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:

OLVictoryFront2Small

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:

Cathédrale_Saints-Michel-et-Gudule_de_Bruxelles_-_chaire

MaryCrushesSerpentCMYK

AdamEveAmbo

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.

**And here’s how Our Lady of Guadalupe is our secret weapon against Islam.

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The Avatar and the Pope and the Passion

KorraMy brother first introduced to me Avatar: the Last Airbender eight few years ago when it was still on TV. And since The Legend of Korra (LOK) started airing, I’ve been more and more surprised by how much goodness the two series has. Not only is the story tightly writ, but the characters also exhibit virtues (sacrifice, pro-family and pro-life) and the overcoming of struggle, as well as dealing constructively with the consequences of bad decisions. Both series are very mature, not merely for kids (in fact, there’s a lot that only mature viewers could grasp).

Anyway, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to post about the LOK, and this weekend’s season finale really gave me no way to ignore posting. Here we go…

SPOILER ALERT

PopeFrancis     1) Though the show involves reincarnation,* the line of unbroken succession from Avatar Wan to Avatar Korra hints very much at the Catholic line of unbroken Apostolic succession from Saint Peter to Pope Francis.

This is especially interesting since though each avatar is carrying on the “spirit” of the past avatars, each avatar is still unique (which seems to go against true reincarnation)! Korra is not Aang is not Roku is not Kyoshi is not Kuruk is not etc. Just like how Francis is not Benedict XVI is not John Paul II is not John Paul I is not Paul VI is not John XXIII is not Pius XII is not etc.! Each pope continues the office of Bishop of Rome (aka: the Papacy) as an individual, just like how each avatar continues the office of Bridge between the Human and Spirit Worlds (did you know “Pontiff” [one of the Pope’s titles!] comes from the Latin Pontifex, which means “to make a bridge”).

And if this symbolism isn’t enough, it hit me recently that when a pope leaves office, the next pope is always a surprise choice! That’s the same with the avatar! Nobody knows who the next avatar will be, just like how nobody knows who the next pope will be. It’s all up to some unknown power (Holy Spirit!) working with the Conclave that determines the successor!

     2) Another point: at the end of the Legend of Korra’s first season, we see her being guided and nurtured by all the past avatars. This, to me, amazingly presented what we Catholics believe about the Magisterium and Church Tradition, in that all the saints and popes and bishops of the past have left us with a huge counsel that we can refer to in time of confusion regarding Church teachings. Their prayers, intercessions, writings are all available to the Church to help guide and nurture us! When I saw the army of past avatars backing up Korra in her darkest moment, I saw something very much like the Communion of Saints. It was beautiful, and we as Christians have that with us as the cloud of witnesses that St. Paul mentions in Hebrews 12:1.

[the Crucifixion of St. Andrew by Peter Howson]

[the Crucifixion of St. Andrew by Peter Howson]


     3) At the end of LOK’s third season (the 1st and 3rd seasons deal with very mature themes), I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There Korra was, willing to sacrifice herself to save an entire people (and the world). When she was bound, the Red Lotus (like the Pharisees) fixed her limbs into a CRUCIFORM. Yes, it was not an actual wooden cross, but the X-shape is exactly the same as how St. Andrew was crucified for his love of Christ. And not only that, but Korra struggled greatly to restrain her power; just like how Jesus refused to manifest his divinity and come down from the cross… Korra also refused to enter the Avatar State. She suffered on the X (which isn’t much different from a t), and her agony reminded me of the Passion of the Christ. Even the poison that the Red Lotus inflicted on Korra was symbolic: the venom was metal based, as the nails in the Crucifixion were metal based. The venom was applied onto Korra through her arms and legs, as were the nails were driven through Jesus’ wrists and feet.

Korra on the CrossAnd finally, when Korra fell under the effects of her crucifixion, her father holds her in a way that mimics the Pieta, when the Blessed Mother holds her Son. At Jesus’ death, the devil howls and laughs in victory (presumably), only then to discover that the Resurrection is God’s last laugh against sin/death/evil. The same happens in LOK: Zaheer laughs out loud (I refuse to type LOL, even though I just did), only to recoil in outrage and horror when Korra is revived after the extraction of the metal (poison/nails) from her body.

Here’s a big difference though: Korra is greatly wounded by the persecution, to the point of being restricted to a wheelchair. Exhaustion and sadness is obvious in her eyes. She won, but certainly looks defeated — not much different from a zombie. Contrast this with Jesus after His Resurrection! He is teleporting all over, visiting His loved ones, cooking breakfast for his apostles, taking hikes and roadtrips, even sharing stories and rising to Heaven! So obviously, Korra (and the other avatars) is not presented as a god in any way. She is mortal. Don’t get it twisted.

     4) And so, I look forward to what the writers (Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko) of this series have in store for following seasons. They have not let me down these past nine years since 2005’s first series’ launch. May the Holy Spirit bless and inspire them to create greatness. I mean, they did hire the very Catholic Gene Yang (author of the Rosary Comic Book) to author the comic series that told the story of Zuko’s long-lost mother!

*a note regarding reincarnation: if it were truly real in the show (and in real life), then why bother trying to save others? It wouldn’t make a difference to save Korra, just let her pass on and return via another life (instead of having her continue to endure her present life through a broken spirit and body). Unless… unless it’s true that we are all unique and unrepeatable individuals who are worth saving at every effort. Unless… it’s actually more meaningful and more beautiful to believe that we all are special and have our own customized destinies. In short, I disbelieve the existence of reincarnation because it’s simply meaningless and not beautiful. Reincarnation shows me nothing but a vicious cycle of hopeless repetition. My Catholic Christian faith shows me that God is love, truth, beauty and goodness. Don’t mind me if I’d rather have faith in that.

**Lastly, considering the writers have already exhibited blood-bending (water), and breath-bending (air), I only wonder when bone-bending (earth/minerals) and brain-bending (electrical neural activity) will be manifest. I truly appreciate that they used these frightening prospects only to serve moral stories (and not mindless mayhem), and also have shown restraint in presenting these terrifying abuses of power.

For the HolySmack take on more of Korra, including the series finale, check here: Closing Thoughts on Korra

A Look-See at Lucy

Lucy-BannerWhen the first Lucy trailer hit my face, I was about to scream plagiarism!

On a warm autumn day in 2002, I daydreamed about a girl who had an accident that fully unleashed her mind. From then on, the scenes of how she would live played out in my imagination… and eventually give rise to the raw origins of my novel: Little Miss Lucifer.

I wasn’t worried though, and am not even threatened by Lucy. The story is way different. But even so, after spoiling it by reading the plot on Wikipedia, I still wanted to see what director Luc Besson could do with such a character. Here’s what I think of Lucy:

[SPOILER ALERT]

Saint Lucy1) First, the name of the film and Johansson’s character is — you guessed it — Lucy. But who was the person who popularized that name? Who is the person who every “Lucy” afterwards was named after? Well, like most names we have in English today, those names belonged to saints who launched them into popular use. Think of MaryAndrewJohn, and yep… Lucy.

Saint Lucy was a young Christian woman who was persecuted for her love of Jesus. One of the ways she was tortured before being martyred was that her eyes were ripped out from her face. Many icons of St. Lucy depict her holding her two eyeballs in a dish.

But here’s how this relates to the movie: In Latin, the “lu” in the name Lucy refers to “light,” as in “luminous” or “luster”. When St. Lucy was blinded and murdered, she no longer saw created light (the light of the sun, stars, firelies and lightning), but instead became able to see the true Light of the World: Jesus Christ, the God who created all other lights. (Btw, notice all the emphasis and focus on Lucy’s eyes in the film and its ads.)

In the film, Lucy also symbolizes this as someone who becomes able to see more than light. She can see, and sense, the world we know as mystery. She even explains that time is the standard of defining reality, not us humans and our standards, but time. Now, I don’t agree with this because even time itself can be destroyed (since spacetime is only a product of the Big Bang), and if time itself can be destroyed, then what? Instead, what I take from this is that we do not define what is real or true. Instead, the film tells us that reality and truth exist apart from what we think of it. In short, the film busts relativism (the idea that something is true only as long as we want it to be, and that we can all have our own truths about reality) into smithereens!

Creation of Adam2) Lucy in the movie also amasses huge amounts of information. She and others believe that knowledge is the purpose of life. She gains the ability to time-travel, manipulate matter, teleport, and even control other people. There’s criticism out there that the film’s use of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam suggests that Lucy has become god. However, if this is the film’s intention, then it cancels itself out in a few ways. First, Lucy knows a lot about how and what things are, but she does not know why: as in why is there such a thing as the universe as opposed to nothing? Why is there life? Why does she exist? Why does she love her parents (their conversation was one of my favorites in the film)? Why is there love anyway? And what is love? Why are some things beautiful and others not? Why does beauty exist?Why does anything exist at all? Second, Lucy can do a lot, but she couldn’t even save her own body from decay. Unless there’s a sequel about her resurrection, she’s a pretty flimsy god. Third, she’s an even flimsier god since she needs a cell phone to tell her friend that she is everywhere (and more on this below). Fourth, is it really enough to know something, to know all things? If you had all the information in creation, but nobody ever existed to share it with, would that be enough for you? If you knew about love and what it was, but you were never loved by anyone, and had no one to love in return… would that be enough for you? What I’m saying is that knowledge is not the purpose of life… love is! And this reminds me of a quote from beloved Pope Benedict XVI: “For those who love, you can never have enough information” — meaning that a lover never tires of discovering and rediscovering  the beloved.

3) So, what’s up with Lucy needing to use the cell phone? In fact, what’s up with all these latest mind-movies (like Transcendence and Her) showing that untethered consciousness still needs a way to be physically expressive? Could it be because God (the real One) created us humans that way? That we need the physical to make ourselves known? That “the body alone, and only the body, can make visible the invisible” (I stole that quote from Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body). Think about it: if I had an idea, how would anyone know about it? Unless… I used my brain, nerves, eyes, hands, skin, bones, muscles, etc. to pick up a pen and write it out. Or used my vocal cords, lungs, breath, tongue and teeth to speak it out? We need our bodies, because we are our body. It’s not just something we have, it is us.

Lucy4) And back to the beauty question from #2 above: beauty is one of those realities that knowledge and information alone cannot explain. I mean, how do we recognize beauty? Why does it exist? Why is it important to us? And don’t just think of visual beauty, but think of music, flavor, fragrance, and texture! (Yes, this movie did make me think of this, after all… if knowledge was everything, why bother making it all pretty with Scarlett and cinematography?)

5) Scarlett made me notice another thing: when her roommate was gushing about her night with a man, Lucy was totally disinterested. Lucy not only didn’t care, but even mocked it. This reminds me of why some men and women in the Catholic faith choose a life of celibate chastity. I’m thinking of priests and religious sisters (aka: nuns). That’s right! Scarlett Johansson’s character just exemplified celibacy. Here’s how: priests and nuns put the ordinary and natural desire for married sexual intimacy aside and instead choose the extraordinary and supernatural desire for intimacy with God. By living celibate lives, they’re witnessing that we were not meant merely for marriage with another person, but were meant for marriage with the Person, with God who is more real than any creature, more beautiful than beauty (since He created beauty). In the movie, Lucy knows reality more than the average person and sees that sexual intimacy is not enough for her — that compared to intimacy with supreme reality, sexual intimacy is kind of a joke. [NOTE: Catholic teaching does not say that sexual intimacy is a joke (married intimacy is very holy), only that any other intimacy is incomparable to intimacy with God.] (Click here to see what I mean (these sisters went on Oprah to share their story!) (And click here for how Professor-X from X-Men also exemplifies celibate chastity.)

6) The movie starts and ends with this voiceover: “We were given life over a billion years ago…” Notice that it says we were given life. Not that life popped out of nowhere, or that we gave life to ourselves, but that it was given to us. In that case… who gave it to us? Being given something implies there’s a giver…

7) Lastly, there’s a sort of throwaway line that Lucy says when the lead police officer warns her about people dying. She says point blank: “No one ever really dies.” Now, this is a claim Christians should know very well, since we profess to believe in the Resurrection and the Life, that we will all live forever, and not just spiritually, but bodily too! So, not sure what to make of this line from Lucy since nothing else follows it up and fleshes it out.

8) All in all, I enjoyed Lucy. It made me ask a lot of philosophical questions and hinted at theological truths. It was fun, although corny at times. I’m just glad it wasn’t a waste of 90 minutes and a free admission, and I’m even more glad Luc Besson didn’t steal my idea about a girl who goes 100%. Yet, the greatest disappointment was that Besson himself didn’t go 100% on this film.

You Are What You Eat

Most of us know this as a fact: if we eat unhealthy food, then we become unhealthy. But the reverse is true too! The more healthy food we eat, the healthier we become. Everything we consume becomes a part of us. We are actually made of bits of bánh phở, nem nướng, strawberries, sushi, black sesame gelato, pizza, katsu don and everything else we have eaten before. It sounds funny, but it is very true that you can trace the origin of certain proteins and lipids within you to your breakfast bacon last month!

So then, ask yourself: what do you want to be made of?

Do you want to be made of just bacon grease? Just rice? Just cheese? (Don’t get me wrong – I love cheese, but I do not want to be cheesy!)

Of course not. And we’re all made of a complex combination of the things we eat. But of all those varieties, what is the most amazing thing? What are we made of that nothing else is made of, that not even most people are made of?

We are made of God.

And not merely made of His love either (everything is made of that)…

[Click on the Crib for Shane Kapler's Blog]

[Click on the Crib for Shane Kapler’s Blog]

But for you, ever since you started receiving Holy Communion, your body has been being rebuilt by True Food and True Drink. Don’t take my word for it, but take The Word for it, when Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John, Chapter Six – He tells us we must eat His holy flesh and drink His holy blood (John 6: 35-67).

Jesus is God, and God made us (body and soul). He knows how our bodies work, and He wants us to be like Him – exactly like Him, made of Him. The fancy word for this is “divinization” or “theosis”, and God wanted this for us since the Beginning. God always meant for us to be like Him, so stop falling for the serpent’s original lie (Genesis 3: 5) and realize that when we Catholic Christians follow Jesus, we also must follow His diet for us. He wants our mortal flesh to be made of His eternal flesh, because then we are not only adopted children of God, but actual children of God!

Let me take this reflection a bit further: what we eat and how we eat also changes our spirit. We notice this most during Lent when we set aside sweets, meats, and other treats. In this way, we exercise our will power, our self-mastery, our spiritual muscle (which is always more challenging to train). So when we live according to the Jesus Diet – when we live the Eucharistic Day – we also let the Lord remake our souls. It takes real will-power, self-mastery and spiritual biceps to live the Eucharistic Day, but all good workouts are worth it in the end.

 

[Originally written April 28, 2014: for the Northeast Region Youth Leaders of the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Society in America.]

Introducing: The THIRD Way

“There are not 100 people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church.”

-Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

It is sadly true that we Catholic Christians do not know much about homosexual attraction and how it affects people, and it is even sadder that many others know even less. But, let’s stop the ignorance, stop the hatred and misunderstanding and finally know what the Church actually proposes to us.

This short film is a great first step. I personally have waited for something like this for a while: a compassionate and honest look, a loving and fair response to an issue that is so stained with pain, malice and evil on both sides.

Well, this here is the THIRD side, this here is the THIRD Way:

 

When Demons Ask For Prayers (again)

SO! Here we are again with another Satanic group trying to hold a black Mass in the Oklahoma City Civic Center on September 21, 2014. What do I have to say about this? Same thing I said back in May:

Just heard news of the supposed Satanic Black Mass coming up on May 12, 2014 (it was eventually cancelled) on the campus of America’s ”finest” university: Harvard. You can read more about it here and here, but for the most part, some student group wants to reenact the Satanic ritual for curiosity and ”educational purposes” as if it was nothing serious, but…

A black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony that invokes Satan and mocks the Catholic Mass. Connected to witchcraft and demonic worship, it involves the desecration of the Eucharist, often by stealing a consecrated host from a Catholic Church and using it in a profane sexual ritual.

[It sees you, but you don't see it.]

[It sees you, but you don’t see it.]

So even if this student club doesn’t use an actual consecrated host, and even if none of them believe in what they’re doing, the danger remains that the devil doesn’t care if you believe or not. In fact, he would much rather go undetected while he ravages lives, like the alien man-hunter called PREDATOR. And even if everyone in the club is atheist, that doesn’t change a thing. In fact, that helps the devil hide even more! But ironically, what might end up happening is that Harvard becomes infested with demons, and then must resort to having a Catholic priest exorcising the place. But would the school do such a thing as to endorse the Church and ask her aid? That would be the bigger surprise, actually.

Anyway, don’t merely read about this and shake your head in defeat! That’s exactly what Satan wants us to do!

[O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.]

[O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.]

Instead, learn to turn evil on its head! Whenever something like this comes up, I interpret it as a call for prayers… much much prayer! Whenever I see a Satanic symbol, a demonic act, a temptation to sin, etc., I go right to praying for the persons involved (and all their beloveds, too). That’s right, I see these provocations of spiritual warfare as promptings to launch a barrage of blessings and prayers. I ask my priests, my brother seminarians, my siblings in Christ, and all the angels and saints to join me.

Usually, I turn to my favorite prayer from the Miraculous Medal:

And then I add on a prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel:

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

— Pope Leo XIII

[Samurai Saint Michael the Archangel, by Daniel Mitsui]

So! Turn that worm’s schemes into the its worst nightmare — pray for mercy, forgiveness, love and conversion! It’s the absolute last thing the devil wants you to do, so make it the first thing you do! Because doing what the devil doesn’t want you to do is actually the best thing to do!

And feel free to use your own favorite prayers! But remember…

MissalMissile