July 25, 2012

Finding Spirituality in a Crowd

There is something very good and uplifting about spending several days with close to 2,000 people who are in musical and liturgical ministry in Catholic parishes throughout the country. This week I am at the annual convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians in Pittsburgh, PA.  In addition to listening to and singing wonderful liturgical music, there is a spiritual component to the talks and workshops.

So far we have heard two wonderful addresses. The Keynote on Monday was by Fr. Ronald Raab, CSC. He spoke about finding holiness in our suffering and in entering into the suffering of others. Pretty powerful!

Tuesday's Plenum address was given by Fr. J. Michael Joncas, who I had the good fortune to have as a professor when I studied at Notre Dame. I also attended his workshop on the history of the Roman Missal yesterday.  But his talk was like being on retreat. It was about connecting liturgy and life and he used the Gospel Antiphon for Evening Prayer on the feast of Corpus Christi as the jumping off point, connecting it with passages from Sacrosanctum Concilium.  He had me mesmerized. I only hope the talk is made available so that I can reflect on it further.

Tuesday night was an evening of contrasts musically, but both were spiritually uplifting. First a concert of contemporary praise music by young composers and performers. I guess its distinct Catholicity is why we do not hear their songs on Christian radio. Following that was Taize prayer. I have always loved Taize prayer with its meditative chants. It was beautifully to be carried away in prayer by the voices of a few hundred people all singing in harmony while meditating on the cross of Christ surrounded by candles and icons.

This morning we heard another plenum address by Msgr. Kevin Irwin which was challenging but also a warning against making my participation in the liturgy all about me and my wants.  He gave me much to think about.

Right now I am skipping the morning showcases and doing some work on my book.  That would make my publishers, who are in a booth in the conference hall, very happy.

A conference such as this is tiring, and if I decided to do everything on the schedule I would be totally exhausted.  But the time away from work and the mundane things of daily life is good. I have time for prayer (although haven't found my way to a Mass yet as it is a far walk), and the opportunity to connect with some people I haven't seen in awhile and to make new friends, all in an atmosphere where the worship of Jesus is the main topic of conversation.  My voice is a bit hoarse from singing so much and I am walking about 6 miles a day between the hotel and the conference center, but all in all it is a wonderful and inspirational week.

July 11, 2012

St. Benedict and Me

Today is the feast of Holy Father Benedict. No, not Pope Benedict, but St. Benedict of Nursia, the sixth century saint who is considered the founder of Western monasticism.  Today is also a feast day for me because I am an Oblate of St. Benedict.

When I tell people I am an Oblate, their first question is, "What's an Oblate." Their second question is, "Why?" Some people wonder if I really wanted to be a nun. Others think I'm just the crazy church lady. Some are very curious, ask a lot of questions and seem genuinely interested. The real reason is that, for me, it is a path to holiness. The link above explains what an Oblate is, but why did I decide to make my oblation is a very good question.

I first read the Holy Rule of St. Benedict many, many years ago. I picked it up while visiting the Weston Priory in Vermont which was one of my favorite places to visit with a group from my parish. I understood it as a good rule for life but never took it any further by applying it to my own life. Years later I read The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris and realised that the Rule can apply to our ordinary lives and didn't require living in a monestary or abbey. I began to see how living the Rule made a lot of sense in this crazy world of ours. It was, in a sense, a call to go back to basics, not so much in an ascetical sense but in getting back to spiritual basics and living a simple and happy life in the here and now.

The next expereince that drew me closer to a Benedictine spirituality was when I began my liturgical studies at the University of Notre Dame. I learned that the Benedictines and liturgy just go together like paper and glue. They were known througout the centuries to be the center of liturgical reform and the Pontifical Liturgical Institiute located at Sant'Anselmo in Rome is run by the Benedictines.  The more I studied the more I came to undertand why I love liturgy so much. I met quite a number of Benedictine religious and oblates during my time at Notre Dame and had the opportunity to see how Benedictine spirituality affected their lives.

In discerning how I could deepen my relationship with God, it was suggested to me that I look into a third order or affiliate myself with a religious community. After much prayer, a search into the charisms of different orders and communities, and reflection on where God may be calling me, I kept coming back to the Benedictines.  I re-read the Rule and did a search on Monestaries or Abbeys near where I lived. The closest was St. Walburga Monestary in Elizabeth, NJ. If I was going to make an oblation with a community, I wanted it to be one where I would be able to travel to easily.

I began to attend Oblate meetings and after a year of discernment decided to enter formation for my oblation. I made my final oblation a year later. Being an Oblate has had such a positive affect on my life. I have learned to live a simplier life, to appreciate people and things more. I have learned that humility and obedience are not "dirty words" and that in living these virtues I am a much happier person. I have come to realize the beauty of the Divine Office and look forward to praying the psalms every day, several times a day. But most of all my relationship with God has grown deeper.

Reading the Rule every day has shown me that the wisdom of St. Benedict does not lose anything 1500 years later. It is a relevant today as it was in the sixth century.  Today as we celebrate our Holy Father Benedict's feast I can't help but call to mind a quote from the Holy Rule, one that is on the stained glass window at our monestary and taped to my computer at work: "Prefer nothing to the Love of Christ."

Happy feast day. PAX

July 5, 2012

Isn't Somebody Missing?

For the past few months I have been listening to a radio station that was recommended to me. It advertises itself as Christian and inspirational, and indeed it is. The songs speak of the love of Jesus, His forgiveness and mercy, of dependence on the Father, and in turning to God in good and bad times.  Yet in all the time I have been listening to the station, I have not heard one song that mentions the Holy Spirit. I haven't even heard the announcers mention the Spirit. I find that rather odd. How can you talk or sing about the Father and the Son and leave out the Spirit who is the very Breath of God.

Perhaps it is because of all the Persons of the Trinity the Holy Spirit is probably the most difficult for people to comprehend. It is easy to relate to Jesus, who is human as well as Divine. The Father too is easy to relate to, even if it is as basic as thinking of Him as this old bearded grandfather type who created us and sustains us in our need and correcting us when we sin.  But the Spirit is kind elusive and difficult to describe how He works in our lives...or is He?

The Spirit hovered over the waters when the world was created, He was the breath that brought our first parents to life and breathes new life into us when we are baptized. He is the Love between the Father and the Son that is extended to God's people. He teaches us in the ways of the Lord, He inspires us and He even prays for us when we cannot pray on our own. How can we ignore Him. How can a station advertise itself as Christian and inspirational when they don't even mention the source of all that inspires us?

The station is always quoting Scripture, yet Who is it that inspired the authors of Scripture? Who was it in the Book of Acts that came down upon the apostles on Pentecost? Who is it that St. Paul speaks so eloquently of in His letters? Who came down upon the water when Jesus was baptized by John?

I am positive that  these Christian songwriters have been touched by the Holy Spirit. Who do they think inspired them to write the songs in the first place. Who is it that led them into this ministry of music that helps bring people to God?

I have a friend who is very deeply in love with the Holy Spirit. She calls Him the Eternal Nag.  Not in a negative way but in a playful way. It is the Holy Spirit who gently, and sometimes not so gently, encourages, pushes and prods us to walk in the way of the Lord, to do His will and to serve God and His people.  In light of this, I am on a prayer mission asking the Holy Spirit to nag  Christian songwriters to write something about the Spirit that will inspire people just as much as their songs about Jesus and the Father do.  It is possible you know, we Catholics have been singing about the Spirit for centuries.

July 3, 2012

What's in a Name?

The Incredulity of St. Thomas by Caravaggio

I was thinking today that  St. Thomas goes down in history with the name Doubting Thomas. It seems a shame that one little mistake and he gets saddled with this moniker for all eternity. I mean really, who wouldn't have doubted. You hear from your friends that someone you knew was dead is now alive. It's only been a week, they were grieving, maybe drank a bit too much wine.  Who wouldn't have said "prove it?" You don't hear Peter referred to as Denying Peter, or Paul called Persecutor Paul. So why pick on poor Thomas?

I don't know about you, but I have my doubts at times about all this God stuff and Jesus and everlasting life. My goodness, even great saints like Therese and Mother Theresa had doubts. People all the time wonder about the truth of it all. The important thing is what you do with those doubts.  Jesus appeared to Thomas and told him to touch His wounds.  Thomas probably felt a bit embarrassed but then he proclaimed, "My Lord and my God!"  What a statement of faith!  He then went on to evangelize India and did so well that today is a great feast there,

We, in a way, are privileged.  We have 2,000 years of the faith of others to lead us in ours. We have the Gospels and epistles and the Fathers of the Church who handed down to us the teachings of Our Lord and showed us the Truth contained in the faith. 

But then what of  this title of Thomas.  What if we were known for eternity by the one BIG mistake we made in our lives.  I can just hear it...Adulteress Audrey, Embezzler Frank, Susan the Proud, etc., etc.  What a way to be remembered. Then again, it shows the great Love and Mercy that Jesus shows those who sin and seek forgiveness. The Doubter becomes a great saint.  I'd like to be a great saint.  Well, maybe not a great one but a saint none the less. And I just want to be known as Jo-Ann, plain and simple, if you please.