The Angelus

Volume 15, Number 42


Many of the lives of the saints begin with a story about conversion. To be more accurate, many saint’s lives begin by introducing the reader to an apparently average sort of person, a person who is more or less involved in the same sorts of things as are his neighbors. Then, then, suddenly, out of the blue, something happens and there is a change of direction, a reversal, a turning back or a turning toward; an enemy is faced, resistance is encountered and overcome, there is a break with all that has gone before and a movement towards a new way of life, a movement toward God, which is to say that there has been a conversion. Then, and only then, does the real story begin and the everyday sort of person is on the way to becoming a saint. This is true of Paul, Augustine, Antony of Egypt, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, and many others.

The details of the saint’s conversion make for good storytelling, which makes sense, since the lives of the saints are meant to inspire. They remind us that the holy man or woman is a model for virtuous living. But there is something deeper going on in these conversion stories, I think. There is a pattern, rooted in Scripture, that is repeated over and over again in these lives. It is an “incarnational” pattern: God comes up close; God enters into the routine, the average, and the mundane and changes things, sometimes a little, and sometimes a lot.

The story of Francis of Assisi’s conversion is well known to many Christians. Of course, there is the confrontation with Francis’s seriously displeased father; but there is also Francis’s experience in the run-down Church of San Damiano, just outside of Assisi. Francis is walking by the church and goes in to pray. He gazes upon a large crucifix, painted in the Byzantine style; and he hears Christ saying to him, “Go, repair my Church, which as you see is falling completely in ruin.” These are loaded, prophetic, words. Francis starts fixing the church and in doing so, he too is “repaired.” The Lord comes up close and Francis is converted. He is turned toward Christ in a new way. Eventually, Francis gathers brothers and sisters around him. He founds his famous order and the rest is history.

The San Damiano Crucifix is a familiar image to many people, especially to those interested in Franciscan history and spirituality. It is large, nearly seven feet tall and over four feet wide. It was probably created around 1100 by an Umbrian artist working in what is known as the Syro-Byzantine style. There are some truly wonderful things about this crucifix. It comes as no surprise that it moved Francis so. First, like much Christian art, in particular much Western Christian art, it is an image that is meant to teach. It has been pointed out that, taken together, the many figures on the cross tell the story of Our Lord’s passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. (Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M., does a detailed and fascinating interpretation of the Cross in his book, The Franciscan Vision and the Gospel of John: The San Damiano Cross, St. Bonaventure, NY, 2006. His book got me thinking about the cross for this article.) Second, the cross is an icon and like all icons “written” in the Eastern Christian tradition, it invites the viewer to meditate and pray, to enter into an encounter with the reality depicted in the image.

Father Guinan reminds us that the San Damiano Crucifix, that most Franciscan of images, is in some ways, not typically Franciscan (Franciscan Vision, 2). For one thing, it was created before Francis was born. More important, the cross does not accentuate Jesus’ suffering on the cross, and therefore it does not stress Jesus’ humanity, which was an important focus in later Franciscan theology, spirituality, and art. Jesus’ humanity is not denied. This is a human body, nailed to a cross. Blood flows both from Jesus’ hands and from his feet. But Jesus does not wear the crown of thorns and the iconographer makes no attempt to depict the suffering of a crucified criminal with any sort of realistic, historical, or physiological accuracy.

In this image, the artist carefully balances humanity with divinity. The inscription above Jesus’ head tells us that he is a king. The clean white garment, edged in gold, may tell us that he is a priest. The attitude of his body, the expression on his face, and the brilliant halo around his head tell us that the Crucified One is also the Risen Lord. As Father Guinan points out, the blood from Jesus’ hands and feet flows forth and down upon the other figures in the image. (If one didn’t know better, the very idea would be gory and distasteful; but for those with “eyes to see,” it is a richly symbolic, deeply scriptural and sacramental idea.) Moreover, angels attend Jesus on the cross and, at the top of the image, angels greet Jesus as he “returns” to the heavenly places, to be seated at the Father’s right hand. As in the Gospel of John, so also here, the Cross is not so much the locus of abandonment and desolation, it is the place where the glory of God is already being revealed: “Jesus said, ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die” (John 12:32).

If icons are meant to be an encounter with the Holy One, what do we encounter when look at this image? That will be different for each one of us. Perhaps the encounter will be different every time we look at it. (If God is working to “repair,” transform, and convert us, are we ever exactly the same today as we were yesterday?) This is what I see as we arrive at Holy Cross Day: the cross was invented by human beings, acting on their cruelest impulses, to torture, shame, deter, terrorize, and kill. Jesus Christ, “though he was in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6), becomes fully human, “being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). He does not recoil from the worst and most painful elements of the human condition: sin, death, and terrible cruelty. He does not flee from us in horror or distaste. He comes up close. He sees what we sometimes forget: we were created in the very image of God. Jesus Christ “descends” deeply into the human condition in order to heal us and set us free; and by doing that he shows us who God is. He shows us that God is more powerful than sin and death. He shows us God’s tenacious, unyielding love. He shows us, in his deep humility, the very Glory of God.  Jay Smith


YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR David, Lonnie, Charles, Christian, Richard, Barbara, Linda, Vincent, Albert, Sean, James, Ida, Babak, Tyler, Mary, Casey, Eloise, Sharon, Arpene, and Paulette, priest; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Alex, Elizabeth, Ben, and Daniel . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . September 15: 1899 Harold Recouse; 1924 Robert Giles; 1927 George Albert Moss; 1929 Adele Matthiessen Blow; 1952 Maximilian T. Lenk, Charles Mason, Sr.


FRIDAY ABSTINENCE . . . The ordinary Fridays of the year are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.


I PUBLISH THE BANNS OF MARRIAGE between S. Clark Mitchell of New York, New York, and David Lapham, of New York, New York. If any of you know just cause why they may not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, you are bidden to declare it. This is the first time of asking. S.G.


THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . September 18, 6:30 PM, Wednesday Night Bible Study Class, Saint Joseph’s Hall . . . Saturday, September 21, Saint Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM and Mass 12:10 PM . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, September 14, by Father Jim Pace, and on Saturday, September 21, by Father Jay Smith.


AROUND THE PARISH . . . The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Christian education for young children, begins its 2013-2014 season on Sunday, October 6, at 9:45 AM, in the Atrium on the second floor of the Parish House. For more information, please speak to Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins . . . Anthony Jones, a former member of the parish, is to be ordained deacon on Saturday, October 5, at 10:00 AM at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, 50 Cathedral Avenue, Garden City, New York. The members of Saint Mary’s are invited to attend. Please keep Anthony in your prayers . . . The Rector will be away for a Leadership in Ministry conference. He leaves on Sunday afternoon, September 15, and returns to the rectory on Wednesday evening, September 18 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 172.


MUSIC THIS WEEK . . . Johann Gottfried Walther (1684–1748) was a German music theorist, composer, organist, and lexicographer of the Baroque era. Born in Erfurt, Walther was a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was, in fact, his cousin. Walther was most well known as the compiler of the Musikalisches Lexikon (Leipzig, 1732), an enormous dictionary of music and musicians. Not only was it the first dictionary of musical terms written in the German language, it was the first to contain both terms and biographical information about composers and performers up to the early eighteenth century. Walther evidently drew on more than 250 separate sources in compiling his dictionary, including theoretical treatises of the early Baroque and Renaissance. As a composer, Walther was known for his innovative compositional technique as well as his amazing organ transcriptions of orchestral concertos by contemporary Italian and German masters. He made fourteen transcriptions of concertos by Albinoni, Gentili, Taglietti, Giuseppe Torelli, Vivaldi, and Telemann. These works were the models for Bach who later wrote famous transcriptions of concertos by Vivaldi and others. As the City Organist of Weimar, Walther wrote 132 organ preludes based on Lutheran chorale melodies, including the work that we hear as prelude and postlude to Sunday’s Solemn Mass. At the ministration of Holy Communion, tenor Chris Howatt sing, “Love,” by the American composer, Ned Rorem (b. 1923). Mark Peterson


ADULT EDUCATION . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class resumes on September 18, at 6:30 PM, in Saint Joseph’s Hall. The class, which is led by Father Jay Smith, will be reading the Acts of the Apostles this year. The class will not meet on October 16 or November 6.


MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Sunday, September 29, Saint Michael & All Angels, Morning Prayer 8:30 AM, Mass 9:00 AM & 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM, the Reverend Dr. David Graeme Wood, preacher . . . Sunday, October 6, Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Mass 9:00 AM & 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM, with full choir, Solemn Evensong & Benediction 5:00 PM. Church School for young children resumes at 9:45 AM. The Adult Forum resumes at 1:00 PM (note later time on this day).


THE VISUAL ARTS PROJECT (VAP) . . . We are very pleased, and honored, to be able to show some of the work of Toussaint Auguste in the Gallery in Saint Joseph’s Hall beginning on Sunday. Mr. Auguste, who regularly worships with us here at Saint Mary’s, was born in Léogâne, Haiti, in 1925. He was active in the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti (L’Eglise Episcopale d’Haiti) as a lay reader and a teacher before becoming a painter in the late 1940s. He was among the early painters working at the Centre d'Art in Port-au-Prince. Mr. Auguste is considered to be one of Haiti’s “First Generation Masters.” Examples of his work can be found in many museums, including the permanent collections of the Musée d'Art Haitien du College Saint Pierre in Port-au-Prince, the Milwaukee Museum of Art, and the Davenport Museum of Art in Iowa. Mr. Auguste also painted two of the murals in the Episcopal diocese’s Cathédrale Sainte Trinité in Port-au-Prince, “The Flight into Egypt” and “The Temptation of Adam and Eve.” (In the latter image, the serpent was depicted in semi-human form, with “Medusan” hair and serpentine legs.) The cathedral murals were executed in 1950 and 1951 and Mr. Auguste moved to the United States shortly thereafter. All of the cathedral murals were painted in an indigenous style and used Haitian people, scenery, vegetation, furniture and architecture as models to depict the Biblical scenes. The murals, an important part of Haiti’s cultural patrimony, were tragically destroyed, along with much of the cathedral itself, in the earthquake of January 12, 2010. (Léogâne, Mr. Auguste’s birthplace, was also badly damaged in the earthquake.) Readers of the Angelus can find out more about the murals here and here (the download times on the latter website are slow, but the images are particularly clear); the terrible destruction caused by the 2010 earthquake is described in a New York Times article still available online. Information about the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti—the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church—is available here, in both English and French. A short article about the cathedral is available on the Episcopal Church website. The article provides information about how to make a donation to the effort to rebuild the cathedral. José Vidal


OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We are already gratefully accepting donations of warm clothing, as well as new, unopened packets of underwear and socks, especially white cotton socks. We send some items of clothing to the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Other items are kept here for distribution to those in need . . . The Book Sale continues this week. All donations are used to help those in need.


AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . At the Church of Saint Malachy, 239 West 49th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, Monday, September 16, 7:30 PM, a concert of Russian-Orthodox sacred music, “Their Sound Hath Gone Forth,” performed by The Patriarch Tikhon Choir. The choir is an ensemble which includes professional singers from both Russia and the United States. It is directed by Vladimir Gorbik, choirmaster at Moscow’s Representation Church of the Holy Trinity–Saint Sergius Monastery. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit the choir’s website.