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On Saints, Artists and Faith

Interview With Contemplative Nun and Art Critic

ROME, JUNE 30, 2006 (Zenit) - Artists and saints are united in how they see "the now" in the "not yet," says art critic Sister Maria Gloria Riva.

The contemplative religious of the Perpetual Adorers of the Most Blessed Sacrament calls this the look of faith.

Sister Maria Gloria recently published, in Italian, "Frammenti di Belleza -- La Preghiera nell'Arte e nella Vita de Madre Maria Maddalena dell'Incarnazione" (Fragments of Beauty -- Prayer in the Art and Life of Mother Mary Magdalene of the Incarnation), published by St. Paul's.

She has also published, in Italian, "Nell'arte lo stupore di una Presenza" (The Wonder of a Presence in Art), published by St. Paul's, and the DVD "Il Codice dell'Amore" (The Code of Love), published by MIMEP, in which she refutes some of the inventions of "The Da Vinci Code."

In this interview with us, Sister Maria Gloria comments on her new book and the relationship between faith and art.

Q: What is the nexus that unites artists and saints when it comes to appreciating the faith?

Sister Maria Gloria: In one of his novels, Chaim Potok offers an evocative image to describe how God sees.

He affirms that while man sees the world as fragmented, because he sees between blinks, God sees the whole world because he is the only one who sees without blinking.

Saints and artists have been able to see between blinks; that is why in their fragments, that is, in their lives and works, the beauty of a whole world shines.

The look of faith unites saints and artists, and it is to see "the now" in the "not yet."

Giotto expressed this "seeing of faith" in a fresco in the Chapel of the Scrovegnis (also commented in my book "Frammenti di Bellezza"). On describing the encounter between the risen one and Magdalene, he curiously paints Jesus on the margin of the fresco, as if he wished to emphasize his "other" presence, his being "already" with the Father, though "still" being here among us.

The look of faith helps to go beyond the limit to see the light of a "now" where the darkness of the "not yet" prevails.

Q: Who is Mother Mary Magdalene of the Incarnation and what is her connection with prayer and art, the object of your research?

Sister Maria Gloria: Mother Mary Magdalene made of this "seeing of faith" a charism.

The look of faith was fundamental for her, also for the period in which she lived. Quoting the Preface of Christmas, she affirmed that, with the Incarnation, a new light of the divine beauty appeared before our minds and therefore now it is possible for us, thanks to the look of faith, to see God, though invisible, in the visible.

In what is visible of the sacrament it is possible for us to contemplate a ray of the divine beauty.

Mother Mary Magdalene of the Incarnation was born in a time of transition, such as ours. Between the end of the 1700s and the beginning of the 1800s, the "Ancien Régime," though with undeniable values, manifested its end, while the emergence of a new economy, of modernity, was occurring within a scene darkened by threatening clouds.

She, young novice, at once timid and absolute, received a simple and radical mission from God: to go to the root of the faith to recover all; to plant a seed in the soil of the Church, to make everything flower again. This root is the Eucharist; this seed is the prayer of adoration.

Father Andrea Martini, Franciscan sculptor, who filled the world with prayer and beauty with his works, thus described the spirit and personality of Mother Mary Magdalene of the Incarnation in a sculpture -- a most beautiful profile, aerodynamic, where the bronze is most light and the figure of the mother rises from the base taking off to heaven as if in flight.

The face and one arm are turned to the Lord. Just as Giotto's Magdalene, all inclined toward the "Rabbuni."

This inclination reveals the main attitude of Mother Mary Magdalene: to be with her Lord for all and with all.

And it is this "with all" which is amazing and fills the other arm with meaning in Martini's bronze. The left arm is turned toward the people, toward the faithful and unfaithful, the saints and sinners, the Christians and the followers of other religions. All should be there, with her, to rediscover in adoration of the Eucharist the roots of existence.

Q: In face of the threats of terrorism and the moral crisis affecting most of the Western world, one notes a great demand to return to the classics and Christian roots. Increasingly more people seek the beautiful, the just and the true, basis of Christian humanism. In your judgment, is it possible to develop a pastoral program of beauty uniting faith and art and giving form and function to these demands?

Sister Maria ...

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