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Jun 21, 2022 196 Brother John Baptist Santa Ana, O.S.B.,
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Portrait of God

There is something intimate about drawing someone’s portrait, about studying his or her facial features, discovering subtle details, and sensitively capturing an expression that is one of a kind. Modern facial recognition technology testifies to how utterly unique each individual’s face is. Like DNA or a fingerprint, your image is yours and yours alone. And yet, while each person’s image is altogether unique, we are all patterned after one exemplar. The book of Genesis says that God made man and woman in His image. God is an artist. This is one of the first things we learn about Him in Scripture. God makes portraits. He makes self-portraits.

If every person is made in God’s image, why do we all look and act so different? God is boundless. No single individual can ever capture the entirety of who God is. That is why He made so many of us. Picasso painted at least 14 self-portraits over the course of his lifetime. Each self-portrait is undeniably distinct. However, there is some measure of truth about Pablo expressed in all of his pieces. Likewise, each person is a unique yet truthful representation of God’s eclectic character.

Sin is iconoclasm. When Adam and Eve defied God in the garden, something happened to their God-given image. Likewise, something happens to our image whenever we wrong God or others. Sin is the smudging of wet paint on canvas. It is the disfigurement of God’s beautiful artwork. Sin makes God less recognizable in us, and therefore less recognizable to ourselves. But thankfully, God, like a typical artist, is stubbornly devoted to His artwork. This is why the Son, the perfect Image of God, took on the medium of flesh.

Christ came to renew, to repaint our disfigured image. By modeling a life of love, wisdom, and forgiveness, Christ reminds us what God looks like. With His blood Christ begins scrubbing away our defects, smoothing out smears, and filling in the gaps. Through the interior design of the Holy Spirit, the original masterpiece regains clarity once again. The life of a Christian is one of ongoing art restoration. Every artist knows how tedious the creative process can be, but the outcome is always worth it.

When passing through Washington DC, it is essential to visit the National Gallery of Art. There you will find appreciators from around the globe crowding around one piece in particular. It is a modestly sized portrait of a mysterious young lady painted by Leonardo da Vinci. With such few of his originals remaining, it is among the most precious works of art today. On the reverse side of the portrait reads the inscription, “Virtutem Forma Decorat” (beauty adorns virtue). The image of God is a spiritual reality. It is made visible by the conduct of our character. When we allow our lives to conform with God’s brushstrokes, beauty follows in its most genuine and lasting splendor. God is the painter par excellence. His eye is keener than da Vinci’s, and his hands softer than Caravaggio’s. Your beauty surpasses anything in the Louvre, because you are His original artwork. Next time you make the sign of the cross, remember that you trace God’s signature on you. †

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Brother John Baptist Santa Ana, O.S.B.

Brother John Baptist Santa Ana, O.S.B. is a monk of St.Andrew’s Abbey, Valyermo, CA. Presently he is pursuing MA in Theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. His interests include martial arts, surfing and drawing.

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