The Man Made Mad with Fear,
Painting by Gustave Courbet (1819–1877),
Self-portrait executed in 1844,
Oil on canvas
© National Museum of Norway, Oslo

The Man Made Mad with Fear,
Painting by Gustave Courbet (1819–1877),
Self-portrait executed in 1844,
Oil on canvas
© National Museum of Norway, Oslo

Gospel of 13 April 2024

Jesus said: ‘It is I. Do not be afraid.’

John 6:16-21

In the evening the disciples went down to the shore of the lake and got into a boat to make for Capernaum on the other side of the lake. It was getting dark by now and Jesus had still not rejoined them. The wind was strong, and the sea was getting rough. They had rowed three or four miles when they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming towards the boat. This frightened them, but he said, ‘It is I. Do not be afraid.’ They were for taking him into the boat, but in no time it reached the shore at the place they were making for.

Reflection on the painting

Pope John Paul II started his very first homily as Roman Pontiff with the words "Do not be afraid!" Jesus used these words so often. They resonated then and still resonate now, in a world full of hurt, anxiety, upset, illness, poverty, etc… When looking in the Bible at the do's (love your neighbour; love your enemy;  do unto others what you would have them do to you,…) or the don't's (don't steal, don't lie,…), none is repeated more often than 'don't be afraid'. God knows how quickly we get discouraged in our human lives, not just in the face of adversity. All together some form of 'do not be afraid' is repeated 365 times throughout Scripture... every day we are reminded not to fear...!

In our painting, a highly unusual self-portrait, Gustave Courbet has dramatically envisioned himself at the edge of a cliff in a mountainous landscape, apparently on the verge of falling down into an abyss. His feeling is one of despair, and his troubled state of mind is emphasised by the way that his left hand touches his head in an anguished gesture. His right hand reaches out toward us, out into the void, as though he wants us to save him.

We have to read this painting in the context of French romanticism. The movement tended to link artistic genius with madness. The painting can thus also be understood as visualising the idea of the artist as a lonely genius, towering above the common crowd, and as someone who is elevated to the rank of someone incomprehensibly sublime. But overall, our painting can be seen as an allegorical representation of Courbet's struggles with self-doubt and ambition, reflecting the artist's ambivalence between his outer appearance of confidence and his inner feelings of uncertainty. In the realm of our faith, Jesus tells us clearly today never to be afraid. We keep moving forward with confidence our Lord, knowing he is with us every step of the way.

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Mark Crain
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Mark Crain
2 months ago

“Here let me say how proud we ought to be, young and old alike, to live in this tremendous, thrilling, formative epoch in the human story, and how fortunate it was for the world that when these great trials came upon it there was a generation that terror could not conquer and brutal violence could not enslave.”

Winston Churchill, Speech at Harvard University, September 6, 1943

Lord, please help me remember those who took seriously, “Do not be afraid,” and do likewise.

Will Howard
Member
Will Howard
2 months ago

THANK YOU Fr. P – a wonderful piece/reflection on the Gospel today!

And as Barbara notes below: … do we get it? > Our faith is in a God, an Abba Father God, of fearlessness, ‘every day of our the year!’

Indeed, J P II’s pontificate, as a true Poll, was one of fearlessness , proclaimed FEARLESSLY to the world ‘NOW’.

‘Another late vocation’ to the priesthood, I remember listening the extremely beautiful album of St. JP II “Abba Patter” in seminary. Its producers, Vincent Messina and Leonardo De Amicis, created a Supra-MAGNIFICENT album of the holy father’s voice, overlaid onto a truly global symphony of embolden proclamation of the Gospel and sacred scripture. I have just YouTubed to one of my favorite pieces at minute 30:15 – where I’d last been listening to it many months ago: “..but the man who lives by the Truth comes out into the light … that what he does is done IN God”. Seminary years – especially for an older guys, as I’m sure Fr. Patrick can attest – are a real adventure – demanding a kind of special “genius of madness” and creativity. I found myself putting the C D into my old laptop often.

I love the psycho-dreamlike lighting in Courbet’s piece. And, the way the painting devolves into the ‘abyss’ of chaotic paint, rash texture and slash-brushstrokes to the lower right – how effective is that! His figure begs the setting of Matthew’s elaborated account of the story: Peter, looking up, flabbergast and terrified at what his Faith was asking of him … reaching out to the Lord ” … ‘my ‘LEFT BRAIN’ can’t handle this! … I’m sinking !!!!”.

At minute 3:04, the second tract, the piece starts out with a kind of African beat overlaid with some Latin American pan flute, and JP II comes in, ” .. Do not be afraid, do not be satisfied with mediocrity”.

This is what all great art seeks to achieve.

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
2 months ago
Reply to  Will Howard

A great post Fr Will..enjoyed reading that 😁

Barbara Domzal-Karpowicz
Member
Barbara Domzal-Karpowicz
2 months ago

It is interesting and very significant that ‘Do not be afraid’ appears 365 times in the Gospels, as if Jesus is reminding us of this extremely important message every day of the year 🙂

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
2 months ago

Such a brilliant painting today. I wonder what was gripping the artist that led him to paint this?
You notice how, after the Resurrection, Our Blessed Lord always greets his followers with ‘Peace be with you’ – or ‘Do not be afraid ‘
So loving.

Monica Doyle
Member
Monica Doyle
2 months ago

When I am petrified about the future Lord.. just like the disciples and the unstable character in today’s painting.. May I be still and listen to You. You brought the disciples safely to their destination just as I’m 100% convinced our friend didn’t jump of the cliff. 365 “Do not be afraid”.. They must mean something! Thank you!

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago

I think 🤔 many people worry about how they appear to others as they go about their lives. I know I do. What do people make of me? I think I’m doing my best to be good 😊 and kind but am I actually appearing as uncaring and aloof? Quite big worries-others will have different anxieties.
There is not so much terror around today caused by external factors; more what is inside us.

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
2 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Mine are totally different – I worry about my sons, and their little ones.
I worry about what Our Lord thinks of me – but nobody else.
I wonder how come you haven’t got to the age yet, Chazbo, when you don’t give a jot what others think of you?
I have.
In fact, that’s the thing that worries me least 😁

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago

You are right Patricia, in a way I don’t give a jot. I don’t care what I look like or how well or badly I have done in life but there is still a residual insecurity.
Anyway that’s enough of that. Everyone worries about their children. My daughter wants a boyfriend and suitable men seem in very short supply 🙁

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
2 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

My son’s unmarried pal same predicament…I asked him if he went on dating sites..he answered ‘”Me? I’d just get swiped left all the time” He’s a smashing fella but ordinary looking 🫤
Nobody’s given a chance unless they’re ‘fit’

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago

There might be a really good fit Patricia!!!

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

🤔

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Plain speaking Janey but I respect that. I think 🤔 of you in a kindly way 🥹. Just packing up to leave this lovely island

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
2 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

Oh I never knew you were still away !
Actually, it’s funny you should mention up thread about appearances – they are everything in Italy… I’ve lived there, I know. You’re scrutinised all the time. When I visit my pal in San Remo, I notice it straight away and even she critiques my clothes, shoes, makeup. She’s lived there too long 😁

Rosemary Hart
Member
Rosemary Hart
2 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

I was a very shy, timid, child, but worked on it… I stopped worrying about 30 years ago. I had the toughest introduction to public speaking you can possibly imagine – a nosebleed just before I was due on the podium to tell an international audience about the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life and what I did about it. I stopped the bleeding, gave my speech – with a spontaneous aside in the middle – and finished to applause. Nothing could boost self-confidence more!

Rosemary Hart
Member
Rosemary Hart
2 months ago
Reply to  Rosemary Hart

I’ve just thought – it’s Grand National Day! I can ride a horse, but if I was riding in that race, I’d be utterly terrified!

Antonio Portelli
Member
Antonio Portelli
2 months ago

Thank you Fr Patrick for a wonderful Reflection on to-day’s Gospel reading and the painting. Superb, as always !

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago

Agreed!

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