Their Eyes Were Opened

 

That very day, the first two of Jesus’ disciples were going
to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

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St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles

I myself am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters,
that you yourselves are full of goodness,
filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another.
But I have written to you rather boldly in some respects to remind you,
because of the grace given me by God
to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles
in performing the priestly service of the Gospel of God,
so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable,
sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast in what pertains to God.
For I will not dare to speak of anything
except what Christ has accomplished through me
to lead the Gentiles to obedience by word and deed,
by the power of signs and wonders,
by the power of the Spirit of God,
so that from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum
I have finished preaching the Gospel of Christ.
Thus I aspire to proclaim the Gospel
not where Christ has already been named,
so that I do not build on another’s foundation,
but as it is written:

Those who have never been told of him shall see,
and those who have never heard of him shall understand.

Romans 15:14-21

 

St. Paul on the Road to Damascus, Caravaggio, 1600-01, Santa Maria Popolo, Rome

St. Paul on the Road to Damascus, Caravaggio, 1600-01, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

 

I am a huge fan of Caravaggio, as my readers know, and this is one of my favorite paintings by him. We see Paul, thrown from his horse and sprawled on his back, blinded as he gropes toward the vision that only he can see. The horse and groom appear unconcerned, which only serves to highlight Paul’s distress. Caravaggio uses a technique known as tenebrism, with a spotlight illuminating the scene and offering strong contrasts of light and dark. The unusual composition is mostly taken up with the horse, but the red cloak draws our eyes down to the stricken apostle.

Have you experienced a similarly disorienting conversion? Okay, so maybe you weren’t literally thrown from a horse! But perhaps you were thrown off your life’s course in unexpected ways by the sudden, possibly unwelcome, invasion of grace. I know I sure was! Like Saul, who persecuted the early church, I thought the last thing I could ever possibly become was a Christian! Yet it happened. And God still has to sometimes knock me from my horse, so to speak, to set me on the right path. I see myself in Paul, laying stunned on the road, groping blindly for a clearer vision of God’s will for my life.

What about you?

The Suffering Servant

The LORD was pleased
to crush him in infirmity.

If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.

Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness
of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.

Isaiah 53:10-11

Christ Crowned with Thorns, Caravaggio, ca.1604, Kunsthistorisches Museen, Vienna

Christ Crowned with Thorns, Caravaggio, ca.1604, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 

On Friday I had the good fortune to tour the traveling exhibit, “Hapsburg Splendor: Masterpiece s from Vienna’s Imperial Collections, at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from Oct.18-Jan. 17. After viewing several galleries of wonderful paintings and objects, I entered the next room and was stunned when I came upon this incredible painting, attributed to the great Caravaggio (though not without some dispute).

For several months, I’ve been using an iPhone app called Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, which incorporates high quality Baroque art into each decade. As you know, I’m all about visual aids to contemplation and I highly recommend this app! This painting is used for contemplating the Sorrowful Mystery of Christ’s suffering with the crowning of thorns. Having never been to Vienna, I had not seen this work in person, only within the tiny confines of my iPhone screen. So when I turned the corner and came face to face with it, I was literally so stunned that I cried out, “Oh…oh…oh”! I’m sure the security guard thought I was a little strange.

As I gazed on this image of our Lord in his suffering, I was completely overwhelmed. I felt the same grief and joy as I did when I first turned my life over to Christ in adulthood and came fully into the Church. On that occasion it was a Spanish Baroque crucifix in the California San Luis Rey Mission that evoked these complex feelings of pathos and gratitude, with the overwhelming thought, “You did THAT for ME?!?” Seeing this painting recaptured that same incredible grace.

If you live near Atlanta, get yourself to the High Museum ASAP to view this masterpiece. It’s worth the price of admission.

Abraham Believed

Brothers and sisters:
What can we say that Abraham found,
our ancestor according to the flesh?
Indeed, if Abraham was justified on the basis of his works,
he has reason to boast;
but this was not so in the sight of God.
For what does the Scripture say?
Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
A worker’s wage is credited not as a gift, but as something due.
But when one does not work,
yet believes in the one who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is credited as righteousness.
So also David declares the blessedness of the person
to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven
and whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not record.

Romans 4:1-8

Sacrifice of Isaac, Caravaggio, 1608, Ufizzi Gallery, Florence

Sacrifice of Isaac, Caravaggio, 1608, Ufizzi Gallery, Florence

Who, me??

The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1598–1600 Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), Oil on canvas; 322 x 340 cm Contarelli Chapel, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1598–1600
Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi),
Oil on canvas; 322 x 340 cm
Contarelli Chapel, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

 

Have you ever been called by God? That may seem like an outrageous question to most of us. Who, me? Called by God? How could that be? How would we even know if we were called? Most of us probably don’t hear a voice from heaven as Jesus did at his baptism, or as Samuel did in his sleep; if we did we might think something was seriously amiss and seek help and medication asap!

However, our calling can happen in far more prosaic ways. We see an example of this unexpected occurrence in The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio, the bad boy of Baroque art. Though prodigiously talented, Caravaggio (1571-1610) was a brawler and a murderer who died alone while on the run from the law. He was nearly forgotten until the twentieth century, when his genius and influence on the artists of his day was recognized. His use of extreme realism and chiaroscuro, or the contrast between light and dark, give his paintings an immediacy and drama that are instantly recognizable. He also had many imitators, known as the Caravaggisti.

As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said,
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13

In Caravaggio’s work, we see a dingy room with light streaming in from a high window outside the picture frame, illuminating the figures at the table. Jesus stands at the far right with Peter, both of them barefoot. The outstretched hand of Jesus and the diagonal edge of the ray of light both point to the bearded man in the black hat, Levi/Matthew, who points at himself as if to say, “Who, me?”

wpid-wp-1442831580586.jpg

 

The darkness and grime of the room signal to us the nefarious activity taking place there. The well-dressed men at the table, presumably tax collectors like Matthew, are counting their money and the two figures at left are totally absorbed in their ill-gotten gains. Tax collectors were hated because they extorted even more than the myriad of Roman taxes from the people, and as the passage indicates, because of this they were classed with sinners.

wpid-20150921_063651.jpg

It can be no accident that the pointing hand of Jesus is directly beneath the cross in the window, nor that his hand is in the same languid pose as that of Adam in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The theological symbolism here is that Jesus is the new Adam, sent to call all men from the death brought about by Adam’s sin, to salvation by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

The passage in Mark continues with the Pharisees complaining that Jesus eats with these sinners and tax collectors. Many people were drawn to Jesus, including the unlovable and the unloved, the outcasts and the despised, the criminals and the poor. Rather than adhering to orthodox rules of purity, Jesus broke bread with them, spoke with them, and touched them, which shocked the Pharisees. Jesus’ reply, that he comes for the sick and the sinner, is spoken to all of us, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all called to be transformed. Where are you called? If a barefoot man in a bar suddenly points at you and says to follow him, how would you respond? It is so easy for us to miss the summons to God’s will for our lives.

Where is your call? Jesus is saying to you, “Follow me.”

Sorrowful Mysteries

If you ever pray the Rosary, and like me you have difficulty meditating on the mysteries without a visual image to focus on, here are some examples you might consider for the Sorrowful Mysteries. Praying the beads as you ponder the events of the crucifixion is recommended by Pope Francis as a spiritual practice during Lent. I’m including these paintings with relevant scripture but without commentary so that your focus is the image itself, rather than the written word. The captions provide basic information about the paintings. For instructions on how to pray the Rosary, see here. Remember you can click on each image for a larger version, and some can be enlarged further with another click if a plus sign appears as your cursor. Continue reading

Answering the Call

The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1598–1600 Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), Oil on canvas; 322 x 340 cm Contarelli Chapel, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1598–1600
Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi),
Oil on canvas; 322 x 340 cm
Contarelli Chapel, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

Have you ever been called by God? That may seem like an outrageous question to most of us. Who, me? Called by God? How could that be? How would we even know if we were called? Most of us probably don’t hear a voice from heaven as Jesus did at his baptism, or as Samuel did in his sleep; if we did we might think something was seriously amiss and seek help and medication asap!

However, our calling can happen in far more prosaic ways. We see an example of this unexpected occurrence in The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio, the bad boy of Baroque art. Though prodigiously talented, Caravaggio (1571-1610) was a brawler and a murderer who died alone while on the run from the law. He was nearly forgotten until the twentieth century, when his genius and influence on the artists of his day was recognized. His use of extreme realism and chiaroscuro, or the contrast between light and dark, give his paintings an immediacy and drama that are instantly recognizable. He also had many imitators, known as the Caravaggisti, which we saw an example of in a previous post.      Continue reading