My favorite image of the Annunciation is not one of those Renaissance canvases… where the Archangel Gabriel’s fluffy white wings envelop the Blessed Virgin as she gazes to the heavens. Rather, it’s a painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Mary, sitting on the bed, glances with fear and wonder at a shaft of light; the bedclothes are wrinkled and disheveled, perhaps mirroring the doubt and confusion, the mystery, and her earthshaking “YES” to the messenger’s request.
Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, reminds us that Incarnation is a present reality, not past tense. God’s Light wants to pierce our darkness THIS Christmas. Today. Now. Here.
Though somewhat controversial historically, icons have long been a devotional, liturgical and didactic help for the Christian community. But icons are not merely decorations in church, nor pious reminders of sacred history; no, they fulfill a kind of sacramental function. The viewer is not passive. In pondering the artwork, the observer experiences the icon as a kind of portal to heaven, leading us closer to Christ, Mary, and the saints.
This year, perhaps because of the pervasive darkness in violence and crime, politics and government, I am drawn to the light. I am enjoying Christmas correspondence more than ever, especially when parents include photographs of their children with their Yuletide greetings! I gaze at them as icons of the Mystical Body of Christ, expanding my universe with the Incarnation of God’s love again. Today. Here. Now.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.