Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Vatican Museum

I almost didn’t go to the Vatican Museum but decided on Wednesday morning to take a few hours. I’m glad I did, because there were a few surprises.

The museum is outrageously large and so I decided to just walk and look at what might interest me.

There were some beautiful examples of Christian art, including an intriguing image of St. Francis by the 16th century painter Girolamo Muziano.

There was also a room with some beautiful icons. including one of Mary breastfeeding Jesus. 

What surprised me was the small contemporary art collection. There were a few pieces by Matisse, Rouault, Ben Shahn, Marc Chagall, and Jacob Epstein. The presence of Jewish artists like Ben Shahn and Marc Chagall was for me a hopeful sign of turning away from the anti-Jewish diatribes of the past.

Max Weber, Invocation

There was also an intriguing painting by Fernando Botero called “Trip to the Ecumenical Council 1972.” An obese bishop seems to be walking to Rome in full episcopal regalia. I wondered if the bishop would lose weight on the trip and thus represent a leaner church.

I had been looking forward to Rafael’s “School of Athens,” but I found some disturbing themes in the Rafael rooms. Most disturbing were the themes of war, beginning with Constantine and the Battle of the Mulvian Bridge. The dilemma of justifying violence connected with Constantine’s tolerance of Christianity leaves me uneasy. 

The Battle of the Mulvian Bridge

Entering the Sistine Chapel took my breath away. The restored frescos, especially the Last Judgment and the ceiling are full of color and light. I stood still and looked at the Last Judgment with a muscular Christ separating the good, the bad, and the ugly. I strained my neck to look at the images on the ceiling.

In the midst of this the guards were continually calling out to people to stop taking photos (and removing a few offenders) and there was a continual hum of conversations. It hardly felt like a chapel.

I did find a seat in a corner and could sit quietly and look at the images for about fifteen minutes. But I also prayed, especially for the cardinal who might sit where I was during the conclave. May the Spirit guide their deliberations.

One last image moved me – a work that sought to present the Second Vatican Council, set up on three walls of one exhibition room.

Vatican II began in October 1963, fifty years ago this year. It has had a major effect on my life and the lives of many Catholics. The hope that the Council sparked bore some good fruit. I can see that in the faith of the people here in Honduras who know the scriptures, love the Eucharist, and lead Celebrations of the Word in their remote villages.

But some of the fire seems to have gone out, with all too much emphasis on laws and norms and strict doctrinal tests that would probably have made Thomas Aquinas look like a heretic.

May the new pope be filled with the Spirit of a God who loves us so much that he became flesh and took on our suffering. We need a new evangelization, but one that emphasizes living the Gospel, instead of insisting on the exactly correct formulations of doctrines. Words and formulas can get in the way of the truth of the Gospels and the tradition of the Church. What we need are people on fire with God’s love who live the Gospels in the midst of a world full of fear and insecurity.


More photos from the Vatican Museum can be found here on my Flickr site.

No comments: