Joey Spencer
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Joey Spencer is a Tutor for the Alcuin Institute for Catholic Culture, and serves as the Archivist for the Diocese of Tulsa.

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Joey Spencer Archives

Becoming a “Living Man”: St. Irenaeus and the Martyrdom of St. Blandina

In the fifth chapter of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius quotes from a letter scholars believe to have been written by Saint Irenaeus. It is a letter written to the Churches in Asia and Phrygia regarding the persecutions occurring in the Churches of Lyons and Vienne.  Eusebius includes the letter in his narrative so that the struggles of the saints who underwent persecution and martyrdom for Christ might not be forgotten in the history of the Church. For Eusebius as well as Irenaeus, the gods of the Roman Empire, and those who persecuted the Christians in their name, were linked with, and doing the work of, the diabolical. This cosmic battle of the diabolical against God and his followers is an essential element in understanding Irenaeus’ view of the persecution of the saints of Lyons and Vienne, and serves as well as a crucial element in Irenaeus’ theology of God’s forming His creation into a “living man.” While it is the Holy Spirit who strengthens the martyrs in their tribulations, it is Satan who puts doubt and fear into their hearts, “striving with all his power, that some blasphemy might be uttered by them.”[1] Just as Christ voluntarily gave His life for the salvation of the world, so also do the martyrs go to their death voluntarily for Christ. In the paschal mystery, Christ’s death is transformative. Through His crucifixion, death, and resurrection, Christ destroys death, so that man might have eternal life in God. The martyrs go to their death knowing that death no longer has its sting, rather it is a part of God’s plan of redemption through which they will truly become vivified. “We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess. We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a ‘spiritual body.’”[2] Only through death can we enter into eternal life in the presence of God. Christ turns death into a new beginning rather than the end. Christ told his followers to “take up your cross and follow me, for whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:24-25). To lose one’s life in martyrdom was not to be a dead man, but was to gain eternal life in Christ. According to Irenaeus, we must first die in order to truly become “living Men.” The martyrs knew that in dying for Christ, they were entering into eternal life, and to watch the martyrs voluntarily and joyfully go to their death without a fight was baffling to the pagans. In order to become a “living man,” one has to have the Holy Spirit and one has to die in Christ. To die the death of a martyr was to give oneself over to Christ, so that through the power of the Holy Spirit, one could be transformed into a living man in the hands of God. When asked why he was willing to turn himself over to his persecutors, St. Ignatius of Antioch gives the answer that, “to be near the sword is to be near God; to be in the claws of wild beasts is to be in the hands of God.”[3] Not only did the martyrs go to their death voluntarily, but also confessing Christ so that they might be strength to others. One of the Christians martyred in Lyons was a slave girl named Blandina. The martyrdom of Saint Blandina is only one story of martyrdom among many which Irenaeus expounds upon. However, Blandina’s story is unique, in that in its telling, Irenaeus gives us an insight into how, for the Christian who sees with the eyes of faith, weakness becomes strength, death becomes life, and in martyrdom the saints participate in the timeless sacrifice of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Blandina’s story in Eusebius is an excellent example of how through the death of martyrdom, the martyr becomes a source of life for other Christians who see the crucifixion of Christ in their example. Through martyrdom, Blandina fully becomes a “living man,” and as such becomes an expression of the glory of God through whom others are strengthened so that they too might become “living men” through dying in Christ. “For the glory of God is a living man, and the life of man is to see God.”[4] Holding on to worldly freedom, physical health, or material goods never allows one to be free; the threat of having these freedoms or goods taken away will always be a source of control over the individual afraid to lose them. Christ tells us in Matthew 10:28, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Blandina, a slave in the world, did not allow herself to be a slave to the world; rather she chose to give herself to Christ, allowing herself to be used in any way that God saw fit; like clay in the hands of the Creator, she allowed herself to be formed by God. By doing so she was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Blandina’s persecutors were destroying her body, yet they were being defeated; their goal was to bring her to death, yet in her martyrdom they were becoming her source of eternal life. Blandina chose to die to herself so she might live in Christ, suffering her persecution voluntarily and letting Christ work through her. Among the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, it was Blandina who most perfectly became the icon of Christ for those Christians witnessing her persecution. Blandina, after suffering many tortures, was suspended on a stake and left to be devoured by the wild animals. Hanging on the stake, Blandina, for those who saw with eyes of faith, became an icon of Christ hanging on the cross. “For as they saw her in the contest, with the external eyes, through their sister, they contemplated Him that was crucified for them, to persuade those that believe in Him, that every one who suffers for Christ, will forever enjoy communion with the living God.”[5] For those Christians who wavered in the face of persecution, the confession of the martyrs became a source of strength for them so that they were able to reclaim their faith and become confessors themselves. Such was the case when the Phrygian Doctor Alexander stood before his persecutors and confessed the faith. In light of his courage, those who had renounced the faith were once again given the strength to proclaim their faith. This infuriated the persecutors. “The mob, however, chagrined that those who had before renounced their faith were again confessing, cried out against Alexander, as if he had been the cause of this.”[6] Being full of the Holy Spirit, the confessor’s preaching of Christ had an effect on those who had also received the Spirit. According to Irenaeus, Christ’s reclamation, through the confessing of the martyrs, of those Christians who had fallen into apostasy was spiritually devastating to the devil. Hearing the confession of Christ for those who had fallen away was efficacious. They wanted the life that they saw present in the lives of the martyrs, even if they had to die the death of martyrdom to truly live. It is hard not to imagine that Irenaeus’ experience of witnessing and writing about the martyrs in Lyons and Vienne did not have some impact on his theological writings.  The martyrdom of Blandina and her fellow Christians present clear practical examples of Irenaeus’ theological thought, particularly in his theology of the glory of God being a “living man.”  And if seeing God is the way to becoming a “living man,” then He is clearly present in the lives and deaths of Blandina and the other martyrs of Lyons and Vienne. May the Martyrs of the Church always be a source of strength for those suffering, so that they too may eventually become “living men” through Christ, entering into the fullness of life in the eternal presence of God.

St. Augustine: Love & Conversion in the Church

Sacred Scripture reveals through salvation history that God calls every person to Himself. Those who respond to their vocation and turn to the Lord are often used for the conversion and salvation of others. Conversion does not always occur in a single moment but sometimes is a process of coming to God over time. The theology of conversion is not only seen in Sacred Scripture, but also in the lives and theology of the saints. St. Augustine is an example of a saint who was converted over time, and, thus, his theology is one of constant conversion. The Church, according to St. Augustine, is full of saints and sinners: saints who have converted from a sinful life to one of holiness and sinners who have not yet let the old man die so that the new man might live. Likewise, there are Saints who fall into sin, and the most wretched of men who become martyrs for Christ. To participate in the life of the Church is to participate in flux. “In any case, those who appear to be bad today may be good tomorrow, just as those who today are proud of their own goodness may tomorrow turn out to be bad,” he wrote. To be a member of the Body of Christ is to participate in a life of ongoing conversion, sometimes being used by God in the conversion of others, sometimes using others as an example of conversion for oneself. Conversion does not occur in a vacuum; it is both relational and a struggle over time. The relational experience of conversion can be understood as a fundamental element in Augustine’s own conversion and, therefore, works its way into Augustine’s theology and pastoral approach to those whom he served as Bishop of Hippo. For Augustine, the Church on earth is like a hospital, filled with many people at different levels of spiritual health and healing. There are those who suffer from grievous, near fatal wounds, wounds that others turn their eyes away from in disgust, hard wounds to heal. Likewise, there are those who are well on their way to recovery, a recovery that becomes an example to those who are still in the process of healing. Finally, there are also saints, priests and bishops who are charged with being the doctors in this spiritual hospital. The Church is the dispensary of God’s healing medicine. “And since the same medicine is not to be applied to all, although to all the same love is due, so also love itself is in travail with some, becomes weak with others; is at pains to edify some, dreads to be a cause of offence to others; stoops to some, before others stands with head erect; is gentle to some, and stern to others; and enemy to none, a mother to all.” Healing in the Church is done through conversion to Christ, and converts to Christ become an example to others helping them in their own conversion. Once man as an individual is in a proper relationship with God, this love of God is expressed through the love of others, the Church. As Christ laid down his life for us out of love, we also are called to sacrifice ourselves for others. “And for this reason, that inasmuch as love is the end of the commandment and the fulfillment of the law, we also may love one another, and even as He laid down His life for us, so we also may lay down our life for the brethren,” stated Augustine. While laying down our life for the other is the ultimate sacrifice, love for our brethren can be expressed in other ways as well. Our expression of joy in living a life of faith in God can become an example for others in the Church. Augustine uses the example of coal. Those who have no faith or have gotten lost in a life of sin are likened to dead coal. Those who are living a life in Christ and are on fire in their faith are considered live coals. All that is needed to bring the dead coal to life is to be placed next to a burning coal. It brings great joy to the whole Church to see the effects of conversion, life in Christ, in someone who had been dead in sin. “But while you praise this live coal− if you praise him wisely −you will apply him to another who is dead, and set fire to him or her as well,” he said. In this way, the Church grows exponentially through Christ and His saints. Christ uses those in His Church for the conversion of others. Just as our life must be given for the good of others, so also our knowledge of Christ and the precepts of the Christian faith must be given over to others so that they might use what we have for their own use to enjoy God in the Holy Trinity. Augustine expresses this well when he compares our sharing of what God has given us with others to the miracle of the loaves and fish. “So just as that bread increased in quantity when it was broken, in the same way all the things the Lord has already granted me for setting about this work will be multiplied under his inspiration, when I start passing them on to others.” Sharing what God has given us with our brethren is not only beneficial to them, but to the individual sharing it as well. Also, loving one's brethren is the greatest form of loving God. Augustine knew that there were those in the Church who did not yet belong to the Church and that they could be a source of scandal within the Church. And yet, while he disliked them, he loved them all the same. “Today I hate such wicked and perverted people, though I love them as people in need of correction, so that instead of money they may prefer the doctrine which they learn and, above the doctrine, may prefer you, God, the truth, the abundant source of assured goodness and most chaste peace.” Augustine knew from his own experience that God works on people over time. He unpacked Sacred Scripture to his flock and corrected their errors while never losing hope that some of those who were in the Church but not part of Christ’s body would come to conversion just as he had. Augustine wrote, “True, it is hidden from us when it is that one whom we now see present in the body does really come in spirit; nevertheless, we should deal with him in such a manner that he may conceive this desire even though it does not as yet exist.” It is not known when God will act on the sinner’s heart and predispose the person to conversion, but out of love for one's brethren there must be hope and prayer. Sinners and scandal will always be present in the Church, but like a hospital, the Church exists for the salvation of those people. “But if our mind is troubled by some scandal and so is unable to produce a calm and agreeable discourse, so great should be our love towards those for whom Christ died, desiring to redeem them by the price of His own blood from the death of the errors of this world that the very fact of the word being brought to us in our dejection that someone is at hand who desires to become a Christian should have the effect of alleviating and dispelling our grief, even as the joy over gains is wont to alleviate grief over losses,” he taught. The scandal cannot overcome the joy in just one person who decides to become a Christian, and those who are already in the Body of Christ should seek out those who remain outside. We live in tumultuous times. It is our job to be the live coals, a source of love and conversion to others, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those both within the Church and without.

Fra Angelico’s “Annunciation” & Mary’s Obedience

I recently taught a class on sacred art to a local parish’s men’s club. One of the paintings that we discussed was an altarpiece of the Annunciation done by Blessed Fra Angelico, which is held at the Prado Museum in Spain. In this particular painting, the left side depicts Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden, while the right side depicts the Annunciation. For the person standing in front of the painting there is a before and after effect, a story being told, that the Fall of Adam and Eve is directly tied to the Annunciation. On the Garden side, Adam and Eve can be seen being escorted out of paradise by one of God’s angels. Genesis 3:24 states that after the Fall, God, “drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” In Blessed Fra Angelico’s depiction, there is no anger or aggression present in the angel toward Adam and Eve, rather there is a sadness depicted in the angel’s downturned eyes, understanding what has been lost, as it’s right hand almost sorrowfully directs them out of Eden. As Adam and Eve exit the Garden, it can be seen that God, in his grace, has covered their naked bodies with animal skins even though they still retain the leaves which they used to first cover their nakedness. The animal skin clothes show that even in their sin, God provides for them. In the upper left-hand corner of the painting there are two hands surrounded by a bright light representing the hands of God. There is light moving diagonally across the painting as if it is moving through time and across history, to the Annunciation and the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see a dove representing that the light is the movement of the Holy Spirit. We can recall the words From Luke 1:35 as we imagine the angel Gabriel saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Where the first Eve chose her own will over God’s and brought sin into the world, the second Eve, Mary, aligns her will with God’s will. Thus what begins with the Annunciation and Incarnation ends with the defeat of sin in Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. At this point, the person standing before the painting, understanding who all the characters are, and the before and after nature of the story, could move on to the next painting in the museum. If they do, they might miss a major detail of what Fra Angelico might have been trying to communicate. The person looking at the painting participates in the story. The sin in the Garden is the before, the Annunciation is the middle of the story, and the after is now, and concerns you, the person standing before the painting. Through the crucifixion death and resurrection of Christ, made possible by the fiat of Mary at the Annunciation, you can receive salvation through Jesus Christ and no longer have to be a slave to sin which entered with the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden.

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Becoming a “Living Man”: St. Irenaeus and the Martyrdom of St. Blandina

In the fifth chapter of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius quotes from a letter scholars believe to have been written by Saint Irenaeus. It is a letter written to the Churches in Asia and Phrygia regarding the persecutions occurring in the Churches of Lyons and Vienne.  Eusebius includes the letter in his narrative so that the struggles of the saints who underwent persecution and martyrdom for Christ might not be forgotten in the history of the Church. For Eusebius as well as Irenaeus, the gods of the Roman Empire, and those who persecuted the Christians in their name, were linked with, and doing the work of, the diabolical. This cosmic battle of the diabolical against God and his followers is an essential element in understanding Irenaeus’ view of the persecution of the saints of Lyons and Vienne, and serves as well as a crucial element in Irenaeus’ theology of God’s forming His creation into a “living man.” While it is the Holy Spirit who strengthens the martyrs in their tribulations, it is Satan who puts doubt and fear into their hearts, “striving with all his power, that some blasphemy might be uttered by them.”[1] Just as Christ voluntarily gave His life for the salvation of the world, so also do the martyrs go to their death voluntarily for Christ. In the paschal mystery, Christ’s death is transformative. Through His crucifixion, death, and resurrection, Christ destroys death, so that man might have eternal life in God. The martyrs go to their death knowing that death no longer has its sting, rather it is a part of God’s plan of redemption through which they will truly become vivified. “We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess. We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a ‘spiritual body.’”[2] Only through death can we enter into eternal life in the presence of God. Christ turns death into a new beginning rather than the end. Christ told his followers to “take up your cross and follow me, for whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 16:24-25). To lose one’s life in martyrdom was not to be a dead man, but was to gain eternal life in Christ. According to Irenaeus, we must first die in order to truly become “living Men.” The martyrs knew that in dying for Christ, they were entering into eternal life, and to watch the martyrs voluntarily and joyfully go to their death without a fight was baffling to the pagans. In order to become a “living man,” one has to have the Holy Spirit and one has to die in Christ. To die the death of a martyr was to give oneself over to Christ, so that through the power of the Holy Spirit, one could be transformed into a living man in the hands of God. When asked why he was willing to turn himself over to his persecutors, St. Ignatius of Antioch gives the answer that, “to be near the sword is to be near God; to be in the claws of wild beasts is to be in the hands of God.”[3] Not only did the martyrs go to their death voluntarily, but also confessing Christ so that they might be strength to others. One of the Christians martyred in Lyons was a slave girl named Blandina. The martyrdom of Saint Blandina is only one story of martyrdom among many which Irenaeus expounds upon. However, Blandina’s story is unique, in that in its telling, Irenaeus gives us an insight into how, for the Christian who sees with the eyes of faith, weakness becomes strength, death becomes life, and in martyrdom the saints participate in the timeless sacrifice of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Blandina’s story in Eusebius is an excellent example of how through the death of martyrdom, the martyr becomes a source of life for other Christians who see the crucifixion of Christ in their example. Through martyrdom, Blandina fully becomes a “living man,” and as such becomes an expression of the glory of God through whom others are strengthened so that they too might become “living men” through dying in Christ. “For the glory of God is a living man, and the life of man is to see God.”[4] Holding on to worldly freedom, physical health, or material goods never allows one to be free; the threat of having these freedoms or goods taken away will always be a source of control over the individual afraid to lose them. Christ tells us in Matthew 10:28, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Blandina, a slave in the world, did not allow herself to be a slave to the world; rather she chose to give herself to Christ, allowing herself to be used in any way that God saw fit; like clay in the hands of the Creator, she allowed herself to be formed by God. By doing so she was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Blandina’s persecutors were destroying her body, yet they were being defeated; their goal was to bring her to death, yet in her martyrdom they were becoming her source of eternal life. Blandina chose to die to herself so she might live in Christ, suffering her persecution voluntarily and letting Christ work through her. Among the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne, it was Blandina who most perfectly became the icon of Christ for those Christians witnessing her persecution. Blandina, after suffering many tortures, was suspended on a stake and left to be devoured by the wild animals. Hanging on the stake, Blandina, for those who saw with eyes of faith, became an icon of Christ hanging on the cross. “For as they saw her in the contest, with the external eyes, through their sister, they contemplated Him that was crucified for them, to persuade those that believe in Him, that every one who suffers for Christ, will forever enjoy communion with the living God.”[5] For those Christians who wavered in the face of persecution, the confession of the martyrs became a source of strength for them so that they were able to reclaim their faith and become confessors themselves. Such was the case when the Phrygian Doctor Alexander stood before his persecutors and confessed the faith. In light of his courage, those who had renounced the faith were once again given the strength to proclaim their faith. This infuriated the persecutors. “The mob, however, chagrined that those who had before renounced their faith were again confessing, cried out against Alexander, as if he had been the cause of this.”[6] Being full of the Holy Spirit, the confessor’s preaching of Christ had an effect on those who had also received the Spirit. According to Irenaeus, Christ’s reclamation, through the confessing of the martyrs, of those Christians who had fallen into apostasy was spiritually devastating to the devil. Hearing the confession of Christ for those who had fallen away was efficacious. They wanted the life that they saw present in the lives of the martyrs, even if they had to die the death of martyrdom to truly live. It is hard not to imagine that Irenaeus’ experience of witnessing and writing about the martyrs in Lyons and Vienne did not have some impact on his theological writings.  The martyrdom of Blandina and her fellow Christians present clear practical examples of Irenaeus’ theological thought, particularly in his theology of the glory of God being a “living man.”  And if seeing God is the way to becoming a “living man,” then He is clearly present in the lives and deaths of Blandina and the other martyrs of Lyons and Vienne. May the Martyrs of the Church always be a source of strength for those suffering, so that they too may eventually become “living men” through Christ, entering into the fullness of life in the eternal presence of God.

St. Augustine: Love & Conversion in the Church

Sacred Scripture reveals through salvation history that God calls every person to Himself. Those who respond to their vocation and turn to the Lord are often used for the conversion and salvation of others. Conversion does not always occur in a single moment but sometimes is a process of coming to God over time. The theology of conversion is not only seen in Sacred Scripture, but also in the lives and theology of the saints. St. Augustine is an example of a saint who was converted over time, and, thus, his theology is one of constant conversion. The Church, according to St. Augustine, is full of saints and sinners: saints who have converted from a sinful life to one of holiness and sinners who have not yet let the old man die so that the new man might live. Likewise, there are Saints who fall into sin, and the most wretched of men who become martyrs for Christ. To participate in the life of the Church is to participate in flux. “In any case, those who appear to be bad today may be good tomorrow, just as those who today are proud of their own goodness may tomorrow turn out to be bad,” he wrote. To be a member of the Body of Christ is to participate in a life of ongoing conversion, sometimes being used by God in the conversion of others, sometimes using others as an example of conversion for oneself. Conversion does not occur in a vacuum; it is both relational and a struggle over time. The relational experience of conversion can be understood as a fundamental element in Augustine’s own conversion and, therefore, works its way into Augustine’s theology and pastoral approach to those whom he served as Bishop of Hippo. For Augustine, the Church on earth is like a hospital, filled with many people at different levels of spiritual health and healing. There are those who suffer from grievous, near fatal wounds, wounds that others turn their eyes away from in disgust, hard wounds to heal. Likewise, there are those who are well on their way to recovery, a recovery that becomes an example to those who are still in the process of healing. Finally, there are also saints, priests and bishops who are charged with being the doctors in this spiritual hospital. The Church is the dispensary of God’s healing medicine. “And since the same medicine is not to be applied to all, although to all the same love is due, so also love itself is in travail with some, becomes weak with others; is at pains to edify some, dreads to be a cause of offence to others; stoops to some, before others stands with head erect; is gentle to some, and stern to others; and enemy to none, a mother to all.” Healing in the Church is done through conversion to Christ, and converts to Christ become an example to others helping them in their own conversion. Once man as an individual is in a proper relationship with God, this love of God is expressed through the love of others, the Church. As Christ laid down his life for us out of love, we also are called to sacrifice ourselves for others. “And for this reason, that inasmuch as love is the end of the commandment and the fulfillment of the law, we also may love one another, and even as He laid down His life for us, so we also may lay down our life for the brethren,” stated Augustine. While laying down our life for the other is the ultimate sacrifice, love for our brethren can be expressed in other ways as well. Our expression of joy in living a life of faith in God can become an example for others in the Church. Augustine uses the example of coal. Those who have no faith or have gotten lost in a life of sin are likened to dead coal. Those who are living a life in Christ and are on fire in their faith are considered live coals. All that is needed to bring the dead coal to life is to be placed next to a burning coal. It brings great joy to the whole Church to see the effects of conversion, life in Christ, in someone who had been dead in sin. “But while you praise this live coal− if you praise him wisely −you will apply him to another who is dead, and set fire to him or her as well,” he said. In this way, the Church grows exponentially through Christ and His saints. Christ uses those in His Church for the conversion of others. Just as our life must be given for the good of others, so also our knowledge of Christ and the precepts of the Christian faith must be given over to others so that they might use what we have for their own use to enjoy God in the Holy Trinity. Augustine expresses this well when he compares our sharing of what God has given us with others to the miracle of the loaves and fish. “So just as that bread increased in quantity when it was broken, in the same way all the things the Lord has already granted me for setting about this work will be multiplied under his inspiration, when I start passing them on to others.” Sharing what God has given us with our brethren is not only beneficial to them, but to the individual sharing it as well. Also, loving one's brethren is the greatest form of loving God. Augustine knew that there were those in the Church who did not yet belong to the Church and that they could be a source of scandal within the Church. And yet, while he disliked them, he loved them all the same. “Today I hate such wicked and perverted people, though I love them as people in need of correction, so that instead of money they may prefer the doctrine which they learn and, above the doctrine, may prefer you, God, the truth, the abundant source of assured goodness and most chaste peace.” Augustine knew from his own experience that God works on people over time. He unpacked Sacred Scripture to his flock and corrected their errors while never losing hope that some of those who were in the Church but not part of Christ’s body would come to conversion just as he had. Augustine wrote, “True, it is hidden from us when it is that one whom we now see present in the body does really come in spirit; nevertheless, we should deal with him in such a manner that he may conceive this desire even though it does not as yet exist.” It is not known when God will act on the sinner’s heart and predispose the person to conversion, but out of love for one's brethren there must be hope and prayer. Sinners and scandal will always be present in the Church, but like a hospital, the Church exists for the salvation of those people. “But if our mind is troubled by some scandal and so is unable to produce a calm and agreeable discourse, so great should be our love towards those for whom Christ died, desiring to redeem them by the price of His own blood from the death of the errors of this world that the very fact of the word being brought to us in our dejection that someone is at hand who desires to become a Christian should have the effect of alleviating and dispelling our grief, even as the joy over gains is wont to alleviate grief over losses,” he taught. The scandal cannot overcome the joy in just one person who decides to become a Christian, and those who are already in the Body of Christ should seek out those who remain outside. We live in tumultuous times. It is our job to be the live coals, a source of love and conversion to others, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those both within the Church and without.

Fra Angelico’s “Annunciation” & Mary’s Obedience

I recently taught a class on sacred art to a local parish’s men’s club. One of the paintings that we discussed was an altarpiece of the Annunciation done by Blessed Fra Angelico, which is held at the Prado Museum in Spain. In this particular painting, the left side depicts Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden, while the right side depicts the Annunciation. For the person standing in front of the painting there is a before and after effect, a story being told, that the Fall of Adam and Eve is directly tied to the Annunciation. On the Garden side, Adam and Eve can be seen being escorted out of paradise by one of God’s angels. Genesis 3:24 states that after the Fall, God, “drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” In Blessed Fra Angelico’s depiction, there is no anger or aggression present in the angel toward Adam and Eve, rather there is a sadness depicted in the angel’s downturned eyes, understanding what has been lost, as it’s right hand almost sorrowfully directs them out of Eden. As Adam and Eve exit the Garden, it can be seen that God, in his grace, has covered their naked bodies with animal skins even though they still retain the leaves which they used to first cover their nakedness. The animal skin clothes show that even in their sin, God provides for them. In the upper left-hand corner of the painting there are two hands surrounded by a bright light representing the hands of God. There is light moving diagonally across the painting as if it is moving through time and across history, to the Annunciation and the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. We see a dove representing that the light is the movement of the Holy Spirit. We can recall the words From Luke 1:35 as we imagine the angel Gabriel saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Where the first Eve chose her own will over God’s and brought sin into the world, the second Eve, Mary, aligns her will with God’s will. Thus what begins with the Annunciation and Incarnation ends with the defeat of sin in Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. At this point, the person standing before the painting, understanding who all the characters are, and the before and after nature of the story, could move on to the next painting in the museum. If they do, they might miss a major detail of what Fra Angelico might have been trying to communicate. The person looking at the painting participates in the story. The sin in the Garden is the before, the Annunciation is the middle of the story, and the after is now, and concerns you, the person standing before the painting. Through the crucifixion death and resurrection of Christ, made possible by the fiat of Mary at the Annunciation, you can receive salvation through Jesus Christ and no longer have to be a slave to sin which entered with the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden.