NEWTON Look to the right at the artistic masterpiece “Virgin of the Immaculate Conception and St. John,” by El Greco and consider how its dark, dramatic imagery captures a supernatural moment in the apostle’s vision of the apocalypse. This striking painting depicts “a woman [Mary]…clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet…brought forth a man child [Jesus], who was to rule all nations…”
This Scriptural scene, as quoted from Revelation 12, not only inspired El Greco to paint one of his masterworks, between 1608 and 1613, but also speaks to Catholics today with its “image of the Blessed Mother perfectly redeemed” — a worthy spiritual goal for ourselves. That’s what Father Paul Manning, executive director of St. Paul Inside the Walls: the Diocesan Center for Evangelization at Bayley-Ellard, Madison, told 80 lay ministers of St. Joseph Parish here and other people interested in ministry on May 9, as part of a morning reflection, “Keeping Christ at the Center of Ministry.”
“Mary’s life comes in contact with Christ and reveals that the Christian life is about discovering our deepest and truest selves, which are meant to be our holy selves,” said Father Manning, also diocesan vicar for evangelization. He added a unique feature to his presentation: “Visio Divina” — or “Divine Seeing,” a contemplative consideration of pieces of art that illustrated three of the four pillars of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.” “During the reflection, I asked St. Joseph’s lay ministers to focus on Jesus and their personal relationship with him, which they can deepen through the Sacraments of the Church. Often, ministers get so wrapped up in the day-to-day work of ministry that they forget the ‘whom’ for whom they are doing it: Christ,” he said.
Father Manning examined three artworks that depict three of the four “pillars” of the Catechism. The three segments of the day were entitled “Living a Believing Life,” “Living a Sacramental Life” and “Living a Moral Life.” That Saturday, restrictions on time did not allow Father Manning present the fourth pillar, “Living a Prayerful Life.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI selected these images to be published in the Compendium of the Catechism, when he served as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the priest said.
One of the masterpieces that Father Manning presented, “Adoration of the Magi,” illustrates “Living a Believing Life.” Painted by Gentile de Fabriano in 1423, it depicts the eldest of the Three Kings kissing the infant Christ, demonstrating that “human wisdom needs to humble itself before divine wisdom.”
“Belief is accepting God’s plan as given and not as you want it to be,” said Father Manning, who invited audience members to offer their insights about the pieces of art and living the faith during the interactive presentation.
Then, Father Manning displayed the image of “Mother of the Redeemer,” a mosaic created by Jesuit Father Marco Ivan Rupnik, in order to illustrate “Living a Sacramental Life.” The image depicts Mary “cupping her hands below the body of her crucified son, Jesus, to catch the blood and water flowing from his side,” he said.
“This symbolizes that the Sacraments are the life of the Church,” Father Manning said. “Baptism is the door to the house of God [the Church]. The Eucharist is the hearth or the table of the house. That’s where we are invited to sit, share a meal and come into intimate communion with Jesus. We must stay close to the Eucharist and make sure that it is at the center of our lives,” he said.
The last masterpiece that Father Manning presented was “Virgin of the Immaculate Conception and St. John” by El Greco, for “Living a Moral Life, which emphasized our need to “grow in holiness” by the way we love, rather than through a quest for moral perfection.
One audience member was Anne Lungren, St. Joseph’s office manager, a lector, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and chairperson of rural Sussex County’s adult enrichment committee. She called Father Manning’s presentation “engaging” and “easily understandable.”
“Father Paul spoke about the Sacraments, which are the life of the Church, and especially the Eucharist, which is the centerpiece of what we lay ministers do,” Lungren said.
Also in attendance was Father Brian Sullivan, St. Joseph’s pastor, who said that some lay ministers invited other people interested in getting involved in parish ministries. Last year, Allan Wright, St. Paul’s academic dean, delivered a morning reflection for lay ministers at St. Joseph’s — part of the Evangelization Center’s ongoing outreach to the diocese.
“Father Paul is delightful. Lay ministers can forget the deeper meaning of their jobs. He gave them some great insights and shared some of that joy [that can experience serving God’s people],” Father Sullivan said.