The Peace of Christ

As Jesus continues to prepare his followers for the time when He will no longer be visible, He imparts to us a great gift, His peace. All too often in our world peace is little more than a ceasefire or even a type of “Cold War.” But the peace that comes directly from Christ is the only true and everlasting peace.

The Church must be a sanctuary of peace from the rest of the world. To do this she must overcome her own internal problems and divisions. This is accomplished with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To reconcile Jew and Gentile within the faith the Holy Spirit guided the early Church to a solution that required each side to make a sacrifice. The Gentiles were not required to observe some of the Jewish practices such as circumcision however they were obliged to make several concessions to the Jews particularly in the areas of marriage and dietary laws. We should not underestimate the degree of sacrifice this called for from both sides.

Neither side is completely right or completely wrong. Within the Peace of Christ each side is called upon to listen to each other and consider the other point of view.

If we approach our divisions in this manner then we will truly experience the peace reflected by the Holy City envisioned by John. Old and new hold together. The gates of the twelve tribes of Israel are connected by stone walls that bear the names of the twelve apostles.

Disordered Art

The world has a disordered view of art. This should not come as a surprise as we live in a fallen world, a world that is less than what it could be, less than what God intended it to be. Somewhere back along our history our first parents turned away from God, losing the grace He had given them. They made a decision to follow their own will rather than God’s.

The result was a loss of grace for the entire world and we see that reflected in the world of art. The world sees art in a disordered way, but how could it not when the artists themselves have a disordered view of art? Artists have lost the sense that the artistic vocation is a vocation of service, not a vocation of self indulgence.

We have seen the extreme of this disordered view in such works of “art” as a crucifix suspended in a jar of urine and a painting of the Blessed Mother composed of elephant dung.

The latest example comes from the library at Rutgers University, a school supported by taxpayer dollars. The library recently displayed a work of “art” that consisted of a corpus, the crucified body of Christ, fixed to a dartboard with darts.

We cannot speak to the artist’s motivation for such a work because the school refuses to disclose the name of the artist. Not that it matters, art that needs to be explained is failed art. The only clue we have is the title of the piece thumbtacked nearby, “Vitruvian Man.”

So apparently the artist intended a visual play on images with Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing.

The library has since removed the work, not because it is sacrilegious, but because the university concluded “that the policy and process the Libraries use to select artwork for exhibitions was not followed.” You can read the entire statement here.

The artistic vocation is a vocation of service, how could we have fallen so far?

Love and Sacrifice

To be a Christian in any endeavor,  including art, is to know the meaning of sacrifice.

Jesus once told us, His followers, that the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind. And the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Today, as He prepares His Church for the time when He will no longer be visible among us, He raises the bar even further. We are no longer to simply love one another as we love ourselves, Jesus instructs us to love one another as He has loved us.

We need only to look at the cross to see how Jesus loved us. Love is not simply hearts and flowers and good feelings. True, deep, radiant love, is sacrificial in nature. We may not all be called to give up our physical life for another but we are all called to sacrifice for each other.

All of the gifts we have received from God, all of our talents, abilities and blessings, are given to us that we may put them at the service of our brothers and sisters. This is what it means to sacrifice our lives for one another and to love as Jesus has loved us.

Do we live for ourselves or do we live for others? Do we sacrifice not only for friends and family but for our community, the Church, as well? This is what it means to be Christian. Sacrificial love can convince the world of the rightness of our faith. It is the proof of all teachings, dogmas, and moral precepts of the Christian Church.

Pax Vobiscum

Following the Shepherd’s Call

Sheep really do respond to their Shepherd’s call. But they need to be close enough to hear his voice so that they can follow him.

A God who is a good shepherd is a God who walks with His people and cares about their every joy and sorrow.

When we stay close to Christ, through prayer, through the sacraments, and through scripture, we hear His voice and we follow Him. But in this world of endless noise and distraction it is easy to get lost in the woods and ravines and fall prey to the wolves and lions that are constantly waiting for us to stray from the safety of the shepherd’s watchful eye.

This is falling prey to the temptations of the world, the temptation to use our gifts selfishly in pursuit of wealth and fame. But the gifts and talents we have been given are gifts of service.

Each of us have a vocation, directed by the gifts we have been given. We are expected to work on improving our gifts and talents, shaping them to serve our vocation. In dong that work, receiving the gifts and living out the vocation they direct us to, we find that the gift we give back to God, and to our brothers and sisters, is the gift of ourselves.

Perhaps more than any other, the artistic vocation is gift meant for others, a gift you give away. Artists act as the means by which God conveys to us His Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

We are merely brushes in the hand of the divine artist, and we fulfill that role best, when we stay close enough to hear our master’s voice.

Make Better Art

Why is there so much mediocre Christian art? It has gotten to a point where Christian artists shun the label because it has become synonymous with substandard art.

We are enjoying a time when a great number of Christian, faith based movies are being made but most of them are panned by critics or receive so little attention that no one knows they exist.

The feeling among many Christian artists, at least those who embrace the term, seems to be that the message is so important it will shine through even a modest effort. Perhaps, but if we take our role seriously, using the gifts God has given to win over souls, and glorify Him, then does not that effort deserve the absolute best we are capable of?

Imagine a carpenter who is commissioned to build a throne for a king. It is unlikely that he would slap together a simple chair that just gets the job done. It is more likely he brush up on his skills, take an  honest look at what he is capable of, and acquire the knowledge and talent he needs to construct a throne worthy of a king.

There is a story about the great Chinese painter Hokusai. One day he was commissioned by the prince to paint a lion. The prince waited months but the artist did not fulfill the commission. Finally the prince went down to Hokusai’s studio in person and demanded the painting. Hokusai immediately took a blank piece of paper and within a few minutes, had completed a magnificent painting of a lion.

Although he was greatly impressed the prince was also somewhat exasperated. “If you could do it so quickly, why have you taken so long to do so?” he asked.

The painter then took the prince inside his workshop where the prince saw hundreds of drawings, paintings, and sketches of lions. “It took me this long to learn to paint a lion worthy of you,” explained the artist.

Philip Kosloski, over at The National Catholic Register,  recently published an article suggesting another reason for so much bland Christian art, particularly in films. He suggests that film makers are more interested in preaching than in bearing witness.

He makes an excellent point. The witness born by someone who dies for their beliefs has much more impact on people than something they see as a sermon. People like stories of heroic belief, they don’t so much like to be preached to. Read the entire article here.

If artist truly embrace their calling they will want to make the most excellent work they are capable of, even if that means spending years developing their gifts. After all our true audience is not other people, our true audience is God and His saints.

Our Spiritual Quest

Did you ever consider your life as a quest, a grand adventure?

Life as a journey is an apt metaphor. It is the idea that at the end of your life your honors and achievements are less important than the path you took to get there. But a journey with a specific purpose becomes a quest. When the purpose or mission of a quest is spiritual in nature it becomes a pilgrimage.

Our entire life here on this world is a pilgrimage, a word that embodies adventure, journey and quest all in one. Saint Augustine saw this as far back as the 4th century. We are on the path to eternal life and our mission is to purify ourselves so that we are fit for that life and to bring with us as many as we are able.

Like any journey, along the way we will experience joy and sorrow, good times and bad, exhilaration and defeat. But we can persevere through all that because we know we are not alone, Christ walks beside us every step of the way. We are all on our own “road to Emmaus.”

We live in a fallen world and as such, pain and hardship are a part of our lives. Some people seem to be able to cope with adversity better than others. Some people persevere through personal tragedies while others seem to never recover. What makes the difference? Knowing that God can bring good out of evil gives us the strength to bear the blows inflicted upon us by this fallen world. Christ’s victory over this world will be ours as well.

Pax vobiscum

Painted Paschal Candles

PC5By now every parish has had their paschal candle burning brightly at Mass, and will continue to do so throughout the Easter season. It is very likely that the majority of these candles have been ordered from a liturgical supply company that offers a variety of mass produced candle designs, many of them quite beautiful.

But by doing this, parishes are missing out on an opportunity to patronize and encourage the artists in their midst. Many parishes and dioceses throughout the world are using paschal candles that have been painted by a local artist. Some of these are commissioned by the church and some are donated by the artist. This is a practice that seems to be growing and should be very much encouraged.

One of the biggest hurdles in encouraging artists to use their gifts to glorify God is the lack of patronage. The Church is no longer the patron of the arts that it used to be and liturgical art projects are few and far between. But by working with a local artist to paint a paschal candle, every parish has an opportunity to encourage artists in the proper use of their gifts.

I would encourage pastors to hold their artists to a very high standard, not only because the work is to ultimately glorify God but also to push artists to develop their talents to the highest degree possible. Accept proposals, review the work of the artists who express their interest in the project, and choose an artist you can work with, one who will take direction and be guided by the artistic traditions of the Church.

All too often when we decorate our churches we think either of the budget, and go the catalog route, or we look outside the church for nationally known professional studios. But do we even consider looking to the people of our own parish or diocese? This does not mean we have to accept sub-standard art, but it does mean we have to expend a little more effort to find the craftsmen and craftswomen that may be sitting next to us at Mass.

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© Brightly Hude Studios

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The Best Argument For Beautiful Churches

Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, Wuhan, China

What is the best reason to build beautiful churches? Beauty saves souls. Beauty draws us to itself and points us beyond to God who is the incarnation of beauty. Seeing a beautiful church can lead people to want to know more about the God that inspired such beauty.

There is a story over at the Catholic News Agency about a Chinese artist who came to the faith through the beauty of the cathedral.

Yan Xu had just resigned from a job in 2003 and was feeling lost as to where to go next. As an artist, she always carries a sketchbook and so one day she sat down across from Saint Joseph’s Cathedral in the central China city of Wuhan, and just started sketching. She found the church to be magnificent, beautiful, and returned to turn her sketch into a painting.

On the third day a priest from the cathedral came over to talk to her, by that time she was hungry to learn more about the faith.

Yan Xu was received into the church at Saint Joseph’s Cathedral on the Easter Vigil of 2011. You can read more about her story and the difficulty of being a religious minority over at CNA’s website.

Too often it seems that, today, our churches are noteworthy because they were designed by a world famous architect rather than for their stunning beauty. And the architects themselves seem more interested in creating a unique, groundbreaking design, than they are in drawing upon the rich visual vocabulary and history of church architecture.

There is evidence that this attitude is changing. There are a number of architects who draw upon tradition and design churches that are modern but still evoke the beauty and grandeur that has inspired the church for thousands of years. Unfortunately it seems that these talented designers are commissioned for relatively small projects while the high profile jobs, cathedrals for instance, still go to high profile architects who design monstrosities that are anything but beautiful.

Who would be drawn to a faith that worships in a building that looks like nothing more than a jumble of oversized children’s building blocks?

To paraphrase a comment from my recent article in Crisis magazine, if we want beautiful churches that draw people to God, then we need to hire architects that design beautiful churches.