Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Christ the King Sarasota Procession 2012

This year Father Fryar has outdone himself once again in organizing an even larger procession for the feast day of Christ the King. This time we processed around the block onto highway 41 with Bishop Frank Dewane carrying the Blessed Sacrament. It was certainly a memorable moment when I looked back and saw the bishop processing up the street while cars almost came to a stop to see something that has probably never happened in south Sarasota. Since I was in the procession carrying the Vatican flag, a friend of mine Bill, from the St. Petersburg Latin Mass community came down and took some great photos! Many thanks to his effort. Here are a few of the pictures from the procession.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Restoring True Liturgical Art (The Humble Icon)

Restoring True Liturgical Art (The Humble Icon)
Matthew J. Bellisario 2012
The Pantokrator, Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily

    I don’t think that it is a hard case to be made to prove that the Catholic Church is now undergoing the worst persecution of the sacred image since the iconoclastic controversy of the 8th century, which was confined more to the East. Now however, the new iconoclastic movement has become widespread in almost every geographic region of the Church. This iconoclastic movement preceded the Second Vatican Council, it was however not largely carried out until its conclusion along with the restructuring of the Latin Liturgy. Since the implementation of the Novus Ordo Liturgy, along with a progressive modern theology, many sacred images have either been destroyed or removed from many once beautiful churches. Likewise, this new modernist liturgical outlook denied any newly constructed churches to receive the proper sacred imagery. It  was replaced by the horrible highly secularized imagery invented under the auspices of secular humanism. As the secular atheistic philosophies gained a foothold in the Church, despite the cries of 6 successive popes beginning with Pius IX, the understanding of authentic liturgical art also completely fell by the wayside.

    I am not one of those people who believes that all evolution of art since the time of the Byzantines has been a disaster for society, although it may have contributed to a degradation of sacred liturgical art in the Church. I do not think however that Giotto was responsible for the decline of art, any more than Saint Thomas Aquinas was responsible for over intellectualism. Giotto for the most part retains a strong theological backbone to his iconography. When it comes to those artists who followed him however, things begin to change. I think a strong case can be made that the traditional form of iconography most fully represents the theological reality that is to be found within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Although the later art of the Italian Renaissance is quite beautiful, it can be argued that it begins a movement to focus less on the divine realities which coincide with the life of the Church, and more on material human realities. A strong development began to sweep through the visual art world after the Renaissance which often aimed at depicting a more “realistic” view of the events they depict. To some this seems to be a clear positive development of sacred art. To the trained eye however, this development was not for the improvement of sacred art, but only started a slow trend in moving the focus off of divine things, to secular ideas. Although I find many of the later art of the Renaissance to be beautiful, I do not find these art forms to the best form of liturgical art.

    If we look closely at the sacred icon, we do not see what most would consider to be a “realistic” depiction of Christ or his Saints, if we understand “realism” to be that which is only seen with the human eye. Although the iconic images are unmistakable in the persons or events they intend to represent, they do not seem to keep the eye trained on any one point of the image for the image’s sake. Yes, the image is beautiful, and yes there is much detail in the image, but the eye tends to move its focus beyond the image. The sacred image intends not to leave the viewer stuck on admiring the image for the image’s sake alone. Nor does it intend to leave viewer in awe of the artists talent to make the most “realistic” or “original” depiction of a person or event. It intends to leave the viewer looking beyond the image to the divine reality which it depicts. The icon is a humble, yet strikingly beautiful image. Yet its beauty, as with later art, is not tied to the temporal world. The icon instead points to a beauty that is beyond its own existence, that of the eternal. The Saints are depicted not as they were on earth, but in a deified state in heaven. This goes hand in hand with the theology of the Church, which calls on the faithful to ask for the intercession of the Saints, who now dwell in the divine light of Christ. Our Catholic faith demands a focus on the eternal rather than the temporal.

    The humility of the icon is an important characteristic which separates it from all other art forms. Although they certainly depict real events that occurred here on earth, the events are not weighed down by earthly cares, or confined to time. The event or person depicted is done in a simple style, which leaves the person or event wonderfully suspended in eternity. For example, if we look at the image of Christ, the Pantokrator, often seen in the domes of Eastern and even older Western churches, we do not see Christ as he was seen while he walked the earth. He is seen as the “All Mighty”, or “All Powerful” King of the universe. This is something that is completely opposed to the modernist mind, which seeks to debase Christ the King, the Supreme Ruler of all. Christ rules from the heavens, blessing mankind with His right hand while proclaiming the gospels from His left. He is often depicted in a blue outer garment and red inner garment, the blue proclaiming His divine nature and the red His human nature of martyrdom. Usually He is surrounded by many Saints in a gold hue of heavenly splendor, along with a unique style halo to which only He is entitled. Likewise the Theotokos, Panagia, our Blessed Mother is depicted according to divine reality. She has an inner blue garment depicting her heavenly nature covered by a red outer garment signifying her original human nature. There is much more that can be said for the theological construction of an icon. The main point to understand here is that the icon is theological and liturgical in its essence. It is made for meditation and worship.

    I find it demoralizing at times that most Catholics are not familiar at all with iconography. In the past, when I have introduced this sacred art form to Catholics, many have called them “too cartoonish” or “too childlike.” They measure the icon by the standards of the secular mind. They believe that an art form which depicts an image more “realistically” is superior to that which does not. I actually had one person claim that those who painted icons had no talent for art. Yet, I know many iconographers who can also paint an oil painting which would astonish anyone with their ability to depict “realism.” What is not understood by such naysayers is that the iconographer does not intend to depict things as they are in this life. Instead, the iconographer intends to depict a divine, eternal reality; or more importantly, he intends to lead the worshipper to the divine. This is something very foreign to most Catholics in the Church today. Just as it is extremely important to rectify our moral, sacramental and liturgical theology in the Church today, I believe that there needs to be a strong movement in the Church to re-catechize the faithful on the theology of the sacred image. Let us leave secular art for secular establishments, and let us restore true sacred art to sacred spaces.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"It’s a Wonderful Life", or "Its My Life?"

"It’s a Wonderful Life", or "Its My Life?" (aka Pottersville)
Matthew J Bellisario 2012

It is a fact that our country has sadly, slowly drifted away from the more moral cultural norms of the 40s and 50s. Being an avid movie buff, I wanted to draw up a comparison between the morality depicted in many of the movies of the 40s and 50s to the standard of morality we see today. We rarely see in the movie industry now, the moral standards that were inherent and often depicted on the silver screen of yesteryear. Movies depicting relatively strong morals such as ‘Going My Way’, ‘The Bell’s of Saint Mary’s’, ‘All About Eve’, ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ have been all but forgotten. While human nature has not changed, how we view human nature has radically changed over the years. We no longer look to faith in God for the solution to our problems. We have become a society of narcissists, only focused on ourselves and our wants. Again, this sinful inclination is nothing new. But today’s radical isolation, often steeped in immorality, as is depicted in the media today, has given a new meaning to the term ‘narcissism.’ It is not very difficult to prove that our current society is one of the most narcissistic. Our current president demonstrates this fact quite clearly, being that we elected one of the most arrogant self centered leaders we have ever had.

Let us examine the attitude that is regularly displayed by many today. Life no longer has meaning for them, and this is very noticeable in the large numbers of people plagued by severe depression. Men and women often seek solace in anti-depressant drugs or other substances such as large consumptions of alcohol, drugs or even pornography. The radical consumption of material objects such as big houses and fancy cars also reflect our restlessness with life. Yet no matter how many things we have, we never seem to be satisfied. The internet has also been a tool of the devil to further isolate men from one another, while cleverly making seem as if we are more connected by promoting such websites as Facebook and Twitter. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The proper vision of the family has largely been destroyed by all of these obsessions.  We have now gone way past the social problem of divorce. We can now see that the disordered immoral act of homosexuality and open promiscuity is no longer shunned, but openly accepted. This has further eroded the order of the family. Likewise our communication with one another has eroded because these immoral acts are severely self centered and eventually lead to a radical narcissism. No longer do families spend time talking or getting together for large family and friend outings. Instead we are on the internet, texting on our smart-phones, or glued to the television to watch the latest news broadcast or sporting event.

As we turn back to Hollywood, I think it can be argued that many people in Hollywood have always been a bit progressive, and much of the time they seem to have preceded the liberalization of our society. It wold not be far fetched to blame Hollywood as part of our moral decline. It is however not alway clear wether Hollywood helped to brainwash society, or merely reflected the attitudes that had already been largely accepted in society. Yet even in accepting the fact that Hollywood has been a part of the moral problem, we can still see a noticeable difference in the morality depicted in the movies of yesteryear to the movies of today. This observation is very educational for us. For example, in the classic picture starring Bette Davis, ‘All About Eve’, the film demonstrates how destructive materialism and narcissism was for the main character Margo. There is a clear moral of the story painted for us as Margo falls into depression and paranoia. Likewise, Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed graced the silver screen in 1946 to shine a light on the importance of each and every person in, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ The greed of Mr. Potter is contrasted with selfless giving of George Bailey, and the ugly trait of narcissism is clearly contrasted to that of humility.

What I found to be of more interest while watching the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ are the details of what is seen rather than what we hear in the dialog. For example, when the angel comes to show George Bailey what the town of Bedford Falls would have been like had he never been born, we see something quite striking. As he walks down the street of the town, which the name had now been changed to the name of the rather evil character of Potter, we see a depiction of what an evil or immoral town might look like to the average person in the 1940s. We see a lot of seedy dance clubs, bars and strip clubs along the main street, rather than the humble shops that were supposed to be there. The bank was now a seedy club, the humble café a dance club, and a girls strip club was now center stage on the main street of town.  In other words, it was well understood that nude strip shows and seedy night clubs were generally viewed as being sinister to the society of the 40s. If we fast-forward to the year 2012, we would never know that these types of establishments were to be avoided or viewed as a plague on society. In fact, we now see these types of businesses popping up all over America as if they are good old wholesome fun. At one time most Americans would have been embarrassed to be caught in such a place. Now they have no shame in being seen in them.

It would behoove us to reflect on how the corruption on our view of morality has coincided with our distaste and restlessness with life. The declination of the morals of our society coincides with the rise of depression in our society. The false notion of personal freedom being forced down our throats today is no freedom at all, but only an enslavement to sin. It is self absorption at its worst. Remember the story told in Dostoevsky’s book ‘The Brother’s Karamasov’? The old lady once gives an onion to a beggar, and when she dies she is judged as never having given anything to anyone. When judged she is sent to hell in a lake of fire. Yet, she brings up to her guardian angel the time when she gave the onion to the beggar. So the old woman is given one half of that onion by her angel to be pulled out of hell with. She grabs one end, and as she is being pulled out many others in the lake of fire grab onto her hoping to be pulled out with her. Selfishly she looks back to the others and arrogantly claims, ‘Its my onion!’ After her selfish claim, the onion breaks and she falls back into the lake fire. The tale cleverly outlines the attitude pervading our culture today. “Its my life!”

If we examine our culture today to that of 60 plus years ago, we see two very different understandings of morality. We would do well to compare two characters which stare upon us from the silver screen of Hollywood, which represent two very different moral outlooks. Representing today’s culture we have the all too popular narcissistic character of Harry Potter, who urges us to break all of the rules and to be ourselves despite what we subconsciously know to be right and wrong, or we have Jimmy Stewart’s character of George Bailey, representing a more virtuous culture, who recognizes that we are all important only in the context of faith in God, in union with our fellow man. One character more or less gives and the other more or less takes. Harry Potter, ironically somewhat like Mr. Potter in ‘Its A Wonderful Life, as like many of us today cannot say, ‘It’s a wonderful life!’ but only ‘Its my life!’ The characters of Harry Potter and Mr. Potter are the classic narcissists while George Bailey resembles more of the humble servant. For example, at one point in the film, he and his wife Mary give away their honeymoon money keep all of the townspeople afloat. I think it is important to pose two questions about these characters. Which characters are more Christ-like, and which characters at the end of the stories are truly happy? I don’t know about you, but I would rather be Jimmy Stewart’s character of George Bailey any day rather than the narcissistic Potters. Unfortunately we are all too familiar today with old George's predicament of standing in the middle of Pottersville.