Our Lady of Victory

Blessed Ash Wednesday!

First, I would like to thank very much the lovely and talented Miss Gwyneth Holston, the artist responsible for the latest Holy Smack holy card featuring this painting:

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OLVictoryBack2Small

Our Lady of Victory is the first work I ever had the chance to commission, and if you are interested in commissioning something, please know that my experience working with Miss Holston was an absolute blessing (not to mention she gives generous discounts to seminarians, priests and consecrated religious!).

The original inspiration for this painting originated from this pulpit in the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels, Belgium, carved of wood by Hendrik Frans Verbruggen in 1699 (yep, they don’t make them like they used to). When I first saw this photograph, I knew immediately it had to be expressed anew in a painting, and smacked onto a holy card. I mean, just look at it! EPIC PULPIT:

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The image of the sculpture and painting are referencing Genesis 3:15, when God promises the protoevangelium (the first gospel) that the woman and her seed would crush the serpent. And I love how Mary and Young Jesus are making very light of it, even though they’re standing over a crocodile of a serpent.

Here’s more about the protoevangelium from Blessed Pope Pius IX:

The Fathers and writers of the Church, well versed in the heavenly Scriptures, had nothing more at heart than to vie with one another in preaching and teaching in many wonderful ways the Virgin’s supreme sanctity, dignity, and immunity from all stain of sin, and her renowned victory over the most foul enemy of the human race. This they did in the books they wrote to explain the Scriptures, to vindicate the dogmas, and to instruct the faithful. These ecclesiastical writers in quoting the words by which at the beginning of the world God announced his merciful remedies prepared for the regeneration of mankind — words by which he crushed the audacity of the deceitful serpent and wondrously raised up the hope of our race, saying, “I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed”[13] — taught that by this divine prophecy the merciful Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, was clearly foretold: That his most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was prophetically indicated; and, at the same time, the very enmity of both against the evil one was significantly expressed. [Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.[14] ]

And why did I name this image and card “Our Lady of Victory”? Well, seeing that ISIS and other militant Muslims, and other anti-Christians are raising their swords against the Church again, it reminded me of the Battle of Lepanto (which would have lost Europe to Islam if our Lady did not give us a miracle from Jesus, detailed here):

To save Christendom, Pope St. Pius V organized a fleet under the command of Don Juan of Austria, the half-brother of King Philip II of Spain. The forces of Spain, Venice and other Italian city states, and the Sovereign Order of Malta formed an alliance against Turkey. Note: “Catholic” France refused, and the Judas King Francis I financed the Muslim Turks so as to weaken his long time rival, Germany-Austria.

While preparations were underway, the Holy Father asked all of the faithful to say the rosary and to implore Our Blessed Mother’s prayers, under the title “Our Lady of Victory,” begging Our Lord to grant victory to the Christians.

Although the Muslim fleet outnumbered that of the Christians in both vessels and sailors, the forces were ready to meet in battle. The Christian vessels flew blue banners to honor Our Lady and depicted Christ crucified, while the Muslim flags had excerpts from the Quran calling for jihad and death to the infidels.

On Sunday, Oct. 7, 1571, at 11 a.m., the Battle of Lepanto began. At the end of five hours, the Muslims were defeated. Later, while Pope St. Pius V was in an afternoon meeting, he suddenly stood up, went over to the window, stared outside in the direction of the battle many miles away, and said, “Let us no longer occupy ourselves with business, but let us go to thank the Lord. The Christian fleet has obtained victory.”

The following year, Pope St. Pius V established the Feast of the Holy Rosary on Oct. 7 so the faithful would remember not only this victory, but also the powerful intercession of Our Blessed Mother. His Holiness also officially bestowed the title, “Auxilium Christianorum” or “Help of Christians,” upon her. The Venetian Senate had painted on a panel in their meeting chamber, “Non virtus, non arma, non duces, sed Maria Rosari, victores nos fecit,” i.e. “It was not courage, not arms, not leaders, but Mary of the Rosary that made us victors.”

So there you have it. Pray on! Our Lady of Victory! Give us the victory of your Son, Jesus!

*If you’re wondering why Islam is so hostile to Christianity, please see this for starters, as well as stop by Jihad Watch.

The Gentleman and the Tie

50 Shades of S***Last weekend, a book became a movie that should’ve never even been a book in the first place. But alas, here it is… 50 Shades of Grey.

Now, I’ve read all the criticisms I could find from sources I trust (links at the bottom), and I’d like to just do one thing nobody else has done: judge the book’s cover.

I take book covers very seriously (like when I designed my own), and this is no exception. What we see here is a tie, and that’s pretty much it. So… what can we make of this?

Does it stand for the business man in the book?
Does it represent status?
Does it show off some fashion trend?
Is the tie a motif? Does it appear in the book?

And of course it can mean all those things. But here’s what I think most people miss:

A tie. Think about it. Putting a rope around your neck. If one end of the tie is pulled, the loop contracts. Like a lynching tool. Also known as a noose. And just because it’s silk doesn’t mean it can’t suffocate and strangle.

Why would any sane person invent such a thing and call it fashion, handsome, strong, and manly?

And why would an entire culture think this is something men should wear?

Because it symbolizes and actualizes VULNERABILITY. It represents the gentleman under the paisley because it makes the man under the paisley gentle! If a man has this noose around his throat, he is made vulnerable and weak, even though he may be strong and secure. It shows that he is willing to be vulnerable and gentle, though he could be vicious and violent.

And vulnerability opens him up to love.

In fact, only love is worth becoming vulnerable for. And I’m talking about REAL love — love that involves selflessness, sacrifice, fidelity, and devotion. A man who really admires a woman always risks rejection when he asks her out, asks for her number, asks her out again, and again, and again, and finally asks for her hand in marriage. At every point, a true gentleman knows the lady is a free person who can decline and totally reject him. And at every point, the man who truly loves her knows that she is worth being vulnerable for. She is worth the risk of being rejected and embarrassed and devastated. To this gentleman, just getting the chance to ask her is worth it!

But 50 Shades of Grey has it backward. The book is about a woman becoming weak and vulnerable and abused by a vicious and violent boy. He uses her. Manipulates and control her. He puts her in the noose instead.

Here we have a boy unwilling (maybe even unable) to be selfless and sacrifice (and those are main ingredients to true love!).

Nothing gentlemanly about it.

Nothing manly about it.

Nothing lovely about it.

Pray for all the 50-Shades fans, and for the author: E.L. James. They need it.

Here are the criticisms I mentioned (highly recommended, but for mature readers only):

1) A whole collection of articles about 50 Shades of Grey from PornEffect.com (an anti-porn site).

2) Another collection, from ChastityProject.com

The Confessions of the Joker

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That’s right… even the Joker is serious about the Sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation! Have a listen to his conversion story!

Here’s the transcript:

Hi…

Most of you know me as the Joker. When Evan heard about my conversion, he contacted me and asked I could share my experience on Holy Smack. I said, I’d love to, but only if I could say whatever I wanted. He said okay. So here goes…

Last time you saw me, I wasn’t in a really good mood.
I killed people.
For fun.
I almost destroyed Gotham.
For fun.
And I tore down Gotham’s White Knight.
But her Dark Knight… oh, that Bat Man flipped my life around.
You see, while I was in prison, I was kept in isolation, and for good reason. I was insane.
And I never had any visitors. Except for one man.
He was a Catholic priest.
And he told me something I’ll never forget. In fact, I’m gonna tell you what he said, and I hope you’ll never forget it either:

You see, in confession, all your sins just… disappear.
You go into the confessional, and there’s the priest. Just sittin there. You can be anonymous to him, and he doesn’t care. You can tell him anything, even everything, and he doesn’t care. You think you’re sins are special? Original? Yeah… right… there was only one original sin, and Adam and Eve beat you to it long time ago…

Anyway, the priest can’t tell other people what you confess. What’s spoken in confession, really does stay ONLY in confession. He can’t tell your friends (if you have any), he can’t tell the police (yup, separation of Church and State at its best and original form), he can’t tell a recording device, he can’t tell another priest (not even the Pope!), and he can’t tell even your own sweet mother…

That’s called the seal of the confessional. And whatever you confess stays between you and Jesus. In fact, most priests even forget your sins as soon as you walk out the door. The Holy Spirit gives them a holy amnesia, otherwise, can you imagine living life knowing all the sleaze people do? It’d drive you crazy! Not to mention that confession can even get boring after you hear the same sin for the thousandth time… but don’t go out and try to impress a priest now! Trust me, that’s beside the point.

But in confession, you’re in hand to hand combat with the devil. Satan is a fiend. Worse than what I ever was. And he doesn’t want you there. He doesn’t want you anywhere near confession, because in confession, you’re really near the Lord. Confession is actually more powerful than exorcism! And in confession, you’re humbling yourself, and the devil is one prideful, stuck up jerk. And in confession, he’s hiding in the shadows of your past.

And the closer you get to Jesus, digging up your history of sins (and it might me from 5 years back, 20 years back, or maybe even just 20 minutes back), the stronger the light breaks in. Oh man… that light burns, like 10,000 UVA and UVB. And it obliterates the shadows. That’s when you can see the worst sins trying to get away from confession — they want to hide from being exposed. They first try to convince you that they’re no big deal, small fry, no more sins here, just move on. But keep going after them, and they get nasty. Then they try to convince you they’re too big for forgiveness, way too big to be rid of, way too much and you can’t handle it… you’ll be so embarassed by them.

Don’t listen to those lies. In fact, that’s when you know for sure this festering thing has to be purged. So grab it, and it’s black greasy tentacles will freak out. Like some leprous octopus. So drag it out into the light, spit it out in confession, and it’ll scream: “Let me go! Jesus can’t forgive you! You’re disgusting! Leave me alone!”

But that’s it’s last words. Because Lumen Christi — the light of Christ, that’s right, I know my Latin — His light sears and cuts that demon down, and it fizzles off like a fart in the wind. Nothing left. Just… gone.

That’s the power of the priest’s absolution: Christ working through the obedient and docile man, so he can pluck off and chop up the leeches that sucked on your soul. If you need to know how ugly sin is, just look up images of leeches and lampreys and pelican eels, and remember that sin is even uglier.

And now, why am I telling you this? Well because it worked for me.

I went to confession. And I confessed a sin that was festering in me since I was a little 10 year old boy. No matter how much a tried to stop, I just couldn’t keep clean. It haunted me, perverted me, and I lost control of my childhood. I was addicted; I became evil. But I didn’t want to stay this way.

So thank God. Because after that confession, that sin no longer had any control over me, and today, I’m free. Even in prison, my soul is free. I feel stronger and better today than I can ever remember!

And if it can work for me, it can work for you.

Now, all I need to do is try and talk like a normal person again… baby steps… baby steps…

God love you.

Why We Workout

SHMSgym

[this is where I work out]

It’s a month into the new year, and some of us may have started slacking on our resolutions. I think this might help us get back on track, and with vigor:

A good friend once told me: “I’m losing motivation to work out. When I get home from work, I just sit and watch a movie until I fall asleep. I used to get right to exercise, but now I’m so tired and can’t get myself moving. Any advice?”

I looked at my friend and listened. He was already a strongly built guy, but I could hear forfeit in his voice and frustration in his eyes. I thought about what would help him most. I asked him a question, “Well, why do you workout?”

“To get big and strong.”

“Why do you want to be strong?”

“I don’t know. I just don’t want to be weak…”

“Well, I know why: you want to be strong so you can serve and protect your family. I know you love your wife and daughters. They mean everything to you, and you need to be strong so you can keep them safe. So when you exercise, don’t work out for yourself. Don’t keep yourself healthy just for you. Do it for them. They need you to be healthy and ready. If we do things only for ourselves, then we can make excuses and spoil ourselves. Selfishness is never productive because we all want to be lazy, and selfishness is about spoiling yourself. But when we remember the people we love, we can keep going! Do it for them.”

My friend nodded, a very sure nod. I saw his eyes light up with determination as he said to me: “You are right. I got this now. Thanks, man.”

And even though I love being right (pssh… duh!), what I love even more is that this advice works for anything, any resolution that is truly good and healthy:

Why study? Because I want to have the knowledge and wisdom to help others.

Why eat healthy? Because I don’t want to die early! How can I help anyone if I’m dead? (or as good as dead?!)

Why drive with more patience?

Why shop less?

Why ________? Because ___________!

So hang in there with your resolution. Think about why you made the resolution,* and how it would help your beloveds if you kept at it. Don’t let them down! Dedicate it to them.

*Of course, if you find out your resolution doesn’t measure up, drop it and make a new one!

Cry Room Outcry!

Baby cries. There’s something about them. They do something to you.

If you don’t believe me, then have a look at Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men”. In that 2006 film, the world is old and sterile, aging and dying out. For reasons unknown, human fertility and pregnancy is no more, and the youngest person alive is 18 years old:

In a world where children are extinct, adults go mad. And trust me, the film is worth your time, considering it was Cuaron’s last film before his latest “Gravity“.

That brings me to what I noticed one day at Mass. Most Catholic church buildings constructed after the 1950s have a few things in common that older churches just do not seem to originally have. Actually and unfortunately, the “new” churches have many things I find irritating on good days and barely tolerable on bad days, but the thing I noticed this one day were the quarantine cells.

Cry RoomThat’s right. Isolation chambers. Also known as baby rooms, or cry rooms, where parents attend Mass with their infants and toddlers, safely behind soundproof windows and walls.

A few questions: how did young families at Mass handle their crying babies before the invention of modern soundproofing? And what did priests and people in the pews do with the cries and yelps and whimpers in the old days?

My thoughts: Baby cries are closer to the songs of angels than we think. I mean, if Jesus said that only the childlike will enter Heaven, then it makes sense that babies belong in the nave, not in some outlying room removed from the Mass, as if they were dangerous to everyone else’s prayers. I even dare say that people at Mass need to hear those whimpers and yelps! It reminds them, it reminds all of us that the Church is young! The Church has young husbands and wives with young children! The Church has loving and patient parents! The Church is fruitful and multiplying!

We need to learn how to listen to babies again. Too many of us find it excruciating and annoying. We throw death stares at hungry and tired children, and we roll our eyes at their parents. Sometimes, we even dream of snuffing out their breaths to gain some peace, and that’s not far from the culture of death…

Shame on us. As if we were never that way ourselves. As if we saw the hungry and tired brothers and sisters on the street and thought them annoying and needing to be quarantined. Those cries convict us if we are bothered by them, and those cries convince us if we could only hear their beauty: that we are all crying to God, crying for mercy, forgiveness, beauty. Crying for justice, love and Heaven.

We’re all supposed to be weeping at Mass. Tears of joy at the Kyrie, tears of sorrow at the sacrifice, tears of ecstasy at Holy Communion. And the whole world is meant to hear our cries, our cries that remind it that the Church is young! The Church has a loving and patient Father and Mother! The Church is fruitful and multiplying!

P.S. Check out what one parish is doing to help parishioners cope with the kiddos.

And I’m not the only one who thinks this. Check out what Pope Francis has to say about bawling babies at Mass.

Choose Better News

ProdigalPress

[definitely start with this book if you want more info]

Journalism ain’t what it used to be.

It used to be about getting the truth out. But now that relativism is the philosophy of life, any lie can be the truth and any truth can be a lie.

It used to be about fairness and awareness. But now there are only politics and propaganda, and a whole lotta news that is actually more like gossip and gimmick than informative.

And it used to be honest and modest. But now the news is shamelessly attacking people’s reputations, slandering them, and even selling porn like it’s part of the programming.

If you cannot tell, I am more than angry. Especially when the media talks trash about the Bride of Christ: aka, Mother Church. And you just don’t talk smack about someone’s momma, and that goes infinity-mode for Jesus’ Momma!

I’m thinking we all need a New Year’s Resolution that goes something like this: I will be more critical and skeptical of Big Media, and fact check when it comes to politics and religion. If I am Catholic, I will do this by actually reading news reported by Catholic journalism that is faithful to Church teaching. After all, faithful Catholics probably know more about Church news than a bunch of non-believers (and sometimes even anti-believers!) who don’t know transubstantiation from transportation, or the papacy from pepper spray, or excommunication from miscommunication, or exorcize from exercise!MediaBiasThink about it: why let someone who knows nothing about your family heritage tell you what to believe about your legacy? Would it perhaps be better to, I don’t know, listen to your great grandmother? Ask your grandfather? Eh?

So if you are Catholic, and actually want to be more Catholic (yes, that’s a challenge and a dare), then give these sites a chance during this new year and drop TIME, New York Times, Yahoo!, CNN, FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC, ETC.*

And if you are not Catholic, then why listen to a bunch of biased anti-Catholics talk about the Church? Shouldn’t you let the Church speak for herself? Get both sides of the story? Fairness and awareness, ya know?

Because who knows? You might stop missing out on big things happening with the Church, and you might even actually start picking up the treasures of the Church that were yours to find all this time…

1) National Catholic Register (I check them every day)
2) Catholic Vote (ah… politics without heretics)
3) Catholic News Agency (I admit some bias here, since they once interviewed me about Yuna Kim)
4) Catholic Exchange (not as informative, but always good to skim through)
5) LifeNews and LifeSiteNews (these two are pretty intense and never boring. You have been warned)
6) Ave Maria Radio (if you prefer listening instead of reading news)
7) Catholic Answers Live (if you wanna call in and ask questions)

*Note that I am not saying never consider those news sources anymore, but only that they should be compared and checked with Catholic sources regarding reports about Church topics.

Closing Thoughts on Korra

The Legend of Korra has ended, and what a series of surprises! I have to say my favorite Books of Korra have to be One and Three. Amon was such a tragic and complex villain, and the peril inflicted on Korra by Amon and the Red Lotus really tested our heroine’s character.

—–1) But let’s take a closer look at Book Four‘s episode 8: Remembrances. This episode was more like a recap to prepare us for the finale stretch, but this was no filler episode. Some intense insight was to be seen:

KorraMakoWhen Mako and Prince Wu are sharing their stories with each other, Mako shares with us what he learned from his time with Korra, and then with Asami. The takeaway here is that when we date, we should be able to breakup without turning our girlfriend/boyfriend into an enemy. If the two do become enemies, then what was the relationship worth in the first place? Obviously then both were too immature and irresponsible with one another’s hearts. Now, this doesn’t mean the two cannot argue. Arguing is actually a healthy thing if the argument is over something extremely important! But it’s vital not to tear each other down in the argument, but to work together and find out the truth. Arguing should strengthen your relationship, not bomb it into oblivion.

But here’s the gem from Mako’s experience, when he says: “I had to figure out who I was without a lady in my life.” This is exactly why it’s so important for boys and young men to have good fathers and big brothers. Boys will stay boys if they don’t have a mature man to guide and challenge them. Boys will stay boys and really mess up their girlfriends if they don’t learn from their fathers how a women should be respected and honored. For Mako and Bolin, they grew up without a father or mother, so we can see now why it took them so long to mature, and to do it the hard way with much hurt and hurting others involved.

This is also a reason why seminarians focus so much on fraternity (the good kind, not the college frat-boy kind) and put dating on hold (either temporarily or permanently). We’re finding out who we are, so that we can better serve and sacrifice in whatever vocation God is calling us to. Because without this self-awareness, then we have no idea what our flaws and strengths are, and without this understanding we can never better or humble ourselves. Chastity and modesty are the virtues that help us achieve this. Men also need more time alone in prayer with God, without the distractions of dating (because dating should only happen after our relationship with God [Love itself] is on the right path — after all, how can you hope to love anyone if you don’t first know Love?). For more about this, please visit ChastityProject.com.

And there’s seemingly a throwaway line from Prince Wu: “I’m not strong like you, Mako! I can’t help being weak! I was born this way.” Yet, there he is, Prince Wu learning to toughen up under Mako’s training. It goes to show that yes, we are all born weak, illiterate, ignorant and with a bunch of other deficiencies, but does that mean we should stay that way? Heck no! And we see the Prince really mature as the season progresses.

—–2) And as for the series’ finale with episode 13: The Last Stand? A few things stuck out to me:

KorraSavesKuviraFirst, the whole series has been recurrent with self-sacrifice. We see this again, but this time Korra sacrifices herself to save an enemy (no one before Jesus ever taught us to do this!). Especially noteworthy is that it’s Kuvira’s own weapon that is going to kill her, until Korra steps in as a body shield. This analogy fits well with how Jesus took on our fallen nature and our sin (our own weapons, our own mess and selfishness was going to condemn and kill us) and died in our place.

KorraBrokenSecond, after both Korra and Kuvira are blasted into the Spirit World, Korra shares that she has finally realized that all the suffering she has gone through actually were blessings in disguise — without them she would not have matured and grown in wisdom, humility and compassion. Throughout the season, she was struggling to find meaning in her near-death experience and past trauma, and it was only after saving Kuvira that Korra understood. This is one reason why Christians believe suffering is permitted (not caused directly) by God, and that just because someone is suffering does not mean it is better for them to die, thus why euthanasia is morally evil (because murder is a sin, but suffering can be for our good as long as we suffer with Jesus).

Third, forgiveness of one’s enemies was found three times in this episode alone: when Asami forgives her father’s betrayals and deceptions, when Korra forgives Kuvira and saves her out of compassion, when Kuvira herself forgives Korra. Earlier in the season, we saw Korra forgive even Zaheer and accept his help! And it’s important to understand that forgiveness does not necessarily mean trusting the offending person again. It means you let go of the resentment you have for the person who hurt you and move on.

BONUS: the final scene of The Last Stand has most viewers interpreting it in a way that advocates for LGBT issues. All we see is Korra and Asami walking into the Spirit World hand-in-hand and turn to face one another. To me, this is more likely to be about the two becoming closer as sisters. We saw earlier how Mako and Bolin grew as brothers, but now we also see how Asami and Korra grew in their sisterhood. This is supported by the fact that the whole series moved from the romance between the friends in the beginning (Mako and Korra, Mako and Asami) to their love of one another as close siblings at the end. To see this love between Asami and Korra as romantic seems a far stretch to me, and is a sign of how lustful and perverse our society has become to see even this simple innocent gesture between them as sexual.AsamiKorra

Yet, even if our two leading ladies have same-sex attraction: all persons are called to love and to be loved, including those of us with same-sex attraction! And to have same-sex attraction itself is not sinful (despite what many Christians wrongly believe), but to act on that love in a sexual way is a sin, because love need not be sexual (if it needs to be sexual, then it ain’t love). In fact, sexual expression is only appropriate in a holy marriage between one man and one woman (not a marriage done for lust, for social gain, for politics and power, for money, for polygamy, etc.), because the marriage vows [of sacrificial love] help the husband and wife prevent sex from becoming lustful, abusive, perverted and harmful to their love. Catholic teaching pushes back against this culture’s lust and perversion with true love that is understood to be genuine and selfless, chaste and courageous. I hope to share more about this in a more in-depth post, but for now, please let me share these insightful videos and interviews of persons with same-sex attraction instead: The Third Way, and the Desire of the Everlasting Hills. And for more authentic and compassionate Catholic wisdom on this topic, please start here.

Well, that’s all I have for now about this latest Avatar series. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey it put me on, and I hope the best for the creators and cast of the Legend of Korra. Pray for them all!

For more about Korra on HolySmack, look here: The Avatar and the Pope and the Passion.