Archive for February, 2016

A fascinating post. One reason why Church architecture is such an interesting topic is that of its nature it ties into so many other topics. It is the visible of so many invisibles.

Something that struck me in particular was St. Bernard’s comment concerning paintings and ornamentation vs. simplicity of form. While Bernard’s approach is arguably not compatible with others’ such as the Byzantine, his words at no point struck me as iconoclastic. Whenever I look a pictures of Bohm’s church, however, I cannot help but think “iconoclasm” despite the magnificent light imagery. This especially so since that imagery has been completely negated by the altar being moved after Vatican II.



Domikus Böhm’s Heilig-Kreuz Kirche in Dülmen

Heiligenkreuz_Innenhof-Kirchenfassade 2005The Romanesque Facade of the Abbey Church in Heiligenkreuz

In a fascinating series Shawn Tribe and Matthew Alderman, have been examining what they call “The Other Modern” in sacred architecture: architecture which learns from the tradition rather than rejecting it, but which nevertheless has a peculiarly modernist flair. One of the questions which they have raised is whether it is possible to make use of elements of modernist minimalism and austerity in an authentically Catholic fashion. Even if the avante garde of modernism tended to use minimalism as an expression of nihilism, or the as a revolutionary demonstration of man’s self-alienation in his works, are there no other uses possible? Could one use a form of modernist austerity to achieve “noble simplicity”? There have certainly been architects who thought that it could, and the “Other Modern” series has brought some interesting examples to light…

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The Lord is my light and my salvation. However, just as the sun shines upon our face, warming it and giving joy to our eyes, this only happens if we look toward the sun. So too with God. To enter into divine intimacy and friendship, to allow the radiance of His face to shine upon us and to receive the gaze of Love, one must have the humility to turn their face to Him.

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My pastor has been speaking of the new evangelization during his homilies for months, and he’ll be speaking about it for many more months. After introducing this topic to his flock, he began unfolding the phases of the new evangelization. The first phase, which he spoke about during Advent, is hearing and encountering the Word. The second, which he spoke about during Christmas, is answering Jesus’s call – not a call to go forth (yet), but a call to Him, an entrusting of our lives to Him and entering into the intimacy of His love, the love of the Holy Trinity. During Lent he is talking about the third phase of the new evangelization – formation. We have heard the Word, answered the call of He Who Is the Word, and now it is time to allow ourselves to be formed and shaped in Him.

The 40 days of Lent recall previous periods of “40”. The Israelites were formed in the desert for 40 years before entering the Promised Land. The prophet Elijah fasted for 40 days before coming into the Lord’s presence on Mt. Horeb (the same mountain as where Moses had come into the Lord’s presence). Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days before beginning His public ministry, and He remained on Earth with His disciples for 40 days between the Resurrection and Ascension. In all of these cases God is forming those progressing through the 40 days or years. So too with Lent: we recognize that it is a period of 40 days in which God is forming us. However, during Lent it is not uncommon for people to take actions in which they attempt to form themselves rather than let themselves be formed. Over at The Catholic Gentleman there is a piece on giving up porn for Lent. It had some interesting ideas – particularly the Blue Label challenge which I had never heard before. (As an aside, I would turn that challenge on its head: having the bottle at the end of that long road for whoever is walking it). It’s a good article and I recommend checking it out. It got me thinking again about Lenten practices, this time in regards to our vices. In particular it made me ponder what consists of an attempt to form ourselves and what consists of allowing ourselves to be formed by God. For the sake of simplicity this post will focus on only one vice: lust manifested through the compulsive use of pornography. However, what is said below can apply to any compulsive action. If porn isn’t a problem for you then pick your poison and substitute it below.

It is not uncommon for people to give up porn for Lent in an effort to live more intimately in Christ. Generally, if one does this it is typical (and smart) to make a plan. Such is the case at The Catholic Gentleman. They provide ideas and make suggestions so those seeking to be free of porn may not only have real support, but also may “retrain [their] brain”. There are two problems, however, with giving up a vice or a particular manifestation (in this case pornography) of that vice for Lent. First,

Boromir - habit

This is true even when one has an army of supporters and a belt with every conceivable weapon at your disposal. Giving up pornography for Lent is similar to making a New Year’s resolution.

Lent definition

If by the end of Lent this action still persists or has gotten worse it makes one even more susceptible to the Evil One’s whispers of defeat and self-loathing.

One really must wonder though – and this brings us to the second problem – is a particular sin what one is suppose to give up for Lent? Aren’t we suppose to always be giving up sin? The blessing of Lent (one of many) is that we receive greater spiritual strengthening in our struggle against sin, and in our pursuit of virtue and drawing nearer to God. The “Prayer over the people” during Lent is an example of this. Through the Church’s prayers and disciplines, we receive the grace we need to carry out our own Lenten disciplines and be formed by Christ. Remember, it is God who forms us, not ourselves. The question now is not whether or not to give up looking at pornography for Lent, but rather what discipline(s) should one exercise that will draw them nearer to Christ and His Sacred Heart, thereby leading to detachment from the demon of lust and attachment to God Most Holy?

When it comes to compulsive behaviors there are no easy answers and no easy paths. The problem is multi-faceted and so are the solutions. There is so much that can be said. These battles, however, are always first and foremost spiritual battles. Therefore, in addition to the suggestions and exhortation given by The Catholic Gentleman, I’d like to reflect on the opportunities of a particularly Lenten character that are afforded to someone during this season to combat pornography.

One’s struggle with pornography is a battle against the demon of lust. “[A]gainst the demon of unchastity and the desire of the flesh,” St. John Cassian* tells us that the battle must be fought on two fronts: the body and the soul. For the body he recommends fasting. For the soul he recommends “contrition of heart, intense prayer to God, frequent meditation on the Scriptures, toil and manual labor.” A little further he says, “Humility of soul helps more than everything else, however, and without it no one can overcome unchastity or any other sin.”

Excepting the 40 days between the Resurrection and the Ascension, each of the above periods of formation are characterized by fasting. Fasting is an ancient discipline of the Church with a very long tradition of practice during Lent. In regards to our topic, it helps one not simply overcome addiction to pornography, but also fosters greater malleability in being formed in Christ. Why?

Sacred Heart Valentine

For as much as it hurts when we give up a vicious practice, we are not dying. The person who gives up pornography is doing a very good thing; it is like the person daily ingesting poison who then stops. What has been given up though is not something necessary for life or something that adds qualitatively to one’s life, but rather something detrimental to it. The person who abstains from certain goods such as chocolate (that’d be me this year) also does a good thing, but again they are not giving up something necessary to live. Fasting on the other hand is a practice which signifies the giving of our lives to Christ (our dying in Him) most fully because we are giving up something necessary for living. Christ -as the picture indicates above – gave all of Himself for us; He gave His life. Additionally, in a physical way fasting reminds us of our dependence on God, that we do not live by bread alone.

For the soul, St. Cassian recommends the exercise of multiple practices. I’d like to focus on one: contrition of heart. Connected to this are tears. Tears are a gift from God and a manifestation of our contrition of heart. Tears can act as a sacrament (little “s”), purifying our heart from evil inclinations. Tears indicate sadness – a sorrow for our sins. Sorrow for our sins can be very powerful, so much so that as Fr. Z points out  we can attain complete detachment from sin through it.

When it comes to complete detachment from sin, even venial, few of us live in that state all the time.  Nevertheless, there are times when we have been moved to sorrow for sin after examination of conscience, perhaps after an encounter with God as mystery in liturgical worship or in the presence of human suffering, that we come to a present horror and shame of sin that moves us to reject sin entirely.

Tears also indicate a recognition of our needing to be saved. However, it is not enough that one recognizes their powerlessness and need for salvation. One must also be accepting of it, allowing themselves to receive it. In faith one must truly believe that God has saved them and can raise them from their misery. In faith they must be brought to hope. Tears are waters of rebirth nourishing the soil of our heart, making it a fruitful ground for salvation and joy. Speaking of tears as a remedy against acedia, Jean-Charles Nault, O.S.B says:

[Tears] are like water that falls on a rock and, over time, manages to penetrate it. They are like water that flows over the shell of our stony heart, so that it might become a heart of flesh. Little by little they will transform our heart so as to make it docile to the Lord. They will make a notch so that mercy might pour into that gap, into that wound, just as the mercy of God was engulfed in Christ’s wound of love on the Cross. (p. 38)

There is a particularly common practice during Lent which lends itself quite well to encouraging tears: the Stations of the Cross. This devotion is offered every Friday at almost every single parish during Lent. Go to the Stations of the Cross. In addition to fostering contrition of heart, it also provides the opportunity to meditate on the Scriptures, can prompt us to intense forms of prayer, and depending on our physical fitness even provide some toil – all things that St. John Cassian recommends in fighting against the demon of unchastity. Even if it doesn’t bring about physical tears (and it’s fine if it doesn’t), it will help bring about tears of the heart.

Finally, lust twists relationships; it stunts them. The lustful person is not truly free nor full of life; they are not able to fully love others. In the Constitutions of the Secular Order of the Teresian Carmel it says, “In [the promise of chastity] the Secular Carmelite seeks the freedom to love God and neighbor unselfishly.” As one moves from darkness to light, from unchastity to chastity, it is good to spend greater time in fellowship with others, to form positive relationships and more connections in your parish community. Many parishes offer a soup supper every Friday after Stations of the Cross.

What we do during Lent should have a distinctive Lenten flavor. Always combat the use of porn, but during Lent instead of “giving up” porn take on the life of the Church as it is given to us this season. And in all things humility. To repeat the above, “Humility of soul helps more than everything else.” There is a saying from the Desert Fathers: “Obedience has the promise of humility.” What does obedience look like for a layman? Devotionally, one way is following the disciplines and traditions of the Church. For Lent these are fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, abstaining from meat on Fridays, and taking on a Lenten practice most especially along the lines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

*Quotes taken from St. John Cassian’s On the Eight Vices can be found in the first volume of The Philokalia.

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Francis - Benedict

The full text of the papal press during the flight from Juarez to Rome can be read here. Dr. Ed Peters gives some quick thoughts here. His comments are brief and well worth checking out. I’d like to offer my own quick thoughts on one particular part of the interview.

Francis was asked about women avoiding pregnancy over concerns of the Zika virus. The word contraception was not used by the journalist, but when you identifying “avoiding pregnancy” as the lesser of two evils – the other being abortion – and the Church’s position against contraception is so well-known, it is obvious that the journalist is here asking if it is permissible to use contraception in this particular case. Here is the entirety of Francis’s answer:

Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. On the ‘lesser evil,’ avoiding pregnancy, we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape.

Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no?  It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned.

On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, or in the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these two mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.

First, the situation in Africa to which Francis refers was Paul VI giving a dispensation to nuns in the Belgian Congo to use oral contraceptives because of the palpable danger of rape due to the upheavals and instability of the country at the time.  To properly understand what the Pope is getting at in referring to this situation one must not only know the history of the problem itself, but also grasp the intricacies of Catholic theology and moral teaching. While it is oral contraceptives that are being used, the act itself is not contraceptive -it is a defense against violence suffered from an aggressor. Catholic News Agency has a good piece explaining this in more detail. Check it out. Even if these intricacies were more widely known and understood, the reference to this incident is unfortunate. It is a very different situation from that of women who may be exposed to the Zika virus. It is so different in fact that it actually cannot be used to argue for the use of oral contraceptives during the Zika threat. The reason Pope Francis referred to it is because he was speaking off the cuff, needed to give an example of a circumstance in which a couple may avoid pregnancy, and for whatever reason that happened to be the first thing that popped into his head. The intention here was not to say oral contraceptives are allowable for women in Brazil. The intention here was simply to give an example of a valid reason for avoiding pregnancy.

He ends his answer by saying that avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. Actually, depending on the reasons, it isn’t evil at all. In certain circumstances, it is a moral good and imprudent for a couple not to practice avoidance of pregnancy. This is nothing new to Catholic teaching. When Pope Francis says that the Zika threat is clearly a circumstance in which a couple may avoid pregnancy, he is saying this in the Catholic tradition. There is already a morally licit option to couples seeking to avoid pregnancy for proper reasons: Natural Family Planning.

While answering another question earlier in the presser, Pope Francis twice said that we need to use the hermeneutic of everything when reading a piece of news. Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. In other words, Pope Francis is saying that, when interpreting a piece of news, we need to take everything connected to it into account. It is not enough to simply take into account its immediate context. One must take into account the overall context as well. Using the hermeneutic of everything, which Francis exhorts us to do, means in this case the whole of Catholic teaching. Concerning contraception the teaching of the Church has been consistent and clear. Contra NBC with their sensational headline – “Is Pope Francis’ Contraception Allowance During Zika Threat a Major Shift for Church?” – Francis has not made an allowance for contraception during the Zika threat, nor have his words indicated even a minor shift for the Church, let alone a major shift.



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Closing Into Silence


In a space of dryness
Thirsting for the word
Closing into silence
Let Your love be heard

Fountain of the Holy
Living water fill
Flowing of the light
Surrendering the will

Sinners heart acknowledged
Joy in mercy found
Rejoicing in our Savior
Gratefulness abound

Faith in our protector
Let the soul be free
Outpouring in this hope
Live from this dwelling

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Resting Now to Pray


Wake up in the morning
Coffee shower, shave
One of just routine
Step closer to the grave

Still my soul, love of God
Thought flow now away
Speaking words of silence
Resting here to pray

Entering of Presence
Giving of control
Drifting into dwelling
Way within the soul

Speaking Your Word through me
Translucent in beyond
Bridge of Saviors passion
Deep within the bond

Light of heavens blessing
Enwraps the inner space
Gratitude eternal
A prayer within Your grace

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Battle Between Carnival and Lent

Battle Between Carnival and Lent, Jan M. Molenaer

The above painting is not what the reality should be, yet it is better than what the reality now is. There is an intimate connection between Carnival (Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras) and Lent. We’ve lost the former and we have been progressively losing the latter.

In the Roman Church, Lent is not exactly an austere season. It’s penitential, but there isn’t a lot asked of Roman Catholics by the Church. All that is required is to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (the fast isn’t strict either), and to abstain from meat on Friday. This is all; nothing more. In addition, it is customary for people to give something up. This is devotional. One is not required to do this nor is one bound to keep their private observance. They also set the conditions for their observance. The biggest thing on people’s minds is “What am I giving up for Lent?” With large parish communities and very little regular one-on-one spiritual direction this became a question for the individual without real assistance from another qualified person in the spiritual life. This and other various reasons led to Lent becoming a highly individualized affair. The problem is that living in the Church is not an individual affair.

We are one body and the life of the Christian can only be lived in the communion of the Church. Lenten practice becoming highly individualized has resulted in a weaker awareness of the meaning of Lent. This has resulted in a plethora of blog posts, programs, and opinion pieces on how to make the practice of Lent truly fruitful or even “the best Lent ever.” There are more and more attention-getters saying, “Don’t give up chocolate. Do this instead.” Sometimes “this” refers to other pleasures to give up such as hot showers. Other times “this” refers to something like a book study or daily devotionals sent by email. The problem is that Lent is a penitential season and some of these are not penitential acts or they are penitential in a disordered way. But this isn’t about penance for penance’s sake.

Sheen - Lent

Our Lenten practices should draw us nearer to God and do so in accord with the distinctiveness of the season as opposed to other seasons of the year. Book studies and daily reflections are good, but they aren’t distinctive to Lent. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be part of one’s Lenten practice. The problem is we are starting to see them pitted against traditional Lenten practices that are rooted in the Church’s life. We are starting to be told that attending a book study or receiving daily reflections in our email can take the place of abstinence. There is no opposition here though. In what way does going to a book study or receiving daily reflections oppose giving something up? This increasing movement of promoting a Lent with meaning is being done without reason at the expense of a good and strong Catholic custom.

It is not simply about giving something up though. Venerable Sheen’s words help us here as well. What does giving up hot showers benefit us if there is no change in our prayer? What does it benefit us if it does not prompt us to give alms for those who do not have a choice in whether they take a cold shower or not – and by this I mean our neighbors right here in the United States? What does it benefit us if we persist in a compulsive use of the things in our life, a compulsive use that takes us from God? (The writer who recommended giving up hot showers said nothing about prayer, almsgiving, or time given to God. It basically boiled down to: “Yes, it sucks, but Jesus died on the Cross for you, so…”). Abstaining from certain foods and drinks on the other hand gives us reminders throughout the day to turn to God. The physical feelings and the desires we experience prompt us to raise our minds and hearts to God. They also teach through experience detachment (as does increased almsgiving) which frees the soul to give of itself to God and others.

When confusion abounds and practice goes in so many different directions, some of which may be dubious, it is time to go back to basics. No season of the liturgical year is ultra-individualized in its practice and this includes Lent. Living a Christian life means living an ecclesial life. The Church does give a Lenten life – other practices in addition to what is required. In the United States of America the following are commonly practiced in Roman Catholic parishes during Lent:

  1. Stations of the Cross every Friday
  2. Having a soup supper as a community after praying the Stations of the Cross every Friday
  3. Reconciliation services
  4. 24 Hours for the Lord
  5. Lenten missions (usually two to three consecutive evenings)
  6. Fish fries

Participating in a greater part of the Church’s liturgical and communal life is the foundation for living the life in Christ and drawing nearer to God. The liturgical and communal life of the Church should be the basis for our Lenten practices. Finally, there are ways of participating in the life of the Church through common customs. In the Roman Catholic Church giving something up for Lent is one of these customs. Let us embrace it.


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