Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Survey on Catholic Church Architecture -- an ongoing project

If you are interested in Catholic church architecture, please take a few minutes to answer a survey -- no personal information is collected. This is just a trial run, just the first 100 responses will be taken, so I am requesting that if you have comments about the survey, questions that you think are biased or leading or can be better phrased, things I missed that you think are important, items that should be included or removed, etc., please feel free to leave a comment below or send me a message. Thanks!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Jason Bach made my eyes wet....

a beautiful message.

"Embrace the Gospel" (c) JasonBachCartoons

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Pope wants YOUR opinion. Yes, YOU!

Not exactly. 

I have no doubt that the Holy Father really does take the opportunity to listen actively and pastorally to all he meets, that much is obvious from everything I've seen about Pope Francis. But there has been widespread dis/misinformation and confusion concerning the recently announced Vatican survey on marriage and family life in preparation for the Bishops' Extraordinary General Assembly on "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization".

The New York Times, not known for getting anything right about the Catholic Church, reports:  
But Pope Francis, who has already shaken up the Vatican, is asking the world’s one billion Catholics for their opinions on a questionnaire covering social issues like same-sex marriage, cohabitation by unwed couples, contraception, and the place of divorced and remarried people in the church.
The Daily Mail announces "The Vatican sends questionnaire on gay sex and contraception to Catholics around the world".

One blogger for a Latin Mass Society tried to fill it out for himself, declaring it "The Worst Survey in the World".  He evidently went to some Survey Monkey on-line form, run by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales and linked to their website. I would guess that some mid level bureaucrat at CBEW thought it would be a good idea to just ask everyone to complete the form, not having gotten the memo about how the survey was to be implemented.

Some self ordained group, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, is looking to make some coin off their own version of the survey. They have a website,, and are actually soliciting donations, under the apparent pretense that this has anything to do with what the Holy Father is undertaking. 

Thank you for taking time to respond to questions that Pope Francis has asked of the faithful in preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in 2014. Each set of questions appears below. Take as much time as you need. None of the questions are compulsory.
We ask for your e-mail address so that we can keep you updated on the progress of our survey and the activities surrounding the 2014 synod. Once again, however, this information is not required.
Your responses will be forwarded to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and to the appropriate officials in the Vatican, including the Holy Father himself.
This survey not only has nothing to do with the Holy Father's initiative, Catholics in Alliance is misrepresenting the actual questions that are being asked. Compare the following, both the CIA question and that of the Synod of Bishops (I have tried to find at least some pertinence between what the Catholic in Alliance questions are asking relative to the real survey):
Catholics in Alliance questions: 
The Church and Family Life
How well is the Church's teaching on marriage and family life communicated in your parish community? How does your local Church support married couples in their journey, especially those who struggle with marital difficulties?
Synod of Bishops questions: 
2. Marriage according to the Natural Law
a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?
b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?
c) How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?
d) In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?
 Catholics in Alliance questions: 
Outreach to Divorced and Separated Persons
How does your parish community welcome divorced and separated persons? How are they included in the life of the parish? Are they given sufficient space to be full and active members of the Church?
Synod of Bishops questions: 
4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations
a) Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? 
b) Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available? 
c) Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programmes? 
d) In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are they aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments? 
e) What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments? 
f ) Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take? 
g) Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry? Do such programmes exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?
 Catholics in Alliance questions: 
Outreach to Same-Sex Couples and Gay Persons
How does your parish community welcome same-sex couples and gay persons? How are they included in the life of the parish? Are they given sufficient space to be full and active members of the Church?
Synod of Bishops questions: 
5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex
a) Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage? 
b) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union? 
c) What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union? 
d) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?
Catholics in Alliance questions: 
Being A Church of Mercy and of Welcome
Pope Francis has declared his desire that the Church be a place of mercy and of welcome. As he and other bishops come together to discuss family life in 2014, what can the Church do to achieve this vision more fully? Please speak on the basis of personal experience.
Synod of Bishops questions: 
There is nothing obvious in the Synod of Bishops questionnaire that addresses this.

What the Church is asking

I would strongly recommend that everyone read carefully the prefatory remarks of the Preparatory Document that accompanies the survey questions. The Holy See is first addressing the numerous contemporary problems in modern society which conflict with the Church's teachings on marriage, family life, sexuality, and the development of just societies:
Concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago have arisen today as a result of different situations, from the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage, and sometimes even excludes the idea of it, to same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children. The many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care include: mixed or inter-religious marriages; the single-parent family; polygamy; marriages with the consequent problem of a dowry, sometimes understood as the purchase price of the woman; the caste system; a culture of non-commitment and a presumption that the marriage bond can be temporary; forms of feminism hostile to the Church; migration and the reformulation of the very concept of the family; relativist pluralism in the conception of marriage; the influence of the media on popular culture in its understanding of marriage and family life; underlying trends of thought in legislative proposals which devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in the marriage covenant; an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood (wombs for hire); and new interpretations of what is considered a human right. Within the Church, faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the Sacrament of Penance show signs of weakness or total abandonment.
It is these precise concerns that frame the Church's efforts to better meet the pastoral needs of Catholics -- all sorts of surveys and opinion polls can be presented to indicate that the Church's teachings are widely being ignored by Catholics: contraception, divorce, in vitro fertilization, even abortion and euthanasia, same sex unions, and the like.

Rather than asking for everyone's opinion about what they think the Church should do about these (with the apparent presumption that the Church should change her teachings to conform to the spirit of the age), the Holy See is first taking the opportunity to restate and affirm eloquently the constant teachings on these matters; "The Church and the Gospel on the Family", "The Plan of God, Creator and Redeemer", "The Church's Teaching on the Family", all of which reiterate the Church's teachings and give context to the questions that are then asked.

So don't expect the Pope to ask you directly what you think about these things, it is an opportunity for us all to revisit the Church's teachings that we might be better formed as Catholics.

But given Pope Francis' unpredictable style, don't be too surprised if the phone rings either...

Friday, November 8, 2013

I'd bet that Pope Francis really does know what he's talking about...

On some self proclaimed Traditional Roman Catholic Thoughts blog, yet another self proclaimed Traditional Roman Catholic has deemed himself competent to judge the Holy Father. This time, taking the Successor of Saint Peter to task for telling us not to proselytize.
We’ve heard that Proselytism is “solemn non-sense”. We have also heard that we are to go out and promote the New Evangelization. We are told that we are to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to evangelize our brothers and sisters, both within the Catholic faith and without, but, when we do preach the faith, strongly and firmly, we are told that we might offend others and we should choose our words wiser. We can’t be “touting our faith as better”. So, what is going on here? First, I want to explain the difference between Proselytism and Evangelization.
Let’s define the terms.
Proselytize: to try to persuade people to join a religion, cause, or group.
Evangelize: to try to convert (a group or area) to a different religion (especially Christianity).
What is the difference? Absolutely nothing. Both have the same definition, really. Proselytizing is the same as Evangelizing. I don’t care if proselytizing has “taken on a negative connotation” these days. Maybe, instead of trying to sound hip and cool with the rest of the world, we teach the rest of the world what a word actually means, you know, kind of like we are attempting to do with marriage. Marriage has taken on a negative connotation these days, maybe we should forego this word? Both these words attempt to persuade/convert to a different religion, and in this case, that religion is Catholicism, you know, the religion that Jesus Christ started (but don’t tell anyone, it might offend them).
This is something that you can trace back from a secular (historical) view. Protestantism started with Martin Luther, formally breaking with the Catholic Church, and starting his own church. From there, others broke with Martin Luther and founded their own church. Kind of get the picture? Proselytism and evangelization are in essence, the same. exact. thing. Both attempt the same, that is to bring the person to your faith, with the intent that they convert.
Really, there is no point to evangelize if the intent is the person stay where they are. Faith requires conversion, even if you are already a part of that faith. We need to continually convert because we are not perfect.
I say, go forth and proselytize while you evangelize. And if the New Evangelization leaves out that of proselytizing, the actual intent of bringing said person into the Catholic faith, then count me out. I’ll stick with the Old Evangelization.
My sainted grandfather used to say that Luther got rid of one pope and made millions of them. It seems now that Traditional Catholicism is making a lot of popes, folks who claim that they have some insight into what Catholicism really is that the Keeper of the Keys isn't getting. This is a sort of gnostic intuition -- the idea that we can have any sure knowledge of the Faith apart from the Apostolic See is at best ignorant, and at worst pure hubris.  It was to the apostles that Jesus said, "He who hears you hears me" (Lk 10:16), which Popes as recent as Pius XII teach is relevant to the Church's magisterium: 
Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me";[3] and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine.
We as Catholics (even the Traditional Roman Catholics) have an obligation to listen attentively to the Successor of Peter, and to search for what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church. To be dismissive of the Holy Father is not reconcilable with the Catholic faith. As St Ambrose wrote:
"It is to Peter that he says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church'. Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church is, no death is there, but life eternal" (Commentary on Twelve Psalms, 40.30)
Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia.  

So what is Francis telling us? First let us clear up the confusion that Our Traditional Roman Catholic has caused.

He give us two definitions, proselytize and evangelize, and then claims:
What is the difference? Absolutely nothing. Both have the same definition, really. Proselytizing is the same as Evangelizing.
Now I think it worthwhile to point out that the interview between Scalfari and Francis was done in Italian. In Italian, the strong sense of proselitismo is the work of making followers, and a proselito is any new follower of a doctrine or a religion or a political party.  Furthermore, the modern Italian sense has strong political implications.

The strong sense of evangelizzare in modern Italian is still primarily about the proclamation of the Gospel: convertire alla fede cristiana con la predicazione del Vangelo; ammaestrare alle verità del Vangelo  (to convert to the Christian faith through preaching the Gospel; to teach the truths of the Gospel).  This is something quite different in both intent and scope from merely making followers, from convincing others to follow you.

To get the heart of these words, presuming that Holy Father Francis really uses the words deliberately and with clarity, we should first look at what they have meant in Christian theology, as both are derived directly from Scripture and with very different meanings.

In the OT, as well as the NT, a proselyte (προσήλυτος/προσήλυτοι) is a convert to Judaism. From Lev 16:11, 17:12, 18;26, Deut 29:10, and Num 9:14 the προσήλυτος was the stranger who dwelt among the Jews and accepted their manner of living. The same sense is found in Acts 2:11, where the distinction is made between Jews and proselytes, among all the other nationalities. From the historical Christian perspective, a proselyte is not one who has accepted Christianity, but Judaism.

But in both the OT and the NT, evangelize is very specific to preaching the Gospel. Christ went "preaching and spreading the good news of God’s kingdom" (prædicans et evangelizans regnum Dei) (Lk 8:1). Through the NT, the work of the evangelist is specifically to proclaim the Gospel.

I would suggest that we give the Holy Father the benefit of the doubt that he really does know what he is talking about when he distinguished between evangelizing and proselytizing. His admonition that, "
We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us...", is yet another way of stressing the importance of relationship, which seems to be an overarching theme in his papacy.
We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. - See more at:
We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. - See more at:
We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. - See more at:
We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. - See more at:

Our Traditional Roman Catholic is all a'bothered as if the Holy Father is telling us to not evangelize to bring people to Christ. He inexplicably demands:
I say, go forth and proselytize while you evangelize. And if the New Evangelization leaves out that of proselytizing, the actual intent of bringing said person into the Catholic faith, then count me out. I’ll stick with the Old Evangelization.
I have no idea what he means by the Old Evangelization --- the "New Evanglization" is to bring the Gospel back to those supposedly Christianized countries that are now quite post Christian and even anti-Christian.  As Holy Father Francis himself proclaims:
the expression “new evangelization” sheds light on the ever clearer awareness that countries with an ancient Christian tradition also need a renewed proclamation of the Gospel to lead them back to an encounter with Christ which truly transforms life and is not superficial, marked by routine.   (Address, 13 Jun 2013)
And it is clear that Francis is not intent on bringing all into the Church. There is no need for concern here, but rather we should all pay close attention to what Francis really is saying: the point is not to make proselytes out of people, merely converting them to our side, but sharing with them the faith of Jesus Christ.

How the New Evangelization Works

Candidly, I wonder if Our Traditional Roman Catholic's "Old Evangelization" can even produce fruit. The Church has lost her moral stature with the bad handling of priests who committed crimes against children, as well as a whole litany of other sins committed by churchmen and Catholics, both real and imagined, that cast the Church is disrepute in the eyes of the world.  Love and relationship are more than just strategies for evangelization -- if reduced to strategies, then they are nothing more than opportunistic proselytism. Rather, evangelization flows from the encounter with Christ, and is a sharing with others in that relationship by entering into real relationship (that whole "We need to get to know each other, listen to each other" thing).

Pope Francis understands this. As he said in his June address:

Techniques of evangelization are important, of course, but even the most perfect ones could not replace the gentle action of the One who is the principal agent of evangelization: the Holy Spirit. We must let ourselves be guided by him, even if he leads us on new roads; we must allow him to transform us, so that in our proclamation, our words are always accompanied by a simple life, a spirit of prayer, charity to all, especially the lowly and the poor, humility and detachment from ourselves, and holiness of life. Only in this way will they be truly fertile.
But what Francis wrote is not really persuasive.  What is persuasive, what opens hearts to hear the Gospel, what creates immense opportunities for evangelical discussions, is what he does.  The internet is suddenly ablaze with comment from atheists who are seeing something in Francis:

That's the New Evangelization. That's what's going to open hearts to Christ. Listen to Francis, but as importantly, watch and imitate him.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A note of remembrance.

Some 30 years ago I was befriended by a wonderful and ancient priest,  Fr. James Francis Larkin, CSV,  a priest of the Clerics of St Viator who would winter in Phoenix to escape the blustery winters of his native Chicago. 

Fr. Frank, as he preferred to be called, was a remarkable scholar and man of great erudition, packaged in a wizened old and somewhat frail body. His life work was the multi-volume magnum opus of the Tudor Royal Proclamations and the later Stuart Royal Proclamations: the products of years of patient and meticulous research in the British Library; still to this day the definitive works in the field.  He was, by the accounts of his Viatorian confreres, a rather solitary scholar and a stereotypical absent minded professor tenured as a Professor of English at De Paul University in Chicago, but above all a humble man who loved the world of ideas, dusty tomes, and attending to his priestly duties with reverence at Mass.

Why Fr. Frank decided to befriend me, a struggling and thoroughly average young architecture student trying to make sense of life, can only be answered by providence. At the time I was grappling with the very central question of what the hell was I doing? From my early years I had an architectural awakening due in large measure to my father's collection of books by Frank Lloyd Wright, and by age 11 I was determined to follow that profession. I would liberate green graph paper from the closets in my 6th grade science class (eventually dear Mr. Steagall would generously keep me supplied), and draw plans from the Wright books, studying the relationships of geometry, proportion, sequences of spaces, details, and the like. Throughout high school I took every mechanical drafting class and art history class I could, learning the tools of the trade with a T-square and scales, triangles and a bow compass, mechanical pencils and the sandpaper pads to keep the points sharp, and the "pounce" drafting dust vainly attempting to keep the drawings from smudging.

My high school career was surgically, and somewhat myopically, directed toward getting into an architecture school, and I was fortunate to be accepted into my home town program at Arizona State University.  ASU at the time was known to be fine technical school, with a very high rate of success for graduates to pass the required professional examinations for architectural registration.  The faculty were mostly interesting and accomplished second generation modernists with solid local reputations, a few of whom had studied under the greats such as Louis Kahn, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Paul Rudolf. The program was, however, conspicuously light in the whole area of architectural theory and criticism.

I soon discovered that while everyone talked about "architecture", no one was really ready to talk about what it really was.  Now if one were to ask a professor of biology what it was that he studied, he might well reply "the study of living organisms", and if asked of an economics professor she might tell you that "economics concerns the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services", or "how people work within markets to get what they want given the problems of scarcity and competition", or even "how money works".  Yet in asking my architecture professors "what is architecture", I would get the most opaque and pretentious answers:

Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light.

 Architecture is frozen music.

The reality of the tea cup is the space within.

Architecture is the art of doing the common uncommonly well.

Architecture is a matter of taste, and our job is to tell you what you should like.

Architecture is commodity, firmness and delight -- (this last definition seemed more applicable to the young ladies in whom I was interested than to what I was designing). 

 In short, none of them could give a reasonable working definition of architecture, and yet were mercilessly dogmatic in our juried crits as to whether the student achieved ARCHITECTURE or not. It was entirely subjective as best as I could make out: Architecture depended on the caprice of the professor. Platitudes were thrown about; definitive judgments made without recourse to any defined standards; the architect was supposed to be some sort of prophet and priest telling others how to live, shaping buildings and whole cities that would shaped peoples' lives for better or for worse, yet with no fixed goals. The study of architectural history concerned what the buildings looked like, what were the defining features of the historical style, but never the 'why were they designed thus and so' question.  There were no objective standards for evaluation (apart from the purely technical and vital aspects of structural stability and how the building responded climatically), no reflection on what it means to be a human being, what it means to live in society, what it means to order raw nature for human habitation, the question of beauty, and how architecture addresses the aspirations of humanity.

In fact, beauty had been banished.  To speak of beauty was to risk incurring accusations of being a fascist, or holding an objective and totalizing world view, or trying to force one's beliefs on others.  Of course, this was precisely what every modernist architect does -- they are all behaviorists thinking that they can design buildings and cities that make people good, or that maximize human happiness, whatever those fuzzy terms might mean for them -- but at the time I was unaware of this contradiction. Symmetry was strictly verboten -- "it was designing only half a building" we were told. Any appeal to traditional styles, let alone the classical orders, was met with hostility.  A Nazi was behind every Doric column; classicism was the architecture of totalitarianism and pretension and was antidemocratic. For some reason, the mechanical aesthetic of steel, concrete, glass, flat roofs, and exposed mechanical ventilation systems that were mandated from Cleveland to Cairo escaped this "totalizing" and "objectivizing" critique.

Yet this was precisely my interest in architecture: to create places of delight, of beauty, of meaning, of well-being. I realize of course that I did not have that vocabulary at the time, but it was a slowly forming intuition of what I wanted for my life.  Why spend the next several decades building a career on something that meant nothing? What the hell was I doing?

Enter Fr. Frank, a mutual friend of Dr. and Mrs. John X. Evans, whom they had met on one of Prof. Evan's sabbaticals in London. When I most needed a mentor (Mentor, that friend of Odysseus who advised young Telemachus, and who helped form him mentally), they invited Fr. Frank to winter in Phoenix. Fr. Frank took me under his wing and engaged me in the question of architecture.  Though not trained in architecture, he was a man of great erudition and great ideas: the stuff of the Tudor and Stuart kings and queens who governed a powerful nation during the heights of the Renaissance. Conversationally he would explain to me the relationship between one's world view and what one produced: he knew personally both Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright from his tenure in Chicago, but more importantly he understood them. He instructed me on the way Wright's panentheism formed the basis for his Organic Architecture, and how Mies' reading of Spengler influenced the sense of linearity in Mies' architecture: the infinity of the line receding into the distant horizon was a bridge to avoid the imminent winter of civilization and to renew the exhausted mental habits of the West that were now architecturally and philosophically spent of all vitality, reduced to rehashing old tricks of historical styles.  For Mies, the clean line was the solution to the problem of human civilization. 

"All great architecture springs forth from philosophy", Fr. Frank would tell me again and again, "Get that philosophy!"

And so Fr. Frank would have me read: the documents of the Second Vatican Council on the role of the laity; the great midcentury neo-Thomists Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson on art and architecture and poetry and scholasticism; Eric Gill on beauty and craftsmanship; Aelred of Rievaulx on friendship; Josef Pieper on the relationship of culture to the cultus; even Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man to think about the relationship of faith to the modern world. And we would talk: about what qualities to look for in a spouse, about what wines to drink, about St. Thomas' five-fold correlation of love to the part of man, about English history, about his childhood life on a farm and his priesthood...

And when I had the opportunity to travel to London on a semester abroad architecture program, Fr. Frank would send me letters with explicit instructions of what buildings to visit, what museum exhibits to see, what plays and operas to attend, where to eat and drink well, and always including a £50 note to make sure that I had funds to do what he thought I would enjoy. When I made it to Rome, Fry Frank arranged for me to have wonderful accommodations with his Congregation in their mother house for a couple of weeks, again with a full itinerary of what a young Catholic architecture student should see in the Eternal City, and supplementary travel funds in lira.

From this most unlikely friendship of an elderly retired priest-professor to a budding young architect, I acquired an understanding of architecture that my university could never provide, and I acquired a vision for my life that was to be vocational: a response to the challenge of the Vatican Council's  Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity to "renew the temporal order" with the Spirit of Christ and the values of the Gospel. I developed the habit of thinking architecturally and as a Catholic, and came to understand how these are so deeply intertwined in the human experience.

Not too long after I graduated, Fr. Frank suffered a series of heart attacks and died on February 20, 1986. I had only recently visited him in the hospital, and was somehow aware of his passing that evening. When I heard he had died, I recalled the exact moment I thought about him the night before.  I suppose this is the sort of thing that Aelred would consider befitting of a spiritual friendship, which is a sacrament of God's love.

A year or so later I had the opportunity to continue to "get that philosophy" when, through the generosity of Rotary International, I was able to pursue the Master of Architecture at the University of Bath as a Paul Harris Fellow.  My focus was a continuation of my conversations with Fr. Frank: what was Catholic architecture? What is the Church asking of her architects in the design of churches?  Why are so many modern churches so ugly and devoid of meaning? How ought we to build churches that support the authentic vision of the Second Vatican Council for the liturgy and divine worship, for the parish community, and for the spiritual life of the lay faithful?

From that time in Bath, under the guidance of Prof. Michael Brawne, and with the criticisms of my readers Joseph Rykwert, Ted Cullinan, and Robert Tavernor, I was able to form a coherent understanding of how architecture in the Catholic sensibility is a sacramental enterprise-- all the more so since the church building itself is a sacramental reality intended to assist the lay faithful understand the things of God through the liturgy, sacred art, devotion, and architecture. That time of study led me to writing on the topic of church architecture, which then led to clients asking me to design churches, and in time I decided that vocationally this was to be my service to the Church.

These are the ideas the form the framework for this blog: it is a personal quest for architecture and art, liturgy and theology, beauty and life.

I hope you enjoy my reflections.

In memoriam
Rev. James Francis Larkin CSV
August 25, 1912 - February 20, 1986

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.

Who in your life has mentored you? 

Who has helped you most make sense of your life and your own vocation?

Francis and the Leper

One of my favorite questions to ask is "what one word would you use to describe the main message and the mission of Pope Francis?" What ONE WORD would you use to describe his pontificacy?

Before continuing to read, I'd ask you to ponder how you would answer that question.

The vast majority of folks seem to resonate with "mercy". Others mention "forgiveness", "love", "humility", "encounter", "justice", "authenticity", "shepherd", "understanding".

Interestingly, those who are more "traditional" or "conservative" use harsher language -- "renegade", "confusion", "disjointed". Many are confused by the signals Francis gives, and many are more than just a little concerned about what he does: his liturgical style, washing the feet of a Muslim woman, his off the cuff comments in his interviews which seems to lack the theological precision of his predecessor, his comments about "obsession" regarding abortion, how he won't personally judge homosexuals, and the like have brought nothing less than scornful judgment on the Successor of Peter. Typical of this concern, one otherwise orthodox Catholic blogger deemed himself competent to judge the Keeper of the Keys as "utterly reckless, theologically misleading, and borderline heretical." I doubt any such hubris comes out of a real gnosticism, although that is a rather gnostic judgment, but rather I hope out of a convergence of confusion and a lack of solid catechesis in the commentator. I don't want to revisit a laundry list of complaints against the Holy Father -- anyone reading this blog is already presumably already familiar with the general tenor of these concerns. Rather, I hope this essay helps frame Francis's mission for those who don't quite seem to get it.

For me the whole of Francis' pontificacy -- indeed, his whole life -- seems to come down to one word:  relationship. I'd venture that at virtually every event in his short papacy, especially at those that seem most scandalous or worrisome to the traditional Catholics, we can understand it best through a theology and a lived ascetical practice of relationship. I've commented on this in the past, and each time I am confronted by the challenge that Pope Francis presents to me, this intuition is confirmed.

A theology of relationship

Theologically, relationship is what the Jesus and his Church offer the world: primarily, the revelation that God is relationship in the Trinity and that there is a restored relationship with God to all of humanity through Christ's passion, death and resurrection.  This is an incarnational relationship between God and humanity; it is an ecclesial relationship in that Christ founded the Church on the Twelve and gave us the Holy Spirit that 2000 years hence we would know his Gospel inerrantly; it is a sacramental relationship that through the Church we might always have communion with Christ in the Body and Blood, we might always objectively know his forgiveness and mercy in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, that we might be truly incorporated into His Body and the life of grace through Baptism.

To say that "God is love" is to say that God is relationship. Love only exists in relationship: as Thomas teaches us, "love seeks union with the beloved": God within the trinity of persons, God to the human soul, us to each other.

 Moreover, both mercy and grace only exist within relationship. We can also therefore understand sin and brokenness as a fracturing of relationship, as alienation. The alien is the stranger, the one who does not belong, the one who is not in relationship: Adam and Eve alienated from God, Adam and Eve alienated from each other, Adam and Eve alienated from the natural order, Adam and Eve alienated from their very selves.

Original sin, or as I prefer Fr. Benedict Groeschel's term "the original wound", is a fracturing of relationship between the body and the soul, a disharmony between the will and the intellect, and inversion of the relationship of original justice. The passions and appetites and emotions and senses now co-opt the will and the intellect, rather than being servants of the will and intellect. All sin is therefore understandable as a breach of proper relationship where relationships are harmed or destroyed, rather than fostered. This shows the corruption of all sin: theft, abuse, pornography, adultery, greed, violence, slander, murder: it all destroys proper and healthy relationship. Every time we sin we sin against relationship: the just relationship due to God, each other, even to ourselves.

Conversely, to understand that "God is love" and that we are called to lives of virtue and holiness is to understand that we are called to healthy relationship with God and with each other. We find holiness and integration and healing through virtues and works of service that promote healthy relationship within our own souls and with each other in charity and justice.

This is what Christ came to bring, and why he give us the Church and the sacraments.

The Sacraments as relationship

Relationship is the basis of the Catholic sacramental system: that by divine ordination and grace there is an objective and real relationship between the spiritual world and the material world. This relationship is first and foremost understood in the Incarnation: that God became man in Jesus. The relationship is expressed in Emmanuel, "God with us", and that in the person of Jesus that God "tabernacles" with us. God is fully present,"body and blood, soul and divinity" in the material world in Jesus. There is a full restoration of the spiritual and the material in Christ. Indeed, this is what distinguishes Catholicism (or more broadly, the Apostolic Churches) from every other religion:  it is only through the material order, and in the fullness of our humanity as both body and soul, that we come to the spiritual realm.  We cannot participate in the world of grace, in the things of God, except through the material order and our very humanity.  This is a sacramental, and indeed an incarnational principle. The bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.  The waters of baptism bring us into new life in Christ, wash us of sins, and "kill" the old man that the new man might rise in Christ. Our marriage vows are an exchange of persons -- body and soul -- as we give our entire self to the other for our salvation, to bring about new life and establish families, and to continue the great work of building love relationships that in some way participate in the life of the Trinity. The power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the restoration of these broken relationships.

Relationship permeates all of human consciousness: the very idea that we are "rational beings" means that we naturally seek to understand one thing in terms of another. We create "ratios" between things to understand both similarities and differences, but always through comparative relationships. And we are made for relationship: on the natural order we are "social animals", and on the spiritual level we are made for relationship with God. Marriage and family life is about relationship. The whole of Catholic Social Teaching is about how to properly order relationships among persons within the civic order.

Science as understanding relationship

Science itself is the discovery of relationships between energy and mass, between matter and motion, how God has ordered all of creation from the subatomic level to vast solar systems in a harmony of relationship.  It is the very order of material relationship that allows life as we know it to exist.  Undoubtedly Francis understands this: he is a scientist by training.

Consider the relationship between hydrogen and oxygen.   Most materials are densest in their solid state. Most materials expand when heated up to the liquid state, and contract when cooled down to a solid. Molten bronze, for instance, when cast into a mold loses some percentage of volume. It becomes more dense as it cools.Water, conversely, becomes less dense when it moves to the solid state of ice. Due to the properties of hydrogen bonding, as water cools below 4°C, the two positively charged hydrogen atoms holds the single negatively charged oxygen atom farther apart from other oxygen atoms. This creates more space between the molecules, increases the volume of the ice crystal, and causes ice to be less dense than water -- ice floats because it is about 9% less dense than the surrounding water.

What does this mean? Simply that if ice did not float, life would not exist. Rivers and oceans would freeze from bottom up, rather than the top down.  But since ice forms a sheet over the water, that sheet also insulates the water below, which is kept warm by the earth's core temperature, which allows fish and underwater plants to survive throughout the winter. So simply, if the relationship of hydrogen and oxygen in H2O were otherwise, there would be no life.

On the macro level we see the necessity of a delicate balance of relationships for life to exist. Fr. Stanley Jaki wrote occasionally on these issues, notably in his book, "Maybe Alone in the Universe, After All".  If the sun and moon and earth were not in their rather precarious and unique relationship, life as we know it would not exist. The tilt of the earth's axis, the lunar pull of gravity to create tides, the distance and orbit of the earth to the sun, are all necessary for life to exist and to develop.

Msgr. Charles Pope comments on this theme, which I will allude to only a few of his points: Consider that the earth is far enough from the sun for water to exist: if the earth were too hot it would steam away, if it were too cold it would be perpetually frozen. The habitable zone of the earth also allows for all three states of H2O, which in turn allows for clouds and distribution of water, as water evaporates, rains and snows, forms lakes and glaciers and snow masses that return to the ocean by rivers and streams and aquifers, which allow life to be distributed widely across the globe.

Consider that the earth's tilt allows for seasonal variations which create changing conditions to develop complex life. If the earth's axis were parallel to the sun, then there would be no seasons and all the latitudinal zones would be basically thermally stable. Conversely, if the earth's axis were perpendicular to the sun, the one pole would be perpetually hot and the other pole perpetually cold, and the rest of the globe gradated in temperature between the two extremes. The actual tilt allows for seasonal variations and fairly even distribution of the sun's energy over much of the earth, which in turn allows photosynthesis across the globe and increased biodiversity.

Likewise, the relationship of the moon to the earth causes moderate tides which allow for great biodiversity -- again, if the tides were too extreme or nonexistent, life would not develop as diversely, and ocean streams would not move thermal energy around the world. Most of the world's thermal heat is stored in the oceans, which is moved by both ocean currents and winds which also move fresh water around the globe. All of these scientific facts point to a complexity of relationships that allow life itself to exist.

So life itself -- any sort of organized matter or complex of energy -- presupposes relationship. The scientist works on the assumption that everything in the universe is theoretically knowable by understanding the complexity of relationships, of order, of balance, of inexorable laws that govern these interactions.  Yet science has no way of addressing why there is relationship at all. All the modernist can say is that there is observable order and a working complexity, and that he or she is just a fortunate happenstance of matter and energy that is self aware and can look back on itself and the rest of material reality to understand relationship. Even "relationship" for the physicalist is nothing more than a taxonomy of meaning and organization that conscious mind imposes on matter and energy. And that imposition itself can be nothing more than electrochemical activity in the material brain organ of the self conscious biosystem.  Scientism has no answer for relationship itself. Somehow mind and consciousness and meaning and relationship developed out of stuff.

But Christianity has an answer for this wondrous system of relationships: that God is relationship, and that all relationship comes from God who orders all things. Matter is organized and ordered by the divine Mind, by God, whose relational nature permeates and informs all of God's creation. The physicalist, the materialist, the atheist is stuck with the randomness of relationship that they participating in on every level, and work to make sense of. But they cannot account for the fact of relationship itself. The Christian, however, can account for both the spiritual and the material, the world of matter and energy as well as the world of ideas and rationality by which we know the world of matter and energy.

In the end, there are only two possibilities, which can be expressed in a variety of ways:
Either Mind created matter or brain organs that think and know somehow evolved from matter. 

Either the spiritual gave order to the material, or the material somehow produced some self aware complex biosystems that are capable of knowing that they are nothing more than self aware complex biosystems. 

Either we are just random happenstances of electrochemical activity that have no meaning and no purpose and no cause and no final end -- which can only be ultimately a position of nihilism -- or we are actually created as relational beings in a relational universe by God who is relationship itself. 

Either God made us and love us in relationship, or matter somehow gave rise to human consciousness that made God and calls some theoretically knowable neurochemical reactions "love".
Francis understands this, and understands what is at stake.

The mission of Pope Francis

So the whole mission of Francis is, in my estimation, to help us understand God and the things of God, the Church and the Church's mission, our moral and spiritual life, our care for the things of this world and for each other, as ordered to relationship.

The heart of relationship is, of course, love. The practice of relationship is mercy and compassion, acceptance and understanding. The goal of relationship is justice. Relationship requires encounter with the other, which requires humility and service. None of these are alien to Francis's theology or ascetical practice.  As Christ brought the lepers into a restored relationship with the Jewish community; as St Francis embraced the leper, which was a key moment in his own conversion; so Holy Father Francis shows us the true meaning of relationship in this most powerful image, which presents to me a challenge I can hardly bear.

Pope Francis, embracing a man covered in boils, at the General Audience, 06 Nov 2013.  Source and Copyright: La Stampa 2013

What one word would you use to describe the main message of Pope Francis?

How does his pontificacy most challenge you to follow Christ and live the Gospel in the Church?