Saint Luke, the Artist

St. Luke is known as a fellow worker with St. Paul, an evangelist (the author of the Gospel that bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles) and a physician. For iconographers, St. Luke is revered as the first (according to tradition) to write an icon of the Blessed Mother. In iconography, the verb “to write” is used rather than “to paint,” as an icon is considered visual theology. Now, to my knowledge, there is no known or authenticated icon that can be directly traced back to the hand of St. Luke, but I for one have no problem with considering this tradition a possibility. Luke was obviously a well-educated and gifted man with many skills and abilities. In the first few verses of his Gospel Luke establishes that his sources were some of the very people who were “eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.” Luke is the only…
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Part 3 of a 4-Part series on Eucharistic Adoration When I dragged a friend to Adoration recently, she pumped me with panicky questions while on the way. “Sitting for an hour in silence? But what do you do?” Her question was not unexpected. We live in a utilitarian society where everything in our lives, and indeed our own self-worth, is terribly bound up in what we do. It’s one of the first things we ask each other as new acquaintances—not “How do you be” but “What do you do?”—which is the question by which we measure another’s value and worth, not just materially but within the scope of humanity. The question reveals the entrenched mindset that permits society to consider the “benefits” of euthanasia, or the in utero genocide perpetrated against babies whose quality of life might be deemed not good enough—not useful enough—to permit their birth. Sitting before Christ…
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“The Voice” and Hope

The Voice has been on NBC for seventeen seasons after beginning in Holland, and it maintains its rank as one of the most inspirational reality shows on television. I settled in for my normal round of this show, sad that Adam Levine is gone, and I realized that I cannot make it through an episode without weeping. Not too long ago, I discovered that most of the time our weeping comes from an elevation or a degradation of humanity. Devastation in the Bahamas can lead to affectivity, and so can watching a family reunite with long lost relatives—a degradation and an elevation of humanity. Given that presupposition, I wondered at why something as trivial as The Voice would draw me into my heart and express itself with tears. It’s because of hope. Some of the contestants share their stories: how they started singing, what their…
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Praying for Virtue

In our prayer, we should frequently and fervently ask for an increase in virtues, like humility, mercy, patience, kindness, fortitude, or prudence. I have found over the years that God seems to take special joy in responding to petitions for an increase in this or that virtue, not by infusing that virtue into us so that its exercise becomes effortless, but by assailing us with circumstances that call that virtue forth from us. Why? Because grace is always synergistic, evoking our free response to God’s action. By becoming human, God-with-us revealed himself not as a unilateralist but as a multilateralist who achieves his ends by inviting countless independent freedoms, angelic and human, to consider and respond to his proposed plan. What a mess we have made of it all. Indeed, it was bloody risky of God to venture down such a precarious path, though it is equally bloody risky for…
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Now that John Henry Newman is a saint, many of us hope his already significant influence will continue to grow. Many people know the story of his conversion through his great memoir, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, but far fewer people have read his conversion novel, Loss and Gain. Published just as Newman entered the Catholic Church in 1845, it is a fine specimen of Victorian prose. Some people may consider just a little too churchy; but when you scratch the surface, you may discover it is highly relevant to today’s culture, just like Newman’s theological works.Loss and Gain is a good novel by a great saint. Here are ten reasons you ought to read it. (All citations are from the excellent Ignatius Critical Editionfrom 2012, edited by Trevor Lipscombe.) 1. It’s about young people. This book is dominated by youth, including some memorable young fogies. It’s mostly men, but…
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Starting on Monday, October 14, Bishop Barron will be teaching a NEW, special 12-part course on the life and thought of John Henry Newman, who will be canonized Sunday! In his new course, Bishop Barron will examine Newman’s many theological contributions, which are important in understanding Vatican II and in addressing the challenge of modernity. You’ll be introduced to Newman by looking at his most significant texts: his autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua, the theologically meaningful Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, the educationally pertinent Idea of a University, and the challenging Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent. To Learn More About the Course and to Watch Bishop Barron’s Pivotal Players Episode of Newman for FREE visit: https://wordonfire.institute In this course by Bishop Barron, you’ll learn all about: Newman’s conversion to Catholicism…
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Part 2 of a 4-part series on Eucharistic Adoration A recent conversation with a friend I know to be a faithful Catholic left me feeling disturbed. This fellow participates at Mass regularly, volunteers to help out both in his parish and within his community, and receives Holy Communion with reverence and hope. Unlike 70% of Catholics, he understands the teaching about transubstantiation and believes that the Eucharistic Host is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. By any measure, my friend is authentically Catholic, and probably a better one than I. If he sees this piece, though, he will probably snort after the second paragraph. Not because it is untrue—he knows what the Holy Eucharist is—but because he dislikes the spelling-out of it. The “Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity” specifics he sees as a sort of “dog-whistle,” a means by which “John Paul II Catholics” identify…
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In a widely read essay from 2013, Canadian Catholic novelist Randy Boyagoda declared, “I’m sick of Flannery O’Connor.” For readers of this blog, these are probably fighting words. Bishop Barron himself is such an admirer of O’Connor that one of the two latest releases in his Pivotal Players series focuses on her. For so many of us, O’Connor’s sometimes gruesome depictions of a Christ-haunted world stick in our brains and souls as signposts to eternal truth. Boyagoda picks on more Pivotal Players and some other generally undisputed Christian literary masters too: “I’m also sick of Walker Percy, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Dostoevsky. Actually, I’m sick of hearing about them from religiously minded readers. These tend to be the only authors that come up when I ask them what they read for literature.” After we take a few breaths and let…
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Every time I mention my love for Caravaggio’s paintings in devout Catholic circles, I feel as if I am causing scandal. “Wait!” I hear them saying, “You like the painter who was a murderer and used a prostitute as a model for the Blessed Virgin Mary?” During a visit in Poland, I was quickly dismissed by a well-known Polish actor for stating my admiration for Caravaggio. According to him, Caravaggio’s paintings are “spiritually empty.” I beg to differ. My admiration for Caravaggio’s work—not his life—and my conviction of his spiritual depth were recently reaffirmed when I visited the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) to see his Martha and Mary Magdalene. I cannot stop thinking about the painting and its depiction of conversion and the dignity Christ brings to the human person. I imagine it did the same for many, but perhaps not for my…
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On Being Broken

A sixteenth-century painter, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (forever known as Caravaggio for his hometown in northern Italy’s Lombardy region), shocked and scandalized his society. Using prostitutes, criminals, and the homeless as artistic models for saints, his techniques were considered unorthodox, if not offensive. His personal life was a shambles marred by a haughty swagger, mounting debt, and violent (if not murderous) outbursts that made him a fugitive from the law. He would die fevered, outlawed, and alone on a sweltering beach outside of Porto Ercole. Caravaggio was broken. But when he painted, it was sublime. A twentieth-century novelist, Evelyn Waugh, could be difficult. His wit could bite, his critiques would scathe, and his friendship could try one’s patience. As a father, he proudly bragged that he saw his children “once a day for ten, I hope, awe-inspiring minutes.” As the story goes, during the dark, deprived days of World War…
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Nearly 70% of US Catholics do not believe that the bread and wine they receive at Communion has, during Mass, become the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. That statistic is among the findings reported in a recent Pew Research Center study, and it should concern every one of us. Transubstantiation, the action by which bread and wine become the Real Presence of Christ within the Holy Eucharist, is a concept and teaching central to the fact of that Presence, and it is understood or believed in by only 31% of those surveyed. A constant refrain in the Word on Fire movement is “Don’t dumb down the faith,” because when we do, bad things happen, and they show up in Pew studies, and in the emptying of our pews, and in a troubled society wide with scorn and narrow in solace. So we’ve got a lot of work to…
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This is Part 1 of a 4-part series on Eucharistic Adoration. I had stopped participating for a while, because I can be lazy, but recently I had the opportunity to participate in Adoration with the Nocturnal Adoration Society of a local parish, taking on one of the wee, small hours that are difficult, sometimes, for the group to cover. Nocturnal Adoration is quite different from making a Holy Hour in silence. The NAS promotes Adoration and specifically works to organize whole nights of liturgical prayer, with hourly teams getting together to chant the Psalms, read Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers, and to simply pray—it is all prayer, of course—before the Blessed Sacrament. The prayer goes essentially from sundown (the end of the Saturday Vigil anticipating Sunday Mass) to sunrise (the first Mass of Sunday), nonstop, and it is remarkable to be in the middle of all of…
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We know the task at hand: young people, specifically teenagers, are leaving the Church in droves. We’ve read the research, we’ve discussed the facts, and we have some understanding as to the cause. But now comes the hard part: we need to go out to the peripheries, engage the unaffiliated, and draw them (back) into the Church. Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that teenagers are a bit . . . intimidating. What is it about a twenty-year age difference that makes us freeze in our tracks? Maybe you’ve found yourself where I have: at the other end of an all too silent room full of blank stares, rolling eyes, headphone-shielded ears. Evangelizing to teens is far from an easy task, but it is one of the most crucial facing the Church today. And while it may seem daunting, there is no experience quite as rewarding as bringing young…
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Today the Church celebrates the witness of a cloistered, Carmelite nun who became one of the most powerful and influential women in the history of the Church: St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Born in the year 1873, Thérèse Martin would enter the Carmelite community at the age of fifteen in the year 1888. For those who are unfamiliar with the Carmelite way of life, it is a life of austerity and utter simplicity through which by living in the most radical way—vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—one cultivates detachment from worldly desires so as to serve Christ alone. (While many Christians choose to live as “weekend warriors” in terms of being a disciple of the Lord Jesus, a faithful Carmelite is an Olympic athlete.) Thérèse’s entry into this radical form of religious life essentially meant that she would disappear entirely (and literally) into the mission of the Church. After eighteen months…
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“Mr. Robot has become my god,” says Elliot Alderson, the brilliant, disturbed main character in the USA Network’s Mr. Robot, whose fourth and final season begins October 6. Elliot is played by Emmy and Academy Award winner Rami Malek, and the high-tech cohort he represents onscreen is the ascendant and oft-discussed millennial generation. Elliot and almost everyone in his New York City milieu are religious “nones.” Nevertheless, the question of divine presence or absence is all-important. God dominates Mr. Robot, even though religion is almost never mentioned at all. Elliot is an anonymous engineer by day and a drug-addicted vigilante hacker by night. He and every other character in the show are socially alienated—an obvious irony in an overarching storyline about technological connection. Elliot is part of a collective enterprise called “f-society,” whose goal is to kill the gods of consumerism and the free market. But Elliot is literally…
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A few years ago, a neighbor and I were wending our way through a small gallery featuring the work of local artists, when we were stopped in our tracks by a large canvas, or board, from which hung a dozen one-gallon freezer bags containing colorful liquids purporting to be health and beauty products: shampoo, conditioner, feminine hygiene stuffs. My neighbor, who tends toward the positive—even if she must stretch herself into tomorrow to do it—cooed, “What a statement that is! We women really are enslaved to all that!” “Wait,” I said. “How do you know that’s what the artist means? Maybe this is saying that women are just bags of chemicals, and transparent and shallow, to boot!” “Oh, be serious,” she said, thinking I was not. “This speaks to me! It says we need to love ourselves and accept ourselves as we are! And it says that we are vibrant,…
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About a year ago, Bishop Barron became the first Catholic bishop to ever host an AMA (Ask Me Anything) in the history of Reddit (read the AMA here). With over 11,000 comments, it became the third most commented-on Reddit AMA of 2018 (behind only Jordan Peterson and Bill Gates). And we have exciting news: he’s returning to do it again! Today at 2 p.m. ET (1 p.m. CT /11 a.m. PT), Bishop Barron will be hosting a second AMA on the the r/iAMA subreddit of Reddit. To learn more about Reddit, see the five quick facts here. To help support Bishop Barron’s AMA: 1. Sign up for a Reddit account and mark your calendar. If you don’t have a Reddit account, you can sign up for one here (see blue “Sign Up” button at the top of the page). Once you’ve done that, remember to mark your calendar for 2…
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The Divine Model

As human beings, we learn to do great things by imitating others. “Imitation is natural for man from childhood,” says Aristotle, “one of his advantages over the lower animals being this, that he is the most imitative creature in the world, and learns first by imitation” (Poetics IV). This naturally means that there must be an exemplar to imitate, and that without this exemplar learning is not possible. An exemplar serves as an end or telos that helps us both to filter out bad influences in our lives and to determine the actions we must undertake. For instance, when one wants to become a professional athlete, he or she will imitate excellent athletes and ignore whatever influences are contrary to being like that particular athlete. The excellence of the athlete alone is enough to make him or her worthy of emulation. Greatness inspires, and when we see great people, we desire to imitate them and…
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It Would Have Been Enough

If the only prayer you said was “thank you,” that would be enough. —Meister Eckhart I was sitting quietly early this morning, before the rush of life commenced, and was overwhelmed with an undefined sense of gratitude. Actually, it was very defined. It was a visceral awareness of the gratuitousness of existence (i.e., the fact that anything exists at all is a sheer gift bereft of any claim to entitlement). “Gratuitous” captures this well, I think, as it means “not necessary or justified.” God needn’t have created anything at all, yet chose to. While we often complain to God that we do not yet possess well-being, we forget that we already possess something far more radical, extraordinary, stunning, mind-blowing and grounding: being. I am. Become aware at this very moment that there is something rather than nothing, there is a…
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The Shock of Sanctity

In my own youth I had imagined for myself any amount of iniquity; and it was a curious experience to find that this quiet and pleasant celibate has plumbed those abysses far deeper than I. —G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kin according to the flesh. (Romans 9:2-3) They were sophisticates. All of them. In this provincial hamlet nestled in the French countryside, the world was quaint in their discriminating eyes. They were sophisticates and they were looking for a saint. Father Sabiroux, the local parish priest, held aspirations of high church office and was drawn in by worldly intellectual pretensions. Dr. Gambillet, a physician, was impatient with concerns…
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