Andre Love doesn’t look like your typical Benedictine monk. But for the last six years the former tattoo artist has been a member of the order at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon, where he is an iconographer and curator of the Abbey’s art collection. The Statesman Journal recently profiled Brother Andre Love and his incredible journey to the monastic life.
Six years ago, Mount Angel Abbey’s serene hilltop campus shook, as leather-clad Bobby Love rolled in on his motorcycle. Love removed his helmet revealing pierced ears and a mop of dreadlocks. With tattoos on his hands, arms and neck, he looked like an extra on “Sons of Anarchy” not a someone attending a retreat for those who might become Catholic monks.
Love knew from a young age that he wanted to devote his life to being an artist. After dropping out of high school and serving in the army, he discovered he could make $100 an hour as a tattoo artist, and developed a reputation as a tattoo artist in New York, New Orleans, Seattle and Austin. Despite having friends and material comfort, Love was still unhappy. He told the Statesman Journal:
“Everything said I should be happy, but I felt very alone and adrift. I looked at myself and realized that I had become a product,” Love said. “I was doing art not as personal expression but for what the kids want, what the kids would shell out the coin for.”
It had become about money, brand and ego. It had become about drugs and booze. He’d left his family and divorced three times.
“I had no clue what love was. I had no clue how to love or how to let other people love me and that’s why I was miserable,” Love said.
He admitted being an addict.
“The addiction was only a symptom of a greater problem … spiritual bankruptcy,” Love said. “I came to the realization that I need God. I needed to be a whole person in the sense that it’s not just about the material or the physical, but there was a whole spiritual dynamic that I had completely ignored.”
From a sermon by Saint Bernard, abbot
I love because I love, I love that I may love
Love is sufficient of itself, it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love, I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.
The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return. Should not a bride love, and above all, Love’s bride? Could it be that Love not be loved?
Rightly then does she give up all other feelings and give herself wholly to love alone; in giving love back, all she can do is to respond to love. And when she has poured out her whole being in love, what is that in comparison with the unceasing torrent of that original source? Clearly, lover and Love, soul and Word, bride and Bridegroom, creature and Creator do not flow with the same volume; one might as well equate a thirsty man with the fountain.
What then of the bride’s hope, her aching desire, her passionate love, her confident assurance? Is all this to wilt just because she cannot match stride for stride with her giant, any more than she can vie with honey for sweetness, rival the lamb for gentleness, show herself as white as the lily, burn as bright as the sun, be equal in love with him who is Love? No. It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently then is to share the marriage bond; she cannot love so much and not be totally loved, and it is in the perfect union of two hearts that complete and total marriage consists. Or are we to doubt that the soul is loved by the Word first and with a greater love?