Monday, December 17, 2012

Free Music Sampler

Over at Noisetrade you can now download a winter sampler produced by Mysterium. That's nine wonderful, soul-nourishing tracks for merely visiting. If you like it, you should consider "tipping" on Noistrade or purchase some of their music from itunes.

About Mysterium (via the Noistrade page)
Mysterium is a community of artists that believe in the power of Beauty to save the world and restore authentic culture. While our music ranges from the sacred to the secular, it always wrestles with the mysterious intersection of art and faith in modern culture.
Thanks to Imagine Sisters for sharing this on their feed!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Chris Ricketts - The Warrior Catholic Show

"The age of casual Catholicism is over; the age of heroic Catholicism has begun. We can no longer be Catholics by accident, but instead we must be Catholics by conviction."
 Fr. Terrence Henry - Franciscan University of Steubenville

What does heroic Catholicism look like? Is it going on national TV and eloquently explaining the Church’s teaching on life issues? Is it attending daily mass without fail, rain or shine? Is it dying as a martyr? To be honest, I’ve never done any of those things, in fact, most Catholics haven’t. Yet, we are no less called to be awesomely Catholic.

From reading this blog, you might draw the conclusion that Cool Cats are only people who are extraordinary (actors, athletes, etc.). This week, allow me to wipe that thought from your mind. Just as Jesus was a carpenter for most of his life, and whose famous disciples were fishermen, so too the friendly face at the gas station may be living out the New Evangelization with zeal.

No, really. Chris Ricketts, the guy behind the Warrior Catholic Show at, is a night-shift manager at a gas station convenience store. When he’s not doing that, he’s probably working his other shift in retail. All of the time, though, he puts his vocation as a father, husband, and provider first. For now that entails humbly serving others to put food on the table.

Does it get frustrating? “You bet! If I let my pride get in the way of my higher calling as a Leader, Protector, and Provider for my family, I can let myself start thinking how I'm somehow better than the jobs I work and that I'm better than the people with whom I am working. I then have to have an internal smack-down where I remind myself that Christ would be in there washing everybody's feet and who the hell am I to think otherwise?

Make no mistake, this guy is a fighter. Though our “enlightened” society would have us believe that anyone who can’t afford the latest ipad is truly desolate, a downright victim, Chris recognizes the riches our heavenly Father blesses us with. Indeed, much of our true wealth is stored in the treasury of the Church’s teaching, and it’s a treasury worth fighting for.

Kinda, but with less cool outfits.
When the Health and Human Services (HHS) Mandate came out from the Obama administration that forces Catholic institutions to go against the direct teachings of the Church, I was pretty ticked, to say the least...

I gravitated toward the idea that we are members of the Church MILITANT, and we are called to fight for the Truth and fight for the Faith. Hence the name, the Warrior Catholic Show. The term warrior Catholic isn't there to describe me, but all of us Catholics on earth who are by default members of the Church Militant. We are facing a great tidal wave rising against us. With the Lion of Judah leading us into battle, He cannot be defeated.

For Chris, taking his place in the New Evangelization resulted in an online radio show/podcast, but that came after other very important steps.

"I think it is still important to maintain the simple things first. We should do our jobs, whatever they are, to the best of our ability. I maintain that the New Evangelization starts internally. A deeper conversion back to the authentic Faith.The New Evangelization is Christ centered. It is through a deep relationship with Jesus that we can convert our hearts and minds to the Truths revealed to and professed by the Catholic Church.

Many Catholics whom you hear about today partake in the New Evangelization through new media such as blogs and podcasts. However, the best medium is you living authentically, and it is that which all Warrior Cats are called to.

When we have the joy of the Faith inside us, it is something that we can't help but want to share because it is so beautiful, so freeing, so amazing. Our actions are what do that. Our willingness to stand up for the Truth if it is under attack. Our willingness to explain why we live the way we do. It cannot help but inspire curiosity at least.

*Special thanks to Chris Ricketts for taking the time to chat with me and for providing such thoughtful responses.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Jordyn Wieber - Olympic Gymnast

The small-town Michigan native showed an affinity for gymnastics early on. Like, reaching level 10 by age 10, the highest level in the junior Olympic program. Her advancement went at such a breakneck pace that her parents worried she would be sucked into the dark world of elite gymnastics. However, Jordyn’s own determination ruled out in the end, and her supportive family provided a wholesome balance.

As with most Christians, a healthy family is not something seen as separate from the faith life. According to faith, the magazine of her home diocese, Jordyn has said, “My parents have always made going to church as a family important. Sometimes we have to split up due to our schedules, but most of the time we are able to get to Mass together. It’s a very special family time and it means a lot to me.”

The church isn’t just a place for family time; it is family. Her home parish of St. Jude’s raised an astounding $11,000 in order to help Jordyn’s parents and siblings watch her compete in London. (Catholic Sun)

In London, you probably know Jordyn as the favorite who suffered disappointment in the All-Around, only to come back and contribute to the Fierce Five’s team title. It later came to light that she had been performing throughout the Olympics with a stress fracture. Though she claims that adrenaline kept her from feeling too much pain, it did limit her ability to practice.

"We want her to feel that she had the time of her life -- that she's had her shot, that she's fulfilled and doesn't have any regrets," Rita (her mother) said. "And I hope to God that she doesn't have to get first to feel fulfilled." (Detroit Free Press)

Does Jordyn have to have more than one gold to feel fulfilled? Are gymnastics the meaning of her life? “I like to look at my gymnastics ability as a great gift from God,” she says. “Without God in my life, I feel like there would be no meaning.” (faith)

More on Jordyn Wieber:

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Members of Courage - An Apostolate

When I learned that yesterday was the feast of the Archangels Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel, I felt compelled to let them influence today’s post. I couldn’t write directly about them, of course, so I reflected on what virtues they represented. What came to mind was courage. Think about it, if you had to battle demons by sword or even by mere words, wouldn't you be shaking in your Allstar Chucks? Courage is the virtue of a warrior, but it’s also the virtue needed to live righteously when all sides, even our insides, hound us to live against God. The resulting post may be going outside my normal format, but it’s as true if not truer to the blog’s mission than any post I’ve written; namely, that the coolest Catholics are the ones who live so courageously.

Which brings us to the organization Courage, a Catholic apostolate that serves as a support group for men and women with same-sex attraction. Endorsed by the Holy See, the apostolate’s goals are centered around living out the Church’s teaching on chastity, living a devout existence through service, prayer, and attending mass, and being mindful that chaste friendships are “not only possible but necessary in a chaste Christian life.”

Courage was started in 1980 by Fr. John Harvey in the archdiocese of New York with the help of Rev. Benedict Groeschel. The two worked under the direction and encouragement of Cardinal Cooke, who had seen the need of putting into action what the Church was teaching that same-sex inclinations do not separate you from God’s love. Notice the use of SSA rather than “homosexual” or “gay”?

Not directly affiliated with Courage, but relevant

Simply put, the Church does not reduce us to an identity of sexual attraction. Instead we are children, parents, brothers, sisters, friends—and followers of Christ. Fr. Check, the executive director of Courage, helpfully stated in an interview last year with the National Catholic Register that “Courage doesn’t approach the question of homosexuality as a cultural challenge or as part of the cultural debate, even with regard to defending the institution of marriage. That’s done by other arms of the Church, and rightly so. Courage approaches the question of homosexuality as a lived reality in the lives of individual persons.”

And what is that reality? It’s surely one of confusion, with a good measure of loneliness and isolation thrown in. The latter two, you might recognize, are the very essence of Hell, a state in which we’re isolated from God’s love. Therefore (and the following is all my personal conjecture), the struggle to live chastely with SSA is not just overcoming a disordered tendency, of which SSA may be only one of a billion different kinds, but a struggle against our worst fear: Hell itself. In conclusion, this is a salute to all those who are joined by the archangels in putting the fears of Hell far below the power of God’s love.

More on Courage:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mike Mangione and the Union - Blues & T.O.B.

There’s a Song of Songs you’re singing
And I’ve been bleeding every line.

Aside from some shout-outs for the Kickstarter campaigns of Paul J. Kim and Gina Chavez, I realize that’s it been a while since I’ve showcased some good music. Well, you need not wait another second—pop on your earbuds for Mike Mangione and The Union!

Starting out as a solo act in the early 2000's, Mike's lonely van grew to include his brother and eventually the implements you see above. Not that the journey was as straight forward as that: he spent some time as a barista at varying locations and doing some odd jobs before settling into the seat of a traveling musician, a career we all know to be incredibly stable and secure.

Not that I'm complaining, since every ear within range benefits from the road the group travels, if for no other reason than even happy hearts can appreciate the blues. Come to think of it, blues and Catholicism are complementary, aren’t they? Not the church nor Jesus ever make any attempt to downplay the reality of suffering, not even for the faithful. Equipped with a maturity to turn our temporal anguish into music, Mike Mangione and his soul patch draw lyrics of amazing theological depth:

You give yourself bare-handed, I take what’s left with shame.
I heard Vinny came back from the desert but that boy don’t look the same.
You can count my hairs, they’re numbered, leave the tally at the door.
I heard the mother’s milk has gone sour but the fools they’re begging more.
You beg me to surrender, to make a perfect offering.
But you are asking too much baby because I’m stuck here in between.

("Somewhere Between," from the album The Offering)

With such thoughtful lyrics, you can rest assured that the T.O.B. in the post title indeed belongs. Standing for Theology of the Body, it’s the name given to the compilation of Blessed John Paul II’s teaching on human sexuality. The teaching particularly reaffirms the sacredness of marital union and our dignity in playing a part in it. With songs like “At Your Gate,” which references the Song of Songs, and “Woman in Gown,” it’s no wonder that Mike and The Union perform at Christopher West events.

Though all the members of the band are practicing Catholics and they’ve even performed at World Youth Day, their ministry, as you might call it, takes them to mostly secular venues. This certainly harkens back to the words of St. Paul, when he says, “To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.”(1Cor 9:23) Everyone suffers, and everyone questions their existence and their place in the world; Is there any better place to sing a word of truth than in a genre and environment where all questions are asked and significant themes are demanded?

In the words of the man himself: "Search out the Catholicity in the secular and let it inspire you. You will have a bigger palette to work with, and your work will resonate with a broader audience for all the right reasons." (Colorado Catholic Herald)

More on Mike Mangione and The Union:
Music videos
Store (MP3s available on iTunes and Amazon)
Interview at

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tim Staples - Catholic Apologist

A face of calm before he unleashes truth like a broken dam.

Hey all, welcome back to Cool Cats! I’m ending my hiatus with a special treat. As mentioned in a previous post, Brandon Vogt is hosting a Support a Catholic Speaker Month, which is happening right now. As a participant, it was my good fortune to acquire the privilege to write about Tim Staples.

I specifically chose to write about Tim because, when I was a youngster, he gave a talk at my home parish and was my first introduction to the world of Catholic apologetics. It wasn’t a minute too soon, because between the internet and classmates, I was already facing such daunting questions as “Where is that in the Bible?” or phrases like “Catholics aren’t Christian; they believe in works getting you to heaven.” Key to Tim’s effectiveness isn’t only that he knows the ins and outs of Catholic answers to the above statements (not to mention he’s also the Director of Evangelization at, it’s that he once believed them.

Tim Staples was raised in a very southern and very Baptist southern Baptist church. This meant growing up in a mindset that not only was the Catholic Church not Christian, it was the whore of Babylon, oh my! He fell away from his faith during his teen years, but he came roaring back with the help of televangelists when he was 18 and about to set off for the Marines. With a renewed vigor in Christ, he participated in Bible studies and ministries throughout his military service and found his way into the Assemblies of God.

During his final year, however, he encountered something that many cradle Catholics haven’t even seen: a Catholic who knew his stuff. This fellow marine was Matt Dula, and he sparked Tim’s journey to prove the Catholic faith wrong. ‘Course, you can see how well that turned out.

Tim immediately followed his conversion with entrance into the seminary, and though he knew maybe halfway through that it wasn’t his true calling, he remained there for six years. Let’s all be thankful for this, because it surely gave him the necessary knowledge for his calling of apologetics without whisking him away to the serious time-eating obligations of a priest. The resulting fruits include the DVDs Why Be Catholic and The Bible Made Me Do It, as well as his book Nuts & Bolts: A Practical Guide for Explaining and Defending theCatholic Faith and speaking tours related to all of the above.

It's worth noting that Tim gives special thanks to his protestant brothers and sisters for helping him form an authentic relationship with God, and indeed we all should only approach other Christians in a loving manner should the opportunity for apologetics arise. Yet, apologetics isn't just trying to prove to other Christians our own Christian existence, it's showing ourselves the well grounded roots and teachings of the church we attend!

You might recognize from the clip above: "I led many Catholics out of the Catholic Church, I never met a single Catholic who was either willing or able to defend his or her faith."

More about Tim Staples:
Other books, talks, etc.
Journey Home interview

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Want to kick something?

Then help fund Paul J. Kim's new album through Kickstarter. In case the hyperlink's not clear enough, go to the url Or click HERE. Really, refusing three different hyperlinks to visit the same site is bad luck. So, please, take the time to learn more about this talented young man if you haven't already and proceed to help bring good music into the world.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Support Some Cool Cats!

Okay, abysmal Photoshop aside, I want to let you know about an opportunity to vote for Catholic Speakers over at Brandon Vogt's website. Brandon is the author of The Church and the New Media, which has been featured on EWTN's Life on the Rock and has made a splash in the Catholic blogosphere. 

Right now, the list is some 250 and needs to be whittled down to 100. After that, during the month of September, those 100 will be promoted through "Support a Catholic Speaker Month." You get 15 votes,  so if you're not sure who to vote for, put a check next to the Cool Cats Eduardo Verastegui and Fr. Leo. Seriously, Eduardo only has 4%? Please, do me a favor and remedy that.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Time out! This is what I leave with you while I go offline for a while. Part of the reason is that I want to preserve my existing list of future Cool Cats, and the other part is...well, mainly I want to build up my list before returning. I know, I know, you're all bursting into tears as you read this. Just find a cat. It'll make you feel better, trust me.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gene Luen Yang - Comic Artist

Don't let the smile fool you. He gets smeared with ashes just like anyone else.
If you’re experiencing geekcaine withdrawals from the closing of this year’s San Diego Comic-con, then I have just the remedy. Gene Luen Yang is an award-winning Chinese-American comic artist and writer whom you should check out RIGHT NOW if you want to relieve that emptiness inside.

In all seriousness, Gene is a dream-come-true for Christians aspiring to do cool things on the nerdier side of life. Though comics may not be vilified today as they were in the decades following their inception, any involvement with them is unlikely to earn you a high-five with your priest, Sunday school teacher, or beams of praise from your German-Catholic grandparents. Gene, himself born to strict and devout Chinese parents, knows this and has written an insightful article entitled “Telling the Old, Old Story.” It details the commonalities between the histories of Christianity and the modern comic medium, going as far to say they’re complementary:
...(John of Damascus) suggests that our tradition of visual art grows from the very heart of the gospel. When "the Word became flesh and made a dwelling among us" (John 1:14), God expressed the desire to make what was once invisible (the Word) visible (flesh).

To respond to the Incarnation -- the making of the invisible visible -- we must express the Incarnation visually. In other words, we must make comics.
He also makes an astute observation that our beloved stained glass windows are just a graphical representation of a story, in other words, a very expensive comic.

I hate reading clockwise.
As fascinating as you probably think that all is, you should check out Gene’s work from the library, or buy it if you’re one of those people with money. His most well-known is American Born Chinese, which won an Will Eisner award as well as being a finalist for the National Book Awards in the category of Young People's Literature, which is rare for a comic book (maybe unprecedented, too lazy to look up). It interweaves an ancient Asian narrative, in which a monkey king travels to India to retrieve the Buddhist sutras (Journey to the West), with the identity-bending experience of a young boy living between two cultures. Superimpose a Christian interpretation of God onto the braided narrative, and you have a reflection of Gene’s life as well as that of his fictional characters'.

That guy's always in control. What's the deal?
In the end...I decided I wanted to do an Asian-American telling of this (Journey to the West). Christianity has had a profound effect on Asian American identity. I feel like it’s a particular style of Christianity that emphasizes where Western Christian morality and a Confucian-based moral system intersect. You visit any college with Christian groups or clubs, you’ll usually find a lot of Asians in those groups. -Gene Yang in an interview with
He openly admits that his religion is one of the most important aspects of his identity, the other being his heritage (talkingwriting), and you can certainly pick up subtle hints of that in all his work. It shows up in the form of philosophy, or theology if someone took out deliberate Judeo-Christian references to God and his works. This investigation into morality is very apparent in the collection Animal Crackers, The Eternal Smile, and Level Up. In other words, in pretty much everything he does.

Seriously, buy it so you can pretend to have a ridiculously large Game Boy (story's good too).
If by any chance Gene sounds too intellectual or not geeky enough to be your mentor in spirit, you should know that he's in charge of writing the Avatar: The Last Airbender comic continuation. Yeah, the series is in good hands.

More on Gene Luen Yang:
The Millions interview  (Great insight about race representation)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Amazing Nightcrawler - Superhero

...most people were afraid of me. But I didn't hate them. I pitied them. Do you know why? Because most people will never know anything beyond what they see with their own two eyes.
- X2- X-Men United
Why? ‘Cause it’s comic-con. And he’s awesome, and German, and as far as I know, the only Catholic superhero. In any case, Kurt Wagner, AKA the Nightcrawler, is a very rare, positive, and accurate depiction of Catholicism in mainstream media.

Making his debut in 1975’s Giant X-Men #1, the Nightcrawler has BAMF'd his way through forty years of comics, three animated series, multiple video games, and a key role in a major motion picture. It all started when a shape-shifting mutant, Mystique, hooked up with an actual demon, Azazel (you may recognize him from X-Men: First Class). Since Nightcrawler's blue skin and pointy ears blew Mystique's cover as a non-mutant, she abandoned him to a river, where he was later picked up by a traveling circus.

Among the ranks of freaks and geeks he had somewhat of a safe haven despite his monstrous appearance, but as a mutant, he knew he would always be an outcast to the rest of the world (pitchforks and torches gave him that impression). Despite his demonic ancestry, he would go on to find solace in God, even living in a monastery for a time. His exemplary faith is so compelling that some of the X-Men (Storm, Jubilee, and even Wolverine) have to pause to contemplate his words. Below, a video that better illustrates his origin and his interesting effect on Wolverine:

Cutting through the twists, turns, and multiple histories typical of a comic character, Nightcrawler was later recruited to join the X-Men by Professor Xavier, whose mission it is to alleviate the majority population's fears of mutants by using their abilities for good. Nightcrawler's abilities include hyper agility, teleportation/inter-dimensional travel (BAMF!), and his feet allow him to walk on walls. He also has an awesome tail, is a prankster, and loves a good swashbuckling adventure.

More on Nightcrawler:
Watch X-Men The Animated Series on Netflix!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Jennifer Paterson - TV Chef and One of Two Fat Ladies

"We will serve that to the nuns with a bowl of mayonnaise on the side and I hope they'll love it. Ymmm, I would."

As you may have noticed, none of my previous Cool Cats have yet joined our family in heaven. This is because my mission is to show that cool people living out their faith is not a thing of the past. It’s super easy to get hung up on the antiquity of the famous saints, which is unfortunate considering that we should all be striving for sainthood and thus a closer relationship with God. Jennifer Paterson may have passed away over ten years ago, but her incredible show Two Fat Ladies is still on the air and still serving up chortles. Needless to say, she is well alive in our hearts and worth including.

To call miss Paterson a mere television chef would be like calling a Cinnabon a mere cinnamon roll. So much more, Paterson can be seen every episode driving her compatriot Clarissa Dickson Wright around the country in a motorcycle and a sidecar. If that didn't happen, it's because they were singing on a balcony in Brazil or digging a roasting pit in the Caribbean. Often episodes ended—after many minutes of friendly British bantering, copious amounts of butter, and jabs at vegetarians—with Paterson seated with a spirit in hand and proclaiming “cheers.”

Yes, she drank quite a bit, would light a cigarette after popping something in the oven, and drove her motorcycle like a mad woman, but she was also a devout Catholic. She loved Latin mass and even gave up drinking for lent. It is also perhaps no coincidence that she and Wright would cook for Benedictine nuns, choir boys, and the Westminster Cathedral before the series was through. Sparing her British humor from no one, the Telegraph claims that she used to pray, “Dear God, please stop all this in Yugoslavia, it's too terrible."

Paterson’s life before chef stardom begins with a military father who was stationed in China, Berlin, and the UK at various points. Her jobs were equally as varied, from stage assistant, to nanny, to matron, to writer and staff cook at a magazine. At the age of fifteen she was expelled from her boarding school for being “naughty.” Couple this with her tendency to drink, and you might read between the lines that she was a loose young adult. However, you’d be wrong, because she’s a good Catholic. She was also a beautiful woman known for her eccentricities, and she is proof that being among the faithful does not mean having a stifling or drab personality.

Sadly, or blessedly, she joined the heavenly feast August 10th, 1999. As her co-Fat Lady Clarissa Wright said, "Jennifer is no doubt sitting on a cloud, with her bike parked beside her, smoking a fag and discussing menus with St Peter, singing hymns with St Lucy and writing recipes with St Honoré before going off to lunch with Noel Coward." (Telegraph)

More on Jennifer Paterson:
Obituary in the Telegraph
Obituary on the BBC
Two Fat Ladies Cookbooks

Monday, June 4, 2012

Chase Hilgenbrinck - Professional Player to Priest

"I couldn’t have dreamed this up for myself. I think that’s what’s truly divine about it." 1  

Even if we had an above average dedication and love for the game, most of us simply lack the natural talent to become a professional player. When someone does have that talent, it’s easy to think that it was meant to be, that it’s a gift from God; yet, this week’s Cool Cat serves to remind us that there are gifts greater than promising athletic careers.

In 2008, Chase Hilgenbrinck walked away from a career in the MLS to join the seminary. He didn’t walk away while he was near retirement, nor because he was injured. He had just spent four years playing professional soccer in Chile, becoming something of a celebrity, and had just signed up for a short stint with the Revolution. It was after only four games that Chase made the break, cutting off the Revolution’s offer of extending his contract. He instead switched to a career where heaven’s the limit.

Of course, God’s call did not become apparent to him overnight. After making his childhood faith his own during his college years, it became his cornerstone while he was in Chile. Separated from everyone he knew, Chase became terribly lonely, so he turned to the one thing he did know: the church. Not lacking for time, Chase would take advantage of the peaceful space to think about why professional soccer didn’t feel fulfilling, and why he felt lonely even with a girlfriend. It was tough eventually giving up the desire for a wife and kids, but through prayer Chase found himself moving naturally toward his new vocation.

And how did he celebrate the end of his discernment? With champagne! Such is the act of man who did not feel cheated in being called away from the pros. Though it was an act so counter-cultural as to make headlines, it did not surprise those who actually knew him.

Three years into his seminary education, how does he feel about his decision? “At the time I left soccer, I wanted to be obedient to my faith and to the call of God I heard in my life,” Hilgenbrinck said. “I never realized that I would be as happy as I am actually going through with everything.” (

If your interest has been piqued by this week’s kicking cool cat, be sure to check out the articles listed below, which each provide a more thorough and better written account of his life than this lowly blog post.

More on Chase Hilgenbrinck:
"What Ever Happened To ... Chase Hilgenbrinck" (

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

L'Angelus - Amazing Cajun Music

Once upon a time, sometime in the 90’s, a certain Linda Rees formed Linda Lou and the Lucky 4 with her four oldest children. They pleased their audiences with old country songs and old rock tunes, but as they were originally from Lafayette, Louisiana, they were fated to return to their Cajun roots. Those four siblings, Katie, Paige, Johnny, and Stephen, are now bringing the joie de vivre as L’Angelus, your premiere Catholic Cajun band.

It’s gotta be that we’re living our lives fully and not afraid of being right there in the middle of society and bringing Christ’s love and joy wherever we go. -Katie

Even if you aren’t Catholic, L’Angelus has the appeal of being a finalist in Billboard’s Independent Music World Series (2006), and has been featured in the PBS documentary, Washing Away. Not to mention, they’ve been interviewed on RTE (Ireland’s prominent radio station) and the BBC. But, if you are Catholic, their World Youth Day appearance just makes them that much cooler.

Being both Cajun and Catholic is not a combination in the sense of chocolate and ice cream, two great things that together make one great thing. Rather, their roots and faith are so intertwined, it’s more like a guitar (their faith) and its strings (their upbringing): together they work, separate they don’t.
We wanted to have that Cajun identity… it’s such an authentically Catholic culture that the faith is not separated from other things, other aspects in your life. It was a natural way to let…the faith influence everything. –Katie, the oldest, from Life on the Rock
Their name is the most obvious manifestation of this fusion of faith and culture. L’Angelus is the French name for the Angelus, a prayer that you hopefully know. At the sound of bells, the community would stop what they were doing to pray the Angelus together, a practice going back hundreds of years to the original French settlers.

Being named for a universal prayer, it makes sense that L’Angelus themselves have toured Europe in addition to the Unites States and Canada. What’s more, their songs range from the fun-loving “Rice and Gravy” to solemn hymns, and they try to only perform in family venues so everyone can come. Their typical performances could be classified as secular, but that does not dampen their perceived mission in serving Christ and facing the culture war:
We need to go right there into the middle of our culture, the middle of our society…to look at what’s good around us, the natural and the supernatural things, and say this is what we’re going to write songs about and how do we celebrate life and bring joy when often there is none. -Kate
Be sure to sample their albums (Ça C'est Bon, Sacred Hymns, O Night Divine) on Amazon. Or, sign up for their mailing list and get a free download!

More on L'Angelus:
Band website
Life on the Rock Interview (2012)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tom Shadyac - Hollywood Director

"Coincidence is God's way of staying anonymous."

Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor, Bruce Almighty…the guy is behind some of the biggest comedies of our generation. Yet, his most significant work is likely to be a documentary that seeks to answer two rather sober questions: What’s wrong with the world, and what can we do about it? I Am is the name of this work, and though Christian readers will recognize it as a Biblical reference, Shadyac claims it to be serendipitous, albeit one that was not an accident. (Dialog)

Several articles on the web state that 2011’s I Am is the product of a journey that began after Shadyac’s 2007 biking accident, an accident which left him with a concussion and lasting head trauma. Plagued with migraines and other symptoms, the director did not even know how long he had to live. It was a dark night of the soul, to be sure, but it was merely one more stage in the spiritual journey that has been Shadyac’s life, not the start of it.

Though Shadyac was raised Roman Catholic, he questioned its dogma and "exclusivity" for years. Questioning, however, is a good thing when done in the interest of pursuing truth, and it is at the very heart of our faith to seek out truth. As is clear from his having read Augustine and Thomas Merton, not to mention the rest of this LIST, Shadyac is very active in this pursuit. When asked about what he finds in common with all the spiritual authors he’s read, he answers:
“They all go within, where you have to remove yourself from the distractions of the world and find yourself within[…]But there's this intuition, that voice inside saying there's something to this. And that's what faith is. That's what I find in all the great religions--quiet down, be still and know that I am God. Go into that quiet place, Jesus said, and shut the door. And listen for me there. And then bring that out into the world.” (Beliefnet)
To listen to that voice, he attends silent retreats and practices Lectio Divina.

Though I Am took him to thinkers from all over the world, and through the depths of human existence, it was not his only film to ask hard hitting questions. Does the truth really set us free? See Liar Liar (1997). Is God ambivalent toward our suffering? See Patch Adams (1998). And, of course, how do you get someone to love you without affecting free will? 2003’s Bruce Almighty brings us God’s response via Morgan Freeman: “Welcome to my world, son.”

Yet, if Shadyac’s journey could only be evidenced by his portfolio, there’d be a superficialness to it.

God demands much more than our skin deep affections; He is known for demanding us in our entirety, and it should be noted that Shadyac’s extreme downsizing from an extravagant Hollywood lifestyle to a mobile home park, one that had made him grow rich in neighbors and happiness, was a gradual process that predated the bike crash. What the bike crash did was to compel him to open up about his journey, and in doing so invite others to see what connects humanity, the good and the lack thereof.

A cool cat caveat:

I found several articles that designate Tom Shadyac as a “professed” and a “devout” Catholic, and he may well be, but those words mean very little in a society where “Catholics” openly support abortion, same-sex marriage, and the infringement of Catholics’ liberties. This makes searching for cool cats difficult. Though my research didn’t turn up any mention of the sacraments, I’ll let Shadyac speak on his own behalf: “Do I support this or that? Am I pre-Vatican II or post-Vatican II? Jesus said, ‘You understand the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law,’” he said. “If Catholic means I have some exclusivity on the truth, I would say no, but (yes) if you say I’ve given my full life and my heart to God and given myself over to Jesus.” (Dialog)

In any case, I believe his spirituality is a Catholic one, even if I cannot vouch for what manifests in his practice of the religion.

More on Tom Shadyac:
I Am Official website
"Crossing Over With Tom Shadyac" (Beliefnet)
"From Ace to the Almighty" (Christianity Today)
"I Am grew from Catholic director's spiritual journey" (The Dialog)
"Interviewing Tom Shadyac" (Indie Movies Online)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Etsuro Sotoo - Sculptor of La Sagrada Familia

So I really have to get to know each piece of rock because I can’t change the character of the rock… So I’m not going to change the rock; the rock is going to change me. I discovered a mystery.  

When Etsuro Sotoo left his home in Fukuoka, Japan to visit Spain in 1978, he had only meant to learn more about sculpting stone, but seeing Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia caused his jaw to drop and has anchored him there ever since. So fascinated was he that he tried to communicate with the disciples of the principal sculptor, the late great Gaudi, even though he didn’t speak Spanish or Catalan. He showed them some photos of his work, and this led to the wacky misunderstanding of hiring him to finish Gaudi’s work rather than to study under them. Incidentally, the job of trying to finish Gaudi’s vision would become the most all engrossing tutelage that Sotoo could have imagined.

Sotoo was obsessed for years in trying to understand Gaudi, and many nights went sleepless, to which Spanish wine became an aid. But finally, he made a breakthrough: looking at Gaudi was not enough, he had to look where Gaudi looked. That was, of course, at nature, and this revelation proved most fruitful.

Every day the good words of Jesus are spoken. Gaudí had to express this very important work, and he also learned from nature and used nature… But in nature you find fruit and many leaves.…So the fruit is our soul, our heart. And this is why Gaudí wanted all this fruit. 

And at the top of everything there’s fresh, ripe, colorful fruit with no leaves because when our body gives up, our soul rises. When a person has heard a lot of good words and has read a lot of good books, his soul is ripe fruit, but up there there are no words; you don’t need any words. 

Indeed, it’s not enough to mimic someone by their actions, or to scrutinize the product they leave behind. You must look where they are looking, and it was through searching for the object of Gaudi’s gaze that Sotoo found God, the creator of nature, beauty, and mystery. “I invite everyone who wants to understand Gaudí to not pick the wrong door. If you really want to know him, find the the door of spirit and faith.” 1 It would be only a matter of time before he converted to Roman Catholicism.

Etsuro Sotoo has sculpted hundreds of pieces for the Sagrada Familia, has been a university professor, and is a recipient of the Ars Spiritis Prize of Lladro and the Fukuoka Prize for Culture. 

It’s the most important place, but it’s a pelican. It’s a symbol of the love of a mother, the symbol of the love of God. Because we can’t say that a physical object is the love of God. But the love of a parent to his or her children is the love of God.

The only way was you’d have to set two boards, and there was 16 meters, which is over 100 feet down; it was nothing. And why did Gaudí hide the love of God in such a difficult place? Because
the love of God, the love of your mother, if you’re near, you can’t see.

Italicized sections were taken from a transcript of Etsuro Sotoo's talk at Fordham University in New York (the year is obscured by a typo). I encourage you to read the entire thing to benefit from this incredibly thoughtful and reflective artist.

More on Etsuro Sotoo:
Gaudi Calls the Future  (Crossroad Cultural Center transcript)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Louise Summerhill - Founder of Birthright International

The idea was revolutionary: be there for women. To be there, to love, and to not judge. Welcome to Birthright International.

Birthright was founded in 1968 shortly after abortion became legal in Canada. Louise Summerhill, a mother of seven who had experienced unplanned pregnancy herself, felt that the best way to act against this unjust law was to act justly toward women in a way that did not include picketing and slinging insults at politicians. No, Birthright has always been non-political and it refuses the label of “anti-abortion.” They are pro-love and pro-having-babies-with-love.  “We can save millions of babies. We can get the laws of abortion changed, but if we have not love, we are nothing, we are just nothing." (Georgia Bulletin)

In addition to face to face counseling, Birthright offers a hotline, free pregnancy tests, diapers, and other assorted baby items. It is run entirely by donation and every Birthright member is a volunteer.

Many of the volunteers happen to be Catholic—as is, of course, Louise Summerhill—but the organization is interdenominational. The mission to tend to our sisters is not reserved for Catholics alone, but Birthright is no less universal, with over 600 offices around the world.

There isn’t much on the net on Summerhill’s personal life, but her vision speaks volumes about her character as a woman of Christ.

More on Louise Summerhill:
The Story of Birthright (Google books)

Friday, March 23, 2012

By the way...

The Thirsting's new website is up! You know, The Thirsting!

Anyway, visit it and listen to some of the tracks from their newest album, Universal Youth.

And, I know, I didn't start the week off with a cool cat. I'm sorry. But if you're desperately in need of one, go hug the closest Catholic in your proximity and remind them that they're cool, too.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lopez Lomong - Olympian and Lost Boy

"… animals could have killed us or people could have got us and killed us, but God was there to protect us."
(USA Today)

The Second Sudanese Civil War.

Lopez Lomong was abducted while attending mass at the age of six. After some weeks of wasting away in the rebel camp, he escaped with several older boys (his "angels") through a hole in the fence. And they ran.

As is clear from the post title, Lopez Lomong’s running ability is a God-given gift, but I get ahead of myself. The boys made it to a refugee camp, and there he subsisted on roughly one meal a day for ten years, all the while believing his parents to be dead. At sixteen, he wrote an essay for Catholic Charities detailing what he would do in America, given the chance. His story was so moving, the chance was given.

In 2001 Robert and Barbara Rodgers welcomed him into their home in Tully, New York. The transition was not without a hitch: Lopez was too shy to ask his adopted parents for help with the shower, lights, and other first world puzzles for the third world upbringing. Key to adjusting to his radically new setting was running. What was once comforting footfalls became high school cross-country, then a NCAA Division I education, the pros, and ultimately the Olympic 1500m. In 2008 he was voted by the U.S. team to bear the flag in the parade of athletes, and he is currently training for the London Olympics this summer.

Lomong is still very much attached to his roots. It was about a year after coming to the U.S. that he discovered his parents were alive. Now his monetary aid helps support the younger brothers he did not used to know he had. He is also a driving force of Team Darfur, an organization of elite athletes who are spreading awareness about the conflict, and pressure on the guilty powers. With 4 South Sudan he raises funds for clean drinking water, healthcare, and education.

Interestingly, some of the the mainstream media downplays his faith. However, USA Today was cool enough to share Lomong’s own faith-filled words with us: "(God) blessed me and gave me a lot of strength to be faithful and more determined with my life to overcome obstacles. He had a vision for me. He knew I would come to America and have family.”

More on Lopez Lomong:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Thirsting - Awesome Universal Rock

Stay thirsty, my friends.

It’s that time of year when we’re called to go into the desert in imitation of Christ. If we imitated Him fully, we’d be starving and thirsty by now, but since our dependence on comfort precludes us from this, the next best thing is to let ourselves be evangelized by an album or two by The Thirsting.

By sampling their music on their facebook page or their website, you’re bound to notice two things: 1) Their lyrics are unapologetically Catholic and 2) They seriously rock. This is not a band that could easily put on a “non-denominationally safe” show, not with lyrics like this (from "In this Sacrament"):
Well some people tell me faith is all I need;
it's like I just stop sinning when I'm on my knees,
but when reality hits I know it's him I hurt
cause every word every thought
hurts His Church.
The Church is you and the Church is me,
but this sacrament will set you free,
so every week I'm on my knees inside a little room
just a begging for His mercy trying to heal his wounds
Even if they did avert their more "catholic" songs, it wouldn't quite jive with their mission of “inspire(ing) Catholic youth to love and to follow Jesus Christ through the Eucharist, Mary through the rosary, and all of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.”1

Throw in some songs about the trinity, the Eucharist, and some Bible verses along with the sacrament of reconciliation, and you’ve got an idea of the line-up from their debut album Companions of the Lamb. Their second, Universal Youth, is particularly focused on…you guessed it, the universal church, but also on God's unrelenting and unifying love (see "Love is Blind" and "One Love").

The title track from their latest album seems especially poignant for our current culture clashes. "Will you rise up? Will you be that generation? Do you thirst with The Thirsting?"2 If you liked that, as I’m sure you did, you can get it for free here, courtesy of the band.

And who is the band? With a frontman in founder and lead vocalist Daniel Oberreuter, The Thirsting is comprised of Mike Jackson on the bass, Steve Jackson on lead guitar, Trishella Messer on Keyboard, and Ben Plumb on drums. The group is based out of Vancouver, WA, but have gigs all across the country. Note that their facebook page seems to have the most up-to-date information, so check it to see if they'll be in your area.

In case you needed further motivation to share the sweet sounds of The Thirsting with your friends, put on your headphones and check out the tracks that sold me on them:

"Ocean of Mercy":

"Hail Holy Queen":

Seriously, please spread the joy that is listening to The Thirsting. A quick google search reveals that these guys aren't well-known, and yet, their passion for the teachings of the universal church is exemplary for all Catholics. 

Looking for that perfect confirmation or first communion gift? Their albums are available on amazon and cdbaby.

More on The Thirsting:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dolores Hart - Oscar nominee

You could call it an off-week, or you could call me lazy, but I'm going to ask any dear reader of mine to take the initiative to get to know this week's cool cat. How do I expect you to do that?

By watching "God is Bigger than Elvis," the OSCAR NOMINATED DOCUMENTARY!

But, if you really can't bring yourself to support the black and habit on the red carpet, then I'd suggest the NY Times article "A Nun Returns to the Red Carpet."

What was that? You still think I'm incredibly lazy? Okay, here's the quick run down. Mother Hart is a voting member of the academy and even presented at the Oscars back in her acting days. Between 1957 and 1963 she appeared in sixteen different films/tv series, most notably landing Elvis Presley's first onscreen kiss in Loving You (1957). She then left her very successful Hollywood career and chivalrous fiancee for a a cloistered life in Connecticut, where she is now the prioress. There are some other details in there, but I don't want to spoil it. Ha.

Hmm, what would you toss aside for the sake of following God's plan?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dean Koontz - Bestselling Author

"Real joy comes from those moments during the writing when you feel the great beating heart of the divine." 1

Ash Wednesday is approaching. It’s a time for meditation and reflection, a time to contemplate our morality and mortality. Taking time to consider our lives and the world around us is a cornerstone of Catholicism, resulting in the advancement of science, the founding of systems of education, and of the building of whole societies of counter-cultural contemplatives (but don’t take my word for it, find out for yourself). With this in mind, I introduce a cool cat who looks evil in the eye and asks the tough questions: Dean Koontz.

Koontz knows firsthand what he is up against. Childhoods like Koontz's are often what people have in mind when they ask, “If there’s a god, why he does let bad things happen?” Koontz grew up under the whim and oppression of an abusive, alcoholic, and sociopathic father. Even as an adult, Koontz could not maintain distance from him because there was no one else to take care of the man in his later years. Rather than a heartwarming story of a father-son reconciliation, Koontz had to endure several attempts on his life. Indeed, why does God let these things happen?

A staple of Koontz’s books seems to be that though evil might triumph in the short term, good always prevails in the long run. This belief in the power of good, or perhaps in God’s plan, is what allows Koontz to confront evil and not shy from addressing it. He admits, he does not find it glamorous and so will never portray anything but a pathetic villain. (NRC)

Evil, as part of this world as it is, is offset by the wonder of this world: “If you remain alert to the lessons of life and aware of the mystery of the world, it is difficult to deny the existence of design in all things.” 1 This acknowledgement of the wonder of reality, while also providing a meaning and a form to truth, is part of what Koontz loves about being Catholic. What drew him to the church in the first place, however, was witnessing the closeness of his then girlfriend/current wife’s Catholic family. After some reading, he was particularly drawn to the “intellectual rigor” of the faith as evidenced by St. Thomas Aquinas and G.K. Chesterton. 2

Koontz finds science and faith to be complementary, and many of his books deal with quantum physics and biology. He also explores bioethics through his disabled characters, and he doesn’t draw the same conclusions as a certain Peter Singer who measures human worth through output:
If you bring these [disabled] people into your life, I’ve discovered – I’ve never found one who whined or complained like average people do. I’ve never found one who wasn’t grateful for every good thing that comes their way. And I haven’t found one that wasn’t an inspiration to people. If you can inspire other people by your own courage and your own stoicism, you’ve had a very valuable and important life. So they bring a great deal to the world. - Catholic Exchange, 2009
In a good example of stewardship, Koontz works extensively with Canines Companions for Independence, a group that trains dogs that greatly contribute to the lives and opportunities for the physically and mentally disabled.

More on Dean Koontz:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fr. Leo Patalinghug - Priest, Chef, Martial Artist

The priestly garb matches his black belt in karate perfectly.

I’ll be frank, tabbies and tigers: we’re invisible.* If we’re not invisible, we’re being ignored, if not ignored, then we’re seen for the lies that people say about us. As the late great Bishop Sheen once said, “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.”

However, that little intro isn’t to get you riled up against the world. It’s to motivate you to be your cool self, to be the best you can be with your gifts, because if you can’t reach people through your impeccable theology (as if anyone had this), you just may reach them through your talents. And here is where Fr. Leo E. Patalinghug does a karate flip into the kitchen and proceeds to serve Bobby Flay on national television. That is, he served fajitas, thereby besting the renowned Food Network chef in kitchen combat (Throwdown, not Iron Chef), and gaining attention for his Grace Before Meals movement.

The movement, compromised of a book, a TV show, events, and the participation of many, many people, may be summed up in the slogan: Stronger family, better food. It has its roots in when Fr. Leo used to cook for his St. John’s Church parishioners in Westminster, Maryland. Those opportunities were precious, self-evident moments of bonding, and they were what led to Grace Before Meals the book.

Fr. Leo’s love for cooking and his priesthood are not mere happenstance, however. It was while attending seminary in Rome that he started talking and exchanging recipes with local Italian chefs. They taught him rigatoni and lasagna, and he taught them hamburgers and ribs. Before the seminary and his call to the priesthood, he owned a martial arts school with his brother, where he presumably served up knuckle sandwiches in a masterful fashion.

But it's food that brings us together, and it isn’t just a way to share something delicious; it is a way to truly interact and learn from one another. Of course, in times like these, it is ever more important that we bind together, especially on the family level. We might as well be cool about it and throw a barbecue or two.

*The article is actually about pro-lifers, but I ask you, who is the largest pro-life institution in the world?

More on Fr. Leo: