After the Christmas Masses one of our parishioners, Mrs. Marie Papiro, made a wonderful observation (See? Sometimes I listen) as we enter into a new decade: “Maybe we should pray for ‘2020’ vision!” (Get it?) I couldn’t agree more; I only wish I could take credit for the line. Her point is well taken: Catholics are not cockeyed optimists. We look at the world with neither naïveté nor bitter cynicism. The saints were, if anything, fierce realists, but with one great qualification: they beheld the world as if with the vision of our loving Creator. They acknowledge the fallen nature of the world, but only “with an eye” to our re-creation in Christ. My spiritual director once advised: “The Gospel will never make sense to us until we know what it means to have fallen in love.”
Over a decade ago, in his brilliant encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict explains the meaning of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:15) wherein he reminds Christians to “profess the truth in love and grow into the full maturity of Christ the head.” Returning to Ordinary Time after the beautiful Advent/Christmas season often means plunging back into the routine of human existence. And precisely because it occupies the majority of the year, Ordinary Time offers us the greater opportunity to recognize and point out the loving presence of Jesus in the world he came to save. The use of the word “plunge” is deliberate, because it underlies today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
At the risk of appearing obsessed with his work, I would direct your attention to our bulletin cover, and yet another image of Leonardo da Vinci, the famous Baptism of the Lord, c. 1475. This was a further example of collaboration between artists, but in this case, the student (Leonardo) so far surpasses his master Verrocchio that the latter (according to Walter Isaacson) “resolve(s) never again to touch a brush.” As Isaacson points out, we behold an almost perfect marriage of scientific precision with artistic imagination. It is a truly Catholic work, as it springs from a mind familiar with the world of grace. There is the hair of the (far left) angel, whose loving gaze makes that of his companion seem rather clueless; the more “true to life” body of Jesus (vs. John the Baptist), whose glowing flesh shows no hard edges; the sfumato (“smokiness”) that connects the background (heaven?) with the foreground (creation); and the limpid pool of water bathing the feet of Jesus, descending as it does from the river behind it (the continuity between nature and grace).
Indeed, Catholics are neither fantasists nor cynics. Of course, we tell the truth about sin, which disfigures the image of Christ in humanity, but “truth” must be tempered by love, so as not to cause further damage. Indeed, we allow the grace of God to act through us, to heal and strengthen the human condition, and ready it for its divine destiny. Let’s get back into the world of Ordinary Time, and there make concrete the words of the hymn: “My Song is Love Unknown/My Savior’s Love for Me/Love to the Loveless Shown that They May Lovely Be.”