Once, in a serene monastery tucked into Italy’s rolling hills, there lived a Dominican.
Like all good Dominicans, he could often be found in prayer before the tabernacle or with rosary beads in hand, making of his life a masterpiece worthy of the Lord of Hosts. But he could also be found on a scaffold with a paintbrush in his fingers and a vision taking shape before him on the walls–a different sort of masterpiece.
In later centuries, the world would know this humble man as one of the great Renaissance masters. The Church would know him as a Blessed. But to the friars of San Marco, he would always be the man who spent countless hours serving the dignity and salvation of his brothers, one painting at a time. He would be the artist whose works were not for the masses, but for monastery cells–and for the individual men who slept in them. He would always be their “Angelic Brother”–their beloved Fra Angelico.
He was a theology of the body messenger centuries before St. John Paul II was even born.
How could a man so far removed from St. John Paul II live out his principles without even knowing them? The answer is simple, really. Fra Angelico lived the theology of the body because it is rooted in the Scriptures, the divine revelation God gives us all.
In his TOB writings, St. John Paul II affirms the dignity of each person our Lord creates. God does not craft man as a conglomeration–He crafts individuals. He crafted you. We can speak of man as a group; we can say God made us all; but He did this one by one, detail by detail. He built for you a body and soul through which to build a beautiful existence and painted it with signs of His very Self.
Likewise, Fra Angelico lavished unbridled, enthusiastic attention on a single man. As God pours out His entire self in His act of Creation, as Jesus pours out His entire self on the Cross, and as He does this not for the herd of mankind, but for you, personally, intimately–as if you are the only man on earth–so Fra Angelico poured out his entire being for the individuals who would gaze upon his works in twilight’s stillness and ponder the marvels of their God.
The effort Fra Angelico spent on paintings hidden from the eyes of all but one man would be seen today as frivolous by many. Ours is a mass-produced culture; most of us are given clothes, food, music, art, and educations that are slapped together by the thousand. The modern world’s goods and services are only valued, it seems, if they can feed a horde.
We face a similar situation when it comes to persons. Individuals are often disregarded, their needs–and even lives–tossed aside for the so-called good of the masses. Today we are only valued if we can serve the horde.
But little by little, this can change. It can change if everyone who knows the truths of Creation and the Cross becomes a TOB messenger.
From houses tucked into America’s highways and byways, we can live as Fra Angelico lived. In prayer before the tabernacle, making of our lives a masterpiece, yes. But also serving the dignity of those around us through the work of our hands and our bodies–not serving them as a conglomeration, but as individuals, marveling at their unique loveliness.
And in this act of love, we will find ourselves united with Love Himself and encounter His salvation–the salvation of the most Angelic Brother of all.