Thursday, July 19, 2007

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

The icon depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing a dress of dark red with blue mantle and veil. On the left is the archangel Michael, carrying the lance and sponge as instruments of Jesus Christ's crucifixion. On the right is the archangel Gabriel carrying a 3-bar cross and nails. This type of icon is a later type of the Hodegetria composition, where Mary is pointing to her Son, known as a Theokotos of the Passion. The Christ-child has been alarmed by a pre-sentiment of his Passion, and has run to his mother for comfort. The facial expression of the Virgin Mary is solemn and is looking directly at the viewer instead of her son. The Greek initials on top read Mother of God, Michael Archangel, Gabriel Archangel, and Jesus Christ, respectively. Jesus is portrayed clinging to his mother with a dangling sandal. The icon is painted with a gold background. The icon is on a walnut panel, and may have been painted in Crete, then ruled by Venice, and the main source of the many icons imported to Europe in the late Middle Ages and through the Renaissance. It was cleaned and restored in 1866 and again in the 1940s.

In this picture the face of the Blessed Mother stares straight ahead. It’s a strong look. The child Jesus has apparently run to his mother’s arms so quickly that one sandal is falling off his foot. He ran there because the angels Michael and Gabriel are showing him the cross and a lance, both of which will be used on him on Good Friday. As a child Jesus immediately ran to him mother for protection. I may have been living on another planet all this time, but I can’t say I’ve ever really examined his image before.
Jesus, you ran to your mom because you were scared and rightly so. As a child you needed her protection and she held you close. She stares straight ahead with a look of strength and almost defiance. I will rescue you, Jesus. Don’t be afraid. I’ll protect you.
Mary, as his mom you had to do that countless times, no doubt. I’ve never imagined that before. Jesus was running to you for help. “Mom! Mom! Help me Mom!” You turn around to see what or who is threatening your child while you lean over and scoop him up. As you hold him very close to your heart you see angels Michael and Gabriel with the instruments of torture. You can only imagine their purpose. Still holding tightly onto your son, you face forward and instinctively defy their approach. It’s only natural for you to do that, to protect the child you gave birth to. To rescue him from the potential evil. To save him from the fear it has caused him. You hold him tightly and close. As his fear eventually decreases so does your grip on him. When he calms so do you. He feels safe and comforted now and returns to his play. The incident has left its mark on you though.
Jesus seems to be a toddler in the picture. At that point you had already escaped Herod once by going to Egypt. You and Joseph had presented Jesus in the Temple and heard Simeon’s ominous predictions. Then an angel told Joseph it was safe to return to Galilee. Now this. Your instinct told you to protect your son but you knew you wouldn’t always be able to do that. Mary, your own heart must have been tortured by that thought. How did you deal with it? Only God’s grace and your willingness to receive it could help you. I have trouble accepting life’s problems sometimes. Babies get sick. Defenseless seniors and children get abused. Spouses are unfaithful. Sons die while fighting war. None of this makes sense.
You begin to wonder who would want to hurt your innocent Son. You could have said the same thing as he stood before Pilate. I guess, sadly, you can say the same thing today. Why do people intentionally hurt my son? I certainly don’t want to be in that category. But every time I sin, that’s exactly where I am. Instead, let me join with you in protecting him. Let me change anger into calm~ my own and others. Superiority into equality. War into peace. Sadness into hope. In my own little way I want to protect and help Jesus, too.
Can I be someone he wants to run to? Or does my behavior make me someone he’d prefer to run from?

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