A Holy Week miracle

Senate kills abortion rights bill; pro-lifers made voices heard

Nissa LaPoint

Remember this night; remember this bill.

Life won a victory over the culture of death tonight when state senators began to buckle in the pursuit of the “abortion rights” Senate Bill 175 and killed it shortly before 7 p.m.

Pro-lifers mobilized in less than a week to pray for the defeat of the destructive bill that threatened to create unfettered access to abortion and undo life-affirming laws in Colorado.

Faith-filled citizens inundated state senators with phone calls, emails and personal requests to vote down the bill in support of mothers and for the protection of the unborn.

Jenny Kraska of the Colorado Catholic Conference said this night, April 16, is proof that Catholics can make a difference.

“Whenever someone says that we can’t make a difference, just remember this night, just remember this bill,” she said.

The Senate moved to lay over the bill until May 8, one day after the legislative session is scheduled to end on May 7. This effectively killed the bill, and the Senate will not vote on it.

Sen. John Kefalas, D-Larimer, who belongs to the Orthodox Church, and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, a parishioner at Spirit of Christ Church in Arvada, reportedly began to waver in their support of the bill as pro-lifers made their voices heard.

Without the majority vote of the Democrats, the bill would have failed.

Kraska thanked everyone for their witness that stopped the bill in its tracks.

“It is because of your willingness to engage the public square that we were able to defeat (Senate Bill 175),” she said in a statement. “Your voices matter and are needed in the public square now more than ever; please remember what we were able to accomplish and continue to be involved and make your voices heard.”

Some are calling it a Holy Week miracle.

“I cannot thank you all enough for what you did to make this possible—this is truly a miracle,” Kraska said.

The bill’s progress was stopped one day after nearly 1,000 Christians gathered with Archbishop Samuel Aquila and Greek Orthodox Father Ambrose Omayas at the state Capitol to pray for the protection of life.

Young and old; men, women and children; laity and religious; solemnly prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 p.m. April 15.

The bill was scheduled for a vote that same evening and faithful from the gathering outside flooded the Senate chambers. However, the Senate moved to lay over the bill because one Democrat, Kefalas, a key supporter of the bill, reportedly went home sick.

Bill proponents believe the outside prayer gathering and the high volume of opposition and prayer led the Democrat-controlled Senate to move to end the bill April 16.

During that prayer rally, Archbishop Aquila told the crowd gathered on the Capitol steps that it’s important to participate in the political system. He said Catholics can no longer take the backseat.

“Some of the senators have said they have shut off their phones, some of them said they have never been contacted by so many,” the archbishop said during the gathering. “And you can make a difference. Too many times we have taken a backseat, and Catholics, Christians, and people of good will can no longer take a back seat.”

His statements echoed the words of Pope Francis, who said in September, “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern.”

COMING UP: Why icons still matter to a modern world

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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.