The June 8 celebration of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Sacred Heart Parish in Racine was a bit more special this year. One hundred and fifty people — from several local parishes — celebrated the feast with the unveiling and blessing of a painting by Christian artist Daniel Bonnell at Mass. Sacred Heart uses screens in church, and every weekend an image is used to illustrate the Sunday Gospel. Bonnell is one of the contemporary artists whose work has been used the most for this purpose, so when I was thinking about commissioning art for the parish, picking the artist was the easy part.
We have a beautiful Church, but it has lots of empty brick walls. We wanted to bring something that would enhance the space, something that would help people to pray. I must confess that I was surprised with the unanimous support of the pastoral and finance councils.
In dialogue with the artist, it was decided that the piece would be a large canvas, with a colorful depiction of Jesus and his healing ministry in Galilee — inspired by the Easter Vigil Gospel in which the disciples are asked to “go back to Galilee.”
This basic idea led to “The Blessing of the Widow and the Morning Miracle Queue.” The resulting 6-foot-by-4-foot painting depicts a sunrise in the early morning by the Sea of Galilee. Fishermen are hoisting their sails, loading their baskets and preparing for just another day.
In the foreground, we see Jesus with his left hand on the head of a widow and his right-hand palm open, receiving a blessing from his Heavenly Father that he may pass onto his left hand to the widow. Behind her is a usual line of individuals seeking a miracle, the needs varying as the line goes off into the horizon. Such would have been a daily routine for Jesus. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is represented as a fire ablaze on his chest, the same as appeared over the heads of the disciples at the first Pentecost. Among the energy of the early morning, there is a sacred moment taking place: God is definitely in the midst of our daily lives.
After the weekend, the painting will be installed above the church’s entryway, so parishioners will inevitably see it as they leave. This is a metaphor of what we are invited to do after we have witnessed the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist: to become the real presence of Christ to others out in the world, especially those most in need, like the widow.
A parishioner from Sacred Heart took it upon herself to collect the painting in Savannah, Georgia, where Bonnell resides. Unbeknownst to anybody, the parishioner also purchased a second painting that the artist was finalizing, a 3-foot-by-3-foot beautiful image of Mary, titled, “The Face of Mary after Michelangelo’s Pietá.”
We hope this art will help people to pray better. Both pieces are very powerful in the sense that they are a strong invitation to reflect about our faith and its consequences.
The process has been an interesting one for me and my staff. It has certainly been a very emotional journey: the initial ideal, the dialogue with the artist, the support we received — we sometimes underestimate how supportive people can be — the silence during the time Daniel was working and the trust it requires. It has been a wonderful time.