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“Bad art makes Baby Jesus cry…” But here’s why Mother Teresa would have loved this story

Elizabeth Scalia - published on 10/28/16

Yes, the replacement head was not good, but there are cues for contemplation all through this tale...

Katrina Fernandez, who writes a weekly advice column for Aleteia, studied art in college, and she has been known to suggest — with some frequency, particularly amongst her friends — that “bad Catholic art makes Baby Jesus cry.”

This is a story of Catholic art so bad, it even brought thieves to their senses.

But, it did move me (and perhaps others, too) to offer unexpected prayers.

When someone stole the head of the Infant Christ from a marble statue that stood in the garden of Ste. Anne des Pins parish in Sudbury, Ontario, the statue stood in that vandalized condition for a year because, as pastor, Father Gérald Lajeunesse relates, the cost of repair was prohibitive.

And when Heather Wise, a local artist stepped up and offered to create a new head for the piece, that seemed like a generous and helpful solution.

Her terra cotta attachment, however, seemed to give some credence to grandma’s old adage that you get what you pay for. On social media, reactions to the head — declared by many to be reminiscent of the cartoon head of Lisa Simpson (or Baby Maggie Simpson) — was raucous. So much so that the original head was quietly returned to the church, for restoration of the statue:

It was fortuitous timing that the statue’s original head was returned to the parish on Friday night. The replacement head — which had sparked controversy both within the parish and around North America, along with jokes that it looked like a Simpsons character — was removed shortly following. Father Lajeunesse presented the returned, original head to the parish during Saturday night and Sunday morning masses and was met with riotous applause. “I almost cried,” he added. The person who returned the head, he says, tested it on the headless statue in the yard to see if it fit before bringing it inside and leaving it on a desk. It is unclear who originally stole the stone head, but the woman who returned it, according to reports, told Father Lajeunesse that whomever had taken it originally was dealing with personal problems at the time.

The priest is not filing charges in the matter of the theft, and is currently trying to raise funds to have the head properly fitted and reattached to the statue.

So, the mother and child reunion is only a motion (or two) away, and a happy ending looms. It turns out Heather Wise’s offer truly was both generous, and helpful. You make an offer, and even if it’s not great, God can do something great with it.

Mother Teresa would have loved this story, not only because it demonstrates the efficacy of “doing small things with great love,” which is what she always recommended, but because — for some, anyway, like myself — Heather Wise’s small act spurred me to prayer. My first thought upon seeing her low-crowned sculpture was: “that’s Jesus as a baby of the Zika virus,” and it caused me to stop and pray for all pregnant mothers exposed to the virus, and all of the babies who have been affected with microcephaly due to a mosquito bite.

And I couldn’t help thinking, that if the head of Christ had been missing for a year, how very like the Holy Spirit to inspire something strange and confounding — and thankfully temporary — to use the moment for a Zika-prompt, and the thoughts it nudges us toward: about how Christ is in each of us; how Christ comes to us in all manner of human forms and forces — “in the distressing disguise of the poor,” as Mother Teresa would say — or through the wholly innocent appearance of a “Zika baby.”

I’m glad the head of the Infant Christ has been returned to the parish, and that the restoration will happen. Restoration, after all, is what Christ has come to give us, and so that unremarkable statue in an ordinary parish garden will give us something else to ponder, as its brokenness is once again made whole:

God chose us in him
before the world began
to be holy
and blameless in his sight.

He predestined us
to be his adopted sons through Jesus Christ,
such was his will and pleasure,
that all might praise the glorious favor
he has bestowed on us in his beloved.

In him and through his blood, we have been redeemed,
and our sins forgiven,
so immeasurably generous
is God’s favor to us.

God has given us the wisdom
to understand fully the mystery,
the plan he was pleased
to decree in Christ.

A plan to be carried out
in Christ, in the fullness of time,
to bring all things into one in him,
in the heavens and on earth. (Ephesians 1:4-10)

That’s restoration. And it’s in store for all of us, as for this statue.

Mother Teresa
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