Category Archives: art

Morning Thoughts: Saint Francis for 4-year-olds (and you and me)

 

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“Saint Francis of Assisi”, coloring book page, colored by a “4-year-old”

 

(My wife teaches 4-year-olds in a Catholic elementary school. The school’s patron saint is Saint Francis. They call this week “Saint Francis Week” and hold various events throughout the week to celebrate the feast of this great saint (Oct. 4th). My wife and her co-teacher were looking for a short, simple biography that would be appropriate for their 4-year-old students. They didn’t find anything that seemed to be the right fit. So here’s what I jotted down for their pre-K-4 class. The kids really seemed to enjoy it. Maybe you will too. Let us “become like little children”.)


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Saint Francis, a Knight for God

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There once was a young man. He lived in a land called Italy. He lived a very long time ago. He lived over 800 hundred years ago!

He lived with his family in a small city named Assisi.

The young man was quite silly. He loved to dream and he loved to sing and he loved to dance. He loved to play with his friends all day long.

The young man’s name was Francis.

His father wanted Francis to be more serious. His father wanted Francis to be just like him. He wanted him to sell expensive fabric to people who were very rich. Fabric is what you use to make pretty things like curtains, tablecloths, and clothes.

Francis’ father wanted him to work in the family shop. But Francis was not very interested in that kind of work. Francis wanted to be a great knight!

And one day Francis went off to do just that.

Francis went off to become a knight. He began to travel to another city where he would fight with a sword and a shield. Francis thought that he would become a great hero.

But on his way Francis got very sick. He had to return to his home. His mother took care of him. And while Francis was getting better he began to dream of different adventures.

He began to spend a lot of time walking around the woods and looking at the flowers and at the trees. He began to watch closely all the animals, especially the birds that flew high up into the sky. Francis began to think a lot about God!

Francis began to dream about heaven. He began to wonder about love. He saw that there was another kind of knight!

Francis decided that he would be a knight for God.

Francis wanted Jesus to be his king and for Mary to be his queen.

Francis no longer wanted to use a sword or a shield. No, Francis wanted to teach all the world how to love. Francis wanted to sing and dance and show everyone how be more like Jesus.

He began to live very simply. He had very few things. His only clothing was an old brown robe. He lived almost like a little animal in the forest. Francis was very free. Francis was filled with joy. He was very happy.

And soon many other young men came to join him. They too wanted to be knights for God. They all lived together. They called each other brother. They shared all they had. They were kind to each other. They loved God together.

And one day, even a young lady wanted to join. She brought other ladies and they started a home of their own. They called each other sister. That young lady’s name was Clare.

A new type of family was beginning to grow. A family who lives very much like Jesus. We call them Franciscans.

We now call that young man, Saint Francis. We now call that young lady, Saint Clare.

Saint Francis and Saint Clare are now in heaven with Jesus and Mary and all the holy angels and saints. They live in perfect peace with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. They see us right now. They pray for us too.

Hey, who knows, maybe one day a few of you boys and girls may become knights and ladies of God, like our patron saints, Saint Francis and Saint Clare!


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—Howard Hain

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Guardian Angels

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We usually associate Guardian Angels with children. That’s what Jesus does in the gospel reading for their feast on October 2nd. You can’t get into heaven unless you become like little children whose “angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 18,1-5,10)

That’s the way artists, like the above, usually picture Guardian Angels– with children, protecting and guiding them as they go on their way in a dangerous world.

Yet, St. Bernard says that angels are with us all our lives because, whether we know it or not, we’re always children. “They are our guardians and trustees appointed and set over us by the Father. We are God’s children although it does not seem so, because we are still but small children under guardians and trustees, and for the present little better than slaves.”

However smart or independent or grown-up we are, we’re still little kids, and God, who knows we are always little kids gives us “loyal, prudent, powerful” protectors and guides. “They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray.”

I was thinking of the “principle of subsidiarity” on the feastday of the Guardian Angels. God spreads  power around. I was also thinking that sometime ago I nearly hit a truck ahead of me but something suddenly stopped me. “Thanks.”

O God, in your infinite providence you deign to send your holy angels to be our guardians. Grant to us who pray to you

that we may be defended by them in this life

and rejoice with them in the next.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.

The Season of Creation, September 1st -October 5th

The Season of Creation spans five weeks between the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, September 1st, and the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4th

This “time for creation” offers, in the words of Pope Francis, “individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”

“As Christians we wish to contribute to resolving the ecological crisis which humanity is presently experiencing. In doing so, we must first rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation. We need always to keep in mind that, for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for our sake, “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us” (Laudato Si’, 216). The ecological crisis thus summons us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (ibid., 217). For “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (ibid.)
Pope Francis, August 6, 2015

“The heavens declare your glory, O Lord, and the stars of the sky bring light to our darkness.
You spoke, and the earth burst forth in life, you saw that it was good.
You called forth creation, and enlivened every creature on land and sea.
You made human beings in your image, and set us over the whole world in all of its wonders.
You gave us share in your dominion, and called us “to till and to keep” this garden, the work of your hands.
This day we praise you for your manifold gifts.
May our daily care for your creation show reverence for your name,
and reveal your saving power in every creature under heaven.
We make this prayer in the name of Christ your son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.

Saint Lawrence, the Deacon

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Church of St. Lawrence, 17th century map

Today’s the Feast of St. Lawrence, the deacon. In the 4th century the Emperor Constantine built a splendid church honoring him on the Via Tiburtina, near one of the major gateways to the city. Why did he build the church? To honor a martyr who died for his faith? The emperor saw plenty of people dying bravely for one cause or another. It had to be something more.

Lawrence was a deacon of the Roman church in the middle of the 3rd century, when Rome began to experience wars and political instability. Gothic tribes were breaching the Roman lines along the Rhine River and the Persians were invading in the east.

The only thing to do was expand the army, and that’s what the Emperor Valerian did. It was time to build walls and expand armies. That cost money, of course, and in Rome the burden fell heavily on the poor. Famine and plague only worsened their situation.

That’s when the Christian church stepped in to help. Christians were still relatively few in numbers then, not wealthy, but they gave generously to the poor, and the Roman people admired what they saw.

Lawrence, the deacon, was behind this extraordinary Christian effort. After all, Jesus said: “I was hunger, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, you gave me to drink; I was sick and you visited me.”

Rome’s leaders became upset by the church’s growing popularity. They also wondered if the church’s money couldn’t be channeled towards their war effort. And so, in 257 an edict was published to imprison church leaders and confiscate church money. A second edict in 258 caused blood to flow. Pope Xystus II and four deacons were seized in the catacombs of St. Callistus and executed on August 6th. Lawrence, the deacon, was seized and executed on August 10th. That’s why his feast day is today.

Popular stories later offered a colorful account of Lawrence’s martyrdom shaping his story and the way artists pictured him :

The Roman prefect, anxious for the church’s money, promised Lawrence freedom if he would transfer it over to him. Lawrence asked for three days to get the church’s treasures together for delivery to the prefect’s house. Then, going through the city he gathered all the poor and unfortunate supported by the church and brought them to the prefect’s door. “Here are the church’s treasures,” he told the official, “ – the blind, the lame, the orphans and the old.”

The prefect ordered Lawrence burned alive on a gridiron. Those witnessing his execution said the saint went to his death cheerfully, even joking with his executioners. “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.”

After these events the Roman church gained a flood of converts. Respect for Christianity grew, not just because of its brave martyrs, but because of its outreach to the poor.

I think that’s the reason Constantine built a church honoring Lawrence, not just because he died for his faith, but because of his care of the poor. Besides the church’s political support, the emperor appreciated what it could do for the empire he ruled. It would take care of the poor.

Wherever you go in Rome, you are going to find Lawrence. There are other churches honoring him; he’s often pictured with Peter and Paul, the founders of the Roman church; Michelangelo has him among the blessed at the last judgment in the Sistine Chapel. Lawrence represents something important in the church.

A large fresco of the saint stands at the entrance to the Vatican Museum’s Chapel of Nicholas V with its priceless works of art. Lawrence seems blind to the riches all around him as he boldly proclaims the message inscribed beneath his feet: The Poor are the Treasures of the Church.

They should always be the treasures of the church.

St. Bridget of Sweden ( 1303-1373)

St. Bridget of Sweden, whose feast is July 23rd, was a 14th century mystic who strongly influenced Christian art and spirituality, She challenged the powerful of her day, first the court of Sweden and later the papal court in Rome.

Born into an influential Swedish family with ties to the royal court. Bridget married Ulf Gudmarrson when she was 14. They had 8 children, one of whom is also honored as a saint, Catherine of Sweden

As a child of 10 Bridget was attracted to the mystery of the Passion of Jesus and that mystery inspired her prayer and spirituality ever afterwards. She protested the wanton living and uncaring policies of the Swedish royalty towards the poor. After her husband’s death in 1334 Bridget founded a religious community, continuing to speak out fearlessly against the lifestyle and privileges of the powerful.

In 1350 Bridget went to Rome to gain approval for her Order of the Most Holy Savior, the Brigittines. There she urged the Pope, then in Avignon in France, fleeing the turmoil in the papal states, to return to Rome. The pope was a shepherd, she said, who should be with his sheep, especially in times of turmoil.

Bridget’s prayers and revelations, widely circulated in her time, were reminders of what Jesus said and did, especially the example he gave in his Passion.

She inspired artists in their portrayals of the mysteries of Christ. An example is her vision of Mary and Joseph adoring the Child lying on the ground; by his Incarnation he made this world his home. Previously, Mary was portrayed at the crib, lying down after giving birth. Now she joins Joseph and the shepherds (humanity) adoring the Word made flesh.

Jesus birth
Adoration of the Child, Giorgione, 1507, National Gallery, Washington

Bridget also inspired the devotion and portrayal of Mary holding the body of Jesus after his crucifixion, the Pieta. As he holds him, she recalls holding him at his birth in Bethlehem, Bridget says in her reflections.

Rhine Valley, 14th century

In 1371, Bridget and some of her family went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land; her vivid accounts from there further stimulated the religious imagination of her contemporaries. On July 23, 1373 she died in Rome. Bridget Is the patroness of Sweden and of Europe.

The church always needs strong women like Bridget, firm in faith and unafraid to speak out. Society too needs women like her in politics and business to steer its course into the future.

Prayer of St. Bridget

Jesus, true and fruitful Vine! Remember the abundant outpouring of blood shed from your sacred body as juice from grapes in a wine press.    From your side, pierced with a lance by a soldier, blood and water poured out until there was not left in your body a single drop.

Through your bitter Passion and your precious blood poured out, receive my soul when I come to die. Amen.

O good Jesus! Pierce my heart so that my tears of penance and love will be my bread day and night; may I be converted entirely to you, may my heart be your home, may my conversation please you, may I merit heaven at the end of my life and be with you and your saints, to praise you forever. Amen

What Does the Risen Christ Look LIke?

Many of us  learned our faith from catechisms and sermons and pictures on the windows and walls of our churches. Xavier Leon-Dufour begins his classic work (Resurrection and the Message of Easter, New York, 1971) remembering trying to reconcile images he saw on the church windows of his youth with the gospel accounts he studied later. In art Jesus often appears as a revived corpse, his body and clothing brighter than before..

The church window above, based on Matthew’s Gospel, changes the way the gospel tells the resurrection story. Similar images appear often, especially in the Easter season.  Jesus risen from the dead appears like Lazarus raised from the tomb. But resurrection is different from resuscitation.

“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men.” Mt 28,1-5

According to Matthew, an angel descends from heaven, rolls back the stone and strikes fear in the guards at the tomb. Our stained glass window depicts Jesus Christ stepping from the tomb striking fear into the guards. The angel becomes an onlooker wearing green, the color of hope. Jesus looks rather like he did before he died and he would be recognized immediately.

The gospels, however, indicate he was changed. Mary Magdalene and the others have difficulty recognizing him– he’s changed. The disciples on the way to Emmaus recognize him after he quotes the scriptures and, finally,  breaks bread with them. The disciples at the lakeshore in Galilee are not sure who is he, until they eat with him.

The Risen Lord has entered another realm of existence. He is risen.  He remains with us mysteriously.  He does not blind us with  light, as he did Paul the Apostle. He does not appear in bodily form, as he was before his death. He  comes to us risen, risen indeed. Now, we meet him in the scriptures and the “breaking of the bread.” Also, just as mysteriously, we see him in the least. “When did we see you?”  is the question raised at judgment.

Early Christian art as seen in the 4th century portrayal from catacombs below, recognizing the mystery of the Resurrection, used symbolism to represent the Risen Christ. Jesus entered a new existence in his resurrection. It’s hard for artists and for us to depict that existence.

I mentioned Xavier Leon-Dufour earlier. Here’s what he said about the Risen Jesus:

“To speak of the resurrection of Jesus is to affirm that death has been conquered in one man at least: and to say that he lives forever is boldly to locate oneself at the end of time. It is a challenge for the unbeliever to revise his idea of life: for if one man is alive forever after his death, why not should the same be so for all men at the end of time? Why should there not be after death an existence called heaven?”  In that existence “life is changed, not ended.”

Resurrection