Monday, March 26, 2012

The Moment of the Incarnation

The Incarnation of Jesus by Piero Di Cosimo

I first saw this image in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. I was there on a personal pilgrimage to see another work of art in a Dominican Church nearby. I discovered this painting during my cultural afternoon walking the famous gallery. I am not an expert on art or art history, but I wanted to soak up as much of Florence as I could. 

I remember the sun shining into the gallery that afternoon and it struck the painting right about the spot where the Holy Spirit hovers over the image of Our Lady. I stood and stared, and examined the light fixtures nearby, but I was never sure if that luminous feeling I got from the painting was the sunlight shining on it, or the artist's expert hand in painting it. I just recall being transfixed. 

I was also fascinated by the title: The Incarnation of Jesus. My first reaction in looking at the painting was to recall the Annunciation. Just barely visible in the upper left corner is the scene with Mary and the Angel Gabriel. Opposite you can see Mary being led on the donkey by Joseph. You can also identify the Adoration of the Magi, and the angel's announcement to the shepherds. In the center of course is a very pregnant Blessed Mother with the Dove, recalling the Holy Spirit, hovering above her. And around her are saints, including St. Catherine, St. Peter and John the Evangelist. I also noticed the book on the floor and wondered if it was meant to recall the moment that the Angel Gabriel interrupted her prayer (Mary is often  depicted as reading the Scriptures when the Angel appears). 

Then, I thought about the fact that as she said "Be it done unto me" she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and the most incredible event in the history of mankind took place silently, invisibly, in her womb. The Incarnation. I had never seen, that I could recall, an artist attempt to depict the moment of The Incarnation. 

I have been mesmerized by this picture ever since. Of course copies can never recreate exactly that experience of seeing it in person in that famous gallery. 

I have since seen the image titled "The Immaculate Conception with Saints" which I thought was a very unfortunate title since it perpetuates that myth that the Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus being conceived in the womb of Mary, rather than Mary's sinless conception in the womb of Saint Anne. It is possible that this name is meant to refer to Mary under her title as "The Immaculate Conception", but, since this was painted some 400 years before the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was declared I think it does not do the artist's intent justice. I will always call it The Incarnation

I have a framed print of this image in my kitchen, next to my Kitchen Madonna. The picture came from a calendar I found a few years back (and it had the unfortunate title under it, not to mention having the sides chopped off to fit into the page it was on...if ever I find a good print of it I will buy it!). I will place it on our table today as we unpack the great mysteries contained in today's feast. 

This morning at Mass I was having one of my usual whispered theological discussions with six year old A who wanted to know how God created fire. I was telling her that God creates by His Word, that He says "Let there be.." and then it is. I listed some of the "Let there be"s from the creation story and I ended by saying "And then one day He said 'Let there be Annabellle' and you began to grow in my belly". She smiled at this and it seemed to end the discussion. But, I kept thinking...

Today we celebrate the "Let There Be" that changed the world: The Incarnation. We also recall Mary's response, speaking for all mankind: "Let it be done unto me". Each of us has been created by a "Let There Be" and we each must make our own response: "Let it be done unto me". The Word is spoken and we must respond. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Hill, A Rock, A Well, A Beer

Below is last year's St. Patrick's Day post with pictures from our trip to Ireland (which was in 2009). Reposting in honor of St. Patrick's Day 2012!

Since we are still eating our green rice krispie treats, I think it is still okay to post about St. Patrick...right?

A little over a year ago we had the great privilege of traveling to Ireland. Though our original intent was to connect to St. Declan (a special family saint for us and a predecessor to St. Patrick), we found ourselves very taken with the story of the more famous Saint of Ireland.

The view behind M is what can be seen from the Hill of Slane. This is the spot where St. Patrick lit his famous Paschal Fire to challenge the Druid Kings and convert the local people to the One True God. As you can see, it would have been visible for miles around.

D poses among the ruins of Slane Abbey. There is a graveyard there as well, with some very recent graves. Somewhere along the way we read that, to this very day, a local priest and his congregation gather on the Hill of Slane each Holy Saturday night to light a Paschal Fire. 
Hidden amongst the dandelions that A is clutching is a real live shamrock. The kids found the three and four leaf clovers all over the hill, which made for some fun catechesis. The dandelions were supposed to be for Grandma and Grandpa (no matter to her that we wouldn't see them for months....she held tight to them just the same. And I have no doubt there was a small tantrum had someplace along the Irish countryside when they were lost or wilted)

We also visited the Hill of Tara, sometimes called the Hill of the Kings which was the seat of the Druid kings of St. Patrick's day. Once a year the Druids lit a fire on this hill that was meant to stand out as a beacon to all within eye sight of the hill. All other fires were outlawed on that night. And on one such night, in the 5th century, the Druid Kings were shocked to see anther fire burning bright on a nearby hill.
It was the Paschal fire lit by St. Patrick. 

Now there stands a statue of St. Patrick on the Hill of Tara.
St Patrick, pray for us!

Another famous St Patrick spot is the Rock of Cashel with its ancient ruins and stormy weather 
(well at least it was windy and rainy the day we were there....I'm sure it isn't EVERY day!)

 This spot was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster since St. Patrick converted King Aenghus to Christianity, which is why it is also called St. Patrick's Rock.

And if you have the energy, you can walk from the Rock of Cashel to Ardmore, were St. Declan began the Christianization of Ireland some years before St. Patrick. 

You can see the ruins of St Declan's Church in the background, and his famous well with it's healing waters is still there at the base of that wall. The blue water and beautiful beaches explain why Ardmore is a resort town. 

And speaking of healing waters, no pilgrimage to Ireland would be complete without a trip to that other famous Irish well, the Guinness warehouse. 
Which, by the way, if you ever get a chance to go, is a great little field trip. 
It was a high-tech, multi-sensory lesson about barley, hops and barrel making.
Seriously....the whole family loved it!
And not just because of the free beer at the end...only Jim loved that part. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Laugh With Me

If you have never read the Pioneer Woman, here is a good blog post to start with. You will get her sense of humor, and her wonderful normalness...another invented word... What I mean is, yes, successful bloggers with TV shows and books published do embarrassing things just like you and me....or at least me. It is an old post that I stumbled upon and Laughed Out Loud for real.