ART: The Taking Of Christ By Caravaggio (1602)

It’s my Wife’s birthday today and she asked me to treat her with a visit to the national gallery of art. Some girls want Birthday cards and diamond rings, but mine will settle for the gift of a visit to something artistic in nature. Being an artist I don’t mind that at all even though I must admit I find it boring sometimes. It was especially difficult to walk around it wearing a mask.

Whenever I come here I always spend time with my favourite painting in the place. I spend a lot of time in front of it, so much so the security guards get suspicious I may steal it. I could stare at it for hours. Painted in 1602 it was only recently discovered as a Caravaggio. The Jesuits had it over their fireplace in Dublin and had no idea until someone from the gallery was having tea there one day and made the discovery.

Why do I like it? I love the contrast of light and dark which I’ve used in many of my own photographs. Unlike any other artist who never had a style or discovered who they are, Caravaggio knew exactly who he was. I admire the fact he chose a particular style and then stuck to it. This kind of artistic stability always makes an artist easy to identify.

In this instance his style of light and strong shadows works well because it reflects the sorrow and betrayal depicted in the scene. To tell you the truth, it is an image that fills me with both joy and sorrow. Joy because through such a betrayal Jesus was Crucified and saved the world. Sorrow because Our Lord had to endure the betrayal of one of his own and witness him take the destructive path he did.

It also inspires me to ask many theological questions. Why did Jesus purposefully create Judas knowing he was going to betray him? Does this mean that Judas is in Heaven? Could it be possible that somewhere between the time he jumped to the moment his neck broke with the force of this rope that he repented and said he was sorry? I’d like to think so.

I’ve encountered some exorcists who say he’s in Hell because he appeared in some exorcisms. But the devil is so clever. He cannot be relied upon to tell the truth. If he can act as a dead relative through a clairvoyant then he can do the same during an exorcism and pretend he’s Judas or Hitler. You can’t always trust what you’re seeing or hearing when it comes to the Father of lies.

The image frightens me also. It acts as a reminder that I too could one day give this kiss of betrayal to Jesus. We all have this dark side in us. None of us ever like to meditate on that dark side, but I do because I find it helps keep my feet firmly on the ground. Thinking about the possibility that I could betray the Lord really scares me to death enough to keep me doing what St.Peter did. Like him I will run back to him again and again begging his forgiveness until I’m blue in the face.

Most people think they’re behaving like Judas when they sin but this is not true. Maybe they’d have a point if they despaired like Judas and never asked for forgiveness. But most Christians who sin are not betraying the Lord in this way. I remember Jesus said to Vassula (A lady who receives messages from Jesus) that the Kiss of Judas is one that has lasted centuries in the Church.

It’s true! Many of Jesus own in his Church genuinely betray Him. And that’s why it scares me. I told the priest who interviewed me for the permanent diaconate that when I gave my Lord my “Fiat” I did it in a quiet local Church. After my yes I asked him to give me the grace to get through it and not to betray him. That frightens me. The weakness of my unholy spirit weighs heavy on my soul and I’d rather he choose a thousand other people than me for this vocation, but what can one do when they’re called?

When I look at this image I’m not looking at one person betraying Jesus. I’m looking at centuries of betrayal from the moment of that unholy kiss in the garden of Gethsemene to the one given to Jesus through the persecution of His beautiful Pope by many Cardinals in 2021. These are people who broke their oaths. Then I’ve to also keep myself in check remembering that I’m never too far from giving that Kiss either.

Every time I’m feeling down or about to lose my mind, I look at this image in my imagination. I picture it on the gallery wall and then suddenly, I’m feeling well again. I think Caravaggio felt the same way which is why he painted himself in the picture as an onlooker. This scene disturbed him.

In my opinion, he painted himself as a spectator for a reason. He wasn’t a religious person and I felt that he somewhat felt like an outsider looking in and being observant of what is taking place in the Church without ever setting a foot inside the door. But the fact that he held the “lamp” in the image spoke to me that there was some light in him. There was indeed some religion inside of him and this lamp he held represented that. I would like to think that somewhere between this painting and his death Caravaggio repented. I believe he did.

For many years I was like Caravaggio. I brawled, fought a lot with people getting drunk and being an overall brigand. I like him because I can relate to him. We are both ordinary creative people who never really understood religion even though the concept of it intrigued us and it would make an appearance in our art. Like Caravaggio I felt like an outsider looking in and observing all that is taking place. Lot’s of people are like this. They stand at the back of the Church or some distance away because they don’t feel a part of the community. They lurk and observe without ever engaging.

I still feel like that to this day. I feel like an outsider looking in at least up until the last few years when I was asked to be a reader and now a Deacon. I always just took my family to Church, had this blog and was wading through the drudgery of life waiting for my end to come. I want to help the Church be modern and get rid of the cobwebs of mundane and boring art, fashion and music they keep putting out but nobody ever listens to me and so I stopped sticking my ore in. Now if I become a part of the diaconate I may try again to revive this and with Pope Francis try and help the Church be modern.

Although Caravaggio was not religious, the Church have a lot to thank him for. He lived in a period where his modern approach of the time made the Church look really cool. This sounds really weird but sometimes we need irreligious people to come into our Church and show us how to look and sound amazing.

I find it humbling that someone does that and yet the conservative voices are always trampling on such flowers that attempt to help them get rid of the boring. These backward rigid souls where around at the time of Caravaggio and they’re still here to this day. I bet he had some of them show disgust at his paintings. They’re a hard bunch of nuts to get rid of.

We need modern art in the Church, something that has a timeless feel to it like Caravaggio but also one that is 2021 and not 1602 when this painting was done. Let the irreligious observants in is what I say. Let them speak to us and tell us what’s on their mind. Like Caravaggio they’ve a lot to offer the Church so let them come in and show us how it should be done.

In this post we’ve discussed the painting, the theological questions, and Judas. We’ve talked about the man behind the painting itself who placed himself inside it not just artistically but mentally and spiritually positioned himself in the scene. We have discovered there’s a lot this painting and the artist have contributed to the Church and the modern era he once lived in.

Now it’s time for every Catholic to find a new Caravaggio who will come and show them how not to look boring in 2021. Where is he? He’s out there. . . let him in. . . let go of your envy and desire to hire your brother and sister for the job. Give it to the right person even though he not be a member or unheard of. . . let him in.

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