Evangelize the Easy Way -
with Icons by Msgr. Anthony La
Explaining how the Last Supper - Crucifix Icon is appropriate for
There are three ways to explain how this icon is perfect
for Christmas. You can choose
Christmas : The derivation of the word “Christmas” is from two
old English words “Christ” and “mass.” Christmas is the day on which a
special Mass is offered to commemorate the birthday of Christ. This
icon depicts Christ’s Mass.
Myrrh : At his birth Jesus receives the gifts of gold,
frankincense, and myrrh. One of the symbolic meanings of the gift of
myrrh is to honor how Christ was willing to suffer and die for our
salvation. John 19:39 tells us how Jesus’ body was anointed with myrrh
St. Thomas Aquinas offers the following
commentary on the Magi's gift of myrrh:
“Reply Obj. 4: … the Magi … offer gifts in
keeping with Christ’s greatness:
‘gold, as to the great King;
they offer up incense as to God, because it is used in the Divine
myrrh, which is used in embalming the
bodies of the dead, is offered as to Him who is to die for the salvation
of all’ (Gregory, Hom. x in Evang.). …”
Part III, Q. 36, Art. 8, Reply Obj. 4]
God is pure spirit. A spirit is one simple
indivisible part, and therefore it (or he) is immortal. When God the
Son took on a human nature with a physical body, He took on many parts.
The disadvantage of having many parts is that your parts can become
separated. Your blood can be separated from your flesh, that is, you
can die. So, when Jesus took on our human nature, He could then
conceivably die, and in fact did so. So, the gift of myrrh is
appropriate for baby Jesus (Matthew 2:11) as it honors the greatness of
his virtue in his willingness to become Man and to be subject to
Joy - This section has three parts:
1. What is true Joy?
2. What is the meaning of Christmas ?
3. How does this icon symbolize Love the foundation for our Joy?
is true Joy?
Our modern culture has reduced the meaning of Christmas to a
secularized and commercialized Santa Claus. They have stolen the
identity of good saint Nick so they could repackage it to fuel their
greed. Part of the Christmas story is
the dedication at the temple, but that doesn't fit our modernized
version. There Simeon had prophesized how a sword would pierce Mary's
heart, a prophesy that would be fulfilled at Calvary. A modernist’s
version of Christmas would never have included that part of the story.
Our worldly culture also doesn’t understand what true Joy is
really about. Explaining this requires a little work, but it is sorely
Our worldly culture reduces the Christian concepts of Joy or
Happiness to simply an emotion or pleasure. As Matthew Kelly points out
pleasure does not last beyond the activity producing it. He explains
for example, eating produces a pleasure. Some people will keep on
eating even though they are full because they want to continue the
pleasure, sometimes even to the detriment of their health.
On the other hand, working out produces joy even though the
workout can be strenuous and maybe even somewhat painful. We have joy
because we know that exercise helps us to maintain our physical health,
and it thereby honors God who blessed us with our bodies. This joy last
beyond the period of exercise.
Interestingly, God has downloaded into the natural realm something
that points us to a mystery in the spiritual realm. When we exercise
endorphins are released. When we humbly grow in the spiritual realm the
Holy Spirit releases powerful graces that change our lives for the
Last Supper -Crucifix Icon is most useful in explaining the difference
between true joy and the world’s false substitute, a passing emotion.
One of the best ways of explaining how worldly joy falls so short
of Christian Joy is to contrast the worldly concept with what it is not.
1 Peter 4:13
“ … rejoice to the extent that you share in the
sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may
also rejoice exultantly.”
“ … looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the
joy that was set before him endured the
The worldly view of joy and happiness tends to focus inward, and
is selfish. It is nothing more than an emotion or passing pleasure.
The Christian view of joy or happiness is focused outward and upward.
It is consistent with the virtue of love. It hopes for something that is
greater or beyond itself. It honestly acknowledges that there is such a
thing as sin and our need to be saved from it. And, Joy is a gift that
God gives those who place their faith and hope in the one true savior,
One of the fruits of the Spirit is Joy
Because Jesus is always united to the Holy
Spirit, He always possesses the fruit of Joy, even while on the cross.
Mary, who also had a unique relationship with the Holy Spirit, Luke
1:35, also always possessed the fruit of Joy even in this most trying of
times. At the crucifix, the prophesy at the temple in Luke 2:35 about a
sword piercing her heart, was fulfilled when the Roman centurion pierced
Jesus’ side with the sword, John 19:34.
Even when their emotions were crushed they still
had an internal fruit of Joy, because Joy is deeper than just an
emotion. It comes from a trust and confidence in God that is a product
of our faith in Him. We trust in His divine providence in all things,
that what He allows to happen will work to our good. We know His
goodness will prevail and we will be blessed if we follow Him.
This Joy comes from knowing that we are in a
right relationship with our Father in heaven who is our Creator. It
comes from doing His will. And it comes from knowing that we fulfilling
the life of virtue to which He has called us, and knowing that we will
be with Him in heaven when we die. This Icon is most useful because it
helps us show that this Joy - even in the midst of suffering - is
greater than any false joy that is just a product of worldly pleasure.
While worldly happiness is never permanent, heavenly joy is
enduring and rewarding. This Icon is useful in contrasting true Joy
with the false joy that comes from sin. Because this Icon points us to
the true meaning of Joy it is most appropriate for a Christmas card.
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him”
Suffering does not
preclude true happiness. It can be an occasion of God’s grace so that
true happiness increases.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Rejoice always, pray constantly,
give thanks in all circumstances; for
this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Also, Philippians
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,
peace, longsuffering (patience of Job),
gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there
is no law. And they that are Christ’s have
crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” KJV
“Ye have heard of the patience of Job” KJV
“As an example of suffering and patience,
brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.
You have heard of the steadfastness of Job,
and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate
and merciful.” RSVCE
Happiness: Ancient and Modern Concepts of Happiness,
By Peter Kreeft
is the meaning of Christmas ?
Rejoicing - A Savior has been sent to us
We cannot really appreciate the medicine or
antidote unless we first recognize that there is a sickness.
True Christian Joy comes from rejoicing in the
coming of our Savior. However, we cannot fully appreciate having a
Savior unless we appreciate our need to be saved. So, to truly have
Christmas Joy we need to know the answers to the following questions.
- From what are we being saved?
- For what are we being saved? And
- How are we saved?
However, the answers are unknown to many. And,
if a person is wrong about the answers to these questions, then isn't their celebration of the coming
of the Savior atleast incomplete ? Well, the icon
points us in the right direction in how to answer these fundamentally
What is Christmas Joy? Consider the song,
Joy to the World, Verse 3 (optional). It will point us in the
right direction on how to answer these three fundamentally important
No more let sins and sorrows
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
You cannot truly appreciate the coming of Jesus and the blessings
He makes flow unless you understand what the curse is about and what He
came to cure. The Letter to the Hebrews reveals what this curse is.
“Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he
(Jesus) likewise shared in
them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of
death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had
been subject to slavery all their life.”
Because of Original Sin Satan had control over
us. We were in his domain. This is why the rite of exorcism is
performed over the baby before he is
baptized. Weakened by sin, separated from
God and His grace, we were in sin and this caused our choices to be
inclined toward selfish and sinful ways of life. Our condition was
further conflicted because we were held in bondage by a fear of death and of
dying to ourselves and our sinful desires. Because Jesus offers us
the hope of being eternally happy with Him in heaven and the graces to
follow Him we can choose to cooperate with His grace and to be good. We can
choose to die to our sinful ways of believing, thinking, and acting.
And so, we can embrace Jesus' holy way of Life so that we might be saved
and go to heaven. Matthew 25:31-46. This Icon represents how
we are saved from the graces that flow from the side of Christ, from
whence the Church was born.
See c2 below.
The world wrongly answers these three questions
a. We should be saved from ALL suffering
in this life.
b. We are saved so that we can live and do
whatever we want,
(even if want we want causes others to suffer a lot.)
c. The world encourages us to believe that we
are saved by following
whatever our own individual subjective standards happen to be.
(For example, by assuming that God will forgive my sins according
to the standards or methods that seem right to me,
even if I don't go to the Sacrament of Confession.
Or that I will be saved by rooting for the “good” people on
reality(?) shows, etc.)
a2. We need to be saved from sin and spiritual
sometimes we will have to suffer and pick up our cross daily, Luke
b2. We are saved so that we might find the
purpose and the dignity for
which we are made by fulfilling our vocation from God, so that we
might know, love, and serve Him in this life so that we might be
eternally happy with Him in the next life.
c2. We are saved by the graces that flow from
His Body, the Church
He built on Saint Peter, that come to us through the Sacraments,
and prayer. The red and white rays coming from the side of
body represent the water and blood that poured forth. This
the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.
“ ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave
thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for
this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many
for the forgiveness of sins.’ ” NAB
Because this Icon points us to the correct
answers for these three fundamentally important questions, it is one of
the best images to point us to having a Savior being born unto us, to
true Christmas Joy.
does this icon symbolize Love, the foundation for our Joy?
To understand this we need to focus on the
following four spiritual messages contained in this icon. These truths will point us to the hope we can find in believing in
the promises of Jesus Christ which is the foundation of our joy.
a. God the Father’s love
b. Jesus’ love for mankind
c. Jesus’ love for His Father, and most importantly
d. God the Father’s love for God the Son.
a. The Father's love for
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever
believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent
the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world
might be saved through him.”
Notice how the Father has his hands outstretched. He offers to us
His Son.This shows how greatly the Father loves us. No image does a better
job of depicting John 3:16 than this Icon.
b. Jesus’ love for
“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his
The crucifix is on the table of the Last
Supper. Jesus is offering his life for our sins and for our redemption as
he proclaims at the Last Supper.
c. Jesus’ love for His
“ ... I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know
that I love the Father.”
Jesus loved His Father by perfectly fulfilling His Father’s will
even to the cross. Jesus redeemed us by paying our debt to the Father
not just by suffering in and of itself, but by His love given to the
Father, a love that was expressed so completely in the suffering of the
cross. So, when the Father looks down on the human race, He is
aware of the
sin, but more importantly He also sees the infinite love of His Son.
By uniting His love to the human race we are made worthy to be with the
Father in heaven.
The close intimacy between the Father and Son is
denoted by the name “ABBA” on the top of the Icon. It means “Daddy.”
d. The Father's Love for
This point is probably harder to perceive, but it is most
important. Many Christians reject the harder moral teachings that God
has given to us through His Church. The key to helping them, IMO, is to
help them to understand how this Icon represents the infinite love that
God the Father is expressing to His Son. By calling His Son to Calvary
the Father is calling His Son to greatness, to glory, to virtue, to a
life lived to its fullest potential – one of perfect love. See John 12
First, it is important to understand that God the Father did not
forsake His Son on Calvary. God the Son was never more lovable than
when He was on the cross doing the will of the Father. (Of course, I am
not implying that God the Son changes in this regard. Hebrews 13:8)
Was Jesus Forsaken?
Second, we need to understand what it means to be a Father.
God the Father calls His Son to a path of greatness, to a path of
true glory, to a path of love.
Verses John 7:30 and 8:20 tell us how the Pharisees wanted to
arrest Jesus, but could not because His hour had not yet come. Jesus’
hour therefore, refers to the time when he is to be arrested, tried,
and crucified on the cross.
“And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has
come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to
you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains
alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life
loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for
eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am,
there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will
‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say?
“Father, save me from this hour”? No, for this purpose I have come to
this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I
have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd
standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, ‘An
angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your
sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the
ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I
am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this
to show by what death he was to die.”
So, we need to ask, “How is Jesus on the cross a sign of God’s
greatness? How so for Jesus? And, how is it a sign of the Father’s
greatness that He would call Jesus to that?”
Our worldly culture says, “If you love me, you will give me
whatever I want.” However, a truly loving father does not just give
whatever his son wants, e.g. He is not going to given him all the candy
he wants to eat. A truly loving father will be more concerned with what
is best for the son.
The world tries to sell us a life of self-indulgence. Some people
want to live like that, but we are not attracted to and we do not admire or
respect someone who does live that way. God does not call us to mediocrity
but to greatness.
The highest calling is to live a life of virtue and holiness. And
so, God the Father is inviting the Son to choose a life of greatest
possible virtue and holiness, a life of perfect love.
Hebrews 2: 7-10
“ ... you crowned him with glory and honor, subjecting all things under
his feet. ... we do see Jesus 'crowned with glory and honor' because he
suffered death ...
For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist,
in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their
salvation perfect through suffering.”
Thus, we are able to see the glory of the God the Son because of
His great love for and obedience to the Father and his great love for us
in laying down his life so that we could be saved. And we are able to
see the great love the Father has for the Son because He called His Son
to this highest life possible, one of infinite love, which the Son has
always fulfilled from all eternity, but now lived out through His human
Many people view God’s moral teachings as a burden. And, the
world tempts us to sin by choosing or settling for a temporary version
of false happiness or joy. These bad choices can only lead to more
suffering for both ourselves and those around us.
However, God is calling us to be real men, not wimps. God’s moral
law and its demands are truly a blessing. He reveals them through His
Church. He gives us these moral teachings because He loves us and He
knows what we need and what is truly best for us. We should not be slow
to appreciate the Father’s invitation for us to follow in the footsteps
of His Son, even to our own cross. God the Father is manifesting His
glory when He invites us to share and reflect His love that is sometimes
magnified and purified in suffering.
When God calls us to carry our cross we are being called to
greatness. When we hear the Church proclaim the moral teachings she has
received from our Lord we should rejoice as they did in Acts 15:31.
These teachings are the path to true greatness and happiness.
Happiness – A Health Self Esteem
Any dead fish can float downstream, but when faced with adversity
it takes a real man, or a real woman, to rise up and to choose a
virtuous life and to avoid sin. This knowledge will not eliminate
suffering in our lives, but it will help equip us with the right
attitude so that we can persevere to the end. Matthew 24:13
We are called to persevere with an attitude similar to Jesus and
to Mary at Calvary, one that trusts and hopes in God’s divine will.
This hope is the source of our Joy.
“Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand,
and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that,
we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for
this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile
you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great
in heaven …”
Therefore, this Icon is the perfect image to help explain God the
Father's infinite love for God the Son. It helps to show that He
doesn't always take the suffering out of our lives. Sometimes we
need the grace that come from suffering. Sometimes it helps us to
grow in our faith and in our love so that we might attain heaven and, or
the ability to help others. And sometimes, we just don't know why,
but we are called grow in our trust in His Divine Providence. But
we do know, that whatever suffering we are asked to bear, that if we are
faithful to God and accept it, in heaven He will bless us with a
Happiness and Joy that will make the suffering worth enduring.
With this attitude that the Icon helps to convey we recognize the Moral
Law as being for our own good.
“We know that in everything God works for good with those who
love him, who are called according to his purpose.”
This Icon is in stark contrast with the false worldly view of joy,
and so it points us to true joy. It also points us to the true meaning
of Christmas – that a Savior has been sent unto us. And because this
Icon also so perfectly represents the love of God it shows that our hope
in Him is well placed. This hope is the source of our joy. And so, it
fits perfectly on a Christmas card.
Heavenly Father, when I am confronted with
suffering, especially when it is a result of following your teachings,
please help me to have grateful heart for the opportunity to grow in
greatness – a greatness the world does not and cannot see.
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