Wednesday 20 March 2024

Our Restoration

“The painter's brush touched the inchoate face by ends of nimble bristles and, with that blush of first colour, rendered her lifeless cheek living.” So run the first lines of a relatively unknown poem. But there is truth in these words — by daubs of paint, even the most naive movement, emotion and life can be conjured. We’ve been thinking a lot about this as the layers of modern paint in our church’s sanctuary have been peeled away by the extraordinary skill of the team from Cliveden Conservation. Some came away easily, some by the painstaking application of a scalpel. Some cracks needed filling and re-colouring, some gilding needed a new touch of gold leaf and one whole section had to be repainted from fragmentary evidence. It was a labour of love, a slow and at times anxious process. The results speak for themselves.

Four roundels are framed by scrolling leaves and gilt flowers, each telling the story of a scene from our patron saint’s life. His first Holy Communion at the hands of St Charles Borromeo, the renunciation of his father’s wealth, his profession in the Society of Jesus and finally his all too early death. He is not alone in these scenes, those others — saints, parents, confreres — who played their part on Aloysius’ journey to sanctity are depicted too. There is an elegance and a simplicity to Gabriel Pippet’s work in the forms and shapes and the colours he chose. A fitting tribute to a life lived for God and others.

It makes one think. If my life were to be depicted in four or so scenes, either in the mind of others or on a church wall, which would be the defining moments? Perhaps we cannot choose, perhaps there are some which would make us blush to remember them, perhaps others are painful and challenging. We are all on a path to sainthood. In the last analysis our life will be weighed in that balance that only God, the just judge of our life, has an eye on. In the present we, by his grace, have the chance to form those crucial scenes. The choices we make now are always formative.

“You are God’s work of art,” St Paul writes to the Ephesians. We are a work in progress, perfected and helped along by the love and the mercy of our God who takes a keen and loving interest in our life. There is a process of restoration going on in us too — sometimes easy, sometimes by the painstaking application of a scalpel of repentance. Elsewhere, St Paul exhorts his readers to fill their minds with that which is “true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise.” St Aloysius, in his short life, sought these things with an intrepid and uncompromising zeal and put them to the service of others. This was his path to conversion, fulfilled in that final scene of our murals in which he spoke of going to heaven, “as if it were a walk out to Tivoli.” The time to seek heaven is now.

Conversion has been much on the minds of many of us during Lent. By our prayers and our sacrifices we seek to draw closer to the Lord, to rely more on him, to seek his help more. As we move into Passiontide, the reality of his sacrifice of love should dawn a little more clearly on our minds. That loveable saviour was cruelly treated, disfigured, beaten and killed on account of our sins, but the love that was at the heart of his sacrifice was also on account of our sins since he knows his love saves us from them. Our image may at times resemble him in his disfigured state, but as we dispose our selves more and more to the action of his grace, we will resemble him more and more in his risen glory. That heavenly glory has to be the guiding inspiration behind all the scenes that form the artwork of our lives.