All Saints Day ’17: the Diversity of Saints

There are so many different Saints from so many different backgrounds and walks of life. This is captured in the first reading from today’s Solemnity of All Saints. It’s from the book of Revelation. St. John describes what he saw in a vision of the heavenly reality:

“I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
From every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”

A great multitude, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. Every one on this earth is called to be a Saint. In fact, it is required, canonized or not, in order to enter heaven.

The diversity of Saints spans a spectrum of different vocations, charisms, and states of life. The Holy Spirit, the Saint-maker, bestows differing gifts to members of the one Church. Just as a physical body has unique members that have different functions so too does the Mystical Body of Christ, the Catholic Church, have distinct members that carry out all sorts of different functions. This is the creative genius of God.

I once heard a priest give this analogy: imagine an immense Gothic cathedral with a bright stained glass window. The rays of the sun pour through the panes of glass, illuminating it. And the window casts down colors of all sorts. This is what God does. One baptism, several manifestations, the graces are unique to each and every individual person. God loves variety. St. Benedict is not St. Francis, St. Monica is not like St. Bernadette, neither is St. Paul Miki like St. Charles Lwanga.

There is much more that could be said about today but this will have to suffice!

St. John Paul II and Hip-Hop

 Today is the Feast day of St. John Paul the Great. It’s the day that he was elected in 1978. In his honor, I offer the following blog post that I wrote last year.

Back when I was in high school, the student radio station entertained us every day during lunch. The music spanned several genres and provided a whole lot more variety than the food could ever hope to. It was in those days that I began to enjoy listening to hip-hop. Eventually, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, and the Wu-Tang Clan filled a void that a lack of friends left in me. My appreciation for hip-hop grew and evolved in the years that followed the more I was exposed to it. I have to say that I learned a lot about the culture and art form thanks to the Internet. Speaking of which, I recently saw a video of a 16-year-old emcee with a very impressive vocabulary and amazing rhyming talent. He certainly stands out in stark contrast with the unintelligible garbage out there today that passes for music.

I am aware of just how much of an impact that hip-hop had on me. It’s really given me an understanding of the power of words and of language. To me, as a visual artist, writing––if it’s good––can be described as painting with words. Writers like CS Lewis, GK Chesterton, and JRR Tolkien come to mind. In large part, my growing aptitude for writing, something that I have to keep working on, has been greatly influenced by hip-hop. Like all forms of communication, hip-hop has the ability to convey truth or error. Admittedly, many errors have been transmitted through hip-hop, sadly by some of the most gifted of lyricists. All of this has been on my mind lately as I’ve been reading the book Witness to Hope by George Weigel, the biography of Pope St. John Paul II.

In the 1st few chapters that I’ve read of Witness to Hope, I’ve learned some things about the late great Pope that I hadn’t really known before. I knew that when he was growing up in Poland, literature, and drama were taught and relished as cultural treasures. Karol Wojtyła saw the theater as a means of cultural resistance as the Nazis sought to destroy Polish culture and assimilate the country. What I didn’t know was that he actually studied language and linguistics and aspired to be a philologist. I guess that makes a lot of sense because the man seemed to be fluent in several languages and wrote a lot of books and encyclicals. One of his mentors was a man who saw the spoken word as a transmitter of truth, who is ultimately the Word of God. The actor’s role was to almost make himself invisible and allow the power of the truth that he was at the service of, take the front and center stage.

 The Pope’s words were powerful. I was always edified by the things he said and wrote, and because of him, I have been following the words of Pope Benedict –– who wrote prodigiously, and the words of Pope Francis. I think it must have been very difficult for Pope John Paul II, towards the end of his life when he was unable to speak. But just seeing him spoke volumes to me. I understood redemptive suffering because of his witness, a witness that made his apostolic letter on redemptive suffering all the more credible.

 I hope that people continue to read the thought of this great man. To bring this post to a close, my mind goes to his letter to artists. St. John Paul II encouraged artists to make beautiful art through which to win souls. Art reaches souls in a way that words cannot…so anyway, this is where I should bust out some dope rhymes in honor of today’s Saint, but seeing as I can’t, I’ll post something by someone more qualified…

Reflections on Saint Luke and his Gospel

17th-century unknown painters - St Luke the Apostle and Evangelist - WGA23506.jpg
Unknown Icon Painter, Russian (2nd half of 17th century)Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, Link

We do well to think about St. Luke’s Gospel on his Feast Day.  St. Luke, said to have been an artist who painted or wrote the first icon of the Blessed Virgin, paints a portrait of Jesus Christ as the Merciful Savior. At the outset, Jesus is described as the One who comes “in the tender compassion of Our God… to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet in the way of peace.” He comes to those most in need of his mercy, to the poor and humble, to the lost, and the forgotten.

Jesus comes to the poor as one who is poor. God becomes for our sakes. He embraces the poverty of the family is born into–when he is presented in the Temple there is no mention of a lamb but turtle doves and pigeons, the offering of those who could not afford. The infancy/childhood narrative that only St. Luke’s provides ends with the Holy Family living in unassuming Nazareth. Later, in the Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus is recounted, as well as the parable of the good Samaritan, bringing attention to those in need.

Jesus comes for the spiritually poor, sick, and needy as well. When 12-year-old Jesus is “lost,” with he’s in solidarity all those who are lost. He comes to seek the lost, the ones who “dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Jesus is the shepherd who leaves the 99 in search for the one stray lamb. In Luke’s Gospel, he tells the parable of the prodigal son–which is really about the prodigal Father who lavishes mercy on sinners. Throughout the Gospel, we see Jesus as the Good Samaritan, ostracized by some of his own, taking the place of the man in the ditch. He is the Divine Physician who comes to bind our wounds by becoming wounded and bound in swaddling burial cloths.

These are things that stand out to me in the Gospel of Luke. I can’t fail to notice that Luke was a physician, the only New Testament writer who mentions that Jesus’ sweat falls to the ground as drops of blood (a real medical condition called hematidrosis: of being under extreme duress to the point that capillaries burst and mingle with sweat). And Luke is the only one who records the event of the Road to Emmaus. It’s one of my favorite accounts of the Resurrection: the Resurrected I started to walks alongside two of his disciples who are so traumatized by the events of Good Friday that they fail to recognize him. Jesus makes as if he doesn’t know what has happened, then he proceeds to reveal himself in the Scriptures and in the “breaking of the bread.”This is a masterfully written outline of the Holy Mass.

It’s also interesting that St. Luke mentions that Our Lady kept “all these things in her heart.” After her heart was pierced by the lance–and then given the great joy of seeing her resurrected Son–she revealed what was on her heart to the very early Church. There was no way for St. Luke to know about the conception, birth, and childhood of Christ unless this information was shared with him by Mary herself. Maybe she related these details to him while he painted her image.

As an artist, I feel that it’s fitting for me to take the time to write about Saint Luke, patron of artists, on his Feast Day. And it’s about time that I stop being lazy and start posting again.

St. Luke, pray for us.

A Personal Update

I recently posted a Facebook update having to do with my personal life, and I’m so pleased to be able to share it with you, my blog audience….

Exciting news to announce…I can no longer keep secret:

A few months ago, a friend tried to hook me up. He said her name was Alexa. He kept telling me about her. She sounded so amazing to me, with qualities I found attractive. I had some reservations at 1st. Eventually, I relented and decided that I would give her a shot. Why not? After having spent some time getting to know Alexa, wow, I can say that I’m really impressed. She’s all that, forreal. I’m so grateful to my friend for introducing me to her. We really hit it off.

I’m quite taken by her. She lights up when I speak to her and she sweetly responds with that charming voice of hers. Alexa understands me without judging me and I can be myself with her. My parents seem to love her too. They tell me she’s just right for me. And I think so too. I love everything about her. Alexa is a dream come true!

How many of you have an Amazon Echo device w/ Alexa and what skills have you enabled?

Thoughts on Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith

Since today is May 4, Star Wars day, I thought I’d share something I wrote after seeing episode 3 after it came out:

I saw Star Wars Ep. III last Saturday… After watching Revenge of the Sith you’re really feeling the sense of what is meant by “A New Hope” The movie was really intense and dark. It was an insightful look into good and evil, sin and even fallen human nature (with limits). I thought it was the most intelligent movie of the whole series [of crappy prequels].

[In one of the beginning scenes, Anakin has a dream in which Padme dies in childbirth. Eventually, fear gets the better of him and leads him into bargaining with Darth Sidious/Palpatine who claims that he has the power to prevent this vision from becoming reality.] Fear leads to the dark side. Yoda was right… “ Fear is the chief activator of our faults,” I heard a priest say once. Anakin is so gripped by the fear of loss and suffering that his fears are realized by his own doing! Instead of trusting and confiding in the Jedi council for help, he trusted in the deceitful promises of Palpatine. Sounds a lot like Adam giving in to the false promises of the serpent.

When Anakin gives in to the temptation of joining the dark side, a ripple effect of destruction ensues wiping out all but 2 Jedi––and the Sith get a foothold. Mortal sin [ravages] the entire Mystical Body [leaving nothing but destruction and sadness in its wake].

Palpatine refers to the Jedi way as “narrow and dogmatic” and believes that there is a broader view of the force. That kind of spoke to me of the heterodox mentality. “Liberal Catholicism” [which holds the view that truth can be open to interpretation, fluid, relative] is a path to the dark side. Contrast this with Kenobi’s line that only the Sith deals in absolutes which is itself ironically an absolute statement––George Lucas seems to be confused as to which side of the Force deals in objective truth and which side deals in relativism.

[in the final moments,] as Anakin and Obi-wan battle in the lava pit, in a last attempt to bring [the former] back, Obi-wan warns,”the sith are evil!” Anakin responds, “to me, the Jedi are evil!” Obi-wan: “then you are lost!” [And indeed, Anakin proceeds to lose his humanity and completely transforms into Darth Vader.]

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness

–Is 5:20

Here are some lessons [that I took away from the film]: never take too much stock in dreams; “be not afraid! just believe,” [because fear and mistrust are the beginnings of a catastrophic fall;] satan is always about death, never life; don’t try to reason with the deceiver; sin disfigures.

The life-changing walk

Easter Reflections on this past Sunday’ Readings at Mass:

Zünd Gang nach Emmaus 1877.jpg
By Robert Zündjoyfulheart ; upload Dezember 2008 ; upload by Adrian Michael, Public Domain, Link

It was impossible for Christ to be held by death because Christ is life. How can life be held by death? The joke is on death, death thought it had the upper hand in swallowing up Jesus… but it didn’t perceive the sign of Jonah! Instead, “death was swallowed up in victory.” Jesus destroyed death by being consumed by it. In the Eucharist, we receive the antidote to death, we receive the resurrected and living One— the Resurrection and the Life Himself.

They were downcast… perhaps this is why they recognize him. Sometimes sadness weighs down so heavily upon us that we seem to lose the sight of God. But he’s there nonetheless.

Even though we may not perceive it, Jesus comes to walk beside us.

The disciples were going the wrong way––away from Jerusalem. We may be going in the wrong direction, but Jesus comes to meet us where we are in order to steer us in the right direction. This is the reality of, the genius behind, the Incarnation… he meets us where we are.

Jesus explained the Scriptures to them… ultimately, Old Testament only makes sense in and through Jesus. Hearing the Scriptures and their explanation––this is the Liturgy of the word.

Jesus made as if he would leave the disciples but he did not because they invited him in…

Stay with us… they were miles away from Jerusalem and it was late. Even though he disappeared, he remained with them. This is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The whole account of the road to Emmaus is the pattern of the Mass.

They were miles away and it would have been quite dark by the time they would have reached. And yet they were not afraid… since they encountered Jesus and he lit the fire in them… the light from the fire that was burning in their hearts from hearing the Word break open the word.

They recognized him in the breaking of bread… they recognized him in the bread. They didn’t recognize him when he was walking alongside them as they walked the road to Emmaus.

After hearing the gospel and receiving the Gospel, literally and concretely in the Eucharist, we’re fully disposed to spread the gospel, unafraid of the darkness. I had never thought of it, but it is so true: that very evening, the 2 disciples immediately returned to Jerusalem.

I had never thought of it, but it is so true: that very evening, the 2 disciples immediately returned to Jerusalem.

Because the light is with them.

On the Scripture Readings we had in Lent

During the past few Sundays of Lent, the Church, being an extension of Christ, has ventured into the desert in the footsteps of her spouse. And as a result, I’ve contemplated the cohesive illustration painted by the Sunday Mass readings which Holy Mother Church has offered.

1st Week:

Adam and Eve were exiled out of the garden paradise of Eden, into the wilderness or desert. Jesus leaves the Paradise of heaven and enters the desert wilderness to bring mankind back to its original state. For 40 days, Jesus is in the desert praying and fasting. If food symbolizes the cause of the fall, it is fitting that fastiom food should remedy it. The gates of heaven were closed off due to the original sin, Jesus comes to open them.

The Old Testament nation of Israel was supposed to act as a corporate “son of God,” to make reparation for the sin of Adam, who was 1st given the title of “son of God.” But the Israelites, after being called out of Egypt, failed their 40 days of testing in the desert.  At the heart of every sin and temptation is a willful and obstinate doubt in the Providence of God, a chosen disbelief in the goodness of God. So it was with Adam, and so it was with Israel. The Israelites failed to come through with the obedience, trust, and gratitude necessary to make up for the disobedience, mistrust, and ingratitude of Adam. Jesus, being the Divine Son of God and perfect man, passes where the Israelites fail and thereby steers humanity in the right direction.

The Israelites doubted God’s ability to feed them, quench their thirst, give them whatever they needed, and bring them to the place he promised. That’s a basic overview.  The law stated in the book of Deuteronomy rebukes the people for their lack of trust. Jesus quotes from it 3 times and fulfills it in place of the people of the old covenant.

 2nd week:

The account of the Transfiguration. Jesus shows the 3 core disciples a glimpse of his divinity. This is a preview of humanity perfected, which will be fully realized at the resurrection. Moses appears. Jesus is the new Moses who leads all humanity into freedom from the slavery of sin and death. He is the one who Moses mentioned when he said that God would raise up a prophet like him; he says that the people should listen to him. God says that the people should listen to him. The whole Old Testament story is one of exodus and exile: Jesus comes to usher in the definitive exodus, thus breaking the cycle. Jesus is the new Elijah. He prophesies the glorified and fully divinized state of humanity.

 3rd weeK:

The Samaritan woman represents all humanity, We’re broken, hurting, and lonely having gone through a number of relationships, from looking for love in all the wrong places… and the one we are with is not the God who can fulfill us. Israel was the bride and God the bridegroom on the pages of the prophetic, and wisdom books of the Old Testament. The woman had 5 husbands, +1, plus Jesus equals 7, the number of perfection.

Oncewe find Jesus, we want to go and tell everyone, as the woman did. Jesusthirsts to bethirsted for… we thirst for forfulfillment. Boththirsts are met in this account…neitherone leaves with a single drop of water. And Jesus is no longer physically hungry, having become satisfied with the will of the Father.

4th and 5th weeks:

A lesser miracle and a greater one … the healing of the man born blind and the rising from the dead ofLazarus were intended to get the people to believe that Jesus was who he said he was. The authorities failed to believe. Jesus gavethe ultimate proofs…a Gentile sees andbelieves, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the greatest miracle possible…  and it is what we are entering into this week…

Lord,  may we be given the sight we need.

In Solidarity with Emmanuel, God-with-us

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and I’m not feeling it. While many people here in the United States have been celebrating Christmas since Thanksgiving, under the commonly used (and often over-used) term, “holiday(s),” I’ve been struggling to live Advent. Now that Christmas is tomorrow, I still feel unprepared.

For the past 2 Advent seasons, I’ve had difficulties that tend to divert my attention away from full, prayerful, conscious preparation. Last year, it was a new power wheelchair that I couldn’t use––and still can’t use, current whereabouts unknown. This year, the issue is having nursing hours cut by 4. It’s not easy dealing with the situation––by the time I’m in the wheelchair, it’s practically time for the nurses to leave. Along with that, one of my best nurses is away for a while and may be going back to school soon. All of the events of the past a few days and weeks have caused me to become uneasy, anxious, and a little sad.

The pain that some experience during this time of year is something, i can relate to. I’m facing the reality of my own brokenness, dependency, and helplessness. And maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s an entry point into the very meaning of Christmas…

Jesus Christ, God–made–man, sees my poverty and meets me there. He was not born in a resplendent palace, he wasn’t born in a kingly household––he was born in poverty, in a lowly stable, a cave, a feeding trough for animals. There wasn’t even room for him in the inn! (“He came to his own and was not received by his own,” is one of the saddest statements in the New Testament.) Who was he revealed to, at the outset? Not to the ruling class. Poor shepherds. These were people who practically lived outdoors and smelled like sheep. Outcasts.

And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

–Luke 2:10-Luke 2:12 RSV

The poor baby in the cave was a sign to the shepherds, a sign that God was with them, quite literally. But he’s not just a sign for them but for all. God is for us, he is with us in our poverty. I think of him saying to me, personally:

“Look at me, see how small I have become for love of you. Do not be afraid to approach me. Yes, you are helpless and dependent––I too was dependent, unable to move, wrapped in swaddling bands. I had to be clothed and fed and carried (by my mother who took such good care of me).”

When we think about the suffering of Christ, we usually focus in on the cross–rightly so. But Jesus suffered in Bethlehem as well. God, He who is all sufficient in and of himself, became poor for our sakes. He who is limitless was constrained, exposed to the cold, prickly straw, stinking stable. He united himself with our humanity so that we could be united to his divinity.

Adoración de los pastores (Murillo)

During these past few Christmas seasons, I’ve found myself relating more to the shepherds, the animals, the straw in the manger. At the same time, I can unite myself to that little child shivering in the cold––I can identify with him who 1st identified with me. God became poor. He who created the entire universe! He entered into my poverty. He entered into my loneliness and fear so that I wouldn’t feel alone or afraid. All he wants in return is to be loved, because, who doesn’t love a baby? (Sadly there are some who don’t.) He wants to be loved, often in and through the defenseless, the poor, and the forgotten.

Again, He manifested Himself as poor to the poor shepherds, as a sign to them.

The point of all my disjointed rambling is that God is with us, he knows what we go through because he chose to go through it himself. He is in solidarity with us, and we with him if we so consciously choose. By acknowledging our weakness, we identify with the suffering infant of Bethlehem who suffers in order to identify with us. God is with us. Are we with him? We can console that Child in the manger—He who became man, limiting Himself to be in solidarity with us. Making another’s suffering one’s own—this is a definition of mercy… taking another’s suffering into one heart… a heart for the miserable. And if we get this we get what Christmas is really all about.

Merry Christmas!

Movie blurb: St. Vincent (2014)

I’ve always been meaning to post movie reviews. For a long time, I’ve been writing a few words about movies I’ve seen. Unfortunately, these few lines (written quickly for Facebook, etc.) usually do not develop into full-fledged pieces that treat movies in depth. But something is always better than nothing so I have decided to go ahead and post the little that I do have.

This is the 1st of my “movie blurbs.”

I watched the 2014 movie St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray. It’s about a cranky old bum of a man who finds himself having to look after the new neighbor lady’s son, the kind of kid who gets picked on, every afternoon after school. As you might imagine, an unlikely friendship develops.The man is very flawed, fallen, and broken: he lies, he cheats, he gambles, and he sometimes lives with a prostitute. He is a very public sinner but the kid sees more in him. Maybe he sees what the man can be. In this regard, I think he’s a lot like Jesus—he looks beyond us, beyond our sins, and gives us the real possibility of becoming a Saint. We can transform and become “the best version of ourselves” if someone believes that we are inherently good, capable of goodness. Anyway, yeah, it’s a great movie. Comedy–not those trashy kinds of movies—but funny and entertaining with a purpose. You might want to read about the content 1st (PG-13 stuff)–that’s what I do anyway. Check it out on Netflix streaming.

St. Mother Teresa and the Exaltation of the Cross

It’s hard to believe that people actually had/have the gall to criticize St. Teresa of Calcutta. I have to say that I don’t find any of the objections to be very convincing (but just the same, I’m planning to address them in a future blog post—watch this space!). A particularly serious attack leveled at our newest saint is that she was a mentally disturbed sadist: They say that St. Teresa believed that suffering was a good thing, something noble and invaluable, so, instead of opening hospitals, she opened hospices for the dying so they could embrace their suffering. They say that someone who tells a sufferer that “[s]uffering, pain, humiliation—this is the kiss of Jesus, [so let Jesus kiss you]” can only be crazy or evil.

The critics of St. [Mother] Teresa do not understand her—-more fundamentally, they do not understand Christianity, especially Catholicism! To be specific, they don’t get the idea of redemptive suffering, which is at the heart of our faith.

Christ Carrying the Cross 1580

Today, the Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Cross. The Feast is the acknowledgment of the victorious power of the Cross of Jesus Christ. It’s the opportunity to rejoice that Christ transformed an instrument of death into an instrument of life. He destroyed the power of death by taking it upon himself, and in the process, suffering became redemptive. He took the curse and made it a blessing, the means for salvation. Catholics believe that we can unite our suffering to the suffering of Christ on the Cross, and in doing so, our suffering becomes redemptive, capable of bringing about the salvation of souls. As St. Mother Teresa herself pointed out, “suffering in and of itself is useless,” and there’s nothing remotely good about it, “but suffering that is shared with the passion of Christ is a wonderful gift and a sign of love.”

So, St. Teresa, recognizing that the Cross of Christ is clothed in light, endowed with the power to save souls, saw that suffering, in its proper perspective, could serve a purpose. That doesn’t mean that she created opportunities for suffering, or for prolonging it. Suffering is part of the human reality. It comes to all of us without our asking for it. We should do all we can to alleviate suffering, and for crying out loud, didn’t St. Teresa of Calcutta to her best to alleviate it? If she said that the greatest suffering is the lack of love, and if she did her best to alleviate it by striving to love the poor and the unwanted (by caring for them, taking them out of the street where they would die alone), then doesn’t it follow that she saw physical suffering as something to be alleviated also?

All the Saint said, in keeping with 2000 years of Christianity, is simply, when suffering comes, suffering that is unavoidable, unable to be fully cured, see it as the opportunity of being one with Jesus Christ. I know that in my own life, understanding that my suffering could be used as a prayer, as a means to save people, gave me great consolation. It’s sure beats complaining. And of course, suffering is still difficult, and we must do everything we can to alleviate it. At the same time, we can share in his sufferings, wielding them as forces for good, as instruments of redemption. And then, as surely as Jesus was glorified and rose from the dead never to suffer or die again, we too will share in the victory.

The Church celebrates the Triumph of the Cross, and in her lifetime, St. Mother Teresa faithfully did the same.