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Called to be Artists

Why in the world would Jesus propose an unreliable and dishonest servant as the hero of one of his parables?  Who really knows, but it’s exactly what Jesus did, according to the gospel of Luke, chapter 16.

According to the story a steward had “dissipated” the assets of his master, though it’s not explicit as to how.  Still, the suggestion is that he squandered rather than stole the funds, and it was enough to get him dismissed.  But in one last act of outrage he added insult to injury by doctoring the books.  He reduced the accounts of all those who were indebted to his master, hoping they might remember him when he landed on the streets.  Clearly this was not an act of affection, but rather a calculation that something good might come his way.

DD086A05-C9FB-4385-B3DF-25F99F84F05DWhat he did was blatantly dishonest.  But it was daring, and for that Jesus gave him credit.  But to add to the confusion, Jesus passed on the soft-ball opportunity to condemn stealing and instead praised the steward’s ingenuity in using ill-gotten gain.  Would that his own disciples might be equally resourceful in the service of God!

That’s the obvious moral to the story, but there’s something else that Jesus leaves to us to discover all by ourselves.  What does it take to wake up to what we’re doing with our lives?  Does it take a major illness?  Does it take a personal catastrophe or the loss of someone dear to us?  Does it take the wisdom that comes with age?  Or does it take a notice of termination, as was the case with the steward?

No matter when or if we each go through the shock of a personal Great Awakening, we all tend to waltz through long stretches of life on the assumption that there will be endless tomorrows.  It provides the excuse that the servant used to justify a wasted life, only to discover he didn’t have a lot of time to redirect it onto some thoughtful course.  As for us, we have the same opportunity, even if God doesn’t always send us ample notice on the termination of our pilgrimage.

5D44A3A1-DF0B-4A1B-BB18-98741A218320Recently a friend of mine sent a cartoon that showed a bewildered man standing at the gates of heaven.  Saint Peter reads from the ledger and then looks squarely at the recently-deceased.  “It seems you had a reasonably good life.  Unfortunately you missed most of it because you were staring into your cell phone.

That cell phone may be real or metaphorical, but the point is obvious.  To borrow from another medium, a painter has to work within the limits of a canvas, and so our lives too have limits marked by a beginning and an end.  They define our opportunity to do something singular with our lives, and they are part of the fine print in the contract God made with us at birth.  God then stands back to let us be the artist, and it’s the greatest commission we’ll ever have.  If we are imaginative and resourceful, and if we don’t put the work off until the last minute, our painting could very well become a work of art!

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+On September 16th a van filled with 3,000 organ pipes arrived at Saint John’s after a ride from organ-builder Martin Pasi’s studio in Tacoma, WA.  They were promptly unloaded and currently occupy one section of pews in the abbey church.  The church is a mess right now, but in a few months it will result in an organ that is twice the size of the current organ.

+On September 20-22 I gave a retreat to members of the Federal Association of the Order of Malta, at a retreat center in Mundelein, IL, located just outside of Chicago.

+This past week Abbot Jeremias Schroder from Germany visited us for several days.  He heads the Benedictine congregation of Saint Ottilian, which is a congregation of missionary Benedictine monasteries around the world.  Several of our Benedictine Volunteers currently work in some of those monasteries, and we’ve been fortunate to host monks from various of these abbeys studying at Saint John’s over the years.

+On September 22nd I attended a dinner and ceremony at which the president of Saint John’s Univeristy, Dr. Gene McAllister, conferred the Fr. Colman J. Barry Award on alumnus Ambassador Robert Shafer.  The award salutes unique contributions to religion and society, and Bob has certainly done that.  In addition to a long career at Pfizer Corporation, he has been a long-time member of the Order of Malta, and for many years served as the Order’s permanent observer at the United Nations.  He’s also served on the boards of Saint John’s University and the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.

+I neglected in the previous post to note that we have welcomed two brothers into our community.  Brother Felix was clothed as a novice on September 11th, and Brother David  was welcomed for a probationary year.  He had already completed his novitiate and years in formation before taking a leave of absence to consider his vocation.  We are delighted to have him back with us, along with Brother Felix.

+The first photo in today’s post shows some of the 3,000 new pipes for the organ.  They will be fitted into the two spaces that flank the big red screen in the abbey church.  To get there they must go through one of two openings into the organ loft, shown in the third photo.  The event at which we honored Ambassador Shafer (below) began with a musical performance by students from Saint John’s University.

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