What I Said When I Saw the Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa is great, even if for no other reason, because it was made by a great man.

(photo: Register Files)

My father was an actor, and when I was 8 years old, he got a role in a show that was to tour Europe. So, he and my mom packed up us three kids, and we traveled Europe for the year. My mom, a teacher, homeschooled us, and we got to a unique educational experience as we saw some of the greatest architectural and artistic works in person. The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sistine Chapel, the David, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, Venice and the Eiffel Tower were just some of the sights we saw, far more than my 8- and 9-year-old self could appreciate at the time.

Exhibited at the Louvre is one of the most famous paintings of all time: The Mona Lisa. It certainly was not the case that I could appreciate the artistic genius of the painting. That is something I am still working on, to be honest. But I was impressed that this was an artifact created by Leonardo da Vinci himself. I had been learning a bit about da Vinci, and I was especially excited about this artist and inventor because one of my beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was named after him. I remember looking with awe at drawings of his inventions from his notebooks. My mother, a math teacher, taught us about proportion and perspective, fields to which da Vinci contributed. The man was impressive.

So, when I saw the Mona Lisa in person, I looked in wonder and said, “Wow. Leonardo da Vinci’s brush touched that painting.” I have to admit that I don’t remember actually saying these words, but my father assures me that he remembers it quite clearly, and it would have fit my state of mind at the time. Here was something made by a great man. Even if I couldn’t appreciate the artistry, I appreciated the artist.

So, too, with creation and the Creator.

The author of The Imitation of Christ tells us that every object presented to our senses is a looking glass of life and a book of holy doctrine. Francis of Assisi called the sun his brother and the moon his sister since they, too, are given their being by our Heavenly Father. Every created thing is more than touched by God. All of creation declares the glory of God, and his power is evident in what we can see. The Mona Lisa is great, even if for no other reason, because it was made by a great man. Every created thing is great, even if for no other reason, because it is created by God. G.K. Chesterton wrote, “There is no such thing as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.” There is no part of creation that does not point us back to God in some way. We can say of everything, “Wow. God made that!”

Even more than the rest of the physical creation, other humans bear a unique signature of God; we are made in His image. God’s image is not in us because we have a body or because we look like God in some way. God has no body. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, His image in us consists of the fact that we have immortal souls with the powers of intellect and will. We are made for communion with other persons, as God is a communion of Divine Persons. We are destined for eternal beatitude. As C. S. Lewis preached, you have never talked to a mere mortal. There are no ordinary people. We can say of every human person, “Wow. That is an image of God.”

The dignity of the human person has been raised even higher by the Incarnation, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. God has bestowed on mankind the undeserved gift of assuming our nature, and thus elevating it. Even more amazing is that He has now, as a man, ascended into Heaven. Our human nature, wounds and all, is in some mysterious way incorporated into the immutable and unchanging Godhead. Jesus, more than just a man, is Man, and reveals to us our glorified nature in his Resurrection. We can say of every human person, “Wow. That person shares the same nature as the glorified Christ.”

I want to take this one step further to the Eucharist, God’s way of feeding his very self to us. This bread becomes the very flesh of the Son of Man. The God who is imaged in every human person and who created all things is Himself present in the host. In the most unique way we can say “Wow” when we see and receive the Eucharist: “That is Jesus Himself.” Venite adoremus. Come, let us adore Him.