3rd Sunday of Advent

The Contrast-1982 - Nasser Azam
As a child, Nasser Azam immigrated to England from Pakistan with his family in 1970. This watercolour is one of several early portraits he completed centred on his family. The painting is titled “The Contrast, 1982”.

For sixty years a painting hung in the dining room of the Jesuit house on Dublin’s Leeson Street. People passed by it day in, and day out without paying much attention to it.

In the early 1920’s by Marie Lea-Wilson bought the painting in Edinburgh for about $8. She gave it to the Jesuits.

One day, someone from the community contacted the National Gallery of Ireland about assessing the works of art in the Jesuit House.

Senior conservator Sergio Benedetti visited the house and noticed the potential in the dark painting hanging in the dining room.

Even though it was obscured by discoloured varnish, he recognised the subject and composition as those of the ‘lost’ Caravaggio painting.

Three years of meticulous research, analysis and consultation with international experts followed to authenticate and conserve the masterpiece.

On 16 November 1993, The Taking of Christ was publicly displayed in the exhibition Caravaggio: the Master Revealed in the National Gallery of Ireland.

In the accompanying catalogue, Sergio wrote: “That morning in August, 1990, leaving the House of the Jesuit Fathers in Leeson Street, excited by what I thought I had just seen, I could hardly have imagined that just three years later, I would see my beliefs realised with an exhibition.”

The Christmas season is recognised by its glitz and glamour, bright lights and sparkle on Christmas trees.

Shopping malls are alive with colour, with carols playing through the public address system and frazzled shoppers. Children visit Father Christmas with gift wishes they hope Mum and Dad hear also.

There is much movement of people, some shopping, others attending end-of-year functions in bars and restaurants.

The energy is palpable and infectious!

The “reason for the Season” may go unrecognised in all the excitement and activity.

It is not only the Caravaggio painting that is passed unnoticed.

In John’s Gospel for this Sunday we read, “Among you stands one whom you do not know.” (Jn 1: 26).

Jesus, the Word-made-flesh was not to be found in a royal palace, nor a richly adorned temple, rather in a feeding trough of animals.

The Word-made-flesh among us today may be hidden by discoloured varnish and grubby paintwork.

The invitation may well be to include in our Christmas adoration the dark corners of the city I live in, and one is welcome to include both the outer and inner city.

2nd Sunday Advent

For a number of years, I lived with a paid-up member of the supporters club of the NZSO (New Zealand Symphony Orchestra).

There were occasions when I would accompany this person to a concert by the orchestra.

If you are a concertgoer you may well be aware of an intriguing ritual which takes place.

Persons arrive, gather in the atrium and chat. The chat continues as they make their way into the concert hall and find their seats. The hum of chatter fills the hall.

Suddenly, the main concert hall lights are dimmed. There is silence. No direction has been given, no sign flashes on a screen.

Everyone stops talking, and sit in darkness; however, the darkness is not one of fear, anxiety or panic.

Rather the darkness and indeed the silence is one of eager anticipation, of expectation, of readiness.

Not all the concert hall is in darkness; the stage is lit. while the stage curtains are still drawn, movement and sound are heard.

The shift in light directs the audience attention.

This ritual helps me to access the season of Advent.

From the noisiness and business of my world, I am invited to shift my focus, sit quietly in the darkness, and notice the noise and movement behind the curtains – Incarnation is happening, my God is in my world.

Might it be, that my sitting in darkness is necessary for me to recognise my God?

Might it be a pre-condition to the celebration of Christmas?

“The people who walked [sat] in darkness have seen a great light.” (Is. 9:2)

Advent: A new liturgical year

Our liturgical year is rapidly drawing to a close.

A major question for Catholic parishes is often, “Where did we store the Advent wreath?”

This question is quickly followed by, “Are the statues for the Church Nativity crib where they ought to be?”

It is amazing how far a donkey, and indeed camels, can wander in a year!

It is not only the liturgical calendar: here in the city where I live, the annual Santa parade was held last weekend – enough said!

Simeon with the Christ Child painting was found unfinished upon Rembrandt’s death in 1669.

The painting hangs in the National Museum, Stockholm.

A habit I have used for many years is to spend time with a painting by the Dutch artist, Rembrandt Van Rijn, known as ‘Simeon with the Christ Child’.

The painting celebrates the Gospel story when the parents of Jesus bring the new-born to the temple with them for the purification rites proper to the Law of Moses (Lk. 2: 22 – 39).

The Rembrandt painting has the aged man Simeon taking hold of the child.

What I find reflective in the painting is that Simeon’s eyes are shut, and the child’s eyes are open.

I take the person of aged Simeon as a metaphor for the year ending, bringing closure, as it were, to all that has been.

I take the newborn, with eyes open, as a metaphor for the beginning of the year and for what is to come and am reminded of observing infant children who are alert to every sound, every voice that enters the room.

Without understanding, there is an alertness within them to the new and different.

There is, for me, a gentleness to the way aged Simeon holds the new-born child.

Again, when I use the painting as a metaphor, I am encouraged to welcome and hold the new year in a gentle manner, allowing the year to grow as a child grows, to allow the year to unfold as a child unfolds and develops.

All, without haste!