Four meditations for Christmas using great works of art

'Wake up, O man, it was for you that God was made man!'

Karna Lozoya

For a Catholic, our faith is not about a book, but about the Word, and at Christmas we celebrate the moment when the “Word became flesh (John 1:14).

The most striking aspect of the story of God becoming man is that, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “it really happened.”

St. Augustine enjoins us not to gloss over the mystery of the Incarnation. “Wake up, O man,” he proclaims, “it was for you that God was made man! For you, I say, was God made man.”

As we celebrate Christmas, let’s try to “wake up” and meditate on this great mystery, using as our guide some great masterpieces of art currently housed in the National Gallery in London.

“Answer quickly, O Virgin”

“The Annunciation” (1449-1459), by Filippo Lippi The decisive chapter of our story happened in a very insignificant town, in the silence of a house where a young girl received an announcement. The young Mary, in her total purity and beauty, opened her heart to God’s message.

Filippo Lippi painted “The Annunciation” (1449-1459) in a very particular setting: a garden. It is not difficult to think of another garden, where Eve heard another voice —the serpent’s— and introduced sin into our world.

Mary, the new Eve, in a new garden that offers a new paradise, was meditating on a promise when the angel came. For many, the text in Mary’s hands is a copy of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, where she was reading that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”

God, all powerful, in a mysterious decision of his love, chooses to depend on the answer of a young lady. The eternal plan of salvation expects her answer.

St. Bernard described like no one else what happened in those seconds between the angel’s annunciation and Mary’s “yes”: “Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word.”

The crib and the Cross

“Madonna of the Meadow” (1505), by Giovanni Bellini

A painting by Giovanni Bellini helps us to delve deeper into the mystery of Christ’s Nativity.

Aside from the simple, rural background in “Madonna of the Meadow” (1505), there is something powerful and subtle. This apparently joyful depiction of Mary and Jesus has a moving resemblance with another work Bellini painted in the same year—a strikingly similar Pieta.

Mary is contemplating her tender Son, knowing that he is the suffering servant announced by Isaiah, knowing that he will die for us.

As St. Gregory of Nyssa writes: “If one inquires into the mystery, he will say rather, not that death happened to him as a consequence of birth, but birth itself was assumed on the account of death.”

Light source

“The Nativity at Night” (1490), by Geertgen tot Sint Jans

“The Nativity at Night” (1490), by Geertgen tot Sint Jans

Geertgen tor sin Jans painted in the Netherlands a small devotional work—“The Nativity at Night” (1490)—that shows another aspect of the mystery of the Nativity.

The dark night would be just darkness, had the Son not come for us. The son is born and gives light, he “is the true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world (Jn 1:9).

The light of this baby causes a great impression in those present in the manger. Even the angels are in awe (as we can see in the funny expression of the little angel). Joseph, the faithful Joseph, shows his reverence for the mystery that he has to protect, standing there at one side.

Mary is all love, marveling at what is happening, contemplating the prophecies, believing what seems impossible: her little baby is the God almighty.

 

 

 

Venite, Adoremus

Originally an altarpiece for a Marian chapel, Jan Gossaert’s “Adoration” (1510-1515) invites us to see and contemplate the Son of God, adored by the nine choirs of angels. His glory is in contrast with the human glory of the kings: Naked, he is the center of the painting.

The Adoration of the Kings (1510-1515), by Jan Gossaert

“The Adoration of the Kings” (1510-1515), by Jan Gossaert

He is held by Mary, whose dignity is remarkable. She brings us Jesus, who appears as our priest. In what perhaps is the most moving message of this masterpiece, Jesus receives one of the gifts of a magi, and seems to be simply playing with the gold.

But if we look carefully, we will notice that the gold coins come in a vessel that is a ciborium, and the coins resemble hosts, and Jesus is actually holding a host and offering Communion to a kneeling king, who has removed his hat and humbly adores the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Not in vain, then, Bethlehem means “house of bread.”

The final theme is the presence of ruins. The coming of Christ and its acceptance by the magi, who represent the gentiles, indicates the definitive end of the old times—the ruins—and the beginning of the new.

With Christ there is hope for change, for renewal. Our own lives, with their ruins and old things that need change, can find joy at Christmas in Jesus, who makes “all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

Father Daniel Cardó is a priest of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, and pastor of Holy Name Parish in Sheridan, Colorado.

COMING UP: Seeds of Hope, Catholic schools to host “2018-19 Around the AoD Tour”

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Seeds of Hope, in conjunction with Archdiocese of Denver Catholic schools, will present the 2018-19 Around the Archdiocese of Denver (AoD) Tour, hosting open-to-the-public school tours at each of the K-8 and high schools that will showcase the faith formation and learning taking place in each of the 36 Archdiocese of Denver schools.

The Around the AoD Tour kicks off on Oct. 2, 2018 and runs through Mar. 19, 2019. To commemorate the tour stops, each person who visits a school on the 2018-19 Around the AoD the Tour will receive a free 2018-19 Around the AoD Tour t-shirt. A representative from Seeds of Hope and a tour guide from each school will greet and lead visitors. This is a chance to see inner workings of the schools, ask questions of leadership and see up close the differences the schools are making in their communities every day. No matter where somebody is in the Denver Metro or Northern Colorado area, there is a 2018-19 Around the AoD Tour stop coming soon to their community.

“We want people in their communities to be able to see firsthand how our schools are building the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth,” said Seeds of Hope Executive Director Jay Clark. “Our schools are the future of our Church and seeing the students and teachers in action with school leaders is an incredibly inspiring way to spend an hour.”

Signing up for a tour is easy – just visit seedsofhopedenver.org, call 303-715-3127 or email info@seedsofhopedenver.org to choose a tour
date and t-shirt size.

2018-19 Around the AoD Tour Schedule

Tue., Oct. 2, 2018
Sacred Heart
1317 Mapleton Avenue, Boulder, 80304
11:00 AM

Tue., Oct. 2, 2018
St. Louis 
925 Grant Avenue, Louisville, 80027
1:00 PM

Tue., Oct. 9, 2018
Annunciation
3536 Lafayette Street, Denver, 80205
11:00 AM

Thu., Oct. 11, 2018
St. Stephen
414 South Hyland Park Drive, Glenwood Springs, 81601 11:00 AM

Thu., Oct. 11, 2018
St. Clare of Assisi
31622 Highway 6, Edwards, 81632
1:00 PM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. John the Baptist
350 Emery Street, Longmont, 80501
9:30 AM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. John the Evangelist
1730 West 12th Street, Loveland, 80537
11:30 AM

Tue., Oct. 16, 2018
St. Joseph
127 North Howes Street, Ft. Collins, 80521
1:30 PM

Tue., Oct. 30, 2018
St. Mary’s Greeley
2351 22nd Avenue, Greeley, 80631
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 6, 2018
Holy Family HS
5195 West 144th Avenue, Broomfield, 80023
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 6, 2018
Nativity of Our Lord
900 West Midway Blvd., Broomfield, 80020
1:00 PM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
St. Vincent De Paul
1164 South Josephine Street, Denver, 80210
9:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
Our Lady of Lourdes
2256 South Logan Street, Denver, 80210
11:00 AM

Tue., Nov. 13, 2018
Most Precious Blood
3959 East Iliff Avenue, Denver, 80210
1:00 PM

Thu., Nov. 15, 2018
Bishop Machebeuf HS
458 Uinta Way, Denver, 80230
11:00 AM

Tue., Dec. 4, 2018
All Souls
4951 South Pennsylvania St., Englewood, 80113
11:00 AM

Tue., Dec. 4, 2018
St. Mary’s Littleton
6833 South Prince Street, Littleton, 80120
1:00 PM

Thu., Dec. 6, 2018
Blessed Sacrament
1973 Elm Street, Denver, 80220
11:00 AM

Thu., Dec. 6, 2018
St. James
1250 Newport Street, Denver, 80220
1:00 PM

Tue., Jan. 15, 2019
Frassati Catholic Academy
3951 Cottonwood Lakes Blvd., Thornton, 80241
11:00 AM

Thu., Jan. 17, 2019
St. Rose of Lima
1345 West Dakota Avenue, Denver, 80223
11:00 AM

Tue., Jan. 29, 2019
Our Lady of Fatima
10530 West 20th Avenue, Lakewood, 80215
11:00 AM

Tue., Jan. 29, 2019
Notre Dame
2165 South Zenobia Street, Denver, 80219
1:00 PM

Tue., Feb. 5, 2019
Assumption
2341 East 78th Avenue, Denver, 80229
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 5, 2019
Holy Trinity
3050 West 76th Avenue, Westminster, 80030
1:00 PM

Thu., Feb. 7, 2019
St. Francis De Sales
235 South Sherman Street, Denver, 80209
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 12, 2019
Sts. Peter and Paul
3920 Pierce Street, Wheat Ridge, 80033
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 12, 2019
Shrine of St. Anne
7320 Grant Place, Arvada, 80002
1:00 PM

Tue., Feb. 19, 2019
St. Thomas More
7071 East Otero Avenue, Centennial, 80112
11:00 AM

Tue., Feb. 19, 2019
Our Lady of Loreto
18000 E. Arapahoe Road, Foxfield, 80016
1:00 PM

Tue., Mar. 5, 2019
Good Shepherd
620 Elizabeth Street, Denver, 80206
11:00 AM

Tue., Mar. 5, 2019
Christ the King
860 Elm Street, Denver, 80220
1:00 PM

Thu., Mar. 14, 2019
St. Catherine of Siena
4200 Federal Blvd., Denver, 80211
11:00 AM

Thu., Mar. 14, 2019
Guardian Angels
1843 West 52nd Avenue, Denver, 80221
1:00 PM

Tue., Mar. 19, 2019
St. Therese
1200 Kenton Street, Aurora, 80010
11:00 AM

Tue., Mar. 19, 2019
St. Pius X
13680 East 14th Place, Aurora, 80011
1:00 PM

About Seeds of Hope: The mission of Seeds of Hope is to cultivate minds and hearts for Christ by making a transformative Catholic education financially accessible to any family who seeks it. Seeds of Hope accomplishes it mission by providing tuition assistance to schools across the Archdiocese of Denver for families in need through fundraising activities. Seeds of Hope also partners with the Archdiocese of Denver’s Office of Catholic Schools on a Variable Tuition Program that helps calculate affordable tuition for families. Learn more about Seeds of Hope at www.seedsofhopedenver.org.