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Posts Tagged ‘Sebastian Gomes’

Crucifixion w_creditGood Friday: Jesus Embraces us from the Cross

We don’t often take the time to consider the artistic differences that distinguish one crucifix from another.  In one figure Jesus may gaze out with stately bearing;  in another he may suffer gruesome torment;  and in still another he has accepted death with serenity.  In each case the artist has picked up on an aspect of the suffering Christ and run to the logical conclusion.  In each case the artist has the potential to speak eloquently, or miss the  potential of the scene entirely.

I was particularly struck by the artist’s ability to teach when I first saw the illumination of the Crucifixion in The Saint John’s Bible.  Artist Donald Jackson had portrayed the figure of Christ in a way I’d not conceived before.  The figure of Jesus and the cross itself were pitched forward, almost as a kite ready to go aloft.  And while the corpus is abstract, the gold leaf conveys a sense of energy — an energy that almost explodes on the page.

This is not a defeated Jesus.  This is a Jesus who is undergoing radical transformation.  Death has not crushed him.  Rather, death has unleashed something truly awesome and powerful.  A metamorphosis is taking place.  Death has had no power to destroy.  Rather, Jesus has broken any chains of death, and instead a scene of intense drama has played out on the page.

Crucifix, 15th century, Abbey church

Crucifix, 15th century, Abbey church

To people scared to death of death, the prospect of transformation provides a glimmer of hope.  But to those who have undergone intense pain and suffering in their final journey of life, the figure of Christ at peace offers a measure of consolation.  The 15th-century Flemish crucifix that hangs in the Abbey church at Saint John’s is just such a figure.  Whatever he may have suffered, the face of this Jesus is tranquil and peaceful.  He is now beyond pain, and the inner beauty has returned after the agony of the cross.

There are so many varied crosses because we each carry quite individual crosses — as does each individual artist who tries to depict this awesome experience.  We each look to Jesus for reasons that are unique to ourselves.  Some look to him for backbone, some for guidance, some for consolation, some for hope that suffering will subside.  Oddly enough, all of these hopes that we direct to Jesus on the cross are ones he seeks to address and embrace.

Crucifix, Castile-Leon, 12th.  Cloisters Museum, New York

Crucifix, Castile-Leon, 12th. Cloisters Museum, New York

In the next few days we will celebrate the Triduum, the most solemn days of the Christian calendar.  On Good Friday we will experience the liturgy of the passion, which has the potential to summon to our imagination all of the varied crosses we have seen, and all of the crosses that we carry.  Each of these images contributes somehow to our understanding, because Jesus on the cross embraces the meaning of it all.  He does indeed suffer unbelievably.  He does forgive.  He is compassionate.  He is serene.  And ultimately he is triumphant — because he conquers the cross and reaches out to each of us.

Throughout Christian history there have been several strands of theology that attempted but ultimately fell short in describing the full reality of our belief in Jesus Christ.  For better or for worse we have called those heresies, and we rejected them not for reasons of intolerance but simply because they took us in the wrong direction.  Among those who narrowed our understanding of Jesus were the docetists, who denied the humanity of Jesus.  According to them the crucifixion was an illusion, because Jesus had no body which could be tortured.  It was all a ruse to trick the devil and to rescue souls from the prison of an intrinsically evil body.

Saint Alban's Abbey

Saint Alban’s Abbey

But orthodox Christians pray in the conviction that Jesus was indeed both human and divine.  Son of God, he embraced our humanity and suffered and died just as we all must.  In that he is one with us.  Just as surely our own sufferings are no fantasy, so is Jesus’ suffering no charade.  He authentically shares in all our sorrows.

One of my favorite prayers from the Mass is said rather quietly by the priest at the offertory.  As the drops of water mix with the wine in the chalice, the words softly come:  “through the mingling of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”  That ultimately is the mystery of the cross.  And it is also the consolation of the cross for all of us who are confused or suffer or are tortured by life.  Frail and mortal as we all are, Jesus comes to remind us that we have within us the life of God.  From the cross Jesus invites us to share in his divinity, just as he has shared in our humanity.

Dawn at Saint John's Abbey

Dawn at Saint John’s Abbey

NOTES

+On March 21st I attended a reception and luncheon for friends and alumni of Saint John’s University.  It was held at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Phoenix, AZ.  Needless to say, the weather was adequate.

+On March 23rd I gave a day of reflection to members of the Order of Malta in Seattle, WA.  I had given the group its first-ever retreat day last year, and it was wonderful to see many familiar faces and to meet several new members.

+On March 21st our confrere Brother Shuuta Maximilian Oka renewed his vows in the presence of Abbot John Klassen.  This ceremony took place at our priory, Holy Trinity Monastery, in Fujimi, Japan.

+In anticipation of Good Friday, our confrere and junior monk, Brother Nick Kleespie, offered a reflection on the illumination of the Suffering Servant from The Saint John’s Bible.   You may see the illumination and hear his narrative at this link.

Brother Oka renews vows

Brother Oka renews vows

+Two alumni of Saint John’s University celebrated the election of Pope Francis in very distinctive ways.  On March 13th, the day of the election of Pope Francis, alumnus Chris Stroh, ’04, recorded an improvisation on the Gregorian chant “Tu es Petrus” (You are Peter).  In this video he plays the organ at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, where he is principal organist.  It was a lovely way to celebrate the arrival of a new pope.

On the day of the installation of Pope Francis as bishop of Rome and Pope, viewers at Saint John’s were startled to see Sebastian Gomes (BA ’07 and MA ’11) approach the lecturn to do the first reading of the Mass.  He was in Rome as part of Salt+Light TV of Toronto, assisting the Vatican Information Services in working with the multitude of media outlets present in Rome..

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Saint Alban's Abbey

Saint Alban’s Abbey

Wanted: Pope Who Does It All

I was a little startled to read Cardinal Dolan’s comment about the impending papal conclave.  He was celebrating the Eucharist at Saint Peter’s Basilica, and in the middle of a sermon he blurted it, out of the blue.  “We’ve got to keep in mind — even more important than the pope is what we’re doing right now. The life of the church goes on, and the life of the church centers around what we’re doing right now.”  What he was doing just then was celebrating the Eucharist, not electing a pope.

That kind of comment can hurt your chances to become pope, but it can also provide perspective for viewers of the current hoopla in Rome.  We are a celebrity-driven culture, and it’s very tempting to deal with the church in terms of celebrities rather than personal commitments of faith.  It’s so much simpler to argue about the qualities of the next pope than it is to live out the responsibilities of our faith.

Saint Alban's Abbey.12.ReredosIn the last few days people have asked me about what the next pope will be like, and my answer is short and succinct:  “you’re bound not to like him.”  Probably you’ll like him for a few minutes, but only before you know his name and where he’s from.  But once the hysteria has subsided, you’ll realize you’re stuck with a guy whose favorite color is not yours and who likes the wrong baseball team (or worse: he couldn’t care less about baseball.)  Quickly the luster of the new pontiff will fade, and the cameras will turn off, and our lives will be back to normal.

The fact of the matter is, writers and all of us have expanded the job description of the pope to include “savior.”  Today we expect so much of the pope that we’re virtually guaranteed to be disappointed.  For starters, he must be charismatic and able to inspire people around the world.  He must have exceptional leadership skills and know almost all languages.  He must be  an astute manager of people and resources, but he must spend all of his time preaching the gospel.  He must oversee each and every bishop, but he must leave them alone to do their jobs.  He must rein in the curia but let them do their work without a  lot of supervision.  And he must know all about banking and accounting, but have the material detachment of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Saint Alban's Abbey.11.LanternBeyond that, he’ll need to work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.  Though he won’t have time for leisure or sleep, he still should lead a balanced life, as an example to all.  Plus, he’ll have to change and modernize everything in the the church in order to make some people happy.  And he must affirm the unchanging reality of the church to make others happy.  Lastly, he should visit his flock throughout the world, but he should spend most of his time in Rome, tending to business.

Shrine of Saint Alban

Shrine of Saint Alban

Given everybody’s expectations for the pope, no wonder this is such a tough job.  Should anybody be surprised that Jesus gave all authority to Saint Peter and then got out of town? He’d been crucified once already, and now it was Peter’s turn.  And even if a few popes have failed miserably or exploited the papacy for their own benefit, most have tried to do a decent day’s work of it.  Most have tried to live out one of their most ancient job titles: Servant of the Servants of God.  In practice that meant that you were head of a church in which everyone had an opinion on how the pope should do his work.  As pope you may look and dress like the chief shepherd, but it’s the sheep who are really calling the shots.  And the sheep include cardinals and bishops and priests and lay people.  All of them have solid advice on how to run the church.  And all of them will listen carefully to the shepherd, and carry out exactly what they judge to be most important.  And all of them are infallible.

You can now see why I don’t aspire to be pope and have not turned in my application.  Nor should others who are in their right mind.  It’s a thankless job.  You’re overworked; and you live in a fish bowl.  People with thin skin should not throw their hat into the ring for this position.

Monks' Gallery

Monks’ Gallery

Three or four years ago Cardinal George of Chicago wrote in one of his books that Catholics think too much about the pope and the Vatican.  Obviously he referred to the cult of personality, as it prevails not only in the church but in politics and society at large.  But he also had in mind the use of the pope as a reference point in the lives of people.  If some people  don’t like the pope’s teaching, it’s a convenient excuse for apathy or dropping out.  Still others, who may love what a particular pope preaches, will use that message as a weapon.  In either case, they have absolved themselves of personal responsibility for their own faith.  They also tend to absolve themselves from participation in parish life.  After all, what could take precedence over Vatican politics?

Medieval Fresco

Medieval Fresco

In his Rule for Monks Saint Benedict does present a chapter on “What kind of man the abbot ought to be.”  At the end of the day, however, his is a rule for monks rather than a manual for management.  He not only presumes, but he specifies, that people come to the monastery to seek God in the context of community.  But they don’t enter in order to find an abbot they like or dislike.  The onus of responsibility for a monk’s life cannot be pushed off onto the abbot, because it is the monk’s calllng to lead a good life.  If the abbot doesn’t live a perfect life, in no way does that exonerate a monk from  having to try himself.  It’s the monk who must decide whether to seek God, and for that he gets the credit or the blame.

In coming days there will be a new pope, and after three days you’ll either like him a lot or be deeply disappointed.  But remember that the pope is neither the  savior nor the enemy.  He’s there to teach the tradition that has been  handed down since New Testament times.  That’s his job.  And my job as a monk is to get on with the life of being a Christian.  Regardless of whether the pope is learned or simple, charismatic or dull, or gifted or inept, my own calling is to be a fellow pilgrim on the path to God.  I cannot use someone  else’s situation as an excuse for me.

Between the lines and behind the headlines, that’s what Pope Benedict was really trying to say.  And he took his own words to heart; and he was so serious about it that he gave up being pope in order to become a simple pilgrim like the rest of us.  What could possibly be more important?

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+On March 4th I flew from Minneapolis to London for a series of meetings and to say Mass for a family gathering at the Farm Street Church, the Jesuit parish in London.  Happily, the plane lifted off from Minneapolis just as the second biggest snow storm of the season was rolling into the airport.

+On March 6th I had the opportunity to visit Saint Alban’s, which is about thirty minutes by train north of London.  It was one of the first spots I ever visited in England, and I’ve been enthralled by this tranquil place ever since.

Founded by the Romans as Verulamium, it became the site of one of England’s most important abbeys.  Built on the site where Alban was martyred by the Romans, ca. 250, the church is now a cathedral.  The shrine has been restored, and pilgrims once again light candles to honor the saint.

Abbey Gatehouse

Abbey Gatehouse

The pictures in today’s post all come from Saint Alban’s.  Among the most interesting is that of the wooden gallery that stands next to the shrine, where monks could unobtrusively stand guard to make sure no zealous pilgrim ran off with the relics.

+Saint John’s University alumnus Sebastian Gomes (BA ’07 and MA ’09) is currently having the time of his life.  Sebastian works at Salt+Light TV, a Catholic production company in Toronto, where he assists Fr. Thomas Rosica, the director.  Last fall Fr. Thomas and Sebastian came to Saint John’s, where they produced a lengthy interview with Abbot John Klassen, OSB.  Now they are both in Rome, where Fr. Thomas is working as a media consultant with Fr. Federico Lombardi and the Vatican Press Office.  If you’ve watched any coverage of the papal conclave, you’ve likely seen Fr. Thomas fielding the questions that come to them in English.

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