God never ceases to call each and every one of us. We are called to the same work, the same "Great Commission." but we respond to that work in different ways according to our gifts.
The Prodigal Son
Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son? In the parable of the Prodigal Son we are told of the younger heir and his wasteful spending of his inheritance. The word prodigal means to be recklessly extravagant, and the younger son is certainly that. He squanders his fortune and almost loses his life before finally realizing that he would be better off as the least of his father’s servants, and decides to return home.
Then, according to St. Luke, “While he (the younger son) was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him…He ran to his son…”
We can easily imagine the father looking for his son’s return every day from some high vantage point on his property. Perhaps every morning and evening he would climb to the roof or a watchtower, and look off into the distance, hoping for his son’s return. And as soon as he sees him he rushes towards him.
God never ceases to watch for us and wait for us, calling us home. He is always there waiting and hoping for our return to Him. He gives us the space to repent of the times we have neglected or misused our gifts, and return to the work for which we were given those gifts in the first place.
The Great Commission
What is that work? What does God call us to do? What is He asking of us? He tells us very clearly.
“Therefore, go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have ever commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the consummation of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
This is what is referred to as the Great Commission. Every Christian is called to teach the world to observe all that Christ has commanded us. All of us are given different and unique combinations of skills and abilities, different gifts, to accomplish our task. And there are no small gifts.
And there is more to the commission:
“Christ's redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel.” Apostolicam Actuositatem. Chapter 2
God made a visible world and an invisible world, a spiritual order and a temporal order. The temporal order is made up of many elements, family, culture, economic affairs, the arts and professions, political institutions, international relations, and so on. But the temporal order is affected by the fall of man, it is marred by sin. Sin has led to our disordered desires, a corruption of morals, a corruption of human institutions and a general tendency to look at the human person as an object rather than as a child of God, created in His image.
We see this in much of the culture around us, increasingly, there is no sense of God, no sense of morality, no sense of right or wrong. Temporal things have become idols to be worshipped, crowding God out of our lives.
Every Christian is called to correct the distorted temporal order, and direct it back to God. Our work is to restore the perfection of the world God created, to restore all things to the way they were, to "make all things new."
Bishop James Conley, of Lincoln Nebraska, has written, “Cultural renewal is essential, because the Catholic faith is not just a private conviction. The mystery of the Incarnation changes everything. Our faith is meant to be the basis of a culture—a shared way of life that uses the things of this world to glorify God.”
The Work of the Artist
What does this mean for the artists, the creators, and the makers of things?
It means that those gifted with artistic talent or creativity, are called upon to use those talents in service to further the "Great Commission." All too often it seems that artists are particularly susceptible to indulging in their own whims and desires. Our contemporary society constantly strokes the ego of the artist by telling him or her that they, as artists, can do whatever they want, and call it art. No one can tell them otherwise because art is above all, according to our post enlightenment culture, a form of self expression.
The gift of art can be used for many things but its primary purpose is to serve the community in a way that reconnects the community with God, and to restore the holiness and dignity of the world as it was created to be. We do art and artists a great disservice by limiting this expression of the creative spark of the divine, to mere self-indulgence. Creatives share a small part in the creative power of God. Their vocation is unique in this way. It is a powerful gift that can evoke laughter, tears, and awe in hearts and minds of those who experience their work.
We are at war with an enemy who tries to lure us away from the "Great Commission" at every turn. He preys upon our weaknesses, our ego, and our desire for fame and power. He tries to use all those things to draw us away from our work, in hopes that we will abandon the work we are called upon to do.
This is the work of every Christian. We may approach the work differently but this is the task that is given to every one of us. Artists can fulfill this mandate by using their gifts to contribute to human culture in a way that conforms to the teachings that God has given us on how we are to live in this world. This is the best service we may render to our brothers and sisters.
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