The Beauty of Suffering and Iconoclasm

A.M.D.G.
J.M.J.
A.T.C.

Pace bene, care amici! I got back from a wonderful “Come and See” Weekend with the Vocation Promoter for the Felician Sisters in Livonia. I spent Saturday evening to this afternoon with the Sisters but especially Sister Felicity who was so kind to host me. I have loved every single Felician convent I have visited because they all feel like home to me. Heck, I even got my own room with a cozy bed with kewl vintage floral sheets (oh so wonderfully feminine). I love the feeling of being “at home” with these sisters. It was hard for me to leave them.

Part of the weekend outline thing was that we were to visit the former provincial house/now central convent for morning Mass and brunch.

First off, if I have ANY say in where my professions/investiture/etc. will be, my first choice will be Livonia. Not only because it is close to home and in my beloved Archdiocese of Detroit (home of Archbishop Vigneron teh Amazing) but also because of the immense spiritual beauty and the aesthetics of the whole campus.

The chapel alone is the size of a basilica church and *news flash* IT LOOKS LIKE A CHURCH! Heck, they still had the old school baldachin over the high altar, the SOLID marble altar rail. “New” altar? NO NEED! The chapel is divided into a “sisters'” and “lay” side so the high altar is the high altar for both sides. And I must say, very conducive to a nice TLM or at least a Latin Novus Ordo ad orientem.

The chapel was beyond beautiful. Every square inch seemed to exude aesthetics and deep symbolism. This is the Catholicism that I love … not that there is any other kind really. Holy Mother Church is Holy Mother Church after all.

Though I did not have the thoughts at the time, in retrospect, it has made me think of the recent recent history of the Church (as in the past forty years). Actually, Sister Felicity and I got into a discussion about this over leftover pizza after we got back to the Motherhouse but I want to go a bit deeper and have a bit more of a quasi-rant feel to it

But before that, I want to share this very important thing that will connect (I promise) to that which I am going to get into later in this post. Right now, I want to talk about the first part of my title “the beauty of suffering” and then I will segue into how it connects to “iconoclasm.” If you have ever gotten into a liturgical rant with me at AQ, you may know where I am going. If not, enjoy the ride nonetheless.

As I was being given the “dollar tour” of the Motherhouse, we made a visit to the GINORMOUSLY BEAUTIFUL CHAPEL to hang out with Christ a bit (they have Eucharistic adoration everyday) and then we walked around some more. I don’t think my jaw ever left the ground. Kinda surprised it isn’t all scraped up from being dragged so much. I was in love with the place. Still am. Always will be.

But one thing sticks out in my mind. A statue that is in the vestibule area behind the sisters’ section of the chapel (yes, there is a lay section and a sisters’ section … Chicago had the same kind of setup) caught my eye because of its uniqueness and because I had heard many sisters talk about it before.

On an Art Deco influenced (the motherhouse was built in the 1930s) pedestal stood a near life-size statue of Christ scourged. Some of you have probably seen images and statues of Christ beaten and bloody but have you ever seen a statue on which you can see the very muscle tissue of his body and the torn shards of flesh at his feet? Sister Felicity said that whenever she is having a rough day, she comes to look at this statue and everything is put in perspective.

Just so your mind’s eye can get a glimpse of the excruciating glory of this statue let me describe it:

Christ stands weakly, shoulders hunched over as he holds the reed that the soldiers gave him as a “scepter.” They have removed the crown of thorns (or perhaps the sisters put it on him on special feasts like Good Friday) but you can see the deep gashes in his head from the crown being forced into his skull. His body and members are covered in deep bleeding wounds with flesh peeling from them and there are points where the subcutaneous layers are visible. Very realistic blood does not trickle, it flows all over him from this horribly scourged (there is a difference between whipping and scourging. The latter is far worse) body. Over his shoulders is draped a red velvet cloak. Sister told me that the sisters made this for Him because the clear and present agony and pain He was in was at times too strong so they draped Him with this. Besides, they do say he was given a cloak to wear.

But the thing that REALLY stands out in mind are His eyes and His general facial expression. His face reads very clearly “Why is this happening to Me? What have I done to you all to deserve this?” Simultaneously, His eyes (beautifully rendered glass eyes) pour out love. Not the saccharine “lovey dovey” love that many of us were fed in our catechetical “formation” years. This love is profoundly personal. You look into those eyes and even though you know they are glass eyes on an old statue that has pride of place in a beautiful convent, you swear you are looking into the eyes of Christ. No matter where you stand in relation to the statue, you know He is looking at you with that same complete self-giving love.

You know that feeling people get when they look into their beloved’s eyes? Yeah, I got it bad. I have it bad for Christ and NOTHING is getting between Him and me anymore. The moment I looked into His eyes, I fell head over heels in love with Him in a way that though I have always loved Him before, only deepened and became more profoundly personal.

Also apparent on this statue is the love the sisters show Him. You look at different points on the statue like his knees, and the paint has actually been rubbed or kissed off. Such external signs of such deep and abiding love made me love not just Christ more but these Sisters. It was then that I knew I was in the right place.

Though I had seen the love wear on the knees of Christ, I being the bold candidate/inquirer/Felician wannabe put my hand in His. I swear, I don’t know what made me do it but I did and when I did, I did not want to let go. It was almost hard for me to leave the statue. But I knew/know that He and I will be having many encounters in the future as He sees fit. And every time, I will look into those eyes filled with such love in the midst of such suffering and I will take His hand and hold it.

With all of this in mind, I want to expound a bit on the first part of my title “The Beauty of Suffering.” “Iconoclasm” will follow shortly thereafter.

Actually, let’s connect them. It may even shorten this thing.

The reason why I go into so much external and symbolic detail about the statue and such is because a.) I feel that the world has completely forgotten willfully the value of suffering (the redemptive aspect, if you will) and b.)Dang modernists are perpetuating this falsehood even in the Church by means of their wreck-vating perfectly good churches and designing church’s that have the spiritual and aesthetic value of a white-washed bingo hall that kinda has the smell of stale cheap potato chips in the air. Don’t forget the card table, chinet plate and dixie cup!

Let’s look at point A in light of this statue which I described earlier in the post:

Here we have a Christ Who is beyond beaten and bloody. He is basically a badly flayed Person Who is still alive and yet through all the untold pain and anguish, His eyes still beam nothing but love. Though the pain is also present in His eyes, the love overcomes it.

What are we to learn from this well-loved statue in the convent of some Polish sisters? That real love, God’s love, God, overcomes ANYTHING the Evil One puts in our path. Even death is no match for the love of Christ for His sons and daughters. He loves us in the most absolute way. When we sin, He loves us. When we don’t sin, He loves us. When we despair, He loves us. When we are joyful, He loves us. God’s absolute love for us is not contingent on what we do or don’t do. God loves constantly and faithfully. We can cut ourselves off, but we can’t make Him stop loving.

When the Evil One makes our lives varying degrees of Hell, God is with us because He Himself went through it (the sisters and I actually had an interesting discussion over pizza Saturday night about this topic) when He endured His Passion and Death. That statue, in its gory and graphic detail, is a very realistic reminder of that reality. The key to overcoming suffering is to know that God is with us and that with Him nothing can defeat us so long as our eyes are fixed on Christ. All Things Christ!

How is this attached to the topic of iconclasm? Totally. Contemporary society does not want us to see the value in and beauty of pain and suffering because to them, it’s a downer. It’s a drag. It’s a burden not worthy bearing. There is no beauty in it. Nor is there any value to it. It’s a waste of human energy.

Well, they do have one thing right. Suffering (without the love and grace of God) is worthless. Suffering (without the love and grace of God) is a drag. Suffering (without the love and grace of God) is a burden not worth bearing.

But, we as persons of faith, do have the love of God and the grace of God, so all suffering put in that perspective is worth it because of its redeeming quality. From great suffering comes great triumph. The Evil One hates it when we embrace our crosses (no matter how big or small) and carry them following the light of Christ. He wants us to stumble and fall in the same darkness he fell into by his own doing. He hates us soo totally that, as Father Corapi once said (paraphrasing), “his only desire for you is to have us dead and in a dumpster somewhere forgotten” in both a literal and spiritual sense.

When the Evil One sees us embrace our sufferings, it drives him CRAZY. So do it often. But make sure you do with with proper perspective. Don’t mess with those evil things. They exist and they are powerful. They want you dead in every way possible. Ask your angel, Our Lady, and all the saints to pray for you to embrace your crosses and they will help and protect you against the wiles of the demons that hate us sooooo much.

So now that I have done my daily “Devil rant,” let’s kinda return to the topic, shall we?

Contemporary society shows its disdain for suffering in many ways. Be it in the form of aborting an unwanted “burden” aka a child. Be it in the euthanizing of an elderly/sick/disabled person whose suffering makes their life less worthwhile and an unnecessary burden. However, this mentality has also infiltrated the Church in some ways though perhaps not as “in your face” as the issues of abortion and euthanasia.

This mentality has infiltrated the Church in this day and age in the form of iconoclasm. Now, those who are not familiar with the history and meaning of the term, let’s do a brief “Sister Allie’s Church History 101.”

In the 8th or 9th centuries (AD, duh), there was a great controversy in the Byzantine Church about the role of images in worship. This mostly stemmed from the literal interpretation of the First Commandment about not having graven images and all that fun stuff. There were two camps: the haters (iconoclasts) and the lovers (iconophiles). The former wanted to purge the Church of all its sacred imagery in the name of this literal interpretation and thus save the Church from her own misguided habit of using images in worship (totally forget the fact that one of man’s senses is sight and thus is a means through which he can encounter God in sacred art). The latter were like the faithful church ladies and church guys who love their churches to have statues and icons and all that wonderfully delightfully Catholicky stuff that makes Catholicism as rich as she is.

And Lord did they fight it out. The iconoclasts were destroying and the iconophiles were all “ummm, ‘xcuse me, what are you doing with my Mother of Kazan icon? That’s what I thought. Umm, no.” “No! Don’t whitewash Our Lady of Perpetual Help!” “Not Christ the Pantocrator!!!” “Dah! It’s going to take centuries to restore this patrimony!”

It was definitely a designing issue within the Church. Thank the Lord the iconophiles won. Otherwise, we’d be worshiping in churches that are TRADITIONALLY sans statues and icons and all that other Catholicky goodness. God provides!

What does all this have to do with suffering and my new favorite statue of my anticipated future Spouse (if I wanted to be a real Catholicky creeper, I would say I’m “engaged to be engaged” but I’ll spare you.)?

Quite a bit because these iconoclasts have gotten into the Church and have removed all of the statues and icony goodness from our beloved churches and replaced them with abstract “art.”

A particular favorite purge of theirs seems to be entities such as crucifixes. Not resur-es-fixes. Crucifixes. And any statue or image that portrays Christ suffering, dead, in agony, not hugging small children, smelling a daisy or ordaining the first womanpryst. <— I chortled at that last one. I make me laugh.

That’s where my statue comes in. Thank the Lord these sisters had a brain between their ears and a soul that told them the value of suffering and the value of images that remind them of the cost of their redemption (all of ours really). They could have followed the mentality of the era and sent out that statue to the dumpster/compactor (I have a horror story about a Catholic hospital that compacted all their beautiful statues in the 70s). They could have put it in some obscure closet in that huge convent. They could have hidden Him in the woods of the campus to be consumed by plant life and turned into a new part of the animal habitat.

But they didn’t.

Thank God.

I know that no matter where I go in my vocation, that statue will always be there watching with those eyes filled with love surrounded by complete and total agony and suffering waiting for me. Waiting for each of us. For each sister to look at Him for even one moment and contemplate Him. To think about what He did to save us all individually. And I hope, every time I pass that statue on my way to or from that chapel, I repeat my bold action of this morning and take His hand and look into His eyes and try to even show Him one iota of the love He has for me.

Then I will be reminded of the beauty of suffering and the need for things such as statues and images to remind me and us of this vital value as people of faith. As people who know there is something beyond this fallen world. As people who know that in the end, regardless of the suffering and pain we undergo, Christ will be triumphant.

Have a great night!
-Allie

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About Ms. Allie

I am a Catholic young woman who works as a Theology teacher at a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of the Detroit. In Spring of 2015, I graduated with an MA in Theology with a concentration in Systematic Theology. My MA thesis was titled: "Mary as Woman of the Eucharist in the Theology of Pope Saint John Paul II." I also hold a BA in Theology (with a dabbling in Philosophy) and is a member of Theta Alpha Kappa (θΑΚ), the National Theology/Religious Studies Honor Society. Prayers are appreciated.
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