So I wanted to split my last blog entry into two parts as it was getting really, really long. However, they are connected, so if you're interested, please check out Songs, Prayer and Snobbery.
Anyway, I truly believe that prayer can be taken advantage of even in the most surprising situations. Let's take secular music, for example.
For those of your familiar with my Hidden Letter to Jesus, you'll note that there have been times that, while away from the Church, I've thrown myself into an outpouring of misery before God. This period of spiritual misery lasted several years, and I remember hearing an uber-popular Evanescence song titled "Bring Me to Life." (This link brings you to the video, so if you don't wanna see suicidal melodrama, I'd suggest not clicking).
When I'd sing this song, I'd sing it to Jesus. I'm not kidding. I'd pour my entire being into belting out that song. I have no doubt I probably looked like a lunatic in the car, but who cares? That song was my most heart-felt prayer in my period of spiritual desolation.
The woman (and supporting male) singer(s) is begging her beloved to reach through the darkness... the numbness... the pain... and pull her back from the brink of complete despair. She's begging him to breathe new life into her - to "lead [her soul] back home."
I, too, was begging this of God. "Call my name and save me from the dark... save me from the nothing I've become!" Just as the singer understood her past and current way of living was a lie, I understood that I needed to "open my eyes to everything... there must be something more." That more, I fully understood, was God. So that song, for me, became a prayer. I needed God to forcibly remove me from the life I was leading because I was simply too weak to do it myself. There was no life, no joy, no happiness within my heart and He was the only one who could once again breathe that life back into me. So yes, that pop-rock song was my prayer.
Mind you, I certainly wouldn't want to hear it at a Mass, but my point still stands.
A more current example is "The Cave" by Mumford and Sons. (Again, may I warn you that the video is horrible - not offensive, just horrible). I'm curious if they based this song off Aristotle's Allegory of the Cave since their last stanza always reminds me of it.
Anyway, this song hits home for me as a prayer on an entirely different level. In my endeavours for evangelization, this song is my prayer for strength, mercy and courage.
The lead singer starts with an empathic verse to someone who is currently struggling with an issue (in my mind) of faith. He then relays his own journey (past and present) along the path of faith, hope and freedom in understanding truth. He acknowledges that he still stumbles, but holds onto the hope that each stumble brings him further along the path towards truth. As a result of understanding the importance of this truth (of changing his "ways" and knowing his "name") he throws himself into helping others learn the truth... to fight against the pressures that work against our most basic nature.
I, too, have "come out of the cave walking on [my] hands, and [saw] the world hanging upside down." And though a million lyric places have the next line as "you'll understand dependence when you know the maker's hand" I truly believe it's "you'll understand dependence when you know they're makers none."
This is an important distinction. In the Allegory of the Cave, "coming out of the cave" was an extremely traumatic event. Being kept in the "dark" of ignorance for so long, the body had to fight to climb up and out of the cave. When a person finally did stumble out of the darkness, his eyes were forced to look away repeatedly from the bright light of truth. Slowly, timidly, the person could begin blinking his eyes open, looking around and seeing everything he once thought he understood in a wholly new light. Everything was, in short, upside down. Yet upon seeing things in the proper light, the first thing the person wants to do is go back for those left behind in the darkness - to educate them and pull them from the abyss. That is exactly what the lead singer attempts to do throughout his song. He takes the listener under his wing in an attempt to bring him along the path towards truth.
Thus, the importance of "You'll understand dependence when you know they're makers none."
If we all could stop for a moment and look at the folks in our lives that we place upon pedestals... how honest are we being with ourselves? How rosy are the glasses we tend to wear? We're obsessed with celebrities, we're hooked onto reality shows, we fawn over gossip magazines and sports broadcasts. If we were to see them "out of the cave" and understand who they were in truth, would we be so willing to devote so much time to them? None of these folks, in all honesty, are deserving of our time because none of them - not ONE of them - is the Maker. They are all dependent upon image and keeping us ignorant of who they are. They are dependent upon their own ignorance of themselves. None of them are the independent demi-gods we've turned them into. That is vital to our understanding of Truth.
So yes, "I will hold on[to] hope and I won't let you choke on the noose around your neck" speaks volumes about evangelization to me. I, equipped with the Truth of Christ, want to run my way back into the cave of ignorance and yank out as many souls as I can. "I'll find strength in pain and I will change my ways" speaks to me of the redemptive suffering we are each blessed with and the lessons we can learn through it. Finally, "I'll know my name as its called again" almost makes me cry (especially my repeated prayer for God to "Call my name" above). I have finally heeded the call of Christ. I know who I am once more. I am a child of God and I rejoice in the truth, satisfied with a peace and love inexpressable to those still content to remain in the shadows.
So in conclusion, I believe that God is happy to hear from us regardless of how we sent that message to Him so long as its with the right intention. If we're looking to honor Him, ask for His help or just say "Hey, You're Awesome and I love You!" I doubt He'd look upon our childish offerings with a scowl. He knows what's in our hearts, and if some folks choose to send up their prayers in a Gregoriant chant, awesome! If others feel a true connection with a Britney Spears song, who am I to say that the Holy Spirit can't work through the radio?
It's all in the state of our heart, and who are we to judge what we cannot see or understand? :)
You're opinion? It's wrong.
So a friend of mine was complaining about the new "Gloria." I'm not its biggest fan yet, either. I feel like there are WAY too many ups and downs for no other purpose than to amuse the cantor. Granted, that could very well be my horrible singing talking, but still...
I don't believe (as my friend) that the new Gloria has ruined the liturgy in any way. I tried to mention that, but was immediately presented with several other "horrible" hymns that apparently destroy the Sacrifice of the Mass. One of the songs presented to me was "Gift of Finest Wheat."
Hey now! Gift of Finest Wheat? C'mon!
I asked what problem she could POSSIBLY have with a song selected by Archbishop Chaput for his Installation in Philly. She had no response. She simply told me my taste in music was too "modern."
So I asked her to give me another example of a hymn that could possibly overshadow the Mass. She offered "Anthem" by Tom Conry. I honestly didn't remember that song, but once I did a quick Google search for it, I came upon a recording that jostled my memory. Not exactly the best song ever [in fact, I'd even go so far as to agree it's one of the worst based on the author's over-dedication to (and subsequent misunderstanding of) juxtaposition], but I still wouldn't say it'd ruin Mass.
Finally, almost exasperated by my lack of music refinement, she said, "'Gather Us In.' You can't possibly think 'Gather Us In' is a good song."
Okay, seriously? That's *almost* as bad as attempting to drop kick "Gift of Finest Wheat" out of the hymnal. I grew up singing "Gather Us In" during our school Masses. I never once thought the lyrics were inappropriate, though I admit to thinking, as a child, "Why would I want to be gathered in with the rich and the haughty? Isn't that a bad thing?"
Ha ha... gotta love the mindset of a child.
Anyway, I pulled up the lyrics to the song (to double check myself that there wasn't anything doctrinally wrong with them). I reiterated my stance that, yes, I still liked the song and didn't think that it's "poppy beat" did anything to detract from the Sacrifice of the Mass. I then reaffirmed my position that she was being snotty for no purpose. The Mass is the Mass regardless of what is sung or which priest is presiding. Why? Because Jesus is the Sacrifice, and no one can detract from that which He has done (and continues to do) through the Mass.
Anyway, I brought this up with a Catholic group I frequent and found myself on the receiving end of some very angry suggestions (one person retorted that I should consider myself excommunicated on the basis of accepting such "trash" as music). I couldn't help but laugh. I couldn't understand the venom behind such an innocuous thing! So I went to my buddy, Frank, for his opinion.
You see, Frank is the Music Man for his (and several other) parishes / schools. He runs choir, writes music, puts together the programs for weekly Mass, etc. So off I went to track him down to ask him for his thoughts on this whole ridiculousness. He held the same opinion I did. Some folks were snobby for the sake of being snobby, as if their self-proclaimed "Mass-worthy" songs are holier, more respectful and more pleasing to God than others.
Crazy! I've seen some folks lament "rock-n-roll" style music during Mass, and I get that. Some folks don't want bubble-gum pop being played when they're attempting to solemnly remember the Sacrifice which gained Salvation for us. However, it's been my experience that those complaining about the many facets of the Mass (The Tabernacle curtain isn't the right color! Did you see the altar boy wearing sneakers? I cannot BELIEVE Maude had the audacity to wear THAT to a Church!) are the same folks who think nothing of chatting with their friends - loudly - before / after Mass begins. These are the same folks who crowd around in the middle aisle after Mass, completely oblivious to the Divine Presence, as they cackle loudly and shout to others in an attempt to hammer out brunch dates.
I still stand by my original belief that you'd have to REALLY be trying to make the Mass illicit in order to somehow nullify the Sacrifice, ya know? I don't like every single Church song out there (there are plenty I don't like), but I'd never go so far as to say they would ruin a Mass for me. That's absolutely ludicrous in my mind.
I mean, I'm the type of person who listens to secular music and turns it into a prayer to God. Seriously. If these folks knew how I spun rock and alternative (and yes, even pop!) songs, they would probably call the nearest Jesuit for an exorcism of my demon-gripped soul. LoL.
This is irresistibly adorable.
We covered a lot in class last night. One thing stands out most in my mind, however. In explaining the different branches of the unified Church (Triumphant, Militant, and Penitent), I emphasized the cyclic effects of prayer.
We're all part of the Church, regardless of where (or when!) we are. The saints in Heaven intercede ceaselessly for those of us on earth / in Purgatory. Those of us on earth are meant to offer our prayers and works of charity to aid those souls in Purgatory. Finally, the souls that benefit from our prayers in Purgatory return the favor by interceding for those of us on earth.
The kids liked the idea that they had the power to help free souls from Purgatory. We went over the importance of St. Gertrude the Great's Purgatory Prayer, and they each vowed to recite this prayer for Holy Souls Day. When we added our prayers up at class end, in reciting the prayer at the opening and close of class, we were able to send 22,000 souls to Heaven. If they do the same for tonight, that's another 11,000 souls who become saints as a result of their innocent prayers.
The kids all wanted to know how the souls in Purgatory could help us (since I explained prayer was a two way street). Souls in Purgatory aren't forgotten by God. In fact, they are very, very dear to Him and He listens to their prayers always. As a result, we can rest assured that the gratitude they have for those who pray for them is always brought to God. They always ask for blessings to be heaped upon those generous enough to help them attain Heaven.
It was at this point I explained the "Communion of Saints." First, I explained the meaning of the word "communion." Most of the children assumed I was referring to the Eucharist, but the word "communion" refers to the intimate communication between God and His people. The Eucharist is, for us, the Communion of Saints because it is the most intimate communication God can give to us. He, Himself, becomes present within us in a wholly unique way. The Church (all branches of it) is known as Jesus' Body. Thus, when we accept the Eucharist, we accept perfect union with all other members of His Body. It's a mystery we cannot fully grasp, but it is vital to our identity as Catholics.
To help the kids better understand this concept, I explained we could view ourselves as Jesus' Hands. Jesus, being in Heaven, asks us to care for one another as He, Himself, cares. Thus, when we see someone who is struggling to carry a heavy school bag, a little sibling who can't reach the table for a snack, or even a tired parent who needs a little quiet time, we can help! We can share the burden of books, we can retrieve the snack for our little siblings, we can play quietly while Mom or Dad reads a book. After all, it's exactly what Jesus would want us to do. Jesus relies on us to extend helping hands to everyone we meet. We, in effect, become His Hands, because we are the instruments with which He blesses others.
Thus started the torrent of stories. Kids were trying to out-do each other in kindness.
"We helped an old lady who fell on Halloween and we didn't take any candy!"
"I gave my extra lunch money to a homeless family who didn't seem to have warm enough clothes!"
"I didn't yell at my little sister even though she kept taking all my stuff. I just let her have it because I didn't want my mom to get upset."
"I helped my friend with X, Y and Z because she didn't understand what was going on in class."
On and on they went! It was wonderful. What a great reminder of the importance our children also play as the Hands of Christ. :) May they always be so enthused to see the opportunities granted to them to act on God's behalf.
The above image portrays the entire Church. At the top, we see what's known as the Church Triumphant, all those souls who made themselves worthy to stand in the Presence of God (either through saintly lives, or a stint in Purgatory). Halfway down, we see the Church Militant - those of us still left living on Earth to battle against evil both for ourselves, and those at the bottom of the image... the Church Penitent. These are the holy souls of those who have not fully cleansed themselves of the sin they committed while still alive. We call them "holy" because they are no longer able to sin. Having seen the Face of God at Death, they yearn for nothing more than to join the Church Triumphant in Heaven. Through our prayers and acts of charity, they one day will.
In honor of All Saints Day, I wanted to post a few links that gave me a different take on God's desire for all of us to become willing participants in His Divine Plan.
I'll start with this one. A former skinhead found the love of Christ through the love of his family. As a result, he endured his own Purgatory-on-Earth as a doctor painstakingly burned away the scars of his old life. Satan only has claim over us for as long as we condescend to give him that power. Once we revoke his power, instead giving ourselves to God in humility and love, we become children of God. I have no doubt that this man will one day be a saint in Heaven, and his children, too. What a wonderful example of God's Grace and Mercy.
Next up, a beautiful anecdote written by Father Gerald T. Brennan, author of Father Brennan’s Favorite Stories. It's a story titled "The Most Beautiful Picture in the World." I'm going to be passing this along to my CCD students tonight. It is always important to remember that Christ calls us to be as children, fully trusting in His Plans for us. Indeed, Heaven is full of little children. Their innocence, beauty and trust must shine so brightly.
Over in Ireland, we have a wonderful priest calling for a humble and penitential Mass during their upcoming Eucharistic Conference. Oh, that we might all be so lucky to have such wise priests in our parishes!
Finally, I leave you with the tale of a missionary priest, Father Stanley Rother, who will hopefully be canonized at some point. I recently posted another story about a missionary priest who was also martyred for choosing to bring the Gospel to those who had no other means to hear it. We are blessed more than we know to have such saints living among us.
I'm sure I don't need to remind everyone of the importance of praying for our dead. We can never be sure where their souls end up at Judgement, so prayers certainly couldn't hurt. Plus, those we help achieve Heaven will undoubtedly plead our case ceaselessly before the throne of God. :)
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