MADONNA AND CHILD AND THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF LOVE

            

  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)

If you took Philosophy 101, you probably still remember a little about epistemology – enough to remember that human knowledge proceeds at first primarily from images and sounds seen and heard in the external world, which pass through the senses (sense perception) and are then processed by the mind and memory into abstract or symbolic knowledge, which is then stored in the memory and in deeper realms called the subconscious. For this reason, our Lord no doubt used very powerful and poignant images of hell in order to awaken in our hearts and minds a healthy fear of that dreadful place.

There are in the external world many powerful images – both natural and human crafted – that have a capacity to turn our hearts toward God, but perhaps none so powerful as the image of Madonna and Child. When we see the image of the Virgin Mary with her Divine Child in the stable at Bethlehem our hearts are naturally filled with love and a sense of God’s amazing goodness. The one who opposes God knows well that this image of Madonna and Child has a peculiar power to attract souls, and so he works diligently to suppress it and replace it with images that harm souls. The devil knows a little about epistemology himself. He knows that the image of our Lord as a baby being loved and cared for by the Blessed Virgin Mary is magnificently powerful, patently touching and deeply felt – a germ of powerful truth, transformative in scope, “touching upon eternal possibilities.” The purity, simplicity and beauty of the image is akin to a theological treatise that can be read “as in a heart beat.”

“In the subordination of the causes that transmit divine grace,” says a great theologian of the twentieth century, “Mary exercises, in fact, a salutary influence on our sensibility; she calms it, rules it, to enable the elevated part of our soul to receive the influence of our Lord more fruitfully. In addition, [the image of] Mary herself is to our sensible faculties a most pure and holy object, which lifts our soul toward union with God” (Father Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Chapter 26).

Our Lord is mindful of the power of holy images. He commissioned a saint to have a picture of the Divine Mercy Image painted, and he attached great promises to those who would venerate the image (Diary of Saint Faustina, 47-48, 327). Devotion to our Lord’s Sacred Heart was given by Jesus to Saint Margaret Mary. Bethlehem is a seedbed of evangelization: the image of God incarnate as a helpless baby (to be seen!), resting in the arms of the Immaculate Virgin, has a remarkable power to open hearts, change lives, and imprint Jesus and Mary in the deepest recesses of the human spirit. Let the image of the Madonna and Child shine forth this Christmas seasonOur country will be the better for it!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Nativity at Night by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, c. 1490 (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

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