January 26, 2006
Already in the fifteenth century, at the time of his death, the works of Andrei Rublev were much-coveted and considered worth their weight in gold. His most renowned work is now housed in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. In fact, his icon of the Trinity is so often reproduced that is one of the most known images of the Holy Trinity.
This icon, like every other icon, is written as a “window into heaven.” This is not just a tool to represent a deep theological truth of revelation. Rather, an icon is written to quietly invite us to leave this world and, through our prayerful gaze, enter the other world. Through the symbolic language of clothing, colors, gestures, architecture and human form, an icon leads to spiritual communion.
Rublev’s icon draws us into the central mystery of our faith. The icon is based on Genesis 18. It visibly depicts the three angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre. All the figures wear a blue garment - the color of the heavens. The faces are identical - for there is but one God. But each figure wears something different - one God but three distinct divine persons.
The positioning of each figure is circular. The Spirit inclines - drawing our gaze to Christ who is seated in the center. In turn, the Christ figure inclines towards the figure of the Father on the left. All the while, the Father is directing his gaze back to both the Son and the Holy Spirit. The result of this design is deliberate. As we gaze at the icon, we are caught up in the circular movement.
The movement is never-ending. It is eternal. It is the gift of one person to the other. Each person is reaching to the other, never turned in on himself. Here is seen the Father, the source of divine life, the Son and Spirit, receiving and returning all that they are in a continuous act of love.
Furthermore this beautiful icon invites us to share in this communion. The three figures are seated around a table. At the base of the table, there is a small rectangle. The Spirit points to it. This open space is the narrow road that opens the way for us to come to the banquet of life. By being what is it, the icon invites us into the communion of love and life that is God.
Here is a most apt image for all religious life. Religious life is an icon of the very mystery of God himself. By being who they are as religious, consecrated men and women invite the other members of the Church into a deeper communion with the triune God.
The Church exists to make us share in the very mystery of the life of God. The Church is the sacrament of communion. As
Christifideles Laici says, “In the diversity of the states of life and the variety of vocations, the same unique mystery of the Church reveals and experiences anew
the infinite richness of the mystery of Jesus Christ…” (55), who reveals to us and shares with us the life of the triune God. All vocations within the Church have a relation to every other vocation. And each is meant to be at the service of the Church as mystery of communion.
But the vocation to the consecrated life witnesses this in a unique and singular way. As Christ himself is the very icon of God, the visible image of the invisible God, the religious is an icon of the Church, the Body of Christ, where we share in God’s life. The evangelical counsels themselves are at the service of religious life as an icon of communion (
Vita Consecrata, 21).
The materialism of our society divides the haves from the have-nots. But Poverty makes us one in our dependence on God. Today’s hedonism and the constant search for instant gratification alienate one person from another. But Chastity opens our hearts to embrace others in unselfish love. The rugged individualism of this century separates individuals. But Obedience to the will of God will draw us into the family formed at the foot of the cross.
Living the evangelical counsels supports a spirituality of true communion where we think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body. It is no longer my life, but Christ who lives in me and shares with me the gift of divine life. To live the counsels effectively, to achieve such spirituality, requires a heart that constantly contemplates and stands in wonder of the Trinity dwelling within us.
For it is in light of this great mystery, not only that we see others as our brothers and sisters, but in this great mystery, we are made one with each other by being one with God.
Consecrated persons image the mystery of the Church as a communion of divine life not simply by living under the same roof or even working in the apostolates. Not at all. Rather it is by living a life of communion within their respective communities, caring for one another, sharing common prayer, daily Eucharist and a common table - all consecrated by the evangelical counsels (
Vita Consecrata, 41-42)..
The consecrated life is intimately rooted in divine mystery and grace. Prayer comes first. A life of prayer - an interior life of deep communion with God - the soul speaking and listening, resting and contemplating the divine presence within is the source and strength of religious commitment and fidelity. When those in consecrated life live such a life of communion with God, the Church grows interiorly and exteriorly. In fact, communion itself is mission. “C
ommunion begets communion” (
Christifideles Laici, 32).
As our Holy Father has recently said, “Consecrated persons live in their own time, but their hearts reach out beyond time and they witness to their contemporaries, often absorbed in the things of the world, that their true destiny is God himself” (Pope Benedict XVI,
Address to the Men and Women Religious of Secular Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life of the Diocese of Rome, December 10, 2005). In fact, in our time when there is a great absence of God, those living the consecrated life make God’s grace and life present before us. Consecrated life is truly an icon of the very mystery of God.