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A bittersweet end....and a new beginning

I will miss him greatly. Farewell to a German Shepherd who knew the meaning of humility...and who braved criticism for his defense of absolutism. There is only one TRUTH...and he knew how to defend it in his own quiet way. I have certainly grown to love Benedict XVI in the past 8 years and I sincerely hope and pray that his successor will continue with Pope Benedict's great work. I trust in God and the Holy Spirit...but it is still sad to see one of the greatest successors of St. Peter go. Please join me in prayer in the days to come as a new Pontifex is elected. God's will be done...always...even if I don't understand it at the time.

Please feel free to share the love with the following Cover photo and profile pic I placed on Facebook. Who knows, it may soften the heart of at least one friend who, like me, didn't really appreciate Pope Benedict's impact on the world right away.

In any event...I trust in God's plan for the Church and am certain that He knows what is best for his Church.

A Cover Photo for you to share...if you know the original image source, feel free to let me know so I can credit.

A profile pic for you to share....if you know the original image source, feel free to let me know so I can credit.

Pax vobiscum and please pray for the Church in the days ahead. 

Fill These Hearts: A Geeky Review

Christopher West’s “Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing” is, in essence, a book about desire. No, it’s not about the empty, selfish desire that’s advertised by much of our media today. It is about the most desperate desires that are found in the hearts of people around the world….and how they should be oriented in order to fulfill our need to feel joy, pleasure, and all other wonderful feelings that are meant to be but a taste of things to come. As West points out, we tend to follow one of two extremes when it comes to desire. We either follow the “starvation diet” or the “fast food diet. We tend to either deny desire altogether or gorge ourselves on it.” Both of these approaches have their pros, but they also have quite a few cons. As West brilliantly points out, both approaches are wrong and doomed to fail in one way or another. Even so, we normally don’t even consider the possibility of another, more fulfilling option that has been tried and tested by many mystics before option that allows us to truly experience desire as it should be experienced.

As a Catholic who has read Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” I thought that I had read all I needed to read regarding sex and desire as they are meant to be experienced. I was wrong. “Fill These Hearts” contained the same message as “Theology of the Body,” but in a more down-to-earth manner. Essentially, this book is about orienting our desires in a manner that allows us to unite ourselves with God. Using pop culture references, his own experiences, and quite a few great quotes by saints and sinners alike, Christopher West explores the subject of desire in a way that just about anyone can relate to.

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who, like me, is on the path to marriage. I would also recommend it to anyone who is still in the dating scene or considering a serious relationship. It will certainly help you avoid many of the mistakes that my fiancé and I made over the years. Many of these mistakes are almost ingrained in us from the beginning due to skewed messages of love that we are fed by everything from seemingly innocent Disney movies to the smuttiest of magazine covers. We are, in a sense, almost set up to fail in a world where divorce rates are so high and where so many of us are stuck in relationships that are failing to make us truly happy. The book contains some pretty powerful messages and will certainly inspire you to orient your desires in a way that will not only enrich your life and improve your relationships, but also draw you closer to God.

The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was offered a copy of Christopher West’s “Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing” for review.

Pax Vobiscum

Custodians of Beauty

"This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart, and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration. And all this through the work of your hands... Remember that you are the custodians of beauty in the world." 
-Pope Paul VI to artists (December, 1965)

I have begun reading Christopher West's "Fill these Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing" and this book has gotten me thinking about beauty. True beauty. Not the flawed perception of beauty that we are often inundated with whenever we look at a magazine rack. The beauty I am talking about is not emaciated and it does not require breast enhancements, gallons of make up, and clothing that are designed to make you look more naked than the young woman in "September Morn" by Paul Emile Chabas (a once-scandalous painting that is probably more tasteful than most of what we see on television today). I am talking about the beauty that serves as a reminder of eternity. I'm talking about the transcendent beauty that reminds us of how we are far more than just a collection of atoms. This is the beauty that has been defended time and time again by the Church. We have defended it against the Jansenist heresies of old...and we defend it today against those who wish to pass off their own distorted perceptions of beauty as true beauty. 

As difficult as it may be to defend true beauty in an age where so many people are willing to accept even the most shallow perceptions of beauty as the real deal...there are still plenty of people out there who can defend beauty. The artists of the world defend beauty whenever they use their God-given talent to propagate beauty and inspire others to see the beauty that's been revealed to them. Any artist that abuses their talents for the sake of making headlines with shocking pieces of "art" (I won't dignify any of these "artists" with a mention here), fails at protecting beauty. They also fail at defending the very thing that they were born to care for and protect. 

Fortunately for us, there are artists that understand the significance of beauty...and these artists will guard it, defend it, and allow it to flourish. They will use their talents to achieve great things...and I will forever be grateful for these artists. Why? Well, these are the artists that will help fulfill Dostoyevsky's prophecy that
"beauty will save the world." It is artists like these that inspire generations of people to look to the heavens when the world tries to get them down. These artists help remind us that we are more than just a number, more than just a collection of atoms, more than just sinners in the hands of an angry God. These artists create magnificent works that remind us of how God created us out of love. They remind us of how God loves us and how we are made in his image. They remind us of how we were created to appreciate the beauty of his works. They remind us how God created us to feel love, to feel longing, to feel wonder, to feel awe, and to feel JOY. These artists help evoke the longing that is in our hearts...the longing for beauty, love, wonder, awe. In short, they evoke our longing for God. As St. Augustine once put, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in You."

I don't know about you, but the artists behind the following works have re-awoken a lot of the restlessness I have felt over the years: 

"The Second Coming" and "The Nativity"
Saints Anne and Joachim Catholic Church in Fargo, North Dakota
Stained glass by Conrad Pickel Studio
"Creation and Baptism"
"Abraham and Sarah"

"The Last Supper" and "The Wedding at Cana"
My friends and family, regardless of religion, can attest to the fact that I tend to bring back some pretty Catholic souvenirs whenever I go abroad. Why? Well, I am drawn to cathedrals and churches that have invested in beauty. I love the stained glass, the wisps of incense smoke that rise to the heavens, the cascades of wax dripping from candles, the statues that were made with love and care, the hard wooden pews, the intricately carved stones, the majestic arches, the powerful hymns, the reverberating echoes of organ music, and the list goes on. Don't get me wrong, God always comes first when I enter a you won't catch me ever disrespecting the the holiness of a cathedral, etc. Regardless of where I go, this beauty beckons me and I am like a moth drawn to a flame. As a result, a good amount of my sightseeing adventures involve these amazing, holy places. I passed by the Eiffel tower, walked the Great Wall of China, watched ships cross the Panama Canal, and done quite a few other remarkable things in remarkable places. However, nothing has moved me like the artwork in these cathedrals. 

People tend to talk smack about the Church for having so many beautiful things.....but they don't realize that there is much more out there than material poverty. There is spiritual poverty. There is emotional poverty. You get the idea. No amount of melting down and pawning off will ever feed these forms of poverty. In the same way, you cannot replace awe-inspiring art with money. Doing so would only leave us in a bleak, artless world where money becomes a replacement for beauty. You cannot simply come up with a replacement for something so necessary and integral as beauty...because WE ARE WIRED FOR IT. We are meant to love it, be inspired by it, and pursue it....because it brings us that much closer to God and helps us keep grasping at eternity even during the bleakest times. Therefore, I think it is best that the Church continue to be custodian to these pieces of art...because they will continue to feed our hunger for beauty and wonder for centuries to come. Likewise, I think it is best that we continue to support and encourage artists all over the world to use their talents for good.

With that said, I cannot stress enough just how important it is for artists to respect their talents and to use their talents. I know I may not be the next Michelangelo, but I know I am a custodian of beauty in my own right...and I will keep trying to do what all artists are called to do.

"Dear artists, as I draw to a conclusion, I too would like to make a cordial, friendly and impassioned appeal to you, as did my Predecessor. You are the custodians of beauty: thanks to your talent, you have the opportunity to speak to the heart of humanity, to touch individual and collective sensibilities, to call forth dreams and hopes, to broaden the horizons of knowledge and of human engagement. Be grateful, then, for the gifts you have received and be fully conscious of your great responsibility to communicate beauty, to communicate in and through beauty! Through your art, you yourselves are to be heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity! And do not be afraid to approach the first and last source of beauty, to enter into dialogue with believers, with those who, like yourselves, consider that they are pilgrims in this world and in history towards infinite Beauty! Faith takes nothing away from your genius or your art: on the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them, it encourages them to cross the threshold and to contemplate with fascination and emotion the ultimate and definitive goal, the sun that does not set, the sun that illumines this present moment and makes it beautiful."

Now go forth and be worthy of your talents, be custodians of beauty!

Pax Vobiscum

For more examples of the BEAUTIFUL work by Conrad Pickel Studio, Inc...please refer to their site here. They also do mosaic and sculptures. If you know of anyone in need of great artwork for churches, cemeteries, etc. I would definitely refer these people...their work is simply AMAZING.

Farewell to a Good Shepherd

As much as I hate to admit this.... back in 2005 I was not too excited when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope. I was a HUGE fan of JPII....but probably more from a secular perspective than a Catholic perspective. You see, back in those days...I really wasn't much of a Catholic. If my past self could be likened to would probably be a textbook Cafeteria Catholic. I picked what I liked and knew that JPII was Pope. I never bothered to read any of his works and I even, up until a few years ago, had the idea that I knew more about how to take care of things than the Pope. In other words, back in the day, I was a mixture of moral stupidity, stubbornness, pride, and overall foolishness. I had the same "I know better than you" stubbornness and "I'll believe what I want" pseudo-morality that could have rivaled that of even the worst National Catholic Register heretics. I thank God to this day for my internal conversion over the past few years because if I had continued as I did then, I'd have paved my own road to eternal damnation quicker than you can say "relativism."

I did not fall in love with Pope Benedict until 2008. That was the year where I, on a whim (or was it divine inspiration?), decided to go to NYC to see the Pope. I never got to see him because of all of the crowds, but my hands saw him. I even got a picture or two of him. I don't know what changed that day...but I do remember my appreciation for him growing exponentially over the years that followed. I started delving into his words and what touched me most, besides his humility, was the fact that he was such a gentle wordsmith. His words, as hated as they are by the media and several special interest groups around the world...are an art in and of themselves. He may not have the same presence that JPII had in his younger pre-Parkinson's days...but he does have an eloquence that gently converts hearts if they are willing to listen. He defends that which needs to be defended, as unpopular is it may be these days to defend life, etc. The world, as a whole, doesn't like him...because people like Papa Bene aren't the type of people that are supposed to be loved by the world. They are supposed to be uncomfortable. They are supposed to fight...perhaps not with swords or a photogenic smile...but with words...with thoughts...with reason...and with TRUTH.

St. Augustine once said, "Truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself."

Well, Pope Benedict has been one of few in this modern age who has been unafraid time and time again to set the truth free. He has spoken about every uncomfortable topic you can think of. There are quite a few voices out there that are trying to make it look like Pope Benedict did little or nothing during his papacy...but I beg to differ. Whether it was welcoming disenchanted Anglicans after their swim across the Tiber or making the world aware of its blatant disregard towards the sanctity of life...he's ruffled plenty of feathers. He did not challenge with threats. He did not challenge with spears. He let the lion loose and simply let it defend itself. In a world that accepts half-truths as easily as it accepts comfortable lies, something as absolute as TRUTH  can be uncomfortable at times. I know from experience that moral absolutism is not easy to defend or even mention in general society these days. Yet Pope Benedict has done it...time and time again. I truly appreciate what he does and can honestly say that he is a shepherd worth following.

As much as it shocked me earlier this week that he was resigning...I think he is doing the right thing. He is not the type to let decorum get in the way of necessity and there has been evidence of his decline in preceding months. I didn't think much about all of the help he's needed to walk lately until the announcement came out. I am sure he watched JPII's decline in 2005 and knows very well how dangerous it would be to allow himself to lose his faculties today. The world today is not what it was 7 years ago. Some things have gotten better, but the things that have gotten worse...have gotten far worse than I could have ever imagined. Anyone with family in the Middle East right now will tell you just how many are being killed for their faith right Arab Spring. Anyone with family in Europe (as I have) will tell you just how bad things are going there between the economy-induced tensions and growth of radicalism. I have very young relatives in Europe that post  pictures on Facebook that promote Communism and make light of atrocities like the Holocaust...and it worries me extensively. I can only imagine what is going on in places like China, etc.

The world is quickly changing...and many of these changes are for the worse. I don't mean to sound like a St. Malachy-Pope-prophecy-"it's the end of the world"-sensationalist, but I have a feeling that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.  Pope Benedict, I am sure, realized that we are in need of a strong spiritual leader to help fix much of what is unraveling today...and much of what will boil over tomorrow. I thank him for having the humility to step down and truly hope that the next Pope will be as great as Pope Benedict. I truly have grown to love him over the years and hate to see him go. His words have helped form the Catholic I am today and the Catholic I hope to be tomorrow. He has shown much strength in character over the years and has demonstrated, time and time again, to be a brave "vox clamanti in deserto." His words may not be appreciated by this age, but I am certain that the world will one day recognize their value. Unfortunately for us, we tend to ignore the bleeding wounds and broken bones of our corrupted and crumbling civilizations....until it is too late. It happened to all of the ancient great civilizations...and the world around us has demonstrated time and time again that we are not immune to the same weaknesses and foolishness that allowed civilizations like Ancient Rome to rot away from the inside.

Thank you Pope Benedict for all of the wonderful work you did. Thank you for consistently defending the TRUTH  in a world where relativism is king. Thank you for consistently putting God first. Thank you for selflessly serving Christ's Church. Thank you for everything. May God bless you and grant you peaceful days in the future. You and your successor are certainly in my prayers.

Pax Vobiscum.