Sunday, June 12, 2005

Catholic Art: in tribute to the gift of the senses

From Fr. Jim Tucker's blog, there are 2 links to websites that host Catholic Line Art images. Simple and yet beautiful:

Two weeks ago, in a garage sale, I found a book titled "Evangelical is Not Enough" by Thomas Howard. Although I find that the book does not so much reflect on his reasoning process than describe the actual journey itself. (I found myself flipping back to the beginning of some chapters to see where and when the author had crossed the Tiber). In any case, I share his general view on the Form and Fabric of worship, or worshipful acts. Howard started describing Church buildings thus:

"[The] structure is tall and slender and graceful, made of gray stone in the 'gothic' tradition. [It] spoke clearly, simply and eloquently of the gospel mysteries in all of its design and its furnishings. ... Although I myself had always loved the great cathedrals of Europe, as most tourists try to do, I looked on them as enormous monuments to understanding. ... Those people should have been building with gold, silver and previous stones in their hearts, not in their cities. It should have been their hearts, not the ribbed vaulting, rising to God."

Like most conversion stories, he discovered the other side of the story:

"What I had missed was that one does not cancel the other. Faith, at least as I had conceived of it, was so exclusively a matter of the inner man that it could not possibly be given a shape in the physical world except perhaps by acts of charity, although I greatly distrusted any talk of good works since that seemed somehow to controvert the doctrine of grace. All was to be unseen. Once more, my outlook was unwittingly Buddhist or Manichean. ... To anyone who was swept away by the great cathedrals I would have pointed out crisply that Jesus built no such edifices. In so doing, I would have ignored the overwhelming fact that while He built no such edifices, He spoke words of such power and glory that they burned into the hearts of men and kindled all the skill and creativeness that was in them. ... They roused and vivified us and set us free to do all of our work for the glory of God"

Well well, I'm rambling away... What I'm trying to say is, we're creatures of the flesh. When we worship God, inevitably we worship Him with our physical form, whether in singing or in joyful tears. When we receive Jesus, inevitably we receive Him on the tongue, and not just spiritually. Just as there is a visible element to our worship, so are we stimulated and invited to the Faith through a physical channel, one of which is in the form of Art.

Without its symbolic elements, many would not have found the path of the Faith that easily. Once again I must dig up some memory of my convent school days. The Sisters of Our Lady of Sacred Heart ran the school I attended, Bunda Hati Kudus (literally translated: Mother of the Sacred Heart). Although in terms of administration, there was a lot to be desired, they continually amazed me with their faithfulness in their commitment to teach Catholic values and practices. If it weren't for the statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the prayers before and after school, and the weekly masses in the Church adjoining the school building, I'd have never "seen" the Faith.

And speaking of Catholic Art, There is an upcoming exhibition of Vatican Artifacts coming to Singapore soon, between June 18th til September 2005. Don't miss it if you're in town!

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