David Clayton Has Another Great Idea for Catholic Evangelization

The following essay was written by David Clayton a lecturer in sacred art, author of the very fine book on the implementation of the New Evangelization of the Catholic Church entitled The Little Oratory – A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home, successful blogger, fellow sacred artist, and friend. His essay captures the imagination that Catholics need to develop if we are to be effective witnesses of the truth of Christ and His Church in today’s world. The following essay takes you through an experience of evangelization that a Protestant church in Nashua, New Hampshire has developed into a welcoming and community based operation. Please take a relaxed moment with a cup of tea or coffee to allow Clayton’s Catholic application of a successful idea to seep in and stimulate you. Think about whether it could apply to your parish, your Catholic college, or within your Diocese, share it, pray about it, and gather some friends to implement it if you are moved by the Spirit to do so.

Contact David at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts: thewayofbeauty.org/contact/

A Model for A Cultural Center for the New Evangelization
by DAVID CLAYTON on JULY 4, 2014
Going Local for Global Change.

How About a Chant Cafe with Real Coffee ..and Real Chant?

There is a British comedienne who in her routine adopted an onstage persona of a lady who couldn’t get a boyfriend and was very bitter about it (although in fact as she became a TV personality beyond the comedy routines, she revealed herself as a naturally engaging and warm character who was in fact happily married with a child). Jo Brand is her name and she used to tell a joke in which she said: ‘I’m told that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I know that’s nonsense – guys will take all the food you give them but it doesn’t make them love you. In fact I’ll tell you the only certain way to man’s heart…through the rib cage with a bread knife!’

Well, wry humour aside, I think that in fact there is more truth to the old adage than Jo Brand would have acknowledged (on stage at least). Perhaps we can touch people’s hearts in the best way through food and drink, and in particular coffee.

There is a coffee shop in Nashua NH where I live called Bonhoeffer’s. It is the perfect place for conversation. They have designed it so that people like to sit and hang out – pleasing decor, free wifi, and different sitting arrangements, from pairs of cozy arm chairs to highbacked chairs around tables. The staff are personable and it is roomy enough that they can place clusters of chairs and sofas that are far enough apart so that you don’t feel that you are eavesdropping on your neighbors’ conversation; and close enough together that you feel part of a general buzz of conversation around you. There is not an extensive food menu but what they have is good and goes nicely with the image it conveys of coffee and relaxed conversation – pastries, a slice of quiche or crepes for example. It has successfully made itself a meeting place in the town because of this.

This is all very well and good, if not unremarkable. But, you wouldn’t know unless you recognized the face of the German protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the cafe logo and started to ask questions, or noticed and took the time to read the display close the door as you are on your way out, that it is run by the protestant church next door, Grace Fellowship Church. Furthermore a proportion of turnover goes towards supporting locally based charities around the world – they list as examples projects in the Ukraine, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Haiti and Jamaica on their website. Talks and events linked to their faith are organised and there are pleasant well equipped meeting rooms available for hire. I include the logo and website to illustrate my points, but also in the hope that if Bonhoeffer’s see this they might push an occasional free coffee in my direction…come on guys!

Well, it was worth a try. Anyway, back to more serious things…the presentation of their mission does not even dominate the cafe website which talks more about things such as the beans they use in their coffee, prices and opening times and the food menu. The most eye-catching aspect when I was nosing around is the announcement of the new crepes menu! There is one tab that has the heading Hope and Life Kids and when you click it it takes you through to a dedicated website of that name, here , which talks about the charity work that is done.

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I went into Bonhoeffer’s recently with Dr William Fahey, the President of Thomas More College, just for cup of coffee and a chat, of course, and he remarked to me as we sat down that this is the sort of the thing that protestants seem to be able to organize; and how we wished he saw more Catholics doing the same thing.

I agree. What the people behind this little cafe had done was to create a hub for the local community that has an international reach. It is at once global and personal. I would like to see exactly what they have done replicated by Catholics. But, crucially, good though it is I would add to it, and make it distinctly Catholic so that it attracts even more coffee drinkers and then can become a subtle interface with the Faith, a focus for the New Evangelization in the neighborhood.

I don’t know how to run coffee shops, so I would be happy with a first step that copied precisely theirs – the establishment of coffee shop that competes with all others in doing what coffee shops are meant to do, sell coffee. Then I would offer through this interface talks and classes that transmit the Way of Beauty, many of which are likely to have an appeal to many more than Catholics (especially those with a ‘new-age spiritual’ bent). There are a number that come to mind that attract non-Christians and can be presented without compromising on truth – icon painting classes; or ‘Cosmic Beauty’ a course in traditional proportion in harmony based upon the observation of the cosmos; or praying with the cosmos – a chant class that teaches people to chant the psalms and explains how the traditional pattern of prayer conforms to cosmic beauty.

Another class that might engage people is a practical philosophy class that directs people towards the metaphysical and emphasizes the need of all people to lead a good life and to worship God in order to be happy and feel fulfilled. This latter part is vital for it is the practice of worship that draws people up from a lived philosophy into a lived theology and ultimately to the Faith. For it is only once experienced that people become convinced and want more. This works. When I was living in London I used to see advertisements in the Tube for a course in practical philosophy. These were offered by a group that had a modern ‘universalist’ approach to religion in which they saw each great ‘spiritual tradition’ as different cultural expressions of a single truth that were equally valid. The adverts however, did not mention religion at all but talked about the love and pursuit of universal wisdom that looked like a new agey mix of Eastern mysticism and Plato. The content of the classes, they said, was derived from the common experience of many if not all people and from it one could hope to lead a happy useful life. They had great success in attracting educated un-churched professionals not only to attend the class, but also to go in to attend more classes and ultimately to commit their lives to their recommended way of living. They were also prepared to donate generously – this is a rich organisation. Their secret was the emphasis on living the life that reason lead you to and not require, initially at least a commitment to formal religion. Most became religious in time, which ultimately lead some to convert to Christianity – although many, because of the flaws in the opening premises and the conclusion this lead to, were lead astray too. It was by meeting some of these converts that I first heard about it. There is room, I think, for a properly worked out Catholic version of this.

Along a similar line are classes that help people to discern their personal vocation, again using traditional Catholic methods. Once we discover this then we truly flourish. God made us to desire Him and to desire the means by which we find Him. While the means by which we find Him is the same in principle for each of us, we are all meant to travel a unique path that is personal to us. To the degree that we travel this path, the journey of life, as well as its end, is an experience of transformation and joy.

Drawing on people from the local Catholic parishes I would hope to start groups that meet for the singing of an Office – Vespers and or Compline or Choral Evensong and fellowship on a week night; and have talks on the prayer in the home and parish as described by the The Little Oratory. This book was intended as a manual for the spiritual life of the New Evangelization and would ideally be one that supports the transmission of practices that are best communicated by seeing, listening and doing. These weekly ‘TLO meetings’ would be the ideal foundation for learning and transmitting the practices. They would be very likely a first point of commitment for Catholics who might then be interested in getting involved in other ways. It would enable them also to go back to their families and parishes teach any others there who might be interested to learn.

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We could perhaps sell art by making it visible on the walls or have a permanent, small gallery space adjacent to the sitting area (provided it was good enough of course – better nothing at all than mediocre art!). All would available in print form online as well of course, just as talks could be made available much more widely and broadcasted out across the net if there was interest. This is how the local becomes global.

What I am doing here is taking the business model of the cafe and combining it with the business model of the Institute of Catholic Culture which is based in Arlington Diocese in Virginia. I wrote about the great work of Deacon Sabatino and his team at the ICC in Virginia in an article here – thewayofbeauty.org/2012/09/the-institute-for-catholic-culture-an-organisational-model-for-the-new-evangelisation/ called An Organisational Model for the New Evangelization – How To Make it At Once Personal and Local, and have International Recognition. His work is focussed on Catholic audiences, and is aimed predominently at forming the evangelists, rather than reaching those who have not faith (although I imagine some will come along to their talks). By having an excellent program and by taking care to ensure that his volunteers feel involved and are appreciated and part of a community (even organising special picnics for them) Deacon Sabatino has managed to get hundreds volunteering regularly.

Another group that does this as just well is the Fra Angelico Institute for Sacred Arts – https://fraangelicoinstitute.com/ – in Rhode Island. It is  run by Deacon Paul Iacono. I have written about his great work here. The addition of a coffee shop may give it a permanent base and interface with non-Catholics and even the non-churched.

I would start in a city neighborhood in an area with a high population and ideally with several Catholic parishes close by that would provide the people interested in attending and be volunteers and donors helping the non-coffee programs. It always strikes me that the Bay Area of San Francisco, especially Berkeley, is made for such a project. There is sufficiently high concentration of Catholics to make it happen, a well established cafe culture; and the population is now so far past ‘post-Christian’ that there is an powerful but undirected yearning for all things spiritual that directs them to a partial answer in meditation centers, wellness groups, spiritual growth and transformation classes, talks on reaching for your ‘higher self’ and so on. Many are admittedly hostile to Christianity, but they seek all the things that traditional, orthodox Christianity offers in its fullness although they don’t know it. Provided that they can presented with these things in such a way that it doesn’t arouse prejudice, they will respond because these things meet the deepest desire of every person.

Here’s the additional element that holds it all together. As well as the workshops or classes I have mentioned I would have the Liturgy of the Hours prayed in a small but beautiful chapel adjacent to and accessible from the cafe on a regular basis, ideally with the full Office sung. The idea is for people in the cafe to be aware that this is happening, but not to feel bound to go or guilty for not doing so. I thought perhaps a bell and announcement: ‘Lauds will be chanted beginning in five minutes in the chapel for any who are interested.’ Those who wish to could go to the chapel and pray, either listening or chanting with them. The prayer would not be audible in the cafe. So those who were not interested might pause momentarily and then resume their conversations.

From the people who attend the TLO meetings I would recruit a team of volunteers might volunteer to sing in one or more extra Offices during the week if they could. If you have two people together, meeting in the name of Jesus, they can sing an Office for all. The aim is to have the Office sung on the premises give good and worthy praise to God for the benefit of the customers, the neighbourhood, society and the families and groups that each participates in aside from this and for the Church.

When the point is reached that the Office is oversubscribed, we might encourage groups to pray on behalf of others also in different locations by, for example singing Vespers regularly in local hospitals or nursing homes. I describe the practice of doing this in an appendix in The Little Oratory and in a blog post here: thewayofbeauty.org/2012/12/send-out-the-l-team-making-a-sacrifice-of-praise-for-american-veterans  Send Out the L-Team, Making a Sacrifice of Praise for American Veterans.

As this grows, the temptation would be to create a larger and larger organization. This would be a great error I think. The preservation of a local community as a driving force is crucial to giving this its appeal as people walk through the door. There is a limit to how big you can get and still feel like a community. Like Oxford colleges, when it gets to big, you don’t grow into a giant single institution, but limit the growth and found a new college. So each neighborhood could have its own chant cafe independently run. There might be, perhaps a central organization that offers franchises in The Way of Beauty Cafes so that the materials and knowledge needed to make it a success in your neighborhood are available to others if they want it.

I have made the point before that eating and drinking are quasi-liturgical activities by which we echo the consuming of Christ Himself in the Eucharist (it is not the other way around – the Eucharist comes first in the hierarchy). So it should be no surprise to us that food and drink offered with loving care and attention open up the possibilities of directing people to the love of God. If the layout and decor are made appropriate to that of a beautiful coffee shop and subtly and incorporating traditional ideas of harmony and proportion, and colour harmony then it will be another aspect of the wider culture that will stimulate the liturgical instincts of those who attend. (I have described how that can be done in the context of a retail outlet in an appendix of The Little Oratory.) We should bare in mind Pope Benedict’s words from Sacramentum Caritatis (71):

‘Christianity’s new worship includes and transfigures every aspect of life: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1Cor 10:13) Here the instrinsically eucharistic nature of Christian life begins to take shape. The Eucharist, since it embraces the concrete, everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progressive transfiguration of all those called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God (cf Rom 8:29ff). There is nothing authentically human – our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds – that does not find in the sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived in the full.’

So Jo Brand, we’ll put away the bread knife and offer the bread instead!

Step one seems to be…first get your coffee shop. Anyone who thinks they can help us here please get in touch and we’ll make it happen!

Contact David at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts: thewayofbeauty.org/contact/

Copyright © 2009–2014 David Clayton. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

Lesley Green – A Rhode Island Sacred Artist

One of the great blessings the Lord has granted me is the privilege of meeting so many wonderful people who are interested in studying and creating sacred art. An example of this is the fine Rhode Island artist, Lesley Green.

Lesley is no stranger to art. She has been interested in it since adolescence and received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. She continued to pursue her studies while taking time out to marry and raise a family.

I first met Lesley a number of years ago, when my wife and I started the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts.  We invited people from around the Diocese of Providence to come to our first informational meeting. I could tell upon first meeting her that she was highly motivated to consider studying and prayerfully create sacred art.

My first workshop in sacred art soon followed that meeting and Lesley came to learn the basics of how to paint a sacred icon. Her excitement and interest were, and still are, gratifying to see. She continued to make rapid progress with me and took the advice that I give to all of my students: “Branch out, and study with as many other sacred artists as you can.”

I firmly believe that a sacred artist needs to be exposed to, not only a variety of artistic talents and skills, but to the prayerfulness of other iconographers as they practice their ministry in sacred art. As a result, she has since enjoyed studying with Rev. Peter Pearson and Michael Kapeluck, two artists from Pennsylvania who paint in the Russian Orthodox style.

Lesley realizes that her art is more than art for art’s sake. As a committed Roman Catholic she understands that her art is a dramatic form of silent evangelization of the Word of God. She takes seriously the invitation of St. John Paul 2’s 1999 Letter to Artists to participate in the “call” to the vocation of a sacred artist. He tells us that in doing so we fulfill our personal responsibility to do our part in spreading the Good News of Christ. He says,

“In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art.  Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God.  It must therefore translate into meaningful terms, which is in itself ineffable.

Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colors, shapes and sounds, which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.” 

It is this “aura of mystery” that Lesley is prayerfully attempting to make visible to the viewer of her art. For, as sacred artists, we are all called to make visible the “ineffable mystery” that is God, His angels, and His saints.

Lesley’s most recent completed icons of Saint Gabriel and St. John the Baptist are quite lovely. I especially like the fact that St. Gabriel is shown holding the Holy Eucharist. As you know, the Archangel Gabriel was depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures as being a healer, especially of the eyes. This sacred icon aptly shows that the source of the Archangel’s power is Christ Himself. The second icon showing St. John the Baptist in a prayerful pose indicates that even in Heaven he continues his mission of imploring us to repent of our sins.

St. Gabriel the Archangel and St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

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Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

The Black Mass at Harvard – Is It A Hate Crime?

News reports have been circulating the story that Harvard University’s Memorial Hall will be the site of a Satanic Black Mass on Monday evening May 12, 2014. The Satanic Mass, by its very nature, is a spiritual crime against the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Catholic Mass and everything that it stands for – specifically the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the real presence of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is hosting this despicable event. Its promoters and supporters know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it, and the attempt to sugar coat this blasphemy by saying that it is an attempt to promote cultural understanding is preposterous and vile.

Reports from the Catholic News Agency (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/priest-sees-deluge-of-support-against-harvard-black-mass/) state that “Early media reports included confirmation from Priya Dua, a spokesperson for The Satanic Temple, which is staging the event, that a consecrated host would be used. However, updates to the initial reports said that Dua later retracted her statement, saying that there had been a miscommunication and no consecrated host would be used.”

It is my belief, and the belief of over one billion other Christians in the Latin, Greek, and Russian Rites, that a consecrated host is the most sacred and precious object on earth and the “source and summit” of our faith. I do not understand, how is it not a crime if the original intent is to show a ritual that promoted the desecration of the Mass in its Word and Matter?

If a person or organization desecrates a Koran, or promotes racism or sexism would we not vociferously object and demand justice?

Would Harvard University allow a reenactment to occur in Memorial Hall in which students were shown how to desecrate a Koran, or stone  a woman because she desired an education, or bullwhip a racial or sexual minority for their culture or personal views. What’s next, a symposium on teaching the elite student body of Harvard how to tie a correct knot for a lynching?

We are not taking about an avant garde theatrical performance in which the boundaries of good taste can be obliterated and the right of free speech can be stretched. We are talking about a Satanic ritual that has for many years had the express purpose of spewing hate and ridicule against the specific liturgical and spiritual meaning and reality of the Catholic and Orthodox Mass.

Catholics in the Harvard and MIT communities and the Archdiocese of Boston are wisely protesting and engaging in prayer and witness to this affront to all Christians.

Allow me to pose two questions: What is the definition of a hate crime, and, is Harvard University, by allowing this event to take place in Memorial Hall, condoning a hate crime?

Laws.com states that a hate crime is “an intentional, deliberate, and methodically-charged crime executed in order to cause harm or damage with regard to a specific victim chosen as a result of prejudice, racism, bias, and unlawful resentment.” It goes on to say, “The following are commonly associated with charges of a Hate Crime:

a. Prejudice: Unfounded opinions that are preconceived in nature.

b. Bias: Favoritism that is not based on empirical or pragmatic reasoning.

c. Aggravated Felony: A classification of an intentional, premeditated crime that is severe in nature.

d. Defamation: The slandering or unjust conveying of libelous sentiment.

e. Ethnicity: The country or nation of origin belonging to an individual or entity.

f. Racism: Preconceived prejudice resulting from bias with regard to race.

g. Religion: The process of spiritual belief latent in an individual.

h. Sexual Orientation: The nature and particularity of the sexual attraction latent in an individual.

i. Unalienable Rights: The right of every citizen to ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’.

j. First Amendment: The right of every citizen to the Freedom of Speech.” (http://criminal.laws.com/hate-crimes)

Don’t some of the above ten articles apply to this situation?

Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants believe that the Holy Trinity is the repository of all truth, goodness, and beauty. In the Trinity’s love and mercy for humanity they have shared themselves with us through word, grace, and sacrament. The ministry, suffering, and death of Jesus Christ won for us the opportunity to be fully participating members of God’s family. Christ’s resurrection is the proof of His victory over sin and Satan. With this in mind we should not be afraid, but we do need to be prudent.

Jesus warned us that Satan, and his minions, still prowl the earth searching for souls to devour. We must be as innocent as doves but as clear eyed as the eagle. Let us pray this afternoon and evening for the Harvard Catholic Community that they may have the strength to witness, in a non-violent Christ-like manner, against Satanic hate.

Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

St. Thomas: Skeptic, Cynic, and Repentant Saint

It is the evening hour on the first Easter Sunday. Gathered in the upper room the Apostles were in turmoil. They doubt. They fear. They have lost their sense of trust. They believed that Jesus was dead; and they knew that the Temple guards had orders to arrest all of them on sight. Earlier that morning, Peter and John had entered Jesus’ tomb, and came away amazed at what they saw. But the other Apostles in that room (all were present except Judas and Thomas) had not witnessed the empty tomb.

The doors to the upper chamber, like their hearts and minds, were locked – bolted tight. Fear choked their bodies. They felt trapped and disoriented. They doubted. They despaired. The words of Mary Magdalene, John, or Peter himself, were insufficient to break the fear, break the anxiety, break “the idle talk,” as Thomas, had so precisely framed it earlier in the day. At that moment, the Apostles did not realize that Jesus’ mission was still incomplete.

Then it all changes.

Jesus enters their room, blessing them with His peace and Spirit. You see, Jesus returned that night to deliver a very personal message to each of them. He desired to share an understanding of what it means to be members of His divine family who share in His mission to spread the good news of the Gospel.

What is this “Good News”? It is the news of the reality of our redemption won for us by Jesus’ sacrifice. It is the news of the divine mercy of Christ offered to all who desire it. It is the news of the reality of Jesus’ Sacramental grace that comes to us through the Apostles and their successors; and it is the good news of the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit that dwell within us specifically through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

Jesus, the Eternal Wisdom, in perfect obedience to His Heavenly Father, knew that He had to give them practical spiritual gifts, because His mission would ultimately become their mission to the world. That night, seeing the resurrected Jesus, was the beginning of the awareness of their new role. Full recognition of it would only come at their reception of the Holy Spirit, their Confirmation, on Pentecost.

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A week later, Thomas returned to the upper room. He proved stubborn and unbelieving. He wasn’t there on that first night. He had not seen the facts as they had. As a cynic he was distrustful and contemptuous of human nature and the motives, goodness, and sincerity of others. As a prototype for modern man, he insisted on experiencing it for himself. He wanted contact. He wanted to put his finger into the wounds in Christ’s hands and side.

Then Jesus appears a second time.

Confronted with the resurrected Person of Jesus, challenged with the sight and touch of Jesus’ mortal wounds, and hearing the words “Thomas, do not be unbelieving, but believe – [trust in Me],’” – at that moment, Thomas unbolted the locks of cynicism that had bound him, repented and sincerely proclaimed: “My Lord and My God!”  In front of those assembled, Thomas witnessed and experienced the finest quality of God – the attribute of divine mercy.

Aspects of Thomas’ personality can be found in all of us. We want to believe but have never actually heard the risen Christ speak or seen Him in His resurrected flesh. We observe the behavior of fellow Christians and the temptation to judge them rises in our minds, and, we doubt – the doubt of Thomas: “How can this be true. Look at how they behave.” Vacillation, anger, materialism, pseudo-sophistication, and adolescent anti-authoritarianism are just a few of the things that may fuel our judgmental natures.

You see, the trouble is not with our Scriptural evidence, but with ourselves – with our priorities. By virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation we should walk in faith, not judging others but lifting them up, renewing them, offering them a drink of the cool water of reconciliation with God. A reconciliation made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice and the Gifts of the Spirit.

From these Trinitarian Gifts come the exceptional graces of divine mercy that the Apostles needed for their mission. From these gifts, the timidity, doubt, despair, and dejection of the Apostles turns to courage, faith, love, and trust in Jesus as Lord and God. These Gifts provide them with a life that is totally devoted to spreading the “Good News” – a life that is filled with outward obedience and interior peace.

With this in mind it is truly appropriate that Popes John 23 and John Paul 2 were canonized today in Rome. Their immense gifts, nurtured by the Holy Spirit, filled the Church and the world with an understanding of the peace and loving Mercy that Jesus offers to all of us.

It is also interesting to note that the motto of Saint John’s papacy was “Obedience and Peace” and that of Saint John Paul 2 was “Totally Yours.” These two men, linked by the gifts of obedient Christian service, love of the Blessed Mother, and the desire to maintain interior peace through prayer and the Sacraments provide us with clear direction for living as fruitful Catholics in a weak and faltering world.

Let us pray with devotion and love to our new saints and remember that today’s Gospel has Jesus challenging us as well as St. Thomas when He says: “Trust in me;” and we, like Thomas, need to respond with the simple, yet profound prayer, “My Lord and My God, I trust in you.”

 

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Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The above is my homily of 4/27/2014 delivered at St. Francis of Assisi Church at the 10 AM and Noon Masses in Wakefield, Rhode Island USA.  Note on the artwork: The icon dates from the 16th century; the stone pillar relief is found in the Cloister de Santo Domingo de Silos in Northern Spain. It was carved during the renovation of the monastery and dates to 1150. The 13th century saint and founder of the Dominican Order, Dominic Guzman, mother’s name was Joan. She is considered a saint of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. St. Joan prayed to the famous Spanish Benedictine monk. St. Dominic of Silos. She named her son, Dominic, in honor of him. St. Dominic of Silos is also considered the patron of all women who are pregnant. During his lifetime St. Dominic of Silos was known for his medical and healing abilities and has been considered the patron saint of women with difficult pregnancies. He died at the age of 73 in the year 1073.

Sin and the Sacred Artist

Our society is quite adept at pointing out the sins and foolishness of others. Cable TV, radio talk shows, and various web sites love to dwell on the ignorant and immoral actions of politicians, celebrities, and the man in the street. But, as sacred artists within the Christian Tradition, what does Jesus require of us?

Jesus demands that we become countercultural. He requires us to be more concerned with our own sinfulness rather than the sins or inadequacies of others.

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When we first heard it years ago, last Sunday’s Gospel of Matthew 5: 17-37 must have caught us off guard – with talk of plucking out of eyes and cutting off of hands. Today, as adults and sacred artists, we certainly would have a difficult time practicing our craft if we took Jesus at His word. As you know the graphic figures of speech that Jesus uses are meant to shake us up – to provoke a reaction in us by vividly describing what we should figuratively do rather than falling into certain types of sin.

The vivid images that He uses emphasizes the truth of how dangerous these sins are to our souls. He uses this phrase twice: “it would be better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.”

What is He saying?

Human nature, combined with the age that we live in, contribute to our forgetting the essence of this Gospel and reflecting on its purpose. It is apparent that Jesus is emphasizing the following three truths: 1) Sin is real; 2) We will be judged on our sins; and 3) Gehenna, that is, Hell, is a real place: the place of eternal sorrow and separation from God.

Now, in the last fifty years, there exists some Catholic and non-Catholic theologians that would disagree with all or some of these three Scriptural truths; in fact, some of them would even cast doubt on the authenticity of the Holy Scriptures. But make no mistake; it is the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church that we will be personally judged, not by these theologians, but by Jesus Himself.

So, it is wise and prudent for us to understand that Jesus is not mincing any words in this section of Matthew’s Gospel. For Jesus is challenging us to take seriously God’s perception of reality, and the truth that we can, through our personal and social sinful acts, be separated from God not only in this life but for all eternity, too.

Jesus’ words are timeless because He cites pride, anger, vengeance, unlawful divorce, lust, and lying as problems that affect not only the Jewish community – but our community as well. Jesus knows our hearts; and He knew the hearts of the men and women that stood before Him. His goal was to teach and heal us, and most importantly, willfully sacrifice Himself so that we would be redeemed of the stain of Original Sin and the subsequent sins of our life.

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So Jesus is presenting us with an opportunity to be a student in His school of discipleship. Jesus’ school, however, demands that we be honest with ourselves, as artists and as Christians, and recognize and strive to eliminate all sins –  all  barriers – to being His disciple. For how can we produce sacred art in the Tradition of the Church if we are carrying the burden of unrepented sin?

We pray that the Holy Spirit uses us as His instruments to promote the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, His angels and His saints. It follows then that if we are His instruments we must make every effort to model ourselves after Him.  Rather than just copying the image of the sacred model, as a fellow artist Jesus desires us to become the model – alter Christus – another Christ.

I don’t need to tell you that, over the last fifty years within the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church in certain parts of the world, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is widely ignored as a throw back to the Middle Ages. This attitude by American and European Catholics is based on poor catechesis and, possibly, an unwillingness to accept and repent of their own faults and sins. We may have forgotten the reality of sin, but  Jesus, our Judge, has not; and why hasn’t He?

It is because sin is the reality of our separation from Him – and He is always aware of it. It is the reason why He suffered and died for us; however, along with this is His desire to share His mercy with us – if – we want it. Christ’s mercy is always available to us; and as Catholics we are blessed to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation to spiritually cleanse us from our sins. Why would we cast aside such a valuable gift?

Today, Jesus is calling us to repent – let us not turn a deaf ear, and a hard heart, to Him.

Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. This essay is a modified form of a homily I delivered last week at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Wakefield, Rhode Island, USA. Photo Credits: “Jesus,” and “Jesus Carrying the Cross” from Mel Gibson’s classic film: The Passion of the Christ.

PREPARE! Bruno Mars in Light of Matthew 5: 13-16

If you had the opportunity to watch the Super Bowl half-time show last weekend you saw that there were a number of symbolic messages that were being sent by the producers and main performer of the show; interestingly, variations on these messages continued to be sent throughout the game in the form of the commercials.

The singer Bruno Mars’ half-time performance sent one specific message – one specific word – that flashed three times behind him at the beginning of his act, the word was: prepare.

Prepare. But prepare for what?

The verb prepare in and of itself, is a neutral word. It means to “to make someone or something ready.” A negative intonation on that word might carry the meaning that we are to prepare for a terrorist attack, war,  plague, the collapse of the dollar, or increased government dysfunction.

But our concern here is about our Catholic identity and even though much of the world has either turned against Christianity or is indifferent to it, let’s look on the positive side, and say that we are to prepare for something good, something holy, even if, in the process, we might become uncomfortable.

Only the producers know the answer as to why the message to “prepare” was used so often during some of the Super Bowl commercials and half-time show; yet, does its presence last Sunday, in the light of this Sunday’s Scriptures, carry a message for us now?

Figuratively when we chew on the hearty meal that is our Holy Scripture we experience personalities called by God, who at first, are reluctant to prepare and respond to His call.

For example, Moses tells God that he is frightened to speak to the people. The prophet Isaiah humbly tells the Lord that impure speech has passed his lips and this makes him unfit to be His prophet. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, bluntly says that she is too old and tired to have a child; and Peter confesses that he is just too sinful. In Sunday’s Epistle, Paul declares to the Corinthians that he came to their sophisticated audiences with “weakness, fear, and much trembling.

To their credit all of these people ultimately prepared and responded with a sense of hope and trust. From their witness we learn that nothing is impossible with God; for He takes ordinary people and, through His grace and their prayerful preparation, transforms them into His salt, light, and lampstand. He does this so that His disciples may enhance the bland flavor of today’s society and preserve and penetrate it with the richness of Christ’s message, thereby becoming a welcomed light that guides people on their spiritual journey.

So the challenge of Sunday’s Gospel is “Do we exclude ourselves from the promise of discipleship because of our lack of preparation?”

Now, you could say “Well let the ordained clergy do it: the deacon, the priest, the bishop. Or, let the brotherhood or sisterhood do it, because I’m just too busy or I’m not “called” in a formal way.” But if we hold that attitude we are ignoring the grace of our Baptism and Confirmation, we are rejecting the truth that we are all called and gifted.

Now what does preparation entail? It demands that we pray and continuously use the Sacraments available to us, especially Reconciliation, so that grace may transform us into disciples that are the salt of the earth.

Isaiah reminds us today, “to share our bread, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, and clothe the naked when you see them.”  He clearly tells us “Do not turn your back on your own.”  But important as that work is, we are not called to be just a Church of social workers. We are called to be a holy Church, a pure Church, a prayerfully prepared Church that responds to the Redemptive act of Jesus’ life so that our family and friends will be transformed, through God’s grace and our efforts, into fellow disciples of Christ.

As we begin thinking about the Lenten season, let us double our efforts this year to be prayerfully prepared for whatever may happen, and with confidence put our fear, weakness, and trepidation aside and give glory to Our Heavenly Father, by radiating the love and truth of Jesus to those around us.

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Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono.  All Rights Reserved. Photo courtesy of: Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio (from his Facebook Timeline Photos).

Pentecost 2013

As we celebrate the birth of the Church at Pentecost (confer the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2 ff), we should be filled with an urgent need to obtain and, most importantly, use the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit that are available to us.

Our Scriptures tells us that the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit are: fear of the Lord (which means that we desire not to offend God in any way), understanding, counsel (which is supernatural prudence), fortitude, knowledge, piety, and wisdom. These Seven Gifts are received as a grace of God at the moment of our Baptism; and they are strengthened and completed at the moment of our Confirmation.

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In our Gospels, Jesus explains these Gifts by using the two analogies of breath and water. Jesus tells His disci- ples: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me”  – and – “the water that I shall give will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life.”

Jesus explains that this new water, “the living water” of the Holy Spirit, is a new kind of water because it is given to those who are worthy to receive it.

Christ uses the analogy of living water to express the grace of the Spirit, because all things are fundamentally dependent on water, and all plants and animals have their origins in water.

One of the early Fathers of the Church, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, tells us: “When water comes down from the heavens as rain, it is always the same in itself, yet, it produces different effects – one in a flower, another in a tree, and yet a third and fourth in an animal or person. So the grace of the Holy Spirit,  like water, adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it. In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple, and indivisible, gives grace to each man [or woman] as  He, [the Holy Spirit] wills.” (St Cyril of Jerusalem)

We have all received the saving grace, and the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Baptism, but there comes a moment, usually around the age of our Confirmation, in which we are asked to recognize, develop, and use those seven Gifts.

But there is a condition, my brothers and sisters for this to happen: like a dry plant in your garden, the soul is able to produce the many flowers of holiness only when the soil of the soul has been raked and fertilized through repentance, and Sacramental reconciliation. This act of repentance is both an intellectual and spiritual action. Repentance has made your soul ready to effectively use the water, the grace, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul and St. Cyril remind us that “the Holy Spirit makes one person a teacher, another a healer, a third a prophet, and a fourth a pastor. Scripture tells us that in each person [who is free from serious sin] the Spirit reveals His presence in a particular way for the common good.” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem)

Ultimately, if we actively apply these truths we are able to impact the spiritual life of those around us. How does this happen? It happens by virtue of our own dedication to holiness as we live out the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost Sunday reminds us that we were Sacramen- tally Baptized and Confirmed to be apostles – to go forth and use these Seven Gifts that God has given us – to work on behalf of the family of God.

Let us be joyous on this Pentecost Sunday; let us rejoice in the truth that the Holy Spirit will always remain with our Church and sanctify us with His many graces; and let us recommit ourselves to allowing the Holy Spirit, through the graces of all the Sacraments, to energize us, and if necessary, change our natures for the better – so that we, too, may be fruitful apostles for Christ.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved This essay was delivered as a homily by Deacon Iacono at St. Francis of Assisi Church, Wakefield, RI USA on Pentecost Sunday May 19, 2013.  Notes on painting: Jan Joest van Kalkar (c. 1450 – 1519). Pentecost (Pfingsten) 1505 – 1508, Oil on wood, 41 x 28 1/4 inches, location: St. Nicholai’s Church (Katholische Pfarrkirche Sankt Nikolai), Kalkar Kreis Kleve. Link to the source of this information: http://idlespeculations-terryprest.blogspot.com/2011/06/pentecost.html Thanks to Terry Prest for providing the image and its source.