Music for Monday: Ireland Forever

In honor of Frank, who started this weekly feature but is temporarily ashore, and while thinking of several friends from our parish who are in Ireland for the next couple of weeks, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite Irish tunes and groups—though the last song here is technically neither. No religious uplift is intended or expected; and the post will probably draw some loud boos. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.

I’ll start with a tune dedicated to my buddy Paul, whom I don’t see half enough these days. A few months ago, I saw a concert by some boys from the Galway village of Tuam in Paul’s company, and it was a happy night. First, the canned version—

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And now a live version from last year, to show just how popular “The Saw Doctors” are, even in the USA, even after 25 years—

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Next up are The Pogues, with a thought for my brother-in-law, another Paul. Now sailing happily somewhere in retirement, Paul was the first person to introduce me to Shane MacGowan and company—

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Flogging Molly is an LA-based Pogues-type outfit, headed by Dublin-born Dave King and his wife, Bridget Regan (on tin whistle and fiddle). “What’s Left of the Flag” at least mentions rosary beads—the only Catholic reference I can make out. Am I missing something?

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Perhaps not the most popular Irishwoman among Catholics is Sinead O’Connor. Sorry, but it is hard to top this version of “The Foggy Dew” sung with the most Irish of all modern bands, The Chieftains, even if Her Baldness did tear up a photo of JPII on SNL eighteen years ago.

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“The Foggy Dew” is about the Easter Uprising of 1916. My favorite Irish tune concerns a later bunch of Troubles. You can make an argument that this is the greatest rock ’n roll song of all time.

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There are many versions of this final song, one of the great Christian hymns, but nobody does it like The Dropkick Murphys. The hymn is English, the band is from Boston, but the tune is all Irish.

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Because Most Time is Ordinary

For those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the full four-volume text published after Vatican II, today is change day, from Volume III (Ordinary Time, Weeks 1–17) to Volume IV (Weeks 18–34). Putting away one volume, which has curled comfortably to conform to the shape of my hand over the past four months, and bringing out the next is like a change of season. It reminds me—because it’s early Sunday morning, and I’m free-associating here—of St. Patrick’s Day in New England. Time to put away the tools of winter and bring out the deck chairs. “What comes out on St. Patrick’s Day?” “Paddy O’Furniture.”

When I first started praying the Liturgy of the Hours, it was with the white-hot fervor of the convert. Golly, some days early in 2008, in the weeks after my set arrived from (where else?) Amazon, I even prayed the three minor hours and sang a few hymns. Now, I almost always do the Office of Readings at the beginning of the day, but after that it’s anybody’s guess: Even on good days, I may only squeeze in Evening Prayer and, before bed, Night Prayer.

Still, change days always remind me of the liturgical calendar, and this change day is especially interesting to me as someone who is finally settling into the thought, “I am a Catholic.” I looked it up and discovered, to my surprise, that Ordinary Time is a new term, dating from 1969, post–VC II. My unfailing source of all things true—not Scripture, not the Church, I’m talking Wikipedia—says that

The term Ordinary Time was first used with the liturgical reforms which followed the Second Vatican Council. The reformed liturgical calendar took effect on the first Sunday of Advent in 1969. Before this there were two distinct seasons known as the season after Epiphany and the season after Pentecost. 

I had assumed that for two thousand years the Catholic Church (unlike the Protestant denominations of my early years) had embraced this lovely word Ordinary. It is a word both humble and powerful. Ordinary = everyday, not particularly important. Yet also ordinary = order, something that keeps my life in order, aligned with God’s law and the teachings of the Church. I guess that will have to remain my own private meaning.

Whatever its source, the term Ordinary Time does remind me how lucky I am to be a Catholic. As a boy in the Congregational and then Episcopal Churches, I loved Advent (what child doesn’t?) and I developed an imprecise but uncanny feeling about Lent, especially Holy Week. But the rest of the year was fuzzy and liturgically adrift. I know the Episcopal Church retains the rudiments of the liturgical calendar, but I was never educated in its structure and so wandered through the year from one Christmas to the next without a map, much as even we Catholics wander through the week, from the obligation of one Mass to the next.

What I love about the Catholic Church is that it calls to me every day, and at each hour of every day. Whether I pull Volume 4 from my briefcase to read the Noon hour or not, I know that it’s in there calling to me. Even that is a comfort.

For All the Saints: Ignatius of Loyola

In Congregational Sunday School as a child, I used to sing, “Jesus loves me, yes I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Today, I have a dear friend who signs his e-mails, “If the Catholic Church teaches it, it must be true.” This moves the argument from Protestant to Catholic terms: I know what I know, not because the Bible tells me but because the Church does.

But there’s really only one thing that can convince me of the Truth, or of Jesus’s love. If I am going to be a free and reasoning human being, the only thing that tells is my experience. I want to experience Jesus as intimately as that little child in the picture.

This is what touches me in today’s reading from the Office about St. Ignatius of Loyola. The excerpt is an anecdote from the life of the founder of the Jesuits that is recycled in Fr. James Martin’s book My Life with the Saints, which was so instrumental in my conversion. I know next to nothing about St. Ignatius or the Jesuits—I think of him as a sort of Don Quixote who woke up; I think of the Jesuits as really smart guys in black who, like me, may sometimes be too smart for their own good—but I think I understand the anecdote.

Bedridden and in search of something to read, Ignatius asked for tales of knight-errantry, but none were available. So, in spite of himself, he read “a life of Christ and a collection of the lives of saints written in Spanish.”

When Ignatius reflected on worldly thoughts, he felt intense pleasure; but when he gave them up out of weariness, he felt dry and depressed. Yet when he thought of living the rigorous sort of life he knew the saints had lived, he not only experienced pleasure when he actually thought about it, but even after he dismissed these thoughts, he still experienced great joy.


Yet he did not pay attention to this, nor did he appreciate it until one day, in a moment of insight, he began to marvel at the difference. Then he understood his experience: thoughts of one kind left him sad, the others full of joy. And this was the first time he applied a process of reasoning to his religious experience. Later on, when he began to formulate his spiritual exercies, he used this experience as an illustration to explain the doctrine he taught his disciples on the discernment of spirits.

“He understood his experience.” One of our great saints converted because of experience. Ignatius’s spiritual readings, unlike tales of knights and romance, corresponded to the deepest needs of his heart, leaving him not dry but joyful.

I am undertaking a book purge in my house. Now that I’ve entered my 60th year, I realize that I will never read all of the books I have accumulated around me, like boxes of Topps baseball cards from my youth. So I am giving them away, or selling them for pennies to the dollar where I can. Slowly the pile is dwindling down to a couple hundred or so, and maybe finally it will come down to a few dozen. I’m pretty sure that when the dwindling is done, the flashy Folio Society editions that I collected during a misspent youth will all have vanished. Popular novels by Cormac McCarthy and Tony Hillerman will be gone too. I’m not sure what will be left exactly, but I’m sure the saints will figure highly on the remaining list, as well as a few secular works that have always moved me, including Norman MacLean’s Young Men and Fire. 

If I remain true to the impulse that’s working now, I will hold on to those few books that correspond most deeply to the needs of my heart, the books that leave me anything but dry. I will do my best to be guided by experience.

There is a paradox waiting here, however, as our dear guest priest, Fr. Dan Hennessey suggested this morning. In his homily, he read us a prayer of St. Ignatius that I had never heard. (Repeat: I know very little about the guy.) The prayer is as follows:

Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.

As a human being, I want to—I must—preserve and enhance my freedom and reason. I want my faith to remain solidly founded on experience. But St. Ignatius invites me to give up “my entire liberty . . . my whole will.” It’s no contradiction. When I have met Jesus as surely as that child in the picture, I will—from freedom as from reason—give him my whole will too. Or so I can pray.  

For All the Saints: Martha

I had “Catholic” daughters long before I was a Catholic. By some inspiration, I pushed to name our first child Martha. (Katie preferred Alicia.) Martha virtually forced the name of our second child by skipping around the living room endlessly singing the song “Marian the Librarian” from “The Music Man” in the weeks before Marian was born. So (Marian being a form of Mary) my daughters were named for sisters who waited on Our Lord after he had raised their brother from the dead, and when I became a Catholic over twenty years later, I may not have had the pedigree, but, by golly, at least my kids had the right names! If we had become the parents of a boy, I’m pretty sure he would not have been Lazarus, however. I would have opted for George.

Being the father of daughters (and no sons) has caused a shift in my life somewhere between subtle and radical. While my mother taught me a thousand things, the father-son axis was central to my early life—from backyard baseball to side-by-side worship—and I’m sure that in some corner of my soul I expected to be a father to a son of my own. Instead, I have daughters.

This morning, as I contemplate Saint Martha, her sister, and the many women who followed and served Our Lord, I am touched by a sense of closeness to Jesus. In my love for my daughters, I can appreciate more fully his fullness—loving and caring for women, who loved and cared for him in return, while together they lived in a patriarchal, male-driven culture.

Having daughters softens something in a man and brings out a bit of goodness that might not otherwise be in evidence.

As a final note, I have to say that I love this painting of Saint Martha by Vincenzo Campi, which shows Martha in the foreground, surrounded by a domestic cornucopia, while in the far background at left, Mary sits by Christ’s side. I love too the prayer for today and will do my best to remember it.

Father,
your Son honored St. Martha
by coming to her home as a guest.
By her prayers
may we serve Christ in our brothers and sisters
and be welcomed by you into heaven, our true home.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

To Be One of Mary’s Clients

I’ll probably die when I least expect it. That is my sense, anyway. Death for me will come “as a thief in the night.” It almost happened that way for me once already. Then again, I really have no idea.

I do know several people who are close to me who are looking death in the eyes from an illness. The dreaded cancer takes one down this road slowly and tortuously. That path may await me as well. It’s the “thief in the night” once again, just in a different guise. But certainly I will die, and I won’t have a say in the manner or method. What to do? I intend to go down like a Christian, but I’ll need a lot of help to do so.

A while back, I shared the letter Blaise Pascal wrote to his sister upon the death of his father. I liked the way Blaise turned an inevitabilty into a rite of passage for Christians. Not something to fear, but something to celebrate. That’s a pretty contrarian idea and always has been. Below are thoughts on how the Blessed Mother can help us prepare for that day. These words were written by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Doctor of the Church, and founder of the Redemptorists.  But, get this,  he says we can call him “St. Al” for short. That’s him in the portrait below.

St. Al’s feast day is coming up on August 1, but I’ll be away from the good ship YIMCatholic, on shore leave, at that time. Before I go, though, I’ll leave you with a little taste of St. Al’s book entitled The Glories of Mary. This particular section provides a window on the “business” of the Blessed Virgin that I, as a recent convert, am unfamiliar with. These words, however, are comforting to me, because when I face this test, I’ll need all the support I can get. As far as I’m concerned, she can sign me up as a “client” right this minute. Where is my pen?

Mary renders Death sweet to her Clients.

“He that is a friend loveth at all times; and a brother is proved in distress,” says the book of Proverbs. We can never know our friends and relations in the time of prosperity; it is only in the time of adversity that we see them in their true colors. People of the world never abandon a friend as long as he is in prosperity; but should misfortunes overtake him, and more particularly should he be at the point of death, they immediately forsake him.

Mary does not act thus with her clients. In their afflictions, and more particularly in the sorrows of death, the greatest that can be endured in this world, this good Lady and Mother not only does not abandon her faithful servants, but as, during our exile, she is our life, so also is she, at our last hour, our sweetness, by obtaining us a calm and happy death.

For from the day on which Mary had the privilege and sorrow of being present at the death of Jesus her Son, who was the head of all the predestined, it became her privilege to assist also at their deaths. And for this reason the holy Church teaches us to beg this most Blessed Virgin to assist us, especially at the moment of death: Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death!

0 how great are the sufferings of the dying! They suffer from remorse of conscience on account of past sins, from fear of the approaching judgment, and from the uncertainty of their eternal salvation. Then it is that hell arms itself, and spares no efforts to gain the soul which is on the point of entering eternity; for it knows that only a short time remains in which to gain it, and that if it then loses it, it has lost it for ever. “The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath knowing that he hath but a short time.”(Rev xii,12)

And for this reason the enemy of our salvation, whose charge it was to tempt the soul during life, does not choose at death to be alone, but calls others to his assistance, according to the prophet Isaias : “Their houses shall be filled with serpents”(Isaias xiii, 21) And indeed they are so; for when a person is at the point of death, the whole place in which he is, is filled with devils, who all unite to make him lose his soul.

It is related of St. Andrew Avellino, that ten thousand devils came to tempt him at his death. The conflict that he had in his agony with the powers of hell was so terrible, that all the good religious who assisted him trembled. They saw the Saint’s face swelled to such a degree from agitation, that it became quite black, every limb trembled and was contorted; his eyes shed a torrent of tears, his head shook violently; all gave evidence of the terrible assault he was enduring on the part of his infernal foes. All wept with compassion, and redoubled their prayers, and at the same time trembled with fear, on seeing a Saint die thus.

They were, however, consoled at seeing, that often, as if seeking for help, the Saint turned his eyes towards a devout picture of Mary; for they remembered that during life he had often said that at death Mary would be his refuge. At length God was pleased to put an end to the contest by granting him a glorious victory; for the contortions of his body ceased, his face resumed its original size and color, and the Saint, with his eyes tranquilly fixed on the picture, made a devout inclination to Mary (who it is believed then appeared to him), as if in the act of thanking her, and with a heavenly smile on his countenance tranquilly breathed forth his blessed soul into the arms of Mary. At the same moment; a Capuchiness, who was in her agony, turning to the nuns who surrounded her, said, “Recite a Hail Mary; for a Saint has just expired.”

Ah, how quickly do the rebellious spirits fly from the presence of this queen! If at the hour of death we have only the protection of Mary, what need we fear from the whole of our infernal enemies? David, fearing the horrors of death, encouraged himself by placing his reliance in the death of the coming Redeemer and in the intercession of the Virgin Mother. “For though,” he says, ” I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me(Psalm xxiii, 4).

Cardinal Hugo, explaining these words of the royal prophet, says that the staff signifies the cross, and the rod is the intercession of Mary; for she is the rod foretold by the prophet Isaias: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root”(Isaias, xi, 1). “This Divine Mother,” says Saint Peter Damian, “is that powerful rod with which the violence of the infernal enemies is conquered.”

And therefore does St. Antoninus encourage saying, “If Mary is for us, who shall be against us?” When Father Emanuel Padial, of the Society of Jesus, was at the point of death, Mary appeared to him, and to console him, she said: “See at length the hour is come when the angels congratulate with thee, and exclaim: 0 happy labours, 0 mortifications well requited! And in the same moment an army of demons was seen taking its flight, and crying out in despair: Alas ! we can do nought, for she who is without stain defends him.”

In like manner, Farther Gaspar Haywood was assaulted by devils at his death, and greatly tempted against faith: he immediately recommended himself to the most Blessed Virgin, and was heard to exclaim, “I thank thee, Mary; for thou hast come to my aid.” St. Bonaventure tells us that Mary sends without delay the prince of the heavenly court, Saint Michael, with all the angels, to defend her dying servants against the temptations of the devils, and to receive the souls of all who in a special manner and perseveringly have recommended themselves to her. The Saint, addressing our Blessed Lady, says,

“Michael, the leader and prince of the heavenly army, with all the administering spirits, obeys thy commands, 0 Virgin, and defends and receives the souls of the faithful who have particularly recommended themselves to thee, 0 Lady, day and night.”

The prophet Isaias tells us that when a man is on the point of leaving the world, hell is opened and sends forth its most terrible demons, both to tempt the soul before it leaves the body, and also to accuse it when presented before the tribunal of Jesus Christ for judgement. The prophet says, “Hell below was in an uproar to meet thee at thy coming; it stirred up the giants for thee”(Isaias xiv. 9).

But Richard of Saint Lawrence remarks, that when the soul is defended by Mary, the devils dare not even accuse it, knowing that the judge never condemned, and never will condemn, a soul protected by his august Mother. He asks, “Who would dare accuse one who is patronised by the Mother of Him who is to judge ?” Mary not only assists her beloved servants at death and encourages them, but she herself accompanies them to the tribunal-seat of God. As St. Jerome says, writing to the virgin Eustochia, “What a day of joy will that be for thee, when Mary, the Mother of our Lord, accompanied by choirs of virgins, will go to meet thee.’

The Blessed Virgin assured Saint Bridget of this; for, speaking of her devout clients at the point of death, she said, “Then will I, their dear Lady and Mother, fly to them, that they may have consolation and refreshment.” St. Vincent Ferrer says, that not only does the most Blessed Virgin console and refresh them, but that “she receives the souls of the dying.” This loving Queen takes them under her mantle, and thus presents them to the Judge, her Son, and most certainly obtains their salvation.

This really happened to Charles the son of St. Bridget, who died in the army, far from his mother. She feared much for his salvation on account of the dangers to which young men are exposed in a military career; but the Blessed Virgin revealed to her that he was saved on account of his love for her, and that in consequence she herself had assisted him at death, and had suggested to him the acts that should be made at that terrible moment.

At the same time the Saint saw Jesus on His throne, and the devil bringing two accusations against the most Blessed Virgin: the first was, that Mary had prevented him from tempting Charles at the moment of death; and the second was, that this Blessed Virgin had herself presented his soul to the Judge, and so saved it without even giving him the opportunity of exposing the grounds on which he claimed it. She then saw the Judge drive the devil away, and Charles’s soul carried to heaven.

Ecclesiasticus says, that “her bands are a healthful binding,”(Eccl. vi, 31) and that “in the latter end, thou shalt find rest in her” (Eccl. vi, 29). 0, you are indeed fortunate, my brother, if at death you are bound with the sweet chains of the love of the Mother of God! These chains are chains of salvation and they are chains that will insure your eternal salvation, and will make you enjoy in death that blessed peace which will be the beginning of your eternal peace and rest.

Father Binetti, in his book on the perfections of our blessed Lord, says, “that having attended the death-bed of a great lover of Mary, he heard him, before expiring, utter these words: “0 my father, would that you could know the happiness that I now enjoy from having served the most holy Mother of God; I cannot tell you the joy that I now experience.”

Father Suarez (in consequence of his devotion to Mary, which was such that he used to say that he would willingly change all his learning for the merit of a single Hail Mary) died with such peace and joy, that in that moment he said, “I could not have thought that death was so sweet;” meaning, that he could never have imagined that it was possible, if he had not then experienced it, that he could have found such sweetness in death.

You, devout reader, will, without doubt, experience the same joy and contentment in death, if you can then remember that you have loved this good Mother, who cannot be otherwise than faithful to her children who have been faithful in serving and honoring her, by their visits, rosaries, and fasts, and still more by frequently thanking and praising her, and often recommending themselves to her powerful protection.

You can read more of The Glories of Mary at the YIM Catholic Book Shelf. Here too is a link to many prayers asking Our Blessed Mother to pray for us.

Because When You Leave It to the Lord, Life Fills Up with Surprises

Yesterday was my 59th birthday, and the party was impromptu. At two in the morning Wednesday, the inspiration had hit me: I would send e-mails to people I would like to see; tell them I planned to be home on Sunday from 4 to 9; and propose that they drop in, or not. There were only two rules: no gifts and leave when I tell you. I sent about 40 messages, then helped Katie get the house ready for the arrival of the Magi.

My party was as impromptu as my wedding. Katie and I knew each other for twelve years before we started dating in 1984. After dating for four months we decided on a Monday to get married on Saturday. Whereupon I called my mother and asked her if she and Dad were doing anything on Saturday morning, early, about 8 am. She said:

“We were planning to play tennis.”
“Can you break your date?”
“What did you have in mind?”
“My wedding.”
“To whom?!!”

Poor Mom had no idea.

Setting aside the usual stresses that hosts experience when preparing for a party, and ignoring the inevitable frost-heaves on the matrimonial highway that such stresses can throw up, Katie and I actually had a pretty good time getting ready for the party—which included a soothing stop at Dick & June’s, our favorite ice cream spot. At 4pm I sat down in my favorite chair with a favorite book and waited. I thought I would be pretty cool about it, but by the time the doorbell first rang at 4:28, I already was not half as popular as I thought.

The first arrivals were an elderly couple bearing pierogi, a Polish delicacy that would later be acclaimed the gastronomic exclamation point of the evening. The next arrivals surprised me. Not that I hadn’t invited them, but in all my imaginings of the odd concussions likely to take place when friends from different sectors of my life came face to face, I had not factored in my Venezuelan-born doctor and his lovely children. They proved to be the light of the party for the next 90 minutes.

That’s partly because my guest list of 40+ seemed to be a long roll of regrets as late as 5:45. Then, in about 30 minutes’ time, we ran out of room. Not that there weren’t other “party spaces” carefully arranged in advance by Katie, but at 6:15 we had about 30 people wedged onto our patio, together with a cooler filled with beer and wine, a refreshing jug of Mrs. Tindall’s Punch, a monstrously flaming grill, and plenty of pierogi. I think the surprises began about this time. Because when you leave it to the Lord—as I had by inviting people who have nothing in common except my affection for them and then sitting back to watch what happened—life fills up with surprises.

First there was the elderly gentleman and first arrival (EG/FA). I was sitting inside with a great friend, a good guy I’ve played some so-so golf with (the patio was just not big enough by now). In came EG/FA and sat down, weary, breathless. Oh no, I thought, EG/FA is sucking oxygen and my golf buddy came here to blow off steam. EG/FA and WGB (Webster’s golf buddy) did not seem to have much in common. Separated by 30 years of age and several brackets of income, I figured they would be unlikely to run into one another anywhere else, and I wondered, with the paranoia of an amateur host, How is this going to work?! It worked like a charm: Both hailed from the same small town in upstate New York. (I had no idea.) They spent the next 90 minutes topping each other with stories of 1962 state championship football teams and the arcana of small-town politics. When EG/FA staggered out on his cane, WGB kindly, slowly helped him carry the pierogi pan to his car.

Then there was the Korean-American seminarian (helping out in the parish this summer) and our next-door neighbors, whom I have always had a fondness for but never reached out to in 25+ years of living on either side of the lilac bushes. How did they ever end sitting together?! But Betty (one of the neighbors) ended talking engineering (her job) with Kwang (the seminarian, a former PhD candidate in ocean engineering at MIT). Katie’s jaw dropped, eavesdropping on this one.

By 7:30, or about the time the Case of the Purloined Yankee Banner had been solved (long story involving Father Barnes, Kwang, and CL pal Vangie, not necessarily in that order), Katie and I were exchanging happy glances and eye-rolls. Then in about 15 minutes between 8:30 and 8:45, just as the main crowd was moving on, three members of our School of Community arrived individually, and from 9 to 10, or an hour past my bedtime, we had at least the quietest if not pleasantest hour of the evening: Katie, and I, with members of the Beverly CL mafia.

I am not doing the evening justice. But I need to get back to work here, so this will have to do. I am left with an amazing gratitude for the friends in my life—as mismatched as they may be—and the good Lord who puts them there, in exactly the order He chooses.

Maybe this is what Fr. Julián Carrón means when he writes: “The ‘wholly human’ consists in what is open to totality. . . . Everyone can verify how he faces the signs that the Lord is making happen. . . . Whoever follows what the Lord is making happen before our eyes, blossoms . . . ”

(Note: The picture adorning this post was not taken at yesterday’s party but at another midsummer birthday about five years ago. It shows a much younger me with our two beautiful daughters, who sadly could not join us yesterday from New York or Argentina. Just shows you that the miracles you hope for don’t necessarily come true, but if you remain open and accept what life brings, there will be surprises.)

Eclectic Mix (Music for Mondays)

Over the week just past, we were plying deep waters. You see, we can’t just stay in the shallows and expect to get anywhere. You have to plot a course with confidence, prayer, faith, and with the courage that you can leave the sight of land behind and still live to tell the tale.

There was Scripture 1A, then rough weather,  a hunting obsessed saint, and Scripture 1B. Then we had an obituary and a calling and scary parenting posts. And we can’t forget Belloc!

Still reflecting on some of last weeks posts, I put together this mix of songs for your listening pleasure. Some may not be pleasurable, though. Indeed you may find some irritating, grating, or troubling even. But stay the course, and I think you will be pleased and uplifted, somewhere between the rock and the hard-place.

Wrapping up  Belloc’s book with the chapter on the Modern Phase reminded me of this song by The Doors.  Riders on the Storm. “Into this house were born, into this world were thrown.” In my mind, I can assign roles to each of the characters Jim Morrison sings about here: the riders, the actor, the killer, the girl, the man. How about you?

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The Byrds, Turn, Turn, Turn. The roots of this Pete Seeger song? Hint: it’s from Frank’s favorite Old Testament book. Yeah, you guessed it, Ecclesiastes (see chapter 3). Because everything I know (about this world) I learned from Ecclesiastes.  I even built a Facebook page with that title. I must say that I’m very glad The Word decided to follow-up and make some of Qoheleths observations obsolete. Most of them are still on target though.

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A more modern take on the Ecclesiastes theme from The Police:  King of Pain. There’s a little black spot on the Sun today; it’s the same old thing as yesterday.

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Neil Young,  Restless Consumer. Ever heard the term “cognitive dissonance?” I think Neil hit’s the nail right on the head here. This song reminds me of some of the haunting passages from another Old Testament book (see Amos, chapter 8). After all, as the introduction to the book explains, “Amos is the prophet of social justice. He reveals to us a God who defends the rights of the poor.” Lest we forget. Please forgive the advertising at the beginning…

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Reality bites, sometimes, right? Give us something happy now Frank! Um, not yet—wouldn’t be prudent. Tom Jones has a new album coming out entitled Praise & Blame. Deacon Greg tipped me off to this one. It’s called Did Trouble Me.

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Remember that we are called to love. It’s hard to do, but I keep trying. With her angelic voice, Jocelyn Montgomery helps me to remember. This is Caritas,  from her album singing the texts from Hildegard von Bingen. Webster probably has this on his Pandora Radio channel.

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And pray without ceasing. Here is Loreena McKennitt with her song Dante’s Prayer. I came across this recently. The artist introduces the song and explains how she was inspired by an experience of traveling across Siberia on a train, and reading Dante’s Inferno.

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Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We’ll rise above these earthly cares

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me… 

This time next week, and none too soon, I’ll be on vacation! Webster or Allison will have the conn for Music for Mondays until I return. Ciao!

Thanks to Anselm Kiefer’s Palmsonntag

While my husband participated in a conference at the University of Toronto, I spent a glorious Thursday exploring as much as I could of the Art Gallery of Ontario (pictured at left), one of the largest art museums in North America.

I spent time viewing Drama and Desire, a special exhibit on visual artists who depict the performing arts. I strolled through Playing with Pictures, The Art of Victorian Photocollage. I was intrigued by a video about factory life by 32-year-old Cai Feu of Gaungzhou, China.

But the art that truly spoke to my soul was “Palmsonntag” – that’s German for Palm Sunday – by Anselm Keifer, a 65-year-old cradle Catholic who no longer follows the faith of his childhood. His artwork moved me to consider the sacrifice of Christ and of His mother, and the hope that emerges when we contemplate the Resurrection that followed the devastation of His crucifixtion.

Kiefer’s installation, which will be on display until Aug. 1, sits in a large room on the museum’s fifth floor. One enters and immediately confronts a 30-foot-long fiberglass and resin reproduction of an uprooted palm tree, lying diagonally across the floor. Forty-four vitrines, or glass containers, sit on the walls on either side of the tree. Each panel contains a paintings of palm fonds and stems, along with the words of Ave Maria, snippets of the Latin Mass and so on.

The fallen palm reminded me of Christ just before His Resurrection; the words to our Blessed Mother reminded me of her profound sorrow. The palm was the traditional Greco-Roman symbol of military triumph. While Christ did not become the King of the world, we know His triumph lies in the heavenly realm. “These contrasting themes of destruction and re-creation, violent upheaval and spiritual renewal underpin much of Kiefer’s work.”

I’d never heard of Anselm Kiefer, which shows how little I know about art; according to the museum’s website, Kiefer is among the most important artists to emerge from post-war Europe. He was born in a small German village in 1945, two months before Adolf Hitler’s suicide. The brutal Third Reich unraveled, leaving Kiefer to grow up in a devastated nation haunted by its murderous past. His family were devout Catholics and Kiefer grew up dreaming of becoming an archbishop. But he left the church decades ago, not because he didn’t share its beliefs, but because he was uncomfortable with dogma.

He turned to Jewish mysticism and, in a recent interview, said he now is drawn to Hinduism. It makes me sad that Kiefer’s experience of Catholicism did not include its vast contemplative, artistic and intellectual traditions, and that he was unable to find a way to link his art with Catholic orthodoxy.

I admire his search for the transcendent; I thank him for this wonderful Palmsonntag, which is making me consider Palm Sunday from an entirely new perspective. And because I am Catholic I pray that Anselm Kiefer will one day understand the Church has all the comfort and meaning he ever could desire.

Because Nature Abhors A Vacuum

I found this photograph on a blog with the following caption: So Funny, So True. Maybe it’s just me but I would argue that the caption should have been So Sad, So Tragic.

As a parent of three school-age children, there is plenty for me to worry about in the world. Teen “Self-Help” is not one of them. As the title for this post states, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” a quote attributed to the philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

Spinoza did not believe in a personal God, nor could his brilliant mind come to terms with the idea of God becoming a human, as Our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ did. I would say (and I’m definitely not brilliant) that Spinoza had a problem understanding Love.

As parents of three school-age children, my wife and I have been entrusted with raising these individuals in a way that will serve themselves and society well and in the manner that God has ordained them to be raised. That is, in a way that will teach them the Two Greatest Commandments (as stated in Luke Chapter 10 here):

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

Of course, saying this and actually doing it are not easy tasks. And I would argue that they cannot be done alone, nor without prayer and constant attention. My wife and I need all the help we can get! And this is another reason why I personally became a Catholic so that I could join with my wife in unity to lead my small flock by example and with all of the benefits that the Sacraments provide and the Graces that The Church has to offer.

“Self Help” is an oxymoron. “Teen Self Help?” You’ve got to be kidding me! Look at the titles on the shelves in the photograph above. Almost every one is a supernatural thriller of some type. And why do we crave the supernatural? Isn’t it obvious? Because we are spiritual beings. Souls in earthen vessels, yearning for God and communion with Him. Why not tap into our children’s need for the supernatural in a positive way?

Time is short, and as parents we can only shape and mold our children while they are in our personal care. Decisions you make to ensure this happens will often times be unpopular in the extreme. However, as stated in Proverbs 22:6

Train a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it.

Some tasks are too important to leave to chance. Or as the poet said:

I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty;
I woke, and found that life was Duty.
Was thy dream then a shadowy lie?

Toil on, sad heart, courageously,

And thou shalt find thy dream to be
A noonday light and truth to thee.

Because God Calls Us

Last weekend I had three encounters with three people that left me mulling how we manage to face our days when we come to the understanding that so much of what happens to us is beyond our control.

I met three people from three different parts of the United States. One was contending with unemployment, the next with environmental disaster and the third with war.

These circumstances are not of their making; their circumstances resulted from economic and political decisions people made in places far from their own homes. While their stories caught my attention and made me realize we all are subject to forces beyond our ability to control, they made me wonder; how do we journey through life carrying this knowledge?

The first encounter happened Saturday morning in our local barber shop. While I waited for our 10-year-old son’s turn in the chair, I struck up a conversation with a man – I’d guess he was in his mid-fifities – who was having his hair cut. His adult son was in the other chair having his hair cut. He shared how he was unemployed despite many efforts to find work. His daughter was unemployed. So too was his son-in-law; in fact they had been laid off the very same day.

The son in the chair beside him was a recent college graduate who only had managed to find work in construction. He was thankful his wife still held a job. This encounter left me humbled about my own bout of unemployment and also deeply moved by his sense of optimism in the face of so much financial difficulty.

Then Sunday, my family attended Mass with a dear friend who was visiting from Louisiana. After Mass, we chatted with my parish priest. My girlfriend described how birds which had just been taken off the endangered list were now back on, thanks to BP’s oil spill.

With pain in her voice, she described how abandoned Louisianans feel by the federal government. They felt that first during Hurricane Katrina and now in the aftermath of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “They’ve written off Louisiana,” she said. Then she spoke of her run for a local school board. Despite the sense of abandonment, she was trying to make a difference in her own community.

Later that day, my sons and I went to lunch with family friends. We met in Bridgewater, New Jersey at the Olive Garden. I sat across the large table from a 29-year-old Army veteran from Missouri who had spent 27 months in Iraq. During the course of our conversation he vividly detailed an experience he and his wife had had between deployments.

They were driving through the Florida Everglades on a six-day vacation, listening to the radio news because nothing else was on. This is how he learned that deployments to Iraq were being extended from 12 to 15 months. He said he turned to his wife and said “Did we just hear that?”

What he communicated to me was the overwhelming disappointment that he learned such an important detail about his future not from his supervisors at Fort Hood but from a radio report. He went on to serve his country and now has returned to civilian life. He said he was delighted to discover the skills he gained doing logistics in the Army had helped him land a good job.

All three of these folks I met happened to be Catholic and I can’t help but wonder if their faith imbues them with the understanding that God calls each of us, by name. I recently had the privilege of meeting Apolonio Latare III, a seminarian in Rome who grew up near where my husband and I are raising our own sons. In a recent blog post he talks about: “the personal nature of man as well as the notion of duty being a personal calling from a personal God.”

Humanity has always been subject to forces beyond its control; warring nations, financial hardship and so on. What helps us transcend the difficulties of this life is the knowledge that our God willed us into being from nothingness. His love for every person is effusive and in some ways, unimaginable. Our Lord says,

Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.(Luke 12:6-7)

What these encounters helped me to realize is that amid our earthly struggles, losses and disappointments, He is always calling us by name.


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