Honoring St. Francis de Sales, the Patron Saint of Writers

Today is the feast day of St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622).  Francis de Sales was canonized in 1665.  St. Francis de Sales was known both for his medium as well as his message.  St. Francis de Sales was named a doctor of the Church by Pope Blessed Pius IX in 1877 for works like “An Introduction to a Devout Life”.   

In 1924, Pope Pius XII  proclaimed St. Francis de Sales the patron saint of writers and journalists (and now bloggers) since he extensively used media (flyers and books in his spiritual direction and his apologetics to convert Calvinists in the region.   During his missionary work in Switzerland, Francis de Sales was able to help up to 70,000 people return to the faith.  Aside from his prolific wring, St. Francis de Sales was known for his concern for writing with truth and charity.  Hence, he is also considered a patron for Christian Unity. 


 Through your prayers, St. Francis de Sales, I ask for your intercession as I attempt to bring the written word to the world. Let us pray that God takes me in the palm of His hand and inspires my creativity and inspires my success. St. Francis de Sales, you understand the dedication required in this profession. Pray for God to inspire and allow ideas to flow. In His name, let my words reflect my faith for others to read. Amen.

USCCB Reaffirms Steadfast Commitment to Religious Liberty

As the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops concluded their semi-annual meeting in Baltimore, the USCCB issued a special message on the H.H.S. Mandate.  The Bishops have been steadfast and vocal in their opposition to having the government force Catholics and other believers to violate their religious precepts in the pursuit of universal coverage. 
During his tenure as President of the USCCB, New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan lead the faithful to conduct Fortnight for Freedom in 2012 and 2013 to celebrate, educate and advocate maintaining America’s Fundamental Freedom–the First Amendment freedom: the freedom of exercise of religion.
As Cardinal Dolan passed the helm of the USCCB to Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz,  Dolan urged his brother bishops to make the protection of religious liberty around the world a priority as he believes that it is a central social issue of our times. Dolan recalled the words of Pope Blessed John Paul II that we are living in a new age of martyrs.  Dolan stated:

We as bishops, as shepherds of one of the most richly blessed communities of faith on the planet, as pastors who have spoken with enthusiastic unity in defense of our own religious freedom, must become advocates and champions for these Christians whose lives literally hang in the balance, as we dare not allow our laudable battles over religious freedom at home to obscure the actual violence being inflicted on Christians elsewhere.

It seems incredible that the USCCB needs to again issue such a pronouncement, but useful idiots arguing for Obamacare are still convicted that Catholics just want to push their beliefs on non-Catholics, rather than protection that unalienable right.
The USCCB’s special message fleshed out this fidelity to religious freedom to practice one’s faith in America.

A Brief Book Review of 10 Answers for Atheists by Alex McFarland

Alex McFarland, an Evangelical Protestant professor of Christian Apologetics at North Greenville University (South Carolina), has authored 10 Answers for Atheists (Regal, 2012) as an outreach tool to spread the Good News to atheists and agnostics

 [***]

Alex McFarland

The tone of McFarland’s prose was conversational with some sprinklings of erudition which reflects the author’s academic auspices.  For example, when McFarland described the scientific atheist, he alluded to “directed panspermia” as an out of this world explanation of our origins.  Moreover,  Jim Morrison of The Doors was alleged to be an “Antinomian Atheist”.  

These pop references do not always work.  To illustrate a “Biblical Scholar Atheist”, McFarland posits Penn Jillette as he rejects scripture as “B.S.”.  This Bible Scholar Atheist label on Jillette seems like a bad trick for one who does not ascribe to Judeo-Christian scripture.  

[***]

McFarland categorized atheists into ten subgroups.  There seemed to be overlap between some of the groups, like the Angry Atheist and the Injured Atheist.  The University of Tennessee study which was Assessing Atheist Archtypes with six categories seemed more on the mark.  However, McFarland may have included other categories to finesse the apologetic approach. 

McFarland offered a clear yet concise historical survey of disbelief which provides an underlying basis for agnosticism and atheism from Antiquity and the Enlightenment to present day.  

[***]

It was surprising that “Roman” Catholics and the Orthodox were not condemned along with modern Mystical spiritualism, as those original Christian creeds used their mysticism to draw closer to union with God. The crux of the Protestant Reformation was religiosity based on biblical roots (often understood as sola scriptura) as well as the primacy of a salvation by grace.  But McFarland does not divide with Catholics or Orthodox Christians on this score in the spiritual warfare against atheism. 

[***]

McFarland poses the ten questions by atheists:

Are faith and reason really compatable? Isn’t belief in God delusional? The dysteleological surd – If God is so good, why is there evil in the world?Why join a flawed faith like Christianity which has harmed the world? Isn’t Christianity just mythological? Why believe in Zombies (a messiah resurrected from the dead)? Can’t science explain everything?Why believe hypocritical Christians? Couldn’t Jesus just be a space alien?

His answers plant the seeds for useful apologetics as well as the thirty common objections included in the index.

As a Catholic, I am mindful that the practice of my faith differs with a more evangelical expression of faith by  bible based Protestants.  However, the 10 Answers for Atheists has some material which would provide some thoughtful responses when dialoguing with questioning agnostics and atheists.   Some of the book seemed extraneous to inter-(non) faith dialogue, such as the comparative religion section.  McFarland seemed compelled to justify bible based Christianity before delving into agnostic apologetics.

 Aside from the Angry Atheist and the Resident Contrarian Atheist, McFarland’s 10 Answers for Atheists could serve as a useful field manual for believers beginning dialogue with non-believers.  It does not seem geared at convincing atheists through a casual perusal.  The casual Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris dismissals would be insufficient for true non-believers.  Moreover, an agnostic or atheist reader would need to drudge through comparative religion and justifying bible based Christianity sections before getting to the crux of the answers for atheists.

SEE MORE at DCBarroco.com

Some of Catholicsm for Protestants Book Review

Shane Schaetzel

Shane Schaetzel is a Catholic convert from Evangelical Protestantism through Anglicanism.  Schaetzel writes the thoughtful CatholicintheOzarks.com blog as part of his lay ministry to spread the Good News through the written word.  Catholicism for Protestants (2013. Lulu)  draws upon his faith history, his love of language and history along with his religious education to answer some challenging spiritual queries that he has heard living in the buckle of the Bible Belt.  Schaetzel also sees Catholicism for Protestants to be a good primer for all Catholics on the fundamentals of the faith.

 Schaetzel starts the book with his compelling personal faith history which underlies the material. But in an effort to show that there are many different kinds of Catholics, like there are many different kinds of Protestants, Schaetzel wrote: “There are: Roman Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, Maronite Catholics, Franciscans, Benedictines, Carmelites, and even Anglican Use Catholics”.  This conflates Churches (Roman, Maronite and “Byzantine” branch), with religious orders (Franciscan, Benedictines). Later, Schaeztel teaches that there are 23 rites in the Catholic Church.  It may be minor distinction but that is incorrect.  There are 23 Churches  which comprise Catholicism.  A Church may have several different rites.  For example, the Roman Church currently has the Roman rite, the Ambrosian (around Milan, Italy) and the Mozarabic (at several parishes in Toledo Spain).   Some might argue that Anglican Use is a rite, but for now it is part of a Personal Ordinariate established by Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI to reach out to High Church Anglican and reincorporate the richness of traditional English Patrimony in the Roman Church. For those unfamiliar with these concepts, proclaiming yourself as a Roman Catholic layman of the Anglican Use could be kind of confusing as opposed to boldly proclaiming the author’s  point of view.

Most of Catholicism for Protestants is structured in a question and answer format which is eminently readable.  This cradle Catholic was able to finish the short 100 page book in one sitting.  Schaetzel does try to answer many common questions Evangelical Protestants have about the Catholic faith.  This sort of apologetic can be challenging as Evangelicals come from a non-sacramental, non-liturgical and non-ritualistic practice of faith so Catholicism’s practices and even its vocabulary can be confusing.  While Schaetzel’s scholarship is evident in the presentation and the supplemental footnotes (pointing to scripture, Church Fathers, the Catechism and some fine contemporary Catholic scripture scholars), his prose does not get bogged down by too much high church jargon.

 [***]

 Shane Schaetzel has done a good job at authoring an engaging and enlightening apologetic aimed at answering Protestant’s common questions about the Catholic faith.  Moreover, the author is practicing his understanding of the faith by his publishing and dissemination method by employing distributism, which favor small mom and pop religious bookstores.

 Being in an inter-faith marriage, I often am prompted to explain parts of my faith to my curious in-laws.  They seem to admire my pursuit of being a good Catholic but sometimes wonder why I am spiritually compelled to do what I do.  Shane Schaetzel’s Catholicism for Protestants will not only offer a clear Catechism but will also give the chapter and verse citations which sola scriptura Christians tend to seek.

 SEE MORE at DC-LausDeo.US

Drawn to Eternal Truths–"The Truth Is Out There" Comic

A cloistered Eastern Rite  Catholic monk drew upon his lifelong love of comics to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Amadeus, the nom de plum of the author who is part of the Maronite Monks of The Most Holy Trinity  in Petersham, Massachusetts, penned the short graphic novel “The Truth Is Out There” (2013) to explain the truths of the faith in an understandable manner.

The germ for the graphic novel was based on a conversation that the author had prior to entering the monastery with several cradle Catholics who were born and raised in the faith.  As they conversed, Amadeus realized how little any of them knew the faith.  He concluded that the ignorance of this splendor of truth was a stumbling block for his generation of Catholics.

“The Truth Is Out There” depicts two space aged mail carriers discussing life, the universe and everything at a coffee bar.  As the protagonists Brendon and Eric  contemplate the right path to truth and true happiness , one finds his answers ensconced in the Catholic Church.

Although Amadeus seeks to educate readers, since the characters start at the very beginning readers do not have to possess any faith to appreciate the thoughful ideas which they will encounter.  “The Truth Is Out There” seems to avoid shallow and syrupy characterizations typical of Christian media. And the plot allows the space aged couriers to put their coffee house principles to the test in the real “world”.

The author Amadeus had a lifelong love of comics and was inspired by the “Adventures of Tintin”.  His love of drafting prompted him to become an aerospace engineer.  Yet  in 2003, he answered the call to become a contemplative monk, so Amadeus  tried to put those illustration influences aside for his vocation of Eucharistic Adoration as well as praying the Divine Office and the Divine Liturgy.

Maronite Monks in worship

Amadeus found that: “[T]he moment I entered the silence of the cloister, it was like my head was flooded with cartoons. It was nonstop: I just had all these great ideas.”  With much mortification, Amadeus put the project off for a couple of years.  But Amadeus wanted to share the riches of Truth in philosophy and theology which he had discerned in his life as a contemplative monk.

Initially, Amadeus thought of sharing these insights in an illustrated letter, copying the traditions of illuminated manuscripts.  But he found that too boring and decided to do a series of comic strips because that is what he does best. Amadeus opined that: “The harder an idea is, the more helpful it is to draw it out.”

Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI proclaimed this liturgical year to be the Year of Faith.  While it celebrated the Golden Anniversary of the start of the Vatican II Council, it also embraced Pope Blessed John Paul II’s call for the New Evangelization.  The New Evangelization is meant to repropose the Gospel to those who have heard and forgotten the Good News as well as to those never exposed to the Christian message.

Even though a cloistered Maronite Monk seems like an unlikely messenger for a contemporary call to faith via pop art, the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways.  Bishop Gregory Mansour, of the Maronite Eparchy of Brooklyn, wrote that :

[S]omehow the words ‘comic book’ and ‘intellectually challenging’ don’t usually go together, but they do in ‘The Truth is Out There’ by Amadeus…Thank you, Amadeus, for presenting the journey from the prison walls of our mind to the exhilarating freedom of the truth in such an exciting way.
While comics are not my favored medium of entertainment or education, if a graphic novel can inspire other readers to see that “The Truth Is Out There” and contemplate eternal truths, that’s wonderful.

h/t: Catholic News Agency

Understanding the Ascension Through Art

Ascension Thursday is the close of the forty day celebration of Easter.  Some dioceses have moved marking this Solemnity of this feast to Sunday.   To better celebrate the wonder and mystery of this event of salvific history, we can turn to art.

The Seventeenth Century poet John Donne tended to take an intellectual approach to spirituality in La Coruna. (1618).  The section dedicated to the Ascension offers conceits which prepares the person for acting in faith:

Salute the last, and everlasting day,
Joy at the uprising of this Sun, and Son,
Ye whose true tears, or tribulation
Have purely wash’d, or burnt your drossy clay.
Behold, the Highest, parting hence away,
Lightens the dark clouds, which He treads upon;
Nor doth he by ascending show alone,
But first He, and He first enters the way.
O strong Ram, which hast batter’d heaven for me!
Mild lamb, which with Thy Blood hast mark’d the path!
Bright Torch, which shinest, that I the way may see!
O, with Thy own Blood quench Thy own just wrath;
And if Thy Holy Spirit my Muse did raise,
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.
While Donne was raised as a Catholic, he converted to Anglicanism in his adulthood.  The verses reflect this sentiment as it uses quitessential Catholic symbols,such as light and dark, as well as the sacrifice of the innocent lamb.  But the final verse emphasizes the personal rather than communal aspect of faith.

Another distinctive feature of Donne’s literary style are his metaphysical conceits. which uses imagery in an extended metaphor to combine vastly different ideas into a single notion.  Hence, the ascension is likened to both a strong Ram to break down the door of faith to heaven and as a mild lamb in a blood sacrifice to show the path.

Three hundred and fifty years later, Salvador Dali painted “The Ascension of Christ” (1958) as Jesus is rising toward an energized and electrified heaven.

Dali’s surreal style of juxtaposing images one would not ordinarily associate in order to create a deeper meaning requires going beyond a rational exposition of faith.  But Dali’s depiction is not devoid of reality, as the prominent feet would have been the last thing that the Apostles who witness the Ascension would have seen.

Dali attributes the inspiration for “The Ascension of Christ” to a cosmic dream that he had in 1950 full of vivid color where he saw the nucleus of an atom.  Dali was an ardent atheist but he later re-embraced his Catholic faith (perhaps after an exorcism) but Dali often fused his conceptions of Christianity  with science. Dali realized that the nucleus was the true representation of the unifying spirit of Christ.  This nuclear mysticism is meant to connect everyone.

Dali’s “Ascension of Christ” does have some incongruities.  Dali was inspired by the atom but it looks like a sunflower or perhaps a stylized depictions of the sun.  Dali was often intrigued with continuous circular patterns like a sunflower floret as it followed the law of logarithmic spiral, which Dali explained to  Mike Wallace in 1958 was associated with the force of spirit in chastity.

While the dove ready to descend from the clouds seems like an allusion to the Pentecost liturgically celebrated in 10 days.  But why is Gala (Dali’s wife and artistic muse) peering out from the clouds?  In other Dalian religiously inspired paintings, Gala represented the Virgin Mary. Historically, the dormition of the Theotokis happened long after Christ’s ascension into heaven.  However,  Mary is often considered the Queen Mother of Heaven and as the resurrection transcended time and space, it could show the Mother of God weeping at her son’s departure from the Earth from her prospective place in heaven.

Other  aspects to appreciate in Dali’s depiction of Christ’s glorified body ascending to heaven is his hands and feet.  Aside from the positioning of the foot, notice how the soles of his foot were soiled, as reminders that our Messiah walked among us.  Also the Jesus’ fingers are curled, which lends some visual drama to the painting but combined with with electrified heavens hints at power.

Whether we are spoken to by Donne’s metaphysical conceits or dazzled by Dali’s depictions of nuclear mysticism, the Ascension of Christ into heaven is a foretaste of what the faithful may expect in our eventual heavenly home.

h/t:  Salvador Dali Society

National Day of Prayer — Praying for Amrerica

For the last 62 years, the first Thursday in May has marked the National Day of Prayer Observance designated by Congress when people are asked to turn to God in prayer and Meditation. With the help of 30,000 volunteers, there are tens of thousands of events held across the country to turn our attention to the eternal.

 The theme for the 2013 National Day of Prayer is “Praying for America”. The organizers for the National Day of Prayer have suggested several techniques to raise our prayers to heaven. Keeping with the Praying for America theme, it is suggested that prayerful people follow a 7×7 prayer for Americas seven centers of power seven times a week. Namely, Americans are encouraged to pray for: 1) the government; 2) the military; 3) the media; 4) business; 5) education; 6) church and 7) the family.

Father, we come to You to pray for our nation, the United States of America.      How You have blessed us through the years, Lord! We rightly sing, “America, America, God shed His grace on thee.” Yet we see trouble in our culture today. We see the breakdown of the family, crippling addictions, and random acts of horrific violence.

Lord, we need Your help in America. In recent days, we have done our best to remove Your Word and Your counsel from our courtrooms, classrooms and culture. It seems, as President Lincoln once said, that we have “forgotten God.” But Lord, You have not forgotten us! You can bless and help and revive our country again.
Scripture tells us that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs14:34). Lord, in Your mercy, we ask that You would exalt our country again. We have had a number of great awakenings in America. We have experienced times of refreshing, and revivals that changed not only the spiritual but also the moral landscape. As the psalmist said, “Will You not revive us again, so that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6)
That is our prayer for America today, Lord. Send a mighty spiritual awakening that will turn the hearts of men and women, boys and girls back to you. You have told us if we will humble ourselves and pray, and seek Your face and turn from our wicked ways, that You will forgive our sins and heal our land. (2 Chronicles7:14)
Forgive us today, Lord, and heal this troubled land that we love so much.

We ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ.

But May 2nd is only the beginning of the ministry to Pray for America. During Memorial Day weekend, the organizers will launch the first Pray for America Rally Tour, with a specially decked out bus to promote fervent prayer in the communities where they will visit.

As an outreach to social media, the organizers of the National Day of Prayer are highlighting a video by Santus Real “Pray”.

In trying times like this, we need all the prayer that we can get.

h/t:  National Day of Prayer
      Pray for America