by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.
My theological training in preparation for my ordination to the priesthood
in 1961 took place at St. Leonard College just south of Dayton, Ohio. The building was
brand new when we moved there, built because of the growing number of friar students. At
the same time, the chapel was the last part of the seminary to be completed, and so we
had a chance to watch workers lay the marble altars, do the terrazzo and put in the stained-glass
One of the treats was to watch the workers who came from Italy install
a gigantic mosaic on the outside wall of the chapel, greeting the people as they came in
the main entrance for Mass and services. It was a massive piece of artwork depicting the
hymn of St. Francis, the “Canticle of the Creatures” in which Francis praised
God for all of creation, including Brother Sun and Sister Moon, Brother Fire and so much
The mosaic was composed of more than 250,000 small pieces of mosaic tile,
with no single piece being identical in color, shape or size to any other piece. The artwork
measured about 15 feet wide and 35 feet high. It was a wonderful gift of the many Secular
Franciscan (Third Order) fraternities of our province.
Many times I gazed at that piece of artwork both as a student and, later
on, when I was stationed at St. Leonard Center from 1991 to 2002 as chaplain and pastoral
care director. As I looked at this colorful and detailed mosaic, it occurred to me that,
in many ways, a mosaic like this was a very good image of what our lives look like as we
journey on earth.
If you think about it, for all the years we are on earth, our lives are
still made up of moments and small actions. Each one of them contribute in some way to
the whole picture or mosaic of our lives, as through the years we place piece after piece
of colored stone next to one another. Every piece is a little different in color, shape
or size. No one piece is the whole mosaic. It takes hundreds of thousands of moments to
describe our whole lives. Yet, each small distinct piece does play a role in what our whole
lives ultimately look like.
Looking up at the figure of St. Francis in that mosaic, there are pieces
that are golden, some that are black, blue, brown, silver and so many more colors and various
shades of color. It seemed to me that we know ourselves well enough—our weaknesses,
frailties and, yes, our sins—that if pure gold is the color of perfection, no human
mosaic will be pure gold. Truth be told, our lives are more like all the colors of the
spectrum. Yes, there are those moments of great, wonderful acts of faith, charity, love
and care for others. There are the colors that are drab and dark and pieces that are
roughly shaped and discolored. And yet, there are two things that always struck me as truly
wonderful. It is the mixture of color and hues, shapes and sizes that actually make
our personal mosaics interesting beyond words. It is the dark mosaic pieces that cause
the bright ones to be highlighted. The dark ones stand out next to bright ones.
But isn’t that really what our lives are like? God made us
in his own image and likeness—talk about beautiful pieces of mosaic! However, we
are wounded, hence the dark and drab pieces. But when combined with all the various colors
and shapes and sizes, the final picture is truly one of beauty. You ask, how can our sins
contribute to the beauty of this mosaic of our lives? Simply because they are what remind
us of the love and mercy of God that we have all experienced in our lives. The beautiful
reds and blues and golds are those moments of God’s love, moments when we prayed,
loved others and served them, sacrificed for family and loved ones, forgave those who may
have injured us, chose God and sought his will. Each became another piece of mosaic placed
in our life’s journey.
There is something else we can hardly see, but it is essential. When
the workers were installing the mosaic of St. Francis on the front outside wall, it would
not hang by itself. It was placed against a bed of powerful mortar, which held it all together
against rains, snow and sleet. What’s the mortar? What else but the unseen grace
of God that holds us together and supports us through our lives.
Perhaps we could title our own mosaic the “Canticle of Our Journey
in Christ.” One last point: It is only when we see God face-to-face as we enter
eternity that we will see our whole life as one piece. It will indeed be a “thing
of beauty” far beyond our wildest imagination
respond to Friar Jack’s musings on “ Philippine
Diary: The Old Franciscan Church in Santa Ana.”
Dear Friar Jack: Thanks so much for all your e-mails. I’m
especially writing about Our Lady of the Abandoned. It is a beautiful article and prayer.
I will keep the prayer to say for all the abandoned and especially for the mentally ill.
Mental illness is a widespread and serious family problem. I will offer this prayer as
often as I can. Many thanks and God bless. Nella
Dear Nella: I thank you for your note and for the others who responded
this month. You are all in my prayers. Friar Jack
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