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No matter the issue around the world, it seems the one leader all look to for a solution is Pope John Paul II. Many don't want to hear it, but realize the clout and respect he holds as the most influential and trusted man on the face of the earth. This has been evident in his dealings with the various world agencies on population control, the media, and most recently on women's health where this past Friday he addressed the question of reproductive health which abortionists hold up as the standard to legitimize the rationale for abortion. The Holy Father stressed the importance of the woman's physiological, spiritual, and biological makeup which includes "not only the prevention of diseases and respect for her procreative powers, but also a need to understand the female psychological and spiritual needs." The pontiff asserted that the term "reproductive health" should never ever be used to justify an "offense against the dignity of women or the life of the unborn child." The theme of ecumenism seemingly begins and ends with Rome where almost all Christian faiths have sprouted from. In an effort to reunite them eventually and to bring harmony among God's children, the Holy Father has launched a crusade for ecumenism as we document also today in NEWS & VIEWS.
But possibly his greatest triumph this year has to be the announcement yesterday that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had come to an amiable settlement with Saddam Hussein to possibly prevent an American attack on Iraq. Though the media will credit Annan, others and, of course the Clinton administration will take credit as well, the real power and influence in Annan's peace talks were, once again, the Pope. Last week we announced on these pages that the Vatican diplomats had been working overtime in delivering a personal message from Pope John Paul II asking the UN leader to visit Baghdad to help negotiate a peaceful solution. Ordinarily the Vatican does not make such diplomatic efforts public, but it's on record they did and let's see the media play that one down. We believe without the strong urging of the Vatican the temporary peace agreement could not have been reached. Had Hussein thought Annan's offer came from the United States he would have rejected arrogance with arrogance, but because he, like every other head of state in the world has total respect for this humble, but confident Polish pontiff, Saddam was more willing to listen to reason. That's the kind of clout and leadership John Paul II carries. He is the "man of the twentieth century," a special saint God has given us in these turbulent times for our Church and all mankind, a God-given "unifier of hearts" in a heartless world. Oh, satan, will be furious at this latest news of averting war, and will do all in his power to foil the Holy Father's blueprint for peace. We are still in the period of the "false peace" the Blessed Mother has warned so often about. But in this world of hawks, one dove stands out. When the Pope speaks the world listens and the UN Secretary General went into action only after the Vatican proposal. John Paul II is a man of great spirituality, great compassion, great insight, great wisdom, great character, and has a greater understanding of nations, their people, cultures, faiths, economics, and politics than anyone else alive today; many times showing a greater handle on the situations than the particular nation's own leader. (The United States comes to mind in this respect!) Put those all together and there is even more reason for hope. For John Paul II is truly the reason...and reason is the reason today everyone is breathing a little easier for because the Pope spoke, the world and Saddam have listened!
It is one thing to be inflicted with almost a global hearing loss, but it is quite another thing to realize that even the listening power is at a very low ebb. To be able to LISTEN demands more of the individual than mere hearing. In listening, one's whole being has to be attuned to and even absorbed by what is being said by another. Body and soul are called upon to cooperate in every act of listening. Much is required both of the body and of the soul. The body needs to stop any major activity in which it is engaged. The head is expected to turn towards the person speaking, with eyes fixed on the speaker. The will of a would-be listener is expected to come up with a WANT to listen. The mind must be cleared of thought and be set into a receptive mode. A true act of listening calls upon the whole being of a person to give his/her full attention to what is being said. It is no easy task in our day for anyone to become a "good listener."
That listening is put into the category of an "art" is understandable. In any area of a bookstore or library, under the title of "self help," one might come across a title such as, "The Art of Good Listening." Why is it understandable? Because we are a damaged people. This must be the chief reason. Remember, way back in King David's time, people must have had this problem. In Psalm 115: 6 we read, "They have ears, but do not hear." The same problem appeared in Jesus' time. How often we find Him saying in the gospels, "He who has ears, let him hear." This problem gave concern to Jesus as He quotes the prophet in Matthew 13: 15, "Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted and I will heal them." It must be that the problem of good listening is a characteristic of fallen man. It is part of our lot in being conceived in Original Sin. In spite of the fact that this Sin has been washed away by Baptism, we still find heavy on our shoulders its effects.
In my next installment I will continue with this as I share my counseling experience about listening and how satan manipulates us to not hear what is truly being said.
To review Father Valenta's previous columns in this series, go to Archives beginning with the August 18, 1997 issue of A CALL TO PEACE: volume 8, no. 16.
The parish, however, remains the foundational expression of Church community. Among the main purposes of parishes are the following: to be a place to celebrate the Eucharist regularly, to build Christian community, to inititate and to form Catholics in their faith, and to organize for charitable works. It is also the place where the laity can best use their ministries and charisms. Furthermore, in our age of dehumanization and disintegration of social structures, parishes can be islands of community where those who seek community can find refuge.
Next week: Chapter Two: Lay Freedom to Form Groups
As inspiring as these paintings are, what's even more inspirational is the crusade Brooks is campaigning for with his "Institute of the Sacred Arts" which is not only a commendable and laudable effort, but a necessary one in these times when sacred art has become a joke in the face of modern thinking. Matthew's dream which is fast becoming reality is to establish a school specifically for the restoration of Sacred Art in paints, sculpture, frescos, architecture, design, manuscript illumination and countless other applications for churches, chapels and sacramentals such as chalices, monstrances, etc. This endeavoring to establish a rich culture in the sacred arts is being undertaken by establishing a place in Massachusetts where future masters can come and learn the arts, studying the masters of church art coupled with a strong prayer-life so that vocations can also flourish or, in the case of religious who have the God-given talents, they can devote their lives to praising God and, through their work, add a great deal to the edification of all that is holy for generations to come. Because this site has been criticized by modernist and liberal Catholic groups, we hold it in even higher esteem, therefore bestowing our prestigious. Matthew writes, "The biggest obstacle our apostolate faces in trying to encourage the adornment of Churches to honor Our Lord's presence there is the prevailing misconception that there is no inspiring art being produced in this barren age. NOT TRUE! We have been gathering artists of talent who have done religious art (admittedly there aren't that many but the quality is there) with the aim of providing a resource to parishes and religious organizations and stimulating a new renaissance of Catholic culture." But, as Matthew reasons, the art has to be seen and so often gaining viewers in the churches or, in this case, on the web is not easy. That is why we strongly recommend you go this site, tell others about it, and who knows - from this seed of exposure more modern masters may emerge from under their bushel baskets to reveal to the world the talents God has given them so that they can, through their art, give greater glory to God. Matthew asserts that the web site, while serving as a vehicle to inform everyone of this ambitious campaign, is meant to inspire and encourage devotion to the Eucharist through the adornment of God's House. In his archives section he offers excellent rationales on his purpose and the rise, decline and necessity for restoring Catholic art again in this age when teens can recite the words to the latest rock group's obscene lyrics, but can't tell you the words to the Apostles' Creed. The articles reveal much about the evolution of art in the Church. The cause Matthew Brooks is undertaking is well worth others to get involved and help through a donation and providing information on other artists and art throughout the country and the world. Matthew sums it up best when he writes, "It is to this purpose that I have set myself, not to singlehandedly turn the arts around, but to make a beginning. To go back to that point where the divergence began and by prayer, work, and the Grace of God to find the road that should have been taken and to begin to travel towards what might have been. Pope St. Pius X said we must "restore all things to Christ." It is my hope that others will join me in restoring the visual arts to Christ. It can only happen when men turn themselves towards the greater glory of God and begin again to seek to give Him the very best as is His due; when men begin again adorning altars and building beautiful churches; when Christ is again restored to His rightful place in the decoration of Christian homes, and when artists become uncompromising in their insistance on the proper use of the gifts God has given them."
For the number of graphics on this site and background, it loads surprisingly fast. The layout is clean and easy to read with good use of space and an antique classical look throughout. The thumbnails are clear and the paintings brilliant in color and clarity. Probably the only setback we had was trying to access "The Mural" which is an 18 foot mural done by Brooks on Saint John the Evangelist. For some reason there was no scroll bar and we were not able to view the rest of the page. We have no doubt this will be corrected soon, possibly within the day and all can view this magnificent work which now adorns the Church of St. John the Evangelist. Other than that small glitch, this edifying site is well worth seeing and sharing with others. It combines beauty in art with the cause for prayer and action and therefore richly deserves to be acknowledged. Therefore, we present our "Golden Chalice Award" to this site and confer SEVEN Hail Mary's to this site for it truly depicts the hopes and dreams of Catholic art for the Third Millennium and gives us all a glimpse of the unmined talent that will signal the new renaissance within the Church - the Church which countless millions will flock to in the new era - the Second Advent - the Reign of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Now there is a sound of footsteps and I turn to see an elderly man, nicely dressed, approach this quiet place where Jesus has withdrawn to pray and be with His Father.
"Master," the servant whispers respectfully.
"Yes?" answers our Lord who stirs, moves and rises, allowing by His movements the servant to approach.
"The household has quieted. The women have retired to their quarters with your Holy Mother. Lazarus has prepared a room where you may meet with those whom you desire. Afterwards, Master, the meal will be served." The servant looks intently at our Lord, no doubt noting the physical fatigue, and does not say that having the meal first would seem more prudent.
"Thank you, Jonathan. Go now and tell Lazarus and his sisters that I shall come. I will see the women first, one at a time, and then My Blessed Mother."
Jonathan bows and hurried off while Jesus steps into the sunshine and lifts His face toward Heaven. He prays - silently - and not even a breeze disturbs His communication with His Father. All of nature responds with respect to the Divine Will. Then Jesus comes forward and I see Him so at peace. I am filled with His peace. It is unshakable. Nothing of the world can describe it or compare to it.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Part Two of Lesson 2: FAREWELL TO THE HOLY WOMEN AND THE MOTHER