My current read is Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa’s Life in Christ: A Spiritual Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. The book is both deep and dense – spiritual in the sense of how penetrating Fr. Cantalamessa’s insights are into Paul’s messages to the Romans, and intellectual in the sense that he knows intimately the voices of the saints in the Church. But don’t get him wrong – the book despite its breadth, has all the aura of humility typical of a true-blue Franciscan in him, of being honest in saying “I don’t know” when it comes to probing the “mind of God”. Right in the introduction, he has to forewarn every reader that the book is not a theological treatise because in the first place, Paul’s Letter to the Romans was intended not for the scholars of his time but for all of “God’s beloved in Rome” that includes for the most part “the simple and the illiterate.” For all its honesty between what we know and what we don’t know about God, on why theology should never be separated from one’s prayer life, that amidst the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox differences there lies the need for interdependence as each is bestowed with different gifts all for the sake of building up the faith – these to me make the book a challenging read.
“…and as in the mystery of redemption it was given to the Eastern Churches to place greater value on the Incarnation and to the Western Churches on the Paschal Mystery, so within the paschal mystery itself it was given to the Eastern Churches to give greater value to the resurrection, and to the Western Churches, the Passion. This took place to make us dependent on one another and to give rise to the appeal for ecumenical unity from the very depth of the mystery we celebrate together. For each great mystery it is as if God made two “keys” to be used together, giving one to the Eastern Christianity and the other to the Western Christianity so that neither can reach the fullness of truth without the other.” p.78
In the succeding page, he described an icon used in the Orthodox Church – the icon of Christ’s resurrection and wrote these words that made me pause:
“It is a “kerygma” in color; in it the resurrection is not demonstrated but shown. It withdraws the veil and puts us in contact with the invisible reality. In all other forms of representation it is man who looks at the image, but in the icon it is the image that looks at man and completely dominates him.”
The quote brought me back to blogger Maggie Ross, who at one point visited the display of Byzantium religious art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and wrote this poignant impression:
“These pieces embodied the ultimate that human beings can be and do – human beings never pointing to themselves showing off their skill but always directing attention beyond themselves, opening windows into the ineffable. The items on display were steeped in prayer, soaked in centuries of veneration that permeates the very air we breathed, while grace worked within us unawares. Art such as this is dangerous: it transfigures.”
Let’s try to be more visual about those icons that have the power of transforming us if done (consistently) in the “pilgrimage of prayer.” Here’s one video i snatched from Babushka, an Orthodox blogger. It’s beautiful and worth the time to pause from here: