Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Science of Love

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. - (Rev. 2:4)
How to love is the central problem of our lives as Christians.  It is a sorely neglected topic.

Because it is neglected, people like Christopher West are able to say things that they claim are about love, but are simply indications of their own pathology.  From his latest newsletter ...

“I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid myself” is transformed into “I was at peace, because I know God loves me; so I exposed myself.”  Lord, teach us how to be naked before you!

Well, love is not about nudism, and it is certainly not about exhibitionism.   But because this whole topic is neglected, the vacuum is filled by weirdness like that.

So let me touch on a few things I've learned, and I speak with the authority of an actor and a poet - which is a very suspect authority, I admit.  But I have spent my life either burying my love in a hole in the back yard or spending it foolishly and frivolously on women, clients or friends who have taken advantage of me because I was giving - but giving in the wrong way, or to the wrong people or giving for reasons that were more about my own neediness than about the other person.

And please understand that these are things that I am still learning or struggling to understand myself.  So as provisional observations on the challenge of mature love, I offer the following ...


  • You can't motivate another person.  You can't get an actor to want to do a good job at a show if he's not already motivated to do so.  And you can't make another person love you, or love you in the way that you desire.  The trick is finding the client who is willing to pay you, discovering the audience who wants to see your show, casting the actor who's already motivated and is willing to learn, or finding the woman who loves you and will do so in a sane and healthy way.

  • Red flags should be heeded.  If you compromise on a core issue at the beginning of a friendship or a business relationship, you'll simply open the door to continued demands to compromise from that point forward.

  • You can love a person from afar.  In other words, if your friend or lover or family member becomes unapproachable - either they become addicts or they get angry and reject you or they give themselves to a lifestyle that you can't condone - your love and prayers and loyalty can still be exercised, even if you are never able to speak to that person again.  Love sometimes demands separation; it is sometimes the only possible expression of love.

  • Shaking the dust from your feet and moving on - difficult as that may be - is neither cold-heartedness nor pride.  It's a form of humility and the command to do so is God's admonition to save us from pouring our efforts into black holes.  We are obligated to love, but we have a right to expect a return of some sort.  People who love without reciprocation are miserable - because unrequited love (and unrewarded effort), common though it is, is contrary to the way reality is supposed to work.

  • But by the same token, if we focus only on return - if we're in it only for the money or the applause or the accolades - we're in it for the wrong reason.  The reward should be the harvest, the result of a job well done, the fruit of love invested well and wisely.  

  • But, especially when it comes to Evangelizing, we cannot always judge our efforts by the immediate fruit our efforts bear.  Prudence in this regard should be applied to the welcome we are given, the hearing we receive.  So if someone shuts his or her ears and threatens us to make us be silent, then further efforts are merely bad stewardship of love.  However, if we're heard and considered, then the seed is being sown and God will work the increase, in His own way and in His own time, from there - and that part is beyond our control.

  • Love always entails sacrifice.  If someone tells you that love is about self-indulgence - or that spirituality is about self-indulgence - that person is a false prophet and should be avoided.

  • And if all of your friends are telling you she's bad for you and you're wasting your time - or if you're trying to land a client that others have had nothing but trouble with - or if you decide to cast an actor who has let other directors down in the past - don't be a fool.  Your magic wand won't transform a bad piece of work into a masterpiece.  You don't have that power.  Be humble, accept the pain and move on.

***

I'm curious to know if any of my readers have things they've learned in the "science of love".  I'm no longer allowing comments, so if you'd like to add your input, email me kevin (at) thewordinc.org.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Short of Sense

From Professional Demagogue Michael Voris ...

***

From: "ChurchMilitant.TV" <info@churchmilitant.tv>
Date: February 21
Subject: President Hillary
Reply-To: info@churchmilitant.tv

Dear Friend in Christ,

Short of death, it's gonna be President Hillary. Please watch this Vortex episode and pass it to your family and friends.

GOD Bless you and your loved ones,
Michael Voris
~senior executive producer at ChurchMilitant.TV

For information on ChurchMilitant.TV speaking engagements, visit this webpage

No audio on the video? Click here for a solution.

To unsubscribe from ChurchMilitant.TV mailings, visit this webpage.

***

Short of death????

Friends, I'm no fan of Hillary's, but what sort of person would send out an inflammatory mass email saying, "Short of death, it's gonna be President Hillary" - knowing all that that implies.

This man and his tactics are slimy, and Catholics need to start spinning away from his Vortex, and the giant sucking sound it is making.



The Preacher's Wife

The Book of Ecclesiastes can elicit many responses.  Most moderns love the thing, but it has always struck me as being something that only a bored urbanite could produce.  I had some friends before my conversion who were the sort of people the Preacher is in this book - sophisticated to the point of resigned complacency.  I mean it takes a certain kind of effete intellectual to produce a work like this; only a certain kind of person could not only say that "all is vanity", but that even the simple things that give us joy, such as eating and drinking and sometimes even working is "vanity".  There is nothing new under the sun?  Well, who cares when we live in such a world with such a sun!

Still, however, what the Preacher says is true.  All is "vanity" if life in the world is all we've got.  Thus, the book can certainly be read as an admonition to avoid worldliness, as a prelude to Christian asceticism.  But it's not really that because it's far too pessimistic and negative - negative to the point of Buddhism - to be the great book of wisdom that many make it out to be.

I think it's in the Bible almost as a kind of irony or contrast.  It shows the limits of life without life, life without the spark of the Spirit, the invigorating Breath of God.  It shows how far we can go without Him and still congratulate ourselves for being wise.

***

And here's something that struck me today.  Ecclesiastes could never be written by a woman.

No woman who ever lived has ever cultivated and developed this keen sense of airy disappointment.  Only guys get depressed philosophically.  Women don't experience this kind of turmoil - this kind of distant and cool distress.  Why is that?

And why is it that only the Woman at the Well (who wrote a recent guest post here) can feel the profound sense of shame and worthlessness of a life wasted?  Men who go wrong either make a sweeping change and go suddenly right (as did the Prodigal Son), or dally and brood in a kind of netherworld where their sin and dissipation leads them to a theoretical land of ennui.

But women know much more innately the promise that is in them.  No woman would ever say, "Vanity of vanities.  All is vanity."  She might get despondent, but she knows the value of life and she knows that she is the incubator of life.  She knows that even in vanity or emptiness a silent seed can sprout.  She knows life more intimately, more practically and less theoretically than the man, and she doesn't lose herself in the kind of speculative Neverland that some men do.  When she goes bad, she knows it with a kind of burning shame that incubates the way the seed does, festering in her in an immediate way that can't be examined with the kind of distant objective dispassion that the Preacher uses.  Touch upon the shame in a shameful woman and she'll cut you to pieces.  She lives it too closely to examine it.  She must act and bring forth life now - or death, or something!  Existence is not a game for her - it's not a theory or a philosophy, and she typically has little patience with that tendency in men - especially in the man who happens to be her man.

This is why Shakespeare's Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth ring so true.  He's philosophical about his descent into sin.  She has no patience with that; she gets the job done.  "Infirm of purpose, give me the dagger!"  Likewise, the Melancholy Dane would never be a Melancholy Dame.

***

Now the last time I made an observation about the difference between men and women, my readers offered to crucify me.  But I've stopped allowing comments, so you'll have to get mad at the God who made us different, and not at the poor schlub who points the differences out.


Guest Post by the Woman at the Well

He told me everything I ever did.

Not that I'm all that proud of everything I ever did.  Usually I try not to think about it.  Five husbands, but not really husbands.  A real mess, if you think about it.  I try not to think about it.

Why do we do what we do?  In my day, long ago, we didn't worry about psychology.  Maybe I am the way I am because of how I was raised, or what happened to me, or something.  But we did what we wanted to do.   And ... so do you.

Look, damage was done along the way.  It's not my fault that I broke a few hearts or homes.  You think I've never been damaged?  You think no one's ever hurt me?  Well, nobody's going to tell me I can't do what I want, get what I want.  My motto - "Leave me be!"

And I was thirsty.  We all get thirsty.  And we need the water for washing, cooking.

And he told me everything I ever did.

And the next thing I knew I was talking about the Christ.  And he was talking about living water.  Fountains springing up, the end of thirst for me and for people I meet.

I'm not a good person.  Don't you dare tell me that or I'll knock the stuffing out of you!  But I can tell you that.  I'm what you might call a "piece of work".  Except I hate to work and there's not much peace.

But he looked into the heart of me.  And he knew me for the worthless bitch that I am.  And he kept his eyes on me and promised me a fountain of eternal life.  If any other man had said a peep about the life I've led, I'd have dumped the bucket on him and taught him a lesson.

But not him.  He is the One to come.

I found myself talking about my hope.  Hope?  Of all things, I found I not only had hope but I was talking about it!  Believing in the One to come - believing ... perhaps ... that he was among us.



Saturday, February 22, 2014

Interview with a Mid-Life Crisis

Q. I'm joined today by Mid-Life Crisis Man.  Welcome.

A. Thank you.

Q. So what's it like to go through a Mid-Life Crisis?

A. It's great!  There ain't many 53-year-old men with a hair transplant and a pot belly who have a beautiful 22-year-old woman in their lives.

Q. Your wife is a stripper at a club on the East Side, isn't that right?

A. She's an exotic dancer.  Not a stripper.

Q. What's the difference?

A. She doesn't use a pole.

Q. I see.  Do you have much in common, you and -

A. Brandi.  Yes, quite a bit.  She's wonderful, intelligent, sensitive and a great artist.  I'm cashing in my retirement fund to buy her a studio near the beach where she can sell her artwork.  She'll do great, I just know it!

Q. And your first wife?

A. That marriage was annulled.  I hardly think about her.  I let our five kids worry about the ex.  She finally got a job so I can get the court to lower the child support.  Thank God!

Q. You drive a really nice car.

A. When I turned 50, I was bald.  So I covered the top of my head and put the top down on the car.  That's all it took.  That and a really healthy portfolio.

Q. That's all?

A. Well, almost.  When I met Brandi, all I had to say was, "I've got a really really big one."  Then I showed her the statement from my mutual fund and she was hooked.

Q. One more question -

A. Sorry!  Brandi's texting!  Gotta run!


God and Puppy Love



In Colossians 1:28, St. Paul says

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

I commented a few days ago that "maturity in Christ" is an unheard of concept these days - at least unheard of from the pulpit.

What I mean by that is that while we hear a lot about "love", we never hear about mature love, or the love of adults.  We hear about love of God and love of neighbor, but the love we are preached is a kind of puppy love.  Love remains a kind of emotion or sense of benign good will.  It is at best being nice and at worst doing whatever turns us on.  "Love" is a puerile and childish thing, or seems to be if you simply listen to most homilies.

Or perhaps love is not exactly "childish" but worse, it's "adolescent".  "Love" for some is merely an excuse for a sophomoric indulgence of sexual desire; and there are those who imply that the path to God begins in our groins.

But what is mature love - which must be a key component of being "mature in Christ"?  Is mature love the denial of all sexual desire?  Is it Puritanism?  Is it repression and frustration?

Later in the Epistle to the Colossians, Paul says

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5)

Christopher West and his followers would say that someone who says such a thing is a Puritan, a Theology of the Body neophyte.  They would concede that sexual immorality and evil desire are wrong - but passion?  Passion is the way to God!  The Passion of Christ means not just His suffering on the cross, but the intense desire that springs up in us that leads us to Him.  Passion is Eros.  And Eros is love, or at least an aspect of love.

But is this what Paul means by "passion" (πάθος - sometimes translated "lust")?

For Paul πάθος (pathos) means a kind of abdication of human reason, a giving in to an emotion so that it dominates us - whether that emotion is sexual desire, anger, greed, or what have you.  Addiction, lust, hungering for money and power - these are passions that destroy us, but the desire at the root of these passions is not in itself necessarily evil.  It is good to want sex, good to enjoy drinking, good to work for money.

And if this kind of desire for something beyond us is loosely called Eros, then what we see in our culture is obvious.

  • We see the secular world (and much of the Christian world) elevating Eros as the God of salvation, and completely ignoring that allowing desire to dominate us is horribly dangerous, that sex can no more exist without rational boundaries than capitalism can exist without laws that restrain it and keep it from eating us all up.  But Westians deny the one and Republicans deny the other.  
  • And on the other hand we still see (if we look hard enough) a tradition that realizes, as Paul did, that the only way to exercise our Eros, which is to say the only way to love, is to use our rational faculties as well as our emotions and our spiritual instincts - to integrate our lives prudentially as fully formed adults "mature in Christ"; that to do anything else is to make our gods our appetites (Phil. 3:19)

Yes, Eros is love, but when did we become so foolish as to believe that love is something that should not be restrained or cultivated or canalized in a mature and adult way?

I am coming to believe more and more that what we need most desperately in the Church is a well articulate theology of mature love.


Questions and Answers on God and Design

My interlocutor who asked me questions about the Faith that I answered here is stymied when it comes to the argument against Design that the materialists make.  I thought sharing some of our dialogue might be of interest to some of you.

Let me note that the question of Design in the universe is a philosophical question, not a scientific one.  "Intelligent design" is bad science; but noting and pondering Design can be good philosophy.

What follows may or may not be good philosophy.  That is for the reader to decide.

***



Q. Isn't it possible that the universe could indeed have arisen merely by chance?

No.  Given the finite limit of the universe in space and time, it cannot have developed like this without a designer.  Only if the universe is infinite and eternal can it have developed without design, and scientists know that it is neither.  We know how old the universe is and we know how much matter is in it, and there has not been enough time for anything as complex as a single cell to evolve at random, much less an eye, much less a human being.

The nihilists elevate "chance" as a god and say that things happen "by chance" - but nothing can happen "by chance"; "chance" just means an event which is unintentional or not intentionally controlled.  "Chance" is the absence of intent, not an intending agent.  (For more on that, click on the link)


Q. If the materialists are right, then "beauty" and "love" only exist in the mind of man.  But that doesn't mean they don't exist; it just means each of us defines what they are, right?

No, it would mean that they don't exist in any objective sense.  It would mean that beauty and love were illusions.

Are they real or are they not?  Be a man and engage this question.  Don't play games with a compromise that doesn't exist.  Don't be a soft nihilist.  Face the consequences of what materialistic nihilism actually means.

If "beauty", "love" and "meaning" are merely subjective, then nothing has any meaning, not even the realization that life is without meaning - and certainly not the meaning we "posit" or put forth.  If life has no meaning, then nothing has meaning, and dead matter is as valuable as live matter, regardless of what we think or how we feel, regardless of what "evolution" tells us.

And if transcendent non-material realities don't exist, then why presume that matter does?  If the one is subjective, why is the other real?  If beauty and love are illusions, why is anything in the so-called "outside world" any more real than the intangibles are?

So be a solipsist and be happy.  If you can.

The irony is that when you deny Spirit, you are forced to deny Matter.  In the same way that the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection of the body, lost both body and spirit in a philosophy doomed to self-destruct, so nihilists eventually learn that they can't have it both ways.  If there is no objective meaning, then there is no meaning period - even from frightened soul to frightened soul clinging to illusions or biology.  If Christ can't save us from the abyss, neither can Darwin.


Q. Isn't the need for God just biological like the need for food or water or sex?

If we walked around hungry but never found food, we would wonder why we had hunger.  If we walked around thirsty but never found water, the same would apply.  Desire implies satisfaction; it implies the thing that satisfies it.  It does not prove it, but it does imply it, and it's a very strong argument that we are made to desire what we really need.


Q. But what if religion is only the opiate for the masses?

Well, that's the question, isn't it?  If God is just our own sad make-believe, only a teddy bear to help us sleep at night, then to hell with him.  Let's burn down all the churches.  I'm in this for Truth, not comfort.  What about you?


Q. But I'm not so sure I see evidence of "Design" - and I don't think Design proves there is a God.

You either see design or you don't.  Use your eyes.

Speaking of which - why do we have eyes?  Eyes exist to allow us to see.  They have a function and a purpose.  They are designed.


Are you saying that Design does not get you to the God of Christianity?  Of course you're right.  It doesn't.  But it gets you out of the sophomoric nonsense that is materialism and nihilism.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mocking God

Saul prophesying at Ramah - David Martin (1639-1721)

Yesterday I wrote about Bad Theater and Bad Liturgy.

Today I'm wondering - how did we get here?  How did we get to a point where we allow offensive art to be spread around on the streets of our cities, streets where children and families walk?  How do we endure such ugliness and in-your-face assaults without taking sledge hammers to them?  How did we get to a point where we patronize shoddy dramas and applaud and congratulate lame actors and insipid playwrights?  Why don't we rear up and demand our money back?  Why do we put up with anti-Christian bishops, Pagan Education masquerading as Catholic Education, priests who are weird at best and pedophiles at worst? Why are we all joining in a great act of make-believe, pretending that the fecal matter we're served on a platter is a thick and juicy sirloin steak?

The same way we got to a point where the use of hard core internet pornography by married men and children is winked at.  The same way we got to a point where we all have to pretend as if anal sex between two men is a glorious and heroic thing, and that not applauding it is akin to racism.  The same way we got to a point where we all have to make believe that our economy is based on something other than usury, fraud and flim-flam.

If we are to be salt of the earth, we ain't doing our jobs.

***

Once there was a man like you or me.  He was king.  He had authority and power.  He was jealous of his authority and power.  He was jealous of others.  He was jealous, period.  He knew that God had given the crown to him, but doing things his way was much more important to him than doing things God's way.

So he ignored God and started to live for himself.

Therefore God took His Holy Spirit from him.

And he grew depressed and miserable and convinced that everyone had it better than he did, even though he was king.  And the one thing that made him more upset than anything was to see God's Holy Spirit at work in others.  The precious gift he had been given and which he had squandered was not only no longer his, but was the gift of others who appreciated it and thanked God for it, and that made him livid.

So he sent messengers to find David and kill him.

And the messengers who were sent found Samuel the Seer, who was sheltering David the True King.  And the messengers became prophets in the presence of the Prophet.  And he sent more messengers to the man of God, and they too became prophets.

And he himself went to do the job on his own and rid himself of the one whom God had favored.

And he, Saul, was struck by the Spirit and prophesied.

He tore off his clothes and lay naked on the ground all day and all night, prophesying in the presence of Samuel. The people who were watching exclaimed, "What? Is even Saul a prophet?" (1 Sam. 19:24)

A thousand years later, Jesus would tell a parable of the owner of a vineyard who sends messengers to collect rent from his tenant farmers.  The wicked tenants kill one group, then another, and even kill the son that the land-Lord sends.

***

What is the point of these two stories - the one from the history of Saul and David; the other a parable told by Jesus that seems to echo it?

I dare not plumb the depths of these stories, but one thing is for sure.

Mock God and pay the price.

Kill His messengers, murder His son in order that you may "seize on his inheritance" (see Mat. 21:33-46) and you'll find that you're permanently evicted, while those you have dispossessed become heirs of the Kingdom, "co-heirs" with the Son (Rom. 8:17).

Arrogate to yourself the power and authority that comes only from God (as each of us does every time we sin, and as Saul - like Herod - does when he persecutes the anointed one), and you'll find that in mocking God, you are mocked yourself, becoming an unwitting instrument of the very Spirit that you have chased from your own house.

***


  • I once worked at a family run restaurant where the oldest brother was a cocaine addict.  One night the police arrested him for running around naked in the suburbs in a psychotic state, knocking on people's doors and screaming at them.  His family bailed him out and the next day they put him to work as a bartender, dealing with alcohol and the general public.  And we were supposed to pretend that nothing unusual was going on.

  • I know a family who deals with the addiction of one of their members by systematically ignoring it and smoothing over all the rough edges and messes that result.

  • An older man I know married a woman who was much younger than he was, almost 30 years younger.  This impressed some people, but behind closed doors he paid the price.  Her self esteem was so ludicrously low that he had to stroke her in some manner every minute of every day, praising her for even ordinary and normal things that she did and overlooking everything about her that was annoying and stupid.  His trophy wife exacted a huge investment of time and energy on his part, and the two of them expected every one else to play along, to pretend as if this gold digging bimbo was as smart and clever and fascinating as the old man kept telling her she was.  They were an exhausting couple to be around.

  • I've known many young couples who deliberately put up blinders about one another, entering into marriages that were clearly wrong-headed and possibly doomed - and yet no one - not family, friends or clergy - pointed out the obvious.  "You know, this man is quite controlling and will make your life miserable" or "You both seem to be getting married because your parents want you to" or "He's far below the kind of man you could marry if you weren't so desperate to sell out and settle".  These things are never said.  People pretend as if everything is just fine.  And marriages happen and lives are ruined.

We live in a world of grade inflation, quantitative easing, and collective fictions like "gay marriage".  We live in a world with a Church that we allow not to be a Church and art that we allow to be ugly and vapid.  We live in a world where it's considered obscene to point out the elephant in the living room, but kind of funny that 12-year-old boys are masturbating to images of hard core pornography that only the most street wise and seedy perverts viewed fifty years ago.

And we think nothing of it.

We think we can catch the owner's son, throw him out of the vineyard, kill him and "seize on his inheritance", taking it for ourselves - cheating both the Son and the Father.

And cheating the Holy Spirit.  

We think we can snatch the Lord's anointed right out from under the gaze of the seer and laugh at the very Breath of God.  We can do this.  We're the king.  We can even cheat the Holy Spirit.

Until He breathes and walks within us and we find ourselves - even against our will - in a daze, naked and babbling, speaking His very words and prophesying.



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bad Theater and Bad Liturgy

So I'm in Phoenix this week and I was forced to go to a luncheon performance of a play that I had no interest in seeing.  It was a One-Act for Black History Month.

That's right, a luncheon one-act for Black History Month.  

Yes, it was as awful as it sounds.

And it's downtown.  And the theater is surrounded by hideously ugly statues of naked people frolicking - totally naked men and women, doing a kind of queer "liturgical dance" with their breasts and butts and genitals flying in every direction and captured forever in stop action by the sculptor.

And the audience is a bunch of old folks.  And they all get box lunches.  And they sit around you and eat their sandwiches and chew their food, packed into a tiny studio theater, and you want to scream.

And some old gal comes out and warms up the audience.  And finishes with a stupid tap dance.  And it's embarrassing.  And the old folks, with their moldy tuna fish, sit there laughing.  We're packed in.

The show begins.  It is insipid, juvenile, but well-intentioned.  The entire plot revolves around an extremely superficial and shallow conflict between two characters that has nothing to do with anything of any importance.  It is poorly acted.  But the acting surpasses the dialogue, such as it is.  It's mostly not dialogue; it's mostly the characters addressing the audience directly and giving exposition.  When it is dialogue, you miss the stilted and awkward moments of exposition.  One of the gals is talented and should be in something better than this.

Because the play is stagey and shallow, it runs short.  An encore is presented that consists of the lead actor singing songs from the era in which the story took place.  He sings three standards to a karaoke track.  He hits all the notes but he has no talent.  Even the old ladies with the moldy tuna fish are getting bored - and it's songs from their day.

It finally ends, but before you can escape, there's a sit around and an "ask questions of the cast and playwright" session.  No one asks the only question I was thinking of, which is "How can you charge money for something like this?"

We are finally released.  As we pass out into the bright hot desert sun, the cast and playwright stand in a receiving line by the door, waiting for us to shake their hands and tell them how good they were - which all the old people, their breath stinking of moldy tuna fish, quite enthusiastically do.  I avoid any eye contact and exit.

Will anyone ever tell them that they're bad? In their whole careers, will anyone ever tell them the truth - that they're bad? I wonder, as I make my way past the ugly stone naked people in front of the Theater Arts Center, dancing and celebrating "art" - which right at this moment is the last thing I want to "celebrate".

***

Damn it, this is serious.

Theater is a venue for the depth of the human heart, a crucible for the human spirit, a portal to the divine.  It is not, therefore, that different from church.

And I usually feel as cheated at a suburban Mass as I did at this play.  The great and serious and vital thing is missing.  Christ may be on the altar, but no one knows who He is.  The gods may be behind the curtain, but we pay money to bad actors and playwrights and singers to keep them veiled.  We think soap operas are high art; we think stilted dialogue and superficial themes and one-dimensional characters are laudable.  We think liturgical dance and statues of ugly naked people celebrating their own mindless vanity are worthy of public approval.

We take God on our tongues and go about our business.  We walk into a darkened theater and come out into the sun more covered in gloom than before.  We do what we can to flee from the light.  For the light has come into the world and men prefer darkness to light, for our deeds are evil.  And our art obscures; it no longer enlightens.

St. Paul once said of Jesus Christ,
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. - Col. 1:28
But we no longer proclaim, we never admonish (to admonish is politically incorrect, you know), and we never teach anyone with "wisdom" - which is a deep and scary thing.  And to be "fully mature in Christ"?  Come on.  I mean, come on.  How many priests or bishops or Protestant pastors would ever begin to take such a statement seriously?

For it's all puerile - it's all as far from maturity as you can get - the "worship", the ugly art, the hideous statues, the bad luncheon theater, the karaoke singing, the nonsense.

It's all puerile.

"Full maturity in Christ" is a long measure off from this.

***

Christ had forty days in the desert.  I have had about 40 hours.  But one was spent realizing that I'm far more serious about dramatic art and the Church than I care to admit.  It was a light and forgettable afternoon, but it was really no laughing matter.

Here are some photos I took on my hike up the mountain, with Phoenix in the distance.

The mountain from my dad's back yard.


Hiking up the mountain.


The suburbs below.






Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mary and the Church

A reader has written me and mentioned his confusion about Mary's role in the Church.

Here's some material from older blog posts that might help.

***
"And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." - (Mat. 11:6)
We were willing, we Episcopalians, to believe that Jesus was an alright guy, that he performed miracles, even that he rose from the dead and was in some sense God.  But we found some of the other things a tad bit embarrassing.  

The Second Coming?  Eternal life in new bodies?  Heaven and Hell?  It was all a little gauche.  

Our music was excellent, the service was elevated, the books we discussed were good; but there was this gaudy quality about certain elements in the Faith that might appeal to fanatics or to the sort of bumpkins who read tabloid newspapers, but it didn't appeal to us.

Then one day, while driving, it occurred to me that if all of the rest of it were true - and I knew by then, even a few years into my life as a Christian, that the cohesiveness alone made any real doubt impossible - if the rest of it were true, then even that wonderful thing we'd hardly have the courage to hope for was true as well - Heaven: eternal life.  And all that Second Coming stuff and the weirdness of the book of Revelation somehow was also true: some of it symbolic, some of it literal, but all of it something we had to prepare for.

The Book of Revelation: yes, the artwork is gaudy, but the truth is profound.

Eventually, I became Catholic.  As a Catholic there were many things to be embarrassed about - the dreadful music, the undermining of the Faith by the liberals, the sex scandal and the ineptness of the bishops - but I no longer held on to any of that sophisticated embarrassment about doctrine.  I plunged into the Faith and learned and lived as much as I could, doing my best to live out the beatitude, "Blessed is he who is not offended by Me."

But there is still, you know ... Mary.

Mary - the lingering embarrassment???

I mean, some of those apparition folks are bizarre, and some of the apparitions are phony, and even aside from all of that, what's the big deal?  Why all this emphasis on Mary?

Certainly, no Catholic is required to be "Marian".  The Trinity is enough to last a lifetime, if I may speak in a kind of crass way.  The Faith is very rich and complex, and nobody's forcing anybody in the Church to pay all that much attention to "the Mother of God".  Protestants may not believe this, but we are free as Catholics to approach prayer and life with Christ in whatever way works best for us.  In fact, after I became Catholic I discovered there was much less emphasis on Mary inside the Church (at Mass and in daily conversation) than I had expected there would be.

And I have been praying the Rosary daily for 12 years now, and Mary was not the obstacle for my conversion as she has been for others.  I have always known that the daily Rosary has brought me tremendous grace ... but there remained for me "Something about Mary".  Something a bit unsettling.

I suspect that's true for many of you.

I am going to suggest what that "something" is.

***

Mary serves as a kind of touchstone for Jesus.

It's very easy for Christians to give lip service to Christ - but full conversion of heart is a rare thing, and is indeed a lifelong process, even for the best of us.  And it's easy to live as a superficial Christian without appearing to take offense at Jesus Christ ("Blessed is he who is not offended by Me") while actually harboring a great deal of inner resistance and secret reservation.

But there are ways God has of drawing out of us the truth of our commitment to Him.  Mary is one way He does that.

Because here's what's really really hard for all of us to accept - He is Real.  He is the source of all that is Real.  Truth is stranger than fiction, says G. K. Chesterton, "because we have made fiction to suit ourselves."  We prefer Unreality to Reality, especially in matters of faith.

But He really is Real.  He really is God.  He really became man.  He really died on a cross.  He really rose from the dead.  He really will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

And He really had a mother.  And she really is in heaven, body and soul.  And she really does intercede for us - disconcerting and even embarrassing as that is.  But it is only adolescents who are embarrassed by their mothers.  And "Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me" must also mean, "or at anything associated with Me - including the flesh and the innocence from whom I emerged."

***

When we shun Jesus' mother, we are shunning the fullness of His incredible mission.  God as man?  That's fine theoretically - but God with a human mother who fed Him and burped Him and cleaned up after Him?  We'd rather have it less messy, thank you.  We'd rather have our God way up there and our dirty bodies way down here and that way we can indulge either one or the other without having it all get too Real.

God dying on a cross?  Disturbing, but beautiful in a sense, as an image, way up there, on the hill - far away.  But God dead and bloody in the arms of the woman who gave birth to him?!  Way too much!


A picture I took of a Pieta in a small church in rural Kansas, during one of our many trips there over the years.

And Mary, like her Son, also stands as a kind of sign of contradiction (see Luke 2:34)

Many Protestants, for example, can accept Mary in her role as Mother of God, but are offended at the notion of her purity, her virginity, her Immaculate Conception.  "Human beings are not capable of this!" we tell ourselves.  "Even with God's grace we certainly can't be pure, for goodness sakes!  Quit being so holy, Mary!  It's one thing to think that God-as-man can be perfect - but if you're also sinless and unspotted and immaculate ... well, that means that you are what all men and women were meant to be - and we can't stand to see that!  So just drop out of sight, would you?  You're embarrassing us, OK?  You're making us look bad - at least in comparison with you!"

***

The Church tells us Mary is the New Eve, the one from whom would come the One who would crush the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15).  ...   

Now why is all this so important? 

Well, for one big reason.

Jesus Christ could not be born from sin.  He could bear all sin - as He did on the cross - but he could not be born from sin, or from a sinful woman.  Holiness does not come from sin, but from grace - and grace - like the Immaculate Conception itself - is always and everywhere a miracle.

We cannot give birth to Christ in our hearts or in our lives through sin.  And the more attached we are to sin - even venial sin - the less able are we to bear Him into the world.

And if you doubt this, look at the saints who bear Him forth so well. 

Look especially at Mary.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Answers to a Soul in Torment

The Minotaur
A correspondent has written me a long email that is a cry for help from the depths of doubt.

I will paraphrase some of what this correspondent wrote to me, and give here some of the answers I gave in the email.  I hope it helps those of you who may be in a similarly painful position.  

Please pray for this soul and for all those who are, in this modern age, similarly tormented.

***

Q. Nietzsche says that Christians are searching for comfort, not truth.  What if he's right?

A. Go with Nietzsche's quote.  Search for truth, not for peace or comfort.  If God is Truth, then peace will come with God and with Truth.  Don't seek the fruits, seek the source of the fruit.  And whatever peace Christ gives is certainly not the peace of this world, and certainly not the peace we expect.  So don't feel guilty about seeking the truth.  If God is Truth we have nothing to fear from seeking truth.  If he's not Truth, then we need to know that.  Seek truth.

Q. Christian Faith can seem so false.  And yet the love of those around me seems so real.

A.  Hang on to that.  Love is transcendent.  It is one of the things that gives the lie to materialism and selfishness and utilitarianism.  Love is real.  You know that.  Follow that trail.  Love others.  Realize when others love you.  That's the way out of your trap.

Q. C. S. Lewis Lewis said that some men called themselves Christians, and worshiped, but that they did not really worship God, but rather worshiped themselves and the idol they created for themselves. 

A. Yes, it takes a life time to shed our comfortable idols and see the real God.

Q. Faith can seem reasonable, but then at times it seems like make-believe.  And what the materialists and atheists say sometimes seems very reasonable.  Why should I believe in one but not the other?

A.  Faith is just the bridge between what we know (but not fully) and how we need to live without being tormented by doubt.  You could just as well doubt that the real world exists.  It would be perfectly logical and reasonable to doubt that.  Solipsism is irrefutable.  It takes faith to escape that trap.

Q. But how do we really know Christ rose from the dead?

A. The short answer is we don't - not fully.  We weren't there.  Nobody was.  In the same way, how do we know that you were born on the day your parents said you were?  You don't.  Not fully.  You were there, but not too many others were with you and you can't remember it.  It's Faith that bridges the gap in both cases.  It's how we function.  We assent to something that is worthy of belief - not because faith is a virtue, but because we go with what seems to be true.  We know, for example, that the materialists are wrong when they say that all is matter, because form and spirit and organization and meaning and transcendence are right before our eyes every moment of every day.  They need to exercise a great deal of faith to believe the lie that they believe, for they must filter out all the evidence to the contrary.

But what evidence is there to the contrary that Jesus rose from the dead?  None.  As to the evidence that supports it, we have the tremendous witness of the early martyrs and to the first eye witnesses.  Not only that, we experience spiritual resurrection all the time.  "A Christmas Carol" and "It's a Wonderful Life" are about spiritual resurrection.  That part is valid.  It happens to people all around us.

As to physical resurrection from the dead, it is only impossible if there is no God and if He does not intervene in nature.  Even then, it's not impossible.  A materialist will tell you that if matter can die, matter can also spontaneously live.

So you can't disprove the resurrection, nor can you entirely prove it.  You treat it the way you do everything else that you know.  You say, "This seems true.  If it's true, then a whole vast puzzle begins to fit together.  If it's not true, then many things are left unexplained and make no sense.  Therefore, I make the leap of faith and assent to it."  We do that when we believe the earth is round, the sun will rise, and all that other stuff that we don't "know" for sure.

Q.  If there really is a God, why do I not have peace?

A. "My peace I give you.  Not as the world gives do I give unto you." - John 14:27.  The peace He will give you, and is giving you now, is not the peace you are expecting.  For one thing, He will root out the causes of your distress at their deepest level, and that is painful.  The peace He gives is a fruit, a result, and not a first step.

Q. I keep trying to repent of my sins, but I keep committing the same ones.  Why not just give up?  Why not just buy into the other morality that the materialists and atheists keep selling me?

A. As to your repentance, it's whatever sin you habitually give yourself to - that's what's getting in the way of your peace.  So repent.  Again and again, if you have to.  Your thorn in the flesh may be the cross you bear, this persistent sin (whatever it is), but He will eventually free you of it.  That's what He does.

As to their "other morality", it is certainly "other", but it is no "morality".  You know what's written in your heart, and so do they.  There is only one morality.

Q. If God really exists, why doesn't he show himself?

A.  He did.  He does.  Why does He demand faith and not give us certainty?  Because love operates out of free will.  If we were in a position where God's presence was undeniable to us - if He simply overwhelmed us with His existence, as He is more than capable of doing - then we would have no choice but to submit to Him and to love Him.  Free will would vanish.  We would be struck dumb and fear would dictate everything we did.  In the same way that a loud noise drowns out a quiet whisper, we'd be blinded by the light the way St. Paul was on the road to Damascus.  So He hides - but also reveals - and does a bit of both.  In the middle ground where we find ourselves, both convinced of God and yet doubting God - in that state of suspense and faltering action, there life is lived, there love operates and is exercised.

Q. Can people be selfless and yet do evil?  If that's the case, then why condemn the evil?  Why avoid what people call evil?  

A. Yes, man can be selfless and do evil.  Yes, we can make great sacrifices for false idols.  Yes, we can be "good" without our "goodness" being ordered to what is truly good.  Everything has some good in it, but if we serve a lesser good and deny a greater good - that's the definition of evil.  For instance, a man who is addicted to a sexual sin (as many of us are) is serving a good - the good of the orgasm, the good of the union he experiences with his partner, even if his partner is not his wife, and even if his partner is another man.  If there were no good in sodomy, for example, no one would engage in it.  Sanctification consists not in avoiding evil per se but in seeing what is truly good, seeing the built-in hierarchy of good, the form of goodness, the limitations of our behavior that we call the Law, and serving that greater good.  This why goodness always involves sacrifice and renunciation.  Serving a greater good means you must turn from the lesser good.  Telling the truth and suffering for it means you must renounce the lesser good of telling a lie and being comfortable because of it.

Q. Why is Christian Faith any better than the faith of Muslims or Mormons?  We criticize their faith and reject it - but what makes our faith any better than theirs?

A. Mormons and Muslims can indeed have great faith - but the question is faith in what?  Their faith is a virtue, but if their faith is misplaced, it is a wasted virtue.  How can you be sure that Christian faith is not a wasted virtue?  My answer: love one another.  That is the Only Real Commandment.  Love one another.  Then it will start to make sense and your doubts will torment you less and less.

Love is transcendent.  Follow that.  God is Love and God is Truth, Christians are told.  If that is true, then Love is Truth and Truth is Love.

You are obviously a very loving person.  Follow that thread.  That's Ariadne's thread.  It will get you out of the maze and away from the monstrous Minotaur.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Limits of Our Faith

The biggest temptation of self-styled "religious" people is pride.

That is to say we think that, since we're religious, we're better than others.  This is especially tempting to think if we've paid some sort of price for our faith - if we've lost friends or given up what could have been great sex outside of marriage or told the truth and suffered the consequences when a little white lie would have made everything so easy.  So jealousy plays a part too.  "If I'm not having the kind of fun my wild friend Bill is having - who, even though he calls himself a Christian, drinks and sleeps around and makes a lot of money in some very dishonest ways - if I'm not gettin' what he's gettin', I must be holier than thou ... or at least holier than Bill."

But we forget - especially if no one reminds us - that the point of our faith is not self-satisfaction, not jealousy, not pride, not a sense of moral superiority.  The point of our faith is love.

And we forget - even though we are sustained by love - what love is capable of, and what a God who is love really is and really does.

As I wrote to a friend the other day ...

The Incarnation shows us that there is nothing that God is squeamish about.  You and I are squeamish and we draw back from the down and dirty part of reality.  But Jesus Christ does not.  He is right there with every victim, every addict, every murderer and cheat, every moral monster and sexual pervert.  There is nothing so bad that Love cannot redeem it.  Mother Teresa could pick the worms out of the skin of a dying homeless man.  God died even for Hitler.

One of the things you and I have in common is a lively imagination and an over-sensitivity that old Jack Lewis also shared.  It makes it easy for us to imagine in a very real way a God who is much different than what He really is.  When our bubbles start to burst and we find situations that are less than pretty, it's hard to picture the pristine God of our dreams getting involved in something so sordid or jarring or messy.  The God of our imaginations (our fuzzy-perfect-God) is not the God who roots through the garbage to save a soul - that's not what we picture him to be.

But it's our image of God that's off, not God Himself.  Whatever shame or sin is at the heart of any problem, He's going right at it. 

With that in mind, consider Woody Allen.

Let me say, to begin with, that we know he's a child molester.  No normal man marries his teen-aged step daughter.  A man who would do that would do what Dylan Farrow has accused him of, especially when the accusation rings as true as it does.  (Also, incidentally, the entire argument of his movie Manhattan is that romance trumps all convention, especially when a grown man loves a teen-aged girl, as a middle-aged Woody does in that movie - if memory serves me).

20 years ago some people got a kick out of pretending that we didn't know if OJ killed two people, or if Clinton was with that intern.  "How dare we judge!" some people would say, and some people would get a false sense of moral superiority from saying that.

Well, having a sense of moral superiority is not what life is about any more than having a pretty idol serving as a stand-in for your god is what faith is really about.  Common sense sees things that squeamishness won't.

Oh, and dirty old men and very young women is nothing that a sinner like me should get all morally superior about.  Yes, what Woody did crossed the line - in a horrible way that had nothing to do with sex whatsoever - but all of us dirty old men know that we're blurring that line all the time, in our hearts at least.  Indeed, there is something pathological about abusing anyone - but look at what we've learned on this blog alone.  When the issue of sex abuse came up a few years back, some of my most "devout" and "super-Catholic" readers were adamant that statutory rape was nothing but a legal fiction, period.  Since the age of consent is somewhat arbitrary, they argued that the entire concept of consent was arbitrary.  If I were foolish enough still to allow comments on this blog, I guarantee you that the whole can of worms would open up again and "serious Christians" would be telling me that an old guy and a fifteen year old is not that big a deal, and what's wrong with anime, after all?

This is a much darker problem than we'd care to admit.

But here a writer deals with it in a very forthright and Christian way (though the article is entirely secular).

One quote (emphasis mine) ...

Those of us who were abused by a family member, or a family friend, have shared banal time and space with the sort of people who molest kids. We have sat in their cars in traffic and gone to diners with them, watched them scarf cheeseburgers or try to quit smoking, need an aspirin. And mostly, they are not utter sociopaths or sadists.
We are in the paradoxical situation of being subject to pure evil and knowing from experience that its representatives are rarely pure evil themselves. No one is. We have almost certainly seen at least a flicker of innocent joy or generosity in their face. We have puzzled over this person who hurt us, and considered the fact that they too were children once. And we know that many of them were also sexually abused as children. At some point in healing, we just know that there will never be, could never be enough jails to contain this – that it would never work anyway ...

And also ...

We don't really just condemn the sexualization of children. Instead, we condemn the very existence of child abuse altogether. It's as if the crime includes being victimized by it, or [being] responsible for bringing it into the light. We take an ontological roach spray to the whole event, either denying its status in reality altogether, or competing with one another to proclaim the most exquisite forms of torture for the perpetrators. I can't count how many times I've seen the most strident liberal break character to loudly call for the prison rape of perpetrators.
That this darkness is actually woven into and throughout the fabric of our society—that these abusers are among us—is simply too much to bear. So the darkness is ignored except for the most distilled, theatrical, and viscerally repellent cases.

We are a confounding mixture of good and evil - and it is only the God of the Smelly Manger and the Bloody Cross who redeems us.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

My Life in Show Business

Here's a run down of the past 72 hours.
  • On Thursday, I worked from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm recording and editing the audio book version of In His Image by James Beau-Seigneur.  This is exhausting, as it requires sitting in one position and performing all the characters and reading aloud for (in this case) 10 1/2 hours.  I have to pull marathon sessions like this, as the deadline is looming and I'm rather busy with other stuff (as you'll see below).
  • At 6:00 pm I auditioned an actor.  He showed up at the front door and I noticed his car was still running in the driveway.  "Is someone in your car or are you just going to keep it running?" I asked him.  "That's my husband, George," he answered.  "He'll just wait for me."
  • After a quick dinner, I answered emails and dealt with the issue of recasting two shows to replace an actress who just discovered she's pregnant - five months pregnant (something the gay guy who auditioned for me and his "husband George" won't ever have to worry about).  She'll be seven and eight months along by the time the shows are performed.  To replace her, I'll probably have to fly in an actress from Kansas City for at least one of the shows.
  • At 8:30 pm rehearsal began for The Valentine Dialogues, which I am directing.  Gary, Dave and Maria are in this show, and they all are doing an excellent job.  We rehearsed until 10:30.
  • Up early on Friday to fit in as much work as possible before heading to Ladue to tutor a homeschool student.  I am teaching her a little bit of everything - and all day Friday it was Geometry.
  • I ended tutoring a bit early, had a quick lunch in the car and drove 3 hours to Higginsville, MO, where I checked in to the Super Eight.
  • From Higginsville, I drove another hour to Liberty, MO where my actress and I performed Pretty Woman of Death at Belvoir Winery, north of Kansas City.  It was about 10 degrees outside and the heat was not working in our performance space at the winery.  So I helped the manager set up table and chairs in a rush in a room in the warm part of the building as people were arriving.
  • Quickly went over lines with my actress, Jamie, backstage.  She had never done this show before.  Realized at the last minute that I was missing a costume piece, a neck tie.  Had to wear a bow tie instead.
  • Finished the show and drove one hour back to Higginsville.  Slept - sort of - at the Super Eight.  It probably got below zero at night.
  • Got up and worked from 8:30 am to 10:00 am, mostly answering emails and entering email addresses from folks who signed up for our newsletter the night before.
  • Then I drove 3 hours to St. Louis.  A guy on the interstate cut me off, pulling right in front of me while changing lanes.  When I honked at him, he flipped me off.  Arrived home at 1:00 pm.
  • Gulped down lunch between 1:00 and 1:15.
  • At 1:15, actress Maria Romine showed up and she and I loaded my sound system into the back seat of my car.
  • Drove 2 hours to Kokopelli Golf Club in Carbondale, IL with Maria, while listening to most of the chapters of the audio book I recorded.
  • Arrived at Kokopelli.  Carted in speakers, amp, wireless headset mikes and other gear, set up and tested sound for Gary and Julie's performance of Who Wants to Murder a Millionaire later that night.
  • Left Kokopelli and drove to the Carbondale Goodwill.  Bought a new jacket for one of the characters I was portraying tonight at Pheasant Hollow Winery in Whittington, IL.
  • Drove a half hour to Pheasant Hollow.  Performed Pretty Woman of Death - this time with Maria.  Ate dinner in the storage closet (which is our green room) during intermission.  The show went very well and Maria got a standing ovation from two horny old guys in the corner, who liked both her acting and her costume (she plays a prostitute).  
  • Talked to Gary, who said the show went well at Kokopelli and that he was tearing down the sound system and taking it back to his place - since he'll need it in Peoria on Saturday for the Theater of the Word show there. 
  • Drove 2 hours home to St. Louis, still listening to In His Image.  Apparently I recorded 11 chapters and about 6 hours of material this week.
  • Got home at about 11:00 pm.  First chance to rest since 7:30 in the morning last Thursday.  The cat was crying in the basement.  Nobody had fed her.  "Kerry," I said to my daughter, "would you feed the cat - I'm kind of worn out."

Next week - more tutoring, audio recording and producing, another rehearsal, gathering costumes and props for next weekend's shows, another drive to Kansas City and back and a flight to Arizona to see my dad and check out a winery that wants us to perform there.

Meanwhile, I have to go to bed - to get up early for Mass!  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Joseph Pearce and J. R. R. Tolkien

In case you haven't seen it, Marcus Grodi interviewed Joseph Pearce on The Journey Home this week.  Joseph talks about his journey from hate-filled neo-Nazi skinhead and prison inmate to loving Christian author, husband and father.  It's a remarkable story, and Joseph tells it as well in his book Race with the Devil.  

You can watch the interview repeated on EWTN throughout the week, or on Youtube or simply by watching it right here below.




Meanwhile, Joseph Pearce has been tirelessly promoting the Catholicism of J. R. R. Tolkien as a key to reading The Lord of the Rings.  

And it seems Rome is catching on!  See the article on page 12 of this issue of L'Osservatore Romano
(Thanks to my friend Stan Metheny for pointing this out to me).


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Good Books and Good Blogs


My friend Jim Ridley has started Goodbooks Media, a Catholic publishing organization and clearing house for good Catholic writing.

I am proud to say that he is featuring a link to this blog as well as to the Christian Shakespeare site, Rhonda Chervin's blog, and Kevin Aldrich's The Catholic Imagination.  We're all on Goodbooks' Blog page, but check out the rest of the site for other cool stuff!


God is my Manager

This piece I wrote on artist Ali Cavanaugh originally ran in the St. Austin Review.

I'm republishing it here for two reasons: 1. to convince my readers to subscribe to the StAR, and 2. because Ali is an amazing person, and she recently passed along to me some ideas about Acting and the Faith, which I hope to post here in the next few days.

Hope you enjoy it!

***

Painting by Ali Cavanaugh

“God is my manager,” Ali Cavanaugh said to me as we sat at a charming restaurant in the French colonial town of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, about an hour south of St. Louis.
“He’s my manager, and I’m not kidding.  He manages my career.  I give Him that job and He takes it.  I ask Him to work on the hearts of those who should buy my art, of those who should book my work in galleries, and then I forget about it.  
“This makes rejection much easier to handle,” she adds.  “I submitted to three shows this spring, and did not get included in any of them.  But I honestly don’t worry about that.  God’s in charge of that.  He’s out there while I work in the studio.”
And while God’s out there – who’s “in here” with Ali?
“I have different statues of the Blessed Mother, to have her presence around me as I’m creating.  She’s in the studio – right there with me and the kids and the work.”
Ali Cavanaugh’s studio is in her home in this small Mississippi River town.  She and her husband Brett are raising four children, from age seventeen to a newborn.  Brett works outside the home during the day, while Ali tends the kids and paints.
Her paintings – which are a kind of fresco - watercolor on top of a cream colored clay surface - have won international acclaim, and Mrs. Cavanaugh is actually quite a celebrity in the art world.  And yet she would strike you as she struck me – a normal, sane, caring woman with a light behind her eyes and a great devotion to Jesus through Mary.
As you can see by touring her website, alicavanaugh.com, the light behind Ali’s eyes also shows up in her work.  Light and its clarity seem to spring forth from her pictures, which are figure studies of her daughter Niamh – an Irish name that means “light” or “brilliance”.  The eyes of her figures, though rarely shown, shine with this same mysterious brilliance.
“People always say to me, ‘There’s just something happening in your work’,” Ali observes.  “That’s just the Holy Spirit they’re sensing,” she says.  “And the influence of the Blessed Mother, who led me to the surface – to the light.”
Ali’s journey of faith – her journey to the light - begins when she was a Baptist.  After marrying Brett, who was a nominal Catholic, the couple moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to be in the midst of the art community there.  The statues, artwork and architecture of the old churches in Santa Fe captivated Ali, who decided to enter RCIA – the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults – at her local parish, and become Catholic.  
“I wanted to be Catholic without concern for doctrines,” Ali says.  “And the RCIA I attended was very helpful in that regard.  I was told that contraception and abortion and other moral teachings could be safely ignored.  And that’s not why I was becoming Catholic anyway.
“What drew me to the Catholic Church was the beauty of its art – which seemed inexhaustible to me.”
She adds: “I didn’t realize that there was this whole world that was inexhaustible.”
This was a world that Ali discovered – as many American Catholics do – through EWTN.  And she discovered EWTN because of her work as an artist.
With the help of a mentor in Santa Fe, Ali began to look at her work more from a business perspective.  Changing her medium so that her work could be displayed on a surface that need not be covered by glass was the catalyst that suddenly skyrocketed her career.  Before 2006, her work was with oils, heavy and dark.  But as soon as she switched to her new technique of watercolor on clay, everything “lightened up”.  She won seven commissions from her displays at the Affordable Art Fair in New York City in 2006.   “You were a rock star!” the rep for that fair told Ali.  “Everyone was freaking out about your paintings!”  She now works full time in her studio, and is still backlogged, struggling to catch up with existing orders.
Another piece by Ali.
Ali, who was a photography minor in college, works from photos when she paints.  “The great thrill for me is taking the pictures – that’s where the inspiration and the composition happens.  That’s where I see the way the light plays, that’s where the excitement is.”
But the perspiration that follows the inspiration is the detail work of painting from these pictures.  “I use the smallest brush there is,” Ali says, “and the work can be quite isolating and lonely.  If it weren’t for EWTN Radio, I’d be lost.”
Ali listens to EWTN Radio streaming on her computer, as she – and the Blessed Mother – work every day in her studio – during the baby’s naps and at night when her husband comes home.
“The best of the best are on the radio,” Ali exclaims.  And it was this ongoing catechesis that made sense of the Catholic Church for her after her lukewarm conversion and heterodox RCIA.  
Ali notes, “This all lines up with my more serious conversion.  My career, my conversion, and my relationship with the Blessed Mother – they all go together.”
Ali concludes, “There was never a time when the Church did not wholeheartedly support the arts.  To have true beauty, you have to operate in truth.  But I see so many artists wasting their time on things that are pure evil.”
Ali finished her lunch and we walked out onto the streets of this old town, founded by French Catholics almost three hundred years ago, a town whose main features are a beautiful old Church and a number of antique shops featuring arts and crafts.
“For art to be true, your heart has to be with God,” Ali says.
Perhaps this is the real light that shines out through Ali’s work.  

For more information, visit www.alicavanaugh.com .