One of the saddest things that I witness in our society is the large number of runaway children. Rebellious. Rejected. Abused. Unloved. Emotionally or physically abandoned children with no place to go. All too often, they are victimized and become victimizers, too. It is nothing new, it happens in most cultures and most eras. Charles Dickens noticed it. Mark Twain noticed it. An old Cherokee folk tale called The Orphan Boy and the Elk Dog took note of it. Eugene Delacroix and Francisco Goya noticed it. They each responded according to their own gifts.
An Italian priest named John Bosco noticed it, too–and he, too, did something about it.
John Bosco was born in 1815, died at the age of 72 in 1888, and was canonized in 1934. He devoted his life to trying to help lost children in his own city of Turin, Italy. He worked to better their lives by caring for them, teaching them trades, and giving them hope and knowledge of Jesus Christ’s saving love. Fr. Bosco’s philosophy was to use love and kindness rather than punishment as a way to reach these children. He founded the Salesian order to help boys, and co-founded the Daughters of Mary Help for Christians to reach disadvantaged girls. He aided thousands of children, and cared deeply for the fate of all who grow up without hope, without love in their lives. His work continues today.
The story of his caring and persistent effort is why I chose to use his image in my icon to pray for those lost and strayed loved ones that are part of my life. My sons didn’t run away from me, but they did run away from God.
I have begun painting St. John Bosco first–because I right-handed and he is located all the way to the left on the board.
As I paint, and pray for my boys, I read articles and quotes of St. John Bosco. I ask St. John Bosco to pray with me for them. I study his life and his spirituality.
His work and his life emerge from the stories to become more and more clear to me–even as his image emerges from the murky underpainting and begins to take shape. It is not yet a finished painting, but slowly it is getting there.
An icon doesn’t seek to make a physical likeness, but a portrait of the saint’s spiritual self. I will strive to make him look as loving and caring as I possibly can, because that is who he was, and is, with a special care for those who have lost their sense of God.