Artwork of Jesus can draw inspiration for Lent, speaker says

CROWN POINT – “Our annual observance of Lent gives us the opportunity to grow in our relationship with God and one another,” said Father Tim McFarland during the Lent Family Day held at St. Mary in Crown Point on Sunday, Feb. 27. The faithful gathered in Hammes Hall and were served light refreshments, while hearing ideas about how to have a good mind set for the forty-day journey of Lent.

Father McFarland, a member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood and a faculty member of Calumet College, delivered a two-part session entitled Journeying with Jesus. His message emphasized that our journey must begin with getting to know our travel partner: Jesus.

“We all have images or ideas about Jesus, pictures in our mind if you will,” stated Father McFarland. The first session illustrated Jesus through the ages and cultures and was replete with images of artwork, including paintings, sculptures and statues, that portrayed Jesus in different and unique ways across numerous centuries.

“I think this is the first step in helping us to grow by perhaps seeing Jesus in new ways,” said Father McFarland. Growth was a core theme of the presentation, focusing on how Jesus grew as a human being on Earth and also how the artwork of Jesus has developed with various trends through different eras in history. Individual growth was emphasized as a way to find a closer with God during Lent.

Father McFarland drew an example from his days of formation as a seminarian. He spent some time at a predominately African American church in Cincinnati, Ohio. He recalled being given the opportunity to set up a nativity scene for the Christmas season that year. To his surprise, the statues were painted black.

“Why wouldn’t they have statues that would kind of represent people that were here so that they could identify with Christ and with Mary and Joseph?” Father McFarland asked rhetorically.

This example helped make the point that by focusing on Jesus’ human side, we can more closely identify with him. Father McFarland pointed to a lack of artwork of Jesus as an adolescent but noted that there is some artwork out there, and that helps those of a similar age see that Jesus was also a teenager and young adult. “I think it’s important especially for young people; you gotta be able to imagine Jesus as one of you,” he said.

Historical motifs have portrayed Jesus in different ways. These have included the image of the Good Shepherd and Christ the King. Others have challenged the stereotypical view of Jesus and have portrayed him to represent various races and ethnicities as well as different instances in life and abstract representations.

“That’s what Lent can be about for us, if we enter into that, (it) can expand our relationship with Jesus as we come to perhaps see him in different ways,” said Father McFarland.

Upon the conclusion of the first session, the floor was opened to discussion. Feedback from those in attendance was specific as they critiqued and detailed the artwork that made an impression on them for better or for worse.

“It was very enlightening to see all the different cultures and the way they depict Jesus and it’s important because of the way that he’s relatable to everyone.” said Terry Bloede.

Bloede, who attended the event and who currently takes classes as part of a Lay Ecclesial Ministry program noted what is needed to bring younger Catholics back into the fold.

“I think the only thing that would help is more education,” she said. Bloede believes that pandemic trends have been detrimental to mass attendance. She alluded to what she sees as a growing level of laziness and a varying degree of priorities that have seemingly sidetracked attendance to Sunday morning Mass.

“The importance isn’t there and we are trying to figure out why,” stated Bloede when describing one of the core tenets of the weekly class that she takes.

After the conclusion of a short intermission, Father McFarland gave a detailed synopsis of each of the Gospel readings for every Sunday in Lent. He posed a challenge for the participants to not only experience what is shared during Mass, but to live it out more fully outside of the walls of the church.