Jesus’ Abiding Presence – Br. Jim Woodrum

Isabella Stewart Gardner Memorial Mass
(given at the Gardner Museum)

Which painting stands out to you the most in this incredible museum? In a group like ours, everyone likely has their own favorite painting, with some choices overlapping. Among the many exceptional artworks here, one that I particularly admire is Sandro Botticelli’s “The Virgin and Child with an Angel.” Painted sometime between 1470 and 1474, it was acquired by Mrs. Gardner in 1899. I’ve been reading Natalie Dykstra’s new biography, “Chasing Beauty,” where I discovered that this painting was also one of Mrs. Gardner’s favorites.[i] Interestingly, I think it bears a resemblance to a famous photo of Belle (as Mrs. Gardner was known familiarly) and her beloved son Jackie, taken in 1864.[ii] This painting, like that photograph is iconic.

When I say that, I am not suggesting that the painting is admired for its great influence or significance in a specific sphere, perhaps like Mrs. Gardner—herself to this day, an icon. Instead, I use the term “iconic” in the sense that when we gaze at this painting, it conveys something much deeper than merely a depiction of a woman, child, and angel with wheat and grapes. Like a religious icon, every detail in the painting prayerfully hints at a richer narrative—one that may require time and contemplation to fully appreciate. Similarly, in the gospels, Jesus often taught his disciples using iconic stories called parables such as the parable of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the Good Samaritan. Read More

The Sacrament of Our Longing – Br. James Koester

Exodus 17: 1 – 7

There hadn’t been anyone there. At least there hadn’t been anyone there when I looked out the window as the coach pulled to the side of the road and slowed to a stop. There hadn’t been anyone there, as all 30 of us got off to stretch our legs. But suddenly people began to emerge from the barren landscape. At first, it was a young boy, and then a couple of other children. One or two adults came into view. Soon the whole community was there. Fires were laid. Tea was made. Various goods for sale were displayed on blankets spread out on the ground. As we drank our tea, we were invited to buy what was being offered for sale. If I remember correctly, I did but something, but now can’t remember what it was.

I was in the wilderness. It was the fall of 1998 and I had gone with a group of pilgrims from St. George’s College, Jerusalem, to Egypt. We had spent a few days in Cairo, and then made our way to St. Antony’s Monastery, the home of a thriving community of Coptic monks located in the place where monasticism began with St. Antony. We where now in the Sinai on our way to St. Catherine’s Monastery, located at the foot of the mountain where tradition tells us that Moses encountered the Burning Bush[1], and then later received the Ten Commandments[2], and where Elijah had heard the still small voice and knew it to be God.[3]

Just as you would imagine, the landscape was barren and harsh, especially when the sun was at its height. Rocky outcrops seemed to be everywhere, and while there was evidence of plant life, it seemed mostly to be scrub, not much good for anything. But somehow, somewhere, this community of people seemed to make a living, tending their flocks, and no doubt doing what they were doing that day when I met them: appearing out of no where to offer strangers tea, and an opportunity to buy a few souvenirs. Clearly, they lived somewhere, but there was no evidence of village, or camp. There was certainly no sign of water.    Read More