The Proper Ordering of Art and Writing

The creative impulse is a deeply rooted aspect of the human person because we are made imago Dei and God is the Creator. This desire to share in the creative action of God is evidenced by thousands of years in which art, architecture, and the written word have been shaped in endless ways. We are made for the good, the beautiful, and the true and different disciplines help us to enter deeper into reality and into God. The question we have to ask ourselves is: Do I order my creative actions to God? Art in itself is a good, but it should draw us deeper into who we are as “embodied spirits” and point us home.

There is nothing quite like a beautiful piece of music, stunning painting, stained glass window, or a poem to remind us that we are not home. When the soul is elevated through beauty we sense in that ache deep within us that this cannot be all there is; there must be something more. This sense, which comes from faith, is meant to point us home. When we create, whether it be through painting, sculpting, writing, architecture, music, etc. we are  meant to glorify God in the process. We should raise our eyes to Heaven and give Glory to Him.

Catholics have a bad tendency to compartmentalize the different aspects of their lives. This is even apparent in Catholic artists. Many of us live in cultures where we are told our faith is a private matter, and this has been influenced greatly by the Reformation and rationalist philosophies over the last few centuries. The separation of Church and state in this country is often used as a cudgel on religious adherents because far too many do not grasp that this separation only extends to a formal state religion. As Christians, we have a right and obligation to live our faith freely. Unfortunately, too many of us fall for the lie and so we keep our faith to ourselves and the one hour we are required to give worship to God.

In reality, the Church teaches that every baptized member of the community is called to participate in the Divine Offices of Christ: priest, prophet, and king. We are called to sacrifice through charity, share the Good News with the world, and bring the world under Christ’s Lordship. There is no separation between our Catholic Faith and other aspects of our lives. How we live each moment of our day is meant to sanctify and help us to grow in holiness. What we do as an artist is meant to help us enter deeper into communion with the Most Holy Trinity and draw others into that communion as well. This can be done in countless ways.

Do we realize this reality as Catholic writers? I will focus on writing because that is the art form that God has given to me to share in His creative work in the world. It dawned on me recently that so many Catholics are busy arguing, disagreeing, and fighting that they do not realize that their primary–my–primary mission as a writer is to help draw people into the good, the beautiful, and the true and to point people to our Ultimate Home. This does not mean we cannot enter into suffering, pain, and darkness, those experiences point us to the Cross.

It also does not mean we have to be saints, yet. Often, we end up falling on false modesty to avoid the universal call to sainthood. I have a very long way to go and I pray God is merciful and patient with my weakness. The path to holiness is a life-long process. It does mean, however, that we need to take stock of why exactly we write. Is it our place to vent imprudently in cyberspace? Do we desire to share the beauty and truth of Catholicism with the world in charity? That charity is meant to be holy indifferent, by the way. Most of us have not achieved that level at this point in time. Is it an extension of our pride? Do we consider that we are serving God through our work? Do we consider the impact our work has on our readers’ souls? Do we prudently and prayerfully discern any work we produce before it is published?

I can say that I have written for all of the above reasons in some form. I have been writing since I was a child, and I went through a period where I desired esteem, praise, and as many social media shares as possible. I still struggle with the desire for praise. Reading St. Augustine’s Confessions frequently is a great reminder for people like me! This is a very real temptation and danger for writers in a world of immediate connection. I remember the rush of the first time one of my articles was shared and “Liked” on Facebook by 15K readers or when the comments on one of my articles went into the thousands. It is very easy to get sucked into the praise and adoration, and the criticism.

I started to see that the more I focused on these aspects of my work, the more despair I felt in response to criticism and the more often writer’s block would set in. The more I focused on me and my work, the more I would respond in anger or impatience to readers’ comments. You can probably see this if you look back on some of my work a couple of years back or even a year or so ago. It is true that every writer gets bizarre, incoherent, irrational, insipid, vitriolic, random comments on their work. We can have a tendency to focus too much on this group of vocal people, who are a minority. Most people read our work and go on. We have no idea how it has impacted them.

In reality, the reason many of us get so upset, is because we have not given our work entirely over to God. I still struggle with this problem. Some of my favorite pieces are the least popular and I will get frustrated. I sort of understand that nihilism, utilitarianism, and transcendent beauty are not high interest for many readers. The more I focus on me the more I will read nasty comments and fume. I can avoid these problems, which are only really impacting me, if I focused on why and for Whom I am called to write. It does not matter if I write about politics, Church polemics, current affairs, theology, philosophy, or the spiritual life, the  mission is always the same: To draw people towards God. We do this by pointing people to the truth to beauty and to goodness. We cannot achieve this mission if it is not even on our radar that God is the ultimate end of all of our work.

I write because I write. I write and don’t think about how it impacts people. I write to make myself feel better. I write out of pride. I write because I want to be published. Many of these are goods in themselves–pride is not–but they are not the purpose of our writing. God did not start publishing my work on a larger scale until I started to refocus more on Him. In fact, my first big publication (big to me) came out of nowhere.

God has given us a gift and He expects us to use it for His purposes. If we focus on His purposes over our own then we are less likely to be moved to one emotion or another when someone comments on our work, complains in social media, or even writes a negative response at another Catholic website. We are able to, by God’s grace, work towards a holy indifference in regard to our work. Focusing on God’s mission and desires helps us to focus on humility and it allows us to grow in holy detachment.

I no longer read all of the comments on my pieces that publish elsewhere. I cannot keep up with them on the secular sites I write for because there are so many. Plus, all I can do is put the argument out there and leave it to God to change people’s hearts and minds. I must commend my work to God for His uses and ways, not my own. Arguing with folks in comment sections does not accomplish much these days. Much of our work has to be left to prayer. My theology professors are always telling us that theology begins on our knees in prayer. The same goes for writers. If we want to truly transform the world and bring people to Christ then we will be people of prayer.  I struggle in this department as well, but I am working on it.

Disagreements are normal and a healthy aspect of the Church community, but how we go about those arguments and disagreements matters. If our work is truly meant for the Glory of God and to bring other people closer to God, then we should not be so focused on how everyone reacts to our work, nor should we be obsessed with always being right. This is sinful pride in action. Intellectual discourse between thinkers should be done with respect for the other person and a realization that other people are watching and reading. We will be held accountable for the people we lead astray. Whether we like it or not, people trust us. If we are focused on God’s use for our work, then we are less likely to fall into weakness, temptation, and pride in our work and dealing with others.

Everything we do should be ordered to God. It can be as simple as offering up the task of washing dishes or as complex as writing on the Summa. When we enter into the creative aspect of our nature, it is essential that we order ourselves to God first and then go about our task of creating. If we do not offer our work to God, we run the risk of falling short of His plan for us and even succumbing to temptation. Pride is a danger for all of us and for writers it can be difficult in an age of billions of “Likes”. A very blessed Advent to you all!

Abandoning Utilitarianism to Embrace Transcendent Beauty

We live in an age marked by utilitarianism. If an item, building, or artwork does not serve some use it is easily discarded. It is also an age of secular humanism in which the person is the center of the cosmos, not God. These two philosophical undercurrents have impacted us as Catholics whether we like it or not. There is nothing wrong with a properly ordered humanism, just as there isn’t anything inherently wrong with using items for their utility. I clearly need to use a knife to cut an onion. The problem with utilitarianism is that it has come to dominate Western culture from how we understand the human person to art to religion to architecture. We do not use people, but utilitarianism tells us this is acceptable since the goal of life is my personal happiness. Beauty is of little use in this system. Beauty within itself serves no real purpose. It cannot be formed and re-ordered to my personal end, so I discard it. This is evidenced by the architecture and art of our day. It is largely devoid of transcendence and keeps us firmly, if not stuck, here on earth.

We are not at home here in this Fallen earth. We are called to come to know God and grow in further communion with Him through His Church and through His creation, but our end is not here. Creation is a window to God. It is one of the ways he communicates His beauty, transcendence, humor, creativity, and power to us. The earth is not the fullness of revelation, however, that rests with Christ. We are made for communion with God. In fact, we are made in His image and likeness, so that we could bridge the gap between the material and the immaterial. We were meant to unite the gulf between the spirit and matter. Our vocation before the Fall was to bring creation into communion with God. Through the Fall we failed and Christ had to come to complete that vocation for us. If we look at the architecture and art of the last decades, do we see our call to transcendence or do we see a desire for comfort for the things of here and now? Are we uniting Heaven and earth as Our Lord has done?

Read the rest at Catholic Exchange.

Strange Beauty in Art and Life: The Agony in the Garden

Agony-in-the-Garden-300x300

Today I am waiting for my dad to undergo some medical tests to see why he is so sick and whether or not it is life-threatening. Ever since I got word last week that my dad’s chronic illness was not the cause of his weakness and he is bleeding internally, I have been thinking and contemplating the Agony in the Garden.

Agony is a part of the human experience and it comes at unexpected times. My dad is only 59 and while he has had rheumatoid arthritis since he had rheumatic fever as a child, I am struggling to be ready for whatever comes next. Today we will find out why he is bleeding internally, whether it is cancer or something else. Please pray for him and for all of us who love him dearly.

So it is that we are faced with the terrible and beautiful paradox of the gift of suffering. The Agony of the Garden goes into the depths of human experience in all of its pain, horror, suffering, and death, but it isn’t the last word as we know living through this Lenten season awaiting the joy of Easter. Pax Christi.

Monday is for Beauty: The Phantom of the Opera

It’s Monday, so time for beauty. Over the weekend I took a break from my studies to watch the 2004 movie version of The Phantom of the Opera. It re-kindle my love of the musical. It is actually my all time favorite musical. When I was a kid I listened to it and sang it all of the time. The original London cast was the first CD that I ever owned. I also love the book!  So here are a few of the songs from the musical. I still have not seen it performed and I am hoping to see it next year when it is in Washington, DC. I have midterms this week, so things will be sporadic on the blog. I hope you have a blessed week.

Television: Art vs the Obscene and the Catholic Answer, Part I

watching-tv

I have found that one of the things we Catholics do not like to think about is what we watch on television or read in novels. In fact, when I have discussed this with friends and shared my own struggles, I usually encounter a great deal of push back. We don’t like to be reminded that our choices in the Christian life expand even to our choices in entertainment. I want to consider these choices and the dangers of much of what is on television or in novels these days, and why Catholics must guard themselves in a culture that would lead us astray with glee. In this post I want to focus on gratuitous and graphic sex in television shows, especially on Premium channels on cable. In the second part of the series I will focus on the glorification of violence and how we can discern if what we are watching glorifies violence and leads us to engage in voyeurism.

A few years ago the show Scandal came out on ABC. I enjoy political intrigue and started to watch it. I really should have known better as the premise of the show rests in an adulterous affair with the President of the United States, but no, I was slow to acknowledge the sick feeling I felt after watching the show. It took me a season to realize why my conscience was telling me to stop watching it. It is graphically violent, focuses on adultery as romantic, and most of all, had absolutely no objective good in it. Not a single character possessed the good. There was no hero or heroine. Every single character was objectively evil on some level. It’s quite shocking really, since much of Western culture is still driven by the idea of good overcoming evil. That being said, no one should watch a show with no redeeming value and that glorifies sin. Adultery is objectively evil and destroys the people involved. I should not watch a show that glorifies and tries to paint over this reality. I finally decided to stop watching it and I didn’t miss it.

Why does the good matter, even on television? It matters because we are a people of redemption. We understand the pit that sin leads to and the ever present destruction of mankind, but we know that evil has been overcome by Jesus Christ. Evil does not win and evil is never good, no matter what our culture tries to tell us. Many television shows draw people in and they don’t realize they are watching a show that only depicts evil and no good. Evil can easily be wrapped up in a glamorous package. Why shouldn’t I watch adultery, “gay marriage”, the protection of evil and morally reprehensible behavior? I don’t do those things. Well, the problem is that these shows can dull our sense of what is morally correct. This has been apparent with the Catholic dissent on the nature of authentic marriage. We see enough “gay marriages” on television and somehow that becomes acceptable. Divorce is a foregone conclusion in our culture. Hollywood is our Magisterium, rather than Rome. We start to second guess ourselves and our faith. We begin to embrace the all consuming nihilism of our age that tells us this is it. All that awaits us is oblivion, nothingness. Make the most of it, even if it means using people and then discarding them as garbage when we are done. This philosophy is diametrically opposed to the message of the Gospel. What we ingest has a direct impact on our soul. Through our viewing we tell Hollywood that the garbage they are producing is acceptable. We help with the ratings.

Yesterday, I watched a thread on Facebook related to Game of Thrones that caused me some concern. The amount of justification for watching a show with graphic sex and violence is a problem in the Catholic world. I noticed this when thousands of practicing Catholics claimed that 50 Shades of Grey was acceptable reading, when in fact it is pornography, violent pornography. First, graphic sex scenes are not “art” no matter how we much we want to justify our choices. Pornography is not art, it is the obscene. Art is to bring human beings to the good and the true. The same goes for over-the-top sex scenes that are essentially pornographic. We just tell ourselves that it is not pornography because it is on HBO and Starz not a porn channel or Cinemax. That’s just us engaging in mental gymnastics so that we can hold onto a particular vice.

I will give you an example from my own life that is quite recent. Someone had told me that I should check out the show Outlander on Starz because I like British dramas. Mind you I have not read the novels. I watched the first episode which has multiple graphic marital sex scenes in it. Marital sex is a beautiful and holy thing, but we don’t need to watch graphic scenes that incite us to lust in order to understand this point. The show gets worse from there, not to mention that regardless of time period adultery is adultery. I should have shut it off. My conscience told me to shut it off. The struggle with lust told me to turn it off, but I didn’t. Instead I had to hang my head in shame and drag myself back to the Confessional. In full disclosure, this is not a sin that I have struggled with a lot. I have shared the two most recent experiences and they are spread out by years, but I am married and I have a lot of male friends. I know that this is a serious struggle for some people, which is why I am writing. When I did get to Confession, my Confessor said that in actuality there is not much good on television and that he sticks to soccer in order to avoid the lust that our society invites us to in a great deal of shows. He’s Scottish, so the soccer reference is understandable. My Confessor did not encourage me to watch these shows, in fact, he did the opposite. He told me to steer clear of them.

I am not suggesting Puritanism. There is a great deal of art in which the body is shown in its full beautiful nude display throughout human history, but there is a difference between showing the beauty and sacredness of human beings and graphic sex scenes that move us to lust. Sex is holy. Sex is fun and meant to be enjoyed. It is not meant to be profaned. Even sexual sin can be demonstrated without a move into the pornographic.

One of my favorite novels, and its movie adaptions, is Evelyn Waugh’s, Brideshead Revisted. No one could accuse Waugh of Purtianism. The novel is rife with hedonism to include adultery, lust, homosexual acts, and alcoholism. The difference is that Waugh is not pointing to those things as good. He is showing how in our brokenness and darkness, God is always working for our salvation. In both movie adaptions, the one with Jeremy Irons and the shorter one with Matthew Goode, this hedonism is on display in all of its forms, but without appealing to the graphic. One scene in the Matthew Goode version shows that adultery can even be committed with most of the characters’ clothes on.

Many people trying to defend their Catholicism and their graphic television choices try to appeal to art or history. I even saw someone try to claim Scripture’s sexual sins and graphic violence as justification. This is merely a cognitive dissonance for something that we know to be wrong. Scripture demonstrates the depravity of mankind in light of God’s salvation. There’s a major difference between Scripture and Game of Thrones where sexuality is used for illicit reasons and that is all. Television shows can be true to the deprivation of humanity without resorting to lust filled sex scenes. But, in reality, these shows are glorifying hedonism, not pointing to the brokenness of sexual sin. Let’s at least be honest. These shows are not interested in redemption. So that argument is false and being used to justify sin. If you don’t believe me, then take it to your parish priest. Tell them exactly what you have been watching, including graphic sex scenes and gruesome violence. See what they say. It’s probably not going to be what you want to hear, but it will be what you need to hear.

Catholic art has always given an authentic portrayal of the human person, but in light of Revelation. We have a real opportunity here to move Hollywood to provide actual art. We need to stop supporting trash and force them to provide us with the beautiful and the ugly in a proper light. If you are a Catholic who has struggled with watching shows like this, then go to Confession. Trust me, the priests have heard it all. I had to go Confess this very sin of lust recently. I allowed myself to get sucked into the lie and I lied to myself in the process. I am married. I know that sex is beautiful, so why on earth am I ok with counterfeits on television? Why am I ok with watching our culture destroy one of the great gifts that God has given us? I would encourage you to seriously consider what you are watching or reading. Ask yourself, is this strengthening my soul? Does this help me grow closer to Christ? Will this help me become a saint? Does this serve the mission? Chances are, the answer will be no.  When that happens, pray for the grace to abandon those shows and books. It might be hard for a week or two, but eventually, you will forget all about them. The reality is that the closer we draw to Christ the less we want to have anything to do with counterfeits. God bless.

In Which I Respond to an Amusing Critique of My Blog

Yesterday I chanced upon a random, short, and sarcastic review of the look and content of my blog on Reddit. I don’t even know the purpose of Reddit, by the way. It made me chuckle. I wasn’t angry, I thought it was funny. I found it amusing because it is so typical of us human beings to misunderstand, judge, and label people, even based on their Internet blog choices or writing. Since I found it amusing, I thought I would answer some of their complaints. This is not meant to be snarky at all and is really a reflection of my amusement with it all.

The commenter is clearly fed up with the Catholic Blogosphere and it’s declaration that it is its own Magisterium. I completely understand. I have argued against the same mentality and took a break from writing for that very reason. I no longer wanted to be a part of the problem, at least not intentionally. I could see that a great many people make their living in the Catholic world the same way the secular world does, through shock jock tactics and click bait headlines. I get it. It sells, but in my mind, it doesn’t serve the mission which is the conversion of souls. I examined my own tactics and style not only on my blog, but in social media and realized that I was a part of the problem. When I started graduate school last year, I started to see the wealth and beauty of the faith that can be shared with others. So I decided to focus on those things that will help people on the journey and steer clear of polemics as much as possible. I am not saying that my writing is the greatest out there, not even close, but I would encourage readers to pay attention to a new breed of Catholic writers who are coming up. We are also fed up with the fighting and want to focus on holiness. That is why I am so honored and love writing for Catholic Exchange. Their mission is the conversion of souls, not Catholic in-fighting and politics.

Moving from the topic of the Catholic blogosphere, they complained that I was just another self-proclaimed theologian. That’s not entirely accurate. In my About section I make it clear that I am a “student theologian”, which is what my professors call me and my fellow graduate students. I did this so that readers understand and are aware of my education status and knowledge level. Much to my shock, folks with doctorates and who are way more knowledgeable than I am, have visited my site. I want them to know where I am at, so that if I inadvertently make an error, they can offer the intellectual and fraternal correction that may be necessary. I am not sure what constitutes theologian in this person’s mind, but advanced study is a typical pre-requisite, which I am trying to fulfill. By virtue of my vocation, I am limited in my ability to study as much as I would like and may have to stop at the Master’s level. So, no, I will never be a great theologian, but perhaps God will use me in some manner because of the gifts and interests he has given me. For now I am focused on theological study at the graduate level.

The rest of the complaints were visual, and that is really what had me amused. They complained that Catholic blogs always have a specific look or name to them. Well, that makes sense. Catholic writers tend to be lovers of beauty, sacred art, and Catholic Culture, so that is what is reflected on our blog. Beauty is a very big theme on my blog. I don’t write every day because sometimes people just need a chance to marvel at the beauty of the universe. I go out of my way to make it easy for people to find some form of beauty on Mondays and Fridays. It’s not great intellectual work, but it is one of the very specific ways that God reveals Himself to us through reason. So, yes, my blog is a typical Catholic blog.

They complained that my picture was black and white, in they guessed, some attempt to be artsy. Actually, and this is why judgment is a silly thing to do, I found this picture on my phone after my daughter had change it to black and white. Being iPhone illiterate, I didn’t even know that my phone did that, and I was impressed that my daughter, who is 3 years old mind you, had changed it. So my profile picture is me, but it is also a reminder of my daughter. She made my profile picture. I guess it is easy to mock people when we have no back story or understanding of why they choose certain things.

They also complained about the self promotion of Catholic writers. I get that, but much of that is based on perception of the individual, not reality. I absolutely loathe self promotion. I hate that I have to “promote” my writing in social media. I especially dislike Twitter. I don’t like to use it and it is so much information that I don’t know how anyone finds anything in their feed. I essentially post and run. I share a few random things on Twitter, but not because I am particularly engaged. I use Facebook more because I think that it is a useful social media platform and I am connected to many learned Catholics who are smarter than I am. I feel awkward every single time I have to share something that I have written, whether it is from this blog or my professional writing for Catholic Exchange. I also try to promote my fellow writers at Catholic Exchange in social media since we are all trying to fulfill the mission of bringing the Good News to the world.

They also made fun of the title of my blog. I have actually struggled over the years finding my niche as a Catholic writer. I am not a mommy blogger. I came up with this title when I was contemplating the vastness of the Blessed Trinity during my first semester of graduate school. In my mind, I felt like I was swimming into an infinitely deep and vast pool. Swimming the Depths just made sense to me and it is my own private devotion to the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. People don’t have to like it, but it is a profound reminder to me personally of how small I am in light of the Beatific Vision.

I think what people like this forget, is that God does call certain people to writing. I love writing. It just flows out of me. Most of the time I read my own writing and think “How on earth did that come from me?!”. I use my writing to serve God, not myself. Yes, I have to fight pride, but as I told my Confessor earlier this week, that is part of the great struggle in public work. Many people write as a hobby, much like people who paint or draw. I was writing as a hobby until recently when, by the grace of God and the charity of an editor, I became a “professional writer”. I am not entirely sure what that means, but it does mean that I will occasionally get paid for my musings. We also need to remember that in this digital age, self promotion is a part of the task of becoming a professional writer. I don’t like it, but if I want to be a writer then I have to share my stuff. I think there are a great many writers who feel the same way. Perhaps some enjoy it, but most of the writers I know despise promoting their work.

I will end with these thoughts. Feel free to dislike my choices for theme and picture. Those items are a matter of taste. The picture on my site of the rose is something that I took in Charleston, SC, which is a beautiful city. I like the picture very much. Please feel free to disagree with me, although, any Catholics disagreeing because they are not submitting to the Magisterium should take that up with their priest. This blogger submits completely and totally to ALL teachings of the Catholic Church. If you want to discuss items that are open for theological debate, please do. I would say that it’s important to move from superficial judgments, however, or we may find ourselves thrown into pride and envy. I know. I’ve done it and still do it, which is why I write quite a bit about the great blessings of frequent Confession. I thank anyone who stops by and I truly hope you leave this little basement corner of the Internet better than when you came. I just ask that you give me the benefit of the doubt and not let superficial prejudices keep you from Catholic websites. God bless.

Cinderella: Christ and the Church in Art

54db6c5aabcd32906da3cf56_cinderella-disney-costume-vf

I can’t say that this post will be a review per say. It will be my musing on my experience of the movie and the Christian dimensions of the original fairy tale.  Of course, I know the story. Almost every little girl, at least in the U.S., was introduced to Disney’s version of Cinderella at a young age. The fight of good and evil is even recognizable in the innocence of childhood. And while many would say that the “happily ever after” is the reason little girls love it, I would say that there is more to it than that.

The character of Ella is one of outer beauty, but an interior of strength, courage, goodness, and love. She serves tirelessly and while she has her moments of weakness, she continues on. The newest adaption captures the utter goodness in her at the moment when she is about to give up, an “old beggar woman” asks for some milk. She immediately responds through virtuous action, action that is so infused within her through habit, that she serves this woman in the midst of her own sorrow. It is then that the fairy godmother reveals herself and Ella, in her gentle way, scoffs. But, she accepts the gifts joyfully when she realizes the fairy godmother is who she says she is. Even though she has not had much goodness done to her in recent years, Ella opens her arms wide open to the gifts bestowed upon her. Her own servant’s heart makes it easier for her to receive love.

There was one moment of the film that struck me very deeply. After Cinderella has danced and spent time with the prince, she flees. We know that this is because it is midnight and the spell will be broken by the final toll of the bell. The prince’s right hand man remarks that the prince had to choose “the one who flees” and the prince smiles. The Christology of that moment stopped me and nearly reduced me to tears. Cinderella is actually the story of Christ the Bridegroom (the Prince) and his pursuit and love of the Church (Cinderella). The deep spiritual truth of that moment has stayed with me even hours after the film, and it will stay with me.

Christ chooses all of us and we flee. Even those of us who are baptized into the Mystical Body, flee His love every time we sin. God woos us and we flee in shame and fear. Shame is a by-product of the Fall. We are constantly struggling against the shame that is brought about by our sin. God chases after us, beckoning, and calling us back to Him. He tenderly caresses us upon our return. Within the Confessional, he binds our wounds and restores us to the grace of our Baptism. No matter how many times we fall, he is constantly calling us back to Him.

Christ’s love for us has repeatedly been equated to a courtship in Scripture and Tradition. The desire and fire of passionate love is a common image for God. In fact, the Song of Songs is about God’s love for us. This is often misinterpreted by people, but it really is about God’s love for us through the imagery of romantic and erotic love. The same is true in the story of Cinderella.

Cinderella runs from the prince out of fear and shame that she is not good enough. She is a common girl. That is why when she finally comes forward to try on the glass slipper, she asks the now King to take her as she is, even in her lowly state. A sign of the virtue of humility. The King obliges and offers her the same humble request, that she will take him for who he is, even as a monarch apprentice, turned king. This moment not only demonstrates the humility required within marriage, it demonstrates the Church’s relationship to the Bridegroom who has given himself entirely to us. Christ emptied himself completely on the Cross in the greatest act of humility and his love is realized and reciprocated through the Church.

While the Christology was with me throughout the movie, the cinematography and costumes were breath-taking. I have been a Kenneth Branagh fan for decades and I could see his touch everywhere in the movie. The costumes, the banter, the style was so similar to Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet. I fully expected him to end with a Shakespearean (given his background) style wedding, but he did not. He kept to simplicity and beauty, but showed the absolutely gorgeous wedding dress selected for Cinderella. Modesty is beautiful!

What really was truly a gift was the beauty. The entire movie is beautiful. This is so lacking in our culture anymore. The entire movie is a sensual experience in the way art is meant to be. It draws us into goodness and joy. The imagery caused wonder and awe, even if some of it was CG. It didn’t matter. The beauty was constant throughout the movie.

The beauty is contrasted with the darkness and cold of the stepmother, who inevitably breaks against the stone of goodness. The movie calls those who see it to embrace beauty, kindness, and goodness. I left wanting to know why there are not more movies like this one? Why has art so lost its way? I would say it is because it has lost its center, who is Christ. Even if Branagh meant to tone down the Christology of the Cinderella fairy tale, it was impossible to do because of the sheer beauty of it all. As I have written here before, we see God in beauty. Good woos us through beauty and this movie will do just that. I just might have to go see it again in the theater. God bless.

ChristKingCrownOn.14393925_std

Music, Beauty, and Childhood Dreams

Like me, do any of you have TOO many interests?  I have a hard time keeping them in check sometimes.  I want to read, write, play music, sing, act (this is a new one for me), paint, etc.  I am a lover of the arts, but it tends to get pushed back to an oven and burner on another continent.  I am not good at all of these things, but I enjoy them all the same.  There is something about creating that unites me, all of us really, to our Creator.  Art raises our minds to God.

Last night I was reminded of a childhood dream.  I have always enjoyed classical music, especially music performed by string instruments.  My dad raised us on Mozart and Bach.  In fact, music has brought me to tears on numerous occasions and I believe the most beautiful piece of music ever written is Mozart’s Requiem.  That aside, I wanted to pursue an instrument as a child.  I had asked to play the violin, but my parents said it would be too hard.  They did not realize that I was musically inclined, so I ended up playing the clarinet for 10 years.  I was even in the top band in the state!
The thing is, that I enjoyed the clarinet, but was not passionate about it.  Clarinet music has never “hailed my soul from my body” to quote Shakespeare.  Rather, it is always the violin.  The first piece of music that I remember being a transcendent experience was the first time I heard Pachabel’s Canon in D.  I was probably around 9.  We were driving in the car and my dad had it on in the cassette player.  Tears started to flow down my face while I sat in the backseat of the car.  It was an involuntary reaction in coming face-to-face with authentic beauty.
a very dear friend of mine is teaching himself the violin during his retirement years.  He played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for us after dinner last night.  He then let me hold the violin and showed me a few simple notes.  I did not know whether to laugh or cry.  I was so happy just to be holding it.  He encouraged me to learn it now.  I am not too old.  He is 65, he said.  He is right about that, but my vocation right now would make it difficult to add it in, but perhaps in a couple of years I could learn.  I felt like a joy filled child moving the bow across the strings.  I was reminded of the music that lifted my soul to grand heights.
Perhaps this explains why I have a hard time with modern music during Mass.  I have heard Masses chanted and sung that brought my soul to Heaven’s Gate.  Songs like He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand leave me firmly planted in my seat.  It is a lot harder for me to remember that we are in the presence of the Heavenly Liturgy at Mass.
This weekend my husband and I are going to go see The Notre Dame University Chorale perform at the local cathedral.  I am so excited.  It is the first time I will have attended a concert sine 2009.  We have a babysitter, so it is a nice date night of dinner and music.  Perhaps my soul will once again soar in the presence of transcendent music.
Are there arts that you enjoy or that you may have forgotten about?  Do you encourage your kids in the arts?  My daughter already is demonstrating a love of music and dance.  The arts help us to appreciate God’s beauty and love more fully.  I hope you are having a very blessed Second Week of Christmas.
Here are some of my favorite pieces of music: