True freedom comes when we guard our hearts against lies, fear, and compromise, so that the voice of Truth can whisper and be heard.
This saint faced the trials of the day, finding his answers by venturing to the furthest limits of himself, and finding there the only One who can say, “Behold, I am with you always.” From this place, he has made a gift of himself to guide us on our own journeys to the kingdom within where the Lord dwells.
St. Brother Albert
Giving God your brokenness
The life of St. Brother Albert Chmielowski, priest and painter, was marked by a series of apparent failures, failures that, when turned over to God, became the source of life for others. Born into a wealthy family in Poland in 1845, St. Brother Albert fought in the uprising against the Russians, lost a leg, and was exiled. He went to Belgium, where he discovered his talent for painting. At age 35, he decided to enter the Jesuits, but there he had a mental breakdown, experiencing deep shame and fear of a severe and vengeful God. He left the order and was sent for treatment for depression.
After a conversation with a humble and holy priest, he began to see Jesus’ goodness and merciful love for his own fragile, broken heart, and he realized his weakness and failure were not obstacles for the glory of God. He concluded that either he could spend his life obsessed with his faults, or he could hand them over to God for healing and receive transformation and new life in his soul. His acceptance of his own poverty and his search for the face of Christ among the poor gave birth to a religious community, the Franciscan Servants of the Poor. He died on Christmas day in 1916.
In St. Brother Albert’s Ecce Homo painting, Christ’s red robe outlines the shape of an enormous heart on His chest, covered in lacerations. The magnified, wounded Heart of Jesus is the center of the painting and of the entire world. This heart is much like Brother Albert’s heart, and each of our hearts, bearing the marks of suffering. We cannot live from our hearts unless we accept our interior landscape in its totality, including the rocky parts. It is through our wounds and weaknesses, surrendered to Jesus, that living water can flow.
Originally printed in IMPRINT Magazine Spring 2019.