The Good Shepherd

This older post remains one of my most popular. Since today’s readings are about God as the Good Shepherd, I thought I’d share it once more.

Good Shepherd, fresco, artist unknown, Catacomb of Priscilla

Good Shepherd, fresco, artist unknown, Catacomb of Priscilla

(Click on images for larger view)

Does your idea of Jesus include the image of the Good Shepherd? Paintings and sculpture of this figure date to ancient times and the Catacombs of Rome contain about 150 such images, showing that this was certainly a popular portrayal of Jesus for early Christians.

I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep…
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
John 10:14, 27

When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.
Mark 6:34

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The Sower

It seems hard to believe now, but until my first visit to an art museum, I didn’t understand why Van Gogh was considered a great artist. I had never been exposed to art…never visited a museum…never taken any art classes in school. Better late than never, in my mid-twenties my first art museum visit was to the Honolulu Academy of Art (now the Honolulu Museum of Art). Continue reading

The Baptism of the Lord


Andrea del Verrocchio is known primarily as a Renaissance sculptor and goldsmith, but he and his busy workshop in Florence also produced paintings. He trained many young artists and among them was Leonardo da Vinci, who assisted with this painting of the Baptism of Christ.  Leonardo painted the angel at the far left as well as some of the landscape. Most of the painting is done in tempera, which uses egg yolk to bind the pigment, but some areas also include touches of oil paint, a new medium that was just being introduced in Italy at this time by Dutch and Flemish painters. Continue reading

Adoration of the Magi

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”

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Year in Review

Thank you to all my wonderful readers, this little blog had almost 5,000 visitors this year! Here are your Top 10 favorite posts for 2015, with links to each one in their titles. Did your favorite make the list? Tell us in the comments, what was your favorite?

1. The Good Shepherd

Jesus as the Good Shepherd, mosaic, 5th c. Galla Placidia Mausoleum, Ravenna, Italy.

2. The Hands of the Father

The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1661-1669, 262 cm × 205 cm. Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

3. The Transfiguration

Transfiguration mosaic in apse of St. Catherine's Monastery, ca. 565 AD.

4. Finding God Through Art

Golden Fire

5. St. Teresa of Avila


6. Stormy Weather

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633, oil on canvas, 160 x 128 cm. Whereabouts unknown since the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum robbery in 1990.

7. The Song of Miriam

Miriam by Anselm Feuerbach (1862); oil on canvas, 102cm x 81 cm. Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin


8. Sheep or Goat?


9. Doubting Thomas

Christ and St. Thomas by Andrea del Verrocchio, Bronze sculpture, Orsanmichele, Florence, Italy

10. Woman with the Alabaster Jar

St Mary Magdalen and St Catherine of Alexandria, Simone Martini,1320-25 Fresco, 215 x 185 cm Cappella di San Martino, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

There is perhaps no more familiar and beloved image of the Virgin Mary than Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast day we celebrate today. Known as the Patroness of the Americas, and given the additional titles Empress of the Americas and Protectress of Unborn Children by Pope John Paul II in 1999, her origins are shrouded in layers of uncertain claims and disputed evidence. Despite these doubts, however, the story of the miraculous origin of the image has remained enshrined in popular belief and Catholic tradition.

On December 9, 1531, the indigenous peasant Juan Diego encountered a young woman on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City, who spoke to him in his native tongue telling him that she was the Virgin Mary and that he should ask the bishop to build her a church at that spot. When he dutifully relayed this message to Archbishop Zumárraga, he was told to go back and ask the lady for a sign. When Juan Diego told her that he needed a miraculous sign, she told him to pick some of the roses growing there on the normally barren hill. She arranged the flowers for him in his cloak, or tilma, and when he released the roses onto the ground before the bishop, the image of the Virgin was revealed on the tilma.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, (1531?) painted fabric, Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City

Our Lady of Guadalupe, (1531?) painted fabric, Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City

The image today, with painted additions, is framed and hung in the place of honor on the wall behind the altar in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. We see a dark-haired, olive-skinned young woman, dressed in a tunic and mantle, surrounded by a mandorla and standing on a crescent moon held aloft by an angel among the clouds. She gazes downward and clasps her hands in prayer.


Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Tepeyac Hill, Mexico City.

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Tepeyac Hill, Mexico City.

The basilica that houses the tilma is the second church constructed here, next to the same hill where Juan Diego received his vision.  The site of this Marian shrine, the hill at Tepeyac, was once devoted to several indigenous goddesses known as Tonantzin, a generic term which means “our revered mother.” Spanish missionaries placed Christian shrines over many native religious sites. The first basilica here was completed in 1709, but its foundations later began to sink into the ground, a reminder that Mexico City was built upon the drained bed of Lake Texcoco, former site of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. The curved modern basilica, finished in 1976, can hold 50,000 people and receives several million visitors each year, making it one of the most visited sacred sites in the world. Visitors to the church who want to see the image of the Virgin must form a line and progress in single file on a people mover located behind and below the altar area, unseen by those attending mass. The icon is then seen above you in its ornate frame as you glide by it.

Our Lady of Guadalupe seen from the people mover below, Mexico City.

Our Lady of Guadalupe seen from the people mover below, Mexico City.

Despite the distance from the image, it is quite an experience. Even before you enter the church, as you make your way across the plaza to reach the basilica, faithful pilgrims can sometimes be seen moving forward on their knees and with hands clasped in prayer, making their way piously through the sacred space in order to gain the blessing of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

Pilgrims to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Pilgrims to the Virgin of Guadalupe.


Plaza Mariana with new and old Basilicas of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City.

Plaza Mariana with new and old Basilicas of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City.


Artists have painted many reproductions of the tilma image for use at other churches and for sale on the art market. One of the earliest of these, seen below, was painted by Manuel de Arellano in 1691.

Virgin of Guadalupe by Manuel de Arellano, after the original, 1691, oil on canvas 181.45 x 123.38 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Virgin of Guadalupe by Manuel de Arellano, after the original, 1691, oil on canvas 181.45 x 123.38 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In addition to his interpretation of the image of the tilma, Arellano has surrounded the figure with flowers and included vignettes at each corner that narrate the story of Juan Diego’s encounter with the Virgin. Also in the collection at LACMA is this curious version created with shells in a technique known as enconchado (concha means shell in Spanish).

Virgin of Guadalupe, Miguel González, c. 1698, oil and shell on canvas.

Virgin of Guadalupe, Miguel González, c. 1698, Oil on canvas on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (enconchado), 124.46 x 95.25 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


Several years ago my brother gave me the gift of this contemporary painting of Our Lady by an unknown artist, which I treasure.

My VoG


As the patron saint of Mexico, the beloved figure of the Virgin of Guadalupe has become ubiquitous in Latin American culture. Artists have copied and reinterpreted the image in a huge variety of media, from paintings and candles to wall murals, tattoos, and beach towels. Any medium you can think of likely has been used to recreate her image.



John and VoG towel


Our Lady of Guadalupe has countless churches and schools named for her. A multitude of scholarly articles discuss various aspects of her history and significance, and her image has been used by the liberation theology movement, the United Farm Workers, and at recent immigration rallies. She even has a Tumblr site and an Etsy page. She is truly a ubiquitous icon that is both sacred and secular. If you would like more information about the Virgin of Guadalupe, the article on Wikipedia is quite good to start with. And here is a prayer to her:

Our Lady of Guadalupe,
Mystical Rose,
make intercession for holy Church,
protect the sovereign Pontiff,
help all those who invoke you in their necessities,
and since you are the ever Virgin Mary
and Mother of the true God,
obtain for us from your most holy Son
the grace of keeping our faith,
of sweet hope in the midst of the bitterness of life
of burning charity, and the precious gift
of final perseverance.


Now I think I’ll go browse through that Etsy page!


Be like Zacchaeus


At that time Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus,
who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man,
was seeking to see who Jesus was;
but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.
So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus,
who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.”
And he came down quickly and received him with joy.
When they saw this, they began to grumble, saying,
“He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,
“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,
and if I have extorted anything from anyone
I shall repay it four times over.”
And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

Luke 19:1-10

Niels Larsen Stevns, Christ And Zacchaeus, 1913, Randers Museum of Art, Randers, Denmark

Niels Larsen Stevns, Christ And Zacchaeus, 1913, Randers Museum of Art, Randers, Denmark


Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) urges us to climb the sycamore tree like Zacchaeus that we might see Jesus and embrace his cross for our lives:

Zacchaeus climbed away from the crowd and saw Jesus without the crowd getting in his way. The crowd laughs at the lowly, to people walking the way of humility, who leave the wrongs they suffer in God’s hands and do not insist on getting back at their enemies. The crowd laughs at the lowly and says, ‘You helpless, miserable clod, you cannot even stick up for yourself and get back what is your own.’ The crowd gets in the way and prevents Jesus from being seen. The crowd boasts and crows when it is able to get back what it owns. It blocks the sight of the one who said as he hung on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing… He ignored the crowd that was getting in his way. He instead climbed a sycamore tree, a tree of ‘silly fruit.’ As the apostle says, ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block indeed to the Jews, [now notice the sycamore] but folly to the Gentiles.’ Finally, the wise people of this world laugh at us about the cross of Christ and say, ‘“What sort of minds do you people have, who worship a crucified God?’ What sort of minds do we have? They are certainly not your kind of mind. ‘The wisdom of this world is folly with God.’ No, we do not have your kind of mind. You call our minds foolish. Say what you like, but for our part, let us climb the sycamore tree and see Jesus. The reason you cannot see Jesus is that you are ashamed to climb the sycamore tree.

Let Zacchaeus grasp the sycamore tree, and let the humble person climb the cross. That is little enough, merely to climb it. We must not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, but we must fix it on our foreheads, where the seat of shame is. Above where all our blushes show is the place we must firmly fix that for which we should never blush. As for you, I rather think you make fun of the sycamore, and yet that is what has enabled me to see Jesus. You make fun of the sycamore, because you are just a person, but ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men.’[Sermon 174.3.]

The Lord Jesus is always ready to make his home with each one of us. Do you make room for him in your heart and in every area of your life?

“Lord Jesus, come and stay with me. Fill my life with your peace, my home with your presence, and my heart with your praise. Help me to show kindness, mercy, and goodness to all, even to those who cause me ill-will or harm.”

What’s Your Vocation?

Vocation of the Apostles, Domenico Ghirlandaio and workshop, 1481-82, Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome

Vocation of the Apostles, Domenico Ghirlandaio and workshop, 1481-82, Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome


Jesus appointed seventy-two other disciples
whom he sent ahead of him in pairs
to every town and place he intended to visit.
He said to them,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
Go on your way;
behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;
and greet no one along the way.
Into whatever house you enter, first say,
‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you,
for the laborer deserves his payment.
Do not move about from one house to another.
Whatever town you enter and they welcome you,
eat what is set before you,
cure the sick in it and say to them,
‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.’
Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you,
go out into the streets and say,
‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet,
even that we shake off against you.’
Yet know this: the Kingdom of God is at hand.
I tell you, 
it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”

Luke 10:1-12

Herod’s Palace-Fortress at Machaerus

Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening,
and he was greatly perplexed because some were saying,
“John has been raised from the dead”;
others were saying, “Elijah has appeared”;
still others, “One of the ancient prophets has arisen.”
But Herod said, “John I beheaded.
Who then is this about whom I hear such things?”
And he kept trying to see him.

Luke 9:7-9

According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the palace at Machaerus was the site at which John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod Antipas in 32 AD. It was built by Herod the Great, whose son was Herod Antipas the Tetrarch who ruled from 4 BC to 29 AD.



The palace was constructed atop a great promontory overlooking the Dead Sea and surrounded by deep ravines and a fortress wall, 100 meters long and 60 meters wide with three corner towers, each sixty cubits (90 ft) high.



Within the fortress, excavators have revealed the Herodian palace, which includes a large courtyard and an elaborate bath, with fragments of the mosaic floors still remaining. An aqueduct and cisterns provided water for the inhabitants.


The fortress was destroyed down to the foundations by the Romans in 72 AD after Jewish rebels occupied it. Twentieth century archaeologists have done a partial reconstruction of it and re-erected several columns.


The First and the Last

ANTHONY VAN DYCK Let the Children Come to Me c. 1618–20

Let the Children Come to Me c. 1618–20


Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it. 
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.” 
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?” 
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest. 
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” 
Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”

Mark 9:30-37