Have you ever wondered why there are so many beautiful works of art portraying the early life of Mary?
Why do imaginative stories like those of the birth of Mary to Anne and Joachim, her dedication as a young girl in the Temple, and her betrothal to Joseph have such a strong appeal?
Neither the gospels nor the church offer any information about Mary’s parentage, birth, infancy, or adolescence. Nor do they attempt any historical reconstruction of Mary’s unique conception. In defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in 1854, Pope Pius IX simply stated, "The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God . . . preserved immune from all stain of original sin." Nonetheless, we love those magnificent paintings that depict Marian legends—for example, Giotto’s lovely Scenes from the Lives of Joachim and Anne and Mary and Duccio’s Maestà altarpiece with his skillful renderings from the life of the Virgin.
Why do these works have such an effect? Because God created us with a deep capacity for wonder and awe. He has also given us the ability to dream and imagine, and he wants us to use this ability to lift up our hearts to him. So even if some of these works may not be historically accurate, these stories, paintings, and sculptures can really inspire us and bring us closer to God.
There is another point here, however. As inspiring as these works of art are, God’s actual plan for Mary is even more amazing and inspiring—precisely because it is real!
Just think: God’s plan for each one of us is just as fantastic as his plan for Mary. We may not have had the grace of an immaculate conception, but that doesn’t mean that we are barred from the glory of heaven that Mary knows right now. And neither does it mean that we have to wait for our final salvation before we can begin enjoying the adventure God wants to give us. The truth is, he is calling us to a life of beauty and holiness—right here and right now—that will make even the most stunning of paintings seem pale and dull in comparison. Lift up your heart and mind to him today and ask him about it. Rejoice in God’s faithfulness and love, manifested in the Blessed Virgin Mary, and say “Yes!” to him, as she did. Pray, “Lord, your plans or me are wondrously and infinitely greater than anything I could ever imagine. Open the eyes of my heart so that I would begin to see and to respond to you as Mary did, ‘May it be done to me according to your word.’”