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As Iron, Fashioned by the Fire

As Iron, Fashioned by the Fire

From the Stewardship Today Archives, July 2012

John Deere, a transplanted Vermont blacksmith, was thirty-four years old when he sold his first steel plow to a local farmer in Grand Detour, Illinois. Within years, his young firm was manufacturing thousands of farm implements from its Moline headquarters and, along with Cyrus McCormick and a few others, helped to turn the American Midwest into “the breadbasket of the world.” At the heart of Deere’s enterprise was a craftsman’s knowledge of materials and an innovator’s understanding of process. The stubborn soil of the Illinois prairie, master over the cast iron plow, gave way to Deere’s steel adaptation, forever altering productivity as well as production. Farmers began to work more keenly with greater yield.

Though an essential part of every early-American community, most blacksmiths worked diligently in anonymity. (When asked, not too many people can name a famous blacksmith.) In their shops, kept dark to allow them to distinguish the heating temperature of their iron—red to white-hot, they created tools and materials for practically every other trade, repairing and creating new. They well understood the work required to create something of great utility—firing, chiseling, turning, shaping and hammering raw iron, separating slag from hardened steel to hone tools and supplies for purposeful use. For the knowledgeable smith, there was no substitute for an anvil and a forge.

St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, nineteenth century French Superior of the Society of the Sacred Heart, wrote the following: “As iron is fashioned by the fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive the form that our Lord desires for them to have.” Centuries before her, another faithful and hard-working servant of Christ wrote of that truth. “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you,” noted St. Peter, as recorded in his first epistle to the Church.

“But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer. But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name.” “Those who suffer in accord with God’s will hand their souls over to a faithful creator as they do good,” the Apostle added. And, he too understood.

John Deere didn’t create a steel plow merely to ease the farmer’s toil. He developed a polished steel blade, so that the farmer might be more fruitful. Why would God direct us through a series of struggles solely to locate us in a season of comfort and ease? A purposeful Creator, he permits us to suffer, shaping us into the likeness of his Son. “We are his handiwork,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance.” In the dark of the smithy, God is shaping us to live our most fruitful lives.

Stewardship Today is a monthly devotional newsletter designed to assist Catholics everywhere in developing a greater understanding of the role of stewardship in everyday life.
All we are, and all we possess, are gifts from God for our use and for the blessing of others. Through wise stewardship, we invest our time, our talents and our treasures to the glory of God.

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