Monday, June 27, 2011

The Ecstasy of St. Francis

Caravaggio, Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, 1594

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace..."

Caravaggio is without a doubt one of my favorite painters of all time. I admire the peaceful expressions on the faces of both Francis and the angel, and of course the dark-light contrast so common in Caravaggio's works. I had the blessing of visiting Assisi this past spring and fell in love with the beauty of the city, the Italian countryside, and with the Franciscan spirit. I realized how similar Dominican and Franciscan spirituality is, and how right Francis was when he told St. Dominic that the two orders needed to work together for the salvation of souls, each in their unique path to holiness. I was also awakened to the profoundness of the famous Prayer for St. Francis. This, for me, is one of those prayers that you hear so many times that it can feel redundant - when actually there is so much depth and beauty and sacrifice in those words. When you really think about what you are saying, not only is there a lot that you are praying for, but what you are praying for, "Let me not so much seek to be consoled as to console ... [Let me not so much seek] to be loved as to love ..." Those are some hard words and some tough love right there! Make no mistake: as much as St. Francis is portrayed with the animals and as this peace loving man, he was no sissy. But this is the path to sanctity. Death to self for love of God and neighbor.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fairy Tale News!

Here is the first poster for Pixar's next movie "BRAVE" due to come out next summer! This is Pixar's first fairy tale and tells the story of a Scottish princess named Merida. Here's the plot synopsis!

"Brave is set in the mystical Scottish Highlands, where Merida is the princess of a kingdom ruled by King Fergus and Queen Elinor. An unruly daughter and an accomplished archer, Merida one day defies a sacred custom of the land and inadvertently brings turmoil to the kingdom. In an attempt to set things right, Merida seeks out an eccentric old Wise Woman and is granted an ill-fated wish. Also figuring into Merida’s quest — and serving as comic relief — are the kingdom’s three lords: the enormous Lord MacGuffin, the surly Lord Macintosh, and the disagreeable Lord Dingwall."

I am a great lover of fairy tales, so I have high hopes for this movie! The original title was going to be "The Bear and the Bow," but was changed some time ago. I don't mind, but I still hope that there is a bear in the movie and that he is a good bear. I am a devoted fan of good bears in fairy tales, such as the Grimm fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. The teaser trailer is due to come out within the next twenty-four hours, and I am tapping my foot impatiently. 

Here is one of the first released images from the movie. I love her red hair! Of course she would have red hair, the little Scottish maid. I look forward to meeting her. The film looks like it's going to be gorgeous from the screen cap!
But speaking of red-haired heroines, this brings me to another piece of fairy tale news. One of my favorite fairy tale retellings, The Shadow of the Bear by Franciscan University graduate Regina Doman has been made into a student film due to premier tonight in Minnesota. The story is based off of the fairy tale afore mentioned, Snow White and Rose Red, the story of two maidens and two enchanted princes. But what makes or breaks a retelling for me are the twists that are added to the tale, what makes it original. In this version, the tale is told in New York City, with no magic, witches, or enchantments, at least not by your textbook definition. The retelling also has a Catholic twist to it, has several illusions to other works of literature, especially G.K. Chesterton, one of the most valiant 20th century defenders of both fairy tales and Christianity. What else does it contain? Well, not to be cliche, but ... 

"Sports. Knights. Nuns. Ninjas. Minstrels. Miracles.
Princesses. Priests. Chases. Escapes. Rescues. Revenge. Torture. True love!" 

This is by far one of my top ten favorite books: I have reread the novel several times (something I don't usually do), I have done numerous sketches of scenes from the book, compiled soundtracks, even composed a few themes on the piano in hopes one day they would make a movie of it. But now I am very excited to say that the film will be released sometime this summer on DVD! It has taken several years to make this project a reality. Below I have posted some links to little clips of the movie the director (her blog can be found here) has posted as filming took place. Many thanks to Elizabeth for all of the heart and soul she put into making this film happen!

Clip #1: 

Clip #2:

Enjoy the clips and I hope you might add The Shadow of the Bear to your reading list!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Church Needs Beauty

These are a few passages from a great article I read off of The New Liturgical Movement blog. This is a fantastic blog - despite the rather misleading title - faithful to the Magisterium and working for the return of beauty and sacredness to the Catholic liturgy all over the world in all its forms. In this article the need for beautiful art and music in the Church is discussed, the need for dialogue, and a return to true art in rejection of the erotic ideas put forward by the modern movement in art. The article begins with an article by Sandro Magister titled, "Only Beauty Will Save Us."

Detail from Michelangelo's The Last Judgement
"What would be learned by the millions of faithful who visit the Sistine Chapel if its noble walls and its famous vault had been painted, not by Michelangelo, but by a Haring, a Warhol, a Bacon, a Viola, a Picasso?"

Radaelli's new book is entitled "La bellezza che ci salva [
The beauty that saves us]." And its subtitle is a whole program in itself: "The power of 'Imago', the second Name of the Only-Begotten of God, which, with 'Logos', can give life to a new civilization, founded on beauty."

It is three hundred pages of metaphysics and theology, enhanced with a preface by the philosopher of "common sense" Antonio Livi, a priest of Opus Dei and professor at the Pontifical Lateran University.

But they are also pages of blistering criticism of the tendency that has overthrown a fruitful, centuries-long relationship between Christian art and faith. Without sparing the hierarchs of the Church, whom
Radaelli accuses of abdicating their magisterial role as beacons of the faith, and therefore of Christian art as well.

Radaelli writes that in order to turn back the tide,
it is not enough to have a few sporadic encounters between the pope and artists. In his view, it is necessary to convene in the Church "a universal debate, not merely artistic, but theological, liturgical, ecclesiological, philosophical, a multi-year and multidisciplinary symposium, the name of which could be the simple but clear 'Coalition for beauty'."

... The article continues with a passage from French author and world-famous art historian Jean Clair. Jean Clair gives a few examples of avant-garde "art" that has been installed in various Catholic Churches in France, then goes on to give his opinion. I was the most fascinated by his comments. This section leads back to the first passage concerning what would people learn if someone like Picasso, a member of the "avant-garde" mentioned below, had painted the Sistine Chapel as opposed to Michelangelo, and the ideas that motivated the former as opposed to those that inspired the latter. The Frenchman says:

I am not a theologian, but as an historian of forms I am struck, in these cultural works called "avant-garde" that today presume to bring into the churches the joy of suffering and evil – whereas traditional worship once used to combat these with its liturgy – of the obsessive presence of bodily humors, privileging sperm, blood, sweat, or putrefaction, the pus in the frequent evocations of AIDS.

The Church has allowed itself to become fascinated by the avant-garde to the point of presuming that the unclean and the abominable presented to the view by its artists are the best doors of access to the truth of the Gospel. In the meantime, various stages have been marked which I do not dare to call a trend.

... Unlike the Orthodox who kneel and pray before icons, even when they are still found in museums, it is rare, in the grand gallery of the Louvre, to see a believer stop and pray in front of a Christ on the cross or in front of a Madonna. Should we regret this? Sometimes I think so. ....

The Catholic religion has long seemed to me the most respectful of the senses, the most attentive to the forms and smells of the world. It is in it that one also encounters the most profound and the most compelling and surprising tenderness. Catholicism seems to me above all a religion not of detachment, nor of conquest, nor of a jealous God, but a religion of tenderness.

....In the work of art born from Christianity, there is also something else, with respect to visual harmony and piety. There is also an heuristic approach to the world. [...] The artist is at the service of God, not of men, and if he depicts the creation, he knows the wonders of creation, he preserves in his spirit the fact that these creatures are not God, but the testimony of the goodness of God, and that they are praise and a song of joy. I wonder where this joy can still be felt, the joy that is heard in Bach or in Handel, in these cultural manifestations so poor and so offensive to the ear and to the eye, to which the churches now open their worship.

Without a doubt, this has been and remains today the greatness of the Church: it was born from the contemplation and adoration of a child who is born, and fortifies itself with the vision of a man who rises again. Between these two moments, the Nativity and Easter, it has not ceased to fight against the "culture of death," as it so rightly calls it.

This courage, this persistence make even more incomprehensible its temptation to defend works that, in my eyes, to the "doors of my flesh," smack only of death and despair.

God without Beauty is more incomprehensible than Beauty without God.

The article concludes with a passage from the author Inos Biffi's "When One Breathes the Breath of Beauty," of which I have included a few sections, partly because they too are wonderful, and also because they have to do with music. I love his comment on musical cathedrals!

By definition, theology "says God." And this "saying" the truth of God has a beauty of its own. [...] This was the conviction of Saint Augustine, who spoke of the "splendor of truth," and was repeatedly echoed by Thomas Aquinas, [...] attributing the prerogative to be "splendor and beauty" to the Word, who in the mystery of his transfiguration and ascension has effused and poured it out in his own glorious humanity, the inexhaustible end of the contemplation of the blessed.

... In this line of aesthetics, we could also recall how "enchanting" the mystery has been made and still is made by sacred music, liturgical and non-liturgical, which begins with the mystery itself, presenting and providing a taste of it in the form of song and melody. The musical repertoires of the Church, an immense patrimony of Masses, oratories, motets, are in turn musical cathedrals. [...]"

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Starry Night

One of my favorite pieces of art from my Art Appreciation class from last semester! I'm usually not a fan of modern art, but I do like some of Van Gogh's pieces, such as this one. I love the vibrant blues and yellows and the church steeple in the church. Van Gogh was not a particularly religious fellow, but he said he liked to go out and contemplate the stars (I suppose this could refer to astrology, but I rather doubt it). The stars are brilliant in this piece though, and remind me of Ransom's space travels in C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet. Ransom is the hero of the story and is awestruck by the beauty of the celestial sphere as he and his two companions travel through space. He even deems the title "space" as too empty and barren a word and prefers to call them "the heavens" because of their wondrous beauty. Another particular feature I like about this painting is the rising steeple of the church. It makes me miss the European towns one would visit or see from the train where you could always tell where the church was amongst the town houses because of the lofty steeples with the crosses on top, pointing towards the heavens.
Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh