As a father, who wants his children to grow up with sound understanding and fervor for Christ and the Church, I'm always looking for teaching opportunities to share the faith with them, without, as my wife warns me, overwhelming them (which, as you can imagine, as zealous as I can be, is not always easy).
From telling them the story of Juan Diego's cloak and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, after noticing the virgin mounted on a wall at a restaurant we went for breakfast, to discussing the Crown of Thorns after pricking my fingers and arms while trimming our Bougainvillea trees last Tuesday (I felt like I had been in a fight with Edward Scissorhands), to explaining some of the "artistic" interpretations in Jesus of Nazareth (that we watched as a family during Holy Week), I continuously find myself feeding them tidbits on the faith.
Sometimes, it’s to the point where my eldest daughter rolls her eyes and says, "You tell us the same thing every time, Dad!" (Ok, so I have a tendency of repeating my lessons. Maybe, I have told them the reason why Catholics do the sign of the cross with holy water, as we enter the church, one too many times).
Last week, since my ten and six-year-old daughters were off from school for Holy Week, I took the week off, in hopes of spending some quality time with them and also offered to do some projects around the house, many of which never got done (as I learned the hard way; gentelmen, never, under any circumstance, no matter how good you think it makes you sound at the time, make empty promises to your wife. The results are not pretty!). Unfortunately, my son's school had spring break a few weeks ago.
One morning, after going to Mass and dropping off my son at school, I took the girls to the Art Museum of Ft. Lauderdale, where there was an exhibit titled, Vatican Splendors: A Journey Through Faith and Art. My older daughter likes museums and my younger daughter is usually game for anything we do together. Therefore, what a better way to spend some time and teach them about the rich history and beauty of the Church in the process?
As we go pay, the man selling tickets asks the age of my younger daughter. It went over my head, as I hadn't realized the paying age.
Regardless, considering this was an art and FAITH exhibit, I came clean, "She's six years old."
He looked at her and said, "Oh, well." Looking up, I noticed the sign stating prices for tickets begin at six. Great, I could have saved $13 bucks!
Fortunately, the man realized my obtuseness and said, "Listen, I'm going to comp her ticket." (Thank you. Despite myself, we're off on the right foot!)
As soon as we start walking in, there were two Swiss Guard mannequins at the entrance, giving me an chance to tell the girls about the elite security detail that has sworn to protect and defend the pope since the 16th Century.
I explained to my daughters that Peter is shown holding the keys because they are the Keys to the Kingdom of God, given to him by Jesus. Paul is often shown holding the sword, which represents the Word of God, and the faith that the Apostle proclaimed when he urged the early Christians to put on the Full Armor of God to into battle against evil.
It was a great ice breaker. From that point, the keys and sword would be a recurring theme of conversation throughout the exhibit. Every time we would come across a depiction of Peter holding the keys or Paul holding the sword, I would ask who they were, and, although at first, my six-year-old wouldn’t remember, she soon caught on and started answering correctly.
I may be biased, but I thought it was a wonderful exhibit. Almost 200 items of artifacts and artworks, from the Vatican collection, really capture some of the essence of the Church's two thousand year history.
There were works by Michelangelo, Bernini, Giotto, Raphael and many others great artists. There were objects dating back to the beginning of Christianity, a Reliquary of Saints Peter, Paul, Anne, Joseph and others, which contained bone fragments of them. There were personal items and portraits from different popes, a replica of the Chair of St. Peter, famous paintings, like Portrait of Christ with Crown of Thorns (The Veronica of Guercino) and The Crucifixion of Saint Peter by Caravaggio (which gave me an opportunity to teach my daughters how St. Peter asked to be crucified upside down because he didn't feel worthy of being crucified facing God the Father like Jesus.
There was also an amazing 15th century marble wall sculpture, in two parts, of the arrest of Peter, which shows a distraught Paul being taken away by Roman soldiers, and, in the second half, Peter's crucifixion.
I got a chance to tell my girls about St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, of which the Bible says St. Paul indirectly partook in his slaying, of the Avignon Papacy period, where anarchism and rioting forced the pope to flee Rome to Avignon, France, turning into one of the ugliest times in Church history, and how St. Catherine of Sienna almost single-handedly pressured Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome.
There was a replica of one of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures, Pieta, which depicts Mary holding Jesus in her hands after the Crucifixion. The original, I learned, was made when the artist was 24-years-old in the year 1499.
After almost two hours of walking, the girls and I finally got to the gift shop at the end, where I let them pick out a small item each before we left.
During lunch at a nearby restaurant on Las Olas Boulevard, I asked them what their favorite part of the exhibit was.
My ten-year-old said, "The wall carving of the arrest and crucifixion of St. Peter."
Without skipping a beat, my six-year-old answers, "The toys."
“The toys?” I asked a bit perplexed. I didn’t remember seeing toys.
“Yes, the toys in the gift shop.”
So much for lasting impressions. Good thing her entrance was comped!
Nevertheless, I guess after thinking about it on our forty-minute drive to my parents’ house to pick up my son and drive to a gelateria near our house, she offered without being asked, "What I liked the most at the museum was the thingy with the bones of the man with the keys and the other one with the sword."
That's my girl...