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Another way to God

macmahon_01.jpgMary Hanafin, Minister for Social and Family Affairs, joined the enthusiastic crowd who packed Glasthule Parish Centre for the launch of Sr Maureen McMahon’s “Reflections on Irish Art”, a selection of her articles in the Messenger. Many of them were her pupils from the days when she ran the High Loft, the biggest art school in Dublin. There was a good group from the Messenger Office, the publishers, which hosted the party in the elegant parish centre. Paul Andrews SJ launched the handsome book as a search for God not through language or laws, but through light, colour and texture. Read his address below.

THE JOY OF ART

Paul Andrews SJ

Do you know the first question we face when we go to meet God? After warmly welcoming us home, God asks: And how did you enjoy my world? When Maureen reaches that encounter, in about twenty years’ time – after all she is only 90 – I have no doubt that she will say “Thank you, Lord. It was brilliant”. All through this lovely volume you get a sense of how she relishes life in all its aspects. You are given access to Maureen’s heart; and as you know, the heart shows itself not in our jobs or our duties but in our joys. Art has always been high in Maureen’s joys. Her taste is catholic: from the abstractions of Gerard Dillon’s stones and Tony O’Malley’s Midsummer window to the precision of Leo Whelan’s Fiddler or the classical landscape of James O’Connor.

Maureen has taught generations – the biggest art school in the city – to paint, which is largely a matter of training your eye and respecting your medium. Now we can profit from that same tuition. When the eye starts to see well, and the medium is mastered, the struggle starts, as the artist is troubled by a vision. In these reflections Maureen moves from a pithy and revealing word about the artist to the way that vision develops and shows itself on the opposite page, whether the black sun of Colin Middleton or Jack Yeats’s mysterious Men of Destiny.

That is where the spiritual and the religious cannot be avoided. When we think about God, we commonly use language, or even, God help us, rules and laws to express the ineffable. In this book the search for God is in colour, light, movement and texture. Part of the Dominican mission (I speak here as one less wise, surrounded by numerous Dominicans in disguise) is expressed in two Latin words: Contemplata tradere:  to look at, and contemplate in depth, and then to pass on that vision to others. It was there in Fra Angelico’s frescoes in Florence, and you see it in Maureen’s volume.

Maureen did not make this volume alone. She acknowledges many of those who helped to make it, and rather than name anybody, I point to that page. But one thank you is worth stressing. This gorgeous book is the first publication of this sort from the office of Messenger Publications, and is a reminder that the Sacred Heart Messenger is not only healthy at 120 years old, but is renewing its youth like the eagle’s, with a brilliant staff and (as Carlsberg would say) probably the best set of writers in Dublin.

Now for the good news: You are prodigiously lucky tonight. This beautifully produced work, in a tightly limited edition, is within your reach. For this dirty blue piece of paper, what St Paul calls filthy lucre, twenty euro – none of your 19.99 nonsense – you can have this thing of beauty, a treasure for ever, a present for Christmases to come. Wait beyond tonight and you have to pay an extra €4 per copy; anyway this limited edition will probably be sold out. So when you have produced your blue note and opened your lovely book, do what God instructs us to do as we are launched into life: Enjoy!