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Being Modern: Apostasy or sacred obligation?

 

In this article we discuss four pictures, two works of art from the fifteenth century, and two others from our times.

The two paintings - "The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary" and "Saint Dominic in Prayer" - are the work of the famous fifteenth century artist Giovanni da Fiesole, better known as Fra Angelico. The work in metal, also representing the Annunciation, was done in our times by the artist H. Breucker. The sculpture was done by A. Wider, another contemporary artist, who has attempted to portray Saint Benedict, patriarch of Western monasticism.

Fra Angelico's "The Annunciation"

Such striking (if not shocking) differences in the rendition of the same and similar subjects, i.e., the Virgin Mary and saints of the Catholic Church, demand some commentaries.

The famous scene of the apparition of the Archangel Saint Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin constituted a moment of grace for mankind. Heaven, which the guilt of Adam had closed, opened and a spirit of light and purity came down in angelic form, bearing a message of reconciliation and peace. This message was addressed to the most beautiful, most noble, most innocent, and most benevolent creature ever to be born of the race of Adam. The Gospels recount the elevated and ineffable simplicity of the dialogue between the two.

The artist's task, challenged by such a theme, consists in expressing the moral values of that incomparable event in his rendition of the faces, attitudes, gestures, and setting as well as in his choice of colors and shapes.

Since this is printed in color, our readers can gauge Giovanni da Fiesole's success in this objective. The nobility befitting the angelic nature, his light and totally spiritual fortitude, his intelligence and purity - all are admirably mirrored in this figure so highly expressive of Saint Gabriel.

The Blessed Virgin is less ethereal, less light. One could almost say less intangible. This effect is reasonable since she is a human creature. Nevertheless, something angelic is perceived in the whole composure of the Queen of Angels. Her facial features surpass those of the heavenly emissary himself in spirituality, nobility and innocence.

Something else is to be noted here; the attitude of one toward the other: By nature, the angel is superior to Our Lady. The Virgin, however, is superior to the angel by her sanctity and by her incomparable vocation as Mother of God. This accounts for the elevated dignity found in the rendition of both the Virgin and the angel and the reciprocal veneration with which they address each other.

There is, yet, a more profound reason for this attitude. Although unseen. God still manifests His Presence by a supernatural light that seems to radiate from both personages-a light that washes over all of nature with a splendor of pure, peaceful, and virginal happiness. One almost feels the most pleasant temperature, the very light and fragrant breeze, the joy that permeates the whole atmosphere.

How could a moment of grace be better painted? With a profound sense of the whole, Fra Angelico knew how to create the lines and colors needed to express all the theological and moral content of this Gospel episode famous a thousand times over. Indeed, his picture is more than just a painted scene. It is comparable to a sermon because it forms, elevates, and stimulates one who contemplates it toward the good.

Breucker's modern "Annunciation"

A garish opposite is Breucker's modern "Annunciation." If a feeble minded person or someone delirious with a high fever were to ramble about the Annunciation, he might have conceived something like this. See how extremely extravagant the work is. It lacks the most elementary values and is devoid of any expression that would denote not only that which is elevated and supernatural but anything balanced or healthy as well. In short, everything works together to make this modern work a brutal and shocking antithesis of the picture from the fifteenth century. One is a marvel of spirituality and faith; the other, a product of a mentality that only knows how to see what is material-a psychology closed to the supernatural, a temperament that finds pleasure solely in horizons without beauty, nobility or anything which provides light, oxygen, life, and hope of eternity for the soul.

In his allocution on May 24, 1953, the Holy Father Pius XII defined the so-called modern spirit as "materialistic thought transposed into actions." In like manner, the example of art

depicted here can be classified as materialistic thought transposed into art.

Fra Angelico's image of Saint DominicNow, look at the picture of Saint Dominic. Elements of the spiritual shine admirably forth in it. It is more a portrait of the soul than of the body. The effort of thought, the exertion required for reading, the serene but strong strain of intellectual work, a countenance befitting one who understands and takes pleasure in understanding all, ultimately, are expressed here with unequaled discretion, intensity and veracity.

And still other aspects of the soul appear: the liveliness and exuberance of a young man, the equilibrium, innocence, piety, and temperance of a perfect religious.

In comparison to this second masterpiece from the fifteenth century, consider the statue from the twentieth century. Certainly there are considerable factors bearing on such a comparison: a) the materials of a painting and those of a sculpture are not the same; b) the talents and temperaments of the artists are alsoWider's statue of Saint Benedict different; c) finally, the spirit of the two subjects. Saint Dominic and Saint Benedict also differ.

Is there a shock, a violent contrast? By no means. Does Wider's sculpture merit the censures that we made of the work by Breucker? No. On the contrary, Wider's statue expresses-with much propriety, precision and strength-the idea that one may have of the patriarch of Western monasticism, who was a model of gravity, austerity, manly tranquility, profound recollection and great wisdom.

No one can deny that this sculpture corresponds satisfactorily to the requirements of an authentic artwork marked by orthodox and well-balanced piety.

Are we against the modern? By this word one understands that which not only pertains to but is typical of our times but rather something a) inherent to it b) different from the past, and c) distinct from the future.

More and more - not only in the field of art but in other areas as well - clever, pertinacious, and all encompassing propaganda is introducing a certain spirit of materialism, sensuality, and delirious extravagance. The style animated by this spirit masterminds the construction and reconstruction of entire cities; it marks the external design and interior decoration of the majority of new buildings of great, medium, or even small importance, in all parts of the world. It exhibits its works in universal art expositions, and so on.

The man in the street instinctively reacts against it ... but only slightly. Thus, this spirit already is - or is on the way to becoming-the style of our twentieth century, which distinguishes it from the past, and God willing, from the days to come.

If it is this and only this that one calls modern, if to be modern is to accept the mark or stigma of materialism-not only of radical materialism but also of "moderate" materialism with all its hues and misrepresentations-then it is undeniable that we are anti-modern because we are Catholic.

However, if one takes into account that alongside this offensive current of our century there are still artists animated by another spirit, and if one means by modern that everything contemporary is modern-whatever be its inspiration, then we cannot be anti-modern because we are not idiots. There is no other name for anyone who, in the ocean of cultural productions of the twentieth century, would judge everything preconceivedly and indiscriminately bad-both the works engendered by the children of light and the works influenced by the neopagan spirit, that is, the spirit of darkness.

Considering these two definitions of modern, which is the more true? It is a problem of semantics. However, one thing is certain: if the materialistic style should not be called "modern," then another name should be devised for it, which has not happened yet. And this name ought to take into account that the modern torrent contains not only the materialistic ingredients we are talking about, but also gnostic and satanic elements (which are the subject matter for another article).

To give a name to this current is an interesting assignment on which we invite our readers to test their wits. However, naming this phenomenon is not the most urgent thing. The twentieth-century man in the street still does not accept the "modern" in the depths of his soul. Let us preserve him from this disgrace. Let us be "modern" in the sense that we behave in accordance with the problems and dangers of our century.

This is what we are trying to do in these articles, amidst the clamor of much applause and to the muffled and furious snarls of hatred of some-certain though, whatever the case, of fulfilling a sacred obligation.

 


  

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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for July 24, 2021

It is easy to infuse a most fervent devotion into others, ev...

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July 24

 

It is easy to infuse
a most fervent devotion into others, even in a short time;
but the great matter is
– to persevere.

St. Philip Neri


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Charbel Makhlouf

Multiple times, he successfully lit an oil lamp which was fi...

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St. Charbel Makhlouf

Youssef Antoun Makhlouf was born in the village of Bekka Kafra in Lebanon on May 8, 1828 and was one of five children born to Antoun Zarrour Makhlouf and Brigitta Chidiac. His father was a mule driver who died when Youssef was only three years old, leaving his widow to bring up their children alone.

Although Brigitta was left nearly destitute, she reserved a profoundly religious atmosphere in their home and instilled in her children a deep spirit of piety. Because of this fidelity, Youssef became unusually devoted and inclined to prayer and solitude at a very young age. He was greatly attracted to the life and spirituality of hermits; and as a young boy tending his family’s small flock, he would often go to a nearby grotto where he had erected a little shrine to the Holy Mother of God and would spend his whole day there in prayer.

When he was twenty-three years old, Youssef, feeling the call to the religious life, left his home and family to join the Lebanese Maronite Order at the Monastery of Our Lady in Marfouq. Here he began his formation as a monk before later being transferred to the Monastery of St. Maron near Beirut. There he received the religious habit of the Maronite monk and took the name Charbel. He made his final profession as a religious brother on November 1, 1853 – he was twenty-five years old.

Brother Charbel immediately began his studies for the priesthood under the instruction of Father Nimattullah Kassab, who was also later declared a saint by the Church. Charbel was ordained on July 23, 1859, following which he returned to the Monastery of St. Maron where he lived a life of great austerity. In 1875, he was granted permission by his superiors to live a solitary life in the Hermitage of Sts. Peter and Paul, which was under the jurisdiction of the monastery; and there he resided for the remaining twenty-three years of his life until his death on Christmas Eve, 1898.

St. Charbel is renowned for his many miracles both during his life and after his death. His most famous miracle – which was also his first – occurred when, multiple times, he successfully lit an oil lamp which was filled with water. He is also credited with many healing miracles.

After his death, he was interned at the Monastery of St. Maron, now a famous pilgrimage site. His tomb was often witnessed surrounded by a dazzling light, and to this day his remains are incorrupt and an unexplainable blood-like fluid flows from his body. He was canonized on December 9, 1977, by Pope Paul VI, who held him up as an example to help us understand “in a world, largely fascinated by wealth and comfort, the paramount value of poverty, penance and asceticism, to liberate the soul in its ascent to God.”

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protest...

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Walk to Conversion

In September, I brought the statue of Our Lady of Fatima to the home of Mr. John Black and his family in Kings City, California.  John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protestantism: about thirteen years ago he was visiting one of the 21 Spanish missions in California (though these are holy sites, they also serve as tourist attractions.)

“Who is this Junipero Serra anyways?”  he asked, as the tour guide shared the history of the mission. “Well,” the guide responded, “you are standing on his grave!”  Surprised, John looked down and read inscription on the stone. Sure enough, Blessed Father Junipero Serra was buried right there. “I became electrified,” John told me, “I had to learn more about this man and about the missions.”  The more he studied Blessed Serra, the founder of the first nine missions, the more impressed he became, and he decided to travel on-foot to all 21 missions. 

With the blessing of his wife, now left at home with their two infant sons, John left for his solo expedition, taking with him a single backpack, the bible and little money.  He told me that every mission he visited he felt the presence of someone receiving him, even if the mission was empty. He felt this ambiance in the missions so serene and uplifting, and began to realize it was the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament that made him feel so at home.

At one point, John collapsed from exhaustion near a mission run by Franciscans, who kindly hosted him for the night. Before he left the next day, one of the friars gave him a first-class relic of Blessed Serra. Since he was Protestant, John did not know what a relic was, but not wanting to appear rude, he accepted it. Not long after he left the Franciscans, John became lost in the wilderness in the middle of the night. Through his exhaustion and fear he heard a voice say, “Let’s help John.” He had the distinct feeling that Blessed Serra was guiding him, and gathered the strength and courage to continue. About six hours later, he stumbled upon the next mission. “It was kind of a miracle,” he said, “I was really lost!”

During his journey, John slowly came to a realization. “I know what you want from me, God,” he thought to himself one day, “you what me to became a Catholic. That is what this is all about!” However, he still had many questions about aspects of Catholicism that have been rejected by his Protestant faith – mainly about the Blessed Mother. Yet, from that point on he received answers to all of his questions, especially his reservations about devotion to Mary: he believed that it was once again Blessed Serra answering him.

With the help of Blessed Serra, one problem after another was resolved in the solitude of his travels. By the time John reached the final mission, he wholly decided to become a Catholic. “I realized that by having devotion to Mary, you love Our Lord even more,” he told me.

John returned home, filled with zeal and enthusiasm for his newfound faith. He shared his astonishing experiences with his wife, and she too converted. “I feel at home in the Catholic church,” John said, “and I have never loved Our Lord Jesus Christ more than I do now.”

by Joseph Ferrara

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John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protestantism: about fourteen years ago he was visiting one of the 21 Spanish missions in California 

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