The depth of meaning of an icon is only understood when we commit ourselves to contemplation of the icon. Just as God’s Word continues to reveal new and deeper meanings in various times and circumstances, so an icon has the power to speak layers of meaning to the contemplative heart. Although the person depicted in the icon reveals him or her self to the iconographer, the icon has a life of its own, even beyond the imagination of the one who writes it. Some symbols are accepted universally in the art of iconography, and have been touched upon in the previous section referring to conventions. Some bear repeating in the context of reflecting on the unique meaning they take on in the icon of Jeanne. Following is a description of some of the more obvious symbols in the image of Jeanne Chézard de Matel, The Vessel of God. For the rest, we are invited to enter into the mystery, to gaze contemplatively, to listen, and to come to know in a deeper way who Jeanne is now as she lives in the presence of God.
The name given to an icon is also something that is revealed to the iconographer in the process of the work. Sometime, during the middle of the work, after the sketch was partially finished, and Sr. Nancy knew that Jeanne was to be portrayed in the posture of Mary at the Annunciation, the name, Vessel of God, came quietly to Nancy in a time of prayer. At first, it was only a sort of hint that Nancy expressed a little hesitantly: “I’m not sure, but I think that the name of the icon is Vessel of God.” As she became more and more acquainted with Jeanne, and understood her call to give birth to the Incarnate Word as Mary did, Nancy experienced Jeanne as one who was a dwelling-place for God. Around this time, Nancy stumbled upon one of Jeanne’s own prayers to the Trinity, which confirmed this sense:
“Triune and One God, I am neither worthy nor capable of having You enter my littleness with Your greatness. What are You doing by coming to me? The heaven of heavens cannot contain You, and You make Your dwelling-place within me. I perceive You to be total light and the center of light that illuminates my little mind by Your power. I receive You within myself, and I become lost in You… Raise me up to You, through You. May the grace of Jesus Christ, of the Father, and of the Holy Spirit be with us forever! Glory be to the Most Holy Trinity.”
Complete Works 2, Autobiography, p. 137
Around the same time as the sketch was coming together, Nancy, knowing that Jeanne should hold something in her left hand, was trying to decide what that might be. She had the idea that it was bread. That same week, Sr. Mary Rose was researching Jeanne’s Writings for another project, and discovered another passage that expressed Jeanne’s understanding of her call:
“I have called you to establish the Holy Order of the Incarnate Word. I have made you a vessel that carries bread and wheat to the most distant countries for the nourishment of entire cities and provinces. I have chosen you to be this blest ship that sails upon the ocean of the Incarnate Word that comes from all ages and from your God’s plan for such a glorious project. Carry the Bread of Life, not only to those privileged to follow such a noble enterprise, but to a world of people who have never known either their obligations to the Word Made Flesh for them or the honor and love due to the Person of the Incarnate Word…This Institute is to be established for the glory of the Sacrament of Love which will give life to all who receive Him through this Order of Love.”
Complete Works 4, Spiritual Journal, p. 375
Jeanne understood the Incarnate Word to describe for her on various occasions the type of vessel she was to be:
“I have made you a crystal, but remember that you are as fragile as glass. You make me known because your childlike simplicity renders you transparent. I reveal Myself through you like a mirror… You have seen how I have placed you like a crystal vase upon the altar… You should be a transparent crystal wherein I wish to dwell.”
Complete Works 1, Autobiography, p. 401
Throughout the time of the writing of the icon there were numerous experiences of uncertainty, questioning, decision, and then confirmation and affirmation that Nancy was listening to what was being revealed to her, and through her, to all of us who are blessed with Jeanne Chézard de Matel’s presence in our lives.
Jeanne Chézard de Matel is The Vessel of God that receives the life and love of the Trinitarian God, The Vessel where God dwells, and The Vessel of God that gives birth to this God of life and love so that others may hear and see and watch and touch this Mystery, become flesh and made visible in the world.