Michelangelo was asked the question how he could make a beautiful sculpture like his “Moses” out of a large block of marble. He famously answered that he simply began and chipped away everything that wasn’t Moses.
And this is a paradigm for us, into senses.
Clearly for us, the Lord must chip away everything in us which is not Jesus. Yes, everything that is not of the Lord must go. St. Paul said, “I live, no not I, Christ lives in me! (Gal 2:20). And thus, the Lord chips away at all in us that is not of him that we may become the image of God in Christ.
And yet, there is also very personal sense too, in which not only must we become Christ, but we must also authentically become our very selves. Each of us is called to reflect Christ, but the Lord has made us, as individuals, to reflect something particular about him in a unique way. You and I therefore must become the man or the woman that God made us to be.
Every now and again I might think, as do you, “Would that I were more like St. John Vianney, or St. Francis Xavier, and so forth.” But to this lament, the Lord may likely respond, “I already have a St. John Vianney, I have a Francis Xavier, what I need is you.
And thus, for me, the Lord must chip away me everything that is not Charles Pope. For He made me, and you as well, to be a particular reflection of his glory. Yes, ultimately, we are all called to reflect Christ, but in the particular way that only we can.
Part of our journey is to discover our true self, as God has made us to be, and become that true self. We must allow the Lord to Chip away everything that is is not of God, or of our very selves as he is made us to be.
This is not an invitation to strange idiosyncrasies, or a hyper-individualized version of the truth. No, God does not speak out of both sides of his mouth, and the truth about us will ultimately always be subsumed into the fundamental truth of who Jesus is, who he has created the human person to be in his likeness. And thus, as the Lord sculpts, he is not doing abstract art. Rather, he is working in the context of his revealed truth, but also realizing it in a very particular way in each one of us, with particular some particular reference to the whole truth.
A few final thoughts about carving and chipping away.
First, it is slow and painstaking. Great care and thoughtfulness is required of the artist. And so it is with us who are being sculpted by the Lord. We must learn to be patient and allow him to do his work carefully and creatively. Too often we are impatient. But true art requires that the artist step back and look, work and then reflect. Give the Lord the time and authority he needs.
Secondly, there is a kind of pain in sculpting and it is bewildering. Sculpting and shipping away is difficult, even painful. At the time we may not know or appreciate what the Lord is doing and we all may also worry as to what our final appearance will actually be. But no more than the stone can claim greater wisdom than the sculptor, should we claim a greater wisdom than God who sculpts us.
The Lord admonishes,
Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’? Woe to the one who says to a father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to a mother, ‘What have you brought to birth? “This is what the Lord says—the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. (Isaiah 45:9-12)
Somewhere, and somehow we must allow the Lord to do his work. In the end, everything that is not Jesus must be chipped away, and everything that is not our very self which God has made us to be must be chipped away.
In the end, God must be able to say to you I simply chipped away everything that was not of my Son, and everything that was not of you, as I made you to be from all eternity.
Let him work.