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Where Does it All Lead?


When I tell people that I am enrolled in the Master of Sacred Arts program at Pontifex University, I usually get the same response, well the same two responses. First they seem impressed that I am taking on a graduate program at my age, apparently there is a societal consensus that higher education is for the under-30 crowd.

But the second response is a question. It is the same question phrased in different ways. “What are you going to do with that?” “Can you land a job with that degree?” or “Where will that take you?” And I always give more or less the same answer, “I’m taking advantage of an opportunity, and waiting to see what doors God will open for me.”

In one of our recent classes, during a sidebar conversation, Fr. Sebastian, the instructor, pointed out that there are many Catholic institutions that make financial decisions based on investment strategies and return on investment. Most of these institutions are struggling financially. Father opined that they would be better off making decisions based on what is best for the Kingdom of God, and the money would follow.

I see the same mentality when I talk with other artists about forming a group that offers conversation, mutual support, and a sharing of ideas. Sooner or later the conversation always turns on ways the artists can sell their work, usually through shows, competitors, and the ever elusive “exposure.” I can’t really blame the artists, this is how society teaches us to think, and artists, like everyone else, have families to support and responsibilities to meet.

But it is time we started to shift our thinking and worry less about how society judges us in terms of our financial value and worry more about using our gifts to build up the Kingdom. God will take care of the rest.

Ron DiCianni is a popular successful artist. If you do not know the name you undoubtedly have seen his work. Ron has an interesting story.

His mother nearly aborted him. She changed her mind at the last moment. She was on the table and the doctor had a syringe in his hand. But at the last moment she pushed him away, walked out, and never looked back.

Ron recognized his calling early in life. At a youth evangelist meeting of approximately 2000 young people, he was singled out for an altar call. The evangelist leading the meeting asked Ron if he knew that God had chosen him. Ron said yes, even then wondering how he was going to explain this to his friends on the van ride home.

Ron worked his way through art school and was met with encouragement from his instructors. He also received financial aid that he sees as God working on his behalf. Inches first year of school he told an instructor that someday he would devote his talents the Christian community, in hopes of being involved in a second Renaissance.

He was shocked by the instructor’s response. The instructor told DiCianni that it would never happen, the church was uninterested in aesthetics and there would be no budget or support for Ron’s art there. He suggested Ron take his talents into advertising.

And, sadly, Ron found out  his instructor was right. The church had no interest  in using his art for anything other than decoration. Consequently his career went in a secular direction where he achieved success beyond the wildest dreams of any artist.

He has worked for some of America’s largest corporations. The highpoint of his career came when he was named the official illustrator for the Moscow Olympics in 1980. The ad agency told him that after this 99% of America would know his name.

But America boycotted the 1980 Olympics and Ron’s opportunity vanished.

Ron and his wife were stunned by the news. But looking back He sees the setback as providential. Had the Olympics gone through, he almost certainly would have chosen a different road and missed God’s plan for him. He didn’t see it at the time, but since then he has come to “Trust in the Lord with all his heart and lean not on his own understanding.”

His career continued to progress but he never lost the passion to serve his brothers and sisters. After a turning point in his life, the details of which he keeps private, he founded the Masterpiece Collection and as he puts it, “discipled” other Christian artists who have been successful in the secular market. He is now going his part to foster a second Renaissance, a new springtime in the arts.

So the message for all artists of every type, for everyone really, is to do what is best for the Kingdom of God, and be prepared to go through the doors He opens for you.

How a Catholic Understanding of the Human Person Can Revolutionize the Economics of Health Provision (and the Beauty of Hospital Buildings)

I attended a talk on healthcare at Star of the Sea Catholic Church in San Francisco last week given by Pontifex University professor, Dr Michel Accad. Much of the talk was devoted to consideration of the options that Catholics have for affordible healthcare. He spoke in detail about sharing ministries (such as Samaritan); and how many general practitioners are structuring their practices in a new way so that they are employed directly by the patient and act as their advocate. This is in contrast to the usual arrangement where the doctor effectively becomes an agent who sells treatments and drugs for the providers to the payer, who is not the patient, but the insurance company. In his new model, in contrast Dr Accad is motivated to act on behalf of the patient first, and so is an advocate for him, striving for example to bring down the cost of treatments and drugs by negotiating with pharmaceutical companies. He is also able to devote much more time to their care. Furthermore, it enables him to offer treatment that is in accord with Catholic social teaching.

He opened up his talk by asking the question: who here thinks healthcare in this country is going well? No hands went up. He then described how it is possible to have healthcare options that allow for the flourishing of the patient as a human person – body, soul and spirit – and a relationship between doctor and patient that is fruitful for both patient and care provider. In the Q &A session afterwards, it became apparent from the discussion that this was of interest not only to currently disgruntled patients but also to doctors who are frustrated that they cannot give the sort of treament they would like to give. Several spoke of this frustration under the current system.

Dr Accad is a medical doctor (qualified both as a general practitioner and as a cardiologist) who is able to take a broad view of the crucial issues involved. He is one of those rare people who is simultaneously able to analyse the details and to synthesise it all into the big picture. A committed Catholic he writes about medicine and is published in peer reviewed medical journals; he writes about the philosophy of nature and philosophical anthropology and has been published in The Thomist; and he has delivered papers on the economics of healthcare at the Mises Institute. He also has a popular blog on how these issues impact the medical profession called

Of course, I was interested in the details of how one might have access to affordible health care that is aligned with Catholic social teaching and imbued with genuine consideration of the patient as a person (and if you are interested in this I suggest you contact him through his blog, here). But aside from that what I found fascinating what his description of how so many of the problems associated with healthcare today, even before Obamacare, eminate from a dualistic understanding of the human person as a physical body occupied by a thinking soul; rather than a profound unity of body and soul as a single entity.  This is not a bad thing in itself, a deep understanding of how the physical function fo the body work as has lead to great strides in medicine; but it does place limitations on the scope of treatment through a neglect of the happiness of the person and his spiritual needs. If the underlying problem is spiritual, for example, while treatments might cause the physical symptoms to be alleviated, physical ailments might resurfacing in other forms.

And it runs even more deeply than that. Without a clear picture of what human person is, the idea of a health as a goal for treatment is not clearly defined either. This has lead over the last 100 years or so, to the creation of a  ‘health market’ which has been engineered to serve that idea of a human being as machine – as an object to be repaired; rather than as a person who needs health in order to direct his activity towards his ultimate end, which is union with God. Consequently, the patient occupies a role in this financial model that is more akin to the car in the repair shop, in which the insurance company is the car owner and the doctor is the mechanic. While this model might work well for cars, when the doctor’s surgery becomes a glorified human ‘body shop’ the misalignment and conflict of interests and goals leads to secondary (and more) problems in health care. As soon as the current system, under the guidance of government began to be introduced in the early 20th century, it caused escalating costs because there is no incentive for the key players to keep costs down on behalf of the patient. The doctor seeks to serve first the specialist treatment providers, pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies, rather focussing primarily on the improvement and maintainance of the health of the patient (however we define the word).

Those who wish to know more about the connection between the structuring of the health market and anthropology might be interested in reading (or listening) to Dr Accad’s talk on the subject given to the Mises Institute last year, which can be accessed via his blog, here: From Reacting Maching to Acting Person.

Dr Accad is currently preparing material for his first course for Pontifex University on the Philosophy of Nature and Philosophical Anthropology. He is a wondeful addition to our faculty precisely because of his ability to draw themes from one area of expertise into application in another. This ability to think synthetically is what the whole education at Pontifex is devoted to, and it is why a formation in beauty is right at the heart of what we do. When one apprehends the beauty of something , one is able to see not only how it’s parts are in right relation to the others (due proportion); but also how the whole is in accord with its purpose and in right relationship with all that surrounds it (integritas). In short one is able to look at the detail (analysis) and place it in the bigger picture (synthesis). This is why beauty and culture (which touches every aspect of human life, including economics and health provision) are so intimately related.

As Catholics we must strive always to take that mental step away from whatever field of study we are engaged in and ask ourselves the big question – how does this relate to man’s goal of union with God through worship of Him in the heavenly liturgy, in the next life, and the earthly liturgy in this.

We will hear more about the work of Dr Accad in the future!


St John of God, by Murillo (Spanish, 17th century). 

Afterword: St John of God, (1495 – 1550) was a Portugese born soldier who founded a hospital in Granada, Spain and whose followers later formed the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, dedicated to the care of the poor, sick, and those suffering from mental disorders.

How many doctors today are taught of the need for God’s grace in their work for the benefit of both patient and doctor, I wonder? One only has to look at the design of hospital buildings past and present to see how differently the provision of care was considered. Below are photographs of the exterior and interior of the Hospital de Tavera, Toledo, Spain, built in the 16th century (which today is a museum housing many El Greco paintings):



and here is a standard National Health Service hospital building, in Darlington County Durham in England:


The standard criticism of the modern building is that it is only designed for utility, hence its depression appearance. I would argue something different: in my opinion beauty does have a utility, which is to raise hearts and minds to God. That is when a hospital is building is beautiful, it’s beauty helps serve the spiritual needs of tall the people in the care community it houses, and for good of all concerned. Furthermore, just as the person is a profound unity of body and soul, the hospital should be a profound unity of design that aids the function of restoring the health of the all aspects of the human person. Such a hospital will be beautiful and will optimise its functionality of the provision of both spiritual care and physical care. It is no accident that the hospital, just like and educational institution built in this time, has the look of a monastery. Both institutinons have aims that cannot be separated from the supernatural end of the human person and both aim to engender a community in which all work toward this end for themselves and others.

Here’s another example, Broadmoor Hospital was purpose built as a prison for criminally insane and houses some of Britains most violent and notorious convicted criminals.


Those who are committed to its care are almost certainly going to live the rest of their natural lives behind its walls. The original building was completed in the mid-19th century. It does not have the cloisters and prayerful feel of the 16th century Spanish hospital, I suggest, but nevertheless it is a listed building. The prison/hospital is currently being redeveloped and there has been discussion as to what use the original building will be put to. Newspaper reports suggest that one suggestion is to turn it into a luxury hotel. While I am sure that it was not pleasant to be an inmate there, it seems that in some ways our Victorian forebears had greater insight about the need for the care of the souls of the most reviled members of society than modern society and how to do it.

The Darlington hospital no doubt has dedicated staff and patients receive the best that the National Health Service in the UK has to offer and the National Health Service has its problems too for similar reasons at root, although manifested in different ways (It is interesting to note that while the quality of care in many measures is not a good as that offered by the America system, satisfaction of patients is based upon anecdotal evidence, higher). Regardless, the design of the building tells us something about how the human person who is to be treated is viewed, I suggest. I would argue that it is not even the optimal design if the provision of physical care, for the physical and spiritual cannot be separated. The building of beautiful hosptials is not an extravagance, but ought be considered a necessity that will give us the most highly functional hospitals by any measure. As we can see through Dr Accad’s discussion of the provision of healthcare, care of body and soul cannot be separated, just as body and soul cannot, in reality, be separated in the person being cared for.

Neglecting the spiritual aspects of man will almost certainly affect detrimentally the care of even man-as-machine in ways that cannot always be anticipated. Let us be clear. Wrong anthropology does not suddenly invalidate modern medicine or its methods. It simply allows to locate the source of the problems that remain with the recognition there is more to be done. Once we recognize that man is a single entity that is both physical and spiritual who is made to worship of the God in the sacred liturgy and that this is the activity that all others are ordered to in this life, then we have the greatest chance of restoring all aspects of human health (and having beautiful hospitals once again!).

How Artists and Photographers Change What is Seen

I was walking through the neighbourhood yesterday enjoying the gentle sunshine and I saw a beautiful magnolia tree in bloom. Here is the photograph I took:


Lovely though this is, I was disappointed. What I saw in my mind’s eye as I looked upwards to the sky was an image like this Chinese watercolor of magnolia blossoms:


Although I must have been able to ‘see’ every branch and the background details of the California magnolia tree because they were reflected on my retina, I was focussing my attention on a few isolated branches and delighting in the beauty of the blooms. So appreciated it as a scene that looked like a Chinese watercolor – I remember thinking that as I looked at it. Then when I tried to take the snap I couldn’t isolate a single branch in the photograph.

It is part of the skill of the artist, to know what to leave out without it giving the impression that something is missing. Chinese and Japanese naturalistic artistic tradition has developed very well the representation of what is in our mind’s eye – what we are noticing and missing out what is present but unnoticed.

This is a skill that Christian artists, whether European (or Chinese or Japanese for that matter) should develop, for man is made to see nature in a certain way, so that in his appreciation of its beauty, he is drawn beyond it to the Creator. For traditional Chinese painters, the beauty of nature directed them to ‘heaven’, albeit an empty heaven, a place of perfect order but without God. Nevertheless the understanding of man’s natural way of looking at nature that is reflected in their paintings is consistent with devices that Christian artists used in, for example, baroque art. The baroque artist sought to direct the viewer to the Creator in heaven.

This similarity of purpose is why historically, when European and Far Eastern cultures have met, the artistic styles have fed naturally into one another. For example, when artists in France in the 19th century saw compositions that looked like this:


It affected their compositional style. When Van Gogh wanted to represent beautiful almond blossom, he did it like this:


Botanical artists have always approached the subject in a similar way. Although this is to highlight the main features of the species for scientific classification, they are painted with the eye of an artist who sees the beauty in the subject too. This one is by Mary Hardin:


It is this emphasis on drawing and observation that is consistent with a Christian worldview that causes me to encourage people want to learn to draw and paint to spend some time learning this style of painting. What you learn would have application in many other styles of art, including sacred art, I suggest.

So does this reduce photography to a lesser art? Not all. The skilled photographer is not the slave of his tool, but the master of it. He knows how to use a camera to draw out just the same things. He has to draw our attention to the natural foci of interest in a different way to that of the painter, however, using compositional sense (varying the angle of view and controlling the framing of the image for example); varying focus. This is why I am not averse to electronic manipulation of the image using computer technology. While it can be used badly, ie alteration of the female form in glamor photography so as to encourage a disordered reaction, it can also be done well and responsibly. Someone who understands how to use it can, potentially, change what is there so as to draw out invisible tools as much as the painter.



Fr Sebastian Carnazzo Celebrates Outreach Melkite Liturgy in Berkeley California

I have the date for the outreach Melkite Divine Liturgy in Berkeley for the month of February. It is at 5pm this Saturday (2/18), once again at the Gesu Chapel of the Jesuit School of Theology, 1735 Le Roy Ave., Berkeley, California. As before, dinner will provided following the liturgy.

This is an outreach of St Elias Melkite Catholic Church, which is based at Los Gatos, California. The liturgy will be celebrated by Pontifex University’s own Fr Sebastian Carnazzo, the pastor of St Elias, and Fr Christopher Hadley who teaches at the Jesuit School of Theology.

The Melkite chants of the Divine Liturgy in both English and Arabic and this liturgy will be predominantly in English. I encourage you to look it up, here.

Mark your calendars and plan to attend both the liturgy and dinner if possible.

Fr Sebastian also makes his weekly parish scripture and Church Fathers study available free via live video conference or recorded. Access is through the St Elias It is free and I would encourage all to investigate. I have been sitting on his video class, the Bible and the Liturgy which he is offering for Pontifex University which is in the core of our Masters in Sacred Arts course. I would say his description of how the bible through content and structure is fundamentally a liturgical text, which catechizes deeply through the pattern of the sacred liturgy, is as inspiring a series of talks on the liturgy that I have ever heard. He currently teaches for the Archdiocese of San Francisco and for several years taught at the FSSP seminary in Nebraska.

Here is Fr Sebastian celebrating the liturgy at St Elias:

St Theresa of Avila and the Antidote to the Age of Noise, by Bishop James Conley

I would encourage all to visit the website of the  Southern Nebraska Register. This is the newspaper for the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. Bishop James Conley, the Bishop of Lincoln, contributes regularly and his writings are worthy of study. He has a strong interest in the connection between the practice of the Faith, with the worship of God in the sacred liturgy at its heart, and its impact on every aspect of the culture. This is further indicated by the beautiful new church at the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska and the Great Books programs that he has intiated at the Newman Institute there and which focus on the how the beauty of a Christian culture draws us to the Faith.


This week Bishop Conley writes:

conleyMore than 70 years ago, the English satirist Aldous Huxley wrote that modernity is the “age of noise.” He was writing about the radio, whose noise, he said “penetrates the mind, filling it with a babel of distractions – news items, mutually irrelevant bits of information, blasts of corybantic or sentimental music, continually repeated doses of drama that bring no catharsis.”

If Huxley had lived into the 21st century, he would have seen the age of noise redoubled and amplified beyond the radio, first to our televisions, and then to our tablets and mobile devices, machines which bring distraction, and “doses of drama,” with us wherever we go. We are, today, awash in information, assaulted, often, with tweets and pundits analyzing the latest crisis in Washington, or difficulty in the Church, or serious social, political, or environmental issue. It can become, for many people, overwhelming.

To be sure, we have a responsibility as faithful Catholics to be aware of the world and its challenges, and to be engaged in the cultural and political affairs of our communities. We cannot shirk or opt out from that responsibility. But we are living at a moment of constant urgencies and crises, the “tyranny of the immediate,” where reactions to the latest news unfold at a breakneck pace, often before much thought, reflection or consideration. We are living at a moment where argument precedes analysis, and outrage, or feigned outrage, has become an ordinary kind of virtue signaling—a way of conveying the “right” responses to social issues in order to boost our social standing.

The 2016 presidential election was a two-year slog of platitudinous and superficial argument, and now that the election is over, that argument seems interminable. No person can sustain the kind of noise—polemical, shrill, and reactive—which has become a substitute for conversation in contemporary culture. Nor should any person try. The “age of noise” diminishes virtue, and charity, and imagination, replacing them with anxiety, and worry, and exhaustion.

The Lord didn’t make us for this kind of noise. He made us for conversation, for exchange and communion. And our political community depends upon real deliberation: serious debate and activism over serious subjects. But the Lord also made us for silence. For contemplation. For quietude. And without these things anchoring our lives, and our hearts, the age of noise transforms us, fostering in our hearts reactive and uncharitable intemperance that characterizes the media and social media spaces which shape our culture.

The age of noise is grinding away at our souls.

In the second century, just 100 years after Christ’s Ascension, an anonymous Christian disciple wrote a letter to a man named Diognetus, telling him something about the lives and practices of early Christians. “There is something extraordinary about their lives,” he wrote. “They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through…. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven.”

When our friends and neighbors look to us, as disciples of Jesus, they should see that there is something extraordinary about our lives: that although we live fully in our nation, we are, first, citizens of heaven. This means that we must live differently, in the age of noise. We must speak, and act, and think differently. In the words of St. Paul, we must “not be conformed to this world,” to the age of noise, “but be transformed by the renewal of our minds.” We must be, in the best sense of the word, “counter-cultural.”

To be citizens of heaven, we must be detached from the noise of this world. We must participate fully in cultural, and political, and public life, but we must entrust the outcomes of our participation to the Lord. We must detach ourselves from the news cycles, and social media arguments, and television pundits, which inflame our anger, or provoke our anxiety, or which shift our focus from the eternal to the fleeting and temporal.

My good friend Chris Stefanick, a wise speaker and author, wrote last week that we should “read less news,” and “read more Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.” He’s right. We won’t be happier, or wiser, or more peaceful because we consume more of the “age of noise” than we need. Of course, we should be engaged in current affairs. But we’ll be truly happy, through Jesus Christ, when we spend far more time reading Scripture, and spending time before the Lord in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

We’ll be free from the anxiety and worry of the “age of noise” when times of prayer, and silence, are regular facets of our day. We’ll be detached from false crises and urgency of the culture of outrage when we do our small part, and then entrust the affairs of this world to the Lord. We’ll also be, when we quiet the “age of noise” in our hearts, the leaders of wisdom and virtue which our culture desperately needs, right now.

Saint Teresa of Avila, the great Carmelite mystic, wrote a small poem which should guide us in the “age of noise” —

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

The noise of our culture is designed to disturb and frighten us, and to distract from the unchanging and ever-loving God. But in silent prayer and contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament, we can turn down the noise, and the Lord himself can calm our hearts and renew our minds. To live extraordinary lives, as citizens of heaven before all else, it’s time that we turn down the “age of noise.”


Teresa of Avila, 1827, by Francois Pascal Simon Gerard, Infirmerie Marie-Thérèse, Paris

Afterword by David Clayton: I chose to add this particular painting of St Theresa to Bishop Conley’s article because, unlike other more famous images this shows her in what we are more likely to think of as a contemplative state – one that suggests peace.

At first sight this contrasts with the more well known, but nevertheless strikingly beautiful sculpture of her by Bernini, to take one example, and which indicates the power of God by portraying her in ecstacy during a vision. However, it seems to me that these are not contradictory. Rather,  both are attempts to portray a saint who experiences peace, albeit a special sort of peace. This peace is a supernatural reality, a peace that is more powerful than the noise of the modern world, as Bishop Conley points out. I always have a tendency to think of peace as the absence of noise, rather than the presence of something positive that engenders calm; but it strikes me that the juxtoposition of these two images points us, through their portrayal of different facets of the same precious jewel, to the awesome power of God that is simultaneously dynamic and peaceful. This is after all a peace that ‘passeth understanding’. Furthermore in Bernini’s statue St Theresa is experiencing, according to my understanding of the meaning of the word what the goal of contemplation is – to be receptive to a gift from God, should he choose to give it to us, in which he makes Himself know to us supernaturally. In that sense one might even argue that it is even more intensly contemplative than Gerard’s painting.

I cannot say for certain that it was Bernini’s intention, and I may well be seeing what I am trying to look for, but I see in the face of St Theresa a calmness at the center of the vigorous motion that is suggest by the rest of the sculpture. Regardless, if I was sculpting her…and had the capabilities…that is how I would sculpt it!





Hope For Catholic Healthcare

Talk by Pontifex University Faculty Member in San Francisco on Sunday, 12th February. This is About Genuinely Affordable Healthcare. But it Goes Much Deeper Than That.

Dr Michel Accad, will talk at Star of the Sea Catholic Church in San Francisco this Sunday evening about the provision of authentically Catholic healthcare.

Dr Accad is one of a rare breed. A faithful Catholic who is respected as an original thinker in different subjects that bring all he knows together in harmony –  in the consideration of the health of the person in his practice as a medical doctor.

He has published numerous articles on on medicine and is respected in both the secular and Catholic medical communities; he has also published on natural philosophy (for The Thomist); and he is an advocate of a society based upon a culture of faith, beauty and free market principles, especially Austrian economics, who has spoken at the Mises Institute.

He is also a practising medical doctor who has been thinking deeply about how to bring all of these issues into tangible effect for the benefit of patients. In this talk, he will describe how he is structuring his practice in such a way that all the principles of Catholic social teaching and understanding of the human person can be offered for the benefit of the whole person.

Dr Accad is also on the faculty of Pontifex University and his first course – natural philosophy and philosophical anthropology – will be offered in the summer.

Some may wonder how all of these subjects can be connected in a Masters of Sacred Arts program. We can look to the patron saint of physicians for the answer. St Luke, the writer of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, has been identified with St. Paul’s “Luke, the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14) and so is the patron saint of physicians. It is appropriate that St Luke is also the patron saint of artists. It is a deep understanding of the human person and of the natural order, so typically neglected in the education of both artists and physicians, that ought to be the common ground for both of these professions.


St Luke the Evangelist, by Guido Reni; Italian, 17th century

The primary educator of this is God himself, encountered in a person in the Sacred Liturgy. And this is where we meed the Word, presented in many ways but including the gospels, including St Luke’s.

The artist understand these things and synthesises them so that he can represent what he sees beautifully and in such a way that it draws us to God. The physician understands these things and synthesizes them so that he can offer the benefits of natural science and his care for the patient in such a way that it benefits the whole person, body and soul; and (critically) creates a relationship that nourishes both patient and doctor.It is the beauty of Catholic social teaching that when we allow it to govern our activities it allows for all who are engaged to flourish as people in fulfillment of the personal vocation because it is in God – Beauty, Truth and Goodness – in whom all of these are unified. The MSA program offers the possibility of a deep formation that is rooted in the worship of God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit.

For this reason, the MSA is also a formation for any persoanl vocation. For with God’s grace, it develops a ability to grasp what is beautiful  – which is love made visible – and bring it to bear on all that we do. By this means, each of us becomes the New Evangelist, contributing gracefully and mercifully to the culture in all that we do, and by so doing, drawing people to Christ in His Church.


St Luke the Evangelist. Icon by David Clayton, 21st century


Catholic Artists Society Talk, NYC, Saturday, February 11th, 7.30pm

Dr Daniel McInerny, noted novelist, playwright and philosopher will speak for the Catholic Artists Society at the Catholic Center, NYU, 238 Thompson Street this Saturday at 7.30pm. The title is ‘Keeping the Faith in the Philosophy of Stories’.

This is the latest in the excellent series, the Art of the Beautiful which has been running since the Fall.

Art and Reflection for Candlemass

From the Office of Reading for Today, Candlemass, February 2nd: a sermon by Saint Sophronius, bishop, Patriarch of Jerusalem, died AD 638

After our mediation given yesterday on the art for today’s feast, I give you some more thoughts. Yesterday had a greater emphasis on the narrative of the Presentation of the Lord, today we think about the Light of the World and how we also call the feast, Candlemas. Here is a passage from today’s Office of Readings which emphasizes the aspect of calling today Candlemas. The pictures I have chosen are by Guido Reni (17th century) and Tintoretto (16th century), both Italian. Candlemas is a tradition in the Roman Rite.

 Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendour of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.In honour of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.
  The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.
  The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.
  The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world. Let all of us, my brethren, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendour, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal. Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendour.
  Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Simeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness.
  By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in his honour.
I encourage all to read the Office of Readings (Matins) as part of your daily prayer if you can. It is a wonderful treasury.

Starting tonight – Weekly Free Parish Talks from Fr Sebastian Carnazzo available through Pontifex University

Many of you have enjoyed our Advent and Epiphany Meditation offered by Fr Sebastian Carnazzo. He is an inspiring speaker and teacher who makes scripture, the Church Fathers come alive. With his gift for connecting the mysteries and narratives described to the traditional art of the Church his is a special and unique catechesis.

Well here is great news. Every Wednesday evening starting tonight you can join him and the congregation of the church where he is pastor for for his weekly parish study.

Usually, he focusses on scripture or the Church Fathers, but tonight after sunset it is the vigil of the Feast of the Presentation, so that is his topic for study.

Go to the St Elias Melkite Catholic Church website through this link and join him via video conference. If the time is awkward, then it is recorded so you can listen at your convenience from the recording on the parish website. Better still, orginise a group in your parish or home to discuss the themes he raises. Why not sing Vespers or Compline for the Feast to complete the participation?

Of course, those who live within striking distance of St Elias church in Los Gatos, California can go one better and join the group personally and the celebration of the Divine Liturgy after the talk.

Divine Liturgy is at St Elias Church every Sunday at 11am.

Fr Sebastian Carnazzo teaches three courses in Pontifex University’s Masters in Sacred Arts: The New Testament in Words and Pictures; the Old Testament in Words and Pictures; and the Bible and the Liturgy – a Biblical Catechesis

To help you here is a recording of the Nunc Dimittis in English with the score: gospel-canticle-nunc-dimitis.


The Feast of the Presentation – Sacred Art Study for February 2nd

The LORD said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”
(Book of Exodus, Chapter 15)

According to the Mosaic law recorded in Exodus, the first-born son of every observant Jew should be dedicated to God in the Temple at Jerusalem forty days after his birth, where the mother would also complete her ritual purification. So forty days after the birth of Jesus, the Feast of the Presentation, otherwise known as Candlemas is celebrated on February 2nd

It is called Candlemas because the tradition developed of the bringing the candlemas for the year to the church on this day so that they might be blessed.

In Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2: 22-40), he describes how the elderly St Symeon, called a priest, takes up the Christ-child in His arms and declares the words that have become the Nunc Dimitis, sung every day in the liturgy of the Church at Compline (Night Prayer) and Evening Prayer in the Anglican Use.

In this beautiful icon painted by Tatiana Grant, Symeon’s recognition of baby Jesus as the Messiah is shown in his deep reverence: bowing low and receiving Christ with covered hands.


(Following the criteria laid down by St Theodore the Studite in the 9th century, the name of the feast icon is named and clearly visible, in English so the congregation can read it.)

The Mother of God presents her child to Simeon while nearby is Anna, recognizable as a prophetess by the scroll she holds offers prayers. Joseph brings a sacrificial offering to the Temple. In Leviticus, it states that forty days after the birth of the first-born son, the mother must bring a lamb and a turtledove to the priest as a burnt-offering. “And if she is not able to bring a lamb [i.e. she is too poor], then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons–one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering.” (Lev 12:8) Joseph is shown with two turtledoves, reinforcing the humble background into which Christ was born.

In Giotto’s fresco below, dating from the period around the end of the 13th century we see all the same components in the narrative.


The Canticle of Simeon is sung here in English to a tone I composed and in a setting by Paul Jernberg that I use at Evensong and Compline. You can see the score too if you follow this link: gospel-canticle-nunc-dimitis

In the Melkite Byzantine Catholic Church the hymn (‘Troparion’) for the day is as follows:

Hail, O woman full of grace, Virgin and Mother of God, from you has arisen the Son of Justice, Christ our God, enlightening those who stand in darkness. You, too, just Elder Simeon, rejoice, for you carried in your arms the Redeemer of our souls, our Resurrection.

You can hear it sung on the St Elias website here: Troparion for the Feast of the Presentation.


The painting above is by the French artist, Sebastian Bourdon, 1644. It is painted in the baroque style, very different from the iconographic or gothic/early renaissance style of Giotto, but all the iconographic elements are present here too.

The words of the Nunc Dimittis refer to the prophesy that Our Lord will ‘enlighten the Gentiles’. The consideration of the idea of the Christ as the Light of the World is not restricted to this feast, of course, but the daily singing of the canticle that arises from the scripture passages connected to it do make the celebration of Candelmas especially poignant.

At last, all-powerful Master, +you give leave to your servant * to go in peace, according to your promise. For my eyes have seen your salvation *which you have prepared for all nations, the light to enlighten the Gentiles *and give glory to Israel, your people.

The words of the Troparion, given above are perhaps even more striking in contrasting the light with the darkness. Baroque art, such as the example given here, employs a visual vocabulary in which light and shadow are contrasted. In this painting by Bourdon, we see the single candle on the altar so that the point is made both in content and style. Connecting the candles that we see in church to the symbol of the Light through the Western celebration of this feast as Candlemas, does reinforce the power of the symbol of th lighted candle as a hope that transcends suffering through the whole of the rest of the year.