Rafael Morales has hosted 20 episodes.
Rafael Morales is a graduate of the University of Houston. A parishioner of Holy Rosary in Houston, where he lives with his wife and three children. He is a church and school architect with Jackson and Ryan Architects.
Call me Rafa, that’s what my family calls me. Along with Chris, I host the Beauty Ever New podcast. There are three things you need to know about me. The first is that I was born in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato and spent the majority of my formative years in Mexico. Growing up I experienced the complex beauty of a country full of stark contrasts. Immense beauty in its natural and man made landscapes, mixed with great hardship and frustration in its people. Mexico left me with an indelible mark that tints the lens through which I view life. The second is that I moved to the U.S. when I was ten and now have spent the majority of my life in the states. This country has given me everything; an education, a beautiful wife and family along with endless opportunity. The third is that the constant in my life, unimpeded by borders, is my Catholic faith. This is the great song that spans and unites my whole life, my fire, my meaning, my purpose.
The Church has suffered tremendous setbacks in the last few decades, bringing it perilously close to the edge of moral bankruptcy in the eyes of many. From scandals, to inadequate responses to contemporary issues, to an inability to captivate and stir the hearts of men. As Catholics we have to begin from a full acknowledgment of what has happened, a collective examination of conscience as to how we got here. Then as St. Jose Maria would say, let us begin again. Begin to craft a renewed vision for a Church with an eternal message. Begin again every day, in how we live and in how we use the talents God gave us to make him present to those around us. Our time is one in which the church needs to reach a culture held hostage by relentless indifference. I feel that the Lord is calling me to act now. This podcast, among other efforts is my response. Ever since I was little I loved to think about how things could be. How could I change things for the better. This curiosity translated in adulthood, into architecture. This is my jumping off point for doing my part to renew the Church.
I grew up seeing the splendour of Mexican colonial architecture, from the small town church to the great regional Cathedrals. Beauty was something that was available to all and that rightly oriented people to the worship of God. The United States does not have the same architectural patrimony, especially in our beloved city of Houston, we favor the new and swiftly knock down the old. This combined with an insatiable appetite for fast growth, yielded a huge building boom of churches. In the post war years, churches took on all manner of shapes and sizes, in many cases completely departing from any reference to historical models. The results were far from convincing, the landscape is now dotted with tired, outdated buildings that seldom inspire an appropriate sense of beauty and awe. I grew up going to a church like this in a mediocre building but yet, full of wonderful people. Every Sunday I wondered how I could make it better, what could we do so the building reflected the beauty of the faith and its people? This question carried me into the profession and I have chosen to dedicate myself to the renewal of church architecture.
The answer to this question is complex, because good architecture is the coordination of hundreds of decisions and compromises towards a desired end. To begin we have to ask many questions and explore many possibilities. The world is changing fast, architecture moves slow, so we have to always think several steps ahead, ask the questions of tomorrow. This podcast is the avenue that we will use to ask questions, explore many solutions and God-willing provide real, tangible improvements to the design of our churches.
My partner in crime is Chris Duffel. A man that I met by Divine “chance” and found in him a great friend that shares a deep passion for his faith and a desire to improve churches to reflect the beauty of Catholicism. He brings talents that I do not have, an energy that is unstoppable and a torrent of great ideas that I struggle to keep up with. The quality that I most admire is his integrity and kind heart, he is a man of true conviction. I thank God for the opportunity to work together with him on a variety of projects and especially in this space.
Chris Duffel has hosted 19 episodes.
Christopher Duffel is graduate of Rice University and Texas A&M. He is a parishioner of St. Vincent De Paul in Houston, where he lives with his wife and three children. Chris practices architecture with Jackson and Ryan Architects.
Hi. I am Chris the other host of this podcast. My childhood faith journey is distinct from Rafa’s in that I was born, grew up and was raised, basically, in one place. I was born in Southeast Texas, went to school in college station, lived in Dallas for a while and came back to Houston for grad school. With the brief exception of a stint studying abroad, I have lived in Texas my whole life. My experience of the church is seen through a Texan lens. One idiosyncratic part of my younger Faith life, was having our parish priest at Our Lady of Victory in Sour Lake, be a married priest. Father Martin would celebrate mass with his wife Sharon sitting in the front row and seemingly take every opportunity he could to either use theologically technical terms (We would take bets on how many time he would use the word “Theotokos” every January 1st mass… the number was high every time) or make marriage jokes. So for me having a priest crack jokes about his own marriage was sort of normal and I don’t know how many other people can say that. He was also the cannon lawyer for the Diocese and tended to be a bit philosophical, which both formed me that way, and helped me develop a taste for the academic or philosophical side of the church.
What gets me most interested about this project is investigating the questions that we ask, just as much if not more,as the solutions we propose. At the risk of overgeneralizing, I’d say I think most workers of a particular field do things very similarly, do their work similarly, and the work that gets produced any particular profession isn’t nearly as varied or interesting as the ways people think about that work, the sorts of questions to ask of themselves of their communities, of the culture in which they are contributing to and producing.
I’m interested in the project of Beauty because it something that effortlessly slips through the fingers of the empiricist worldview. How do you optimize beauty? What’s the formula? What do you measure? How do you know that’s the right thing to measure? And what increments? And what’s the control variable? And why? Why any of it? Beauty is one of these things that doesn’t need explanation. Beauty is one of those things just washes over you. It completely sidesteps the linguistic friction that you encounter when you hear someone’s words, when you try to make sense of them, interpret them and digest them. In that dialectic back-and-forth there is a sense in which you try to grab hold of what’s being spoken and you engage it with the mechanism of your intellect, but the aesthetic, music or visual, just sort of happens.
I’m particularly interested in the inability of most of us to really be in control of our subjectivities, to really understand them in holistic ways and in their discrete parts. Making sense of how we think about beauty, how we assess it’s worth, how we go about making more of it, and instigating the assumptions underlying all of it. This really matters because it’s a sort of the great equalizer. Not everyone can be a great philosopher or theologian but people can have a deep and simple faith, people can appreciate beauty. The barrier to entry is really low there, maybe about as low as it gets. Therefore beauty becomes the first point of entry for most people. You may not know much about what the church teaches after spending hours reading a document, but a building can arrest you in a moment. It can lead you to stillness and reflection. It can be a means of contemplating something greater than yourself.
So that’s the philosophical waxing, but a very real part of this effort is to get people out in their particular places and times, to go about thinking about their work, thinking about the things they’re going to be making, the ways they spend their money, the types of questions they ask themselves and the ways that they are building can be in service of their mission, to leave with that shared core value, their “Why”.