Friday, December 30, 2016


Saincilus Ismael-  Haiti
All through the Christmas season, we find cultural differences in the art for this joyous and grace-filled  time.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Saincilus Ismael was born in Petite Riviere de l’Artibonite, Haiti in 1940. He was educated by the Friars of St. Mark and at Antenor Fermin High School

 Ismaël led a full and rich life. An agonomist as well as an artist, he was also a political activist. He spent seven years in prison for opposing the Duvaliers, Papa and Baby Doc. Even so, thanks to the popularity of his art, he died a relatively wealthy man by the standards of his homeland: his estate included a Volkswagen.

   The artist spent most of his creative life in Deschapelles as director of an art center associated with an American medical and religious mission. He trained scores of students and exerted a powerful influence on artists working in the 'Artibonite style,' two features of which are elaborately decorated clothing and backgrounds.

   Ismaël has been exhibited worldwide and appears in most surveys of Haitian art published since the 1970s
He was closely associated with Doctor and Mrs. Mellon at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles where he supervised the Ceramics Center. Ismael developed a style that was instantly recognizable, scenes of Haitian peasant life rendered with the intricacy and precision of a Byzantine icon. In an Ismael painting, every garment of a subject's clothing would be a different geometric pattern, as would the houses and the trees.  It is said in Haiti that Ismael's output grew tenfold after his death. 

Gebre Merha was born and raised in the ancient holy city and former imperial capital of Axum (Aksum).  He learned iconography in the traditional manner, passed down for generations in his family of distinguished artists.  He now lives and works in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

His family provides him with wood for his carvings and paintings from the mountains surrounding Axum, where the trees are still felled by hand-axe. His icons are painted in glue-based distemper paint and acrylic on un-gessoed wood.  In addition to traditional icons, Gebre paints African designs in acrylic

An almost shocking piece of art, is Louis Kahan's
Flight, with its modern escape from what looks like a city in ruins  (representing our present age?) with the protective Joseph at the wheel of a jalopy. Mary is in the back with the Child, protecting Him.  On top of the vehicle are a saw and hammer (to show Joseph's trade) a spinning wheel, and various pieces of luggage.  The car is obviously breaking through barbed wire, which symbolizes (?) the tyranny under which they are escaping.  It is a bold work of art, very expressive for our day and age.

Louis Kahan (1905- 2002) was an Austrian-born Australian artist whose long career included fashion design, illustration for magazines and journals, painting, printmaking and drawing. He is represented in most major collections in Australia as well as in Europe and USA. He won the Archibald Prize in 1962 with a portrait of Patrick White. 

He enlisted in the French Foreign Legion in 1939 and was sent to Algeria, North Africa as a war artist, although he had never received any formal art training. He had an exhibition at Oran in 1942. He was a voluntary artist for the Red Cross between 1943 and 1945. During this time, photography of soldiers was not permitted. Louis made over 2,000 drawings of wounded soldiers being cared for in the hospital at Oran and these were v-mailed (an early form of microfilm) to the families of soldiers. When he found that the originals were being destroyed after transmission Louis began to save them and over 300 were later given by him to the Red Cross Museum in Washington, USA.   

In his paintings, prints and drawings Louis explored many interests and themes, including dreams, death, and his own life. Childhood games, portraits and nudes were ongoing subjects. Symbolism particularly characterizes his later works. Later, dreamlike prints and paintings often show his tools of the trade: palette, brushes, tailor's scissors and tape. These represent a kind of metaphorical self-portrait and life history.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


Sarah Hempel Irani- USA

Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey
Pecos, New Mexico
“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more”.
(Jer. 31:15)

Today we have the feast of the HOLY INNOCENTS, a disturbing incident in salvation history. It is as if the Lord wants to remind us that even in the midst of rejoicing there can be sorrow. In our time the slaughter of innocents goes on through abortion and war. At this holy time, our prayer must be for all who perish due to sin and ignorance.

Monday, December 26, 2016


Culture is what holds us together, preserving language, thought patterns, ways of life, attitudes, and symbols. It  is celebrated in arts, music, drama, literature and life.  It constitutes a collective memory of the people, a collective heritage which will be handed down to generations to come. ( The World Council of Churches-Vancouver Conference in 1983)

One of my favorites is by the  Lithuanian artist Antanas Kmieliauskas (b. 1932), which shows people surrounding the Mother and newborn Child, most probably people he knew well.   I love the subtle, almost pastel colors. Antanas was a professor of Vilnius Academy of Arts, National Prize winner of Lithuania, and one of the most comprehensive Lithuanian  painters of the 20th C.  He worked in many media from painting and sculpture to graphic art.

The bulk of his art, particularly the works of his religious art, has been undeservedly ignored over a long period of time. The artist's original creation based upon both fundamental classical and Modern European art traditions is a significant part of the fine arts of Lithuania as well as of Lithuanian culture on the whole.

Another interesting and very different work is by the Aboriginal artist  Greg Weatherby (b. 1942).  “A daring, original work that sets Jesus Christ’s birth in the Central Australian outback. In bold, earthy colors native emus, goannas (lizards), kangaroos and Dreamtime Beings pay homage to the new-born Child. Millions of stars illuminate the Great Ancestor’s omnipresent hands while presenting the divine Gift to Aboriginal Spirit parents near legendary Uluru”.

Greg is one of the most renown of Aboriginal painters. His work uses a kind of hatching and dot painting that is very common there and was traditionally painted onto skin for ceremonial reasons. The method itself is significant, as it reputedly withholds or encodes information in the dot patterns.

Greg’s Aboriginal heritage is Walbanga from the far south coast of New South Wales, and his tribal totem is the shark.

The Japanese artist Yo (Hiroshi) Iwashita (b. 1917)  was basically a stencil and wood block artist known for his rich textile patterns of a type of folk art, often using humor. I love how the Virgin Mary seems to have her hand on Joseph, as if acknowledging his protection of her and the Child.

Cesar Torrente Legaspi (1917-94) was a Filipino National Artist in painting. He was also an art director prior to going full-time in his visual art practice in the 1960s. A pioneer “Neo-Realist” he is remembered for his singular achievement of refining cubism in the Philippine context. Legaspi belonged to the so-called “Thirteen Moderns” and later, the “Neo-realists”. 

C. Legaspi
His distinctive style and daring themes contributed significantly to the advent and eventual acceptance of modern art in the Philippines. He made use of the geometric fragmentation technique, weaving social comment and juxtaposing the mythical and modern into his overlapping, interacting forms with disturbing power and intensity.

S. Raj

Solomon Raj  from India (b. 1921) uses batik and woodcuts, cheap materials that are readily available. He depicts Jesus amidst the refugees and suffering people.
Rooted in his love for the Gospel and his appreciation for his Indian heritage, he has spent a lifetime telling us to see and to believe. He is a master at intercultural communication taking stories buried in his heart of faith and openly sharing them through his unique creative vision.

He has written:  We know that the concept of culture is very complex indeed and it includes many things such as the community's language, its religion and ritual, its arts and crafts etc.  Culture is a  community's world view, of its hopes and fears, its expectations and shared values.  Culture is like a mass of computer data into which every individual of that community can draw from.  It is a community's collective memory and its stored heritage which every generation passes on to the next.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


Ethiopia- Unknown
The various works of art from across the globe show us great unity in the mystery of the Incarnation and on the other hand  great diversity around the new born King.

These artists take the Christ Child to them and reflect it in their own understanding, their own tradition, their own culture. Because the Incarnation is for all people in all places, then it should become cultural and have different expressions in different cultures. The birth of Jesus is where God meets everyone of us!

Sawai-Chinnawong - Thailand

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Erland Sibuea- Indonesia

One of the wonders of art today around the world, is we get to see how different cultures view the coming of Christ.  “Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to ALL the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10)

When an artist tries to convey what is in his/her heart as a message to us, they are not usually worried about historical accuracy, but rather how does the art speak to people here and now.

For Christmas  week  we present some contemporary portrayals of the Nativity which  open up to us the fact that Jesus Christ was born for all people of all ages. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Pregnant Virgin- Hungary
During these weeks of Advent, we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth through prayer and reflection. Amid the last minute flurry of Christmas preparations, we must look for practical ways to observe the holiness of this time.  The contemplative experience is not only for nuns and monks but for all Christians.

"Advent is the season of the God-seeker. . . . May God help us to wake up to ourselves and in doing so, to move from ourselves toward Him."
                          Alfred Delp, S.J.  Advent of the Heart, Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings

Last Monday was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The reading was Mary hastening to visit Elizabeth, as she has just heard she too is with child.  What always flies into my mind when I I hear this Gospel reading is Thomas Merton’s poem “The Quickening of St. John the Baptist (On the Contemplative Vocation)”.

You have trusted no town with the news behind your eyes.
You have drowned Gabriel's word in thoughts like seas
And turned toward the stone mountain
To the treeless places.
Virgin of God, why are y
our clothes like sails? 

I have often thought if I was an artist I would paint this image of Our Mother flying with sails!

In this last week of Advent, many feel the weight of things to still be done, baking, last minute shopping, meal planning, etc. Yet the Church summons us to stop and be still for a while with the Mother of the Lord. While we rush around, in celebration of the birth of our Savior, there is an irony in the fact that Mary herself was most tranquil. Yes she did fly off to meet her cousin in the early days, with the intent of sharing the good news for both and to care for Elizabeth in her last days.  She who is to be the Mother of God, only has a care for someone else.

Let us take example from Mary, and focus our attention in quiet, even for a few minutes each day this week, as we prepare to celebrate His Love for us!

Saturday, December 10, 2016


“Consecrated life is a gift to the Church, it is born of the Church, it grows in the Church, and it is entirely directed to the Church,” Pope Francis said October 28. 

"Bishops should be particularly attentive to communities of contemplative sisters. These are “torches to guide men and women along their journey through the dark night of time,” and “sentinels of the morning, heralding the dawn.”

The contemplative life is not a special kind of life, but should be the Christian life, nothing more and nothing less. It is life formed by the Father’s  revealing Word, who is Christ. This Word must be read and heard, meditated and prayed.

The contemplative tradition emphasizes that God is mindful of us and continues to show us our place in salvation history, which is nothing less than doing His will.  We learn to be attentive to the Father and His gift to us of His Son through the Virgin Mary. Mary’s song exemplifies the contemplative tradition because it celebrates the activity of God in human life. While she is initially troubled by God’s plan for her, she agrees to become the Mother of the Savior, thus carrying out  the Will of the Father, which will effect all of humankind. This Advent we celebrate that very reality in our own lives. 

Prayer of Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), a widely acknowledged English scholar and mystic:

Lord! Going out from this silence, teach me to be more alert, humble, expectant, than I have been in the past: ever ready to encounter you in quiet, homely ways: in every appeal to my compassion, every act of unselfish love which shows up and humbles my imperfect love, may I recognize you: still walking through the world. Give me that grace of simplicity which alone can receive your mystery. Come and abide with me! Meet me, walk with me! Enlighten my mind! And then, Come in! Enter my humble life with its poverty and limitations as you entered the stable of Bethlehem, the workshop of Nazareth, the cottage of Emmaus. Bless and consecrate the material of that small and ordinary life. Amen.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


BLESSED VASYL VELYCHOCSKY was born in 1903 into a priestly family in Western Ukraine. His father was a priest, as were both his grandfathers. After serving as a rifleman in the First World War, Vasyl entered the Major Seminary in Lviv, Ukraine. During his diaconal year, in 1924, he joined the Redemptorist Congregation. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1925, in Stanislaviv. Early on, his gift of preaching was recognized and he was assigned to give parish missions in the Volyn region.
During this period, the region was under Polish control and there was strong pressure for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to become polonized. Father Vasyl refused to do this. Instead, he strived to unite the faithful under Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. Because of this, he was forced to leave Volyn in 1935. He returned to Stanislaviv where he spent the next several years giving traditional Redemptorist two-week-long missions. In June 1940, with the Soviets occupying Western Ukraine, Father Vasyl led a procession of some 20,000 people through the streets of Stanislaviv on the occasion of the feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
In 1942 he became abbot of the monastery in Ternopil. Because of religious persecution by the Soviet Government he was arrested in 1945 by the NKVD and sent to Kyiv. The punishment of death was commuted to 10 years of hard labor. He was given the opportunity to join the Russian Orthodox Church and be released. Father Vasyl refused. With an authoritative voice he replied: “No, never! Under any circumstances . . . I have said NO once and for all; and you can shoot me, and kill me, but you shall get from me no other word.”
Over the next 10 months Father Vasyl was tortured until he confessed to crimes he never committed. He was interrogated 11 times. Usually these were conducted at night and lasted up to 12 hours. Sleeplessness, isolation, food deprivation, physical and moral abuse helped to breakdown his willpower until he finally confessed to anti-Soviet activity.

His trial was held on June 26, 1946. Without representation or witnesses, he was quickly found guilty and sentenced to execution by firing squad. He spent the next three months on death row, but even there preached, heard confessions and help prepare fellow prisoners for death. One day his name was called. He left his cell ready to give up his life for his beliefs. However, his sentence was changed to 10 years of hard labour in the Soviet laager camps, working under the worst possible conditions. During this time Father Vasyl heard confessions, preached and even celebrated the divine liturgy daily, using a large tablespoon as his chalice and wine made from raisins.
 On release in 1955 he went back to Lviv, and was secretly ordained in 1963. In 1969 he was imprisoned again for three years for his religious activities. Released in 1972, he was exiled. Stricken with a heart disease stemming from his imprisonment, the metropolitan told a Canadian audience, "The prisons and camps ruined my health and my strength, but this was my fate; the Lord God placed this cross on my shoulders." 
He died two weeks later in Winnipeg on June 30, 1973.

Thirty years after his death, Vasyl Velychkovsky's body was found to almost incorrupt. On June 27, 2001, Bishop Vasyl was beatified by Saint Pope John Paul II in a ceremony in Lviv. Then, in September 2002, Bishop Vasyl’s body was transferred to a shrine built in St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Winnipeg. Upon exhumation, it was found that his body remained fully intact, considered a sign of sainthood.

Today, the Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky Shrine is visited by thousands of pilgrims annually, with many denominations represented. His story is a source of inspiration and his relics have become a source of healing. Moreover, in no small measure, Bishop Vasyl’s faith, enthusiasm and courage ensured the life of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in her homeland during a time of fierce persecution.

With Ukranian  Redemptorist Martyrs (Nicholas, Zenon, Ivan)

Friday, December 2, 2016


As the world  longs for Advent, we are reminded why Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This preparation time reminds us of the state we were in before that miracle birth happened, and what would have become of us if God hadn't done the unthinkable and become man.  Humankind was at its
Bradi Barth
darkest hour, the light was all gone. The distance between us and God was insurmountable. How could we ever bridge the chasm that separated us? But we were not without hope. As we continue through this Advent let us keep in mind our struggle to remain faithful to our call as lights in the world, be it through the active or cloistered life.

On September 8, 2016, Pope Francis received in audience some 250 participants in the congress of Benedictine abbots and abbesses gathered in Rome to reflect on the monastic charism received from St. Benedict and their faithfulness to it in a changing world.

This theme acquires special meaning in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy since, as Pope Francis affirmed, “if it is only in the contemplation of Jesus Christ that we perceive the merciful face of the Father, monastic life constitutes a privileged route to achieve this contemplative experience and to translate it into personal and community witness.”

"Today’s world clearly demonstrates the need for a mercy that is the heart of Christian life and “which definitively manifests the authenticity and credibility of the message of which the Church is the depository, and which she proclaims. And in this time and in this Church, called to focus increasingly on the essential, monks and nuns safeguard by vocation a peculiar gift and a special responsibility: that of keeping alive the oases of the spirit, where pastors and faithful can draw from the wellsprings of Divine Mercy.

With the grace of God and seeking to live mercifully in their communities, monks and nuns “announce evangelical fraternity from all their monasteries spread out in every corner of the globe, and they do so with that purposeful and eloquent silence that lets God speak out in the deafening and distracted life of the world.”
Therefore, although they live separated from the world, their cloistered life “is not barren: on the contrary, an enrichment and not an obstacle to communion.”

May the  lovely poem of the Carmelite nun, Sr. Miriam of the Holy Spirit  (Jessica Power) inspire us to seek the Child and hold Him in our hearts and keep Him nestled within as Our Lady did.

In Mary-Darkness

I live my Advent in the womb of Mary
And on one night when a great star swings free
From its high mooring and walks down the sky
To be the dot above the Christus i,
I shall be born of her by blessed grace.
I wait in Mary-darkness, faith’s walled place,

With hope’s expectance of nativity.
I knew for long she carried me and fed me,
Guarded and loved me, though I could not see,
But only now, with inward jubilee,
I come upon earth’s most amazing knowledge:
Someone is hidden in this dark with me.