“If I were, Who would know?”
Early on in the 1966 film, A Man for All Seasons, a young man by the name of Richard Rich is hanging around the household of Thomas More. Thomas More is a judge and Rich hopes that More's influence can lead the young man to a position at the royal court of King Henry VIII.
Instead, More offers Rich a position at the new school as a teacher. “Teacher?” responds Rich, curling his lip in disgust.
“Why not be a teacher?” asks More. “You'd make a good one, perhaps a great one.”
Rich, still disappointed that this conversation is not going in the direction he wanted, responds. “If I were, who would know?”
“You would,” says More emphatically, “your students, your friends, ...God. Not a bad public, that.”
Unfortunately for More, Rich does not appreciate such a fan base and goes on to become one of the great villains in the film. But God notices what we do, both the good and the bad.
In the story of the widow's mite. Jesus sits down opposite the temple treasury and watches as people make their donations to the temple fund. They all pass without comment from Our Lord until a widow donates a “mite,” a coin worth a few cents. Jesus takes note and points her out to his followers.
It is not about the virtue of generosity, after all, the widow receives no reward for her sacrifice of “all she had.” Jesus does not speak to her or directly praise her.
What Jesus does, is notice her. All the wealthy people that came before her pass by without a comment from the Lord. His words of warning about rich hypocrites who devour the houses of widows, still hang in the air.
A widow in Jesus’ day was truly a non-person. No one cared for her or protected her. Widows were not allowed to inherit their husbands estate. Under Jewish law, they were entitled “maintenance” until they remarried but the laws were not always followed and besides this could still have kept her on the edge of poverty.
But as everyone else overlooks the widow, Jesus notices her. He notices her act of fidelity, kindness, and generosity. He notices this small nondescript person whose actions make a difference in the world, and he points her out to His followers.
And that ultimately is what we are to learn from the story of this nameless widow. It is a lesson that is still relevant two thousand years later. Jesus notices us. Even though we are not the celebrities of this world, even though we are not the “movers and shakers” or the rich and powerful, God notices us.
The Vocation of the Artist
It is sometimes forgotten by patrons that artists, like everyone else, have bills to pay and families to support. And so a great deal of effort is expended by artists of all types to find their audience or their "tribe," who will support their artistic endeavors. An entire industry has grown, with the expansion of the internet, dedicated to helping artists market their work and find their audience.
This is not a bad thing but it takes time and frequently the artist must choose between creating and marketing their creations. This can lead to frustration and questions about their art, their role, and "just what is it God wants me to do anyway?" With all the pressures of the secular world, it is easy to lose sight of who we are truly working for.
Carl Schmidt (1889-1989) was an artist who spent his life discovering his vocation as a Catholic and as a painter. In an age when art was seen as a vehicle for self-exploration and personal indulgence, Schmidt saw the fine arts as "as an image of reality in its fullness, which reality is itself an image of the Triune God." His life was not an easy one and he frequently found himself on the edge of poverty with a family to support. But he did not waver in his conviction that he was given this gift of artistic talent for a reason.
Ultimately, as Saint Paul tells, we must ask if we are seeking the approval of men or of God? (Galatians 1:10) If we are seeking the approval of men only then we run the risk of not serving God.
While the realities of life cannot be ignored, we must remember that we are all servants of God, using the gifts he has given us to do His will. For the artist, that means coming to the realization that his audience is not other people. His audience is God, His angels, and His saints. We do not serve our brothers and sisters by trying to please them. That is an impossible task. We serve them by showing them God through our work and our lives, for the two cannot be separated. The work we produce reflects, and is informed by, our moral and spiritual convictions.
It does not, in the end, matter if our work brings us wealth or fame. We will still employ our gifts because it is the vocation God has given us. And God notices how we use them.
Our small deeds, however mean and humble they may be, are noticed and remembered and cherished by our God. Even a cup of water given in His name, is remembered, and the giver shall not lose his reward.
What we do counts.
And God notices.
this article originally appeared at www.DeaconLawrence.org
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org