Monday, November 30, 2009

The Decade from Hell-The Season of Hope

On the first Sunday of Advent, the gospel reading from Luke was very ominous. Here is the first part of it, Jesus said to his disciples, 'There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.'
In an interesting article in Time Magazine that I read (part of) online, titled, The '00's: Goodbye (At Last) to the Decade from Hell by Andy Serwer, he wrote the following, ...Though the dreaded millenial meltdown never happened on Jan. 1st, 2000, instead it was the American dream that was about to dim. Bookended by 9/11 at the start and a financial wipeout at the end, the first 10 years of this century will very likely go down as the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade Americans have lived through in the post-World War II era. We're still weeks away from the end  of '09, but it's not too early to pass judgment. Call it the Decade from Hell, or the Reckoning, or the Decade of Broken Dreams, or the Lost Decade. Call it whatever  you want-just give thanks that it is nearly over. 
 I never thought about it until I read the Time article but perhaps looking ahead to the next decade with hope, isn't such a bad idea. Good riddance to the decade filled with so much loss, tragedy, disappointment and greed. 
Let's hope our redemption is at hand, as it stated in yesterday's gospel. Perhaps we've lived through the trial, that was the last decade and alluded to in the gospel.  
As Christians we always look to the future with hope. And it's Advent, the Season of Hope. The Season when we are able to celebrate the birth of our Savior and Lord. Pure joy!! I read these words spoken by Pope Benedict at the start of Advent, on Rocco Palmo's famous blog and I loved them so here they are....words of hope from Pope Benedict.......Jesus, "rock" like God, I like that.

“The contemporary world needs hope above all; this is true for developing peoples but especially for developed peoples.... With the collapse of so many false certainties, we are becoming especially aware of how we need reliable hope and that this is found only in Christ, who according to the Letter to the Hebrews Jesus “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8). The Lord Jesus came in the past, comes in the present, and shall come in the future. He embraces all of time’s dimensions. Because he died and rose, he is the ‘Living’, and whilst he shared our human precariousness, he is always there, offering us God’s stability. He is “flesh” like us, and “rock” like God. Anyone who yearns for freedom, justice, and peace can stand erect and raise his head because in Christ redemption is at hand (cf Lk, 21:28).”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving To All!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope.   (Romans 15:13)

As I prepare for a Thanksgiving feast tomorrow with my family and a few days of company to follow, I couldn't let this special holiday go by without wishing everyone a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving! I baked a homemade carrot cake last night for the first time, taking the advice of The Anchoress, who says the recipe is the best. I hope so, I love carrot cake. Today I spent the day preparing my famous rice balls and I will fry them tomorrow. My aunt has done some cooking too and she will bring some Italian dishes as well. 
We have so much to be thankful for. Gratitude and feelings of gratitude are good for us. Tomorrow I'll ask everyone around the dining room table to express what they are grateful for. It's something we do each year. 
I find it interesting that-"Research consistently finds that regularly expressing gratitude is good for our overall well-being; People who do so are healthier, more successful in reaching their goals, more optimistic and more inclined to help others" (Parenting Magazine-11/09). I find that amazing that there are so many benefits just from being a grateful person and expressing gratitude. 
Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California and author of the book, "Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier," says that gratitude doesn't have to be spontaneous or natural. "Act grateful and you'll soon start feeling it." 
Each day try to spend a few moments thinking about what you are grateful for, say it to yourself, say it to others or write it down. It's a simple enough way to feel happier and more at peace.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Art, Love and Creativity

On Saturday, Pope Benedict invited 250 internationally famous artists to the Sistine Chapel and addressed them by saying that he wished to "express and renew the Church's friendship with the world of art, a friendship that has been strengthened over time; indeed Christianity from its earliest days has recognized the value of the arts...........
I love the artwork in the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was a genius, (obviously!) and a great Renaissance artist. He apparently complained a lot while painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but it is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. Years later he was commissioned to paint the Last Judgment (1534-1541) on the altar wall of the chapel as a warning about the frailty of life and the Universe. My last visit to Vatican City was in the year 2000. I think every Catholic should see Rome and the Vatican before they die. It should be on everyone's "bucket list." 
I went, with my family, to Central Park in Manhattan in 2005 to see, "The Gates," the art display in the park made up of 7,503 vinyl gates with nylon panels. It attracted more than five million people during the two weeks it was exhibited. It was most impressive and unique. Sadly, last Wednesday, Jeanne-Claude, who collaborated with her husband Christo on "The Gates" died at the age of 74. In an interview in 2002, she said, "We want to create works of art of joy and beauty, which we will build because we believe it will be beautiful...The only way to see it is to build it. Like every artist, every true artist, we create them for us."
Mayor Bloomberg was quoted as saying, "The Gates was one of the most exciting public art projects ever put on anywhere in the world-and it would never have happened without Jeanne-Claude." What a great tribute to an artist. What an amazing artistic couple. Her death must be a great loss to her husband, Christo. May she rest in peace and beauty. 

Genius is eternal patience

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Walk Off Your Stress

These are stressful times. Though the economy seems to be improving, there are still too many people out of work and too much anxiety over the future.  Prayer and meditation (such as Centering Prayer) can be a tremendous help in reducing stress and giving one a sense of well-being.  But exercise is also very important. Stress weakens our immune system and can even cause  narrowing of the arteries of the heart. Stress is also associated with depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is the No. 1 cause of suicide. (Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among teens.)

A simple solution to help alleviate stress ( and it doesn’t cost anything) is a walking regimen.  There are many stress- busting benefits of walking. Brisk walking has the “power to calm jangled nerves and improve bad moods." According to an online article, A Step Ahead of Stress, at, brisk walking “done every day, can enhance self-esteem and combat depression. Research has shown that a brisk 20-30 minute walk can have the same calming effect as a mild tranquilizer……….Why is walking or any physical activity a stress reducer? Many experts cite its ability to trigger the release of endorphins, potent brain chemicals that relieve pain and stimulate relaxation." There is also a technique to walk and meditate at the same time. It combines low-intensity walking and a simple meditation technique. All you have to do is pay attention to your footsteps, counting, “one, two, one, two” while visualizing each number in your mind as you walk. If your mind drifts, just go back to the counting. It sounds easy enough. It’s something I’m going to try. Apparently, low intensity walking combined with meditation produced impressive results.

Apparently, according to the article, brisk walking, meditative walking or mindful exercise (such as tai chi), worked very quickly to reduce stress. It’s worth a try, if you’re stressed or just to improve your overall health.      NJA

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Earthly Matters & Extraterrestrial Matter

I was very impressed when administrators from the Brooklyn Museum contacted me via e-mail, after they read my last blog entry, which was about my visit to the museum. There was a response to a comment I made on my blog. The extraordinary exhibit that I saw was, The Life of Christ, watercolors by James Tissot, which you can see at the museum until mid-January. I commented on my blog that I was surprised that the beautiful,  deeply moving watercolors depicting scenes from the New Testament are exhibited so infrequently. 
To my surprise an e-mail response was forwarded to me, with an explanation from Arnold L. Lehman, who is the Director of the museum. His explanation was that "Watercolors are an extremely fragile medium and sensitive to the light. For this reason, watercolors are seldom in view in public collections. In the case of the Tissot watercolors, it has been more than 20 years since they were exhibited." He went on to say that it is important for them to be preserved for future generations. I was very pleased and it was unexpected that the Director of the museum would read my blog and respond. 
From the exhibition catalogue, I learned that this remarkable body of artwork will be going on tour,  so we will be hearing more about his collection in the future. The depictions of St. Mary Magdelene are unique. 

On Matters Extraterrestrial............
I read with interest the numerous news reports about the "Vatican calling in experts to study the possibility of extraterrestrial alien life and its implications for the Catholic Church. The comments of Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, S.J.,- an astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory, were interesting. "The questions of life's origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration......the possibility of alien life raises 'many philosophical and theological implications'......."
In an interview he gave last year, Funes told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that "believing the universe may host aliens, even intelligent ones, does not contradict a faith in God. 'How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?....Just as there is a multitude of creatures on Earth, there could be other beings, even intelligent ones, created by God. This does not contradict our faith, because we cannot put limits on God's creative freedom.......if intelligent beings were discovered, they would also be considered 'part of creation.'" 
I found these comments fascinating. I don't disagree with Fr. Funes, but I really believe that if aliens were "observing" humankind, I don't think we have to worry about them making contact. As a matter of fact, intelligent beings (anyone locating us in the Milky Way Galaxy would be intelligent), I think they would study us from afar and move on........Intelligent alien beings would probably sense the fact that the 'hand of a Creator,' a "hidden" Supreme Being,  was at work in the beauty, order and diversity on our planet, and in the Universe,  that's obvious enough.  

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Two Very Different Exhibits in Brooklyn

Which current exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum do you think had more viewers this past weekend, James Tissot's Life of Christ or Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present? If you guessed the Rock and Roll exhibit, you were correct. The Rock and Roll exhibit was very crowded. And it was interesting, especially is you like photographs, which I do. My son and his girlfriend wanted to see that exhibit too. 
James Tissot's watercolors of the Life of Christ are amazing and a must see exhibit for Christians. I expected it to be more crowded than it was. Hopefully it will catch on, it is something to see. I was thrilled that my son bought me the exhibition book, which I wanted and is a fabulous book which contains 350 prints of the paintings. 
The Tablet, Brooklyn's diocesan newspaper published an article recently about the exhibit. It's well worth a trip to the museum. 
James Tissot (1836-1902), was a French society painter and a Catholic. During a visit to St. Sulpice he had a religious experience during Mass when the priest raised the host. "After several sleepless nights, Tissot feverishly painted 'Inward Voices,' a monumental image of his vision that depicts a bloodied but luminous Christ comforting the tattered poor in the rubble of a devastated building." He then dedicated himself to the ten year project of a series of 350 watercolors illustrating the New Testament from Jesus' birth to the Resurrection. His portrayals of St. Mary Magdalene are beautiful and he painted Mary Magdalene Before Her Conversion and The Repentant Magdalene.
An especially impressive painting is titled, What Our Lord Saw From the Cross, a unique piece which tries to depict what Jesus saw from the Cross.  
The Brooklyn Museum purchased this collection of watercolors in 1900 for $60,000. They don't show the paintings often and I'm not sure why, they are too brilliant to be hidden away, in my opinion. They are truly magnificent works of religious art, with fine details and historical accuracy in depicting the clothing of biblical figures and the landscape. (For the undertaking, he traveled to Palestine in the 1800's to study.) 
I find it strange that I was born, raised and lived most of my life in Brooklyn and I never heard of James Tissot or these watercolors. 
The Museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday. There is parking in the back of the museum. If you want to see a sampling of the watercolors you can go to the museum website. For more information-

Also, Congratulations to the New York Yankees on winning the World Series-I like all New York teams and I'm happy when anyone of them win. The quote below is a good one, on the power of prayer, spoken after the team won the World Series--

I've got a lot of people praying for me continuously!"  Andy Pettitte- Starting Pitcher

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Saintly Business

I read an interesting online article at Daily Finance titled, "A Question for the Holiday Season:Which Saint has the Best Cash Flow?" by Bruce Watson. I have a great admiration, interest and love for the Saints, which is why I have so many books about the lives of saints and their writings. The writer of the article started thinking about "top-earning saints" after Forbes magazine released a list of top earning dead celebrities ( Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and Rogers and Hammerstein). 
So, in his opinion and from what he's gathered from research, he wrote the following. "With All Saint's Day 2009 finally here, we decided to take a peek at the Christian saints who continue to inspire devotion--and yes, cash flow-long after their passage into the great beyond." The most popular Saint according to the writer must be Mary, the Mother of God. "In addition to direct veneration of the Virgin Mary, which inspires sales of numerous medals, statues, candles, scapulars and other items, her visitations in Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje and Guadalupe continue to draw devoted pilgrims from around the world. She has been the subject of thousands of books and pamphlets and her likeness adorns an almost infinite array of items. " That is certainly true. On the desk where my computer is, I have a paperweight with an image of Mary surrounded by angels. It was gift for a donation I made years ago. I never gave it much thought until now, but Mary is "close to me" as I write this blog entry and all the others too.  I also have numerous Marian books, pamphlets, statues etc. Some I purchased and some were gifts. 
What about profitable films about saints? There have been many popular movies about St. Bernadette, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Beckett, Oscar Romero and the most popular St. Joan of Arc. She is the central figure of at least 16 films. Interestingly, the first Joan of Arc movie was produced in 1895, at the beginning of the film industry. The most recent movie, about St. Joan was The Messenger which grossed over $14 million in the U.S. 
St. Christopher is still popular with the faithful.  St. Christopher is still venerated and as pointed out in the article, "His close association with travel makes St. Christopher one of the few religious figures whose medals can be purchased in auto parts stores."
St. Joseph statues are big business. As most everyone knows, people are planting statues of St. Joseph in their front lawns in the hope of getting a "saintly advantage" in trying to sell their homes. If you google St. Joseph's name, many sites come up titled, "The Home Sellers Statue Kit for St. Joseph." You can't make this stuff up!
And then there is the association with St. Valentine and Valentine's Day. Though a lot of confusion surrounds the identity of the saint connected to Valentine's Day, it is a very profitable holiday for Hallmark as well as candy manufacturers. 
And then there is St. Nick. His popularity is without question. It's difficult to get Christians to reflect on the true meaning of the Incarnation and Christmas with all the Christmas hype and materialism. It's hard not to get caught up in it.