Jim Carty sm, leader of our jpic Australian group, has written the following Christmas letter:
Chiaroscuro is an Italian term applied to those paintings where the central figure or feature is bathed or suffused in bright light (chiaro) surround by dark (oscuro) indistinct sometimes threatening, foreboding figures or features, suggesting danger, uncertainty- the nativity story as described in the Gospel is the focus of thousands of artists using this technique.
Two such paintings by the same artist capture well this contrast:
The calm before the approaching storm and all its concomitant fears.
The nativity with its promise fulfilled, offering the light of hope and possible peace in a fractured world.
Yes, Christmas is indeed a time for coming together in prayer and joy, but it is also timely to be reminded of the darkness and warnings these paintings suggest so powerfully to each one of us and the world at large, and for many reasons, but for starters, here are two:
First, Christmas has become a season which, more than any other time of the year, invites the kind of excessive material consumption that so typifies the disproportionate call on the Earth's resources by affluent Western lifestyles. It has been calculated, for instance, that with existing technologies it would require four more planets with resources similar to our own for everyone in the world to enjoy the levels of consumption of the average American or Australian.
Second, it is easy to forget that an essential part of the Christian message - and hence the message of Christmas - is a call to protect and nurture the natural environment as powerfully expressed in Pope Francis' letter to the world, Laudato Si: "There is no room for selfishness or indifference. One cannot care for the rest of nature if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. He continues "Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the past two hundred years."
But he hastens to add "All is not lost, human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start."
May our hope be not forlorn but encouraged by the dazzling light of Bethlehem; may we take action so that our future generations inherit the earth with all its beauty, gifts and possibilities; and may our celebrations at this time be of thanksgiving for what we have received and of sharing with those who are desperate for safety, shelter, sustenance and serenity.
John Henry Newman was canonized this year. In his honor and although inspired in different circumstances to ours, join me in singing his famous hymn "Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom…"
And on that note, Christmas blessings and may you transit safely, gracefully and well into 2020.