Saturday, September 23, 2006

St. Pio

The priest with the stigmata.

I painted this icon of Padre Pio several years ago, before he had been beatified. It now resides in the exquisite "Winter Chapel" attached to the Church of St. Louis, King of France in St. Paul, Minnesota. It hangs across from the confessional. It is a chapel filled with fine art and architectural detail, so I am honored that it was chosen for the space.

I painted it one day after a vivid dream the night before, a dream that seemed more like a vision. In the dream, I was in Moscow's Red Square and entered the cathedral of St. Basil. When I looked up, the dome exploded off, and there was Padre, in the sky in this pose, blessing the world, the sky behind him all aflame, red and golden.

I never expected him to be canonized in my lifetime. It seemed only very traditional and pious Catholics continued to pay any attention to him after his death. I more or less hid my devotion lest I be considered one of these people. Priests and monks I knew were suspicious of Padre Pio, his charismata, his seemingly pre-Vatican II spirituality, as well as his chapel veiled followers. I never told anyone when I went to his tomb to venerate his relics, which was a great grace for me. Since my early childhood I had always hoped to visit him, but it was only after his death that I was able.

Then John Paul II declared this man a saint, the man other popes were suspicious of and who preferred silenced and out of the way, which his bishop and superiors did for a time. As a saint, held forth for the entire Church to venerate, he has become a figure open for all Christians to revere, with the example and witness of his life to instruct and guide the faithful in the way of holiness. He was something of a prophet, holding on to the solid traditions of the Roman Catholic faith, the very same sacred traditions being renewed in our day.

Pray for us St. Pio, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

[Prints of the icon may be obtained from Bridge Building Images.]

Friday, September 22, 2006

Andrew Warhola

Photo edited/censored
for nudity.

Did anyone but me watch the PBS documentary by Ken Burns on Andy? What a trip...down memory lane.

I have always liked his art. From the illustrations of shoes for ads, to the silk screened images of celebrities, to the films. Once in a conversation, Fr. Welzbacher told me he felt Picasso was diabolical. I never asked him about Warhol.

Watching the piece on PBS I was struck how diabolical Andy's life was. The decadence of the factory, his odd, voyeuristic sexuality, and the strange assortment of low-life personalities he gathered around him. To think I invited him to one of my parties - what does that say about me? (He told me on the phone that he couldn't make it, but would send someone if I paid their expenses.)

So what did I like about him? In the late '60's and early '70's he was iconic. He influenced marketing, art, and the 'revolution'. I have always appreciated his innovation. I also often thought he was putting everyone on - playing with society and watching everyone make a fool of themselves. He was an observer. He was a documentarian. While seeming to be the antithesis of culture and high society, he craved to be a part of it, the superstar of it all - and of course he achieved that. In fact, he invented the term superstar.

Although he never did drugs, and remained pretty much asexual, the pop star sub-culture he created was steeped in it. He documented that - hence the attraction and strange validation his admirers and fans experienced. Looking back with this documentary I was impressed with how very sad and decadent the life of Andy was. I felt 'dirty' watching it.

Yet his work (and he was a hard and prodigious worker) holds a legitimate place in the history of art. He created - and through his creations, changed a culture - or at least, contributed to it's change. He broke through barriers with an anarchist's fervor. He documented our decline into depravity and amoral behavior. He reflected the narcissism and consumerism of the culture in his art. His art did nothing to elevate the human spirit, rather it denigrated it, or more precisely, brought the superficiality and decay of our society to our attention. In the end, he achieved what he set out to do, he became famous - not for 5 or 15 minutes, but forever - or as long as art exists. His work, in my opinion, is and remains art. I still like him for what was authentic in him and his work.

Did you realize he kept his mother in a house next door to his and attended Mass on an almost daily basis? He was very complex - a trait he exploited in himself and others.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Roger of Taize


Brother Roger of Taize was murdered by an insane woman not long after Pope John Paul II's death. A mild controversy arose at the Pope's funeral when Brother Roger received Holy Communion at the funeral Mass from none other than Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI. Though a public action, I assumed there must have been some understanding or dispensation to allow a Protestant monk to communicate. It later turned out, after Roger's death, that he had, quite awhile back, come into union with the Roman Catholic Church.

That news was not surprising to me since the religious of Taize, though Protestant, seem to be very close to the Catholic Church, which is apparent by their embrace of monastic life. Brother Roger was undoubtedly a man of deep prayer and spirituality. After his death Pope Benedict spoke of him as being in heaven.

Catholic News has an article clarifying the nature of his entering into communion with the Catholic Church. His confreres at Taize insist it was not a conversion, but an entering into union with the Church, therefore he had no need of repudiating his Protestant heritage. Here is a portion of that article:

"The ecumenical Community of Taize issued a statement last week denying its founder, the late Brother Roger Schutz, underwent a “conversion” to the Catholic faith, saying instead he entered “progressively into a full communion with the faith of the Catholic Church without a ‘conversion’ that would imply a break with his origins.”

The statement denies a story in the French newspaper “Le Monde,” which the Taize Community said was based on a rumor spread “by Catholic traditionalist circles” and that “misrepresents his true intentions and defames his memory.”

The Taize leaders point out that the Bishop Emeritus of Autun, Raymond Seguy, has clarified his statements to Le Monde, telling France Presse: "I did not say that Brother Roger abjured Protestantism, but he showed that he subscribed fully to the Catholic faith."

“From a Protestant background, Brother Roger undertook a step that was without precedent since the Reformation: entering progressively into a full communion with the faith of the Catholic Church without a ‘conversion’ that would imply a break with his origins,” the statement notes.

It goes on to explain that in 1972, “the bishop of Autun at the time, Armand Le Bourgeois, simply gave him Communion for the first time, without requiring any other profession of faith from him besides the creed recited during the Eucharist, which is held in common by all Christians. Several witnesses were present and can attest to this.” [snip] "Taize leaders deny “conversion” of Brother Roger to Catholic faith" CNA

This news in itself will renew the controversy surrounding Roger, yet it explains why the monk of Taize was able to receive Communion at the Holy Father's funeral. His union with Rome may have been kept quiet for pastoral reasons, known only to those involved. It is my understanding that dispensations and special circumstances allow for many things in the Church, hence the union of Br. Roger of Taize with Rome may have been considered private. Despite the fact one's profession of faith is a public witness. It's another difficulty to understand, isn't it? Then again, it could be his brothers at Taize were not pleased with Roger's choice and seek to downplay the union with Rome thing. Perhaps it is better left to heaven to figure out.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Also on September 19 - The Feast of Our Lady of La Salette

An approved apparition with spurious secrets...

There are supposedly secrets from this apparition that foretell incredible and apocalyptic scenarios of doom - that many conspiracy theorists believe to be true and currently developing in our times. None of these can be authenticated. Conspiracy theorists and apocalypse enthusiasts promulgate the unauthenticated secrets. The seers themselves have a morbid atmosphere surrounding their lives. There is little to attract me to these strange events.

Websites such as Michael Brown's "Spirit Daily" often quote from the unofficial secrets. The entire event is obscured nowadays by unsubstantiated purported revelations concerning the original apparitions. The apparitions seemed to concern France in a particular manner, with an extension to the entire world.

Nevertheless the events at La Salette have been surrounded by controversy since, especially because of questions concerning the veracity and stability of one of the seers, Melanie. (It should be noted that a secret was given to Pius IX but it was never revealed to the public, although a secret has been retrieved from the Vatican archives in the past decade. That said, the older sensational version of the secret, reported as being the same one given to the Pope, carries no verifiable credence. Go here for an excerpt from that secret, it has been around for so many decades, many think it is official.)

Church approval of the apparitions has nonetheless been granted, as well as devotion to the Virgin of La Salette.

Go here and here for a factual account of the apparitions. Then go here for what seem to be official statements refuting the veracity of the later secret. Finally, go here for the text of the secret released by the Vatican archives and published by Rene Laurentin, once again it differs from the others in circulation. It is all very confusing to say the least.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

18 September; St. Joseph of Cupertino

Today is the feast day of one of my favorite saints, Joseph of Cupertino, Franciscan priest and mystic.

When I lived in Assisi I was permitted to make an 8 day retreat in the solitude of his newly renovated apartments at the Sacred Convent. It was in these apartments that St. Joseph had been 'imprisoned' because of the extraordinary mystical phenomena that surrounded him. He was kept in solitude to keep him away from the curious who flocked to him because of the gift of levitation, for which he is best known. I had a friar who acted as my 'Martha" in the solitude of my retreat, bringing me food and drink and celebrating Mass for me in the saint's oratory. It was a memorable experience for my life. Immediately afterwards, on the feast of the Stigmata, I was professed in the third order of St. Francis at the tomb of our Holy Father in the crypt of the Basilica.

Presented is a brief biography of St. Joseph:

"St. Joseph of Cupertino in prayer, he was called "the Flying Friar" because of his frequent levitations St. Joseph of Cupertino (1603-1668) was an Italian mystic whose life is a wonderful combination of a complete lack of natural capacity and an extraordinary supernatural efficiency.

He lacked every natural gift. He was incapable of passing a test, maintaining a conversation, taking care of a house, or even touching a dish without breaking it. He was called Brother Ass by his companions in the monastery.

He was born on June 17, 1603 into a family of poor artisans. Because of his father?s debts, he was born in a shed behind the house, which was in the hands of bailiffs. He was sickly and often at death?s door during his childhood, and at age seven he developed a gangrenous ulcer which was later cured by a religious man. He was always despised by his companions who called him a fool. Even his mother wearied of him and repudiated him for his lack of any human value. Later, when he entered the religious life, he faced worse difficulties. The Capuchins received him as a lay brother but his ineptitude and abstraction made him unbearable for the other religious. Often he was taken in ecstasy and, oblivious of what he was doing, he would drop the food or break the dishes and trays. As a penance, bits of broken plates were fastened to his habit as a humiliation and reminder not to do the same again. But he could not change. He could not even be trusted with serving the bread because he would forget the difference between the white and brown breads. Finally, considering that he was good for nothing, the religious took his habit and expelled him from the monastery.

Later, he declared that having the habit taken from him was the greatest suffering of his life and that it was as if his skin had been torn from his body. When he left the monastery he had lost part of his lay clothes. He was without a hat, boots, or stockings, and his coat was moth-eaten and worn. He presented such a sorry sight that when he passed a stable down the lane, dogs rushed out on him and tore his apparel to worse tatters. He escaped and continued along the road, but soon came upon some shepherds, who thought he was a miscreant and were about to give him a beating, when one of their number had pity on him and persuaded them to let him go free." [snip] Read the conclusion here.

St. Joseph of Cupertino pray for me for the grace of conversion; and pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.