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Thursday, February 28, 2013

We Love You, Papa Benedetto!!!!

     You have been a father to Catholics in every land; you have kept faith with tradition while still embracing the modern world; you traveled the globe and left a lasting legacy everywhere you went, including the United States and the United Kingdom; you have touched us all with your penetrating intelligence and gracious warmth; we, the Catholic Youth, would have followed you anywhere. You were our general in the field; our highest ranking official; the dearest member of our spiritual family. We are so sorry, deeply sorry, painfully sorry to see you go. But we know that you have grown old and the task has grown increasingly hard. What you do now, you do for the good of the Church. Know that we will never forget you, and that you will always have a special place in our hearts. Our prayers will always be lifted up for you. Remember us as your children, as we remember you as our father!

    Here is a poem from this blog's poet laureate, Mack in Texas, for our Holy Father Benedict, highlighting the comparison between him and Cincinatus of ancient Rome:


When Cincinnatus in a desperate time

Was called to serve the undeserving state

Imperiled by the armies of the kings

And weakened by senatorial whisperings

Our conscript father laid aside the plough

Forswore retirement and his peaceful fields

Unwillingly took up the imperium

And journeyed thus to disharmonious Rome

To teach, to govern, and to sanctify

A people lost and drifting with the age

To hazard all in the forum of the world

Not for himself, not for brittle applause

Blown by the wind, noisy for a brief time

As when October’s leaves make temporal show

And then decay through winter’s cold demands

Nor for the silky smiles of ambassadors

The approval of jugglers and panderers

The cricket-voices of mummers and polls


But rather for the fuller at his cloth

The builder with his plans and rule and line

The seamstress working a wedding dress

The laughing child at play with her favorite doll

The sunburnt fisherman drawing his nets

The mother teaching her child his aves

The farmer treading the fruitful furrow

The humble priest offering holy rites

The parish tipstaff on his daily beat

The scrivener with his busy abacus

The chemist with his pots and potions and pills

The healer, whose pallid patients are her prayers

The artist, whose lines and colors delight

The barrister, pleading for true justice

The magister lettering inattentive youths

The woman whose shop displays good, homely needs

The sick man on his penitential bed

The young recruit on obscure weary watch

The wretched beggar who gives holy blessings

For these a Cincinnatus offered all

Repute, honor, perhaps his very life

And when, withered with age and cares of rule

Painfully unsure of step and sight and self

He wisely, humbly left the robes of office

In prayerful trust to the Will of God

And wearily wended to the Altar of beginnings

To give himself and his last days to us

Still serving, bidding for us with priestly heart

Let none he faithfully serves question his prayers

Or mock him with idle speculations

For flattering courtiers are as common as smiles

Painted upon false lips, hiding false desirings

Weak leaders arise from time to time to draft

Houris to their beds and youths to their deaths

And, too, the successors of Simon Magus

Pirouetting in their temples to self


But Cincinnatus – O happy Cincinnatus!

Whose memory is incense in the night

Or a candle in the holy darkness:

His Tenebrae is our continued blessing

Pax Tecum, Papa Benedetto......

Monday, February 25, 2013

Here's "A Valentine from God".......

that we found on Catholic! Most of you have probably already read it, since I sent it around via forward message. However, for those who have not, I think the beauty of the concept it too marvelous to miss out on this February!

"My Beloved Child,

Yes, you are my beloved child. I know this is hard for you to believe. You see all your mistakes and failures, all the times you lost your temper, all the times you’ve hurt people, all the times you stayed away from me. You look at yourself and see your failures.

I look at you and see you beauty. I see the love you’ve given to those you encountered in your life. I see the times you tried to love other, all the times you’ve given of yourself. I see the beautiful person struggling to become the person you were created to be.

There is a beauty and love deep inside of you. Right now you may not see it but someday the whole world will look at you and see this rare beauty someone very special and unique, a gift to the world – for you are my gift and my beloved.

So often you’ve been afraid of me. You run and try to hide, hoping that I won’t notice your mistakes. So many hours you spend, doing everything you can to stay busy, too busy to think, to busy to talk to me. You run away from me but I long for your company I long to shower you with my love, to pour my blessings upon you. I yearn to comfort and console you, to be there for you in your pain. My desire is to take care of you. My passion is for you to come to me, seeking me, to know and love me – for that is why I made you.

I want you to know that I know everything you have ever done – and I love you with a passion so intense that human words cannot describe it. Your past is forgiven and forgotten. I remember nothing you have confessed. I passionately desire to forgive you everything. All you have to do is repent and confess.

So come to me; come so that I may pour my blessings upon you. There is so much I want to give you. I want to do so much for you. I want you to know my peace. I want to set you free from the guilt that robs you of your joy; from the fear that plagues you; from the worry and anxiety that is tearing you apart. I want you to know my joy, to know my freedom, to be secure in my love.

Come, now! There is nothing you have to change or do, no improvements you have to make before you come to me. Come as you are. I love you exactly as you are. Just, come!"

"Yes, you are my beloved child....."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The holidays came......

and with them came a whirl of musical gigs and festive celebrations. My music teacher rallied her songbirds for another Christmas show in early December at our local nursing home. As usual, there were quite a few alterations to be made, hither and thither! First, I was supposed to sing "Good King Wenceslaus"; then my music teacher revealed her adamant dislike of the song (???), and the piece was switched to "Past 3 o'clock", a charming piece with a marvelous old English flare. However, we soon realized that it was much better sung by a choir then by a single voice, and the idea was dropped.

    Before long, it was decided that I should sing a solo of "Little Drummer Boy", which I had hitherto been practicing as a duo with my father. To replace that piece, dad and I decided to sing "I Wonder as I Wander", taking turns singing each verse, and then coming together for a tag. All that basically settled, more confusion ensued. One of the main female vocalists who was supposed to sing "Ave Maria" and quite a few other hymns couldn't make it to the show. Hence, I was elected to sing "Ave Maria" instead, a rather tense but fulfilling experience. Unfortunately, however, the show schedules were never updated, so it was quite a scramble to figure out which songs marked "Joan" were still going to be performed, and who would perform them!

      And there was the Christmas Fake Book caper. The day before our last practice, our maestro-ess was unable to locate her main book of holiday sheet music, and a flurry of confusion ensued. I contacted my fellow musically inclined friend who lives in Texas, and asked her if she possibly had a book of sheet music with the following Christmas songs....blah, blah, blah? She took down the titles, located an old Christmas song book, photo-copied the sheet music, and sent them to me via email. To her, the Mt. Airey Performing Art Center and St. John's Singers are eternally grateful!

    In my humble opinion, the show itself turned out to one of the best Christmas Productions the Madame ever spear-headed. We really seemed to have it together for this one (despite the lack of the opera-singer ringer!), and we had a show complete with solo vocalists, ensemble singers, an organist, a penny whistler (yours truly), and a quartet of violinists, complete with ties and tuxes! The sad thing was that not as many people turned out as we had hoped. Apparently another caroling group was booked down the hall and the news of our show didn't make its way through the nursing home the way we would have preferred. However, entertainers must learn to accept the way things fall, and realize that touching hearts is our real purpose, whether they be many or few.

    I wasn't feeling well on Christmas day (in retrospect, perhaps it was a touch of the infection to come....), so I spent a quiet holy day at home, setting up our fiber-optic Christmas Tree My second Christmas, munching on some pecan brownies our neighbors gave us, and watching The Nativity. Several days later, when I was feeling a little more like myself, we went to another nursing home to sing along with St. Joseph's Homeschool Group. We had recently reconnected with a family who used to go to St. John's when I was little, and they had invited us to accompany them on a Christmas Caroling venture. 

     Upon arriving and greeting my friend, J., who had recently returned home from college from Christmas break, we were all directed to a rather small room for us to assemble our equipment. My dad became the official "music-stand-man", as the kids produced various instruments to serenade their audience. When the show started, we took turns singing in unison a variety of popular carols and playing our respective instruments. We had horn, flute, piano, and, of course, penny whistle! ;-) At the end of the show, J. invited me to a Tolkien-themed costume party she was having in honor of the auspicious author's birthday. While I do not profess to be a Tolkien-ite, I'm not one to turn down an invitation to a friend's party either! A review on that enjoyable event will be forthcoming......

      After leaving the nursing home, my dad and I called our music director friend to meet up with him for lunch. The time was set, but we stopped off at "Hobby Lobby" quickly for some craft supplies mom had requested. Being in there, I started to think about the HHS Mandate and the pressure it is putting on businesses like "Hobby Lobby" that are run by people whose religious beliefs are in opposition with providing contraceptive coverage for their employees. Our "free exercise of religion" has been compromised. We are going through a very dark time in USA.

     Meanwhile, Mr. Maestro called us on our cell and let it be known his keys got stuck in the ignition, he had to get towed, then go home and take a shower...By the time we got to him, it was later in the afternoon, and he was still stranded without a car. But his generous wife kindly offered to take us out to a Chinese buffet, and whisked him away with us in your jeep-mobile to our desired location. Upon entering the restaurant, I noticed an electronic cat waving at me from atop the salad bar! Some Chinese good-luck symbol, perhaps? I also marveled at two panes of glass with water flowing like a fountain between them! There we dined on rice, honey chicken, sugar dumplings, and fortune cookies and watched a very cute cell-phone video taken by Mrs. Maestro of their new grandbaby playing with a puppet.

     Christmas is always a comforting time, complete with family, friends, good music, and good food. I am grateful to God for giving me the opportunity to enjoy these precious gifts, and to have cause to celebrate the most precious gift of all every year "in the bleak midwinter": the birth of the Christ Child.

"Nowell, Sing We......"


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Some of my journal entries......

dating from Thanksgiving onward are so memorable that I would like to record them here. Sorry that they are so overdue at this late date! Things have been utterly wild around here as of late, and continue to be! The amount of my recent (mis)adventures will no doubt take up several upcoming posts...

    For the year 2012, my parents and I enjoyed a quiet Thanksgiving at home, throwing tradition out the window and eating a linguini and sea food dish instead of turkey-and-dressing! Hey, what you can expect from a bunch of original Italian-Americans? Just to make sure we kept faith with the "American" part, you will be happy to know that we also had some pumpkin pie, pleasantly puffed with whipped cream, to add some spice to the occasion. Oh, and I mustn't forget that we watched a classic Lassie movie, too....making us thankful we had kleenex available for the "crying scenes"!

   Sadly, the day after Thanksgiving, we were informed that our long-time family friend, Steve, had passed away after a long struggle with kidney failure. Although he was always in a weakened state, his death was rather unexpected. Unbeknownst to us, he had voluntarily gone off of dialisis and died that very same day. The funeral was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. My dad and I planned on doing  a testimonal and I planned on singing a song for him during service held at the funeral parlor. When we arrived, I couldn't help but admire the elegent clothing of the undertakers and the courteous manner in which they handled everything. Some, I thought, were quite young to be doing such a job and seemed so mature for their age.

     We were taken to a room where Steve was laid out in an open casket. This was the first time I had ever seen someone dead. For the life of me, I don't understand the concept of open caskets. I certainly wouldn't want to be seen dead, both because it tends to frighten people, and because you're sure to look the worst you ever have! People were sitting on folding chairs on both sides of an aisle with red carpeting, with the podium in front of them and the casket just behind the podium. My dad was called up first among the testimonials. He spoke about his longtime friendship with Steve, the visits, the late-night phone calls, the joint musical endeavors, and last time we saw him on St. Patrick's Day, when he clowned around by putting on "shamrock-bunny ears" and singing "When Irish Eyes are Smiling." Then dad encouraged the attendants to sing it in his honor, then and there. They did so.

      I was up next. I walked up the aisle to the right of all the chairs and was ushered to the podium by the pastor. I was very near to the casket now, and I got choked up. I didn't have a prepared speech like dad, so I found myself repeating some of things he had already said with a broken voice and saying what a decent human he was. Then I mentioned Steve's constant support in my musical endeavors, and I said that I too would sing a song in his honor. I sang "Brave Wolfe", the 18th century ballad in honor of British General James Wolfe who was killed at the Battle of Quebec in 1759. The two verses I sang tended to fit Steve's struggle for life and gallant death quite well:

"Come all, you young men, all,
Let nothing fright you;
Nor your objection make,
Nor let it delight you;
Let not your courage
Til after the trial;
Let not your fancy move
At the first denial.

Sad news is come to town,
Sad news is carried;
Some say my love is gone,
And soon to be buried
Sad news is come to town,
I took to weeping
They stole away my love
Whilst I was sleeping."

    I saw some people begin to dab their faces with kleenexes. My own resolve was less than strong. I returned to my seat at the back of the room and listened to the other testimonials and the sermon by the pastor. Then, when that part of the service was concluded, a recording of Steve singing and playing the guitar was played. He had lost the use of his hands in his last years, making it impossible to play the music he loved so much. It was a strange sense of surrealness, hearing his voice and seeing his body laid out. I can still hear that voice in my head. I can never believe that such a vibrant soul can be gone for good. I know within my heart he lives; I know that man was made for more than to live for a short time and then crumble into dust.

    We went to the graveside and listened to the pastor's final prayers before Steve was laid to rest. Each person placed a rose on his coffin. At the end, as everyone prepared to the head to the reception at the VFW club, one of Steve's cousin's embraced me warmly and told me to keep up with my singing, that Steve would want it that way. We also spoke with Steve's brother, tears visible on his face. We handed him a kleenex. It was painful to watch such pain. At the hall, we spoke more about Steve with Jerry and Judy, his caretakers, as well as with various relations and friends. The food provided (including macaroni caserole and BBQ beef) was intensely spicy, requiring a large quanity of Sprite to douse the flames! Perhaps due to a combination of the hot kick-back, my lack of sleep the night before, and my own unsteady emotions, I felt a wee bit dizzy.

     I didn't know it at the time, but that funeral would prove to be a testing ground for me to endure another funeral two months later, but this one would be for the matriarch of the Balestri Family, would take us on a journey to memory-laden place, and would strike the very core of my emotions.

Rest in peace, Steve.....I'm still singing!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

"My Daydream".......

is a poem about nostalgia, the yearning for a time or a place where virtue is made manifest through human endeavor and heavenly intervention turns the tide of events. But the truth is that nostalgia is only put to good use if it makes us work harder to live the virtues we so admire and rely on the Divine Providence our hearts long to believe in.

My Daydream

I want to walk in Avalon and see the Holy Thorn,
I want to hear the silver notes of Locksley’s signal horn,
I want to see the maiden’s hand reach from the misty lake,
I want to smell the pungent scent of Alfred’s burning cakes

I want to join Owain Glyn Dwr in the mountains of Cymru,
I want to see Brave Wallace fight to keep Fair Scotia free,
I want to find the heart of Bruce thrown at the foemen’s lines,
I want to watch Cour de Leon don the crusader's sign  

I want to see the Banner of the Five Wounds flying high,
I want to join the Recusants, so unafraid to die,
I want to meet the Jacobites, who charged across the mire,
I want to watch them rally ‘round a cross of glowing fire *

I want to hear the cannon roar at Nelson’s final fight,
I want to wait at Waterloo for Prussians or the night,
I want to watch the little boats embark across the tide,
I want to see the Spitfires fly fierce with soaring pride

Some of these tales are legends, some truth romanticized,
But none can call them childish, nor cast them off as lies,
For they reflect our searching souls and that for which we strive:
We want to know that heroes fight and God is still alive

These things are real as sunshine that pierces bitter rain,
They give us strength and healing when racked with inner pain,
Though we may not be heroes, nor make daydreams come true,
The virtues that they teach us can live within us, too

* The reference to the “cross of glowing fire” is a reference to a custom used in the Scottish Highlands to rally the clans to battle. It has nothing to do with the perverted practices of the KKK!!!

"I want to see the maiden's hand reach from the misty lake...."