On September 15th, the day after the Feast Day of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, the Museum of the Academia in Florence, Italy, began a most ambitious yet controversial project. It began the restoration of the famous marble statue created by Michelangelo called David. The sculptor completed the statue on September 15, 1504. Consequently David will celebrate his 500-year birthday next year.
Should the 500 year-old statue of David preparing for battle Goliath be restored to his original youthful beauty? Should the marble, ravaged by the external forces of 5 centuries, which have left it with streaks and blotches, be cleaned of the grime? Although a heated battle had ensued by 39 world-renowned international scholars as to if and how David should be cleaned, the decision was finally made by an independent panel of experts to clean the statue using nothing more than sterilized water and cotton swabs.
Michelangelo created David from an 18-foot high block of marble that was originally abandoned by other sculptors in a quarry in Florence. For 40 years the marble block was passed over by numerous artists because of its apparent imperfections. Finally, Michelangelo chose to begin work on the marble block because he saw something that he later would say was “struggling” to free itself from the stone. Today, the statue of David is displayed in a special room flanked by 4 other statues that have been called the Four Prisoners. What is significant about the Prisoners is the fact that they are unfinished. Not, as some have insisted, that Michelangelo did not have the time to complete them, but rather – because he intentionally wanted to make a theological statement.
As visitors approach David, they must file past the Prisoners – they view four figures struggling to escape the clutches of the cold stone. The prisoners are wading wearily through murky darkness bending their heads under the heard truth of their mortality. Legs and heads disappear in the marble, their chests and their bellies shine as Michelangelo considered the belly to be the “handhold of the soul”. In this epigastric fashion the great sculptor intended to show man’s soul imprisoned in the temporal world.
Finally, after passing the unfinished Prisoners, visitors stand before the statue of David - the image of the perfect (finished) man – naked but standing ever confident to confront Goliath. Each individual departs - having been summoned to intensely struggle to escape their respective prisons – to become what God – the eternal sculptor originally intended for us to become.
In conclusion I would humbly suggest that many of us have been meditating upon the sacramentality of marriage and family in a way that typifies the manner in which visitors gaze upon the statues displayed in the Florence Museum of the Academia.
The Family is the magnificent sculpture of the Holy Trinity. Like Michelangelo’s 4 prisoners, the image of the contemporary family is in need of liberation. Since the time of Adam, the family has been struggling to escape the cold marble prisons of the natural order – to transcend the biological, economic, material and social theories and definitions that currently entrap it and to become the living image of its Eternal Sculptor. Unlike the statue of David which is currently being restored by water – the contemporary family requires the Sacred Wine of the Bridegroom. In the final analysis, only by continually bathing itself in the Transformative Wine miraculously anticipated at the Wedding in Cana in Galilee can the contemporary family successfully express the six affirmations of its intrinsic sacramental nature.
The notion of an intrinsic sacramentality of family is not grounded in the position of the priest to impart a separate mystical capacity on the couple during the celebration of sacrament of marriage. While liturgical and canonical fidelity are indeed important, elements in the communication of the reality of God’s love and kingdom to persons, the sacramental nature of family is grounded in the reality of the mystery of God’s love and the profound life-giving force of faithfulness which are potentially present in all marriages.
The family is not sacramental because the Grace of God has been somehow imparted to it through marriage by the Church, but because marriage and family were originally created by God in order that His eternal love and faithfulness may become historically present and revealed fully in Christ. Understood in this fashion, every family is connected to the promise of God to create the Kingdom of God in its midst. Each family has, in the final analysis, the potential to become an epiphenomenon of the love and faithfulness of Jesus Christ as it is expressed in the Church.
Our hope and prayer is that the contemporary family will regain its original nature - to simultaneously be a saved and saving community of love - lies in the expectation that our Lord continues to heed the admonition of His Mother. By claiming such a trust in God’s abundant providence – we may rest assured that the Wine of the Sacramental Family will indeed never run dry.
October 25, 2003
Synaxis Theological Conference