I think there is something special about a cover—about taking a song, a painting, or a movie and recreating it within the modern frame of mind. Aretha Franklin’s bold and unapologetic “Respect” is a perfect example, as she interprets the song as a Black woman in the 1960’s. As is Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” in which he narrates the song with hauntingly beautiful guitar riffs. In visual art, Andy Warhol recreates the portrait of Mao Zedong with a messy array of bright colors—an unusual depiction of the dictator. Finally, modern movies, headlined by the Cohen Brothers’ True Grit, give life to old characters and stories, recreating them for new audiences.
However, even the Beatles, the most covered band of all time, cannot compete with the millions of interpretations of Jesus Christ. Thousands of artists have painted Christ crucified or the Madonna and Child. Everyone from Van Gogh, Basquiat, or da Vinci have painted Jesus Christ, each in their own manner. It can be mind-numbing to try to flip through them all, viewing each painting, alien to the others, and, oftentimes, to us. There are always two questions to ask when discussing art: “What is this artist trying to say?” and “What do we think he or she is trying to say?”
These questions matter much more when investigating faith. In a special way, how artists of all disciplines—including sculptors, writers, or directors—interpret Jesus will affect us. Every Catholic, no doubt, thinks of Jesus through some piece of art or another, but Jesus is more than just a collection of paints, words, or images. Jesus is alive. It is tempting to trap Him in a Caravaggio, an El Greco, or even in the Passion of the Christ—to prevent Him from challenging us. Jesus as represented in art cannot call us out in our sins; He cannot tell us the hard truths we need to wrestle with. Even further, we should not trap Jesus in the Church or solely in the Mass. Yes, we are oftentimes challenged in specific ways during the Mass, especially when a priest gives a difficult homily. It can be easy, however, to selectively hear the priest, interpreting him and hearing only what we want to hear. We often want a sanitized Jesus, one that affirms us and makes us feel good. But while Jesus resides in the tabernacle and comes to meet us in every celebration of the Eucharist, He cannot be left there. Jesus wants to encounter us personally in order for us to help others encounter Him.
Jesus always challenged His disciples to worship, act, and believe in accordance with truth. Jesus was not “sanitized” or acting in the “proper way” when He overturned the tables of the money changers; He was not “sanitized” when He described the narrow way; and He surely was not clean and tidy when He died on the Cross. Jesus defied our expectations. He was filled with passion for God’s truth. While He is Beauty itself, Jesus often made His listeners look away as they were unable to embrace the unsavory truth that can be hard to swallow.
I enjoy going to Washington’s National Gallery of Art or New York’s MET, but next time I see Christ there, I will be reminded that He is not trapped in the golden walls of the frame. Jesus is alive, living in the Eucharist and in others. While it is beautiful to witness Jesus in the arts, we must remember that Christ lives in the audience, the museum goers. While the beauty of the art itself is mesmerizing, Christ is alive in flesh, both on the altar and in people who remind us that, while beautiful, Christ’s message is a challenge.
Holy Detachment During COVID-19: Learning from the Examples of St. Vincent Pallotti and Fr. ChaminadeRead Now
In the last few years, Stoic philosophy has had a new renaissance in our modern culture. Based on the idea that we cannot control our outside surroundings, but can control how we respond, this ancient Roman philosophy is quite appealing to the twenty-first century—especially today when very little seems to be in our control.
What I have found helpful from Stoic philosophy during this time is the understanding that we cannot control other people’s actions. We cannot control whether other people maintain social distancing or wear masks. In an election year, we cannot force the outcome that we feel is best for the country. We cannot control whether we work from home, whether schools open, or even when we can see friends. It can be disheartening to see the challenges around us. But a point of convergence between Stoicism and Christianity is an understanding of detachment that reminds us that, while the world is out of our control, we can control how we respond. We can wear masks, maintain social distancing, vote, or schedule virtual meet-ups. Most of all, as Christians, we can pray—turning to the One who is in control and who invites us to use our free will to cooperate with Him.
During this pandemic, I have been reminded of one of my faith heroes, Blessed William Joseph Chaminade. As a priest in Revolutionary France, he must have felt like the apocalypse was here and now. Nevertheless, he went into hiding, offering the sacraments in shuttered rooms. When he was in mortal danger, Father Chaminade fled for Saragossa, Spain, where he prayed constantly to Our Lady of the Pillar. The Blessed Mother entrusted the exiled priest to form a society of priests and brothers who worked closely with the laity to re-Christianize France. I cannot help but compare his vision to that of St. Vincent Pallotti, patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center and founder of the Pallottine order. Both men passed away on January 22, 1850.
Both of these men also had the Christian understanding of holy detachment to God’s will, as well as a commitment to cooperating with God’s grace to further build up the Kingdom. Rather than complain or say "woe is me," they saw that the world around them needed to change—beginning with themselves. They humbly realized that they could not do this alone, but rather relied on the strength of God: Father, Son, and Spirit.
Learning about both of these men and living in a time with many similarities to that of Pallotti and Chaminade, I feel like my time at the Catholic Apostolate Center as an intern has been encouraging. I see the continuity of the spirituality of St. Vincent Pallotti and a convergence with some of the ideas of Father Chaminade. The Center, like these two holy men, promotes the collaboration of the laity and the clergy in building up the church and affirms that all the baptized are called to personal holiness. My internship with the Center has reminded me that life does get tough, but we have a bona fide solution: Jesus Christ. We can do little by ourselves, but when we unite with the Body of Christ, we come together through His inspiration and our actions are multiplied.
I am proud to be an intern at the Catholic Apostolate Center, which lives out the rich tradition of the Pallottines. We are all on mission, working in the vineyard of the Lord. As servants of the Greatest Servant, we are called to walk with each other as we work. Through coffee breaks, check-ins, and many kind emails, I feel I am being accompanied—even during this strange work-from-home scenario.
I know that my work with COVID resources and social media will not transform the world overnight, but working with a community of people who put Christ first can and will make waves. Our faith, especially as lived out in the persons of Chaminade and Pallotti, encourages us to come close to the Father, Son, and Spirit, who bring our humble work to new heights.