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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Artists and Religious Brothers

For those who visit this site regularly it is probably no surprise that I am supporter of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. I know many of them personally from retreats, visits to New York, and time spent with them in Comayagua, Honduras. They are some of the most genuinely regular guys I have ever met, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. There aren't that many Friars with the personalities of Fr. Groeschel or Fr. Stan Fortuna in the order, but there are a lot of real men living out humble and holy lives of prayer and hard work, serving the least among us on a daily basis. The week I spent living with the Friars in Honduras was incredible. I think about them and the time I was blessed to spend with them often. And true of all people living out their vocation, they are an inspiration to others in theirs. Life in the friary had a tremendous impact on the way I viewed life in our home. In turn, they have often said the same, that holy families inspire them in their religious life.

Back to the point of my post. My background is in art and design. It is what I have done for most of my life (full time vocations work is a bit of a change of course!). So what could make the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal even better? Many of them are artists in some form or another. In fact the community encourages it. What a life - prayer, service to the poor, and getting to make art all the while. People always talk about the sacrifices required in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but let me tell you, marriage has them too, and in regards to this post, two of mine would be a contemplative prayer life and time to make art.

The pictures below are from one of the best vocations books out there "The Drama of Reform".

Br. Francis, pictured above, has many of his drawings and paintings on this website - Godsgallery.

The picture above is of Br. Damian, CFR. Every now and then you meet someone that seems to be a kindred soul; Br. Damian is one of them for me. I feel like I learned more in a week about a lived life of faith from this man, than I had from all the previous years of my life combined. I despise the saying that is falsely attributed to St. Francis "preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary" (A few years ago, someone used the Internet to contact some of the most eminent Franciscan scholars in the world, seeking the source of this “Use words if necessary” quote. It is clearly not in any of Francis’ writings. After a couple weeks of searching, no scholar could find this quote in a story written within 200 years of Francis’ death. Source). The saying is frequently used as a relativist copout to escape the call to evangelize WITH words. But I digress. Br. Damian does in fact convincingly live out the Gospel in his life without ever saying a word, but when he does speak, it is with the words that come from a place of deep conversion and deep prayer.

What I don't have a picture of is Br. Damian, CFR and one of the icons he has painted. Br. Damian is one of the Friars in Honduras. On my first trip down there I painted a mural (in four days) on the side of the Missioners of Christ building across the street from the friary. This is the mural...

While painting the mural, Br. Damian came up to talk to me. He asked if I would mind taking a look at an icon he had done. He said he was not an artist. Indeed he was an ER nurse in his life before the Friars. I said I would be happy to take a look at it. Truth be told, I wasn't expecting much, and he didn't make it out to be much. The reality is I have seen far more bad icons than I have good ones. Somehow the style of icons lends itself to mediocre artists trying to pull off what is a truly difficult art form. In the most humble way possible, Br. Damian showed me one of the most beautiful icons of the Blessed Virgin Mary that I have ever seen. Any of my former students will tell you that I am quick to tell them how bad something is, but when I tell them it is good they can take it to the bank. This icon was incredible. He had taught himself the art, and spent 6 painstaking months creating it. Where was this masterpiece destined? He said he would like to give it to one of poor families in the neighborhood! How's that for poverty and abandonment? He is a holy man I tell you. Think of the hours of prayer and contemplation that went into that 8 x 10 icon! It could have easily sold for a large sum of money. How many of us would even think of doing something like that? Well, I guess it's possible when you are an artist living a life of poverty, chastity and obedience.

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