San Damiano Feb 2006
February 2006 Reflection:
Dearest brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Let us begin a journey toward the discovery of the profound significant points of the icon of the Crucifix of St. Damian. This will not be an artistic study, but rather theological and spiritual. In order that this reflection is fruitful, it is advised that you have in front of you the icon of St. Damian together with the Holy Scripture to follow the points that will be suggested to you. At the end of each meditation you will be able to pray the Prayer before the crucifix of St. Francis.
Let us begin with the outline since this orients us to the general understanding of the icon. It is formed with a multitude of shells. Among the ancient peoples, shells, for their beauty and longevity, were a symbol of beauty and eternity of Heaven. [Shells were also a symbol of pilgrimage from ancient times]. Thus this outline of shells indicates that this icon is destined, by its nature, to reveal the heavenly mystery. Moreover, the framing is not complete. It is not closed at the base, and it allows an open space that almost constitutes an entrance. Here we see some people - two are distinguishable, the others were most surely rubbed out as a result of centuries of the faithful kissing and venerating the icon.
These people, whom we only see the upper part of the body, are the faithful. With the upper part of their being, thus with their soul, they are already in the heavenly abode and in the Kingdom, in the new Earthly Paradise, while with their lower part they are anchored in the world, in the earth. This is already a first important lesson for us that indicates what is a true and healthy spiritual attitude: a fixed expression on the things of God, on Jesus Christ, but without omitting the things of every day, which find their true significance, in drawing from the reality of faith which renders its existence significant.
Jesus, with his huge stature, in the center of the icon, appears as the Tree of Life, in the Holy City (John 2, 8: Rev 22, 14-19). The people under his arms, in the light of the Lord (Rev 22, 5), are the living fruit If a grain of wheat dies, it bears much fruit (Jn 12, 24).
A Johannine icon
It is good to say from the beginning that this icon decisively follows the style of the Gospel of St. John. The halo of glory that substitutes the usual crown of thorns is an evident sign. Here suffering and death are replaced by glorification - the prayer of Jesus is now heard: Father, glorify your Son (Jn 17, 1).
The Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke reveal to us rather the human aspect of the life of Jesus, as do our Western images. Instead, this icon speaks to us the profound mystery of Christ the Word of God, in the manner of John. Even the wound to the right side of Jesus is an observation owed to the beloved Apostle.
The fourth Gospel describes to us the struggle between Light and Darkness (Jn 1, 5) and on this icon the final result of this struggle shines. The victorious body of Jesus appears much more luminous as it stands out on a black background, the symbol of the opposition to light - of doubt, of sin.
The color red, the symbol of love, highlights the entire icon, presenting it as a dramatic place of the victory of Light and Love on darkness and death.
An icon of hope
Here Jesus is Risen, victor over death and evil. All the people are joyful: Jesus, in the medal at the top, smiles to John while rising to Heaven; the Virgin Mary (on Jesus left side) smiles; the Centurion (under Jesus left arm) smiles with his healed son behind his shoulder and all of his family saved. This icon is truly capable of creating in us an attitude of joy and of becoming witnesses of the Risen Christ.
Let God speak to us through this icon!
Prayer of Francis before the Crucifix of St. Damian
Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me
true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.
For your Prayer...
Be silent.. And listen. (Dt 27, 9)
Keep silent around you and invoke the aid of the Spirit so that you might be purified, enlightened, and lit up interiorly.
Most High Glorious God...
Now pray with the words of Francis.
Do not hide your face from me... (Ps 27, 9)
In silence, contemplate the image of the Crucifix and stare at his face; let his gaze reach your heart.
Enlighten the darkness of my heart...
The gaze of the Crucifix asks you: What is your darkness? Who is at the center of your desires? Do you live a true faith, a certain hope and a perfect charity?
Lord, I will do it gladly!
The prayer that you have now lived becomes daily: before the Crucifix translate it and re-write in a concrete commitment for your life.