I just finished up my tour of religious art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I focused on images that have to do with mercy. Five were paintings of Christ, the Face of Mercy, and seven were images of people who had experienced the mercy of Christ in a special way: St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, and the Samaritan Woman.
At the end of the tour, I encouraged the attendees to take some time to be alone with Christ this Holy Week and to use these images to facilitate contemplation of his love and mercy. Below you can find the images that I used. They can also be found at Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.
These are high resolution images that should show up well on a computer, tablet, or smartphone when you click on them. I hope that you find them to be a good aid for your prayer. Have a blessed Holy Week!
Although last Sunday was the 2nd Sunday of Lent, still a long way off from Holy Week, I had two experiences of Easter joy, one at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan and the other at the Showcase Cinema in Yonkers.
Family Time in the Cathedral
The experience at the Cathedral was the Rite of Calling for the candidates preparing to be received into the Catholic Church this Easter. Several hundred candidates from all over New York City went to be presented to the Cardinal and to be ceremonially called by him to deepen in their conversion in these last weeks before their acceptance into the Church.
We were all expecting a simple ritual in which the candidates would stand in their spots when their parishes were announced, but they ended up doing something different this year: every single candidate and his sponsor were actually invited up into the sanctuary to be with Cardinal Dolan. Since there were several hundred candidates, it took well over twenty minutes for everyone to get into the sanctuary, but no one seemed to care. Everyone seemed to be thrilled to have the opportunity to be close to Cardinal, and the gesture of allowing the candidates into the sanctuary was a nice symbolic anticipation of their upcoming entrance into the family of the Church.
The Cardinal characteristically enjoyed the opportunity to be close to his flock. At one point, he took a little infant named Elizabeth into his arms and held her for a few minutes explaining to her what was going on, “See all of these people, Elizabeth? They’re coming into the Church!” Later on, he let two boys hold his crosier and then he had them wait until the end of the ceremony to process out with him. He shook hands and patted folks on the back – you could tell that he was enjoying himself and that the people were equally thrilled to be with him.
The whole experience was familial and joyful, and the candidates were very excited and energized. They left realizing that they are coming into a big Christian family this Easter, one that goes beyond the boundaries of their parishes. Cardinal Dolan, the spiritual father and shepherd of this Catholic family of New York City, had welcomed them with warm words and beaming happiness that communicated to them the joy of Christ and his Church.
For me too, it was encouraging to see so many people so excited about entering into the Church. I think sometimes I take for granted how beautiful it is to be a Christian, but seeing those candidates so enthusiastic about their new faith renewed my own appreciation for it.
Later that evening, I joined other New York seminarians to watch Risen at a local theater. There too, as I watched the artistic re-telling of the Resurrection, I felt anew the joy of being Christian. The movie follows the fictional story of a Roman tribune named Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) who is charged with the task of finding the body of Jesus. The most powerful parts of the film were the moments in which we were given imaginative glimpses of the Easter joy the apostles. Easter is something that we can take for granted, and we often forget how intensely emotional and exciting it must have been for them to see the risen Christ. The movie does a good job at helping us imagine what it must have been like.
Risen draws the viewer into the Easter experience through the character of Clavius who goes through his own spiritual journey as he reconciles the fact that the very man he helped kill on the Cross is somehow still alive. Make sure you see it sometime before Easter, and let yourself be drawn into the story. Good works of art allow the viewer to vicariously experience a reality otherwise imposible to have. Risen will allow you experience the shock, joy, amazement, and love that the Twelve must have experienced when they saw the Risen One.
I returned to the rectory on Sunday night filled with new energy and eagerness to continue my preparation for priestly ministry. Both the experiences at the Cathedral and the cinema refreshed in me the joy of being Christian. God used both events to remind me of that amazing Easter mystery that happened 2,000 years ago but even today continues to inspire great personal conversions and artistic retellings, as it will continue to do until He comes again.
During my time in the guesthouse of Westminster Abbey in Mission, British Columbia, I was invited by the abbot to join the monks for their daily hour of conversation. After vespers, I was escorted to their common room, and on the way I caught sight of a magnificent fresco on the other side of the cloister. I was so taken by it, I decided that one way or another, I would get a second look.
As soon as I could the following day, I went back to the fresco to study it more closely. It was truly a beautiful work. The style was was surrealist and clearly influenced by Salvador Dalí, but it was nevertheless a very original work charged with rich symbolism and profound meaning.
It is an iconic portrayal of St. Benedict, the founder of Western Monasticism. He stands as a patriarchal figure, with arms outstretched in a gesture of praise that brings our eyes heavenward, just as his entire life, dedicated to divine contemplation and worship, was a continual invitation to his fellow man to raise their hearts and minds to God.
Directly below him is a younger version of himself struggling with temptation depicted as a serpent-headed vine of thorns. He arises from the spiritual battle as a new man, freed from the slavery of evil and touching the Eucharistic host from which he drew his strength.
The barren landscape behind St. Benedict evokes the desert where hermits have gone for centuries to flee the world and seek closer communion with God. In the wilderness, living with the daily possibility of death, the solitary man of God disciplined himself to always seek the things above.
St. Benedict embraced this austere lifestyle when he was but a boy, leaving the chaos of Rome to live in a cave in the Apennine Mountains. He chose a place that has come to be known as Subiaco, and the beginning of his hermetic life is symbolized on the right side of the painting where we see a cliff labeled “Sub Lacum” (the Latin from which “Subiaco” is derived). A spring of water flows down its side in remembrance of the one that sprang forth miraculously after he spent a night in vigil.
On the left side of the fresco, we see Monte Cassino, where St. Benedict founded his most important monastery. In the Roman ruins of Casinum, St. Benedict began a monastic movement that would help preserve the best of Western culture through the dark centuries that followed the fall of the Empire.
The entire fresco, which was done around the fifteenth centenary of St. Benedict’s birth, is a memorial to the huge impact that he had on the shaping of European culture. Fr. Dustan Massey, the creator of the fresco, sums up the unexpected scope of the Benedictine influence:
Alone in his cave, the young Benedict knew nothing of what he would become – “The Father of Europe”; nothing of those thousands of monasteries springing up in the dark and middle ages. When, some forty years later, he prescribed the reading of books, he could scarcely imagine the numberless scribes copying God’s word, and the wisdom of the ancient world, nor the schools that would arise, or the universities that would grow out of them. Nor is it likely he could have foreseen the succession of choirs in the great Cluniac houses, chanting both day and night the divine praises, to which, in the Rule, he allows nothing to be preferred. As a boy hermit, he knew nothing of the missionary monks sent into alien cultures at the risk of martyrdom, nor of those wayside houses that became hospitable places of refuge for the sick, the poor, and the pilgrims, nor of Abbots in distant lands who became Bishops, builders of cathedrals and counselors of Kings.
This epic fresco invites us to contemplate the incredible impact that one individual can have on future generations. When one sincerely seeks God above all else, the range of his influence can exceed the wildest expectations.
To learn more about Fr. Dustan Massey and his art, click here.