Even very small things that possess beauty can move us. From one of his trips to China, my husband brought home a gift for me that I keep on my nightstand. It inspires me to reflect on the saints. It is an inside-painted snuff bottle, and I am fascinated by how the artist painted it. Snuff bottles are very small bottles that fit comfortably in the hand. During the Qing Dynasty in China they were used by rich and influential people to carry powdered tobacco, which was believed to be medicinal. The bottles were usually intricately and elaborately made to reflect the owner’s status in that society.
Today, the decorated bottles are made as souvenirs. An inside-painted snuff bottle has images painted on the inside cavity-walls, and the painted images are visible from outside of the bottle. Similar to these clear bottles, we are able to marvel at the beauty that God paints in the saints’ interior lives that is revealed through their exterior living.
Made by God
Saints are the most beautiful creatures made by God, because they allow the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts. They are deferential to the work of the Great Artist to conform them to His Son Jesus, docile to the work of the Potter to transform them in love, and submissive to the chisel of the Master Sculptor to form into reality what already exists in His mind. God, who is Beauty itself, creates the beauty of His image and likeness in souls who cooperate with Him.
Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother, is the Queen of All Saints. Her fiat, “Let it be done to me according to Your will,” expressed her complete submission to God’s work in her life. She was ‘filled with grace’ which irrevocably made her the most beautiful woman. As disciples of Jesus, we must also give our personal fiat to God. Becoming saints is the fruit of a life surrendered to God in response to His love.
An interesting thing about the inside-painted snuff bottle is the very small opening on the top of the bottle through which the artist may work with a brush to paint the cavity-walls inside of the bottle. The very small opening of a snuff bottle is not a hindrance to the artist but the artist does need the cap off in order to do his work. For every saint and for each of us, the YES to the invitation of Jesus to be in relationship with Him is what is necessary for the Holy Spirit to begin to produce in us a work of beauty as a new creation. Preferring the will of God to our own will is trusting in His ability to “make all things for good” – and not only good, but beautiful.
An interesting thing about the inside-painted snuff bottle is the very small opening on the top of the bottle through which the artist may work with a brush to paint the cavity-walls inside of the bottle. The very small opening of a snuff bottle is not a deterrent to the artist but the artist does need the cap off in order to do his work.
For every saint and for each of us, the YES to the invitation of Jesus to be in relationship with Him is what is necessary for the Holy Spirit to begin in us a work of beauty as a new creation. Preferring the will of God to our own will is trusting in His ability to “make all things for good.” Jesus teaches us in His parables that the Kingdom of God starts in our hearts from very small beginnings – like the mustard seed or like leaven, that grows by a hidden power.
A Plan of God’s Design
While most painters begin with big strokes for background on a canvas and then add details to define images, the artist of a snuff bottle starts with the small details in the foreground of the images as seen from outside of the bottle and ends with the background strokes. The painter of a snuff bottle already has a design in mind before beginning to paint.
The artist knows all of the details and where to strategically put them in relation to each other in order to complete the picture. A dot here, a line there, a smudge here, a stroke there – they may all seem random at first in the blank cavity-wall, but as the artist adds each hue and shade, an image appears, a story is told.
“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord in Jeremiah 29:11. Saints humbly trust in God, completely hope in His goodness, and faithfully embody the love of God to others. Holiness and beauty on the inside always shows on the outside, because love is expressed in attitude and action.
Friends in High Places
Let us introduce our children to the saints, who despite sin, struggles and challenges persevered with the one thing necessary; they chose the better portion and it was not taken from them. (Luke 10:42)
Our children need real people who model holiness and love for God. These may be helpful tips to encourage our children to have friends in Heaven who are alive in perfect union with God:
1. If our child has a patron saint or is named after a saint, learn about the saint and celebrate the feastday of that saint annually. Teach the child to ask for the intercession of that saint.
2. Many parishes give away calendars in the beginning of the year with saints’ feastdays on them. This is a good way to become familiar with many saints and to look up something about some of them on their feastdays.
3. Give children books on the lives of saints or books written by saints as presents. During lent, reading these books could be a way to do something special for this holy season to rouse our family towards holiness.
4. Several places, churches, schools and organizations are named after saints. Let us point these out to our children and remind them something remarkable about these saints.
5. Many Catholic families have their children dress up as saints to observe All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and celebrate this holy day with other families.
6. Begin family traditions for some feastdays of saints like St. Nicholas or St. Juan Diego. Many of us come from immigrant families. Learn about and celebrate patron saints of the countries from where our families emigrated.
Becoming a Saint
Leon Bloy wrote “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” God redeems us for a holy life, which is a path of conversion and love. By the grace of our Baptism, we are made with the capacity for holiness, and reaching that full potential for holiness is to become a saint. Jesus is the fount of holiness. The Holy Spirit sanctifies, and our part is to cooperate with grace to be transformed.
Just as a work of beauty, no matter how small, reflects its creator, the saints give glory to God. Let us become saints. Let us trust in God and His wondrous plan for us. The Great Artist has a design in His mind for each of us – the masterpiece He has begun inside you and me is not only one-of-a-kind, but will be one of eternal beauty when completed.
(Also appears in The Well with the title: The Great Artist at Work”)