De-cide: the art of cutting away

De-cide: the art of cutting away

How did Michelangelo create the David? The David is one of the most famous statues created by an artist who is a household name. Why is that? These are questions that have been handed down through the ages along with the fame of this man and his statue. They are similar to another question that every man encounters in his heart: what is the purpose of my life? Vocational discernment – discovering how the Lord is inviting one to love fully and completely – and Michelangelo have a lot in common. The answer to how Michelangelo created the David and how to discern God’s will for one’s life is the same: cutting away everything that is not the David.

Vocational discernment is like Michelangelo sculpting the David. It takes time to learn how to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit in prayer just like it takes time to learn the techniques of a sculptor. One has to practice making small decisions with love every day just like a sculptor might practice on clay before starting on stone. Ultimately, one must decide how he will respond to all of the love that he has received just like a sculptor must take the chisel in hand and start on his masterpiece. Each must decide and cut away.

Oftentimes vocational discernment can be incorrectly considered the search for an answer instead of the adventure of a relationship. This is the “vending machine” mentality: one puts in his time and effort like a quarter and out pops his vocation like a candy bar. Instead, discernment is more like the mystery of romance in getting to know another person. It is the building up of a relationship with Jesus in the Holy Spirit through prayer.

Some people are afraid of getting to know Jesus because they think that Jesus is a King that comes with a sword to demand allegiance. He is a King, and He comes with a sword, but it is in His heart and not at His side. The spear that pierced His side on the Cross is this sword, and it is also the key that keeps the door to His heart forever open. The same chisel that He uses to cut away all that is not necessary to His masterpiece is the same one that opened the gates to His overflowing love. Love, therefore, is the beginning of vocation.

Like any relationship, once one has truly encountered the love of Jesus, it spurs the desire to respond with an irrevocable gift. The joy of discernment begins here because it is from this desire to respond to the love of God that He begins to take each person on a journey through how their heart is made: their personal desires and talents. The journey of self-knowledge initiated by the Holy Spirit in prayer leads one to understand how the Lord has made him or her and thus how he or she is able to respond to Love. Little acts of love made every day in the process of discernment reveal how one’s heart is made and they prepare one for the complete act of love in either religious or marriage vows. The desire for consecrated life or for marriage becomes clear and the choice between the two ways of life becomes more and more evident. It culminates in a call by the Lord to give one’s self totally in one of the states of life – married life or consecrated life – just as He gave Himself completely in love for and to each person.

It is precisely here, at the point of decision, that many people falter. In modern culture, it is fairly common to encounter the erroneous notion of freedom that says to be free is to have all options readily available. One is free because one has alternatives, it says. Similarly, it is a culture rife with divorce and failed commitments. It is easy to understand how one would hesitate to make such an important and irreversible decision.

However, true freedom lies in the act of choosing. One is free when one decides, not merely because one has the capability of deciding.

“A choice cannot remain imprisoned in an interiority which is likely to remain virtual or unrealistic — a real danger accentuated in contemporary culture — but is called to be translated into action, to take flesh, to embark on a path, accepting the risk of a confrontation with the reality which caused the desires and emotions.”[1]

For example, Michelangelo studied sculpture and practiced his art. When he set hand to the block of marble that would become the David, he was free to cut because he had prepared well. The falling chunks of marble could never be put together again; he had no eraser. Each of the strokes of his chisel was decisive. He was free to be an artist. Similarly, when one discerns well – is in tune with the voice of the Holy Spirit through daily prayer, and has thoroughly examined both marriage and consecrated life and his own heart with true interior indifference – he is free to choose. And, if he chooses out of love, he cannot go wrong.

“To take responsibility for one’s actions is not only to accept responsibility for their impact on others, but to acknowledge that one had several options – good or bad as the case may be – before choosing and acting. Even so, to give the idea of freedom real weight requires recognition of some kind of call. The exercise of human freedom is arbitrary and trivial unless it is a response to an invitation from something that transcends it.” [2]

To some this might sound amazing but too supreme. To whichever vocation the Lord is calling one – be it consecrated life or marriage – He will also provide the means to go through with it. One of the greatest gifts that He gives is His mother Mary. Christ learned how to give His heart away from His mother, because she already had given it away. If one wants to give his heart away, he should turn to Mary.

This image is found in the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Rome. At first, it is not very aesthetically pleasing. Neither Jesus nor Mary is particularly beautiful. The setting is not striking. However, it is very profound. Both Jesus and Mary are holding their hearts in the hands as an offering. Mary’s heart is the typical rendition of the Immaculate Heart, with the sword and the lilies, but Jesus’ heart is not yet the typical Sacred Heart because it does not have the Cross or the crown of thorns. This fact combined with the fact that Mary’s hand is guiding Jesus’ show that Mary is the one who teaches Jesus how to give His heart away entirely.

In the Gospel of Luke, in the presentation in the Temple, Simeon says that Mary’s heart will be pierced by the sword to reveal the thoughts of many hearts. That very moment was the beginning of her heart being pierced. The Gospel passage that follows is when she and Joseph “lose” Jesus in the Temple. It is the beginning of the separation that reaches its culmination in the Cross. Mary could teach Jesus how to have a pierced heart on the Cross because hers was already pierced. Mary could teach Jesus how to give everything away because she had already done so when she said her “fiat” to the angel that came to announce her pregnancy. Why do we say “to Jesus through Mary?” The sword that passed first through the heart of Mary was the key that opened to the door to the heart of Jesus. However the Lord is calling one to give Him everything, He is calling him or her to give Him everything through Mary. And praise God that He calls everyone to give everything through His mother, because she is the best teacher.

The invitation for this meditation is to let the Lord decide, to let Him cut away all that needs to be cut away; let us let the Lord have control over our lives. The etymology of the word “decide” comes from the Latin “de” and “caedere.” “De” means “off” and “caedere” means “to cut.” To decide (de-caedere) then means to cut away. He knows the masterpiece that lies within each of us and the best way to bring out that beauty. Do not be afraid of the chisel. Our God is a King, indeed, and He will come with His sword, but remember that it comes in His heart, the heart that He gives entirely to you in exchange for your own little heart. If He is calling you, it is because He wants to you be with Him and to be like Him. Do not be afraid; Mary will help you. Let the two-edged sword of the Word cut between joint and marrow to reveal who it is you were made to be. Then cut away. Decide.

Concrete Resolution

I will identify an some decision in my life where God is inviting me to “discern”: if there is something I am afraid to let Him “cut away”, I will ask Mary to pray for me so that I can have the courage to let go.

 

[1] XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Preparatory document: young people, the faith, and vocational Discernment. Vatican Website. January 13, 2017. Sec. II, para. 2. Accessed February 19, 2018. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20170113_documento-preparatorio-xv_en.html#2._The_Gift_of_Discernment

[2] Philippe, Jacques (Father). Called to Life, Neal Carter, Tr. 2008, Scepter Publishers, Inc., Strongsville, Ohio.