Matt Maher (Music for Mondays)

Does anyone remember Webster’s little secret? Well, how about Christian Contemporary music written and performed by a Catholic? No need to keep that a secret, right? But heck, I’m probably the last Catholic to ever hear of Matt Maher or his music.

Now, I first heard one of his songs on the Message, which I play whenever I’m driving my wife’s car on taxi duty.  A quick search on the internet later and I learned that he is a Catholic, which really wouldn’t matter if he couldn’t carry a tune. But from the selections below you will hear that he can do that quite handily.

Now, there is no need for me to re-write Maher’s website for him in order to introduce him to you.  Besides, I don’t know enough about him to write much anyway. You can read all about him yourself here. But before you go there, have a listen to the following tunes I was able to cobble together from the videos available on YouTube. Many of these include the lyrics to the songs, so I’ll keep my comments to a minimum.

As far as I can tell, there are a lot of good songs that Maher has put out. He has released 5 albums in his career so far and he does a lot of touring.  He has been out and about since 2002, but I never got the memo. In case you didn’t either, I hope you will enjoy these as much as I do.

The artists introduction to Hold Us Together.

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Hold Us Together

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Great Things

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Alive Again. When writing the songs for this album, Maher determined that “the over-arching theme that emerged seemed to be centering on what it means to be alive. The whole notion that God became a human being should change the way we look at what it means to be human, and ultimately the way it leads us is back to the cross.”

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Your Grace Is Enough

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As It Is In Heaven

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Empty and Beautiful

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Lay It Down

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Head on over to i-Tunes and pick up one of his albums (I just did!).  And then check his website to see if he may be coming to a concert hall near you.

Because Lebron is Not King

I had a choice tonight: to watch “Black Robe” on Netflix or the Lebron James Sweepstakes on ESPN. Where are my priorities—The story of Jesuit saints among the Hurons and Iroquois, or the King of the World, Lebron James, making the Choice that Changed the World? I went with Lebron.

I don’t think you can understand The World We Live In if you don’t pay attention to the Lebron-Stakes. So many people saying so many empty words about a guy who has never won a game in an NBA final? Are you kidding? This is What It’s All About!!!

Let me give you some sound bites. It’s 8:53 and the tension mounts: “The King has arrived. We are minutes away from Lebron James announcing where he will play next season . . . Jon Barry, what’s the best fit for Lebron? . . . I don’t think it’s Miami. To me a straight basketball move would be the Chicago Bulls. His Decision is Coming Up Next! . . . At stake, the NBA’s balance of power. His Decision, Next!”

In the history of the league, the world, we—have—never—seen—this!

All indications (at 9:02) are that Lebron joins the Miami Heat, but Jon Barry says, “I am really shocked by this, I thought Lebron would join the Chicago Bulls.” And Michael Wilbon says, “Lebron is staying home in Cleveland.” Stuart Scott says, “Not in the history of American sports has an athlete generated this interest!”

Do I really need to go to Mass in the morning?

“Now, he is in the chair. Coming up next: Lebron James will tell the world where He will play next season!”

It’s 9:22 and Jim Gray is with Lebron in Greenwich, Connecticut. . . . Lebron says, “It has been a real humbling situation to be in this position.” Jim Gray says, “President Obama has said seven times that he would like you to go to Chicago” and asks, “When did you decide?” Lebron says, “This morning. . . . I had a great conversation with my Mom . . . and then I was set.”

I give Lebron this degree of credit. In the end, he asked his mother, and his decision was . . . Miami.

You may win the NBA title next year, Lebron, but sorry, Christ is King.

One final note added in the morning, in fairness: In the nearly 30-minute interview that followed his annunciation, sorry, his announcement, Lebron James proved to be a pretty good guy. The problem is not Lebron. The problem is us.

Because Living in Hope Beats Living in Fear

After thirty months, I have come to the end of the biggest writing project of my life: a 200-year-history of Massachusetts General Hospital (left, in its original form, the Bulfinch Building). Tuesday, I brought the manuscript to the copy editor, all 213,000 words of it. While I have a thousand loose ends to tie up (epilogue writing, photo editing, caption writing, etc.), I have begun to scan the horizon and ask: What’s next?

I have nothing in prospect, nothing definite anyway, certainly nothing with the heft of the MGH book. Where that project has provided a large portion of my income since the beginning of 2008, the bits and pieces of work that I know are in front of me for the rest of this year and next will provide relatively little. Twenty years ago, the situation would have worried me, terrified me. Today not.

There are rational reasons for fearlessness: I have been a writer of private memoirs and organizational histories off and on for these twenty-plus years. My name is “out there.” The phone will ring. And probably, when I get the office cleaned and the loose ends tied, I’ll do some networking too, and that will “pay off.” But meanwhile, I haven’t even a twinge of worry, not even when I wake up in the middle of the night.

Why do I experience hope instead of fear? Because I really, truly believe (I must, I wouldn’t feel as I do if I didn’t) that the Lord will provide. Give us this day our daily bread, we ask, and He does. While I clean the office and put out feelers for other work, the real effort I can and wish to make is to put Christ at the center of my mind, my heart, life. Then everything will take care of itself, or rather He will take care of it. Not because I deserve it or because I am somehow special, but because that’s what He does.

YIMC Bookclub, “The Great Heresies,” Chapter 4

“Why should we suffer? Why should we die?”

Ah, the eternal question. And in this chapter “The Albigensian Attack“, Belloc gets to the heart of the matter of why the Incarnation came about, Christianity was founded, and why the Catholic Church exists. Because as we know, we are mere human beings. We die. And since the beginning, mankind has wanted to know “why?”

And in this chapter, Belloc synthesizes the ideas that we have formed in an attempt to come to terms with this truth. He touches on Manicheanism, Stoicism, and heck, even Buddism. For example he writes,

Various ways out of the torturing enigma have been proposed. The simplest and basest is not to face it at all…another way less base, but equally contemptible intellectually, is to say there is no problem because we are all part of a meaningless dead thing with no creative God behind it… another nobler way, which was the favourite way of the high pagan civilization from which we sprang, the way of the great Romans and the great Greeks, is the way of Stoicism. This might vulgarly be termed “The philosophy of grin-and-bear-it”… another way is the profound but despairing way of Asia, of which the greatest example is Buddhism: the philosophy which calls the individual an illusion, bids us get rid of the desire for immortality and look forward to being merged in the impersonal life of the universe. What the Catholic solution is we all know.

Or hopefully you do. If you didn’t before reading this chapter, you know now. A lot of ground is covered here. Heck, you might want to let your children read this chapter so they will understand what all the fuss is about regarding being a practicing Catholic. What’s the deal? Well,

Shaw, Belloc, And Chesterton

the Catholic Church has on this particular problem a very definite answer within the field of her own action. She says, first, that man’s nature is immortal, and made for beatitude; next, that mortality and pain are the result of his Fall, that is, of his rebellion against the will of God. She says that since the fall our mortal life is an ordeal or test, according to our behavior, in which we regain (but through the merits of our Savior) that immortal beatitude which we had lost.

And then he proceeds to discuss and explain the various manifestations of this particular heresy. First up is Manicheanism. Have you ever seen Star Wars and it’s various sequels and prequels? May the Force be with you? The Dark Side of the Force and the good side? Now you know where George Lucas got that idea. Remember in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda is training the young Jedi(the Good Side) Luke Skywalker and he punches Luke in the shoulder and says “not this crude matter” referring to his human body? Hmmm, sounds like,

But one thing the Manichean of every shade has always felt, and that is, that “matter” belongs to the evil side of things. Though there may be plenty of evil of a spiritual kind yet good must be “wholly” spiritual.

You’ve probably heard, or maybe even experienced, Christianity of some stripe that treats matter and the human body like this. Not to mention any other religions out there, or new age thinking, that does the same. I know I’ve bumped into people who have said exactly what Belloc says when he describes the human body and its characteristics as follows:

That is something you find not only in the early Manichean, not only in the Albigensian of the Middle Ages, but even in the most modern of the remaining Puritans. It seems indissolubly connected with the Manichean temper in every form. Matter is subject to decay and is therefore evil. Our bodies are evil. Their appetites are evil. This idea ramifies into all sorts of absurd details. Wine is evil. Pretty well any physical pleasure, or half-physical pleasure, is evil. Joy is evil. Beauty is evil. Amusements are evil, and so on. Anyone who will read the details of the Albigensian story will be struck over and over again by the singularly modern attitude of these ancient heretics, because they had the same root as the Puritans who still, unhappily, survive among us.

I’m glad I’m a Catholic now because finally the world makes some sense! And I’m glad I’m a Marine too, because there is a lot of warfare in this chapter. But before I continue, I’m going to hand the reins over to Jason, one of our YIMC Book Club volunteers has these words to say about this chapter:

The Albigensian heresy today is also known as the Cathar heresy. Belloc points out that this heresy is actually a form of Manicheanism. Belloc connects the rise of the Albigensian/Cathar heresy as an attempt of answering the “the problem of evil”. Why are there evil, suffering, and death?

Atheists propose the solution that there is no God. Stoics grin and bear it. Buddists claim individual existence is an illusion.

The Albigensians/Cathars resorted to dualism, that is that God is good but not omnipotent. And that goodness is opposed by evil that was equally as powerful. God the Father is no more powerful than Satan. Furthermore, all matter (being subject to decay) was of evil and good was only spiritual.

The conclusions based on that claim are far-reaching. If matter is evil and God is good, then Jesus could not have been human (no Incarnation), could not have suffered, and was not resurrected. If matter is evil, then the sacraments are false being present in matter. How can Jesus be present in evil matter? Thus no Eucharist.

The heresy divided France. The southern lords embraced the heresy in opposition of the King of France in the north. Belloc isn’t explicit about this but we can see the violent conflict had significant political aspects. Both England and Spain (neither of which embraced the heresy) supported the heretics in hopes of weakening the French.

Belloc shows his bias in his historical account of the battles between the northern and southern French factions.

Of course, Belloc is many things but unbiased is probably not one of them.  Not for the purpose of this book anyway. Jason, and probably others,  have questions about the historical accuracy of Belloc’s accounts.  Footnotes would have been nice here, but perhaps the best thing to do is to consider this chapter as a springboard for following your own curiosity regarding the historical facts surrounding the conflicts that ensued as a result of this movement. A preview of The Inquisition – A Political and Military Study of Its Establishment is available on Google Books.

But as an overview of an erroneous idea that just keeps cropping up over and over, I found this chapter to be very helpful.  How about the rest of you? Share your thoughts with us in the comment box.

Because I Cannot

On a wall in my house, hanging in a place where I pretty much have to see it two or three times a day for about twenty seconds, and sometimes even in the middle of the night, is a framed copy of a poem that every well-bred English-speaking schoolboy memorized a century ago, and maybe some do even today. It struck me last evening, as I was standing and waiting for nature to take its course, that this poem captures everything sad and beautiful about our modern world.

The poem is “If” by Rudyard Kipling, and if you haven’t committed it to memory, you can click here and get started, although I do not recommend it. The framed copy was given to me years ago by a good and long-lost friend, a well-meaning gift. The poem is a brief talk from a father to a son about how to be a man, with all sorts of stiff-upper-lip advice about manliness. (Look at the firm jaw, the beady gaze, the prominent eyebrows in that picture of Kipling!):

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss; . . .

The only verb in the entire poem, effectively, is can. If you can do this and do that and do the other thing, then [final line] you’ll be a Man, my son. Two things strike me: (1) there is no mention of God, or His help, anywhere in the poem; and (2) instead of God, Kipling capitalizes Man. 

By contrast, this morning I was struck by some lines in Psalm 51 as part of the Office of Readings:

I flourish like an olive tree in the palace of God.

I hope in the kindness of God,
for ever, and through all ages.
I thought: that’s the whole thing right there. I already am a lower-case man, my own father has passed from the scene, and still I cannot. I set my mind on something, I project my brow and jaw forward, but at the end of the story, sometimes it happens, sometimes not. Meanwhile, however, there is one thing that I have found I can do: plant myself in the palace of God and hope in his kindness. Go to Mass. Say my prayers. Put my mind on God. Take my chances.
These are two distinct ways of living: “being a Man” who needs nothing more—and “being an olive tree” who trusts that God, through his kindness, will nourish me. Somewhere along the way we well-bred English-speaking schoolboys lost sight of the second way.

“Master of Beauty” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I love reading poetry and at one point in my life, wrote it constantly. I still have my well-thumbed Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry from my undergraduate years at the University of Michigan. I often read it and recently wondered how many of the poets within are Catholic. John Berryman is one. Born in Oklahoma in 1914, he was raised Catholic.

I always liked his name. I tried to read his poetry the other day, but found most of it so despairing I could not. His work reflects his troubled soul. The Pulitzer Prize winning poet survived his own father’s suicide when he was 12 and spent his life struggling with  depression and alcoholism. He returned to the faith of his childhood as a middle-aged man.

Sadly, Berryman ended his life in 1972 by jumping off a bridge. I thank God that Berryman found times of comfort in this world in the presence of Christ and that he left us luminous words, which speak of the struggle between faith and doubt. I particularly like this one, which he wrote toward the end of his life. He’s honest about his doubts while he stands in awe of creation. The entire poem is published in his collected works. I pray for his immortal soul. 

Eleven Addresses to the Lord


Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake,
inimitable contriver,
endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from the boring Moon,
thank you for such as it is my gift.
I have made up a morning prayer to you
containing with precision everything that most matters.
‘According to Thy will’ the thing begins.
It took me off & on two days. It does not aim at eloquence.
You have come to my rescue again & again
in my impassable, sometimes despairing years.
You have allowed my brilliant friends to destroy themselves
and I am still here, severely damaged, but functioning.
Unknowable, as I am unknown to my guinea pigs:
how can I ‘love’ you?
I only as far as gratitude & awe
confidently & absolutely go.
I have no idea whether we live again.
It doesn’t seem likely
from either the scientific or the philosophical point of view
but certainly all things are possible to you,
and I believe as fixedly in the Resurrection-appearances to Peter and
to Paul
    as I believe I sit in this blue chair.
Only that may have been a special case
to establish their initiatory faith.
Whatever your end may be, accept my amazement.
May I stand until death forever at attention
for any your least instruction or enlightenment.
I even feel sure you will assist me again, Master of insight & beauty.

Cistercian Chants (Music for Mondays)

It was the summer of 2008. My wife and kids headed to California to visit family. I would follow them two weeks later for a vacation too (and to ensure they came back to Tennessee with me).

So I was alone in the house for two weeks. It was quiet. When I would come home from work, I didn’t turn on the television, or the radio. I ate, read, and prayed. And I did other things, like cut the yard and feed the dog, and wash the dishes. But as a freshly minted Catholic, I was enjoying the silence and using it to read Scripture, read other books, and learned to pray the LOTH.

I stumbled across an article on the internet that mentioned the album Chant: Music for Paradise put out by the Cistercian monks of Stift-HeiligenKreuz. Say that 10 times as fast as you can. I dare you! By this time, I knew what Cistercians were, I knew that Pope Benedict XVI was a German, and I had taken a few years of German in high school.  So I bought the album and loaded it up into i-Tunes on my Mac.

It’s all sung in Latin and by this time, I actually knew what a few of these songs meant in translation. But not most of them. But I know this: whenever I played them in the house during those two weeks, my soul felt at peace. And the same thing happens when I listen to them know.

What follows are a few selections that I hope you will enjoy. Note: not all are from the album, but i-Tunes is only a click away.

The background on the monastery and how the recording came about.

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Spiritus Domini, This is the video Father Karl mentioned above. 459,486 views as of this writing (and counting…)

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Testamentum Eternum

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Dedit Dominus Confessionem Sancto Suo

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Virtute multa

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Because Nothing Is Random

I’m nearly a half century old and launching a new career. After a working life spent in daily newspapers and then teaching at community colleges and raising sons, I am earning a master’s degree in Special Education and alternate-route teaching certificates in English and in Teaching Students with Disabilities.

What’s this got to do with being Catholic? Well, my faith lets me know that from the moment I entered this planet to the moment I leave it, my life is in the hands of the Almighty. He willed me and everyone else into being. So really, I have nothing to worry about as I embark on this leg of my journey.

The path behind me: My mom was an outstanding public school teacher. So was a woman who mentored me as a teenager and young adult. As for teaching English piece, I’ve always loved to read and to write. I majored in English, then earned a master’s degree in journalism.  I spent many years paying rents and mortgages as a wordsmith. I married a writer, too. Then, we discovered one of our sons has a language-based learning disability. We’ve helped him navigate speaking, and reading and writing. This helped me see how very complex those tasks we often take for granted are. In the process, I learned about the alphabet world of special education: IEPs and SLDs and so on. We also know his disabilities give him strengths in other areas, including an excellent memory and great social skills.

How could I imagine that any of the people and circumstances I have encountered are random? Who brought these people to me?

This summer, our sons are in camps, away from home for the first time. They are swimming in Lake Champlain, playing basketball at the Rutgers Athletic Center, studying film in Bangor, Maine and learning soccer at the Peddie School in Hightstown, NJ. I spend my evenings at the local community college, taking graduate school classes in education. My days pass at the home computer, the puppy who unexpectedly joined out family this spring at my side. I am applying to as many English and Special Education teaching jobs I can find within an hour’s drive of our home. There are so many openings. Every job offers the possibility of telling the story of the next chapter of my life and a chance to learn from students and colleagues I have yet to meet.

If my life were music, this piece of it reminds me of that song from the movie “Shrek.” The words are by Leonard Cohen, one of the genius balladeers I spent inordinate hours listening to on my bedroom stereo as a teenager. I’m not going to pretend I understand all his words, or that they reflect an orthodoxy of belief. I do love the part that says “I used to live alone before I knew you.” And I understand the Halleluia: Praise God.

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Because of Catholics Like Raymond Lull

For the longest time, I just knew that I was too smart to be a Catholic. I mean, I wasn’t a cradle Catholic, born into the Church or anything. I just figured that being born into the Church was really the only way that anyone would become a Catholic. Surely not via God-given free will, because no one with a brain would willingly submit to the Church and all those wacky “man-made” doctrines and such.

Ahem, we all know how that turned out for me; I swam the Tiber. [Read more...]

YIMC Book Club “The Great Heresies” Chapter 3

Vienna, as we saw, was almost taken and only saved by the Christian army under the command of the King of Poland on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history: September 11, 1683.

This is one of the sentences that hit home for me in this weeks chapter “The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed.” There is a lot going on in this chapter, for sure. I compare it to a Cliffs Notes version of the History of Western Civilization 630AD – 1683AD. Sure, Belloc’s book may not be an unbiased, footnote toting, peer-reviewed, Ivy League approved, history text book, but that really wasn’t his point here.

Sure, anyone with even a hint of curiosity could plug the date “September 11th” into a search engine and eventually find out the significance of that date in the history of Western Civilization. But only Belloc, writing in 1936, in the middle of what would later become The Great Depression, could claim that it “ought to be among the most famous in history.”

Of course, we don’t get to that line until we are taken on a whirlwind tour of close to 1000 years of events on the world stage as the Roman Empire fell away, Christendom established itself, and a new religion out of the desert formed and built a civilization that would attack Christendom and the West.

Attack is a mighty harsh word, huh? I find that as I read Belloc, the reading voice in my head is that of actor Jack Webb playing Detective Joe Friday from the old television series Dragnet. “Just the fact’s, ma’am”, or sir,in my case, is what Belloc says as he reels off line after line of the history of the era, of Islam, of the Catholic Church, and what it all means.

I suspect Belloc was familar with the work of Blessed Peter of Montboissier, aka Peter the Venerable. In case you weren’t, join the club! I couldn’t find a copy of Peter’s The Summary of the Entire Heresy of the Saracens or his The Refutation of the Sect or Heresy of the Saracens either. But Belloc was probably very familiar with them both as well as this book published in 1907 entitled Islam: A Challenge to the Faith.  Those interested in learning more about this subject may also be interested in A History of Apologetics, written by Cardinal Avery Dulles and  published by Ignatius Press.

In the early 1990′s, my wife enjoyed reading a novel by Donna Tart entitled The Secret History. I don’t know anything about the book really,  except that I love the title. That’s because it fits with how I’ve been thinking about how little I actually know of this world.  Not just since reading Belloc, but since becoming a Catholic and sinking my teeth into the history of Christianity and of the Church.

From this single chapter in Belloc’s book alone, do you see what I mean? Sheeeeeeeh!