In preparing for my homily last weekend, I came across this story that I shared with the parish and thought might be a valuable message worth repeating here. It is a story of a young man who appeared to be a budding artist. Of all his works, he was most proud of his latest masterpiece he had just completed, a painting of the Last Supper. With great enthusiasm, he was anxious to show the piece to his friend and get his opinion. That friend was the writer Leo Tolstoy.
The day finally came when the young artist was able to present his work to the famous writer. He unveiled his rendition of the Last Supper. Anxiously, he asked his friend, ”What do you think?” Tolstoy quietly studied the picture. He pondered every detail as the artist watched impatiently. The silence was finally broken as Tolstoy slowly pointed to the central figure. “You don’t really love Him,” he said quietly.
The confused young man responded, “Why, that is the Lord Jesus Christ!” “I know,” said Tolstoy, “but if you loved Him more, you would have painted Him better.”
While most of us are not budding artists, we are called to be budding servants of the Lord and this story points out that important lesson. What would someone looking at our life say to us Christians who claim to have Jesus at the center of our lives? Would they say, I can see that you love Him, or would they say, “If you loved Him more, you would serve Him better?”
Our Christian faith requires more than prayer and worship. Christianity must become something real, tangible, something that pervades all that we are. It must become something we do. It requires that we go out and serve others. We have been challenged to live our lives in the way that Jesus called us to live. How are we doing with that? What do our actions say about our love for the Lord? Do we give from our need or from our surplus? Do we do enough or just enough?
Is our faith the center of who we are? I guess we can only answer that for ourselves; but I know that I have met many people in my life that “love Him more.” I don’t mean that they are radicals or conservatives or die-hards. I mean, rather, that I see in them God’s love present and moving outward from their hearts. I see in them evidence of their relationship with God governing their actions, character and values. Simply put, they walk the talk. They let out what so many have trapped inside. As Catholics we are not called to a “me-God” relationship alone. We are called to an apostolic life. We are called to serve others. We are called to bring Christ to all others. I know that’s the type of Christian I want to be and I work daily to stay on that path. How about you?
Now that the celebration of Christmas is over, the real work of Christmas is just beginning. Howard Thurman (1899-1981) an African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader summarizes for me this real lesson when he wrote,
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”
Let’s take some time during these quiet months of winter, to examine the quality of our service and remember, “If we loved Him more, we would serve Him better.” Then, let’s get to work. Let’s look around and see where we can make a difference and then let’s serve Him better!
Anchor columnist Frank Lucca is a deacon in the Diocese of Fall River assigned to St. Mary’s Parish in Dartmouth, and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Kristine, and the father of two daughters and their husbands, and five grandsons.