Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery ~ Jesus Carries the Cross





We are praying our way through the Rosary Mysteries in solidarity with the Pope's request in turbulent times. The painting is by Titian: Christ Carrying the Cross.

Our Father...


In images of Jesus carrying the cross, Jesus is usually looking at a specific person: his mother, Veronica, Simon or the women of Jerusalem. But here, Titian has Jesus looking directly at us - each of us individually and all of us collectively. 


Hail Mary...


More often than not, Jesus is depicted wearing pretty clean clothes as he walks the Calvary way. But not here - Titian's Jesus is wearing a very dirty tunic. He carries all of human dirty-ness. Some people can't think of sin beyond our third grade examination of conscience. Maybe Jesus is looking into the big-desked offices where contracts are signed for weapons that will be used to burn and blow up children. Jesus carries that dirt.

Hail Mary...

In the top left corner we see Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus to carry the cross (Mark 15:21). He is a quiet presence, coming out of shadow. His eyes are fixed on Jesus. The Gospel tells us that Simon was "pressed" into carrying the cross. Titian seems to have softened that. Conversion brings change: a change of mind; a change of heart.

Hail Mary...

Ancient Cyrene is thought to be in Northern Africa. A recent newspaper article reporting on the lucrative business presence of China in Africa is titled: Chinese Bring Investment, and Racism, to Nairobi. Why does this hateful attitude towards Africa and its descendents persist? It is very wrong. An African man helped the anguished Jesus.


Hail Mary...

We're told that helpful Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. It seems that later these sons became esteemed Christians. We might wonder if and how their father's Good Friday witness impacted them, and here we're thinking about it more than 2000 years later. St. Maximilian Kolbe, the martyr of Auschwitz said, the smallest acts of kindness ripple to eternity.


Hail Mary...

The account of Jesus walking to Calvary is filled with emotion. It invites us to wonder: how did Simon feel about the Romans forcing him into service? It's probably safe to say he was surprised. Mother Teresa said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." There are the small and daily events that surprise and delight us, but there are also the surprises of God's presence and new direction that might shock us.


Hail Mary...

It was common practice to offer pain killing drugs to men going to execution. The women Jesus met along the road likely offered more than tears. The soldiers offered Jesus drug-laced wine at the top of the hill. We live in an intoxicated nation: drunk on power, pornography, alcohol and food overdose, shopping. Is it unreasonable to think that here, Jesus is inviting us to a new depth of sobriety?


Hail Mary...

Only love explains why Jesus would accept this kind of suffering. I am left silent. But it was Jesus who taught us that love sums up all that religion has to teach us. Love is Jesus' new commandment. It is the characteristic that must mark or distinguish his followers.


Hail Mary...

There are extra biblical accounts that tell us about events that might have happened along the Calvary way. We learn of Veronica who tried to clean and dry the face of Jesus. As the world goes, that doesn't sound like such a big deal. But Mother Teresa also taught us, "Do small things with great love." 


Hail Mary...

Jesus is surrounded by brutality. We're told later that most of his friends ran away. How awful is that. But might we consider Simon and Veronica to be new friends? We learn in the crucifixion scene that Mary and John stayed near, and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were present at least for Jesus' burial. The world can be a friendless place.


Hail Mary...

Glory be to the Father...












Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Third Sorrowful Mystery ~ The Crowning With Thorns

Jorg Breu l'Ancien ~ Jesus Crowned withThorns


Our Father...

Sometimes young people who have gotten themselves into trouble say in self defense: "We were just having fun." But these cruel men have gone way beyond anything  that could be called fun. The royal thorn-crown, the genuflecting, the ridiculous cloak are all fake. Bullying is nothing new. The world is full of bullies who will not go away. I pray never to get laughs off of someone else's vulnerability.

Hail Mary...

There is a powerful scene in Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ. Mary (somehow perceiving) is wandering around a courtyard. She stops and presses her face and hands to the pavement. The camera moves down through the ground to the prison cell where Jesus is chained. He looks up to the ceiling. Is this just melodrama? I would say instead: deeply human.

Hail Mary...

When the mocking thugs were finished with Jesus, perhaps his deepest pain was loneliness. The world is filled with loneliness: the asylum seekers who are told to go away, patients in hospitals and nursing homes, children and parents separated from each other, city wanderers, people forgotten in apartments. And there are those who, like Jesus, sit in prison cells. God sees.  

Hail Mary...

We might recall the strange story of Abraham being told to sacrifice his son, Isaac. (Genesis 22:1-19). He is obedient, but just before taking the boy's life, an angel holds back the father's knife and a ram is discovered with its head caught in the thorns. For Abraham's obedience, the ram will suffice. But now Jesus wears the thorns around his head. There are to be no more animal sacrifices. Jesus, in his self-gift, made in  love for us, satisfies every dark claim against us. Everything is new.

Hail Mary...

The thorns of the crown go deeply into Jesus' head. They seem to invade and punish the mind of Jesus where his thoughts of light originate. But do the thorns also somehow amend the worst thoughts of our world: the thoughts of self aggrandizement; ethnicity; the greedy thoughts that abuse the planet and every living thing; the demonizing, hateful thoughts of others; even the non-thoughts which are our personal blind spots?

Hail Mary...

In the ancient world, kings and planets wore crowns. Now Jesus wears his crown of thorns. He rules a new kind of kingdom. "The King of Love my Shepherd is..." Christians sing. Buddhism might use the word compassion: A kingdom of compassion. That I might wish everyone happiness and to be freed of suffering. 

Hail Mary...

The brutes in this painting are working hard, pressing the thorn-crown into Jesus' head with long sticks, so they don't get stuck themselves. There are people like that - they cause pain and sadness from a distance. They then lie, distract or defend to keep blame from attaching itself to them. 

Hail Mary...

This genuflecting guy in the ill-fitting underwear, who is making stupid faces at Jesus - he might be one of the spitters the Gospel mentions. There is physical spitting but also verbal spitting. Ugly. Bishop Untener asks: The men who spit at Jesus turned their rejection of him into a physical act, and that we must remember the other Gospel scene where Jesus mixed his saliva with dirt, making a mud paste to heal the blind man's eyes (John 9:1-41). Is this ugly spitting of the soldiers the world's way of repaying Jesus for that act of mercy?

Hail Mary...

In Lent we sing, "O Sacred Head surrounded by crown of piercing thorn..." I won't be expected to wear a thorn-crown. But God might otherwise stick, poke or prod me with some new idea about Himself. God might puncture some old much-protected idea I have about the meaning of my life or about how I perceive other people. Whatever it is, once I meet Jesus wearing the crown of thorns, it can't be business as usual.

Hail Mary...

Through this long night of abuse, the Gospels record no word of Jesus. He did not curse or threaten. What were his thoughts? The people making all the noise were the brutish guards. Social media airwaves are filled with people objecting and complaining about everything - much of it about unimportant things in a world of great suffering. Sometimes we're silently tolerant of terrible injustices. Our priorities are way off. 

Hail Mary...

Glory be to the Father...

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Second Sorrowful Mystery ~ The Scourging at the Pillar




Our Father...

The Flemish painter, John-Paul Rubens (1577-1640), created this image titled The Flagellation of Christ. We might more typically call it The Scourging at the Pillar. It is said of St. Kateri Tekakwitha: She prayed more with her eyes than with her lips.

Hail Mary...

This is a rough scene. Scourging was a prelude to crucifixion, but sometimes it so weakened the man he was unable to walk to the place of execution. Here the scourging of Christ seems to be more than just a cruel piece of Roman law, but rather a great unleashing of humankind's angry hatred towards God.

Hail Mary...

In the Genesis account, we were created by God and placed in a wondrous and harmonious paradise. It doesn't take long though before the story becomes violent and brother murders brother. One anonymous source says: "If God lived in a house on earth today - all his windows would be broken." 

Hail Mary...

The tough guy on the left is using a whip with a piece of metal attached to the end. Someone actually thought how to "enhance" a tool so that it would do more damage. Depravity runs deep in humankind. These kinds of things happen still. Americans have a short memory when it comes to shameful things. Have we already forgotten Abu Graib?

Hail Mary...

This awful scene happens at night. One major newspaper reported at the start of this month that many hundreds of migrant young people have been shuttled at night to a tent city in the Texas desert. At night.

Hail Mary...

A young man in the background is mocking Jesus with a pretend salute. Bullies mock, even in school playgrounds. But it's especially sad when the mockery is performed by persons of authority, influence and leadership. These people are supposed to bring out the best in us. But this is probably an ignorant boy in Ruben's painting. He lives at the bottom of the pile, so he uses mockery to enhance his stature. 

Hail Mary...


At the bottom right in the painting we see a dog entering the room. Dogs are often included in paintings depicting Gospel events. A dog is symbolic of faithfulness and loyalty. Oh Jesus, though everyone else might turn against you, my soul will stay true. 

Hail Mary...

Our country feasts on violence. People watch reality television hoping to see a fight in a restaurant - fists and curses flying. Before watching a movie we're exposed to half a dozen previews of fireball explosions, crashes, bleed outs and murders. We use images of burning cities as movie entertainment. And while we don't have a corner on violence, around the world we are thought of as a violent nation. We can defend that, or pray for our conversion.

Hail Mary...

This Gospel scene is found only in Western art; it doesn't appear much in Byzantine or Eastern iconography. We might think the gruesome depictions of Jesus' torture are unnecessary. Or contemplating his prison grief, our souls might be awakened and made sensitive to creation's sorrow and pain. 

Hail Mary...

An arm reaches into the scene holding a bunch of dried sticks - another weapon to be used against Jesus. The bully on the right steadies himself by stepping on Jesus and grins as he holds his own weapon high above his head, the better to increase momentum. But there can be weapons in our hearts and in our minds. Do I want to be a non-violent person?

Hail Mary...

Glory be to the Father...

Friday, October 19, 2018

The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Taking of Christ in the Garden




Of course, the First Sorrowful Mystery is The Agony in the Garden. But there is a sub-scene taking place in that Gospel event which the Italian master, Caravaggio, has painted and which offers us opportunity for contemplation. The painting is titled: The Taking of Christ. It is the moment of Judas' betraying kiss and Jesus' arrest.

Our Father...

This scene is filled with movement, emotion-laden action, the tensions of light and dark, violence and surrender. Like much of human life. I might simply pause in silence and wait for some feeling response to rise up before praying the prayer.

Hail Mary...

There are seven figures in this painting. All are seen in profile except the face of Jesus. It makes for a crowded scene - like the political and Church scenes playing out today on newspaper pages, television and computer screens. Caravaggio has painted no background - only darkness. Does this suggest the drama is played out everywhere: betrayal, violence, power abuse?

Hail Mary...

There is a billowing blood-red cloth, umbrella like, over the head of Jesus. This portends the suffering which begins in the garden. Jesus is leaning away from Judas, almost as if he is going to fall down for the sadness of the betrayal. But his hands are prayerful, without a retaliatory weapon. His brow is furrowed, knowing the pain of being turned against and the sad horror of violence.

Hail Mary...

The eyes of Jesus are full of grief. All this clanking metal, gathered to take away the one who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Maybe Jesus' eyes are sorrowful too because he feels the strong grasp of Judas' left hand, which could be the grasp of friendship, but also the phony kiss. So many people in the world have sorrow-filled eyes.

Hail Mary...

Some say the fellow on the far left is the apostle John. The Gospel tells us the apostles were scattered in fear that night. He seems to be running right off the edge of the canvas. This disciple is wearing a tunic, but there was also that un-named man who dropped the sheet he was wrapped in and ran off naked into the night. Like someone who has forfeited his or her baptism relationship with Jesus - for fear.

Hail Mary...

At the same time there is a man on the far right moving into the scene. Caravaggio has painted himself into the painting as a young man. It's only moon light that illumines this night time event, but this fellow is holding up a lantern. He doesn't seem to be part of the meanness. We get the feeling he is perhaps straining to see - even standing on tip-toe. I want to see the face of Jesus. I want to hold up the light of my Baptism candle, however fragile the flame. 

Hail Mary...

You'd think Caravaggio would have placed the face of Jesus right in the center. But no, the over-stated arm of the arresting soldier gets all that attention. We talk a good game, but the world is infatuated with all things military. Imagine what we could do for the world's children if we placed our energies and resources at their service. And as November approaches, all these rallies and pandering for the votes of veterans and military people. Jesus is pushed to the side. Caravaggio seems to understand. 

Hail Mary...

On the other hand, the soldier's shiny, metal arm leads us to Jesus. Caravaggio isn't showing off his talent, but maybe the metal serves as a kind of mirror. Do I dare to look closely; I will see my self. The reflection invites an Examination of Conscience. The nation needs an examination of conscience; so does the church. Remember the 1960's bumper sticker, "My country, right or wrong." That's idolatry. Idolatry is a betrayal.

Hail Mary...

There is a lot of arguing going on these days in the art world over whether or not this painting was really created by Caravaggio. Of course, all the wrangling comes down to money: "Is the picture as valuable as we thought? Will people still pay to see it if its a copy?" Let the artists knock themselves out over it. The only question I need to ask is: "Am I the real deal, an authentic image? Or am I a Christian look-alike; a wanna-be?" 

Hail Mary...

One scholar, musing on this painting, ends by calling it a "secular event." How sad is that - to miss the painting's spiritual content. I must be still now and consider the painted scene. Look at what the world has done: we have arrested the All Good One and given him a fake kiss. 

Hail Mary...

Glory be to the Father...