“Jesus Christ is the face of mercy,” Pope Francis said in declaring a Year of Mercy that began Dec. 8 and runs through Nov. 20, 2016. “These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him,” read in the opening words of the pope’s Bull of Indiction inaugurating the jubilee year.
Since then Holy Doors for pilgrimage have been established at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and at cathedrals, major churches and shrines throughout the world. Liturgies have been celebrated and homilies preached.
The questions are, how can this message of mercy be brought down to the people in the pews? How do thinking Catholics already view mercy, and how can they in turn spread this message to others?
At Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Darby, Delaware County, Father Joseph Corley invited four of his parishioners — Linda Spina, Mimi Frasciello, Deidri Brabham and John Keith White, all with known artistic talents — to come up with images that would reflect what the Year of Mercy meant to them, and that could be displayed in the church.
The four met together over a period of time to establish parameters, and the final results of equal size are three paintings and an abstract sculpted relief. Each is a unique expression of mercy.
Spina’s painting, “Reconciliation, an Act of Mercy,” depicts a set of doors with one partially open and light streaming out of it.
Personally she finds mercy “by going to confession, a sacrament that I tend to avoid because I had misunderstood confession,” she explained. “It is not a punishment, it is what I do to myself. The sacrament of reconciliation is our source of mercy and it comes directly from Jesus. It is mercy, grace and forgiveness.”
Frascello’s painting, “Arms Open for Reconciliation” depicts a welcoming Jesus much as he might be found in traditional stained glass but with arms so extended the borders cannot fully depict his embracing hands.
“I wanted to depict a loving and compassionate Christ whose reach is so broad that it extends off the edges of our world” and beyond the confines of the canvas, she said. “I especially liked the quote which states ‘The mercy of the Lord never ceases.’ Each day his mercy allows us to make a fresh start and begin again.”
Brabham’s plaque, “God Reaches Out to Us, We Reach Out to God and Each Other,” reflects mercy “as part of our foundation as Christians, Catholics,” she said. The sculpture “represents a person — man, woman or child — reaching out. This could be you. Are you giving mercy or are you in need of it? Have you reached out? Be the next person to give mercy.”
White’s painting, “Fire of Love and Mercy – Madonna and Child,” is an exuberant representation of a loving mother with her sleeping baby.
“God’s mercy engulfs our soul and enlightens our spirit to live out the fire of God’s love,” he said.
Interestingly the images, like White himself, have African features, which makes sense. Mary and Jesus almost definitely did not have the Northern European features we see in most liturgical art.
Blessed Virgin Mary is a multicultural parish. If all are made in the image and likeness of God, it is natural that images of Jesus and his mother should reflect all ethnicities.
Clearly, through its parishioner-artists, Blessed Virgin Mary Parish is portraying the mercy of God as sermons in art, just as powerful as words.
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