Eucharist & Culture (May/June 2021)

Art • Music • Film • Poetry • Books

Art Review

Artwork by Scott Erickson

John Christman, SSS

Anyone with a love of Christian art would be fascinated by the catacombs of Callixtus. Named after Pope Callixtus I, these ancient Roman catacombs were the burial place of early Christians for centuries. Walking their dark meandering corridors one feels an intimate connection with our earliest Christian ancestors. This sense of communion is enhanced by the images they painted on the cavern walls. They were not artists per se, but Christians like you and me who desired to mark these solemn places of their beloved dead with images that spoke of their deepest values and hopes.

Along one of the oldest passages of the catacombs of Callixtus one can find a beautiful ancient Christian image of Eucharist. It depicts in grey-blues and gentle greens a fish. And atop this fish is a basket of bread. Our early ancestors who painted this eucharistic image on the walls of their underground cemetery believed in a God whose love exceeds expectations. Like the super abundant gift of loaves and fishes that fed the multitudes, Eucharist spoke to them of God’s unencumbered generosity. This same sense of unencumbered generosity informs Scott Erikson’s simple but dynamic print entitled, “Divine Hospitality.”

Divine Hospitality depicts bread and fish in the tradition of the earliest depictions of Eucharist such as the image in the catacombs of Callixtus. This allusion to history is not accidental as this print is part of a series Erikson entitles “New Icons.” Thus, there is a deep sense of continuity with the past. However, there is also insight and innovation.

The title along with the image evokes a number of scriptural passages. Certainly, the feeding of the 5000 in John’s Gospel (Jn 6:5-15) or the feeding of the multitudes in the synoptic gospels (Mt 14: 1321, 15:32-39; Mk 6: 34-44, 8:30-44; Lk 9: 10-17) come to mind. At the same time, especially because of the title, Genesis 18: 1-15 and its portrayal of mutual hospitality between Abraham, Sarah, and their three guests also seems fitting.

Divine Hospitality portrays two fish and one loaf of bread, each broken in half. The style and composition are clean and simple. Neither fish nor bread are excessive in detail, lending themselves more to a symbolic interpretation. The flat bold black contours of the fish, somewhat reminiscent of Native American pacific northwestern art depicting animals, adds to this symbolic and spiritual reading.

Were the work of art simply to portray bread and fish then scriptural allusions, comparisons with similar artworks of the past, and stylistic analysis would be the primary means of interpretation. However, Erikson has given the viewer something more intriguing that greatly enriches the theological meaning of the piece. Where the bread and fish are broken, in preparation for sharing, the bodies of the fish and the loaf of bread intersect. It is at this intersection that the abstract and minimal stylistics of the piece reveal their potential. For the interior of the broken bread and fish reveal not crumb or flesh, but simple flat planes delineating the shapes. Cleverly, when resting together, they form overlapping circles. Those familiar with Christian symbols will quickly identify these three equal overlapping circles as a traditional symbol for the Trinity. Each circle has its own integral shape but likewise takes equal part in shaping the larger whole: Father, Son, and Spirit.

Those with eyes attuned to the importance of the Eucharist will immediately see what is being offered here. By symbolically etching the Trinity into this gift of bread and fish, the “hospitality” is significantly enhanced. This is, in fact, a sharing in the divine life itself. It is truly an offering of “communion” with God. As such Divine Hospitality reveals, as many icons do, a glimpse into the nature of God. Here God is eternally triune, self-giving, and nourishing. And as the title helps convey with the word “hospitality,” the viewer is welcomed into that life through the sharing of this sacred food.

Our early Christian ancestors who painted the eucharistic image of bread and fish on the walls of their underground cemetery held a hope of being raised to eternal life through Christ. Sharing in the Eucharist expressed their belonging to “the body of Christ.” Erikson’s Divine Hospitality makes that hope explicit in its creative use of symbolism. Perhaps it would not be out of place on our own tombstone?


an unexpected poem for a child

At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything.
thomas merton

dear child,
how can i explain
that i had no desire for you
even more    tell you
that i could not understand
the singular ache
of those driven to ragged places
in order to give you birth
but    i have longed for you in my own way
i have ached hot tears as i sat in the silence
waiting for you
the unknown of everything emerging
from the womb of infinite tenderness
that face of God too many people fear most
i have waited for your cry that first suck of breath
then the touch of your bloodied flesh against my own
i have waited for you to come during some dark night
and you will
bringing with you
the scalding radiance of Another’s patient, sacred desire

i have waited

i wait still

Lou Ella Hickman, I.W.B.S.

Book Reviews


Edited and with Reflections by Mark David Janus, CSP
Paulist Press
Mahwah, New Jersey

Pope Francis dedicated several days to meditation and reflection on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Contained on the pages of this 53 page book are “some of his intimate thoughts on the love of God, the life of the priest and the universal call to holiness.” Pope Francis who has been known for being challenging and harsh on priests offers some deeply insightful reflections and shows his hand as a compassionate and merciful shepherd and pastor to the priests of the Church.

The overall theme that is presented by Pope Francis is the mercy of Christ and the priest’s cooperation in the merciful gaze. Engaging the theology of the Church, embracing the merciful love of Mary the mother of Jesus, and highlighting the saints of the Church, our Holy Father calls priests to be instruments of mercy for a world that is hurting.

Mark David Janus, keenly aware of the denseness of the Holy Father’s writing, advises the reader to: “not read the reflections all the way through, but rather to begin with a page and read until a specific thought, image or word strikes you.” I wish this reviewer had read the introduction prior to turning immediately to chapter one. It might be the very reason this short, concise book took more than six months to complete.

While the Holy Father’s reflections are worthy of reflection, the richness of this book can be found in the reflection questions that Janus poses. His questions are not easily answered, nor are they for the faint of heart. I envision this short book as a good tool for personal reflection, conversation between a priest and his spiritual director, or priest to priest conversation in prayer groups like Jesus Caritas. Fr. Janus offers three to six questions in each of the four chapters. These are certainly enough to spark thought provoking conversation that would move the reader to reconciliation and mercy and the heart and compassion of the Good Shepherd.

Rev. Thomas M. Dragga, D.Min
Pastor, Church of the Resurrection, Solon, Ohio.


Dan Ebener
Paulist Press
Mahwah, New Jersey

Dan Ebener’s Pastoral Leadership: Best Practices for Church Leaders centers on both “heartful” and “mindful” leadership that can emerge from anywhere in a parish community. Drawing from a brief exploration of the neuroscience of the brain and its relation to emotions, Ebener invites his readers to reflect on their relational capacities so that they may develop more intentionally the awareness and skills that comprise emotional intelligence. Such mindfulness of the power and effect of emotions helps the blossoming leader to engage others in mission-oriented activities. The book also amply threads a spirituality of leadership throughout its chapters and highlights the virtues of humility, patience, and forgiveness of self and others as essential to the leadership task.

Ebener clearly distinguishes the work of leaders from that of managers and punctuates those descriptions with pithy statements, such as “leadership requires change,” “explain the why.” His down-to-earth presentations of contemporary leadership and management literature is refreshing as he presents practical examples from familiar parish dilemmas. In several chapters, his main character, “Fr. Dave” confronts new challenges and discussions of leadership concepts and strategies ensued from such situations.

Of particular value is Ebener’s chapter on systemic change in a parish setting. Drawing from the work of Ronald Heifetz, who uses the term “adaptive change” to describe changes in organizational culture that involve shifts in attitudes and behavior, Ebener adds the dimension of Catholic social teaching to the mix of organizational research and speaks of social justice as a wider example of adaptive change. He is realistic in describing the resistance that change efforts often involve and offers concrete steps and heartfelt approaches for dealing with the grief, sense of loss, conflict, and power plays that systemic change often evokes. Each stage of change requires a listening heart on the part of the leader and a willingness to tend to the fears, griefs, and emotions of those undergoing change.

Ebener’s chapters on strategic planning processes and on calling forth and training new leaders are equally practical in offering approaches and strategies. His planning processes call for a wide involvement of parishioners, centered on issues and questions raised in dialogical groups. Hence, engagement of parishioners is at the heart of the processes he proposes. He addresses the challenges found in large-scale planning and outlines ways of facilitating the eight steps of pastoral planning that he presents.

In many respects, the book could be titled, Parish Leadership, as the main examples provided are in a parish context, rather than in other pastoral venues, such as dioceses, church-related service organizations, or even mission-oriented businesses. One area that could be more developed is the skill of delegating authority and responsibility. Ebener seems to speak of the ordained leading change with “formal authority” (certainly true from Canon Law) and the notion of leading change “without authority” by the laity. A discussion of how authority may be delegated responsibly would be helpful in bridging the divide between “formal authority” leaders and laity without authority.

Overall, Ebener’s work presents a holistic and practical view of leadership in a parish setting, illustrating how important emotional intelligence, spirituality, and virtues are to the practical tasks of engaging others with excitement and leading mission-oriented change. He offers a cornucopia of practices and strategies that are well-grounded in organizational literature and sound Catholic principles. The book is a valuable resource for anyone, with or without formal authority, who aspires to become a compassionate and effective leader.

Barbara Fleischer, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita
Loyola Institute for Ministry
New Orleans, LA


John W. O’Malley. Harvard University Press
Cambridge, MA and London England

John W. O’Malley is an author who is an outstanding Church historian, whose doctorate studies sermons delivered in the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican during the sixteenth century. He published three monographs on three ecumenical councils. Now he adds a fourth book comparing these three councils. He asks a number of questions: What do councils do? Does the teaching change? Who is in charge? Who are the participants? (popes and curia, theologians, laity and “others”). What difference did the councils make? Will there be another?

In the conclusion of this book, O’Malley answers the questions. He also indicates that it would not be possible to answer these questions validly unless based on solid studies of each council in and for itself. This O’Malley does well. Each council produces insights otherwise unavailable. Each council is unique. The language used is very important. For example, Vatican II, unlike other councils, has a language that is not used in previous councils. Trent was more legal. Vatican I was written with canons which were aimed at reforming persons and changing behavior. Vatican II spoke to people of good will and to people of other religions, inviting collaboration for the common good.

This is a small book, but it studies the “issues under the issues” and O’Malley’s comparison rests on years of study, research, writing and thinking, until the uniqueness of each council is obvious. This work deserves a place for all who want to know more about councils and why future councils will be necessary for the Church and the people of God in future ages.

Ernest Falardeau, SSS
Cleveland, Ohio


About Various Authors