From the archives: It's not what we know about the Wise Men that makes them so intriguing. It’s who they become in our imaginations.
In the mid-1960s a Roman Catholic cardinal and a priest who was a scripture scholar found themselves seated at the same table at a dinner party. The cardinal immediately put forth his grievance. “You know, Father, there are some scripture scholars these days who are saying we don’t know how many Magi there were.”
“I’m not one of them,” replied the scholar.
“I’m glad to hear that . . .” The cardinal did not have a chance to finish,
“There were six.” The scholar opened the palm of his hand and shrugged his shoulders in a “what can I tell you” gesture.
Claretian Father Richard Todd’s nativity collection invites us to see the God who is with us, among us, and for us.
The first biography of St. Francis of Assisi, written by fellow friar Thomas of Celano, recounts an event in the Italian town of Greccio in 1223 that continues to influence the material culture of our Christmas festivities. According to Thomas, Francis wished to “enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see as much as possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he rested on hay.” Francis described his idea to a friend, a nobleman named John.
The digitization of medieval illuminated manuscripts has made this art form widely available to modern audiences.
When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press around 1440 in Germany, everything changed. For the first time, words didn’t have to be meticulously hand-copied and multiple copies of books could be printed at one time. The first book to be mass printed? The Bible. Finally the sacred text, long the purview of monastics and the wealthy, became available to everyone—regardless of class.
Artist John Christman’s paintings reflect a dynamic, changing, and multicultural church.
The Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World begins by underscoring the church’s humanity and empathy:
“The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts” (Gaudium et Spes).
Art offers a way to mourn that is both universal and deeply personal.
The day after my grandmother Helen died, I needed my GPS to drive routes that I should have known easily. I struggled to find items on my list at the grocery store and wandered helplessly down the aisles with my cart. Aware that my cognitive abilities were compromised, at one point I told the hospice nurse, “I really am an intelligent, articulate human being, though I know I’m not coming across that way.” With grudging humility I accepted that I would have to submit to this grieving process like everyone else. Loss has its way. Even Jesus wept for Lazarus, whom he loved.
When artists create an icon, they engage in a centuries-long sacramental and theological practice. Their work reveals the unseen face of God.
A year before I became a Catholic, I went on a retreat to an Orthodox monastery north of Columbus, Ohio. The monks occupied an old farm house and converted the basement into a chapel, complete with large, colorful icons. Every morning I attended Morning Prayer while icons of Our Lord, the Blessed Mother, and the saints looked on. The images stared at us, speaking in a mysterious language I didn’t quite understand, as we gazed back at them.
The artwork of Mexican artist Martin Ramirez reminds us that the spirit is always free.
On March 26, 2015, the U.S. Postal Service issued a collection of stamps honoring the art of Martín Ramírez. At the time of his death, in February 1963 at California’s DeWitt State Hospital, such an accolade would have seemed like a dream.