The Gospel Sleight of Hand

I have the privilege of working in an office at Maryvale Institute. You may know that the building has played an important part in the Catholic story of this country since the Reformation, including the establishment of the first Oratory in England, founded by Bl. John Henry Newman, and as an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy, before becoming a Catholic educational establishment.

The evangelisation office is next door to the chapel so it’s easy to drop what I am doing and spend some time in prayer for my work and for evangelisation in the diocese. The window above the altar (pictured) is something I look at every day, and like any piece of beautiful devotional art significant aspects reveal themselves over time, inform my prayer and deepen my understanding of the mysteries of our faith.

Something that struck me recently was the hands of our blessed Lady. As a parent, I know what it’s like to carry a child – you often need both hands – and your wrists, forearms, shoulders and back ache over extended periods of time balancing a wriggling infant! In the image Mary’s hands look like they’re working hard carrying this weight – Christ’s glory as Lord of all, though hidden, is shown in the World that he holds in his hand.

The incarnation both reveals and conceals, and this is central in how God’s plan of salvation unfolds. He meets humanity in its darkest moments and is revealed to each of us as we cooperate with God’s grace. Bishop Robert Barron compares Jesus’ entrance into our world to a military operation behind enemy lines – the powers of this world don’t see it coming or realise its significance until it’s too late – until Jesus has made his saving sacrifice on the cross.

In many ways the Incarnation seems like a sleight of hand. This phrase is often used to describe magic tricks or diversions – can it be used to say something about such a great mystery? CS Lewis, in his Narnian chronicles, has Aslan using the language of magic, ‘a deeper magic’ that the enemy, and to a great extent God’s friends, don’t fully comprehend.

Sleight of hand can also mean nimbleness or skill and I think we can learn something from this too. Like our Lady, we are called to bear Christ in our lives. To do so involves an intentional taking up of the Gospel in both joy and suffering, but I would argue it also involves growing in familiarity with the message of the Good News so that we can better ‘handle’ it. To evangelise is to learn to bear the Gospel, to wrestle with it and to love it so as to share Him, and in that we have no better model than Our Lady.

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