All Things New

Just watched The Passion of the Christ again.

Just teared up again at only one scene.

Just watched said scene twice.

Just teared up again.

Each time.

This:


Of all the truth in Sacred Scripture, only this line from Revelation 21:5 gets me every time. I’ve written and thought on it so much (like here, about strawberries in Heaven), and yet these words of the Lord at the end of time still do something.

It’s because I have sinned. The people I love dearly have sinned. We all have sinned and  our sin has made us hideous. The world is ugly because of us. And we cannot do a thing about it. The sun isn’t as sunny because of our sin. The breeze isn’t as fresh because of our sin. The peony isn’t as fragrant because of our sin. The strawberry isn’t as sweet, the birdsong isn’t as breathtaking, and we are not as glorious as God made us to be (not even close) — all because of my sin.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s words on sin have affected me deeply this past Triduum:

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Because I now know the horror of my past sins. I don’t know them in their full terror yet: that I will know only when Jesus makes it known when He judges me before everyone. But I do know now how ugly my sin made me. And I need Jesus to make all things new: I need Him to make me new.

*Note: Though Jesus does not speak “See, Mother, I make all things new” in the Gospels (He speaks so in Revelation 21:5), Mel Gibson’s decision to have Him say this during His Passion is very worthy. He tells Mary, His Mother, not to worry, because He will make all this suffering and sorrow into a beautiful new creation. Jesus is only beginning to re-create and renew.

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Music for an Intense Lent

Are you a Christian? Are you a Catholic? Stop settling for weak Lents. Make your Lent intense with these choral and chant tracks (or with these movies). Listen with the volume nice and high, and you’ll see what I mean:

This first track is a choral piece I discovered a few years ago, and its ability to creep is unequaled. For the majority of the piece, the choir is only singing one word: crucifixus… crucifixus… crucifixus… (The Crucified… Crucified… Crucified…) and the effect is stunning.

This next track is also a choral piece on the Crucifixion, by Antonio Lotti from the 17th Century. This piece is from his larger work on the Nicene Creed, but it stands alone incredibly well as a meditation on Christ’s crucifixion.

Here is Parce Domine, a chant of longing for God’s mercy, recalling the complete and profound repentance of Nineveh at the [reluctant] preaching of Jonah from the Old Testament. Lyrics, both Latin and English here, and an updated version here that is worth your ears, and don’t miss this polyphonic version!

The Dies Irae is not specifically a Lenten chant, but for funerals and for All Souls’ Day. Yet, it seems mighty appropriate, reminding us that death and judgment is our destiny, but our death can be transformed to eternal life if we surrender our life to Christ. Don’t miss this neat little documentary on this timeless piece, which has appeared in many famed movies to date! The epic lyrics here.

This last piece is the Gregorian chant of the Stabat Mater Dolorosa (The Standing Mother of Sorrows), the scene when Mary suffered and stood before Jesus nailed on the cross. The Latin/English lyrics can be found here, and a video with the proper notation is here, but presented is my favorite chanted rendition:

So there you have them, three of my favorite tracks for contemplating what Lent is meant to be. I hope these help, and maybe become your faves, too.

Tridentine Triduum

This past Holy Week was a first for me. I not only survived the taxing liturgies of the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday’s Paschal Vigil), but I found myself thriving in the Tridentine Triduum.

Not only did the usual Tridentine expressions help me, but I found the differences between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms (EF) of the Holy Week liturgies subtle yet rejuvenating to my soul and devotion. Here are a few points:

—–1) The priest truly disappears. The ad orientem posture of his prayer, the demands the rubrics places on him, the centricity of Christ, really shows how the priest is another instrument of Jesus. He wears what the Church commands him to wear; moves as the Church commands him to move; chants, speaks and whispers as the Church commands; does everything as the Church commands: all through which Christ Himself commands! The human priest merely becomes part of the whole thing: chalice, corporal, candles, altar, priest, patens, bells, thurible, servers, etc. Just another instrument among the many. And the more he disappears, the more He, who is Lord, appears. What made me see this clearer was the several times the priest had to vest in different vestments, outfitted for the specific task at hand, with no opinion of his relevant, necessary or appropriate. He was a slave to the liturgy, a slave to Christ and His Church.img_0531

—–2) Tenebrae took three hours. Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Last Supper started at 7:00pm. Two hours later, Tenebrae began and lasted until midnight. I was in liturgy for five straight hours. This was the single longest liturgy of the Triduum! But it’s length was vital, because it helped me feel the exhaustion that Peter, James and John felt while they waited for Jesus in Gethsemane, while they struggled to stay with Him and keep prayer. And those who chanted never stopped until midnight! Here we were then, doing what the apostles had failed to do: keeping watch with Christ in His agony. We were atoning for all the times we and others had failed to stay with Jesus.

Yet, going into Tenebrae, I had no idea it would last that long (not sure how long they last elsewhere). But I found myself just thinking, “Why not? Why not go the distance? Why not spend this time as I would with my other friends, talking late into the night, into the tenebrae (darkness)?”

So my advice: if you get the chance next Holy Week to attend Tenebrae, do it. But get ready for some spiritual struggle. Bring a devotional book with you (I suggest any of Fulton Sheen’s), your prayer journal, and get ready to reap and weep.tenebrae-hearse

—–3) Finally, the Paschal Vigil on Holy Saturday: two hours of which was in pure candlelight. Usually, in Ordinary Form Masses on this night, candles get blown out and lights turned on way too soon. Ever since I was a kid, I always thought the darkness should linger longer. Truly, I felt myself deprived that I did not yet feel deprived of full lighting. It seemed the candles were all for show, and not for something more.

Yet at this Extraordinary Form Mass, the darkness endured. So much so that I started worrying my candle would not last the Mass! As the wax waned, and the flame flirted with my fingers, I started noticing how dark the church was. Others had already lost their candles to the shadows, and mine was next. The desperation started to set in: should I find another candle? Should I save mine? Should I use my cell phone’s flashlight? And as I thought, I realized I was experiencing the darkness of being without the Light of the world. I tried to rely on myself, but this light was only going to go out anyway. I needed Christ to be my light. I needed Him to come back from the dead. I was awaiting His Resurrection.

And when the lights of the grand church came on amidst bells, organ and choir, I welcomed it in my deprivation. The darkness encroaching on my eyes taught me to receive His Light into my soul, because I had been in the dark for so long….easter2bvigil2b20152b042

—–So, if anything here has sparked your curiosity, please consider trying a Tridentine Triduum next time around, and you may find yourself not merely surviving, but thriving.

*Note, none of the photos shared here are mine but belong to their respective owners.

Sacred Heart of Jesus

Let me tell you the tale behind this latest Holy Smack card:

As with all of the cards, I wait for the Holy Spirit to prompt me and provide me with art and prayer to pair together into a holy card. Without the Spirit’s guidance, I do nothing. One thing that being a former seminarian has taught me is to be obedient to God’s will. And when we obey His will, amazing things happen that we could never have imagined.

With this card, I was searching for images of our Lord’s Sacred Heart. I had been on the lookout for many months, but nothing came up that rendered me speechless, until I stumbled on this blog and saw this piece. As soon as I saw Him and His heart, I knew this was the image I was always meant to find, and meant to find at that specific moment in time.

At that point, I had been going through a severe struggle in my life. Someone precious to me had been suffering in spirit and body, and like anyone who ever loved, when one’s beloved is in sorrow, one is in mourning also. Yet, when I saw this image of our Lord, the power of His light cut into my darkness. I had to find out more about the artist.

It turns out, the beaming Sacred Heart of Jesus here is a freak “accident” of flash photography! The image is a photo taken by a priest, and the blast of holy light is only a reflection of the camera’s flash. The shot was perfect, and so the priest posted it on his blog, and that’s where the digital paper trail ends, for after contacting Father, I was informed the artist is unknown, and perhaps even deceased.

And for the next four months, I deliberated and waited, I searched and listened. I found a prayer and I finished the entire card’s design, yet I still hesitated. Something was not yet in place. And then my precious friend shared with me more tragedy.

It was then I knew the time had come to print. The card was meant for her all along. The Lord was meant for her, His Sacred Heart was for her, the humble prayer was for her. And the card is the first to be dedicated to anyone.

Please pray for her.

Thank you, and if you happen to know the artist of the image, please do inform me so I can seek her or his forgiveness for using the image without permission.SacredHrtFrontSample2.png

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Note: as with all of my cards, please know I would be honored to share them with you for free and that any donation would be appreciated to support the continued ministry.

Stations of the Cross

Christians around the world will soon be in the holiest time of year: the Triduum. Those few days are known as: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter.

One way to help us meditate on Jesus Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection is the Via Crucis, aka: the Stations of the Cross. Please let me share with you my favorite set of Stations, by an artist named Sarah Gorss (please visit Gorss’ Flickr page for more information).

I particularly find these Stations beautiful and solemn. Their grittiness, and the fact they are made of rice paper really helps me feel how organic and alive the Lord’s suffering was. I hope you find these icons as inspiring as I do.

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[the first station: Jesus is Condemned to Death]

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[the second station: Jesus Carries His Cross]

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[the third station: Jesus Falls the First Time]

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[the fourth station: Jesus Meets His Mother]

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[the fifth station: Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross]

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[the sixth station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus]

[the seventh station: Jesus Falls the Second Time]

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[the eight station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem]

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[the ninth station: Jesus Falls the Third Time]

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[the tenth station: Jesus is Stripped of His Clothes]

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[the eleventh station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross]

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[the twelfth station: Jesus Dies on the Cross]

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[the thirteenth station: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross]

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[the fourteenth station: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb]

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[the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Lord, on Easter Sunday]

Not The Average Joe

Today, March 19th, is the Super Solemnity of Saint Joseph, the Most Chaste Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary (phew, long title!), aka: a well-deserved break from Lent! That’s right boys and girls, today is a solemnity, which means it’s a little oasis from your Lenten penances. It’s also my patronal feast day, so I thought I’d write a post for this occasion and share some art from Daniel Mitsui:

[Feel free to click the artwork to see more about it at the artist’s site.]

The artwork above depicts St. Joseph’s second dream from the Archangel Gabriel, telling him to take Mary and Baby Jesus into exile… into Egypt to escape the murderous Herod (Matthew 2: 13-23). St. Joseph had three such dreams in all, and I’d invite you to check your copy of the Gospel of Matthew to see what I mean.

Which then brings me to why St. Joseph is not your average Joe. Instead, St. Joseph was an intense man of love, made even more intense because his beloved was the stunning and gorgeous Virgin Mary. In fact, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said:

“When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”

In other words, the woman inspires the man on how to love her and others. In many ways, the woman’s beauty shows her man a glimpse of how ravishing her Creator is. The woman’s wisdom, intuition, faith, dignity, reverence and steadfastness hints at the level of wisdom, intuition, faith, dignity and steadfastness that the man needs to have in order to impress her. She sets the standards, and if he loves her, then he will rise.

And Mary’s standards were sky high. She was good enough for God to want her to be His mother, and her goodness inspired Joseph’s goodness. So here we see a chain: God inspired Mary, and Mary inspired Joseph. And if this logic led to the holiest of families, then we can conclude:

Ladies, get close to Jesus! Be inspired by God, be filled with the Holy Spirit, inspire the gentlemen in your lives to rise to higher standards. Don’t settle for wimps or pimps, don’t settle for idiots or cowards. Don’t settle for an average Joe. Be truly beloved.

Gentlemen, get out there and meet women who have high standards! Ask the Lord to give you the strength to rise to those heights… to the heights of being lifted on a cross and willing to die for your bride. Don’t live a wimpy or pimpy lifestyle, don’t be an idiot or a coward. Don’t be an average Joe. Be a true lover.

Now, since Mary was unaffected by Original Sin [by the Lord’s gift of immaculate conception], and since sin causes all ugliness, then we can say that Mary was truly and totally beautiful, through and through. In our fallen world, we’re always tempted to lust after the beautiful, to take it and possess it. This is a selfish thing to do, because beauty is meant to inspire us to be beautiful, and to praise the Creator of that beauty!

So for St. Joseph, I imagine devils constantly tried to tempt him to lust after his super beautiful bride, tried to make him use Mary, abuse her beauty and take advantage of her. But it never happened. He was her most chaste spouse, and for that he is known as the Terror of Demons. Joseph terrified and terrorizes demons because he never fell for their greatest temptations to lust, and so he was above their power. And whoever is above their power is close to Christ.

That brings me to my last point: what do I do with beautiful women? Do I fall for temptation and lust? Well, I used to. For a long time, and for most of my life, that’s all I did. But five years ago I started seeing beautiful women differently. Now, a woman’s beauty prompts me to pray for her. The beauty of women who demons wanted me to lust after now actually inspires me to pray — beauty turned my weakness into strength: beauty saved the beast. In fact, the more captivating a woman is, the more I thank and praise God for her beauty! I ask God to protect her from lust, especially from mine, and I beg God to crown her a saint in Heaven! I ask Mary to keep her safe and beautiful, I ask any saint I can think of to watch over her, and on and on and on I pray and praise.

And in this small way I try to imitate St. Joseph. I want to be a terror of demons, a most chaste spouse.

Because I don’t ever want to be an average Joe.

BONUS: There’s been a bit of debate about whether St. Joseph was a young man or old and grandpa-like. Well, here’s the theory I stand by (best expressed by Fulton Sheen on page 96 of his “The World’s First Love“):

But when one searches for the reasons why Christian art should have pictured Joseph as aged, we discover that it was in order to better safeguard the virginity of Mary. Somehow, the assumption had crept in that senility was a better protector of virginity than adolescence. Art thus unconsciously made Joseph a spouse chaste and pure by age rather than virtue…To make Joseph appear pure only because his flesh had aged is like glorifying a mountain stream that has dried. The Church will not a ordain a man to the priesthood who has not his vital powers. She wants men who have something to tame, rather than those who are tame because they have no energy to be wild. It should be no different with God…Joseph was probably a young man, strong, virile, athletic, handsome, chaste, and disciplined; the kind of man one sees sometimes shepherding sheep, or piloting a plane, or working at a carpenter’s bench. Instead of being a man incapable of love, he must have been on fire with love….Instead, then, of being dried fruit to be served on the table of the king, he was rather a blossom filled with promise and power. He was not in the evening of life, but in its morning, bubbling over with energy, strength, and controlled passion.

And for more about St. Joseph’s age, his possible assumption, and other amazing things, check Dr. Taylor Marshall’s article here.

Movies for an Intense Lent

*updated March 22, 2017* Lent is a long season. And to help me get in the mood of reflecting deeply on my faith, and contemplating deeply about Jesus Christ’s Passion, I have five movies I can turn to (or check my list of music for an intense Lent). But be warned. These films are intense and will not slip from your memory any time soon. The struggles, challenges, drama and suspense lingers… lingers…

SisterLuke——First up: The Nun’s Story, starring none other than the exquisite and stunning Audrey Hepburn as Sister Luke. In this film, we see a young and beautiful woman discern the religious life, but all the while, we see something not quite right. Did she enter for love of Jesus? For love of the Church? Or was the sisterhood merely a tool for her? When I first saw this film, I could not believe what I was seeing. As an Audrey Hepburn fan, as someone who was open to discerning the priesthood, and as a fan of film, this movie was a major treat and surprise. Click here for the whole film (while the link remains active).

——Second: The Passion of Joan of Arc. This is a silent film with a haunting score, a haunted past, and a haunting recovery. The real life struggle to get this movie on screen is already harrowing enough to make one think the devil tried to keep this where the sun don’t shine, but today, it is considered one of the top ten films ever. Don’t let its age, its novelty and its daring discourage you from viewing this movie. Search for it at your library, or online. There are at least three versions now. I only recommend the one accompanied by Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light score (click link to listen!).PassionOfJoan

——Third: Noah. A movie misunderstood by many to be Christian, but it’s actually a Jewish film that stretches the story of the Great Flood in ways that kept me at the edge of my seat. I was stunned to see how riveting the story was, how terrifying such a flood must have been. And since I wrote extensively on this film already, please click here for my review and for the thoughts of others more learned than I. 

——Fourth: The Flowers of War. Though the movie is about the 1937 December invasion and Rape of Nanking by the Japanese army, its portrayal of utter human suffering and redemption is perfect for Lent. The movie stars Batman: aka, Christian Bale, and is directed by Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony). In this epic, Bale finds himself having to play the role of a Catholic priest to protect 12 abandoned school girls trapped and stored in the Cathedral by the Japanese for future use. This film is so intense that I cannot recommend it for family viewing whatsoever. Be advised.

——Finally: The Passion of the Christ. I save this one for Good Friday, and for good reason. And unlike many, I don’t shed a tear at all… until Mary meets her Son on the road to Calvary. I love Jesus. I believe He is God. And God can take care of Himself. But when Mary appears, her broken heart cuts me down. Gets me every time…

——BONUS: this film The Road is also very intense and not to be viewed lightly by families and children. The story is a man trying to care for his son in a post-apocalyptic world that is two-thirds the way to hell. The sacrifices, struggles and sheer terror of what this world is reminds me of what sin did to us, and what sin still does to us when we let it reign. Give this a watch if that sounds like something that will help you stop taking sin lightly, and stop taking life for granted.

——AND A DOCUMENTARY: History Channel produced this detailed and fair research on the mysterious Shroud of Turin (the most studied human artifact, ever). This cloth is believed by many, scientists and faithful alike, to be the original burial linen of Jesus Christ. It is also believed to have been physically affected by the Lord’s  resurrection, affected in a way that science has been unable to explain, to date. Give The Real Face of Jesus a watch (but beware of the heretical and nonsense gnostic material inserted awkwardly (and unnecessarily) in the middle of the documentary). More documentaries researching and studying the Shroud here.