Friday, July 08, 2011

Cardinal Virtue - a New Leaf in the Book of Nature

After last week's article where I turned over an old leaf, here is a suggestion for a new offering.

A regular flash of red in the New England countryside is the male cardinal bird, the name is derived from the comparison to a cardinal’s robes. I was told recently that the cardinal bird interesting in that although it looks very bright when it is in its setting, when you see it in close-up and in isolation it appears relatively drab, given what a flash of colour it is when you see it at a distance. I speculate that the reason for this is that red and green are complementary colours. Red looks redder when it is next to green; just as green looks greener next to red. So the male cardinal bird is more attractive when in its natural setting. As an artist, if I paint a landscape, I always try to put some discreet strokes of red somewhere next to the green if I wish to make the foliage more vibrant.

I suggest that the cardinal bird can be symbol of personal vocation. I have become interested in this idea recently because of my own experiences (I believe that an education in beauty helps us to choose what is good for us) and seeing so many young students searching for ideas as what to do in the next phase of their lives. Part of what inspired me to become a Catholic was the inspiring vision of the Church that each of us has a unique role to play in contributing to the common good. This is our personal vocation. We are most fully ourselves and so most joyful and most fulfilled when we live this calling. The joy we feel is radiant and will attract curiosity I was lucky 20 years ago in that I was given very good guidance that set me out on a journey that has resulted in my doing what I am now and loving every minute of it; I have written about this here.

I had always thought of the discovery of this as finding the right shaped hole in the jigsaw so that it helps to complete the picture that is the common good. But in fact this image of the cardinal bird says it so much more clearly. When we in the right role in relation to other and the mystical body of Christ, our own natural setting, just like the cardinal bird we become brighter and more radiant examples of the Faith.

Detail from John Constable's The Hay Wain with red introduced to offset green. (One should remember also, that the drabness of the green is accentuated in the photo because a common green pigment used at the time loses its colour over time.

A male cardinal bird without green background. I admit I have picked the photos to illustrate the point, but photographs distort the natural perception and so it is difficult to communicate this in photography anyway.

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