The offenses of those who directly outrage the Virgin in her holy images

What we see with our own eyes is what seems most real to us. By comparison what we merely talk about or think of often seems lacking in reality.  Our parish has just been blessed with the visit of the International Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima Statue. Part of the blessing of that visit was making present, visible, concrete, and tangible to us here at St. Peter’s the grace of the Virgin’s apparition to the three shepherd children 100 years ago.

Over the past weeks I have been writing about the five blasphemies committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The first four blasphemies, about which I have already written, all have to do directly with truth and doctrine, words that we hear and speak, rather than that which we directly see. All of this might have seemed a bit remote and theoretical. Today, however, we come to the fifth blasphemy, which bears upon what we see: The offenses of those who directly outrage the Virgin in her holy images.

In our age of apathy and indifferentism, it is hard for me to think of contemporary, direct, and explicit examples of the first four blasphemies. Apart from certain misguided Protestants hardly anyone cares enough to bother denying the truths about Mary. Nevertheless, when it comes to blasphemies against directed against the Blessed Virgin in her images, I can remember hearing about outrageous, crude, and obscene portrayals of her during the course of the past year – I do not want to describe the sort of thing I remember hearing about, it is so vile and offensive.

What we see seems most real to us; we learn about reality and truth from what we see.

The Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary and became man, made himself visible to us, in order to teach us about and lead us to the invisible reality of God. As the visible appearance of the man Jesus Christ derives from the invisible reality of God’s eternal Word, is the incarnation of that Word, so also the sacred images that we venerate, whether of Christ or the saints, derive their meaning from the truth of the faith. So also the rejection of the image, the blasphemy against the image, derives from a rejection of faith, a rejection of the truth.

So on the one hand, the faithful who believe in the truth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, conceived without sin, show forth that truth by embodying it in sacred images, icons, paintings, and statues, on the other hand we come to know the Blessed Virgin through her images – that is particular true of children.

I grew up in this country without any religion, but I had seen images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was at least vaguely aware of whom they were meant to portray. In many ways, I could say that, though I was scarcely aware of it at the time, I was first drawn to faith through the quiet evangelization of images. The truth and beauty of the images of our faith play a key role both in evangelization and in the growth of the life of faith.

That means that the blasphemy directed against the Blessed Virgin in her images is no small matter, especially in our very visually oriented society.  Real thought scarcely exists anymore in this country; practical illiteracy is on the rise; now they speak of visual literacy.

In any case, we are faced with a real tidal wave of blasphemy here: there has been an increasing liberty in secular society in portraying Jesus and Mary in crude and obscene manners. On the one hand, this is a sign of the increasing lack of faith, especially among our society’s ‘elites’, but on the other hand, the blasphemous portrayals of Jesus and Mary are but part of a larger visual culture that surrounds us on every side.

First of all there is the pornography, not just the official pornography, but the pornography in the check out lines at supermarkets, on billboards, advertisements, regular television and movies, the pornography of immodest, lewd, and suggestive fashions. The pornographic culture pollutes the imagination, objectifies the female body, and debases the ideal of womanhood. We live in a pornographic culture that is highly offensive to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

From the general culture of pornography we move to an artistic culture that not only has little problem with portraying Jesus and Mary in ways that are blasphemous, but can often be characterized as lacking in reverence. Indeed, in the writings of the professional critics of art, literature, and film, ‘irreverent’ is a word of praise. That also means that many will respond to a review that characterizes some artwork as being ‘irreverent’ with the thought, “I want to go and see that.”

All of this fits into a general culture of ugliness. The human world in which we live is becoming increasingly characterized by ugliness on all levels: visual ugliness, verbal ugliness, ugliness of manners, ugliness of morals. Unfortunately, ugliness has also penetrated far too often and far too widely into the worship of God, the sacred liturgy of the Catholic Church. (To be continued)

 

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.