Author Archives | Maria Wiering

About Maria Wiering

Maria Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit.

Fish Daddy reviews Holy Cross’ fish fry

February 16, 2016

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Fish Daddy's plate at Holy Cross' Lenten fish fry. Courtesy Fish Daddy

Fish Daddy’s plate at Holy Cross’ Lenten fish fry. Courtesy Fish Daddy

Catholic Hotdish welcomes Fish Daddy, who visits some of the hot spots in the Twin Cities for Lenten fish fries. He’s looking at more than the fish — it’s the fellowship, the friendliness and faith that makes this Catholic Lenten tradition shine. Here’s an overview of what you’ll find in Fish Daddy’s column during Lent:

Call me the banquet guest from Luke 14: 7-14. Fish Daddy visits a Lenten fish fry every Friday, delivering a spirited review of a parish or Catholic association Fish Fry. Fish Daddy looks at what makes a fish fry special:

Fish

Fish is the dish. And good fish makes a gathering special. I’ll tell you how I liked it, what came with it on the plate, and how it fills the stomach. Let’s get one thing straight from the start. Fish Sticks does not get you kicked off the island (in Fish Daddy’s eyes, the island is not the place to be anyways — it’s the deep sea), but it does put you up against some fairly strong competition and years of experience in Twin Cities fish fries.

Service

Any good Catholic knows service is the heart of our calling as Christians. Serving fish sticks on a paper plate won’t win you any Julia Child awards, but good service with a smile, and volunteer spirit of the parish bring your servant leadership to the fore in this category.

Fishers of Men

It takes effort to put on a good fish fry, but those who maintain the Lenten spirit of devotion with Lenten devotionals, rosaries, or other faith manifestations during or around the Fish Fry are all that really matters in the Catholic life. Matthew 4:19 says it best.

Value

This is our catch-all area for how we measure the less tangible. Covers items like price, ambience, parking, convenience, bingo or other fundraisers during Lent, or other items — that special something the organization brings to the table.

Want Fish Daddy to visit your parish? E-mail CatholicSpirit@archspm.org.

Feb 12—Holy Cross

Finding Holy Cross in the heart of Nordeast was the easy part. The hard part was standing in line inside Kolbe Center (just east of the church itself) behind dozens, with the aroma of a fresh fish fry hanging in the air. The parish volunteers kept the line moving quickly. Pastor Glen Jensen was greeting everyone in the line, with his trademark cup of tea, bringing the faithful hungry together in spirit. The Kolbe Center at Holy Cross seats about 300, and they needed all 20 tables for the inaugural Lenten Friday weekend.

Fish

Holy Cross served up a heaping plate of fish dinner — two fish (a bit pressed and formed, but tasty), an excellent baked potato, cole slaw with a tang of horseradish, and a side of mac and cheese and a dinner roll. A fine substitute for the baker was two tong-fuls of seasoned French fries. All served on a Nordeast-style plate, with my choice of condiments, and a cookie, along with coffee or water. Pop was available for a small charge, and beer and wine was available for a free will offering. (Two Fish)

Service

Servers were constantly circulating, offering refills on coffee or second helpings. Short on time? Holy Cross volunteers were more than willing to put together a to-go platter for the same price as sit-down. With tables for 10, not only did your server chat you up, your tablemates did as well. (Four Fish)

Fishers of people

Holy Cross parish is replete with Lenten devotions, from their Adoration chapel to Friday Stations of the Cross (6 p.m. for English and 7 p.m. for Polish). In addition to their weekly fish fries through Lent, they also feature soup suppers on Wednesdays, as well as a Cana Dinner. (Four Fish)

Value

Adults $10, Under 12 $2. (Three Fish)

Details

Holy Cross, 17th Ave and 4th St. NE, Minneapolis. Fish fries Feb. 12, 19 and 26, and March 4, 11 and 18. http://www.ourholycross.org.

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Need a Lenten guide? ‘Rediscover Jesus’ a useful reflection

February 9, 2016

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With the onset of Lent, it is a good time to write about a little book (187 pages) by Matthew Kelly called “Rediscover Jesus.” St. Raphael’s parish in Crystal, where I went to Mass the Sunday after Christmas, was giving them out free. I am told many parishes gave away copies of the book in an effort to catechize, albeit minimally, people who only come to Mass at Christmas and perhaps one or two other times per year. A few years ago, I picked up a free copy of Kelly’s “Rediscover Catholicism” after a Christmas day Mass at Holy Family in St. Louis Park under the same premise.

Christmas season distribution for “Rediscover Jesus” makes sense because it gets the book into the hands of readers just in time for Lent. The book is divided into 40 short chapters, offering a useful daily reflection during the six weeks leading up to Easter.

I know serious Catholics who say Matthew Kelly is too remedial or too “pop culture” for them, but I would challenge any Catholic to read all of “Rediscover Jesus” and not find a few worthy topics for serious reflection. Whether you are a graduate student studying theology or a neophyte to the faith, you likely will deepen your relationship with Christ if you take time to think and pray over some of the concepts presented in this book.Rediscover Jesus

Kelly confronts us early in the book with the “Jesus question,” referring to Matthew 16:13-20 where Jesus asks Peter and the others “who do people say that I am?” Jesus follows up with “who do you say that I am?” Kelly notes that this isn’t just a question for the apostles, but this is a question Jesus is asking us. Who do we say Jesus is? Are we prepared to answer that question? Can we answer confidently as Peter did: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”? The question is unavoidable.

A couple chapters later, Kelly cites the C.S. Lewis observation that Jesus is either divine, as Jesus claims, or he is a madman. Jesus cannot be a “nice guy,” as so many have tried to label him. A nice guy doesn’t claim to be God.

Once a reader gets past these foundational opening chapters, Kelly walks us through a variety of other ideas – helping the poor, purity of heart, the heart of the Gospel, making sense of suffering and much more. Depending on your experience and thinking, different chapters will challenge you to varying degrees.

Chapter 30 I found to be particularly challenging. It is called “Blind Spots.” Kelly explains that we cannot see things as they really are. I suppose this is the result of original sin; or at a minimum it is simply the consequence of being a less-than-perfect being. Kelly notes that no matter how sure we are of something, no matter how clearly we think we understand, we have to be open to the possibility of missing something. We have to be ready to acknowledge that we might not have the whole picture, that we could be wrong.

The chapter is a call to humility, which may be one of the hardest virtues to develop. But it is essential for a right relationship with Jesus. Humility is seeing our proper place in relation to God. If we cannot acknowledge our weaknesses or even our possible weaknesses, then we misjudge our dependence on God, our desperate need for salvation, and the necessity of his love. The Blind Spots chapter helps to explain why humility is important and if we take Kelly’s comments seriously we can begin to see ourselves – limitations and all – a little more clearly, which helps us to see God a little more clearly.

If you are looking for some good Lenten reading, then pick up a copy of Rediscover Jesus.

Tom Bengtson is a small business owner. He is a member of Holy Family parish in St. Louis Park. Reach him at TomBengtson@hotmail.com

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Transition day: Bridging the World Meeting and papal visit

September 25, 2015

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Michael and Kristen Martocchio from the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, brought their two daughters, Francesca, 5, and Cecilia, 2, with them to the World Meeting. Kristen is also pregnant, due in January.

Michael and Kristen Martocchio from the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, brought their two daughters, Francesca, 5, and Cecilia, 2, with them to the World Meeting. Kristen is also pregnant, due in January.

The World Meeting of Families has wrapped up Part I: the congress, a series of keynote addresses and breakout sessions in multiple languages, daily Masses with extraordinary processions of miters, and 20,000 people trying to navigate a convention center. It has been well-managed chaos, making it seem like that huge number of participants can’t actually be real. It’s the most people the World Meeting has attracted since its founding by St. John Paul II in 1994.

Part II begins tomorrow, when Pope Francis arrives for the World Meeting of Families. Anticipation is thick. This morning, security set up a perimeter around the area Pope Francis will be tomorrow, and getting in and out appears daunting, although right now it’s easy. (Although one Philadelphian just called it “a police state.”) I have no idea what to expect tomorrow when our group arrives. We’re scheduled to visit the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa tomorrow for Mass tomorrow, but it sounds like other groups in the Minnesota contingent are changing plans to get to downtown Philadelphia earlier.

Nobody’s really certain what to expect. My husband asked if I’m going to try to take a selfie with Pope Francis. I’ll just be happy if I glimpse him with my own eyes.

For me, there’s a definite perceived disconnect between the Holy Father’s visit and the World Meeting of Families, even though I’m completely aware that the World Meeting is why he’s here. He’s made that clear, too, through his emphasis to Congress on the importance of the family and his concerns about young adults’ fear to form their own families, as well as his overtures to children throughout the trip so far.

Sister Candace Fier, a Schoenstatt sister and the director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of New Ulm, said that disconnect isn’t supposed to exist.

“I would hope that people would see it as one,” she said. “I’ve talked to people who have attended other World Meeting of Families, and I’ve gotten the impression that the United States is really the only one that has separated the papal visit from the World Meeting of Families. We’ve kind of made them two separate events. I think the Holy Father was coming for of the World Meeting of Families, he was coming to address our families. He was coming to make this a worldwide encounter with the father of the Church, and in that sense I hope that people don’t see it as two separate things, because we take away from the beauty and the depth of what this experience is meant to be.

“He came to see our families together,” she continued. “He came to give a message to our families here — not individuals here or there. It’s not another speaking engagement, another thing that was put on the agenda for his visit to the United States. He came to give a message to this group as the Holy Father has done every three years since John Paul started it. I hope we don’t lose sight of that, because I think we need to listen carefully. The message is specific to us as families, as Church.”

At the core, that’s why Michael and Kristen Martocchio from the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, brought their two daughters, Francesca, 5, and Cecilia, 2, with them to the World Meeting. Kristen is also pregnant, due in January.

“It’s the World Meeting of Families — not the World Meeting about Families,” Michael said. “We just thought it was important to bring them, plus the sense of getting the larger Church, the global Church for them. They’re not going to remember a whole lot about what people say, but they will hopefully have some memory of a bunch of people.”

People’s reaction? “The weirdest thing is that a bunch of people will take pictures of us with our kids, like, ‘Look — a real, live family!’,” he said. “Other than that, it’s been fine, everyone’s happy to see kids.”

Kristen has a backpack of crayons, coloring books, toys and prizes for good behavior.

“It keeps them entertained for at least 10 minutes,” she joked.

I’ve maybe been among those weird, oggly pilgrims Michael mentioned. I really miss my husband and toddler, and seeing families together makes me think of them.

There have been many families at the World Meeting; it includes a youth conference for school-age kids, and plenty of mothers have been nursing their infants. This morning during Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s address, I walked past a few siblings playing on the convention center floor with Legos. Smart mom, I thought.

But the challenge put forth during the World Meeting for so many moms and dads is far beyond keeping kids quiet in Church or a bishop’s presentation. It’s making the home a domestic church.

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On pilgrimage, pizza and walking 108 miles

September 24, 2015

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Pilgrimage, in the traditional sense. CNS

Pilgrimage, in the traditional sense. CNS

I have to admit, when I think “pilgrimage,” I think of throngs making their way to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on their knees. I think of the steady flow of men and women into Santiago de Compostela, Spain, after weeks or months of hiking. I think of the seven-church walk in Rome and the inevitable blisters.

Frankly, I think of pain, suffering, sacrifice, hunger and thirst. I don’t think of a king-sized bed at the Holiday Inn Express, which is where I’m sitting after enjoying an all-you-can-eat pizza dinner.

Yes, I am on pilgrimage, but it’s one where the hardships have been subtle, less self-inflicted, and, for me, more about squashing impatience, annoyance, self-centeredness or sarcasm, in favor of a spirit of solidarity with those around me, whether they be fellow Minnesotans or from a continent on the other side of the globe.

They, too, arrived by plane. For others, it was train, bus or car, and it is no less a pilgrimage. But there is at least one group that is reclaiming a core aspect of the medieval pilgrimage on their journey to see the Holy Father — a long, hard walk.

On Sunday, a group of 22 left the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in downtown Baltimore, better known as America’s first cathedral. Wearing neon yellow shirts, they started walking north to Philadelphia. It’s a trek of 108 miles. At night, they rely on parishes and schools for shelter and showers, but it’s safe to surmise that when they arrive Sunday in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, they’re going to be sweaty and tired.

The leader is Father Jack Lombardi, a soft-spoken pastor from the narrowest stretch of Maryland’s panhandle. A frequent pilgrimage leader to Europe’s sacred sites, he decided to take up a U.S. cause in 2012 and gathered dozens of pilgrims to walk 100 miles from his parish in Hancock to Baltimore in support of religious freedom. The U.S. bishops, with Baltimore Archbishop William Lori at the helm, had taken up the fight against the federal health care mandate for all employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilization, contraceptives and abortifacients. The walk was Father Lombardi’s show of support and a fundraiser for local charities.

The following year, Father Lombardi led another pilgrimage, this time from Baltimore to Washington. In 2014, he brought a group to France, where they walked with shirts reading “We’re walking for YOU!” in English and French.

When Pope Francis announced he would be in Philadelphia, so close to Baltimore, there was no way Father Lombardi was going to turn down the chance to get to him on foot.

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Father Lombardi several times as a staff writer for The Catholic Review, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, a position I left last year to return in January to The Catholic Spirit. One of my earliest assignments was in Hancock, where Father Lombardi, a respected retreat master, told me about his love of pilgrimage. Last summer, I sat on the porch of his parish house listening to pilgrims describe adventures in several of France’s holy sites.

This year, Catholic Review editor Paul McMullen will have his own tales, as he’s part of the pilgrimage to Philadelphia. He posted on Facebook yesterday that they had crossed into Pennsylvania and shared a story of the group comforting a woman who was shaken up after the group happened upon her car accident.

Calling their walk “A pilgrimage of Love and Mercy,” paired with a charitable “Feet for Francis” shoe drive, the pilgrims are keeping the intention of religious freedom in prayer as they make their way north. I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to be part of their welcoming committee when they break into the crowd before Pope Francis’ Mass Sunday on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

It’s a serious undertaking, this 100-mile walk, but it’s a reminder that pilgrimage is not a relic of the past. I was reminded of that last year, when a friend invited me on a pilgrimage to the Baltimore Basilica. At first, I thought it was odd. It was less than a mile from where I lived; I walked there regularly. But we did it, praying a rosary on the way there, asking for Mary’s intercession in the undercroft, and adding another rosary on the way back. It was so simple. And while we walked, it became clear that the pilgrimage was about disposition, not destination.

So, here am I, a pilgrim, who will sleep well tonight in a comfortable bed. And there’s Paul, who is likely on some mat on a parish hall floor. Hopefully for both of us there will be other pilgrimages, and among them, those that are physically demanding, and those that are emotionally demanding. Both can be spiritually demanding, and both can compel conversion.

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Solving the mystery of pilgrim swag: What’s in the clear WMF backpacks?

September 22, 2015

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Pilgrim swag from the WMOF. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Swag from the WMOF Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

When we walked into the Pennsylvania Convention Center lobby this afternoon to sign in for the World Meeting of Families, cheerful volunteers handed us a T-shirt and a clear plastic backpack. Nevermind that we were already equipped with backpacks; now we had two. As I watched thousands of pilgrims sport this new accessory around the convention center — and to opening events including an address by Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles and Mass with Archbishop Charles Chaput — I grew more and more curious about exactly what was in these bags of mystery. Yes, we could see in them, but their contents were like a kaleidoscope, always changing, never quite in focus.

In the safety of my hotel room, I dumped the bag. The following are its contents:

  1. A navy blue cap with the World Meeting of Families logo. This might come in handy Saturday during the Festival of Families. Two days ago, weather.com forecasted perfect weather for this weekend and the outdoor events on Benjamin Franklin Parkway with Pope Francis. Tonight, the 10 p.m. news meteorologist painted a much darker picture — one that involves rain and wind.
  2. WMOF official T-shirt. I like it because I love green. Thank you, WMOF, for making these shirts green. Maybe chalk that one up to the intercession of WMOF co-patrons St. Gianna Molla and St. John Paul II?
  3. A WMOF official pin. Kind of like the Hard Rock Cafe, but it’s actually the World Meeting of Families.
  4. The Gospel of St. Luke. I’m not clear why a lone Gospel is in the pack, or why one of the evangelists was favored over the other. My guess: St. Luke’s Gospel may be the most family-centric, based on its inclusion of the Visitation and the longer Nativity narrative. That narrative contains this gem about the Blessed Mother’s reaction to people meeting her son: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
  5. Holy Cards. Not one for Blessed Junipero Serra, who will be canonized tomorrow. That was definitely a miss. However, one of them is actually a magnet, so it evens out.
  6. WMOF official pen. Which is good, because I lose pens. Double points if it works, because it’s hard to trust a free pen these days.
  7. Publications. OSV Newsweekly and Family Foundations among them! Both insightful reads, but I’m biased.
  8. Water bottle. I brought my own, but this one is also green! #LaudatoSi’
  9. Official schedules. Critical, because there’s a ridiculous amount of stuff going on. And that’s just the kids’ congress.
  10. Pope Francis Fan. This idea was clearly pilfered from the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity.
  11. Pope Francis poncho. Again, helpful in the event that the weather decides to test our pilgrim dispositions, but now I’m feeling guilty for packing the only umbrella in the house.

Not included: ALL THE PAPER. Namely, flyers for every Catholic organization under the sun, including a clothing company hawking “popeful” shirts — you know, “hopeful,” but with added pope for pop. Now, to plan which talks to attend tomorrow, and assess whether or not I’ll need the poncho…

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11 things to know about Archbishop Hebda

July 7, 2015

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Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of Newark, N.J., and a priest pose for a photo Nov. 5, 2013, following a Mass of welcome for Archbishop Hebda at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. CNS

Coadjutor Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of Newark, N.J., and a priest pose for a photo Nov. 5, 2013, following a Mass of welcome for Archbishop Hebda at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. CNS

After two quick trips to the Twin Cities since his June 15 appointment, Archbishop Bernard Hebda is spending his first full week in Minnesota. He plans to say the 10 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul July 12 — which can be heard on Relevant Radio 1330. Here are 11 things to know about our new apostolic administrator.

  1. His last name is Polish. His paternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from southeast Poland. “Hebda” was also a common last name of people who lived near the medieval Norbertine Monastery of Our Lady of the Assumption in Hebdów, in southern Poland near Krakow. Hopefully his first tour of the archdiocese includes a stop at Holy Cross and lunch from Sikora’s in Nordeast.
  1. He’s an ivy leaguer. Archbishop Hebda studied political science at Harvard and law at Columbia, both ivy league schools. As an undergraduate, he was on staff of the Harvard International Review, a publication of the Harvard International Relations Council, and was an editorial board member and articles editor for the Harvard Yearbook. It was while he was attending daily Mass at Columbia that he rediscovered an interest in the priesthood he first had as a child.
  1. He’s steeped in the law. He earned a degree in civil law from Columbia and practiced in a law firm for a year before joining seminary in 1984. Six years later, he earned a licentiate in canon law from the Pontificial Gregorian University in Rome. From 1992 to 1996, he served as a judge for Diocese of Pittburgh’s tribunal, which deals with canon law matters including marriage annulments. In 1996, he returned to Rome to serve on the Pontifical Council for Legal Texts, which interprets Church law, being named in 2003 its undersecretary, or third-ranking official. He left the position in 2009 to serve as the fourth bishop of Gaylord, Michigan.
  1. He loves Cardinal Newman and the Missionaries of Charity. For his coat of arms, Archbishop Hebda chose the motto “Only Jesus,” a phrase based on the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9. According to an explanation of his coat’s heraldry, the motto was inspired by a prayer written by Cardinal John Henry Newman, whom Archbishop Hebda admires. The prayer is prayed daily by the Missionaries of Charity, as was the practice of their foundress, Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. While he was working for the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts in Rome, Archbishop Hebda served as a confessor for the Missionaries of Charity postulants and their sisters who worked in a home for unwed mothers. The sisters made a deep impression. The archbishop chose the motto as a reminder of their “exemplary humility, obedience and fidelity” and “that the episcopal ministry of teaching, sanctifying and governing is ultimately to lead the faithful to an encounter with Christ himself.”
  1. He also loves the Capuchin Franciscans. In an interview published in the November 2013 edition of The Catholic Advocate in Newark, he attributed his priestly vocation in part to a vocations club the Capuchin Franciscans ran in his Catholic grade school. He wanted to go to their seminary after high school, but they steered him to Harvard instead.
  1. He has a devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary. Archbishop Hebda was named a bishop on Oct. 7, 2009, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, to whom he entrusted his ministry as a bishop.
  1. He does the electric slide. Or so says Rocco Palmo, the uncannily observant Philadelphia-based Church chronicler at his blog, “Whispers in the Loggia.”
  1. He’s one of seven sitting bishops who call Steel City home. The others are Bishop Paul Bradley of Kalamazoo, Michigan; Bishop Edward Burns of Juneau, Alaska; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston; Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit; Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island; and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. In seminary, Archbishop Hebda studied one year under Cardinal DiNardo, then a patristics scholar at the St. Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh.
  1. He’s done urban and rural ministry. The Diocese of Gaylord is small and rural, and Newark, well, is not. The Diocese of Gaylord covers 21 counties of Michigan’s northern lower peninsula and includes about 66,000 Catholics with 80 parishes. The Archdiocese of Newark covers four counties, more than 1.3 million Catholics, and about 220 parishes.
  1. He loved his mom’s cooking. He told The Catholic Advocate, “Nothing compares with my mom’s pierogi or potato pancakes. Now that my Mom has gone to God, there’s nothing that I would prefer to a plate of carbonara. After 18 years in Rome, I love anything Italian.”
  1. His friends call him “Bernie.”
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Long time coming: 130-old church by ‘God’s architect’ consecrated

November 4, 2010

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When Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí was asked to hurry along his work on Barcelona’s famous cathedral, Sagrada Familia, he was known to reply, “My client is not in a hurry.”

Of course, he wasn’t talking about the archbishop of Barcelona. He was taking about God, and that’s how he viewed his imaginative, soaring work — as something built for God, not man. Gaudí was known for piety, and he’s been dubbed “God’s architect.” A cause is underway for his sainthood, which is pretty impressive, since few artists have been given the honor.

Now, almost 130 years after Gaudí began his church, it’s finally being consecrated — and they pulled in the big guns to do it. No less than Pope Benedict XVI himself will pray the ritual Nov. 7 for its consecration during a papal trip to Spain.

The consecration of a church formally distinguishes the space as sacred, rather than “profane,” or common. Usually, churches are consecrated at the beginning of their use, after the buildings are finished. Although Sagrada was dedicated to the Holy Family, it was never consecrated, probably because it was never finished.

In 1926, Gaudí was hit by a tram, and he died a few days later. His art nouveau church was unfinished, and his vision was so grand that its actual completion was no small task. It remains unfinished today, although it’s hoped to be finished in time for the 100th anniversary of the architect’s death in 2026.

If you’ve never seen it with your own eyes, the thing worth knowing about Sagrada Familia is that it’s absolutely wild. I mean it — it’s the kind of thing that gives the imagination of Zaha Hadid a run for her money. With its eight telescoping spires, flying buttresses and sculptural forms that look like wax sliding down a 394-foot candle, it’s simultaneously grotesque and beautiful, medieval and futuristic. If completed according to Gaudí’s plans, it will have 18 towers, the tallest of which could soar to 560 feet.

Mass has been celebrated in the cathedral despite its construction status, and it draws an estimated 10,000 visitors each day. It’s also an UNESCO World Heritage site. People are attracted to the cathedral’s harmony, beauty and symbolism, Cardinal Martínez Sistach, the archbishop of Barcelona, told Zenit. It also converts, he added.

“I think the church evangelizes. Gaudí wanted all his buildings to lead people to God. I think he has more than achieved this with the Church of the Holy Family. There have been conversions, and we know some of them.

“The building of the church increasingly converted the architect himself, until he gave himself completely to this work, refusing proposals for new buildings offered to him in Paris and New York.”

According to the cardinal, Japanese sculpture Etsuro Soto, who was working on the church, and his wife, became Catholic because of Gaudí’s work in 1991.

“We know other examples of conversion, but no doubt they happened because a visit to the church helps to reflect on creation and salvation as works of God,” the cardinal added.

It’s hard to judge what’s going to be more impressive — the pope’s Nov. 7 consecration Mass, which is expected to include 1,100 concelebrating priests, or the cathedral itself when it’s completed in 16 years.

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Norman Rockwell: Sacred Artist?

October 18, 2010

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A few weeks ago, I was in D.C. and decided to join those wandering through the Smithsonian American Art Museum on their lunch hour. The big exhibit was Telling Stories, which linked Norman Rockwell and his snapshot style to major motion pictures. The painting and sketches on display were from the personal collections of filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and the placards included their take on the tales the artworks conveyed.

It’s no surprise that Rockwell’s illustrations have inspired Hollywood. Most of them convey with a single frame a raw experience of humanity — the same experience, or maybe even broader, than what a movie does in 106 minutes. Rockwell’s brilliance lies in his ability to set the scene, incorporating details like an unruly hat or earned pilot wings pinned just so, so that the viewer can look at the still life and she her own life reflected back at her. People see themselves — or their neighbor, their father, their hero — in Rockwell’s work. He captured an era in an incredible way.

For me, the most profound part of looking at Rockwell paintings is that you’re invited into a silent moment with the people depicted. Often, the subjects are not speaking, and it as if the viewer is stealing a look, like glimpsing a scene through a door accidentally left ajar. In “Girl at Mirror” (1954) a barefoot girl about 11 practices a pout in front of a large mirror, her chestnut hair maturely twisted back, and a picture of Rita Hayworth on her lap. A doll is tossed to the side; uncapped lipstick suggests haste. But there she sits, looking at herself, and — at least for any woman — the image resonates. You can read her thoughts on her face because they’re your thoughts: Am I pretty? Could I be glamorous? When will I grow up? Why do I have to be young? Am I anything at all like my hero?

Rockwell himself said, “In my opinion nothing should ever be shown in a picture which does not contribute to telling the story the picture is intended to tell.”

In “The Storyteller’s Art” from the May issue of America, Terrance W. Klein calls Rockwell’s oeuvre “incarnational” and “art that reveals” — a body of images that accurately expresses the human condition while nourishing the spirit. This is what is so enduring about Rockwell’s illustrations, which included covers for The Saturday Evening Post from 1916 to 1962. Rockwell’s straightforward approach, rather than simply painting a scene, tells a story, and this method of giving the message, rather than hiding it, has friends like Michelangelo, Giotto, and other greats. And, it’s for exactly this — the “unsophistication” of direct storytelling — that critics have belittled his work.

Yet, Norman’s art deserves a much deeper — and longer — look, Klein argues.

“Unlike conceptual art, which seeks to evoke only a notion or an emotion, the nature of illustration embraces narration and storytelling, an attribute it shares with medieval stained glass windows, which taught the Gospel my means of imagery,” he writes.

“Good art helps us to perceive something of this world’s truth and, this world’s beauty,” he adds.

The author links this idea to Los Angles’ Cathedral of the Angels presence within the city sprawl — the real, gritty, beautiful presence of art in the real world. This comment reminded me of that cathedral’s saint tapestries, showing holy men and women lined in a perpetual procession toward the altar. The artistry itself is astounding, but what I found most compelling is the way the saints were shown — not airbrushed, effeminate or aloof, but real, worn, and lifelike. Totally Rockwellian.

They could have been the kid next to you at Mass, or the woman you passed on the street. For once, it really struck me that saints were real — are —people, and they didn’t walk around with light emanating from their heads. And in that moment, when one thinks, “They were like me,” he is simultaneously impelled to ask, “So, could I be like them?”

I think it’s the best contemporary Catholic artwork out there right now.

And, it’s good because it’s incarnational. And its artist John Nava could say the same thing Rockwell did: “I paint human-looking humans. . . . All of the artist’s creativeness cannot equal God’s creativeness.”

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A Crowbar in Loveland: The ugly side of art

October 11, 2010

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Man, oh, man. First of all, thank you, readers, for tolerating my hiatus. Suffice it to say, due to a few changes around the office, there were not enough hours in the day for my regular writing, so this had to take back burner. I missed it (and hopefully you did, too).

Second, despite the city’s idyllic name, there’s a mess to be addressed in Loveland, Colo. On Oct. 6, a truck driver drove from Montana to the Loveland Museum Gallery, where she approached a hanging lithographic print, smashed its protective glass with a crowbar, and ripped the print to pieces.

And she did it in the name of Christianity.

The print depicted Jesus in a lewd act. Its creator, Stanford prof Enrique Chagoya, intended it to be a commentary on the corruption of the Catholic Church, not a sex act involving Christ, he said in a New York Times story.

But that’s not what 56-year-old, crow-bar wielding Kathleen Folden and others who protested the surrealist piece saw. After Folden had destroyed the lithographic print, she told onlookers why she did it. “Because it desecrates my Lord,” she is reported to have said.

Of course, Folden’s action has stirred the timeless vat of controversy involving free speech, censorship, indecency in art, and the use of religious symbols. Those who opposed the artwork’s display, including a local deacon, called the piece pornography and “deeply offensive.” Those who supported it called it activism, and creative expression.

The print was part of a series the artist called “The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals,” an obvious insult to Catholics, who, since the first century, have been accused of cannibalism for believing the Eucharist is Jesus’ actual body and blood.

According to the NYT, Chagoya has been getting hate mail for a week, and said he fears for the safety of the museum and those who associate with it.

“I think religion should be about peace and loving, especially Christianity,” it quoted him saying.

And so, it seems to me that Chagoya’s unspoken assumption is this: He can use his art to offensively depict Son of God, and because Christians profess peace, they’ll turn the other cheek.

It seems to me that Kathleen Folden had enough, and, with the vigor of a knight defending his king, went out to slay a dragon. She was wearing a T-shirt that read, “My Savior is Tougher Than Nails” when she went to get rid of the art, and she proved she was pretty tough, too.

I’m conflicted about the righteousness of Folden’s action, but it stirs within my mind an image of Jesus in the temple, overthrowing the moneychanger’s tables, chasing them out of the most sacred place, and making a generally raucous scene.

This incident, known as the Cleansing of the Temple, is recounted in all four Gospels. He was appalled at the profane act, and he did something about it. He didn’t approach the head moneychanger and ask for a dialogue. He didn’t start a petition with the pious Jews, or make a sign and stand outside in protest. He went in and got rid of the profanity.

And it seems that Folden did kinda the same thing.

What do you think? Did Folden defend the church’s honor, or did she violate free speech?

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Summer lemonade for the soul

August 19, 2010

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minneapolis-sculpture-garden-minneapolis-mn190

This is so tempting — “Spontaneous Hooky,” ala MinnPost. Stop what you’re doing this afternoon and get down to MNartists.org Field Day at the Minneapolis sculpture garden (it starts in 39 minutes!). So much more interesting than anything else you’re doing right now, like working at a desk. And if you go, take a moment to appreciate the Basilica’s mansard dome on the skyline. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.

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