Let the master artist chip away everything that imprisons you
I’m new in the Archdiocese of Seattle. As we become acquainted, one thing you may discover is that I have zero artistic talent. Seriously. Drawing stick people is pretty much the limit of my capabilities.
Although I am not an artist, I do appreciate the great works of those who are blessed with talent, and Michelangelo Buonarroti is among my favorites.
His works captivate my attention, whether they are paintings in the Sistine Chapel or sculptures in the various churches and museums of the world. He was not only a talented artist but also a great preacher, and through his works he communicated both beauty and message.
Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg
It is the messages of faith embedded in his works that always mean the most to me.
One of those messages that has continued to affect my life concerns his approach to sculpting in marble. Someone is reported to have asked the artist about the process he used to create a sculpture, and he replied that his job was not to create something that didn’t exist but to see the image already present in the marble and to set it free by removing everything that shouldn’t be there.
One needs only to view his famous Prisoners at the Accademia Gallery in Florence to see how Michelangelo understood figures to be trapped in marble and how the artist must set them free by slowly chipping away all that imprisons them, all that shouldn’t be there.
That is a great instruction for our spiritual lives as well. Sometimes we can think that growth in the spiritual life means adding more and more daily prayers or practices.
Michelangelo reminds us that sometimes our greater need is to recognize what imprisons us and to invite Jesus, the master artist, to chip away from our lives all that shouldn’t be there so the divine image within us can be set free.
Think about that for a moment. Each of us is created in God’s image and likeness, and in our baptism we are configured to Jesus as priest, prophet and king and become a temple of the Holy Spirit, an adopted child of God, a member of the church as the body of Christ. That is our deepest and most authentic identity. We never lose that identity, but it can become obscured, entrapped and imprisoned in
distorted affections, false priorities and sinful habits.
Jesus wants to set us free and remove all that is not of him in our lives. He wants to be the master artist who, with our permission and cooperation, helps us to emerge unfettered from the entrapments of the past so as to live in the freedom of the children of God.
The saints understood the great mercy of God manifested in his redeeming love, and they actively sought it. In the Eucharist, they learned how to become living tabernacles who carried Jesus’ presence to the world. In private prayer, they learned to humbly submit to the Lord’s penetrating gaze loving them into being. They learned to be honest with God because they knew the Lord wanted to give them more abundant life. They let go of their fears and eagerly abandoned themselves to Jesus who had opened his arms to embrace and overcome the whole world — even sin and death.
So what do we have to fear? If Michelangelo could set free the Pietà from the imprisonment of stone, how much more can Jesus set us free from indifference, complacency, harmful habits and coldheartedness?
Today, present yourself to the Lord in the silence of prayer and beg him to bring to completion the good work he has already begun. The beauty of a stone sculpture is nothing compared to the glory of God revealed in a holy human life.
Daniel Mueggenborg is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle.
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