In the Order of Preachers, we are very fond of St. Mary Magdalene, the apostle of the apostles, the first person sent by the Lord to announce his Resurrection. On this beautiful feast, situated in the heart of this jubilee year, and in preparation for the feast of St. Dominic that is coming soon, we offer you a little testimony with a Dominican flavor.
In the midst of this jubilee year, it was first suggested that I present to you our newly renovated large statue of our father St. Dominic. As I reflected with other sisters, it was then suggested that I share instead with you the adventure I experienced in connection with the restoration of this statue. I hesitated a lot, but as I continued to reflect, I said to myself that I could not keep secret the wonders of God experienced in this adventure (in which I do recognize the intercession of our dear father Dominic).
This year we are celebrating the 800th anniversary of the death of St. Dominic, but I prefer to use the expression "of his birth to heaven" (you will understand a little later); he is very much alive, as you will see in the lines that follow... So here is this account of the restoration of a statue of him... that restored much more!
Last summer, we were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, confined to the convent for the summer vacation. So why not have a vacation project? The challenge was great: I had noticed this statue of St. Dominic, which looked like it had scabies or some other skin disease. (In the Middle Ages, we didn’t have the hygiene habits of today!) It was actually placed a bit back in the basement. As the expression goes: it was beautiful from afar, but far from being beautiful! I dared to undertake the challenge of restoring it, telling myself that if things went wrong, I would just have to repaint it in white, put it back where it was and hope that no one would notice!
As soon as it was in my hands, this statue of Saint Dominic awoke my curiosity. Where did it come from? Being the youngest here, I called upon the memory of my older sisters, and we were thus led to the community journal, April 16, 1991: "The nuns of Berthierville are happy to give us a large statue of St. Dominic; they come themselves to bring it to us. And we are proud to receive it and to place it in the community room." I remained on my appetite, and was even disappointed. I would have liked more details. In spite of my questions, I hardly succeeded in obtaining more information. But I was moved by the beautiful fraternity of the Dominican family and the friendship with our nuns!
With the thickness of the layers of paint, we are obliged to start with the stripping. Surprise! Under the thick layers of white paint, a colorful Saint Dominic was gradually revealed. And the more he revealed himself, we discovered fine gilding that bordered his clothes, giving him all the glory of a great saint (it is probably a statue of Spanish origin). It is by itself that the statue revealed itself!
The stripper, very effective on the first layers of white paint, was totally ineffective for the underlying color paint. Then began a very arduous stage, long hours... long days... gently scraping the paint and sanding it. Hands and fingers cramped and worn, with a thick cloud of dust settling everywhere! And doubts arising: how long will it take? Would I make it to the end? Would I be able to? The project was turning out to be much longer and more difficult than I originally thought. My patience was being tested in many ways...
While working, I prayed many rosaries... I think it was St. Dominic, who loved the Virgin so much, who led me into this long chain of prayer while working. And a question that was in me from the beginning kept coming up. “Saint Dominic, are you really my father? Are you a true father to me?” It is certain that for each one of us, we start from our concrete experience, from our reality, in order to understand spiritual realities. So, the chain of Aves continued, with at the same time, the chain of my questions. “But what is a real father?” As it is for many, my relationship with my earthly father is a wounded one. The question remains, but the years have taught me that often the questions are far more important than the answers
It is with the hindsight of almost a year today, with the rereading that I am doing now, that I can see what had revealed itself to me was my great desire to take Saint Dominic as my father, a desire to live a filial relationship with him. And like any relationship, it is built up little by little, over the years and with the events of daily life. And another question slowly arose in time. "Am I a real daughter for you? And what is a real filial relationship?"
During all this time, the work continued. Sanding, plastering, sanding again and applying the sealer, primer, color coats, shades and finally the varnish. And there it is! The joy of a work done up to the end, and the joy of surprising my sisters. We installed the statue in the choir of the chapel on the occasion of the feast of St. Dominic. It turns out that we were celebrating the diamond jubilee of four of our sisters: Gilberte, Julienne, Madeleine Dubé and Marie. The atmosphere was festive!
But how is it that I got involved in the restoration of this huge statue, when a year earlier, I had never in my life dared to "touch" a statue? Here is the beginning of the story, let us go back a few months in time, just before the pandemic.
In the winter of 2020, I saw a statue of the Immaculate Conception, one that I had never seen before! This statue looked plain, ugly, and I even felt sorry for it. Given the state it was in, I thought I might try to restore it while having fun. I offered to repaint it, thinking that even with my lack of experience and confidence, it couldn't be worse than it was then! This experience was a revelation of God's work in my life, of what he does in our lives. Let me now share that with you.
Before starting the work on this statue, I looked for models to inspire me in this project, and I found an identical twin in a church on the island of Orleans, listed on the Quebec Cultural Heritage website. First surprise, this was not just any ordinary statue!
I then undertook the stripping, first astonished by the thickness of the old layers of paint, I discovered and marveled more and more at its original beauty. I was truly moved by it! It was really beautiful and far from being ordinary! We sang at Vespers that day: "Uncreated Trinity [...] save the sinner that I am, in whom the original beauty of your work remains [Second ode of the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete] ".
The stripping exposed her, so I could see her wounds and nicks better. I could then, now that it was clean, start to repair the missing and damaged parts with plaster. Then, sand down the irregularities a bit.
There it was, repaired, in its original beauty. I could then undertake to repaint it. This painting was meant to be delicate and to highlight its already existing beauty. To emphasize its forms, to accentuate them with the help of the nuances of the paint.
If we only look at the object, it seems to be a very ordinary process. But it seems to me that it is a revelation of what I lived in the depths of my being. This statue revealed myself to me, made me live a deep spiritual experience. What I experienced with it is what God is experiencing with me!
All of us are wounded and we put on layers of paint, pretending to be what we are not. And we disfigure ourselves. And God, with great skill and delicacy, as events unfold, strips us, especially of ourselves. He strips us down to the deepest conviction of whom we are. When we stand before him in truth, without a mask, he can then "repair" us by his grace. By the plaster of his mercy, he heals our wounds. And we can then discover and believe in our original beauty, and surrender ourselves under his brush, to let him complete his creation. It is a leap of abandonment to let him do his work, not knowing what it will be, but certain of the talent of this divine artist.
This adventure with this statue made me meditate, deepen, integrate this spiritual reality, and enter into communion with the benevolent gaze of God on me, on each of us, he who sees the work of art that he is making according to his divine will; a process that continues throughout our lives. This is what he wants to do with each one of us, to restore us in all the beauty of our being, according to his plan of love for us.
Saint Irenaeus of Lyons says: "If, then, you are the work of God, wait patiently for the Hand of your Artist, who makes all things in due time. Present him with a supple and docile heart, and keep the form given to you by this Artist; if you harden yourself, you will reject the imprint of his fingers. By keeping this conformation, you will rise to perfection, because by the art of God will be hidden the clay that is in you. His Hand has created your substance; it will clothe you with pure gold inside and out, and it will adorn you so well that the King himself will be enamored of your beauty. But if, by hardening yourself, you reject his art and are dissatisfied with the fact that he has made you a man, because of your ingratitude towards God you have rejected both his art and life: for to make is the proper nature of God's goodness and to be made is the proper nature of man. If, therefore, you give him what is yours, that is, faith in him and submission, you will receive the benefit of his art and you will be the perfect work of God. (Irenaeus Adv. Hæreses, book 4, chapter 39, paragraph 2)". Let us let ourselves be done under his hands, let us not resist anymore.
It was thus enriched by this first experience that, a few months later, I was able dare to embark on the project of restoring the large statue of St. Dominic. Then, last spring, we had the grace to live our community retreat preached by our Sr. Catherine Aubin, o.p. of the Roman Congregation of Saint Dominic on the Nine Ways of Prayer of Saint Dominic. What a grace! In the Nine Ways of Praying, I discovered in Dominic a true master of interior life... and today, as I write these lines, I see how much he was and is, yes, a master of the interior life, but also a teacher and formator.
It was as if these two statues spoke to me and revealed the process of birth to oneself, of God's making each one of us stand up. Of course, these statues did not speak in person! But they spoke to me from within. They revealed to me in a pictorial way what I was experiencing deep inside. It is by writing these lines that I have become aware of the deep connection with these statues that speak... Already in this experience with the statue of the Immaculate Conception, Dominic, as a father and as a formator, was forming his daughter and teaching her concretely the way of birth to herself, he the master of interior life. Let us listen to what God wants to tell us in our daily lives. It is a matter of listening, of being patient, and of letting our hearts be shaped little by little!
May St. Dominic reveal himself to you and draw you into his ardent love for Christ, for his Mother, and for souls; and may he draw you into that beautiful process of being born to yourself, being born to who you deeply are! In his prayer, Dominic invites us to enter into the truth of our deepest being, in ourselves and in front of God. His body speaks of the disposition of his heart, which leads us into a movement of humility before God and trust in him, in the truth of who we are: poor sinners. But it is a movement that lifts us up, that puts us on our feet in our dignity as children of God, that makes us attentive, listening, available, resurrected, and moving.
And without any premeditation, these inspirations and circumstances have given us this beautiful Dominic just in time to celebrate the 800th anniversary of his birth in heaven. May he lead us all on the path of birth to ourselves, to our true profound identity, the path to our birth in heaven following him into the glory of God!