The good guys do exist: Catholic senators serving our state

Therese Aaker

The good guys don’t make the headlines very often. So here’s a friendly reminder that, in the political world, they do still exist.

Senators Kevin Priola and Jack Tate are both Catholic family men who were concerned about their community and decided to take action. And most importantly, their faith remains central to their lives and informs their service to the state.31`

This is the first of what we hope will be many profiles of Catholic legislators serving in the State Legislature. To start, here are two of your senators and their most important issues – you might be able to say hello if they go to your parish.

Kevin Priola – Republican, Senate District 25

kevinpriolaSenator Kevin Priola grew up a Colorado native and

attended the University of Colorado, Boulder, graduating with a business degree.

Priola got involved in politics because of his concern for
the state, especially after having children, and the environment they would grow up in, he said.

But his faith is most important.

“I try to live my life informed by my faith and let my faith direct decisions I make serving,” Priola said.

Priola is especially passionate about green industry issues at the Capitol, opposes new taxes and fee increases and believes in the importance of private property rights, especially small businesses. Other issues listed on his website include quality education standards, keeping sexual predators safe from families and reducing traffic congestion with transportation solutions. He also believes in the commitment to the protection of human dignity, beginning at conception and ending at natural death.

He and his wife, Michele, a fifth grade teacher, have four children and live in Adams County. On their days off, they enjoy hiking, camping or skiing. They attend Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Northglenn.

For more information, visit his website, http://kevinpriola.com.

Jack Tate – Republican, Senate District 27

Jack TateOriginally from Nashville, Tenn., Senator Jack Tate has been a resident of Colorado for 18 years. He received an engineering degree from Duke University and graduate degrees from the University of Colorado Denver in finance and marketing. He also completed graduate work in political science and economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Important issues include creating jobs, attending school needs, fixing problems with rising housing costs, energy efficiency, constitutional rights and attending to fixing the healthcare system.

“I am not the guy with all the answers,” Tate says on his website. “Instead, I’m the guy who can listen, understand and work hard to discover those answers and solve problems…We must seek thoughtful solutions as opposed to making ‘pie in the sky’ promises. We should ask that of all politicians.”

Tate and his wife Kathleen, a physician and surgeon in private practice, attend Our Lady of Loreto Parish with their three children and his interests include youth soccer and basketball, literary interpretation, Colorado railroad history, skiing, tennis, golf and fishing.

For more information, visit his website, http://jacktate.org.

Get to know your state legislature leadership

As the Colorado state legislative session opens, it’s good to know who some of the key players are. Just as knowing your local mayor and state governor is important, it’s good to know who’s who in the Colorado House and Senate. It’s also worth noting that the House of Representatives is a Democrat majority, while the Senate is a Republican majority.

House Majority: Democrats by nine seats
65 seats – 37 Democrat, 28 Republican

KC BeckerHouse Democrat leader – KC Becker (D)

District 13
Counties: Boulder, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Grand, Jackson
Issues: Poverty, Forest Health, Public Health, Energy and the Environment, Death Penalty

Patrick Neville picHouse Republican leader – Patrick Neville (R)

District 45
Counties: Douglas
Issues: 2nd Amendment, Life, Traditional Family Values, Religious Liberty, Education, Right to Work, Health Care, Illegal Immigration, Energy

Senate Majority: Republicans by one seat
35 seats – 18 Republican, 17 Democrat

S-Holbert, ChrisSenate Republican leader – Chris Holbert (R)

District 30
Counties: Douglas
Issues: 2nd Amendment, Life, Environment, Education

Lucia GuzmanSenate Democrat leader – Lucia Guzman (D)

District 34
Counties: Denver
Issues: Education, Energy, Agriculture, Human Rights

COMING UP: Why icons still matter to a modern world

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

Icons have existed from the time of the early Church and grew in popularity over the years as an aid in prayer and worship — but today, icons are often seen as irrelevant to our modern world because of their perceived rigidity and austerity.

But it hasn’t died out, and there’s a reason.

In Denver, instructor Laurence Pierson, a former nun in the Community of Beatitudes, teaches a course at the Botanic Gardens called “Sacred Doorways — Byzantine Iconography,” which is the only icon painting class in the greater Denver metro.

Pierson attributes the long-surviving tradition of icons to the same reason the Church still exists.

“Tradition has great value, and if it’s an art that’s survived so many centuries, that’s because there is a great value to it, and it’s not only the tradition, it’s that mainly, it’s rooted in the Gospel,” Pierson said.

In an article called “Sacred Icons,” painter Aidan Hart quotes John of Damascus, who said of icons, “What the written Word proclaims through letters, iconography proclaims and presents through colors.”

Laurence Pierson, left, is a former nun of the Community of the Beatitudes who has been teaching an iconography class at Denver Botanic Gardens called “Sacred Doorways.” It is the only icon painting class in the greater Denver metro area. (Photo provided)

It is the same story of the Gospel, presented in art rather than word, and as the Gospel is timeless, so is the art of icons. And while they may look austere, that’s not something to be afraid of, nor is it irrelevant in our modern time.

“Even though an icon might look austere, it actually drives us beyond superficial emotions — they want us to go deeper. It’s a deep joy,” Pierson said. “I think you have to be quiet and go deeper. In the spiritual life, our ascetic aspect doesn’t have to be forgotten, and sometimes there is an ascetic aspect, and our human condition needs to be redeemed.”

“It’s a medium that has to be rediscovered, and there is so much potential,” Pierson added.

Sacred doorways and symbols

The deep spirituality of icons is part of what has preserved them throughout the roughly 2000 years that they’ve been around. Hart explains that icons are “not just pictures to look at, but are a door to heaven, a way of meeting those who dwell there.”

Hence the name of Denver’s class, “Sacred Doorways.” The material use of the paintings are a way for us to pass through the material world and into a knowing of the holy people depicted. This is just the tip of the spiritual meaning of icons.

The specific look of the icons: the elongated nose, the wide eyes, the dimensions and perspectives, are all intensely symbolic.

“Icons do not depict outward appearances, but reflect something of invisible, spiritual realities. In fact, all good art does this,” Hart said.

“An artist isn’t just someone who puts colors [on a canvas],” Pierson said. “An artist reveals the reality of this world, which sometimes isn’t possible to see. And icon painting is revealing this invisible reality and making it visible with lines and colors.”

Icons do not depict outward appearances, but reflect something of invisible, spiritual realities. In fact, all good art does this.”

So what are icons revealing through their symbols?

Here are just a few insights from Hart:

– Inverse perspective: “There is a number of perspective systems used in icons. With inverse perspective, the lines converge on us, the viewers. This serves to include us in the action depicted,” Hart said. “A sacred event in the past is still acting on us today, ‘Today Christ is risen.’”

– Flatness: “It helps us pass through the icon to the person and events depicted. The aim…is not to replace the subject depicted, but to bring us into living relationship with them,” Hart said.

– Anatomy: “The eyes and ears of people are often enlarged, and the nose elongated. This is to show that the saint is someone who contemplates God, who listens to him, who smells the fragrance of Paradise,” Hart said.

The spiritual process

Pierson has been painting icons for 25 years and teaching for 18. Following the rich tradition of the painting style is the first step of entering into the “spiritual journey” of painting an icon, Pierson said.

“It’s very important for me to get rooted in Byzantine tradition, especially because it’s an art that comes from the Eastern world,” Pierson said. “You have to be very careful not to distort ancient tradition but also find a way to speak to our modern world, so it’s a very delicate balance. For me, that’s crucial, to find this balance.”

“[Painting] has to be a solitary experience because you have to pray, but for me, it’s important to be anchored in a community and liturgical life,” Pierson said.

Pierson, who is commissioned to paint icons for the community often, begins with research and prayer, both to whom the icon is depicting and for the person who will receive the painting. Then the painting begins, which is an intense, multi-layered process.

The art of painting icons is far more than just a creative process; it’s a deeper spiritual journey that requires a lot of prayer, Pierson says. (Photo provided)

First, a binder, which is what the pigment adheres to in order to stay on a board, is created. The binder consists of egg yolk mixed with an equal part of water. This is mixed with the paint pigment and a few drops of water, creating the egg tempera medium with which icons are traditionally painted.

Next, guiding lines are traced into a gesso-covered wooden board and then engraved with a tool. Then, paint is added, layer by layer, beginning with dark colors and finishing with lighter colors. “It is as though the iconographer begins with darkness and death, and ends with light and resurrection,” Hart said.

The final stage is writing the saint’s name; then the icon is blessed by a priest and venerated. The working time varies, but it is a very long process, taking up to a year.

Revealing a Presence

The act of painting is something Pierson discovered she needs for her life to flourish — “essential,” even.

With icon painting, it “combines art and the vertical connection to God,” Pierson said.

And the connection to God is experienced deeply throughout the painting journey.“There is a journey — there’s a time you feel discouraged or bored. Even though you don’t feel it, you live by faith, trusting what you do has meaning and will bear fruit,” Pierson said. “With iconography, there is a Presence.”

“This whole painting journey teaches you about yourself, it takes patience — it takes time. You cannot finish an icon painting in a few hours. You have to trust the process. You have to trust someone else is inspiring you, even though it might not perfect. It’s all very like our spiritual life. It teaches us all that in a very practical way,” she added.