I heard much sad news, was stuck indoors, and saw the constant clouds out the window today. So I looked for a moment of solace. To find one I went into "view my memories mode"...and found a bit of color to share. It helped me think of the glory of God, and crack at smile to end the day.
My daughter just finished a very special trip with her grandparents. Ten days visiting Washington, D.C.; seeing godparents; enjoying some new clothes; but most of all enjoying a different vision of the world she lives in. She learned a great deal about where she comes from on my side of the family. My daughter lives a very virtuous life, and is a role model for me her Dad. Her selflessness for living God's law is impressive. While she was gone though, her absence let me think about how God's relationship with each of us in the story of the Prodigal Son. This story is always about the tale of the two sons, but it also gives us a deep insight into the love of God for each of us.
In the previous excursions of my children with grandparents I never had a child who was at the age to explore life away from the family. This time though, my daughter took a trek to the outstanding Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. There she met one possible destiny. She saw shelves and shelves of great books. She sat in classes where she had more of the Shakespeare memorization complete then the students (recent homework at Regina Caeli), and also experienced a class knowing she was not yet ready for it. When she was done she found a great college, and felt it could be a home away from home for her.
My young lady left, and seriously contemplated the next phase of her life. Thankfully for me, her description of why included the statement "They really try to live out our Catholic faith there dad." In the story of the Prodigal son, however, the boy wanting to live in man's world chooses to live by his own rules. He leaves the father, and the father knows he may never come home. This faithful father also realizes the son may also forfeit a home in heaven for his soul, and this fate would trouble the father even more than a failure to return to the family home.
When the father sees his son coming home repenting of his sins, he rejoices. He hugs and adorns his child with all he can. While the physical return home is good, the father knows a repentant son will be with him forever in the paradise of heaven. Since tradition teaches us the father is symbolizing God the Father, we know the human joy and love we see pales to the love God has for us.
So when my daughter returned I rejoiced in having my faithful and true daughter in my care once again. I also thought of the Father in the Prodigal Son. Here a son, who was dead to him, returned home. The son showed repentance, and demonstrated his embrace of the Lord's ways. If my joy was immense, I could only imagine the joy and love God poured forth into the moment when sinners come home.
What an awesome God to believe in, and see reflected in natural law throughout history.
Back in June I was able to get up to the mountains of North Georgia. It was hot, but a good time to explore a little of more of the state. One opportunity I received was the gift of an early rising to meet the sun. Watching the earth go from black through its purples, reds, orange and full daylight was a simple pleasure. What a gift from God!!
If we believe the Bible, God's Grace and Wisdom abound on this earth. We also know God pronounced humanity good at our creation. So what keeps us from finding these two tools needed to help us navigate the world in harmony with the Father's will if our nature is inherently good? We all know it is the noise of the world preventing us from finding God in the silence of our own hearts and lives.
Noise comes in many forms. Lack of sleep, too much TV, too much Facebook, illness, threats to our livelihood and our families just to name a few. The challenge to quiet the noise requires solutions unique to our individual identities. For introverts prayer will come easy. For sanguine temperaments simply standing still long enough for grace and wisdom settle in your life may be the challenge of a lifetime. For melancholics not falling into despair when challenges smack your life may be the constantly renewed roadblock of a lifetime.
For each person there is a solution though. It just takes the time and dedication to find it. The examples of saintly and holy lives abound in history, and even in modern times. We just have to look for them. Then when found we have to take the next step and act to apply the lessons in our own lives.
In the quiet of quite a few vacation timed desert morning walks, I was able to quiet my mind enough to get to church on a weekday for mass and confession. It was wonderful. The grace and wisdom revealed saved me once again from wrongheaded paths. I know I will need to seek yet more grace and wisdom for many a coming storm, but it was reassuring as always a minor miracle appeared when needed.
I hope you find your path to points of grace and wisdom today as well.
Mission Control this is John Paul.
JP - MC go ahead.
MC I have the toys in sight. They are magnificent. Two Fujifilm cameras, loads of lenses, batteries and HOLY BIRTHDAY CAKE the 56mm is here!
JP you have permission to acquire the toys.
MC I have a problem...oh my it is a rigged flash...I'm on film...he caught me red handed.
JP Break Off! Break Off! Go to ground!
MC will play baby no worries. I'll get another chance...I know where the toy mine is now.
Then my daughter Kellie says, "My hair is messy!" The Daddy replies, "Well you were having fun twirling your dress!" Kellie then screaches with a belly laugh happy as can be because this is what she remembered:
Thank you Aunt Jane for all your work! A dress for my doll and I and purse to boot! Some really nice other outfits as well! Annalise (the doll) is now in her pajamas enjoying a short summers nap with Kellie. These are some great moments to remember. It is what being a family photographer is all about.
If you ever get a chance to look at a list of the top ten toys history ever created...you will not find last year's Christmas craze on them. You will instead find toy cars, soldiers, trains and digging supplies for boys. For girls I am sure you will find dolls, stuffies and all their accessories. I know there are exceptions out there, but the reality is you will not find many! This is what kids play with!
So here we have Uncle Micheal's trucks out back one more time. At home we have the matchbox and airplane toys from both myself and my brother...and even my uncle (or my kids Great Uncle). These toy trucks and planes are universal hits. When built American tough, like a child, they will last generations.
It got me to wondering...if toys go from generation to generation why don't we look closer at lessons from the past. I'm sure what God said 5,000 years ago or 2000 years ago really still has some staying power. It might help us in our present circumstances!
Well we were not in Lake Havasu for more than a day when Grandma loaded up the two big kids and took them to someplace they find better than Disney World...a Library. Out they went, and back they came with one and three books respectfully. When not engaged with board games and outdoor fun their noses are buried deep in their books.
Simple things we need to remember are all part of Capturing His Glory in our daily lives. I'm glad I get to see it!
Funny things happen in the desert. Even though it will get to 95F before 9AM and a swim feels good, getting out will still send chills down your spine. Kevin is adjusting to this reality like a champ. He loves his morning swim, and now knows how to dry off in a flash.
I bet you don't remember your first cookie...it must be a magical moment though. Normally Momma does not let the kiddos get a cookie or serious sweet until they have their first birthday...but there is something to be said about being child number five! Momma gives in to the magic of the moment a little more than with the first four!
Oh he loved it! What a joy to see! Uncle Micheal thought he'd have these all to himself....not anymore!
With the news from Dallas and Tennessee today, one could rightly believe the world is up in flames. The world is changing and there would appear to be no hope....but this is what Uncle Screwtape would have us all believe. There is hope...more hope than we can imagine if we still believe unicorns can walk amongst us!
I am being a bit silly, but it is true. Amongst all the terrors of the world, we have plenty of signs of natural law bringing joy and hope to people. How can I say this? Do you love your child? Do you sacrifice your personal conveniences to help your spouse when they have a bad day? Do you pray and give alms to the poor in some way? Does any one of these items fail to let grace and mercy through you to others?
Amongst pain we see now, and know that is coming, we can still bring Christ's gospel through us in word and deed to the world. It is this grace, flowing through us to others, which will provide the world the renewed church. One which will conquer the evil at some point, and let God's plan unfold in ways new and unexpected to us mere mortal men.
Oh..and the Unicorn water cannon my daughter has in her hand packs a heavy stream pounding. It made me believe in its power a few times in our water wars last night!
A few years makes a huge difference for all of us...and the power of photographs lets us see this so easily. Here we see my son Kalen jumping to Grandad in June 2010...and then July 2016. In 2016 Kalen was all about fun, toy trucks and legos. Today all those apply; but now he has his own sunglasses, Leatherman tool and enjoys serious talks with Grandad after pool time.
Vacation is a time to enjoy your family, but also time to reflect on where you are, came from and need to go. I think I'll be doing all that for a little while this month!
This year the capstone challenge of my boys Blue Knight year was the annual board of review at Regina Caeli Academy. (The full story of the event itself is here BOARD OF REVIEW) For the weeks leading up to the board I reinforced to the boys and their parents their awards were earned not given by saying:"When your friends ask about your awards you will be able to tell them in Blue Knights everything is earned not given."
This is a hard task we all must learn, and one fathers must teach repeatedly. In my case I had one boy who was able to discuss each question for five minutes each in great detail. The other son took a pretest in the kitchen as we cleaned up from dinner, and smugly thought his 80% was enough to stop studying....ah not in my house. After a very serious discussion on how the name Wojtkun was the only thing I would ever give him, and how he was not going to drag it into the gutter he go serious. So he was on cloud nine when he scored a 100% at the review, and earned the rank of Sergeant for next year the next week.
So what does this have to do with the 4th of July? Well everything.
In 1776 our Continental Army was in the field for over a year, dying for American Independence. The men in Philadelphia used the words of Thomas Jefferson to define what we stood for as a nation, knowing by doing so they signed their own death warrant. After years of fighting (remember the war went on past Yorktown in 1781) the Founders created a document forming a government which used checks and balances to keep the worst human failings in check.
Despite all the Founders did did generations ago, Benjamin Franklin responded prophetically to the question: "Well, Doctor, what have we got-a Republic or a Monarchy?" with "A Republic if you can keep it." Dr. Franklin knew human nature, and knew the lessons in his generation could not be passed on through our DNA. A republic could only be passed on through teaching each generation the cold hard facts of our history, human nature, and the balancing grace of applying natural law. Even with lessons learned, each generation must still earn a republic through application of those lessons to the events of their times.
In today's world we have a tendency to throw away the ideas of the past, thinking modern science can solve all problems. The news reports today show the natural tendency for people to crave the warm security blanket of authoritarian rulers (if they agree with us). These trends are disturbing, for they show people discarding the philosophical lessons (probably never learned and many times purposefully corrupted) of the founders.
So today we must again decide if we want to continue earning our Republic, or throw it away and again come under authoritarian rule...from inside or outside our nation. The threat is real, and only the willfully ignorant can't see it.
Time to go pray for our nation and its people...that the light of freedom ignite in our souls once more.
The magic of bubble or two in the life of a child is indescribable. A bubble is a one of a kind creation with a fleeting lease on life which can captivate a child's imagination. One set of magic bubbles like this will propel a child to make many more bubbles to see it if the magic will come again. I guess it would not hurt us adults to have our own fleet feet bubbles to call our own!
At the center of the plaza in front of the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament is the statue of the Child Jesus extending his Sacred Heart towards us. The heart of a child, broken of it's innate narcism, recognizes the blessings Christ brings to us in some moment of silence. For most of us, those childhood moments form the closest and purest connections to God we will ever have. it is the closest we will ever come to touching the Sacred Heart of our Lord.
The reason is once we leave the narcism free window of youth, our lives get busy. Our lives fill with noise and competition needed survive in the adult world. The moments of peace needed to connect to God in the manger, at the Sermon on the Mount, on his cross, or arising from the dead in his glorious triumph over death get crowded out on the clock. The devil uses our fallen world to challenge your attempts at connection to Christ using trials to us at work, his mocking us when our children go astray, or physical ailments used fogging our mind and blocking reception of God's treasures bestowed on us.
We should not lament on this spiritual torment. We must accept it, and revel in the few moments of childlike joy we do get when our hearts open to the Lord. We must treasure those moments as a triumph over the forces of Satan, and know this constant spiritual battle is the one the Lord encourages us to have. A heart constantly striving for the Lord is one which never leaves faith or hope aside, and provides a path where charity can flower.
See the striving heart, the one cutting through the distractions of the world, is a mature heart seeking Jesus Sacred Heart. The striving heart completes the circle of spiritual life for those blessed with a childhood connection to the Lord. See if charity flows through your heart to others, you again stripped yourself of narcism like you did as a child. In the charitable acts you will build not just a moment of joy, but the potential for an eternity of heavenly joy with Christ.
P.S. Thanks to Mom for the inspiration for this blog post!
Robert Cardinal Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship of the Catholic Church, recently pleaded with bishops around the world to resume worship Ad Orientum. Ad Orientum, or facing the liturgical east, for the entire congregation to include the priest was how the Catholic Church worshiped until Vatican II. The local changes made to have priests face the congregation, and turn their back on the tabernacle is a matter of great controversy.
In the traditional Catholic Solemn High Mass the priest always says mass Ad Orientum. Priests may also offer mass Ad Orientum under the Norvos Ordo (or Vatican II mass). Vatican II documents never explicitly directed bishops to have priests face the congregation during mass. This liturgical change it happened "on its own" along with a whole host of other changes. The controversy around this is very rich, and I am only beginning to understand the various historical positions.
I've heard many compelling theological arguments supporting Ad Orientum, however I wanted to reduce this to the lowest level of natural law I could in my head. So I looked at the behavior of a child to see what would our natural inclinations be in this situation. I used the example of my five children as infants to see if I could discern a pattern of some sort.
When a child awakes from a nap, wherever they are, they call for their parents. The child will have at least one or more needs after walking: cleaning, hunger, loneliness, being too cold or hot. The child will cry out. First as a whimper, then as a scream until they get some attention. When you come to "rescue" the child, they will almost always be looking our direction. Standing, sitting, climbing it will not matter. They will be looking for you as they call out.
In a way, Ad Orientum worship is not much different than a child awakening. When we go to church we all need cleansing, nourishment, companionship and comfort to continue on our journey to heaven. The priest, the servers, the laity are all just children in the eyes of God. So when we call out to the Father in prayer we should all be looking in the direction he is coming from. This is what Ad Orientum means, looking towards the spiritual east the direction which God will come.
It does not sound like such a bad idea.
Still working on some of my images from Helen, Georgia. We had a fantastic time there, and I would recommend it as a great place for a family trip. After living in Germany, and traveling through Bavaria, the facade was fun to experience. I often wondered what America would look like with some German architecture, well now I know the effect of mixing the two building codes. The most important three things about the town though were: the people were very nice, the recreation readily available, and the ladies loved our John Paul (and he loved them).
With this final point made...I can say it was fun and could be visited yet again!
As three of us (Carrie, John Paul and I) walked up the trail to Anna Ruby Falls I could not help but think of my son Kevin. Almost every time we are out in the woods he says,"God made nature, and I like it." Kevin, at the tender age of nine, recognizes God imprinted his law on us through natural law. He "gets it" better than most of us much older folks. I just wish the politicians would go back and read the Declaration of Independence, and learn the founders state all laws must conform to natural law (or nature's God) to be just.
Many people today, afraid to be labeled religious or tied to a group, call themselves "spiritual." They find their way on their own through the forrest of life. If they are attentive to natural law, and heed it, they have great potential to make good choices in their moral lives. The problem with just finding your "own way" though the forrest, is your experiences are very narrow. So the chance for misinterpreting a sign is higher than if you had advice on reading the signs as you approach a rattlesnake habitat. If you stumble and the snake strikes, no one will be there to hear your cry. There is also nothing supernatural to sustain your body and soul in this earthly journey if you go it alone.
In this photo I purposefully left the trail in the shot. I did this because as I thought of Kevin's statement, I was also thinking of the peace which comes from growing ever more into a Catholic life. The trail stood out in my viewfinder. With each glance I found a reminder of how God also gave us so much more than natural law. He gave us a path of safety through the dangerous forrest of life, and a means to walk it. All we need to do is use the path and his grace to avoid the greatest dangers of the forrest.
I revel in the knowledge I do not have to be Solomon, Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila or John Paul II to survive in the forrest. I just have to turn to the collective wisdom imparted over almost 6,000 years through revelation and illumination of God's laws to my church and the world! Being the thinker I am, I fall more in love with the Catholic magisterium as each new lesson clicks into place like custom made Lego blocks in a slick design. I know this magisterium is stronger than the efforts of fallible men who may try to twist it to their own political designs.
Not only do we Catholics have the lessons, but we can receive supernatural graces pouring forth from sacraments. God cleanses in baptism, restores with mercy in confession, nourishes at communion, sanctifies matrimony and holy orders, and comforts in anointing of the sick. So not only do I get a path to follow, but a complete pit crew as well for my life journey using supernatural grace. This allows God to be with me in every place, in my body, and in my most important earthly relationships.
So God's path through the forrest is the one I chose. I pray after reflection, you may chose to investigate the strongest and safest path through the woods to heaven.
Today our little Catholic Hybrid School will graduate our senior class. Through family friendships and school events, I watched two of them grow into peaceful and God Fearing young adults. These two also became my very first senior photo clients!
Neil is a quiet young man of deep thought (like some of my best high school friends). He will go out west to college, and will begin the study of media production from a Catholic perspective at John Paul the Great Catholic University. This is a great fit for him.
In our school I observed how he is a quiet, humble leader of the younger students. Many boys looked to him, literally looked directly at him, before doing almost anything to observe the example he would set. His example became their course of action. He respectfully fulfilled his duties to the school and family very well. His quiet leadership leaves a void for the school population, which will be noticeable until another boy fills his vacated role.
Mikayla is a lovely young woman, of sincere virtue. She lets God's grace work through her life to help others. She will enter studies at Aquinas College in Nashville this fall. She will be more than a normal student though, as she continues her discernment of vocation with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, a teaching order of nuns.
Again a great fit for this woman's character. In our school, and with her family, she is a guidon for a prayerful life. You can see it when she enters a room. Small children hold her hand, and admire her. Her baby sister simply adores her. She also walks with a grace beyond her years. When she enters chapel with her matillia, she peacefully focuses herself and those around her on the mass and prayer. She is no wallflower though. She demands unimproved family campsites, and can rough it with the best of them.
I hope I captured a bit of the reflected glory of God these two bring to the world. I enjoyed watching as my children gravitated to them at school and band over the last two years. I knew their example would be good ones, and not misguide my children on their own path to adulthood. I continue to learn a great deal from their parents as well, since they are good examples of parenting in a stormy world.
Mikayla and Neil: May God's grace continue to fall on you, and your souls never let your eyes wonder off the prize of heaven. You've started the race for the prize well, and may the finish be even more virtuous in God's eyes as you change the world for His Glory. Amen!
Do you edit your photos? Well of course I do! The reality is, every photo coming out of a camera is already edited to the exposure and composition tastes (or mistakes) of the photographer, the film or sensor have an effect on what you can actually capture, and the software or physical development of the photo before it even hits the viewfinder. Very little coming out of a camera will be absolutely perfect to my eye, so I will tweak the photo until it fulfills my vision of the art coming out…and it is art because it is my interpretation of the photo.
I know some people will shrill at this, but it is really a reflection on the reality of the fallen world we live in. God made a perfect Garden of Paradise at the beginning, and then the whole Adam and Eve thing occurred where humanity fell to fear and pride and separating our actions and will from God’s.
The good news for us is God’s laws permeate into our world naturally. We can discover right and wrong just as we can discover beauty inside our man influenced environment. The better news for us is if we look for and listen to God’s Wisdom from the Church’s Catechism, with its rich source material, the beauty becomes self evident. The best news for us is good materials to learn from are closer than ever to our fingertips, if we but look for them.
So the story of the lead photograph is no different than what our spiritual journeys should be. I walked out of my hotel, the pretty new lobby shinny and sparkly, into a smelly alleyway facing the back of an abandoned business. The brick and paint needs attention, the inside of the business really needs some TLC. To my my naked eye the natural light blows out the color , the situation gritty, and the remaining beauty hidden in a low contrast area with no eye grabbing potential. It is easy to see the despair of the building and have no hope for a photograph “straight out of the camera.”
I had other tools though in my head. Tools and lessons in photography which gave me faith I could find the beauty in the smelly alleyway. I looked and saw a classic shape inside a shape…good…I thought. Then saw the flowers and knew they could be drawn out and made a centerpiece brought to prominence by the eye focusing shapes. I knew my camera and lens. My trusty 23mm would not distort or give in to great lens refraction at F/16. My camera sensor with a high ISO would be sharp and still have good color detail with a larger aperture giving me depth of field to be sharp from front to back. I knew the distracting wires would not pull eyes away, but highlight the fallen nature of the setting. Still in camera I knew the result would be flat, and without great interest.
So I knew I’d dive into my favorite adjustment set on my Capture One 9 software, and get a quick taste of improvement. See in the rough photo I knew there was beauty to be brought out, and I was just warming up. Then I looked at my film simulations on hand, and saw one I like and applied it. I added some texture and dodged some light in…in a matter of minutes I realized the image in my head which reflected a whole lot of learning and applied photography lessons. I paused, reflected, worked on other images and returned to adjust a few more items before it was where I wanted it to be for a final product.
I ask you though, is this any different than how we should approach the world in all our endeavors? In each person we meet, or situation we encounter, will we ever experience perfection as God intended? No! Can we make things perfect ourselves? No! We need to know God’s plan to become better. We need to know how to work with each other as we together try to rise ourselves up to deserving entry to heaven. We need to not reject every sad situation, and look for the opportunity to glorify God in it.
So yes I edit every photo I share. I also work at editing myself and the world around me by bringing a bit of God’s plan into it one snap at a time. I think if you look at your day in the same way, you’ll realize you do it as well. I hope and pray we can do all we can to grow into the Glory of God’s light by doing this as a community. I am really thinking it would be a great work of art…I could even title it “Capturing His Glory.”
And just to demonstrate...here is what the camera generated as a RAW image and the camera generated "correct" JPEG....and my edited image at the end.