Sunday, 1 December 2013

Caravaggio And The First Sunday in Advent

The great masterpiece of Caravaggio in the Co-Cathedral of St. John in Valletta, Malta and today, the First Sunday of Advent remind me of two things.

Firstly, I can imagine that St. Paul, who was in Malta, as in Acts 28, was echoing the words of St. John the Baptist, the great patron of the Knights of Malta, really known at the Knights Hospitaller of St. John.

In this Epistle, we are called to wake up. The passage is full of energy and immediacy as to what we should be doing, and how we should be thinking.

This immediacy of St. Paul was the immediacy of St. John.

EPISTLE Rom 13. 11-14
A reading from the Epistle of the blessed apostle Paul to the Romans. Brethren, knowing the time, that it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is past, and the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.

This passage from Romans resounds with a rumble in the background-Prepare the Way of the Lord, the cry and plea of St. John. 

Secondly, this immediacy demands an answer of the toughest kind. For St. John, the answer was death. To follow the Light and turn away from the darkness demands not only courage, but love. 

St. John loved Christ more than any other Person. St. John knew Who Christ Is.

St. John's response to the Son of God was total commitment.

I know two people who hate this painting. I was with a friend who could not bear to look at it. I cannot understand why. I have stood in front of this masterpiece for as long as the guards would let me, and meditated on both the beauty of the painting and the sacrifice of this saint.

The first time I saw it years ago, it took my breath away.

Another person I know cannot look at it. I wonder at these two people not being able to look at the final sacrifice of the man who Christ said plainly, "the greatest man ever born of woman."

I love St. John the Baptist and I love this painting. I love Malta, which is quickly falling away from true Catholicism. I hope God lets me go back there someday.

Caravaggio was, as most of you know, a "character". He was also a Knight of Malta and spent time on the island. Although this man obviously had anger-management problems, I have a soft-spot in my heart for him. 

His death is shrouded in mystery and his body was never found. But, his paintings live on to tell us to take courage and love God above all else, preparing ourselves and the world for the Coming of Christ.

This is the Advent message.

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