How God Loves Us? Thru Jesus' Sacred Heart
Buffalo’s Monumental Painter-Priest's Vision
Three farsighted pastors of St Casimir’s orchestrated one of Buffalo’s most unique spiritual treasure-churches. While St Stanislaus Church features Poland’s Baptism (966) and the first PolAm settlement (1854); Corpus Christi displays a copy of Rafaelo’s Eucharistic Disputa (100x plus larger than the Vatican original); St Casimir’s continues to focus on art as a source of energizing beauty: raising the soul and mind heavenward.
Fr Anthony Majewski’s, with local architect Chester Oakley, desired to “celestially elevate” us from the drudgery of work and earthly street distractions (quoted from the 50th Anniversary Album). They built America’s first ever Byzantine style Roman Catholic church. The visionary pastor secures a Polish immigrant artist, Marian Rzeźnik, to execute the sanctuary’s awe-inspired “Coronation Apse”—akin to ancient Roman and Byzantine basilicas.
Years later, Msgr Ed Kazmierczak obtained the “Christ’s Face from the Cross” (pictured abovce) directly from “Buffalo’s painting priest” Rev Casimir Szarkiewicz, as a 1963 Courier Express feature story dubbed him. Msgr Matt Kopacz with the local Świątek Sudios, embellished arches with survival ornamentation of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Basilica (repurposed as today’s Turkey’s great Mosque).
Following Msgr Ed, this Kaisertown church recently acquired a stunning, life-size copy of Buffalo’s immigrant-priest-painter’s Sacred Heart (top of article). Honored during the summer in St Casimir’s sanctuary, this emotionally expressive, brilliant work commemorates June 2020: the month of the Sacred Heart. Members and visitors are being drawn to this masterpiece.
Fr. Szarkiewicz depicts Jesus as the source of light. Divine brilliance emanates from His very chest. His stark, out to darkness, portrayal is balanced by a mysterious, yet noble, lean face and belabored worker’s hands, distinguished by priest-painter’s own experience of WWII suffering. Attracting the viewer, they simultaneously display the intensity of Jesus’ thirst for us to “return the favor” of his incomprehensible, unending, selfless love.
A captivating First Communion hymn “O, mój Jezu w Hostyi skryty” (“O my Jesus, Host for me”) musically paints a similar work. The believer is moved to enter God’s authentic reality furnace: “I’ll bear anything for you Jesus, even if the Cross inflicts painful threats. All I ask, I humbly beg you, embrace and hold me in the silence of your heart.” Very different from the once familiar ditty, “I am special” of past 1st Holy Communions.
Jesus’ billowing red coat and ample white garment unleash the bounty of God’s endless and infinite mercy. Refulgent rays of light emanating from the Lord’s heart emanate energizing waves of spiritual affection, solicitude, and joy. These dazzling robes draw mystical meaning from its Divine Mercy counterpart. Bleached in His precious blood, whitened robes and rays spring, as on the first day of creation, from absolute darkness. The energizing glance drawing the believer r to Him, through an, ever so slight, encouraging beckoning of the brow, discloses Jesus’ keen interest to listen from the heart. I personally experienced this same demeanor and authentic desire to lend an ear, during a conversation with St John Paul.
The painting’s face and heart are naturally, even rustically realistic. A divided, elongated drop bleeds from the spot where the guard inflicted the final, mortal wound. Its upper aorta emits a soft, vigil flame of burning love. The Lord’s pierced wrists finished off with similar slight, elongated streams of blood reflect His injured heart: subtle soul therapy.
This convincing depiction differs from “pale, limp or wilting” versions of long-gone eras. Like the 1st Communion hymn, this painting presents a true-to-life, credible portrait, drawing the contemporary believer into an intense, loving relationship and deep meditation.
The painting displays St Casimir’s preference for the energy and power of true beauty from the divine Person to the human transformed by supernatural light (of the afore-mentioned hymn). For these very reasons “Buffalo’s painting priest,” who on numerous occasions during WWII evaded the dark machinations of Nazi occupiers, presents a healing and exceptionally solicitous Sacred Heart. It is a spiritual compress for the polarizing, self-absorbed, reaching for violence, bullying, terminating brutality, addiction, destruction and death as poisonous suicidal potions.
A recent pilgrimage to the American Czestochowa Shrine, afforded me the opportunity to offer a prayer of thanksgiving at Fr Szarkiewicz’s grave, resting on the Avenue of Heroic Priests (pic above).
|The “painting priest’s” Sacred Heart in St Casimir’s summer shrine.|