For Lenten Music from the East

I found this today, while playing tiddly-winks (er, I mean plotting a course to the next waypoint) with Webster in the cockpit. It is from the Eastern side of the family and very appropriate for Lent, don’t you think?

This is based, in part, on Psalm 141,

Lord, I have cried unto Thee, hearken unto me, hearken unto me, Lord I have cried unto Thee, Hearken unto me, attend to the voice of my supplication, when I cry unto Thee, hearken unto me O Lord.

Let my prayer be set forth as incense before Thee, the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice, hearken unto me O Lord.

Set O Lord and watch me before my mouth and a door of enclosure round about my lips.

Incline not my heart unto words of evil to make excuse with excuses in sins.

With men that work in iniquity and I will not join with their chosen.

The righteous man will chasten me with mercy and reprove me as for the oil of the sinner, let it not anoint my head.

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For Your Lenten Friday Night at the Movies

This is your co-pilot speaking. It’s been kinda quiet here at YIM Catholic today. Well, that’s because it’s Lent and Webster and I are cruising at 38,000 feet.  Oh, not literally, but figuratively for the next 38 days. But we haven’t flown the coop completely. We’re still around, but when you are on a long cross-country flight (like the 40 days of Lent) you have to be gentle with the controls so as not to upset the passengers. [Read more...]

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity” Week 5

This week we read Book III, Chapters 6, 7, and 8.

Its discussion time, Book Club members! This week’s readings are all from Book III, and Mr. Lewis is showing how politically incorrect Christianity is. All these new changes that many denominations are going through today? I think Jack would be dismayed, but that is my two cents only. I’ll throw my hat in the ring with G. K. Chesterton, who wrote,

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

Chapter 6 is on Christian Marriage. Nothing new here for practicing Catholics. Of course, that doesn’t mean that this Sacrament is an easy, slam dunk either. It is a Sacrament that is also a vocation. Jack has a lot to say, and all of it is sound and in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church, if not extremely unpopular today. But he said this institution of marriage should possibly be set up as a two-fold institution, one for the Church (think Sacrament) and one outside the Church.

Jack holds forth on a concept not discussed much in terms of a marital relationship, justice, as well as on the different viewpoints between say government and the Church in terms of our ability to control our appetites and impulses. He writes,

If, as I think, it is not like all our other impulses, but is morbidly inflamed, then we should be especially careful not to let it lead us into dishonesty.

He then makes some salient points about the problem of divorce and how one party (government) sees it as just another contract, which holds about as much weight as any other contract; meanwhile, Christians (and the Church) see divorce as a train wreck to be avoided at all costs. Anyone who works in the legal field can tell you that no-fault divorce has become a major growth industry since Jack wrote these words. And as a child of divorce, I am not shocked: I agree with Jack. Who then has the audacity to say,

So much for the Christian doctrine about the permanence of marriage. Something else, even more unpopular, remains to be dealt with. Christian wives promise to obey their husbands.

And that means you agree with this too, Frank? Uh-huh. Looking forward to reading the comments!

While contemplating burning me at the stake, and cursing the name of C. S. Lewis, move on to Chapter 7, on forgiveness—and just in the nick of time! I think Jack does a really good job here of talking about forgiveness with a real-world perspective, especially with the command to love others as ourselves. Here Lewis lets the cat out of the bag on the falseness of self-love. He says, Look in the mirror and realize that if you don’t love everything about yourself, then guess what? Think of that when you are loving your neighbor.

I don’t know how many of you like his argument about soldiers fighting one another, as a “nothing personal” situation.  He uses an example based on the war that had just concluded, mentioning the Gestapo and other scary words.  Here’s Jack,
The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything-God and our friends and ourselves included-as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
Loving an enemy doesn’t mean that punishing them is unwarranted either. As Jack says, and I’ll paraphrase, just because I love myself doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be subject to the death penalty if I commit murder. Now, before we get into a fur-ball about the death penalty and Church teaching, what Jack is saying makes sense. Think about this in terms of the posts we have been doing about the Sacrament of Confession. Think of this in terms of what a real examination of conscience is. It means taking a hard look at the part of ourselves that we don’t love, repenting for it, praying about it, and coming to the Sacrament for forgiveness and absolution in a concrete way.
After all, our souls are immortal. Jack explains the Christian perspective like so (bold is mine):
I imagine somebody will say, “Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy’s acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?” All the difference in the world. Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed.
Chapter 8 is on The Great Sin, which Jack identifies as Pride. Personally, I had to come to terms with this one, and when I finally did, I had no choice but to become a Catholic. I still have to fight this one and probably always will. Blaise Pascal spelled it out for me, Thomas à Kempis held forth on it, and St. Teresa of Avila too.  She pointed me to the capper in my own personal struggle with pride, Francisco de Osuna’s Third Spiritual Alphabet. Look back at this hot link and you will see where I think Jack may have gotten some of his material. Here is a chapter de Osuna writes entitled The Devil’s Army, which is mainly about pride.

Back when I was waiting for my RCIA class to get started, I had a discussion with someone about how pride was my biggest weakness. I hadn’t read Jack’s book yet, but the conversation was hauntingly similar to these passages. In the end I simply said, If you don’t believe you have a problem with pride, then you haven’t examined this issue closely enough. I knew I did and left it at that. Which is almost exactly the same way Jack sums up this chapter:

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.
And with a collective sigh of relief, I hope you read that being “proud” of your regiment, son, daughter, etc., really is not Pride. Most likely it means that you have a fond love of or for that entity. Pride is disordered love of self, and one which puts self above all others. Including above God. Ouch!
Now it’s your turn, YIMC Book Club members! How did you take these chapters? What were the passages that resonated with you. Don’t hold back!

Because I Am Dust and So Are You

I told a friend yesterday morning that I was “really excited about Lent,” and the words sounded strange coming out of my mouth. It was a bit like saying I couldn’t wait for my own funeral. Tonight I will go to sleep with a cross of ashes on my forehead, a gritty reminder of my own imminent death. 

When I was a Protestant child, I remember wiping the dirt off a friend’s head at school, only to be informed that I shouldn’t have done that. Two years ago, as I was nearing my own reception into the Church, I had ashes placed on my forehead for the first time. Afterwards, in the coffee shop, I wore my winter hat down over my brow so that no one would see. Last year, I wore my ashes a bit more openly leaving church.

Today I went back for seconds.

I attended morning mass with Katie and watched with joy as an 11-year-old boy who says he wants to be a priest served at the altar. Then tonight came the clincher, when I served as a lector at evening mass, and Father Barnes asked Michael and me to help him distribute the ashes. So after the homily I stood at the head of the Blessed Mother’s aisle with a small bowl of burned palm leaves and ground ashen crosses into people’s foreheads with my thumb. Try it sometime.

Try repeating “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” to a procession of friends, acquaintances, and total strangers while you press a vivid reminder into their heads that they are little more than ashes themselves. Try it with an 80-year-old woman bent over a walker for whom this could be the last Ash Wednesday. Try it with an 8-year-old boy who looks up at you wonderingly, not sure whether to wear a long face or giggle, a child who will probably outlive you, but by how much, and does it matter? “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Try it with a teenage girl, whose carefully shaped bangs form a nearly impassable barrier. Try it with a friend who greets you with a warm smile, which you return warmly, while saying, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

There is an awesome formality to serving communion, which I have also had the opportunity to do, and nothing personal passes between the server and the communicant usually. Distributing ashes on the first day of Lent is a different, utterly intimate gesture. Some, receiving the ashes, say “Amen,” as with communion. Some say “Thank you.” Some only smile and turn away.

All of us will turn away soon enough. I will go to sleep tonight with a cross of ashes on my forehead. And the great season of Lent has begun.

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...]

Because I Can’t Help Myself

I’m a small-time book publisher, and though I haven’t done the hard research, I’m pretty sure that if you look at the history of the trade, do-it-yourself books peaked before self-help books. The first told my father’s generation how to fix a leaky faucet. The second told my generation how to feed a hungry heart. Late in my own life, with my father gone, I am more convinced than ever that his generation (WWII) was great, mine (Boomers) second-rate. Pretty much everything you need to know about us is in those books.

My father never had much truck with self-help or psychotherapy (long story), but I’m sure that if he had been a Catholic, instead of a stauch Episcopalian, he would have gone to confession regularly. He believed in doing things right; he believed in authority; and, while a strong man of some certainty, he did not believe that he knew it all.

In fact, when I told my father I was converting to Catholicism, he moved in five minutes from astonishment to confession, telling me, “There are a couple of things in my life that I have always been deeply ashamed of.” He made it clear that he had never told anyone of these things, not even my mother, who was sitting by his side and listening along with me.

I think my father told us this because he associated Catholicism with confession and secretly hungered for it. I’m sure that if he had gone to confession, Dad would not have questioned the methodology or the priesthood. Behind the screen or face-to-face? Whatever you tell me to do, Father. Good confession? I’ll do my best. Lead these men and take that enemy position? Yes, sir. 

My generation decided somewhere along the way that it didn’t need authority. Which is completely delusional, of course, since we are famous for falling for every single latest fad, from diets to self-help regimens. We hunger for authority, we just don’t admit it. We’ll fall for the Maharishi, then Werner Erhard, then Deepak Chopra, then God Knows Who Next, but we don’t need priests, we don’t need the apostolate, we don’t need any intermediaries between us and God. We can find God on our own, thank you very much. Don’t even need GPS.

The above reflections follow a day of comments on my second post about confession this week. You can read the whole exchange here. What draws my attention is this:

I’ve never gotten anything from confession with a priest that came close to what I’ve gotten from God. I guess I will never understand desiring all these intermediaries, these layers, these mortal substitutes for the real thing. Once you’ve tasted the real thing, you don’t want anything else—you can’t want anything else. Nothing less than God will do.

So there’s the question: Why do we need intermediaries?

Because in the end we can’t help ourselves. Think about it. This is even what you say sometimes to the priest (or to yourself) when he asks, “Why do you keep falling into this sin? Why do you keep making this mistake?” Because, Father, I can’t help myself. 

Turning our hearts around, the real meaning of repentance, is a big big job. Every year, the Church gives us a whole 46-day period from Ash Wednesday to Easter to call us back to repentance. That’s a long time, with many prayers and sacraments, including confession, hopefully. We need all the help we can get, seems to be the message.

Why do we need intermediaries?

Because here it is Lent again, and the same job of repentance is staring me in the face. Bless me, Father, for I too have sinned.

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.

For Brixton

Words fail when a young person dies suddenly and seemingly for no reason. On the battlefield, we understand. After a long illness, we are better prepared. But alone, over the weekend, without warning? It’s not enough to recite “To An Athlete Dying Young.” Even a funeral mass may be scant consolation.

Last night, a group of friends gathered in a Franciscan chapel in Boston to say a Rosary for a 19-year-old youth named Brixton. We recited the Glorious Mysteries and stood around for a few moments afterward exchanging hugs. With Michael, who drove in from Beverly with me, I left quickly. There was nothing to be said. I did not even know Brixton, although Lorenzo kindly showed me a picture. In the picture Brixton had just made a pizza, and seemed quite proud of it.

I cannot possibly imagine what it would have been like if Brixton had been my own child. But I think I would have wanted the same group of friends to come together in the same chapel to say a Rosary for my child. I don’t think I would have kept my composure as Bob and Sharon and others did, but there would have been some comfort in this demonstration of friendship, this blessed companionship in Christ.

Because Confession is a Sacrament, and the Sacraments Make All the Difference

Frank and I are gratified by the number of comments so far on the latest post about confession. Blogging is funny: you dig and dig day after day, and then you hit a vein. It turns out, people are passionate about confession. The readers of this blog, at any rate, are uniformly passionately in favor of confession. I’ve reviewed the comments so far, and here are a few conclusions. Please feel free to add your two cents.

Catholics who go to confession mostly love it. Thank God for Warren Jewell, who writes: “I have to confess: I LOVE to confess. Confession is how I emulate (and, actually, effect) being a convert.” Think about that incredible statement for a second! Each time we confess we are, once again, a convert, whether we’re a cradle Catholic or not. We are “turning ourselves over” to God—again.

Matthew seconds Warren here: “Going regularly to confession is perhaps the single most important thing I could have done to grow closer to God. It’s irreplaceable.”

Some non-Catholics “crave” confession. At least, Michelle, a non-Catholic, does. She writes: “[Confession is] something I’ve craved for years now.” And in a later comment, Michelle writes, “The two things I crave the most being a non-Catholic looking in are the Eucharist and Confession.” Hear that, Catholics? We have something that others crave!

EPG chimes in: “As a non-Catholic, I found the level of response to this post fascinating, and encouraging. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, has a rite for confession and reconciliation. It is, alas, little used, as far as I can see. . . . ” While that may not constitute craving, it is another non-Catholic voice regretting that his church seldom uses confession.

I am not the only Catholic who is sometimes chicken about going to confession. And it’s not only Sean’s 9-year-old daughter who is “nervous about going to confession.” An anonymous commenter writes: “I recently returned to the Sacrament after 17 years. I found that I needed to make an appointment because it had been so long and I had a lot to say and I tend to ramble anyway. But more importantly, I needed my pastor to know I was coming so that I was committed to showing up. I had made several drive-by attempts at just showing up at scheduled parish confession times, but never made it further than the parking lot.” In other words, without that appointment, Anonymous might have chickened out again: another “drive-by Catholic”!

Some Catholics still go to confession once a week. Look at the poll results so far. Of 141 participants (at this writing), 6 said they go once a week. This encourages me to try doing the same, at least during Lent. I figure that if Pope Benedict goes once a week, and Mujerlatina went every week as a child, I can do the same, right? How about you?

I’m pretty clear that our poll does not represent a random sample. Readers of this blog are probably either devout Catholics or non-Catholics interested in learning more about Catholic experience. Which is to say, I suspect that if you polled all Catholics, the number saying they go to confession “seldom or never” would be a lot higher than whatever the final poll numbers will show here.

The Church is wise to give us the option—behind a screen or face-to-face. While commenters came down on the two sides of this question, I can only conclude that how one chooses to confess is a matter of personal preference. The important things are (1) that I make a good confession, (2) that I choose the method that most supports my doing this, and (3) that I remember that confession is about the absolution I receive through the confessor, not about the social work or spiritual direction he incidentally performs for me. 

Where confession is concerned, better catechesis is needed. Another Anonymous writes: “Sometimes I wish there was a video or a recording of what a ‘really good confession’ looks and sounds like. I am definitely one of those visual learners. Of course when I went through RCIA we saw a mock demonstration but it was just a shallow laundry list of sins, not in my perception what a true confession would look like. While I attend confession a few times a year I often am not sure I am making a ‘good confession.’ I do make an examination of conscience and try to cover what I can think of, but sometimes it is a laundry list for myself, other times I share my sins and then when I talk further, I feel as if I am making excuses for my sins. For example, am I just supposed to confess my selfishness or do I state it and then share an example of how it reared its ugly head? I think sometimes I do feel the pressure of the ‘line of others outside the door’ and feel like I have to keep it short. Sometimes when I hear someone talk about their confession it makes me question, Could I be doing this better?”

This is perhaps my favorite comment because it reflects my own uncertainty as a convert. I think I should know what a good confession is, but I don’t, but I don’t want to admit it. . . .

Maria asks a final question: Why did they change the name from confession to the sacrament of reconciliation?!

And so do I: What can we do to make more Catholics go to confession more often? Your thoughts?

Because of the Russian Orthodox Beatitudes (More Music for Monday)

Guest post by Allison 
Our parish choir hadn’t sung since the end of the Christmas season. We hadn’t rehearsed since then either; a Thursday evening rehearsal was canceled because of a snowstorm. Yesterday, our choir director, who also plays our organ and sings in the choir, let us know we would be singing the Russian Orthodox Beatitudes as an Offertory song.

Because this piece is a chant, it is easy to sing, even with two members of our eight-member choir missing yesterday morning.

Remember your servants, Lord,when you come in your kingly power.

The verses themselves come from Matthew 5:3-12, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are the poor in spirit;
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn;
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek;
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful;
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart;
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers;
for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when the world reviles you and persecutes you;
and utters all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake;
Rejoice and be exceeding glad;
for great is your reward in heaven.

To my modern ears, the tune, with its soulful, irregular rhythms, sounds like a spiritual. But its roots are far older. Russian Chant has its origins in the tenth century and is regularly used as part of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy.  The Beatitudes themselves are woven into Orthodox Divine Liturgy. For both Catholics and Orthodox Christians, Christ’s powerful blessings are our guide for living as God wants us to.

Richard Proulx, a post-Vatican II composer and champion of high church music, arranged this piece. I am grateful he did. Every time I sing the Russian Orthodox Beatitudes, I am reminded not only of my own faith traditions, but also of the deep connections we Roman Catholics enjoy with our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters. What better way to honor our shared beliefs than by highlighting a piece of their liturgy while enriching our own?

The link above is the piece in question. Here’s some more Russian liturgical singing by a wonderful amateur group:

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