St. Joan of Arc

Today, May 30, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of Joan of Arc.

“Joan of Arc had all that and with this great addition, that she endured poverty as well as admiring it; whereas Tolstoy is only a typical aristocrat trying to find out its secret. And then I thought of all that was brave and proud and pathetic in poor Nietzsche, and his mutiny against the emptiness and timidity of our time. I thought of his cry for the ecstatic equilibrium of danger, his hunger for the rush of great horses, his cry to arms. Well, Joan of Arc had all that, and again with this difference, that she did not praise fighting, but fought. We know that she was not afraid of an army, while Nietzsche, for all we know, was afraid of a cow. Tolstoy only praised the peasant; she was the peasant. Nietzsche only praised the warrior; she was the warrior. She beat them both at their own antagonistic ideals; she was more gentle than the one, more violent than the other. Yet she was a perfectly practical person who did something, while they are wild speculators who do nothing”.

GK Chesterton
Orthodoxy

I hope this quote from Orthodoxy peaks your interest into the life of this great saint of the Catholic Church.

 

Atlas: A Masterpiece

From time to time I get into a band so intently that I hardly listen to anything else. Has that ever happen to you? The fact that I keep coming back to listen to it over and over tells me that it is not just disposable melodies, whose enjoyment and novelty burst open just after a few listens, but a real musical effort that has substance, whose full beauty demands time to unpack and discover all its subtleties.

Atlas by Sleeping at Last is one of such albums. Ever since my best friend introduced me to it, I have been captivated by this amazing musical marvel. Atlas is a yearlong project by Ryan O’Neal, a singer and songwriter behind the band Sleeping at Last.

O’Neal describes, Atlas, as an “overarching story of how our universe came to be, and how we were woven together inside it*. It is a storybook about us looking at the heavens and marveling at the wonders of creation while navigating the vast oceans of human existence. The lyrics give witness to such epic task when he sings:

 You say it one more time,
That the universe was made
Just to be seen by my eyes.

 With shortness of breath, I’ll explain the infinite
How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist.

Atlas might be the best Christian album that I have ever listened to. The lyrics are grounded on a firm admiration of creation and the uniqueness and preciousness of life while its melodies constantly remind you of the beauty and elegance of creation. It is like O’Neal songwriting agrees with the psalmist in every song:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

Psalm 19:1

I am not even sure if Sleeping at Last considered themselves as a Christian band or even if they agree with such category, but they sing about hope, forgiveness, frailty, desire, love, hope and wonder, all essential ingredients of the great drama that is life.

God Bless.

If I have peaked your interest go and visit their at website: http://sleepingatlast.com

Fr. Kapaun

In honor of Memorial Day, Chris Stefanick, posted this moving video about Fr. Kapaun. I am speechless…

 

If you have a family member who is a veteran and is suffering from post traumatic disoder introduce him to the story of Fr. Kapaun, he will find a friend that is in heaven and will watch over him…

http://www.frkapaun.org

Fr. Kapaun pray for us!

Why can’t Christians make good films?

When I was growing up I had a friend who was into, what I can only describe as “death metal Christian band” either that or a “screamo” Christian band. To this day I have no idea what that was, all I remember thinking: “boy that is odd”. Years later I remember talking to an evangelical friend and telling him how odd is to have a “death metal” Christian band singing songs of worship. Just imagine someone shouting from the top of his lungs with a deep ghastly voice: “Jesus Saves You” over and over against the backdrop of screams and dissonant guitar riffs… odd, isn’t? My friend said: if that leads them to Christ then he was fine with it. I quickly agree with him and move on…

Years later, I am confronted with a slightly different question: why modern Christian art is so bad? Let me make some distinctions before you stop reading. When I say bad I mean humdrum, preachy and uninspiring. For example, movies with a Christian themes tend to be long protracted sermons aimed at having someone to accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior right on the spot but are devoid of the great drama of human life. They only have one audience in mind: churchgoing Christians. Another example is praise and worship music. I don’t listen to it. I rather think most of it is just plain bad. I am sorry but it is just an opinion. I find myself closer to God listening to Sigur Ros, an admittedly pagan band with a homosexual front man, than anything I hear on your garden variety of praise and worship station.

This is a generalization. On one hand, there are movies like The Kid with a Bike or the Son, by the Belgian filmmakers Dardenne brothers, that have profound but subtle Christian themes, the detrimental effects of an absent father on the former and forgiveness on the latter.  On the other hand, you have movies like Mel Gibson’s masterpiece the Passion of the Christ. Which challenges you in almost every single frame because it conveys the story of the greatest love that ever was and does so superbly.

The art of subtlety, for the most part, has been lost in Christian art. Subtlety is powerful because it bypasses your own biases and hits you, like a clever joke that conveys some truth. The beauty and the sense of wonder about our faith are often lost because we are so close to it and the filmmakers don’t know how to translate it into the screen. Also, we are guilty of forgetting that before the resurrection there was the passion, that without the Cross, there is no Easter. That, in the drama of life, sin and redemption are powerful. Yet we often don’t really see that in most Christian films. The characters are fixed from beginning till end. No real danger of a precipice to fall and thereby no payoff, no growth and no dramatic event, such as in God is not Dead movie. Alternatively, movies like Joe managed to convey this tight rope dance between sin and redemption, between the ugliness and the beauty of life. I can’t really recommend this movie to everyone, but it tells the story of a very sinful man searching for redemption and making a difference in the life of a kid.

I think this is why we are losing the so-called culture war. We are afraid of engaging the culture where it is and if we do, we can’t resist the urge to preach and succumbing to all temptations and pitfalls of a bore.

The answer is that we should not conform to the “isn’t that nice” attitude. Why not offer the best we can offer? Why not stride to make the best art we can make and not just pay lip service to something that we believe? Why not build cathedrals whose stain glasses are a living gospel that evangelizes the illiterate? Why not be passionate about the gift that God as given you and share them with the world?

St. Paul says in Romans 12:6: “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them…” If you are a blogger, a musician, an aspiring filmmaker or a photographer just make the best blog, the best music, the best film and the best picture that you can make… after all any frame can be a Cathedral stain glass that can evangelize the unbeliever.

God Bless.

If you are interested in this subject, I highly recommend the essay: Why Heathen makes the best Christian Films or Peter Kreef’s talk about Beauty from which I took a lot of inspiration writting this post. Tell me what think in the comments below.

One more note:

Funny thing, I started writing this post wanting to write about Sleeping at Last recently completed a yearlong music album “Atlas”. They are one of my favorite bands that embody the spirit that I wrote about. I guess I will save that post for later.

A brief thought about miracles

Sometimes I feel that as Christians, we are indifferent to the miracles that happen around us. Indifference is not a kind word. It is the anti-thesis of being alive; it is a recipe for boredom that leads to spiritual death. Miracles are mighty, unexpected and mysterious. They are mighty because they turn upside down the laws of nature. They are unexpected because we often don’t look for them and when they happen, we explain them away as coincidences. They are mysterious because we cannot explain them but they are real.

I wonder if the real reason why we are indifferent to miracles is because, if we really believe in them, we are forced to reckon with what they reveal to us: that there is something more than mere materialism and that something is God. Miracles force us to confront that reality and perhaps we are fearful because of what that reality may demand from us.

Another explanation might be that as Christians we refuse to ground our faith in external signs. After all Jesus said in John 20:29: “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” but if we already believe why not rejoice when the creator of the universe shows us a glimpse of his power from time to time?

The fact that many so-called miracles can be explained by science or are simply fraud should not stop us from testing everything and hold on to what is true (1 Thessalonians 5:21). An open heart will open your eyes, perhaps one day you will realize that your very existence is a miracle in itself because without God’s will we would simply cease to exist.

Amateur

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

GK Chesterton
What’s Wrong with the World

This should be the motto of every amateur in the world! I subscribe to the idea that passion should always come first and “perfection” will follow.

Here is a great article about this often misquoted quote by Chesterton: A Thing Worth Doing

5 things to know about cancer

I have been greatly touched by friends who have battled cancer over the years. Some are still fighting the good fight others have won it and sadly others lost it. In their memory I hope that this post serves as a general introduction to cancer origin and progression.

1. Cancer is not a single disease.

Cancer is a collection of diseases that are characterized by uncontrolled cell growth and invasion of other tissues. There are more than 100 types of cancer with different levels of aggression and responsiveness to treatment. Thereby there is not a single silver bullet to treat all cancers.

The American Cancer Society

2. Cancer is caused by accumulation of mutations.

The underlying cause of cancer is the accumulation of multiple changes to our genetic code (DNA) referred as mutations. The accumulation of these mutations causes cells to become unresponsive to cell growth-governing functions thus allowing for uncontrolled growth.   Uncontrolled cell growth, in turn, further facilitates the accumulation of other mutations that may cause cancer to develop into more aggressive forms. 

3. Family history and environmental factors can increase risk of cancer.

Family history of cancer and environmental factors such as smoking, heavy drinking and STDs can predispose/cause someone to develop cancer.

Family History

Family history of cancer may be due to a genetic predisposition.  Genetic predisposition refers to an inherited mutation(s) that may predispose someone to develop a disease.

Breast cancer is a classic example of genetic predisposition.  Studies show that in the general population about 12% of women will develop breast cancer at some point, however, it is estimated that between 45% to 65% of woman with a pre-existing mutation will develop breast cancer.  The culprits are the breast cancer related genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.  Both of these genes are involved in DNA damage repair. Mutations in these genes may adversely affect the normal function of these genes allowing for the accumulation of additional mutations that may lead to cancer. Men and woman with mutations in these genes have a greater risk of developing breast cancer.

For more information about BRCA1 and BRCA2 visit:

National Cancer Institude

Environment

Environmental factors may increase the risk of cancer.  Substances that cause mutation that may lead to cancer are called carcinogens.  Exposure to such substance can lead to cancer. A great example is cigarettes smoke. According to the CDC cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, 70 are carcinogens. Over time, the constant exposure to these carcinogens causes the accumulation of mutations that eventually will lead to lung cancer. That is why a smoker is 15 to 30 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a non-smoker.

4. Cancer formation is a multi-stage process that can take decades to develop.

Cancer develops in a multi-step process that can take decades to complete. Thereby most cancers affect people later in life. For example, in order for a cell to become cancerous, it must overcome biological safeguards such as growth control checkpoints and cell-death inducing signals that prevent cancer formation. In addition to these biological safeguards cancer cells must also cope with environmental challenges such as nutrient deprivation and lack of oxygen that restrict their growth and ability to invade other tissues. Moreover, cancer like infectious disease has to evade the immune response.

nihms377773f3

Natural selection drives these processes. Natural selection is an evolutionary process in which the fittest individuals are selected; in the case of cancer individuals are cells. Thus, natural selection requires diversity of traits within a population and the selection of those traits that are beneficial. This diversity arises mostly through mutations. Most mutations are either bad or neutral. However, in some rare cases a mutation may give cells an advantage over other non-mutated cells. In cancer, a beneficial mutation translates into the ability to proliferate independently of cell growth inhibitors or the ability to secrete signals that will trigger angiogenesis (blood vessel formation) and allow cells to invade surrounding tissues.

It is thought that early in cancer development cells acquire what is called a “mutator phenotype”. This means that cancer cells acquire new mutations at a faster pace than healthy cells.  This increases the pool of new traits and the chances for a beneficial trait that can enable cancer progression.

5. Cancer treatments are different.

Given that there is not a single type of cancer. Cancers respond differently to cancer therapies. For example, a drug that may be effective treating prostate cancer may not necessarily be effective treating breast cancer or leukemia.

National Cancer Institude
American Cancer Society
MD Anderson Cancer Center

If you have a family history of cancer do not be afraid, talk to your physician. Early detention will greatly improve treatment success. Stop if you are engaging in cancer causing behaviors. Life is worth living to the fullest and cancer is not worth it! If you have been diagnosed with cancer and you are undergoing treatment, please remember the words of Christ:

“Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Mark 9:23

Trust in Jesus! He loves you more than anything in this world and keep the fight!

Please consider supporting cancer research and visit:

Johnny Kicks Cancer Foundation.

God Bless.