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Ep. 272 Liz Lev on Pulling Rupnik's Art & Father Kirby Talks Fragility of Freedom for the 4th!

Episode Description

Art historian Liz Lev discusses from Rome what makes art sacred in light of the ongoing Rupnik scandal, with the recent call from Cardinal Sean O’Malley to remove the mosaics of the priest accused of sexually abusing women. The works appear in more than 200 sacred locations, prompting questions such as whether the sometimes scandalous lives of other early artists should be considered, and if it’s injurious to victims to display the art in places of worship. While the Bishop of Lourdes has also expressed his conviction the artwork should come down, the debate continues.

Mosaic art by Marko Rupnik

Father Jeffrey Kirby joins us to mark the Fourth of July by sharing his thoughts on what he calls the ‘fragility of freedom.’ He reminds us that if our nation is to continue to grow and prosper as ‘the land of the free and home of the brave,’ our freedom must return to a foundation of sound moral sense, and that true freedom lies in our inheritance as children of God.

Father Roger Landry checks in from the road as he continues along the Eucharistic pilgrimage, with an inspiring homily for this Sunday’s Gospel.


Liz Lev is an art historian with degrees from the University of Chicago and University of Bologna, Italy. For more than 20 years she has served as a guide in Rome and professor at the Duquesne University, Italy campus, as well as the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. An expert in the history, art, cuisine, churches, and museums of Rome, she was also commissioner of the Tourism Board of Rome and a didactic consultant for the Vatican Museums. Liz is the author of four books and a frequent TV commentator on art and the papacy. She has taught and lectured in venues throughout Europe, the US, Singapore, and Australia, and addressed the UN.

Father Jeffrey Kirby is a Catholic priest, moral theologian and Papal Missionary of Mercy. He serves as the Pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in South Carolina and as an Adjunct Professor of Theology at Belmont Abbey College. Father Kirby is the author of several books on the moral and spiritual traditions of the Catholic Church. He earned his doctorate of moral theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. He was the 2016 recipient of the Order of the Palmetto – the highest civilian honor in the state of South Carolina. A sought-after conference speaker and retreat leader, Father Kirby is recognized for his vocations work utilizing social media, web design, and videography in recruitment efforts for the Catholic priesthood and sisterhood.

Father Roger Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts. He writes for numerous publications, speaks on radio and TV, and is the author of the book, Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God. A graduate of Harvard and the Pontifical North American College in Rome, he served as Attaché to the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the UN in New York. Father Landry continues his journey along the Seton Route of the 1500-mile Eucharist Pilgrimage this summer, as he heads toward its culmination in Indianapolis later this month.

The following transcript is machine generated.

Episode 272 Transcript

GrazieHello friends, and welcome to Conversations with Consequences. And we are the radio show and podcast of the Catholic Association where we aim to change the culture one conversation at a time. You can listen to Conversations with Consequences on the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network. We are also on Sirius XM Channel 130. Of course, our radio show is always a podcast.
Go to the Catholic Association, Dawgs podcasts, or directly to wherever you listen to your podcasts. I'm your host is Dr. Gracie Christy. Thank you for joining us again this week at conversations. And joining us next is an old friend of the show, one of my favorites, Father Jeffrey Kirby. He's a priest at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Indian Land, South Carolina.
He's a moral theologian. Welcome to the show, Father Kirby.
Father Jeffrey KirbyThank you. It's good to be with you, Gracie.
GrazieIt's always such a pleasure to have you on. It's I feel we could talk forever, and I think our listeners could listen forever, because your words are so full of wisdom and also light, because sometimes there's wisdom and things get dark. And I think we're all ready for a little light, aren't we?
Father Jeffrey KirbyYes, man. Hey, man, speak the truth and love and keep our joy. Yes.
GrazieJoy is so important. I think that all of us are. Are. Well, everybody I know seems to be very caught up right now in a lot of the political insecurities that we feel and the the chaos that we see on the national stage and in the international stage. So much, so much to worry about. Right? So many things to get to be concerned about and to to pray about.
And at the same time, it's hard to it's important to preserve our joy in the things that we have every right to be joyful about.
Father Jeffrey KirbyAbsolutely. And the things that give us joy are eternal things. So, you know, the sorrows, the frustrations, the, you know, the the twists and turns of of political life and social life. You know, in many respects, these come and go is eternal things that that continue to carry us. And it's from those eternal things that we receive our joys from nothing in this life, no matter what this fall world treasure, throw it out at us and none of it has to take our joy unless we give our joy away.
So I think we. You're saying we need to hold on to that joy, because we have a lot to be joyful about. And Jesus Christ is risen physically.
GrazieYes, but there's a part of our of our Christian or of our Christian life, our Christian mission, which has to do with being warriors. Right. We we are not just here to to to be very happy and grateful that Jesus died for us and that we have these wonderful little lives where we're doing all the right things. We also have to be salt of the earth and and the light on the hill.
So how can we do that? And I'm going to connect it. We're going to connect it to your beautiful piece on freedom, because I think it's all it's all very interwoven. But how can we do that? We're also being joyful.
Father Jeffrey KirbyYes. Yeah. So I think one of the ways that we, you know, our salt, light, leaven and the rest of the world is, first of all, by fulfilling the demands and expectations of our vocation. So for myself, being a good priest or for those call to married life and parenthood to be good spouses and good parents, and then from there it's and to be good citizens, it's to play our part in social life, to speak up for what is good and true and noble, to discern what is beautiful, to guard and protect the innocent.
So it's from the the closeness of our vocation, from family life in particular, that then we are called to go out and to speak the truth. And so we have to make sure that we're involved, that we should know our neighbors. I have those tell my parishioners that their first missionary field is their neighborhood. And so you have the more responsibility of knowing the names of your neighbors and whatever needs they might have.
So the widow who's by herself down the street or the person across the street who, you know, has difficulty and struggles with depression or or whatever it might be like, you need to know your neighborhood. That's your evangelization field. And then in our society, we have to make sure that we're involved, that we vote. Obviously, we pay taxes, that we voice our opinion, that we do not allow people to silence our opinions just because we're Christians.
So we know that what we believe and what we follow is good and it's good for everyone.
GrazieWell, I think right there, Father Kirby, if you could stop for a moment there, because that's something that's missing in many people's ideas about what we're called to do because we think, well, it's good for me, but we have to make that next step, right? It's good for everyone. How can how can we express the the beautiful ideals and values of our faith in a way that we can be very sure that it's good for everyone, but at the same time that it respects other people's freedom?
Father Jeffrey KirbyYes. Yes. I think the power of the witness has to be behind every word that we speak. So if I speak about the importance of patients, and patients are important for every human being and how we have to be kind to patient to one another. But I'm the most impatient person. Okay? Witness diminishes the message. So I think that as Christians, we have to cooperate with grace.
We have to seek to model as best we can. I mean, obviously, we're follow, we're sinful. But as best we can, we model, we we seek to be good witnesses. So when we speak, the credibility and the authenticity of our words have a force, a power because of our witness. So I think that's the first part. And then secondly, you know, from the witness, we can just point to, you know, to to reality and just say, you know, is it better to lie, to tell the truth?
Is it better to, you know, have a good and strong work ethic and to, you know, be able to to contribute and, you know, to play a part in terms of society by being involved in the work or to sit at home and live on government assistance. Like, you know, we can compare and contrast where the reasonable person to person of goodwill can say, yeah, this is a better path, this is what I need to do.
And so, okay, good. Well, you know, as we can discern this with the light of natural reason, this is also what God teaches us because it is good, you know. But what's your point? Basically, what happens is, is we have almost privatized goodness, just like we fight with truth. People talk about my truth. My truth say, no, no, no, no, not owned by anybody.
Your truth is what we call it opinion. You know, truth is what unites us because no one owns it. It's independent of all of us, and it's a thing we can agree on.
GrazieSo truth is discoverable, it's immovable, it's eternal. These are things that that escape the the modern culture, Right? The mentality of the modern culture, which is so relativistic.
Father Jeffrey KirbyIt's convicting but also consoling. I mean, there's a power in being able to agree with every human being that two plus two equals four or than an oak tree is an oak tree. Like there is a certain goodness, a constellation, a source of unity that's found in that. And we start messed around with truth and goodness. Well, what we're doing is introducing chaos and discord, and people of goodwill can recognize that.
So, yeah, that's that's not good. You know, it's not good when people say it. It doesn't matter if you steal or whether you earn. And by so it's it's up to you, whatever you want. No multiples and no, that's not good. I don't want people to steal my stuff, you know, So so I think that as Christians we can present the message in a way that respects the religious liberty of all that respects, you know, the freedom of all people.
But we have to make sure that we speak. It's like, you know, at a book club some time ago and we're talking about St Paul's admonition, speak the truth and love and is and one of the participants said, you know, it used to be that we had to really focus on the love part, you know, and we out to do that.
But now we have this talk about the speak part, you know, it's like speak the truth and we'll will speak right speak and then, of course, speak and love. But but there are a lot of Christians who've lost their tongues, have lost their backbones, and the consequences are not just for us and for Christian families, the consequences for society.
You know, I tell people, I tell my parishioners, we have legalized abortion, legalized gay marriage in the United States because Christians failed in their responsibility to be salt, light and love it, that we stop teaching, we stop giving witness. We start trying to mold and shape culture according to moral goodness. And and these are the consequences of that moral failure.
GrazieLet's bring this back, Father, to your piece in the National Catholic Register. 4th of July Reflection freedom is fragile reality. So we're talking about in your piece, you're talking about very beautifully about the idea of America. And that's what we celebrate this week In the 4th of July weekend, we celebrate a country that was built on an idea, right?
It wasn't built on tribe, but a tribal alliance. It wasn't built by geography. It wasn't it was built on this on a on a set of values and ideas and and freedom. Is this underlying rock value, right, in our in our American society that has sustained us that has sustained us as a country for all these for all these many decades since our country was founded.
But freedom is a complicated word. And I think we've been we've been coming at it obliquely already for a few minutes as we talk in general about our Christian vocation and how to be salt and light. So tell us further the American notion of freedom and the Christian notion of freedom. Do they intersect? Are they the same?
Father Jeffrey KirbyYes, I'm sure in experience. I had a while back, I was speaking with someone who had been in the Korean War and described just the fight in the battle and the bloodbath that was a part of his experience in that war. And he said to me, you know, kind of somberly, he said, you know, we were fighting the communists and we were fighting for freedom.
He said, I look at the world today and I don't know if this is the freedom I was fighting for, you know, And that struck my heart because, you know, what this faction was expressing, I think, is what I was trying to express in my piece, which is that, you know, freedom has been redefined. It's been hijacked right under our noses.
And we are being told now that freedom means that you can do whatever you want. There are no consequences, there are no responsibilities. You can have whatever you want, do whatever you want. You can even change your birth sex that you were given. You can say that you were an observable man and you can now say that you're a woman, right?
I mean that that's the extreme we've gotten to.
GrazieThat is that is exactly. I feel like we hit the wall right right there. We sort of we sort of drifted down this avenue of libertine ism instead of freedom or unhinged, unhinged individual, I don't know, self-expression as freedom. And then we hit this wall where it's even challenging the kinds of realities that toddlers are able to distinguish.
And yes, and now where we're even setting these very obvious biologic realities aside as though we can.
Father Jeffrey KirbyRight, Exactly. And as if there could be no consequences for that, you know, or that there are no obligations to the person that we have been born into.
GrazieAnd as though that kind of freedom and quotation and scare quotes, as though that kind of freedom was is somehow able to help us flourish. Right. As though that as a flower, as a human flourishing is connected to that kind of freedom. English and Marx.
Father Jeffrey KirbyYes, yes, yes, yes. And and the tragic part is we can look at human history and certainly art is unique because of the amount of medical technology we have. But we can look at similar trends in human history. And it has always led to an assault on human dignity and a destruction of civilization that when a society says freedom means you can do whatever you want, it doesn't matter.
There are no boundaries, there's no moral understanding, there's nothing there is nothing that can bind you, not even, you know, in our more contemporary example, your birth gender, you know, the person you were born as right.
GrazieOr could even conceive does which because of freedom.
Father Jeffrey KirbyExactly.
GrazieFather, let me ask your opinion on this. Even so. So you see these these hordes of young people who are very invested in in this idea, right. That there's complete freedom when it comes to things of a sexual nature, for instance, amongst others. But at the same time, they have lost respect for freedom of speech, which is one of our foundational freedoms or freedom of religion, which is another foundation of freedom.
Tell me explain to us, if you can, how these two things coexist in the same brain.
Father Jeffrey KirbyUltimately, I would say it's something they can't. And I think that leads to the fragmentation and the chaos, the confusion of the contemporary person still that, you know, the person, you know, wants to say, well, of course, I respect freedom of speech, but then currently says, no, you have to use these pronouns and you have to use the language I tell you to use.
GrazieRight? And you know, you can't speak on my campus because you might hurt my feelings.
Father Jeffrey KirbyRight? Exactly. I need a quote, safe space and something, you know, and these languages use really just as as, you know, social and cultural gag orders. Right. And or concurrently. Well, I want to have freedom of religion, but no, you have to betray your religious beliefs in order to comply with what I tell you. Right? Yes. I just said, like these movements that scream tolerance are the most intolerant of social movements I've ever seen.
GrazieSo. So is it is it different ideas of freedom or freedom applied differently? How does that work, do you think?
Father Jeffrey Kirbythis is exactly crazy. And that's a great question that leads us to a huge clarification and I hope a retrieval because this false understanding of freedom, you can do whatever you want. That's not that's not actually freedom at all. Ultimately, that's barbarism. We would say it's moral licentiousness. This this type of, you know, you know, no bounds, You know, where behaving right so so that that's they say it's freedom.
It's not a lie it's it's again freedom. You know we define right under our noses and actually has been completely inverse to be the exact opposite of authentic freedom, because freedom is the power to do what is right and good and noble. It's having the grace of God. It's having a good education, it's having a strong family. It's it's having the moral stamina to do what is right that we know is for all human beings.
That's difficult. You know.
GrazieWe have if someone's listening to this right now and they're completely at sea because they don't have that kind of language in their in their arsenal. Give give us an example of that, of somebody who how is freedom? The freedom to do what's good, the proper freedom. Imagine that you're speaking to a completely secular person listening who really doesn't know what that means.
Do you have a good concrete example?
Father Jeffrey KirbyYes. Yeah. So they they say let's let's look at the situation of many of our inner cities and the poverty and the crime of the inner city. And we are constantly being told, well, the problem is racism. The problem is, you know, a failure of reparation, the problem and on and on. And the solution has to be government.
The solution has to be money. The solution has to be programs and so on. So this has to be whatever we want it to be. But then it's go back to authentic freedom. Authentic freedom is breaking through all these cycles of poverty, violence, neglect, and allowing a child to have a mother and a father who love them and teach them having a good school that's safe, that allows a child to receive an education, an environment that allows a child to learn right from wrong, and eventually to have that internal freedom to choose virtue, because it will be virtue that solves the problems of our inner city over in inner city.
SLAY So it's the freedom that is given, you know, by the human spirit, by the state of affairs that allows the person to say, I will not continue the cycle of poverty, I will not continue the cycle of violence, I will not continue, you know, this this culture of victimhood. I will do what is right. I have the freedom to change.
Right. So I saw some time ago it said ten things you can do to be successful, that this is just, you know, sociological, psychological assessment tests, evaluation, research ten things that you can do to be successful is graduate high school. You know, you know, graduate high school don't have sex before marriage. And the list goes on, you know, like you have a steady job, you know, and tonic and.
GraziePractical, practical tips. 101.
Father Jeffrey KirbyExactly. And all those can be done when a person has the interior freedom, that inner strength to die to the fall of this and all these ideologies and and things that want to convince them that somehow they're victim or somehow that they're owed something, that they haven't earned, all these lies, I mean, you know, and pick your poison.
GrazieAnd so would you say develop, develop the human virtues that allow allow you to be sort of the protagonist of your story?
Father Jeffrey KirbyAbsolutely. Yes. Yes. And to realize that that strength is given him ultimately, I mean, the scriptures tell us, I mean powerfully for freedom. Christ set us free. I mean, that's just like, wow. Like, like, you know, as most people wanted, Jesus Christ died on the cross. And there are many good and valid answers. The redemption of humanity. Absolutely.
Well, how does that redemption work itself out? By the restoration of our freedom that we don't have the strength inside to say, everyone's telling me that I should be a thief. They were telling me that I should steal. Everyone tells me that I'm owed this. Everyone tells me that there are no more goodness, but I'm not going to go with any of that.
Instead, I'm going to choose freedom and I'm going to instead not steal, but I'm actually going to pursue a job and I'm actually going to make money, earn things, and buy what I need. Right. And in some situations that could be earth shattering because they call called the freedom flies in the face of the farmers of this world.
And this is why I give the example of the great the great inquisitor in my column, you know, from the famous novel The Brothers Karamazov, there's this grand inquisitor and the Lord returns, and he realizes that, you know, people are just being, you know, harshly told what to do. They're they're afraid of of the consequence is and they haven't really learned freedom and the laws kind of speak to the grand inquisitor about this in the great inquisitor says you're a foolish humanity cannot be trusted with freedom.
They have to be told what to do. They have to live in fear. And this is how it's done. And there's no room for you anymore, Right? This message of freedom that you're offering is no good, Right? And and I think more and more sadly, even the United States of America a land that was born under this principle of freedom, more and more Americans and Christians within the United States are accepting these lies that somehow we're not free, that really what we need is we just need government or we need money or we need someone else to tell us what to do or we need fear.
You know, I read somewhere it said that most people don't want freedom. They just they just want a benign dictator. You know.
GrazieThey want their problem solved for them. And and something cushy that that will you know, that sort of a not even a social safety net, sort of a social warm path to lie in. You know. You know what I find a lot, Father? You know, I'm I'm the child of immigrants, of Cuban immigrants and exiles, as we say, even so long ago, are still exiled.
But what I find here in Miami, where I live, where most people are from somewhere else, they really people who've come from other places where freedom is just something to dream about. They really know how to value American freedom. But many times the inheritors of this freedom of many generations of American freedom are the ones that least value it.
And it's a it's a lack of comparison, a lack of an ability to compare. Right. Maybe a faulty education and a lack of a lack of exposure to different countries in different ways of being of existing under a corrupt government, for instance. And they don't value the the the the gorgeousness of America. Right. That idea that that the that the government serves the people, not the people, the government, that the government doesn't the the government's not supposed to shut you up and marginalize you.
And if you're of the wrong political caste or that the or that the government is supposed to treat everyone fairly and there's a rule of law that applies equally to everyone, like these are ideas that are so fundamental to America and have resulted in so much happiness and flourishing and and so many just beautiful families and lives. Right.
And so much goodness poured out over the world that the people who have inherited this after many generations do not recognize it anymore. It's like a fish that doesn't know he's the water. He's swimming in.
Father Jeffrey KirbyHis. Yes. And I'll tell you, Gracie, in a similar way, you might know some some of my my past is that, you know, I grew up as a child in Cold War West Germany, as the son of of of an American service member. So to me, symmetry yourself here is even far more drastically under the Castro regime. But the experience of living as an American overseas in was in West Germany for the sole purpose and mission of defending freedom that at any point, if the Soviet Union chose to, quote, come over that wall, we were ready as Americans to defend freedom in Western Europe.
And that was my experience. That was that was my childhood.
GrazieExperience and maybe more ready than the Western Europeans. Right. There was a sense of that, too, that you were more invested. We were more invested in that in many ways, Yes.
Father Jeffrey KirbyYes. And and in my column, I cite the tear down this wall speech like I was living in West Germany. I was a young teenager when President Reagan gave that speech. But in that speech, he compares phrases ayade with a society that is marked by totalitarianism. And we just have to look at his two Germanys before the unification in 1991.
I mean, West Germany is prospering, the economy is good, People are happy. Either you know, they're going on Volks marches or you're having cultural events, you know, things. Life is good, right? You look at East Germany, it was all gray. Nothing was, you know, functioning. It was falling apart. And and you look and this goes back to our example before where you just look like, here's a society of culture and freedom.
Wow, look at us. It's so colorful and bright and happy and successful. You could include great. The idea.
GrazieThe American idea is that government exists for the people right to to facilitate their flourishing. And when you go to these other countries, my son just came back. My 20 year old was just on a mission trip to Cuba, came back with all sorts of his eyes are open on all sorts of ways. I mean, and he was he was already pretty well informed.
But what he told me was in in places like Cuba, and he and he was really deep in and in the interior of Cuba, really experienced in life with with the with the poorest of the poor there. And they really are the poorest of the poor. They they they live on a few dollars a month and they barely get by.
But he said the government exists just to oppress the people and and he can't see any other way around that. That's why they exist. And when you compare, that's why the government that's what the government does. It keeps the people down just for the joy of keeping the people down. Yeah, and you must have seen that. I know you saw that in comparing East and West Germany.
Father Jeffrey KirbyOf course.
GrazieThese are these are the same people on both sides of the wall. Right. And we my son sees it in Miami versus Cuba. He sees the same enterprising, joyful Caribbean people making beautiful lives on one side, having healthy families and working hard and building building wonderful American dream lives that the whole world can envy. And then the other countries, same people being kept in a state of purposeful immiseration.
And and what's so sad, Father, is that in America, we've allowed we've given ourselves over very much to that kind of thinking. And it's having that effect, I feel, in our country of giving up our freedoms to flourish, to to sort of a, you know, an almost totalitarian government that wants to tell us exactly what that flourishing looks like.
And it's a very diminished vision.
Father Jeffrey KirbyYes. You know, and great. You to your point is, you know, it's sad to see this movement within the United States, which is the land of the free and the home of the brave. And that is our we're called every day to to to aspire towards us as Americans, as Christians within the United States, to help to be a part of that, to be the leaven.
But tell you, it's how you look at the perspective where citizens ceased to be citizens and they're merely pawns of the government. Right. As opposed to government, which is in service to the people and empowers the effort of people to have self-determination.
GrazieWell, amen, Father. Thank you for that reflection For 4th of July weekend, Independence Weekend. And I will be praying for our country that we will continue to be that light on the Hill. Thank you, Father.
Father Jeffrey KirbyThank you, Casey. Publisher.
GrazieThanks for joining me, Ashley, on this this section of today's episode of Conversations with Consequences. We're going to talk about something rather important that's been going on in the Vatican that a lot of people are paying attention to. And that is the work of an artist called Father Rudnick, somebody who has for many decades produced sacred art that is on display in many important centers of of our Catholic faith, places like Paris and Rome and London.
And he has he's an also he's also a priest who has been accused by about two dozen women, mostly former nuns, of sexually abusing them during the past three decades. The the the sadness here for so many of us is that the Vatican media has not stopped showcasing the art of the priest. So in on June 26, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who is the archbishop of Boston and head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, so an important position sent a letter to the de Castries that govern day to day affairs of the Roman Curia, expressing the hope that pastoral prudence would prevent displaying artwork in a way that could imply either exoneration or
a subtle defense of those of accused, those accused of abuse we must avoid. Cardinal, the cardinal said. We must avoid sending a message that the Holy See is oblivious to the psychological distress that so many are suffering. So this was just very recently on June 26. And in order for us to talk about this more deeply, we've invited art historian Elizabeth Lev.
She's also an author and a lecturer. So welcome to the show, Liz.
Liz LevThank you.
GrazieWell, how wonderful to have you join us, Liz. You are a very busy historian, lecturer, author, and you are in Rome where you where you do all this wonderful work. So thank you for making time for us. And you are exactly the right person, I think, to help us deepen a little bit our understanding of not so much the controversy, although the controversy is important and all the parts that go in that go into it, but also the relationship between art and this controversy and how we are supposed to have Catholics as as intelligent, intellectual people who appreciate art.
How are we supposed to look at art when it's complicated by sad, you know, shocking personal circumstances in in the artist.
Liz LevYou think this controversy is opening up a series of interesting doors for conversation about art? I think it's fairly safe to say that in the past few decades, Catholics have really lost touch with the sense of art. When you think of the kinds of things that people have put up in churches in the 1970s and 1980s, art that's very abstract, art that's often brutalist.
You know, we are in a period which which feels like we've really lost the capacity to talk about art, to think about art, and to be able to produce art that's uplifting. So it's interesting that this controversial figure of Marco Rubio, it makes us start talking about the question of art. So out of the blue. And so it's very it's interesting to see how difficult it is for us to understand.
Is this something that's part of a bigger historical picture? Do we think about what does it mean to have a profoundly public center producing a work of art, or do we just remove it from our site and pretend that this didn't happen and just keep going? But then, of course, the question becomes, keep going with what?
GrazieLiz, you you opened by saying something that interests me very much, which is the purpose of art, especially the purpose of sacred art. And what you mention uplifting is a is a sacred art supposed to uplift us? This is supposed to challenge us. And how is our our our current moment in sacred art? Do fulfilling its purpose or not fulfilling it?
Liz LevWell, I think if you look historically through the through the history of art, which is my field, right, we have the first image of Christ that the Christians produced. It's a good shepherd. It's a beautiful shepherd. I mean, clearly an image of the savior who's come to to bring us this good news of our salvation. And as we move through the history of art, look at everything from the beautiful illuminated manuscripts, from the mosaics of Byzantium, from the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel to the stained glass of shatter.
I do think that we have a long tradition of creating art that's meant to bring out the best to put our best face forward. In the past few decades, we've seen art really take a direction of things that are very abstract and difficult to understand. We have those infamous felt collages that I'm always seeing in churches everywhere works that are really they look very angular.
They're often sort of made of a kind of an unrefined materials or.
GraziePrimitive primitivism.
Liz LevArt out there. And so it is it is interesting that in the midst of this comes this man whose art is actually none of that. His art is pretty shiny, limpid figures that are all interacting with each other. You may not personally like it, but it's nonetheless an art that you can read what's happening. It's shiny. You can see that there's effort put into it through the mosaic tiles.
And now we find in this crisis because behind this art that is palatable, we have this person who is unpalatable and it is, I think, important for us to start thinking about what do we expect from our sacred imagery and to take more responsibility for it.
AshleyAs I've I've seen some of his mosaics at the John Paul, the two shrine in Washington, DC. And the way I would describe it, and I'm a total amateur art critic, is ghoulish. There's there's something unsettling about it. And there's kind of this clash between the feeling you get from the art that surrounds you and where you're worshiping and the beauty of the mass.
And I guess my question to you would be, you know, for Catholics who and one thing I think that is true of all art is that it should be accessible, that people should be able to respond to and understand it in a basic way. So what would you say should be for Catholics who are trying to approach art in a world that where a sense of beauty has really been lost?
What are the starting point? One of the questions we should ask ourselves are What are the most basic lenses that we should be looking at when we're looking at art and sacred art?
Liz LevSo there are two things that come up in this in this this point you're making. The first has to do with everybody who apparently has become an art critic regarding Rubinek, and yet his works are everywhere. His works were commissioned everywhere. I don't know how many times I was brought before. Look at our beautiful Whitney Chapel. Look at this Rubens chapel.
Look at this. There's I mean, it's all of a sudden as of 2021, everybody looks there seems to have been a move to look at the art that now it seems to be demonic or ghoulish to me. And I've had to really think about it for quite some time the way I steered is that he produces art with a very simplistic line.
My first impression of his art was that it was remarkably simplistic and I did not care for it. But the fact of the matter is, thinking about it, there are images, his images you to understand what's happening when you look at the work by Marco Rubinek, you understand what's happening with the soul exception of that inexplicable logo for the Jubilee year.
But you can see if it's an image of healing apparel, attic or whatever you're looking at. And in a certain sense there are two things he brought to the table. So I'm trying to have a very serious conversation about art here and what we look at as art historians. He brought two things to the table. One was images that were very easy to read, images that are shiny, and for the massive expanses of space he's dealing with, the Leti Center has to cover huge expanses of space and art forms have had difficulty doing it.
And he's managed to create these these spaces that he can fill with imagery. The other thing he has done is in the Art of Mosaic. For people who do not know much about art, it's very hard to approach a fresco or wear a painting because we don't know how to evaluate it. We can say, it looks like five year old could have done this, or How long did this take?
But there is something about the art of Mosaic and these people who work in the wealthy center, who are cutting out tiles and putting them individually. And so it helped us to refocus on the idea of a craftsman shift in art. So there are things about what he has done as an artist that are worth looking at before we take that off the wall.
That's my first point. The second point, which is much more interesting, is the question of how are we supposed to learn to evaluate art? Well, I think we need to start thinking more about why is it that Christians have art to begin with? Is it supposed to be some sort of mood background in our in our in our sacred space this or is the art there to evangelize and to put forth a message of hope?
How do we do that? How do we think about doing that? I think first of all, we remember that our faith, our hope is in the incarnation, so that art that is incarnation of art, that represents something, art that people can read and understand and revel in the stories of the saints and our salvation. So something that helps us to propagate our own story with a certain amount of clarity, but at the same time, an art that just is a retread of what Rafael did or what Papageno did or whatever your favorite artist from 500 years ago did isn't very helpful either.
So we need a kind of creativity in how to tell these stories in a way that will speak to us today. And I repeat, we have a great deal of difficulty in understanding how to evaluate the work of a work, a worth of a work of art. And this is caused by it's not the fault of anybody who's trying to understand art.
This was caused by the crisis in modern art when we just don't know if you can put up if if Marcel Duchamp can put up a toilet and say, that's a work of art, how are we supposed to evaluate it? And that's why I think craftsmanship and materials become again, a way for us to approach art, whether it is in stained glass, whether it beautifully embroidered altar altar cloths, whether it is in paintings that are carefully crafted, where you seek nuance of the work of the artist.
I think that idea of applying one's self and giving one's talent and demonstrating one's time and attention is going to be an important part of helping us find our way back to some kind of of of communal knowledge and appreciation of art.
GrazieThank you for placing thank you for placing our experience of religious art of sacred Christian art within that greater umbrella idea of art which has become now in modern times so difficult for all of us. Right? And when we all do that, we go to the Whitney or some other modern museum, and we walk around and say, This is an art, this is an art, this is these are challenges to you or to your morals, maybe on many levels, right?
Some of the things that we see in art called art. So let's see if you don't mind, Liz, let's go on to the next question, which is how do we deal with art when the artist is challenging us morally? How especially when the artist is still alive and the people that he allegedly abused are still alive? And as Cardinal O'Malley says, it becomes an insult to them, to their the presence of the art on the walls becomes hurtful to the people who have been abused by him.
Liz LevThis is this is a very important question where I think the the error on the part of the Vatican II communications office, which is amazing to me, has been to continually put forth his work. So in the case of in the case of Caravaggio, we'll take the most famous case. We know where Caravaggio is, the man who murdered her husband, which at home is only he's known for being in and out of jail.
His after the murder of renewed photographers only he leaves Rome and he's he's given commissions in other places in in Italy. As he runs around, he's publicly on the run. As far as everybody knows, he's a fugitive. He keeps getting commissions anyway, and then eventually he dies on his way back to Rome without ever having to. We never have to see what happens with the aftermath and those works.
I mean, there must have been people who were wounded. The family of renewal, his own. He must have been hurt to see his works continually lionized. But as the years go by, the story of Caravaggio failings become seen more. We begin to see more in that contrast between light and dark. The the Caravaggio story actually helps us to understand his works and appreciate them more because we're looking at a man who lives in darkness, who behaves in darkness, but he uses that light.
He keeps putting in that light as a kind of beacon of where he knows he should be. And that tension is what makes his art so extraordinary. So in that particular case, Caravaggio is is a case of where letting time pass allowed us to be able to reevaluate his works. Caravaggio went into obscurity for 200 years, 200 years.
Nobody knew about it. We cared about him. And then suddenly in the beginning of the 20th century, now he's the most famous artist we know in the case of what's happening right now, the insistence on the part of the particularly the history of communications to put forward his works constantly in misleads and their websites, that feels like a promotion of a work that that feels like nothing is going to happen to this man.
And it gives us more and more of an impetus to want to destroy his body of work. But if the Vatican could have the good sense to start putting forward his work can continue with this, with this, with this trial or whatever the procedure or the whatever they're doing so that we can have some clarity on the situation.
And we could we could we could have a better sense of some sort of justice being formed. Then at this point we can start to let the art speak for itself. My concern is, and this is really just a concern that an excessively hasty response in the midst of the rage against the man, the cavalier attitude that we see towards the victims of these women, religious and the lion's hissing of his work constantly, even these these stories come out that that decides to react to this situation by destroying the work would prevent future conversations from taking place to be able to avoid situations like this in the future and to begin to think about what
happens in a long term with this kind of a with this kind of a situation.
GrazieSo thank you. Thank you. Liz Lev, historian, art historian in Rome for your for your for really a wonderful explanation of these things that are so difficult for those of us who are not art historians and are not so in tune with all these details to to understand. So thank you so much, Liz Love.
Liz LevThank you very much. Thank you very much for having me and allowing me to express these thoughts.
GrazieAnd now Father Roger Landry offers us, as is customary, a short and inspiring homily to prepare us for this Sunday's gospel.
Fr. LandryThis is father ritual entering into joy for me to be with you as we enter into the consequential conversation, the original where Jesus wants to have with us this Sunday as we ponder a scene that should bring those who truly love Jesus almost to the point of tears, Jesus came to his home town, already had a famous reputation for his teachings in the miracles he had worked throughout Galilee.
It cast out demons, cured the paralyzed in the sick, and taught with authority unlike any I'd ever heard. He visited his neighborhood synagogue, the equivalent of his parish church on a Sabbath, just like he did every Saturday. As a boy and young carpenter, the head of the synagogue allowed him to come to teach. St Luke's Gospel tells us what he did.
He enrolled the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah and read the passage. The spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
This was a passage referring to the Messiah for whom the Jews had long waited Jesus homily. His commentary in the passage was one sentence long. Today he declared This Scripture is fulfilled. In your hearing, Saint Mark and Luke both tell us his listeners first reaction to Jesus teaching was astonishment. There were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth and the wisdom that had been given to him.
But that quickly changed once they began to reflect on what he had said. Through fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy, Jesus was basically announcing that He was the Messiah, that all the words that the prophets wrote about the coming Anointed One were taking place right then right there. Future Apostle Nathaniel, also known as Bartholomew, once wondered aloud whether anything good could come from Nazareth.
Those in the synagogue likely shared that sentiment because they refused to accept that one from among their own could be the fulfillment of their messianic hopes. They thought they knew Jesus. They likely a piece of furniture he had made. Perhaps he had played with them or their kids or grandkids when he was younger. So to knock them down to size, they begin to murmur.
Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary? Their doubts soon multiplied in the Saint Mark tells us they began to take offense at Jesus. Not only would they not believe what Jesus said, but they began to be offended by him because if he were the Messiah, it would necessarily change the relationship with him and in fact revolutionize their whole life.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown, among his own kin and in his own house. Then Saint Luke tells us they were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town and led him to the brow, the hill on which their town had been built so that they might hurl them off the cliff.
But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way in a matter of a few minutes. They went from praising Jews with amazement to doubts to taking offense at him to trying to murder him. Not only were they not accept Jesus as a prophet by heeding his words and welcoming him as they would the God who sent him, but like the preceding generations of Jews would say elsewhere, kill the prophets in stone.
Those who are sent to it would seek to execute him, which is a reaction to all of this, Saint Mark informs us, was amazement at their lack of faith in other city. Strangers who didn't know him growing up were willing to leave. Everything to follow him were moved and converted by his preaching and were blown away by his miraculous power, such that with faith they were bringing him all who needed help.
But among his own people he was rejected and deemed worthy of death. The question we need to ask is why did they reject him and ultimately try to kill him? So John gives us the answer in the Prolog to his gospel. He came to his own and his own people did not accept him. The light came into the world and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
They didn't want a real messiah even, or especially if he were a native son. They preferred, rather, to keep their concept of Messiah neatly packaged, unthreatening and something aspirational and futuristic. They didn't want a prophet in the here and now, because if Jesus were the Messiah, then their day to day existence, their conduct, their values and everything else would have to change.
And they preferred to live in the darkness of a life without the Messiah and without the real God. They preferred unconsciously not to have Scripture fulfilled in their hearing, to have the good news announced to them to be set free from their self-imposed prisons or be cured of their spiritual blindness. They preferred to use the words God says to Ezekiel in this Sunday's first reading to be hard of face and obstinate of heart and rebellious, to make God's true messengers feel like we heard in the song that will come full of contempt with the mockery, the arrogant with the contempt of the proud.
But this gospel doesn't refer merely to what happened 2000 years ago when she's returned to Nazareth. Like every gospel, it must be actualized applied to the present day. Who are Jesus's own people today? Who are his kinsman? The modern Nazarene is that he wants to accept him as a prophet and have Scripture fulfilled in their hearing. We are through baptism.
We've become true members of his family, his spiritual brothers and sisters to the Eucharist. We become, we can say, his blood relatives. Many, perhaps most of us have grown up with the Lord our whole life. We're literally familiar with Him and as with our other relatives, we have pictures of him at home, celebrate his birthday every December and mark the most important moment of his life each spring.
The question for us is whether we like the majority of ancient Nazarene, is allow our familiarity with Jesus actually to weaken rather than strengthen our faith, to allow our greater contact with Jesus to make us take it for granted or to help us grow and love of Him. So we come off the celebration of the 4th of July during this past week and pray for our country, all its citizens and inhabitants.
It's important to learn the lessons of Nazareth. Nazareth is a tale of two towns. On the one hand, it's a place of the most important welcoming of all time. When Mary hearing God's proposal through the Archangel Gabriel replied, Let it be done to me. According to your word, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, on behalf of the human race, welcomed God into her womb with faith filled love.
It's also the place where, months later, after Myriad returned from helping, her cousin Elizabeth and Joseph had seen her very much pregnant. He, with the help of the Angel of the Lord, who appeared to him to assist him to overcome his fear, welcomed both her and Jesus growing within her into his home and his life. Nazareth is first and above all, a place of loving welcome.
But it's also, as we will see in this Sunday's gospel, a place of harsh and even homicidal rejection, where in a heartbeat, Jesus fellow Nazarene went from praying to trying to murder the guest preacher. So we look with love at our country as a whole in all our neighborhoods. The big question for the church in our church's huge role in society is whether we accept or reject Jesus.
We show whether we have faith in Jesus by whether we put faith in his words and act on them. When Jesus comes to us, to us, His own is the light of the world. Do we live and walk in the light of the Lord, or do we love darkness when He comes to us? Hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, ill or imprisoned?
Do we care for him or cast him aside when he teaches us that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters, we do to him? Do we therefore care for him in the least of his brothers, those growing in the womb? Or do we look the other way when someone to celebrate their slaughter is a huge advance in human rights.
When Jesus speaks to us about purity of heart or about the importance of marriage in God's plan from the beginning is the indissoluble union of one man and one woman to reorder our lives to the truth? Or do we prefer the Barabas of the sexual revolution? When he teaches about loving our enemies, praying for our persecutors, forgiving 70 times seven times, seeking first the kingdom and picking up our cross daily to follow him.
Do we strive to live by the light of these words, or do we ignore them? The biggest question of our life is whether we will welcome, embrace and love Jesus, a prophet, the Messiah, the Savior, the way, the truth and the life, or whether we will ignore, reject, and even ultimately, like those in Nazareth and later in pilots courtyards, seek to snuff him out.
The second biggest question of our life is whether we are prepared and living according to Jesus words and announcing them as genuinely good news to others to suffer out of love for him, others in the truth, what Jesus himself suffered. If the Nazarene didn't want to accept Jesus as a prophet because what he taught made them uneasy, we should be under no illusion that everyone will accept us when we live out the prophetic dimension of our baptismal confirmation.
Jesus promise that the servant is not greater than the master. And if they hated him, they would hate us who were faithful to Christ. We, like him, will experience the difficulty of rejection by some, including by those we know and love in our family or hometown. To be a true Christian today requires this type of holy realism. This obviously is an important application of the ongoing Eucharistic revival.
Jesus astonishing gift of himself in the Eucharist is rejected by many five or six Catholics. Don't go to be with him and receive him even on the Lord's day. Pure make the time to go visit him in prayerful adoration. Those Christians who recognizing that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, make the commitment to try to come to receive Him as often as they can, even every day, will make the time to come to worship him and pray before him are often mocked not just by those enslaved to secular categories, but sometimes by Protestant brothers or sisters or fellow Catholics who think they're fanatical.
This reality of our welcoming or rejecting Jesus in the Eucharist is one of the most important questions. The ongoing Eucharistic revival is meant to raise and remedy this Christian Sabbath. The same Jesus who came to his home alone in Nazareth comes to the Catholic Church close to us. He will teach us and sacred Scripture and bring the words of the prophets to fulfillment.
He will feed us with himself as the word made flesh, which is his continuous incarnation to the intercession of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Mary and Joseph let us welcome Jesus with great love, receive His words as words to be done and become His instruments to help out those in our homes, neighborhoods and country. To grow in gratitude and responsiveness for all.
The grace has got to shed on our spacious skies. Amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties and fruited plains. God bless you all.
GrazieThank you so much, Father Landry. To hear more of Father Landry's homily, please visit Catholic preaching income and to follow him on the Eucharistic pilgrimage route dedicated to Saint Elizabeth Seton, please visit Seton Pilgrimage Hall. And with that, we leave you for our prayers for a wonderful week for you.
And your families.