Sunday, September 8, 2013

On the Birthday of Our Blessed Mother

St. Anne with Mary and Jesus
by Leonardo Da Vinci
 You can find a lot of religious art out there in the big wide world of the internet.  It's ridiculously easy to do.  Especially if you're old enough to remember the days when we had to go to the library for these images, utilize the Dewey decimal system, and scroll through the card catalogue to find art books to search through, then pay a nickel a copy to save the images to use...

  But, I digress...  Now-a-days we just click on a search icon, and up pop the works of Da Vinci, Fra Angelico, Caravaggio, Bouguereau... you name the Master.  Right at our fingertips to save and use and share, paintings of every style of every era of every conceivable moment of the life of the Holy Family and the lives of the saints.  It's awesome.  With all its issues (and there are many), the internet can be a wonderful tool!

Traditional holy card image
Artist Unknown
Nevertheless, in my searchings for an illustration for today's feast, I've come up flat.  I'm disappointed. You'd think that the birthday of the Mother of God would have inspired painters through the ages to rhapsodies of creativity and tenderness, but it just doesn't seem to be so.  Not that there aren't numerous images of St. Anne and Mary together (there are a slew!), but most of them depict Mary at later childhood or as an adult instead of infancy or even toddlerhood, and all the images I could find seemed so...  wooden.  Unnatural.  I couldn't find a single painting that touched my heart with the warmth of familiarity, showing what I know of the sweet bond between a mother and her beloved child.

And how dear her little girl must have been to St. Anne!

painting by Mary Cassatt
St. Anne and St. Joachim had waited their whole married lives for a child in a time when it was considered a punishment from God to be barren.  Yet they waited and hoped and prayed in virtue and patience -- until finally God answered their prayers in a most unexpected and amazing way.  Not only were they to miraculously conceive a child in their old age, but this child was to be the threshold to the salvation of all mankind.  Anne and Joachim were to be the grandparents of the Savior!

Of course we don't know that they actually knew the particulars of the grace that had been bestowed upon them, but it's certain that little
Mary's parents knew she was an exceptional child: exceptional in holiness, exceptionally sweet, exceptionally kind, exceptionally dear.  As each of our children is special to us as ordinary parents, we can only imagine that the child Mary was more so. How could she not be?

I wish I could find paintings of  St. Anne and St. Joachim that show this!  I would love to see the little family in natural loving poses with their holy child, the light of love and grace in their eyes.  I wish Mary Cassatt had been of a mind to turn her talents to the Holy Family. She had such a gift for showing the miracle of the ordinary.  I love to imagine little Mary singing with her mother, hugging her father, having her hair combed or her little feet washed.  I imagine the hugs and tender looks that passed between parents and child, the awe and wonder and gratitude that St. Anne and St. Joachim must have felt every time they looked at their little girl's beautiful face. 

 It's a prayer just thinking about it. 

by Mary Cassat
I wish I could find a painting that shows baby Mary the way I see her in my mind's eye, but I guess I'll have to wait to see the real thing... You see, I've always imagined that every moment of Our Blessed Mother's life has been saved by God in an eternal diorama in Heaven -- and that when we get to Heaven, we get to see it all ourselves. From the news of Mary's Immaculate Conception in the womb of St. Anne, through the life of her Son, His death and resurrection, and her own glorious assumption into heaven and coronation as Queen of heaven and the universe, we'll get to see it all.  And we'll find that even our fondest imaginings don't come close to the wonder of it all. We can impose all our fondest ideas upon the life and times of the Holy family, but it's not possible to paint the light of Heaven. 


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