Artist has terrific theological insight

  • December 5, 2013

At the general audience of Nov. 20, the work of Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz was presented to Pope Francis. The sculpture, Jesus the Homeless, is a striking image of a homeless person sleeping on a park bench. With the face wrapped in a heavy blanket against the cold, it is impossible to tell who it might be. Only the feet are exposed and then it becomes clear who it is — there are the marks of the nails. It is the crucified one, Jesus Christ. There is space on the bench for someone to sit down alongside the sleeping, homeless Jesus. One could well imagine the Holy Father, with his heart for the poor and the suffering, sitting alongside someone on that bench. In St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis beheld the statue and then blessed it.

I imagine that the statue made quite an impression on those who saw it in Rome. It certainly did on me when I saw it last April 13 in Toronto. It had been recently installed outside the entrance to Regis College and on a spring day with a chill in the air I walked over to see it. It is a fine piece of sculpture, but the spiritual significance is even more powerful. The obvious biblical reference is clear: The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8:20), but when I researched it I discovered that Schmalz had in mind Matthew 25, putting the emphasis not so much on the Lord Jesus who has no place of His own, but on our response: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

It was a joy then to discover the works of Schmalz online after that ( — a genuine, contemporary Catholic artist of the highest quality from St. Jacobs, Ont. Like many priests in Ontario, I had actually seen one of his works, unwittingly, some years ago. Parishes all over Ontario were sent a miniature Holy Family statue — A Quiet Moment — featuring a disproportionately large St. Joseph, seated, and his legs forming a cradle in which the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus are protected. A greater than life-size version is now in Bethlehem.

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