Conference on St. Josemaría and artists, Florence (October 3, 2008)
On the 3rd of October, a colloquium on “St. Josemaría and artists” took place in the Palazzo Incontri in Florence, on the occasion of the presentation of the book St. Josemaría in St. Peter’s Basilica. This book, published in two bilingual editions (English-Spanish and Italian-French), provides extensive commentary and photos of the various phases of the creation and installation of a statue of St. Josemaría in a niche in the wall of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
Taking part in the book’s presentation were Romano Cosci, the sculptor of the statue; Rev. Guillaume Derville, theologian and Central Spiritual Director of Opus Dei; Paola Grossi Gondi, a painter; Dony MacManus, a sculptor; and Giancarlo Polenghi, journalist and editor of the above-mentioned book. About two hundred people attended the colloquium.
Giancarlo Polenghi recalled some texts in which the saint compared God’s action with the work of an artist. “With our ordinary life, St. Josemaría said, we can make epic poetry. He also said that God the Father sculpts in our soul Christ’s image, and that he paints with us—who are brushes in his hand—marvelous works of art.”
Paola Grossi Gondi exhibited some of her artistic works, which seek to bring out the beauty of everyday realities: a fried egg, a window, or even a puddle of water. “I have always seen beauty in these things. But I didn’t know why until I came to know the spirit of St. Josemaría. I came to understand that in the beauty of material things one can grasp in some way the beauty of the Creator.” She added that her surprise was even greater “when I learned that those everyday objects I was painting formed part of my pathway to heaven, as the Founder of Opus Dei taught.”
The Irish sculptor Dony MacManus also showed some of his works, including a statue of St. Joseph and a bust of Benedict XVI that will be installed in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. “In my artistic works,” he said, “I try to reflect some of the teachings that I have learned from the Founder of Opus Dei, such as the value of fatherhood and the family. Our present culture is certainly undergoing a crisis in these values. I see art as an indispensable tool for once again enriching our culture.”
Romano Cosci talked about some memories of his work on the statue. He dedicated more than a year to the sculpture of St. Josemaría which is now installed on the lateral façade of St. Peter’s Basilica. “I received a lot from the teachings of St. Josemaría,” said Cosci. “I would like those who look at the statue to ask themselves if it really is meaningful to contemplate it, that is, if it raises their sight and becomes a spiritual mediation. If that happens, the statue has meaning.” Cosci recalled the day when the statue was installed at St. Peter’s. “When I saw it finally finished, I felt something similar to what a father feels on the day when, after having raised a son for years, he finally sees him setting out on his own. In this statue I tried to leave something of myself: something very personal, something that goes beyond a style or technique. I think I can say that I tried to communicate a part of my heart: of my heart as an artist which, as those who know me realize, finds in the faith a pathway of meaning and dialogue. Therefore I would like those who in future look at the statue to feel themselves drawn into this flow of personal communication, this conversation with God and mankind: a conversation in which St. Josemaría also takes part, as he intercedes for us.”
Father Guillaume Derville closed the ceremony with a theological reflection on the inscription carved on the base of the sculpture: Et ego, si exaltatus fuero a terra, omnes traham ad meipsum (Jn 12:32). “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” “These words refer to Christ, God made man, on the Cross. Christ on the Cross, says St. Augustine, didn’t seem to have any beauty after the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the spitting, the nails that pierced his hands and his feet. Where was his beauty, his adornment? And St. Augustine responds: dilectionem caritatis, in the love of charity.”
He then went on to speak about the artist’s efforts to sanctify his work: “The artist understands that sanctification of work is not a kind of perfectionism, because he is always dissatisfied with his work. Only God, through love, makes saints. The love that God asks of us does not seek perfection as an end in itself. One day St. Josemaría, observing some persons painting a chapel dedicated to the Holy Cross, said that there is nothing that we do in this life that could not be improved. The important thing is to act with love, which in some way is more important than mere technical competence. It is perhaps in this sense that one can understand the comment of a great pianist about a young colleague’s technique: ‘he plays too mechanically; he isn’t imitating the human voice.’”
He concluded his address by referring to the fact that St. Josemaría, in Romano Cosci’s sculpture, is wearing priestly vestments for the celebration of Mass. And he related this to the work of art of our sanctification, which is also carried out from Christ’s Cross and is prolonged throughout history through the “supreme art” of the sacramental liturgy. “It is thus that Jesus looks at us, from the Cross, as sons and daughters of God; it is thus that Christians see in their neighbor a child of God. Thus we see the Eucharistic bread, which will be changed into the Body of Christ. Thus the artist sees the statue inside the marble. God sculpts in us an image, that of Christ. Each of these affirmations contains a projection toward the future, or even more, towards the next life . . . If it is true that our works can survive us for a certain time, the Mass, opus Christi, opus Dei, is already heaven descending to earth. It is in the liturgy, perhaps the supreme art, that we are freed from death. Clocks should stop during Mass, St. Josemaría used to say. In the reading of the Gospel even today there blows the breeze from the lake of Genesareth, and in Jerusalem the olive trees continue to weep.”