February 12, 2018
Liturgical Music Patron Saints and Heroes

Liturgical Music Patron Saints and Heroes: March 2018


March 3

St. Katharine Drexel, SBS (1858-1955)

An American saint canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000, Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia, into a very wealthy family.  Years later as a young and wealthy woman, she nursed her stepmother for three years who suffered and died from terminal cancer.  When it was obvious that her wealth and influence could not purchase safety or a cure, her life went through a profound transformation leading to her interest and passion for native Indian-Americans. She and her sister committed much of their wealth to the support of numerous missions and missionaries throughout the United States.  In a private audience in 1887 with Pope Leo XIII, while pleading for assistance for the missionaries and missions that she was personally financing, the pope suggested that she herself become a missionary.  She very well could have married, but as a result she discerned that she should give her life and service totally to God by serving the Native peoples and African Americans.  She entered the convent in 1889 to begin her postulancy (much to the chagrin and anger of several of her relatives).  This new transformation in her life literally shook the social circles of Philadelphia at the time, and the local newspaper headlined the news: “Miss Drexel enters a Catholic Convent – Gives Up Seven Million.”

Together with 13 other women, she founded Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and took the name of “Mother Katharine.” Her passion and advocacy for social justice resulted in many incidents of hostility toward her and the sisters, some of them violent.  She worked tirelessly to eradicate some of the abusive racial attitudes that were (and still are) present in the United States.  Segregationists were very hostile toward the work of the Sisters, one act resulting in the burning of a school in Pennsylvania.  The most famous foundation that she helped to establish was Xavier University in New Orleans, the first institution of its kind for black people in the United States.  More and more hostile acts toward the missions and schools of the sisters followed.

It is both astonishing and sad to recognize that as a Church, there is still a sense of discomfort and indifference at best, and at the worst, unabashed discrimination and judgment of Christians of other cultures and ethnic heritages.  In some parishes for example, when a psalm setting or hymn is introduced holding a particular ethnic flavor or lens of celebrating the Gospel, some find it off putting to their particular religious piety.  Even in parishes and communities where there might not be much cultural and ethnic diversity, we need to intentionally sing and pray their music, their poetry, and their spirituality; not tokenism, but concrete celebration of the “thick slice” of perspectives that the global community (and in this case, the unique and beautiful ethnic heritages of the Americas) can offer to our worship life.  Katharine gave all that she had (which included her financial fortune) to serve the Native and African American people.  We too are called to give our all to lift up the people in our communities who are beaten down, and to sing in solidarity with them.

Copyright © 2018 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry.  Used with permission. All rights reserved.

March 9

St. Dominic Savio (1842-1857)

One of the youngest of saints who died at the age of 14, Dominic would often reflect upon the day of his first communion, when he was seven: “This was the happiest and most wonderful day of my life.”  Born in Italy 1842, Pope Pius XI described him as “small in size but towering in spirit.”  When he was 12, Dominic entered the school led by John Bosco, who when asked by Dominic what his impressions were of him, John responded with a smile, “I think you are good material.”  Dominic supposedly answered back, “well then, you are a good tailor, so if the material is good, take me and make a good suit out of me for our Lord!”  For a boy his age, and for one whose health suffered greatly, his love of the Lord and his concern for others was quite remarkable.

Dominic is the patron saint of choir boys and the falsely accused, the latter given to him because of a story where he refused to confess his innocence to a teacher who had mistakenly accused him of misbehavior, because he did not want to offer up the real perpetrators.  Even though Dominic was disciplined severely for a misdeed he did not commit, his response for doing so was that he was imitating our Lord, who remained silent during his persecutions and ultimate crucifixion.

I would hope that we would attempt to expand Dominic’s patronage to include all young choristers, not just boys.  Our very young music ministers are in need of exemplars like Dominic, who receive the presence of Christ with great joy, not just during the reception of communion at mass, but in all things that speak of Jesus and his lavish love.

He died while studying to become a priest, and was known also to say, “I can’t do big things but I want everything to be for the glory of God.”  The wisdom of the very young church is full of other children like Dominic, possessing his same spirit to be joyful and obedient; always eager to embrace God’s presence.  When we catechize our young choir members, we should attempt to communicate to them this desire when we sing.  We sing in church because we feel closer to God when we do so.  God’s presence is more alive, when we are more alive.  And let’s not forget to let our children know that we need the inspiration found in their joy and innocence; we need have our arms wide open to receive them, to hear their song, and recognize that Christ is with them: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18: 3-5).

Copyright © 2018 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry.  Used with permission. All rights reserved.

March 17

St. Patrick (415?-493?) 

It seems as though everyone claims to be Irish on the secular celebration of “St. Patricks’ Day,” and it is difficult at times to separate the witness of his life from the intense “partying” that goes on in his name.  He should be seen to be much more than an ethnic “permission slip” to drink and be merry.  There is nothing wrong with the party, but let us not forget who he was and the qualities that he offers for us, namely, his posture of humility and his courageous spirit.

There are many legends and stories about Patrick, but there is not much to know for certain about his life.  The disputes about the details of his life are really not important, because it could potentially cloud our thinking about him.  We do know that he was a man of action, not a person who was particularly interested in reading and education.  The result of his missionary focus was bringing the Gospel of Christ to the people of Ireland, and to help nurture holiness in all the people of God.  For Patrick nothing else mattered, except for Christ. This laser focus of his life and witness is beautifully expressed in this excerpt from the hymn that is attributed to him (but not actually written by him), “St. Patrick’s Breastplate:”

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.”

Copyright © 2018 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry.  Used with permission. All rights reserved.

March 18

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (31?-386)

In offering catechesis to those exchanging the kiss of peace, St. Cyril proclaims:

“The deacon then says in a loud voice: ‘Welcome one another and embrace one another!’ Do not think of this kiss as being like the kiss people exchange in the public squares when they meet as friends.  No, this kiss is not of that kind.  It unites souls, it requires that we forget all grudges.  This kiss thus signifies the union of souls with one another, and the forgetfulness of all wrongs done us … This kiss, then, is an act of reconciliation.”

This comes from his well-known Catecheses, which served as the basis for instruction those who during Lent were preparing for baptism and during Easter, the newly baptized.  Notice that this “catechesis” (which basically means. “echoing the Word”) is not concerned with doctrinal orthodoxy, especially when one realizes that this is the era of the threat provided by the Arian heresy (which disputed and denied Christ’s divinity).  As a bishop, Cyril got into all kinds of trouble.  First of all, he was accused of Arianism himself; he was often considered insubordinate to authority, and my goodness, accused of selling some properties of the Church to offer comfort to the poor.  A result was that about half of the time while bishop, he was in exile.   He eventually was vindicated.

We often mistake sainthood as unblemished holiness; people who are never caught up in controversy, or constantly seeking and questioning and doubting in the journey of arriving at truth.   Cyril is an example of courage, honesty, and integrity.  In this section and in many others from the Catechesis, we discover his ache for going beyond the angst of theological debate.

In our rituals, we are called to imitate Christ; to move beyond isolation to become the Body of Christ. Reconciliation, as Cyril challenges us to ritualize with one another, is at the heart of being the divine presence in the world.  His call is for us to be agents of reconciliation: this is at the heart of the song that we are called to raise together in unity.  For us as pastoral musicians, the tiresome battles of musical style, taste, and instruments used only tear away at such unity; losing. and at times – destroying the gift we are given in each other.  We should spend far less time (hopefully not at all) seeking out and shaming those who we believe to be heretics, dangers to the “faith.”  Our liturgical worship, and the song that we pray in the liturgy, is a celebration of faith as a verb, not a noun.  It is not something we give allegiance to in words and doctrines, but rather, it is active, sung, gestured, celebrated, prayed, and yes, lived.  May this be the song we sing.

Copyright © 2018 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry.  Used with permission. All rights reserved.

March 19

St. Joseph (First Century)

Just, righteous, and obedient – these are the images that are commonly attached to our understanding of Joseph.  We never hear Joseph speak, but the passages in the gospels give us a strong clue that he certainly did “speak” through the transformation that led to true holiness – a holiness that relies on God in all things.  By being “just,” we should think of it to mean that he was open to God’s call in all things, and the list for him is profound: his marrying Mary, his naming of Jesus, in the care he provided in the journey to Egypt, and his ongoing desire to listen to God in his dreams and discern true “justice.”   He provides the lineage of David, and the humble (and often ridiculed) environment that God was to be “made flesh” in the world:

“Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55a)

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46b).

Well, a lot of good (and glory and salvation) did come from Nazareth, and we as leaders of sung prayer should take heed from the example and witness revealed in the stories of Joseph.  As ministers of music, as is the case with all leaders, we often are consumed with wanting control, and feeling responsible for everything in the work and service that we offer.  We should “put on” the holiness of Joseph: trusting God; being open to the movement and voices of the Spirit; and placing all of our efforts, our singing and our playing, in the center of God’s compass; in God’s direction.

Copyright © 2018 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry.  Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Image of St. Joseph by Bro. Mickey McGrath, OSFS (Used with permission.  Bestillstudio.com)

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