Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Angels in the Kitchen
















Bartolome Esteban Murillo painted this large canvas titled Angels' Kitchen for the Franciscan Monastery of San Francisco el Grande in 1646. It might be the three-part story of Brother Francisco Perez, a Greek monk who worked as a kitchen assistant for thirty years.

The painting is essentially about Francisco's prayer - that it was of such an intensity and filled with such a love of God that he entered into ecstatic states symbolized by the depth of light in which the brother is suspended and the animation of his habit. A warm, alive and light-some prayer! Indeed, perhaps we see in the little paper beneath him on the floor, left behind,  the composed, pre-fabricated prayers he was required simply to recite. 

On the left we see Francisco's Father Superior who has brought a couple of outsiders to either admire the scene or perhaps to check-out what's going on in the kitchen. In other words, maybe the superior has brought in a doctor to be sure Brother Francisco is alright in the head! The clergy are usually not quick to delight in mystical events - witness Father Peyramale at Lourdes who hassled young Bernadette who claimed to have seen a lady of light in the grotto of Massabielle. Or the bishop who scoffed at Juan Diego who reported a heavenly lady with a request at the top of Tepeyac.

No matter, as these things come from heaven they endure beyond the objections, hesitations and fears of the clergy in charge. But while Francisco is flying in his prayer he's also falling behind in his kitchen responsibilities. The bell will ring and the friars will assemble for dinner and there'll be no food. But heaven is grateful for Francisco's love and so heavenly help arrives to put dinner on the table.

In the center we see two very prominent angels with colored wings and tunics. One is clearly the chef-in-charge, perhaps giving directions to the other angel who seems to have just arrived. To the right is a whole kitchen staff of angels: one in the back is tending the oven, another is stirring the pot, another is putting out the soup bowls and a little group of putti is scouring out a large and shiny copper pan.

Murillo was only about thirty years of age when he painted this joyful scene. He introduces us to his skill in the painting of still life vegetables, a glazed pitcher and bowl, a large metal pot, an earthenware jug. 

But to be sure, the painting isn't just about little Brother Francisco. Murillo wants us to know that God is a God of delight, joy and even humor. It's easy to forget this today, isn't it? And God, whose love for us is compulsive, hopes for a return from us. And each day, however obscure and routine, is filled with the presence of heaven. And wonder is close at hand. But we must look and listen with inner senses and even anticipate God's delights. 


11 comments:

  1. A wonderful look at this painting. I love your explanation of it Father Stephen. You bring my inner senses to the outside for a greater appreciation of life.

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  2. I don't think that most of us would not believe such mystical events. It it is out of the realm of normality, we tend to discard the thought of it being real. How is one to judge? Is seeing really believing as it was for Thomas? When one thinks about it, our whole religion is based on mystical events from 2000 years ago.

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    1. When we're very young - say five - we have a very active sense of the invisible in our lives - we believe in magic and Santa, flying reindeer and angels, fairies and talking animals. But at some point this shifts and animals become the enemy and the world of shopping and things becomes all important. But there are still folks who keep their child-heart alive and sensitive. Often priests, whose day to day life draws them into the life of mystery, lose that sense of wide-awake and trembling and they become functionaries. It's sad for the priest when that happens. I"m personally glad that I believe these things - but I'm all the more interested in the underneath - the life meaning unique to each person.

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    2. I am happy to believe I angels around us.

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  3. Life is good and wonder-filled! Blessings for you and your family at the start of Advent!

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  4. The wonder of God never ceases. Let us not forget that.

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  5. Father Morris,
    I am all about building a community that finds in the richness of the Catholic teachings on the dignity of the human person, the nature of love, the nature of beauty, and the nature of committed relationships of all kinds. I have found this blog to be a rich source of information and encouragement to help my spiritual and personal growth. Amen. Thank you.

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  6. I thank YOU for following the posts and I send a blessing at the start of Advent.

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  7. This is a delightful painting! Little acts of charity but done with great love. Its a struggle sometimes to realize love is the only way. I am always struck by the big powerful wings angels have. Your right. This is an amusing scene. Thanks for bringing this to us.

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  8. Although it is hard to do these days, I like to keep my own child heart alive. What a nice way to put it. I find it especially comforting in this season of Advent as we anticipate the wonder of the birth of Christ.

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  9. I have had a vision of my own guardian angel whom I call Angelo. He's huge as I need much protection. This painting is incredible and I want to believe depicts what is available to many, yet The despair lately makes it hard to 'see' on a regular bases. Thank you for your perseverance , Fr. Stephen. I am greatful for the new year of waiting in Advent.

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