Learning Through Art: St. John Contemplates the Immaculate Conception

Authored by Dr. Caroline Farey in Issue #30.4 of The Sower

What a remarkable painting! And how unexpected to find it given to us as the painting to introduce the part of the Compendium on the moral life! One might have thought, naturally, that this painting could most easily be used to illustrate the doctrines of Our Lady, especially Mary as Immaculate. But in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church the painting is being proposed, instead, as one that can be used to help people to learn about Catholic moral teaching, our life in Christ.

The usual title of the painting is, as we know, the Immaculate Conception but here the Church surprises us by placing a very different title over the painting: ‘Man’s vocation: life in the Spirit’. We need to look closely at the painting, therefore, to understand how the picture illustrates this point: to ‘picture’, to see, our vocation, to see what you and I are being called to, we are being asked to contemplate Mary immaculate. We might say, in fact, that if we do not contemplate she who has the fullness of life in the Spirit we cannot know well to what we are being called. In Mary we see what life in the Spirit is, and so in her we see our vocation.

A catechetical implication, then, is that when we teach any element of Catholic life or moral teaching, we would do well to help people to contemplate Mary immaculate in order to see more clearly what the Church’s moral teaching means and entails. If we do not do this, one might even say that we are actually making it harder for people to ‘see’ the Church’s moral teaching.

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This article is from The Sower and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of Maryvale Institute. Contact sower@maryvale.ac.uk

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