The German word kitsch is hard to define, other than as tacky or tasteless. But as Justice Potter Stewart said of prurience, “I know it when I see it.” It is indulged sometimes even by pious Catholics. Examples of kitsch abound in the sculpture garden of the United Nations.
My favorite is a huge Colt Python .357 Magnum revolver with a twisted barrel by the Swedish sculptor Carl Reuterswärd. It runs afoul of the dictum vaguely attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “Those who hammer their guns into plows, will plow for those who do not.” There is one superior work, albeit by the Soviet realist Yevgeny Vuchetich, showing a man hammering a sword into the shape of a plowshare.
That allusion, of course, is to verses in Isaiah, Joel and Micah. Communists could pick and choose bits of the Bible when convenient. The Prince of Peace warned that those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52) — but He also told His disciples to buy swords (Luke 22:36) and warned, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34).
The apparent contradiction is resolved by understanding that Christ speaks of swords both as defensive weapons and, more intensely, as representative of moral suffering.
At the Presentation of Christ, Simeon told Our Lady that a sword would someday pierce her heart. This was fulfilled at the crucifixion, for if there is a pain that can be as hard as physical suffering, it is the empathy one feels when watching the suffering of a loved one.
There is much suffering in the church, and Our Lady of Sorrows endures that, for she is Mother of the Church. In the order of places where Christians are being tormented now, North Korea ranks first, followed by Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Iran — in a list that is not exhaustive.
As Our Lady was virtually abandoned at the foot of the Cross, so have those who are suffering atrocities and genocide been scandalously ignored by many in the West until recently. Our government has announced that it will stop the State Department’s policy of directing all relief funds through ineffective agencies of the United Nations, and will work with private organizations to aid vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities.
“Her motherhood with be mysterious and sorrowful.”
St. John Paul II said that Simeon’s prediction confirms Mary’s “faith in the accomplishment of the divine promises of salvation, [while] on the other hand it also reveals to her that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Savior, and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.”
As the pen is mightier than the sword, in Bulwer-Lytton’s adage, so is Christ the Living Word more acute and powerful than any sword that pierces those who love Him.
Fr. George William Rutler is a Catholic priest and the pastor of the Church of St. Michael in Manhattan. This article from his parish church bulletin is used by permission.