Archive for the ‘connections’ Category

Celebrating 25 years at the Table of the Lord

Monday, June 11th, 2012

On June 10, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Fr. Steven LaBaire celebrated a mass of Thanksgiving. It was the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. There was standing room only in the historic and elegant stone cathedral.

This mass was the closest taste of heaven I have ever experienced. I wondered if I’d even be able to find the words to describe it.

Fr. Steve’s parish, St. Mary’s, is located in Uxbridge, MA, a small mill town. He had been the associate pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist for 15 years prior to this assignment. St. Luke’s is my home parish.

There is no priest who celebrates the liturgy more beautifully than Fr, Steve. He has devoted his priestly life (and heart) to the rigorous study of the minutest rituals (known as rubrics) of the mass, and every single one of them as a result, is pregnant with meaning.

Often such adherence to ritual can be empty, even legalistic. Not so with Fr. Steve. He is an artist and a lover. Every touch, every hand gesture, every prayer is offered with profound love and reverence. The liturgy ebbs and flows in one uninterrupted motion; there is a sense of stillness, of silence even as the readings are proclaimed, the hymns sung, the prayers said. It is the Living Water, pouring from the temple (as cited in Ezekiel 47) into our souls.

The music, provided by a small choir and student orchestra (St. Mary’s is fortunate to have a school), was simple and graceful. It neither competed with nor distracted from the liturgy but complemented it in every respect. Musical choices ranged from standard hymns, to chant, to a haunting French folk hymn known as “J’irai La Voir Un Jour” (see below for a video). Fr. Steve’s family hails from Quebec and he speaks beautiful, fluent French. The voices of the congregation rose in song, filling the cathedral.

The homily was quintessential Fr. Steve: mentions of his grandmother, and the sacredness of the family meal, filled with good food and lively conversation. Fr. Steve often uses the family meal as a means of understanding the great meal of the Eucharist. In this case, he demonstrated how sacrificial love feeds us as much as the food when he describes seeing his grandmother sitting in the kitchen after one such meal, surrounded by a pile of dirty dishes. The exhausted look on her face showed the then ten-year-old boy what went into that meal. It was the beginning of the call that would lead him to the Eucharistic table.

Fr. Steve used the homily to thank His Lord, his family and friends, and his congregation. At the end of the homily, the congregation thanked him for his service with their applause.

The liturgy is the number one priority for Fr. Steve and as a result of his devotion, contemplation and deep love, his celebration of the mass transcends this earthly life. Judging from the enthusiastic participation of his parishioners, it is obvious what his priority has done for this parish.

It was the most perfect union of what makes life meaningful: love, service, sacrifice and the Meal.

Recalling the song, “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me, I think of the following lyrics:

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine

After yesterday’s mass, I know now. All words would leave me and the tears would freely flow.

Here is a beautiful rendition of “J’irai La Voir Un Jour”, performed by the brother-sister group, L’Angelus. The English translation of the first verse and refrain is:

I will see her one day
In heaven, in my garden
Yes, I will see Mary
My joy and my love

In the sky, in the sky, in the sky I will see her one day
In the sky, in the sky, in the sky I will see her there one day

One life and how it changed so many

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Yesterday I began my vacation. I enjoyed an exquisite kayaking trip up the Sudbury River in Concord, MA to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Reserve. The day ended with a wonderful family dinner to welcome home my brother-in-law as he visits from California.

I remember sitting in my kayak, looking at the scenery and thinking,  “It doesn’t get more beautiful than this.”

Yet after today, that beauty paled in comparison.

My favorite day of vacation won’t be the glorious kayak trip or the family reunion dinner.

It will be a funeral.

Today I witnessed something so beautiful that I couldn’t stop weeping. I was not sad; I was overwhelmed.

The essence of Henry

A very special man had died. He was a member of our parish family and our town for several decades. His wake was crowded and the funeral mass nearly full. Our pastor summed up the story of Henry this way:

“Henry was a gracious receiver.”

What in the world does that mean? Monsignor Mike used the gospel reading as the key.

The story of Henry

Monsignor had chosen John 13: 1-17 where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. It was a different choice for a funeral mass. But Henry was a most unique man.

Henry had fallen prey to a mental illness when he was 19 and spent many years institutionalized. Years later he was placed in a new experimental program where he would live in the community, and he moved to a small apartment in downtown Westboro, MA where he was to live out his days. He joined our parish, St. Luke the Evangelist, and began to use his special gift.

At first people were put off by Henry’s odd mannerisms and ways. But as eulogist Charley O’Neil pointed out, it didn’t take long for those same people to count this dear man as their friend.

A simple life full of love

Henry loved people. He exuded joy and made it a point to meet and greet as many people as he could. He never forgot a name nor a face. He was a fixture at daily mass, loving our Eucharistic Lord most passionately. He prayed his rosary regularly and became known as a powerful prayer warrior.

Henry was also a man who recognized his needs and weaknesses and never hesitated to call on parishioners for help. Charley remarked that once Henry asked you for help, you were a member for life of his little community!

His gift of “gracious receiving” enabled a large part of our parish family to be more like Jesus.

Henry taught us how to receive

Monsignor Mike pointed out Peter in the gospel, how he first refused the Lord’s offer to wash his feet. When Jesus told Peter that he could not be a disciple unless he received this gift, Peter understood and allowed the Lord to wash his feet. In turn, Peter would care for many of the flock throughout his life with greater love than he could have imagined.

Monsignor explained that Henry did that for people. He asked for help and received it graciously. As a result, Henry was Jesus to many and allowed others to be Jesus to him. He helped people live the verse from the parable of the Last Judgment: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:36, paraphrased)

Charley O’Neil as a key member of  Henry’s beautiful community of friends, driving Henry places and each year, hosting a big birthday party for him at his home. I imagine that each year, the guest list got longer.

Henry taught us how to love

And Charley reminded us that Henry indeed represented the least of us, a man disabled who had to depend on others for his needs. Henry was a man who would normally be shunned and forgotten, but he refused to play that role. His great joy and fearless love, fueled by his devotion to the Eucharistic Lord, enabled him to achieve the kind of legacy we could only dream of. (read Henry’s obituary here; read a letter to the town of Westboro about Henry here)

Surely Henry is “free of his demons” as Charley said, and “rests in the arms of the Lord.”

What Henry taught me

And why could I not stop weeping? Because, here was a man with a heart so big and so full that, despite his “demons” was able to change so many lives for the better.

Only this week the Lord has been showing me the painful truth of my small heart which I liken to the Grinch who stole Christmas. So small and stingy. So afraid.

Today I was exposed to a heart and a life that was lived fearlessly, in great joy. Henry’s light was so bright and although I barely knew the man, his funeral and life story would change me forever.

Henry understood the delicate balance of receiving and giving. “So simple,” said our pastor, and yet so profound.

True beauty

Today I saw a beauty and a truth that reminds me yet again that there is nothing in this world that can even begin to compare to the love of our God.

I may have kayaked down one of the most scenic rivers in the world yesterday. I may have enjoyed a wonderful dinner with family, full of laughter, love and stories.

But all of that paled in comparison to the truth of God’s love as shown through the life of “the least of these.”

Henry, you’re in heaven now and I bet your giving has just begun. You gave me a most precious gift today. And I will continue to ask you to pray for me that God will grow my heart to be as big and generous as yours. Rest in peace.



Short personal reflections on how to avoid sin and stay connected

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Just wanted to jot down a quick note about something that’s been a running theme lately in my spiritual life, that of connections. Over the past couple of weeks, the Lord has been showing me how everyone: past, present and future, is connected because God is omnipresent. At the same time, I recently asked the Lord to shed some light on my sins are so I could do an effective examination of conscience each night with my prayers. These two things are coming together in an interesting way.

The first point is that because everyone is connected, even the things you do to yourself in secret affect others. Even if you just whisper some gossip to yourself, or complain about someone to yourself, it will ultimately affect someone else. It might not affect someone in the present, but it could affect someone in the future. Take, for example, Adam and Eve – their sin against God not only brought them the taste of death, but all humanity as well. There is no way of knowing how a sin can affect you or others. One thing is certain: sin wounds my relationship with God, and could even cause a serious separation. It’s clear – sin must be avoided at all costs!

It then occurred to me that the best way to avoid sin is to remain connected to God. I listened to a podcast this morning that talked about the fall of our first parents, and how the consequence of their sin was being disconnected from God and His breath of life (which is why they must die). On this day celebrating the Exaltation of the Cross, I am reminded that the Cross is a symbol of victory for Christ defeated death and restored that connection with the Triune God.

We are still fallen in this life, however, and must work constantly to keep that connection going with the Lord. I realize now why St. Paul exhorts us to pray always, for that is the only way to stay connected to God.

The Church in her wisdom has given us the Divine Office which one prays several times a day, to maintain this connection. I can also listen to music that reminds me of God’s presence, or listen to podcasts. I can whisper the Jesus Prayer over and over again until it becomes such a habit that it will continue to be prayed even as I work or play. I can gaze upon holy icons and meditate for a moment or two about Jesus, Mary or a saint.

There are many ways to stay connected but it really takes force of will to keep it going. I know though that it is the best way to avoid sin, which breaks connections with God, and with everyone else.

How do you stay connected to God?

Reflection on daily readings for Sept. 9

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Here are today’s readings
1 Corinthians 8:1-7,11-13; Psalm 139:1-3,13-14,23-24; Meditation: Luke 6:27-38

Before reading, start off with this wonderful classic hymn of praise from today’s Divine Office morning prayers. Click on this link and then click on Morning Prayer to listen – the hymn is very near the beginning.

The prayers from the Divine Office today reinforced the theme of being connected. I realized as I read that I am connected to all God’s people, not only in the present, but in the past and in the future. If I am immersed in God, I am surrounded by the saints of heaven and connected with all people on earth. When I receive the eucharist, all the saints of heaven, known and unknown, are there with me. I can never think that something I do, even in secret, only impacts me. We are so connected to each other that anything we do will somehow impact others.

The most obvious examples are these: the impact of Adam and Eve disobeying God by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, thus causing a rupture for all time between God and His people that will never be fully restored until we die. Of course, the other great example was pointed out yesterday on Mary’s birthday, how her “yes” to God brought forth the Savior of the world who saved everyone: past, present and future.

Closer to home, I think of the impact of my parents’ care of us and their careful planning, and how beautifully that legacy is being played out. So many times I turn my eyes towards heaven to thank them for their care. Their love for us will carry through our generation and beyond. Love never ends.

Perhaps now, today, I will think more about what I do, knowing better that it will impact someone, somewhere.

Family History is Important

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Today’s readings
Micah 5:1-4; Psalm 13:6; Matthew 1:1-16,18-23

Last night when I posted about Mary, I had no idea today was her birthday! Everything I read today, from the morning prayers of the Divine Office to today’s readings, reinforced everything I had heard the night before from John Michael Talbot’s song.

Family history became important to me after my mother’s passing last April. My sister and I made a trek to the city where my her father came from, as I wanted to see his grave. He died when I was teenager and I wasn’t permitted to go to his funeral since I was so young, but since that time, I had wanted to say goodbye in a proper way. I waited 46 years, but I finally got to say my goodbye at the cemetery, and see 4 generations of his family to boot! You can see pictures of our trek here on Facebook.

Everything is connected and in such intimate ways. The hymn from this morning’s Divine Office said it all for me:

Mary the Dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the Gate, Christ the Heav’nly Way!
Mary the Root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the Grape, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the Wheat-sheaf, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the Rose-Tree, Christ the Rose Blood-red!
Mary the Font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the Chalice, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s Lord;
Mary the Shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the Mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the Mother, Christ the Mother’s Son.
Both ever blest while endless ages run.

Mary the Dawn; Medieval English text; Gregorian Tone 4, setting by Paul Crosssung; performed by Kathleen Lundquiest

You can hear it sung here. Click on the Morning Prayer tab and listen to the beginning of the podcast.

The morning prayers also contained a favorite reading from Isaiah about the Shoot from Jesse; I put that reading to music and thought you’d like to hear it. Again, it speaks of connections.

The more I am connected with the Lord, the more I see how all things are connected to and through Him, and to everyone and everything else. It becomes a joyful adventure, recognizing and making these connections.

So even though today’s Gospel reading is a long, long genealogy, take a moment to read it anyway and marvel in all the connections that made the birth of Christ possible. It will give you a new appreciation of your own family history.