This painting is one of my favorite depictions of both the crucifixion and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I'm afraid I do not know the artist, nor the date it was painted. I came across the canvas in a small chapel in an Italian town in the mountains about a half hour outside of Rome, called Rocca di Papa. (The town is actually where the Pope has a summer residence.) It was about six years ago and I was a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. I was so struck by the image that I pulled out my phone and captured a shot.
Tassel of the Cloak
Acts of the Apostles chapter 27 recounts the naval voyage of St. Paul to Rome. Paul was a prisoner in Jerusalem and, being a Roman citizen, was transferred to the capital for trial. During the voyage his ship encountered a severe storm. Badly damaged and having drifted out to sea, way off course, the crew was despondent. The captain and sailors had lost hope and were refusing to eat. All was lost. Then Paul, the least of the apostles, took charge. Standing up in chains, he exhorted the men. “I urge you, therefore, to take some food; it will help you survive. Not a hair of the head of anyone of you will be lost” (Acts 27: 34-35).
When I hear the song One by Three Dog Night I hear a hymn about the Holy Trinity. "One is the loneliest number" is the refrain sung over and over again in the song. So true! One is lonely. That is precisely why God is not one, but three. “But I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (Jn 16:32). Our God is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If God was not Triune—if he was one, that is—he would be alone, which means he would have needed to create the world. He would have depended on the world for companionship. This would make God jealous, angry, and vengeful. He needs our worship. He needs our love. If he doesn't receive our love, we will be punished. This is how the Ancient Greeks and Romans viewed God—and sometimes us too, I think. But, as it stands, this is not the case. God is not alone. He is already in relation with himself. He is independent and happily so. Thus, God does not need the world and he is not angry. The reason God chose to create the world was so that we could share the awesome love that he experiences in heaven in himself.
There's a lot of evil and tragedy in this world. One way we can react to it is to fault God, to blame him for being absent. Or we can look a bit more closely and see perhaps how some good has arisen from the tragedy. What comes to my mind, as an example of this, is alcoholism. It's destroyed careers, families, even lives. In the darkness of alcoholism, however, God has brought forth a light. Just look at Alcoholics Anonymous. What AA fosters in the individual is the virtue of abandonment. The alcoholic learns it is not willpower or some intellectual conviction that will bring him or her out of the addiction. It is a surrender of the will over to our Lord. God's grace alone can bring the alcoholic out of the stranglehold. If the person hands himself over to Jesus completely, Jesus will save him. “With God, all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).
Attending Chicago's priesthood ordination last week had me thinking of piety, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Piety means we love God with such a childlike love that we are willing to make offerings for him. A pious person makes the appropriate gestures in church and says his prayers and devotions, like the rosary, because he has a deep love of God. The pious person then respects his neighbor because he sees Jesus in his neighbor. We are all sons and daughters of God, therefore to be pious to our neighbor is to be pious to God.
Our Lady of the Whey. This is a title I have created for Mary, not to be confused with Our Lady of the Way, or Santa Maria della Strada. Mary brings us directly to her son, thus the Madonna della Strada is the fastest way to heaven. That feast day is celebrated on May 24th. Mine does not have a feast day (yet) and it deals with the process of making cheese.
A Chicago Tribune article earlier this year (January 12, 2017) reported on the elevator boom in China. The country is rapidly urbanizing and, with it, immense skyscrapers are being constructed. Businesses not only want elevators, they want fast elevators to arrive at their destination as quickly as possible. The elevator at Shanghai Tower, in fact, is the fastest in the world, traveling at a speed of 45 mph. If only the Chinese knew that the fastest way to the heavens is not an amusement-park-like elevator, but Jesus Christ!
This 10-inch statue of Mary and the child Jesus was found by workers underneath the floor of a cloister in Boulaur, France. It dates back to the 13th Century. Despite the statue's mutilation and missing limbs, she is called the "Belle Dame", or Beautiful Lady. I'm grateful to a priest friend of mine who took this picture.
There are several takeaways from this simple, yet elegant piece. Notice the smile of Mary. If you want to know what joy is, look at Mary's smile. She displays deep peace and contentment. When we are in possession of Jesus, we might not be jumping with elation, but we do have joy.
“The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” I wonder if people following the NFL draft this past weekend noticed the application of this spiritual principle. The whole concept of the draft is based on the saying from Christ. (I'm taking this image, by the way, from a little book by James Penrice called Goal to Go: The Spiritual Lessons of Football.) The idea behind the draft selection is to create parity in the league. Teams select in reverse order of how they finished the previous season. A team that was once bad can, in theory, become good by adding quality players through high draft picks.
“But you, O Lord, laugh at them” (Ps 59:7-8).
To have a sense of humor means to be able to "see through things," as Fulton Sheen once put it. Think about it. Jerry Seinfeld points to the mundane experiences of life, like grocery shopping, and we laugh because we realize there is something behind the mere obtaining of food. Comedians see through ordinary events.
America was deeply torn after the Civil War. The fighting may have ended, but divisions had not been healed. Reconstruction, if anything, made matters worse. Policies did not quite appease the southerners, while northerners felt betrayed. And blacks in the south were not in a tremendously improved situation.
Imagine the United States of America is invaded by China. Think of the movie Red Dawn, if you've seen it. We have been conquered and most of our American culture has been banned. One day—remaining in our hypothetical scenario—an individual comes along and claims to be the leader who will free us from our oppressors. We believe him. We follow him. When it comes time to implement the plan to overthrow the invaders, our savior drops a bomb. The problem is with us, not them. We, he says, need to convert. We are shocked. We are offended. And so when the Chinese arrest our leader and sentence him to death, not only do we not object, we approve of his killing.