A rose in our “Mary Garden.”
Today I’d like to leave a smattering of miscellaneous insights that have been hanging around in my head the last few weeks. I’m trying to get these final ideas out today, which makes this one a “doozy,” but I will soon give you a doozy-break. I do hope these thoughts lift you a bit.
1. B-Day! Today is my wife’s birthday. For those who know her, if you leave a comment I will share it with her. Birthdays are big deals. The Church gets enthused about nativities and still has not tired of celebrating them after two thousand years — Our Lord, Our Lady, St. John the Baptist. The Church also celebrates conceptions — Our Lord on 3/25, Our Lady on 12/8, St. John the Baptist (in the Orthodox Church) on 9/23. That would be something, eh? Hey, happy conception day! The icons for the 3 conceptions are super-cool:
“Conception of the Mother of God” showing Sts. Joachim and Anne embracing. Taken from glory2godforallthings.com
“Conception of St. John the Baptist” showing Sts. Zechariah and Elizabeth embracing with St. John off to the side. Taken from images.oca.org
Please pray this Orthodox blessing for Patti this day:
Grant, O Lord, a prosperous life, health, salvation, furtherance in all good things, and all Thy blessings to Thy handmaid and protect her for many years. Amen.
2. Cantare amantis est. You know I love, and am all about, Catholics who boldly cast the seeds of Christ into contemporary culture; especially into music culture. Well, I happened to cross paths last week with a young lady who’s doing this with gusto: Tori Harris. Tori is, as her website (here) says it, “bridging the gap between ancient tradition and contemporary worship music…is part of a wave of vibrant young Catholics who are committed to communicating the richness of the Catholic faith to a new generation of the faithful.” She reminds me very much of Colleen Nixon, whom I have featured several times here. I asked Tori a few questions and I thought I would share her answers with you:
How do you see yourself reflected in these words of St JP2?
JP2: “None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.”
TH: I remember watching a youtube video of different artists speaking this exact quote. I was so moved by the video, that I watched it a second and third time – and with each viewing, the words sank deeper into my heart. As a songwriter, I’m acutely aware that, although I am the “author” of songs, I am not the author of creativity. Though I may decide to set aside time to write a song, the resulting work – the melody, the lyrics, the emotion- all of this creativity pours out from something greater than myself. I deeply believe that this source, the origin of creativity, is God the Father. Thus, my career as a musician, is less an independent, personal endeavor and more a participation in the creative movements of the Father.
What unique “word” do you believe your work speaks to your Millennial generation?
TH: There was a time in my life when I thought, “if I could just say the RIGHT thing, or phrase the Gospel in the right way, than surely the world would be converted” – it took a lot of failure before I realized that I had the wrong perspective. By thinking, “if I could say the right thing”, I had assumed that I had some kind of power over another person’s conversion – and this isn’t true. Certainly, we can influence a person, but at the end of the day, it is the Holy Spirit who moves and changes hearts.
I wouldn’t say I had a “word” for my generation, as much as a desire to use music to usher in the real heart-changer, the Holy Spirit. I strive to use music in a way that creates environments of receptivity to the Holy Spirit. I desire for the music to speak to a place in a person’s heart which invites them into a posture of openness, of safety, of gentleness – and in that place, encounter the Holy Spirit.
What inspires your lyrics and melodies?
TH: I have found that my inspiration always begins in a place of brokenness. I lean into songwriting as a way to encounter healing in some area of my life. The lyrics find their way into a song from many different places (scripture, poetry, conversation, personal revelation) but each word or line is recognized because of its role in the process of my healing. I cry out in confusion, or in question, and the lyrics & melodies are the response, the consolation.
Here’s one of her music video, a prayer to the Holy Spirit:
3. When it all falls apart. I came across a small bit of wisdom that a retreat director gave to me not long after my conversion. I kept notes in pithy fragments. It’s so to the point! I’d evidently complained about how hard life had become since I began to have a spiritual life, which seemed to me counter-intuitive and to argue against my life’s turn as “progress.” Wasn’t I supposed to be feeling great, high on God?
The best sign that you are making progress is when everything comes apart as you’re being put together in a new way. All your false props, false securities are being removed. God is giving you some new tools. Stretching you. Giving you a new mind. God teaches the soul by pains and obstacles, not by ideas. The Devil can’t ignore you now. You’re walking from false peace to true peace, from absence of conflict to the presence of truth. Every time you pray, “Help me trust! Give me peace!” God gives you reasons to exercise trust, and removes all of the obstacles to His peace. More tears are shed over answered prayers than over unanswered, so be ready when you pray and trust the Surgeon. We want free and infused graces, but God wants our participation in their acquisition. Pray for perseverance, which is supremely important if you’re going to become what God is making you. Faithful to the very end. The flighty, fair weather friends of God always stay shallow, flit about, never go deep, run when it gets hard. God wants you to go deep. That’s where the gold is. Saints are far sighted and say things like, “Well, after 20 years I think I am beginning to understand.” Canonized saints are defined as those who practiced Christian virtue to a heroic degree. Long-suffering, sticking with it, is the stuff heroes and heroines are made of.
This reminds me of marriage. As my wife and I draw nearer to our 20th wedding anniversary, I honestly feel I can just now begin to say I understand what “the two become one” means. Marital unity is a pearl of great price, purchased at the cost of giving up everything for the sake of my bride. True unity is love refined in the furnace of the “for worse, or poorer, in sickness” part of “for better or…, for richer…, …and in health.” It’s a unity that makes life’s bitterness sweeter than I could ever have imagined,
How good and how pleasant it is,
when [spouses] live in unity!
Like precious oil upon the head
running down upon the beard,
running down upon Aaron’s beard,
upon the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon which falls
on the heights of Zion.
For there the Lord gives his blessing,
life for ever – Psalm 133:1-3
The married couples I most admire have demonstrated unity in “worse” that can get really bad, in “poverty” that can get really poor, in “sickness” that can get really heavy. Yet there they remain, together clinging to God in the night like Jacob in Genesis 32:22-32. In our fickle, feckless and fluid culture, of which I am very much a part, such persevering love has become the new form of heroic sanctity; the new white martyrdom. In fact, those who can persevere to the end in any worthy commitment set themselves apart. My grandfather used to quote to me from somebody, I think Vince Lombardi, who said: “Greatness is found in the last five minutes of anything.” St. John of the Cross loved to say that the night always got darkest just before dawn. Faithfulness, not success. A religious order priest from Sudan I met once said to me with disarming, alarming and unaffected sincerity, “You Americans always think of personal happiness up top. That makes discernment of God’s will very complicated. What will make me happy? I became a priest because my people needed a priest. Discernment was simple: there was a need, I saw it, knew I could respond to it, so I did and will till I die. God is pleased with such simplicity. It’s simple. We’re complicated.”
Humorous aside: I remembered just now an elderly woman I met in an assisted care facility in Iowa saying to me, after I marveled at her and her husband’s 60+ year wedding anniversary, “The secret to a lifelong marriage is love, and the secret to love is knowing when to shut your mouth.” Her husband silently nodded. True love. :-)
4. Stop and Let Go(d). A friend wrote me and shared a beautiful grace she received in prayer and I thought, in the wake of my Sunday post on the Holy Spirit, it would be (with her permission) good to share here:
This morning, as I prayed before Mass, I asked the Holy Spirit to empty my heart so that I might better open myself to His will. I could feel the hard-hearted stubbornness and chaos leaving, only to be replaced a few seconds later by the most awesome calm and peace. If there was ever any doubt that God is good, that took care of it, in spades.
5. Abba! Father! This Sunday is Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday. A felicitous overlap, as the dogma of the Trinity is at heart a mystery of paternity. Being a father is among God’s most extraordinary, ecstatically joyful, really hard graces. Fatherhood awakens you to the fact that your children have become the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, lonely, imprisoned Christ of Matthew 25, who incessantly pleads for your attention and care. My children daily evoke, call, pull and yank fatherhood out of me. If I had to define my own experience of fatherhood, I would say at heart it’s about making my whole self for-them that they might become everything God created them to be.
But my fatherhood is empty and meaningless without its necessary complement in my wife’s motherhood. She challenges and encourages me to be a better dad and I (hopefully) do the same for her. Our marital covenant is the foundation and axis of our family, and our unity as husband and wife is brought to a whole new depth in our unity as father and mother. Neither comes easy. I can see now how bringing those two unities into harmony is not only challenging, but not to do it threatens both the marriage and the children. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby…” Marital unity, nuptial love, must always come first, must rank ahead of and ground parental love. The children must always see and know — though they will occasionally rail against it — that your love for one another is first and founding and unbreakable. Love for them, thought not “lesser,” must come second. When my children ask, “Do you love Mom more than us,” I answer, “No, but I loved her first and always will.” My children must also see that I defend my wife’s honor and demand their respect for her. Respect is a fundamental, bedrock form of love. Right after my first son was born, I went to a parenting conference by John Rosemond and I remember well when he said,
The most troubling things I see developing in the U.S. as I travel is the increase in children hitting their mothers. Hitting their mothers! I hope that does not describe anyone here today. When women tell me this, and say, “What do I do?” I have two responses: (1) They must know they can never ever do it again and if they do there will be dire consequences; and (2) where is your husband? The second question is usually the hardest to hear…
I’ve mentioned here before that my daughter once said to me years ago, “I feel safe when I see you and mommy kiss.” That lovely affirmation of the gift our sacramental love offers to our children is just as lovely as the day that same daughter (years later) said to me, “Dad, it’s not fair that Mom won’t let me…would you let me…” and I replied, “No, I agree with your Mom and, yes, life’s not always fair.” Even if I don’t agree with my wife’s decision, as far as my daughter’s concerned I do, and I will work out my differences with Patti later when we’re alone. I consider some of my greatest failings as a father those moments when I failed to uphold that unity.
My wife calls me to — better, kicks my butt into — holiness through fatherhood. That’s the way it is for so many men I know. That’s certainly the way St. Gianna Molla’s husband saw it. I think here of the words in a letter he wrote (standing before her relics) to his deceased-canonized wife shortly before his own death:
Now, while you are still present to me, I kneel before you, my holy wife, and I entrust to your intercession with Jesus and our Heavenly Mother, our children, myself and all of our dear ones, for all who knew you, loved you and still carry you in their hearts, for all who turn to you each day, and you know that they are so many, always growing in number: mothers, young people, couples, doctors, religious, in Italy and throughout the world. My beloved Gianna, help me to be as much as possible worthy of you. Please remain always close to us and pray for us.
Your beloved Pietro
Thank you, O Holy Trinity, for lending your paternity to me long enough to reveal it to your children whom you have entrusted to me for this brief time! Make me worthy of this high calling.
Daddyhood thus conceived, if you’re honest, gives you both a shot at unsung greatness and a whole new set of sins to confess that grant you unequaled access to humility.
Oh, and here’s a funny video my kids love to play for me on Dad’s Day:
6. Sacerdotal Songs. “I see music as a priesthood” — Sinéad O’Connor.
I watched a recent interview with this eclectic Irish singer and she made this comment after being asked about her thoughts on Pope Francis. Though it’s no doubt freighted with the anti-clerical sentiments she’s made no secret of, it contains a powerful truth that is, of course, my personal passion.
…like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. — 1 Peter 2:5
The holy and royal priesthood that the Risen Christ shares out with all the baptized is the power to consecrate the temporal order, to daily transact sacrificial oblations between time and eternity. I was at a priestly ordination last Saturday and was struck by a phrase I had never attended to before. When the bishop handed the host and chalice to the newly ordained priest, he said these words:
Receive the oblation of the holy people to be offered to God.
The oblation of the holy people? The chalice and host are neutron stars, highly compressed, visible symbols that bear within them an invisible oblation, i.e. sacrificial offering. That oblation is the material gathered by Christ’s lay faithful through their daily lives of bearing the crosses of their vocations to be salt, leaven and light in the little corner of the world that God has entrusted to them. To tend and feed God’s holy people with the Shepherd’s love, and then to gather up the bounteous “material” of their lives in order to lay it before God for consecration into Christ’s immortal sacrifice — such is the great work of the ministerial priest! As I heard these words, I was deeply moved to think of the vast amount of “material” brought to the Cathedral that day by those hundreds of faithful who came to share in the joy of the Mass of Ordination. Being flanked by a family with five children and a severely disabled elderly woman in a wheelchair was enough to make me cry! What treasures! What a dignity the priest has to be entrusted by each of the faithful with all of their life’s true riches, that he might, through the Eucharistic sacrifice, store their riches safely in heaven. Through your hands, O priest, nothing good in life is lost. Deo gratias!
Back to music. Musicians have a special role in this priestly work of consecrating the world to God. They get to be stewards of unrivaled beauty. St. Paulinus of Nola once said, At nobis ars una fides et musica Christus, “Our only art is faith and our music Christ.” I read an article (here) recently about musicians who are Catholic, like Danylo Fedoryka and Mike Mangione, and whose mission is to make non-religious music that resonates with Christ. Their comments were perfect expressions of the priestly vocation of the laity:
From the beginning, our desire has been to bring a lightness into the darkly charged environment you find in most clubs and bars. Our goal is to change that feeling of darkness into a feeling of joy. What we bring to the table as musicians is that we love everybody because they’re God’s children. Recognizing the dignity of the people in our audiences requires us to give them the best show we can give no matter what. There’s been a lot of bad music for a long time, and they’re tired of the overproduced offerings from the music industry. Then, along comes the Avetts and Marcus Mumford, and they’re writing songs with substance, songs that are about more than the latest hookup or partying. They’re talking about things that are real, and people respond to that. Our culture is filled with incredible people with incredible potential. But they’re constantly bombarded by so many negative messages. That’s why we’re called to go out into the streets and present a different message. That’s our job. Not to be on the outskirts shouting, but to be on the inside showing.
7. “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation,” — Genesis 2:2-3:
“The Trinity with the Dead Christ,” Lodovico Carracci c. 1615. Taken from wikimedia.org