Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
It may seem odd to some that I am choosing the life of Abraham Lincoln as a witness for liturgical musicians. Maybe after you read this little tribute, it might make more sense. It was 153 years ago this very day, that Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre in Washington. I have thought about what might be found in the many nuggets of wisdom offered by this great man, that would serve as touchstones for our ministry of pastoral music. Here are some of his quotes and a few thoughts of my own in response:
“My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” (AL)
I think that those of us who are leaders in liturgy and music, are often guilty of an arrogance that presumes that we know what kind of worship God wants from us – that our particular preferences for musical style in our sung prayer, is of course, the most holy, the most liturgically “appropriate;” or is the worthiest of our liturgical celebration. We spend far too much time arguing about such silly things – what we need to be more concerned about is not that we do the appropriate style of music (because how can we know the mind of God on this?) – but regardless of the style of music that is employed in the liturgy – is it on the side of God? Is it consumed, as Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger would have us remember. with remembering that “God’s cause is the only concern of our hearts?” (DH)
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (AL)
Liturgical music, as is all liturgical prayer – and we have to remember, our work is about engaging people in prayer – is about bringing us together, not conformity to one style or posture of worship – but bringing us together in Christ Jesus, in making this Christ known in our communal prayer. Unity – not conformity of style – but unity in our posture and humility in prayer, in our song, before God. (DH)
“When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.” (AL)
I love this quote when I reflect upon my ministry as a liturgical musician – because it is a call to sing, play, lead, conduct and compose – with passion! No more to say about that. (DH)
“I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right; but it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation may be on the Lord’s side.” (AL)
Anxiety and prayer – it is an interesting mix, but very true I believe, for those of us who serve as pastoral musicians, committed to the care and prayer of our people. Sometimes we need to pause, and really just “sit” with the profundity of what we do, and what the consequences are. We do not just provide pretty pious songs about a sweet, saccharine Jesus … we should be in some level of constant anxiety as to whether our mission is serving our people, not ourselves and our own agendas. Maybe a good way to observe the prelude time before any liturgical celebration is to be a bit anxious – in the best sense of the word; anxious to be God’s ambassador, God’s voice – that is what we should “worry” about – is God getting through? (DH)
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.” (AL)
These words are another reminder that our ministry of music, with all of the power that it holds to move and strengthen people – is to offer a song that celebrates the amazing mercy, compassion, and unconditional forgiveness that God constantly offers to us. This ministry of music is to be a healing balm for the wounds of a broken people, in desperate need of resurrection. Music can help bring this about. Music is not something we do with our voice alone; it is not most effective when we just merely take the instrument out of the case and play the right notes. Music – Pastoral music, is the ministry of pastoral care speaking to the “least of these:” the broken, the oppressed, the poor, the homeless, and even those of us who may be “comfortable” materially – we are all in need of our wounds being nursed and bandaged and healed. (DH)
“Common looking people are the best in the world: that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them.” (AL)
I love this quote. We as pastoral musicians have to see, embrace and embrace with joy, the people who sit in the pews of our worship spaces every Sunday – it is the gathered ASSEMBLY, the “common looking people” – they are the ones whose sound we want to hear, not just in their volume, but in their faces and hearts. The participation of these “common looking people” is at the center of our ministry. Let us not forget this. (DH)
“I am rather inclined to silence.” (AL)
Not just pastoral musicians – but all in ministry – need to remember that our service to people must be grounded in a contemplative stance. Music rises out of silence – and returns back to it. Our sung prayer must contribute and give voice to what is deeply held in the quiet of our hearts. If we are going to make a sound, a holy “noise” to God – it must be protected, preceded, and followed up upon – a regular commitment and time intentionally chosen to be still. And listen. It is from this place, this “inclination” – that we can interrupt the silence and make sounds worthy of our God – and our people – to hear and sing along with. (DH)
Abraham Lincoln, pray for, with, and through us.
[DH: 4/15/16. Copyright © 2016 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry. Used with permission. All rights reserved]
April 16, 2016
St. Benedict Joseph Labre (1748-1783)
“I am only a poor, ignorant beggar.”
Benedict Joseph Labre was truly an eccentric; a recluse and beggar. He was a sort of religious vagabond – a “holy fool for Christ,” – and in all of that, one of God’s special little ones. He was born in France as the eldest of 18 children, and after being unsuccessful in his attempts to enter the religious life, he gave up all such hopes (much to the dismay of his family), and at the age of 16 became an eternal pilgrim. Tradition tells us that Benedict experienced a deep desire that was infused in him by God, inspired by the examples of St. Alecius of Rome and the French saint, St. Roch, to “abandon his country, his parents, and whatever is flattering in the world to lead a new sort of life, a life most painful and penitential, not in a wilderness or a cloister, but in the midst of the world, devoutly visiting as a pilgrim the famous places of Christian devotion.”
He then joined the Third Order of St. Francis and began an ongoing pilgrimage for many years, traveling all across Europe while praying and visiting numerous shrines and churches. He lived off alms; rarely bathed and wore only rags, and shared his food with the poor. Some say that some of these choices were deliberate on his part, since he intentionally sought isolation in order to devote his life of solitary prayer, a practice which he actually relished. Benedict was known to have a special devotion to the Blessed Mother and to the Blessed Sacrament, and while living in the Colosseum for quite a while, he became known as the “Beggar of Rome.” The people who knew him accepted his rough appearance much more than he did for himself. He was quoted to have said, “our comfort is not in this world.”
While Benedict is said to be the patron of bachelors as well as those who suffer from mental illness and all beggars – he is most notably claimed and celebrated as being the patron saint for the homeless.
On this very day in 1783, Benedict Joseph dragged himself and crawled to a church in Rome and prayed there for two hours before he collapsed, dying peacefully in a house nearby. Immediately after his death, the people proclaimed him to be a saint, calling throughout the streets, “The Saint is dead, the Saint is dead!” He was officially canonized in 1881.
It seems to me that Benedict Joseph Labre provides inspiration for ministers of sung prayer in many and multi-layered ways. Primarily however, his life and his most deliberate choices of poverty provide for us a call to the ongoing, daily practice of humility. When he was asked by a priest during the sacrament of confession if he had every studied theology, his reply was, “I, Father? I am only a poor ignorant beggar.” While so many of us have actually studied theology, liturgy, and hopefully – music – in the end, our vocation is to centered and focused in the spirit of such humility. In the end, it is not by any marvelous musical talent that we possess (and what a blessing that is, truly a gift from God), but whether or not we are embracing, as Lori True says in her wonderful song, “the poor ones in our midst?” Are we, as Joe Wise likewise expressed through the healing spirit of his song, helping to “take all the lost home?”
As liturgical music leaders we are most certainly eccentric like Benedict (Hello … would we not all agree?), and we certainly are beggars … but we often beg for the wrong things in the short run: we beg to have a good pastor to work alongside; we beg and plead for people to join the choir; we at times literally beg a hesitant congregation to be awakened and sing and participate with full gusto. Maybe today, while we still understandably continue to yearn for such things, we could consider the call to more importantly – beg for God’s mercy – in our own lives, and in our faltering mistakes and stumbling that we unintentionally make in our liturgical music ministry. May we beg to be in close relationship with God (as Benedict did with the entirety of his life) – to truly know the Lord, and make that presence known in the sounds and music that we may make and hopefully, pray with.
So with Benedict, along with the call coming forth from the beautiful song-prayers of Lori and Joe – let us meditate and consider the true nature of our vocation, and apply our talents of music to speak and proclaim a home for the homeless:
“God’s chosen people, blessed and holy:
what have we done for the poor ones here in our midst?” (Lori True)
“Take all the lost home …
walk close by the children …
and comfort the old ones.” (Joe Wise)
Benedict Joseph Labre – pray for, with and through us.
[DH: 4/16/16. Copyright © 2016 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry. Used with permission. All rights reserved. “What Have We Done for the Poor Ones?” Words and Music by Lori True; “Take All the Lost Home” – Words and Music by Joe Wise. Both Copyright © GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Also available on I-Tunes.]
St. Anselm (1033-1109)
A Benedictine from the age of 17, Anselm was the Archbishop of Canterbury for a time, and even more so, recognized as a theologian and Doctor of the Church. He continues to be recognized as the “father of scholasticism” and was the one who famously defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.” In other words, for Anselm, faith was always and ultimately rooted and centered in the gift, experience, and practice of faith – not in uncritical reason.
In many ways, this is his legacy to the Church, as he passionately argued for his well- known “ontological proof” for God’s existence. One of his famous quotes is that God is “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” Now there may not be many over the years who reached conversion to Christ Jesus because of this argument and stance, but that would miss the intention of Anselm’s lens. Anselm was concerned that the study of theology was not to try to persuade those who were and are skeptical, but rather, to strengthen the conversion of the believer.
Anselm was also a proponent of the theology of “atonement” – that is, the perspective that the purpose and reason and origin of the Incarnation was God’s intention to satisfy Adam’s original offense of God. This means that God had to name a guilty party – thus, all of humanity itself – and that the death (and resurrection) of Jesus then, was the price that had to be paid. So the image of Jesus as the “redeemer” is at work here – the Christ combined the natures of both God and humanity. This understanding of the destiny of Jesus was primary for centuries, and is still at the core of doctrine and spirituality for many, especially our more fundamentalist sisters and brothers – which still include many Catholics, but especially Evangelical denominations.
This stance has become more and more difficult for many modern day Christians to accept. For many, it promotes the idea that God was and continues to be, a cold-blooded executioner. If one accepts this image of God in a serious way, then it follows for them that Jesus did not die as an expression of infinite love, but rather – his death was a necessary satisfaction to uphold an offended honor of God. It is difficult for many Christians today to accept this, who find it not to be a consoling message, but a horror that haunts our everyday lives. This debate is still a difficult topic for Christians of many traditions – but when one explores the historical context that gave rise to Anselm’s conclusions, it is understandable how this strand of belief flourished. The social and political values and view of his time – which held high the virtues of code and feudal honor – were the grounding understandings that led to Anselm’s explorations. And that is most certainly one of the true values of the study of theology – to look at our basic core religious beliefs, and to have them rub shoulders not just with divine revelation – but also with present day human and lived experience and reality. Regardless of where each of us may accept or reject this and other doctrinal presumptions – it certainly lays out for us the important task to explore and yes, celebrate the nature of God – this is the pursuit of theology in its most principled ways.
Pastorally, Anselm has been presented as one who applied his theological insights toward a very merciful, tender, and compassionate approach with people. He was known to have been a most gracious abbot who ministered to his people by loving direction rather than through punishment of shame-based discipline. Anselm had a great devotion of care toward the sick and young people who lost their way in their conflicted lives.
As pastoral musicians, there is much to explore in Anselm’s life and contributions as paths for expanding and nurturing our ministerial role. First of all – Anselm’s pursuit of theology and critical thinking, especially in reflecting upon the realities of his own time – these are cornerstones for our own personal reflection. Practically speaking, we need to remember that we do not leave our brains at the door when we explore the musical repertoire – especially our texts – that we place before the worshipping community. One of my personal difficulties with so much (not all – but certainly the majority) of the message that is intrinsic to what has come be known as “praise and worship” music, is that it presents a far too narrow of a view of who God is, who we are, and why we come together to pray and worship. Aside from the fact that this repertoire seems to be over the top in its bias of such “atonement” spirituality (which is becoming more and more prominent in Catholic worship – to my personal dismay), it tends to be theologically shallow – ignoring the corporate nature of liturgy and spirituality. Liturgy is not about “me” primarily – it is about “we.” It is something we do together – and theologically, our worship has suffered much as a result. The debate over “atonement” theology and how it creeps into the message of this repertoire is problematic, because it spends so much time naming that “Jesus died for my sins,” becoming preoccupied with the after-life, to the diminishment (or in some cases, a total absence) of our call to the “here and now” – the call to a radical discipleship. For those of us who are Roman Catholic – such a diminishment is a slap in the face of what we call, our “Catholic Social Teaching,” where issues of justice, peace, the dignity of people in the present day is often, sidelined.
This is only one representation of our need as leaders of sung prayer to integrate our “thinking” and gaining wisdom and insight along with the sometimes singular obsession with emotionalism, in how the music makes “me feel.” The pursuit of theological reflection that the life of Anselm heralds – this is asked of us as well. This does not mean that we are all being asked to become scholars and theologians. But it means that we have move beyond what sometimes becomes a liturgical musical “concert hall” – and embrace stepping back and spending some time in the “study hall.” Might we actually read and study the liturgical documents and principles that are at the center of our decisions as liturgical musicians? Might we study scripture more and perhaps consult a biblical or lectionary commentary from time to time, to help direct not only our repertoire choices, but our ministerial posture? Might we take some time to explore and digest the largely kept secret of the seven principles of our Catholic Social Teaching, and see the deep and long-held conviction that worship and the disciple-centered life of pursuing justice and societal change are important partners? And such “study” is not oriented toward having certain credentials – it is an ongoing journey that enriches and deepens our cause. Now, liturgy and the music we pray with is most certainly, not a class in theology – but it needs to be a celebration of sound theology and a corrective spirituality that many of our parish congregations have been continually deprived of receiving and digesting.
In looking at the life of Anselm (which is only barely touched on here) we see a life that ached for a true partnership of the head and the heart in ministry.
Theology and Pastoral Care.
Doctrine and Discipleship.
Redemption and Liberation.
May we not forget this necessary “blend” as pastoral musicians, and as a singing and celebrating community.
St. Anselm, pray for, with. and through us.
[DH: 4/21/16. Copyright © 2016 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry. Used with permission. All rights reserved.]
Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)
Cesar was a Mexican American farm worker and labor leader who is known for his advocacy for civil rights for the Latino community in this country. Taught in the vision of St. Francis of Assisi and Mahatma Gandhi, his approach was nonviolent, but his energy was anything but passive. He was an aggressive leader for the struggles of the farm workers of Hispanic origin to bring them into the union labor movement. But the end of the 1970’s, his efforts through his being the founder of the National Farm Workers Association (UFW) to help to find union advocacy for over 50,000 workers in both California and Florida. Chavez had inspired an organization that did not look like a labor union. His vision didn’t include just the traditional bread and butter issues of unionism; it was about reclaiming dignity for people who were marginalized by society. What had started as the Delano Grape Strike came to be known as La Causa, the Cause. Whether they were farmworkers fighting for a better life, or middle class students trying to change the world, those who were drawn to the farmworkers movement were inspired by Chavez’ example to put aside their normal lives and make exceptional sacrifices.
He is very well celebrated for his efforts and support for higher wages, and drew national and international attention for the grape boycott in 1965, which led to him getting the attention of people like Dorothy Day and Senator Robert Kennedy. Throughout the remainder of the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, Cesar and the UFW organized many strikes and boycotts, and undertook several “spiritual fasts” as a witness of protest, and to promote the principle of non-violence, the most well-known being the one he observed for 25 days in 1968. This fast marked the beginning of Chavez’ emergence on the national political scene. Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy came to Delano to break bread with Cesar at the end of his fast. Chavez responded by committing UFWOC to campaign for Kennedy in the California primary. Their voter registration and get out the vote efforts provided Kennedy’s margin of victory in California.
Cesar’s life and witness was grounded in his Catholic faith and its tradition of penance. His vision of faith was a progressive one, that prefigured the “preferential option for the poor” of liberation theology. In the UFW, the liturgy was a call to action as well as a rededication of the spirit. Cesar died on this day in 1993. Cesar had become – and remains to be – a remarkable symbol for Latinos and community activists and also for young people. He embodied the clarion call to become infused in the struggles of the people and to work for concrete solutions. Before his death, when asked how people should remember him, he was known have said, “If you want to remember me – organize!”
Those of us engaged in the ministry of pastoral music are called to “organize” and “galvanize” and help provide a song of hope and faith, but also one that stirs people into action. We have to do more than sing that the “Lord hears the cry of the poor,” because if it is only the notes and the words, it remains a nice sentiment. To hear the cry, is to respond. To sing such a song demands our life response. Cesar’s life reminds us that the promise of God’s kingdom is not just something to hope for when we reach “the other side.” The promise of God’s reign is real, and calls for real activism, real advocacy, real risk. The passion, death and resurrection that we are now celebrating did not just happen to Jesus in history – it is happening here, now, in each of us. This paschal mystery message that we continually throw around, preach and sing about – is a radical call to change everything we do in our lives – and advocating for those who experience injustice is a good place to start and remain in the midst of the struggle.
Cesar Chavez, pray for, with, and through us.
[DH: 4/23/16. Copyright © 2016 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry. Used with permission.]
St. Mark the Evangelist (First Century)
“And a young man followed him,
with nothing but a linen cloth about his body;
and they seized him,
but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” (Mark 14: 51)
While the Gospel of Matthew appears as the first gospel and first book of the New Testament chronologically, Mark’s Gospel was actually written before the other two “synoptic” gospels of Matthew and Luke. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark is not concerned at all about the stories of the birth of Jesus, as it begins with Jesus’ adulthood and public ministry. There are some scriptures scholars who believe that the “young man” that is mentioned in the above passage is actually Mark – if so, it would make Mark a disciple and one who had direct access to this story. Mark’s voice and proclamation is strong, symbolized as the winged lion, deriving from Mark’s story of John the Baptist as “a voice of one crying out in the desert” (Mark 1:3). This earliest gospel is a profound yet simple “job description,” so to speak, for what we as Christians are called to do. We are called to be heralds of the Good News. Mark did it by writing his gospel. As liturgical musicians, we do so through the songs and canticles of our faith.
Mark, from the get-go, establishes Jesus’ authority through awesome and astonishing acts: here Jesus heals the sick, casts out demons, calms storms, forgives sins and raises the dead to life, all leading to a grand crescendo to when Jesus asks Peter, “who do you say that I am?” The answer is simple and to the point (which is characteristic of Mark): “You are the Christ.” The remainder of the story here is concerned with discipleship. The Church is called upon to become the same healing, calming, forgiving and resurrected presence. Our discipleship may begin with recognizing that Jesus is the Christ, but it cannot stop there. Lip service is not enough. It means to live as Jesus did. It means that we are to be an embodiment of love, no strings attached, and filled with sacrifice – knowing full well what the final act will provide in taking up the cross and dying with Jesus.
Mark is also distinct from the other gospels in that there is no resurrection story. Instead we find three women arriving at the tomb only to hear the angel’s words: “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here…. Go, tell the disciples….”
What a wonderful template for those of us entrusted with the leadership of sung prayer! Our ministry of music is to be: 1) a proclamation of faith of who Jesus is; 2) a trumpet blast calling us all to discipleship and the way of love; and, 3) a melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic awakening from our sleep to choose this discipleship each and every day, in every setting where we are called to help people sing their prayer. Pastoral musicians – read Mark. It does not mince words about what our vocation is, as it provides the orchestration necessary to make revolutionary music about radical discipleship.
[DH: Copyright © 2015 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry. Used with permission. All rights reserved]
St. Zita (1212-1272)
While there does seem to be disagreement to the actual years of her birth and death, all accounts testify to the fact that this Italian saint did pass away on this day of April 27th, thus the Church recognizes today as her feast day. She was born in the Tuscany region to a wealthy family and it is said that she was despised, oppressed, and often beaten by her fellow servants and employers. It is remarkable that in the midst of such ongoing suffering, she is also known to have always maintained a sense of inner peace and an outward posture of generosity and goodness. Her qualities of self-restraint in the midst of such horrible malice seemed to not have broken her, and she eventually was placed as the head of the household.
Zita is revered for her consistent piety and dedication to prayer, often rising in the middle of the night to pray and for her daily faithfulness to the Eucharist, which she sought to take part in every morning prior to her duties. Her patterns of intention and passion in the spiritual life were centered in hard work and dedication to her work. In other words, her labor and work ethic was at the center of her spiritual life: “A servant is not good unless she is industrious; work-shy in people of our position is sham piety.” It is reported that over time, her qualities of generosity won her the respect and admiration of her employers and fellow workers.
St. Zita is revered as the patron saint of domestic servants and workers, the poor and the sick; often appealed to for the finding of lost keys – and also has a special place in the hearts of those who cared for those facing sentences of death. For these, she prayed unceasingly.
For those of us who serve in the ministry of pastoral music prayer leadership, Zita’s dedication to not only prayer but also, gratitude and generosity, is a wonderful model for us. Many hard working pastoral musicians and liturgical leaders do suffer ridicule, judgement, and mean-spiritedness from those who do not care for how we exercise our vocation. It seems as though there are many of our fellow liturgical music leaders who are under a constant barrage of poor treatment from their pastors, whining members of the congregation, and even petty insults and unjust criticism and lack of collaboration from those who are members of our choirs and ensembles. It is often the case – still – that parish music directors do not feel the support, affirmation and encouragements for their labors. And yet, these wonderful servants keep their eyes on the path, and to the best of their abilities strive to serve their people with the lavish generosity of their gifts, their time, and their very hearts. Even the midst of being the object of what can be at times, verbal and emotional abuse, Zita is a witness for us to remain centered and of good cheer, to always serve the Lord – and the praying people of God – with gladness.
I am also fascinated by St. Zita being invoked by those who have lost their keys. I have certainly misplaced my keys more often that I would like to admit – so I need to remember to cry out to Zita during those anxiety-filled moments. But I think there is more to take in here as ministers of sung prayer. So many who come to pray on Sunday (and at other times), are truly folks who have lost the “keys” to navigating their life. Many find it difficult to pray. Perhaps we can reflect on the “singing of the liturgy” as a key – a key to unlocking the fears and anxieties and confusion of people’s lives. We certainly know the power of music, and all of us at one time or the other – sometimes often – have experienced how a piece of music that was prayed the liturgy helped to “unlock” stony hearts or opened up someone’s prayer life; or touched them in the midst of their troubles, becoming a source of healing, strength, and insight. Our gifts of song most certainly, are keys to open up the closed doors of people’s lives in order for them to enter a room to come to know the Risen Christ – a living Christ that they can embrace and cling to in the midst of their lives. Music can do that. We – you and I – are vessels of such recovery for people. Our ministry of music is most certainly a potential key for all of us to discover how we are God’s children. When such doors are opened, we can certainly join the psalmist in the prayer that happens to be appointed for Mass on this day: “Let us go rejoicing in the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122: 1).
This “house of the Lord” has a welcoming and open door for Zita, and for us all, for us enter in. Perhaps our songs, psalms, hymns, litanies, and acclamations of faith, can be a key for these doors to be flung wide open and to remain open.
St. Zita, pray for, with, and through us.
[DH: Copyright © 2015 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry. Used with permission. All rights reserved]
St. Peter Chanel (1803-1841)
St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1761)
For all of you out there who are of French heritage – today we celebrate the lives of two of your saints. But they are also saints for all of us.
Peter Chanel was the one of eight children and from the age of 7 to 12 he spent his time working as a shepherd. As a young boy the local parish priest saw a special charism in him and a particular passion for serving in missionary ministry. He went on to the seminary and received much recognition for his academic ability, and then later after his ordination served in several missionary areas, beginning in India. Developing a passionate devotion to the Blessed Mother, at the age of 28 he joined the newly formed Society of Mary (The Marists). He served as a spiritual director at a seminary, and then later went to serve in the missionary territories of the South West Pacific to regions such as the Canary Islands, Valparaiso, the Gambier Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, and eventually to Futuna in 1837, where the Marists witnessed many conversions to Christianity.
While the Marist’s were initially welcomed by the King of Futuna, after some time the King determined that the zeal of the Marist’s missionary work would undermined his power, thus he ordered the execution of many who were there from the order, including Chanel. It took months for the news of Chanel’s death to reach the outside world.
In addition to being missionary and martyr, Louis de Montfort was well known in his time as a preacher, confessor, poet and author, writing several notable works in Mariology. A Dominican, as young priest he was inspired to preach missions among the very poor, but as a young man he suffered from illness and spent a considerable amount of time hospitalized. After his release from the hospital, he became immersed in the French school of spirituality ignited by St. Sulpice. Throughout his life, his love of all things that were dedicated to the Blessed Mother, he also became an advocate for the rosary and the presence of angels in all believers.
His passionate approach to preaching put some people off, and he was even poisoned once. While it did become fatal, his health never fully was restored to its prior vigor. But he continued to preach and establish schools for poor children in the years that followed, and he also managed to compose thousands of verses of hymns. Montfortian hymns tend to fall into two categories: “inspired” and “didactic.” The inspired canticles have a more spontaneous character and are focused on pilgrimage and celebration. The more didactic hymns tend to be moral in nature. While always keeping busy as a missionary and preacher, during his short 16 years of priesthood he also embraced substantial amounts of time in solitude and prayer. He died at the age of 43, and his last sermon is said to have been on the tenderness of Jesus and the wisdom of God.
As the journey of Liberation Theology has flourished in the years since the Second Vatican Council, the notion of the “preferential option for the poor” is well celebrated in these two zealous missionaries. But such missionary zeal must be accompanied by a strong dedication to living and nurturing the spiritual life in prayer and devotion. For those of us who serve in the ministry of liturgical music – we need to remember that at the center of our vocation is not the goal of offering beautiful music (although that helps!) for its own sake – but more importantly, it is about prayer leadership. If we are going to serve our communities well at worship, we need to accompany our liturgical and musical skills with the ongoing practice of the life of prayer, with a relentless concern for the poor ones.
In the US Bishops’ document on music, “Sing to the Lord” articulates specific judgments for the choosing of repertoire (liturgical, pastoral, and musical). However, these criteria are also valuable touchstones toward the actual formation of pastoral musicians. Here in the lives of these two saints, we can glean much in our growing sense of the “pastoral.” Liturgical knowledge and musical competence is of course, necessary in our ministry. But it must be infused with the “pastoral;” leading us all to have and develop a servant’s heart.
The dedication and tireless zeal of Peter Chanel and Louis de Montfort certainly held close the heart of a servant, following the model of all service and care: Jesus the Christ.
Wonderful guides for us all.
Sts. Peter Chanel and Louis de Montfort, pray for, with, and through us.
[DH: 4/28/16. Copyright © 2016 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry. Used with permission. All rights reserved.]
St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
A Dominican sister who lived a very short life, St. Catherine is noted along with St. Francis of Assisi as co-patron of the Church of Italy. St. Catherine was convinced that her contemplative life always pointed toward engagement with the world, and so became very controversial among her followers and beyond (including the leadership of the Dominican Order), for being very involved and passionate about public affairs and politics. She had no hesitancy to write and offer advice for the pope, monarchs and other international figures. For many years she ministered to the poor, the sick, prisoners and those who were victims of plagues. After a while, Catherine attracted many followers, who affectionally called her “Mamma.”
Toward the end of her life, Catherine was passionate about atoning for the sins of the Church and had a vision of the Church being placed on her back, in the image of a mighty ship. As a result, she collapsed, and began her journey of deep physical pain and paralysis. Not long after, Catherine died at the age of 33.
Catherine is a model for liturgical musicians because she reminds us that our music needs to speak the truth to not only power, but to those who attempt to follow a false gospel. Music has the power to clarify, confront, and move people to act. There are some who say that liturgy should not be political, and that our music is to praise God, and leave it at that. But it is more than that, because our praise to God will only have integrity when we speak out, and work to correct systems, polices and realities that are either indifferent or even hostile to the promise of God’s reign. My dear fellow pastoral musicians: yes, sing the texts of the songs loudly and with passion, but do not forget to live your life “loudly” and with passion, like Catherine did.
[DH: 4/29/16. Copyright © 2015, 2016 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Icon Image: Br. Robert Lentz, OFM. Available from Trinity: Religious Artwork and Icons. www.trinitystores.com.]
St. Marie of the Incarnation, OSU (1599-1672)
“Do you want to be with me?”
Born in Tours, France, as the daughter of a silk merchant, Marie Guyart was a nun of the Ursuline French order. They were a group of sisters sent to New France to establish a Canadian presence to help nurture the spread of Catholicism. She continues to be honored as one of the founders of Canada, and was canonized very recently in 2014 by Pope Francis. Marie was known to have had many visions throughout her life, her earliest being at the age of seven. The vision concluded with her being asked a question from Christ:
“Do you want to be with me?”
Her answer was a resounding “Yes!” From that point forward Marie felt a relentless path that was “inclined towards goodness.” At the age of fourteen she wanted to enter religious life, but her parents would not allow her to do so. So under their pressure at the age of eighteen, she married a young silk worker who died only a year later, leaving with her a son. Having from this point forward vowed to never marry again, she again pursued religious life and soon entered the Ursulines. Marie continued to experience visions and in 1639 she chose to become part of a missionary project in Quebec, and thus became the very first French missionary sister in Canada. The sisters managed to begin the first school in Canada as well as the Ursuline Monastery of Quebec, which is established as one of the historical sites of Canada. During this time, she became a disciplined student learning several native languages and also compiled a catechism for the people she served.
“Do you want to be with me?”
Marie obviously did. It was a challenging ministry for her and the sisters in the midst of their early interactions with the Native populations, as the local values of gender roles made it difficult to educate young girls in the same methods and philosophy that had developed in Europe. Also, along with the European colonization came an influx of disease, especially Smallpox. The native people believed the Ursulines – along with the Jesuits – were imparting disease through their religious practices and rituals, and so it severely strained the relationship between the sisters and the local people. Along with this spread of sickness, a rising conflict developed that pitted the French, Huron and other allies against the Iroquois. The Iroquois attained dominance, bringing despair to Marie and Ursulines, and culminated in a fire that destroyed their convent in 1650. This meant that the Canadian sisters became pressured to return home and reunite with the European Ursulines. But their despair turned to hope when the convent was amazingly and very quickly, reconstructed – which they attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Mother. Stimulated with a new conviction, Marie and the other sisters continued their passionate ministry of religious education in the region.
Over the years and still to this day, many Catholic schools are named after her, and in recognition for her contributions to Canada there is a statue that sits in front of the Quebec parliament and there is sculpture dedicated to her that is located at the well-known and highly visited Basilica of Saint Anne de Beauport. Her life story is also depicted in documentaries, plays and films.
Marie died of a liver illness on this very day in 1672. The necrology report that was sent to the Ursulines of France stated: “The numerous and specific virtues and excellent qualities that shone through this dear deceased, make us firmly believe that she enjoys a high status in God’s glory.” When she was canonized in 2014, Pope Francis waived the requirement of two miracles and she was granted “equivalent canonization.”
“Do you want to be with me?”
We can very often become suspicious when hear about people having “spiritual visions.” But regardless of where one comes down in the debate of the reality of such things, it seems to hold no doubt that Marie was led and compelled by a vision of the presence of Christ, and this energy most certainly permeated and guided her entire life. For all of us who seek to sing robustly the passionate song of our faith, we would do well as examine our own hearts and motives and respond to the same question that was posed to Marie: “Do you want to be with me?” As pastoral musicians we are called to humble themselves to allow ourselves to be “taken over” by the presence of Christ that hopefully infuses the hymns, songs, psalms, canticles, acclamations and litanies that come forth from our lips, to be shared equally with the people of God who come to pray at every liturgical celebration.
A good friend of mine approaches the ambo every Sunday to proclaim the responsorial psalm, and she does so with the following mantra that she repeats to herself with every step: “not me, but you – not me, but you.” This is the ache and desire that fills our hope to “be with” the Risen Lord, present not in the sky, but more completely in the faces, eyes, hearts, and faith of the gathered assembly; and graced in the words and notes that we sing. So when the cantor raises their hands to have us join them in prayer; when the choir surrenders their own voice to be part of the whole; when the instrumentalists approach their enshrinement of the music with care and sensitivity – we are putting that same question to the Church, the Body of Christ, slightly adapted:
Do we all want to be with Christ? Do we all want to see and experience that presence in and with each other, our sisters and brothers – not only here in this moment of prayer, but in solidarity with each other throughout our lives together, as the ‘Body’ of Christ?”
May this question never be absent from our hearts. May the response of the believing community – which includes us, its leaders of sung prayer – give the same resounding response that Marie uttered without hesitation or reservation: “Yes!”
St. Marie of the Incarnation, pray for, with, and through us.
[DH: 4/30/16. Copyright © 2016 David Haas / The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry. Used with permission. All rights reserved.]