Designs on God

Interview by Dan Valenti

Author's Note: The following interview was conducted over the weekend of Nov. 8-9. It stemmed from my previous work with Br. Angelo Casimiro on various projects over the summer and fall. Brother Angelo is a marvelously gifted young man who has managed to seamlessly incorporate his former profession into his current vocation in a way that services both. What he has done provides a great example of vocational transformation, and it illustrates to young people who may be considering a vocation that God can work with one's gifts. In other words, when one "abandons the world" for the higher call of religious life, it is not necessary to abandon one's talents. On the contrary, a vocation can be a way to not only enhance one's gifts but also to employ them for good and valuable purposes. This is a vital lesson for young people who might be contemplating a religious vocation.

VALENTI: When did you know you wanted to be an artist/designer? Did you draw or doodle a lot as a kid?

BR. ANGELO: I think that art became my passion as soon as I was able to hold a crayon in my hand. I just loved drawing, painting, arts and crafts - anything creative. Because I was an extremely shy and introverted kid, art became my haven. It was the one thing I knew I was really good at, since I was terrible at sports and I was just an average student. In a way, I liked being admired for my artistic talent because I knew it made people happy. In high school, I drew a lot of portraits of people. The materials I used included pen and ink, pencils, colored pencils, charcoal, and pastels. I wanted to pursue a career in art but I didn't know if I could make any money in it. You can say that I was afraid of becoming a starving artist.

VALENTI: Did you like cartoons?

Br. ANGELO: Yes, I liked cartoons but I didn't do a lot of cartooning. For a while, I got into drawing caricatures and also copying my favorite super heroes like Superman, Batman and Spiderman. Later, I ventured into more realistic drawing.

VALENTI: How did you go about pursuing your skill? Through education? Do you have a degree in art?

Br. ANGELO: When it was time to go to college, I thought about becoming a graphic designer. I knew that I could make money in graphic design. After high school, I first attended a community college in Fullerton, California for a few years. Then I applied to California State University, Long Beach, and was accepted into the Graphic Design program. When I was going to CSULB, they were just starting to train us on the Macintosh computers. Prior to computers, the bulk of graphic design was done mechanically. That's why it was beneficial to have good drawing skills. I not only took design classes at CSULB, but I was also required to take art and photography classes. In 1991, I got a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design from the university.

VALENTI: Were you employed professionally as a designer? If so, can you give the details - when, where, for how long?

BR. ANGELO: After university, I worked for a few months as a freelance designer for an entertainment advertising agency in Santa Monica, Calif. I was assigned to work in the Home Video Department. It was fun, since I had always enjoyed the entertainment media. It was a dream job for me. Afterward, I got another job working for a graphic design studio in Cerritos, Calif. I was there for a couple of years and got to work on different print projects, including logo designs, stationery, brochures, pamphlets, sales materials, and various promotional items. Then from 1994 to 2000, I worked for a financial services firm in the marketing department in Newport Beach, Calif. I was able to do print design (mostly sales materials) and multimedia design (webpage design and PowerPoint presentations). It was a great company to work for. Unfortunately, they decided to move to Denver, Colo., and I wasn't willing to leave California to go anywhere else. Of course, I would eat my words later. After I was laid off from the company, I started doing freelance design work from my apartment. It was difficult, because I didn't know how to market my services. By that time, I had gone through my reversion and so I was really trusting in divine providence.

VALENTI: Did you find the work fulfilling?

BR. ANGELO: Yes, I found the work very fulfilling because I was being paid for something I loved doing. Not many people get that blessing, and we all know of folks who toil at a job they dislike because of the money, or because they are afraid to change, or because of some other constraint.

VALENTI: What does a designer actually do?

BR. ANGELO: Great question. A graphic designer is like a visual composer. He or she brings together words and images to create a product. You can see graphic design in all modern media - TV, movies, internet, billboards, books, magazines, newspapers, brochures, pamphlets, consumer products, and so on. We are an increasingly visually oriented world, and the images we use to promote and sell products have assumed greater importance.

VALENTI: You had a fulfilling career, artistically satisfying and paying you money for something you loved doing. When did you realize something was missing?

BR. ANGELO: Like I said, it was after I was laid off from the company I had worked for during six years that I went through my reversion. At that point, I was just spiritually bankrupt. I worked a lot of hours so that I could buy things that I thought would make me happy, but nothing made me happy for long. I knew there was something more out there. Let's just say that I was searching, and that was when the Lord and Our Lady found me.

VALENTI: As a seminarian, do you still practice your artistic skills or employ them in any way? If so, how?

BR. ANGELO: Let's just say that God doesn't stop using the talents He's given you once you enter religious life or seminary. Once my Marian community found out that I used to be a graphic designer, they started putting my skills to work. So they started asking me to design flyers, posters, covers, pamphlets, handbills, and other such items. Recently, Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, asked me to design the cover for his book, Purest of All Lilies. As a way of expressing my creativity, I also design personal cards for my brothers here at the Marian Scholasticate for their birthdays and special occasions. It's a lot of fun and the guys like it. It's something I picked up from Fr. Mark Garrow, MIC, before he passed away. When I was in novitiate, he would personally handpick birthday cards for each of the guys. Father Mark took great pleasure in finding a card that precisely fit someone's personality. That's what I try to do, also. I try to design cards that fit the personality.

VALENTI: What do you see in common between the life of a designer and the life of a seminarian?

BR. ANGELO: The life of a designer and the life of a seminarian both revolve around schedules and deadlines. Believe me, it's quite a balancing act sometimes. The only difference now, I guess, is I'm not as stressed out as a seminarian as I was when I was a designer. I've learned to place more trust in God.

VALENTI: What common traits have you noticed? What commonalities are helpful?

BR. ANGELO: I enjoyed graphic design because of the creativity it gave me. I still find some of that in my seminary studies, especially when it comes to writing papers. I actually prefer writing a paper than taking a test because I learn a lot more. The challenge then is for me to find creativity in my studies, because that's when I really flourish. In a way, I look forward to delivering homilies and giving talks as a priest, because it will be another creative outlet.

VALENTI: Has the "designer's mindset" helped you find God? Do you see God as a designer?

BR. ANGELO: Yes, it has. What I love about drawing or designing is just being lost in the moment of creating something. It often happens to me where I just lose all sense of time, and I feel like I'm in another zone. It's like time standing still. That's how I identify with God's creative mindset. After all, He's the Divine Designer/Artist.

VALENTI: Discuss the importance of images?

BR. ANGELO: Images are important because we are carnal beings and we live in a material world. God became incarnate. When we see the face of the Son, we see the Father. Images of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angels and the saints help us to see the reality of heaven. It's concrete. I tend to see things in terms of "images." For example, yesterday [Sunday, Nov. 9, 2008] was such a beautiful fall day that I decided to go biking. I pedaled to Mt. Vernon in Virginia, and the splendor of the trees in their full array of colors made me feel like I had biked into God's painting. It was such an incredible moment, knowing that God the Father, who is the Divine Artist, does delightful things like this for us, His children. That's why I love nature so much and can easily see God's hands in it - a beautiful sunset, cloud formations, a rainbow, the variety of flowers and trees, a brook running through the woods, and even in a blade of grass. Other people may identify with God as Truth or Goodness, but I identify with Him as Beauty.

VALENTI: Do you have a favorite artist?

BR. ANGELO: It would have to be Michelangelo. I have admired him even as a kid. When I went to Rome in 2001 and stepped into the Sistine Chapel to see his fresco paintings on the ceiling, I was speechless. I felt like I had stepped into another world. The images and the colors were so vibrant that I was convinced it was God who actually did the painting and Michelangelo was only the paintbrush. My favorite Michelangelo sculpture is the Pieta, and I was most impressed with seeing that as well, in St. Peter's Basilica. I connect in an intense and deep way with great works of art. I find transcendence there.

VALENTI: Can visuals be distracting, that is, TOO alluring, so that they take us away from the need for words?

BR. ANGELO: I don't think visuals can be distracting or too alluring. However, when I look at a beautiful work of art, I can sometimes be at a loss for words. Visuals are a language of their own. That is why we connect with them. As far as religious images are concerned, my two favorites themes are the Madonna and Child and scenes from Jesus' Passion, especially the Crucifixion. I have a great love for Christian iconography and hope I can study it in more detail in the future. I took art history when I went to college, and even then, I had a great appreciation for Christian art. It has such resonance and depth. That's why I love visiting churches so much. When I was in Rome, for example, I couldn't get enough!

VALENTI: How much "consumed" are you by the process of becoming a priest?

BR. ANGELO: I'm not really "consumed" by the process of becoming a priest. God has been taking me through baby steps. Consequently, I've been growing in preparation for the priesthood a little bit at a time. He's infinitely patient with me, more than I am with myself sometimes.

VALENTI: Have you forgotten your old profession, that is, your old way of life?

BR. ANGELO: My old profession and old way of life seems like ages ago now. I haven't forgotten it, but I've come to appreciate more where I've come from to where I am now in my life.

VALENTI: What's the best piece of career advice anyone ever gave you?

BR. ANGELO: I can't remember where I got this piece of career advice, but it goes something like this, "Do what you love and the rest will follow." That is how God works in us, and I thank him for it.

VALENTI: How do you give thanks to God?

BR. ANGELO: I sometimes feel like I don't give God enough thanks, but I thank him primarily through prayer and my favorite motto of "doing small things with great love."

VALENTI: What attitude of mind and disposition of heart is required for "letting go" of all the things you must let go of as you pursue what is, in fact, the call to a holy life?

BR. ANGELO: It all comes down to one word: love. That is the principle and foundation of leading a holy life.

VALENTI: Is it more or less arduous than you imagined?

BR. ANGELO: Sometimes the religious life can be arduous. It's not always easy.

VALENTI: Do you get discouraged, and if so, what brings you out of it?

BR. ANGELO: One of the disadvantages of having a melancholic personality is getting discouraged easily. It happens when I take my eyes off Jesus, just like Peter did when he started drowning in the water. When I get discouraged, I start thinking of all my blessings and that usually turns me around.

VALENTI: How supportive are the brothers?

BR. ANGELO: I have the most incredibly supportive brothers here at the Marian Scholasticate. I don't know what I would do without them. With me around, they constantly have to put up with my quiet nature. Ha! Seriously though, they are a great bunch of guys, and I've developed wonderful friendships with some of them. They have helped me get through some difficult times the past couple of years. I would be willing to lay down my life for any of them.

VALENTI: How does the community color or shade your professional activities?

BR. ANGELO: I would say that each member of the community represents a different shade of the same reality, which is to work together for Christ and the Church. Each man brings his own strengths to the whole.

VALENTI: What do you bring to the community?

BR. ANGELO: I would like to say my gentle nature and my loyalty as a brother.

VALENTI: Are you attracted to the image of The Divine Mercy?

BR. ANGELO: Yes, I am strongly attracted to the image of The Divine Mercy. The first time I saw the image was when I visited my aunt in the Philippines in 1997. The parish she belonged to was named The Divine Mercy. It was a few years later in 2000 when I actually learned about The Divine Mercy message and devotion. I also learned about the significance of The Divine Mercy image. Next to the image of the Crucifix, it is probably my favorite image of Jesus because it shows Him as Merciful Love Incarnate.

Please help educate the Marian priests of tomorrow.

Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of The Marians of The Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of "Dan Valenti's Journal" for

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