Saturday, April 20, 2013

When Art Is Too Real And Jesus Becomes An Inconvenient Truth

This is one powerful depiction of Jesus by sculptor Timoth Schmalz,  drives home the challenge of His message for 21st Century Catholics.

I might be a little late with this post, since it's been featured on Huffington Post and other outlets, but art is timeless.  Problem with this piece is it may be too timely, at least in the sense that Jesus might actually have had to sleep on a few benches if He were here today living and teaching amongst the marginalized of our large inner cities. 

The following is an excerpt of an article by Leslie Scrivener originally in Toronto's  It explains how 'Homeless Jesus' actually was rejected and made homeless by two prominent Cathedrals, the Catholic one in New York and the Catholic one in Toronto. Artist Timothy Schmalz calls this ironic.  I call it typical of protecting a particular Catholic mindset from the hard truths of the Gospel--or not wanting to appear hypocritical, or both.

Sculpture of Jesus the Homeless rejected by two prominent churches

Leslie Scrivener - - 4/13/2013
Jesus has been depicted in art as triumphant, gentle or suffering. Now, in a controversial new sculpture in downtown Toronto, he is shown as homeless — an outcast sleeping on a bench.
It takes a moment to see that the slight figure shrouded by a blanket, hauntingly similar to the real homeless who lie on grates and in doorways, is Jesus. It’s the gaping wounds in the feet that reveal the subject, whose face is draped and barely visible, as Jesus the Homeless.
Despite message of the sculpture — Jesus identifying with the poorest among us — it was rejected by two prominent Catholic churches, St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
“Homeless Jesus had no home,” says the artist, Timothy Schmalz, who specializes in religious sculpture. “How ironic.”
Rectors of both cathedrals were enthusiastic about the bronze piece and showed Schmalz possible locations, but higher-ups in the New York and Toronto archdiocese turned it down, he says.
“It was very upsetting because the rectors liked it, but when it got to the administration, people thought it might be too controversial or vague,” he says. He was told “it was not an appropriate image.”
The Toronto archdiocese tried to help him find an alternative location, including St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough. But Schmalz, who describes his work as a visual prayer, wanted to reach a wider, secular audience. “I wanted not only the converted to see it, but also the marginalized. I almost gave up trying to find a place.”
Now the sculpture stands near Wellesley St. W., outside Regis College at the University of Toronto. It’s a Jesuit school of theology, where priests and lay people are trained, with an emphasis on social justice.
Bill Steinburg, communications manager for the Toronto archdiocese, says the decision not to accept the sculpture at St. Michael’s may have had to do with renovations at the cathedral and “partly to do with someone’s view of the art.”
To some who have seen it, it speaks the message of the Gospels. When theologian Thomas Reynolds came upon it he felt “the shock of recognition.” He quoted the biblical passage: “ … the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
“I’m so used to seeing images of Jesus that are palatable,” says Reynolds.
But recent depictions of Jesus in political and social contexts have spurred controversy.
At Emmanuel College, the educational arm of the United Church where Reynolds teaches, there is a graceful sculpture showing Jesus’ suffering in a crucified woman. Schmaltz says he intended that his Jesus the Homeless can be interpreted as either male or female....
....Jesus the Homeless is provocative, says Reynolds, because it ‘punctures the illusion of normalcy.
“In certain ways, Christian communities have been privileged and considered themselves the norm in society and that has made Christians comfortable in our complacency.”
Schmalz, 43, roots the sculpture in his experiences in Toronto, where he trained at the former Ontario College of Art. “I was totally used to stepping over people. You’re not aware they are human beings. They become obstacles in the urban environment and you lose a spiritual connection to them. They become inert, an inconvenience.”......


I don't know if this sculpture was rejected because of gender issues or hypocrisy issues or because it isn't a comfortable presentation for Catholics who prefer Jesus safely on the Cross dieing for their sins.  Whatever the reason, Homeless Jesus is a powerful and haunting statement of just how hard Jesus' teachings really are.  Under this Pope, it may be that Homeless Jesus could find a home in the heart of the Vatican. It would make an interesting contrast to some of the other art in St Peter's.  After all Jesus was a homeless vagrant teacher long before He became Catholicism's 'King of Kings'.  It never hurts to celebrate and remember one's roots. Sometimes it helps one see where everything started going wrong.


  1. And wouldn't make a great Holy Card?

    We could all use some time in prayer with this image.

  2. It is more than just interesting how the Leadership of the RCC reject the lives of the poor and suffering for a more Protestant work ethic or a more precise alinement with the wealthy upper .2 % in society. The organization of the leadership does support secular fascism along with their religious authoritarianism. Both of these models hinder the creativity of most of the people and ignore the poor amongst us.

    Will Pope Francis change any of this for the future? Maybe for a fleeting moment or maybe he could begin to recognize what a museum of the past history that the Vatican State has become and the lack of thought it takes for a leadership that depends on obedience and completely rejects God given creativity of all the "ordinary" people. Can Pope Francis bring this church back into reality for even a fleeting moment? Seems he has rejected his own religious women as did the past regime.

  3. I think Francis actually can inject some reality into the Church. I just don't know how much of the dross he can actual dump given so much of the hierarchy which had decision making positions has appeared to be dross under Benedict. I think what he will do is make a very sharp distinction between what is Caesar's realm of authority and what is God's. I doubt we will continue to see the emphasis on pelvic issues as they play out in secular society. I also think we really will see women in positions of authority in the curia and some of them will probably be affiliated with LCWR orders.

    As to his agreeing to continue the LCWR spank down, I really don't get that--oorrr, I really don't want to get it. LOL He may really think that the over all allegiance of the LCWR and their congregations is to the LCWR and not Rome. That would be a problem, a very big problem for an institution which brooks no competing authority structures, and it wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't at least partially true.