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The Easter Season brings joys and God's Mercy into plain sight.
The Divine Mercy Image
Maria Faustina Kowalska, known as Saint Faustina, was a nun, mystic and visionary in Poland at the beginning of the 20th century. On February 22, 1931 she reports of a vision of Christ in her diary. The vision came with a command:
In the evening, when I was in my cell, I saw the Lord Jesus clothed in a white garment. One hand raised in the gesture of blessing, the other was touching the garment at the breast. From beneath the garment, slightly drawn aside at the breast, there were emanating two large rays, one red, the other pale. In silence I kept my gaze fixed on the Lord; my soul was struck with awe, but also with great joy. After a while, Jesus said to me, “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: ‛Jesus, I trust in You.’ I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world. I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I myself will defend it as My own glory.ˮ
In the image described by St. Faustina, Jesus was depicted with his right hand raised in blessing to mankind, as if saying: “Peace be with you,” words we hear in the liturgy on the Sunday after Easter. On this Sunday, St. John’s gospel relates the resurrected Jesus’ appearance in the room of the last supper and of the institution of the sacrament of Reconciliation. In the painting we see the rays of blood and water flowing from the veiled pierced heart of Jesus, and the wounds on his hands and feet giving witness to the events of Good Friday. The picture of Divine Mercy unites the two gospel events, which is the greatest witness of the merciful love of God for all his people.
It is through the visions of Christ given to St. Faustina that the institution of the celebration of Divine Mercy on the Sunday following Easter came to be, celebrated for the first time on April 22, 2001. It is from that declaration of the Feast that the united parishes in Faribault, Minnesota, received the name “Divine Mercy.”
This Divine Mercy Icon
In 2010, a generous anonymous donor came forward to commission an original piece of art depicting the Divine Mercy image. The Arts and Treasures committee commissioned an internationally known iconographer, Fabio Nones, doctor of theology and director of an iconographic center in Trento, Italy, to create this Icon of the Divine Mercy.
Professor Nones’ made this commentary upon this creation:
Jesus is presented standing before a closed room with a locked door. Jesus overcomes our fears. The red cloth draped onto the marble column represents the union of heaven and of earth. Jesus is clothed in the white light of resurrection and with His right hand He offers a blessing and with the left hand He points to His side. From His heart flow red and white rays painted over with gold and silver. The look in His eyes is serene and calm, and He invites everyone to come to Him. His hands and feet have the wounds of the cross. The marble pedestal on which He stands represents His royal dignity, His kingship. The inscription at the top means Jesus Christ.
In the rich Roman Catholic tradition, we are accustomed to seeing sacred art in our parishes. Stained glass windows, statues and paintings depicting the life of Jesus, the apostles, the holy family and saints adorn our churches, chapels and homes. The rich beauty of these items offers to us an opportunity for a deepening of prayer through the stories they tell.
Icons are different, not only in technique and style but in substance. Traditionally a form taken up in the Eastern Catholic Church, icons come with a unique tradition of their own. Using a strict code or method for creating icons, iconographers are said to “write” icons, not paint them. Using traditional materials such as egg tempera paint and gold leaf, iconographers are required to pray and fast while creating an icon. The image itself is not a “realistic” image in the way a great painting might be viewed, but they offer us a way to the “real” Christ and a portal to prayer.
Because they are “written,” we are invited to “read” them. Reading an icon is much like reading sacred scripture. We all know that reading spiritual books is good for the soul and our spiritual life, but we also know that reading scripture is different – it is a gateway to God. Words have a special meaning in our faith. To take it even deeper, reflect on the first chapter of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
It is important to note that while icons may be venerated – to honor with a ritual act of devotion – this is not idolatry which is to worship a physical object as God. In our tradition we venerate the cross on Good Friday, light candles in the Mary Chapel, and kneel and pray before a relic of a saint. These are all ritual acts of devotion that bring us closer to God through them.
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