Posts Tagged ‘Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona’


Saint Joseph Revisited

There it was — tucked into the middle of the Gospel of Matthew chapter 2.  I had read or heard read that verse hundreds of times, but somehow I had missed it every time.  How could that be?  Like the voice of John the Baptist crying out in the desert, it had been calling out to me.  But I guess I was not ready to hear it until last week.

The passage in question dealt with the Holy Family’s exile into Egypt.  Joseph, Mary and Jesus were returning to Judaea, but along the way Joseph had a change of plan.  “…When he heard that Archelaus was ruling in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there.”  So Joseph adjusted the route and took his family to Galilee, where they settled in a town called Nazareth.

In the Christian tradition Joseph comes off as a supporting actor in a cast of strong-willed or charismatic people.  It’s why artists have consistently portrayed him as an elderly man who quietly devoted his final years in service to Jesus and Mary.  But this verse suggests a determination in Joseph that I’d not considered before.  Joseph thought for himself, and he was was capable of decisive action.  And in this particular case he didn’t need an angel to tell him what to do.  In short order I had to junk my life-long impression of Joseph as the passive actor who stood quietly in the shadows.

E66009F8-F09D-458D-82F3-7FFA51AAD48ESo what have I learned from this?  First, I appreciate the fact that Joseph was an astute man capable of independent thought and decisive action.  He reminds me that God gave us brains and God meant us to use them.  And to those who think that being Christian requires checking an open mind at the door of the Church, Joseph offers a stern rebuke.  God gave us intellect and imagination, as well as the energy to put them into the service of the Lord.

The second lesson has to do with the value of revisiting the sacred texts day after day, week after week, and year after year.  As monks we read the same 150 psalms over and over and over again.  While some might see that as a pointless waste of time, in fact those same 150 psalms have a capacity to nourish that is astounding.

If that’s true for the Psalms, it’s also true for the Scriptures as a whole.  Medieval monks and nuns read big chunks of the Bible year after year, and they read those passages aloud.  In that exercise the text leaps from the page to the eyes, courses through the brain, and as it passes through the lips the ears hear the words as well.  In their experience the reader and the text became one, and it was a total sensory experience.  That said, the ancients would have been the first to admit that it could become familiar food.  But every now and again there was a morsel to savor in a new way.

That experience is not the exclusive preserve of monks and nuns — be they medieval or modern.  Those morsels are available to any who would take and read — or merely listen.  Perhaps the next time we take and eat the food that nourishes our body we should give a thought to the food that nourishes our spirit.  After all, it’s right there for the taking.  Better still, it’s free for the taking.



+On Christmas Eve we prayed vespers in the Great Hall, which is the space where the monks of Saint John’s Abbey prayed for eighty years before moving to the new abbey church in 1960.  The acoustics in that Romanesque space are perfect for our voices, and being there makes the beginning of Christmas a moving experience.

+Christmas Eve Mass at the abbey began with a concert of sacred music, presented by the abbey schola and The Saint John’s Boys Choir.  Mass followed at 10:00 pm, and over eight hundred guests joined us for that service.  As usual, the music was superb and Abbot John’s homily well-crafted and delivered.

+The illustrations in today’s post show a 13th-century altar frontal that originally was in the church of Santa María de Cardet in Cataluña.  Today it is housed in the Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona.


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Andrew:  A Patron Whose Time Has Come

I’ve never been one of those monks who love to bolt out of church as soon as is decently possible.  Like most of my confreres, I’m happy enough to make my exit at a leisurely pace.  All the same, I do appreciate the caution that St. Benedict gave about lingering too long in the oratory when community prayer is over.  On this he and I are of one mind:  enough is enough, even for monks.

That latter point helps explain my general lack of enthusiasm when a feast day brings in its tow a second reading at morning prayer.  At that hour I’m either groggy or rehearsing in my mind the day’s to-do list.  So one reading is more than enough, and a second is a gratuity that brings no thrill.

There are exceptions, of course, and last week’s feast of St. Andrew was one of them.  That feast brought a second reading, and to my surprise it grabbed my attention as second readings seldom do.  It came from the pen of John Henry Cardinal Newman, and it pointed out something that was so obvious that I was embarrassed never to have considered it before.

IMG_5070Cardinal Newman opened with the point that Andrew and Peter were perhaps the first disciples whom Jesus called.  That I already knew.  I also knew that Andrew had shown his commitment to Jesus by bringing others to meet him.  What I’d not considered, however, was the reward that came to Andrew for being among the first and the most unwavering in his loyalty.  To paraphrase Newman, for all of his effort Andrew seems to have gotten the 1st-century equivalent of diddly-squat.

For perspective, consider Andrew’s brother Peter.  When the chips were down Peter denied Jesus three times, and he was impetuous in his behavior.  Yet he got it all.  He got the celebrity;  he got the authority;  he got the keys to the kingdom of heaven and the power to bind and loose.  And what did Andrew get?  Obscurity.  Cardinal Newman wonders about the justice in this, and so do I.

As I listened to Newman’s passage, I thought of the promise Jesus made that the first shall be last and the last first.  That was certainly true for Andrew, and it left me wondering whether Andrew ever resented his brother Peter.  Anybody could see that Andrew was more promising executive material.  And yet, like Jacob’s brother Esau, he got passed over in the succession planning.

Then it dawned on me.  Andrew, at least in my opinion, should be the patron saint of all siblings who have to live in the shadow of a more charismatic brother or sister.  Andrew is the model for all those who toil without fail and with sterling reliability, day in and day out, largely unnoticed.  The Church should name him the patron saint for all who feel overworked and underappreciated.

IMG_5046That’s more than I normally get out of an average second reading on a feast day, and for that I’m grateful to Andrew.  I’m grateful for the way Andrew lived his life, and I’m grateful that he gave some good material for Cardinal Newman to work with.  And thanks to Cardinal Newman, I came away with a deeper appreciation for Andrew and the kind of person he represents.

At this remove, then, do I think that Andrew harbors any resentment that the largest church in the world is named for his brother?  Absolutely not.  Does he envy his brother for his celebrity?  I seriously doubt it.  Does he regret his brother’s impetuous and bumbling character?  Perhaps he found it slightly amusing.

Foremost for Andrew, however, was his relationship with Jesus, and he was eager to share his Lord with others.  That’s what he would recommend to us if he were sitting next to us today.

Still, we’re left with one nagging question.  Was life unfair to Andrew?  From the perspective of celebrity, Andrew clearly got the short end of the stick.  But on another level his reward was more than ample.  He was among the first to know Jesus.  His friendship with the Lord never wobbled for a minute.  That said, he got the reward but not the fanfare.  To my way of thinking, that’s a patron saint whose time has come.


+During the month of November we remember all those who have specifically asked us to pray for their deceased friends and family members.  People send in to the Abbot’s office their requests, which are then gathered in a basket at the entrance to church.  As we monks file in we take one of those slips with us and return it when prayer is done.  For whatever reason, I have found this custom to be wonderful.  It makes tangible our effort to be mindful of the needs of others.

+On December 2nd we monks had our monthly day of reflection.  In addition to the Abbot’s conference at 10 am, we went about our lives in silence from morning until the completion of dinner.

+On Sunday evening, December 3rd, Bishop Donald Kettler of St. Cloud presided and preached at the student Mass.  That was followed by refreshments and the opportunity to meet and visit with the bishop.  Bishop Kettler is an alumnus of Saint John’s University twice over, and he regularly visits campus.  We are always delighted by his presence.

+The photos in today’s post come from a variety of sources.  At the top is an altar panel of The Annunciation by Bartolomaus Zeitblom, ca. 1500, housed in the Louvre in Paris.  Below that is a carving of St. Peter by Roderick d’Osona, made in Valencia, ca. 1500, and housed in the Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona.  Next is yet another saint who gets a lot of press at this time of year:  Saint Nickolas, by an anonymous artist, ca. 1500.  It too is in the Museum of Catalan Art, as is the altar frontal from the Church of Saint Andrew, ca. 1200.

+On Saturday evening, December 2nd, Abbot John lit the first candle on the two Advent wreaths that we have, one in the reflectory and the second in the church.  The photo above is from the church, and Fr. Lew and Novice Jacob labored over that wreath until every last twig was in place.


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