As a man whose life's work is to create, it's evident that your spirituality is informed by a love for beauty. How does this awareness of the beautiful inform your spiritual life, your marriage, and your family life?
Beauty is the theme of my life and it is always surprising me. I find that authentic beauty is very illusive and because of our condition, it takes effort to seek it out. But when it’s found, I think the most startling thing about it its presence is that it has the ability to affect a radical response from human beings. I mean, beauty can make a man lay down his entire life, and reveal to him a personal unrepeatable mission that he willingly gives himself over to at a profound cost. Beauty makes you want to continually be in its presence, and it impels you to act. Beauty is special too, in a way, for the artist. In my experience, the artist can only make himself available and open so that beauty can be received as a gift, without grasping it, and trying to make it into his own thing.
I think that marriage, the spiritual life, kids, it’s all like this. It’s all about the encounter with beauty, whether we are ready for it or not, whether we respond or not.
Because beauty is so humble, the scary thing, I think, is that it can be easily missed. Something so beautiful can be right before us and we miss all the significance and especially the chance to let it enter in and change us. Mercy. Imagine being in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, walking down a dusty street and you nearly bump into a very tired young couple holding a newborn. They are poor, maybe even a little stinky, but have a quiet joy in their eyes. It would be easy to pass by and never give it a thought. This is what I mean. There, in that moment, passes the Source of all beauty, and it’s so small. This is also a source of pain in the heart of the artist. I am aware of my lack of awareness. I think in a way, the whole Christian life is a gradual opening up of the person to beauty.
As JPII said in his Roman Triptych poem, “If you want to find the source, you have to go up, against the current. Break through, search, don’t yield…”
You hold an M.A. in Sacred Theology from the JPII Institute, work at the JPII Shrine in Washington, D.C., and have several upcoming projects related to the Theology of the Body. Do TOB and the topics of marriage and family have special significance in your work?
Theology of the Body has not only held a special significance in my artwork but even more so in my life! It is a gift that has illuminated my vocation! At all of the most difficult moments of my reaching toward God to know my vocation Saint John Paul II has been a father to me. It was the title Bridegroom given to Jesus, and the gradual discovery that Christ wished to live his life in me that showed me the intersection of the desires of my heart and His own. He actually desires to live his life as Bridegroom in me! Through the Theology of the Body, John Paul II fathered me in a deep understanding of the meaning of Eph 5.
My work is a kind of gathering up of my whole life journey and discovery, which includes these beautiful insights and inspirations as well as all of my doubt and sin. When I work or sing I feel myself alone before God and also part of the great mass of humanity in all of its present condition reaching toward God. I am very interested in what modern man needs to hear from the Church at this time and in the specific questions we pose to God and to ourselves. I think that TOB gets at this more concretely than anything else as a re-presentation of the faith… you know, a true new evangelization. What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ really? What does it mean for me? I think Theology of the Body is a special gift to the world in this regard. The love of God for us is deep and profound and I desire to share it with everyone, even the very young, hence the children’s books in progress, and the music, and the paintings,… well everything!
Your "Theology of Marriage" tryptych features scenes from our Fall and our redemption in the Gospels. We're eager to hear more about the images and symbols you've used! Tell us more?
This drawing is the most up-to-date version of my thought in what I hope to be a finished oil painting. It is also a visual book! So I will give you a brief tour. My hope is that your readers will be given an artist’s eye to see something beautiful that I haven’t even imagined.
The central panel is key to reading the entire image. This is the image of the life of the Bridegroom and the Bride. The veil is torn open and we see into the central mystery. Christ is on the cross pouring himself out and the Bride, (Our Lady, the Church) receives this life. Her body is in the form of a chalice. Through the cross we see into the mystery of Heaven, this is the great fruit of the sacrifice. It may be hard to see in the sketch, but the idea is to show an immeasurable multitude in order to express the great fruitfulness of the Bridegroom and the Bride. Children! The blood and water flow from the side of Christ and throughout the central image it spills into the side panels. Husband and wife are shown giving themselves to one another adjacent to the image of the last supper, where Christ gives his Body and Blood to the disciples. Both are an image of the total gift of self.
The side panels are an account of redemption history and are also read in light of one another. The left panel begins (top to bottom) with the creation of Adam in his solitude, the Original Unity of Adam and Eve, the Fall (turning from God and one another), the dysfunctional experience after the Fall (manifest as grasping and a lack of eye contact), and finally an image of Shame. I think this one speaks for itself.
The right panel begins with the fall of David and his repentance. It moves down to the marriage of Tobias and Sarah. Here reading the panels in light of one another (from side to side) you see Eve reaching to the serpent and Adam to himself. Tobias and Sarah, in contrast, rise from their marriage bed with incense ascending to God in order to extend themselves together to the Father. Even better is the image of the Annunciation! The image of Our Lady receiving the indwelling Word without grasping is the redemption of the moment of Adam and Eve on the first panel grasping through one another at the forbidden fruit. The final image on this panel is the Nativity. I think this moment is profound. The revelation of the face of God! Here Joseph and Mary present at the birth of Christ, in purity, seeing God face to face.
(I am currently working on a series of blog posts on my website which will illuminate, in great detail, the theology of each image in this drawing.)
You are a convert to the Catholic faith, spent 5 years with the CFRs, and are now a husband and father. Would you care to share your conversion, discernment, and love stories with our readers?
I grew up with some Lutheran influence, occasional Sunday school, confirmation, etc… but it didn’t seem to really stick. When I was in college I had a profound encounter with a painting called the “Blue Madonna.” Long story short, I who was not Catholic, had a loose understanding of who Mary was, but I found myself in the Ringling Museum weeping at the beauty of this woman. She led me out of an addiction to pornography and straight in to the Church. Dostoyevsky said “in the end, Beauty will save the world.” This case was a true example of that.
With a healing like this I was zealous! In about two years I had joined the CFRs, which was truly one of the great blessings of my life. Pretty early on I realized something was not syncing up in me, though I loved the brothers and the life. I struggled through novitiate, and every year of temporary vows with how to reconcile the increasing and specific desire for marriage welling up in me. I met my wife, Jessie while I was a friar. She had been volunteering with the community long before I had joined and I was assigned to the Youth Center in the South Bronx for about six months where we served together. But soon I was off on another apostolate, where I was to remain for the rest of my years in the community. We saw each other only occasionally during that time but remained friends. Jessie really had no idea what was going on with me and my discernment. She went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje and found a white rose made of cloth and also received in prayer that it was meant for me, this religious brother she knew. As you can imagine, she was terrified to give a friar a rose… so she didn’t. For a LONG TIME! She held on to it for over a year and half! Meanwhile, I had been praying for a sign. Yes, I was getting desperate for a concrete expression of God’s will. Anyone been there before? I had asked for a red rose for priesthood and a white for marriage. Thinking how silly it all was I was still hoping for the white. One of the friars, whom Jessie had confided her rose story to, told her that she had better give it to me because it didn’t belong to her! And so she did. I wish I could describe that moment in detail… it is precious to me. She was so cute. I knew what it meant, and she didn’t. I was overjoyed and she saw that in me immediately. After leaving the community, Jessie and I quickly discovered that we had been living truly parallel lives during those five years and that in God’s beautiful providence he wove our lives together. I am continually grateful, even for the suffering of discernment.
God desires that we know our vocation even more than we want to know it! He does not lay down a labyrinth or a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, he speaks through the beautiful desires and yearnings that reside in the silence of our heart.
Even for the less artistic among us, can you suggest any resources or concrete ways to cultivate beauty in one's relationship, marriage, and vocation?
How about a farming analogy? I find it fascinating how many times Jesus used references to farming and agriculture to illuminate deep truths about God. In our family we do a little homesteading. It’s our great desire to live that life more intensely, more full-time. So the image of cultivation is very dear to us. We spend a great deal of time making ready the soil to receive seed, caring for chickens and ducks, and food preservation / preparation. We find in this way of life a deep unity with our vocation to marriage. There are many things here that if we do not daily attend to they will die or be severely injured. And not just the kids! It’s a kind of openness to life that is also an openness to being often inconvenienced by another being. Perpetual awareness of weeds growing, produce which needs to be picked at the right time, and providence, do I need to say more? To cultivate beauty in our marriage and family we need to first prepare a place for it! Stay close to the Sacraments…very very close. Live in them!
And pick up something on TOB if the original text is too daunting. “Theology of the Body for Beginners” by Christopher West is a good one!
And lastly, we'd love to hear any wedding input from a groom's perspective! What piece of wedding planning or newlywed advice would you like to share with Catholic couples?
I am blessed that my wedding was the most beautiful wedding that I have ever been to. Is that okay to say? We didn’t sweat the details too much. We kept it pretty simple and focused our attention on giving ourselves in the Sacrament. Most of our attention was toward making the liturgy beautiful and to that we are indebted to many of the Friars and Sisters of the Renewal. We delegated a lot of details to trustworthy friends and family and let a lot of it go. It was the most beautiful day.
I want to end with the words of St John Paul II, a true bridegroom of the Church. This is the best marriage advice I have heard. Take it in, deep.
“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.
It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.” ~ (Pope St. John Paul II, World Youth Day – Rome, August 19, 2000)