The final two weeks of Lent are traditionally known as “Passiontide”. In these days we concentrate more intently on the sufferings of Christ as He accomplished the act of our Redemption.
The cover picture of this week’s bulletin is a painting by Sigismund Goetze (1866-1939) entitled “Despised and Rejected of Men”, phrase taken from the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy. I am grateful to parishioner Millie Rizzo for having provided me with a copy of this picture and the explanation of its meaning.
Goetze is classified as an English Victorian Painter although he outlived the Victorian era (Queen Victoria died in 1901). He was a devout Anglican and in this particular scene he superimposes his English society on the Suffering Christ. In the painting Christ is tied to a pillar about to be scourged, but the pillar is an altar of an ancient pagan shrine and the people moving about are in a Greek Temple. In the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 17, St. Paul is preaching the Gospel to the people of Athens. There he makes reference to an altar dedicated to “THE UNKNOWN GOD”. Although the Athenians meant it to be an insurance against slighting any overlooked deities in their many-gods world-view, St. Paul used it as an opening to speak about the one true God whom they had hitherto not known by name. Here in Goetze’s painting, Christ chained to an altar of the Unknown God is a cruel irony. Although England has been Christian for centuries, Christ remains largely unknown its present generation. The throngs are too caught up in their own egotism to notice Him.
Goetze depicts several types familiar to late-Victorian society. In the left-hand corner there is the lady of fashion flirting shamelessly with her escort. Behind them is the scientist, so infatuated with his bubbling test-tube that he is blind to Christ. Above him is the sports-enthusiast, lost in the horse-racing pages. At the base of the altar huddles a poor mother with a sickly child. Turned in on herself by misery, she also has her back to Christ. To the right, a ragamuffin newsboy hawks the latest tabloid scandal sheet. A pompous cleric walks along, eyes straight ahead. Behind the cleric is a scheming businessman whose god is money. Next to him a corrupt judge is pouring over his lawbooks. In the far background a demagogic politician is haranguing the crowd. Only the nurse looks upon Christ, and reacts with sorrow and compassion.
This religious painting is supposed to make people think: am I not also somewhere in that passing crowd? We could easily imagine an updated version of this painting with very recognizable types of contemporary American society. Few enough there are who recognize Our Lord Jesus Christ for who He is and try to shape their lives accordingly.
These next two weeks are the most solemn, reflective time of the year for Catholics. If we have been keeping Lent for the past four weeks, we ought to redouble our efforts over the next two. Dedicate yourself in these next two weeks to the recollection of Our Lord’s Passion.
Recently one of our parishioner’s came across a book for spiritual reading entitled: Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion and Purpose, by Matthew Kelly. This parishioner liked it so much that she made a donation of several hundred copies of the book to our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes. (I would have
liked to acknowledge this parishioner by name for her generosity but she has asked to remain anonymous.)
The books are set up in the front vestibule of the church and are offered gratis. The only stipulation is that you take a copy with the intention of actually reading it or with the intention at least of passing it on to somebody who might benefit from it and who would not take it amiss. The book is written in an engaging popular style and is quite solid in its representation of the Catholic faith to our contemporary American society.
To give an example, I quote from the beginning of the chapter on Spiritual Reading:
Books change our lives. Most people can identify a book that has marked a life-changing period for them. It was probably a book that said just the right thing at just the right time. They may have been just words on a page, but they came to life for you and in you, and because of them you will never again be the same. Books really do change our lives, because what we read today walks and talks with us tomorrow. Earlier in our discussion of prayer and contemplation, we spoke of the cause-and-effect relationship between thought and action. Thought determines action, and one of the most powerful influences on thought is the material we choose to read. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body and prayer is to the soul… The goal of spiritual reading is to ignite the soul with a desire to grow in virtue and thus become the best-version-of-oneself. Like all other spiritual exercises and activities, spiritual reading seeks to encourage us to live a life of holiness.
Matthew Kelly is making a basic but important point. The habit of Spiritual Reading is one of the building blocks of the moral and spiritual life. It is something every Catholic over the age of 14 has to take responsibility for. We are responsible both for what’s in our minds— and for what’s not in our minds, but should be. We need to continually refresh our thinking and inform ourselves by good, solid reading material that helps us to think about God and the things of God, and that in turn helps us when we seek to pray to God. Ten to fifteen minutes a day is not too hard to find in even the busiest life. If you are making spiritual reading part of your Lenten observance, well and good. But make sure that it becomes a good habit to carry over in your every-day life once the Lenten Season is done.
Front Cover: “Mass in a Connemara Cabin,” by Aloysius O’Kelly, A.D. 1883. This painting conveys the simplicity and tenacity of the Catholic faith in Ireland. The west of Ireland suffered most heavily from the Great Famine of 1845-1847 and the “Land War” in the latter decades of the 1800s. This particular painting had been considered lost since 1895 and was only re-discovered a few years ago in a rectory in Edinburgh, Scotland. The painting is part of an exhibit on Rural Ireland now on display at the McMullen Art Museum, Boston College.