The Passsonists recently commissioned the painting of an icon to celebrate their founding 300 years ago.This year and part of next year the icon, a tryptic painted by a prominent European iconographer, is traveling to different Passionist communities throughout the world.
The top part of the icon shows the heavenly origins of our congregation. The hand of God the Father surrounded by his angels offers the Passionist Sign, symbol of the community, to the world, signified by the sun and the moon. The Dove, the Holy Spirit, brings this gift into the world.
Our congregation is not just a human creation, it’s from the hand of God, through the Holy Spirit. It’s not simply human in its origin.
The congregation is to keep alive the mystery of the Passion of Jesus in the world. The central panel of the icon is focused on Jesus Crucified.
Mary, his mother, points to her Son. She’s the sorrowful mother, holding a cloth to her tearful face; two angels surrounding the Cross weep with her.
Paul of the Cross stands on the other side of the Crucified Jesus, looking at us. He has one hand on his heart and the other extended to us. His mission to proclaim this mystery to the world.
The Cross stands on a rocky cave containing a coiled monster in yellowish green. Artists sometimes place the bones of Adam and Eve beneath the Cross, which brings them new life, but here the artist has a symbol of evil that must be defeated.
That evil is the “forgetfulness of the passion of Jesus” that Paul saw affecting the world of his day. Great changes were taking place in his time, the 18th century. The Enlightenment, a movement still affecting our world today, had begun. It fostered a new enthusiasm for human learning and human progress. It brought about a scientific revolution and an industrial revolution that changed the way we live and think in our western world.
The Enlightenment has brought benefits, but it also brought about a forgetfulness of religion. diminishing religion’s importance in western society. It also brought about a forgetfulness of creation, as Pope Francis claims in his letter on the environment, Laudato Si. Human flourishing came before the flourishing of creation.
The side panels of our icon have portraits of Passionist saints and blesseds. St. Gabriel Possenti and Blessed Dominic Barberi on the right facing us, and St. Gemma Galgani and Blessed Isidore de Loor on the left. They follow Paul of the Cross in his mission.
Gemma certainly represents the women called to share in the Passionist charism, religious women and laywomen.
Isidore de Loor, represents the religious brothers who embrace the Passionist vocation, but he also represents all those who, from beyond Italy, from Europe and the rest of the world, would follow the Passionist charism. Isidore bears a cross on his forehead; he suffered from cancer during the Nazi wartime occupation of Belgium.
Blessed Dominic Barberi represents the missionary outreach of the Passionists. As a zealous missionary to England he received Cardinal Newman into the Catholic Church.
Gabriel Possenti grew up in 18th century Spoleto, a center of the Italian Enlightenment. He was an Enlightenment child, who found the wisdom of the Cross as a Passionist.
The angels at the top of the panels of the saints link them and those who come after them with the heavenly mystery revealed to Paul Danei 300 years ago. Recalling the past, the icon points to years ahead.