In our mural in Reno Nevada, we see St. Joseph the worker, whose feast is May 1, of each year, Labor Day in most of the world. Above the statue, again, is a depiction of the Holy Family. St. Joseph is central. This is the moment of his death. Jesus and Our Blessed Virgin hover next to him, symbolizing how the Lamb of God and Holy Mother Church are with us from our birth to the moment of our death. “Pray for us, Holy Mother of God, now and at the moment of our deaths.”
Over the past 32 years many of us have ceased being manual laborers, and no longer identify as workers. As bankers, lawyers, salespersons, and yes, even retired or unemployed, we are still workers. “White collar, unemployed and retired” are still just adjectives modifying, “Worker.”
In English, we have two key words, “Vocation,” and “Profession.” “Vocation” is but a fancy Latin word meaning our calling, as in our calling from God. “Profession,” comes from the root meaning to profess, whether we like it or know it, or not. We profess our faith, and fulfill our vocation, our calling from God, through what we do as professional bankers, lawyers, and salesmen. This statue of St. Joseph constantly serves to remind us that we are all one community, a community of workers in service to God.
Our mural in Reno Nevada is the opus of renowned artists, Edith and Isabel Piczek. Edith died this past year. She referred often to her lifetime vocation of “visualizing God’s Word and His creation. It takes constant studying of Scripture and theology to find the images, shapes, and forms to translate God’s beauty.”
The artist is creating visual representation … to see the sacred in each of us, to show the love of God through art for the Church.” Edith told The Tidings in 2000. “We came to bring God closer to people and people closer to God, through the work we do. We are not rich, but we have more happiness, more fulfillment, more satisfaction, through the kind of work we do, serving God, and through God serving his people.”
Edith and Isabel named our mural, “The Adoration of the Lamb of God, our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist.” A work of art, it has incredible balance, with exactly 16 people representing each the Torah, and the New Testament. For each person representing Torah, there is a corresponding person representing the New Testament, and vice versa.
As we look at our mural, we first notice that this is a Thomistic mural. We see Franciscans in the mural and St. Augustine, no Thomas Aquinas. Still, the mural is full of Thomistic images if we know where to find them. The Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God at the top of the mural. We also notice to the bottom left of the mural, Abel, whose name means “Mist,” holding a lamb. To the right, we again notice, the Lamb of God, in Aramaic, the Omer Elohim, in the person of the infant Jesus. The Aramaic word for lamb, “Omer” also means “Word.” St. John tells us:
In the beginning was the Omer/Word/Lamb. The Omer/Word/Lamb was with God; the Omer/Word/Lamb was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him, nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Soon afterward St. John tells us, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, “Behold, the Omer/Word/Lamb of God, who takes away the failure of the cosmos. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.”
We notice the triangle, the lamb which Abel holds, the lamb which Our Blessed Virgin holds, and the lamb atop the mural. The characters in our mural form a triangle, with the Lamb of God atop the mural. The three points of the triangle represent the theological virtues, Amen, Hatikva, and Ahabbah.
Amen is faith. Hatikva is hope, and is Israel’s national anthem, the hope for the coming of God. Ahabbah comes from Haba, the one who is to come, the Paraclete, the Lamb of God, and the Father, Abba. We notice the four rivers of life atop the mural.
This house stands by four corners for this reason, the firm fabric of our mind is upheld by Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, Justice. This house is grounded on four corners. The whole structure of good practice is raised in these four virtues. Four rivers of Paradise water the earth. Sometimes self-love invades the mind, makes it swerve by a secret declension from the straight line of justice: and in the degree that it refuses to refer itself wholly to its Maker, it goes contrary to the claims of justice.
‘A strong wind strikes the four corners of the house,’ in that strong temptation, by hidden impulses, shakes the four virtues; and the corners are struck, the house is uprooted, when the virtues are beaten, the conscience is brought to trouble. Gregory the Great, Moralia, Book 2
We notice seven groupings of people in our mural. On the right and the left, each represents what had been the focus of Catholic moral teaching until some thirty years ago. On the right Abel, we clothe the naked; Melchizadek, we give the thirsty something to drink: Moses, We ransom the captive; the manna we feed the hungry; Ruth, We harbor the harbor-less; John the Baptist, we visit the sick; Abraham, we bury the dead.
On the right are also seven groupings: Our Holy family comforts the afflicted; St. Augustine instructs the ignorant; St. Clair counsel the doubtful; St. Tarsicius bears wrongs patiently; Jesus, forgives offences willingly; St. Charles Borromeo, admonishes sinners; Pope Pious X prays for the living and the dead.
The lamb Abel/Mist holds, foreshadows the lamb our Blessed Virgin holds on the right side of our mural. Both of these lambs point to the lamb at the head of our mural, the Lamb of God who stands over the four rivers of life.
Cain represents those who raise themselves above their brothers, thinking they are owed more, because, and then give a reason. Abel stands alone with his lamb, symbolizing how short and brutish life is when we face the wrath of Cain, without the help of our neighbor. Cain asks God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” All the angels in heaven respond, “Now that you mention it…” In the original Hebrew God tells Cain, “My blood of your brother calls to me from Adam.” “My blood,” for God this is personal. God’s blood calls from Adam, the first man. We are all related.
The lamb to the right of the altar symbolizes the Divine family and the benefits of the grander community. Our Blessed Virgin is the mother of us all. As Eve and Cain bring death into the world, Jesus and Our Blessed Virgin bring life into the world, and not just life, but as St. John tells us in John 10:10, life lived to its fullest, for all people. This bringing of life into our world is the hallmark of our faith.
On the other side of our mural stands Moses. The mural tempts us to believe that the natural pair for Moses is St. Augustine who appears opposite Moses in the mural. This is not correct. Moses does not appear in the traditional pose, holding the Ten Commandments.
It is no accident that Moses holds the bronze serpents. If we look to the right, we see St. Joseph in an interesting pose as he places his robe, the same color as the bronze serpents, around our Blessed Virgin, and by extension, Jesus. The robe causes us to look up to our New Moses and to Jesus’ death.
This is part 2 of the series. For part 1 please click here.