A young artist entered a monastery. He was aware of his sacrifice: abandoning many years of study and sacrifice to become totally available for God. In the monastery, he had the possibility to exercise his art at least in part, but not with a lot of understanding. Community life and the tasks he was given were growing more and more demanding.
On the other hand, the temptation to remain an artist, even an artist-monk, did not give him a moment of peace. He looked at the world, or better, he looked at some of his confreres, other religious artists; one might say that they built a career. Sometimes he felt confused and torn apart. Somehow, he began to reconsider his choice and his sacrifice. His original radicalism gradually gave way to a few compromises. Everything was becoming more and more complicated; in the world of expertise and professionalism, other values less matter less.
But one day our monk-artist met one of his elder confreres: a painter who had quit his art forever before entering the monastery. He destroyed some of his paintings and never picked up a paintbrush again. He said that his path led him from art to God.
I begin to talk. Of this conversation, some words remain engraved in his mind: Remember, you came here to lose! Words that are inhuman, one might say, yet they correspond to the most demanding parts of the Gospel, those about the cross that each of us must carry, denying himself.
Today also the message of the Church tries to be “positive.” It must be human, let us not exagerate. But how can one make it coexist with the radicalism of the Gospel? You can explain and justify everything. Yet, it happens often at the expense of the strength of testimony. What truly matters is the purity of our intention; it matters whether we want to smuggle our interests while serving God and whether we leave a small corner for ourselves while dedicating Him our life. The dynamism of spiritual life makes any compromise of this kind become a dilution of our spirit and also of our existential expressiveness.
It is enough to observe people we meet. We immediately identify those who are thinking only about their own interests, about themselves, and their position. Not many people think about the others, about ideas and projects, instead of just focusing on the benefits they can obtain. This is precisely the measure of a person’s value, of his credibility and honesty. Today it is a rarity and we are in great need of it. Hence, knowing how to lose without dissimulation nor compromises, would become the main path towards destroying the dominion selfishness and narcissism. It would mean leaving room for the others, welcoming them, and keeping them happy. This is the true path of Lent and Mercy.
Friar Bernard Sawicki OSB, coordinator at the Monastic Institute Saint Anselmo in Rome