Jesus Goes Mainstream, Old and New (Music for Mondays)

Maybe you should buy “The Head In The Heart ‘s” new album…

Back in April, right when we rolled into Eastertide, I started a series of MfM posts on Our Lord’s presence in the music of mainstream culture. I called it, unsurprisingly, Jesus Goes Mainstream, remember?

Today, I’m revisiting the idea with five tunes that take to the four points of the compass, or to the Cross. The set starts off with a flashback to 1976 with David Bowie’s song about prayer and rapidly brings you to the present day and age with the four remaining songs having been recorded since the advent of the New Millenium. [Read more...]

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Because Dracula was Catholic? Oh My!

Originally published on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in December of last year, it seems fitting, what with Halloween coming up, to run it again.

Yesterday, I did something that I can only explain by pointing to the fact that I am a Catholic. I said a prayer for the soul of Dracula. No, not for Bram Stoker’s fictional vampyre version of him, but for the real Dracula. That’s right, Vlad “the Impaler.” [Read more...]

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For All the Saints: Crispin and Crispinian UPDATED

“Bossche Saints Crispin and Crispinian” by Aert van den Bossche (fl. 1490-1505) – Own work (BurgererSF). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s St. Crispin’s Day. Before I was a Catholic, I wouldn’t have know this, or that there were two men being commemorated. So who are Crispin and Crispinian? Christian twin brothers, martyred in the year 285 or 286. Turning to the always open YIMCatholic Bookshelf, I found this legendary story on the two saints in Jesuit Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger’s Lives of the Saints. Here’s what he reports, [Read more...]

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For Thoughts on Faith Like These by Thomas Merton

Divine_Mercy-779948“Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Now, as Pope Benedict has declared the coming year as the Year of Faith, Fr. Louis explains clearly and simply what faith means. What follows are thoughts from the prologue of his “The Silent Life,” published in 1957.

I came across these words a few years ago, when I was reading all I could that Merton had written. When I read them, I couldn’t help changing the words “monk” and “monasticism” to “Catholic” and “Catholicism”, because when I did, they helped answer the statement “Why I Am Catholic” very effectively. Fr. Louis has the floor,

Let us face the fact that the monastic vocation tends to present itself to the modern world as a problem and as a scandal.

In a basically religious culture, like that of India, or of Japan, the monk is more or less taken for granted. When all society is oriented beyond the mere transient quest of business and pleasure, no one is surprised that men should devote their lives to an invisible God.

In a materialistic culture, which is fundamentally irreligious, the monk is incomprehensible because he “produces nothing.” His life appears to be completely useless. Not even Christians have been exempt from anxiety over this apparent “uselessness” of the monk, and we are familiar with the argument that the monastery is a kind of dynamo which, though it does not “produce” grace, procures this infinitely precious spiritual commodity for the world.

The first Fathers of monasticism were concerned with no such arguments, valid though they may be in their proper context. The Fathers did not feel that the search for God was something that needed to be defended. Or rather, they saw that if men did not realize in the first place that God was to be sought, no other defence of monasticism would avail them.

Is God, then, to be sought?

The deepest law in man’s being is his need for God, for life. God is Life. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men, and the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). The deepest need of our darkness is to comprehend the light which shines in the midst of it. Therefore God has given us his first commandment:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength.

The monastic life is nothing but the life of those who have taken the first commandment in deadly earnest, and have, in the words of St. Benedict, “preferred nothing to the love of Christ.”

But Who is God? Where is He? Is Christian monasticism a search for some pure intuition of the Absolute? A cult of supreme Good? A worship of perfect and changeless Beauty? The very emptiness of such abstractions strikes the heart cold. The Holy One, the Invisible, the Almighty is infinitely greater and more real than any abstraction of man’s devising. But he has said: “No one shall see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Yet the monk persists in crying out with Moses: “Show me Thy face” (Exodus 33:13).

The monk, then, is one who is so intent upon the search for God that he is ready to die in order to see Him. That is why monastic life is a “martyrdom” as  well as a “paradise,” a life that is at once “angelic” and “crucified.”

St. Paul resolves the problem: “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

The monastic life is the rejection of all that obstructs the spiritual rays of this mysterious light. The monk is one who leaves behind the fictions and illusions of a merely human spirituality in order to plunge himself in the faith of Christ. Faith is the light which illumines him in mystery. Faith is the power which seizes upon the inner depths of his souls and delivers him up to the action of the divine Spirit, the Spirit of liberty, the Spirit of love. Faith takes him, as the power of God took the ancient prophets, and “stands him upon his feet” (Ezekiel 2:2) before the Lord. The monastic life is the life in the Spirit of Christ, a life in which the Christian gives himself entirely to the love of God which transforms him in the light of Christ.

“The Lord is a Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3: 17-18).

What St. Paul has said of the inner life of every Christian becomes in all truth the main objective of the monk, living in his solitary cloister. In seeking Christian perfection the monk seeks the fullness of the Christian life, the complete maturity of the Christian faith. For him, “to live is Christ.”

Amen. It’s time to harness our inner monks and crank up the dynamo of prayer.

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For All Creatures, Great and Small

Howdy fellah!

This is Reason #374 why I don’t live in “the big city.” I rumbled up the driveway in the Mustang, and as I lined her up to back into the garage, I spied “Mikey” in all his camouflaged glory crawling up the side of the other car. Sounds like a lead-in for an article in Big Backyard magazine, doesn’t it?
[Read more...]

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For the Faith of Andrea Doria at Lepanto

When I was a kid, I really enjoyed reading history. Usually, I wasn’t reading the history that I was supposed to be reading in the classroom.  I really didn’t do that well in school until I served two hitches in the Marines and then decided to get out and go to college. Grade school and high school? Homework, schmomework!


When Christmas loomed in our house though, my mom knew what I was interested in and what presents to get me: military history books. Ships, planes, tanks, armies, navies and air forces were her sure-fire ticket to success for Frank. In one of those books I learned about the Andrea Doria.

The ironic thing is that this wasn’t a warship. But it was famous because of one of the most heroic stories of a rescue at sea, after a collision. The rescue was so impressive,  that it wound up in one of the books I was reading. It never, ever, occurred to me that Andrea Doria was a man, nor what importance he held in the history of Christendom, or in Western Civilization. I definitely had no idea what Our Lady of Guadalupe had to do with him either. I was a kid (a non-Catholic one, to boot), remember? I just figured it was a feminine name given to a cruise ship.

Now, though, I know better.

Today, you see, is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. It used to be commemorated as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, because on this date in the year of Our Lord 1571, the Battle of Lepanto was fought and won by a smaller, underdog coalition of European Christian forces, primary Catholic and Orthodox, with a smattering of Protestant support, over the larger, and seemingly invincible forces of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Giovanni Andrea Doria was one of the Admirals on the Christian side, in command of the Fortuna.
This may be news to you, but the Ottoman Empire had been cleaning the clocks of Christian nations, and conquering the same, since the collapse of the Roman Empire. All that hoopla about the Crusades? Well, the Crusades were a failure. And wherever the Islamic forces won, which they did early and often, Christianity, and most, if not all of the freedoms that grow out of the Faith, ceased to be. But don’t take my word for it, crack open a history book or two or visit North Africa, Spain and Portugal.

To me, though, the most interesting part of this war story is that while preparing for the battle, Admiral Dorea went down to his quarters and prayed in front of a reproduction of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. You may recall that image appeared on a certain Mexican peasants tilma in the year 1531. And,

Andrea Doria had kept a copy of the miraculous image of our Our Lady of Guadalupe given to him by King Philip II of Spain in his ship’s state room.

After this prayer break, the wind turned in favor of the Christian allies, giving them advantages, the much sought after weather guage, which was detrimental to the Ottoman forces.  As a result, the undermanned, but heavily armed Christians, known as the Holy League, defeated the Ottoman forces in a naval battle for the very first time. Ever.

Big deal? G.K. Chesterton thought so, as he wrote a great poem about this event. Does prayer make a difference? Pope St. Pius V thought so, because prior to the battle, he asked all of Europe to pray the Rosary to ensure victory. According to the Wikipedia citation,

The Holy League credited the victory to the Virgin Mary, whose intercession with God they had implored for victory through the use of the Rosary. 

Take a look at the image below.

What is the Blessed Virgin standing on? Looks like a darkened crescent moon, yes? For more on Our Lady, the significance of this image, Lepanto, Fatima, the Rosary, Islam and what it all may mean, click on this link from our good friends over at EWTN. And then check out Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s thoughts on this matter as well.

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Pray For Anu Garg? You Betcha!

Remember me and my pal Anu Garg? We went around the block a few times. Well unlike all the other times I’ve posted about him and his A.Word.A.Day website, this time my hat is off to him. Maybe caught wind of today’s readings.

Whatever the reason, in a string unmatched in my memory every single one of the words featured on his list this week had a trademark Thought of the Day that could be appreciated by believers as well as atheists. Amazing grace! [Read more...]

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Because Christ is A Royal (Then, So Am I)

—Feast of Bl. Marie of the Incarnation
What has the Royal Wedding got to do with anything? I ask this question because of the ambivalence to the event that I noticed across the Catholic blog-o-sphere. There was either nary a mention of it anywhere, or derisiveness when it was mentioned.

What’s the story? Jealousy of the royals? Feelings of inadequacy? Bunch of rich guys…to hell with ‘em? Was the prince’s red-coat stirring your loins for battles your ancestors fought long ago? You can’t stand monarchies, perhaps?

Or is it the spectacle that is made of it? The profligate waste of capital on a mere ceremony, that one blogger said could have been done for $100 in front of a humble priest? Seriously?! Judas would agree with you there. Catholics who are normally turning victory laps over pageantry, beautiful churches, sumptuous robes and incense all of a sudden announce that they aren’t fans of the Royals, etc., etc.

This is ironic to me because we’ll all be turning victory laps for the beatification ceremony of Blessed Pope John Paul II without batting an eyelash. It’s funny, to me at least, when blue-collar heroes like Joe Six-Pack, USMC are the ones gushing over the scriptural imagery of the Royal Wedding. It makes me want to break out a bullhorn and say, “Do you people even read the Bible?” This is the parable of the Wedding Feast folks!

Have a look at how Christ, Our King, puts it,

The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.’

Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

Then he said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.

He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.

I showed up to the wedding feast yesterday. I found the ceremonial wedding garment (humility), put it on, and then enjoyed the show. No, Joe Six-Pack, USMC doesn’t follow every shread of news about the Royal Family in the United Kingdom. But I can see the imagery of the Bride of Christ, and the Groom Himself all throughout the event.

Jesus is a Royal. Have you forgotten? And even though you wouldn’t have known it to look upon Him when he was on his thirty-three year mission to save the world, I’ve got news for you. You’ll know it when you meet Him the next time.

And haven’t you heard what the Holy Spirit said through St. Paul?

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-27)

Oops. Yes, staring right back at you in the mirror is another Royal. You’ve been given a peerage, and now you have to live up to it. Gulp! It’s hard to acknowledge that, but it is true. It’s exactly what the first lines of yesterday’s wedding homily made clear. “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” St. Catherine of Siena doesn’t pull any punches either.

Like in the parable of the wedding feast above, the world was invited to a wedding feast yesterday. “Some ignored the invitation and went away,” and then the losers like me were invited too. That is how Grace operates. It’s unearned. You could get all wrapped up in feelings of inadequacy in realizing that you didn’t deserve to be invited, or you can just be grateful for being invited at all, go, party, and bask in the glow of it all. And then, get back to the business of bringing others to the Feast.

Because here’s something else His Majesty, Our King said that might help us understand our calling as Royals,

Jesus said to them, “The light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overcome you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.” After he had said this, Jesus left and hid from them. (John 12: 35-36)

Which is why our first pope would go on to say,

But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

That, as my friend Forrest Gump would say, is about all I have to say about that.

Updates:

I’m with the Archbishop of Westminster on this one!

27 months later…It’s a Boy!

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Jesus Goes Mainstream (Music for Mondays)

True enough, Elvis Presley loved gospel music. And though he never shied away from singing of his love for the Lord, did anyone else? I mean besides Johnny Cash. Did the culture at large recognize Jesus in song?

Well, that is what this first MfM post of Eastertide is going to focus on: pop songs about Jesus. Many of them were mega-hits, others were one-hit-wonders. Some you’ll remember easily, others probably not.

Eastertide is roughly seven weeks long, extending from the Easter Triduum up until the Day of Pentecost.  I’m willing to explore this over the next seven weeks if you are. To begin with, here are some modern songs that the mainstream culture created and embraced that relate in some way to the Son of Man.

For some of these, you might have to go directly to You Tube. First up is my all time modern favorite,

The Doobie Brothers (1972), Jesus is Just Alright. Yep, this is my favorite tune about Jesus that went mainstream. Wikipedia has the whole story: Jesus Is Just Alright” is a gospel song written by Arthur Reid Reynolds and first recorded by Reynold’s own group, The Art Reynolds Singers, on their 1966 album, Tellin’ It Like It Is. The song’s title makes use of the American slang term “all-right”, which during the 1960s was used to describe something that was considered cool or very good. Well, the Doobies version of this tune is the Gold Standard, in my book anyway. Even when it’s updated for 1996…

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The Velvet Underground (1968), Jesus. Yes, this is Lou Reed singing. That’s right, the same fellow who sang “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” This song is a prayer, pure and simple.

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James Taylor (1970), Fire and Rain. The third stanza begins with, “Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus…” You can claim that this song has no effect on you. And I would believe you just as much as I would believe that Ayn Rand didn’t hold grudges (which means not at all!).

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Norman Greenbaum (1969), Spirit in the Sky. I bet you never saw this video. I said once before that I used to think this was T-Rex. Norman’s “one hit wonder” jams! Listen to that guitar and these lyrics, and try to keep still. I dare you.

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Marvin Gaye (1970), Wholy, Holy. This song was eclipsed by several other great songs from Marvin’s smash hit album What’s Going On. I’m sure you remember the title track, as well as Mercy, Mercy Me. The second stanza of this song includes the following,

Jesus left a long time ago, said he would return
He left us a book to believe in
In it we’ve got an awful lot to learn…

And it will take an eternity to appreciate it all. I’m game, how about you?

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Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebalek (1969), Prepare Ye (The Way of the Lord). And certainly, we can’t forget the musicals from this era. Up first, Godspell. Wikipedia again: It started as a college project performed by students at Carnegie Mellon University and moved to La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in Greenwich Village. It was then re-scored for an off-Broadway production which became a long-running success.

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Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber (1973),  Superstar. From the Tony Award winning musical Jesus Christ Superstar.  This is the most famous song from the musical.  Here we have Judas and the Soul Sisters vs. the Angels.

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Donna Summer, (1980), I Believe in Jesus. Who says we stopped singing about Jesus in the 1970′s? They must have not have been paying attention. Donna Summer, the woman who launched her career with Hot Stuff, from her album Bad Girls,  gives us the right stuff with this song just one year later.

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Depeche Mode (1989), Personal Jesus. I’ve shared this one before too. Consider that prayer is a lot like making a phone call to God, or as I told my daughter this morning, like sending Him a text message (and you can do it as often as you text your friends). Yep, Dad is weird.

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U2 (1997), If God Will Send His Angels. If you need a modern group that doesn’t shy away from Jesus, look no further. As far as I’m concerned, Bono and the boys are an undercover gospel group.

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Because Christ Waits Patiently

St_Macarius_the_Great_with_Cherub

 

I saw this posted yesterday somewhere: “Forget Christmas or Easter. Independence Day is the most important holiday of the year and will have a greater impact on world history as it serves to remind people for millenia that nations are ruled by the consent of the governed.” My first thought? This person is delusional. My second thought? I need to pray for them. [Read more...]

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