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Spreading the faith with paint
Local students bring a touch of religious art to homes in the Dominican Republic.
This past June a group of local teens sacrificed part of their summer to serve in the diocesan mission of Bánica in the Dominican Republic on the Haitian border.
We, the authors of this article, were blessed with being actively involved in this mission, not only this year but last year as well. Though both years were a wonderful learning and spiritual experience, a defining difference between this and last year was the mural paintings we did for the local people.
Since the beginning of Christianity art has been used for spiritual enhancement. Art is a great tool for the spread of religion. Seeing the everyday images is a constant reminder of God, of Mary, of all the saints and God's church, in general.
In the East, holy icons are an important part of culture and worship. These icons are strong in the theology of presence. By having an icon in your room, or in a prayer corner, you are in a sacramental way within the presence of the person depicted. This, though not on the same level of the Eucharist, is a wonderful aid in fulfilling our one purpose in life and call to holiness.
While we were in Bánica, we walked around the various neighborhoods and asked the people living there if they wanted something religious painted on the side of their home. If they did, we asked them what they wanted specifically. We painted doves, Sacred Hearts, crosses, Mary, Bibles, verses from the Bible and many others. Most of the locals chose the depiction of the Sacred Heart or the Virgin Mary. They often wanted a specific version of Our Holy Mother, this was the "Alta Gracia" or "Our Lady of High Grace." This specific devotion to Our Lady and the Sacred Heart magnified what became more and more evident — that these people are a loving people. Everywhere we went we saw genuine love within every child's smile and every home-cooked meal. The fundamental theology that God is love became more and more clear. We knew this going into the mission, but during our time there it became a way of life.
Christ commands us to love — to love our enemies and to love our neighbor. Such a simple command as this, heard over and over again, can become redundant or boring, maybe even seem childish, but when one sees the command lived out day in and day out it becomes real.
This is Christ's command to us, that we may be like the little children. Not to be immature, but to trust and to love, to experience God in the innocence and purity of heart, which He intends all of us to live our lives.
We see in the religious paintings a constant reminder of God, a continual presence, reminding us of our one and only calling. To fulfill our purpose on this earth in the most basic way of serving, knowing and loving God by loving our neighbors. Christ died for us, now we must die to our
selves and live though Christ, the incarnate word.
Beatty is a parishioner of Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria and Cassella is a parishioner of Epiphany of Our Lord Byzantine Church in Annandale.