Saturday, March 1, 2008

Quo Vadis, Domine?

In today's society we live in a culture full of questions. We want to know all the answers. If there is something we don't understand, we feel that there is an answer to that question and we have to have it. However, the essential questions are so often ignored or swept under the rug. In the famous words of St. Peter when he was leaving Rome and saw Christ, the question we must ask is "Quo Vadis?". Where are you going? To put it better, where are you leading? This is the question that we need to ask, this is the question we need to pose to our Lord. One of the blessings that we have is that Christ founded His Church to give us guidance through what is, at times, a very dark world. The Magesterium of the Church remains as a light, a beacon which shines in the darkness of modernity which is surrounding us. She is our light, and our hope as we struggle in our daily lives.

What is so sad, is that not only non-Catholics, but that even the Catholics in today's culture seem to ignore. We can only hope and pray that with the guidance of the Magesterium, under the leadership of His Holiness Pope Benedict, we can follow the will of Christ for our lives. He made the sacrifice for us, now it is our turn, to make small sacrifices for Him.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Thoughts on the Blessed Mother

I shared this with a group of Catholic youth in North Carolina. Because the area that I live in suffers so terribly from anti-Catholic propoganda I write, from time to time, articles in defence of the Blessed Mother. This was written several years ago, but I still find it useful today:

Today as I am writing this, I am able to sit here for one main reason, that reason is that I am alive. I live and breathe because I have been created. Created by whom? Through the grace of God? Yes, most certainly, I have been created by the grace of the Lord. However what instrument did God choose to cause my creation? He chose that most blessed of instruments to all mankind, my mother. My mother gave me life, she gave me creation. It was my mother who bore me for nine months, and who protected me, who defended me with her own self. It is due to her that I am alive today. All of us have a mother. All of us have been given the gift of creation, the gift of life. As a son, it is a gift I will never be able to repay my mother, but it is a gift that I will always be grateful for. What would any of us be without our mothers? We would quite simply, be literally nothing at all. Thus motherhood is one of the most sacred gifts that God has bestowed to humanity, the ability to give and to create life. In following this argument then, we can easily see that all mothers are blessed by God, just as they are themselves a blessing. A blessing which they continue through the fruit of their creation. However, my point in discussing the sanctity of motherhood is not just give praise, though completely worthy, to the mothers of today. It is to offer praise to a mother of around two thousand years ago who had a talk with a rather important messenger from God named Gabriel. It was this mother who by her life and actions literally did what many other mothers figuratively accomplish every day, she saved the world.

If anyone has ever watched the TV show The Golden Girls, you might remember Dorothy’s elderly mother Sophia, reminiscing about the good old days in Sicily and Brooklyn. She always began her stories in the same way. After watching the show for a while it was a quote you were used to hearing. No matter what you would hear, “Picture It” followed by the place and the year. So you might hear, “Picture it, Sicily 1967" and she would then tell her story. A story sometimes humorous, at other times sad. However, no matter what, the story always had a point. Today, I am going to be in a way like Sophia, I am going to tell you a story, one that you have probably heard many times. But today, I want you to stop and think about this story. I want you to say to yourself as Sophia would say to her children and friends “Picture It”. Because let me tell you, once you truly “picture” this story, there is no better one ever told. So hold on, get ready because here comes my line: “Picture it, Judea, around 1 B.C.”. There you go everyone, that’s our place, that’s our time and here is our story. We are now in the land of Judea. A land that isn’t quite flowing with the milk and honey that was attributed to it many generations before. The Judea we are looking at is an occupied nation. Just as the Soviet Union or the German armies would occupy their neighbors, so the Roman Empire had spread across the known world, adding province by province, nation by nation. For today, however, we will look at the small, almost paltry insignificant land of Judea, because as the scriptures themselves had foretold, out of this land would come the Savior of mankind. So in the town of the region of Galilee, Luke tells us we will find a young girl. We cannot be sure of her age, but judging from historical sources and our knowledge of the customs of the time, we will picture this girl to be around thirteen years old. That’s right, I meant what I just said, she was around thirteen years old. Picture this now. This same thirteen year old just got engaged. Well, that is good news, though to our day, she would be extremely young indeed. So we can imagine that this young woman, just recently engaged, about to tie the knot, has plenty on her mind. Or at least, she thought she had plenty on her mind. Because God was about to drop a bombshell on her that was bigger than filling in Noah concerning that flooding issue a few years back. This young girl’s name was Mary. Now we know that Mary was a good, devout, young Jewish Maiden. She was still a virgin and had a deep love of her faith and her God instilled in her by her parents. So this young girl is going about her daily activities. Who knows, maybe she was even making the preparations for her upcoming nuptials. After all, she was engaged, there are many things to get done. Then you could almost say literally “out of a clear blue sky”, an angel appears to her. By angel we are not talking about a really sweet person. Think about that, an actual, literal angel. Angels had appeared to prophets in the past, they were the messengers of the Lord, but here is this young Jewish maiden and the angel is appearing to her. Not just any angel, but the Angel Gabriel, one of the chosen messengers of God. Now if this wasn’t enough for her to have to deal with, the angel bings with the words, “Hail favored one! The Lord is with you.”. Wow! Thats a lot to take in. There is something very important in these first words that the angel spoke to Mary. You see, as Catholics today, many of us pray the rosary and are accustomed to beginning with the words, Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. These are the words we are used to, and of course it makes perfect sense to echo the words of the angel in the Gospel. However St. Thomas Aquinas makes a very good point that we all need to remember, when we “picture it”. It was an angel talking. It wasn’t Joe Smith Judean Pizza Delivery Boy. It wasn’t the wedding planner or the florist. This was an angel from God and the first thing he says is Hail. This is not just your everyday greeting. This is a greeting of reverence, of respect. In his Exposition on the Angelic Salutation, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that in the history of angels appearing to man, it was man who showed profound respect for angels. They were perfect heavenly creatures, while man has been corrupted through sin. Anyone who tries to argue the claim that Mary was born without sin, will have a little problem refuting this fact. It was the angel who showed deference and respect to her. Gabriel wasn’t being silly here, he knew who he was talking to. He was speaking to a being that was his superior. He for the first time in his many mission trips to humanity was the inferior being and so he began his salutation with the greatest respect and courtesy. He began by saying “Hail”. When we picture it, as Luke paints it for us, we find that Mary was troubled by the angels greeting. I think just about any one on earth might be a little troubled if an angel came up to them and started showing profound respect. He doesn’t stop there though. Instead he goes on to tell her even more important news. After reassuring her to not be afraid, he tells her that she will bear a Son, the Son of the Most High who rule over David’s kingdom for all days. Now that is what I call a heavenly bombshell, and a confusing one at that. Even in the midst of her fear and her fright this thirteen year old girl still is clear headed enough in talking to this celestial being, to ask it “how can this be, since I have no relations with man?” Now that really is the $64,000 question. Then if he hasn’t scared her enough, Gabriel tells her that she will conceive through the holy Spirit, and will bear the Son of God Himself. Then with perfect self sacrifice she spoke words which we happen to forget some days. Words which were even more important than the “Hail” of the angel Gabriel. Translated into the english language there are eighteen words. And I would like you to stop and consider these words, because in my opinion, there have never been more beautiful words ever spoken at any time or in any place. It is words like these that show the evil and wrong of abortion. It is these words that show that the selfish taking of child’s life should never be permitted, for in these words the Virgin Mary consented to what was sure to be a pretty tough pregnancy, because she was giving birth to God Almighty. I want you to “picture it, Judea, 1 B.C.” and not just picture but hear as this thirteen year old, frightened newly engaged virgin says to the celestial angel that just came to her, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” She didn’t say, this is a mistake. Or wait a few years Lord. She didn’t say, No God, I refuse or I am to scared or don’t make me do this God I am begging you. Instead this child herself said to the angel, “May it be done to me according to your word.” In these words she offered herself and her life in total perfect submission to God in a way that no other human being has been able to do before or since. Thus, it shouldn’t prove to difficult for us as humans, to repeat the words of the angel Gabriel when we say to her “Hail Mary”. In fact Mary’s aged cousin Elizabeth herself addresses Mary with the words “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”. Blessed indeed is the fruit of her womb, for Mary is bearing Christ’s own child. In what has been given the title of the Canticle of Mary or the Magnificat that follows, we find in her closing words an expression of her own deep piety and faith. She states “He has helped Israel His servant, remembering His mercy, according to His promise to our fathers to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Mary in these words shows that she is fully aware that the Lord is coming to Earth in flesh because he made a promise, a covenant with Abraham, to redeem his descendants and the people of Israel. God has now kept his promise, his covenant, just as Mary continues to keep her covenant, her promise to God. From the beginning she submitted herself to the divine plan and she remained faithful in that submission. For several months after that, this young woman gives birth to God made flesh on earth, God who kept his word.

“Blessed art you amongst women” That must be the understatement of all time. If there is anyone who has trouble understanding why respect should be offered to Mary, they truly need to “picture it”. Just as our own mothers gave us life, Mary gave life, not just to one Son, but to the entire world. She did not say no to God, she submitted to His plan for her life, and by that submission she gave birth to the One who gave life to all of mankind. God chose her out of the entire Earth to bear his Son, to come to Earth in human form and to be raised by her. God was able to choose anyone from the entire race of humanity at anytime in human history. Remember He is God, He didn’t have a time limit on his promise to Abraham. However, he chose that time in history because it was Mary whom he wanted as the literal Mother of God. Not a great ruler of nations, she was a very young Jewish girl, who in her nine months of pregnancy carried the fate of the world. I am going to ask you to “picture it” again. Look at this girl, as she is about to give birth. There were not any epidurals in those days. Childbirth was about as natural and as painful as it can be, and it was a thirteen year old giving birth. Think about her labor pains. All of those horrendous pains she must have endured while given birth. Remember her and that while she was enduring those pains for God’s sake, she was enduring the pains of humanity. For just as Christ’s suffering on the Cross set us free from sin and death, it was Mary’s suffering that gave life to the saving grace which set us free.

There is so much still to picture. You can picture Mary, going to her Son at the Wedding feast because their host is unable to provide for his guests and is in a panic. It was here, for His mother, that Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine. Christ’s first miracle was not healing the sick or raising someone from the dead. It was an act of assistance to his mother, whose friends were in dire straights. He assisted them in service to the woman who gave Him creation, who gave Him life. A life without which we would not be here today.
Picture this same mother as she had to witness her only Son crucified, like the most common criminal. She was not an old woman at the time, after all she was most likely only in her forties. Thus, you can picture this still now more mature Mary, though still not old by any means, as she watches her baby, her little one, carry a cross to His own death. Imagine being with Mary as she watches the blood pour from her child as he bears the weight of the Earth. In thinking about her, cannot you not help but consider that possibly on that day she bore more weight than anyone else. For with each beating that Christ received, with each stab and pain he suffered, wasn’t Mary suffering even more? Such is a mother’s love, that anything her child suffered, so did she. This was Mary’s cross to bear. She bore not just the weight of Christ’s sufferings, but the pain that can only come from being a parent watching your child suffer. This is the Cross she accepted when she stated to Gabriel, “May it be done to me according to your will”. It was a cross which she picked up and carried. This truly was the greatest cross of all, the pain of a mother’s heart. All mothers believe that their children should be exempt from pain, but how much more true must that have been for the mother of God Himself. To know that your child could prevent it if He truly wanted to, that your child could end His own suffering, and yet have to watch his pain, because he suffered not just for a few men, but for all of the earth. Never was there a day when Mary demonstrated more truly that she was the mother of all mankind, than on that day. The day when she suffered in silence for all humanity, what her Son suffered on the Cross for that same humanity. Christ gave us the gift of new life, while his mother gave us the gift of her love and parenthood. She is truly the mother of all of God’s creation.

There are those who somehow say that too much honor is shown to Mary. Too much respect is given her by the Catholic Church. There are those who say that the prayer “Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee, Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”, shows too much reverence or respect when prayed to a human being. There is nothing on this earth that could ever be more absurd than this line of thought. The defenses against it are numerous throughout the ages. However, if you have someone throw your love of the Virgin Mary in your face as a negative thing, do not be angry with them, but instead be grateful, be happy, be glad. They are giving you the opportunity to tell them about the one woman who gave birth not just to one or two children, but to freedom for all humanity. So, if they come up to you to complain about your Marian devotion, tell them this:
“Thank you so much! I am so glad you brought that up. Now here is what I want you do. Close your eyes and relax. Just do what I say now, close your eyes and relax. Thats it... Now Picture it, Judea, around 1 B.C. .and be sure to listen very carefully, because trust me, have I got a story to tell!”

Monday, February 25, 2008

Today's Church

As a Catholic musician, it is extremely difficult for me to understand and comprehend some of the things that are being done "to" liturgical music in today's Church. I use the word "to" specifically in this case, because of the atrocious attacks which true liturgical music has undergone. This, of course, as have so many things is accomplished in the "spirit" of Vatican II. I have realized the crossroads which the musical options of today's American church by looking at one of the most frequently used hymnals and noting that one of the authors of the music is Martin Luther. Now, are that not enough available Catholic hymns without having to turn to Martin Luther to help fill our hymnal. Folk masses are everywhere you turn, Latin is unacceptable for the liturgical hymns and and Agnus Dei, sung as Agnus Dei is unthinkable. It saddens me, but this is the situation of music in the Church today. This forum is for Catholics who may have thoughts or comments concerning this epidemic. I encourage discussion of all opinions and will just post various thoughts of mine concerning the Church in today's world.