About the Artist
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was the High Renaissance style of Painting, not only its source but his works are its finest expression. How is it possible to describe briefly so comprehensive a talent – “Italian painter, sculptor, architect, designer, theorist, engineer, and scientist”? He was not only a practitioner in all of these fields, but he innovated and invented in all of these fields, increasing the reach of each of these disciplines.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, ithou that art ||highly favoured, lthe Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
First, if one by preference is introverted, then he or she cannot fail to notice that open doorway behind Mary as she sits there. An introvert will always have an eye out for a way graciously to escape, when his or her relational powers have been depleted, or when noting the arrival of a person likely to make too great a demand on his or her current resources. Mary will have in advance planned this out, placing her chair just there, close to the exit. “Where did that girl go? She was here just a minute ago.” So beautifully does that open door express how divine grace grants to a person a more accessible, a more actionable, personal freedom. But this freedom effected in Mary puts her Visitor’s mission with her at some considerable risk. She has been made free enough either to remain … or to depart. Long before Mary says, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” she made a decision to stay for the conversation. Mary leans into, rather than runs from, this Visitor Who has appeared before her upon her grassy and flowered oratory floor. We conclude as to her majestic courage. Yet, warningly we cry, “Mary, the door is right there! Consider it before you are asked something that you might have to answer!” Da Vinci has painted Mary after she has already decided not to use that door.
Second, in our American (individualistic) culture, we too often consider graces that we receive from God, or even through the gracefulness of others, as for me. You hear such an impulse, for example, in the hymn “Amazing Grace” where a man who had been a transporter and seller of Black slaves expresses wonder at God’s mercy when “He saved a wretch like me!” But notice how Leonardo works against such a privatization of God’s divine graces given to us by including, there in the background, the “whole world”. What was happening that day in Nazareth beyond anyone’s noticing it would profoundly affect everyone – those already dead, those currently living, and we, here in 21st century America, who see her there, and with her Visitor from beyond the world. Leonardo, in this way, analogizes to our own interiority. What we ourselves, each one, receive of divine words from beyond this world, and how we decide to respond to such words spoken to us within, happens beyond the world’s ability to notice. Yet God intends something profound for the whole world through this inner dialogue God initiates with us.
Third, notice the eloquence of Mary’s two right fingers pressed onto some particular biblical verse, and her pressing down hard enough to cause those fingers to bend. Perhaps one could imagine a woman trained in the Jesuit educational system (!), who was taught to be deliberate in her thoughts and of good judgment. No girl here able to be gulled by any handsome boy who appears before her in very nice clothes and with courteous manners! Mary is considering what He is saying to her and weighing its worth against the truth of the Scriptures. She is making sure that what she is hearing “squares” with what her diligent study, and divine illumination, has taught her. Sense the strength of this young woman expressed in those fingers pressed, in the straightness of her posture, and in the unruffled self-confidence in her face! No better “exegesis” of 1 John 4:1-6 exists than what Leonardo presents to our view in Mary responding to the word spoken her by the Archangel:
1 Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.a 2 This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God,b 3 and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus* does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist that, as you heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world.c 4 You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them, for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They belong to the world; accordingly, their teaching belongs to the world, and the world listens to them.d 6 We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.e
These lines taken from the Opening Prayer for the Mass of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, whose evening turns out to be this year, Christmas Eve! “Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”
 The Oxford English Dictionary notes the following concerning the noun “annunciation” – The first appearance in 1389 of this noun in English was used to name “Lady Day”, “the Church festival commemorating, on March 25th each year, the moment when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with praise to give and a question to ask. This moment was also called, theologically, the feast of the Incarnation. The noun eventually came to mean “the action of announcing, of proclaiming or declaring publicly or officially” something significant. Later, around 1536, William Tyndale (1494-1536), who was the first person to translate the Bible from its original languages (Hebrew and Greek) into English, turned the noun “annunciation” into a verb “to annunciate”. His execution on 6 October 1536 had less to do with his scholarly accomplishment of translating the Bible into English for the first time, than it had to do with his decision to publish it, printing it and making it widely available to anyone who wished to have their own copy of the whole Bible in English.
 One of the most famous museums in the world, and with certainly the finest collection of High Renaissance Art collected in one location, the Uffizi is called a “Gallery”, because technically it originally was just a section of the great Office Building (Italian, Uffizi, or “offices”) of the Magistrates of Florence, Italy.
 Kemp, Martin. “Leonardo da Vinci.” Grove Art Online. 15 Dec. 2017. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000050401. This biographical sketch taken from this distinguished source book. Kemp’s “brief” article in this source runs to sixty-three pages!
i Comp. Dan. 9:23. & 10:11, 19.
|| Or, k graciously accepted, or, much graced: See ver. 30.
l Judg. 6:12.
 A standard definition of an “introverted” person is that he or she is a withdrawing or a retiring or a reserved person. But I am using the word as Carl Jung used it, who described a person with an inborn preference to have settled one’s thoughts or feelings before expressing them to others. I characterize an “introvert” as one “who does not serve the bread until it is baked.” So rather than an “introvert” being someone who is, it is better to say that an introvert is a person who prefers to proceed with his thoughts and feelings, with his interiority, in this way. However, this preference does not mean that he or she is not able to train himself or herself to engage others in a way, choosing to work past inborn preferences out of courtesy or according to the requirements of his or her mission, that results in a remarkably convincing imitation of an extrovert.
 I fear that too much of my own personality is being revealed by this Gospel scene.
 The Oxford English Dictionary concerning the noun “oratory” – “A place of prayer; a room or building for private worship, esp., in the Christian Church, a small chapel or shrine in or attached to a house, monastery, church, etc., also figuratively.”
 I have bridled at those who choose, when singing this hymn, to avoid the noun “wretch”, replacing it with another noun, a “softer” word, considering “wretch” as somehow too raw or impolite a word to be used in so holy a hymn. Yet wretch is exactly the word that this man needed to use. Only that word perfectly captured what actually he felt about who he had become before the sudden, startling, arrival of divine mercy into his life. The glory of God is praised in the use of such a word as “wretch”. And, significantly, it is only after one has received such divine mercy, not before, that one for the first time recognizes how wretched he or she had become.
 The Oxford English Dictionary concerning the verb “to gull” (1550 CE) – “To make a gull of; to dupe, cheat, befool, ‘take in’, deceive.”
a 2:18; Mt 24:24.
b 1 Cor 12:3; 1 Thes 5:21.
* Does not acknowledge Jesus: some ancient manuscripts add “Christ” and/or “to have come in the flesh” (cf. 1 Jn 4:2), and others read “every spirit that annuls (or severs) Jesus.”
d Jn 15:19.
e Jn 8:47; 10:16.