Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Sacred is Real

Last weekend, many of you would have noticed I had a friend visiting. Msgr. David Brockman, of the Diocese of Raleigh (yes, that includes the North Carolina beaches), was studying in Rome when I was working there for Cardinal Baum, and he was also a member of the priestly support group organized by Fr. Toups. (See how this all fits together?) Now he is Vicar General of his diocese – second in command, if you will – and rarely gets to escape, so it was very good to have him here for a few days.

On Sunday, after Mass and Fr Toups’ talk to Forums of Faith (where WAS everybody?), we all went downtown and spent the afternoon at the museum. In particular, we wanted to see an exhibition that opened that day at the National Gallery of Art.

The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600 – 1700 only fills three rooms, but wow! Masterpieces of great painters such as Velázquez and Zurbarán, which are quite well known and often reproduced, are paired with contemporary sculptures of the same subjects, whose sculptors tend not to be so well known.

And what, or who, are the subjects? Our Lord in His Passion, and on the Cross; His mother Mary, and the saints and martyrs. It is an astonishing presentation of the human reality of our salvation and faith. For example, there are several renderings of Saint Francis of Assisi, who is the most influential religious figure in history, after Jesus Himself. His awe and tender intimacy in prayer are compellingly conveyed, making you want to see what he sees.

A statue of Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, presents vividly his wiry intensity, the tears on his cheeks glistening with love of Jesus. Nearby, a statue of Saint Francis Borgia manifests something of the character that made him a suitable successor to Ignatius as Father General.

There are a bust and a full statue of Jesus as the Man of Sorrows, known as “Ecce homo” or “Behold the man,” which is what Pilate said as he presented Him after His scourging and crowning with thorns. These are powerful presentations of the person of Jesus, up close and personal, his posture and expression even more compelling than the wounds and abuses depicted in His flesh.

My favorite, and far sweeter, was a painting by Diego Velázquez I had seen reproduced any number of times, but never in person. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception has such a calm and attentive expression on her young face, it is hard not to rejoice that she is so eager to bring us to her Son. The similar statue right next to the painting was enough to move me to art theft – just the right size for our Lady Chapel! That is probably not what she would recommend.

I have every intention of going back again, probably closer to Holy Week, to spend more time in conversation with these people. Don’t wait until you have out-of-town guests to visit this exhibit. It is an astonishing reminder of the truth and beauty of our faith, and the salvation that we rejoice in with the saints, through the Son of God who not only visited us, but also took flesh and dwells among us and in us to this day.

Monsignor Smith

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