Art • Music • Film • Poetry • Books
John Christman, SSS
People who have a sacramental worldview often place greater meaning upon everyday objects. They are perhaps less likely to embrace the type of “throwaway culture” that Pope Francis has criticized in his encyclical Laudato Si, because the objects in their lives have become significant through use. Theologian Leonardo Boff speaks of the meaningful objects in our lives as “human sacraments” that “reveal” something about who we are, and the meaningful relationships in our lives.1 I think many artists intuit this, whether or not they are Christian or even know what a sacrament is. For example, if we consider the time, care and effort artists take in selecting and depicting the objects in their artwork, we quickly comprehend that these are not simply random, insignificant things. Instead, the objects carry meanings, and for those who take the time to gaze upon and ponder the objects depicted, the objects may just “reveal” their meanings.
Nicora Gangi’s art is populated with numerous objects. She is a masterful still-life artist. Her subtle use of light and color, her creative compositions, and her deft handling of the medium all attest to her great abilities. Just linger for a moment over her magnificent pastel drawing entitled The Time is Soon. The sumptuous red apple, the well-worn brown leather book covers, the golden reflection of the pocket-watch, all rendered in an atmosphere of timeless stillness through the often unruly medium of pastel chalk. It is a marvel to behold. Yet beyond the breath-taking technique, the objects themselves wait to “reveal” their meanings.
So what do we see? On the face of it we see a stack of well-worn books, bookmarks or notes pressed between the pages, what appear to be three clocks, one with a price tag reading “2 cents each,” and a fresh apple with a bite taken out of it. Yet the golden light that illuminates these objects and the meticulous manner in which they are rendered cause us to gaze upon them with greater care, perhaps even reverence. The composition and light lead our eyes first to the open clock at the top of the image. Upon it’s metal surface we see sparkling lights reminiscent of stars. This poetic evocation of the universe, or “the heavens” placed upon a clock presents us with differing notions of time. The seconds, minutes and hours of a day are contrasted with the vast timeframe of the universe. We don’t see the actual faces of the clocks. No minute hands or hour hands draw our attention to the passage of time. Though no title can be discerned upon the books, their appearance suggests perhaps a bible, book of prayer or poetry, perhaps even a diary or journal. These in addition to a piece of bitten fruit can easily lead the mind into a Christian frame evoking Adam and Eve, the unfolding of salvation history, and the eschatological future. The Time is Soon then raises the pivotal question, “How have you prepared for eternity?”
Have you tasted the fruit? Have you lived? Have you sought wisdom, both secular and sacred, in the pages of history? Have you noted its tragedy and wonder in your books? Have you gazed beyond yourself into the universe? Has time left its mark on you? Have you shared your “two cents” in the golden light of day?
Objects can be curious things. In a busy moment a pocket watch can seem like nothing more than a practical tool to help keep up with a demanding schedule. In a more pensive moment, that same pocket watch can stir memories of time spent with loved ones and friends. In Gangi’s art these well-chosen objects stir deep questions about faith and life.
1 Leonardo Boff, Sacraments of Life, Life of the Sacraments. (Portland, Oregon: Pastoral Press, 1987). Pg 29.
the lost coin, found
silly me, i didn’t hear it drop
as my hearing is somewhat lost as well
i swept the floor for my little zuz
then i decided to make a day of it
scrub the house before the sabbath sundown
reorganize the cupboards and the food pantry,
refill the water jars
sometimes i hide things next to the yeast
then forget they’re there
i checked lit a lamp
and doubled checked
sure enough there it was
on the floor next to the bottom shelf
when i announced the news
the neighbor women and i all laughed
now i sit in sundown rest
to delight with one found coin
as well as a swept and tidy house
Sister Lou Ella Hickman, IWBS
My Mother’s Hands
I saw my mother’s hands
moving, seeming to be
surrounded by a soft glow of light.
She is humming, working at the kitchen sink, looking out the window;
I glimpse the thick gold wedding band
that she never took off.
Until after her death when that ring rested in my palm,
I had never really looked closely
at the lines in the ring
that went all along the middle.
From the distance it always looked so familiar
that I hadn’t noticed the details.
Now I can see the etchings so clearly….
but what does it all mean,
no longer on her finger?
She took a little break,
never to be without her piano,
spinning out a ragtime rocking tune,
or the pondering, measured chords slowly advancing
of the Chopin funeral march:
so puzzling and startling,
that sudden dark statement
of death as an inevitable truth of life.
So now I seem to see my mother’s hands
as a testament to the beauty of her every action,
no matter how small, mundane, or repetitive.
I can never stop wondering and admiring
at her hands that cooked food,
knitted multicolored sweaters,
hands that persevered and carried through
everything — seeing us through, yet not ever clinging,
not interfering … allowing life to move on day by day,
just as it will: harmony had its reign.
So busy, it seemed her hands were forever in motion:
strong, purposeful, and efficient.
When the stage lights went down,
and all was too quiet there at the house,
near dying for weeks, slowing down, shutting down,
poco a poco lento, lento,
then for the first time,
I saw my mother’s hands still,
immobile, resting on a hospital bed,
her beautiful voice that when she spoke
was like a deep melody of song….. now
silent, only silent …..until the close,
when a caregiver,
but not I,
was there at her side.
Before the funeral
I stood in her empty bedroom, alone,
feeling as if I were standing tiptoe
on the edge
of the world.
A rush of energy could still be somewhat felt,
as a lingering mystery having occurred.
Undoubtedly there was a rhythm
to the progression ….
and the ability
of a woman to take leave of earth,
dying in her own home
in a narrow hospital bed.
That surely has a tone
full of strength,
the insistence not to be rushed
and to maintain dignity
in a world
that focuses only on a ‘pace that should be’ ;
but my mother always knew
the rhythm of life
as it really is.
If I could allow my hands
to be efficient,
even though my tasks
in no way measure up to the breadth of hers……
If I could learn from her to just perform
all those unsung things
without a second thought ……
If only I could sense that the rhythm of life,
even her life and ours,
is not ever so far away after all…..
no fanfare needed……
Just the moment,
just as it is.
Patrick J. Hayes and Christopher D. Denny, editors
Maryknoll, N.Y. 2015
The editors offer a volume of essays written in honor of theologian Joseph A. Komonchak. The authors build upon Komonchak’s decades-long work in articulating the shifting ecclesiological paradigms in Roman Catholic theology over the course of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century.
Komonchak’s life span antedates the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. He studied theology in Rome from 1960-1964. The influence of the Council is clear in his address of ecclesial and theological issues. Having written extensively in ecclesiology and related areas of theology, Komonchak’s major contribution is his emphasis on the importance of sacred history for theology and the need for the social and human sciences for an assiduous study of that history.
Komonchak’s approach reflects that of his teacher, Bernard Lonergan, S.J. who claimed that his “whole theological project was to introduce the study of history into theology and that for him, the very meaning of Vatican II was an acknowledgement of history” (p. 6).
The essays are organized under three headings: “Theologies and Histories of the Interwar Period;” “The Second Vatican Council;” and “Ecclesiology.” The introduction offers an excellent summary of the “state of the question” of pre-Vatican II history and subsequent developments. Twelve essayists offer helpful analyses of some major issues in ecclesiology before, during, and following the council. Included in the volume is Komonchak’s response to the essayists.Contributors include: Peter J. Bernardi, S.J.; Vefie Poels; Nicholas K. Rademacher; William T. Ditewig; Dennis M. Doyle; Ormond Rush; Massimo Faggioli; Stephen Schloesser, S.J.; Robert M. Doran, S.J.; Georgia Masters Keightley; Neil Ormerod; Ann K. Riggs.
All twelve essays offer rich contributions, thus even a brief comment on each one would be a disservice. This reviewer found the first three essays by Bernardi, Poels, and Rademacher very helpful for their treatment of the impact some interwar Catholic clashes of visions had on the discussions of Vatican II and their outcome.
Doyle and Rush’s contributions offer new vantage points to assess the Council’s achievements, in place of the usual debates over continuity and discontinuity. Stephen Schloesser, “promotes ‘biopolitics’ as an organizing principle with which to understand the Catholic Church’s counter-cultural stance toward the secular world since the 1960’s” (pg. 11). Massimo Faggioli recovers an often missed point regarding Vatican II, namely that the reform of the liturgy called for in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy “was a prerequisite for the church to achieve a rapprochement with modern culture” (pg. 10).
Among his “grateful reflections,” Komonchak updates the reader on his views of many of the issues treated by the essayists. Commenting on Ormand Rush’s article, he notes that “One of the greatest failures of Vatican II was its neglect of the institutional implications of its major ecclesiological teachings. Right after the council, tentative efforts were made to institutionalize its call for the participation of all in the life and mission of the church, but in the last several decades almost all of them, at every level, were allowed to atrophy. It is indeed encouraging, as Rush notes at the end of his essay, that Pope Francis seems poised to achieve this long-delayed institutional change” (pg. 247). This is a hope shared by many.
A Realist’s Church should find its place among assigned readings in graduate level courses on ecclesiology since it provides a good summary of many of the pre and post-Vatican II developments that led to the Church’s countercultural stance toward the secular world.
Rev. Allan Laubenthal, STD
Rector Emeritus of Saint Mary Seminary
Elizabeth A. Johnson
Maryknoll, New York
Elizabeth Johnson is readily known as one of the preeminent theologians of our time. Her scholarly research and writing have added clarity and elegant prose to our understanding of Church, God, Jesus, the Communion of Saints, Mary and other theological topics. In Abounding in Kindness Johnson has collected material from her lectures, published articles, presentations and books to provide a wider understanding of her more recent insights and beliefs.
In her own words at the end of her introduction Johnson states, “This book enters the list as one more effort to amplify awareness of the abounding kindness and fidelity of God, to practical and critical effect.” She accomplishes this goal by loosely arranging her material on the Christian creed in four main categories and an epilogue. The topics in each section are so varied that the chapter headings alone give the reader an overview of her wide range of theological research, beliefs and praxis.
Part I is entitled Patterns of Faith in a Questioning Time. The chapter headings include: Passing on the Faith; Atheism and Faith in a Secular World; Heaven and Earth Are Filled with Your Glory: Atheism and Ecological Spirituality; Feminism and Sharing the Faith; Come Ahead: A Story to Live By.
Part II is entitled Great God of Heaven and Earth. The Chapter Headings include: Creative Giver of Life; Creation: Is God’s Charity Broad Enough for Bears?; A Theological Case for Naming God She; The God of Life in Feminist Liberation Theology: To Honor Gustavo Gutierrez; Sacred Ground at the Bedside: The Hospice Caregiver and Divine Compassion.
Part III is entitled Jesus the Living One. The chapter headings include: Jesus Research and Christian Faith; “Christ Died for Us”; Resurrection: Promise of the Future; Wisdom Was Made Flesh and Pitched Her Tent Among Us; Torture: “You did it to me”; Jesus and Women: “You are set free.”
Part IV is entitled Kindle in Us the Fire of Divine Love: Church Matters. The chapter headings include: Remembering the Holy Spirit: Love Poured Out; Coming in from the Cold: Women Envision the Church; Interpreting Scripture through Women’s Eyes; Friends of God and Prophets: Waking up a Sleeping Symbol; Communio Sanctorum in a Cosmic Framework; Truly Our Sister: A Critical Reading of the Marian Tradition; Hearts on Fire: A Revolutionary Song.
Clearly this is not a book to be summarized because of often unrelated topics accrued from years of study, writings, presentations and other personal materials. And yet, through a vast collection of varied topics Johnson is consistent in showing that our God truly is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.”
Maureen McCarthy, OSU, D.Min.
Ursuline College Theology Professor, retired
William J. O’Malley S.J.
Maryknoll, N.Y. 2019
You’ll Never Be Younger is much too rich to be confined to the Medicare community. Each of the 26 short chapters of O’Malley’s text offers a sentence or question worthy of a day’s reflection. The author writes, “Part of the reason for this book is to stir up gratitude in those who’ve taken the gift of life for granted or who rebel against it as a burden.” This intent crosses age-appropriate categories.
Chapter titles such as: The Joy of Imperfection, Genuine Humility, Letting Go Without Quitting and, this reviewer’s favorite, Tolerance For Ambiguity and its list of disputed questions, offer material for vigorous conversations.
In typical O’Malley style You’ll Never Be Younger is, down-to-earth, candid, profound, insightful and liberally peppered with delightful humor. O’Malley critically examines Catholic education and formation of the past, but always with a benign nod to well-intentioned teachers, parents and formators. He shows how past Catholic upbringing may have blocked or side-tracked a true understanding of Jesus and his message. Reaped from a wealth of life experience, some statements can be startling, but are unpacked in a healthy, honest appraisal.
Readers are invited to think through and confront past beliefs, rules and regulations. To this end, O’Malley offers fresh perspectives about a relationship with God (the real God of loving and forgiving without measure!), an understanding of the Church’s function vis-à-vis its mission as expressed in the life of Jesus, and the joy available in living a life of faith here and now.
Creatively crafted, his writing evidences a classical education; the text is supported with excerpts from novels, history, movies, poetry, etc. This is not a “feel good” book, but a gentle, yet straightforward confrontation that surfaces truth—as it was perceived and as it is now—and then urges the reader to get on with life in the time remaining. So, perhaps it is a “feel good” book!
Donna Marie Bradesca, OSU, D.Min.
Director of Adult faith Formation
St. Bernadette Parish