In the dining room of our house in Rome, there are four paintings by an artist from Milan, Paola Marzoli. After her conversion, which took place in the Holy Land, she began working on a series of paintings that portray the places there. For each location, she chose to depict one particular detail. It’s hard to recognize exactly which place is represented: Nazareth, the lake of Tiberiade, the Garden of Olives… But if someone were to tell you, “This is Nazareth, this is Gethsemane”, then you suddenly realize that, through that one detail, she was able to describe the whole place, to tell the whole story, or better, to tell our story. My favorite painting portrays a huge palm tree (the painting is also very large, occupying almost the entire wall). And this palm tree, painted very realistically (it looks like a photograph), appears devastated by the wind, a powerful and impetuous wind. In the corner, red and white bricks emerge, and from that small detail you can tell that it is the basilica of Nazareth. A few years ago, when the artist came to teach a course for the seminarians, she explained to us why she had chosen to identify Nazareth with this one detail: through a palm tree overcome by the wind, she wanted to describe how a fact breaks into reality and shakes it up, overturns it. That fact is the Incarnation.
The beginning of the Gospel of Luke is like the eruption of a wind that overturns history: nothing, after that day, will be as it was before. The angel Gabriel, who goes to Zachariah and then to Mary, tells them both: “Don’t fear”, or, “Do not be afraid”. What fear is he speaking of? Zachariah and Mary represent all of humanity. And what does humanity fear? What are we afraid of? We fear saying yes to a fact that could overturn our life even to the point of asking us to give it away. And yet, it is exactly this that our heart awaits: we desire to be moved out of our motionlessness and to be pulled by something so great that it can overturn our life and that of the world in which we live. We await a similar proposal, as scandalous the one the Angel made to Mary that day, when he revealed her vocation: a special collaboration with the work of God in the world.
Mary was certain that God would have intervened in history, but, when the Angel arrived, it was as if she opened her eyes and said: “This is what my heart was truly awaiting. This is what was planned for me from the very beginning; this is what I desired even before I was aware of it.” This is what happens in every vocation unveiled before who is called. It happens the same way when one recognizes the man of her life or the woman of his life. It’s as if he were to say to himself, “This is what I was waiting for; this is what I was looking for in all of those other women. I was looking for her.” It happens this way when one recognizes that he is called to a life of virginity. It happened in the same way with the Blessed Mother. And what was her vocation? It was to carry, in her womb, and then give birth to the Word of God. As Charles Péguy writes, to us it has been given “to keep alive the words of life, to nurture with our blood, with our flesh, with our heart, those words that, without us, would wither away, having lost their flesh. It depends on us to conserve these words, to ensure (this is incredible), to ensure for the eternal words something like a second eternity.”
It’s up to us to let the fact that changed history like an impetuous wind continue to shake up our lives and those of our brother men; it depends on the “yes” we say every day, and depends on how we will maintain alive and incarnate those eternal words pronounced in time: The Word became flesh and dwells among us. Those words must be preserved, announced, proclaimed to the world, so that the world might be shaken up by that same wind. This is the meaning of every vocation.
Pictured, Fr. Jacques du Plouy, pastor of St. Charles at Ca’ Granda, in Milan, with the young people of the parish (photo by Leonora Giovanazzi).
Emmanuele Lele Emanuele Silanos