How many of us have startled awake and thought, “I really need to ______?” If you are like me, that “to do” pops in your brain, just when your sleep is taking you into the deep abyss, where you are falling and it is dreamy. REM is ready to take over and the deep sleep is beckoning. Then the thought pops in your head. Something you forgot. Something you have to do. And, if you are like me, you’ll toss and turn and perseverate, worrying that as hard as you try to remember, you probably will not remember. Then you get up and write yourself a note. And by this time, you are not just on the edge of the sleepy zone but somewhat awake, and begin to get frustrated that you won’t get enough sleep because you are lying wide awake, thinking, instead of sleeping soundly. I really don’t think I have solved any world problems in these hours, but I know some great things have come from them.
But have you ever thought that you were meant to create something big? I haven’t. Well, not really, BIG. I don’t think Sister Catherine Labouré thought she would be creating something big when she was awakened one evening back in July of 1830. Neither did Auguste Rodin in 1870 when he started sculpting truth. Yet both of these very different people, living at similar times in the same French city, were open to creating and sharing the truth.
Last week, we had the privilege of visiting both the Chapelle of the Miraculous Medal on Rue de Bac, then walking the mile to the old Hôtel Biron, now known as Musée Rodin. The dichotomy between the work of the two seems stark. She a sweet, young Sister of the Daughters of Charity; he a scandalous artist. St. Catherine Labouré was visited by the Blessed Mother, who told her told that “God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary.” Rodin, feeling dejected and distressed, rebelled against the artistic norm of sculpting with polish and finesse, and followed what his heart felt, exposing the raw and vulnerable human, despite the criticism and rejection. But what is more interesting to me is their similarities. They both took something from nothing and created timeless beauty.
Sister Catherine Labouré listened as the Blessed Mother asked her to take the images she saw: Mary upon a globe, the rays of light, the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”, the M upon a cross and the stylized Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary, and have them put on medallions. Sister Catherine did so right away. The Miraculous Mary medal is worn all over the world by Catholics as a reminder that we can ask for help, we need to pray for the world and we receive graces by doing so.
Auguste Rodin listened to the criticism that his work was not in the realms of what was contemporarily sought, but didn’t change his ways. He preferred to expose the natural, the pain and the imperfect on the outside to show the truth on the inside. Despite his traditional schooling (and failing sculpturing courses three times), he stayed true to what he believed.
“To any artist, worthy of the name, all in nature is beautiful, because his eyes, fearlessly accepting all exterior truth, read there, as in an open book, all the inner truth.”