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What Makes ‘Dobbs’ the Best, and Possibly Last, Chance to Overturn ‘Roe’?

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Pope’s Sunday Angelus: ‘Be Awake — the Secret to Being Watchful Is Prayer’

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Beacon of Faith in Vermont: Green Mountain State Honors St. Joseph

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What makes Dobbs the best, and possibly last, chance to overturn Roe? 

The exterior of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 28, 2021 / 00:00 am (CNA).

Part of a continuing series examining the U.S. Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a direct challenge to the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the United States.

After nearly a half century of legal abortion throughout the United States, that precedent could fall  — or stand  — through one critical case now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet what makes it possibly the most significant abortion case in decades?

The Supreme Court on Dec. 1 will hear arguments in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, concerning Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks. The court will take up the question of whether all bans on pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional.

Legal experts say the case presents an ideal opportunity for the Supreme Court to reconsider previous rulings that upheld legal abortion nationwide.

The 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, Roe v. Wade, said that states could not ban abortion before the “viability” of the fetus — the point at which unborn child can survive outside the womb, determined by the court to be around 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy.

Nearly 20 years later, the court upheld that ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, saying that states could regulate pre-viability abortions but could not pose an “undue burden” in doing so.

Mississippi’s law bans most abortions after 15 weeks — well before the point of “viability” as established in Roe and upheld in Casey.

“The Dobbs case presents a square challenge to Roe v. Wade,” said Michael Stokes Paulsen, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, in an email interview with CNA.

“So, Mississippi's law forbids abortions that Roe and Casey say must be permitted,” Paulsen said. “There's no way around the conflict between the Mississippi law and the court's precedents on abortion. One or the other has to go!”

Steve Aden, chief legal officer and general legal counsel for Americans United for Life, agreed that Roe itself is at the heart of the Dobbs case. 

“It is a tremendous historical opportunity for the court to review Roe, and finally throw it on the ash heap of history,” Aden told CNA.

While Mississippi’s law directly challenges Roe and Casey, those rulings themselves were already vulnerable and ripe for reconsideration, said O. Carter Snead, a law professor and director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame.

Both Snead and Aden helped author separate amicus briefs at the Supreme Court in favor of Mississippi’s law. They both explained to CNA why they think Roe and Casey were so poorly decided.

“Defenders of Roe and Casey hardly ever argue on the substance of those cases’ reasoning,” Snead said. Rather, defenders of those cases appeal to the legal doctrine of stare decisis which “invites the court  — although it does not require it  — to consider the practical consequences of undoing the prior precedent,” he said.

Justice Harry Blackmun, who authored the majority opinion in Roe, grounded the “right” to abortion in the “right to privacy.” He considered it an “unenumerated” right, Snead said, one not listed in the Constitution but nevertheless believed by some to be a right that “we basically discover through our own reflection.”

According to Snead, Blackmun traced the “right to privacy” to the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which says that no state can “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

However, at the time the amendment was added to the Constitution in 1868, “nobody thought that that [clause] prevented states from protecting unborn children. Nobody thought that,” Snead said. Abortion was outlawed in 30 states at the time, and the remaining states followed common law which also did not allow for abortion, Snead said.

Blackmun, influenced by a “novel” legal theory, disputed that abortion was prohibited under common law, Snead said, calling the argument “completely at odds with the historical record” and saying that it “has been debunked, but nonetheless, constantly repeated.”

The majority opinion in Roe set up a trimester framework for judging state abortion laws. States could not ban or regulate abortion in the first trimester, while they could regulate second trimester abortions but not ban them, according to the ruling. While states could ban third trimester abortions, they had to make exceptions for cases where an “appropriate medical judgment” deemed abortion necessary for the “life or health” of the mother,” Blackmun noted.

This “exception” could be interpreted in a liberal way to allow for many late-term abortions, Snead argued.

“Which means, in effect, that we have the most permissive regime of abortion, almost in the world,” Snead said. The United States is one of just seven countries which allow for legal abortion nationwide after 20 weeks.

Blackmun’s claims in the Roe ruling have not held up over time, Aden argued, including his skepticism over when life begins.

“Roe presumed that abortion would be a decision between a woman and her doctor,” Aden said, but “virtually all” abortions now are performed by doctors who are not a woman’s primary physician.

Roe’s assertion that abortion is safe “relied on eight different authorities, which were not peer-reviewed medical authorities,” Aden said. “In fact, abortion is not safer than childbirth,” he said, especially later in a pregnancy.

If the court declines to overturn the Roe and Casey rulings, however, it might raise questions as to when — if ever — it would reconsider those rulings.

“I would never say this is the last chance to do anything,” Snead said, adding that “no case could be better set up than this one [to repeal Roe.]”

If the court does not repeal Roe, “it won’t be the last opportunity,” Aden said. “This court may, in fact, want to take Roe in bite-sized pieces as it were, and not overturn it in one fell swoop, but in significant incremental decisions.”

For instance, he said the court could simply answer that not all state pre-viability abortion bans are unconstitutional, and send the matter back to the lower courts without having repealed Roe. When the lower courts then consider the lawfulness of various state abortion bans, those cases would probably be appealed to the Supreme Court. Then the court conceivably could repeal Roe in one of those later cases.

In the Dobbs ruling, the court could also set up a new standard recognizing legal abortion, Aden said, adding that this would be unlikely.

“That’s the challenge before the court: Can they find a new standard if they junk the Casey ‘undue burden’ standard? Can they find a new standard that’s understandable, predictable, and applicable across the board?” he asked. “My bet is that they can’t, because they haven’t been able to for the 30 years since Casey, and I don’t think anything will change in Dobbs.”

Snead also said that the possibility of such a novel legal standard would be unlikely.

“To simultaneously uphold the law in Mississippi and retain the court’s authority to be the ultimate arbiter of abortion in America, you’d have to reinvent another false, and untethered-to-the-Constitution, right to abortion,” he said.

“And I don’t think that there is an appetite for that among a majority of the justices.”

Paulsen emphasized that the Dobbs case is the ideal opportunity to overturn Roe.

“There is no way around it. There is no ‘middle solution’ — no ‘compromise’ between right and wrong — that is faithful to the Constitution,” he said. “This is the case. This is the time.” 

Everything you need to know about the Advent wreath

Advent wreath / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Nov 27, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

During the holidays, nativity scenes and Christmas trees decorate most Catholic homes, but what about Advent wreaths? 

Advent wreaths are traditionally made from evergreen branches and have four candles. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent—three candles are purple, and one is a rose color. 

The purple represents prayer, penance, and preparation for the coming of Christ. Historically, Advent was known as a “little Lent,” which is why the penitential color of purple is used. During Lent, we prepare for the resurrection of Christ on Easter. Similarly, during Advent, we prepare for the coming of Christ, both on Christmas and at the second coming. 

The rose candle is illuminated on the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. At Mass on the third Sunday, the priest will also wear rose colored vestments. Gaudete Sunday is a day for rejoicing and joy as the faithful draw near to the birth of Jesus, and it marks the midpoint of Advent. 

“The progressive lighting of the candles represents the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s coming into the world and the anticipation of his second coming to judge the living and the dead,” says the USCCB.

During the Advent season, the faithful will also notice a common theme in the Gospel readings. The readings focus on preparation or “making straight the path of the Lord,” penance, and fasting. All of these things remind us of the importance of preparing our hearts for the Lord and making room for his presence in our lives. 

Did you know?

The Advent wreath originated from a pagan European tradition, which consisted of lighting candles during the winter to ask the sun god to return with his light and warmth.

The first missionaries took advantage of this tradition to evangelize to people and taught them that they should use the Advent wreath as a way of preparing for Christ’s birth, and to celebrate his nativity and beg Jesus to infuse his light in their souls.

The circle of the Advent wreath is a geometric figure that has neither a beginning nor an end. It reminds us that God does not have a beginning or an end either, which reflects his unity and eternity. It is a sign of the unending love that the faithful should show the Lord and their neighbors, which must be constantly renewed and never stop.

The green color of the wreath represents hope and life. The Advent wreath reminds us that Christ is alive among us, and that we must cultivate a life of grace, spiritual growth, and hope during Advent. 

Bless your Advent wreath

The blessing of an Advent wreath takes place on the First Sunday of Advent or on the evening before the First Sunday of Advent.

When the blessing of the Advent wreath is celebrated in the home, it is appropriate that it be blessed by a parent or another member of the family.
To bless your Advent wreath at home, follow our guide, “How to bless your Advent wreath at home.

First Sunday of Advent: ‘There Will Be Signs in the Sun, Moon and Stars’

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Award-winning artist David Troncoso on life in a camper van, the Renaissance, and learning from the masters

David Troncoso stands in his art studio with an altarpiece he recently completed. / Courtesy of David Troncoso.

Kingston, New York, Nov 27, 2021 / 07:42 am (CNA).

Sacred artist David Troncoso paints in the Renaissance style with DaVinci, Michelangelo, and Rafael as his guides. His art, he says, draws him closer to God and has deepened his prayer life. 

Troncoso, 35, a some-time resident of Long Island, produces large oil paintings with gesso and frames he makes by hand. When not at his physical studio in Kingston, N.Y., he travels and works from a camper van, which he renovated during the pandemic.  

His dedication to the daily craft of producing art led recently to a 2nd place award in the Catholic Art Institute’s Sacred Art Competition. The winning piece? A dramatic depiction of St. Michael slaying the devil on a golden background in a frame he built from scratch.  

Troncoso was featured on BYUtv’s series artFUL earlier this year, a series, which according to their website, is “about the inner workings of the creative spirit and how personal faith influences artists and their art.” 

CNA had a chance to talk with Troncoso about his art, his faith, and his plans for the future. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you discover art? Is it something you’ve always done or did you find it later in life?

I’ve always been drawing, ever since I was a little kid. I loved drawing Looney Tunes, and from there, I went to superheroes and comic book characters. I was constantly drawing portraits and making comic books. Then, as I got older, I learned more and more about artists of the past, and eventually what it means to be a renaissance artist. I wanted to learn from the best.

What has been the most meaningful experience in terms of your training as an artist? 

The most meaningful was that I studied at the Grand Central Atelier in New York City and that’s where I really learned how to refine my drawing technique to be more realistic. When I left there, I started going to all the museums in the city, especially the MET. I would spend every day copying and sketching old master paintings and drawings, and then do an exact replica of the paintings from the museum. 

What do you find beautiful or intriguing about Renaissance art?  

There’s many things; I look at it from so many aspects. First, there’s the craftsmanship involved, and how long it takes to make these great works of art. I know all the time that the artists put into it to learn anatomy, and how to draw correctly, how to paint forms. They studied for years and years under their masters, so there's just so much craft and technical knowledge that I love about it. 

Then, there’s the colors that I love that you maybe don't see in contemporary work. Then, what the paintings are actually made of — like the wood — all these paintings start from freshly dried wood and glue to make a panel. Then, you make the gesso out of rabbit skin and powdered pigment. You’re making it from scratch, you even make your paint. I like the idea that everything you are doing, you are making it yourself. 

Then, also, it's the spiritual aspects of it. I find, in these paintings, they're searching or they speak about higher things that contemporary work or modern work doesn't really do.

That actually leads into my next question: Would you mind telling us a little bit about your personal faith journey and what that means to you?

It goes along the same lines as I discovered Renaissance work. I became obsessed with wanting to make Madonnas, and at some point, I had to question, “Why do I want to make these beautiful paintings of Mary or Christ?” and it just led me down the path of questioning my spirituality and religion. I learned more and more about being a Catholic. 

The more I learned about Renaissance work and these Christian symbols, I began to pray more and pray to be able to paint beautiful things or to have beautiful ideas. It led me to, in the morning before I start, I would pray and ask God to guide me to make something beautiful for him.

My artwork and my faith is so wrapped up into each other, and it's this very personal experience. I have this feeling that your creativity, your imagination, it comes from the divine. It doesn't come from this world. It comes from the heavens. So, as an artist, it's like God speaking through you as a medium, and that's how I like to think about it.

Have you ever faced any kind of resistance or misunderstanding when you tell somebody that you enjoy painting religious art?

In the art world, I never feel like I really fit in. I never wanted to be an artist where I’m talking about myself or my ego. I never wanted to be that artist or “this show is about me.” I always wanted to make work for beauty, for God, for higher aspirations. 

The art world today, I don’t understand it. I can’t connect with it. Medieval Renaissance all the way up until the 19th century were, for me, the best painters, and they were all producing work about and for the Church. You had beautiful narrative paintings about biblical subjects. At some point, society turned away from history, religious narratives, and beautifying spaces. It’s moved away from trying to talk about the divine God, our spirituality, and our place in this world.     

What does a typical day look like for you in your line of work? 

I like to wake up early, have my coffee, and get into the studio early. My studio is in this old building from 1742 — it predates the Revolutionary War — and it has beautiful Gothic windows. It almost feels like I’m in a monastery. It's so quiet. As soon as I go there, I feel like it’s this very sacred sort of space. I like to say a prayer, focus, and get into my zone. 

Every day for the last seven or eight years, I’ve listened to the same music, these classical composers. I start the day, every day, with John Field’s “Nocturnes,” and then it eventually leads into baroque and medieval music. 

I’ll work on a painting for a few hours, and then I’ll have to put it aside so I don’t overdo it. Then, I might work on a new idea or finish up some old ones. I’m also a woodworker, so I build and carve all the frames that I have for my artwork. So, some days will be spent in my wood shop, carving and building elaborate frames that I gesso and guild myself as well. 

Beyond your studio, what does home look like for you? 

Well, I’ve been living in a camper since the beginning of COVID. My fiancé and I renovated a 24-foot camper and have been living in it and traveling in it. I have a mini studio for when I’m on the road. It’s so much fun, it just felt like the time was right. There’s so much of the country we want to see. We got it [the camper] from our aunt, gutted the inside and rebuilt everything, so it’s very homey inside. 

We park it at campsites or at family’s property if we’re in upstate New York. If we go down to Long Island, we park it at my parents’ house. We spent the whole summer at the beach. I can bring portable tools with me while I’m doing that, and I use hand tools as well, so I don’t need any power for that.  

I’m jealous! Of all the places you’ve traveled, which has been the most inspiring for your creativity? 

I don't know if it's because I grew up by the ocean, but I'm drawn to the sea very much. We love to go up to rocky, treacherous coastlines. We spent an amazing time up in Newfoundland for a few weeks, and that was an incredible experience with its rocky coasts. Also, Iceland was incredible. It was just out of this world, it was just such a special, amazing landscape. Rocky, stormy coastlines really gets me, and I feel that power of nature. When you feel that power of nature, then you also feel the power of God in a way.

In thinking a little bit about the many years you’ve produced art, have you ever come across a mental block or a time when it was really challenging to create? If so, what was that like?

Yeah, I feel like I go through that all the time. Being an artist, it’s like one of those things you just accept. It’s like this rollercoaster — sometimes you're producing a lot of work and you feel this creative spirit. There’s new ideas coming to you. 

Then, you work on a project, but when the project is over, you can fall into a depression sometimes. It’s almost like being in a relationship; you’re in a relationship with this painting, with this idea, and then once you close the book on that, it’s done. So, you could feel empty at times. 

It happens a lot, but once you get into those lows, I think those are the moments when you question things more or you question life more. It’s a time to rethink things. It could be a daily thing, it could be monthly, but it happens all the time. 

What are some ways or techniques you have to break through those creative blocks?

I find meditation and prayer works a lot, and then sometimes I just have to do something completely different from art. I’m really into vintage motorcycles, so something like that where you get away from your art world and you go onto something different. I’ll get one, strip it apart, take the engine apart, gut it, and clean it, and it’s sort of meditative. All the parts have to go back in the right place, and all your hard work when you try to start it up, and it starts up. It’s an amazing feeling. 

Also, I play a lot of instruments, so that’s something I might do. I’ll grab a banjo, ukulele, or a guitar and strum on that.    

Of all of the different pieces of art that you've created, what is the one that stands out the most to you or that you're most proud of?

I'd say the most proud of is this one I just finished up, the altarpiece I've been working on for the last few years. That's sort of the accumulation of everything I've learned, from everything I've studied at school, classical painting, old master works, and woodworking. I put a year of planning into it, making blueprints and sketches and bigger sketches. I built the panel that you paint on. I got raw lumber from a lumberyard — I cleaned it and jointed it, and learned how to glue up a large panel and made everything from scratch. It was everything I’ve been striving for as an artist.

The large piece you mentioned was temporarily installed in a church. What was it like to have a piece like that of yours installed in a sacred space?

I didn’t even know it was going to happen. When the artFUL crew came to film, I had the piece set up in my studio. They said, “No, this really belongs in a church,” and they worked some magic. They called up the church and they said we could install it there for a bit. We got a U-Haul and carried it around the block.  

It was all set up — they had the lights on, and I went into the church to see it. I became emotional. I didn’t realize it would affect me that much. I get hard on myself about my own work, but seeing it in a church was like it was at home. It was everything that I had been working so hard for all these years. It was a very special moment.

Tell me more about artFUL. I heard they just showcased your work. Can you tell us about how you got connected with BYUtv for the episode? 

I got an email one day and they were like, “Hey, we really like your work and we’d love to see if you would be a good fit for the show.” I had a phone interview, and a couple weeks later, they said, “We’ll be there in a month.” 

It was such a fun experience. They filmed for about two and a half days, from 7 in the morning to 9 or 10 at night, some interviews and some art. They got a taste of my life and whatnot. I’m a very private person, so it was very out of my element, but it was such a cool experience. 

David Troncoso was recently featured in artFUL, a series produced by BYUtv. Courtesy of David Troncoso

What advice would you give other budding artists, or perhaps, a younger David Troncoso?

Definitely study the old masters to the fullest — see what they did and try to learn from them. Then, the biggest thing is perseverance. I failed so many times and on so many projects, and I tried to give up art many times. You are an artist and you can’t give it up. Don’t doubt yourself, keep working hard, and have faith. 

What’s next for you? What other pieces can we expect to see in the future? 

I’m working on a whole new body of work right now, so that’s pretty exciting. There's a few Virgin Mary commissions, which will be paintings and frames, and some other work that incorporates a lot of woodworking as well.

I'm also starting to work with the architects and designers to make paintings for churches and cathedrals. My main ambition is to keep connecting with people and to keep making beautiful things for the church.