Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is

Articles by Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters

Mar 28, 2012 / 00:00 am

Next week, Jews throughout the world will observe the feast of Passover, their most sacred of the year. It is the time when they recall, relive, and celebrate their deliverance by God from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land.

I see!

Mar 21, 2012 / 00:00 am

“I see, I see,” shouts a student, thrilled at discovering the answer to a mathematical problem. “I only have eyes for you,” goes the love song, and the Israelites ask the Lord, “Keep us as the apple of your eye” (Prov 7:2). On completing his “Hallelujah” chorus, George Friedrich Händel exclaimed:  “I did think that I saw the heaven open, and that I saw the very face of God.”

The odor of sanctity

Mar 14, 2012 / 00:00 am

In ascetical theology, “the odor of sanctity” has come to mean that fragrance proceeding from the person, clothing, or domicile of a saint during life or after death. The phrase also refers to a reputation for extraordinary holiness of life.

Touch: Human and Divine

Mar 7, 2012 / 00:00 am

Touching is a basic human need, a craving for human contact be it a hug, a warm hand on an arm, or a gentle pat on the back. But touching has taken a hard hit. Most of us are conditioned to link it first and foremost to sexual abuse of children, and victims of this heinous crime must be helped to regain their sense dignity and self worth. Still, it must be said that the corporeal sense of touch is a gift from God to be used in a proper and ordered way.

Lent and the taste for God

Feb 29, 2012 / 00:00 am

Taste refers to the appetite and is most commonly understood in the physical sense, the intake of food and liquid.

Sound the Trumpet! Proclaim a Fast!

Feb 22, 2012 / 00:00 am

The starkness of Ash Wednesday ushers in the Church’s springtime for Latin-Rite Catholics. Two day ago on “Black” Monday, Great Lent began for Eastern-Rite Catholics. During this lenten spring (German and Anglo-Saxon: lencthen, lenct, spring), the central question, who do you say that I am, calls for a renewed personal and ecclesial response. The call to discipleship also invites every Catholic Christian to live as an ambassador of Christ, an awareness that shines the light of Christ outward to others and on to the whole of creation.

Rescuing our children through the arts

Feb 15, 2012 / 00:00 am

The arts seek beauty and belong solely to the realm of human creativity. They please the intellect by pleasing the senses. For pre-school children, much of their day is given over to the arts.

Religious liberty and the well-formed Catholic

Feb 8, 2012 / 00:00 am

In 1937, Robert M. Hutchins, then the president of the University of Chicago praised the Catholic Church as having “the longest intellectual tradition in any institution in the contemporary world.” In the same presentation however, he criticized Catholic institutions for “failing to emphasize that tradition in a way that would make it come alive in American intellectual circles.” He concluded on an encouraging note: “The best service Catholic education can perform for the nation and all education is to show that the intellectual tradition can again be made the heart of higher education.”

Body Beautiful

Feb 1, 2012 / 00:00 am

The Corinthians challenged the patience of St. Paul. After preaching in Corinth, he and had established there a small but strong local church. But influence by the larger number of Corinthians swayed them in a direction that disturbed Paul and prompted him to write them four letters.

Our children, our treasure, our future

Jan 25, 2012 / 00:00 am

During annual Catholic Youth Days, the faith bursts forth in word and sacrament, in gesture, song and symbol. This beauty, writes Benedict XVI, “penetrates the hearts of our youth, touches them, and summons all to conversion.”

Forming disciples

Jan 18, 2012 / 00:00 am



Jan 11, 2012 / 00:00 am

Everyone has a theory about style. In fashion, style connotes a particular way of dressing, a stretch from its original meaning – stylus as an instrument for writing. Styles come and go: the unisex, the gothic, the hippie and the preppie, the androgynous, the anti-style or the ‘anything goes’ style. Then there is the classic look. Haute couturiers like Hubert de Givenchy and Oleg Cassini designed elegant fashions for elegant women, Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, “first lady of fashion.” They wore un-adorned, graceful lines that enhanced the feminine figure. In a gown or dress, suit or slacks, they preferred the simplicity of elegance – simplex munditiis. Though attractive, they played it down, and, through the years, their style has become classic and always in season.

A fresh start with beauty

Jan 4, 2012 / 00:00 am

If 2012 resembles previous years, most of us will imagine an improved self-image in the New Year. The pursuit of love and beauty is “ever ancient, ever new,” and ever with us. Today, beauty, truth and goodness, are widely seen as civic virtues but not as transcendentals.  Society long ago abandoned this classical view and the conviction that beauty assumes virtue. Nonetheless, even in a secularized culture, the beautiful convinces only when the true and the good, the logical and the ethical, converge with love. There is no limit to our pursuit of beauty, of truth, goodness, and love, but how they are realized depends on the individual. We are all invested in beauty and love. Don’t we all want to attract others? Don’t we all want their esteem? Making and doing something beautiful for one’s self is followed, more often than not, by making others feel beautiful as well as beautifying our culture and environment. 

The Church, beauty and the Christmas season

Dec 21, 2011 / 00:00 am

The Catholic Church has earned a lasting place in history for inspiring Christian culture through the literary, visual, and musical arts, understood as beautiful. For centuries, the Church has celebrated the beautiful as the splendid guardian of truth and goodness. By commissioning the finest artists to express the faith in music, the visual and literary arts, the Church has stood as their foremost patron as well. When illiteracy was common, the visual arts served as catecheses that persuaded by their beauty.  Every year tourists are overcome by the beauty of the great cathedrals, and, during the Christmas and Lenten-Paschal season, many attend Vespers and Mass to hear the Church’s great heritage of sacred music. Benedict XVI observes that “cities and countries throughout the world house treasures of art that express the faith and call us to a relationship with God” (“Beauty Can Cause a Conversion,” Aug. 31, 2011). It is especially during the Christmas season that the Church’s special affection for the feast of the Nativity of the Lord overflows with magnificent splendor.  The Church cannot contain herself from again bursting forth her joy, wonder, and gratitude as she commemorates the birth of the Messiah into the world, God who became a human being that we might become like God. The good news of Jesus Christ expresses itself not only in the heightened intensity of the eucharistic liturgy but also in sacred music with its soaring prose and poetry.  Christ’s coming in history raised beauty to a new level of significance, and this beauty is to be renewed and restored in Christ. Christianity proclaims that those “who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27).  The sacred arts are also to be “clothed in Christ” (Rom 13:14). Among the many Protestant hymnodists and composers is gifted Charles Wesley (d 1788).  His famous and enduring Christmas carol, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” expresses through Old and New Testament references a fulsome theology about the birth of the Incarnate Word.  We know the lyrics by memory, and meditating on the rich meaning of these words repays the effort.  The italicized words below in the first column alert the reader to the scripture reference in the second column.  (This analysis is taken from Dr. Ralph F. Wilson’s web page, “Joyful Heart.”) 1. Hark! The herald angels sing, Luke 2:10   "Glory to the newborn King;     Peace on earth, and mercy mild, Luke 2:14; 1:78   God and sinners reconciled!" 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Colossians 1:20-22   Joyful, all ye nations rise, Revelation 21:24; Haggai 2:6-7   Join the triumph of the skies;     With th’ angelic host proclaim, Luke 2:10-11; Matthew 1:4-6; Micah 5:2   "Christ is born in Bethlehem!"   Hark! the herald angels sing,     "Glory to the newborn King!" Matthew 2:2       2. Christ, by highest Heav’n adored; Luke 2:9-14; Revelation 5:13; Hebrews 1:6   Christ the everlasting Lord; Revelation 22:12-13   Late in time, behold Him come, Galatians 4:4   Offspring of a virgin’s womb. Matthew 1:18-23; Luke 1:26-38   Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hebrews 10:20. Godhead means "divine nature or essence; divinity; God; the nature of God, especially as existing in three persons" (Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition)   Hail th’ incarnate Deity, Incarnation is a theological term which refers to the union of divinity with humanity in Jesus Christ, from in + carne, flesh. There are many NT scriptures on this central doctrine of the Christian faith. See below.   Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, John 1:14; Romans 1:3; 8:3; Galatians 4:4; Philippians 2:7-8; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3; 2:9-11; 1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 1:7; Revelation 22:16   Jesus our Emmanuel. Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23. "Emmanuel" means in Hebrew, "God with us" -- the truth of the incarnation in a single word!       3. Hail the heav'n born Prince of Peace! Isaiah 9:6   Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Malachi 4:2   Light and life to all He brings, John 1:4, 10; 8:12; 2 Timothy 1:10   Ris’n with healing in His wings. Malachi 4:2. "Wings" refers to "rays" of the sun.   Mild He lays His glory by, Philippians 2:6-8; John 17:5, 24. Theologically this is called the Kenosis, Jesus emptying of himself and his glory, so that he might become a human.   Born that man no more may die. John 11:25-26   Born to raise the sons of earth, 1 Corinthians 15:35-57. The doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead.   Born to give them second birth. John 1:13; 3:3, 6; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; Titus 3:5       4. Come, Desire of nations, come, Haggai 2:6-7   Fix in us Thy humble home; Ephesians 3:17; Romans 8:9   Rise, the woman’s conque’ring Seed, Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20. This ancient messianic prophecy of Christ crushing Satan the serpent. The hymn is calling on Christ to crush Satan's work in us, the old, sinful nature.   Bruise in us the serpent’s head.   Now display Thy saving power, Hebrews 7:25 and many verses.   Ruined nature now restore; Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10; Romans 12:2   Now in mystic union join Ephesians 5:31-32; 1 Corinthians 6:17; Romans 6:5   Thine to ours, and ours to Thine. Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16       5. Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface, Romans 5:12-21, especially 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:22   Stamp Thine image in its place: Genesis 1:26-27; Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:23-24   Second Adam from above, Romans 5:12-21, especially 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:47   Reinstate us in Thy love.     Let us Thee, though lost, regain Philippians 3:8-11; Luke 19:10, a prayer for restoration of the broken relationship with God.   Thee, the Life, the inner man: John 14:6; 1 John 5:11-12. Ephesians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 4:16; 1 Peter 3:4   O, to all Thyself impart, Jeremiah 31:34. Habakkuk 2:14. Philippians 3:8-11   Formed in each believing heart. Galatians 4:19; Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 1:27; 3:10 Ambassadors for Christ The feast of Christmas is in fact the feast of Christ the King, which boldly affirms the sovereignty and rule of Christ over persons, families, human society, the state, and the entire universe.  Great figures in history have built a better world, but there is none other than Jesus Christ who saved the world. The feast of Christmas bids all men and women, and particularly Catholics, to find meaning and hope in him who is the wisdom and power of God. Each of us is an “ambassador for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20) every hour of every day through the power of good example in attitude, word, and action—in serving others.

Mary, Rose of the Church

Dec 14, 2011 / 00:00 am

As the Church approaches the final days of Advent, we rejoice, for the Lord is near. St. Anselm, Doctor of the Church and Archbishop of Canterbury (12th c), presents the Church with soaring prose about the Mother of the Word Incarnate in relation and juxtaposition to God the Father:

The Annunciation to Joseph

Dec 7, 2011 / 00:00 am

Some years ago, the award-winning comic strip by Johnny Hart featured a piece about the mystery of the Incarnation, though it did not mention the word. It is more of a whimsical commentary on modern man and woman. It is relevant at a time when the public commemoration of Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord, is again challenged everywhere by those who protest that their sensibilities have been offended:

Electronics, Imagination, and Advent Beauty

Nov 30, 2011 / 00:00 am

One cannot travel by public transportation without noticing that most adults and children are engrossed in their electronic devices, which have surely made life safer, and more efficient. With them, life is pleasurable, even satisfying. Nevertheless, their drawbacks have already been noted by parents and educators.

The Church’s Year of Grace

Nov 23, 2011 / 00:00 am

The season of Advent begins Nov. 27, the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew, the Apostle (Nov. 30). Christmas will follow in four weeks, and it has its proper liturgical place, beginning not on the day after Thanksgiving or before, but at midnight on Christmas Eve.  It concludes on the feast of Epiphany. However, the media would have us believe that these weeks before Christmas constitute the holiday season.  Then, with the arrival of Christmas Day, the holiday, in the secular mind, is completed except for the post-Christmas sales that rush upon us.  Consumerism can preoccupy and stress out families in the face of pre-Christmas sales, and we are already surrounded by trinkets and glut, Hallmark movies, and commercials that tell us what we must have for Christmas.  If we’re not buying something, we’re not in the Christmas spirit.  This cultural dissonance jars Catholic parents caught between the meaning of Advent and the culture, which is in the wrong time zone. Holiday shopping may run parallel to the Advent season, but there is little resemblance between the two.  Advent nourishes the spirit, lifts it up, and prepares for the feast of the Nativity of the Lord.  Shopping for trinkets speaks for itself.

Lord, to whom shall we go?

Nov 16, 2011 / 00:00 am

The feast of Christ the King not only ends the current liturgical year but also anticipates the new year of grace, which begins next week, the First Sunday in Advent. Today the Church professes that Jesus Christ is the world’s salvation, the shepherd-king who lays down His life for His sheep (Jn 10:1-30). He is the Father’s gift to humankind, and our minimal response is gratitude for his coming among us to assume our human condition in all things but sin.  St. Peter captures the meaning of the feast when Jesus asks if he wants to leave his friendship. “Lord, to whom shall we go,” replies Peter, “you have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). 

Living the Church’s 'Year of Grace'

Nov 9, 2011 / 00:00 am

In Early Christianity, it was a crime to attend the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy.  Such activity was outlawed under pain of death because Christians rejected the pagan cult of the state.  But they could not live without the Eucharist. They held fast to their weekly worship, met together, kept vigil from Saturday night until Sunday morning, and celebrated the Eucharist. They risked their lives for the sake of the Eucharistic liturgy.