Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Posture of the New Evangelization

This month's Sacred Art meditation is a real gem from the Swiss painter Eugene Burnand (1850 - 1951). He began his studies in his native Switzerland then moved to Paris, where he became best known for his landscapes. Influenced by the realism so vibrant in that period, he also had a gift for capturing human emotion. It's evident in his famous work, “The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulcher on the Morning of the Resurrection.” Let's do a little "Video Divina" on this image (which is the visual equivalent of Lectio Divina. Divine "Seeing." Gaze. Look. Enter in. Feel the "sacramental" presence of God (in a certain sense) through the canvas and the paint).

We see John with a face still fresh and young, but weathered by the events of the past three days. Anxious concern etches his brow, and his hands are clenched with a tremulous expectation. Peter, more rugged, bears a fisherman's face. It is sea-swept and soaked by his own salty tears from Thursday night's bitter betrayal. His eyes are wide open, dilated with hope.

This Resurrection scene does not put us before still figures near a stagnant stone, nor figures standing with stony faces in a contrived, plastic posture, pointing to an empty tomb. This scene is dynamic; we are in motion. We are full of a host of wild emotions: fear, concern, hope, wonder, and pregnant joy on the verge of giving Life to a world waiting so long for One Who could "undo" death. And He has done it! His New Light shines already on their faces, and on the world's edge in glimmering golden-edged clouds.

This painting must be our posture for the New Evangelization, but renamed as we now are "Running FROM the Sepulcher on the Morning of the Resurrection.” What we are taking along for this journey is just what The Lord commanded: our own hearts, impressed by the power of this Love that we've encountered, awash with the Mercy of the Father and the light of the Son, filled with the enthusiasm of being able to name and claim that ache within all of us for meaning and purpose and Love. He is risen and through Him, with Him, and in Him, so are we! This is what we must bear witness to, not only in the preached word but in art and music and film, poetry and dance and most especially, through the sculpted masterpieces of our own unique humanity.

Bill Donaghy is an instructor and speaker for the Theology of the Body Institute. Bill holds an Associate's Degree in Visual Arts and received his Bachelors in Philosophy and a Masters in Systematic Theology from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Church on Fire

Picture this: 

A sacred space, with ample seating, filled with men and women, circled up, slightly sheepish, quiet, staring at each other, waiting for something to happen. 

Every day they come. They sit. They wait. Dutifully. Sitting, sometimes standing. Sometimes kneeling, waiting for something, or Someone, they're not sure, to come and fire them up. 

They have been disheartened by their leaders swift departure. Feeling a bit abandoned, cheated even, they have been further scandalized by the actions of fellow believers. And these women and men, who've been gathering in this same space for sometime now, are at some level conscious of their own inability to act. To move. To do something. So they do nothing but wait. And pray. Holding on to a promise that all would be well. 

They've circled the wagons. They're nursing their wounds. Waiting for something, or Someone to come and fire them up. 

They look around at the other faces and wonder secretly to themselves, what do we have to offer the world anyway? What difference would we make? What can we do to change things? We're just as broken, full of longings, with just as many questions and not enough answers. 

Then, suddenly, a gust of wind. A sea breeze. A change. A terrible trembling. He is coming. The Ancient of Days, the Youth of Eternal Summers, The Fire that fuels the sun and all the stars enters their sacred space. A holy fear, a wonder, a terrible beauty grabs hold of every heart. 

The writer Annie Dillard once wrote:
“Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return."

I love Pentecost Sunday, and though we are now in the "green" again of Ordinary Time, I'm still seeing red (well, orange I guess). Pentecost is rich with the undiluted power of God: fire, wind, and wine. The apostles and the holy women were burned, blown about, and bedazzled by the Wine of God's Love. They were accused of being drunk on new wine. Their once timid lips suddenly exploded into a flurry of foreign languages. They became fearless. 

The question remains for us, in this "ordinary" time, "How do we get some of that wine!" And what lights the match that kindles this New Fire? We need it now more than ever. 

Well, how did the holy women and men, the first to be singed by the Spirit, "get it"? For one, they kept showing up. They were the faithful, even when they didn't feel like it. 

Now, you and I....we're the new faithful who have showed up. For a deepening in faith. For a deeper formation and education in this incredible gift of truth and beauty. This splendor of Truth that is more than a program but an encounter with Divine Persons. Our mission now, by the sweet grace of the Holy Spirit, is to draw others into this embrace. Blessed John Paul the Great in Redemptoris Missio, 23, wrote "The ultimate purpose of mission is to enable people to share in the communion which exists between the Father and the Son." So the mission is love! That's what we're giving to the world! The greatest romance novel ever. A best seller. 

"The greatest love story ever told is contained in a tiny white host," penned Bishop Sheen. We are not bringing a list of what to do and what not to do. We are not offering a self-help program. A "philosophy of life" or a technique to try out and see if its "works for you."


Pope Francis said just a few weeks ago...

"The Church begins there in the heart of the Father, who had this idea . . . of love. So this love story began, a story that has gone on for so long, and is not yet ended. We, the women and men of the Church, we are in the middle of a love story: each of us is a link in this chain of love. And if we do not understand this, we have understood nothing of what the Church is...." 
        “How would you feel,” the Pope asked, “if someone said: she’s a domestic administrator? 'No, I am the mother!' And the Church is Mother. And we are in the middle of a love story that continues thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit. All of us together are a family in the Church, who is our Mother." The Pope concluded his reflection with a prayer to Mary, asking that she might "give us the grace of the spiritual joy of participating in this love story... 
- Pope Francis, homily, April 22, 2013

So how do we live a dynamic Catholic life? How do we pour out to a thirsty world this intoxicating wine of the Love of God which he has poured out into us? Keep open. Stay thirsty my friends. Eat, Drink, and Be Mary. 

Eat the Eucharist (consume and be consumed by Him). 

Drink in the love of the Holy Spirit. Do so passionately not coldly. Not through obligation but more akin to a consummation. The consummation of a marriage. Your heart and Gods. Christ first miracle was water into wine. Turn the bitter waters of modernity into the wine of Divine Mercy. 

Be Mary. Keep open, receptive, humble. Be present. Wait. As vulnerable as the. Irvin Mary was on that fateful day when the world changed, and He came tiny and vulnerable Himself. He still comes and fills us up and He sends us out to fill the world. 

"If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world on fire."
- St. Catherine of Siena

Sunday, April 07, 2013

A Divine Mercy

Jesus, "though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself..."
- Philippians 2:6-8 

One of my favorite images that speaks to the Divine Mercy of our God is this work by the French artist Gustave Dore. It captures that stupendous act of self-emptying, of kenosis, that St. Paul speaks of in the letter to the Philippians. This is what mercy looks like; misericordia, literally "the heart that suffers with." Mercy touches us, embraces us, especially in our brokenness, our shame, our wounds. The Hebrew word is "hesed" - God's merciful, loving kindness. This tender compassion of Jesus for us all is amplified all the more in Dore's image by the stoic detachment of the Pharisees, whom one can imagine are the men standing in the background to the right of Jesus. Cool, aloof, perhaps even annoyed at what the Christ is doing, they stand in judgement. They have "set themselves apart" (which is what the term pharisee means) from these "unclean" people in an attempt to be holy, to be "kadosh" or different from sinners. But is this the kind of love Christ calls us to? Is this even love at all? To love is to suffer with another, to rejoice with another, to be present to another, and to put their needs ahead of ones own. And this was Christ's life. This is the Divine Mercy! Mercy is to move into the heart and experience of another. To pour oneself out and to become the gift to another. As we gaze on Christ the Healer in this beautiful woodcut, let us plead for the grace to make this leap of love and mercy ourselves. Out of our own heads, and into another's heart!

For the original image, click here:
For more about Gustave Dore, the artist and his works, click here:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Water, Water Everywhere

Today is an historic day in the life of the Church and the world; all eyes are on Rome, and in a particular way on a little chimney fixed atop the most famous chapel in the world. 

Today, or tomorrow, or perhaps the next day, a new shepherd of the one billion plus Catholics scattered all over the planet will be chosen. He will enter the Room of Tears, don the white robes, and take up a cross of inestimable weight. Today begins the Conclave of 2013.

Who will fill the sandals of the Fisherman? Who will guard and protect, care for and cultivate the garden of God that is the Church, helping to heal the wounds of a decade of scandals that reached decades back into the past? Who will continue to plant seeds of hope and joy, be that moral conscience and collaborator with all people of good will in the proclamation of human dignity? 

Now some ask if the new pontiff (a word meaning "bridge") should be more of a manager and administrator of the Church in the wake of this decade of scandal, of bureaucratic stagnation, and in some areas, a dwindling presence of the faithful. But should the Church, this explosive and vibrant concoction of Divinity and humanity, this human vessel of Divine Wine, fold within itself, circle the wagons, and nurse its own wounds? Or should it continue humbly to be the Wounded Healer? To bring the grace that flows through wounds to a broken world?

This is the question: should the new Pope be more of a CEO, keeping things in line, tidying up, holding his proverbial thumb in the wall to keep the structure of the Church intact? Or is this a moment for evangelical dynamism and reckless love? Many feel the new Shepherd of the Universal Church, conscious of the flaws in the Church should press on with bold zeal, seeking the Lord's mercy. We have been a flawed body of believers from the very beginning. The Church needs more than a manager; it needs a messenger. A passionate, warrior pope who could press into the malaise of materialism with the sword of the spirit; who could continue building a solid moral ground against an amorphous "dictatorship of relativism." Who can remind us all of the vast horizon of humanity's inherent greatness, and our call to communion with God and others in love.

In today's first reading from Ezekiel, this is the vision of grace that we see: Water, fresh, pure, abundant, flows everywhere. It is flowing from the sanctuary in the Temple of God, rising up and flowing out into the world. This sanctuary is the Heart of Christ, and remains the source of the Church's strength, identity, mission and medicine for the world. If we look to the sanctuary, if we let that water flow over us and into us, we shall do well. 

Today, in the Eternal City, men are gathered from the four corners of the world. Let us pray that this living water flows from that sanctuary, and fills them all!

Talking to Your Little Ones About the Big Topic of Sex

A much repeated sentence we hear at our Theology of the Body retreats and courses is "I wish I heard this when I was younger!" ...