The symbols and messages
How good God is!
The Ikon, a lesson in line and colour, proclaims the Good News Of Salvation as it was lived by the Foundress of the Religious of Jesus and Mary. The holiness of Claudine Thévenet was forged by the Spirit in the course of a decisive period of world history: that of the French Revolution. The effects of this event are still with us as it was the first of the false messianic movements which would lead nations from the illusions of popular democracy to the euphoria of militant communism and would end in the anarchy and terrorism of our time. During this period of torment, the Spirit of Christ, ever victorious over death, raised up in the Church prophets and witnesses who knew how to read the signs of the times and to serve Jesus still persecuted in His members.
Our Ikon relates to this historical period which determined the circumstances of the life and work of Blessed Claudine. Nevertheless as it also seeks to reveal Realities that are otherwise invisible, the Ikon expresses a view of Faith History. All that is happening in Our life-time leads eventually to one reality alone; the Body of Christ moving towards completion. In this one Reality and thanks to it, the whole of human history is transformed and it is the Ikon presents it : in order to express the mystery, images and symbols are linked harmoniously on the pattern of the whole of our Faith history in order to convey to us a message that is none other than that of the Good News proclaimed to the whole of creation.
By means of its carefully integrated structure, the Ikon draws attention to two complementary realities in the life of Claudine Thevenet : the Mission of the Virgin Mary in these latter times and the sanctification of History through the Church, the Body of Christ. Let us therefore examine its composition more closely and indicate the geometric structure on which the Ikon is constructed:
Blessed Claudine Thévenet is seen standing, pointing with her right hand towards the Basilica Fourvière (Lyon) as well as to a building at the door of which are standing two little girls. In her left hand Claudine is holding a parchment which points in its turn to a tree in which an axe is embedded. At the very top of the Ikon, in a semi-circle, the Mother of God in the attitude known as "Tower of David" bears the Infant Jesus on her breast.
The point at which the diagonals of the Ikon intersect is the centre of a big circle which passes in its turn exactly through the centre of four small circles of equal size which form a square on either side of the central figure. These circles, thus linked dynamically together through their centre points express a fundamental truth which explains the entire dialectic of History: this gradual unfolding of time and history is meaningful only in the context of the creative plan of God which is a plan of salvation, that is God's absolute desire to save us and to order everything with this end in view. The harmony that underlies the whole of creation is a mystery that is revealed only through Faith. Such harmony flows from the active presence of the living God who exists at the centre of time and of the Cosmos, He who is the true Lord of History.
The Heart of the Infant Jesus is, precisely, the transcendent focal point from which springs the whole linear dynamism or pattern of the Ikon. Placed exactly at the point where the vertical axis intersects with the upper edge the Heart of Jesus becomes the source from which radiate light and love across the arms of His Mother which are raised in an attitude of intercession. By drawing two lines linking the Heart of Christ to the horizontal line which forms the diameter of the big circle already mentioned, an equilateral triangle is formed which expresses the harmony of the perfect relationship existing between the Lord and His servant, Blessed Claudine.
Such a harmony could not be expressed outside that Faith which can see the Invisible. Faith alone permits us to find that Reality which underlies the turbulence of passing events. However random and absurd the connection between such events may appear to be, the very vicissitudes of our experience offer to the eyes of Faith a vision of remarkable coherence: thus the meaning of the contradictory phenomenon seen by the prophet Ezekiel in his vision of the chariot of the Glory of Yahweh. Visible creation, subject to the laws of time and space is likened to the four wheels which move to the north, south, east and west and yet never turn symbolizing the relentless forward movement of time nevertheless in spite of the fact that each wheel moves in the opposite direction to the others, they seem to be placed one inside the other. (Ez.1 :15 -17)
The central figure
It is within this ecclesial context of the sanctification of time and history that the work and the person of Claudine Thevenet are placed. On the Ikon we find her standing as a witness: a bright light in the gloom of the end of the eighteenth century. Far from crushing her, the "great tribulation" had but increased in her that
inner strength, given by God in justice and truth. Her heart, pierced at the sight of the death of her two brothers, is in fact opened even more in loving adoration of the mystery of infinite Mercy that is revealed in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and mirrored in the Immaculate Heart of Wary. Claudine accepted as a message from heaven, that last request from her brothers as they went to their unjust execution, "Forgive Glady, as we forgive. tier response to the prevailing terror was one of maternal tenderness, a tenderness with which she enveloped heroically the poor children of a society that had been shaken to its very roots. The fundamental message of the structure of the Ikon is that the only power that can give any meaning to the future of our world is the power of Merciful Love, that Mercy of which the Hebrew root (Rahamim) means maternal womb. The two diagonals meet precisely at this point on the figure of Blessed Claudine and this intersection is the centre of the circle which brings together the other four circles in one symphony of lines.
Blessed Claudine's head is placed at the centre of the triangle which has its apex in the Heart of the Infant Jesus. This expresses the harmonious conformity of her life and work with the Will of God. As a true disciple of St. Ignatius, faithful to the end to the Constitutions of the Company of Jesus, Claudine Thevenet seems, in her whole attitude to say, "Ad mayorem Gloria Dei".
Her bowed head expresses the obedience of she who loved to repeat: "The greatest mortification is sacrifice through obedience". The large black veil, which fills the space around her, expresses that spirituality outlined by the co-founder of the Religious of Jesus and Mary in the following terms: "You are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God..."
How lovely are these words for a religious who has chosen to withdraw from the world in order to die to herself. It is for this reason that she has cast off all the exterior signs of secular life, the marks of vanity and has taken the veil and the black dress as a shroud which envelops her and reminds her every day that she is not in a place in which one seeks human praise but rather that of God in whom she has hidden her life.
Significance for the Religious of Jesus and Mary
On the cross that Blessed Claudine is wearing we can see the first badge or emblem of the Congregation. That is the hearts of Jesus and Mary surrounded by a crown of thorns. The contemplation of the Cross leads naturally to the devotion to the Holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary, united in the redemptive suffering that is symbolized by the Crown of Thorns. In the context of the "sanctification of time" let us not forget that the cult rendered to the Sacred Hearts was the response of the Spirit of God to the cult rendered by modern man to the Goddess of Reason. Yes, if the French Revolution was in many ways a repetition of the "I will not serve" of the fallen Angel, as well as the auto -divinization of man himself, it was necessary in order to halt the growth of the consequences of pride that a legion of "servant -witnesses" should be raised up to make known the fruits of the Spirit m the "Heart' of a new humanity: this new Adam and new Eve, through whom we are re-created in the image of God. For this reason the cult of the Sacred Hearts is an exaltation of the Sanctifying Spirit and of His work within our fallen humanity.
It cannot be denied that in the course of the spiritual struggle of recent times, in which the "mystery of iniquity" has been unmasked, the Lord decreed that it would be the woman, Virgin and Mother, who would crush the head of the serpent, or, in other
words that she would be the sign of the victory of Divine Holiness over evil. The appearance in the Church of women's institutes of apostolic life is an aspect of this plan of salvation. Is it not the mystery of the Virgin Mother that, in the persons of these consecrated religious, is prolonged and made present in our day and age? The Virgin Mary, from her position outside the borders of the composition of the Ikon, presides over the entire scene in her attitude of "Tower of David". This title is very meaningful in the context of the Ikon. In reality the Virgin shields, as a: protective fortress, all who take refuge in her and first of all Jesus Whom she had conceived in faith, carried in purity and love before offering Him to the world in an act of pure self-giving.
At present, as the Mother of the Church, it is the Body of Christ that she guards and protects against the assaults of the forces of evil. A fortress in the face of the turbulence of time and history, Mary, a woman clothed in the sun and crowned with twelve stars, the moon under her feet, is the great sign of the victory over the forces of evil. Claudine Thévenet belongs to that legion of religious raised up by the Spirit in order to oppose, with Mary, the ancient `serpent'. Her right hand, open in a gesture of intercession, is a reflection of the gesture of the Virgin Mary in the semi-circle of glory. As we have already said, it is from this starry firmament that the entire movement of the Ikon originates, in order to express the all important role of Mary in the spiritual life of Blessed Claudine. Following her example, the Foundress of the Religious of Jesus and Mary sought to serve Jesus in the least of her brethren. On how many occasions did she not take her companions with her to pray to the patron of Lyons, Our Lady of Fourvière, in order to seek the Mercy of God for sinners.
The Right Side
The open hand indicates also the work of the Foundress and the context in which it was developed, close to the Basilica of Fourvière. This famous Marian shrine is at the lower part of the Ikon, on the right side, can be seen two small girls standing in a doorway. Their attitude expresses poverty and abandonment: one has her arms crossed as a sign of distress, the other raises her arms imploringly, seeking help: they are the two little orphans who, having been found and brought to Claudine became, in the Providence of God, the cause of the foundation of the new Congregation. The buildings symbolize this work, while the half open curtain indicates that the Congregation. had as its aim the proclamation of the Good News: the teaching of catechism and the principles of Christian life to young girls. The half-open curtain is, in fact, the symbol of the introduction to the mysteries, of initiation into the life of the Kingdom.as a geographical reference but above all as an eminently religious symbol. A true guiding light in the life of so many Saints, Our Lady of Fourvière was a source of inspiration for Claudine Thevenet also. When in
1816 the Association of the Sacred Hearts was founded under the Presidency of Blessed Claudine Thévenet, the following objective was adopted: "Several young women of Lyon, filled with a desire for the greater glory of God, have decided to form themselves into a society dedicated to the honour of Mary whom they have chosen as their Mother and Protector. They propose to arouse and revive the devotion to Mary and to honour the most Sacred Heart of Her Adorable Son. Our Lady and the Sacred Heart of Jesus... this indeed is the secret of the strength of Blessed Claudine. All her work would bear the imprint of this original inspiration.
At the lower part of the Ikon, on the right side, can be seen two small girls standing in a doorway. Their attitude expresses poverty and abandonment: one has her arms crossed as a sign of distress, the other raises her arms imploringly, seeking help: they are the two little orphans who, having been found and brought to Claudine became, in the Providence of God, the cause of the foundation of the new Congregation. The buildings symbolize this work, while the half open curtain indicates that the Congregation. had as its aim the proclamation of the Good News: theteaching of catechism and the principles of Christian life to young girls. The half-open curtain is, in fact, the symbol of the introduction to the mysteries, of initiation into the life of the Kingdom.
The Left Side
In her left hand, Blessed Claudine Thevenet holds a parchment which curls upwards like a wave before a dead tree. This dynamic movement of the parchment, wielded like a sword, suggests an offensive by the forces of light against those of darkness. The tree symbolizes human civilization which, having freely cut itself off from God, becomes lifeless, having lost the life-giving sap. The axe indicates that the sterile tree is about to be cursed by the Master of the Vineyard. The image alludes to the vigorous preaching of John the Baptist: "bring forth fruit worthy of repentence ... the axe is already at the root of the tree; every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire". (Mt,3 : 8-11.) We are, however, living in the time of mercy and to the owner of the vineyard, who wishes to cut down the unproductive tree, the vine-dresser, who is none other than Christ Himself, proposes a brief delay in order to try to save the tree: "Who knows if, in the future, the tree may not bear fruit?" (U 13.6-9). It is this hope, so full of merciful patience which makes God ceaselessly save mankind, healing and transforming human history in order to make it produce "fruit worthy of repentence".
To the blasphemies of a Revolution which bears the fruits of despair and death in its sons of darkness, is opposed the sacrifice of praise of the Sons of Light who offer themselves to do the works of love, as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Claudine Thevenet and her daughters spent their recreations talking of the blessings of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and their motto, even to this day is Praised forever be Jesus and Mary'. This motto is not restricted to personal praisal.
When Claudine Thevenet directs her parchment towards the sterile tree, she seems to be wanting to set fire to it. In fact the overwhelming aim of her life, according to her biographers, was to "form souls for heaven" in other words, to make the fruitless tree bear fruit for the greater glory of God. Did not Jesus Himself say: "It is for the Glory of my Father that you should bring forth much fruit" (Jn. 15:8.). But to bear fruit is to be part of Jesus Himself for: "just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself without being part of the vine, so you also, will not bear fruit unless you remain in We ... He who remains in Me, with Me in Him, bears fruit in plenty, for cut off from Me you can do nothing." (Jn 15: 4,5).e. It is an invitation to all those who have God as their Father, to enter the great movement of the Hallowing of the Name, inaugurated by the Son and passed on in the Spirit which moves in each one of us and says: "Abba, Father. Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thv Name". These words of praise, written on the parchment that Claudine Thevenet carries in her role as Foundress, are an explicit reference to the initial gathering in the Spirit which was a prelude to the foundation of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary.
The preamble of the Rule of the Association of the Sacred Hearts starts with a rallying call: "When several people ardently desire to unite in order to achieve their own sanctification and that of others they are worthy of the highest praise... those who travel together do so with confidence, courage and the benefit of mutual support. Wicked men fully appreciated this fact ... cannot the methods used by the spirit of evil to destroy be used by the good spirit for constructive purposes...' This is indeed the military tone of the followers of St. Ignatius. Claudine Thevenet and her companions knew themselves to be engaged in a pitched battle with the powers of evil.
Faced with a civilization that had voluntarily cut itself off from God, in the proud illusion of being able to produce fruit by itself', Claudine Thevenet proclaims that God is the source of all good. She freely binds herself to Christ by the three vows of religious profession. These vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, made in order to follow Jesus and Mary, are symbolized in the three knots on the cord that forms her girdle. Thus it is that, totally given to Christ in her whole being she is able to give young people the Good News of salvation which renders humanity rich in fruit for eternal life.
At these words Claudine Thevenet recollected herself, as we see her on the Ikon, in order to entrust her beloved Congregation to God, the Congregation that was the ripe fruit of her life, and from her lips came the words which are like a spiritual testament, a melody that the lines and colours of the Ikon offer us enriched by the years of added fruitfulness: "How Good God is": the recognition that God is the author of all Good and also a proof that Blessed Claudine lived to the very end that recommendation of her two brothers as they `vent to their death. To the very end, to the point of having her heart pierced like those of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Claudine experienced in her very self the goodness of God expressed in the love of those Hearts with which her own beat m harmony to the rhythm of the Divine Mercy.Dialogue and challenge between the unproductive tree and the ripe fruit of a life offered to Love, such is the dynamism of the Ikon. We stand before an expression of the mystery of Mary par excellence, that is the mystery of the divine fecundity. Jesus is the blessed fruit of the virginal womb. He is the fruit without which every tree is sterile. The Foundress of Jesus and Mary sought to draw from this mystery of fecundity which is the mystery of the Incarnation that which would make her life truly abundant in fruits of grace for the Church and for the world. Falsely accused on her death-bed of having been sterile, she was reproached thus: "you have received sufficient grace to convert a whole kingdom, what use have you made of it ? You are an obstacle to the progress of your Congregation. What will your answer be to God who will ask you to render an account of ?”
Carmel of the Theotokos and Unity