Prayer is for Pansies
When was the last time you prayed? Have you started your day at work with prayer? When you got in your car to drive to class or your job, did you pray? When you woke up this morning was there a prayer said? When was the last time you asked your friend to pray the rosary with you? Or when did you invoke your Guardian angels before beginning a road trip together? To me the thought of doing this is met with an inner hesitation. A resistance. A thinking that this is what pious old women do. For me as a man particularly there is a feeling that this is not so manly.
Piety is no longer perceived as a masculine thing. I remember a meme of a manly hand clasping a rosary and the words prescribed, “this is strength.” And truly I do think it is strength. I think this is part of the disorder of modern civilization. We have forgotten that on the shoulders of men, (and yes men, not women), the balance of society is built. There is a hesitation today because of feminism and political correctness to say that in a masculine structure, femininity finds its place, and the co-dependence of the genders comes to fruition. Remember the priesthood, which is one of the fulcrums of the Faith that is masculine in nature. Maybe this hesitation towards communal prayer is brought on by our perception of it, that it is brought on by what we perceive in our churches as pious and saintly.
I think the first place we look at to articulate our ideas on sainthood and the sacred in general are in our sacred spaces. In Catholic Churches, art can be found everywhere. Humans are physical beings. And when God became man He elevated the material. We learn visually. We create curious little pictures and scribbles called letters to communicate ideas. The oldest forms of writing, like hieroglyphics, were quite literally picture words. You could say a more simple version of this are paintings, sculptures, and music. These are all forms of expression used to capture ideas and give them a sensory form. Art traditionally is used to help convey ideas. It instructs the mind and entertains our imaginations. Catholic art has always played a special role in our faith. It distinguishes us from other Christian religions. How our sacred spaces are decorated, I think, plays an important part in how we worship, and why we worship. I would argue that there has been a serious problem with contemporary Catholic art. Some of these issues have roots as old as the renaissance. Some are quite new. But it is a general softening in sacred images that issue lies. The emasculation of Catholic art has led to an emasculation of our piety.
Those that have been to Europe, will know of the stark contrast between our churches here in the United States and the great European basilicas and cathedrals which took generations to build. You will see sculptures, paintings, and stained glass. Towers filled with magnificent bells reaching skyward. Every square inch inside and out, filled with details. Our ancient Catholic friends understood something that is preached by modern business gurus, something that is a critical aspect of human nature. If you want to get where you are going in life you need to surround yourself with goals. The power of positive thinking, vision boards, and goal setting. It is about keeping the end of the line in clear vision. You surround yourself with people and the things that you want and want to become.
The feminization of things started going sideways artistically at the Renaissance and the Victorian era with angels. These periods were arguably some of the pinnacles of Catholic art, and it is true, the pride of our faiths art resides in basilicas painted by Michealangelo, in the sculptures done by Donetello, and the paintings and architecture of Bernini and Da Vinci. But the Renaissance, as we know, was also the rebirth of pagan ideals of art, and with it the Greeks obsession with an effeminate looking manhood. It’s fitting we start this artsy dive with the first of God’s creations and probably the ones who have suffered the most abuse.
Angels, great warriors and ordinaries of God’s kingdom. Beings that help guide the stars and planets on their courses, guided the figures in the old rearmament and delivered important messages, like Gabriel at the Annunciation. Angels were also known for being sent to destroy whole armies of God's enemies. The best way we could depict these immortal warriors, almost all powerful beings, was prescribing them the chubby, rosy cheeked faces of babies with delicate dove-like wings.
First off I would like to apologize to all seven choirs of angels who we have abused in art over the past few hundred years. They deserve much better. The strange and mysterious way the Old Testament depicts them, is a far cry to what we see on the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel.
That being said when I say guardian angel and all you can think of is two little kids by the river with an slightly androgynous female in a robe shooing them away, we know that we have all been brainwashed by vanilla Catholic artwork.
The demons must be laughing in hell that their counterparts are so delicately portrayed to us. But here is this theme of sensitivity. A theme of adolescence and weakness.
Saint Michael looks like a soft mushy woman wearing the armor of a roman soldier, and with delicate grace placing a spear in the side of a devil. No wonder the children run around wearing plastic Thor armor, with little Mjölnirs, Hulk fists, and Captain America shields. We depict our own masculine saintly heroes as soft handed sissies.
Every saint now has a rosy cheeked avatar printed en-masse on holy cards. Christ himself is in paintings absently motioning with effeminate hands towards His Sacred Heart. We forget that for most of Christ’s life, He was a carpenter, a craftsman. And I will contest that as a carpenter myself, wood splinters and hauling lumber, does not result in baby soft lady hands, It’s calluses and scars. The hands of our Savior were the hands of a laborer, not a woman.
Saint Anthony of Padua, who for the most part we only invoke to find missing car keys, has the unknown title of the “Hammer of Heretics.” On almost every circulated image we see not the rough, bearded, intellectual juggernaut who fought against the Albigensian Heresy. Instead we see a rosy cheeked boy holding the baby Jesus.
Our Art today is riddled with such imagery. And in our newer churches if we don’t find sensitive representations of the saints, we find stained glass windows that look like they were drawn by preschoolers and the naked unadorned walls of bland Art Deco/Mid Century modern architecture.
Devoid of meaning. Our churches look less appealing than your local community center. The only hint that something sacred may take place is the fact that a small wooden altar and an impressionist looking Savior that resembles more the work of Tim Burton than of a Catholic artist.
Our churches are empty of art. And if they have it, it’s vague and bland. We have no clear or strong images of faith. We have nothing to look at. Nothing to fix in our minds. no visual ideal. We are becoming like our Iconoclastic Protestant cousins that drove art out of their churches.
But what do our own houses even look like? Do we hang reminders of our faith in our homes and in our bedrooms? Do we have anything there that says “Christ lives here to”? Or is it just band posters, and “live, laugh, love” signs? We hang pictures of our family but not of our God. We decorate so people can be impressed with our sense of style and fashion, but we don’t decorate so they can be elevated, and to wonder. Let’s have intentional art be brought back into the Church and bring back to our homes the image of Christ and His heroes. Let us get rid of these rosy cheeked saints, and the sensitive Jesus. Let us remember our Savior as thee Man who had calloussess on His hands. Let us remember the angels for the great warriors they are. Let us remember the saints as the champions of the faith.
In Terrence Malick's newest film, A Hidden Life, there is a scene in which an old painter speaks to the protagonist of the film, the blessed Franz Jägerstätter, “I paint all this suffering and yet I don’t suffer myself. All we create is sympathy. We create admirers. We don’t create followers. Christ's life is a demand we don’t want to be reminded of. So we don’t have to see what happens to the truth. I paint their comfortable Christ with a halo over His head. Men will be much more clever now, instead of fighting the truth they will simply ignore it. How can I show what I haven’t had the courage to live? Someday I’ll have the courage to show what I haven’t yet lived. Someday I’ll paint a true Christ.”
We have become that clever. It is easier to ignore the truth. Pretend it does not exist. To live our lives with our reflection of the truth. Our souls are like the clay of the sculptor. When we are born it is formless. As we age, and go through our lives we carve our souls into whatever shape we please. When we die and we present that sculpture to God, how much will it reflect him? How much will it reflect the face of Christ? Will we see ourselves in its visage instead?