CRANSTON — Renowned Ontario-based Catholic sculptor Timothy Schmalz was recently invited to the blessing and installation of one of his iconic works, “The Homeless Jesus,” at Holy Apostles Church.
Schmalz’s works have been on display in such places as The Vatican, Christ Cathedral in Dublin, and the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. He is particularly known for emphasizing, in a very profound or direct manner, the social and moral themes of Scripture. This can be seen in the “Homeless Jesus” sculpture, which he displayed at Holy Apostles on April 30.
Inspired by the words of Our Lord in Matthew 25, it depicts Jesus as a homeless man lying on a bench wrapped in blankets, something meant to symbolize Christ’s solidarity with the poor, oppressed and marginalized.
Schmalz was in attendance at the Sunday morning Mass, celebrated by the Most Rev. Richard G. Henning, who met with the artist and blessed the sculpture.
Schmalz then gave a short presentation, during and after which lunch was served to those in attendance.
Schmalz spoke of his artistic and spiritual development, as well as his general view on the nature and role of art. He also discussed the history and meaning of some of his better-known pieces, as well as projects he is currently working on.
“Our faith is not an ornament,” Schmalz said, noting how the Catholic faith is something profound enough to inspire us to grow in holiness, and which is a force so powerful that it should motivate us to share it with others. Schmalz went on to note that art can serve as an impactful way of carrying out the New Evangelization.
Art can inspire people and present ideas in a powerful manner, thereby making it a tool to sway people in the larger cultural battles that we currently face. Schmalz thus argues that art has great potential to serve as a tool of social and moral uplift. It is for this reason that Schmalz described art as “a weapon to be used in a very nihilistic culture.”
It is also for this reason that Schmalz noted that Christian art in the contemporary period is being created within the context of a culture that is out of step with Christian values. Religious-inspired art must have the power to grab our attention, to showcase the full power of the Christian message. “I think artwork today, and Catholicism today, has to be tough. It can’t be cookies and cream. No one will look at it. It will disappear,” Schmalz explained.
Part of the way in which this is brought about is by taking Christian-inspired art to the people.
It is for this reason that Shmaltz is currently working with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orlando to build a park on which sculptures of the Stations of the Cross will be constructed. Since this region is home to several major tourist attractions, this piece will more easily bring attention to the Gospel among the general population, as well as serve as a symbol standing in sharp contrast to certain negative cultural and ideological trends.
Yet, the manner in which Schmalz artistically represents the different Stations is meant to convey the intensity of the scenes, thereby drawing people into the mystery of the Passion in a manner that leaves a lasting emotional impact.
Schmalz expanded upon this theme when speaking with Rhode Island Catholic. “I believe that artwork has to be tough, and it has to be pure, and it has to be hardcore,” Schmalz stated. He went on to note that artists have a particularly influential way of communicating the faith to others. Schmalz thus describes artists as “visual ambassadors” of the faith.
“I believe, if an artist’s faith is presented properly, everyone would be Catholic, everyone would be converted. But the problem is to take these ideas, to take the complexities of Catholicism, and present them to a public in a way that they can digest, or understand, or even see it.”
Commenting on the “Homeless Jesus” piece displayed at his parish, Holy Apostles pastor, Father William J. Ledoux said, “I think the sculpture is a beautiful image of what the Gospel is all about. It reminds us of how we are called to reach out.”
Father Ledoux also noted that this message is particularly powerful within the context of the social and economic needs of the state of Rhode Island, which has struggled greatly with the problem of homelessness, an issue that has been a top priority for the Diocese of Providence. It is for this reason that Father Ledoux said that this piece emphasizes the need to take out Christian faith beyond the walls of the church building and bring it into every part of our lives, drawing people into a deeper relationship with Jesus.
Schmalz was raised in a Catholic family, but as a teenager experienced a spiritual awakening that led him to deepen his faith. Early in life, Schmalz found his talent for art, and eventually went on to pursue a career as an artist. In the early part of his career, he specialized in abstract art rooted in secular themes. Yet, over time, Schmalz began to draw ever more deeply from themes derived from Scripture.
Earlier, during the Mass, which was concelebrated by Father Ledoux, the pastor of Holy Apostles parish; Msgr. Paul D. Theroux and Rev. Msgr. Richard D. Sheahan, the pastors’ emeriti of the parish; along with Msgr. Albert A. Kenney, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia, Bishop Henning spoke in his homily of the radical nature of the encounter with Christ that took place in the Resurrection.
Bishop Henning described how the death of Christ seemed to undermine the Messianic expectations of the disciples of Jesus, and how the Resurrection was such a unique singular event that the Apostles at first had a difficult time believing it.
“It really took the Lord’s own gift, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, for these disciples to finally be restored and renewed,” Bishop Henning explained.
The gift of the Holy Spirit, Bishop Henning explained, gave the Apostles the spiritual and moral strength to preach the Gospel in a bold, public way.
“The same disciples who often misunderstood Jesus in His ministry, even resisted him, the same that were frightened and ran away, the same that denied Him, now courageously, openly, boldly proclaim the truth about the Lord Jesus, and do so with such conviction that others, even those that did not know Jesus personally as they did, were deeply touched and changed.”
The core of the Apostles’ message is that Christ is the Son of God, who serves as the most definitive revelation of God to man and restores communion between mankind and God. This, Bishop Henning stated, represents a large part of what is meant by referring to Jesus as the “Good Shepherd.”
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