Archive for the ‘worship’ 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

Some “murmuring” songs

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

As a follow-up to my last post on the value of murmuring. I thought I would share a couple of songs that I used today for that purpose. Both songs are performed by Steve Angrisano, a Catholic worship leader and youth minister. Each song is done in a repetitive manner so that they are a quick study; they are very easy to sing along with. I find the very act of singing such songs to myself as a way of facilitating prayer and meditation. Most times I do it while driving in to work. Great way to fill up an hour long commute!

The gratifying thing about a song is that it can stick in your head, and you can find yourself murmuring it throughout the day. That way, we can “pray always” as St. Paul reminds us.

Visit this page and you can listen to the MP3 files and purchase them if you like. The songs are “Sweet Redeemer” and “Sacred Silence.”

As I come across more such songs, I will share them with you.

Praying in new places, in new ways

Friday, May 13th, 2011

I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog lately but it certainly isn’t because of a lack of anything to say! I just can’t figure out how to put it into words. All I can say is that I feel like I am being transformed inside, bit by bit. I have had wonderful prayer experiences with the Lord and am learning much through my reading, but right now I’m having trouble pulling it all together.

All I can say is that my prayer time has been vibrant of late and I wanted to share with you how and where I pray. These prayer experiences are not typical but are precisely a result of the transformation going on which is helping me to find the Lord in every place imaginable.

Technology definitely plays a role in my prayer time and so does my workout routine. Just to give you some teasers. :-)

Morning Prayer

My morning prayer routine begins at 7:45 every morning with the beeper going off on my iTouch, reminding me to pray for my ministry. Usually I am getting ready for work at this point so I take a moment to pray the Jesus prayer 3 times: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Sometimes I think of specific intentions such as the upcoming retreat presentation I am to give with my partner Ann on June 11 in NH; oftentimes I don’t think of any specific intention, just that the Lord Jesus have mercy on me as I struggle to serve Him.

Each day I set up my iTouch for the long ride in to work (which, by the way, I find to be a real blessing). After downloading the daily readings from the USCCB podcast, I choose music that will first, quiet my mind and heart – songs that I can pray, and then secondly, music that will inspire me to study the Word.

Songs that I use to pray include

The beauty of these songs is that they stay with you throughout the day, effectively facilitating non-stop prayer. These are songs I definitely want playing forever on the radio in my head!

Songs that I use to prepare me to hear the Word of God include

  • “Lectio Divina,” also off of John Michael Talbot‘s Worship and Bow Down album . What’s cool about this song is that it actually teaches you how to pray the scriptures using the technique of Lectio Divina (which is basically reading, praying, meditating and then contemplating the Word of God, usually by focusing on a single verse and speaking it out loud several times)
  • “Breathe,” in this case, sung by Annie Karto from her Perfect Sacrifice album
  • And a new one I tried today, “Come True Light” from Sarah Hart‘s Saint Song album.

These songs prepare my heart and mind to hear the Word and meditate upon it.


After hearing the USCCB podcast, I will then listen to chant to help me focus on the verses from scripture that struck me. The Norbertine Fathers provide wonderful chant music.

Finally I listen to music that will inspire praise. Lately I’ve been listening to Steve Angrisano‘s Live: Songs from the Road album (great to sing along with).

By the time I get into work, my head and heart are full of the Lord. :-)

Prayer Throughout the Day

I use my iTouch plus Google Calendar to help me remember to pray throughout the day. As I have it with me most of the time, it acts like the bells in the monastery, summoning me to prayer. At the moment I have 4 times set up:

  • 7:45 am, to pray for my ministry
  • 10:30 am, to pray for those who are unemployed
  • 12 noon, the Angelus, asking for Mary’s intercession for prayer intentions I keep in a prayer journal
    (on my iTouch, of course!)
  • 3:00 pm, a portion of the Divine Mercy prayer, again remembering prayer intentions

Each time is short as I am at work, but it really helps me to stay focused on the Lord

Night Prayer

This is admittedly the weakest part of my prayer routine. Strangely enough, I find it most difficult to pray at this time, probably because all I want to do is sleep! Sometimes I listen to daily mass on the CatholicTV app (I could listen on TV but the light from the TV keeps me awake!) or I will listen to the Divine Office night prayers on their podcast. A lot of times though I will give in and watch House Hunters on HGTV (that show is very addicting :-) ).

Night prayer is a discipline I will have to work on.

Next time I’ll talk about praying while I work out. Some of the most intense prayer I’ve ever experienced has been on the treadmill

What are your prayer routines?

 

“Loving God . . . Loving Neighbor: A Lenten Transformation” Retreat Wrap-up

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

This past weekend (March 11-13), my partner Ann Wagstaff and I had the privilege of presenting to a group of extraordinary women at the Vita Nova Women’s retreat at the Barbara C. Harris Center in Greenfield, NH. The weekend exceeded our wildest expectations! The spirit of fraternity, affection and fellowship coupled with a real move of the Holy Spirit made it a weekend we all will remember for a long time to come.

Here are pictures from the weekend, and below the pictures, a description of what went on (including one of the talks that you can download).

Prayers for Detachment; time for reconciliation

After settling in on Friday, Ann and I led a prayer to help the women detach from their cares and focus solely on God. Music, prayers, candles and sweet scents lifted hearts to Heaven. Each woman wrote down their cares on a piece of paper – all the papers were put in a bag that was attached to mylar balloons that would lift the bag up to the ceiling!

After the prayer, everyone went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation with 3 wonderful priests, setting the tone for a Spirit-filled weekend.

Prayer

Prayer was a central part of the retreat – the Sung Rosary was done throughout the day using a Power Point presentation with images, scripture and the music of the Sung Rosary. Here’s a sample:

Loving God . . .

On Saturday morning, the presentations began. The theme of the retreat was the Two Great Commandments, based on Mark 12:28-34 – loving God, and loving neighbor.  A strong emphasis was placed upon priorities – how important it is to love God first and allowing that growing relationship to spill over into loving your neighbor. I shared teaching  on why loving God first was so important in my talk on Martha and Mary (read the text of the talk here), and Ann proceeded to share from her life about her struggles to balance between being a Martha and a Mary, and how she is becoming a “contemplative in action.”

I then spoke about how service happens through an outpouring of grace resulting from loving God, and how that grace can equip us for difficult service (in my case, helping to care for my dying mother).

The morning session concluded with an Emmaus walk, where the women, after hearing the scripture about the disciples’ encounter with Jesus at Emmaus, were instructed to take their own individual walk around the grounds as the disciples did, conversing and listening to Jesus.

Time of  Fellowship

Mealtimes at the dining hall were a highpoint as the food was so well prepared, and everyone was so warm and friendly. There was an extraordinary move of the Spirit through all the women which created a wonderful atmosphere of fellowship. It was a taste of Heaven.

Loving Neighbor . . .

The afternoon session focused on loving our neighbor by discovering and developing our natural talents and gifts, and then becoming aware of and praying for the spiritual gifts (based on scripture from 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4) . Ann and I gave a talk tracing our time lines to see what talents and gifts kept appearing throughout our lifetimes as a way of identifying what we do well (I also traced my husband’s interesting time line which led to his vocation as a deacon). I also spoke on what I termed “hidden gifts”  – those things such as being hospitable, being a good listener, or being a good caregiver – talents our society does not value but God does.  Each woman took a written survey to dig deeper into their own gifts and talents, and small group discussion followed sharing what they found out.

The scripture on the parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30 set the stage for a talk on the responsibilities we have to use our gifts to serve others. Blessed Mother Teresa was held up as the best modern example of a woman who used her immense gifts to help the poorest of the poor and that her ‘secret’ to her success what that it was all for Jesus. She had a unique talent for seeing Christ in every person she saw. I shared my song about Mother Teresa, “Teach Me to Love” (click here to listen).

Afterwards, the women gathered in small groups where they read sayings from Mother Teresa about service and applied them to their lives. The work they did produced some wonderful ideas – I took pictures of all the work they did so you can see for yourself and perhaps apply them to your life:

A beautiful meditation of the Stations of the Cross (a Power Point presentation with narration) was presented in the evening.

Blessing of the Hands

Sunday morning we were treated to a beautiful mass by Father Benedict of the Franciscans of the Primitive Order out of Lawrence, MA. Afterwards, we gathered back in the gym for our sending forth ceremony known as the Blessing of the Hands. Father blessed the water and the bowl was passed around from woman to woman; each woman dipped a finger in the water and did a sign of the cross in the hand of the woman next to her as a litany was read.  Eventually the litany was opened up and women shared their own blessings. It was a very moving ceremony with many tears shed. The ceremony strongly demonstrated the spirit of love and fellowship that bound together these new friends.

More information on Vita Nova

Ann and I were delighted and honored to have been a part of this event. The Vita Nova team (all volunteer), led by Rose Marie Cussom and Shannon Best were extraordinary in their efforts; their support made it possible for Ann and I to focus solely on the content and presentation of the material. I can’t rave about the team enough! Vita Nova is holding other events – be sure and check out their website for more information.

Learning true humility (part one)

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

I am extremely blessed to have 2 wonderful people in my life who act as friends and spiritual advisers – Deacon Dave from Delaware and my spiritual mother. The other day, they both gave me a powerful affirmation on the need and meaning of true humility.

It had occurred to me at the last confirmation retreat that I assisted on that I was very rigid in my routines. As God is prone to do on occasion, He shone a bright spotlight on this issue, but this was not what He was trying to show me as this was just a symptom. What became clear to me as I observed others on the retreat who lived their faith so openly and radically (and who loved so well), I was containing the Holy Spirit through micro management. I knew I was into control but I had no idea how much!

I began to deeply desire letting go of this tendency to micro manage but had no idea how to do it. This past Tuesday, God showed me how and it was a very obvious answer – prayer.

Prayer. Duh. But as my deacon friend pointed out, it could not be prayer that I dictated (which was one of my rituals). God had to direct the prayer. This meant I had to face up to a fear I had of being alone with God and quiet.

I have felt the pull to do this for quite a while. I am very dependent on technology as a tool for prayer and scripture reflection, using my iTouch extensively for everything from listening to podcasts and music, to using the new Confession app (an excellent app by the way, I highly recommend it) and various rosary and prayer apps I had downloaded. These tools work well but I was using them to avoid letting God direct my prayer.

This pull from God began to reveal a more root problem – fear of failure and a relationship based on trying to please God rather than just learning how to BE with God. This was tough stuff!

Because of all the times I have tried to be quiet with God and failed (either the mind races or I fall asleep – happens every time I go to adoration), I was afraid to try again.

Deacon Dave exhorted me to try and laid out a basic formula for it. I avoided it. My spiritual mother described how she did it which so affirmed Deacon Dave’s exhortation, and that helped. And she gave me a very wise piece of counsel – you can’t fail if you are with God. You simply do the best you can – He accepts you exactly as you are.

Yesterday was the first time I tried it but it was certainly not in a place I would expect it to work! I had spent much of yesterday putting together a PowerPoint presentation for the Sung Rosary using the Sorrowful Mysteries. Over the course of many hours I poured over images of my dear Jesus, tortured and crucified for all of us, for me. It was work at the time and I wondered why I was not moved more by the images. Later on in the day, that would all come flooding back.

I went to the gym to work out on the elliptical and proceeded to read as I always do. I was very distracted by the noise around me and realized that would not work. I plugged in my iTouch and began listening to one of my favorite classical pieces, Bach’s Cantata 140. The power of the music immediately triggered an intense period of prayer like I have never experienced before. All the images I had poured over earlier in the day flooded my mind and 2 in particular haunted me. I found myself attracted to a very physical and human Jesus as well as a powerful and divine Christ and I longed to be with Him, to touch Him. I kissed His feet and re-enacted Mary’s public devotion of washing His feet with precious perfume and drying them with her hair. I begged for Him to lift the veil and let me see His face, all while working the elliptical harder than I ever had before. There was something about the physical sensation of the running, the grunting, the panting, the sweating . . . I imagined myself like St. Paul, running the race with Jesus right beside me, just as Deacon Dave and my spiritual mother had said. For true humility is having Jesus right beside you, not behind or in front of you. Beside you, as He was with the disciples at Emmaus, opening their hearts to the scriptures and the truth.

There is more I want to write about this discovery of humility that I will share in future posts. But needless to say, this first true experience of prayer that was controlled by God left haunting memories and a deep desire to go there again. My spiritual mother was right – you can’t fail, and especially if you let God lead the way.

All About You Jesus

Friday, October 8th, 2010

This song really speaks to me right now. It’s not a new song (I’m always late to find these things!) but the message is timeless. The song is “The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman and here is his version which is the one I liked best:

There’s a wonderful back story to this song.

Keep it simple, keep it real, keep it all about Jesus. Pray especially that our clergy, who have to celebrate so many liturgies, can keep it real in their hearts. They especially need our prayers for their inner lives as they are attacked from all sides, especially from within. These men love our Lord – pray that satan (no, it’s not a typo, I won’t give him the honor of a capital letter!)  never gets a foothold into the heart of any of our precious clergy.