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Melkite Bishop Nicholas to Celebrate Divine Liturgy on Berkeley Campus, March 11th

The third in the monthly liturgies of the Melkite Outreach of Berkeley will be on March 11th, 5pm, at Gesu Chapel of the Jesuit School of Theology, 1735 Leroy Ave., Berkeley, CA. This is a week on Saturday.

The liturgy is usually celebrated by Fr Christopher Hadley (who teaches at the Jesuit School) and Fr Sebastian Carnazzo who is pastor of St Elias Melkite Church in Los Gatos, CA has told me: ‘This time we will be honored to host his Grace, Nicholas Samra, bishop of the Melkite Diocese of the United States, who will be celebrating the Divine Liturgy and giving us his episcopal blessing and exhortation.’

Hope to see you there.

Here is a recording of the Hymn of Lent: Open to Me the Gates of Repentance

The Divine Liturgy will be for Sunday, March 12th, which is the Sunday of St Gregory Palamas.

Years ago, I was told of a difference between East and West in the interpretation of the Transfiguration. St Thomas Aquinas, I was told, argued that Christ changed when he shone with light and this was an anticipation of the beatific vision; St Gregory Palamas, on the other hand agued that the apostles changed spiritually and they were able, temporarily to see the uncreated light of Christ. Through the sacramental life of the Church it is possible for all of us, by degrees to be transformed so that we can both witness and shine with the uncreated light of Christ.

I once raised this point, which I thought was a contradiction, with a Benedictine monk at Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland. He told me that I should ‘think liturgically’ and suggested that these two interpretations were not mutually exclusive. There might be a dual motion taking place in some way in that just as God comes down to us, so to speak, as Christ is present in the Eucharist, so in taking communion we are supernaturally transformed, potentially, and so are raised up to meet Him.

Sacred Art Gallery Opens in Scottsdale

sacred-art-logo-colorScottsdale, Arizona has become something of a mecca for artists and art enthusiasts over the years. The town attracts not only buyers but artists as well, hoping for representation in one of the nearly 100 art galleries most of which are clustered downtown.

Joyce Coronel over at The Catholic Sun, recently wrote about a new addition to the gallery scene, The Sacred Art Gallery held its grand opening on February 3, and by all accounts was a great success. The work on display at The Sacred Art Gallery appears to be an interesting mix of sculpture, painting, original work, work that reinterprets traditional iconography, and giclee prints of Old Masters as well as limited edition bronze castings of Michelangelo’s work. They also offer classes and workshops.

Read the article here.

It is of course too early to tell how successful this venture will be but it does raise an interesting point for discussion, does religious art sell as religious art? There is actually quite a lot of religious work already in Scottsdale but it is marketed as “folk art” or “southwestern art.”

So for religious artists and art buyers what is your opinion? Is it a matter of excellent work simply finding the proper audience? I have heard from both camps, some say that there simply is no market for overtly religious work, others say that if the work is good enough it will sell.

It is something of a “catch 22” for artists. In order to develop their talents and produce excellent work, they have to devote every moment of time and energy to perfecting their craft. But they can only do that if they have income, either from their art or from some external support such as a working spouse.

While many religious artists are simply, and properly, committed to using their gifts to glorify God, regardless of its commercial viability, the truth is that if we are to evangelize the world with art it must be beautiful art that attracts people. It must be art that attracts people to have it in their homes and contemplate the transcendent truth behind the art. Christian art must be so beautiful it stops people in their tracks, causing them to gaze in wonder and motivating them to want to know more about the work and the person who created it.

Pontifex University is committed to forming artists to do just that.


Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at and Pontifex University: Earn Credit for the Masters in Sacred Arts through Icon Painting and Icon Carving Worshops

Bring traditional arts into mainstream education!

We are pleased to announce that students on icon painting classes and icon carving classes run by in the US and Canada in the coming year. This is one of a number of such partnerships in which by offering credit we bring traditional arts back into the mainstream. You can read about our developing institutional connections here..

With a series of classes with the highest standard of tuition, this is a great way to earn studio credit for the studio classes of the Masters in Sacred Arts. Each five day residential class earns 1 credit for an additional fee paid to Pontifex University of just $150. You simply register for their courses as you would otherwise, paying Hexaemeron directly for tuition. Then when the Hexaemeron tutor, for example Jonathan Pageau who teaches icon carving, tell us that you have completed the class and the set project to his satisfaction, we will awared you the credit.

You can find out more about their schedule of classes from the Hexaemeron class schedule here.

Starting in May and running through to September locations include Dunlap CA, Bloomfield CT, Hillsdale MI, Anchorage AK, Salem SC.

Here is a video about the work of Jonathan Pageau.



Frodo, Gandalf, and Tempting the Hero


courtesy of New Line Cinema

Have you ever thought of yourself as the hero of your own story? Many of our most popular stories, told through the medium of film, follow a similar pattern. A hero is called, he may or may not at first reject the call. Eventually he takes up the call, crosses a threshold into a new world of awe and wonder, and begins his quest for the prize. Along the way he is harassed by the villain, tested, tried, and usually sorely tempted to give up his quest.

This pattern has been called the Hero’s journey and we see it repeated over and over again in our books and movies. It speaks to us at a deep level because it is the pattern of our lives. We frequently see our own lives up on the big screen dressed up in all sorts of interesting ways.

So where does temptation figure into all this?

Let’s take the Lord of the Rings for example. The hero, Frodo, has to take a ring, which represents evil, deep into the domain of evil and throw it into a volcano in order to destroy the ring and save his world.

Early on Frodo is tempted to give the task over to someone else, someone stronger and tougher, who is up to the job. You see, Frodo is a hobbit. Hobbits are quiet, simple people, hardly the stuff of which heroes are made. So Frodo offers the ring to Gandalf the wizard, Frodo is tempted to take the easy way out, go home to a life of comfort and ease, and forget about the peril the rest of the world faces.

Gandalf, to whom Frodo offers the ring, has his own hero’s story arc. He is tempted to take the ring, abandon the long way, and take a shortcut to defeating evil by using its own power against it. The danger is that the ring was created by a satanic type figure, the embodiment of evil, the ring is powerful but it is a power that corrupts anyone who tries to use it.

Frodo and Gandalf are both tempted to think of themselves and abandon the world that is counting on their success.

Each of us is on our own hero’s journey. We are all on a quest to find God, we face trials and challenges along the way and we have a villain who is constantly trying to trip us up.

The devil would like nothing more than to see us fail. Because the last thing he wants is for us to be re-united with God.

So the devil sends us temptations, designed to draw us away from the path, give up, go home, and take it easy.

Jesus came to us with His own quest, to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth. And the devil took advantage of every possible weakness in an attempt to convince Jesus to betray His mission.

Similarly the devil hounds each one of us, offering us quick, albeit morally questionable, solutions, easy money, and a life of comfort. He does this in an effort to make us forsake the path and give up on God, betraying our trust in our heavenly Father, and preferring instead to trust in ourselves.

But if we do this, if we take the easy path, we abandon the world that is counting on our success. The prize we seek is not a personal one, it is an elixir of everlasting life, meant for all mankind. We each have a part in this epic quest, and if we abandon it there is no way to know how many souls will be lost.

God, on the other hand send us challenges to overcome, challenges that will prepare us, and strengthen us for what lies ahead. Because after all obtaining the prize is only half the story. Our true quest is then to return to where we started and help others in their own journey.

Trials and temptations, one comes from God, the other comes rom the evil one. But we have help, we have a mentor (a figure that also shows up in our movies) who helps us along the way, someone who has been on their own journey and come back to show us the way.

We may have many mentors in our lives but the one true mentor, the one we are all called to follow by example is Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed one.

And Jesus shows us how to deal with the temptations of the evil one, by absolute, complete faith and trust in God.

As we begin our Lenten journey, let us resolve to be the hero, and follow in the footsteps of Christ.

Pax vobiscum

_________________________________________________________________Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at

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.

_________________________________________________________________Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at

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