Categories
Ink Slingers

A Catholic Sistas Interview with Artists Daniel Mitsui

This past month I was fortunate enough to interview artist Daniel Mitsui. With stunning and unique Catholic artwork, Daniel is an artist to notice. His meticulously detailed ink drawings are made entirely by hand on paper or calfskin vellum and are held in collections worldwide. Since his baptism in 2004, most of his artwork has been religious in nature.

Daniel was kind enough to answer my questions and share a little more about himself and his art…

For starters, your art is stunning. I knew this when I asked for the interview. However, I didn’t expect to find such enlightening lectures on your website. They are a treat to read. I particularly liked your lecture titled Heavenly Outlook.

In light of that work, I was wondering if you could more generally comment on the differences between secular art and Catholic art. How should a faithful Catholic approach and appreciate art found both inside and outside of the church?

Thank you.

I do not think that art can be cleanly divided into categories of Catholic and secular. I think you need to consider at the very least three categories. First, there is sacred art that is used in the formal worship of the Church, or that is at least appropriate to be used there: musical settings of the Mass ordinary, vestments, stained glass windows, illuminated Psalters, things like that. Second, there is religious art that is about the Old and New Testaments, or the lives of the saints, or Catholic doctrines and morals – but is not really meant to reside inside the sanctuary. That includes things like Christmas carols and picture book illustrations. And then there is art that is not explicitly religious. But that art might very well present a religious worldview, or teach some important lesson, and thus still be considered Catholic art.

Although most of my drawings are commissioned or bought by individuals and used for private devotion, I try to uphold certain principles that would place them in the first category. What distinguishes sacred art is that tradition and beauty have a special, glorified meaning. I wrote in the lecture you mentioned:

To make art ever more beautiful is not to take it away from its source in history, but to take it back to its source in Heaven. Sacred art does not have a geographic or chronological center; it has, rather, two foci, like a planetary orbit. These correspond to tradition and beauty. One is the foot of the Cross; the other is the Garden of Eden. -“Heavenly Outlook” by Daniel Mitsui

So tradition is more than a matter of respecting old ways; it is about carrying Divine Revelation forward through history. Sacred art is akin to the sacred liturgy and the writings of the Church Fathers. It is one of the means by which the memory of what Jesus Christ said and did in the presence of His Apostles was kept. For example, in sacred art, sacred liturgy and patristic exegesis, comparisons are constantly made between events of the Old Testament and events of the New Testament that they prefigure. This is not just poetic fancy; it is a way of thinking that Jesus Christ Himself taught: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

And beauty is more than a manner of pleasing the bodily senses. The appreciation of beautiful art and music is a vestige of our prelapsarian experience; it is a nostalgia for Paradise lost and a means of elevating our minds toward blessedness. Hugh of St. Victor, Suger of St. Denis and St. Hildegard of Bingen, three of the outstanding thinkers of the twelfth century, articulated this theology of beauty especially well.

In sacred art, both tradition and beauty are necessary. To neglect the former is to make sacred art into little more than a showy display.

To neglect the latter – to contend that so long as the art is traditional, it doesn’t really matter how beautiful it is – is a terrible diminution of its holy purpose. Very often, this is justified by a humbug idea of prayerfulness, an idea that to pray means to close your eyes and think pious thoughts to yourself, and nothing more. If this is the idea, then sacred art gets described as prayerful just for being easy to ignore. Any art that is especially beautiful, excellent, elaborate or interesting gets condemned as distracting because it actually compels you to open your eyes and ears and pay attention to it.

I really find this idea offensive. The backs of your eyelids are not windows into Heaven; they are mirrors back into your own imagination! Sacred art is supposed to lift you out of your own imagination, toward the spiritual realm.

Pulling from your lecture Invention and Exultation you are quoted saying, In our time, tradition is not a thing that is handed down so much as a thing that must be excavated. And once an artist begins to dig, he finds, in a different sense, altogether too much.

With this in mind, what do you think the contemporary Catholic artist’s role is in restoring or protecting the traditions of the faith? Do you think there are places for growth or renewal?  

What I was trying to say in that lecture is that tradition has an objective content, a content that anyone can discover. Elsewhere, I have written:

It is an all-too-common error for the faithful in the present day to confuse tradition itself with its legal enforcement by ecclesiastical authority- as though tradition were nothing more than a stack of documents bearing the correct signatures. This is an epistemological absurdity; the bishops who are tasked with writing these documents need to know what they know somehow! –“Heavenly Outlook” by Daniel Mitsui

A pope or bishop has no privy religious knowledge that is hidden from the rest of us. Insofar as he knows what is actually traditional, he knows it the same way that you or I do: based on evidence in the agreement of the Church Fathers, the law of worship and the ancient, universal practice of the faithful. The necessary keys to understanding it are the gifts of the Holy Ghost received at Baptism and Confirmation.

I think that a many of the Catholic faithful who are frustrated by bad art, bad music and bad architecture in their churches see no way to fix the problem except by having a pope or bishop write and sign and enforce a document condemning it. I don’t expect any such document to be forthcoming. If I did, I honestly would be terrified. A magisterial attempt to regulate sacred art can do far more to impede the creation of good artwork than bad. I am remembering especially the ruinous efforts of the bishop John Molaus in the late 16th century.

Hopefully, more and more of the faithful will realize that they do not need to wait for official permission to discover, preserve and restore what is actually traditional, or to make beautiful artwork that honors it – whether contributing as artists or patrons. Sacred art is one of the few endeavors that the Church has entrusted to laymen for a very long time, and that is today an advantage.

Your art is incredibly complex and detailed. What is your process? What tools do you use? How do choose the different symbolic pieces for your overall composition?

My preferred medium is ink drawing on calfskin vellum. I do not usually make rough drafts. I work out a composition in pencil on calfskin, then ink over the outlines using a metal-tipped dip pen. I use the pen to apply dark colors, and then paintbrushes to apply light ones. A knife is useful both for correcting mistakes and scratching additional details into the ink once it is dry.

Because calfskin is translucent, I sometimes draw details on the opposite side, in reverse; these can be seen faintly through the vellum, or more clearly when the drawing is held up to a light. Thus, the drawing has a different character depending on the angle and time of day that it is seen.

As for figuring out the appropriate symbolism, that is mostly a matter of preliminary research – into patristic commentaries, art historical writings and older works of art. A useful reference is the Biblia Pauperum, a book from the late Middle Ages that presents forty events from the life of Jesus Christ, each juxtaposed with two events in the Old Testament that prefigure it, and four prophecies.

Admittedly, I am quite a novice when it comes to appreciating and understanding both the devotional purposes of Catholic art and the regularly occurring symbolism that can be found around a church. Where should beginners start? Are there any resources you would suggest?

Some of the very best books for an introduction to the symbolism in sacred art are the trilogy written by the French art historian Emile Mâle, Religious Art in France of the Middle Ages. There is one volume on the 12th century, one on the 13th, and one on the late Middle Ages. All of these have been translated into English. The volume on the 13th century, sometimes titled The Gothic Image, is the most comprehensive, and the easiest to acquire. It has its flaws, but it holds up remarkably well for a scholarly work written a century ago. Another very valuable resource is The Golden Legend, a collection of saints’ lives and commentaries on liturgical feasts that was compiled in the 13th century by Blessed James of Voragine. An English translation by William Granger Ryan is in print.

Full transparency, I am a huge fan of your rosary coloring book. I have often used it as part of my own devotional practice. I am excited to share it with my children in the coming year. As a father, what is your advice when it comes to exposing children to Catholic art?

My purpose in teaching my children about art is not for them to appreciate art just so that they can one day sound smart talking about it! I rather want them to think of it as an ordinary and necessary part of their lives and something that they can themselves make. So in my home, we present holy pictures as familiar things: my kids kiss them goodnight and carry them in household processions. We place pictures around the yard for a little pilgrimage on All Saints’ Day; we hide a handwritten Alleluia sign before Septuagesima; we cover the statues with cloth during Passiontide.

My publisher is marketing my three coloring books (Mysteries of the Rosary, The Saints, and Christian Labyrinths) to adults, but I always thought of them as being for children also. My four kids all love to draw, and don’t need any special encouragement; but for kids who are less inclined, coloring books can be a way to encourage them to participate in art at an early age.

A lot of coloring books marketed to children, especially religious ones, have really insipid artwork and that, of course, defeats the whole purpose. Children appreciate artwork that is made with care and detail; they don’t actually want to look at things that look like they were drawn by other children! I hope to offer an alternative, both with my coloring books and the individual coloring pages available for download on my website,

I advise parents to keep an eye out for picture books on religious subjects that have especially fine illustrations, ones influenced by manuscript illumination or other traditional sacred art. Some favorites in our home include Mikhail Fiodorov’s Bible Stories, Maurice Boutet de Monvel’s Joan of Arc, Heidi Holder’s The Lord’s Prayer, Pamela Dalton’s The Story of Christmas, Barry Moser’s Moses, Tomie de Paola’s St. Francis and Gennady Spirin’s Creation. I care more about my children appreciating these illustrations and copying them than about their knowing the big famous names of art history.

Where can people connect with you?

My website is www.danielmitsui.com. This is where I display recent drawings, prints, and writings. I have accounts (Daniel Mitsui, Artist) on Facebook and Pinterest, and my e-mail is danielmitsuiartist@gmail.com. I am accepting commissions now.

Categories
Domestic Church Ink Slingers Kasey Lent Liturgical Year

My Liturgical Suitcase: The Penitential Psalms

My Liturgical Suitcase
I never felt a weight associated with the liturgical seasons until I had children.

From the moment I held my eldest son, I knew I had the grave responsibility to raise him as a good Catholic in a world that, at times, can be a very hostile and cruel place.

Selfishly, I also wanted memories.

I wanted the cookie baking, card making, St. Nicholas shoes filling, Easter basket earning memories of a home that was built on the shoulders of a Catholic tradition.

The issue was that I wanted traditions that I hadn’t been raised with myself and I was floundering in the Pinterest perfect social media posts of bloggers and friends who had already found their secret sauce.

I was also a hormonal new mom looking for purpose and I was drinking deep from a well of insecurity.

So naturally, I tried everything.

I handpainted Jesse Tree ornaments.
I baked traditional Easter cookies that my baby couldn’t even eat yet.  
I spent hours looking for an Advent wreath that would fit on our tiny apartment table.
I agonized over the Masses I missed because of sleep deprivation and nursing troubles.

And ultimately, I felt like a failure. There wasn’t a way to do everything and be everything in the throes of early motherhood.

And then a streak of real life happened.

It started with a nasty bout of flu during the Triduum.

A pregnancy that made it difficult to enter our church because of the incense.

And recently, two Christmas seasons that were spent with very ill grandparents.

This past year, my sons and I flew across the country to be caregivers for my mother-in-law who had fallen ill during chemotherapy.

No tree.
No gifts from us.
And a church that felt foreign.

I cannot say this was ground zero. I will not lament over an important duty. It was the only right decision.

But it did break me.

It disconnected me from the constant stream of expectations I had built up for myself.

It gave me a suitcase with actual limits and asked: “What are you bringing with you?”

After essentials, there was room for three things: my Bible, my missal, and a cross to hang over the door.

As Christmas approached we were no longer hanging hand painted ornaments on a lighted tree branch. We weren’t singing Christmas carols or baking cookies. But we were returning to scripture every day. We were together and I could breathe into a season of hope in a time when I felt very alone.

For Lent, I have decided to simplify my season routine again and to focus on reading scripture with my children. My husband introduced me to the seven penitential psalms and I thought their history was worth sharing.

These particular psalms are grouped together not only because of their expressions of sorrow for sin but also because of their association with the seven deadly sins. They have often been interpreted as a type of spiritual ladder in which the reader embraces a separate virtue as he or she reads each psalm. Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly assigned them as such:

Psalm 6: Fear of Punishment
Psalm 32: Sorrow for Sin and the Desire for Confession
Psalm 38: Hope of Grace
Psalm 51: A Love of Purity and Mercy
Psalm 102: A Longing for Heaven
Psalm 130: Confidence in Divine Mercy
Psalm 143: Joy  

However, the grouping of these psalms extends much further back than Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly’s. St. Augustine of Hippo mentions them as early as the 5th century and is said to have had copies of them posted near his deathbed. Up until 1972, minor orders and those that received tonsure were assigned these psalms as part of a daily prayer practice.

Personally, I am planning to focus on one each Sunday of Lent, with hopes that I will reflect and re-read them during the weeks leading up to Easter. We are also holding on to our family fasting traditions, but I will be taking this time to reassess my general approach to liturgical living and to define the limits of my proverbial “suitcase.”

What am I bringing with me?

With Lent here, I have given myself more permission to look up from my daily “to-do” list. It’s been a hidden gift. I have had time to truly reflect on the talents of my friends.

Each of the Catholic ladies in my life has a beautiful and unique suitcase of their own- different shapes, depths, colors, and filled with different essentials. I have crafty friends that build Lenten roads that span the entirety of their house, friends that dig into their prayer life with saintly devotion, friends that attend morning Mass every week, friends that bake traditional breads, and friends that host every single person that is without a home regardless of their budget or chair count.

Truly, I am blessed with their example.  

Whatever you fill your suitcase with, I am honored to be traveling with you towards the same horizon. May you have a blessed and fruitful Lent.

Categories
Domestic Church Ink Slingers Interviews Kasey Saints

Interview with Chantal Baros of Shining Light Dolls

 

I was lucky enough to meet Chantal Baros at a lively All Saints celebration that a very generous mutual friend hosted for a group of local moms in Chicago. Earlier that morning I had begun to cull through my own “liturgical celebrations bin” (i.e. the catch-all tub that carries all the items I have yet to find a permanent place for) to pull out items that I would need for Advent. Among all my little treasures was a precious hand-sized doll that my son’s godmother had gotten for him when he was a baby. He carried it around for months before we carefully packed it away so that we could stuff it into shoes and enjoy it the following year.

That afternoon at the party, I was floored to see that my sweet mama friend had an entire collection of these little saint dolls on her family altar. They were so cheerful and festive. I made a passing comment that I loved them and typed a little reminder into my phone to look at the website later that night.

Fast forward (literally) a few minutes later and I found myself talking to a mother who had children that were of a similar age to mine. She had the perfect amount of sarcasm. I knew we could be friends. She also happened to be the founder of Shining Light Dolls.

I don’t feel like I need to advertise for Chantal. Her work speaks for itself. It’s colorful. It’s inviting. In my opinion, it introduces children to the saints in a very accessible, fun way. What truly amazes me about Chantal is her ability to thoughtfully blend her Catholic identity, her vocation as a mother, and her gift as an artist into a fully integrated life.

She was kind enough to let me inundate her with questions so I am just going to step aside and let you meet this wonderful Catholic girl boss.

Give us a brief introduction to who you are and your life in the Church.

I am a cradle Catholic. I owe my parents everything because they gave me my faith. My mother is a daily Mass-goer and has a very strong faith. She loves the saints and has probably read every book on the topic. So I guess you could say I feel like I grew up with the lives of the saints always around me. No matter the topic, my mom had a saint story for me. That isn’t to say that I didn’t have the normal teenage rebellion against my childhood faith- I did, but I think that having such an incredibly strong foundation made it easier for me to “own” my faith in my college years. Now I love everything about the Church. There is something for everyone. No matter who you are you have a place. I guess that’s why I still love the saints so much, aside from the obvious fact that they’re all just super cool and amazing people. It’s that they are all so different from each other. Everyone can have that beautiful connection to God. The Catholic Faith is simultaneously simple and incredibly rich. I love the theology, the traditions, the ritual – all of it.

How has your business shaped your faith? How has it overlapped with your spiritual practices, your job as a mother, and your creative outlets as an artist?

Wow, that’s a good question! The business took my faith from my head into my heart. Prior to starting Shining Light Dolls, I had a very intellectual faith. The business gave me the opportunity to experience, for myself, all the amazing things God can do when you hear His call and take that leap. Starting a business is a scary thing, even when you know it’s what God is asking you to do. I’m a mom, and I feel like the closest comparison is the call to have a child. Even when you know it’s what God is asking of you, you don’t always know the outcome. So the early years of the business were like pregnancy – a mixture of excitement and fear. Like having children, you learn that you can only do so much and then the rest is up to God. The business has definitely increased my patience, my fortitude, and my trust in God’s providence.

Back when I started Shining Light Dolls, I was just dating my now husband. So the way that I’ve related to the business over the years has changed as my family life has changed. If anything, I think the business has really flourished since I became a mom. I have less time but the love I have for my children inspires me to create differently, to work harder, and to use the time I do have wisely. My two books, “The Virgin Mary-Around the World” and “Saints on the Go” were inspired by my son. The first, a board book, I wrote when he was a baby- and then the second when he became a vehicle-obsessed toddler. I think the books have been so successful because I wrote them for him.

Starting a business is hard enough – but you started it in the throes of early motherhood! What have been some unexpected challenges and some unexpected joys in regards to your business?

Starting a business at the same time as starting a family is definitely tricky! Even though having babies is HARD (at least it is for me) – my biggest obstacle has always been myself. Life is never easy- and at some point, I woke up and realized that there was never going to be a “perfect time” for anything. There is no such thing. Life is always going to be complicated. I really have to keep my life pretty streamlined in order to have time for the business after taking care of the kids. Each new chapter of our family life brings new challenges to the business. There have been times where I stopped working because of motherhood (pregnancy sickness, postpartum recovery), and that can be incredibly frustrating. As an artist, I miss the freedom to create whenever I want- whenever inspiration strikes. BUT- the difficulties are actually the parts that have made me mature in ways I don’t think I would have otherwise. I learned that I could become a morning person, a list-maker, a work-an- hour-at- a-time artist. I learned that I can wake up at 5 in the morning and still have the energy to cook dinner. I learned how to prioritize my life around my vocations as wife, mother, and artist/business owner. I learned that I don’t need to feel like creating to create. I honestly love the balance of work/art/play my business and children give me. I’m a better artist/business owner because of my children, and a better mom because of my business. My work recharges my batteries, and my kids recharge my heart. They are a constant reminder of why I do what I do, and also keep my priorities in order.

What does your creative process look like? Do you create saint dolls that have a personal meaning to you? Are there saints you have connected with since making them into dolls?

My creative process has evolved over the years. In the beginning, all of the “TheVirgin Mary Around the World” dolls were first drawn by hand – pencil to paper on my kitchen table. Prior to starting Shining Light Dolls, I was a full-time oil painter specializing in portraiture (so pretty much nothing like the Shining Light Doll style). After a novena to the Infant of Prague, the idea of the company sort of just hit me. It was the cliché “light bulb moment”. I was like- that’s a great idea – but I have no idea how to do that! So, I used Youtube video tutorials to teach myself how to use Adobe Illustrator. Now, five years later it’s all I use. Coming from a traditional oil background, I never thought I’d be creating my art digitally, but I really love it now. I also dream of switching back to traditional media but maintaining the Shining Light Doll aesthetic- the possibilities feel exciting and endless. Each year I add more saints to the “Saint of the Day” Facebook posts. These are the images that later become dolls. I research the Saint, making notes on their imagery, symbolism, dress, time period, country of origin. This is especially important for the Saints featured in my books. I really want to make sure I illustrate a real place and time. “Saints on the Go” was such an interesting book to write/illustrate. I learned so much! It was fun trying to find Saints that actually were documented on different vehicles. I learn new things through my work all the time- I knew that St. Teresa of Calcutta had her “call within a call” on a train in India, but I had never actually seen a picture of the Toy Train to Darjeeling until I started working on my book. I always feel like I know these Saints more intimately after peeking into the world they lived in- they become more “real” to me. Choosing Saints to turn into dolls is SO HARD. They are all amazing. At the risk of suffering from analysis-paralysis though I try to create balance within the company. I like to look at the macro and the micro. How will these dolls work together in the larger collection (am I representing men and women, different religious orders, different time periods, ethnicities, etc.) as well as the individual Saint as it stands alone (what is their imagery, what are their traditional colors, what is their patronage, etc.). Now I receive a lot of feedback on the Facebook page about which Saints people are looking for, and that definitely influences which Saints are going to be produced next.

I realize this is a very big question, but from your perspective, what role can the Catholic artist play in their churches and communities?

I think there is a popular lie that the age of Catholic art and the Catholic artist ended with the middle ages. Catholic art is still relevant. Religious art is not antiquated. It also doesn’t have to be done in a Renaissance/Baroque/iconic style to be good or holy. My parents did me a huge favor in teaching that God gives us our talents for a reason and we are called to use them. Art is such an important part of any culture – and without good Catholic art what are we exposed to? I think that creating with the intention of producing beautiful work to glorify God, regardless of style, is SO important and will help to heal our culture. New Catholic art isn’t something to be feared; it doesn’t detract from the depth and solemnity of the faith. It has the ability to reach and touch people in a new way. I love traditional Catholic art, but I also love contemporary Catholic art. The Catholic artist in today’s world should do what the Catholic artist in any time period did – use the popular tools of the period to create work that glorifies God and points man toward the transcendental. Art can change the world; you just have to have faith that God is giving you the permission to create it. If God gave you a talent- don’t be afraid to use it.

Clearly, you are very busy. If God gifted you with a 25th hour to the day- how would you use it? (Sleeping is a totally appropriate answer.)

I would use an extra 25th hour (assuming my kids are asleep and I get to use the time to myself) for creating. I would paint, or draw, or do any other number of things- but it would definitely be creating in some form. (Although I should probably be using it to clean my house ) – or maybe to be more social, between work and the kids I don’t get out much (other than playgroups!).

Chantal’s way more productive than I would be with my 25th hour. She is constantly creating new dolls so check her out on her website- www.shininglightdolls.com. She can also be found on Facebook and Instagram under the handle @shininglightdolls.

Categories
Ink Slingers Kasey Sacramentals Saints Spiritual Growth

My Island of Lost Things

I’m not quite sure when I officially began calling my eccentric Catholic behavior a “ministry of lost things.”

I’m not even completely sure if calling it a ministry is completely stepping over some sort of invisible line in the sand.

However, I can pinpoint when it all began.

My family had just moved. We had traded our tiny apartment, in a fancy neighborhood, for a flat just a couple miles west. The new abode came with a backyard, a dishwasher, and in unit laundry. All this might seem mundane to the non-urbanite but for those of us who hail from the concrete jungles of the world- it is well established that moving a couple miles can often feel like moving to a different planet.

I was very happy that my new planet was laundromat free.

However, what I didn’t foresee was how much I was going to miss the little town center in which I took many of my evening walks. It had little boutique shops. There was a bakery with just the most delicate little pastries glistening in the cold case. There was an independent bookstore that served wine and hosted book clubs.

In the middle of a bustling city, it was quaint.

And I liked that.

My new place is certainly an upgrade in many ways (holy dishwasher Batman!) but it is primarily flanked with convenience stores and gas stations.

It wasn’t long until I found myself a little un-enchanted with my evening walks. What was my destination now? Where was I going to go for inspiration and the post-parenting refill I had so desperately come to depend on?

That’s when I found my janky thrift store.

It didn’t smell as good as the bakery- like, at all.

It wasn’t artfully put together like all of the boutiques I aimlessly wandered around even though I was newly married and completely broke.

It wasn’t as hipster chic as the bookstore that crammed people into the little cafe area for book discussions and angry poetry.

But it is quiet and quirky.

And I could walk to it and pick up funny items like lost artifacts, turning them over in my hands while wondering why someone would have gotten rid of a hand painted mug of their own face.

It has become my little island of lost things.

My first real “find” happened several weeks into my weekly adventure. It was hidden behind a box that contained an automatic salt and pepper shaker. (Yes, I guess that’s a thing.)

My first find was a statue of St. Tarcicus- the patron saint of first communicants. I recognized the image right away. He was similar to the stained glass image in the church where I had done my student teaching. He was young, innocent looking, and holding a chalice in his hands.

He was also $1 which seemed extraordinarily cheap considering he was beaten to death in the streets of Rome while trying to bring the Eucharist to Christians in prison.

I thought about putting him down but then a memory popped up into my head like a “Whack a Mole.” A few years previous to this experience I had been walking through a rather colorful neighborhood in Chicago when I had seen a statue of the Virgin Mary collecting dust in an eccentric second hand clothing store.

 

Shrine of Christ the King- Chicago, IL

She had clearly been in a church at one point.She was also wearing a sombrero and a “Jesus is My Homeboy” shirt. 

I felt so frustrated and sad as I walked past the store. Who do these people think they are? Why is it funny to mock us? Would they do this to items that are considered holy for other religions?

I got home and told my husband.

I was expecting him to side with me.

And he did- sort of.

“Why didn’t you just go in and buy it?” he asked.

The thought had never occurred to me. I tried to explain to him that we didn’t have a lot of expendable money. How could we afford a church sized statue? Where would we put it?

I can’t remember what he said… exactly. But I remember how I felt afterwards.

Perhaps we didn’t have tons of money. Perhaps it would have looked funny to have a huge statue of the Virgin Mary in our tiny kitchen.

But she belonged to us and in a place where people would love her and treat her with respect.

She was a part of our shared culture with other Catholics.

And ultimately, it is everyone’s responsibility to protect our story, teach others to respect who we are, and to collect and distribute useful holy items.

I could have easily found a church or religious group for the sombrero wearing Mary.

Back in the present time, I dug around in my back pocket and pulled out a crumpled dollar that I was saving for a popsicle from the palates man. (I could write a whole post about Mexican popsicles… but I digress)

St. Tarcicus now sits on my window ledge with other orbiting bits of Catholic life that I have found in the cracks of thrift stores and basements. I have collected a Ukrainian Mary and Jesus picture, stacks of icons, a Lladro Jesus, a few Marian themed vases, Catholic missals, Bibles, and a box of medals and scapulars.

Some of these items have stayed with us but most have left and now sit on the shelves of other Catholic homes and churches.

And I would like to believe that, once again, they are loved and used properly.

I think we live in a world which trends towards a sort of romanticized monasticism. We regularly get pitched buzzwords like “mindfulness” and “minimalism.”

I am not here to disprove the importance of living in the moment or to argue that capitalism and materialism are actually the true paths towards eternal happiness.

They aren’t.

I certainly believe that gratefulness and intentional stewardship will lead one’s soul into a more permanent and robust sense of joy.

But what I love about the Catholic Church is that there are so many “yes, and” moments. In this particular case, “YES, you can be a good steward of your wealth AND the items you use can (and should!) be beautiful.”

YES, the body of Christ can be found wherever two or three are gathered in His name AND we can make the space we do regularly meet in a beautiful representation of what we believe.

Sts. Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church- Chicago, IL

Catholic art- converts.

Stained glass windows- soothe aching hearts.

Icons of saints- teach us about a faithful life.

The Catholic Church has a working definition of truth, goodness, and beauty that extends through centuries of liturgy, art, and music. In a very (very, very, very) small way, I feel like my mini ministry can pay homage to the preservation of our identity and the belief that in this crazy, upside down world, the Catholic life will continue and ultimately prevail.

Perhaps for me- one thrift store at a time.

Categories
Confession Ink Slingers Kasey Spiritual Growth

Something Beautiful

I have a love/hate relationship with social media.

I have given up on most platforms.

Twitter seems like a savage wasteland to me.

People don’t really care about “linking up” with you on LinkedIn if you have had the same job title for almost ten years, never check your messages, and have no idea how to congratulate someone on their “work anniversary.”

If I am going to streak- it’s not going to be on Snapchat and do people even use Tumblr anymore?

However, I am an avid Instagram and Facebook user.

I love catching everyday, unposed pictures of my kids doing school work and silly obstacle courses through our house. I want them to be able to look back and fondly remember all the small cracks of our life that made it interesting and funny. I also love watching my friend’s children grow up- even those who live very far away.

But what social media has offered me in terms of connection and friendship has often been balanced out, if not sometimes completely tipped over, by negative feelings that are often centered around envy, regret, narcissism, and rejection.

Sometimes the feelings are simple to sort out.

Should I really be a part of this mom’s group or is it an occasion of sin because it leads me to gossip and exclude others?

Those questions, once asked clearly, are often pretty easy to answer.

But sometimes the feelings are more complicated.

Recently, I found myself in a hole.

It was the type of hole I fall into on sleepless 3am nights- endlessly scrolling through the social media account of an ex-best friend.

I know, it sounds really dramatic.

(No, I didn’t leave any snake emojis.)

In truth, I have come to accept that our falling out was the result of mutual poor choices and growth in separate directions. However, the loss of this friend felt like a marital divorce and it has taken a very long time for the pain to plateau into something manageable.

At the height of this friendship, I would have called this person my soul friend. We were this scary life force that moved in separate but highly coordinated patterns- calling out of the blue because the air suddenly began to crackle.

I told her everything.

Everything.

And for an introvert with bookish tendencies- this is a big deal.

But, for both complicated and uncomplicated reasons, it ended.

It had to.

And I understand that now.

But here I was in the dead of night passing through highly curated pictures and this awful ugly feeling started to well up inside me. As I reached closer and closer towards the years of our friendship, I realized how carefully I had been cropped out of this person’s life.

Any photos of us together were gone.

Any reference to holidays that we used to spend together were negatively vague.

Things we used to enjoy together were now being enjoyed with others.

Friends we used to share are now sharing glasses of wine with a woman who wanted to make sure than any reference to our relationship was wiped from existence.

I was angry all over again.

I felt justified to hate her all over again.

And, if I let myself admit it, deep down inside, in my loneliest of places, I was just so uncontrollably sad.

And for the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to go into the shower, turn on the water, and weep. And it was freeing to just allow myself to be frustrated; to not have anyone in the room telling me that I should “just get over it” or list off all the reasons that this particular person was terrible. I didn’t have other voices deciding whether or not my “grieving process” was healthy.

The truth?

I’m glad my heart is still soft.

I loved this person.

And sometimes, when a song comes on the radio that reminds me of a concert, or a birthday, or a funny car dancing moment, I want to know that my heart is still tender. It lets me know that I am not completely closed off to other relational possibilities.

That being said, the hardest part is knowing that I keep my heart insanely guarded- even from people that have more than proven themselves worthy of my friendship and vulnerability.

Fellow Catholic Nerd Friends

I mean, nothing can bond you to another mother quite like a phone conversation in which someone walks you through taking your infant’s rectal temperature, am I right?

I have found that any anger I hold onto grows hot in my hands and makes it impossible to reach out to others.

To heal.

I needed to forgive this person.

Again.

When I thought all this was settled.

In these moments, I try to lean into scripture but I often feel like I am wading through murky waters. For example, up until the moment of the resurrection, Biblical forgiveness and punishment always seems pretty straightforward.

God asks for you to repent, you say you’re sorry or… the whole world might be flooded.

Hey Pharaoh- let those people go…

…or the angel of death might come knocking at your door.

Even as children we are given this ultimatum- say sorry for hitting your brother in the face or you have to sit in time out.

There’s a transaction. Someone has to be sorry and change or there is a punishment- natural or otherwise.

And then the Cross comes and the transaction changes- God is on both sides of the proverbial table.

God with the human mother who can speak on behalf of creation and God who is supernatural and can act as judge.

I have struggled with how to apply this concept to perennial pain- especially when I feel justified and the recipient could care less about my internal war with how to come to peace with them.

My biggest stride in this intellectual quandary has been coming to terms with the fact that Jesus walked the road of Calvary for me and for the person I am trying to forgive. In a sense, we are on the same side of the transaction.

I am not the judge and jury.

My job is to repent and to learn.

My job is to fairly recognize and identify my own pain and shortcomings.

My job is to grow in holiness.

My job is to trust that God knows what is fair.

God can set up the consequences.

Secondly, I have been told that time heals all wounds and hopefully, at the end of the end, that will be true.

But one look at the Sacred Heart of Jesus tells me that, even now, His heart is encased in a vine of thorns. My choice to recycle my forgiveness- to give it even when it isn’t asked of me, removes a thorn from that entrapment.  

That is love.

That makes all of this worth it.

The last time I felt this way I floundered for a few weeks. I moped. I allowed my kids to watch too much TV while I meandered around cups of coffee and half-finished chores. My husband finally sent me to Mass by myself. I complained (mostly because I had to put on outside clothes) but he pushed my butt out the door and said, “Well, at least you can enjoy the silence.”

And then he locked me out because he can be dramatically right sometimes. (Don’t tell him I said that!)

As I sat in Mass I fumbled around an examination of conscious. I hadn’t been to confession in a couple of months. I finally made it in where I blew my nose into an entire box of Kleenex. After a few minutes of ugly crying, my confessor gently reminded me that feeling bad about the loss of a friendship was not, in fact, a mortal sin. I thanked him for his saintly patience, he allowed me a moment to pull myself together, and then I huddled in the back pew licking my wounds for the rest of Mass.

I took the long way back from church, cruising down Lake Shore Drive, looking at the city lights on the left and the lake on the right. Slowly, the realization dawned on me that the church never abandons us in times of trial. Standing right in front of me, in that confessional, was a path.

I can stand in line for the confession.

I can recognize that I have pain that needs healing.

I can confess my sins.

I can be honest with myself and with trusted others about my anger, resentment, and sadness. I can be honest about the ways in which I have contributed to the situation through action or inaction. I can forgive myself for those transgressions. I do not have to be okay all the time.

I can receive advice from my priests

I can receive advice from confidants who have my best interests at heart.

I can submit to the process of the reformation of my heart.

I can also submit to the process of rebuilding new relationships that lean on the wisdom of past mistakes.

I can accept God’s forgiveness.

I can remember that God can forgive both of our shortcomings. I can choose to view this person as someone who is loved by God and who has given me cause to reach for the higher fruits of virtue.

I can pray and do penance for both of us.

I can ask to be a friend of God’s and, in return, He will shape me into something beautiful