Hurry Up and Slow Down, Christian Mindfulness - Gregory Bottaro

"An excerpt from The Mindful Catholic, available on Amazon from Beacon Publishing"

Chinese Finger Traps

Have you ever used or seen one of those Chinese finger traps? They are braided tubes that you stick a finger in each end of, and as you try to pull your fingers out, the tube narrows and grabs your fingers even harder. 

This is a good image for what happens when you try to solve problems in your life with the Doing mind. As you wrestle through a situation trying to come up with a solution, your brain is firing away as if you are in danger, and this in turn narrows your sense of creativity. Creativity is an essential element to problem-solving, but it doesn’t work very well when anxiety is increasing. This is also why people will often “sleep on it” when trying to figure out a problem or coming up with writer’s block. Letting the problem go for a time is like releasing your fingers from the pulling movement of the finger trap. If you relax the fight to free your fingers, the tube lets go and you can actually slip them out. When you let go of the “problem” disposition towards something that actually needs to be figured out, your brain relaxes the Doing mode and you can open up to solutions you never thought possible. 

The problem is that we have been trained from day one to solve problems, think critically, and work until we figure out that we have to work harder. Our society rewards this type of hyper-productivity and hyper-achievement. At first glance, it seems that relaxing, “sleeping on it,” or letting go is just laziness. No matter how much we accomplish, many of us always feel that we haven’t done enough.

Business- Your Archnemesis

That mindset is the arch-nemesis of mindfulness. It is the reason for why it is so hard for you to find the time to practice the exercises. You simply can’t wrap your head around the notion that pausing your day to spend 8 or 10 minutes doing nothing can be a good thing. The real irony is that we end up wasting many times that amount of time getting caught up in email, something online, news, or many other frivolous distractions. We never set out to waste that time, it just happens. To actually plan to do nothing “productive” though is almost inconceivable. 

The secret here is that practicing mindfulness will actually make your day more productive. I am not against productivity. Quite the opposite actually, I am trying to help you to be more productive. The research, along with the experience of countless business executives, entrepreneurs, and men and women trying to get more out of life, shows that spending time each day reorienting your mind with mindfulness changes positively how you relate to everything and everyone, making you more efficient and productive.

We can also sense this in our spiritual lives. Sometimes we become frantic when we don’t know what we are supposed to do. Discernment is a process that requires gentle peacefulness, and we need to slow down in order to hear the voice of God. Elijah met God in the “still, small voice” of a gentle breeze. God was not in the storms. We allow those storms to rage on in our minds and hearts and grow even more disquiet when we can’t figure out where God is in the midst of it all. This is why St. Therese said about Jesus that she would “let him sleep in her little boat” no matter how bad the storm got and how much the waves crashed. She knew that there was peace to be found in that storm, and she could simply quiet her soul knowing Jesus would take care of it if he needed to. This peace is necessary for you to be able to truly hear the voice of God. This interior quiet is the fruit of learning how to slow down and let your mind settle into the reality of the present moment instead of looking for God in the midst of the frantic thoughts and feelings. 

Often we become agitated and disturbed by trying to resolve everything by ourselves, when it would be more efficacious to remain peacefully before the gaze of God and to allow Him to act and work in us with His wisdom and power, which are infinitely superior to ours… This doesn’t mean we should be lazy or inactive. Trusting God is courageously and powerfully active. This is an invitation to act, even to a tiresome level at times, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit. This is not a spirit of disquietude, agitation, or excessive hurry, which is too often the case with us and the way we want to be active.
— Fr Philippe

Doing Mode and Creativity

One study researched two groups of students completing a maze. One group had to move a mouse through a maze to escape a hawk flying overhead that wanted to eat it. The other group had to move a mouse through the same maze to get to a piece of cheese at the end. 

The maze was simple enough and there was no significant difference in the time it took the students to complete it. On the way out of the study room, however, the students were asked to complete a second, seemingly unrelated, task. (College students are often getting tricked by Psychologists.) This task measured the degree of creativity that was employed to finish it. Remarkably, the group of students who had solved the maze to save the mouse from impending death-by-hawk exhibited 50% less creativity in the second task than the students who were simply moving the mouse to the cheese. 

Simply solving the maze, which meant spending 15 seconds with the thought of a hawk eating a mouse on a piece of paper, was enough to affect the group’s brain chemistry and reduce their creative ability by 50% on a different task. Our brains are incredibly sensitive to thought patterns we spend time with. 

Think again about being in a physically threatening situation. If a bear were chasing you in the woods, your brain would not waste resources on creative thinking. The SNR triggers automatic, autopilot actions. We conserve energy by being less creative when we are threatened. This is why it is so important to override the SNR when we are not actually being physically threatened. In many situations, it helps to have control of this response so that we can come up with creative solutions to solve our problems. Most military training involves desensitizing this stress response for exactly this reason. Even when a person’s life is actually on the line, thinking creatively and “outside-the-box” usually proves to be a useful skill.

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Gregory Bottaro

Dr. Bottaro is a clinical psychologist practicing in Connecticut serving the greater New York Metropolitan area and many others through online therapy.   He received his Psy.D. (Doctorate in Clinical Psychology) from the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, a graduate school in Arlington, VA that integrates Catholic philosophy and theology with sound, empirically validated psychology. 

What Happened to Catholic Art and How Do we Get it Back? - Fr. Steve Grunow

A group of people were having an exchange on the Catholic Creative’s Facebook feed surrounding the current state of the Catholic Church’s art patronage. The initial question posed was: "The Church used to be the greatest patron and supporter of art in the world, so what happened?" We were referring to “art” in a broad sense, meant to include architecture, film, and design, as well as fine arts such as painting and sculpture. Fr. Steve had made a few comments that we thought were worth some elaboration, so in this article we interview him to dive deeper into this conversation. We hope you enjoy it and find it helpful.  If you are a part of the community, you can read that conversation here.

(1) The New Values of Patronage: Functionality, Practicality and Cost Efficiency

Do you agree with the premise that the Church is no longer a leader in the arts?

In comparison to previous epochs, my answer is yes.  The Church’s influence on and patronage of the arts has diminished considerably.  The reasons for this diminishment are complex and discerned through realities that are political, cultural, and economic.  In terms of the political, the Church no longer possesses the territorial sovereignty or influence that it once did, the effect of which its access to monetary resources has dried up.  In terms of culture, in the contemporary Western milieu, there has been a shift away from the narratives of Christian revelation as a source for artistic inspiration. The Christian narrative no longer provides the primary source of identity and the interpretation of the self and the world.  Finally, there is the economic reality (which I alluded to in my reference to the political). Bereft of the monetary resources that came with territorial sovereignty and political influence, the Church no longer has the kinds of resources available to it that enabled its great artistic patronage in the past.  Further, pious patrons willing to support artists on behalf of the Church have dwindled as the perception of social benefit of such patronage has also changed.  Supporting the work of the Church in the past meant building up its architectural and artistic patrimony. But now, for the most part, patronage exclusively means supporting the Church’s charitable and institutional endeavors- education, health care, disaster relief, and concerns related to the alleviation of poverty.

How would you explain the main difference between today’s system of art patronage and that patronage at the height of the Church’s influence?

The Church has less money for the arts and therefore the primary patrons are not holders of ecclesiastical offices, like the pope, bishops or abbots, but instead these patrons are wealthy laity and some Catholic institutions (like a university or a hospital).  The commissions that are offered often place art as an addendum to overarching values of functionality, practicality and cost efficiency. These values mean that the art that is commissioned often seems decorative rather than integral and if the Christian narrative is presented in these artistic representations, it often appears abstract or diluted, so as to conform to secular sensibilities.  I have noticed that many examples of modern and contemporary art commissioned for Catholic universities and hospitals leave me with the impression that the Christian narrative influencing these commissions has worn thin or has been accommodated to secular interests.


(2) Modern and Contemporary Art in Catholic Culture

You mention Catholic universities and hospitals, what about parishes?

The character of parishes as public institutions has diminished and has been replaced with an emphasis on the domestic, with its emphasis on fulfilling immediate need, group consensus, practicality, and budget.  These values will not position the parish as a patron of creative artistic endeavors and certainly not produce art or architecture of broad cultural significance or lasting value.  Further, as so much of the modern artistic sensibility places an emphasis on the abstract and subjective as a bearer of creative expression and meaning, it has a tendency to be uninspiring or off putting as devotional or liturgical pieces.  Commissions of this kind in parish churches usually fall flat and fail to produce much affection in the faithful.

In this regard, Blessed John Henry Newman’s distinction between real and notional assent comes to mind.  So much of modern and contemporary art and architecture tends towards the notional. However, in my estimation, art and architecture that supports devotional and liturgical experience is reliant on the real assent in order for it to be efficacious.  This difference, between notional and real assent, creates the cognitive dissonance so often characteristic of the experience of modern forms and styles in church art and architecture. This is what I believe generates at times a reactionary mindset toward what is perceived to be novelty in religious art and fosters a retreat into kitsch.  Unfortunately, this also means that modern or contemporary art is pilloried or caricatured as incapable of being a bearer of religious experience or theological meaning, when it is actually capable of profundity at a different level of religious experience- the subjective or the notional.  

What many fail to appreciate about modern art is that it can be the bearer of a different kind of religious longing or perception.  An example would be certain forms and styles of contemporary art that seeks to evoke ordinary experience, rather than limiting the devotional or liturgical, as a legitimate bearer of religious meaning.  This might provoke a reaction in some believers as it seems to displace the privileged place the devotional and liturgical can legitimately claim in the life of faith.  

(3) The Primacy of the Secular Narrative

However, this reaction seems at times overstated and just too much as ordinary experience and subjective experience are legitimate bearers of Christian truth claims and routes of access to transcendent meaning and purpose.  

I get the necessity of privileging real assent in terms of the Church’s liturgical and devotional rites, but there must be room for more than this in terms of the Church’s creative engagement with the arts.  Why? Because real assent is not simply about how Christians experience devotional or liturgical realities, but how the Christian understands, and therefore accepts, common, everyday experience as being, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, “charged with the grandeur of God”.  And further, notional assent can direct direct our minds and hearts towards God in a different way, complementing real assent, and at times, purifying its intentions.

Can you elaborate a bit on the role of the arts in society at large and how it has changed in relation to a time when the Church had more influence and resources on the arts and artistic patronage?

Pressed, I would answer this question as what we see now is a diminishment of the Christian narrative regarding the meaning of the world and in terms of its cultural priority and significance.  I believe that the prioritized narrative of Western culture is now best summed up in Justice Kennedy’s articulation of his reasoning in the “Casey vs. Planned Parenthood” decision- the right of individuals to decide for themselves not only the meaning and purpose of their own lives, but of the universe itself.  This is, of course, absurd, but it is the prevalent cultural narrative and it is a narrative that positions the Christian narrative, indeed all other narratives that propose a meaning and purpose to life and the world. I identify this narrative as the secular narrative.  The prevalence of the secular narrative that insists that meaning and purpose is individually constructed has been a driver of artistic expression for some time- artists often serve this narrative because it is the only narrative they know or because they truly believe in it, as artists once served the Christian narrative because it was the only narrative they knew or believed in.

(4) Conservation vs Innovation

The other characteristic difference is a sensibility that all the great Christian artistic and architectural forms and styles have already happened and the purpose of the Church has become custodial of these past forms, dedicating what resources it has to conservation, rather than creation.  There seems at times an inability to appreciate that forms and styles like the Gothic, or the Baroque, were in the context of their own time groundbreaking and new, a departure from past forms and styles. A conservationist attitude is helpful inasmuch as it can preserve what is truly significant for the future, but when it results in a reactionary disposition that refuses to accept difference or the new simply because what is different or new can represent a departure from the familiar, Christian artistic expression will inevitably become kitsch and decline in its significance.

You mentioned cinema as the premiere media form of our time.  Why cinema and not architecture, art, theater painting and sculpture?  What does the Church need to realize about cinema that it doesn’t seem to get?

All art and architecture represents visual storytelling.  But it is my impression that the most significant form of visual storytelling in contemporary culture is screen based, cinema, television.  This kind of visual storytelling has the broadest reach and the deepest cultural resonance.  For the most part, I believe that only cultural elites know who the architects, painters and sculptors are and the forms of theater than capture of culture’s attention do so because they imitate the spectacle and narratives of cinematic production.  However, more than the elites know the creative artists of cinema and television.  

The Church realized early on the impact of film and television, but lacking the ability to produce quality examples, it sought to leverage its cultural influence as a moral authority whose role was to police content.  This authority has been rejected, the Church is now neither an arbiter or popular taste or a creator of popular culture.  The result of this is that the Christian narrative has little to no impact or influence on the primary, contemporary form of artistic expression- film and television.  The Church is, quite frankly, missing in action.  

(5) Ideology vs Inspiration

Well-meaning Christians may enter into cinematic storytelling with projects targeted almost exclusively to a Christian market, but these films, some of which are presented with high production values and are financially successful, miss the mark.  Why?  Because their broader cultural influence is negligible.  It seems to me that it is not merely a matter or money, for monetary patronage alone cannot change this situation. The real problem I think (and this is hard to say) is that the depth and profundity of the unique Christian narrative has been positioned not so much as a source of creativity or inspiration, but as ideology.

This often expresses itself in an emphasis on moralizing in Christian storytelling rather than an emphasis on the revelatory or the Incarnational.  The impression left with viewer when moralizing is central to the narrative is that one is being corrected, rather than inspired; one is being introduced to ideology rather than finding a route of access to the transcendent.   Creativity and inspiration produce great art.  Ideology produces propaganda.  

The Christian narrative, densely textured and radiantly humanistic, produced Chartres Cathedral and the Sistine Chapel, some the greatest examples of visual storytelling that humanity has to offer, but the Church has yet to produce great art in the cinematic form and style?! Why is this the case? Christians should not evade responsibility for this discrepancy by directing attention to factors external to the Church as the reason, but should look at ourselves and consider what we have done and failed to do.  

Do you have a closing question or provocation for readers to think through or carry on the conversation?

There will be no great Christian art without sacrifice.  My question is this: What sacrifice are you willing to make so that the Church can do more than just conserve its great artistic patrimony, but also to support and utilize the creative potential of humanity to proclaim, represent and teach the Christian narrative- the revelation of God in Christ, a revelation that is ancient and forever new.  


Father Steve Grunow is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago who serves as CEO and Executive Producer for Bishop Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.  He chose the art and architectural locations locations featured in Bishop Barron's award winning documentary "Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith".  Father Steve has been twice nominated for an Emmy Award and currently resides in Santa Barbara California.

Creation of the Week #54 The Pal Campaign

If you struggle to figure out Christmas Presents for all of the white elephant gift exchanges you've got coming up, look no further. The PAL Campaign's got your back.

Those of you who know me, know that I grew up rocking Blink 182 albums in my beat-up old homeschool minivan on the way to some skate spot while I was playing hookey and killing time between rock shows. Needless to say, my Catholic retreat t's have mostly tended to serve as workout shirts, rags, and dust collectors. Thankfully, the Church has picked up it's t-shirt game since I was in high school. Joe Kim of the PAL Campaign (Peace and Love) has been on the front lines of this t-shirt design revival. Take a gander:

Joe's design is super fresh, minimalist, and worthy of wearing by any twenty one pilots fan. His shirt's range from the subtle "Peace" shown above, to more explicitly Catholic designs, but even those are so edgy that you almost put them in a totally different category.

I also love how attentive Joe is to his brand. All of the mockups show good looking artistic people sporting PAL merch the way you'd want it worn. It's quirky, fashionable, and interesting. When I asked Joe what inspired his design style, he had an interesting answer:

"Because I believe that this universal faith we call ours is the most attractive thing in the world, PAL Campaign's products never pander to fleeting trends or desperate attempts to stay relevant. That is the difference. Industry experts assert that the average t-shirt is read about 3,000 times before it gets discarded. Because of this, a core value behind the design process is to allow the t-shirts to solicit questions about their meaning. It's my prayer that the dialogue created from curiosity can lead one from beauty to goodness, and eventually to truth. "

It's not enough to me for faith based t-shirts to simply be designed according to the current trends. I really need any shirt that I wear say something about the faith that's interesting or different. I love the Verso Alto, Donna Nobis Pacem, and More than Flesh and Bone shirts for that reason. 

PAL Campaign. Do it. 

By Marcellino D'Ambrosio
Catholic Creatives Founder

Creation of the Week #53 Ascension's Marriage is Dance

Ascension has been seriously upping their game over the last few years, and I'm not just saying that because my sister works there. The team has been producing stories with stunning visuals and really rich meaning. They've recently updated their Joy-Filled Marriage series, and thank God they did because speaking as someone currently in marriage prep, let's just say that the gap in production value is noticeable. I've never seen something done by any Catholic organization on marriage that's beautiful, artistic, and shareably short.

Tell people all you want that sex outside of the vision God created for it is wrong. Anyone can do that. But to make someone want the vision that God has for sex, now that is a task for an artist. This video is awesome because it points to God's vision, and lets you feel the difference between that vision and the one the world gives us. The man and the woman dancing are in sync in all of their innocence, strength, and passion.

The team told me that they were given the challenge of addressing sexual honesty in a way that wouldn't be preachy or trite. They said that they instantly knew they wanted to tackle this piece from the perspective of a dance. They couldn't have been more right. There's something so real about how dance shows the complementarity of man and woman, you need only draw attention to it. That's why this can be so powerful, but only 4 minutes long. Christopher West only needed to point to set the stage for the dancers, they did the rest.

The dance is art worth commenting on in and of itself. The choreography captures the dance of man and woman so well. At some moments, the dance is noble, they waken each other's hearts to life, they learn one another, delicately. They embrace with the desperate childlike glee of young love and then chuckle at the jokes that come only with the dignity of years. It makes my heart yearn for marriage even more than I already do. This kind of art should not be an anomaly in the Church. It should be the norm.

My fiance and I did our marriage prep weekend last week. All of us were more or less forced to be there. We watched a talking head video of a Catholic speaker who did a great job explaining to people why they should save sex for marriage and not look at porn. It was fine. It probably didn't do a great job of changing anyone's mind. It is so much harder to create art that lets you taste and feel God's vision for marriage. It's much more costly, but the truth is that it's not worth doing it any other way. We are the only ones who are going to champion the sacraments. Where else are people going to see a glimpse of the beauty God has stored up for them? It has to be us. 

We're proud of you guys for the work you're doing over there at Ascension. It always amazes me how many people and how much intentionality is involved with video. Nick DeRose directed the film, Matthew Pirrall produced it, Sean Boyd ran the lighting, Matt Longua did all of the close-ups, Kate Camden and Christopher West visioned the script, and Felicia Cruz choreographed the dance. 

For that many people to all work in harmony with each other to create something this effortless is amazing. Nick and Matthew pointed out the light sweeps as a particularly difficult part of creating this. They had to block out their own movements as cameramen so that their angles would be perfectly in line with the light reveals and that they wouldn't get in each other's way. According to Matt: "Our dancers, Felicia and Alrick, were amazingly professional and danced this difficult piece over the multiple takes and nailed it every time. For me personally, moving with them with the camera felt like being a participant in their dance, and was a dynamic that I had not experienced behind the camera before.

That's some next level artmaking right there. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the rest of the series and all that you guys at Ascension have in store for us this year! 

This Creation of the Week by Marcellino D'Ambrosio
Catholic Creative and Cofounder of Sherwood Fellows



Creation of the Week #52 William Price III's "Together We Are Motherhood"

Brave Love is doing some powerful stuff for the cause of life and William Price III of Whiskey Ginger Please is helping to show it. 

Video is a powerful medium to work in, but that's part of what makes it tricky. Because it engages three senses at once, video grips us in a way that still images on their own simply can't. It's almost too easy to make the viewer watch and illicit at least a semblance of an emotional reaction if the subject matter has any substance. Because of this, it's (sometimes) easy to set up space for an interview with good lighting controlled sound, grab a mostly surface level interview, cut in some stock b-roll, and post a video on youtube and still get some good results.

But no one remembers those videos. We remember videos that tell stories, where characters experience life-changing events and we learn the lessons they learn. We experience delight, elevation, insight, and achievement with characters in videos offer us a story and not just ideas. William Price does an awesome job of capturing these impacting moments on screen and allowing us to experience some of the journey these two women took as their story intersects. 

One woman yearns for a child, the other discovers she's pregnant. One woman prepares to give birth, the other prepares the baby's room. One woman delivers, the other receives the child and holds him. 

The task of video, and of all art is to draw us into an encounter with the specific. To take us out of the realm of ideas and submerge us in the small moment that matters in all its reality. Not every line of this video feels like that, but the line at 2:20 just hits me in the heart with its unpretentious smallness. It's so authentic. "I wonder, will he have my nose, my sweet tooth, what will make him laugh?" In that line, the difficult choice that this mother is making becomes real to me as I'm drawn into her experience and feel the heartache of that decision with her.  Well shot, William.


by Marcellino D'Ambrosio
Catholic Creative and Creative Director at Sherwood Fellows

Creation of the Week # 51 Will Armstrong's Work On "The Long Road Home."

It's always such an honor to get to recognize one of the community members whose doing work out there in the real world. Our members have done some amazing things, from designing the titles for Wonder Woman, to launching a kickstarter that made 200,000 in a day. Will's work in "The Long Road Home, a National Geographic mini-series that chronicles the events of April 4th, 2004, when a platoon was ambushed in Sadr City, Baghdad, in an attack that came to be known as "Black Sunday."

Will was one of the assistant art directors for the series. They work with the production designer and art director to create a vision for all the locations and sets, which is saying something considering that the set was the largest working set in America during it's filming. Will and his team's work on this is beyond a shadow of a doubt a massive undertaking that ultimately lead to this series' unique visual identity.  I mean, honestly, to get a handle on what kind of set design we're talking about just look at this picture:


Learn more about The Long Road Home.

Will, keep up the good work, brother. You're making us proud.

Creation of the Week #50 Blessed is She's 2017 Advent Calendar

Blessed is She never ceases to amaze me. Those ladies are such incredible pioneers in every non literal way possible. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Blessed is She circles got started on mars in the next 10 years. Their Advent calendar this year is another example of how consistently they reinvent themselves and push the boundaries of what they offer to women through their ministry.

Blessed is She is known for beautiful design. Many of us know this. But many organizations that start there find their one look and stick to it for 20 years. That doesn’t work for anyone. First it’s cool, then it’s a fad, then it’s cheesy. It also takes what once gave voice to some deep guttural utterance in the spirit of an artist and turns it into a disembodied commodity. That is how many organizations approach design. Blessed is She embraces the significance of art in a way that so few ministries do. Good art doesn’t subtract from the meaning of its content, but rather it emphasizes that meaning, allows it to breathe, and gives it a dwelling place.

That is exactly what this design does. It's sophisticated, it's fresh, it's alive, and it opens up Advent to the viewer to look at it from a new and different vantage point.

Jenna Guizar led the charge, Laura Fanucci wrote the gospel intros, Erica Tighe designed the calendar and prints, and Katie Haviland Waldow took all of the amazing product shots that show off all the inside details.  Every single lady involved in this collaboration deserve special shout-outs for breaking new ground. We're proud of you guys!

Creation of the Week #49 Created Book by Cory Heimann

In some way we are all artists, we just have to recognize it.
— Cory Heimann

One of my favorite things about Cory is how fascinated he is with the creative spirit. It's his obsession to understand the spiritual nature of creativity, how it functions, and what it's role is in our lives.  The Created book is just one amazing fruit of that obsession, and it is awesome.

The Created Book is a beautiful book about beauty from the wells of wisdom found in the creative expertise of so many amazing creators. If you haven't already pre-ordered a book through the kickstarter, do it now. It got fully funded in one day and the stretch goals are pretty epic, so help him out!

The Battle

What I love about this book is the most is that Cory inadvertently is fighting a battle against a certain set of beliefs that we hold as Westerners. We think that creativity is some handicap that only a select few oddballs get saddled with.  For us, creativity is a great added bonus, but productivity and responsibility are absolute necessity. Our western, american view of human natures says that there are some kinds of people who are creative, and others who are not. 

This book flies in the face of those assumptions.

A lot of people tend to think that Catholic Creatives is really for the art crowed, that it's for hipsters with round glasses who own wacom tablets and use macs. Creativity isn't just about art. In the words of Sam Sorich: "Art isn't just about art, it's about being human." 

This book isn't just about sharing some wisdom from a bunch of creative folks or showcasing some beautiful design. It's a manifesto for the regaining of a creative Church. It's a blueprint for a revival of Catholic culture because it stakes a flag in the ground and says "we are ALL called to be creative." 

The first five words of the Bible are also about creation: “In the beginning, God created.” (Genesis 1:1). That is the beginning of all things. According to Cory: “I realized that's why it's so innate in us to create – because we're sharing in the first thing that God shared that He did,” he said.

Cory didn't just find sacred artists or designers for this book. He called together Catholic architects, chefs, musicians, calligraphers, podcasters, painters, theologians, and teachers. He talked both to artists who are doing specifically Catholic work, and creators who are Catholic but working in the secular world.  That’s because, as Catholic author and philosophy professor Peter Kreeftsays on his page: “We're artists because God is.”

Pope John Paul II in his 1999 letter to artists  he wrote: “Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.”

If we want our Church to be the creative masterpiece that we know God intended her to be, we need to take up the mantle of creativity. We need zealous visionaries on fire for their prophetic love for the world to join our God in his ongoing work ofco-creation.


Cory, more than anyone else I've ever met has taught me by example the love of the act of creation as a participation in God's generative being. There is no one better to draw from such a well of wisdom as Cory, so I'm grateful to him and to all of the community members who participated in this awesome collaboration. I can't wait to put the prints I'm getting with my book up on my wall.

If you guys have not already watched Cory's talk from the CC Summit, do it now. It'll change your life.

Blog by Marcellino D'Ambrosio
CoFounder of Catholic Creatives

Creation of the Week #48 LIFE Collage by Life Teen's Ryan McQuade

This year Life Teen is creating a new series on what it means to value life. Life Teen knows the value of art for both attracting and challenging young people to and with the faith. They got Ryan McQuade on it because we all know that Ryan doesn’t disappoint, and sure enough he blew it out of the water. He designed a collage for each life issue in the series that both sparkle in your eyes and punch you in the gut.

This year Life Teen is creating a new series on what it means to value life. Life Teen knows the value of art for both attracting and challenging young people to and with the faith. They got Ryan McQuade on it because we all know that Ryan doesn’t disappoint, and sure enough he blew it out of the water. He designed a collage for each life issue in the series that both sparkle in your eyes and punch you in the gut.

The primary message behind the series is that being pro-life is much more of a mentality you carry through life than a just a political cause to rally behind. Each life night in the series covers a marginalized group or life issue. Just looking at the collages will tell you that this is not the same kind of ProLife series many of us probably had in our youth groups. This series is going to feature ever so popular topics like immigration, the poor, the death sentence, and assisted suicide. Most of us that are working in the Church know that on the ground in parishes, those topics are not the safest to break open. I’m proud of Life Teen for pushing their youth ministers to talk about these issues and equipping them not just with teaching, but with art.

I asked Ryan why he decided on collage as his medium for this project. This is what he said:

“I’ve never really worked in collage before but I felt it was the right project to try it out on. It was really important to me to show photographs of real people. I didn’t want any of this project to be idyllic. I wanted it to challenge your perception of being pro-life in someway. I’ve been happy to see that working as I get peoples reactions and opinions of the work. It seems that something different stands out to everyone and I’m really excited about that. I hope that it challenges everyone differently.”
— Ryan

Collage is particularly powerful in that it gives the artist the ability to build metaphors into the creation of a single image. Take this image of the prisoner for example.


The orange wall behind the prisoner’s prisoner’s head is cut out to resemble a halo. A blue cloth is draped over his orange jumpsuit, which is often how Christ is portrayed in traditional icongraphy. A hand in the gesture of blessing in traditional completes the icon, inviting us to see this prisoner as the image of Christ. The symbolism deepens as you notice the white space and numbers behind the prisoner’s head. This recalls the mug shot, a particularly unsettling moment of condemnation. To his right, the arm of a crucifix protrudes and above it the words “death sentence.” Below his arm, the plaque that marked Jesus’ cross is placed. “The King of the Jews.”

We cannot help to see Christ in the image of one of our culture’s undesirables, a black felon condemned to death row. This relationship between Jesus and the prisoner created through the collage leads us to contemplate both the prisoner and Jesus in a new way. We tend to think that “these people are get what they deserve” and are happy that “they are off the streets.” But when I look at this collage, I feel challenged by the question: is that not how people thought of Jesus? A trouble maker? Got what he deserved?

It puts the rejection that Jesus experienced in a whole new light, doesn’t it?

It also makes us consider the death sentence in that new light as well. How can we be so quick to condemn another human being to death when we condemned the most innocent of men, Jesus, to a brutal torturous end. The prisoner and the Christ are drawn together and made one in this image. It’s powerful, it’s beautiful, and it’s alive with meaning. Great work, Ryan. Keep on creating!

Blog by Marcellino D'Ambrosio
Cofounder of Catholic Creatives

Creation of the Week #47 Elissa Voss' Verily Magazine Shoot

Elissa Voss is an incredible photographer. I keep realizing this every time I see one of my friends get married. Chances are if you want to FSU or Ave Maria, she probably took all of your friend's wedding shots. So, hi five Elissa for cornering the Catholic wedding market. That's probably the best wedding market to be in since we tend to do a lot of them. Incidentally, now that I'm actually on my way to getting married, weddings photos are starting to look a lot less alike, so I'm actually beginning to really appreciate what all of you go through that brave the harrows of wedding photography. In any case, Elissa has always been awesome, but her most recent shoot for Verily was definitely some next level stuff.

Elissa's style is beautiful, nostalgic, and real,  She captures something so deeply of the feminine genius in her work. When I asked her what she was trying to accomplish with the shots, she said: "My focus was to capture the happy and healthy Verily woman through lifestyle images. My hope was to capture the beauty of womanhood and how we interact with others in everyday life, fully alive and loving well." In these shots you don't see some dark brooding woman, sensual and mysterious, you see women just alive and living their femininity in a real way. You really see that with the dinner party shots. "For the female friendship part," she said, "I really wanted to show the beauty of community/intimacy in friendships and how important it is just to 'be' together." That's exactly what Verily is about, women just "being," not trying to impress, not trying to put on a face, just being as they were meant to. Mission accomplished, Elissa!

That style is not so easy to capture, however. There's a lot that had to go into planning this thing, which is one of the biggest reasons I admire this work. If you go through the whole gallery on Elissa's site, you can see just how many sets, models, and wardrobe changes, and props that needed to be worked with. She had to think about light and time of day, which location to hit first, hire models,  and work with them to get authentic looking moments. A shoot like this with so many pieces can very easily fall apart. All it takes is some random unexpected detail to get dropped and you're screwed. Your battery runs out and you realized you left the spare at the last location, your SD card is full and you only bought 5 and you needed 10, you get stuck in traffic on the way to the sunset and by the time you get there its dark... so on and so forth. You get the idea. It's not exactly a cakewalk.

Elissa had to have spent countless hours in the planning for this shoot and it shows. We're proud of you, Elissa! Keep up the good work.

 This shot needs an honorable mention. Erica Tighe volunteered her house and studio for Elisa's shoot. That should be #lifegoals for all Catholic Creatives. May we all create our spaces so beautiful that professional photographers ask us to set up photo shoots in our homes. 

If you want to see more of Elisa's work, go here. If you want to reminisce on last year's CC Summit, or get really really excited about next year's CC Summit, go look at her CC Summit Gallery. It's amazing.

Creation of the Week by
Marcellino D'Ambrosio
CoFounder of Catholic Creatives

Creation of the Week #45 Matthew Alderman's UW Catholic Center

Matthew Alderman joined the community last week and posted his designs for the University of Wisconson's Catholic Center. I'm curious how many of us promptly started researching graduate degrees there, because DAMN. This Church is going to be impressive. College students generally get the dregs in terms of Church architecture, but this is going to be an incredible gift to the students there and all of the surrounding neighborhood. I would travel at LEAST 45 minutes to go to mass in this building. 


I'm not an architect, so I do not have the credibility to critique this building from that field of competence, but I will say this: If our Churches look and feel like shopping malls, UFO's, or Unitarian Universalist "churches" our evangelization efforts will be sluggish and poor at best. Our experience of Mass is the PRIMARY place where we live out our faith. I'm becoming more and more convinced every Sunday that I go to mass that our parish buildings are the starting point for good liturgy.  Architecture affects absolutely everything. Have you ever been to a modern Church in the round where they tried to do Gregorian Chant? It falls on its face. Ever been to any of the Triduum floor at a church sanctuary with a carpeted floor and lit by floodlights? No matter how spiritually rich the liturgy is, if it is encased in a building that inherently contradicts the liturgy's meaning, it is going to feel empty. 

I'm not saying that God is not present or that the Priests holiness or the musician's prayer doesn't matter. I'm just saying that the experience of God will be greatly impaired when the building's grammar denies the truth that is present in the liturgy. 

That is why I'm so excited for to see the people at the University of Madison's Catholic Center investing so much into this beautiful architecture which speaks of God's grandeur and holiness, of the wonder of heaven, and the glory of the Paschal Mystery.  Matthew, great work. We're excited to see more!

Creation of the Week by Marcellino D'Ambrosio
CoFounder of Catholic Creatives


Creation of the Week #44 Fabiola Garza's "Coco"

One day I will stop fangirling over Fabi, but that day is not today. For those of you who don't know her, she works at Disney as an illustrator and also illustrated a children's book called "The Boy that became Pope" about the life of JP II that will make you cry. If you don't have it and have kids of the reading age, make that happen asap.

Last week the cover for the new Pixar book is dropped and guess who did the illustration for it? FABI. Yeah. And it's amazing.


The detail on this thing is incredible. I love how everything Fabi does looks like she captured it at the golden hour. It's all motion, light, and life. This cover captures that especially well. All of the lines in this image lead to Coco (presumably the boy?) and his dog, leading the eye towards his face and give us a feeling of some great and exciting adventure which awaits right off page.  Both characters are mid-stride, plunging into the leaves in a playful and excited gait. This scene could have so easily been so boring as to be stupefyingly bland: A boy with a guitar and a dog in Mexican town." Fabi, however, makes this scene extraordinary, magical, and full of emotion. I love it. Fabi, we're proud of you! Keep repping Jesus out there in the real world by being amazing at what you do.


By Marcellino D'Ambrosio

CoFounder of Catholic Creatives
Michief Maker at Sherwood Fellows


Creation of the Week #43 Creation of the Week Diego Diaz' Augustinian Recollects Branding

Good design is universal.

As Catholics, we believe that beauty isn’t simply a matter of how you grew up, what age group you fit into, and what language you speak. There is a subjective experience that you bring to the table every time you see or hear art or music, but there is something objective to art.

That is the standpoint from which I want to approach Diego Diaz’ branding project for the Augustinian Recollects. It is a significant work. It is deeply meaningful in its symbolism, very attractive even on first glance, and easily recognizable in all its forms. Any American high school kid would scroll up on Instagram, give it a double tap and call it a day. But Diego Diaz didn’t design this for American kids. He designed it for an order of Augustinians in Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely believe that our culture hugely influences the way we look at art and this is especially true of branding. Just look at the way that people experience soda differently when they are shown it’s a coke. That said, design principles are part of the practical reality of composition. Certain color combinations look better. Whether you’re from Nigeria or from Scandinavia, the color wheel still applies. Contrast matters to anyone that can see, taste, or hear or feel. The Golden Ratio works every time whether you intend to use it or just happen to use it because it’s a part of nature. There are some objective rules that govern what we find beautiful and what we find inauthentic and ugly. I think Diego, along with many other designers in the community from South America show just how universal excellence in design really is.

Diego’s site says that he designed this identity to represent St. Augustine's charism, “the search for truth, service to the community, and the love for God without conditions. Colors and aesthetics are linked to the cultural identity that's manifested in each flag of the province's nations.”  In addition, he writes about how the search for truth and the church mission part was associated with exploration, which leads them to draw inspiration from maps and compasses.

Here are the criteria by which I judge a logo’s success or failure:

  1. It needs to reflect your organization’s "why" in a single, simple form.

  2. It must be distinguishable in positive and negative. This necessitates the use of negative space.

  3. It must be able to be represented in black and white.

  4. It must be distinguishable at the size of a penny, and still look amazing blown up on a billboard.

  5. It must last for at least 10 years, but probably more.

I think it’s safe to say Diego achieves each of these marks. Everything about this brand conveys energy, exploration, and friendliness while saying at the same time “take me seriously, I’m legit.” It speaks to the core values of the religious order and incarnates their "why" effectively. It has great contrast so it looks good in positive and negative and works in black and white. It’s simple and balanced, so it preserves its effectiveness no matter what size you view it at. It’s elegant and fashionable, not simply trendy, so it'll last for many years with a minimal need to update. 

Keep rocking and rolling, Diego. You make us all proud to be Catholic by doing great design, brother. Keep it up!

By Marcellino D'Ambrosio

CoFounder of Catholic Creatives
CoFounder of Sherwood Fellows


Creation of the Week #42 Therese Bussen's NFP in Real Life

In honor of NFP Awareness Week, which begins July 23, let’s talk about sex.
— Therese Bussen

What a great way to start an article! Bravo, Therese. For those of you who don’t know Therese, she’s a journalist at Denver Catholic. She used to blog for FOCUS and was known for her authentic, vulnerable writing. She has a knack for taking conversations that are simmering on the periphery and bringing them into the forefront of Catholic conversation.

That’s why I picked this article. It’s not necessarily the most personally vulnerable or edgy piece I’ve ever read on NFP, but it is the first honest article that wrestles with the lived experience of NFP I’ve read by a Diocesan news outlet.

I believe that the Church is entering a new season in its life. For lack of better terminology, I’ll call it the post-Culture War Era. For the last half century, the Church in America has been fighting the Culture War. We’ve been primarily concerned with defending the faith, and doing so through politics and apologetics. There is a place for both in the life of the Church, but they were over-emphasized to the detriment of the lived experience of discipleship.

We fought tooth and nail to prove to Protestants and the rest of the world that we were right and they were wrong, never mind the fact that the music at our parish is terrible, the architecture is laughable, the homilies are boring and unrelatable, and that our parishioners are leaving in droves. We would cover over these things by saying things like: “If people just understood the mass better, the mass would stop being boring.” I’ve been Catholic my whole life and was raised by a theologian. Sometimes mass is boring, and when that happens, it’s usually because the liturgy was unintentional and bland, not because I didn’t know enough about transubstantiation. The post-Culture War Church is pausing for a second and wondering why our arguments aren’t being effective. It’s a great opportunity to take a good hard look at our reflection in the mirror. We’re haggard, wrinkled, disheveled, and look like we haven’t showered in 2000 years.

We got so caught up in arguing that we lost our ability to look at ourselves and acknowledge the messiness of Catholicism’s lived experience. Thankfully, this is changing.

It’s changing because modern man doesn’t want perfect, white-washed, meticulously proven facts anymore. The culture has changed. After a couple centuries of massively up-heaving warfare, industrialization, globalization, the internet, and big marketing, we’ve grown disillusioned with our rational ability to understand and be sure of anything. We’ve come into contact with a rich diversity of beliefs, a multitude of contrary ideas and thoughts. We are suspicious of every message, and test its perceived value not by the air tightness of its argument, but by the authenticity of its bearer.

Struggling with our faith, and showing that struggle is actually what humanity in the post-Culture War Era is looking for.
Those who try to live NFP in their marriages struggle. That’s the truth. We have to be OK with showing that, or else we will have NO credibility with a world who’s done with perfection. We have to show our wrestling so that those of us who struggle don’t feel like we’re alone. We have to show it so that we can give others insight into the actual lived actions and perspectives that can carry us through their own trials.

That’s why I love that Therese Bussen is willing to go there and open up the conversation to the Diocese of Denver and to the rest of the world.

Keep on wrestling with the reality of the lived gospel, Therese. You are giving us all a voice.

By Marcellino D'Ambrosio

CoFounder of Catholic Creatives
Michief Maker at Sherwood Fellows


When You Work for Free It Hurts You and Me

Written by Jesse Weiler

We Catholics have a hard time making the ask. Just talk to almost any FOCUS missionary. In fact, I tried fundraising my salary for a year when I worked at a Catholic organization.

Instead of trying to raise more money to fit my needs, I ended up adjusting my needs to what I could fund raise. This is a bad mentality, especially if you are a creative freelancer with a family.

I’m writing this because I’ve come across too many of you who are just not charging what you should for your work. If you make a little adjustment, then you will not only help yourself, but you’ll help the rest of us too.  
Now, maybe you do contract work full time or maybe you are like me and use freelancing as a way to pad your income a little. I bring in anywhere between $10k–15k a year from contract work. This wasn’t always the case for me though. I used to make less than half of that with about the same amount of hours worked.

What changed? My attitude. I stopped thinking about helping and started thinking about working.
This may sound like a selfish switch and it may even sound like an insignificant switch. However, I assure you that if you do this, you will see a growth in your business and your income.

When you only think about helping someone when they hire you, three things happen:

  1. You significantly reduce the dignity of your work.
  2. You turn yourself into a patron instead of a contractor.
  3. You perpetuate the vicious cycle of low pay for creative work.

When creatives do this, it sends a message that our work is not worth paying for. People end up making more of a donation rather than an income and ruin future work for everyone else. (Fiverr doesn't help much either.)

We seem to be especially prone to this as Catholic creatives when it comes to "helping" Catholic organizations.
This is not good. Not good at all.
If this is something you struggle with, the first step to switching your mentality is to figure out your rate. Do you charge a flat fee for each project or do you have an hourly rate? There are tons of tools online that can help you figure this out. One thing to note; if you are full time, you should charge more than someone who is part time, especially if you are paying for your own insurance.
The second step is to stick to that rate! If you’ve done cheap work for a regular client in the past just tell them that you’ve done a skills assessment and that you have a new rate. If they like your work, they’ll try to figure out how to pay you still.

Results will vary, but I can honestly tell you that I have never been turned down because of my new price. I charge $100/hr with discounts if I’m hired for more than 20 hours of work. If you lose work because of your new rate, then just keep in mind that when you charge more per hour/project then you need less work to reach your desired income.
I used to charge $40/hr and it took me 250 hours to reach $10K.
Now I charge $100/hr and it takes me 100 hours to reach $10K.
For me, this means 150 extra hours with my kids and no loss in income. It’s a no-brainer.

Stop helping organizations and start working for them!

The Pillars of the Catholic Creatives Community

We've been working hard on distilling our core beliefs. We believe that these are the beliefs that have been leading our decisions as an organization, and that they have arisen from the organic conversations arising through the group. I'd love to use these to start a conversation with the larger community. Give us your thoughts!  

1. We Were Made to Create

The first five words - “In the beginning, God created.” In Christ we are co-creators and co-redeemers in creation. We create because it is our identity, our prayer, and our mission. The Catholic Creative lives to bring meaning to a directionless world, to bear Christ’s light into the dark places of humanity, and to solve the problems of the modern age through the power of the Catholic imagination.

2. Community First

The Catholic life is the life of relationship. CC must first be the family dinner table, a place of communion, friendship, joy, and unity. We believe that the most important thing we can do is foster a family ecology where creatives find belonging, spiritual nourishment, and are organically connected to the network of learning, mentorship, and patronage they need to be healthy and to grow.

3. There is More than Enough

Scarcity mindset causes us to see each others’ victories as our losses. It inhibits trust and is a barrier to vulnerable community. We believe that our God is rich. We see eternal abundance in Christ’s miracles; 12 baskets of leftovers, wine that overflows. We believe there is more than enough for all of us. We trust in His providence. This means we are not afraid to collaborate, encourage, uplift, and share with one another

4. Speak the Unspoken

“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

Speak the Unspoken means always speaking the truth in love no matter how uncomfortable it is. It means listening to the truth even when it’s hard. It means embracing conflict, because only through conflict can we grow.

5. Beauty is The Language of God

We believe that the greatest power for social change in the world is beauty. Beauty is the incarnation of the Truth, a sensual experience of abstract realities. We believe that beauty in this definition is God’s preeminent communication because the Word took on flesh. Christ crucified is the ultimate expression of God’s Divine Imagination.

This means that we must value beauty financially. We must be willing to not only be martyrs for the truth but martyrs for beauty, selling all we have for the beautiful pearl.

Creation of the Week #41 Father Tansi's Garden

This has been a hard past few weeks. I've been wrestling with deep dissatisfaction with myself. I've been drinking from the barrel of self doubt and just trying to see if it has a bottom. It doesn't.

There are times when I really don't want to face the world, and times when I want to face this community even less, when I open a fresh Google Doc and stare at it for an hour and hit the backspace more than any other key. Today is a day like that.

I've been listening to Fr. Tansi's record, Garden, and I've really needed it. It's been speaking to me in some vulnerable places and I can't say thank you enough to Fr. Tansi and to all of the people at Renewal in Motion who were a part of making it happen. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. You were there for me today. 

I feel like Fr. Tansi is opening up a secret door into the garden of his own prayer, into his dialogue with a God who loves him, who's proud of him, and who is eminently present. Especially in "Rising," and "Rest." Often when I'm struggling to believe that about God and about myself, the pathway out has been encountering God's love through someone else's invitation into their own experience of the Divine. 

Garden is a work that does that for me. It's not just the arrangements, the vocals, the melody, the instrumentation...all of these are worthy of recognition. It's the heart that's behind it all.

It's beautiful in every way. Even the album art, which was done by Daniela Madriz, one of my personal heroes. 

Thanks again to you guys at Renewal in Motion for being so awesome. We love you guys!

By Marcellino D'Ambrosio

CoFounder of Catholic Creatives
Michief Maker at Sherwood Fellows