A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
Men of Iron (Iron Sharpens Iron, Part 2)
April 14, 2015
As with many things in my life, I have given more thought to a recent post. I left you, the reader, hanging, and on purpose I might add. I wanted to follow up with another piece that expands upon a point that I made, but did not elaborate upon, and also add some more commentary that I feel is of vital importance physically and spiritually. I felt that I did not have enough space to get to the heart of the matter and would like to cover that now.
Before we enter into the spiritual truths to be drawn from of iron, let’s cover some basic metallurgy. There are many different phases in iron, but there are three main phases that I will focus on, which are ferrite, cementite and pearlite (which is a mixture of ferrite and cementite, but for the sake of argument I’ll list as another phase). I suppose one could say that pearlite “proceeds” from the cementite (God the Father reference) and ferrite (Jesus the Son reference)…but I dare not open up the Filioque can of worms at this point.
Let us get back to metallurgy. Ferrite is a very soft phase that is almost pure iron and, while it does have a minute amount of carbon, it is essentially free of any other elements. This makes ferrite soft, malleable, and easy to deform – not soft like Silly Putty, but on a relative scale in the metals world, it is soft. Cementite, on the other hand, is an iron phase that is very rich in carbon. This makes it hard, brittle, and quite difficult to work with. If one had a bar of pure cementite and were to strike it with a hammer hard enough, it would shatter like glass into thousand pieces.
Soft or Hard?
Now that we have some properties established for both the ferrite and cementite, let us delve a little further into the spiritual significance of pearlite, which completes the trifecta of phases. Think of ferrite as the Body of Christ. Christ was scourged, beaten and had his body deformed in all manners, yet not a bone in his body was broken. Ferrite will bend and deform under the load that is put to it and, while it does have a breaking point that all bodies do, that deformation is extreme. Just as Christ was put under the most extreme duress for all of mankind, he did not break.
Cementite is hard and unyielding and can, in a way, be likened to God in the Old Testament. A stiff-necked people required an even more unyielding God. (Do not read too much into that.) As with all human understanding, our thought processes are imperfect, and I’m sure there are inferences I have not thought of, nor could foresee with this metaphor. Suffice it to say cementite will not “yield” in the way the ferrite does.
Pearlite Means Just Right
At this point, something quite interesting happens when one combines the two phases of ferrite and cementite. One begins to combine the most agreeable properties of both phases and get a structure that is described as lamellar in nature. Students of the Roman Empire will understand lamellar armor and the layered bands of metal meant to protect soldiers. The pearlite phase has the same concept since it incorporates layers of both ferrite and cementite. Both phases alternate in varying orientations to provide an interesting structure that is both deformable and hard.
Where does this leave us spiritually? This “pearl of wisdom” should be pointing us to two natures we should seek to emulate. First the nature of ferrite is one of sacrifice. Being sacrificial in our lives is crucial, especially when we attempt to emulate Christ. Christ will hammer us in God’s forge as long as we submit to His will, so that we can be made more into His image and less in our own. The nature of cementite is one that does not yield, but in its own nature it can be brittle. The lesson to be learned is that we should be unyielding in moral principle and in our love for God, but we should not let the sin of pride harden us so much as to be shattered by this world. This is where the two natures of ferrite and cementite must meet: By tempering principle with sacrifice, we strengthen our lives, our families, and those around us.
Iron in the Blood
As with all of mankind, we need help and guidance to bring those two phases together, and what more perfect way than with the Blood of Christ? One of the most important elements in blood is – you guessed it – iron. Once again, iron figures into the spiritual and the physical aspects of our lives in a profound way. Iron helps transport oxygen to all the muscles and organs in our bodies, just as the Body and Blood of Christ sustain our spiritual needs. Christ truly becomes a part of us when we receive the Eucharist. Not only is He flowing through our veins, but in the truest sense, the iron nails that affixed Him to the cross and spilled His blood upon the earth are now a part of us.
To be honest, I feel beyond blessed to be able to share these thoughts with you. I have struggled for a while now to find the connection in my daily work and with the mission God has placed before me on this earth. It is truly an inspiration from the Holy Spirit to make these connections, and I hope they have given you some insight into just how deeply scripture runs. Once again, I pray that you are successful in becoming stronger in Christ through the sacrifice in your life and the unyielding thirst for what is right and just. May you receive the Body and Blood of Christ more humbly, knowing that, through something as simple as iron, there is the beating heart of Christ in all of us.
Ben Ewing is a husband and father of two girls. He works as a Technical Director for a local iron castings company during the day and as Prince Charming from Cinderella or Kristoff from Frozen in the evenings. When he is not wearing feather boas and glittery crowns or getting his hands dirty in a foundry, he can be found roasting his own coffee blends or creating new recipes for home-brewed beer. Though he is a Coloradoan, he currently lives in northern Indiana with his wife, Jeannie Ewing, daughters, and dog (who is also female).
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