Below is a letter I dedicate to our Lord Jesus Christ in celebration of his birth, December 25, 2020 Anno Domini.
Dear Baby Jesus,
In a stable, 2000 years ago, a seemingly ordinary infant was born. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, shepherds and kings from afar learned about His incredible presence. God uses the most common of circumstances to work the greatest of all miracles–the Incarnation. God so loved the world He sent you–His only Son– to bridge the great gulf, the separation caused by sin.
Wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger, you my king took the form of mankind. I have heard the Nativity story dozens of times. This Advent I feared I would took your origin story for granted. Instead, I am grateful for the opportunity to gaze on the Nativity scene through new eyes–not merely of a follower, but also as a father.
My children are a reminder of your goodness, truth, and beauty. Seeing the twinkle in their eyes when they gaze at the Nativity Scene at home or church is priceless. The smiles on my kids faces as they color “presents” pictures for my wife and I remind me the true reason for the season!
People are born everyday on this earth, but only once a year do we remember the greatest birth of all.
Jesus my servant king, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, God-hero, I adore you and celebrate with my family and friends the anniversary of your birth. I pray that my heart is enlarged to make room within the inn of my soul for you, my family, friends, and people I meet daily!
Praise we to God in the Highest and Alleluia for our Savior’s arrival.
With great love and gratitude,
Your adopted son,
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
Editor’s note: Article originally published on August 22, 2019. This article is sponsored by Holyart.com.
Our world is an ugly place. Disease, cancer, war, hunger, greed, murder, abuse, and countless other appalling things have existed throughout human history. Because of the original sin of Adam and Eve, humanity fell out of communion with God. Thankfully, God had a plan. A redemptive plan of salvation. Through the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, God provided a pathway for us to return to Him. Two thousand years later, not much has changed with humanity. Human nature is always the same. Self-centered. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Catholic Church as a harbor and teacher of truth.
Baptized Christians are called to a life of grace. This is best lived out by participation in the Sacraments. Life on earth is temporary. Our true home is Heaven. St. Therese of Liseux said it best, “The world’s thy ship and not thy home.” Nothing is wrong with admiring the beauty this world has to offer. It only becomes an issue when the good of the created world is preferred to the good of God.
Beauty and Goodness
According to Bishop Robert Barron, “Begin with the beautiful, which leads you to the good, which leads you to the truth.” His quote always intrigues me. Think of the things you consider to be beautiful. Things that immediately come to mind are the beauty of a sunset, a smile, or the kindness of a stranger. Those are truly beautiful things or actions. Beauty always points us to the good.
Saint Pope John Paul II described the relationship between goodness and beauty in this way, “beauty is the visible form of the good” (Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists, 1999, no. 3). Throughout Church history, holy art in the form of icons, sculptures, and architecture has reminded Christians (and the world) of the Good News of Jesus Christ. In this article, I will provide three reasons why sacred art is desperately needed to help us recover a sense of beauty in an ugly world.
Inspiration Not Mere Entertainment
A major difference between modern art and sacred art is their purpose. The former seeks to entertain whereas the latter aims at a higher purpose—inspiration of the heart, mind, and soul. In his 1999 Letter to Artists, John Paul II describes the motivation of artists as, “they must labor without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves. There is therefore an ethic, even a ‘spirituality’ of artistic service, which contributes in its way to the life and renewal of a people” (no. 4). Holy art seeks to serve others and the Other—(God). Gazing at those holy individuals will help inspire you to lead a holier and virtuous life.
Drawing us into the Paschal Mystery
Sacred art draws us into the life of Jesus. “Thanks also to the help of artists ‘the knowledge of God can be better revealed, and the preaching of the Gospel can become clearer to the human mind’”, declared St. John Paul II (Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists, 1999, no. 11). Sacred art largely consists of scenes from the Gospels. Entering any Catholic cathedral or basilica causes an immediate reaction of wonder and awe. We gaze at the glorious murals, statues, and music that exist.
In college, I went on a trip to Europe. My favorite part was visiting the glorious cathedrals in Rome and France. I experienced the tangibility of the Gospels during those church tours. The marble statues of Christ and the Apostles transported me into the New Testament. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the primary subject matter of sacred art is Jesus, Mary, the saints, and scenes from the Gospel (CCC 2502). Sacred art helps draw our minds deeper into the Mysteries of our Faith.
Sacred Art Navigates the Soul Toward Heaven
Along with inspiring and drawing us closer to the Good News of the Gospel, sacred art helps to remind us that our ultimate destination is not here on earth, but in Heaven with God. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his August 31st, 2011 General Audience, “Art is able to manifest and make visible the human need to surpass the visible, it expresses the thirst and the quest for the infinite.” Holy art acts as a doorway to the supernatural.
Sacred art is not the end, but rather a vehicle to help us pray. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1192 teaches, “Sacred images in our churches and homes are intended to awaken and nourish our faith in the mystery of Christ. Through the icon of Christ and his works of salvation, it is he whom we adore. Through sacred images of the holy Mother of God, of the angels and of the saints, we venerate the persons represented.”
The statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in my dining room reminds me of her closeness to her Son Jesus. Gazing at images of saints also help guide me closer to Christ and ponder the reality of Heaven—full love and communion with God!
Sacred art is vital to a renewal of the increasing de-Christianization of nations and cultures around the world. Bring back beauty into an ugly world by owning holy art in your home and workplace. Be an advocate for change and promote the Gospel while adding beauty to your surroundings.
Visit Holyart.com for high quality and original Catholic artwork for your home, parish, or business.
In the second century Gnosticism threatened to tear the young Christian Church apart. It was a heresy that taught that all matter was evil, Jesus was spirit, and that true salvific doctrine was passed down through a secret oral tradition. To combat this growing problem the early Church father St. Irenaeus wrote a lengthy treatise titled Against Heresies.
Foundations Of The Creed
One of the methods used by the great Church Father was the rule of faith. In describing the rule of faith Irenaeus writes, “The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation.”
This rule of faith would lay the groundwork for what would become the Apostles’ Creed. St. Irenaeus argues that the faith was given by Christ to the Apostles, and then to the bishops to whom the disciples appointed. Which is exactly what the Catholic church teaches today.
The Historic Faith
The rule of faith also shows that Christ was truly incarnate, and that matter was created by an eternal God and not evil. The rule of faith was a vital part in combating Gnostic teaching because it showed that they had no historical, scriptural, or apostolic support for the claims that they were making.
It helped expose their schismatic and anti-scriptural view of Christianity. Irenaeus also appealed to Ephesians 1:9-10 in his refutation of Gnosticism. That passage of scripture states, “he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (NRSV).” The great saint used this to show that, contrary to the Gnostic view, not all matter is bad.
One Faith Given By Christ
The Church was to be a unified body of believers with Jesus Christ as its head. However the Gnostic heresy was causing division. It is linked with the rule of faith in that there was only one faith handed down from Christ. There was not one faith for one group, and a special secret faith for a select few. The faith in Christ is available to all people and in that we should be unified.
The rule of faith previously cited is a great tool in confronting false doctrines in our own times There is no shortage of false doctrine and some of these groups out there are great at evangelization. This is impressive given how low their numbers are compared to Catholics. The rule of faith is a great tool because it shows that the catholic faith is not a new invention, but was passed down by Christ himself.
It shows that Christ is God incarnate, and firmly teaching that the Trinity is one being with three distinct persons. Many of these groups deny the Trinity and claim scriptural support. Many of these passages were used in the days of Irenaeus and he corrected false usage.
Whether it be in person, phone, or email, a dialogue about the truth can mean a lot to someone caught in false doctrine. It gives them someone to ask questions to and the Holy Spirit can plant a seed. Many great saints came to faith in just that way.
About our guest blogger:
William is a convert to the Catholic faith. Before entering the church he was ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary. William lives with his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults. Check out his website/blog atwilliamhemsworth.com for more great and informative Catholic content!
My family is going through an unexpected and emotion-laced event. Because of the sensitivity and uniqueness of the situation I can only be vague. This challenging experience combined with my shift to working the night shift has pushed me to the brink. A brink I have not quite experienced since 2015—the very same year I started to seriously discern my dream to become a full-time writer.
Full disclosure: I thought about quitting today. Lack of sleep and emotional strain are likely the culprits of that feeling.
Writing has been my dream a long time. I have been preparing since I was in first grade. I have always been recognized as the storyteller by my immediate and extended family. The passion and peace I experience writing is found nowhere else—except in my faith life.
The Effects of Unforgiveness
Anger, fear, and doubt crippled me. This paralysis could have easily lasted the entire day and longer. When you experience suffering in your life there are two roads to travel. The first path is to succumb to wrath, jealousy, envy, callousness, and other sinister sins of the mind. Not being able to forgive someone makes you initially feel in control. In the short term it is oddly satisfying. Failure to forgive over an extended period of time causes paralysis.
According to St. Philip Neri, “If a man finds it very hard to forgive injuries, let him look at a Crucifix, and think that Christ shed all His Blood for him, and not only forgave His enemies, but prayed His Heavenly Father to forgive them also.” Forgiving others sounds great in theory, but what happens when you are put to the test. I mean really, truly, and actually put to the test!
Forgive Without Measure
Currently, I am in the middle of that test. The situation is still fresh. Wounds still raw. Below is a conversation I had with God as I prayed for the grace to help my unforgiving heart:
Me: Lord, I am so incredibly mad. Words cannot describe the rage I am feeling. I cannot forgive now. I don’t want to forgive. Do I have to forgive in this situation?
God: What did I tell St. Peter?
Me: You told him, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times [you must forgive them]” (Matthew 18:22).
God: Right! Now why did you ask whether you must forgive others?
Me: Because this situation is particularly bad. I simply cannot forgive in this situation.
God: Forgive others, lest you will be not able to ask me for forgiveness.
Me: But, you must realize this situation is particularly bad.
God: My son, ask and you will receive. Ask me for the grace to forgive and I will give it to you.
Me: But I have asked yesterday and this morning. I still cannot forgive.
God: Ask again my son.
Me: What if it takes me at least a year or worse a decade to forgive.
God: Ask daily if you must. Ask hourly if you must. Even if it takes you years I will keep my promise. I will give you the graces to forgive. Remember the Scriptures of how I led my people out of bondage in Egypt. Sometimes good takes time to come to fruition. Ask, ask, ask my child. Rely on me every moment.
Suffering Transforms Us
My faith is being put to the test. Suffering transforms us. If you embrace it and carry our cross we become more Christ-like. If we flee from it, it only intensifies. We keep getting opportunities to embrace it. Failure to embrace suffering leads to us becoming less than what we were created for. “If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plan for you and certainly wants to make you a saint,” wrote St. Ignatius of Loyola.
This thorny path I am on is painful, but necessary. I need to forgive others. I am not ready to forgive today. I will petition God for the grace to forgive. My prayers will continue daily until the end of this life if needed. All things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26). Every suffering leads toward a greater good (Roman 8:28).
Will you join me in the quest towards forgiveness? A friend of mine shared a relevant quote he came across recently. “Pay attention to the places in your life that the Enemy fights. Where you face the most warfare is where the enemy is most afraid.” Let us ask Mary Undoer of Knots to undo the tangles of unforgiveness in our hearts and bring our sufferings to Her Beloved Son.
According to English writer G.K. Chesterton, “A good novel tells us the truth
about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”
This statement rings true especially in relation to another great English
author—Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis! No another writer, accept maybe J.R.R.
Tolkien, has influenced me and provided me as much inspiration for my writing
over the course of the past couple years as Lewis.
C.S. Lewis once declared, “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and
reading it only once.” While that statement is true for all good books and
excellent authors, his pithy saying certainly foreshadowed how all his writings
would be received by his fans [and any literature enthusiast!] in the decades
after his death. Below are five reasons why the premiere Christian apologist of
the 20th century inspires me [and others] in the 21st century and beyond.
Up until a few years ago, I only knew C.S. Lewis through The Chronicles
of Narnia series. His character of Aslan, the symbolic figure of the Holy
Trinity is among the greatest fictional characters ever created. Both the power
and gentle nature of Aslan makes him relatable and mysterious figure at the
Along with creating the history, characters, and landscapes of a world
accessed through a mere wardrobe, reading Lewis’ Space Trilogy truly
proved to me his imaginative genius. His science fiction novels take readers on
an interplanetary peregrination. Out of the Silent Planet depicts unfallen
alien species unstained by Original Sin. Lewis’ creates a vivid experience that
continually draws you into the mysterious rational alien and their eventually
interaction with humans. The second novel Perelandra retells the
traditional story of the Fall of humanity but occurring on the planet Venus.
Lewis’ prompts interesting questions about man’s ability to evangelize beyond
Earth—assuming extraterrestrial life exists!
Engaging Your Intellect
In addition to stirring the imagination of readers, C.S. Lewis also wrote
with the ability to whet your intellectual pallet. His ability to write about
deep theological truths with ease of understanding and depth is second to none.
Even though I earned a master’s degree in Theology, I still learned a lot from
Lewis’ introductory primer on Christianity—Mere Christianity. While
the entire book is a gem, for conciseness’s sake I will only point out a couple
key passages that made the human condition of sin easy to understand the relay:
“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred,
loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will
find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always
looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking
down you cannot see something that is above you.”
Gateway to Tolkien
The great friendship
between C.S. Lewis and contemporary professor of literature J.R.R. Tolkien is
legendary. Concerned about the state of literature both writers pledged to do
something proactive instead of simply lamenting. During the 1930s, Lewis and
Tolkien truly came to the scene with the former penning his Space Trilogy and
the latter publishing the classic work The Hobbit.
Both men challenged each other to be a better writer and grow their writing
abilities by exploring different genres. Below is a link which details
Tolkien’s friendly challenge to Lewis to delve into the realm of science
Tolkien stated of his bond with Lewis, “Friendship with Lewis compensates
for much, and besides giving constant pleasure and comfort has done me much
good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, intellectual–a scholar,
a poet, and a philosopher–and a lover, at least after a long pilgrimage, of Our
Lord.” I am indebted to C.S. Lewis for introducing me to the joy of
prose and subject matter enlighten my mind and infuse a youthfulness to my life
like no another author—save possibly Tolkien himself! Tackling the age-old
dilemma of evil in The Problem of Pain to enchantingly depicting
eschatology in dream-like sequences in The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
provides a panoply of subject matter for theologians—lay and professional—to
discuss and re-read many times over.
Schools through Suffering
St. Ignatius of
Loyola spoke of the purpose of trials in this way, “If God sends you many
sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to
make you a saint.” While C.S. Lewis did not formally convert to Catholicism he
definitely endured suffering and helped lead countless to a deeper relationship
with Christ. Suffering immensely from the death of his wife, Lewis channeled
this pain and it bore the fruit of his work A Grief Observed.
The rawness of his prose struck me as both honest and real. Lewis lamented
in A Grief Observed, “We were promised sufferings. They were part of
the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it.
I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course, it is different when
the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”
I certain relate to this. From a cerebral level I certainly understand the
promise of suffering Christ guarantees in John 15:20. Not until we encounter
suffering do, we truly get tested. Only after the storm do we realize the
C.S. Lewis declared, “We read to know we are not alone.” Through reading the
masterful works of the great English writer I grown both as a Christian and as
a writer. His ability to move my mind to ponder higher realities with simple
examples allows me to understand the good, true, and beauty in the world much
Christianity in the 21st seems to get more difficult as each day passes. Unfavorable Supreme Court decisions, hostile media reporting, and hypocrisy within the Catholic Church on the sexual abuse scandal makes the desire to follow the teachings of Christ quite tough.
Jesus even promised that the way to Heaven would not be easy. In Matthew 19:24 he declared, “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
On average, camels grow to the shoulder height of 6 feet high and the length of about 9-10 feet. Typically, the khaki-colored creatures weigh well over 1,000 pounds. The eye of a needle is quite small, just slightly greater than the width of the thread that goes through it. Certainly, Jesus’ example was only hyperbolic when it comes to entering Heaven! Right?!
The late Catholic nun Mother Angelica quipped, “Holiness of life is not the privilege of a chosen few – it is the obligation, the call, and the will of God for every Christian.” Holy individuals make it appear easy to live the holy life. However, when we try it ourselves it is quite different. Not to downplay that difficult road toward Heaven, because it truly is difficult, I have learned that in some ways holiness need not be as cumbersome as we may make it to be. I wish to share three tried and true steps to grow in holiness.
According to St. Josemaria Escriva, “You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ you can be sure you have already begun.” Praying is plainly described as talking with God. Relationship involves dialogue: speaking and listening. Prayer involves a two-way conversation.
If you are unsure what to say to God, maybe begin your prayer simply in silence–waiting for God start. Some people feel more comfortable petitioning God for help. That is also a great way to start prayer. Just be sure to allow time and be open to God’s reply as well.
Learn from Scriptures and Saintly Writings
Another easy step to increase holiness is to open up a Bible or read a spiritual work by a saint. The key to this step is not the length of time, but instead the frequency and consistency by which you acquaint yourself with spiritual writings. Schedules are busy with work and family obligations taking up a large chunk of the day.
Begin with small and reasonable goals with how much time to spend on spiritual reading. Maybe your daily routine allows for an hour, maybe it only allows for a few minutes. Start will just reading for 5 minutes a day. You will be surprised how much your week will improve with insight from those holy men and women!
The third thing to incorporate into a daily routine is sacrifice. True love involves giving yourself for the other. It involves sacrifice and reduction of selfish tendencies. Authentic change and orienting your life towards holiness will not happen overnight. In fact, it will take time and likely a lot of time. Be prepared to grow in holiness for the rest of your life!
Because of the long term commitment, I say let’s start small with manageable tiny sacrifices. It may simply involve refraining from a sarcastic comment when your spouse, friend, or neighbor annoy you. St. Josemaria Escriva, “Don’t say, ‘That person bothers me.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.'” That would be a small, but still sacrificial moment. Once you have the daily routine of sacrifice for your loved ones day pat then you may focus on larger sacrifices.
Starting, or perhaps restarting, your spiritual journey need not be impossible. Developing a daily habit of prayer, frequent spiritual reading, and looking for the good of the other [and the Ultimate Other] through small sacrifices will help your increase your virtue and transform your life.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” –Matthew 11:28-30
“So be holy just as your heavenly Father is be holy.” –Matthew 5:48