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Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Icon

Aidan Hart (b.1957)
Icon of St Francis of Assisi with robin
Merthyr Tydfil, Wales


Aidan Hart (b.1957)
Detail of St Francis of Assisi
Fresco
Shrewsbury School, England


The Pope in January delivered two long speeches about St Francis of Assisi.

Here is an extract from one of them delivered at General Audience on 27th January 2010.

The full speech in translation is in Zenit

Some of the themes of the talk are the ones on which the Pope has recently emphasised and developed in other contexts: in particular, fidelity to the Pope and the magisterium as well as the special role of the clergy and in particular, priests.

"It has been said that Francis represents an alter Christus, he was truly a living icon of Christ.

He was even called "Jesus' brother."

Indeed, this was his ideal: to be like Jesus; to contemplate the Christ of the Gospel, to love him intensely and to imitate his virtues. In particular, he wished to give a fundamental value to interior and exterior poverty, teaching it also to his spiritual sons. The first Beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount -- blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:3) -- found a luminous fulfillment in the life and in the words of St. Francis.

Truly, dear friends, the saints are the best interpreters of the Bible; they, incarnating in their lives the Word of God, render it more than attractive, so that it really speaks to us. Francis' witness, who loved poverty to follow Christ with dedication and total liberty, continues to be also for us an invitation to cultivate interior poverty to grow in trust of God, uniting also a sober lifestyle and detachment from material goods.

In Francis, love for Christ is expressed in a special way in adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. In Franciscan sources one reads moving expressions, such as this: "The whole of humanity fears, the whole universe trembles and heaven exults, when on the altar, in the hand of the priest, there is Christ, the Son of the living God. O wonderful favor! O sublime humility, that the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, so humbles himself as to hide himself for our salvation, under the low form of bread" (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, Editrici Francescane, Padua, 2002, 401).

In this Year for Priests, it pleases me also to recall a recommendation addressed by Francis to priests: "When you wish to celebrate Mass, certainly in a pure way, carry out with reverence the true sacrifice of the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, 399).

Francis always showed great deference to priests, and recommended that they always be respected, even in the case when, at the personal level, they are not very worthy. He cherished, as motivation for this profound respect, the fact that they have received the gift of consecrating the Eucharist. Dear brothers in the priesthood, let us never forget this teaching: the holiness of the Eucharist asks us to be pure, to live in a consistent way with the mystery we celebrate.

From the love of Christ is born love of people and also of all God's creatures. Here is another characteristic trait of Francis' spirituality: the sense of universal fraternity and love for Creation, which inspired his famous Canticle of Creatures. It is a very timely message. As I reminded in my recent encyclical "Caritas in Veritate," the only sustainable development is one that respects Creation and does not damage the environment (cf. No. 48-52), and in the Message for the World Day of Peace of this year I underlined that also the building of a solid peace is linked to respect for creation. Francis reminds us that in creation is displayed the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator. In fact, nature is understood by him as a language in which God speaks with us, in which reality becomes transparent and we can speak of God and with God.

Dear friends, Francis was a great saint and a joyful man. His simplicity, his humility, his faith, his love of Christ, his kindness to every man and woman made him happy in every situation. In fact, between sanctity and joy there subsists a profound and indissoluble relation. A French writer said that there is only one sadness in the world: that of not being saints, that is, of not being close to God. Looking at St. Francis' witness, we understand that this is the secret of true happiness: to become saints, close to God!

May the Virgin, tenderly loved by Francis, obtain this gift for us. We entrust ourselves to her with the same words of the Poverello of Assisi: "Holy Virgin Mary, there is no one like you born in the world among women, daughter and handmaid of the Most High King and heavenly Father, Mother of our Most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, spouse of the Holy Spirit: pray for us ... to your most holy favorite Son, Lord and Master" (Francis of Assisi, Scritti, 163)."


Aidan Hart (b.1957) is a painter and carver of sacred icons.

His works are found in churches and private collections worldwide including Iviron Monastery on Mount Athos, HRH The Prince of Wales, Hereford Cathedral, Newcastle on Tyne Cathedral, Hexham Abbey, the Deanery of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in Britain for Lichfield Cathedral, and St. John’s Abbey and University, USA, for The Saint John’s Bible.

He is a member of the Orthodox Church. In his website he presents many of his works as well as a series of essays and presentations he has given about the art of icon making.