Seeing is …

If you said “believing” to fill in the title, you’d be correct!  But when it comes to religious “seeing” as inspired by art, that believing is much more than merely a sensory confirmation of something thought or proposed.

Consider statues.

Some may see them as relics of a religious past, remnants of a bygone age of representation.  In today’s world of YouTube videos, live Tweeting, and other active messaging via social media, it seems anachronistic to suggest that a still, silent statue communicates something meaningful.

Still, works of art continue to be commissioned, as happened this week at Overbrook.  An artistic creation of Joe Finisdore entitled “Ecce, Homo” was blessed and dedicated in memory of John Cardinal Foley and now stands temporarily (and somewhat precariously) in the corridor outside the chapel of the Theological Seminary.

It joins the pantheon of other statues on campus that evoke figures linked to a seminary education, including the Blessed Virgin Mary, a few apostles, some angels, St. John Vianney, and this seminary’s patron, St. Charles Borromeo.  Add to this the many stained-glass windows, the architectural arches and columns, and the array of prodigious paintings around the campus – and one can see art everywhere.

Some may wonder whether all this is extraneous to the seminary’s mission, or even too costly for its upkeep.  Wouldn’t the money donated for artistic creations be better invested in operations or financial aid, they might ask.  After all, formation is an interior process and education a costly one.

But true art communicates on another level, one both higher and deeper.

Art is evocative of that which it portrays.  In the case of the “Ecce, Homo” statue, one is invited to consider the central act in the life of Jesus as priest, namely, the humbling and merciful gift of the God who sacrifices Himself for the redemption of all human life.  It’s something worth pondering by all those who enter a chapel to celebrate the liturgical memorial of that sacrifice.

Art like this is also provocative.  The new statue has already generated any number of comments, whether critical or appreciative, some humorous and others wondrous.  That’s what good art does.  It attracts our attention, reaches into our spirit, and draws forth a response.

With religious renderings, that response is found, ultimately, in prayer.  “Ecce, Homo” and other statues intend to draw viewers into the realm of the spirit.  They generate a remembering of God’s magnificent works in the people and the actions they memorialize.  They do so not with the selfie-interest of the vast majority of today’s photos, nor with the historical accuracy of a biography.  Rather, they point us toward a supernatural mystery that transcends both. Beautiful religious art touches upon the eternal.

As St. John Paul II reminds us, in his Letter to Artists, “for everyone, believers or not, the works of art inspired by Scripture remain a reflection of the unfathomable mystery which engulfs and inhabits the world.”  So, too, “every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world.  It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning.”

Cardinal Foley is remembered for having worked so creatively and faithfully in the world of modern social communications.  To dedicate a statue to his memory may seem old-fashioned or out-of-place.  But as he once preached to seminarians here:  “whatever task you are given, view it as the Will of God for you – as a means of offering hope to a world in which there is so little hope … as a way of expressing your faith and of showing your love and the love of Jesus Christ who gave his life for love of us.”

Ecce, homo – “behold the Man” – indeed.

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