Because Jesus Haunts Us In Song (Music for Mondays)

 

Last year around this time for Eastertide, I started exploring Jesus in terms of popular culture through music. There were classical posts, and posts on polyphony, naturally. But there were also posts built around songs about the Lord through pop-rock songs, rhythm & blues, and country tunes as well.

Maybe it is an American phenomenon (though I hope not), but Jesus Christ haunts us. It’s like today he still asks of us, “who do the people say I am?” And then he still asks us individually, “and who do you say I am?” [Read more...]

Because Everything Matters, When Christ is Our Center

Back in the Fall, I shared a post with you about fallen Hollywood heroes asking for mercy. Does Hollywood matter? Does anything, given the finiteness of our earthly existence? I’m reminded of a title of an album by John Cougar Mellencamp: Nothing Matters, And What If It Did? [Read more...]

This Novel By Johnny Cash Helped Me Become Catholic

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Johnny Cash and Jesus Christ share the initials “J.C.” Johnny Cash is an adopted son of my home state of Tennessee. Johnny Cash wrote a novel called Man in White, which I read as I began my journey to the Catholic Church. It is the story of the conversion of St. Paul, and it was so good that I couldn’t believe Johnny Cash wrote it. [Read more...]

The New Mass Translation? The Marines In WWII Had That.

Well, it’s pretty close, from what I can tell. And it makes a handy little pocket guide for the changes coming upon us when the New Translation kicks in this first Sunday of Advent. I didn’t have to invent the Flux Capacitor to find out about it either.

Caveat emptor: the language is more along the lines of what is found in the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible. There are Thee’s, Thy’s, and Thou’s, rather than the more modern version that is on the handy cards you’ll probably be consulting in your parish pews. [Read more...]

Jesus Goes Mainstream, Old and New (Music for Mondays)

Maybe you should buy “The Head In The Heart ‘s” new album…

Back in April, right when we rolled into Eastertide, I started a series of MfM posts on Our Lord’s presence in the music of mainstream culture. I called it, unsurprisingly, Jesus Goes Mainstream, remember?

Today, I’m revisiting the idea with five tunes that take to the four points of the compass, or to the Cross. The set starts off with a flashback to 1976 with David Bowie’s song about prayer and rapidly brings you to the present day and age with the four remaining songs having been recorded since the advent of the New Millenium. [Read more...]

For Thoughts on Faith Like These by Thomas Merton

“Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Now, as Pope Benedict has declared the coming year as the Year of Faith, Fr. Louis explains clearly and simply what faith means. What follows are thoughts from the prologue of his “The Silent Life,” published in 1957.

I came across these words a few years ago, when I was reading all I could that Merton had written. When I read them, I couldn’t help changing the words “monk” and “monasticism” to “Catholic” and “Catholicism”, because when I did, they helped answer the statement “Why I Am Catholic” very effectively. Fr. Louis has the floor,

Let us face the fact that the monastic vocation tends to present itself to the modern world as a problem and as a scandal.

In a basically religious culture, like that of India, or of Japan, the monk is more or less taken for granted. When all society is oriented beyond the mere transient quest of business and pleasure, no one is surprised that men should devote their lives to an invisible God.

In a materialistic culture, which is fundamentally irreligious, the monk is incomprehensible because he “produces nothing.” His life appears to be completely useless. Not even Christians have been exempt from anxiety over this apparent “uselessness” of the monk, and we are familiar with the argument that the monastery is a kind of dynamo which, though it does not “produce” grace, procures this infinitely precious spiritual commodity for the world.

The first Fathers of monasticism were concerned with no such arguments, valid though they may be in their proper context. The Fathers did not feel that the search for God was something that needed to be defended. Or rather, they saw that if men did not realize in the first place that God was to be sought, no other defence of monasticism would avail them.

Is God, then, to be sought?

The deepest law in man’s being is his need for God, for life. God is Life. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). The deepest need of our darkness is to comprehend the light which shines in the midst of it. Therefore God has given us his first commandment:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength.

The monastic life is nothing but the life of those who have taken the first commandment in deadly earnest, and have, in the words of St. Benedict, “preferred nothing to the love of Christ.”

But Who is God? Where is He? Is Christian monasticism a search for some pure intuition of the Absolute? A cult of supreme Good? A worship of perfect and changeless Beauty? The very emptiness of such abstractions strikes the heart cold. The Holy One, the Invisible, the Almighty is infinitely greater and more real than any abstraction of man’s devising. But he has said: “No one shall see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Yet the monk persists in crying out with Moses: “Show me Thy face” (Exodus 33:13).

The monk, then, is one who is so intent upon the search for God that he is ready to die in order to see Him. That is why monastic life is a “martyrdom” as  well as a “paradise,” a life that is at once “angelic” and “crucified.”

St. Paul resolves the problem: “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

The monastic life is the rejection of all that obstructs the spiritual rays of this mysterious light. The monk is one who leaves behind the fictions and illusions of a merely human spirituality in order to plunge himself in the faith of Christ. Faith is the light with illumines him in mystery. Faith is the power which seizes upon the inner depths of his souls and delivers him up to the action of the divine Spirit, the Spirit of liberty, the Spirit of love. Faith takes him, as the power of God took the ancient prophets, and “stands him upon his feet” (Ezekiel 2:2) before the Lord. The monastic life is the life in the Spirit of Christ, a life in which the Christian gives himself entirely to the love of God which transforms him in the light of Christ.

“The Lord is a Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3: 17-18).

What St. Paul has said of the inner life of every Christian becomes in all truth the main objective of the monk, living in his solitary cloister. In seeking Christian perfection the monk seeks the fullness of the Christian life, the complete maturity of the Christian faith. For him, “to live is Christ.”

Amen. It’s time to harness our inner monks and crank up the dynamo of prayer.

For Thoughts from the Guide for Catechists, With a Little Help From My Friends


The next time the Easter Vigil rolls around, I will have been a Catholic 4 full years. But those of you who have followed my conversion story know that I sat in the pews with my wife, and later with my children, for close to 18 years, and that I started exploring the faith in earnest in the Fall of 2006. [Read more...]

Jesus Goes Mainstream II (Music for Mondays)

"Jesus Christ and the rich young man," Heinrich Hoffman.

“Jesus Christ and the rich young man,” Heinrich Hoffman.

One week down, and 6 weeks to go before Pentecost. I’m still exploring Jesus in mainstream culture through song. Last week, I took us from the late 1960′s up until the early 1980′s.

This week, I dip back into the 1970′s briefly before vaulting back up into the Eighties and Nineties again before getting a toehold in the 2000′s. And all of these songs are well known and I would wager that most of you remember them.

First up is one of my favorite classic rock tunes that I forgot to share last week. See? There are more songs that reference Our Lord in the mainstream than even I can keep track of!

ZZ Top (1973), Jesus Just Left Chicago. From their album, Tres Hombres, I forgot this one from the 1970′s last week. I always liked this song too. The idea of Jesus riding a bus from Chicago to New Orleans is cool, not to mention realistic. And with beards like these, the band might be mistaken for monks from Mt. Athos (smile).

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John Cougar Mellencamp (1985), Small Town. What can I say? I like small towns, especially when I was “taught to fear Jesus, in this small town…”

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Mr. Mister (1985) Kyrie Eleison A reader suggested this one. What ever happened to these guys? They had a monster hit album in 1985 and then…poof! I didn’t even know that this meant “Lord, have mercy” until I became a Catholic—but I always liked this song. Hey, lookee! A live performance,

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U2 (1987), When Love Comes to Town. Remember what I said about U2 last week? They’re an undercover gospel band. This is from their live album Rattle and Hum released in 1988. Performed the first time in 1987 with special guest, and blues legend, B.B. King.

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide

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Lenny Kravitz (1993), Are You Gonna Go My Way. Lenny Kravitz singing as Christ. See if you can see any resemblance. The original video has imagery to help, but it can’t be embedded here. But live is better anyway.

I was born long ago
I am the chosen, I’m the one
I have come to save the day
And I won’t leave until I’m done

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Carrie Underwood (2005), Jesus Take the Wheel. I never watch American Idol, because I live under a rock. But I can get twangy with the best of ‘em, and this is one of the best I’ve heard in a while.

Jesus, take the wheel
Take it from my hands
Cause I can’t do this on my own

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I wonder what I’ll dig up next week? Maybe I’ll head back to the Enlightenment era to see what I can find. See you here next week.

Jesus Goes Mainstream (Music for Mondays)

True enough, Elvis Presley loved gospel music. And though he never shied away from singing of his love for the Lord, did anyone else? I mean besides Johnny Cash. Did the culture at large recognize Jesus in song?

Well, that is what this first MfM post of Eastertide is going to focus on: pop songs about Jesus. Many of them were mega-hits, others were one-hit-wonders. Some you’ll remember easily, others probably not.

Eastertide is roughly seven weeks long, extending from the Easter Triduum up until the Day of Pentecost.  I’m willing to explore this over the next seven weeks if you are. To begin with, here are some modern songs that the mainstream culture created and embraced that relate in some way to the Son of Man.

For some of these, you might have to go directly to You Tube. First up is my all time modern favorite,

The Doobie Brothers (1972), Jesus is Just Alright. Yep, this is my favorite tune about Jesus that went mainstream. Wikipedia has the whole story: Jesus Is Just Alright” is a gospel song written by Arthur Reid Reynolds and first recorded by Reynold’s own group, The Art Reynolds Singers, on their 1966 album, Tellin’ It Like It Is. The song’s title makes use of the American slang term “all-right”, which during the 1960s was used to describe something that was considered cool or very good. Well, the Doobies version of this tune is the Gold Standard, in my book anyway. Even when it’s updated for 1996…

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The Velvet Underground (1968), Jesus. Yes, this is Lou Reed singing. That’s right, the same fellow who sang “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” This song is a prayer, pure and simple.

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James Taylor (1970), Fire and Rain. The third stanza begins with, “Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus…” You can claim that this song has no effect on you. And I would believe you just as much as I would believe that Ayn Rand didn’t hold grudges (which means not at all!).

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Norman Greenbaum (1969), Spirit in the Sky. I bet you never saw this video. I said once before that I used to think this was T-Rex. Norman’s “one hit wonder” jams! Listen to that guitar and these lyrics, and try to keep still. I dare you.

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Marvin Gaye (1970), Wholy, Holy. This song was eclipsed by several other great songs from Marvin’s smash hit album What’s Going On. I’m sure you remember the title track, as well as Mercy, Mercy Me. The second stanza of this song includes the following,

Jesus left a long time ago, said he would return
He left us a book to believe in
In it we’ve got an awful lot to learn…

And it will take an eternity to appreciate it all. I’m game, how about you?

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Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebalek (1969), Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord). And certainly, we can’t forget the musicals from this era. Up first, Godspell. Wikipedia again: It started as a college project performed by students at Carnegie Mellon University and moved to La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in Greenwich Village. It was then re-scored for an off-Broadway production which became a long-running success.

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Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber (1973),  Superstar. From the Tony Award winning musical Jesus Christ Superstar.  This is the most famous song from the musical.  Here we have Judas and the Soul Sisters vs. the Angels.

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Donna Summer, (1980), I Believe in Jesus. Who says we stopped singing about Jesus in the 1970′s? They must have not have been paying attention. Donna Summer, the woman who launched her career with Hot Stuff, from her album Bad Girls,  gives us the right stuff with this song just one year later.

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Depeche Mode (1989), Personal Jesus. I’ve shared this one before too. Consider that prayer is a lot like making a phone call to God, or as I told my daughter this morning, like sending Him a text message (and you can do it as often as you text your friends). Yep, Dad is weird.

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U2 (1997), If God Will Send His Angels. If you need a modern group that doesn’t shy away from Jesus, look no further. As far as I’m concerned, Bono and the boys are an undercover gospel group.

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Because Christ Waits Patiently

St_Macarius_the_Great_with_Cherub

 

I saw this posted yesterday somewhere: “Forget Christmas or Easter. Independence Day is the most important holiday of the year and will have a greater impact on world history as it serves to remind people for millenia that nations are ruled by the consent of the governed.” My first thought? This person is delusional. My second thought? I need to pray for them. [Read more...]


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