We live in an era which bombards us with images. Advertising companies specialise in capturing our attention with pictures which are very often aimed at our lower passions, while the Internet provides easy access to millions of images of every description. Many of these pose a deadly threat to our mental health and to our eternal salvation. Were we to engage with them, we should soon find ourselves in serious trouble. The devil knows that once he has gained access to our imagination, he does not have very far to reach down to gain possession of our hearts. At the same time, the extraordinary revolution in communications which has occurred during our lifetime also means that we are constantly assailed with information (and disinformation). In recent months, there has a been a tsunami of revelations about dreadful scandals and corruption within our beloved Church, which in turn has given rise to endless torrents of acrimony, infighting and spin. Many good Catholics have been asking how we can find peace when the central nervous system of the Church on earth seems to have been afflicted with such a debilitating disease.
Saint Paul provides us with a spiritual antidote in his Epistle to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4.8) Saint Paul is not suggesting that we are to turn a blind eye to evil, switch our faces on to permanent “evangelical grin” mode and pretend that everything is fine when it clearly isn’t and the Church is enduring one of the most dangerous crises of Her entire history. Pollyannaism has never been included among the Christian virtues, and make-believe is no foundation for genuine Christian joy. If, however, we allow our hearts and minds to become pits of vitriol and despair, then we make ourselves useless as disciples, however worthy the causes of reform to which we might have allied ourselves, and the enemy of our soul succeeds in his plan of drawing us into the maelstrom of disorder which he has created for our destruction.
The Church has always recognised the importance and the power of the human imagination, and the need to nurture the eyes and mind with edifying images and thoughts. Our holy father St Philip commissioned some of the finest artists of the late Renaissance to decorate his church in Rome. He was sometimes observed in ecstasy before the tenderness and piety of the scene of the Blessed Virgin being greeted by St Elizabeth, as depicted in Barocci’s painting of the Visitation which still adorns the chapel dedicated to that mystery. The church of the London Oratory is filled with holy images, sculpture and sacred symbols, all designed to lift the heart and mind away from earthly distractions towards the mysteries of our salvation. Step next door into the Victoria and Albert Museum, and you can spend hours contemplating the sublime beauty of Raphael’s cartoons of scenes from the lives of Ss Peter and Paul.
The imagination is fertile, and we must plant it with wholesome and beautiful images so that when unworthy thoughts and temptations present themselves they find no room to take root within us. During this month of October the Church proposes for our contemplation the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. An invincible weapon in the armoury of the Church Militant, the Rosary has throughout history defended the Church against enemies assailing Christian civilisation from without and from the poison of heresy within. Meditating on the mysteries of Our Lord’s life, Passion and Resurrection, and on Our Lady’s Assumption and Coronation in Heaven, also has a supernatural power to fill our minds with holy images and thoughts, banishing the darkness and despondency which are the enemies of our soul.
We can profitably use this month of October to refresh our contemplation of the mysteries of the Holy Rosary and to improve the quality of our meditations. We may do this by rereading and reflecting upon those parts of the New Testament which relate to each mystery. It might also do us good to have recourse to art. The Provost favours all things high baroque, but whether your preference happens to be primitive Tuscan or something more contemporary, the Church has produced a vast treasure house of images which are all now accessible via a few clicks on a keyboard.
In these turbulent days, we should pray the Holy Rosary for the Church. We pray for reform and renewal, and for the harmony that can only come with faithfulness to the Deposit of Faith entrusted to the Apostles and taught continuously down the centuries. Pray for unity, purification and peace, remembering that to be useful disciples to Our Lord Jesus Christ we must be blessed with purity and peace of heart ourselves.
Fr Julian Large