How art helped me make sense of chronic illness and brought me closer to God.
When I was in my early twenties, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the central nervous system and disrupt nerve connections. This means that sometimes I lose sensation in my limbs and sometimes I have trouble seeing and thinking clearly. I have come to understand my disease as more than a list of symptoms, however. With the help of those close to me, I have come to accept chronic illness as aspect of my self-identity that shapes my most important relationships, including my relationship with God.
If your faith life seems stuck in a rut, perhaps a new look at an old piece of art may provide the jolt you need.
When I discovered Battistello Caracciolo’s The Calling of Saint Matthew seven years after my return to Catholicism, I was experiencing an ebb in my faith. I longed to reconnect with the force that had impelled me back to the church, but I was not quite sure where to begin. I slumped along with morning readings from the gospels, the prophets, and the Desert Fathers, but the words didn’t sear with the heat of newfound truth like they had before.
Leal’s painting brings us face-to-face with the historical life and death of Jesus.
My initial encounter with the 17th-century Spanish painter Juan de Valdés Leal’s Pietà came at an auspicious moment in my spiritual journey. After having drifted from structured religious expression in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, I was, at the time, in the midst of finding my way back.
The Met Gala doesn’t have the best record when it comes to cultural sensitivity. Will it do the Catholic Church more justice?
My junior year of college, a friend of mine decided to change his major from biology to theater and pursue a strong nagging desire to become an actor. When he announced his decision to our friends, every person began contending with one another to be his date to the Oscars in the event he was ever invited to the awards show.
I did not care about the (very small) chance to one day attend the Oscars. Instead, I requested to be the one he took to the Met Gala.
Latimore’s work invites us to meditate on modern-day saints.
Kelly Latimore first started painting icons while living with the Common Friars, an Ohio-based intentional community whose concern for the earth has been instrumental in shaping the group’s vision. One of its members often posed a question drawn from Matthew’s gospel and quoted in their Rule of Life: “How do we become people who, in Jesus’ words, ‘consider the lilies of the field?’ ” This allegory about arranging our priorities concludes by counseling believers to “seek first (God’s) kingdom and righteousness” or, in other translations, God’s “way of holiness” (6:28–34).
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.
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