All, Faith

On the Blessed Mother’s Birthday

In the Catholic Church, September 8th is celebrated as the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. In other words, it’s Mama Mary’s birthday! And that is reason to celebrate!ūüéā

This Marian feast is one of my favorites. Perhaps because celebrating a birthday is something so very normal and homey. After all, Mary was a humble Jewish maiden.

It also is fitting to celebrate her birth because Mary’s “yes” to God, her fiat, enabled the Incarnation. It was through her that the world received its Redeemer.  She was the first to welcome and to love Him. And when He suffered, she suffered, too (Luke 2:35).

“At the beginning of the New Covenant, which is to be eternal and irrevocable, there is a woman: the Virgin of Nazareth.”

-Pope St. John Paul II, MulierisDignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) –> I highly recommend reading this Apostolic Letter.

Mary is our mother as well, praying for and loving us with maternal care. She is not a goddess. We do not worship her.  But we do honor, venerate, and ask for her prayerful intercession and protection.

We all have much reason to exult on this happy day!

But what can we give to Mary?

As the priest at Mass this morning reminded the congregation, the best “birthday gifts” that we can offer Mary are repentance of our sins, prayer, and loving service to others. He mentioned specifically the devotion of Five First Saturdays, which you can learn about here

The following is a simple little poem that I wrote last year for Mary’s Birthday.  I thought I’d share with you all today. (Don’t judge.  I’m not a poet, haha).

“The sky a gentle blue like Mary’s mantle

The light of the sun glowing bright like a candle

A quiet, laughing breeze fills the air

Signs of God’s glory are everywhere

It is the memorial of our Queen and Mother’s birth

She whose fiat brought our Savior down to earth

The courts of heaven sing God’s praise

The world joins in on this day of days

Immaculate with grace from the first moment of life

Throughout her years, she knew both joy and strife

Her love and aid are ever near

Patiently drawing us to her Son so dear

Mary, sweet Mother, we lift our voice,

‘Keep us close to you til in heaven we rejoice!'”

Happy Birthday, Mama Mary! ūüĆłūüĆ∑ūüĆĽ

Advertisements
All, Culture/Life, Faith

Friendship and the ‘Whys?’ of Life

You know those seemingly random encounters that just really leave an impression? Conversations with strangers waiting in line somewhere or sitting next to you on a plane? Meeting someone at a party or other event?

You’re with these people for a minuscule amount of time–minutes or hours–yet there seems to be a genuine connection … and then you part ways.

Have you ever wondered about these meetings of happenstance? What was the reason? Why this person at this time?

Do you ever think that if life circumstances were different a real friendship could have developed? That if this were the movies a real friendship would have developed?

What are we supposed to make of these meetings?

I wish I had an answer, but the truth is that we may never know the why or wherefore in this life.

However, if the encounter seemed more than coincidental, it probably was more, and we should first just be grateful to God because “all good giving and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

If the experience made such a mark on your heart and mind, who’s to say that it didn’t resonate with the other person as well? Maybe there’s a lesson that can be learned from the other person or maybe it was simply supposed to be an experience of pleasure and cheer conversing with a fellow human being.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

-Fred Rogers a.k.a. Mister Rogers

Or have you ever wondered why some friendships last a lifetime and other friendships, so important for a period of time, seem to fade? ¬†Again, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason.

The Thinker-Rodin
Rodin’s “The Thinker” Source: openclipart.org

Sometimes, the years lend perspective, and we can look back and see how God allowed those friends to be in our lives for a reason — for mutual need or help. ¬†“Some people come into your life for a reason; others only for a season.”

I also believe that if the friendship was true, you can pick up where you left off should your paths cross again.

Yet all of these meetings and partings with strangers, acquaintances, friends — they have the capability of leaving behind a yearning ache in your heart. ¬†Humans are by nature social and relational. ¬†We are made for fellowship and for communion with God and with one another.

Sadly, in a sinful, broken world, “good-byes” and “what ifs” can leave their painful, wistful imprint. ¬†Because we can’t see the future and we don’t know when or if we will be re-united.

But we¬†must¬†hold on to hope and to trust in God’s goodness.

Though only in my twenties, I have lived long enough to know that sometimes those people who you thought you’d never see again re-emerge in unexpected times and places. ¬†So say “see ya later” instead of “good-bye.”

Pray for your friends, acquaintances, and those “could-of-been” friends you randomly meet. ¬†If someone is on your heart, reach out in a tangible way — call or write that person. ¬†Heed the old saying, “If you want a friend, be a friend.”

If the circumstances surrounding that incidental encounter are such that it would be appropriate to try and strike up a true friendship, be courageous enough to do so.  You never know until you try.

Finally, I strive to hold on to the consoling hope of heaven. ¬†If we cooperate with God’s grace and mercy, we can hope to be re-united with those for whom we’ve cared and those we’ve loved, however briefly, on earth. ¬†In heaven, we will have an eternity to love God and love one another.

“Friendships begun ¬†in this world will be taken up again, never to be broken off.”

-attributed to St. Francis de Sales

 

All, Art, Culture/Life, Faith, Tales from the Tutu Side

The Gift of Dance

In the words of Porky Pig, “That’s all, folks!”

Porky Pig 2.png
Enter a caption

The final curtain has fallen on the 2016-2017 ballet season in my neck of the woods. As I think back over the past months, one of the outstanding take-aways for me is gratitude for the opportunity that ballet affords me to encounter other people and, hopefully, to have a positive impact on them.  This interaction happens primarily through the performances themselves.

After one show, an audience member told one of the company’s directors that watching one of the pieces was the first time she had felt joy in two weeks!¬† What a blessing that we as dancers and artists have¬†a platform to uplift others!

In addition to regular ticketed shows, I’ve also had the chance to dance in numerous outreach performances at elementary schools and at senior living communities/assisted living facilities.

Let me tell you that these are special audiences, and they make these performances some of the most meaningful.

I could write a whole separate blog post about the exuberance, hilarity, and joy of the shows for kids.  They really do say the darndest things!

But dancing for the elderly has been truly moving.  Their faces brighten when we simply walk into the room.

Occasionally, we have been able to chat with the residents of the assisted livings and retirement communities after we’ve performed.¬† Invariably, we receive nothing but love and encouragement from these lovely souls.¬† In return, we are able to listen to their stories, such as tales of their¬†own involvement¬†with dance, or we simply offer a friendly smile and a warm hand-shake.

It is such a humbling and beautiful experience to be able to put dance at the service of others in this way.  Like other careers, the dance world can sometimes lead a person to be self-absorbed and to focus on self-aggrandizement in a demanding and competitive environment.  These outreach shows can be a good check on that attitude and a reminder that dance, like all talents, is meant to be shared and to benefit others.

Often in these facilities, we are dancing on carpet or on parquet or a combination of the two.  Sometimes we have to dodge low-hanging chandeliers (a particularly humorous situation for an above-average-height dancer like me).  In any case, definitely not ideal surfaces or conditions for a performance.

But that is not the point.

Of course, from a business angle,¬†we are there to promote our company and our upcoming shows.¬† However, from a human and personal angle,¬†I’ve come to realize that the purpose of these shows is not flawless technique or mistake-free dances.¬†Naturally, I want to do my best, but the reason for¬†these shows, especially the ones at retirement homes,¬†is¬†to uplift hearts and to spread joy.

Particularly in some of the facilities caring for lower-income senior citizens, our dancing, and simply our presence, is needed and appreciated.  One of the most memorable shows for me was at an organization that cares for children, elderly as well as mentally-challenged adults.  Some of the audience actually had tears in their eyes while we danced.

Even in places where the residents are more well-off financially and physically, our shows can be a morale boost.¬† One woman, whose granddaughter happens to be a professional dancer, explained to us that she had decided to wear a skirt that evening because she “was going to the ballet.”¬† She also repeatedly said that she was tired of “only looking at old people!”¬† Clearly, she was excited to see some youthful faces!

These authentic interactions, whether while dancing or in post-performance conversations, are an affirmation of the dignity of every person.  They are an opportunity for us as dancers to partake in an act of mercy for a group of people that is all too often disrespected and neglected.

I am so deeply grateful that our visits to these various places put a little more love into the world and, hopefully, a ray of sunshine into others’ lives.

“Whatever you did¬†for these least brothers of mine,¬†you did¬†for me” (Matthew 25:40).

These shows are truly a gift for both givers and receivers.

 

Beautiful Ballet Pic
Image credit to Musetouch Visual Arts Magazine

 

All, Faith, Family

A Time to Trust

The French language has two words that both signify “to know.”¬† Savoir indicates knowing of or about something or how to do something while connaitre implies more intimate knowledge: to know a person or to be familiar with someone or something.¬† One could say that savoir is a more academic, aloof “knowledge about” while connaitre indicates a relationship.¬† Both words mean “to know” yet the¬†level of knowing is¬†as different as the shallow and deep ends of a swimming pool.

Belief also,¬†I think, is a bit of a sliding scale.¬†There is a vast difference between giving one’s intellectual assent to something –a savoir-type of belief– and a deep-down-in-the-heart-and-soul, connaitre-type of belief.

You might be thinking to yourself: “this parsing of words and meanings is all fine and good, but what is the point of all this?”

Well, this sliding scale of knowledge and belief is, arguably, a good description of faith in God and of spiritual progress.

I am in a season of life when many things are changing in little and big ways both for myself and for my family.¬† Sometimes I wish I could just wave a magic wand and fix some of the challenges with which we are presented.¬† I am recognizing more and more my “control freak” tendencies.¬† Sometimes it is hard to know where one’s responsibility lies¬†or how much responsibility one holds.

When we’re children, if we are blessed with a loving family (which thankfully I was),¬†our world is filled with security and comfort.¬†¬†We are¬†shielded from the nastier sides of life and obviously the big, stressful decisions do not rest on¬†a child’s¬†shoulders.¬† However, as¬†we grow up, the monumental realities of life, both good and bad, become inevitable acquaintances.

Yet, we are still meant to have that child-like peace and security.¬† Christ tells us, ” ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven'” (Matthew 18:3).¬†God is our Father and we are His beloved¬†children.¬†¬†Yet so often we can¬†accurately be called “ye of little faith.”

I think the only way to develop that child-like faith, that unwavering trust, which brings peace and lifts burdens, is to have a personal relationship with Jesus.  To get to know him through prayer, Scripture, the sacraments, and through the wisdom of others.  To not simply know or to believe in a savoir, detached manner, but to believe and to know in a relational, connaitre manner.

To truly believe in His goodness and love, His promises and His providence.  To remember His blessings and help in past insistences.  To remember that He is our Savior and our Friend, Who always, always has our best interests in mind.  And also, to remember that just as God is working in your heart, He is also working on the hearts and minds of those around you, and maybe, just maybe He is asking you to have a little more trust in them as well.

Fr. Jacques Philippe writes in Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, “In order to resist fear and discouragement, it is necessary that through prayer–through a personal experience of God re-encountered, recognized and loved in prayer–we taste and see how good the Lord is (Psalm 34).”

In A.J. Russell’s daily devotional book, God Calling, one of Christ’s exhortations is¬†to trust Him for everything.¬† That really hit home with me recently.¬†¬† When He says everything, He literally means everything!¬† From the majorly consequential to the little trivia of everyday living.¬† All our hopes, desires, worries, and concerns for ourselves and for others.¬† EVERYTHING.

Another frequent assurance in the book is that “All is well.”¬† A reminder that Jesus is the One with the final say.¬† And He is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

My great-Uncle George, for whom this blog is named, certainly must have had a goodly amount of trust in God when he decided to go to Canada and join the Royal Air Force during World War II.  That was, undoubtedly, one of the biggest decisions of his life.

If I let it (and I am trying to do so), this season of life can be an opportunity to strive to develop this type of trust in the Lord. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this will also be a life-long lesson.  It is hard for us prideful humans to let go of control, but so often when we finally do surrender a person, a situation, a problem to God, the solution readily becomes evident.

I will leave you with some words of encouragement from the Psalms:

“Commit your way to the Lord: trust in him and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5)

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11)

Serenity Prayer

 

 

All, Bookworm, Faith

Musings on Narnia

NOTE: I wrote these¬†reflections a few summers ago after I had re-read “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” I¬†thought that they would possibly¬†make a decent blog post, so now that I actually have a blog I¬†decided that¬†I would share with y’all.¬† Edits and additions have been made.¬† Hope you enjoy these ramblings/informal book report from¬†a bookworm! ūüėČ

I feel like the older I become the better I can appreciate C.S. Lewis’ genius, his societal commentary, and the very spiritual Christian insights he incorporated into his writings.¬† He is, undoubtedly, one of my favorite authors.¬† The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the third book published in the Chronicles of Narnia series but the fourth in Narnia chronology),¬†like all of the Narnia books, is simple, beautiful, profound, and¬†enjoyable for both children and adults.

During the first chapter, it struck me how much pointed humor his series contains.¬† When I was younger, I could not appreciate it as much, but now some comments stand out to me that were previously less conspicuous.¬† An example is Lewis’ description of Eustace’s family: “They were very modern and up-to-date people.¬† They were vegetarians, non-smokers, and tee-totalers.”¬† This is not intended as a compliment.¬† Eustace is obnoxious, bratty, and¬†arrogant.¬† He has no imagination, believing solely in science and rational facts.¬† He and his family have abandoned the timeless truths and principles of wonder, respect, and belief in a Higher Power.¬† They are politically correct, but they are insufferable.¬† It’s not that being a vegetarian, a non-smoker, or a tee-totaler was necessarily wrong.¬† The problem is more that they have no permanent foundation of beliefs for their lives.¬† Instead, they go¬†along with the latest trends, whatever¬†is in vogue at the moment.eustace

Eustace ridicules Lucy and Edmund for their belief in Narnia.  Even when Eustace experiences the wonder of Narnia firsthand, having entered this other world through an enchanted picture frame, he seemingly cannot give his assent to the substantiality and rationality of this fantastic realm.

Eustace continually tries to hold Narnia to the limited standards of his legitimate but incomplete world of science-only.¬† A world of chivalry and monarchy where a girl is given deference over¬†men when it comes to living quarters is unfathomable to him. (Lucy was given the use¬† of King Caspian’s room while Caspian, Edmund, and Eustace bunked below the Dawn Treader’s deck.)¬† Eustace tries to tell King Caspian that this is demeans girls, not seeing how this simple distinction does not diminish femininity but actually shows respect for Lucy.

How often do we behave in a way similar to Eustace?  We measure God by our own limited, finite vision, experience and life.  Often we are blind to His work in our lives even when it is right in front of our eyes, like Eustace when he first enters Narnia.

We must strive to adopt the attitude of Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, who not only continually pondered and spoke of Narnia, but also always hoped and expected to experience it once more. Their faith was rewarded, and, thankfully, Eustace was pulled along with them for the adventure of a lifetime.

The crucial moment that begins Eustace’s journey of conversion is when he is transformed into a dragon.¬† Having wandered away from his traveling companions during a respite on an island, Eustace stumbles onto a dragon’s lair and falls asleep upon a mound of enchanted treasure.¬† During his sleep, he undergoes a metamorphosis into a dragon: “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.”¬† His outside now reflected his interior disposition.

However, Eustace’s time as a dragon is a bit of an epiphany for him.¬† He recognizes how beastly he has been behaving and for the first time experiences true loneliness and a longing for companionship. Once he is able to communicate who he is to the others, he becomes most helpful, bringing them food and a massive tree from which to fashion a new mast for the Dawn Treader.¬† He also offers his services (the fire in his belly)¬†as a source of warmth on cold nights.

Eventually, Eustace is transformed back into a boy, and the process by which this is wrought is filled with Christian symbolism.¬† Aslan, the mighty lion and Christ figure,¬† appears to Eustace and tells him to “Follow me.”¬† Aslan leads him to a well that is filled with water and¬†directs him to bathe in it after undressing first, meaning after removing his dragon skin.¬† Eustace tries three times to scratch away his skin on his own, only to find that there is more underneath.¬† At last, Aslan says that Eustace must be undressed by him.¬† When recounting the encounter to Edmund, Eustace explained that this process hurt, but it was a good pain: “And when he [Aslan] began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.¬† The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”¬† Aslan then tossed him into the well water, which also smarted and hurt at first but then became “delicious.”

One can easily compare this scene to repentance and Baptism. We must first shed the “dragon-ish” parts of ourselves, namely, ¬†our sins and shortcomings through repentance.¬† However, ¬†we cannot remove them ourselves.¬† If we try, we are only frustrated by our failure.¬† We must let Jesus and His grace work the transformation in¬†us, a process that can be painful sometimes but that ultimately brings joy and peace.¬† We are ready to accept God’s forgiveness and be made clean in the waters of Baptism, which we will ultimately find “delicious.”

Eustace is frequently described by Lewis as a “beginner.” Baptism is meant for Christians at the beginning of their faith journeys, either as infants or as adult converts.¬† In fact, it is one of the Sacraments of Initiation.¬† Lewis says that Eustace was mostly a completely changed person after his encounter with Aslan, but he still had slip-ups and it would be more accurate to say that he was becoming a better person.¬† When we first make a commitment to Christ and to the faith, we often do have setbacks and slip-ups but we are now striving and improving and have hope¬†rather than remaining in our mess.¬† Indeed throughout our whole lives and faith journeys, we must continuously strive for conversion and re-commit ourselves to Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and acts of charity.

Lastly, Eustace’s conversion was prompted first by being immersed in a world of believers, by being immersed in the world of Narnia.¬† Lewis mentions that the good effects of Narnia began to work on Eustace without him even realizing it; case in point, when he is struggling to climb a mountain, he perseveres to the end instead of giving up like he would have been wont to do before experiencing Narnia.¬†¬†This small¬†event exemplifies both the importance of evangelization¬†as well as the reality that¬†both our chosen companions and environment have an affect on our attitude and ways of thinking.¬† Secondly, his conversion was motivated mainly by an experience of hardship, that is, becoming a dragon.¬† Eustace’s suffering impelled him to make an examination of conscience, so to speak.¬†He realized his nastiness and wanted to be reconciled and be friends¬†with his companions once more.¬† So often in the real world, it is suffering and trials that drive people to conversion or to a re-awakening of faith.¬† We take a hard long look at ourselves and our lives and realize where we have fouled up and who we have wronged, and we desire to make amends.

These¬†musings only cover a small portion of the insights contained in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as well as the whole Narnia series.¬† If you have never read these books or if it’s been a while since you’ve read them, pick them up again and discover the beauty that C.S. Lewis has to offer!

narnia

 

Images taken from the Chronicles of Narnia page on Facebook.

 

 

All, Culture/Life, Faith, Family

Fighting for Life

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are LIFE, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (emphasis added).¬† These immortal words are proclaimed in one of America’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, yet they are still not wholly lived out in our country¬†due to such tragedies¬†as abortion.

The topics of abortion and the pro-life cause are, undoubtedly,  multi-faceted, sensitive, and complex subjects, which encompass science, religion, philosophy, morality, economics, and politics.  There are so many angles from which one can look at these issues, and they are obviously much too big and important to begin to cover sufficiently in one blog post.  All that being said, I would like to endeavor to put in my two cents and write a bit about what has resonated with me most of late regarding these topics.

Firstly, I know many of you reading this may not agree with the pro-life position.  All I ask is that you consider some ideas behind a differing point of view.

Secondly, this post is not at all meant to be a condemnation of those who are suffering from their past decisions regarding a pregnancy.  If you or someone you know is need of information regarding resources for post-abortive women as well as men, you can find them, here. on the website of the organization, Silent No More.  Please know that you can find healing and restoration.

Though I was not personally present, I was so heartened and energized by the recent witness of the 44th annual March for Life on Jan. 27 in Washington, D.C.  For those who might not be familiar, this massive pro-life rally is held each year on or around the anniversary of the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.  People from all over the country gather, no matter the weather or inconvenience, in order to protest peacefully this ruling that has since resulted in millions of deaths through abortion.

Have you ever wondered what all those babies would be doing right now?  What would they be contributing to society?  In our own lives, what cherished loved ones are we missing because they were aborted?

To me, it defies logic for a society to mourn with a woman who suffers a miscarriage and yet still say that a woman has the right to terminate her own pregnancy.  The objective value and worth of the unborn child did not change, only the subjective desires surrounding the pregnancy.

To paraphrase a quote I once read,¬†let’s¬†remove the crisis from the crisis pregnancy not the pregnancy itself.¬†Shouldn’t we be working to¬†alleviate the circumstances that lead¬†a woman to consider abortion instead of just¬†pushing abortion as the way out of a difficult situation?¬† Shouldn’t we be working to support those¬†facing unplanned pregnancies in adverse circumstances, helping them to have the resources they need to choose life?¬† Shouldn’t we be advocating adoption?¬† So many post-abortive women testify to the fact that they felt they had no choice; they were¬†coerced into abortion by boyfriends, husbands, parents, etc.¬† They did not have a support system and they did not want to do what they did.

Shouldn’t we be working to dismantle the diabolical lie that abortion is somehow a “right”? The truth is that a woman, indeed no person, is empowered or liberated through the degradation or demise of another person and certainly not through the purposeful death of an innocent child in the womb.¬† Women are not empowered when their unique and life-giving ability to carry a child is treated as a problem or a weakness or a hindrance to their supposed success in life.¬† The truth is that abortion hurts women.¬† Again, many women attest to the fact that they suffered emotionally, psychologically, physically and spiritually¬†for years following an abortion. Often, it took a long time for them to make the connection that their difficulties were connected to their abortions.

Perhaps it is time that we remember that early suffragettes, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who fought for true women’s rights, were themselves against abortion.¬† And that a main catalyst in the work of¬†Margaret Sanger,¬†the founder of abortion giant Planned Parenthood, was racist eugenics.

The pro-life movement is not perfect, but despite its flaws,¬†its work is crucial.¬† I think Vice President Mike Pence’s speech¬†at the March for Life was particularly encouraging to those devoted to the cause of life.

He said,

“…life is winning in America.¬† And today is a celebration of that progress that we¬† have made.¬†You know I’ve long believed that a society can be judged by how we care for its most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn.

We have come to an historic moment in the cause for life.  And we must meet this moment with respect and compassion for every American.

Life is winning in America for many reasons.

Life is winning through the steady advance of science that illuminates when life begins, more and more, every day.  Life is winning through the generosity of millions of adoptive families to open their hearts and homes to children in need.  Life is winning through the compassion of caregivers and volunteers at crisis pregnancy centers and faith-based organizations who minister to women in towns across this country.

Life is winning through the quiet counsels between mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, between friends across kitchen tables, and over coffee at college campuses.¬† The truth is being told.¬† Compassion is overcoming convenience.¬† And hope is defeating despair. …

So I urge you to press on.¬† But as it is written, ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all.’ Let this movement be known for love, not anger.¬† Let this movement be known for compassion, not confrontation.¬† When it comes to matters of the heart, there is nothing stronger than gentleness.

I believe that we will continue to win the hearts and minds of the rising generation if our hearts first break for young mothers and their unborn children, and if we each of us do all we can to meet them where they are, with generosity, not judgment.”

This blog is named after my Great-Uncle George, who held so strongly to his convictions that he joined the Royal Air Force in Canada in order to fight in World War II even before the United States entered the fray.  He was bold enough to act upon his beliefs.  Those who believe in the pro-life cause do so with conviction and with passion.  It is something very near and dear to their hearts.  Let us follow the example of Uncle George who courageously fought for what was right even when others around him were not yet doing so.

And let us be encouraged by¬†the words of Jesus, “Whoever accepts a little child in my name, accepts me.”¬†(Matthew 18:5).

531506_161070387376292_1064564533_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

All, Culture/Life, Faith

“Bid our sad divisions cease”

Pope St. John Paul II was known to speak about advancing the “culture of life” over the “culture of death.”¬† There are many perspectives from which one can view these phrases.¬†¬†The¬†“culture of death” can refer to the¬†acceptance of¬†abortion, assisted suicide, and the death penalty.¬† Whether you agree or disagree¬†with these practices as political and social issues, I¬†hope most¬†people would¬†concur that it is¬†tragic when death is imposed as¬†the solution to a situation.

Besides physical death, however, there are other ways in which this¬†culture of death is pervasive, namely, through the destruction of people’s dignity.¬† Human trafficking and pornography are just two examples.¬†¬†In both¬†of these cases, human beings are reduced to objects to be used for other people’s pleasure.

A more everyday example is in the increasing divisiveness we are witnessing in families and in the culture at large–the¬†“us vs. them” mentality that has people demonizing and demeaning¬†those who disagree with them, sometimes in very cruel and defamatory ways.¬† People so often fail to truly try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes¬†or to try to understand the other person’s¬†vantage point.

There is a way to disagree with someone, even about¬†contentious¬†topics like the ones mentioned¬†above,¬†without being disrespectful or assuming the worst in the other person.¬† Discussion is important and disagreements are inevitable, especially as some of the issues the culture is facing go to the very heart of even what it is means to be a man or a woman.¬† But it is also crucial to develop prudence, to know the time and the place in which it is best to speak one’s mind.¬† Moreover, it is sometimes better to remember the old adage, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”¬† One’s beliefs may very well be closer aligned with truth and virtue than those of¬†the person with whom¬†one is speaking but acting like a sanctimonious know-it-all will never influence anyone positively.¬† No one as an individual person, no matter how correct his beliefs, has a monopoly on goodness.¬† We all sin; we all make mistakes; we all have bad habits, and something we may easily forget, we can all learn from each other.

On the other hand, political correctness and attempting to sugar coat the realities of life are also a discredit to people. Common sense cannot be lost.

If we can speak with humility and love and try to understand the other person then maybe some of this awful divisiveness can be overcome, and a culture of life can begin to be built little by little.

One of the last verses of the Christian Advent hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel” states, “O come, O King of Nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind. Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace!”¬† These words, which will always be applicable to the human condition, seemed¬†this year¬†to be¬†even more like a prayer fitting our day and age.

Let us pray and let us work to make 2017 a more peaceful, respectful, loving year, despite our differences.

candles

 

 

All, Art, Faith

Music and Life

Why is music so connected to the human experience? Minds greater than mine have pondered this question; yet, like the haunting notes of a stirring musical score, this inquiry is recurring and timeless.¬† Why is music so inextricably linked to humanity?¬† The harmonious and discordant sounds of the world as well as the notes of actual music greet us practically from the first moment of our existence in the wombs of our mothers.¬† Even if by some bizarre circumstance we somehow were to live our whole lives without hearing any man-made music, we would still be serenaded by nature’s music, so lauded by poets, namely, the whirring of the insects, the chirping of birds, and the roaring of the wind.

I daresay that the majority of people have an opinion on music; there are certainly differing viewpoints on what constitutes good music, on what music is appropriate for certain times and places, and, undoubtedly, there are extreme variances in musical preferences.

A myriad of musical genres exists, and it is a good trait to have a cultivated and eclectic taste in music.  There is no harm in enjoying classical, rock, country, and pop music.  Nevertheless, some music, arguably, is objectively superior to other music.  To paraphrase one of my former philosophy professors at Franciscan University, one can recognize the musical superiority of a Bach or a Beethoven and still simply prefer the music of the Beatles.

Yet all of this discussion still has not answered our initial question regarding¬†music’s relationship to humanity.¬† It is a somewhat cliche saying that “music is a universal language.”¬† However, cliches become cliches because they are true, so what is it about music that makes it universal?

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, music is described as an attribute of heaven.¬† Ludwig von Beethoven, one of the greatest musical geniuses that the world has ever known, said the following statement: “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom

beethoven
Ludwig von Beethoven, From Bing Images

and philosophy.”¬† Hans Christian Andersen of fairy tale fame, said, “When words fail, music speaks.”

In each of these descriptions of music, there seems to be an appeal to a transcendent quality?  Is this the universal characteristic by which music is united with mankind?  Is it that music appeals to our higher nature, to the spiritual part of us that is connected with God?  And is this why even people who profess no formal religious beliefs sometimes claim to find spiritual expression through music?

Along with those who have considered these questions before me, I would answer with a strong affirmative.  Music can be a channel through we come to a greater self-discovery as well as to a deeper realization of the meaning of our lives.  Moreover, music relates to beauty, which leads to God; therefore, music is a vehicle by which we begin to discover our relationship to God.  Finally, music also has the ability to facilitate a greater understanding between persons.

Firstly, let us consider how music can lead us to a better knowledge of ourselves and of our lives.¬† St. John Paul the Great in his 1999 “Letter to Artists,” (which is a worthwhile read for everyone, no exclusively partakers in the arts) states,

“Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive¬†and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery.¬† The intuition itself springs from the depths of the human soul, where the desire to give meaning to one’s ¬†own life is joined by the fleeting vision of beauty and of the mysterious unity of things.”

These eloquent words exemplify the truth that an artistic intuition, which includes musical intuition, is an encounter with beauty and a means of transcending the mere sensory world to see something mysterious and unifying about reality.

How often has someone listened to a particular song or musical composition that seemed to afford a release and an outlet to feelings that were inexpressible otherwise?  Music can be a catharsis and help a person to recognize pains or graces that were previously ignored or unnoticed.

Over and over again in this inspiring letter, our late pope speaks of beauty.  Beauty awakens a yearning within us.

“Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence .¬† It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future.¬† That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy.¬† It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God…”

And God is beauty itself.

St. John Paul continues, “Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world.¬† It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning.”

Music is art, and, thus, it has the power to shed light on man and on the world, subsequently leading to the transcendent end of faith and of God for Whom man was made.¬† Certainly these are some of the reasons why music contains such potency and importance for mankind, why it is a universal language.¬† Music bespeaks of mankind’s Creator, Who knows how to speak to the hearts of each of¬†His creatures through His creation.¬† God can use music as a means to¬†call us to Himself.

Secondly, music can provide insight and understanding between persons.¬† In the “Letter to Artists,” St. John Paul writes,

“Through his works, the artist speaks to others and communicates with them.¬† The¬†history of art, therefore, is not only a story of works¬†produced but also a story of men¬† and women.¬† Works of art speak of their authors; they enable us to know their inner life, and they reveal the original contribution which artists offer to the history of culture.”

Thus, this is also a way in which music is universal: we feel connected to one another through music because each composer, each singer/songwriter infuses some of his very self, his soul  into his art, and we cannot help but come to understand him better and to grasp more fully his view of the world than through listening to work.  This builds communion and unity with one another and preserves the story of the past for future generations.

Whether it is the Russian nationalist music of Tchaikovsky or songs from the 1960s and ’70s protesting the Vietnam War, we have a musical record of people’s feelings towards events¬†¬†that were changing their personal worlds and the world at large.

Music is a wondrous thing.¬† Music has the ability to transcend, to lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and of each other.¬† Music can be a meeting with beauty, which leads us to a meeting with God.¬† These qualities of music are, I think, solid answers to our initial queries.¬† Yet, there are many more answers that are just as worthy, so let us conclude as we began–with thought-provoking questions: How has music¬† been a part of your life? Have you¬†felt the beauty of music?¬† Have you been drawn closer to God and to your fellow man through a musical composition?¬† How has the universal language of music influenced and changed the notes of your individual life’s song?

NOTE: This is a slightly edited version  of a piece that I originally wrote for The Gadfly, a student publication at Franciscan University of Steubenville,  in 2014.

All, Faith

Becoming a Saint

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the renowned and beloved Catholic nun and founder of the religious order, the Missionaries of Charity, was recently canonized a saint of the Catholic

saint-mother-teresa-of-calcutta
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Photographer Unknown, From Bing Images

Church.  This means that Pope Francis declared, through an infallible statement, that Mother Teresa is in heaven with God, and she is worthy of our veneration.

 

The honoring of saints is such a beautiful¬†part of the Catholic faith, but it is also a practice that is greatly misunderstood.¬† Firstly, the notion that Catholics worship or adore the saints and the Blessed¬†Virgin Mary should be dismissed.¬† Worship and adoration are only for God.¬† However, we do venerate, honor, and pray to the saints and to Mary for their intercession as we believe that their prayers are powerful with God.¬† Think of it in earthly terms as when¬†someone asks a trusted friend or colleague to speak on¬†his or her behalf to someone else–that is what the saints do.¬† They are our advocates and our friends, who are already enjoying eternal life with God; moreover, they are models for us of sanctity and faith.

Secondly, as we keep pictures and mementos of our loved ones, living and deceased, so Catholics keep pictures, statues, etc. of the saints.¬† I have heard the saints¬†referred to as “our elder brothers and sisters in the faith.”¬† They are deeply interested in our well-being and our salvation.

Often saints are named patrons of specific causes, places, groups of people, etc. because they are somehow associated with that particular saint.  However, the saints are not limited to their patron causes, and we can pray to them about or for anyone or anything.

So how does one become a saint?¬† Well,¬† every person who makes it to heaven is a saint, but to be a publicly canonized saint requires a declaration by the Church.¬† Though as I recently heard explained during Mother Teresa’s canonization, the Catholic Church does not “make” saints.¬† The canonization is a confirmation of the person’s holiness.¬† Before this formal confirmation, a thorough and lengthy investigation into the person’s life takes place.¬† Interviews are conducted with those who favor the person and with those who were critics of the person.¬† It must be shown that the potential saint exhibited “heroic virtue and holiness of life.”¬† Moreover, two miracles wrought through the person’s intercession since their death are also required–one prior to beatification or being declared “blessed,” the step immediately before sainthood, and then a second before canonization.¬† Both theologians and scientists are involved in the investigations.¬† These miracles must be determined to have no scientific explanation.

The whole process of inquiry is a painstaking, years-long process, which shows just how important the Church considers its declaration.

Even though popular opinion considered Mother Teresa a saint while she was still living, it is certainly a moment for rejoicing and thanksgiving now that she is officially a canonized saint of the Church.¬† In his homily during the Mass of Canonization for¬†Mother Teresa, Pope Francis said, ¬†“Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome¬† and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. … She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die¬†on the side of the road,¬†seeing in them their God-given dignity.¬†… Mother Teresa loved to say, ‘Perhaps I don’t speak their language, but I can smile.’¬† Let us carry her smile in our hearts and give it¬†to those whom we meet¬†along our journey, especially¬†those who suffer.¬†”

If you are curious to know more about the saints, you can learn about¬†the saint whose feast or memorial it is each day at http:// www.catholic.org/saints/sofd.php.¬† Mother Teresa’s feast day is Sept. 5th, the day that she died.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!