Our Modern Iconography - Symbols of our Faith
Our Worship Space features several modern icons written by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM. The icons are symbols of what these remarkable people stood for and represent the values of our faith community.
You might want to consider praying with these icons, choosing one each day. This form of prayer could have 6 points:
1) What does the icon proclaim (gaze & read)
2) Meditate for 5-10 mins
3) Take note of how you are feeling/reacting to the icon
4) Visualize a scene from the person's life
5) What might you take with you from this time?
6) Offer God an expression of thanks for the time.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha Of The Iroquois (1656-1680)
Kateri Tekakwitha was born in the forests of what is now New York State. She was a member of the Mohawk Iroquois nation, the daughter of a chief and a captive Algonquin mother. Orphaned at four, she was raised by her uncle. At 20 she was baptized by a French Jesuit. The following year she left her own village secretly and went to a new Christian Iroquois village near Montreal. She was known for her gentleness, kindness, and good humor. She died before her 24th birthday and was immediately revered by those who had known her holiness.
In this icon she wears typical Iroquois clothing and a blue blanket from French traders. In her right hand she bears one of the most important symbols of her culture, the tree of peace. By the mid-15th century, blood feuds had almost destroyed her people. A holy man named Dekanawidah appeared, preaching peace and reconciliation. He taught that all people were brothers and sisters and that
differences were better resolved by discussion than war. Through his influence, the five Iroquois tribes formed a unified government and stopped fighting among themselves. The symbol of this vision was a huge tree under which all peoples could find peace. When more people would come, the branches of the tree would simply grow longer. An eagle lived at the top of the tree and warned the people whenever peace was threatened. The tree, like all the earth, rode on the back of a giant turtle's back. Her feast day is July 14.
Harvey Milk of San Francisco
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay person to be elected to high public office in the U.S. He was not a professional politician, but ran for City Supervisor in San Francisco because he felt ordinary people were being pushed aside there by monied interests. "It takes no money to respect the individual," he said. "The people are more important than words." As supervisor he fought consistently for the rights of all of those without a voice. These people included blue-collar workers, the elderly, racial minorities, and gay men and women. Cardinal Juan Fresnos of Chile has said, "Whosoever stands up for human rights stands up for the rights of God." His words are an echo of what Christ has told us He will say at the Last Judgement. "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to Me."
Despite all the emphasis Christians put on their sexual ethics, Christ’s one question at the end of time will deal with concrete acts of love and compassion. The day of his election, Harvey tape-
recorded his last testament, in which he acknowledged that he would most probably die violently. The last words of that message were "You gotta give them hope." On November 27, 1978, he was shot five times at close range by another politician who was infuriated by his defense of gay and lesbian people. That night 40,000 people, men and women, old and young, gay and straight, kept candlelight vigil outside City Hall.In this icon he holds a candle, keeping vigil himself for the oppressed of the world. He wears a black armband with a pink triangle. This was a Nazi symbol for homosexuals and represents all those who have been tortured or killed because of cultural fears regarding human sexuality. Their number continues to grow with each passing year, and the compassionate Christ continues to say, "As long as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to Me."
Martin Luther King of Georgia
This icon depicts Martin Luther King, one of the martyrs of the Twentieth Century. He was an ordained minister of the Baptist Church. From 1955 until his death, he led a campaign of nonviolent resistance in the United States against racial oppression and injustice. The number he wears around his neck is from a "mug shot" taken one of the many times he was arrested by American police for resisting unjust laws. The prison bars behind him represent the occasions he was placed in jail, and also the oppression and slavery of Afro-Americans in the United States. The text on his scroll is from his speech in Albany, Georgia, on December 14, 1961. The Greek inscription by his head reads, "Holy Martin." Since the eighteenth century, the faith of African American Christians in America has been tied to the struggle for freedom. Martin Luther King renewed the bond between faith and political action like the Old Testament prophets. Although his life was threatened many times, he continued to expose himself to danger. He was shot on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.
Mother of the Disappeared
For Catholic peoples of Latin America, the Sorrowful Mother - Madre Dolorosa - is a central image in their life. Her statue stands in most churches, clothed in black. Mary’s bitter experience on Good Friday has made her a sympathetic sister to those whose lives are marked by similar sorrow. She has shared the lot of the downtrodden and can stand in solidarity with them through all ages.
Tens of thousands of Latin American mothers have had family members abducted -- "disappeared" -- by death squads in recent years. What can these women do in their despair when their governments ignore their requests for help? In 1976 a number of Argentinean mothers began a silent protest every week in front of the government offices as a way to release their despair. Wearing black dresses and white kerchiefs; they carried photographs of their missing loved ones and marched around the plaza. They wore a white rose bud if they
hoped their loved one was still alive, and a red rose bud for the dead. From Argentina, the march of the mothers spread to El Salvador and other countries. This icon presents a new Madre Dolorosa, who stands in solidarity with the Mothers of the Disappeared. She wears their white kerchief, and her wine-colored Byzantine garment is almost black. She has no photograph to carry of her son, who was also abducted by a death squad and tortured to death, but she carries his crown of thorns. She wears both red and white rose buds, since she has become mother of all the disappeared.
The white handprint smeared across the side of the icon is the signature of the El Salvador death squads. It is unusual to add such a detail to a Byzantine icon, and the result is shocking: the icon is violated! The hand, however, expresses a deep truth. The death squads violate icons of God every time they abduct and torture a human being. If the truth is not pretty, let it challenge us to action.
Oscar Romero of El Salvador (1917-1980)
The model for bishop in the ancient church was a shepherd who walked before his people through whatever dangers they might face. He stood among the poor and the oppressed. And like the Apostles before him, he died a martyr. While medieval bishops became princes and many modern bishops become bureaucratic administrators, the bishop as pastor among the people is reappearing in the church. Oscar Romero was such a bishop.
Although the wealthy class called him a friend of revolution, he was a peacemaker. He knew that simply ending rebel violence would not end the greater violence induced by poverty and hunger. Society had to be restructured so that children would not die of malnutrition and disease while their parents could not find decent work. Though he encouraged peaceful reform, where violence was unavoidable he worked to overcome the spirit of hatred and vengeance.
His pulpit became a font of truth when the government censored news. He risked his own life as he defended the poor and oppressed. He walked among the people and listened. "I am a shepherd," he said, "who, with his people, has begun to learn a beautiful and difficult truth: our Christian faith requires that we submerge ourselves in this world."
Killed by an assassin’s bullet as he celebrated Mass on March 24, 1980, his last words described the grain of wheat that must die in order to bear fruit. Like his Savior, he died poor, forgiving his murderers. He was buried in the cathedral where he had preached justice. And now people from many nations come to his tomb to find strength in their struggle.
Father Mychal Judge, OFM
As Muslim extremists flew highjacked commercial airplanes into the towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, they screamed, “God is Great!” to complete their act of self-chosen “martyrdom”. Thousands of innocent people were killed, of many nationalities and different walks of life. The first official casualty was an elderly Franciscan priest who had just administered the last rites to a fireman who had been struck by the body of a woman who had jumped from the towers. His name was Mychal Judge and he was chaplain of the fire department. The Koran begins with the words, “In the name of God most beneficent, most merciful.” Most world religions proclaim God’s mercy and compassion. The word martyr comes from the Greek word for witness. Mychal Judge was a true martyr who died bearing
witness to God’s mercy and beneficence, after a long life spent in the same way. Fr. Mychal Judge wore his Franciscan habit almost everywhere and rejoiced in his vow of poverty. The holy foolishness of the first Franciscans weaves in and out of the story of his life. As a priest he often sought out and confronted people who had been rebuffed by the harshness of other priests. His chief ministries were to the firemen of New York City, to recovering alcoholics in AA, to people suffering from AIDS, and to Franciscans preparing to make their solemn vows. The word “martyr” has been twisted out of shape in the 21st century as religious extremists throughout the world try to impose their version of God’s will. This joyful Franciscan friar from New York can remind us of the stuff of which martyrs are really made and challenge us to witness to God’s compassion, however mad our world may seem.
Mohandas Gandhi of India (1869-1948)
Gandhi spent his life fighting evil through non-violent resistance. For him the liberation of India was a religious duty. He saw it as a step toward the liberation of all humankind from the tyranny of violence in others, but especially in themselves. When violence could be abolished universally, Gandhi said, "God will reign on earth as he does in Heaven." Gandhi was murdered on January 30, 1948.
Christ proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Gandhi, like every individual who is directed toward Christ’s ideals is a bearer of that Kingdom. Icons are images of the Kingdom, windows into Heaven.
In this icon, Gandhi holds salt which he has gathered by the ocean -- an act forbidden by English colonial law. The salt also reminds us of Christ’s words: "You are the salt of the earth." The Greek inscription by his head reads "Holy Mohandas Gandhi."
St. Josephine Bakhita
Bakhita came from the Daju people in western Sudan. Arab slave traders abducted her when she was a young girl. Forced to convert to Islam, she was sold five different times to Muslim families and suffered frequent beatings and other forms of physical abuse. In 1883 the Italian vice consul in Khartoum bought her and eventually brought her with him when he returned to Italy. When he left her temporarily with the Canossian Sisters in Venice, she refused to leave the convent when he returned. An Italian court ruled in her favor and she was given back her freedom.
She converted to Catholicism and joined the Canossian Sisters. She died 54 years later after a quiet life of manual work in Canossian convents. She became famous throughout northern Italy and was much loved by the people. She was canonized in 2000.
The bird in this icon represents her free spirit.
Her feast day is February 8.
Bernard Mizeki was born in Mozambique in the last half of the 19th century. He left home when he was about 12 in order to work in Cape Town. During the ten years he worked there for whites, he refused to drink alcohol and remained untouched by the life of the black slums. He enrolled in night school founded by the Anglican Church for Blacks. Besides the fundamentals of European schooling, he mastered English, French high Dutch, and at least eight local African languages. In time he was invaluable when the Anglican Church began translating its sacred texts into African languages.
He was prepared for baptism by the Society of St. John the Evangelist. After his baptism in 1886, he accompanied Bishop Knight-Bruce to Mashonaland to work as a lay catechist. The bishop assigned him to the village of paramountchief Mangwende, and there he built a mission complex. He prayed the Anglican hours each day, tended his subsistence garden, studied the local language and cultivated friendships with the villagers. He eventually opened a school, and won the hearts of many of the Mashona through his love for their children.
He moved his mission up onto a nearby plateau, next to a grove of trees sacred to the ancestral spirits of Mashona. Although he had the chief’s permission, he angered the local religious leaders when he cut some of these trees down and carved crosses onto others.
Although he opposed some traditional religious customs, Bernard was very attentive to the nuances of Shona Spirit religion. He developed an approach that built on people’s already monotheistic faith in the one God Mwari and on their sensitivity to spirit life at the same time that he forthrightly proclaimed the Christ.
During the Mashona rebellion, he was fatally speared outside his hut. When his wife and a helper went to get food and blankets to tend him, they saw a blinding light on the hillside where he had been lying, and heard a rushing sound, as though of many wings. When they returned to the spot his body had disappeared. The place of his death has become the focus of great devotion for Anglican and other Christians and one of the greatest Christian festivals in Africa takes place every year around the day that marks the anniversary of his martyrdom, June 18.
Dorothy Day of New York
Dorothy Day helped found the Catholic Worker movement. She spent the last 48 years of her life as a Christian anarchist on the margins of society. In a church organized like a pyramid, her Catholic worker houses were small, informal and decentralized. She traveled alternative paths where other members of the church often found it difficult to go. "The only way to live in any true security," she would point out, "is to live so close to the bottom that when you fall you do not have far to drop, you do not have much to lose."
She and her companions lived the beatitudes, embracing voluntary poverty. Their poverty included bedbugs, roaches and rats. She often spoke of foolishness for Christ’s sake, and like St. Paul, called herself such a fool. "To attack poverty by preaching voluntary poverty seems like madness," she said. "But again, it is direct action."
Bishop O’Hara of Kansas City once told her, "You lead and we will follow." Dorothy did lead. When bishops were wrong, she told them so. As prophet she opposed any use of religion as a prop for nationalism, capitalism or militarism. Even when religious leaders opposed her vision, and their lifestyles scandalized her, Dorothy remained fiercely loyal to the church. Because her deep faith was rooted firmly in the sacramental life and traditions of the church, she was not only a faithful follower of the Gospel but also perhaps this century’s most powerful witness.
"Don’t call me a saint!" she once said. "I don’t want to be dismissed so easily." Dorothy Day died on November 29, 1980. Now although Christians of many confessions easily recognize her as a saint and prophet, no one can dismiss the profound impact of her life and contribution.
Jesus Christ, Liberator
The Greek letters in the cross in Christ’s halo are the divine name revealed to Moses in the burning bush: "I am who am." The inscriptions in the upper corners of the icon are Greek abbreviations for "Jesus Christ." Christ wears the traditional Greek garments of icons, whether they are from Russia, Syria, or Ethiopia, but now they have African colors: burnt orange of the Maasai and white of the Saharan peoples. Like most African men, He wears necklaces.
The justification for this icon lies in the text Christ holds (Matt. 25:31-46). "When did we see you…?" those on Christ’s left will ask him at the Last Judgment.
This text reminds us that Christ identified with the poor and oppressed of the world. The lives of the saints abound with stories about how Christ appeared as a beggar or a sick person in need. Christ has suffered in the Black members of His Mystical Body for many centuries -- slavery, exploitation, prejudice, and racial violence. The time has come to depict His solidarity with the Black peoples of the world -- in iconographic form.