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. †
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.
I was driving home when I noticed two street signs that seemed incongruous. The train station and shop signs were pointing in the wrong directions; the exact opposite ones, to be precise. If I were a tourist, a traveler who is not familiar with the suburb, I would have followed the sign and got lost. I guess somebody had moved the street signs as a prank or even as an intentional deception. In our walk with the Lord too, we need to know who is navigating us—God, ourselves, others, or the evil one. If we are not aware of our surroundings, we can easily get lost or misled. This Lent, whose voice will we listen to? Judas…the crowd…Pilate…or Jesus…?
To be good at anything, we have to put time, effort, and practice into it. The same applies to our preparation for eternity. How well are we going to do at the end of year exams if we have put little or no time towards studying during the year? Similarly, how well will we stand up on judgment day when we are held accountable for our lives? In our preparation period on earth for eternity, how much of our life was spent in prayer, good works, and sacrifice? Our Lord paid the ultimate price for our salvation, but we have to play our part. As He has graciously allowed us to be part of that sacrifice, let us not waste this valuable opportunity. He, through Calvary, has given us a chance to be part of His redemption, to be part of His sanctity, consequently allowing mere humans to be called into sainthood. What a privilege! As my mother would always remind us, children, this life of ours on earth, short or long, is but a preparation period, the springboard to eternity. How we fare in the structure of eternal life will be determined not only by Jesus’ death and resurrection, but by every thought, word, and deed we perpetrated during the time we spent on earth.
If your sacrifices are dragging you down and causing you to dread Lent—take heart. Our Lady at Fatima gave the children a prayer which offers compelling reasons to sacrifice. Her words may help dispel your Lenten dreads. The prayer begins: “O Jesus, it (this sacrifice I am making) is for love of You.” Why not borrow those words and make them your own? Telling Jesus you are doing this hard Lenten thing for love of Him may remind you why you are denying yourself in the first place: you are making room in your heart, so that you may love Him more. Further, the prayer helped the children offer their sacrifices for “the conversion of sinners.” You can do the same. When you make a Lenten sacrifice, offer it for a specific loved one who is living far from God. “O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of......” Praying in Our Lady’s words will not lessen the difficulty of your sacrifices; but, because it sweetens them with love for Jesus and for lost souls, her words may truly help to dispel your Lenten dreads.
I am not one of those holy souls who look forward to Lent. However, I do have a few friends and family members who do. So, I try to take note of why that is the case. Just last week, my mom mentioned she was looking forward to Lent so she could invite her band, who are all senior citizens, to her parish fish fry. She said she’s really looking forward to it, since most of them aren’t Catholic but have mentioned that they like attending fish fries. After enjoying their traditional fish and chips, my mom is planning on reserving a room in the parish hall so the band can make music together after dinner. They call themselves the Silver Foxes and often visit nursing homes together to spread a little joy. My mom is a joyful evangelist, even at age 80! And she has unlocked the secret that Lent is for more than making penitential acts, but it is a time for growing the Kingdom of God by growing the Body of Christ.
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