REGIONAL Tribunal judicial vicar Fr Adrian Sharp unveiled a freshly written icon of Our Lady Help of Christians to audible gasps at a blessing at Mercy House on September 14.
“It was just stunning,” Regional Tribunal director in Brisbane archdiocese Paul Shogren said.
“It’s a powerful and beautiful icon that Sr Josephine Marie has written.”
Sr Josephine Marie, of the Sisters of Mary, Morning Star, was commissioned to write the icon, which depicted Our Lady Help of Christians, holding the infant Jesus in her arms with her front foot upon Australia and Canon 1752 falling around the borders.
She said looking at the completed icon was beautiful and humbling.
“It’s beautiful but you’re very, very aware that you’re just a minor instrument and that Our Lady has the face that she wants, God-willing,” she said.
“Anything that we achieve will always be so far below the reality of the beauty of Our Lady.
“It’s a very humbling experience, in fact, because what you’d love it to look like would be so far more beautiful, but it’s humble and poor and simple and, therefore, hopefully Our Lady can work through that and beyond that to lead people to herself despite our poverties.”
Sr Josephine Marie said iconography was a long and slow process driven by the materials involved.
Every element of the icon was made from animal, vegetable or mineral.
The materials – hand-made gesso, egg-tempura paint, gold leaf – took time.
Sr Josephine Marie steered away from the Byzantine style.
“Because Our Lady Help of Christians is a more modern devotion, I didn’t want to go back – as it were – to something which didn’t seem fitting for the situation that it was going into,” she said.
“Many people today are unfamiliar with icons in the old style, so they really wanted something which people who were coming to the office could immediately enter into.”
The icon, which was inspired by the Our Lady Help of Christians statue at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, actually began its life as a statue.
About a year ago, Fr Sharp had the inspiration that he wanted the Regional Tribunal to have a statue.
It was going to depict Our Lady Help of Christians, Australia’s patroness, to be a face of mercy to those coming to the tribunal with difficult situations.
Mr Shogren said the tribunal hunted around for a statue but couldn’t find one that was suitable – all of them were too ugly, too odd, too large or too expensive.
Eventually the idea for an icon was floated and Sr Josephine Marie’s name came up.
“We gave her some photos (of the statue), and she looked online, and drew some sketches up and we were instantly taken by the quality of the sketches that she was showing us,” Mr Shogren said.
“Eventually we came up with a design we were happy with that incorporated, which this one does, part of the last canon in the Code of Canon Law.”
Canon 1752 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, written in Latin, the language of canon law, bordered the artwork and was a “beautiful reminder” of the Regional Tribunal’s role, Mr Shogren said.
In English, the relevant section of canon 1752 translated – “and the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes”.
“It’s a wonderful full stop in the code of canon law,” Mr Shogren said.
“It reminds me ultimately, as a canon lawyer, what the supreme law is and what the purpose of all our work in the tribunal is.
“We thought that was really important to incorporate that into the icon and it gives it its unique character as well because it’s a working icon I suppose you would say.”
Believe it or not, the tribunal did not have a line in the budget for icons, Mr Shogren said with a laugh.
But thanks to a benefactor who wanted to support the work of the tribunal, the icon was able to be produced after a few months of meticulous work from Sr Josephine Marie.
Sr Josephine Marie spoke about the rich theology of icons.
“With icons, when we honour an icon, … the honour rendered to the image goes to its prototype,” she said.
“They are like a window into eternity, they’re like a springboard for us.
“We obviously don’t worship or venerate the material itself but, through the image which is there, we enter, in faith, into relationship with the one who’s depicted.
“So when we pray to an icon, in fact, that means we’re praying to Our Lady or to Christ, represented in the icon.
“It’s like something that disposes us to prayer, but obviously it’s meant to be accompanied with faith that carries us to beyond what is visible.”
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge blessed the icon at its unveiling and it now hangs in the administration area of the tribunal at Mercy House.