Today I want to introduce to you the artwork of my choice, which, in a sense, it is also the pharmacy of my choice! I am saying this because through this artwork the Lord gives me so much healing! The name of the artwork is The Icon of Christ’s Descent Into Hell which is found at the Medjugorje Cenacolo Community.
The Icon of Christ’s Descent Into Hell Icon challenges and confirms my ideas about beauty. I used to think that beauty has to do solely with the physical features of the person, in other words of how that person looks from the outside, the visible. However, as time started rolling by in my life, slowly slowly the Holy Spirit started helping me understand that real beauty comes from within. Beauty is real love in action! Beauty takes me to its Prototype, God, the Beautiful One. That is why Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in his Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace of January 1, 2010: Contemplating the beauty of creation inspires us to recognize the love of the Creator, that Love which “moves the sun and the other stars. But in this icon is there a creation? Is there an order? Yes! The order that life prevails over death, the order that love transforms despair into joy. This icon makes me comprehend that through the power of the Resurrected Christ life becomes eternal. Is this not the real beauty?
This work of art is hugely related to the central question of faith, the Resurrection. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers us a strong teaching concerning this basic tenet of faith when it says: The Christian Creed – the profession of our faith in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and in God’s creative, saving, and sanctifying action – culminates in the proclamation of the resurrection of the dead on the last day and in life everlasting (no.988)… Whereas in number 991 we find: Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings. “The confidence of Christians is the resurrection of the dead; believing this we live.” “How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor 15:12-14) (no.991).
The icon of the Resurrection of the Christian East is deeply related with what actually occurred on Holy Saturday, when Christ descended into Hades. In an ancient homily about Easter Saturday it is written: Something strange is happening — there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and Hell trembles with fear.
But this is only the beginning of what actually happened. In fact, the author goes on by saying: He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone, ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’
Personally speaking when God appears to be silent in my life He is working the most. The God I believe in saves, enters into our impossibilities and take us out from our tombs of doubts, addictions, fears and so forth. Provided that we give him our tiny hand, that is our will, to allow him to do so. Furthermore, this icon stressed my belief that life does end in this world but continues beyond. Even beyond this life my life, if it is open to Christ’s saving action, can be redeemed and transformed eternally.
Let us not forget that this icon is the result of the Community “Cenacolo” in Medjugorje. In fact, many of the young people who enter the Cenacolo Community are addicted to drugs, alcohol or both. They firmly want to abandon their former destructive way of life. Currently, due to the technological progress registered so far, the addictions have been widened to incorporate addictions to video games as well as other electronic devices and the internet use too.
The aim of the Community is to nurture a sense of family and community in the individuals who are seeking help. The methods used are not based on medical intervention. Hence, thanks to faith, prayer, work, and the virtue of charity, the young people start interiorizing in them a sense of belonging, hence building up hope, healing, and a new life perspective as Jesus Christ becomes the centre of their lives.
Life in the community helps the person who is victim of addiction, through prayer which leads onto a path of hope, of conquest, of faith and of LIGHT. Therefore, guided by faith, prayer and the meeting with God, hearts, eyes and life itself are entirely transformed in the process.
This artwork greatly helps me to see the world in a different light. In my initial formation as a Capuchin, I was never a big fan of hospital ministry. I used to be afraid of these places. Nonetheless, when my sister Josephine died of cancer exactly on June 5 2007 at the age of 48 years 11 months, and I myself was diagnosed with myeloproliferative disorder in my bone marrow on May 4 2012, I started to value more and be committed and enthusiastic in my hospital ministry. I deeply feel that I was created for this kind of ministry. The reason I am saying this has been also consolidated by a powerful experience I had in Medjugorje in 2018.
Now, this artwork is a constant invitation for me to let Christ fortify me in prayer which leads to commitment. Since I work as an oncology chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre, I tend to see alot of suffering, anguish and death. Such an environment makes me think of the people entrapped in their tombs of illness and loneliness. However, my worldview goes far beyond the Oncology Centre. This icon reminds me of the innumerable stories that my ears hear both locally and abroad of different kinds of suffering. Although silent this suffering is crying out loud a strong appeal: LOOK AT ME! LISTEN TO ME! Christ’s descent into Hades is for me a strong encouragement but also a correction for the times I refrained from being there. I know that I am duty-bound to work within my health limitations, which classify me as an oncology patient too. Nevertheless, the need is so great that I am trying my best, thanks to God’s grace and the maternal intercession of Mary to be just there holding a suffering hand to help the person come out from his and her tomb. This artwork for me is a constant reminder to never stop letting Christ take me near those who suffer, not only in the Oncology Centre, but everywhere He sends me. How much I pray to let Him take my hand and use it to take others by the hand and raise them up!
In this context, I want to show my deep appreciation, affection and love to my Lord Jesus Christ for the countless times He did this to me by using other people and situations to take me by the hand and raise me up! Thus, my prayer to Him is: LORD, AWAKE ME, A SLEEPER! RAISE ME FROM THE DEAD AND SHINE UPON ME! AMEN!
This Icon made me feel how tragic is death and how powerful is life. My sister’s death, the patients who die at our Centre as well as my health condition make me more aware of how human life is both fragile and precious too. Furthermore, this artwork left me speechless before the indescribable, uncontainable, and unexplainable power of Jesus’ love for me, you, the suffering and the entire human race.
The questions that this artwork elicit me to put forward are the following:
- From a human level, what would happen to me when I die?
- From the faith level, how would Christ take me out of my present tomb? And how will he manage to do that after I die for this world?
- Does Christ really take out from their tombs other people? If yes what that would be like for them?
Find great consolation, encouragement and inspiration in the Message of Medjugorje of February 25, 1999 of the Gospa:
“Dear children! Also today I am with you in a special way contemplating and living the passion of Jesus in my heart. Little children, open your hearts and give me everything that is in them: joys, sorrows and each, even the smallest, pain, that I may offer them to Jesus; so that with His immeasurable love, He may burn and transform your sorrows into the joy of His resurrection. That is why, I now call you in a special way, little children, for your hearts to open to prayer, so that through prayer you may become friends of Jesus.
COME LORD JESUS!
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap