Sunday, March 13, 2016

Building the City of God Here on Earth....

I'll be speaking at the International Institute for Culture this Saturday night on the intersection between Catholic social teaching, church architecture, and urban planning. 

If you're in the Philly area, stop by for the talk and meet a wonderful group of people!

more information here: International Institute for Culture

Monday, May 11, 2015

Our Lady of Grace - Progress Update

We are thrilled that Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, in Maricopa, Arizona,is now under construction! The Blessing of the Site and the Ground breaking ceremony was on March 1st, 2015, and since then Redden Construction has been working steadily and efficiently to build the church.

Phases 1A and 1B (last year) was to install the site infrastructure -- roads, utilities and sewer, grading and drainage, etc) -- and the parking lot for the church.

Phase 1C is now under construction for the 500 seat church, with the administration building to follow next year as funds are raised.

Michael Barnes, a long time parishioner and member of the parish Building Committee, has been filming the progress of the construction with his quadcopter and Go-Pro camera. Enjoy the video see the wonderful progress being made!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

No third way: Catholicism vs gnosticism or nihilism

Christ giving the Keys to St Peter: Pietro Perugino (1481-1482) Sistine Chapel
A comment I read got me thinking:

> but I'm afraid I can't conclude God's voice is that of the Magisterium at least on some issues.

That's an epistemological problem between Catholicism and gnosticism/ nihilism.
It's pretty binary: Either A) Christ founded the Church as a sure and objective means of knowing the Gospel, and endowed the Church with the gifts to safeguard the teaching in matters of faith and moral so that we can be certain of how we must act and what we must hold and believe in order to conform our lives to God's plan and purposes for human relations; or B) there is no sure way of knowing anything about faith or morals, only objective material facts.

If B, then all interpretation is just a subjective gnosticism -- my own experiential knowledge (gnosis) is all that counts and by that I judge the Church as deficient.

I don't see a third way here -- either the Church is what she claims to be, along with her mission, sacraments, teachings in matters of faith and morals, and essential structure -- or everything is up for grabs. At that point the Church is nothing more than a social club of like minded people who like the Church for whatever comforts one subjectively finds in that association. There can be no mechanism where we can know that any one point of doctrine or any one act of the Church or any one moral teaching has anything to do with God's plan and purpose, with his will for our lives together or as individuals. So all valuation is likewise subjectively determined (not even "culturally constructed") and there is no reason to objectively value one thing over another.

It's basically why I am Catholic rather than a nihilist or a gnostic. Picking and choosing what parts of the Magisterium to attend to is not the practice of the Catholic faith but one's own personal and private religion where the Church is only true as long as it reflects what you demand of it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

It may not look like much just yet....

It may not look like much just yet, but the ground work is now underway for the new Catholic church in Maricopa, Arizona.  

Aerial view of The Crossing from the south west.  The new church will sit just left of the newly paved parking lot.
More than just a parish church, the project will be not only the spiritual center for the city's 10,000 Catholics, but will create a whole new city center in the rapidly growing city of Maricopa.

When complete, The Crossing will serve the parish and the greater community of Maricopa with a church, school, housing, businesses, and recreational areas.

Sitting on 38 acres of land, The Crossing is a new planned area development that will create a sustainable and walkable neighborhood with church and school, residences, shopping, offices, and business opportunities.

A broad range of residential, church and civic, educational, retail and office uses will create a truly pedestrian friendly and community oriented neighborhood in the heart of Maricopa Arizona.

The centerpiece of the Crossing will be the new 500 seat Catholic church for Our Lady of Grace Parish.

Phase 1 of the new church will accommodate 500, with a new parish administration and social hall.

Eventually the site will be home to several hundred residences in single family, apartments, condominiums, and elderly housing.

Character study of apartment houses. By creating a larger scale multifamily residence, the building itself helps to define character of the street, making the buildings more noble and the street more interesting for pedestrians.
In addition, commercial retail and office, restaurants and various social and civic services are planned.

Character study of street scape, showing live-work units with street-level retail, and multi-family apartment houses

The entire site has been designed to serve the families and the community with significant public amenity spaces such as a church plaza, a town square, village greens, sports fields, and a central park.

Significant public areas for social activities are planned throughout the property.

The project incorporates the best practices of form based codes, smart growth, and new urbanism. This includes the use of "build-to zones" instead of "setbacks"; ancillary dwellings that provide single family residences to have on site rental opportunities; shared parking arrangements and on street parking that significantly reduces the required amount of parking (reducing costs, environmental impact, and heat gain, and providing for more social and community oriented land use).

By creating a "build to zone" instead of a building setback, the stores are pushed up to the street frontage, which creates a pedestrian friendly area and helps to define the sense of place.
There is also a variety of traditional building types such as row houses, bungalows for starter houses, low income, and downsized families, and live-work units.

Rowhouses define the common "village green" which becomes a place for community, recreation, and play.

Character study of bungalow houses grouped around a "village green".  These smaller houses serve lower income, starter houses, and down-scaling retirees. By socializing the public areas, more land is given over to the whole community while providing economical private residences.

The project broke ground in April 2014, and the first phase of the grading, drainage, roads and infrastructure are now being installed by Chasse Building Team.  The parish is looking to complete its fundraising and financing campaign to receive permission from the Diocese to start construction of the new church as soon as possible. 

The new church will have a strong street presence announcing itself to the whole community, and will define the church plaza as a place for the whole community to enjoy.
It may not look like much now, but take a peek at the video of the site development, videoed by Mike Barnes with his quadcopter and Go-Pro camera.  The church will be soon rising on the large open field between the roads and the paved parking lot seen in the video.


For more information, contact the parish at:

Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church
45295 West Honeycutt Avenue
Maricopa AZ 85139

t. 520.568.4605

or leave a message here in the comments.

Monday, July 21, 2014

For our friend Stratford Caldecott, a man of soft voice, great books, belles lettres, and fierce intellect.

Man rises to fall: he tends to dissolution from the moment he begins to be; he lives on, indeed, in his children, he lives on in his name, he lives not on in his own person. He is, as regards the manifestations of his nature here below, as a bubble that breaks, and as water poured out upon the earth. He was young, he is old, he is never young again. This is the lament over him, poured forth in verse and in prose, by Christians and by heathen. The greatest work of God's hands under the sun, he, in all the manifestations of his complex being, is born only to die.
His bodily frame first begins to feel the power of this constraining law, though it is the last to succumb to it. We look at the bloom of youth with interest, yet with pity; and the more graceful and sweet it is, with pity so much the more; for, whatever be its excellence and its glory, soon it begins to be deformed and dishonoured by the very force of its living on. It grows into exhaustion and collapse, till at length it crumbles into that dust out of which it was originally taken.
I met Stratford about 25 years ago, when he encouraged me to pursue my work in church architecture. I had recently finished my master's work at Bath, and was living in London working as an architect. We met through the encouragement of our mutual friends, Richard and Carol Downer and John Saward, and had occasional lunches in the city talking about the faith, Newman and the Second Spring, Chesterton, art and architecture.

Strat took great interest in my recently completed thesis which critiqued modern Catholic architecture and sought to propose a new direction for the recovery of the deep, sacramental traditions of church design. Stratford understood what I was trying to say, he advocated for me without reserve, and he helped me find my voice.  He tried (unsuccessfully) to get the book ‘Architecture in Communion’ published through Harper Collins, but when I returned to the States we kept in touch and he asked me to write an essay for his journal Second Spring, which was then published through Catholic World Report.

From that article, priests started asking me to design churches, Ignatius Press determined to pick up the book, I was then invited to pursue the doctorate at the Graduate Theological Union, specializing in liturgy and architecture, and I now work primarily in Catholic church architecture. Looking back over the decades, I can see how Strat was instrumental in God's providence for my life as my career finally became my vocation.

We kept in touch over the years, and Strat asked me continue writing, encouraging me to write booklets on church architecture for Catholic Truth Society. Through fits and starts, missed deadlines, and grappling with how to take such a broad topic down to the level of a booklet, he regularly cajoled me to keep on task. For that is what Strat himself did: in 2011 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Throughout his sickness and treatment he continued to soldier on, doing what he was called to do, neither losing heart nor changing course because of the illness. He kept advocating me to his publisher, kept encouraging me to finish the manuscripts, and he shepherded them to completion. The first, Catholic Architecture, was published in May 2013 and the second, Understanding a Church, was published in May this year.

I dedicate both of those books to you, dear friend.

By May 2014, it was clear that his prognosis was fatal, and he told me that the doctors anticipated he would not make it through the summer. At the time I wrote to him, grateful that I could let him know in part the impact he had on my life:

‘You have been such a blessing to me — and I can honestly say that I am now working full time serving the Church in architecture mostly because you have advocated me and my ideas. That is a strange and wondrous bit of providence — probably not too significant in the grand scheme of things, and you have done so very much for so many in to help light their path in service to Christ — but for me it has been determinative. You have very much been part of the way our Lord has shaped the trajectory of my life. I simply want you to know that, and to let you know how grateful I am to you for your friendship and support.’
Stratford died this past week, leaving behind his loving wife Leonie with his beloved daughters and a profound legacy of friendships, writings, and scholarly initiatives. He was a reader of the great books and a writer of belles-lettres, he spoke quietly, in soft tones, always measured in his thought and words. Yet that gentle manner hid a fierce intellect and a leonine spirit (how apt that his beloved life's companion was so named), intent on serving the Lord and his Church.

The funeral mass will be held at the Oxford Oratory on July 31, at 10 a.m., and he will be laid to rest in the Wolvercote Cemetery, near the grave of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Please lift an Ave for the repose of the soul of our dear friend, and for the consolation of his family.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Priests attacked in Phoenix

Please pray for the repose of the soul of the priest killed tonight in a shooting at Mater Misericordiae Mission in the Diocese of Phoenix.  Another priest was seriously wounded, and is in the hospital.  The victims are still unnamed; the parish is staffed by Frs. Joseph Terra, FSSP,  and Kenneth Walker, FSSP.


The parish is being served by priests of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), a society of apostolic life dedicated to the new evangelization, the formation of clergy, and the restoration of the Church's liturgical life through the promotion of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (the "Latin" Mass).  The FSSP and her priests have been wonderful examples of holiness, devotion, and prayer in the Diocese of Phoenix, and have worked diligently with Bishop Olmsted in the recovery of the liturgy and the promotion of beauty in sacred art and architecture in the service of the liturgy.

Please remember the deceased in your prayers, as well as the wounded and those who committed these crimes.


The victim has been identified as Fr. Kenneth Walker FSSP, age 28, who was mortally wounded in the attack. Please pray for the repose of his soul and the consolation of his family.

The late Fr. Kenneth Walker FSSP blessing Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz

Fr. Joseph Terra FSSP was serious injured and has been hospitalized.
Fr. Joseph Terra FSSP

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; 
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, 
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. 
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, 
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere 
æternam habeas requiem.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Understanding the Theology of the Baptistery

The baptismal font at Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church, Fargo, ND.  Building design and liturgical furnishings by Liturgical Environs PC.  Architect of Record: Zerr-Berg Architects, Fargo ND.

When we enter a Church, we reach for the holy water stoup to bless ourselves: a symbolic renewal of our baptismal vows in a small and compressed way. This act is part of our entering into Mass, which itself is a compression of the yearly liturgical cycle, which finds its fullest expression in the liturgy of the Paschal Triduum at which adult catechumens are normally baptized. But the yearly cycle, and the Triduum, are themselves compressed expressions of all of salvation history, which begins when “God created heaven and earth, the earth was still an empty waste, darkness hung over the deep, but the Spirit of God hovered over the waters” (Gn 1:1-2) and end with the manifestation of, “the new Jerusalem being sent down by God from heaven, all clothed in readiness, like a bride who has adorned herself to meet her husband” (Rev 21:2). As we shall see, the baptistery, the font, and the rite of baptism are called upon to express and manifest a huge and interwoven body of scriptural, liturgical, and sacramental thought, which frankly is a massively difficult task today.

"In the Genesis account of creation and the Garden, there were no doors or portals or gates or walls. The gates of paradise could only be said to be closed after the expulsion; before that all of creation was the domain of man as part of the “garden of delight” into which God placed Adam and Eve."

We might start by understanding that the holy water stoup receives its symbolic imagery from the baptismal font, but the font receives its imagery from creation itself. In the Genesis account of creation and the Garden, there were no doors or portals or gates or walls. The gates of paradise could only be said to be closed after the expulsion; before that all of creation was the domain of man as part of the “garden of delight” into which God placed Adam and Eve. Doors, gates, portals, and such (along with all the symbolism of dwelling apart from nature: the cave, the tent, the house, the temple) are consequences of alienation from God. It is thus fitting that by Jesus’ example, the order of creation is restored through the waters of baptism where we are no longer alienated from God or each other, but rather enter into a new and restored relationship in Christ through this first sacrament. This alienation will only finally and completely be eradicated in the heavenly Jerusalem. Significantly, the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem will never be shut (Rev 21:25). Unlike the ancient Roman portal, or city gate, that was unconsecrated so that unclean things could be carried across the threshold, the gate is Christ himself who calls all nations to himself (Rev 21:26). Nothing unclean or corrupt or mendacious will ever pass the gates for “there is no entrance but for those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21:27). This passage shows the restoration, even the reversal, of the Fall: now the garden is restored with the life giving waters that flow from the throne of the Lamb (Rev 22:1), the waters nourishing the tree of life that bears fruit all twelve months of the year, the fruit of which brings health to all the nations (Rev 22:2). Recalling the passage in Ezekiel 47, the water flows from the right side of the temple eastward, that is from the side of the crucified body of the Lord. The throne of the Lamb in Revelation 22 can thus be understood to be the cross, for when one of the soldiers pierced the side of the Lord, blood and water flowed out (Jn 19:34).

The baptismal font at Our Savior Catholic Church, University of Southern California, Los Angeles CA.The raised infant font trickles into the lower immersion font for adults.   Liturgical design by Steven J Schloeder AIA, Liturgical Environs PC.  Design Architect: Elkus Manfredi, Boston MA. Architect of Record: Perkowitz + Ruth, Los Angeles CA.

Thus, baptism not only commences our journey in Christ, it also both causes us to participate in his passion, death, and resurrection, and is a foretaste and promise of our destination in Christ. The intended message of baptism is primal—primal both as “of first importance” and as “originary” both to creation and to our lives as Christians—and this importance was expressed in the early Church by a clear separation between the font and the altar, between the unbaptized catechumens and those who were admitted to the “mysteries” through the disciplina arcani. As St. Justin Martyr tells us of the primitive Christian practice, the catechumens are first brought to a place where there is water to be baptized, and after the new Christian has been washed, is then brought to the places of the Eucharistic assembly. 1 Not until the neophyte (literally, “new growth” as part of the vine and branches imagery) was received into the Church, and taught the fuller mysteries of the Faith, would he or she be admitted to the Eucharist.

it makes no difference whether a man be washed in a sea or a pool, a stream or a fount, a lake or a trough; nor is there any distinction between those whom John baptized in the Jordan and those whom Peter baptized in the Tiber…” (Tertullian). Shown is The Baptism of Priscilla, by John H DeRosen, c. 1951-1953.  St John's Episcopal Church, Memphis TN.

The place of baptism in the primitive Church could be any place with water: a public bath, a town well, a spring or river or lake or sea. Christ was baptized in the River Jordan; St. Phillip baptized the Ethiopian official at some non-descript place of water (quamdam aquam); St. Paul found some water to baptize his jailer, and the man’s household. Tertullian, writing in the second century, comments: “it makes no difference whether a man be washed in a sea or a pool, a stream or a fount, a lake or a trough; nor is there any distinction between those whom John baptized in the Jordan and those whom Peter baptized in the Tiber…2 The context of this passage gives us insight into the Church’s understanding of the sacraments themselves.

For the North-African theologian, Tertullian, as for the ancients in virtually every culture, water itself was a sacred and life-giving thing, but also a dangerous and deadly thing. Tertullian points out that water is used by all cults as means of purification—the followers of Isis and Mithras, the Zoroastrian, Apollinarian and Eleusinian rituals, the Egyptians, Jews, and Romans, all used water for purification and illumination. Justin Martyr had earlier commented that the healing properties of water were perverted by the demons, such that the false religions also had rituals of washing and sprinkling before entering the temples for their idolatrous practices. 3 Water was, therefore, universally understood to nourish and sustain life, but also was associated with both death by drowning, as well as various maladies of madness such as “nympholepsy”, “hydrophobia,” and “lymphatic” illness. Sacred springs were places of healing, such as the Pool of Siloam (Jn 9:7ff), or at Bethsaida that was stirred by the angel for healing (Jn 5:2-4), as well as for the pagans at Sulis Minerva, which is now the City of Bath. Conversely, swamps and putrid waters were places of contagion and evil, inhabited by evil spirits. Because of the primal and cosmological nature of water—that “the Spirit of God hovered over the waters”—water itself is “in a manner endued with medicinal virtues.” The Spirit of God continues to hover over all water, which is the cause of its holiness, and becomes the apt sacramental symbol for new life, cleansing, and sanctifying: “Thus the nature of the waters, sanctified by the Holy One, itself conceived, therefore, the power of sanctifying.” 4

Tertullian thus considered water as the apt symbol of baptism—not merely by some general sign-value that we are washed in water, or that we are born and nourished in water, or that it can express death in Christ—but because the Spirit of God continues to linger over the waters and, so by divine fiat, water is itself a source of sanctification. It is a proper sacramental sign since by revelation we know it is an outward sign of an inward grace in the operation of the Holy Spirit, much as by the words of institution by Christ, the bread and wine used as Mass are, indeed, the Body and Blood.

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