3 Reasons How Sacred Art is Needed More than Ever

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.

Catholic Church

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.

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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

A second reason sacred art is needed to help this fallen world is because it 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.

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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.

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.

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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.

 

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How to Forgive Someone When They Don’t Deserve Forgiveness

Forgiveness

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.

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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:

I don't want to

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).

Forgiveness is tough

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.

Thank you for sharing!

5 Ways Clive Staples Lewis Inspires

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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.

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Imaginative Genius

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 same time.

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

lewis and 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 fiction!

The Challenge: How C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy Came Into Being

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 reading Tolkien.

Versatility

 Lewis’ dexterous 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.

cs lewis pain teaches

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 lessons given.

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 better.

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3 Easy Steps to Grow in Holiness

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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?!

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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.

1. Pray Daily: 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.’ 10
St. Josemaria Escriva. 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.

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2. 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!

3. Small Sacrifices: 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.

Signpost pointing to A better life

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

 

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The Concealed Power of Christian Joy Needed to be Revealed to the World!

Jesus teaches us in the Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Lent, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life– loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).

The Son of God’s words contain a message that is in keeping with his entire teaching throughout his three-year earthly ministry—sacrificial love and obedience to God brings true and lasting joy, peace, and purpose to one’s life. He also prepares us for the possibility of Heavenly joy with God in the next life. Before heading to Mass, I had few spare minutes as my children were dressed and ready for Sunday worship—that alone I thanked God as a miracle!—I perused social media and came across a meme with a quote by the acclaimed Catholic theological and biblical scholar Scott Hahn. He intrepidly declared, “A joyless Catholic is the devil’s best tool. A joyful Catholic is God’s greatest instrument.”

scott hahn joy meme

Since this morning I have contemplated his words no less than a dozen times. I cannot help to feel that God is speaking directly to me through Scott Hahn. Many things in daily living suction off joy. Tiredness, both physically and spiritual lethargy, is a key ingredient to creating a barren environment for joy to thrive. A great tactic against physical laziness is going to sound incredibly simple and obvious—mostly because a good night’s rest is the best thing to treat your body to after a long day’s work! Supplementing an increase in sleep with a better nutritional habit will combat physical weakness. Re-committing myself to a healthier lifestyle last week already proved to show gains. Increased amounts of fruits, water, and a decrease in unhealthy sugars provided me more energy throughout the day.

Along with improving the physical aspects of living, I sought out to better my spiritual well-being as well. During an afternoon jog, I had time to reflect on my spiritual progress—both for that day and how I did throughout the week. I realized that only when I put others before myself is joy even possible. First of all, I have to ask God to grant me the gift of joy. Secondly, I reminded myself to count my blessings and thank God for everything in this life: good, bad, and neutral events.

inside out joy

Joy is not a merely feeling of happiness—sorry Joy even though I loved your movie. Instead it is first and foremost a gift from God that is sustained through an attitude of gratitude. We freely receive joy as a blessing by the will of God. Our Heavenly Father God desires to bestow this gift to us as much as possible, however, he will only nurture it if we freely choose to embrace joy. The seed of Christian joy is planted when we become adopted sons and daughter through the sacrament of Baptism.

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Thanksgiving is the best way to foster and grow the gift of Christian joy. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the source and summit of the Christian life is the Eucharist (CCC 1324). In fact the Latin word eucharista actually means ‘thanksgiving’. While attending Sunday Mass and weekly receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar is the fullest way to develop the gift of joy it is not the sole means. The power of Christian joy is strengthened via a regular watering of thanksgiving. Thank God for waking up, thank your family members for all the things [great and small] they do for you, thank your co-workers for helping you throughout the day, write a list of the top things/people/events that you are grateful for, or simply say “Thank you Lord!” at least once a day. All the above opportunities are ways for you to increase the joy in your life.

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St. Mother Teresa spoke of Christian joy in the following way, “Joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.” Let us ask for God’s grace to receive this gift to transform ourselves into a beacon of his love. I continue to thank God for the opportunity to write and share my faith. Thank you for continuing to support me in my pilgrim journey toward a joyous life.

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Saturday Stress: System Glitches, Panic, & Confusion

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American author Melody Beattie once wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Her words certainly seemed quite relevant this icy and confusing Saturday. Working my first official Saturday shift at my new work position involved frenzied co-workers, negativity, and confusion due to the unveiling of the new payment system.

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As with any new technology release, glitches are guaranteed to appear during the initial days of the life of any change/update in a computer system. Beginning with murmurings that eventually led to loud vocal outbursts, several co-workers expressed severe dissatisfaction with the new system release. Surprisingly, I handled the change well. During points of transition where major changes occur in the workplace I get nervous—I allow fear to take over. However, calmness of mind and heart hovered over me.

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Such tranquility did not originate from me. A power greater than I provided me the gift of peace and calmness of heart. My Catholic faith allows me to give a name to this power—the Holy Spirit. At Baptism I become an adopted child of God and the Holy Spirit indwelt within me.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church numbers 1227-1228, “Through the Holy Spirit, Baptism is a bath that purifies, justifies, and sanctifies.31 Hence Baptism is a bath of water in which the “imperishable seed” of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect.32 St. Augustine says of Baptism: ‘The word is brought to the material element, and it becomes a sacrament.'” Over time I have learned that the seed of the Catholic faith needs to be watered and fed by asking for God’s graces. According to the great doctor of the Church St. Ephraim, “Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul of the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven!”

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Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” I have probably made reference to this quote more recently than anything else the God-man taught us. The Holy Spirit provides clarity in confusing and stressful situations, but showering us with an array of luminous virtues. Peace dispels agitation, generosity quells greed, and charity uproots anger from my life.  Confusion is a guarantee in this life, however, the power we receive from the Holy Spirit to withstand the storm of doubt and uncertainty is a gift!

Thank you for sharing!