Because this Prophecy of David Is Fulfilled

The Psalms were a book in the Bible that I pretty much ignored my whole life. I was baptized when I was 10 years old and thought I knew a lot about my faith. I have known Psalm 23 by heart probably since I was 7 or 8.  But it wasn’t until I began exploring the idea of becoming a Catholic Christian, and reading the Psalms closely that I realized that David was not only a mighty warrior and king, but a prophet as well.  

Case in point, Psalm 22.  Clearly David, to whom God promised “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Samuel 7:16), was a witness to the scene that played out on Golgotha, and (thankfully) what comes after. In case those looking on didn’t make the connection, Our Lord cries out the first line while on the cross; “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’(Mk 15:34; cf. Mt 27:46) 

Psalm 22

God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
The words that I groan do not reach my saviour.
My God, I call by day and you do not listen.
I call to you by night, but no rest comes.
But still you are holy,
the one whom Israel praises.
Our fathers put their hope in you;
they gave you their trust and you freed them.
They called on you and they were saved,
they trusted and were not disappointed.

But I am a worm and no man,
despised by mankind and rejected by the people.
All who see me deride me,
they make faces and toss their heads:
“He trusted in the Lord, so let the Lord rescue him:
let him save him, if he truly delights in him!”
Indeed, you drew me from my mother’s womb,
you set me to suck at her breasts.
I have depended on you since before I was born,
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

Do not be far from me now,
for my tribulation is close at hand,
for there is no-one who will help.
I am surrounded by many cattle,
the bulls of Bashan hem me in.
Their mouths open wide before me,
like a fierce and roaring lion.
I have flowed away like water,
and all my bones come apart.
My heart has turned to wax,
it melts away within me.

My mouth is dry as burnt clay,
my tongue sticks in my throat:
you have laid me in the dust of death.
I am surrounded by many dogs,
my enemies unite and hem me in.
They have pierced my hands and my feet:
I can count all my bones.
They gaze on me, they inspect me.
They have divided my clothing between them,
they have cast lots for my garment.

So you, Lord, do not stay away:
Lord, my strength, hurry to my help.
Rescue my soul from the sword,
my only child from the teeth of the dogs.
Save me from the lion’s mouth,
from the wild oxen’s horns that brought me low.
I will tell of your glory to my brethren;
I will praise you in the midst of the assembly.
Praise the Lord, you who fear him!
Give him glory, all the seed of Jacob.
Let Israel tremble before him,
for he does not spurn the poor or ignore their plight.

He does not turn his face away –
whoever calls on him, he listens.
I shall cry out your praise in the great assembly,
I shall fulfil my vows before all those who fear you.
The poor will eat and be filled,
those who seek the Lord will praise him.
“Let their hearts live for ever!”
All the ends of the earth will remember the Lord:
they will turn to him.

All the families of nations will worship before him.
For the Lord’s is the kingdom,
it is he who will rule all the nations.
Him alone will they praise, those who sleep in the earth;
they will worship before him, who go down into the dust.
But my soul will be alive to him,
and my seed shall serve him.
They shall tell of the Lord to the next generation,
they shall proclaim his righteousness to a people yet to be born.
“Hear what the Lord has done!”

In an audience given in 1988, Pope John Paul II explains the fulfillment of this scripture clearly.

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Because I Am Usually Howling with the Mob

During these terrible days, when so many are saying so much so loudly against and in favor of our Church, and especially its leader, our dear Pope Benedict XVI, it is hard to stand apart from the mob—the one howling in protest, or the one trying desperately to shout them down. We are all standing along the Way of the Cross, jeering the scourged Christ or bewailing his persecution. How can we possibly be different? How can we change?

This is the question we have been addressing for the past two weeks in our School of Community (local membership of Communion and Liberation): Is it possible for me, as a Christian, to be fundamentally changed by my religious experience? Or is Christianity just something “added onto” me, like a picture in my wallet, or the leavings of a course I took in school years ago?

Can my experience of Christ be so convincing that I can resist even the pull of the mob—whether they are welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem with palms or goading him angrily up Golgotha?

In his homily last night, Father Barnes addressed this question. He said memorably that the only thing that can prepare us for the sounds of Good Friday—the curses, the shouts, the lamentations—is the silence in the Upper Room and the three gifts Christ leaves us here. The gifts, he told us, are charity (symbolized by Christ washing his Apostles’ feet), the Eucharist, and the priesthood, which Jesus instituted among the Twelve at the Last Supper, or among the Eleven who stood by him, though even some of them fell asleep.

I sang with the choir at the beautiful seven o’clock mass, and then a few of us stayed behind, seated before the Blessed Sacrament. Finally, at a few minutes before ten, we stood with Father Barnes for Compline, then silently left the church.

I will be thinking more about Christ’s three gifts as Katie and I fly to North Carolina this morning to see our daughter received into the Church. Even tomorrow evening’s Easter Vigil, as beautiful and touching as it will be, begs the question—Does this have the power to change me? Or will I be shouting with the mob again on Monday morning?

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For All the Saints: Benjamin

I wrote once that the saints are hard corps. I used a battlefield story from the Korean War era to make my point about how the saints can motivate us to be better Christians. That is, unless they repel us and shame us with their bravery. Like today’s saint, for example.

It is the feast day of St. Benjamin. He was martyred on this day in the year 424 in a manner that brought renown to a certain Transylvanian nobleman named Vlad. But this killing of a devout Christian, for proclaiming the Gospel, happened in Persia long before Bram Stoker was around to write Dracula.

Benjamin was a deacon too. So although he was pretty involved in the affairs of his parish,  he was still a little guy like you and me. A warrant officer on His Majesty’s Ships muster roll.

Here is some handy background information that I gleaned from the internet.

The Christians in Persia had enjoyed twelve years of peace during the reign of Isdegerd, son of Sapor III, when in 420 it was disturbed by the indiscreet zeal of Abdas, a Christian Bishop who burned the Temple of Fire, the great sanctuary of the Persians.

Zealots…I hate those guys! Which sounds like one of my favorite lines delivered by Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Usually hurled at Nazis,other bad guys, etc. As for zealots, it takes one to know one, for as Marines go, I practiced that trade with missionary-like zeal for quite some time.

So this Bishop Abdas got inspired and decided to use the scorched earth policy versus the heathen. Fighting fire with fire. Here is how it worked out.

King Isdegerd threatened to destroy all the churches of the Christians unless the Bishop would rebuild it. As Abdas refused to comply, the threat was executed; the churches were demolished, Abdas himself was put to death, and a general persecution began which lasted forty years.

Notice we aren’t marking the feast of St. Abdas? Well we will be, just not until May 16. That is the day King Isdegerd rounded him and seven others up and had them killed in the year 420. Remember the original 12 disciples? There was a zealot (or two?) among them as well. The Lord loves his zealots, as well as his fishermen and tax collectors, prostitutes, the lame,  and even rich guys hiding in the Sanhedrin.

King Isdegerd died in the year 421, but his policies lived on. His son and heir named Varanes assumed the throne with the intentions of remembering his dad’s legacy, not to mention with the intent to placate the institutional anger of his pagan subjects who remembered well that their temples had been destroyed. Actually, King Varanes was going to show his departed dad how he should have handled these pesky Christians.

So here is little Deacon Benjamin, who was sitting in irons for a year, probably since he couldn’t hide from King Varanes and his stool-pidgeons forever. Good news though! An ambassador of the Emperor of Constantinople negotiates Benjamin’s release from jail. But on one condition: Benjamin must never speak of his religion again. You know, to the authorities. Just keep quiet Benjy and all will be well. Maintain a low profile. Live for another day.

Benjamin decides not to play this game. Instead he,

declared it was his duty to preach Christ and that he could not be silent. Although he had been liberated on the agreement made with the ambassador and the Persian authorities, he would not acquiesce in it, and neglected no opportunity of preaching.

Uh-oh. Another zealot. This is going to end badly.

Here is how King Varenes handles Benjamin,

He was again apprehended and brought before the king. The tyrant ordered that reeds should be thrust in between his nails and his flesh and into all the tenderest parts of his body and then withdrawn. After this torture had been repeated several times, a knotted stake was inserted into his bowels to rend and tear him. The martyr expired in the most terrible agony.

Martyrd by Varenes the Impaler.

But Benjamin’s soul lives on. Do you know the origins of the motto of the State of New Hampshire, Live Free or Die?  The complete saying is taken from a toast by General John Stark, retired from the victorious Continental Army, given in 1809. It goes:  Live free or die. Death is not the worst of evils.

Spoken like another zealot. I think, nay, I know St. Benjamin would agree. For as today’s reading from Isaiah (50:7-8) makes clear,

The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.

St. Benjamin, pray for us.

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For All The Saints: Polycarp of Smyrna

On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Polycarp, an Apostolic Father of the Church. He was eighty-six years old when he was captured, arrested, and publicly executed by the Roman authorities on this day in AD 156. He was the Bishop of Smyrna and had been a disciple of St. John, the Apostle.

He died a martyr when he was stabbed after an attempt to burn him at the stake failed. This is true Christian martyrdom in the example of  Our Lord, St. Stephen, and all the Apostles (except St. John)—death freely accepted rather than deny the Faith. Not martyrdom by way of killing a bunch of innocent bystanders with a suicide bomb wrapped around your waist. Not lashing out with a sword to see how many of the enemy you can take with you to the grave. Instead, a simple refusal to deny Our Lord when tempted to do so and an acceptance of the sentence as meted out by the authorities.

What follows is Polycarp’s famous refusal to revile Our Lord and the account of the prayer he prayed when the authorities attempted to burn him at the stake.

But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, “Swear the oath, and I will release thee; revile the Christ,” Polycarp said, “Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

And when the funeral pile was ready, Polycarp, laying aside all his garments, and loosing his girdle, sought also to take off his sandals, a thing he was not accustomed to do, inasmuch as every one of the faithful was always eager who should first touch his skin. For, on account of his holy life, he was, even before his martyrdom, adorned with every kind of good. Immediately then they surrounded him with those substances which had been prepared for the funeral pile. But when they were about also to fix him with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am; for He that giveth me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile.”

They did not nail him then, but simply bound him. And he, placing his hands behind him, and being bound like a distinguished ram taken out of a great flock for sacrifice, and prepared to be an acceptable burnt-offering unto God, looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption imparted by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou, the ever-truthful God, hast foreordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.”

“Martyrdom of Polycarp” from Ceiling of the Church of St. Polycarp, Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey)

Take a look at the video by Drive Thru History:

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Because We Are A Bible-Believing Church III: The Chair of St. Peter

I have been on this planet for roughly 49 and a half years. I have been a Christian for roughly 39 and a half of those years and a Catholic Christian for 5 years come the Easter Vigil. So what? So I never knew until a few years ago that February 22 is the Feast Day of the Chair of St. Peter.

I also was ignorant of the fact that Catholic tradition states that it was on this day that Our Lord made His declaration about St. Peter as being the keeper of the keys.

Consider this one of those “pleasures of finding things out” moments I wrote about on around New Years a few years back. In italics below is a note I found on Catholic Exchange about this day in Church history.  My edits and expansions of additional Bible references are included, but full credit for this post should go to CE.

Rookie that I am, I really, really have a lot to learn about the history of the Church. But I have found that an understanding of history is very helpful as I make my way through this world in other areas.  Why wouldn’t the same be true of Church history?

Here begins the article from Catholic Exchange:

Upon This Rock

Today the Church celebrates the feast day of the Chair of Peter. This celebration dates back to at least the fourth century. The Calendar of Philocalus, made in the year 354 and having dates going back to the year 311, marks February 22 for this feast. According to very ancient Western liturgies, February 22 was the date that Christ appointed Peter to sit in His place as the authority over His Church.

When Jesus asks the apostles “Who do you say that I am?” Peter alone replied as follows,

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter,and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

The “chair” of course, is the position, the authority that was given to Peter. This can also be called the Petrine authority or the authority of the pope. Peter, alone among the Apostles, was given the keys to the kingdom. Jesus said to him, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16:19) The Apostles would immediately understand, as would any first-century Jew, what Jesus was referring to when He said “keys to the kingdom.” This was a reference to Isaiah 22 where it refers to a king delegating his special authority over his kingdom to his prime minister. In essence, Jesus was setting up His kingdom on earth (the Catholic Church) and he was delegating His authority to Peter to rule over it until He comes again. In giving Peter the authority to bind and loose, Jesus was essentially stating that He would back up the decisions that Peter would make. Of course, the Church teaches us that this does not refer to all Peter’s actions, but in matters of faith and morals, Peter does have the authority to speak for Christ.

And all this despite Simon Peter’s weaknesses and flaws as a regular guy. Our Lord foretells that Peter will deny him. But first, He tells the Apostles this at the Last Supper,

“You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you  that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

And He singles out Peter with the following information that He prayed for Peter before fortelling his denial of Him,

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:28-32)

Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide His Church. This promise is made to guide Peter and the popes throughout the ages, in union with the bishops, in shepherding His Church. Peter, or the pope, however, is the shepherd who watches over the flock until Christ returns. We see this in Scripture also when Christ, after His resurrection and just prior to His Ascension, says to Peter, calling him by his former name (before Christ changed it):

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (Referring to the other apostles)
Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

Peter was distressed that He had said to him a third time, “Do you love Me?” and he said to Him, “Lord, You know everything, You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep” (Jn 21:15-17).

Jesus is our true Shepherd, but He has asked Peter to watch over His flock until He returns to earth. Christ is the King of Kings and He has delegated His authority to Peter and all those after Peter who would sit in the “Chair of Peter” throughout the ages until He comes again in His glory. So Scripture makes it very clear why the Church celebrates this special occasion.

Thanks be to God.

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Because Gregory the Great Wrote Such a Poem for Lent

The Season of Lent is upon us. This is one of those mysterious times of the year that, before I was a Catholic, I always wondered about. Growing up, we never observed Lent. Of course, now I know that Lent is celebrated by not only the Catholic Church but also the Orthodox Church, and it is even celebrated by some of the mainline Protestant churches. [Read more...]

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Because We Are A Bible-Believing Church II, Confession

A little over a month ago I wrote a little post, Because We Are A Bible Believing Church.  Webster’s two recent posts (here and here) and our poll (see sidebar) on the Sacrament of Reconciliation (aka Confession) have generated plenty of comments from readers. In light of the fact that a good number of you may not be Catholic, I think it’s a good idea to let you know how I approached this Sacrament prior to my own conversion. And how my understanding of Scripture led me to accept the Church’s teaching on Confession.

For the record, I’m no expert apologist for the Faith or anything. The first notion I had was that Catholics (and the Orthodox) have it easy. Just sin all you want, hit the confession booth, and viola!—you’re free and clear to go sin again! Ain’t it grand? Just make it back in time to confess before your demise, and all will be well! Those crazy Catholics are on to something here!

But then I wondered to myself, how come if this deal is so good, nobody seems to be taking advantage of it? I never recall my wife going to Confession, that is, until I did. Of course, thinking this through I ran smack into the wall of wondering if maybe I was the one who had it easy. You know, sin all I want, say a quicky prayer for forgiveness and viola!—the all-clear signal.

Back in the days when I was going to prove how wrong Catholicism was, I figured this Sacrament would be an easy one to disprove. And then God stepped in and said, Take a look at what I said. Here is what I found (bold highlights are mine) with the words of Our Lord as a primary source.

And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.” At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said, “Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins“—he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He rose and went home. When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings. (Matthew 9: 2-8)

Maybe this is just a wacky translation. But I don’t think so. Or maybe it only means Jesus was able to do this! Of course! He could, but what of that last sentence? Hmmm. What else is there? More from the Gospel of Matthew, and again Our Lord does the talking,

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:18)

What a long and involved process that is. Definitely includes the “church.” And I thought to myself, How many are in the Confessional? Two. And there are prayers for forgiveness. Not to be an intellectual or anything, but if I have any sort of Faith in God whatsoever, then it stands to reason that the standard of “wherever two or more are gathered in my name . . . it shall be granted to them” is being met here. This just makes sense. And notice no extensive disclaimer to the effect that one of the parties must be perfect, sinless, etc, etc. Sounds like a plan with real-world applicability to me.

After Christ was crucified, died, and buried, He rose again and appeared to the disciples. And what was one of the first things He told them? Take a look here in the words that St. John hands down to us about this event,

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:22-23)

I started to see  the light because God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, said these words. I know this is a weak argument, because using God as a primary source should be sufficient, but I still had to follow this through. Shock will do that to someone who thought this was some man-made impediment. What did the rest of the New Testament say about this subject? First up, St. Paul:

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:17-20)

Reading this passage closely, I was left thinking that surely this does not mean that only the original Apostles alone were entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Isn’t it obvious? Paul is writing to the congregation in Corinth and calling them ambassadors for Christ. Throwing on my Anu Garg hat, ambassador is defined as,

1. A diplomatic official of the highest rank appointed and accredited as representative in residence by one government or sovereign to another, usually for a specific length of time.

2. A diplomatic official heading his or her country’s permanent mission to certain international organizations, such as the United Nations.

3. An authorized messenger or representative.

4. An unofficial representative: ambassadors of goodwill.

In which case, this definition works, if doubt about whom the priest represents (Christ, as we believe by tradition) is still a stumbling block. I’m just saying that to me, this again strengthened the argument from the above mentioned primary source. I kept looking and found this in the Letter of James:

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful. (James 5:13-16)

And this passage also upholds the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick! Sheesh! A double-play! This idea of mine that the Sacrament of Reconciliation would be easy to disprove was only pointing to my own deep ignorance. And will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him up doesn’t just mean the body will get well. Maybe it won’t. But the soul? For the last straw, another of the original Apostles weighs in on this, this time St. John:

I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God. And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours. If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly. We know that no one begotten by God sins; but the one begotten by God he protects, and the evil one cannot touch him. We know that we belong to God, and the whole world is under the power of the evil one. We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us discernment to know the one who is true. And we are in the one who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Children, be on your guard against idols. (1 John 5:13-21)

Reading this closely, again and again, I saw the highlighted passage above—right in the thick of statements that may lead you to think you can just pray for forgiveness yourself and that is sufficient. What do we do in that case of deadly sin, John? And what of my much cherished notion that sin=sin? Here, St. John is saying there is sin and there is SIN. Gulp!

Here is what I thought to myself: I don’t need to see the Catechism on this Sacrament for me to understand that it is correct. I decided to take St. John’s advice and be on my guard against idols. Myself, my own pride.

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Because You Requested It (Music for Mondays)

Happy Monday!  Are you still snowed-in? Hopefully not.  But in case you need a lift before heading out to shovel your driveway, have a listen to this sundry mix from the (not quite famous) YIM Catholic Music for Mondays archives. We’ve got it all this week from Pop to Poetry.  Thank God someone invented YouTube!

We start off with a couple of selections suggested by readers last week, in response to posts. This one was sent to us by Maria and is sung by renowned bass Paul Robeson. The words are from one of our favorite non-Catholic poets, William Blake, from his poem Jerusalem (from Milton),

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green
And was the holy lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen

And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic mills

Bring me my bow of burning gold
Bring me my arrows of desire
Bring me my spears o’clouds unfold
Bring me my chariot of fire

I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
‘Til we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land
‘Til we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land

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Our next selection was also sent in by a reader: Ennio Morricone directing the theme music from the movie The Mission.

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This is Seal singing Prayer for the Dying from his second album.  One of our readers wrote that she thinks of this song whenever she hears of someone’s untimely death.  This song is about all of us though. Is Seal Catholic? I have no idea. I only recall these words of Our Lord when he was questioned by the Sadducees in the Gospel of Matthew (22:29-33),

Jesus said to them in reply, “You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven. And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.

So Seal croons,

There is a light through that window
Hold on say yes, while people say no
‘Cause life carries on

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Speaking of Our Lord, here is one of my favorite modern Catholic hymns sung by a choir from the St. Mary Parish in Alpha, New Jersey.  Here is their blog. Maybe this hymn is one of your favorites too?  The lyrics are based on Psalm 16,

Keep me safe, O God,
for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord,
“You are my Lord, my only good.”
The gods of the earth are but nothing,
cursed be those who delight in them.
Those who run after foreign gods
only have their sorrows multiplied.
Let me not shed blood for them,
nor their names be heard on my lips.
O Lord, my inheritance and my cup,
my chosen portion – hold secure my lot.
The best part has been allotted to me.
Delightful indeed is my inheritance!
I bless the Lord who counsels me;
even at night my inmost self instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
for with him at my right hand,
I will never be shaken.
My heart, therefore, exults, my soul rejoices;
my body too will rest assured.
For you will not abandon
my soul to the grave,
nor will you suffer your holy one
to see decay in the land of the dead.
You will show me the path of life,
in your presence the fullness of joy,
at your right hand happiness forever. 

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Ash Wednesday is coming up in a few days.  Let’s all go to Church. After all, as this song (which helped make Kansas’s reputation in the late 1970s) notes, all we are is Dust in the Wind.

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Because I Am Dust

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog was entitled Because This May Be My Last Mass. I wrote it based on my experiences in the Marine Corps when I saw the photograph of a Navy chaplain administering the Eucharist to Marines on Iwo Jima.

I suppose it is easy to consider the idea that you may die today when you are engaged in combat. But as I sat in Church today as Lent approaches, the same thought entered into my mind. This may be my last Mass.

Will it be my last Mass? Not if I can help it. But the fact of the matter is, I really have no idea. Having just gotten over a flu bug, I realize again how poor and weak I actually am. Someone commented on my first post from sick-bay, “Have you been taking your vitamin C?”  No, I have not. Not since I was almost killed in an accident have I wasted any time or money on vitamins.

Of course, I haven’t completely abandoned trying to eat “healthy” while having a balanced diet either.  I just don’t think of my body as something I can control, like I may have thought at one time. Today’s readings helped me along in this, as I was reflecting that Ash Wednesday is only a few days from now and the Lenten season will begin.

Paul writes to the Corinthians and I emphasize in bold,

If the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.

Before I was a Catholic, I was a fair-weather sort of Christian. It is still a temptation to be one now. You know, it’s easy when things are going right to be thankful to God. But in the Summer of 2001, I almost became dust in the sands of the Mojave Desert.  Two of my comrades lost their lives. I was hospitalized for 5 1/2 weeks and convalesced for 6 months. My Marine Corps career came to an end as well.

I don’t have any memory of the event at all.  My brother Marines at the scene have told me a few things. They tell me I said I wanted to see my kids, for example. My mother says I wrestled with an angel the way Jacob did. I don’t really know why I was spared. Maybe it was so I could write these words for you. To remind you that you are dust as well, and that at any moment your version of eternity will begin.

In today’s Gospel reading from the Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord says,

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. . . . Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

Kind of leaves you with an uneasy feeling, doesn’t it?  There is nothing fair-weather in those words. But they speak to my soul, if not to my body. These words also remind me of something G.K. Chesterton wrote as well,

The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.

So on Ash Wednesday, my family and I will go to Church and have the mark of the Cross traced on our foreheads. A mark that says we are not of this world. As the mark is made, these words will be said,

From dust you came and to dust you will return.

What humbling words to hear. What a subtle reminder of my own poverty. For rituals like these, I became a Catholic. Because I need to be reminded of my place in the grand scheme of things and to whom I have pledged my allegiance while I am here.

The first time we went to Church on Ash Wednesday was in 2008, right before I was accepted into the Church. I had been going to Mass for close to 18 years with my wife, and we had never gone on Ash Wednesday ever before. I remember being amazed at how many people were at the service. I remember thinking to myself, These people understand.

I’ve never missed going to Church on Ash Wednesday since, and I intend to never miss it ever again. That is, right up until my last Mass.

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Because of Who We Think We Are (Music for Mondays)

Would you believe the Blues Brothers?  Because we are on a mission. Hot on the case. Cool under fire. Or something like that. This is music to fly under the radar with.

We just have to watch out for Carrie Fisher and the rocket launcher, LOL.
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Am I hearing some kind of theme here?

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LOL, the young Webster Bull? I think not!

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Another day in front of the keyboard.  Without prayer, it would be like this…

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Our guest Allison, Webster, and Frank.  In that order…

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Umbrellas? We don’t need no stinking umbrellas!   We might need a cattle-prod though,  ’cause, OUCH!

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