Beauty for Brothers
By Abbey Foard
"Love consists of a commitment which limits one's freedom—it is a giving of the self, and to give oneself means just that: to limit one's freedom on behalf of another."
Karol Wojtyla (Later to be known as Pope St. John Paul II)
Whoa Karol. This does not line up with Christmas Hallmark movies! What do you mean love’s commitment limits me? Constraint of my freedom is anathema; I’ve been taught to cast off restrictions when love is at stake.
But leave it to a 15th century monk to instruct me in truth.
Last month, I celebrated a notable birthday in Florence, Italy. One surprise marvel was a 15th century monastery, now the San Marco Museum. The monastery’s most notable abbot was Fra. Angelico, now known as one of the master painters of the Florentine Renaissance.
I entered the “museum” expecting to see a display of framed artwork and collected pieces. Instead, I found a living gallery of Angelico’s frescoes. At every turn, on the walls of hallways and monks’ cells, Angelico adorned the monastery with exquisite paintings of the life of Christ.
Awe overtook me as I realized I was admiring the monk’s “home decoration”—a master’s humble service of his brothers. Fra. Angelico could have painted on canvases to be sold to the highest bidder—a jewel in the home of a rich patron or renown gallery. Angelico painted for his brothers. For love’s sake, he forsook the advancement of his bank account and reputation.
In line with Wojtyla, Fra. Angelico offered his gift within deliberate constraints. He chose love over broader artistic influence. He painted His gift freely, upon backdrops that could not be bartered. He gave his gift to the people the Lord gave him.
God’s vision for our gift-giving excludes self-glory and invites self-sacrifice. We bear fruit when we sow our simple gift to the people God gives us.
Are we willing to give our best in hiddenness? To give up self-focus for love’s sake? When we are obedient to sow our gift where God asks us, we never know how many times our offering will multiply. Angelico said "yes" to painting on rough monastery walls. Yet his offering touches thousands of lives annually 600 years later.
There is power in simple gifts given in love. We rejoice in love’s limits and entrust the Creator to generate what He will from our best gifts, humbly given.