The Catholic web has been discussing the pros and cons of the current Vatican Nativity. It includes extra figures meant to draw our attention to the corporal works of mercy.
Some have been outraged by the inclusion of a semi-naked male figure sporting a six pack, and others bemoan that they are as expressive as shop mannequins. I think it would be unfair to question the competency of the artists who executed the scene. I do not know what particular constraints they were under to produce the figures, and how much creative input they were allowed. If the tableau is skilfully rendered or not, the main question is whether it works as a piece of religious art.
There is a long tradition in Catholicism that art is a teaching tool, it exists that we should learn some spiritual truth from it.
Sacred art can be a "sermon" in pictures, and Integrity demands that a Nativity scene draw the viewer into the central mystery of Christ Incarnate. It is the contemplation of Christ as a babe, which is key to our treating others with love and respect.
The final battle - Sr. Lucia
Cardinal Caffera of Bologna recorded the prohecy of Sr. Lucia, who wrote that: "The final battle between the Lord and Satan will be about marriage and the family." She said that we mustn't be afraid, because Our Lady had already crushed Satan's head, but the family and the sanctity of Marriage would be the decisive issue. It was due to this that St. Pope John Paul II had urged the Cardinal to establish the Pontifical Institute for marriage and the family.
Eggs over easy
The inclusion of extra figures ministering the corporal works of mercy rather over-eggs the scene. It allows the viewer to take the easy route out; distrcated by the side show. Afer all, contemplating the vulnerability of God made man is immense.
In addition, the Holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was once upheld as a model for married family life. It is their parental virtues which deserve our attention in these times.
With the family unit as the core building block of society, its disintegration has gone hand in hand with the degeneration of our culture.
Society continues to undermine the vulnerability of children and their need for nurture, and guidance. They are too often regarded as a commodity, or a burden, rather than a gift from God. When we think of the attack upon the family in these times, it is essential to keep our focus on the Holy family of the Nativity. Their example, is one of putting unconditional love into practice.
The following link has some clear photos of the scene.
The Catholic Traveler
With a short deadline to meet, I worked quickly with the team, exchanging ideas and layouts for the figures, legends and symbols they elicited.My sketches had all been completed and approved, and I was on the starting blocks, (so to speak) with paintbrush in hand, motivated and eager to make a start.
However, when there was a sudden change of plan… I was informed that the icons were now to resemble something closer to photographic portraits.
Although the new September term was looming, I adjusted figures, recalling Abraham Lincoln's warning the dangers of "changing horses’ midstream..." And although sudden changes of plan can be unsettling, I have come to accept that it is usually part of God’s plan.
Creating contemporary icons of saints has its problems. There are many pre-conceptions about what an Icon is and what painting methods should be used. I feel the main ingredients are prayer and inspiration, yet I had been troubled by depicting St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) in casual clothing rather than her in Carmelite habit. However, one morning before mass, I imagined her holding up the brown scapular. (In this way, she would still be wearing the carmelite habit). This is something the school children may never have encountered had she been portrayed in her full Carmelite habit.
After this I found myself able to jump the hurdles set before me like a Grand National equine; obstacles were overcome and the icons completed with a few days to spare!
I hope the children will learn not only about the life of St. Teresa Benedicta, as a victim of the holocaust, but also of that important event in their English Catholic heritage; when the Blessed Virgin favoured St. Simon Stock with the brown scapular of Carmel.
"St. Simon was an Englishman, a man of great holiness and devotion, who always in his prayers asked the Virgin to favour his Order with some singular privilege. The Virgin appeared to him holding the Scapular in her hand. In its original context, the meaning of this promise was that Carmelite religious who persevered in their vocation would be saved. Beginning in the 16th century, the Carmelites began giving the brown scapular to lay people who wanted to be affiliated with the Order, and it became increasingly popular as a religious article.
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