Saturday, March 30, 2013

I have seen the Lord ... and heard Him and touched Him

Andrea del Sarto (1486 - 1530)
Apparizione di Cristo risorto a Santa Maria Maddalena / The Appearance of the Resurrected Christ to Mary Magdalene
1509 - 1510
Oil on wooden panel
176 x  155 cm
Museo del Cenacolo di Andrea del Sarto, Florence (Now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

Vasari records that this was commissioned for the Church of the Augustinian convent outside  Porta San Gallo. That church was demolished in 1531

It was then moved to the Capella  Morelli in Chiesa di S. Jacopo tra i Fossi where it remained until 1849

It looks like a scene between an ordinary man and a woman somewhere in Tuscany or in Umbria. 

The countryside could well be that of Italy rather than Palestine. There are six other people in the scene. Two groups of three in the distance. Who they are can not be ascertained. We can only speculate

But it is not a garden somewhere in Italy where a woman is entreating a gardener. 

It is the scene described in John 20 just after Mary Magdalene has visited the tomb on Easter day and found it empty.
"11 But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb  
12 and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been.  
13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.”  
14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. 
15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”  
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”which means Teacher.  
17 Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 
18 Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her."
In this translation the words of Christ in the Vulgate "Noli me tangere"  are translated as Stop holding on to me as in Mt 28:9, where the women take hold of his feet. This translation is more faithful to the original koine Greek

In Mark, Matthew, and John, all point out and emphasise that Mary Magdalene is the  first human witness to the resurrection. She saw it. She heard it. She touched it. And she announced it.

Unfortunately in accordance with the custom and convention of the time, del Sarto has depicted the Magdalene with long red hair flowing down and past her shoulders. He is perpetuating and reinforcing the early misidentification of Mary Magdalene as a (former) prostitute and adulteress and now penitent 

The Eastern Orthodox Church never made that mistake and regarded her as always being a virtuous woman. They have never celebrated her as a penitent. She is not  the "sinful woman" who anoints Jesus in Luke [Lk 7:36–50]

The exalted role of Mary Magdalene was recognised by Saint Rabanus Maurus Magnentius (c. 780 – 4 February 856), ("Praeceptor Germaniae," or "the teacher of Germany") when he referred to her as "the Apostle to the Apostles", a title which she had since the early Church. 

This title was also repeated by St Thomas Aquinas. 

Both views were cited and approved by Blessed Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem: (italics in the website text)
"The Gospel of John (cf. also Mk 16: 9) emphasizes the special role of Mary Magdalene. She is the first to meet the Risen Christ. At first she thinks he is the gardener; she recognizes him only when he calls her by name: "Jesus said to her, 'Mary'. She turned and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabbuni' (which means Teacher). 
Jesus said to her, 'Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God'. Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'; and she to old them that he had said these things to her" (Jn 20:16-18). 
Hence she came to be called "the Apostle of the Apostles". 
38 Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness of the Risen Christ, and for this reason she was also the first to bear witness to him before the Apostles. This event, in a sense, crowns all that has been said previously about Christ entrusting divine truths to women as well as men."
The Latin language version on the Vatican website is perhaps more emphatic and instructive. It does not miss out the footnotes The italicised words are those of His Holiness
"Ioannis autem Evangelium (Cfr. item Marc. 16, 9) extollit praesertim praecipuas Mariae Magdalenae partes. Prima videlicet ea resuscitato obvia fit Christo. Principio eum, quidem hortorum esse arbitratur custodem, quem tunc agnoscit solum, cum nomine ipsam appellat. “Dicit ei Iesus: “Maria!”. Conversa illa dicit ei Hebraice: “Rabbunì”, quod dicitur Magister
Dicit ei Iesus: “Iam noli me tenere, nondum enim ascendi ad Patrem; vade autem ad fratres meos et dic eis: Ascendo ad Patrem meum et Patrem vestrum et Deum meum et Deum vestrum”. Venit Maria Magdalene annuntians discipulis: “Vidi Dominum!” et quia haec dixit ei” (Io. 20, 16-18).  
Quam ob rem nuncupatur quoque illa “apostolorum apostola” (Cfr. RABANI MAURI De vita beatae Mariae Magdalenae, XXVII: «Salvator . . . ascensionis suae eam (=Mariam Magdalenam) ad apostolus instituit apostolam» (PL 112, 1574). «Facta est Apostolorum Apostola, per hoc quod ei committitur ut resurrectionem dominicam discipulis annuntiet»: In Ioannem Evangelistam expositio, C. XX, L. III, 6 (S. THOMAE AQUINATIS, Comment. in Matthaeum et Ioannem Evangelistas), Ed. Parmens, X, 629). 
Etenim iam ipsos ante apostolos fuit Maria Magdalene oculata Christi resuscitati testis ideoque prima etiam testimonium reddidit illi coram apostolis. Certo quodam pacto cumulat hic eventus omnia ea quae prius iam dicta sunt de veritatibus divinis a Christo mulieribus haud secus ac viris concreditis."

They will look on Him whom they have pierced

William Congdon 1912 - 1998
Crocifisso n. 2
Mixed media on wooden board
89.5 cm x 58.5 cm
Galleria d’Arte della Pro Civitate Christiana, Assisi

Last year was the centenary of the birth of the American artist William Grosvenor Congdon (1912  - 1998) 

He fought in the Second World War with the Allied forces in Europe

In 1959, he converted to Catholicism in Assisi and he embarked upon a series of paintings using Old and New Testament themes. In 1964 he attended the Eucharistic Congress in Bombay, travelling there with Pope Paul VI. 

He was associated with among others Jacques Maritain and the early figures in  Comunione e Liberazione

His works on the Crucifixion with detailed commentary can be studied at the William G Congdon Foundation website

Christ Crucified is a central theme of his work

In a recent exhibition of Congdon`s works, William Congdon: The Sabbath of History there was included a meditation on Holy Week by the then Cardinal Ratzinger which seemed to mirror Congdon`s own response to this event in history
"“They will look on him whom they have pierced.” 
The whole of John’s gospel is fundamentally nothing but the fulfillment of these words, nothing but the effort to direct our eyes and hearts to gaze on him. 
And the whole liturgy of the Church is nothing more than gazing at the Pierced One, whose hidden countenance the priest reveals to the eyes of the Church and the world, in the Liturgy of Good Friday, the high point of the Church’s year. 
“Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the savior of the world!” “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” ... 
John reports on the event of the piercing of the Crucified with a characteristically elaborate solemnity that immediately shows the weight he attaches to this event. 
In the account which concludes with an almost oath-like attestation, John incorporates two texts of the Old Testament, whose inclusion brings the meaning of this event to light. 
He says, “None of his bones will be broken,” presenting a passage from the Passover rite of the Jews, one of the prescriptions concerning the paschal lamb. Thus he indicates that Jesus, whose side was pierced at the same hour as the ritual slaughter of the paschal lambs in the Temple, is the true paschal lamb without blemish in whom the meaning of all cultus and ritual is finally fulfilled; indeed, it becomes clear for the first time what cultus truly means. ... 
The second text of the Old Testament, built into the scene where Jesus’ side is pierced by the soldier’s lance, makes still clearer what is meant, even as the allusion is difficult to understand in detail. John says that a soldier opened the side of Jesus with a lance. 
He uses here the same word that in the Old Testament is used in the depiction of the creation of Eve from the side of the sleeping Adam. Whatever this reference may mean in its particulars, this much is clear, namely, that he wants to say that the mystery of man’s and woman’s creation from and for each other is repeated in the communion of Christ and believing mankind. 
The Church originates from the opened side of the dying Christ."

In yesterday`s The Passion of the Lord homily, given by Capuchin Friar Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher of the Papal Household at the Vatican, in this Year of Faith he said:
"Christ also confided to his Church a message: "Go throughout the whole world, preach the good news to all creation." 
The evangelization has a mystical origin; it is a gift that comes from the cross of Christ, from that open side, from that blood and from that water. 
The love of Christ, like that of the Trinity of which it is the historical manifestation, is "diffusivum sui", it tends to expand and reach all creatures, "especially those most needy of thy mercy." 
Christian evangelization is not a conquest, not propaganda; it is the gift of God to the world in his Son Jesus.”

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday: the recurring problem

Vincenzo Foppa (1427 ca. - 1516 ca.), 
I tre crocifissi/ The Three Crucified Ones 
(alternatively, Gesù Cristo crocifisso tra i due ladroni/ Jesus Christ crucified between the two thieves)
Tempera on wood panel
68 x 38 cm
Accademia Carrara di Bergamo, Bergamo

This work is one of the oldest works of the Lombard Renaissance, of the Brescian school

It shows the influence of the Schools of Padova and Mantova (Mantua)

It was commissioned for a small chapel as a work for contemplation and prayer and that aspect of the work should never be forgotten

In the background is a city and castle and from these a serpentine and narrow road leads to Golgotha, the scene of the Crucifixion. Likewise from the point of view of the viewer, the road from Golgotha to the City is through a gate and then the road

The road goes two ways. Some art critics may forget this

The viewer of the painting looks at the scene as if he or she is going towards the City

The Crucifixion is at the Gate of the outskirts of the City and it is a narrow gate. It should remind us of the famous Gate into the City of Jerusalem referred to by Christ. It was so narrow that He described it as being like "the eye of the needle" 

However although it is narrow it is not impassable. There are no obstacles barring the gate. One person if he or she so wished could pass through the gate. The gate is open to all of those who choose to enter

We, the viewers, gaze facing east (or virtual East) towards Jerusalem. To reach the celestial city- Jerusalem, the city of the Resurrection and Eternal Life - we have to pass by and through Death and the Crucifixion 

The work would have hung above the altar and both the congregation and the priest would have been facing the work during the Liturgy. Underneath the work the congregation would have witnessed the same scene performed by the priest in the Mass. 

The priest would have his back to the congregation and in the most solemn act of the Mass, his identity would be hidden and he would simply be "the priest", the channel through which the Sacrifice would be repeated. 

After the Sacrifice and the proclamation of Death and Resurrection, both the priest and the congregation would have received the Eucharist. They would have carried on their journeys (hopefully joyfully) in accordance with the command: "Ite missa est"

To underline this Catholics are often at this point exhorted to go forth to love and serve the Lord

To face westwards (or virtually Westwards) would of course have been a problem. 

We would no longer gaze on the face of Christ. We would be turning our backs on the Crucifixion and all that it means. A never ending problem for mankind over the last two thousand years

That was the problem faced one Good Friday four hundred years ago by the English poet John Donne. It happened about 150 years after the painting was completed. 

The anniversary of the event and the poem to which it gave rise is celebrated in this week`s Times Literary Supplement in Daniel Starza Smith John Donne’s “Goodfriday, 1613. Riding Westward”, at 400

Here is the poem:

Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
By John Donne 1572–1631  
Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.  
Hence is't, that I am carryed towards the West
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.  
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.  
Yet dare I'almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.  
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?  
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.  
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once peirc'd with those holes?  
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag'd, and torne?  
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish'd thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom'd us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They'are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look'st towards mee,
O Saviour, as thou hang'st upon the tree;
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.  
O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may'st know mee, and I'll turne my face

A Crucifixion by Bellini

Giovanni Bellini 1435/40 ca. - 1516
Crocifisso con cimitero ebraico/ Crucifixion in a Jewish cemetery 
Also known as Crocifisso Niccolini di Camugliano
circa 1475-1480 (possibly 1501-02 according to the date on one of the stones painted)
Oil on wood panel
81 x 49 cm
Cassa di Risparmio (Cariprato, gruppo Banca Popolare di Vicenza). Galleria di Palazzo degli Alberti, Prato, Italy

This great work of Bellini is not as well known as it should be. It is in a private collection belonging to an Italian bank

He painted many Crucifixions in his lifetime. This one is out of the ordinary

The city of Jerusalem depicted in the background is a combination of the main features of Venice ad Ancona (San Ciriaco). We also see the campanile of Sant' Apollinare in Classe and Vicenza (the Duomo), all in Italy

It represents a composite, everywhere and nowhere - the celestial Jerusalem

The countryside (between cemetery and city) is depicted with minute detail. Thirty different types of botanical species have been identified so far

The scenery is typical of the Veneto

The  cemetery is outside the city walls of the celestial Jerusalem. 

Apart from Christ there is no human being. There are no thieves being crucified. No Roman soldiers. Mary, John and the companions are absent. The trees for other crucifixions are dead. In the cemetery Death appears to be victorious over Man

But Christ by his death triumphs on Golgotha over Death. Death is destroyed.

To get to the "Celestial Jerusalem", one seems to have to travel past and through the Crucifixion

The work was originally in the ownership of the Colonna family

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Giotto di Bondone 1267 - 1337
Scenes from the Life of Christ: 15. The Kiss of Judas and the Arrest of Christ 
200 x 185 cm
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

It is one of the most famous kisses in the history of the world

It is not like other kisses that we see in the Bible. It is not the Kiss of Peace or the Kiss in the Song of Solomon. It is not a kiss of homage or between parent and child or between relatives or friends.

In France they call it the baiser de la mort, the Kiss of Death as well as The Kiss of Judas

It is the kiss which heralds a violent death for the one who receives it, at the hands of the person who gives it

It is a parody and perversion of a kiss, a loving embrace

The kisser is filled with anger and hate. Love is completely absent

The malice and vengeful nature of the act are the highlight of Giotto`s work

The betrayal is in Matthew 26Mark 14Luke 22John 13 and John 18

There is no kiss in John

In Dante`s Inferno, the ninth and innermost Circle is the circle of treachery as fraudulent acts between individuals who share special bonds of love and trust 

This Circle is itself again divided into four regions. One is called Judecca, named after Judas Iscariot. It is the innermost zone of the ninth and final circle of hell.

This region is completely covered by the ice -- like "straw in glass" -- the shades are locked in various postures with no mobility or sound whatsoever 

" Quell' anima là sù c'ha maggior pena,"
disse 'l maestro, "è Giuda Scarïotto"
Judas in this portrait is the Benedict Arnold to Christ`s Washington. 

However Dante`s portrait of Judas is not definitive. 

According to Luke xxii. 3-5 Satan entered into Judas while he sat at the table, among the rest of the Apostles, to partake of the Passover meal. This is the version favoured in the painting below

Benoît Molin 1810 - 1894
Le baiser rendu (Juda et Satan) 
c. 1880
Oil on canvas
91.4 x 73.1 cm
Musée des beaux-arts, Chambéry

The problems in the differing Scriptural accounts and the differing view of the Church fathers can be seen in William Kent`s article . "Judas Iscariot." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 27 Mar. 2013 >.

Kent concludes:
"it may be urged that in exaggerating the original malice of Judas, or denying that there was even any good in him, we minimize or miss the lesson of this fall.  
The examples of the saints are lost on us if we think of them as being of another order without our human weaknesses.  
And in the same way it is a grave mistake to think of Judas as a demon without any elements of goodness and grace.  
In his fall is left a warning that even the great grace of the Apostolate and the familiar friendship of Jesus may be of no avail to one who is unfaithful. 
And, though nothing should be allowed to palliate the guilt of the great betrayal, it may become more intelligible if we think of it as the outcome of gradual failing in lesser things.  
So again the repentance may be taken to imply that the traitor deceived himself by a false hope that after all Christ might pass through the midst of His enemies as He had done before at the brow of the mountain.  
And though the circumstances of the death of the traitor give too much reason to fear the worst, the Sacred Text does not distinctly reject the possibility of real repentance."

An interesting characterisation of Judas Iscariot is given in the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906 
"That Jesus should have [apparently] shown so little foresight in the choice of an apostle naturally caused great perplexity to his followers; and consequently the Gospels present the facts of the betrayal as well as the character of Judas from partisan points of view and in different ways. ... 
In all likelihood, Judas, being of the district of Judah, while the rest were all Galileans, was not impressed with the Messianic character claimed by Jesus, and therefore, merely to obtain immunity for himself, committed the cowardly act of betraying him to the soldiers and officers of the priests that came with swords and staves to seize him and his followers.  
He singled out Jesus by kissing him while greeting him as rabbi (John xviii. 1 et seq.); they then seized Jesus and brought him bound to Annas and Caiaphas the high priest (Matt. xxvi. 47 et seq., and par. pas.), while his disciples, including Peter, left their master to his destiny."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Flannery always said it right

Tuscan school Mid- 12th century
Crucifix with the story of the Passion of Christ
Tempera on wood
276 x 231 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.” 
Flannery O`Connor, The Habit of Being

The Christian Science Monitor reminds us that this is the birthday of the American author Flannery O`Connor (1925-1964) 

Next year is the fiftieth anniversary of her death

They quote ten memorable quotes from her pen, one of which is above and quite appropriate in Holy Week

Another one is from Wise Blood:  
“It began to drizzle rain and he turned on the windshield wipers; they made a great clatter like two idiots clapping in church.”
Her literary criticism was spot on as can be seen from the following quote from The Habit of Being:
“I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.”

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Entry into Jerusalem

Jan van Haldern (1480 - 1511). 
Einzug Christi in Jerusalem/ The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem 1500
Wood carving
St. Nicolai's Church in Kalkar (Germany).[Kalkar Kreis Kleve, Katholische Pfarrkirche Sankt Nikolai]

Today is Palm Sunday

One of the most beautiful extant medieval High Altars is in St Nicolai`s Church in Kalkar in Germany

One of the scenes depicted is Christ`s entry into Jerusalem (above)

It is narrated in all four Gospels: Matthew 21:1-11, 21:14-16; Luke 19:28-40; Mark 11:1-11; and John 12:12-19

"Why does Jesus come to Jerusalem? Or perhaps better: How does Jesus enter into Jerusalem?  
The crowd acclaims him King. And he does not oppose this, he does not silence them (cf. Luke 19:39-40).  
But what kind of King is Jesus? Let us see: he rides a colt, he does not have a court that follows him, he is not surrounded by an army that would symbolize power.  
Those who welcome him are humble, simple people, who have the sense to see in Jesus something more; they have that sense of faith, which says: this is the Saviour. 
Jesus does not enter the Holy City to receive the honours reserved for earthly kings, to those who have power, to those who dominate.  
He enters to be beaten, insulted and reviled, as Isaiah foretold in the first reading (cf. Isaiah 50:6); he enters to receive a crown of thorns, a reed, a purple cloak, his royalty will be an object of scorn; he enters to climb Calvary, carrying a tree. ...  
Jesus enters Jerusalem to die on the cross. And it is exactly here that his being a king, as God, is manifested: the royal throne is the wood of the cross!  
I think of what Benedict XVI said to the cardinals: you are princes but of a crucified King. That is Jesus’ throne. Jesus takes it upon himself…  
Why the cross? Because Jesus takes upon himself evil, filth, the sin of the world, even our sin, the sins of all of us, and he washes them away with his blood, with mercy, with God’s love"

We can see the commemoration of this event almost two thousand years on all over Christendom, not just in the Vatican City

Here in a Processional of 1400 we see the Church procession for Palm Sunday for a Church of St Mary in either Salisbury or Winchester or Norwich

Processional diagram for Palm Sunday from Procession
Illustrated manuscript
21.2 x 12.2 cm
MS 57534   f.32r
The British Library, London

It would appear that there were two processions for the day but of this one, The British Library website states:
"The second diagram for that day, for the blessing of the palms, shows an altar with an image of the Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John. Seven palms rest to the side of the altar, while the Gospel book is held on a step below with the red-coped bishop on next step between two deacons (brown circles), crucifer (acolyte holding a processional cross), taperers (acolytes holding candles), thurifer (acolyte holding incense container), holy water and sacristan (priest in charge of the sacristy where the eucharistic hosts and ritual objects were kept) to rear."

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Stinking Fish

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775‑1851)
Fishmarket on the Sands - Hastings (?)
exhibited 1810
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 910 x 1206 mm
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri

James Fitton, (1899‑1982)
Frying Tonight 1954
Oil paint on board 
Support: 775 x 1041 mm
Tate Britain, London

In an island country like Britain, fish is popular

But there`s nothing worse than a fish past its sell by date

A 17th Century English proverb posed the question: "Does ever any man cry stinking fish to be sold?"

When you are walking on the beach you can come across a dead and rotten fish or marine mammal that has been washed up. Some might poke it with a stick. But nobody wants to get too close.

Everyone hopes that the tide will carry the carcass back out to sea so that nobody or anybody but you has to deal with it. Eventually the stink becomes too much and  someone has to.

Recent disclosures in Scotland have that quality of dead fish

They have undermined the confidence of Catholics not only in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom

In many ways the situation in Scotland comprises not just the difficulties caused by one man and a small coterie about him but rather a symptom of a number of greater problems

Perhaps the recent problems will be the catalyst of reform and renewal

Before he was made Cardinal, Blessed John Henry Newman gave a Sermon at the opening of St Bernard`s Seminary on 2nd October 1873 entitled "The Infidelity of the Future"

It is worth while reading in full as he seems to accurately anticipate all of the difficulties now faced by a Catholic Church once illegal and then and now free to enter into its mission in a wider society

Perhaps at the moment one paragraph stands out:
"[W]hen Catholics are a small body in a country, they cannot easily become a mark for their enemies, but our prospect in this time before us is that we shall be so large that our concerns cannot be hid, and at the same time so unprotected that we cannot but suffer.  
No large body can be free from scandals from the misconduct of its members.  
In medieval times the Church had its courts in which it investigated and set right what was wrong, and that without the world knowing much about it. Now the state of things is the very reverse.  
With a  whole population able to read, with cheap newspapers day by day conveying the news of every court, great and small to every home or even cottage, it is plain that we are at the mercy of even one unworthy member or false brother.  
It is true that the laws of libel are a great protection to us as to others. But the last few years have shown us what harm can be done us by the mere infirmities, not so much as the sins, of one or two weak minds.  
There is an immense store of curiosity directed upon us in this country, and in great measure an unkind, a malicious curiosity. If there ever was a time when one priest will be a spectacle to men and angels it is in the age now opening upon us."
He pithily set out why such scandalous conduct is a very serious issue. Further on he said:
"And hence the popular antipathy to Catholicism seems, and will seem more and more, to be based upon reason, or common sense, so that first the charge will seem to all classes of men true that the Church stifles the reason of man, and next that, since it is impossible for educated men, such as her priests, to believe what is so opposite to reason, they must be hypocrites, professing what in their hearts they reject."
Misconduct brings down on the miscreant and by extension on the Church the charge of hypocrisy.

By necessity the faith publicly advocated by the miscreant (and the Church) is undermined

Newman described the forthcoming age which he saw coming as "the Age of Infidelity":
"The elementary proposition of this new philosophy [in the Age of Infidelity] which is now so threatening is this—that in all things we must go by reason, in nothing by faith, that things are known and are to be received so far as they can be proved.  
Its advocates say, all other knowledge has proof—why should religion be an exception?  
And the mode of proof is to advance from what we know to what we do not know, from sensible and tangible facts to sound conclusions ... 
You will say that their theories have been in the world and are no new thing. No.  
Individuals have put them forth, but they have not been current and popular ideas.  
Christianity has never yet had experience of a world  simply irreligious. Perhaps China may be an exception.  
We do not know enough about it to speak, but consider what the Roman and Greek world was when Christianity appeared. It was full of superstition, not of infidelity. 
There was much unbelief in all as regards their mythology, and in every educated man, as to eternal punishment.  
But there was no casting off the idea of religion, and of unseen powers who governed the world. When they spoke of Fate, even here they considered that there was a great moral governance of the world carried on by fated laws.  
Their first principles were the same as ours. Even among the sceptics of Athens, St. Paul could appeal to the Unknown God. Even to the ignorant populace of Lystra he could speak of the living God who did them good from heaven.  
And so when the northern barbarians came down at a later age, they, amid all their superstitions, were believers in an unseen Providence and in the moral law.  
But we are now coming to a time when the world does not acknowledge our first principles.  
Of course I do not deny that, as in the revolted kingdom of Israel, there will be a remnant. .... But I speak first of the educated world, scientific, literary, political, professional, artistic—and next of the mass of town population, the two great classes on which the fortunes of England are turning: the thinking, speaking and acting England.  
My Brethren, you are coming into a world, if present appearances do not deceive, such as priests never came into before, that is, so far forth as you do go into it, so far as you go beyond your flocks, and so far as those flocks may be in great danger as under the influence of the prevailing epidemic."

What did he see as possible remedies ? The reform of the seminary to inculcate and foster  "the ecclesiastical spirit". And "a sound, accurate, complete knowledge of Catholic theology."

He said:
"1. A seminary is the only true guarantee for the creation of the ecclesiastical spirit.
And this is the primary and true weapon for meeting the age, not controversy.  
Of course every Catholic should have an intelligent appreciation of his religion, as St. Peter says, but still controversy is not the instrument by which the world is to be resisted and overcome. ... 
In this ecclesiastical spirit, I will but mention a spirit of seriousness or recollection.  
We must gain the habit of feeling that we are in God's presence, that He sees what we are doing; and a liking that He does so, a love of knowing it, a delight in the reflection, "Thou, God, seest me."  
A priest who feels this deeply will never misbehave himself in mixed society.  
It will keep him from over-familiarity with any of his people; it will keep him from too many words, from imprudent or unwise speaking; it will teach him to rule his thoughts. 
It will be a principle of detachment between him and even his own people; for he who is accustomed to lean on the Unseen God, will never be able really to attach himself to any of His creatures.  
And thus an elevation of mind will be created, which is the true weapon which he must use against the infidelity of the world. (Hence, what St. Peter says: 1, ii, 12, 15; iii, 16.) 
Now this I consider to be the true weapon by which the infidelity of the world is to be met. 
2. And next, most important in the same warfare, and  here too you will see how it is connected with a Seminary, is a sound, accurate, complete knowledge of Catholic theology.  
This, though it is not controversial, is the best weapon (after a good life) in controversy.  
Any child, well instructed in the catechism, is, without intending it, a real missioner.  
And why? Because the world is full of doubtings and uncertainty, and of inconsistent doctrine—a clear consistent idea of revealed truth, on the contrary, cannot be found outside of the Catholic Church.  
Consistency, completeness, is a persuasive argument for a system being true.  
Certainly if it be inconsistent, it is not truth."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Saint Joseph, Protector of the Holy Family, Protector of the Church

José de Ribera 1591 – 1652
San José y el Niño Jesús
Oil on canvas
126 cm x 100 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Ribera was born in Spain but in 1620 moved to Naples permanently. At that time the Kingdom of Naples was part of the Spanish Empire

At the time of this painting he adopted the technique of the Tenebrists, the followers of Caravaggio

St Joseph was a figure deeply revered by the Franciscan order. After the Council of Trent, his devotion was encouraged.

His cult was very strong in Spain and from there extended all over the Spanish Empire which at that time included the Spanish Americas

Many are the writings about St Joseph in Spanish as well as Spanish paintings

Among his devotees include the Venerable Bede, St Bernard of Clairvaux, St Thomas Aquinas, St Buonaventure, John Duns Scotus, and St Teresa of Avila

In this work we see the middle aged and vigorous Joseph with his young charge, a young Jesus. Both poor and engaged in manual labour. Both are in Joseph`s workshop. Joseph is Jesus` protector and by extension the protector of the Church

The young Christ is holding St Joseph`s implements. It will be these implements which will be used to torture Him in his Passion and in making his Cross on which He will be crucified

In 2001 at the Synod of Bishops which discussed the Ministry of Bishops, Pope Francis (then Archbishop Bergoglio) made a solitary intervention in one of the debates. It was on the theme of Bishop as protector, watchman whose model is Saint Joseph. 

In the rather clumsy translation into English below (provided by the Vatican), Pope Francis attempts to distinguish between a Bishop "keeping watch" as distinct from "overseeing", "watching over". One would like a better translation from the Spanish, the language in which he gave his speech

The Pope`s inauguration as Pope is tomorrow, the Feast of St Joseph, a saint whom he praised and said "manifests and consolidates the parresia of the bishop". It is therefore an appropriate day for his inauguration

"The bishop is he who keeps watch; he cares for hope keeping watch for his people.  
A spiritual attitude is that which places the emphasis overseeing the flock with a "look of togetherness"; it is the bishop who cares for everything which maintains the cohesion of the flock. 
Another spiritual attitude places the emphasis on watching over, paying attention to danger. 
Both the attitudes have to do with the essence of the episcopal mission and they acquire all of their strength of this attitude that is considered the most essential, and that consists of keeping watch. 
One of the strongest images of this attitude is that of the Exodus, in which it is said that Yahweh will keep watch over his people during Easter night, therefore called "the eve".  
What I would like to underline is the peculiar profoundness that the act of keeping watch has, in respect to overseeing in a more general way or a more punctual watch. 
To oversee refers more to the care of the doctrine and of the customs, while to keep watch alludes rather to the caring that there is sun and light in our hearts. 
To watch over speaks of being on the lookout for the advance of imminent danger, while keeping watch speaks of holding up with patience the processes through which the Lord carries ahead the salvation of his people. 
To watch over is sufficient to be awake, astute, quick. 
To keep watch one needs to be more meek, more patient, and more constant in giving charity. 
To oversee and to watch over they speak of a certain necessary control. 
On the other hand, to keep watch one speaks of hope, the hope of the merciful Father who keeps watch over the process of the hearts of his children. 
To keep watch manifests and consolidates the parresia of the bishop, who displays the Hope "without altering the Cross of Christ". 
Together with the image of Yahweh who keeps watch over the great exodus of the people of the alliance, there is another image, more familiar but equally strong: that of Saint Joseph. 
It is he who keeps watch until he falls asleep dreaming over Baby Jesus and Mother. 
From this the deep keeping watch of Joseph gives birth to that silent look that signifies he is able to care for his little flock with poor means; and thus ‘sprouts’ also the vigilant and astute look which succeeded in avoiding all the dangers which threatened the Baby Jesus."

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Hippolyte Lazerges (1817-1887)
Sa Majesté l'empereur distribuant des secours aux inondés de Lyon. (2 juin 1856)
Oil on canvas
301 x 205 cm
Musée national du Château de Compiègne (Compiègne)

In the nineteenth century, France was beset by many natural disasters especially flooding

The great rivers of the country, the Seine, the Loire and the Rhône frequently burst their banks leaving the surrounding countryside, towns and cities in devastation

In June 1856, there were great floods in the Loire and the Rhône areas

The result again was Death, injury, and huge devastation and dislocation

The Emperor Napoléon III had to take charge and more importantly be seen to take charge

As a result of previous flooding, the mood among the populace was dire. An insurrection had to be  crushed

Political necessity required strong measures. The emperor ensured a large sum was voted to ensure relief for the poor and the destitute. 

The work records one such visit to the scene of part of one disaster area. The destruction and destitution are evident. 

The work is political propaganda. There is a religious feel to the composition. The aim of Napoleon`s policy was to calm the resentment of the population by amongst other things showing the emperor as energetic, generous and humane in the relief of poverty and suffering

He was of course no Saint Francis of Assisi

Father Ray Blake in his article "Poverty: What is it ?"  makes a number of important points about the new pontificate of Pope Francis . He writes:
""Don't forget the poor!" And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi." 
This is how the Pope described the choice of his name, he has spoken of "a poorer Church for the poor" but, maybe I am a bit stupid, I am not sure what "poor" means"

The present Pope has of course been studying and practising poverty for years

His words are not to be disregarded lightly

The emphasis on voluntary poverty by St Francis was as the first step toward spiritual regeneration 

However in  St Francis`s day (and before and since), poverty was often seen as a sign of moral degradation

The eventual rule of St Francis contained in the Bull "Solet annuere," began:
"The rule and life of the Minor Brothers is this, namely, to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without property and in chastity." 
St. Francis also promised obedience to Pope Honorius and his successors, the other brothers were to obey Brother Francis and his successors 

In 2001 Pope Francis attended as deputy relator at the Synod of Bishops in Rome. The theme of the Synod was Episcopus minister Evangelii Iesu Christi propter spem mundi (The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Hope of the World)

Its proceedings were interrupted by September 11 and its aftermath. It therefore did not receive as much publicity as it should

One major topic of debate was the role of poverty in the spirit and practice of Bishops

One can trace the development of some of the debate at the Vatican website

"Attention to New Social Problems and the New Forms of Poverty
139.A special moment in proclaiming hope is concern for the poor in our society, where no one ought to forget that the person–as recalled by the Second Vatican Council–is the source, center and purpose of economic and social life. 
Part of the Church’s concern is that development might not be understood exclusively in an economic sense but rather in one which considers every aspect of the human person. 
Christian hope is directed towards the heavenly Kingdom and eternal life. However, this eschatological goal does not lessen the commitment to the advancement of the earthly city. On the contrary, it gives it meaning and incentive. 
Indeed “buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and lead to the happiness that flows from charity.” Earthly progress and the growth of the Kingdom are not separate entities, because the vocation of humanity to eternal life, instead of relieving the person from expending his God-given energies for the development of his life in this world, makes it all the more imperative. 
140.It is not the specific task of the Church to offer solutions to economic and social questions. However, her teachings contain general principles which are indispensable for the construction of a just social and economic order. Even in this matter, the Church must proclaim the Gospel. Each Bishop in his particular Church has to become the Herald of the Gospel, indicating that the core of its message can be found in the Beatitudes. 
Finally, since the commandment of love of neighbour has concrete implications, the Bishop needs to promote appropriate initiatives in his diocese and to exhort the people to overcome possible attitudes of apathy, passivity and egoism, whether in individuals or entire groups. 
Equally important for the Bishop is to awaken through his preaching the Christian conscience of every citizen, exhorting each one to work in an active solidarity and with the means available to defend all persons from whatever abuses might assail their human dignity. 
In this regard, he has continually to remind the faithful that Christ is present in every poor and needy person (cf. Mt 25:31-46). The image of the Lord as the one who is to come as Judge at the end of time is the promise of definitive justice for the living and the dead and for all people of all times and places"

As Assistant General Relator Pope Francis (then Archbishop of Buenos Aires) read out the Bishops` Report on the discussions. It would seem he who had a large part to play in drafting the Report. 

The section on Poverty was largely re-drafted:
"Poor for the Kingdom 
12. One of the characteristics most mentioned by the Synodal Fathers in relationship with the holiness of the Bishop is his poverty. Man of poor heart, is the image of the poor Christ, imitating the poor Christ, being poor with a profound vision. His simplicity and austerity of life confer total freedom in God.  
The Holy Father invited us to examine "our attitude towards earthly goods and about the use of them... to verify to what point in the Church the personal and community conversion has achieved effective evangelical poverty... to be poor at the service of the Gospel"  
With these last expressions, John Paul II reminds us that this means following the evangelical radicalism for whom blessed is who becomes poor for the Kingdom, following the sequela of Jesus-Poor, to live in communion with brothers according to the model of the apostolic vivendi forma, witnessed in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles."

Thereafter one of the main topics of discussion on the Report for the Working Groups of Bishops was:
"9. What concrete choices should be made for the Bishop, before his Particular Church and within it, to witness authentic poverty? How may he realize the authentic image of a poor Bishop free of any ties for the Kingdom? A difficulty which must be overcome for this finality and which impede the practice of the evangelical Beatitude of poverty. How may he be the defender of the widow, of the orphan and of the foreigner in today’s meaning of these terms?"

After discussion, a Message was framed  and this Message of the Bishops from the Synod had this to say about poverty:
"Struggling against poverty in poverty of spirit 
15. Just as we must struggle to free those oppressed by a poverty which is destructive, so there can be a kind of poverty which frees our energies for love and service. This is the gospel poverty which we want to practise. 
We should be poor before the Father, like Jesus in his prayer, his teaching and his deeds. We should be poor with Mary, remembering God’s mighty works. We should be poor in the face of our brothers and sisters, marked by a style of life which draws people to Jesus the Lord. 
The bishop is the father and the brother of the poor. 
When it is necessary, he should not hesitate to raise his voice for those who have no voice, so that their rights will be recognised and respected. In particular, he "must do everything he can so that in every Christian community, the poor feel ‘at home’" (Novo millennio ineunte, 50). 
It is only then, as we face the world filled with missionary dynamism, that we can speak credibly of the joy of the humble and pure of heart, the power of forgiveness and the hope that those who hunger and thirst for justice will finally be satisfied by God."

In 2003, Blessed Pope John Paul II published his response to the Synod`s conclusions in his Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis

He devoted a large section to the spirit and practice of poverty in Bishops:

"20. The Synod Fathers, as a sign of collegial unity, responded to the appeal which I made at the opening Mass of the Synod that the evangelical Beatitude of poverty should be considered an indispensable condition for a fruitful episcopal ministry in present-day circumstances. 
Here too, amid the assembly of Bishops there stood out the figure of Christ the Lord, ''who carried out the work of redemption in poverty and under oppression'', and who invites the Church, and above all her pastors, ''to follow the same path in communicating to humanity the fruits of salvation''. 
Consequently, the Bishop who wishes to be an authentic witness and minister of the Gospel of hope must be a vir pauper. This is demanded by the witness he is called to bear to Christ, who was himself poor. 
It is also demanded by the Church's concern for the poor, who must be the object of a preferential option. The Bishop's decision to carry out his ministry in poverty contributes decisively to making the Church the ''home of the poor''. 
This decision also provides the Bishop with inner freedom in the exercise of his ministry and enables him to communicate effectively the fruits of salvation. 
Episcopal authority must be exercised with untiring generosity and inexhaustible liberality. On the Bishop's part, this calls for complete trust in the providence of the heavenly Father, an open-hearted communion of goods, an austere way of life and continuous personal conversion. 
Only in this way will he be able to share in the struggles and sufferings of the People of God, whom he is called not only to lead and nourish but with whom he must show fraternal solidarity, sharing their problems and helping to build their hope. 
He will carry out this service effectively if his own life is simple, sober and at the same time active and generous, and if it places those considered least important in our society not on the fringes but rather at the centre of the Christian community. 
Almost without realizing it, he will foster a ''creativity in charity'' which will bear fruit not simply in the efficiency of the assistance offered but also in an ability to live in a spirit of fraternal sharing. 
In the Church of the Apostles, as the Book of Acts clearly witnesses, the poverty of some members of the community called forth the solidarity of others, with the amazing result that ''there was not a needy person among them'' (4:34). 
The Church needs to bear witness to this prophecy before a world assailed by the problems of hunger and inequality between peoples. 
In this perspective of sharing and of simplicity of life, the Bishop will administer the goods of the Church like the ''good head of a household'', and be careful to ensure that they are used for the Church's own specific ends: the worship of God, the support of her ministers, the works of the apostolate and initiatives of charity towards the poor. 
The title procurator pauperum has always been applied to the Church's pastors. 
This must also be the case today, so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can become present and be heard as a source of hope for all, but especially for those who can expect from God alone a more dignified life and a better future. 
Encouraged by the example of their pastors, the Church and the Churches must practise that ''preferential option for the poor'' which I have indicated as programmatic for the third millennium"

It would therefore seem that the model of the Bishop which Pope Francis is extolling is  the poor Shepherd and not that of a Napoleon. A position totally in line with Blessed Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI

In any event the Emperor did not hang onto his throne for that long. He was forced to abdicate in 1870 after Germany totally defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mary, the Woman of the Eucharist. The Magnificat, the Prayer of the Eucharist

Sandro Botticelli  1445 –  1510
La Madonna del Magnificat (Madonna con il Bambino e cinque angeli)
c 1483
Tempera on wood
118×118 cm  (Diameter)
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

It has been said that in this work Botticelli successfully combined Classical naturalism with Christian spirituality

The title of the painting derives from the word "Magnificat" which is written in the book held by the two angels. Mary is completing the last words of the prayer as her son guides her hand. The prayer (Luke 1.46-55) is on the right hand page

The song is of joy and exultation in the Lord,  the lowly being singled out for God’s favour, the reversal of human fortunes, and  the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. 

On the left hand page is the song of Zacharias, the Benedictus (Luke 1.68-79). 

That is the song of praise of Zacharias on the birth of his son, St John the Baptist. St John was and is of course the patron saint of Florence. The patron of the painting (unknown) was a Florentine and a very rich and successful one. 

In his other hand, Christ holds a red pomegranate. He is offering it to his mother Mary. The fruit, broken or bursting open, is a symbol of the fullness of Jesus' suffering and his glorious resurrection.

The Virgin Mary is crowned by two angels. Her crown is studded with multitudes of Stars of the Sea. 

The setting is this world. But Mary is shown crowned as Queen of Heaven

The attribution is disputed. Vasari described such a work by Botticelli. However the work he described had eight angels not five

It is not only the frame which is gold like. Real gold is used in the painting. The crown, the hair of Mary and the angels, the robes all have gold added

It is a tondo with a beautiful engraved frame with many symbols. The tondo is meant to be a convex mirror

We are reminded of 1 Corinthians 13 and in particular verse 12:
"At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known"
The work is a statement of Faith in the face of Mystery

The relation between Mary and the Eucharist is a subject of long standing teaching. Chapter 6 of Blessed John Paul II`s Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia is devoted to the subject. 

In 2005, there was a Synod of Bishops which followed on the Encyclical. The Synod`s theme  was Eucharistia: fons et culmen vitae et missionis Ecclesiae (The Eucharist: source and summit of the life and mission of the Church)

Rather strangely despite the Encyclical, the Lineamenta of the Synod had very little if not nothing on the connection between Mary and the Eucharist

The questions for discussion by the Synod omitted any mention of Mary

This was despite three  paragraphs of Pope John Paul II`s Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine convening the Synod and inaugurating The Year of the Eucharist (paragraphs 8 = 10 inclusive) which emphasised the importance of the role of Mary in the consideration of the Synod`s deliberations on the Eucharist

In particular he said:
"10. In the midst of the Year of the Rosary, I issued the Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, with the intention of shedding light on the mystery of the Eucharist in its inseparable and vital relation to the Church. I urged all the faithful to celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice with due reverence, offering to Jesus present in the Eucharist, both within and outside Mass, the worship demanded by so great a Mystery. Above all, I suggested once again the need for a Eucharistic spirituality and pointed to Mary, “woman of the Eucharist” as its model"

However the then Primate of Argentina, Cardinal Borgoglio now Pope Francis made an important intervention at the Synod

He spoke on two sentences of Pope John Paul II`s Encyclical: 
"If the Church and the Eucharist are inseparably united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist." (para 57) 
"The Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat!" (para 58)

His intervention was short and to the point

He said:
"Una frase del Instrumentum Laboris (nº 2) dice que “es necesario verificar si la ley de la oración corresponde a la ley de la fe, es decir, preguntarse en qué cree y cómo vive el Pueblo de Dios para que la Eucaristía pueda ser cada vez más la fuente y la cumbre de la vida y de la misión de la Iglesia”: una intuición muy rica que va a buscar a Cristo en sus beneficiarios y testigos más pequeños en el santo pueblo fiel de Dios, ese pueblo que -en su totalidad- es “infallibile in credendo”.

1) Nuestro pueblo fiel cree en la Eucaristía como pueblo sacerdotal (cfr. Christi fideles laici, 1, 14). Es una participación cualitativamente constante (cfr. Id. 1, 17).

2) Nuestro pueblo fiel cree en la Eucaristía como pueblo eucarístico en María. Vincula el cariño a la Eucaristía y el cariño a la Virgen nuestra Madre y Señora (cfr. Redemptoris Mater, III, 44). En la escuela de María, mujer eucarística, podemos releer contemplativamente los pasajes en que Juan Pablo II ve a nuestra Señora como mujer eucarística y mirarla no sola sino “en compañía” (Hech. 1;14) del pueblo de Dios. Seguimos aquí aquella regla de la tradición según la cual, con distintos matices “lo que se dice de María se dice del alma de cada cristiano y de la Iglesia entera” (cfr. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 57).

Nuestro pueblo fiel tiene la verdadera “actitud eucarística” de la acción de gracias y la alabanza. Recordando a María nuestro pueblo fiel agradece el ser recordado por ella y es este memorial de amor verdaderamente eucarístico. Al respecto repito lo que Juan Pablo II afirmaba en el nº 58 de Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “La Eucaristía se nos ha dado para que nuestra vida sea, como la de María, toda ella un magnificat”."

Like Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI also tried to redress the balance in favour of Mary in his Post Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007)  by a large discussion on the role of Mary. Amongst a number of important points he wrote
"[E]very time we approach the Body and Blood of Christ in the eucharistic liturgy, we also turn to her who, by her complete fidelity, received Christ's sacrifice for the whole Church. The Synod Fathers rightly declared that "Mary inaugurates the Church's participation in the sacrifice of the Redeemer."  She is the Immaculata, who receives God's gift unconditionally and is thus associated with his work of salvation. Mary of Nazareth, icon of the nascent Church, is the model for each of us, called to receive the gift that Jesus makes of himself in the Eucharist"