The Music of Emilie

…music one of the most amazing and mysterious phenomena of all the world’s ‘miranda,’ the things that make us wonder … a secret philosophizing of the soul … yet, with the soul entirely oblivious that philosophy, in fact, is happening here … Beyond that, and above all, music prompts the philosopher’s continued interest because it is by its nature so close to the fundamentals of human existence. — Josef Pieper

“She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.” – Rev. 12:2

“I’m working a lot more,” says Don LeBlanc, who cleans everything from operating theaters to patient wards during his usual 6 p.m.-to-2 a.m. shift. “Now, it’s sometimes 10 hours or 12 hours [per day].” https://www.marketwatch.com/

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. — Charles Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities

One cannot extol enough the many people in diverse professions, circumstances and states of life who are presently living lives of great sacrifice and hardship now. People who, faced with fear and enormous obstacles, maintain a firm will to sustain hope, to defend life and to maintain good order in the face of the great forces of chaos that threaten us.

Though I never wish to idealize or romanticize people, these days of crisis have called us all to a new greatness — a greatness that for some involves risky work and exhausting hours, for others means dealing with job loss, illness or death, while others are challenged with suffering feelings of helplessness, isolation, loneliness or anxiety, even as they muster acts of courage and trust in God’s mysterious providence.

So many people’s lives of prayer — certainly my own — have turned away from more self-absorbed musings on their own spiritual lives, needs or personal fulfillment, and outward toward the needs and welfare of others. This reminds me of what a priest said several years ago in a retreat I was on:

The saints are quite unanimous: a premier sign of holiness is when your thoughts are populated more by considerations of the welfare of others than of your own, and in that you find your greatest freedom and joy. Certainly if we examine the prayer life of Jesus, as in John 17 or on the cross, this was His whole prayer’s concern: us and our salvation. And what preoccupies His mind now that He’s in heaven? Hebrews 7:25 gives a stunning answer, “He lives forever to make intercession for us.”

In the ancient pattern of God’s redeeming providence, these days of dark travail are ripe for transforming our wailing world into a labor and delivery room, from which a new era of saints can now be born. So it might be good for leaders within the churches, amid the scurrying, to heed the words of St. John Paul II, watch carefully and take note(s)…

…The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world’s great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord’s vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God’s grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history.

Particular Churches especially should be attentive to recognizing among their members men and women of those Churches who have given witness to holiness, in everyday secular conditions and the conjugal state, and who can be an example for others, so that, if the case calls for it, the Churches might propose them to be beatified and canonized.

Pray, Fast, Be Bored, Be Great, and Listen to the Music!

My wife’s birthday gift to me last August. She heard me once say it was my favorite icon.

This will be my last post for a little bit. It has been a great gift to share my thoughts these days. Thank you for reading. I never take that for granted.

A few scattered thoughts.

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Our New Orleans Archbishop has asked all Catholics in our diocese today to join together for a day of prayer and fasting in response to the pandemic, seeking God’s mercy on our community, nation and world. Our Archbishop:

I have received word that all faithful are invited to participate in a special prayer of our Holy Father Pope Francis on Friday, March 27 at 12 noon local time [CDT]. During the Statio orbis, which will be streamed from the Vatican website at www.vaticannews.va, Pope Francis will grant to all participants the Plenary Indulgence before imparting the Urbi et Orbi Blessing. This will be a historic moment for our church and coincides with our local Day of Prayer and Fasting to bring an end to the Coronavirus pandemic and healing to all who are sick. I encourage you to participate in this special prayer.

Archbishop Aymond also invited his Staff to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3:00 p.m. As he himself is infected by the coronavirus, kindly keep him in your prayers.

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As a Lenten Friday, today may also be a good day to recommit to your Lenten practices. It might be wise to reassess smartphone, internet or TV use, which stress, quarantine or other practicalities may have greatly intensified. Maybe plan some substantial dedicated screen-free time to be silent, go outdoors, read, exercise, clean, organize, purge your closet or attic, paint, draw, garden, write some letters, plan your summer, surprise a neighbor with a good deed. But most of all, risk a supremely human experience — being bored.

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The last week and a half, my oldest son and I have been going every evening to the cemetery where my mom, who died last September, was buried. We visit her grave and seek her intercession for all our intentions and the intentions we have been given. The sacredness of a burial ground is immensely powerful, a thin place between heaven and earth.

The cemetery has been completely deserted every time we have gone, which has made it a great space to walk through quietly in peace. I highly recommend frequently visiting the graves of loved ones if possible, and both praying for them and seeking their intercession. The bonds of love are only intensified in death, and even if they are in Purgatory they can intercede for you — and greatly appreciate when you do for them.

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Our parish leaves the church open during the day, and when I go in now, the smells and sights fill me with joy. God’s house! And the Tabernacle, His tenting nearness is a rush of spirit. “I am with you always.” You can sense it so. Others come in, kneel quietly, and leave quietly. Such reverence. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord God of hosts.

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I was outside last night late, looking at the stars and listening to the cricket chorale. We never had frost this winter, so they are out in abundance!

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The local NOLA band Bag of Donuts, that gave our daughter Maria and her friend Ashley their first opps for public performances, made an awesomely creative music video that brought great cheer to our family and to all those I shared it with. Take a look here.

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People are outside in the neighborhood all the time now. Unprecedented. Life! Children laughing, music playing, picnics on the front lawn, people saying hello to each other.

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Living in close home bound proximity 24/7 has made me yet again tweak St. John of the Cross’ epic advice to new novices getting used to monastic quarantine:

…you must engrave this truth on your heart. And it is that you have not entered into [quarantine] for any other reason than to be worked and tried in virtue.

You are like the stone that must be chiseled and fashioned before being set in the building. Thus you should understand that those who are in [your home] are craftsmen placed there by God to mortify you by working and chiseling at you. Some will chisel with words, telling you what you would rather not hear; others by deed, doing against you what you would rather not endure; others by their temperament, being in their person and in their actions a bother and annoyance to you; and others by their thoughts, neither esteeming nor feeling love for you.

You ought to suffer these mortifications and annoyances with inner patience, being silent for love of God and understanding that you did not enter [quarantine] for any other reason than for others to work you in this way, and so you become worthy of heaven. If this was not your reason for entering [quarantine], you should not have done so, but should have remained in the world to seek your comfort, honor, reputation, and ease.
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While there is great need for love and solidarity, sacrifice and support, mercy and kindness these days of pandemic, once it’s over the needs will undoubtedly be vast. May we use this Lent to beg for the grace of magnanimity, to cultivate in grace a “great-soul” and so be empowered in Eastertide to join the Samaritan God in His endless pilgrimage of hope toward Jericho.

O Royal Priest

[The priestly commission of the lay faithful equips them to] produce in themselves ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit.

For all their works, prayers, and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labor, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2.5).

During the celebration of the Eucharist, these sacrifices are most fittingly offered to the Father along with the Lord’s body. Thus, as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the laity consecrate the world itself to God — Lumen Gentium 34.

In the living waters of Baptism, by the fragrant chrism of Confirmation, made perfect through the ministerial priesthood in the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, and joined with my bride in our sacramental life-giving one-flesh union, I am called to be, and to act, as a royal priest who consecrates and up-offers his whole embodied existence to God as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1f).

This is the whole purpose of life.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Matt. 6:19-21

This priesthood I have become sweeps my every action into its liturgical ambit, permitting God’s transforming Fire to enter and burn in the heart of creation, like magma beneath the crust, preparing it for transfiguration in a new creation. I found all this in the symbol of the lit Paschal Candle:

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.

My priestly hands, held aloft by the Church, are to be twined with the World and joined to the labor of bees in making wax to feed the Fire of God. My priestly hands are to be twined with both earth and vine in making bread and wine for the for the life of the World, while heavy laden with alms for the poor. Through these Gifts, Creation finds its perfection. Finds its tetelestai (Jn. 19:30) in becoming, through love, a sacrificial banquet filled with all the fullness of God.

My priestly offering is to be found in

Sweat. Laughter. Exhaustion. Fear. Calm. Prayer. Long labor. Stupidity. Failure. Anxiety. Heroism. Feeding. Fasting. Sleeping. Keeping vigil. Insomnia. Sin repented. Singing. Dancing. Staring. Fixing. Confused. Numb. Joyous. Forgiving. Repairing. Playing. Bedridden. Reading. Writing. Pleasure. Agonizing. Doubting. Trusting. Loving. Serving. Imprisoned. Sick. Weak. Forgetting. Exercising. Waiting. Stressing. Comforting. Reprimanding. Patiently enduring. Celebrating. Grieving. Cleaning. Gardening. Visiting. Impatiently fretting. Lonely. Delighted. Visiting. Addiction withdrawing. Smiling. Crying. Wondering. Beautifying. Dying. Nothing. All. My, our, His whole messy lot.

The material readied for this Sacrifice should be great, for all is in our reach, no matter our limits. By a single act of the will, by a simple intention of faith in love with hope, all is consecrated. Drench it all now, O Christian, in the torrent of mercy gushing from the side of our dead God (cf Jn. 19:30-37).

Pray your epiclesis in simple faith with Elijah…

“Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. — 1 Kings 8:37-38

This post came to me while my wife made dinner for an elderly woman who lives alone. She delivered it just now, and sat with her for a time. While she was away, the Fire fell. I heard it roar, and it took everything up into the Banquet. Even before Mass had begun. My God. Yet we will finish this only then.

Listen outside. The Fire! It’s falling up, everywhere…

Fasting from Eucharist

Mass with Pope Francis on Rio’s Copacabana beach in 2013, most of the 1+ million people could not receive because of the vastness of the crowd

Happy Solemnity of the Annunciation, when the Yes of Mary permitted the Eternal God to take on our flesh and blood and soul.

Don’t forget, Pope Francis asked all Christians around the world to join as one and pray the Our Father today at (your) noon! “…and deliver us from evil…”

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I have been reflecting lots on what are the hidden graces present in the absence of public Masses. Today, I received a gift from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. All one needs to do is quote from him, and it suffices,. No commentary needed…

In his book Behold the Pierced One (pp. 97-98), Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) wrote:

When Augustine sensed his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and undertook public penance. In his last days he manifested his solidarity with the public sinners who seek for pardon and grace through the renunciation of communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in the humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for him who is the Righteous and Merciful One.

Against the background of his sermons and writings, which are a magnificent portrayal of the mystery of the Church as communion with the Body of Christ, and as the Body of Christ itself, built up by the Eucharist, this is a profoundly arresting gesture. The more I think of it, the more it moves me to reflection. Do we not often take the reception of the Blessed Sacrament too lightly? Might not this kind of spiritual fasting be of service, or even necessary, to deepen and renew our relationship to the Body of Christ?

The ancient Church had a highly expressive practice of this kind. Since apostolic times, no doubt, the fast from the Eucharist on Good Friday was a part of the Church’s spirituality of communion. This renunciation of communion on one of the most sacred days of the Church’s year was a particularly profound way of sharing in the Lord’s Passion; it was the Bride’s mourning for the lost Bridegroom (cf. Mk 2:20).

Today too, I think, fasting from the Eucharist, really taken seriously and entered into, could be most meaningful on carefully considered occasions, such as days of penance—and why not reintroduce the practice on Good Friday? It would be particularly appropriate at Masses where there is a vast congregation, making it impossible to provide for a dignified distribution of the sacrament; in such cases the renunciation of the sacrament could in fact express more reverence and love than a reception which does not do justice to the immense significance of what is taking place. A fasting of this kind—and of course it would have to be open to the Church’s guidance and not arbitrary—could lead to a deepening of personal relationship with the Lord in the sacrament. It could also be an act of solidarity with all those who yearn for the sacrament but cannot receive it.

It seems to me that the problem of the divorced and remarried, as well as that of inter-communion (e.g., in mixed marriages), would be far less acute against the background of voluntary spiritual fasting, which would visibly express the fact that we all need that ‘healing of love’ which the Lord performed in the ultimate loneliness of the Cross.

Naturally, I am not suggesting a return to a kind of Jansenism: fasting presupposes normal eating, both in spiritual and biological life. But from time to time we do need a medicine to stop us from falling into mere routine which lacks all spiritual dimension. Sometimes we need hunger, physical and spiritual hunger, if we are to come fresh to the Lord’s gifts and understand the suffering of our hungering brothers. Both spiritual and physical hunger can be a vehicle of love.

Amen.