Saints

Pope Francis has taken steps to canonize Fatima Siblings (https://nyti.ms/2mW3nYl) according to New York Times article.  Do you believe in Saints?  The Devil?  The Fatima Siblings had visions and drew thousands of Christians to the Village of Fatima.  There is even a mystery of prophecy by Sister Lucia – the one to escape an untimely death – providing three predictions that many believe came to fruition – one of which may have saved Pope John Paul’s life.  I have sought counsel on modern-day visionaries – and the best advice I got seemed to be focus on Christ – if a message helps me focus more on Christ as a tool, okay, but don’t get lost seeking modern-day miracles – the Miracle was given to us on the Cross.

None the less there remains in Christology messages about the end of times (Eschatology) and the final battle.

Final Battle

Sister Lucia spoke to that as well.  Let’s place the word “Saint” aside.

Have you ever met a person who exudes humility and spirit?  Have you read about great martyrs and sacrifices?

There are heroes among us living their lives so close to the image of God, as imprinted deep within their souls, that we can be rendered speechless by their devotion, steadfastness, and courage.  They are all around us if you look, performing small and large miracles, invisible to the unsuspecting eye, silently passing you on the street, perhaps with a smile or merely a focused precision walk that announces purpose and fiery determination.    They are humans with their heart and soul given fearlessly to be used by their God to heal, to love, to serve others.  Some of them may have been blessed with visions or moments of grace that defy imagination.

I don’t know about prophecies, or mystics, or saints.  What I do know is people among us have the power of the Holy Spirit within their core and are preparing for the final battle now, preparing the  battlefield for us all.

The spiritual imagination and contemplative life can bring you places you never thought possible.

“Catholics are not required to believe in even the most approved and venerated private revelations, but many of us choose to do so. Does this battle relate to the famous discourse Pope Leo XIII was alleged to have heard in a vision between Christ and Satan, which led him to compose the prayer to St. Michael? How long the final battle will last, and what will come after? (http://www.onepeterfive.com/sister-lucia-final-confrontation-between-the-lord-and-satan-will-be-over-family-and-marriage/)”

Thanks for reading my mystical rambling.

The Day After – A Dark Night

November 9, 2016:

 

I visited the Kennedy Center today for a family activity where check in was at the Hall of Nations and the seats of power were within eyesight.  This is no small reality check given the dramatic upset that transpired yesterday in US presidential politics.  The view in DC felt dark.

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That the winning candidate has given license to the worst of our society when it comes to racism, bigotry, and hatred.  He may not represent or be these things, but those that embrace these ideals (if they can be called ideals) feel vindicated and empowered by his victory.  And those that are victims of prejudice are afraid and protesting as I write this post.

Where can I turn when my nation takes a step backwards (in my opinion).  The GOP  win may actually benefit me financially.  But the policies proposed will hurt 22 million people insured by the ACA, young people who are using the health care of their parents thru age 26 until they get into this job market, people with chronic illnesses keep their insurance, and countless protections for vulnerable people.  The party of Christian values won an election on non-christian propaganda helped by a damaged democrat candidate and FBI interference.  And yet the party has so many good people and people of principle that allowed this to be their route to power.

Where to turn to at these troubled times?  The drive home went from DC rush hour traffic to back roads Maryland.  As the distance from metropolitan centers grew the radio turned to white noise, my daughter complained, I shut it off, my wife asked why!  I said I wanted to listen but could not focus on the station dials right now — had to focus on road.  She roused herself and found a new station and was about to drift back off when I apparently yelled aaagh……damn Deer in the road.  If I changed that station we would have had one really dead Deer.

deer

My wife yelled Jesus!  I yelled what are you yelling at!  She said you yelled I can yell!  My daughter just wanted to know the Deer got away unharmed!   (Yes – and the CRV brakes worked really well).

So we arrive in Delaware safely. I have adoration chapel and off I go.  It is raining.   I find quietness and presence in the chapel.  Among other things I read about Jesus teaching the disciples about violent rejection of his message that is to come and that the good news will not be an immediate conquering of evil and disbelief.  In fact, in his humility the power of the Divine life will emerge.  Jesus spoke of service as the key.  Service to the poor, in loving all of God’s children, and devotion to God.

That is the focus we need.  If our focus is on a human being like Donald or Hillary to save the day (and save what?) we have given up our spiritual selves.  And what was the driving message in this campaign other than money, fear, and hatred?  Looking for solace and serenity can only truly come from the presence of divine presence in our lives?     A divine gift.

A quote from my reading tonight regarding if you have the gift of living a divinely inspired life:

“You won’t need your assumptions, prejudices, worries, or even your hands and feet.  However if you reject this gift where can you turn?  You will have nothing but the empty pageantry of your pretensions; you’ll have nothing, you’ll have death.” Paul McCarren, SJ

Reading the above shallow thinking Reds and Blues can easily nod their heads in agreement as if the other side has committed the errors of turning their back on God’s message and placing their worth in false gods of power or elitism.  I do not believe either side in the majority has conscientiously done that – but we are far from living divinely inspired lives.

The more we listen to others, the more we will see:

“the struggle of others to be cured of their ignorance is just like yours.  You will begin to see yourself in them.  You’ll find yourself at peace with them.”    Paul McCarren, SJ

McCarren drew these conclusions from select readings from the Gospel of Mark and other bible references.  This listening and empathy for our neighbors, friends, family, political opponents, and enemies is virtually absent in social media, newspapers, and conversations.

When is the last time you found yourself at peace with understanding rival ideas and the people who threaten your anchor, your identity, your deeply held beliefs?  

This does not mean to abandon your beliefs or silence them – it does mean to deeply listen to others, reflect, pray, and strive to understand.  It may also mean for Christians to repent (when you have failed), turn, ask, and accept God’s help.  It also means to not be afraid when tragedy strikes or things do not go our way.

This reminds me of a neighbor I had from Cuba who said, they need a church on every corner, every corner, not for me, not for me, for those xxx, xxx, xxx, who graffiti-ed my fence.    Sometimes we fall in to the trap of the other ones need help forgetting our own blindness and limited knowledge of living a truly divinely inspired life.  It didnt bother me much re-painting my fence every so often – I kept a ready tin of paint back than and I new I owed as much from my own youthful errors.

So I leave the chapel and head home.  A block away from the chapel, off to the side of the road, is a deer, just standing there, twenty feet in on the grass in the middle of Dover, De, watching me go home, feeling like, we have met before in Maryland just few hours and 50 or so miles ago?  Providence?

Now I am up a second night late – but the driving force of my deprivation of sleep is much more comforting, purposeful, and hopeful than watching the human folly the night before. People will blame Christianity for division and others will claim Christianity as their defense for their vote.  Christianity in its true form should do neither – it is loving, caring, compassionate, and modeling all the time the way of Jesus Christ.  It is a way of living that I believe no human can live perfectly except one that has come before us being both God and Man.

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Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope: Book Review

I wrestled with God and Won!

battle

Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope by Joan D. Chittister, is an excellent spiritual journey for all believers that have difficulties with life’s struggles and God’s appearance of indifference.  Twenty-four distinct chapters referencing the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with God throughout the dark night until dawn and the author’s own life experiences are utilized to examine “A suffering of the soul” and the meaning of Hope.  It is the first book I have read that has clearly defined for me how so many evils and tragedies can be present in our lives without jeopardizing our faith.  The book has three source validation for me with regards to Catholicism:  Genesis  32: 22-32[i], an interpretation by of this scripture by Catholic on-line[ii], and the book was loaned to me by my parish priest.

I recommend this book for anyone facing adversity, depression, loss, or other struggles that threaten your sense of self.  I also recommend this book for those that have not faced life altering events – as a primer on how to be prepared.

“God is not a puppeteer.  God is not a magician.  Our lives lie in our own hands and we will have to take charge of them before anything important about them can really come to resolution.”

Concepts of change, suffering, conversion, isolation, darkness, faith, fear, courage, powerlessness, surrender, vulnerabilities, limitations, exhaustion, endurance, scarring (being wounded), transformation, struggle and hope are illuminated in a special way.  A most read book.

The story of Jacob wrestling thru the night and suffering a mortal hit to his hip (wounded profoundly) and continueing the wrestle is a profound story in Genesis.  We can learn a great deal from jacob.

(Book is avialbe for 9.99 on Kindle – I have no conflict of interest recomending this read.  I bought three copies – one for my parish priest so he does not have to lend out his marked up copy, one for myself, and one for a person close to me).    

[i] Genesis 32:22-32New International Version (NIV)

Jacob Wrestles With God

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[a]because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[b] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,[c] and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

[ii] http://www.catholic.org/news/hf/faith/story.php?id=34353

 

St. Stanislaus Kostka Adoration Chapel

Another sacred space in the heart of Chicago.   A different experience sort out today.  However, the adoration space is inside the church proper – off to the right:

This church host the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy and a 24/7 adoration chapel.  The picture above captures the familiar Blessed Sacrament or Sacred Host (Eucharist in center shrouded by crown of thorns).  The chapel here though is an “iconic monstrance” depicting symbols of Christian thought and theology based on scripture from Isaiah and Revelation.  The details are too many too enumerate here including Mary (as the sign of God’ promise), the ark of the covenant, red and blue garments, and so many smaller symbols embedded with meaning, making interpretation in a post impossible.   One can draw analogy to Christ parables – it is in plain sight – but meaning can escape the undisciplined eye.

The larger church is equally as grandiose and represents a diverse population as well:


Despite its elegance, it always comes back to believers and the presence of God. “No one can fail to understand that the Divine Eucharist bestows upon the Christian people an incomparable dignity.”   Believers stand guard and present while the Blessed Host is exposed and present for adoration.  Churches vary according to volunteers – but ideally it is 24/7 adoration.

My favorite art is on the ceiling:

No picture can capture the activity of prayer or adoration.  It is a lived experience.  What is more is no matter what you do as an individual, no matter your worth, you cannot define the mercy and the power of God or of the Eucharist.

What can one experience when in the depths of prayer?  If we are fortunate to have a relationship with God and the fortitude to maintain God at the helm, when we are faced with adversity and challenge, a good prayer can lead to the following sentiments:

“It requires an audacity we did not know we had.  It demands a commitment to the truth.  It leads to self-knowledge.  It builds forbearance.  It test our purity of heart.  It brings total metamorphosis of soul.  If we are willing to persevere through the depths of struggle we ca emerge with conversion, independence, faith, courage, surrender, self-acceptance, endurance, purity of heart, and a kind of personal growth that takes us beyond pain to understanding.”  (Joan D. Chittister – (Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope).”

The above depiction is a review of the story of Jacob’s wrestle with God in Genesis. It was a struggle he had alone.   Many of our struggles, despite people with good intentions (and not so good) around us, require us to walk the walk of faith alone and pray for grace, mercy, and resolution.

 

Holy Name Cathedral – Chicago

October 30, 2016 – 31st Sunday in ordinary time:  Vacation church visit

Chicago has several historic churches.   The Holy Name Cathedral enjoys five masses on Sunday and a program that is 16 pages long with the center fold, appropriately, reserved for the Order of Worship.  The parish started in 1843, not envisioning the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871.  “Holy Name Pastor and Rector, Fr. John McMullen, finds all the parish buildings in flames upon his return to the campus from elsewhere in the city. He retrieves the Blessed Sacrament; all else is lost.”

churchholy-name-cathedral-chicago-renovation-interior-7

One-hundred and thirty five years later I am a guest pilgrim in a pew.  A purist at heart, I prefer minimalist presentation.  There is a sense of sacred grace in a small space, with quiet prayer, a small congregation of the faithful, and a Priest providing Mass in its simplest form.  This is not the church for that presentation.

In the middle of the city of Chicago it has risen from the ashes and claimed its place as a historic site.   However, that does not make it a place filled with the presence of God.  The church, although framed by the finest architecture and possessing a beautiful interior, possesses something more.

Perhaps it is the organ?

Though it can’t play itself.

Mass was given by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller.  He was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI.  This led to more pomp and circumstance!  A German Cardinal with a strong accent gave a certain sense of authenticity.

The incense is always magical for me and it was plentiful today.   The readings were  not the most powerful for me personally.

I have covered almost all the elements except the people in the pews and the Eucharist.   The mystery of the latter and the faith of the former are what I believe brings a church alive.

Despite being a purist, the grandeur of pomp and circumstance, of music, of art, of great architecture, fills this church and does not distract from the faith but multiplies it.   There is a reverence to God captured by the creative abilities of man invested in these artistic expressions that when joined with the synergy of the mass, the faithful, and the Holy Spirit avoids the deadly trap of pomp and circumstance that derives its power from man’s false pride.

Pope Francis understands its place and his place and knows the power and risk of pomp and circumstance.  There is a place for majestic cathedrals and a place for fiats!

To truly appreciate churches, you have to go inside and spend some sacred time!  If not, its just a relic of stone awaiting an audience or the deterioration of time.

Home

 

 

 

Mortal Sin

Catholics have 69.5 million members, are the largest religious body in the United States, and comprise 22% of the population as of 2015.  What this means is 1 in 5 Americans believe abortion is morally wrong and a women who get an abortion are automatically ex-communicated from the church.  Abortion is considered the highest form of sin – called Mortal Sin.  Canon 1398 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law imposes automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication for women getting an abortion.

Make no mistake about it – if you are Catholic you face grave consequences of harming your soul and your relationship to Jesus and the Holy Father.  Below are four links that cover the catholic position.  The last two is priest for life group and EWTN daily mass.  Father Imbarrato explained the dangers of our society’s acceptance of evil and conversation with evil from an Orthodox Catholic position.  Regardless of your personal beliefs, if you are Catholic you should take a look at these four links and his 10/24/2016 homily:

http://www.whateverycatholicshouldknow.com/wecsk/sin_mortal.htm

https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/abortio2.htm

http://www.priestsforlife.org/staff/father-stephen-imbarrato.htm

http://www.ewtn.com/daily-readings/

I have addressed abortion on several posts from a secular position and a theological position that is “of this world.”  I often speak of physiological and psychological harm. I stop short of the language used by Pro-Life groups and Father Stephen Imbarrato due to my fears of pharisaic history  (and the inheritance of poverty and other social ills that our societies face).  However, if you have read through the above links you will understand the believers position – even the fire and brimstone type.

Two of the above were provided to me off-line.  By who does not matter – what matters is the intent was it is wrong Joe, between me, you and the wall that is what I believe.   The intent was I believe not for pride, or winning the argument, to claim higher moral ground, or any of those things, but to live the word of God.  That is the end of our discussion on abortion.  Father Imbarrato’s homily gave me the reasons for the strong conviction.  No reason to restate them and no reason for me to go through all the complexities of our secular world and health related issues.

At Sundays mass my favorite priest joked a little about Pharisees – but then pulled it back and said remember they were trying to apply what they believed to the code of law and that is what they had at the time.  Sometimes we need to be a little pharisaical – and what better time to be so if you believe a baby’s life is at stake?

This is a good place to end my review of abortion as well.  I have struggled with this issue and found my peace with it – I leave the rest to those who know more and are more directly affected to address the how, when, and why of social policy.  For Catholic policy you know where to look — Prayer.

pfac

 

 

 

Pax Tecum, Pax Tibi

Rusted Anchors[i]

rusted-anchor

“Anchoring or focalism is a term used in psychology to describe the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor,” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions.”[ii]  How many rusted anchors are holding you down from accepting new and contradictory information to previously held assumptions?  In a recent NYT article on Donald Trump the author raised the issue of “race and racism, cognitive traps that psychologists call anchoring and what we call first impressions”[iii]

The article discusses Trump’s doubling down the guilt of the central park five despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and convictions wrongly obtained being overturned.  His actions there are a different issue.

How many “Rusted Anchors” are his supporters holding onto based on his 1) false first impressions from his primary debates with fellow establishment republicans and his presentation now, 2) the success of his businesses without revealing his taxes, 3) his honesty now that Trump University suit is moving forward, or 4) what he says about how he treats people and what women and prior small business people say about him?   A good number have finally jumped ship.  The weight simply became too much.[iv]

I would argue the weight became so much that it threatened a different kind of anchor (for some) that relegated political party and affiliation secondary to principle.  Sadly some may have done so for political expediency, but I hope most listened to the anchor of their soul.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”[v] Hebrews 6:19

 christian-anchor-symbol

This is an entirely different anchor that needs protecting and care.  “Epitaphs on believers’ tombs dating as far back as the end of the first century frequently displayed anchors alongside messages of hope. Such expressions as pax tecumpax tibiin pace, or “peace be with you” speak to the hope Christians felt in their anticipation of heaven.”

Anchors can be bad or good.  It requires constant vigilance and discernment – both in the political and religious realm.  How many religious leaders are selling their faith for favor (or donations) from Donald as even their devout congregations are pulling away?   What are your anchors?

I have long been a Democrat as democrats support a diversity of social justice issues that are low on the republican ticket (excepting pro-life).  My position is “Choose Life.”   The Catholic vote has been in play like it has never been before due to Trump’s behavior and the inclusivity preaching of our beloved current Pope Francis.[vi]    I try to discern my values, my social justice concerns, my recognition of the dangers of pharisaical preaching, the risk of pride, of intellectualism, and the traps of false anchors (religious, political, cultural, and herd mentality).

With undue suffering (perhaps a vintage anchor of catholic guilt) a vote on either side of the ticket is not a vote for idealism of catholic ideology.  It is my imperfect guess on what is best right now with the given choices on all the issues (without grandstanding, without a public audience, without demonization, without rationalization of the many imperfections of our system).  A large focus of mine given 26 years of social work experience is related to liberation theology themes and hearing the cry of the poor.[vii]

There are too many issues to address them all here.  However, one issue can be addressed.  Your anchor is defined by you.  You define it by feeding it accurate information, by discerning sincere dialogue and information, and by continuously refining and caring for your thoughts, your actions, and yes your vote.

If your vote be different than mine after you have did your due diligence (minus the poison of the brightest rhetoricians, the simpleton good ole fellow routine, or fear mongering fire and brimstone types)[viii] I trust our God will find grace for us both according to our needs and deeds.

Disclaimer: I have a responsibility to direct you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[ix] for official church doctrine – I am wholly unqualified to represent or pretend to represent the intricacies and the mystery of the faith and my wayfarer journey as a believer.    I have sought out personal guidance on some of these issues from clergy and found my anchor on some issues – but the journey and the struggle never ceases.

journey

Peace Be With You….

Footnotes:

[i] https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1TSNJ_enUS495US495&espv=2&biw=911&bih=425&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=steel+rusted+anchor&oq=steel+rusted+anchor&gs_l=img.12…21325.25860.0.28241.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0..0.0….0…1c.1.64.img..0.0.0.wRrETletl1M#imgrc=lMZfG87VC3QPfM%3A

[ii] https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/anchoring.htm

[iii] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/18/opinion/why-trump-doubled-down-on-the-central-park-five.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=Moth-Visible&moduleDetail=inside-nyt-region-4&module=inside-nyt-region&region=inside-nyt-region&WT.nav=inside-nyt-region

[iv] The same argument can be made for Hillary supporters I am sure.

[v] http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/what-is-origin-of-anchor-as-christian-symbol-and-why-do-we.html

[vi] http://www.catholicdemocrats.org/

[vii] http://www.uscatholic.org/culture/social-justice/2010/01/do-you-hear-cry-poor-liberation-theology-today

[viii] You also have a responsibility to not spread false anchors or misinformation – the poisons of solid anchors.

[ix]http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/

 

Simplicity

I had plenty of adversity today.  But that is not my focus.  Only a hundred pages into a  novel, Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War, and a cord strikes home:

 “After dinner they read books, sitting on either side of the fire.  They went to bed early in the room at the back of the house.  Isabelle had painted it and sewn the curtains.”  

The novel is on loan to me from a person who appreciates literature, loves family, and knows a portion of life’s secrets, the intersection of suffering and joy.  That escapes many. These two lines in their simplicity define the complexity of finding true happiness.

Today I bought to work 12 DVDS that a number of my staff listed as their favorite films. Thanks to amazon and microwave popcorn I was able to create a quick thank you to my staff.  Leaving today half of the films were taken home by staff and popcorn for relaxation.  A small deed — but so gratifying.

Another staff person stopped me today to tell me how a gentleman enjoys the chess game that is facing the walkway out front of our office.  Myself and a colleague have a game set up with one or two moves a day for all to see.  Many people stop on the walkway and study the game.  It is shocking, given the community has a stigma of being rough and other undesirable names  that many stop and enjoy the complex game.

Our plants were dying a slow death.  Beth only left a few weeks ago and already the plants have succumbed to neglect.  A neighboring business had a person who catered to their sites plants and saw our plants dying.  She grabbed one of my staff and asked to save our plants.  They have been rescued and will be returned by anonymous.

Everyday I am surrounded by wonderful people and opportunity to enjoy life.

A day in the life of Joe.

 

 

 

 

 

Isenheim Altarpiece: A Portrait of Agony; a Message of Hope

300px-Grunewald_Isenheim1

I cannot imagine caring for patients with “St. Anthony’s Fire” in the 1500s.  Our medicines have come along ways and palliative care nurses are by the sides of those facing unremitting symptoms, torment, and anguish.   Nevertheless, patients with serious conditions are faced with their own mortality and the instinctual drive to defy our destiny with ashes.

When to fight on, what medicines to accept, when to let go, how to reach an integrated decision reflective of the self, of the spirit, and of your loved ones amidst uncertain medical prognosis.

The painting above captures the agony of the crucifixion, the friends and family by Christ side, saints on the side panels, and the release from earthly suffering on the bottom panel. It served the patients at the Monastery of St. Anthony four centuries ago who were facing certain death by providing hope and faith.

Yesterday I prayed the twenty-third psalm in a hospital chapel for a patient I did not know.  The chapel was far removed from patient care and barely adorned.  A janitor in the backround drove a wax floor cleaner maintaining the appearance of cleanliness and order in the corridors of acute care.  The sanitization of death, illness, and suffering somehow only increases suffering.

A corridor or two away my wife, a palliative care nurse, spent two hours that evening being present to acknowledge agony, clarify prognosis, and guide a family to reach an integrated decision.    Some recover from the immediate health crisis, some postpone its inevitable outcome, and some prepare for the end without further recourse.  Theresa brings the artwork to life in practice despite its absence in the hospital santuary.  It is a calling.  We all have one.  What is yours?

In the artwork above is something for each of these trajectories.  None of us escape this earth without suffering and without dying. If we are lucky we will be connected to life’s depth of mystery and spirituality.  If we are lucky, when we are facing our own mortality, we will have an angel of mercy at our side guiding our decisions, alleviating our suffering where possible, and sharing our pain.  If we are lucky this will provide us enough peace to face whatever crosses we have to bear today and the remaining days we have on earth.

Post inspired by Theresa’s work and NY Times article on Altarpiece.    References below.

psalm23

 

A psalm of David.

 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

“Sculpted by Niclaus of Haguenau and painted by Matthias Grünewald in the 1550s, the altarpiece was made for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim, which had a hospital that treated, among other ailments, the skin disease known as St. Anthony’s fire. (Today the altarpiece is on view at the Musée Unterlinden in France.)

The altarpiece, Mr. Atkins said, spoke to both the hospital’s often terminally ill patients and those who treated them. On the panels, Jesus’s Crucifixion is depicted as especially grisly. His skin is riddled with blemishes, and his fingers are grotesquely curled. On the ground, witnesses to his death are anguished.

“Many of us can relate to this on an individual level, or knowing someone who has fallen ill and had to grapple with all the pain,” Mr. Atkins said.

But the altarpiece also shows Jesus’s ascension into heaven. And therein lies salvation. “The pain is temporary,” Mr. Atkins said. “There is release.”

NYT article with illustration commentary: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/07/travel/isenheim-altarpiece-musee-unterlinden.html?contentCollection=weekendreads&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=c-column-middle-span-region&region=c-column-middle-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-middle-span-region

History of the art piece:  http://www.stanleymeisler.com/smithsonian/smithsonian-1999-09-grunewald.html