word truly “became flesh” (Jn 1:14).

The only-begotten Son, who is ever with the Father, has made known the God whom “no one has ever seen” (Jn 1:18). Jesus Christ comes to us, “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14), to give us these gifts (cf. Jn 1:17); and “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

In the Prologue of his Gospel, John thus contemplates the Word from his being with God to his becoming flesh and his return to the Father with our humanity, which he has assumed for ever.

In this coming forth from God and returning to him (cf. Jn 13:3; 16:28; 17:8,10), Christ is presented as the one who “tells us” about God (cf. Jn 1:18).

Indeed, as Saint Irenaeus of Lyons says, the Son “is the revealer of the Father”. Jesus of Nazareth is, so to speak, the “exegete” of the God whom “no one has ever seen”. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).

Here we see fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah about the effectiveness of the Lord’s word: as the rain and snow come down from heaven to water and to make the earth fruitful, so too the word of God “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (cf. Is 55:10f.).

Jesus Christ is this definitive and effective word which came forth from the Father and returned to him, perfectly accomplishing his will in the world."

Can I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and Good New Year and I should be back bloggiing sometime in the New Year

Pope on BBC Radio 4

His Holiness the Pope will deliver Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Eve reports The Telegraph

It will go out at 7.45am on Christmas Eve, and will last for three minutes

It will be available for download on the BBC Radio 4 website

Sunday, December 19, 2010

King David : The Ark of the Covenant is brought to Jerusalem

King David and the Ark of the Covenant:
King David dances and plays the harp in front of the Ark of the Covenant which is carried by two Levites in the costume of the High Priest, all outside Jerusalem
17th century
Oil on canvas
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme, Paris

Luigi Ademollo 1764-1849
King David brings the Ark into Jerusalem
Room of the Ark, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence

Psalm 132(131)

1 A song of ascents. LORD, remember David and all his anxious care;
2 How he swore an oath to the LORD, vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob:
3 "I will not enter the house where I live, nor lie on the couch where I sleep;
4 I will give my eyes no sleep, my eyelids no rest,
5 Till I find a home for the LORD, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob."
6 "We have heard of it in Ephrathah; we have found it in the fields of Jaar.
7 Let us enter God's dwelling; let us worship at God's footstool."

8 "Arise, LORD, come to your resting place, you and your majestic ark.
9 Your priests will be clothed with justice; your faithful will shout for joy."
10 For the sake of David your servant, do not reject your anointed.
11 The LORD swore an oath to David, a pledge never to be broken: "Your own offspring I will set upon your throne.
12 If your sons observe my covenant, the laws I shall teach them, Their sons, in turn, shall sit forever on your throne."
13 Yes, the LORD has chosen Zion, desired it for a dwelling:
14 "This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I desire it.
15 I will bless Zion with meat; its poor I will fill with bread.
16 I will clothe its priests with blessing; its faithful shall shout for joy.
17 There I will make a horn sprout for David's line; I will set a lamp for my anointed.
18 His foes I will clothe with shame, but on him my crown shall gleam."

At his General Audience on Wednesday, 21 September 2005 Pope Benedict XVI delivered this address on the Psalm:

"My crown shall shine

1. We have just heard the second part of Psalm 132[131], a hymn that recalls a major event in Israel's history: the transfer of the Ark of the Lord to the city of Jerusalem.

David was responsible for this transfer, as the psalmist testifies in the first part of the Psalm we have already seen. Indeed, the king had sworn not to take up residence in the royal palace until he had found a permanent dwelling place for the Ark of God, a sign of the Lord's presence with his people (cf. vv. 3-5).

In response to the sovereign's oath, God in turn takes an oath:

"The Lord swore an oath to David; he will not go back on his word" (v. 11).

This solemn promise is essentially the same one that the Prophet Nathan swore in God's name to David himself; it concerns the future of David's descendants, destined to reign for ever (cf. II Sm 7: 8-16).

2. The divine oath, however, involves a human commitment inasmuch as it is conditioned by an "if": if your sons "keep my covenant" (Ps 132[131]: 12).

Men and women must respond with faithful and active loyalty to God's promise and gift, which have nothing magic about them, in a dialogue in which are interwoven two freedoms, the divine and the human.

At this point, the Psalm becomes a hymn that extols the marvellous effects of both the gift of the Lord and the fidelity of Israel.

In fact, Israel will experience God's presence in the midst of his people (cf. vv. 13-14): he will be like an inhabitant among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a citizen who lives the events of history with the other citizens, but who offers the power of his blessing.

3. God will bless the harvest and see to it that the poor can satisfy their hunger (cf. v. 15). He will clothe priests with his protective mantle, offering them his salvation; he will ensure that all the faithful live in joy and trust (cf. v. 16).

The greatest blessing is once again reserved for David and his descendants:

"There David's stock will flower: I will prepare a lamp for my anointed. I will cover his enemies with shame, but on him my crown shall shine" (vv. 17-18).

As happened in the first part of the Psalm (cf. v. 10), the figure of the "anointed" One, in Hebrew, "Messiah", once again makes his entrance, thereby binding the house of David to messianism, which in the Christian interpretation reaches complete fulfilment in Christ.

Lively images are used: David is represented by a shoot that will flourish. God illumines David's descendants with a shining lamp, a symbol of vitality and glory; a splendid crown will indicate his triumph over his enemies, hence, victory over evil.

4. The twofold presence of the Lord, his presence in space and in history, is actuated in Jerusalem, in the temple that preserves the Ark, and in the Davidic dynasty. Psalm 132[131] therefore becomes a celebration of the God-Emmanuel who is with his creatures, who lives beside them and benefits them, as long as they stay united to him in truth and justice.

The spiritual centre of this hymn is already a prelude to the Joannine proclamation:

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (Jn 1: 14).

5. Let us end by remembering that the beginning of this second part of Psalm 132[131] was commonly used by the Fathers of the Church to describe the Incarnation of the Word in the Virgin Mary's womb.

St Irenaeus, referring to the prophecy of Isaiah about the Virgin in labour, had already explained:

"The words: "Listen, then, O house of David!' (Is 7: 13), indicate that the eternal King, whom God had promised David would be "the fruit of [his] body' (132[131]: 11), was the same One, born of the Virgin and descended from David.

"Thus, God promised him that a king would be born who was "the fruit of [his] body', a description that indicates a pregnant virgin. Scripture, therefore,... sets down and affirms the fruit of the womb to proclaim that the One to come would be begotten of the Virgin.

"Likewise, Elizabeth herself, filled with the Holy Spirit, testified, saying to Mary: "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb' (Lk 1: 42).

"In this way the Holy Spirit points out to those who want to hear him that in the Virgin's, that is, Mary's, giving birth is fulfilled God's promise to David that he would raise up a king born of his body" (Contro le Eresie, 3, 21, 5: "Già e Non Ancora", CCCXX, Milan, 1997, p. 285)

And thus, we see God's faithfulness in the great span of time that goes from the ancient Psalm to the Incarnation of the Lord. The mystery of a God who dwells among us, a God who becomes one with us in the Incarnation, already appears and transpires in the Psalm. And this faithfulness of God and our trust throughout the changes of history contribute to our joy. "

O Clavis David

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
Le Roi David / King David
Oil on canvas
1.98 x 1.33 m
Musée national d'Art moderne - Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)
La Tour de David
Oil on canvas
1.17 x 0.9 m
Musée national Message biblique Marc Chagall, Nice

As well as the reputed author of many of the Psalms, David was Israel’s first successful king. He united all of the Israelite tribes, became the effective ruler over all, and was the founder of an enduring dynasty

His royal line or House became a primary symbol of the bond between God and the nation. The king was the mediator between God and his people.

David conquered Jerusalem and made it the city of Israel. Israel’s God was named Y-hw-h. David made this name the supreme name for deity in Jerusalem (previously perhaps “Salem”), to indicate his conquest of the city.

He brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem where it became the sign and embodiment of God`s presence among his people.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death

O Radix Jesse

Jan Mostaert (c.1475 - c.1555)
The Tree of Jesse
Oil on panel
89 x 59 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

At the top of the tree, the very crown, is the Virgin Mary with her child on her lap and surrounded by angels

The detail shows the prophet Isaiah. He is pointing out a passage from Scripture: Isaiah 11, verse 1 :

'And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots'.

Or perhaps it is Isaiah 11:10:

"In that day the root of Jesse, who standeth for an ensign of the people, him the Gentiles shall beseech, and his sepulchre shall be glorious"

Mary was from the tribe of Jesse

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Madonna of the Book

The Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan is currently hosting an exhibition on Botticelli entitled Botticelli in the Lombard Collections

One of the paintings which it owns and is exhibiting is The Madonna of the Book (below)

Sandro Botticelli (1445 circa – 1510) and Filippino Lippi (1457 circa – 1504) ?
Madonna col Bambino detta “Madonna del Libro” / Madonna and Child known as The Madonna of the Book
1482 -1483 circa
Tempera on wood
58 × 39,5 cm
Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan

The scene is lit by the natural light from the window. But the persons depicted seem to illuminate the scene from some inner light

The Madonna is with the Child. She is holding open the Book. The Book might be a Book of Hours. It seems to be open at two passages from Isaiah: two prophetic passages dealing with the conception and birth of the Saviour.

St Augustine said: "The New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is made manifest in the New”, (Quaestiones in Heptateuchum, 2, 73: PL 34, 623)

St Gregory the Great wrote: “what the Old Testament promised, the New Testament made visible; what the former announces in a hidden way, the latter openly proclaims as present." (Homiliae in Ezechielem I, VI, 15: PL 76, 836B)

Mary`s hand is over the words "Be it unto me according to Thy Word". Mary is depicted as the ideal reader of the ideal book. She is the medium by which the Logos is made flesh

For the medieval viewer, "God`s Book" was either Scripture or God`s Word made flesh in Christ

The painting contains prefigurations of the Passion. On the child`s left wrist appears to be an item of jewellery, rosemary resembling a Crown of Thorns. Less noticeable is that in the child`s left hand, he is holding three golden nails

On the table there is a beautiful maolica bowl holding fruit. The cherries allude to the blood of Christ, the plums to the sweetness of the love which the Virgin bears towards her child, and the figs to the Resurrection of Christ

Mary and the Word was considered by Pope Benedict XVI in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini

He wrote:

"The Synod Fathers declared that the basic aim of the Twelfth Assembly was “to renew the Church’s faith in the word of God”.

To do so, we need to look to the one in whom the interplay between the word of God and faith was brought to perfection, that is, to the Virgin Mary, “who by her ‘yes’ to the word of the covenant and her mission, perfectly fulfills the divine vocation of humanity”.

The human reality created through the word finds its most perfect image in Mary’s obedient faith.

From the Annunciation to Pentecost she appears as a woman completely open to the will of God. She is the Immaculate Conception, the one whom God made “full of grace” (cf. Lk 1:28) and unconditionally docile to his word (cf. Lk 1:38).

Her obedient faith shapes her life at every moment before God’s plan. A Virgin ever attentive to God’s word, she lives completely attuned to that word; she treasures in her heart the events of her Son, piecing them together as if in a single mosaic (cf. Lk 2:19,51).

In our day the faithful need to be helped to see more clearly the link between Mary of Nazareth and the faith-filled hearing of God’s word.

I would encourage scholars as well to study the relationship between Mariology and the theology of the word. This could prove most beneficial both for the spiritual life and for theological and biblical studies. Indeed, what the understanding of the faith has enabled us to know about Mary stands at the heart of Christian truth.

The incarnation of the word cannot be conceived apart from the freedom of this young woman who by her assent decisively cooperated with the entrance of the eternal into time.

Mary is the image of the Church in attentive hearing of the word of God, which took flesh in her. Mary also symbolizes openness to God and others; an active listening which interiorizes and assimilates, one in which the word becomes a way of life.

Here I would like to mention Mary’s familiarity with the word of God.

This is clearly evident in the Magnificat.

There we see in some sense how she identifies with the word, enters into it; in this marvellous canticle of faith, the Virgin sings the praises of the Lord in his own words:

The Magnificat – a portrait, so to speak, of her soul – is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the word of God. Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the word of God; the word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate”.

Furthermore, in looking to the Mother of God, we see how God’s activity in the world always engages our freedom, because through faith the divine word transforms us. Our apostolic and pastoral work can never be effective unless we learn from Mary how to be shaped by the working of God within us:

“devout and loving attention to the figure of Mary as the model and archetype of the Church’s faith is of capital importance for bringing about in our day a concrete paradigm shift in the Church’s relation with the word, both in prayerful listening and in generous commitment to mission and proclamation”.

As we contemplate in the Mother of God a life totally shaped by the word, we realize that we too are called to enter into the mystery of faith, whereby Christ comes to dwell in our lives.

Every Christian believer, Saint Ambrose reminds us, in some way interiorly conceives and gives birth to the word of God: even though there is only one Mother of Christ in the flesh, in the faith Christ is the progeny of us all.

Thus, what took place for Mary can daily take place in each of us, in the hearing of the word and in the celebration of the sacraments."

Saints and Scripture

Fray Juan Bautista Maíno (1581-1649).
Paisaje con San Juan Evangelista / Landscape with St John the Evangelist
1612 - 1614
Oil on canvas
74 cm x 163 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

After traveling through Italy, and perhaps through northern Europe, Maíno was commissioned by the Dominican Monks to paint the main altarpiece at the Convent of San Pedro Mártir in Toledo. The chosen subject was the Four Pascal Feasts: Christmas, Epiphany, Resurrection and Pentecost.

He also painted a number of saints in various landscapes of which the above of St John the Evangelist is but one. It is one of the under estimated and least known works. But perhaps one of his more significant works.

Before finishing this commission, the painter entered the Dominican Order.

After entering the Order he became the teacher of drawing to the King. However his artistic output diminished to almost nothing

In his recent Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Dei Pope Benedict XVI said of the Prologue to St John`s Gospel:

"I would like to present and develop the labours of the Synod by making constant reference to the Prologue of John’s Gospel (Jn 1:1-18), which makes known to us the basis of our life: the Word, who from the beginning is with God, who became flesh and who made his dwelling among us (cf. Jn 1:14).

This is a magnificent text, one which offers a synthesis of the entire Christian faith.

From his personal experience of having met and followed Christ, John, whom tradition identifies as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20), “came to a deep certainty: Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate, he is his eternal Word who became a mortal man”.

May John, who “saw and believed” (cf. Jn 20:8) also help us to lean on the breast of Christ (cf. Jn 13:25), the source of the blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34) which are symbols of the Church’s sacraments.

Following the example of the Apostle John and the other inspired authors, may we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit to an ever greater love of the word of God"

Yesterday`s post on St Veronica Giuliani followed on Pope Benedict`s address on her life. His address focused on her devotion and immersion in Scripture, the Word of God.

In his teaching, Pope Benedict has often focused on the Lives of the Saints. He sees their lives as important examples of interpretation and application of Scripture.

In some circles the study of the lives of the saints can be controversial.

"The saints and the interpretation of Scripture

The interpretation of sacred Scripture would remain incomplete were it not to include listening to those who have truly lived the word of God:namely, the saints.

Indeed, “viva lectio est vita bonorum”.

The most profound interpretation of Scripture comes precisely from those who let themselves be shaped by the word of God through listening, reading and assiduous meditation.

It is certainly not by chance that the great currents of spirituality in the Church’s history originated with an explicit reference to Scripture.

I am thinking for example of Saint Anthony the Abbot, who was moved by hearing Christ’s words: “if you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21).

No less striking is the question posed by Saint Basil the Great in the Moralia:

“What is the distinctive mark of faith? Full and unhesitating certainty that the words inspired by God are true … What is the distinctive mark of the faithful? Conforming their lives with the same complete certainty to the meaning of the words of Scripture, not daring to remove or add a single thing”.

Saint Benedict, in his Rule, refers to Scripture as “a most perfect norm for human life”.

Saint Francis of Assisi – we learn from Thomas of Celano –

“upon hearing that the disciples of Christ must possess neither gold, nor silver nor money, nor carry a bag, nor bread, nor a staff for the journey, nor sandals nor two tunics … exulting in the Holy Spirit, immediately cried out: ‘This is what I want, this is what I ask for, this I long to do with all my heart!’”.

Saint Clare of Assisi shared fully in the experience of Saint Francis:

“The form of life of the Order of Poor Sisters – she writes – is this: to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”

... Holiness inspired by the word of God thus belongs in a way to the prophetic tradition, wherein the word of God sets the prophet’s very life at its service. In this sense, holiness in the Church constitutes an interpretation of Scripture which cannot be overlooked.

The Holy Spirit who inspired the sacred authors is the same Spirit who impels the saints to offer their lives for the Gospel. In striving to learn from their example, we set out on the sure way towards a living and effective hermeneutic of the word of God. ...

With [the saints`] lives they testified before the world and the Church to the perennial fruitfulness of Christ’s Gospel. Through the intercession of these saints ... on the word of God, let us ask the Lord that our own lives may be that “good soil” in which the divine sower plants the word, so that it may bear within us fruits of holiness, “thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold” (Mk 4:20)."

Friday, December 17, 2010

St Veronica Giuliani

Pietro Tedeschi (circa 1750-died after 1805)
Coronazione di spine di S.Veronica / Crowning of Thorns of St Veronica
Oil on canvas
Chiesa delle Cappuccine, Mercatello sul Metauro
Province of Pesaro and Urbino

Tedeschi was born in Pesaro. In 1777 he went to Rome and remained there until his death.

He painted a large number of religious works for churches, monasteries, convents and the like and they can be seen in Bologna, Macerata, Ascoli PIceno, Viterbo, Pesaro and Imola as well as many other places

Many of his commissions came through the good offices of his patron Cardinal Alessandro Albani who was a patron of many artists from The Marche

The subject of the painting above was the subject of the Pope`s latest address on Wednesday last about great woman mystics: St Veronica Giuliani (Veronica de Julianis) (1660 – July 9, 1727)

She has been described as one of the greatest of the Catholic mystical writers. All the bishops of Umbria in Italy have petitioned the Pope to have her declared as a Doctor of the Church

She spent fifty years of her life in the enclosed Capuchin Poor Clare Convent in Città di Castello: novice, cook, nurse, mistress of novices and then, finally, abbess

She had revelations and received the stigmata. We would not know about Saint Veronica and her experiences and thought if it was not for the fact that after she received the stigmata, her confessor ordered her to keep a diary and write out her experiences. She did so for thirty years. The result was 22,000 pages which was published as «Tesoro nascosto» ("Hidden Treasure") published in ten volumes between 1825 and 1928.

The details of her life are quickly told in The Catholic Encyclopaedia of 1913

In his speech the Pope said that the saint`s writings should be used as a guide for going deeper into Scripture. St. Veronica Giuliani, he says, brought Scripture to life in herself.

He said that she had a "markedly Christ-centered and spousal spirituality," and that "Hers is the experience of being loved by Christ, the faithful and sincere Spouse, and of wanting to correspond with an ever more involved and impassioned love. She interpreted everything in a key of love, and this infuses in her a profound serenity. Everything is lived in union with Christ, for love of him, and with the joy of being able to demonstrate to him all the love of which a creature is capable."

He said that she had an "intense and suffering love for the Church, and the twofold way of prayer and offering. The saint lived from this point of view: She prays, suffers, seeks 'holy poverty,' as 'dispossessed,' loss of self, precisely to be like Christ, who gave his whole self."

On the question of her being a guide to Scripture, the Pope pointed out that her writings were filled with direct and indirect Biblical quotations. Her mystical experiences were always related to the events celebrated in the Liturgy`s readings from Scripture. Her experience was rooted and anchored in Scripture. She lived Scripture. Scripture became her life.

For more about St Veronica see The St Veronica Giuliani website

An English language biography of the saint is in the Internet Archive: The lives of S. Veronica Giuliani, Capuchin nun : and, of the Blessed Battista Varani of the Order of S. Clare (January 1, 1874) by Filippo Maria Salvatori, 1740-1820

The Pope`s speech in the General Audience in full is as follows:

"Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to present a mystic who is not of the Medieval Age; it is St. Veronica Giuliani, a Capuchin Poor Clare. The reason is that December 27 is the 350th anniversary of her birth. Citta di Castello, the place where she lived the longest and where she died, as well as Mercatello -- her native country -- and the Diocese of Urbino celebrate this event joyfully.

Veronica was born precisely on Dec. 27, 1660, in Mercatello, in the valley of Metauro, to Francesco Giuliani and Benedetta Mancini. She was the last of seven sisters, an additional three of whom embraced the monastic life. She was given the name Ursula. She lost her mother at 7, and her father moved to Piacenza as superintendent of customs of the duchy of Parma. In this city, Ursula felt a growing desire to dedicate her life to Christ.

The call was ever more pressing, so much so that at 17 she entered the strict cloister of the monastery of the Capuchin Poor Clares of Citta di Castello, where she would remain the whole of her life.

There she received the name Veronica, which means "true image," and, in fact, she would become a true image of Christ Crucified. A year later she made her solemn religious profession.

The journey began for her configuration to Christ through much penance, great suffering and certain mystical experiences linked with the Passion of Jesus: the crowning of thorns, the mystical espousal, the wound in her heart and the stigmata. In 1716, at 56, she became abbess of the monastery and was confirmed in this role until her death, which occurred in 1727, after a most painful agony of 33 days that culminated in a profound joy, so much so that her last words were:

"I have found Love, Love has allowed Himself to be seen! This is the cause of my suffering. Tell it to everyone, tell it to everyone!" (Summarium Beatificationis, 115-120).

She left her earthly dwelling on July 9 for her encounter with God. She was 67 years old; 50 of those years she spent in the monastery of Citta di Castello. She was proclaimed a saint on May 26, 1893, by Pope Gregory XVI.

Veronica Giuliani wrote much: letters, autobiographical reports, poems. However, the main source to reconstruct her thought is her "Diary," begun in 1693: a good 22,000 handwritten pages, which cover an expanse of 34 years of cloistered life.

The writing flows spontaneously and continuously. There are no cancellations or corrections, punctuation marks or distribution of the material in chapters or parts according to a pre-established plan. Veronica did not wish to compose a literary work; instead, she was obliged to put her experiences into writing by Father Girolamo Bastianelli, a religious of the Filippini, in agreement with the diocesan bishop Antonio Eustachi.

St. Veronica has a markedly Christ-centered and spousal spirituality: Hers is the experience of being loved by Christ, the faithful and sincere Spouse, and of wanting to correspond with an ever more involved and impassioned love.

She interpreted everything in a key of love, and this infuses in her a profound serenity. Everything is lived in union with Christ, for love of him, and with the joy of being able to demonstrate to him all the love of which a creature is capable.

The Christ to whom Veronica is profoundly united is the suffering Christ of the passion, death and resurrection; it is Jesus in the act of offering himself to the Father to save us. From this experience derives also the intense and suffering love for the Church, and the twofold way of prayer and offering. The saint lived from this point of view: She prays, suffers, seeks "holy poverty," as "dispossessed," loss of self (cf. ibid., III, 523), precisely to be like Christ, who gave his whole self.

In every page of her writings Veronica entrusts someone to the Lord, strengthening her prayers of intercession with the offering of herself in every suffering. Her heart dilated to all "the needs of the Holy Church," living with longing the desire of the salvation of "the whole world" (ibid., III-IV, passim).

Veronica cried out:

"O sinners ... come to Jesus' heart; come to the cleansing of his most precious blood ... he awaits you with open arms to embrace you" (Ibid., II, 16-17).

Animated by an ardent charity, she gave care, understanding and forgiveness to the sisters of the monastery. She offered her prayers and sacrifices for the Pope, her bishop, priests and for all needy persons, including the souls in Purgatory. She summarized her contemplative mission in these words:

"We cannot go preaching around the world to convert souls, but we are obliged to pray continually for all those souls who are offending God ... particularly with our sufferings, that is with a principle of crucified life" (Ibid., IV, 877).

Our saint conceived this mission as a "being in the middle" between men and God, between sinners and Christ Crucified.

Veronica profoundly lived participation in the suffering love of Jesus, certain that "to suffer with joy" is the "key of love" (cf. ibid., I, 299.417; III, 330.303.871;IV, 192). She evidences that Jesus suffers for men's sins, but also for the sufferings that his faithful servants had to endure in the course of the centuries, in the time of the Church, precisely because of their solid and coherent faith.

She wrote:

"The Eternal Father made him see and feel at that point all the sufferings that his elect would have to endure, his dearest souls, that is, those who would know how to benefit from his Blood and from all his sufferings" (ibid., II, 170).

As the Apostle Paul says of himself:

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (Colossians 1:24).

Veronica even asks Jesus to be crucified with him.

"In an instant," she wrote, "I saw issue from his most holy wounds five shining rays; and all came to my face. And I saw these rays become as little flames. In four of them were the nails; and in one of them was the lance, as of gold, all red hot: and it pierced my heart, from one side to the other ... and the nails went through the hands and feet. I felt great pain; but, in the very pain I saw myself, I felt myself all transformed in God" (Diary, I, 897).

The saint was convinced she was participating already in the Kingdom of God, but at the same time she invoked all the saints of the Blessed Homeland to come to her aid on the earthly journey of her self-giving, while awaiting eternal blessedness; this was the constant aspiration of her life (cf. ibid., II, 909; V, 246). In regard to preaching of the time, not rarely centered on "saving one's soul" in individual terms, Veronica shows a strong "sense of solidarity," a sense of communion with all brothers and sisters on the way to heaven, and she lives, prays and suffers for all.

The earthly, penultimate things, instead, although appreciated in the Franciscan sense as gift of the Creator, were always relative, altogether subordinate to the "taste" of God and under the sign of a radical poverty. In the communio sanctorum, she clarifies her ecclesial donation, as well as the relationship between the pilgrim Church and the heavenly Church.

"All the saints," she wrote, "are up there through the merits and the Passion of Jesus; but they cooperated with all that the Lord did, so that their life was all ordered ... regulated by (his) very works" (ibid., III, 203).

In Veronica's writings we find many biblical quotations, at times indirectly, but always precise: She shows familiarity with the sacred text, from which her spiritual experience is nourished. Revealed, moreover, is that the intense moments of Veronica's mystical experience are never separated from the salvific events celebrated in the liturgy, where the proclamation and hearing of the Word of God has a particular place.

Hence, sacred Scripture illumines, purifies and confirms Veronica's experience, rendering it ecclesial.

On the other hand, however, precisely her experience, anchored in sacred Scripture with an uncommon intensity, guides one to a more profound and "spiritual" reading of the text itself, to enter into the hidden profundity of the text. She not only expresses herself with the words of sacred Scripture, but she also really lives from these words, they become life in her.

For example, our saint often quotes the expression of the Apostle Paul: "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Romans 8:31; cf. Diary, I, 714; II, 116.1021; III, 48). In her, the assimilation of this Pauline text, her great trust and profound joy, becomes a fait accompli in her very person:

"My soul," she wrote, "was connected to the divine will and I was truly established and fixed in the will of God. It seems to me that I could never again be separated from this will of God and turn to myself with these precise words: nothing will be able to separate me from the will of God, not anxieties, or sorrows, or toil, or contempt, or temptations, or creatures, or demons, or darkness, and not even death itself, because, in life and in death, I will everything and in everything, the will of God" (Diary, IV, 272).

Thus we have the certainty that death is not the last word, we are fixed in the will of God and so, really, in everlasting life.

In particular, Veronica shows herself to be a courageous witness of the beauty and the power of Divine Love, which draws, pervades and inflames her. It is crucified Love that imprinted itself on her flesh, as in that of St. Francis of Assisi, with the stigmata of Jesus.

"My Bride," the crucified Christ whispers to me, "the penances you do for those who are in my disgrace are dear to me ... Then, detaching an arm from the cross, he made a sign to me to draw near to his side ... and I found myself in the arms of the Crucified. What I experienced at that point I cannot recount: I would have liked to remain always in his most holy side" (ibid.., I, 37).

This is also an image of her spiritual journey, of her interior life: to be in the embrace of the Crucified and thus to be in Christ's love for others.

Also with the Virgin Mary, Veronica lived a relationship of profound intimacy, attested by the words she heard Our Lady say one day and which she reports in her Diary:

"I will make you rest on my breast, you are united with my soul, and from it you were taken as in flight to God" (IV, 901).

St. Veronica Giuliani invites us to make our Christian life grow, our union with the Lord in being for others, abandoning ourselves to his will with complete and total trust, and to union with the Church, Bride of Christ; she invites us to participate in the suffering love of Jesus Crucified for the salvation of all sinners; she invites us to fix our gaze on Paradise, the goal of our earthly journey, where we will live together with so many brothers and sisters the joy of full communion with God; she invites us to nourish ourselves daily from the Word of God to warm our hearts and give direction to our life. The last words of the saint can be considered the synthesis of her passionate mystical experience:

"I have found Love, Love has let himself be seen!" "

Thursday, December 16, 2010

St John of the Cross 2

The exhibition The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600–1700 was shown in The National Gallery, London and The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC

It was acclaimed and introduced many people to the Spanish Baroque.

One of the most interesting sculptures was of St John of the Cross by Francisco Antonio Gijón (1653–c. 1721) and unknown painter (possibly Domingo Mejías)

Francisco Antonio Gijón (1653–c. 1721) and unknown painter (possibly Domingo Mejías)
Saint John of the Cross
c. 1675
Painted and gilded wood
168 cm (66 1/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons' Permanent Fund

After the beatification of St John of the Cross on January 25, 1675, the Carmelite convent of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios near Seville commissioned this life-sized statue from the young Sevillian sculptor, Francisco Antonio Gijón, then only 21

The figure of the saint holds a quill pen in his right hand and, in the left, a book with a model of a mountain surmounted by a cross, which refers to his mystic commentary, "The Ascent of Mount Carmel."

There have been a number of translations into English of the works of St John of the Cross.

One of the translations which has been considered one of the best is that by the Anglo-South African convert poet Roy Campbell (October 2, 1901 – April 22, 1957)

In October 2009, Roger Scruton wrote about Roy Campbell in his article "A Dark Horse" published in The American Spectator. He was hated by the English "left establishment" especially because of his position on The Spanish Civil War

The Wikipedia entry says of Roy Campbell that he "was considered by T. S. Eliot, Edith Sitwell, and Dylan Thomas to have been one of the best poets of the period between the First and Second World wars, but he is seldom found in anthologies today."

Campbell's translations of the poetry by St. John of the Cross were lavishly praised by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges

For more about Campbell`s work, R J Dent has published an essay on Roy Campbell and his work entitled: Violence and exquisite beauty – the aesthetics of Roy Campbell

Here are two poems of St John of the Cross in Spanish with the translations by the late Roy Campbell. The first poem is called "Song of the soul that is glad to know God by faith" The second poem is called "Verses written after an ecstasy of high exaltation" (Source: Geoffrey Burgon : Dos Coros)

'Cantar del alma que se huelga de conoscer a Dios par fe'

Que bien sé yo la fonte que mana y corre,
Aunque es de noche.

Aquella eterna fonte está ascondida,
Que bien sé yo do tiene su manida,
Aunque es de noche.

Su origen no lo sé, pues no le tiene,
Mas sé que todo origen de ella viene,
Aunque es de noche.

Sé que no puede ser cosa tan bella,
Y que cielos y tierra beben de ella,
Aunque es de noche.

Bien sé que suelo en ella no se halla,
Y que ninguno puede vadealla,
Aunque es de noche.

Su claridad nunca es escurecida,
Y se que toda luz de ella es venida,
Aunque es de noche.

Sé ser tan caudalosas sus corrientes,
Que infiernos, cielos riegan, y las gentes,
Aunque es de noche.

El corriente que nace de esta fuente,
Bien sé que es tan capaz y omnipotente,
Aunque es de noche.

'Song of the soul that is glad to know God by faith'

How well I know that fountain’s rushing flow
Although by night

Its deathless spring is hidden. Even so
Full well I guess from whence its source flow
Though it be night.

Its origin (since it has none) none knows:
But that all origin from it arose
Although by night.

I know there is no other thing so fair
And earth and heaven drink refreshment there
Although by night.

Full well I know the depth no man can sound
And that no ford to cross it can be found
Though it be night

Its clarity unclouded still shall be:
Out of it comes the light by which we see
Though it be night.

Flush with its banks the stream so proudly swells;
I know it waters nations, heavens, and hells
Though it be night.

The current that is nourished by this source
I know to be omnipotent in force
Although by night.

'Coplas del mismo hechas sobre un éxtasis de alta contemplación '

Entréme donde no supe,
Y quedéme no sabiendo,
Toda sciencia trascendiendo.

Yo no supe dónde entraba,
Pero, cuando allí me ví,
Sin saber dónde me estaba,
Grandes cosas entendí;
No diré lo que sentí,
Que me quedé no sabiendo,
Toda sciencia trascendiendo.

De paz y de piedad
Era la sciencia perfecta,
En profunda soledad,
Entendida vía recta;
Era cosa tan secreta,
Que me quedé balbuciendo,
Toda sciencia trascendiendo.

Estaba tan embebido,
Tan absorto y ajenado,
Que se quedó mi sentido
De todo sentir privado;
Y el espíritu dotado
De un entender no entendiendo,
Toda sciencia trascendicndo.

El que allií llega de vero,
De sí mismo desfallesce;
Cuanto sabía primero

'Verses written after an ecstasy of high exaltation'

I entered in, I know not where,
And I remained, though knowing naught,
Transcending knowledge with my thought.

Of when I entered I know naught,
But when I saw that I was there
(Though where it was I did not care)
Strange things I learned, with greatness fraught.
Yet what I heard I’ll not declare.
But there I stayed, though knowing naught,
Transcending knowledge with my thought.

Of peace and piety interwound
This perfect science had been wrought,
Within the solitude profound
A straight and narrow path it taught,
Such secret wisdom there I found
That there I stammered, saying naught,
But topped all knowledge with my thought.

So borne aloft, so drunken-reeling
So rapt was I, so swept away,
Within the scope of sense or feeling
My sense or feeling could not stay.
And in my soul I felt, revealing,
A sense that, though its sense was naught,
Transcended knowledge with my thought.

The man who truly there has come
Of his own self must shed the guise;
Of all he knew before the sum.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Saint John of the Cross

Baldassare Franceschini, il Volterrano 1611 - 1690
The vision of St John of the Cross, with a pentimento putto; kneeling saint, with two studies of Christ bearing the Cross at l, putti above
Red chalk, with some pen and brown ink, with piece overlaid
187 millimetres x 265 millimetres
The British Museum, London

Baldassare Franceschini, il Volterrano 1611 - 1690
Vision of St John of the Cross, with a pentimento; a church interior with the saint kneeling on the ground, Christ with a cross in a niche at l, putti above
Inscription Content: Inscribed: "IOANIDIS [QVIS?] PRO LABORIBUS?"
Red chalk, with piece overlaid
328 millimetres x 255 millimetres
The British Museum, London

In order to arrive there,
to arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
you must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
you must go by the way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
you must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
you must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
and what you own is what you do not own
and where you are is where you are not.

T.S. Eliot, East Coker (1940)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Des hommes et des Dieux

The film centres around the monastery of Tibhirine, where Trappist monks lived in harmony with the largely Muslim population of Algeria, until seven of them were beheaded in a still unclear incident in 1996.

The film focuses on the time leading up to their death

The ever-deteriorating security situation means that they are urged by both the civilian and military authorities and by Islamic militants to flee their monastery.

But should they abandon their mission or is it their duty to continue serving the local population, whatever the risks to their own safety?

Their mission is not to proselytise on behalf of their Catholic faith. Instead, led by their abbot Brother Christian, they actively engage with the local community, by running a free medical clinic and taking part in Muslim celebrations

Lavinia Fontana

Lavinia Fontana (August 24, 1552 – August 11, 1614)
Self-portrait at the spinet (c. 1577)
Oil on canvas
27 x 24 cm
Accademia di San Luca, Rome

Lavinia Fontana (August 24, 1552 – August 11, 1614)
The Holy Family
Oil on wood
39.5 cm x 32 cm
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden

Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614)
Christ at the Column
Oil on canvas
190 x120 cm
Musée municipal, Palais des Gouverneurs gênois, Bastia

Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614 )
Sposalizio di S.ta Caterina Vergine e Martire con l'asistenza di Gesù, Maria Vergine e San Giuseppe / The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, Virgin and Martyr with Jesus, Mary Virgin and St Joseph and St Francis
Late 1590s
Oil on copper
10 1/4 by 7 3/4in. 26 by 19.7cm.
Private collection

Compared to other cities at the time, Bologna was a good place for an educated and skilled woman in the Renaissance.

It was unique among Italian cities for having both a university which had educated women since the Middle Ages as well as a female saint (St Catherine of Bologna, see below) who was an artist.

The University started to admit women in the thirteenth century

Women artists were encouraged by the growth of printing houses in the city. There were women lay miniaturists including a Carmelite nun called Sister Allegra

In 1769 Luigi Crespi`s Vite de Pittori Bolognesi listed twenty three women artists active in 16th and 17th century Bologna.

Two achieved international stature: Lavinia Fontana and Elisabetta Sirani

Bologna became part of the Papal States in 1512. The Church encouraged and gave commissions to women Bolognese artists

Lavinia Fontana was perhaps espcially fortunate. Her father, Prospero, was a distinguished artist. She became his pupil.

Prospero Fontana was successful as a historical and religious painter. He followed the Counter-Reformation rules especially those of the Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti, one of the great Tridentine art theorists. Her father had strong links with the Cardinal

LIke all women artists she could not join the Academy of the Carracci in Bologna: the male nude in the drawing classes was central to what was learned.

Her early works are late Mannerist: later works show the influence of the Carracci school then in the ascendant in Bologna and Rome

In 1577 she married an assitant in her father`s studio: Gian Paolo Zappi. The marriage appears to have been happy. They had eleven children: although only three survived her death. Her husband appears to have given up his career to help with the household duties leaving her as the main income earner in the family.

In Bologna she received portrait commissions from the Bolognese aristocracy as well as the Church for altar pieces. She became the first woman member of the Academy of St Luke in Rome. With the rise of Bologna within the Papal States she received commissions from King Philip II of Spain and the Papal Court: first from Pope Gregory XIII (Ugo Buoncompagni) (1502-85) (a Pope of Bolognese origin).

Her reputation grew especially amongst the Cardinals in Rome, For example in the Jubilee Year of 1600, Cardinal Girolamo Bernerio OP, the sub Dean of the College of Cardinals, commissioned several works from her

Eventually Pope Clement VII (1536 – 1605) invited her to Rome where she became a Court portraitist in 1603.

He commissioned her to paint a 20 foot alter piece entitled The Stoning of St. Stephen Martyr for San Paolo Fuori le Mura until the church was consumed by fire in 1823 and the painting was lost.

This continued into the time of Paul V, in whose reign she died in Rome.