Because You Requested It (Music for Mondays)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Seal croons,

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

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

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

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

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To Pray for Vocations Like This

Each of our two grown daughters is facing the question of vocation. One is oriented to the arts, one to business; neither is presently a Catholic. So the idea of a capital-v Vocation does not figure. Still, watching a joyous interview (in four installments below) with a Carmelite nun, Sr. Cushla, put a prayer in my heart for my children, and yours, today.

Here’s the prayer:

Heavenly Father,
In this Year for Priests, grant that many young men and women may respond generously to the need for priests and religious in your Church. Grant that all men and women may open their hearts and minds to you, as priests or religious, or as lay people devoted to your Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, serving your Church as we are called to serve. Grant that our children may hear your voice over the deafening roar of modern life and allow it to direct the course of their lives, as joyously as Sr. Cushla has done. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. 

Here is the interview, in four installments (h/t Mujerlatina):

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Because I Am Dust

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

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

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

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

Paul writes to the Corinthians and I emphasize in bold,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From dust you came and to dust you will return.

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

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

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

With the Help of a Good Confessor

Yesterday a fellow parishioner confided to me that she does not go to Father Barnes for confession, but goes to a confessor in another town. My friend’s reason? “I’d just be embarrassed. Most of my sins are truly venial, but Father B’s my friend,  and I—(shrug, grimace)” This reminded me of my quandary when converting: Should I confess face to face or behind a screen? And to whom?

The Archdiocese of Boston has launched a web site to encourage Catholics to go to confession more often during Lent. (Some of the back story is here.) Hot on the trail of St. Joseph, I am now reading a biography of St. Teresa of Avila, who was devoted to St. Joseph and for whom one confessor was a particular source of strength, comfort, and spiritual mentorship. After a while, the good father probably knew who Big Terry was, even when she spoke from behind a screen. I imagine she had a powerful voice.

All of which leads me to the question: Confession? Do you go? (Please answer the poll at right.) Do you go anonymously or face to face? Do you go to the same confessor each time, or—and I think many do this, I certainly have—take the heavy stuff to someone who doesn’t know you and the trivial stuff to your parish priest? (Please comment below.)

Here’s my thinking today, after two years as a Catholic: If I am really, truly serious about cultivating my spiritual life, as St. Teresa was, I will go to confession regularly (once a week or at least once a month) and I will always sit face to face with a priest whose counsel I have come to trust. I know that he is “only” an intermediary and that the absolution I receive is from God. But by confessing to my parish priest or one who gets to know me and my recurring sins, I am accomplishing two things.

First, I’m taking a big whack at my pride, that is, if I’m giving a good confession and not just trying to look good by looking contrite. Been there, done that. I want Father Barnes’s good opinion of me as much as anyone’s. To tell him what’s worst about me puts that good opinion at risk, or at least it does in my prideful imagination.

Second, I get double benefits: God’s absolution and the counsel of a wise man. I do not have a spiritual director, per se, and although I have thought about “hiring” one, every time I do think of it, I realize that I already have one, Father B. Between the pulpit and the confessional, he gives me all the spiritual advice I can handle.

What’s your experience?

For the Love of St. Joseph II

During my wilderness years, I fell for theories about mystical kingdoms in Tibet or where Jesus really was from age 12 to age 30. But what if Tibet’s only kingdom was destroyed when the Chinese invaded? What if Jesus did nothing from 12 to 30 except stay home in Nazareth, near Joseph and Mary?

Since this is a Catholic blog and since we’re five weeks from the feast day of St. Joseph, my patron, I’m going to stick to the second question.

In the what-did-Jesus-do department, I somehow thought that the gnostics might have it right: That He maybe studied with some esoteric school somewhere, like, say, the Essenes. I didn’t really know who the Essenes were, but if there were such a thing as a universal mystical brotherhood, operating in, like, say, Tibet, then it made sense for Jesus to have been in touch with, oh, say, some sort of correspondence school or some such affiliated with said brotherhood.

But what if the Church is right? (A question I never seriously asked until being received into the Church two years ago.) What if Jesus, Mary, and Joseph returned from Egypt to Nazareth and, with the exception of Passover visits to the rabbinate in the city, they just stayed home? What if the world really is as simple and straightforward as it seems? What does this say about St. Joseph? Or about the importance of the family in the divine plan?

I thought about this question yesterday, as I wrestled with a heavy cold, pondered a personal fatherhood question, and read Redemptoris Custos, John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church. There’s nothing that will bring theological questions about fatherhood into sharper focus than tossing and turning in sick-bay while thinking about a grown child who is not answering a friendly e-mail.

Who was St. Joseph? What was his life like? And if it was really like I think it was, and Immaculate Mary was Jesus’s mother, what other teachers did Jesus need? Especially if He, Jesus, was the Son of God? I will leave detailed discussion of Redemptoris Custos (Guardian of the Redeemer) until next week and finish here with a couple of my own personal and entirely noncanonical thoughts about Joseph.

Mary may have been born immaculate, without stain of sin, but there’s nothing in Church doctrine that says the same of Joseph. Joseph was a JAG, just a guy, a carpenter. Descended from David, yes, and probably devoutly Jewish. Old? Young? Certain veins of tradition argue that he must have been old, because a widower. But what was old in that time? Thirty? Forty? I give Joseph credit for being young enough to pack his family off to Egypt under cover of night, young enough that when he settled back in at Nazareth, the demands of chastity while living with a beautiful young woman were significant.

This guy kept his mouth shut and worked and cared for his family. I’m guessing that an adolescent Jesus may have been a handful, and who’s to say that even Mary didn’t have her moments, no matter how immaculate? Joseph kept his mouth shut and worked and cared for his family and died in total anonymity and (this is my addition) never resented it for a moment. To quote once only from Redemptoris Custos, “Joseph was in daily contact with the mystery ‘hidden from ages past,’ and which ‘dwelt’ under his roof. This explains, for example, why St. Teresa of Jesus, the great reformer of the Carmelites, promoted the renewal of veneration to St. Joseph in Western Christianity.”

This gives me my next step on the path to understanding St. Joseph better. I’m going to dedicate the weekend to reading Shirley du Boulay’s biography of Teresa of Avila, which has been staring out of the bookshelf at me for far too long.

And I am going to keep my mouth shut as I wait for my beloved daughter to get back to me.

Footnote: Any reader who has come this far might conceivably be interested in why St. Joseph is my patron, which is to say, how he nosed out St. Thomas More in the homestretch

Thoughts on Temperance on a Friday

I’ve been thinking about these thoughts written by C.S. Lewis in the current YIMC Book Club selection Mere Christianity.  They are from chapter 3 of Book III, The Cardinal Virtues. I thought of this when I saw this photograph of Our Pope and a tall glass of beer. Hats off to Athos over at Chronicles of Atlantis.

It reminded me of something Benjamin Franklin said, Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Here is what my new friend Jack Lewis has to say on the subject of Temperance,

Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened “Temperance,” it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further.

It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he wants to give the money to the poor, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. 

But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons-marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

Still not sure? Here is what Our Lord says about such things in the Gospel of Mark, (7:14-23) from the Daily Readings earlier this week,

The Heart of Man

After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable.And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and then out into the latrine?” Thus He declared all foods clean. 
And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

So be temperate, and prudent, and all the other Cardinal virtues. It’s almost Miller-time at Casa del Weathers.  Even if I’m under the weather, (ha-ha, no pun intended) it’s still one beer per man, per day in my household.  Adios, and please drink responsibly!

Thanks to Seal and Bishop Sheen? “A Kiss From A Rose”

Afternoon folks!  Frank from sick-bay here. And from the looks of it, Webster will be joining me here soon. We’re a couple of sick-bay commandos today, or so it seems. The flu bug or something. Heck, I think even our guest Allison has been under the weather. Be careful reading this because it appears to be communicable over the internet.

So, I’m lying here in bed and I pull Life of Christ by Bishop Fulton J. Sheen off my nightstand. I turn to the part in the early going of the book where he is writing about the early life of Christ. His life in Nazareth. The obedience He had for his earthly parents. How after He was “lost” at the temple at age twelve, and impressing the scholars with His questions and knowledge, he still went home with Joseph and Mary and lived obediently with them for 18 more years.

It’s a great story, and told masterfully by Bishop Sheen. What does this have to do with Seal and his song Kiss From A Rose? Probably nothing, but I ran across these words of the Bishop and it reminded me that Allison had asked in the comment section to my first post on Seal,

Now then . . . could you please explain the words of “Kiss on the rose” or whatever it is called? Seal seems like a good guy but his lyrics confound me.

I sent her something via e-mail that was incoherent, most likely.  So I’ll share a thought that I just read written by Bishop Sheen in 1958 and I’ll throw Seal’s video up for your enjoyment and commentary. The Bishop writes the following (bold highlights are mine):

For the next eighteen years, after the three-day loss(when he stayed behind at the temple) He Who had made the universe played the role of a village carpenter, a maker in wood.  The familiar nails and crossbeams in the shop would later on become the instruments of His torture; and he himself would be hammered to a tree.  One wonders why this long preparation for such a brief ministry of three years. The reason might very well be that he waited until the human nature which He had assumed had grown in age to full perfection, that He might then offer the perfect sacrifice to His Heavenly Father.

The farmer waits until the wheat is ripe before cutting it and subjecting it to the mill.  So He would wait until His human nature, which He had, reached its most perfect proportions and its peak of loveliness, before surrendering it to the hammers of the crucifiers and the sickle of those who would cut down the Living Bread of Heaven.

The newborn lamb was never offered in sacrifice, nor is the first blush of the rose cut to pay tribute to a friend. Each thing has its hour of perfection. Since He was the Lamb that could set the hour for His own sacrifice, since He was the Rose that could choose the moment of it’s cutting, He waited patiently, humbly, obediently, while He grew in age and grace and wisdom before God and man. Then He would say: “This is your Hour.” Thus the choicest wheat and the reddest wine would become the worthiest elements of sacrifice.

Listen to the lyrics, look at the album cover photograph (above) and use your imagination.  I don’t think this is about Batman Forever.  Take it away, Seal!

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Because It’s OK for Catholics to Laugh IV: A Modern Allegory

I’m feeling a little under the weather today. Sore throat, runny nose, etc. I posted the YIMC Book Club discussion for this week though.  I may not feel up to posting anything else today, but heck, there is enough for you to read today from Webster and our guest Allison already. So I’ve decided to share a favorite video. Consider it an allegory of the relationship of God and Man.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out who is Who. Enjoy.

Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf in Ready, Woolen and Able

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Because of the Glory Be

Guest Post by Allison Salerno
About 8 last night, during the snowstorm, an ancient, snow-laden tree fell on a power line a few houses away. Our little home fell into darkness. My husband, who had been working on the computer, went upstairs to bed. Gone was the TV show Gabriel, 13, was watching. Gone was my phone conversation with a girlfriend across town. I told Lucas, 10, to turn off the stove in the kitchen where he was making cocoa and join us in the family room. We were all dressed in our pajamas.

With the noise of the outside world turned off, I knit a red wool scarf by candlelight while Gabriel told us in great detail about the film he wants to make–a modernization of the Jekyll and Hyde story. (Recently, he completed his first film, which took two years to make.)

Soon we were all sleepy, and Gabriel went upstairs to his room. Lucas asked if he and I could sleep on the two couches in the family room—he on the loveseat and me on the larger sofa. He ran upstairs to gather blankets.

Once I blew out the candles, Lucas said he felt frightened because of the dark and the silence. The only light was outside—the moon on the snow. The only sound was one of our neighbors shoveling his sidewalk.

I suggested we say some prayers. We usually start off taking turns thanking God for nice things that happened during our day. We think of three things each.

And so I began by thanking God for the beautiful snow. Lucas thanked him for the shoveling, which he really enjoyed. I thanked God for the popcorn we ate. Lucas gave thanks for the hours of sledding he had done with friends, and I thanked God that Daddy had come home safe from work.

It was Lucas’s turn. “I can’t think of anything else,” he said. “Oh—for right now.”

We said an Our Father together. Then I decided to teach him the Glory Be prayer. I said a phrase of it and Lucas repeated.

Glory be to the Father
And to The Son
And to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning,
Is now
And ever shall be,
World without end.

We finished with a Hail Mary.

I asked Lucas which prayer he liked the best. “The Glory Be,” he said. “Because I like the rhythm. And it tells us God is everywhere.”

Moments later, my son’s breathing slowed. He was asleep.

Because of Lourdes

I will never escape Lourdes. My heart will always be a captive of this village on the north skirts of the Pyrenees. I have not seen Lourdes since 1974, my second and last visit, so far. But I’m quite sure there will be a third time. Because of the first time.

I was not a Catholic then. I was not even a practicing Christian.

I had left the Episcopal Church upon leaving home for boarding school, at 15. In 1971, the year of my first visit to Lourdes, I turned 20, and I was deep in the throes of a spiritual quest headed eastward, through yoga and Zen to sufism and the teachings of Gurdjieff.

Traveling with two friends, I arrived in Lourdes without a clue. One of my friends, raised Catholic, prepared me with some basic knowledge about the fourteen-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, who saw a series of apparitions in 1858, a beautiful lady holding a rosary who called herself the Immaculate Conception. I did not know that the Immaculate Conception had become Church dogma only four years before the apparitions, or even what Immaculate Conception meant.

At that time, there were in Lourdes, if memory serves, several hospitals or hospices for the care of invalids, thousands of whom come every year in hopes of a cure. [The rest of this post is an edited excerpt from a longer post written last October.] On a beautiful late-spring day I was walking alone past one of these buildings when I noticed some kind of vehicle being unloaded and hospital sisters in full habits scurrying about. My attention must have been attracted, and I wandered closer when, suddenly, one of the sisters turned hopefully to me and asked, in French, if I could help for a moment. She gestured to follow her to the far side of the vehicle, then reached inside, and pulled out a child, whom she immediately placed in my arms, indicating that I was to carry the child up a flight of stairs. Attention à la tête! she said. Be careful of the head.

I looked down and only then fully realized what, I should say whom, I was facing. It was a hydrocephalic boy, with “water on the brain” and a terribly misshapen head. I was shocked. But he was in my arms and there was only one place to go: up the flight of stairs. I cannot remember how much eye contact I made with the child, or whether I even said anything. I know I was trembling. I reached the top of the stairs, where I mercifully was met by another sister who quickly scooped the child from my arms with a simple Merci, monsieur. Feeling my own inadequacy and lack of charity more than anything else, I beat a hasty retreat. Nor did I volunteer again to help the invalids of Lourdes.

That evening, I said my first rosary. At least that’s how I thought of it, though I was not holding beads and the rosary was said in French, with which I was only high school–fluent. I did know the Our Father in French—Notre père, qui es aux cieux . . . —and could chime in pretty well every decade. But the Hail Mary was a work in progress, in French or even English. Yet none of the words mattered ultimately, because I was “saying my rosary” with about twenty thousand other souls, most of whom held a candle as we processed together in front of the great church that has been built above the grotto where the Blessed Mother appeared to the girl Bernadette.

I did not witness any miracles while in Lourdes, either in 1971 or again in 1974. I never bathed in the waters of the grotto, although I probably will next time. I can only say that from that evening on, the rosary was impressed on my consciousness as something I wanted to experience more often. And my eastward path had taken a slight deflection toward Rome. When your voice is joined with twenty thousand others, you understand that something far greater than you is praying when you say the words. There was a presence in the square in front of the church at Lourdes that evening. As there surely is a presence in Lourdes, 152 years after Our Lady’s apparition there.