Monday, August 18, 2014
We recently had a visit to our parish of a Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The icon originates in Poland, and has been traveling around the world on a pilgrimage for the sanctity of human life. It is a very beautiful image of the Blessed Mother holding a child Jesus. There is a lot of information on the icon that one can read at this link : Our Lady of Czestochowa Information
Seeing the icon in person was a great experience. It is a part of Christian history dating back at least 700 years, with tradition saying that the Gospel writer Luke painted it. It is an icon, that I probably would never see in my life, except that it came to my very own parish. So even just from an interesting museum type historical standpoint, it was a nice thing to see, but icons are much more than that and often times a stumbling block for people interested in the Catholic Faith.
So what is an icon exactly? Icons are images of Christian Figures that are in some ways like a window to heaven. They are a physical display of a diving reality as best as we can have that. Icons help us, as physical creatures, imagine something about the Divine. In this case about Mary and Jesus, their relationship with each other, and with us. It helps us see God becoming man, and what that means for us.
Often it is viewed by people that are unfamiliar with icons and the rich tradition of them throughout Christian History as a form of idolatry. This cannot be further from the truth however. No one is worshiping the icon, instead they worship God with the aid of the icon. We would never say it is idolatry to pray before an open Bible, or to sing praises with images of Christ on a Power Point Screen flashing by. But for some reason it becomes idolatry in the minds of some, when the image is a permanent picture or statue. All of these forms of art, whether they be a statue or a powerpoint video, serve the same purpose of helping us focus on God.
As a convert, this was something I had to come to understand. The last thing anyone wants to do is become an idolater. It takes serious reflection and understanding to fully understand what one should do in relation to icons. In fact, many lifelong Catholics may need a refresher on practices related to icons, to ensure they are not erroneously falling into idolatry.
I couldn't help but imagine what I as a then Protestant would have done if the ark of the covenant had been discovered, or the true cross. Imagine as a protestant someone without any doubt whatsoever, bringing the actual cross of Christ into your church to display. Would you not, display it reverently up in front? Would you not perhaps decorate around it with lights and flowers? Would you not encourage people to come and sit or kneel at the foot of the cross? Would you not encourage people to gently touch the areas where Christ's feet were pierced?
I think everyone would see no problem in any of that. Knowing that all worship and thanks and honor is going to Christ and not the actual cross. It brings us closer to his suffering, closer to experiencing him in a very real and tangible way.
The same is true with icons, and a proper veneration of the icon in an act of humble worship to God.