|Jed Gibbons, Maria, Mater Misericordiae|
Interview with Ann Slattery, Stabat Mater Prayer Apostolate
1. What is Stabat Mater Prayer Apostolate, and how did it come about?
The Stabat Mater Prayer Apostolate is a movement that arose in 2007 after several years of conversations between my friend, Marie S. Wood, and me. Marie and I gradually realized that God (and especially His Blessed Mother) was calling us to help effect cultural change through prayerful support of Catholic artists. We really feel that through great art, persons can grow in virtue. In a nutshell, the mission of the apostolate is to pray for artists and provide a place of retreat for them—eventually—in the West Texas desert. Right now there is nothing there—just raw desert land!
2. Why have you chosen “Stabat Mater” as the organization’s name?
When I was fairly new to the Faith (I came into the Church as a young adult), I made a retreat at Georgetown Visitation, a Washington institution that dates back to the time of our country's founding. Sister Marie de Chantal introduced me to the phrase and the meaning of the Latin “stabat mater.” It means “the Mother was standing.” That is, she (the Blessed Virgin Mary) did not leave the scene of the crucifixion of her son; she remained standing faithfully at the foot of the cross. The phrase stuck with me all these years and then about five years ago I could actually see the words as an inscription on a wrought-iron gate in a desert setting—meaning the land I own on the Rio Grande in arid West Texas. The property was a gift to my brother and me from our great uncle when we were quite young, and it has never been developed.
3. What are a few of your upcoming programs? How do they play into Stabat Mater's overall mission?
We are still very much in the formative phase! But we want to advance the Culture of Life through prayer and art. Prayer, education, and outreach are the three modes we will use to do this. Since February 11, 2008, when our board of directors signed our founding document, we have developed a five-year plan. We are planning to produce a meditation book on beauty and spirituality that will be illustrated by contemporary artists. We look forward to working with the Foundation and other groups in finding artists for this project! Also, we want to reach young people and their families through art competitions and school study groups. The youth of today—those who have been called by God to an artistic vocation—will need spiritual as well as intellectual strength. Steve Kellmeyer's book, Artfully Teaching the Faith, imparts an understanding of the relationship between faith and art in a captivating way, and we would like to see it distributed and used in study groups. And finally, we want to identify and link with organizations that promote Church teaching on the sanctity of human life and also those that promote the Church's tradition of valuing the contributions of artists.
The theology of beauty is a subject that interests us. “Theology of Beauty: A Way to Unity?” was the title of a talk given by Archbishop Bruno Forte, of Chieti-Vasto, Italy, at Georgetown University this past November. Also, at the 11th General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops, Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann, of Wurzburg, Germany, remarked that art is a medium that can be used to draw people closer to Christ, especially those not attending church. Our apostolate seeks to discover every possible reference to the subject of art made by our Church Fathers, present and past, and to implement them appropriately.
So, our mission is timely, considering the attention that people like Archbishop Forte and Bishop Friedhelm—not to mention Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI—have given to the arts in the Church today! Most recently, in a message sent to the Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts and Literature last November 25, Pope Benedict reminded all of us that beauty simply cannot be separated from truth and goodness.
We invite everyone to pray for artists. That is our core mission: to pray for artists. We see artists as the visionaries who need our prayers to support and advance their work. Our vision is of a second Renaissance!
4. Part of your mission is to spread an understanding of the Theology of the Body through the arts. Why is the Theology of the Body important and relevant for artists? How can they incorporate and spread the principles and ideas outlined in TOB?
We live in a visual world. All of us are bombarded with hundreds, even thousands, of images on a daily basis. We process huge amounts of information through websites, email, television, and movies. The way we digest information has become so graphic. You want to know how to change out a flat tire? Look it up on YouTube. And, of course, we all know that many, many images rampant in our culture are trivial, demeaning to the true nature of human sexuality, and even blasphemous. That's why we think that Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body needs to be widely understood, especially by up-and-coming generations. And who better to communicate it to this image-saturated culture than artists? Artists who grasp this teaching are best equipped to spread it, because they can present it immediately and profoundly. It's a real challenge, and I am not sure how they will do it—I am not an artist—but I know that they can and will. It is not necessary to get a theology degree to realize the beauty of this teaching and the impact it is beginning to have on the world. In the Middle Ages, people learned the Faith primarily through the teachings presented in art (stained glass windows, statues, the cathedrals themselves). Today, we will see a turnabout in our culture, from one of death to one of life, when we begin to see (literally see) the revolutionary implication of the pope's teaching. He has so eloquently taught what it means to be human! Incidentally, we are offering this apostolate in thanksgiving for the life of John Paul II on earth and in anticipation of his eventual canonization.
The SMPA board of directors includes Jacqulyn and David Dudasko, Vita Rinaldi (all from Dallas), Marie Schade Wood, and Ann H. Slattery. Advisers are Steve Kellmeyer, author of Artfully Teaching the Faith and Sex and the Sacred City; and Sister Mary Paula Beierschmitt, founder of the American Academy of the Sacred Arts in Philadelphia.
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