We are so blessed to have our Blessed Mother as the patroness of our parish. There is a seemingly limitless source of beautiful images that both inspire and instruct us in the ways of faith. Parishioners have commented on several of these works, and the one that has received the most comment so far is Leonardo da Vinci’s unforgettable scene of Our Lady and St. Anne with the Child Jesus. This week, we behold another one of Leonardo’s masterpieces, the Madonna of the Yarnwinder. Never heard of a “yarnwinder”? Neither have I. The word isn’t in any English dictionary I could find. If you disassemble the word, however, the meaning becomes apparent: an instrument for spinning yarn. The artist looks deeply into an implement made for domestic chores, to discover the divine presence as it permeates ordinary life.
As in other paintings we’ve seen, an artist can tie an object’s obvious meaning with a profound religious or spiritual subtext: grapes with the Precious Blood, a lamb with Christ’s sacrificial death, etc. The Yarnwinder is no exception. Its cross-like shape draws the eye and the heart from what might otherwise be little more than a sweet, sentimental picture to one fraught with peril and piety. Walter Isaacson points out that Jesus is at precisely the age when a child is able to pay close attention to things, using a combination of senses. Our Lord is fascinated by what he beholds. Is it an object of play? An omen of death? A source of strange comfort born of suffering, the kind even the pagans knew, which proceeds “drop by drop by the awful grace of God” (Aeschylus, Agamemnon)?
Notice, too, that Our Lady’s right hand appears ready to snatch the object from her child’s hand, to spare him the terror of his destiny before the time comes. And yet she does not. So deep is her knowledge of her Son that she senses his intuitive understanding of the cross. Isaacson observes the infant’s hand pointing upward, as if to say that everything in the scene—the supernatural landscape with rivers that connect organically to Mother and Child, the loveliness of the figures, with their soft curls only Leonardo could produce, the psychological richness that communicates rich layers of emotion—everything proceeds heavenward, where God will be all in all.
The life of a Roman Catholic parish reflects this rich complexity. We said goodbye this week to one of our beloved friends, Mr. Joseph Carbonaro, whose sheer goodness to everyone who came within his orbit and playful demeanor find expression in the Infant Jesus. This week we began the Religious Education program for our young people, with the hope that they, like the Blessed Mother, might discern the mind of her Son in the course of human life. We are organizing various committees based on the feedback we received at the Ministry Fair, in order to serve the Body of Christ with care and loving attention. Finally, our pastoral ministers have heeded the calls from Our Lord’s brothers and sisters in need. Let us pray to keep our eyes focused on the person of Christ, whose gentle hand points us toward the Kingdom of God.