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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Anthology....

of songs, poems, quotations, and reflections to brighten up this holy and festive season!



A Christmas Carol

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast
His hair was like a star.
(Stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

 The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire,
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

 The Chirst-child stood on Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,

And all the stars looked down.

 - G.K. Chesterton

    “Theology, while saying that a special illumination hs been vouchsafed to Christians and (earlier) to Jews, also says that there is some divine illumination vouchsafed to all men. The Divine light, we are told, ‘lighteneth every man.’ We should therefore expect to find in the imagination of great Pagan teachers and myth-makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story – the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth. And the differences between Pagan Christs (Balder, Osiris, etc.) and the Chirst Himself is much what we should expect to find. The Pagan stories are all about someone dying and rising, either every year, or else nobody knows where and nobody knows when.  
     The Christian story is about a historical personage, whose execution can be dated pretty accurately, under a named Roman magistrate, and with whom the society what He founded is in the continuous relation down to the present day. It is not the difference between falsehood and truth. It is the difference between a real event on the one had and dim dreams or premonitions of that same event on the other. It is like watching something come gradually into focus; first it hands in the cloud of myth and ritual, vast and vague, then it condenses, grows hard and in a sesne small, as a historical event in first-century Palestine.”
- C.S. Lewis
Lord of the Manger

Lord of the Manger,
Calling my name
In a voice that is sweet and clear
But a sound only children hear
Child of the Manger, teach me to see
That what often eludes the wise
Can be seen through children’s eyes

 Yet with all of your power
You came as a child
To teach us the kingdom of heaven belongs
To the meek and the mild 

Lord of the Manger
Born long ago
Yet all of the world still rings
With the love of the infant king

 Child of the Manger
Come to us still
In humble hearts you’ll dwell
Jesus Emmanuel

 Came sweet songs from heaven
That first Christmas morn
Now join we the choir of angels
To joyfully sing, “Christ is Born!” 

God of the Manger
Teach me to see
That what often eludes the wise
Can be seen through children’s eyes

- Patrick F. Colgan (our maestro!)

     "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined" (Is 9:1). "An angel of the Lord appeared to (the shepherds) and the glory of the Lord shone around them" (Lk 2:9). This is how the liturgy of this holy Christmas night presents to us the birth of the Saviour: as the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness. The presence of the Lord in the midst of his people cancels the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery, and ushers in joy and happiness. We, too, in this blessed night, have come to the house of God. We have passed through the darkness which envelops the earth, guided by the flame of faith which illuminates our steps, and enlivened by the hope of finding the "great light". By opening our hearts, we also can contemplate the miracle of that child-sun who, arising from on high, illuminates the horizon. 
     The origin of the darkness which envelops the world is lost in the night of the ages. Let us think back to that dark moment when the first crime of humanity was committed, when the hand of Cain, blinded by envy, killed his brother Abel (cf. Gen 4:8). As a result, the unfolding of the centuries has been marked by violence, wars, hatred and oppression. But God, who placed a sense of expectation within man made in his image and likeness, was waiting. He waited for so long that perhaps at a certain point it seemed he should have given up. But he could not give up because he could not deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13). Therefore he continued to wait patiently in the face of the corruption of man and peoples. Through the course of history, the light that shatters the darkness reveals to us that God is Father and that his patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption. This is the message of Christmas night. God does not know outbursts of anger or impatience; he is always there, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, waiting to catch from afar a glimpse of the lost son as he returns.
     Isaiah's prophecy announces the rising of a great light which breaks through the night. This light is born in Bethlehem and is welcomed by the loving arms of Mary, by the love of Joseph, by the wonder of the shepherds. When the angels announced the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds, they did so with these words: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12). The "sign" is the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations. The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness."
 - Pope Francis, Christmas Homily, 2014
Breath of Heaven

I have traveled many moonless nights
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I've done
Holy Father, You have come
And chosen me now to carry Your Son

I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now, be with me now

Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy
Breath of Heaven

Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of Your plan
Help me be strong, help me be, help me

Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy

Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy
Breath of Heaven, breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven

 -Amy Grant

     “In the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral is a sculpture of a man and a woman reaching out to embrace each other. The sculptor was inspired by the story of a woman who crossed Europe on foot after the war to find her husband.Casts of the same sculpture can be found in Belfast and Berlin, and it is simply called Reconciliation. Reconciliation is the peaceful end to conflict, and we were reminded of this in August when countries on both sides of the First World War came together to remember in peace. The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London drew millions, and the only possible reaction to seeing them and walking among them was silence. For every poppy a life; and a reminder of the grief of loved ones left behind.No one who fought in that war is still alive, but we remember their sacrifice and indeed the sacrifice of all those in the armed forces who serve and protect us today. 
     In 1914, many people thought the war would be over by Christmas, but sadly by then the trenches were dug and the future shape of the war in Europe was set. But, as we know, something remarkable did happen that Christmas, exactly a hundred years ago today.Without any instruction or command, the shooting stopped and German and British soldiers met in No Man's Land. Photographs were taken and gifts exchanged. It was a Christmas truce.Truces are not a new idea. In the ancient world a truce was declared for the duration of the Olympic Games and wars and battles were put on hold. Sport has a wonderful way of bringing together people and nations, as we saw this year in Glasgow when over 70 countries took part in the Commonwealth Games. 
     It is no accident that they are known as the Friendly Games. As well as promoting dialogue between nations, the Commonwealth Games pioneered the inclusion of para-sports within each day's events. As with the Invictus Games that followed, the courage, determination and talent of the athletes captured our imagination as well as breaking down divisions. The benefits of reconciliation were clear to see when I visited Belfast in June. While my tour of the set of Game Of Thrones may have gained most attention, my visit to the Crumlin Road Gaol will remain vividly in my mind. What was once a prison during the Troubles is now a place of hope and fresh purpose; a reminder of what is possible when people reach out to one another, rather like the couple in the sculpture. Of course, reconciliation takes different forms. In Scotland after the referendum many felt great disappointment, while others felt great relief; and bridging these differences will take time.
      Bringing reconciliation to war or emergency zones is an even harder task, and I have been deeply touched this year by the selflessness of aid workers and medical volunteers who have gone abroad to help victims of conflict or of diseases like Ebola, often at great personal risk. For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ's example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever faith or none. Sometimes it seems that reconciliation stands little chance in the face of war and discord. But, as the Christmas truce a century ago reminds us, peace and goodwill have lasting power in the hearts of men and women.On that chilly Christmas Eve in 1914 many of the German forces sang Silent Night, its haunting melody inching across the line.That carol is still much-loved today, a legacy of the Christmas truce, and a reminder to us all that even in the unlikeliest of places hope can still be found.
 A very happy Christmas to you all.”
Queen Elizabeth II, Christmas Speech, 2014

The Burning Babe

As I in hoary winter's night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow ;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear.

Who, scorchëd with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!

 My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns ;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men's defilëd souls.

 For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I callëd unto mind that it was Christmas day.

 -by Robert Southwell


     “For all of human history people have been searching for God. The search has expressed itself in the worship of imaginary gods who jealously grasped at power; it has expressed itself in the philosophical idea of an impersonal god who is remote and distant; and it has expressed itself in the human attempt for domination and self-glorification by diabolical leaders.  
     And what do we find today? We find that God does not grasp for power, but empties himself of it in order to expresss his true authority, which springs from love. We find that God does not want to watch us from a distance, but instead has become flesh and made his home among us.  
     And who are those who recognize this unexpected presence of God in our midst? Not the prideful and powerful, but those whose humble acknowledgement of their weakness leads them to seek for a Savior and joyfully welcome him in the gloriously singular and lowly way he has chosen to come. In Jesus, the Word has become flesh, God has revealed himself to the simple-hearted.  
     Blessed are we who celebrate this day as the gretest discovery of all time – the discovery that God, for whom we groped in the darkness, has pierced the darkness with his humanity and has found us. May all who have walked in darkness welcome the light: Jesus Christ, Emmanuel.”
- Fr. John Schmalhofer (our parish priest, written in our bulletin!)
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

 The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the applle tree

His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne'er can tell
His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I missed of all but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I'm weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
I'm weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

     “Night has fallen; the clear, bright stars are sparkling in the cold air; noisy, strident voices rise to my ear from the city, voices of the revelers of this world who celebrate with merrymaking the poverty of their Saviour. Around me in their rooms my companions are asleep, and I am still wakeful, thinking of the mystery of Bethlehem. Come, come Jesus, I await you. Mary and Joseph, knowing the hour is near, are turned away by the townsfolk and go out into the fields to look for a shelter. I am a poor shepherd; I have only a wretched stable, a small manger, some wisps of straw. I offer all these to you, be pleased to come into my poor hovel. I offer you my heart; my soul is poor and bare of virtues, the straws of so many imperfections will prick you and make you weep – but oh, my Lord, what can you expect?
     This little is all I have. I am touched by your poverty, I am moved to tears, but I have nothing better to offer you. Jessu, honor my soul with your presence, adorn it with your graces. Burn this straw and change it into a soft couch for your most holy body. Jesus, I am here waiting for your coming. Wicked men have driven you out, and the wind is like ice. I am a poor man, but I will warm you as well as I can. At least be pleased that I wish to welcome you warmly, to love you and sacrifice myself for you. But in your own way you are rich, and you see my needs. You are a flame of charity, and you will purge my heart of all that is not your own most holy Heart. You are uncreated holiness, and you will fill me with those graces which give new life to my soul. Oh, Jesus, come, I have so much to tell you, so many sorrows to confide, so many desires, so many promises, and so many hopes. I want to adore you, to kiss you on the brow, oh, tiny Jesus, to give myself to you once more, forever. Come, my Jesus, delay no longer, come, be my guest.
      Alas! It is already late, I am overcome with sleep and my pen slips from my fingers. Let me sleep a little, oh Jesus, while your Mother and St. Joseph are preparing the room. I will lie down and rest here, in the fresh night air. As soon as you come, the splendor of your light will dazzle my eyes. Your angels will awaken me with sweet hymns of glory and peace, and I shall run forward with joy to welcome you and to offer you my own poor gifts, my home, all the little I have. I will worship you and show you all my love with the other shepherds who have joined me, and with the angels of Heaven, singing hymns of glory to your loving heart.”
 - Angelo Guiseppi Roncalli, later Pope St. John XXIII, 1902

Love Is Not An Accident

 Love is not an accident
Of chemicals that crossed in space
It flows from Everlasting Choice
And rushes with a Timeless Grace

 For out of nothing, nothing comes
Yet that which fills can never drain
It is the essence of the soul
The proof of some transcendent plain 

Random reactions ne’er could weave
The surge of passions, strength of will
The beauty heard in Nature’s Song
The knowing it is wrong to kill

What worth the kiss true lovers shared?
What worth the glories of the field?
What worth the life with virtue charged?
What worth the the death with honor sealed? 

We are not products of blind force
We are creations of a Mind
That spoke the Word that made us whole
Though He is sometimes hard to find

Some found Him in the stars on high
But lost Him when they fell and smashed
Some found Him when their heart beat high
But lost him when their hopes were dashed

 In darkest night, our terror reared
We tried to clutch our dream, but no!
It faded fast, and flew away
When wintry winds began to blow

 The battle of our nature raged
The Beast in us consuming all
Or worse the Human sin of Pride
Building false gods doomed to fall

 We sought Him in the desert dry
We sought Him in the forests lush
We sought Him in the clamourous day
We sought Him in the nightime hush

 Now on this night He comes to us
Who searched for Him so many ways
He is not as we thought He’d be:
An infant shivering in the hay

Not some knight in armor clad
Not some king in raimant gold
But a naked innocence
Trembling in winter’s cold 

The Essence of Reality
Lies helpless in a feeding troth
Our hard hearts bleed to hear him cry
We comfort him with baby-talk

Once and for all we swallow pride
And kneel down, not from force, but choice
Our hearts, corrupted, now are cleansed,
Washed by the maiden mother’s voice

 She gathers up the Word of Life
He strokes her face, as babies do
She smiles, and holds Him out to us
And then He strokes my own face, too 

Is that a smile on His face?
As my own cheeks are wet with tears?
Where were you, little baby, where?
When I was wrapped in darkest fears?

 Yet now they fade like bursting stars
The night has broke; the dawn is come
For Love is not an accident
The world can glory in the Son

- Pearl of Tyburn


"Breath of Heaven...."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Did God Order Genocide in the Old Testement?

   Did God command the Israelites to commit genocide in the Old Testament Scriptures? This question has aroused quite a lot of debating in Christian and anti-Christian circles. It even featured in Richard Dawkin’s book The God Delusion to blame religion for perverting morality. Of course, the questionof morality iteself is ironic, since without the reality of natural and revealed law as found in religion, morality would cease to have any concrete meaning, and would be nothing more than a subjective guessing game on how each of us should behave. But anyway, to the point: did God command genocide, or not? 

     It’s a complicated subject matter, one that is open to debate among Catholic Biblical scholars and readers alike. I have heard the argument that God is sovereign and therefore can command us to do anything He likes with impunity. But this is more of a Puritan tradition, used by the likes of Cromwell to justify his own mass murder as the self-appointed Scourge of God. It flies in the face of the Catholic teaching on Natural Law. God, by His very nature, is goodness and righteousness itself, and by His very nature cannot command us to do something intrinsically evil and somehow make it right just because he ordered it. For God to counteract the Natural Law would be equivalent to him destroying Himself.  

    Some might say that certain things were allowed for a given time in human history, but forbidden now. For example, sibling marriages would have necessary to populate the world at the earliest part of human history, but is now forbidden. That having been said, I think the question of murder is another field entirely. Massacring non-combatants (women, children, the aged, and unarmed civilians) is one of the greatest crimes against justice and mercy because it evolves taking the lives of the innocent. Even after having their judgement clouded over by the Fall from Grace, I believe that human beings, whether Jewish or Pagan, still had an inkling that such activity was gravely wrong. And that “knowing” was placed in their hearts – and our hearts – by God. Would He really counteract His own law, nature, and essence, to such a dramatic extent?  

    Another argument insists that the cultures wiped out were so perverse and wicked that they deserved annihilation, down to very last infant, and God gave the Israelites something of a dispensation to carry out His Divine punishment. Furthermore, it is proposed. the children of these cultures were better off dead than being raised in Paganism and going to Hell. Frankly, this smacks of religious fanaticism.Trying to prevent children from going to hell never gives anyone the right to slaughter them. Similarly, the evils of a given culture would not give conquering cultures the mandate to commit genocide. Would it have been right for the Spanish to wipe out every single Aztec in their conquest of Mexico, even though the Aztec Empire worshipped devil gods and practiced mass human sacrifice?  

    At this point in the argument, many Biblcal apologists simply throw up their hands and say, “It’s a mystery!” I’ll agree with them to a certain point – the ways of God are a mystery, and the language we use to describe Him will always fall short of the reality. He is above and beyond anything we could ever say or write, just as the glories of heaven and the pains of hell are beyond our wildnest imaginings. And yet the combination of Natural Law and Revelations of Jesus Christ has given us a greater capacity than ever to see the Face of God. We know that He would never order others to commit evil, and genoice is always and forever one of the most heinous crimes. So my theory, in keeping with theological consistency, is that God never ordered the Israelites to commit genocide. So why does the Bible claim that He did?  

    The Old Testament is a history and folk anothology of the Jewish people – a people who I belive, in concurrence with the whole of Christendom, was chosen by God to revive belief in a single, omnipotent deity, become the deposit for many of His laws, and prepare the world for the coming of Christ. That having been said, they were still a pretty primitive people. Ancient Israel was basically a conglomoration of savage desert tribes, and their perspective on life seems to have been fairly distorted. Like many of the Pagan cultures that surrounded them, warfare was a way of life and mass killing an excepted result.  

    When describing God, the Jewish authors of the Old Testament often used imperfect human attributes such as “jeolous”, and perceived Him as having a strictly tribal identity as opposed to a universal one. They honestly seemed rather uncomfortable with God, as if he was an unpredictable stranger, which the Fall of Man had indeed made Him. But this, I believe, can be traced back to the warped mentality of humanity as opposed to any personality incongruity on the part of God. God was revealing himself a little at a time, but in the process, his identity and intent were bound to be mangled now and again by human interpreters. As a result, historical events were sometimes meshed with certain theological meanings that seem near unreconcilable with our present understanding of God through Jesus Christ.  

    For example, it is said in the Book of Exodus that God “hardened the heart of Pharoah” so that he would chase after the Israelites who had just been set free from bondage. But God, by his very nature, is the softener of hearts, and would never cause someone to reject that which is right. This has to be a clumsy theological interpretation made by a human author. Likewise, whenever Israel conquers territory, wins a battle, or massacres a nation, the Israelities say it is God’s direct intervention and order. Whilst I do believe all things are under the Providential will of God, and the Israelites were meant to rise in prominence in The Middle East in order to be a bastion of monotheism and prepare for the coming of The Redeemer, I also believe that the will of Man sometimes found justification by calling it the Will of God. The same problem can be found throughout history, when people commit atrocoties by championing manifest destiny and self-glorification under the banner of religion.  

    If this sounds like I’m rejecting the Bible, well, I’m not. If anything, I’m rejecting a strict literalist perspective commonly embraced by Fundamentalism. The Books of the OT are “inspired” because through them God reveals important truths. That having been said, we are not bound to accept every single theological explanation introduced by human authors, just as we are not bound to accept every scientific assumption. In the give and take of human-divine relations, not every word in the Biblical texts was necessarily dictated directly from the mouth of God. The project was definitely divinely inspired, but human beings, with their limited capacity for understanding the truth, may well have infultrated it with their own imperfections.

     That’s not to say these ancients did not hit the nail on the head many times, both in transmitting Divine Revelation and picking up on Natural Law. There are prayers and poems of extreme beauty, prophecies of redemption that came to pass, tales of heroism and virtue, as well as the grudual acceptence of the the Law through The Ten Commandments. But it also should be noted that the extended Law of Moses for the People of Israel was definitely imperfect. “Moses permitted divorce,” Christ said, “but I say that any divorced person who remarried commits adultery.” Also, it has ben speculated that when Christed tossed the money-changers out of the Temple, it was more that just the business dealings that angered him. “My Father’s house should be a house of prayer for ALL the nations,” he said, possibly pointing out that the Pharisees had made the faith into an exclusive Jewish club.

     Famously, there was also the issue of stoning women who commited adultery, which Christ put aside, and the primitive practice of having a woman drink poison, assuming that she would somehow survive if innocent of a crime. There were, of course, elements of the law that were meant to work for a time and then ceased to be feasible. “New wine cannot be poured into old wine skins,” Christ said. Things like circumcision, blood sacrifices, and abstince from pork are no longer manditory. Things like singling marriages, polygamy, and divorce are now forbidden. Naturally, human perspective has also come a long way through a reawakening to natural law and fuller revelation. Then again, it has also sunk back into obscurity in many ways. We continue to be, tragically, a fallen, confused race.

    Of course, using a critical interpretation of the OT, there are many things to be questioned. Would God really ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, when God abhorred human sacrifice and natural law markes it out as intrinsically evil? At least in that story, however, it’s pretty clear that God never intented Abraham to go through with it. Nevertheless, in these cases perhaps we need to penetrate the bare bones of the stories and look for the moral and allegorical significance to make them worth while. Basically, if soemthing doesn’t make sense literally, try to analyze it a different way. So in God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, we are seeing Man put to the test of offering up his only beloved son for God…just as God would offier up his own beloved son for Man.

    Likewise, in the destruction of other nations and everything belonging to them (booty, livestock, etc.), we see a turning away from sin and its near occasions that draw up to sink into hedonism and hethanism, running after the world, the flesh, and the devil. The list of potential allegorical and symbolic meanings goes on. That having been said, while the perception man has about God may chance, and God may reveal His nature to us gradually, God never changes and has always been perfectly aligned with the Natural Law.

     Just as the Genesis narrative of Creation is not built on scientific criteria but on the perspective of the men of that age, so we must view it according to our growing understanding of geology and biology. Just as the histories are something of a socialogical anthology, so we must view them according to our increased knowledge of ethnology and psychology. Catholicism left behind a strictly Fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible generations ago. Now its time to move forward, using the fullness of our God-given intelligence to understand the Bible and embace the fullness of Divine Revealation found in Jesus Christ. 
Israelites battle Canaanites


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Our Love Must Make Us Strong: The Music of Loreena McKennitt

    It all started one Christmas as I rummaged through the CD racks at the library, in search of Christmas music different than the usual run-of-the-mill. I had several gigs lined up for the season, and planned on singing “Coventry Carol”, so when I stumbled across a CD called “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” which included it in the track list, I immediately thrust it into my green library bag for check out. I thought little of it at the time, but this would start me on the road to a new musical fandom.  

    At home, I listened to the CDs I had gleaned, with some degree of disappointment since most were pretty common-place, and the Celtic-themed ones were generally too “Pop” for my tastes. While I certainly can appreciate such groups as Celtic Woman and artists as Enya, their style always sounds a bit faux, like they have journeyed too far away from their roots and lost that magical connection with the past. But then I put “A Midwinter Night’s Dream” into the CD player. The first song listed was “The Holly and the Ivy”, but it was different than I had ever heard it. The tune was altered, made deeper and more mysterious somehow. And then I heard the voice of the woman singing it. It was so ethereal, so pure, so rich, so real. I looked on the CD cover for her name. It was Loreena McKennitt.

    After finishing listening to “A Midwinter Night’s Dream”, I tracked the other albums in her 9-disc collection: “The Wind That Shakes the Barley”, “The Book of Secrets”, “The Mask and Mirror”, “The Visit”, “An Ancient Muse”, “Elemental”, “Parallel Dreams”, and “To Drive the Cold Winter Away.” Needless to say, I became progressively hooked, and was sad when there were no more of her CDs to order. I was even more sad that she hadn’t been hired to do the music for The Lord of the Rings instead of Enya and Annie Lennox! Meanwhile, I did some research on my new favorite musical artist, and learned something about her background and philosophy of life.

    Loreena Isabel Irene McKennitt, CM OM, is a Canadian of Scottish and Irish descent who specializes in the Celtic/World genre. Not only does she have a truly gorgeous voice, above and beyond any Celtic singer I’ve heard, but she also plays the harp, keyboard, and accordion. In addition to all this, she composes much of her own music and runs her own independent company called Quinlan Road. In spite of all her well-deserved success, personal tragedy struck when both her brother and fiancée were drowned in an ice-fishing accident. In their honor she has become an advocate of water-safety and water-rescue missions, and uses her high profile to help others in harm’s way. She also has held a ceremonial title in the Royal Canadian Military.

    Loreena’s music touches on a multitude spiritual themes, emphasizing the elements of the human experience that bind us all together across different plains and ages: our shared desire for true love, a place to call home, liberty from oppression, and communion with the Divine. Nevertheless, her works tend to stay broad in scope, addressing the plight of humanity, yet avoiding specific political skirmishing. Unlike so many other Celtic singers, she does not succumb to a Scots/Irish clannishness, but uses her roots to branch out into new dimensions, realizing that the original Celts were migratory people and their story connects with many others.

     Loreena often chooses classic poetry to set to music, bringing back forgotten literary gems to the popular consciousness. Many are drawn from the great romantic narrative tradition, such as “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes, “The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Tennyson, and “The English Lady and the Knight” Sir Walter Scott. Others deal with the mysteries of nature such as “Snow” by Archibald Lampman, or the mysteries of death such as “Cymbeline” by William Shakespeare. Still others explore the essence of love such as “The Two Trees” by William Butler Yeats, and others explore the essence of human suffering such as “The Stolen Child”, also by Yeats.

   Her choice of folk songs combines old standards with new vocal styles and a dynamic range of instruments from a variety of cultures and periods. Some involve unusually alterations to the melodies or phrasing, such as “The Holly and the Ivy”, “Star of the County Down”, and “Greensleeves.” Others are simply infused with new vigor through the sincerity of Loreena’s story-telling style, such “Annachie Gordon”,  “As I Roved Out”, and “The Blacksmith.”

     Her own compositions manage to keep faith with the older folk tradition while also being strikingly fresh and original. Some are veritable anthems for justice, such as “Breaking the Silence” and “Beneath a Phrygian Sky”, while others focus on the mysteries of human relationships and the ongoing journey of life such as “Penelope’s Song”, “Night Market in Marrakesh”, and “The Never-Ending Road”. Her lyrical intuition matches her musical one, and she can almost be called a modern mystical poet in her spiritually thought-provoking pieces.

     Loreena started life as a Canadian farm-girl, and although she has certainly become something of a Citizen of the World since then, her activity in the armed forces shows her patriotism. As a musician, she has said that it is her desire to share always, and as a representative of the military, to share the gifts and perspectives that soldiers have to give to civilians, and at the same time share the gifts and perspectives that civilians have to give to the soldiers. Indeed, this attitude is very appropriate, since it embodies the calling of the bards of old, whose social duty was to bridge gaps and walk between the lines.

     Religiously, she is a bit of a mystery. Evidently her father was Protestant and her mother Catholic. Although she seems to have been raised Presbyterian, she now identifies herself as broadly spiritual and not directly affiliated with any organized religion. Her music seems to confirm this, since it draws from a wide range of religious traditions, most notably pre-Christian Paganism, Catholicism, and Islam. She also seems to relish overlapping religious references, such as in her songs “Mummer’s Dance” and “All Soul’s Night”, both of which highlight Pagan ceremonies that were given new Christian meanings as missionaries made their away to the four corners of Europe to spread the Good News.

     There are other more specifically Catholic-themed pieces such as “Skellig”, written by Loreena in honor of the Irish monks who saved civilization during the Dark Ages, and the incomparable “Dark Night of the Soul”, a deeply moving rendition of the mystical love poem to God written by St. John of the Cross. There are others that emphasize the depth of human emotion released through prayer and the ongoing search for God, such as “Dante’s Prayer”.

    Whether or not Loreena has established religious clarity, I think there is no doubt that she is deeply spiritually aware, and has led others to search for God and the meaning of existence through her music. Perhaps her own past sorrows and single vocation has made her a special instrument of empathy and embodiment of the songs and stories she weaves. She herself has said that she does view those who have been touched by her music as mere “fans”, but acknowledges that a much deeper connection between her and them has been forged. For her willingness to share her God-given gifts with the rest of us, I for one will be eternally grateful.

     I think the ultimate meaning behind the music of Loreena McKennitt is that, as she herself wrote in Beneath a Phrygian Sky, “our love must make us strong.” No matter what tribulations we may face, no matter what losses we may suffer, there is some undying hope that lingers in the soul that the intangible realities that are of most value will never be lost to us forever. Love will win out in the end, will give us strength to live and die well, and as Sir Walter Scott poetically put it, “love shall still be lord of all.” As Christians, we realize this ultimate expression of love in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to earth as an innocent baby on the first Christmas and continues to accompany us on the journey of life. With Him at our side, the lyrics of The Never-Ending Road are given a new depth of truth: “The journey goes on/There’s no mystery to fear.” 
Loreena Isable Irene McKennitt

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Edmund Campion: Hero of God's Underground" by Harold C. Gardiner...

is the book that first inspired me with a love of St. Edmund Campion when I was 11 years old. It is a book for young people, and yet it holds a dramatic poignancy for people of any age who love holiness, heroism, and richly romantic story-telling. Today, for the feast of Fr. Campion, I'll copy out the section of the book describing his martyrdom. After reading, I do hope you'll be inspired to read the book in its entirety:

    "The plodding horse stopped at Tyburn. Father Campion was untied. He stood there, looking out and around. Before him was an immense crowd. The ordinary people stood at the foot of the gallows. Off a little way was a grandstand, and in it, dressed in all their finery, sat members of the court and nobility. Public executions in those days were a matter of sport, and it was quite the thing for gentlemen and ladies, who would be very kind to their own children, to assemble in a moodof pleasant excitement to witness the brutal death of a criminal. And no criminial could provide more entertainment than a condemned papist.

   Father Campion did not know it, but in the crowd throning at the foot of the gallows was young William Harrington. Since the day he had fled from Lyford Grange, William had been following the fate of his beloved Father Campion. He had heard from a Catholic man who had been present at the trial how Father Campion had won the day by his calm and dignity. He had heard whispered and hinted how the brave priest had withstood the torture of the rack. Now, though he knew there was nothing he could do save pray, he stood, jostled and pushed about by the crowd, looking up at the figure of his dear Father Campion.

   'Oh,' he thought, 'if there were only something I could do. If only I could tell this mob of people how brave and gentle and truly English Father Campion is. But no -- that is not the way it has to be. Dear Father CAmpion will go to his death, and few will now know what it is he is doing. I do know, please God, and with his help, I will follow Father Campion in God's good time." William pushed nearer the high platform on w hich stood the menacing gallows. He stared at the cross-shaped structure, and a shiver ran up and down his spine.

    Through the crowds and over the roar of shouts and rowdy laughter, William saw Father Campion stand up after he had been untied from the hurdle. Then he was pushed and bustled onto a cart underneath the gallows. The noose was fitted over his head. The supremem moment Father Campion had been looking forward to for years was at hand; he was to lay down his life for Christ and his Church. But there was a pause. Some of memebers of the Queen's Council and some Protestant ministers crowded about Father Campion. Here they, too, had their last chance. Perhaps Father Campion could be persuaded at the very end to confess his 'crimes'. William's heart beat fast as he stood close and listened.

    'Confess your treason, Campion', shouted one of the Queen's councillors. 'This is the last chance you will have to admit that you have been a false subject to Her Majesty.' 'As to the treasons that have been ladi at my door,' replied Father Campion in a strong voice, 'and for which I am come here to suffer, I desire you all to bear witness with me that I am thereof altogether innocent.' 'Oh, no, Campion,' cried another of the noblesit is too late now to deny what was proved against you in open court.' 'Proved?' cried Father Campion. 'What was proved was simply that I am a Catholic man and a priest; in that Faith have I lived and in that Faith I intend to die. If you esteem my religion treason, then I am guilty; as for the other treason, I never committed any, God is my judge. But you have now what you desire. I beseech you to have patience, and suffer me to speak a word or two for the discharge of my conscience.'

    But the babel of voices swelled and roared around the muddy and broken figure. William, listening with all his heart, heard the voice of Father Campion above the din. And what he heard made tears of joy and love start up in his eyes, for Father Campion was praying for those who had brought him to this awful end. He asked God to forgive all those who had borne false witness against him; he forgave the jury and the very an who was to butcher him to death. Then he ceased, save that his lips continued to move in silent prayer. The senselesss dabate was not yet over. A minister stepped forward and tried to lead Father Campion in prayer. Father looked up at him gently and said: 'Sir, you and I are not one in religion, wherefore I pray you content yourself. I bar none of prayer; but I only desire them that are of the household of the Faith to pray with me, and in my agony to say one creed.'

    'But why do you insist on praying in Latin? Pray in English like any good Englishmen.' 'Do you mind?' replied Father Campion with great mildness. 'I will pray to God in a language we both well understand.' 'But at least admit your crimes agains the Queen adn beg her forgiveness, Campion,' thundered one of the Council. 'Wherein have I offended her? In this I am innocent. This is my last speech; in this give me creedit -- I have and pray for her.' 'You pray for the Queen, you say. But what Queen is it you pray for, traitor?' 'I pray for Elizabeth, your Queen and my Queen, unto whom I wish a long quiet reign with all prosperity.' There were Father Campion's last words.

    Young William Harrington turned his head away as the driver of the cart raised his whip and brought it down smartly on the horse's back. The horse bolted forward. The cart was swept away from under Father Campion's feet, the rope tightened, the noose closed, and there, against the gloomy and stormy sky of London, a dirty and twitching figure swung in the death agony. In a few moments the body was cut down and the rest of the horrible sentence was carried out. William Harrington felt as though his heart would burst. What was it he felt? Was it sorrow, or joy, or horror at the butchery? It was hard to tell right then, but years later he would know what the emotion was, for he, too, would follow the footsteps of his beloved Father Campion -- and they would be footsteps that led to glory, no matter how brutal and in human the execution that would lead to that glory.

    There was a moment's silence all over the large crowd. Here and there voices could be heard raised in the prayer Father Campion had asked for. There was the sound of intaken breath from the mob. Lungs were fillled with the murky London air, and then, and explosion of sound -- cheering, cries of mockery, crude laughter, all drowning out the sound of the executioner's ax.


    In her apartments, the Queen had been pacing back and forward. Early that morning it would not have been too late to cancel the execution. Should she call it off? But no, it was too late. Now that Campion had been condemned for treason, the Queen could not free him. She knew, though, as she had admitted, that she had no more loyal subject than the young man to whom she had been so attracted to many years ago. She sat and began playing with letters before her on the desk. An attendant waited. The Queen turned impatiently. 'Has the execution taken place yet?' she croaked. 'No, Your Majesty, but I fancy that when it does we shall be able to know the exact moment, for there is certain to be a great roar from the crowd when the traitor Campion gets what he deserves.' 'Keep your opinions to yourself, hussy,' barked the Queen. 'Traitor, indeed! I would that all my ministers were as loyal.' The attendant gaped in surprise, but at this instant, through the open windows came a great animal-like roar.

    The queen hurried to a window. Could it be that she saw the glint of steel in the distance as the ax rose and fell and rose and fell again? She shuddered a little and turned away. Had the attendant been near enough, she might have heard the Queen heave a deep sigh and mutter to herself: 'The flower of the realm! Where will it all end if I have to put such men to death? Who will be left? Who will love England for its own sake and not for the favors they hope to have from me? God save England give me back noble men to help me.' But England was saved -- in a higher sense than the Queen ever meant. It was, in God's Providence, saved by men like Father Campion and the hundreds who followed him up the bloody path of martyrdom. The Catholic strength of England, strong today and growing, took its nourishment from the blood of the martyrs. It has always been thus. Father Campion had foretold it. His dismembered body at Tyburn proclaimed it to the world. What was it he had written in his famous Brag?:

'Be it known to you that we have made a leage -- all the Jesuits in the world...cheerfully to carry teh cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed in your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: so it must be restored.'

"So the faith was planted: so it must be restored...."