Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.
To begin with, today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which commemorates the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary was born without sin. To paraphrase St. John Chrysostom, we shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about this, as it defies nature and logic, and is obviously a supernatural gift from the Lord God Himself.
Rather, it is a fact which should bring us to quietness, pondering the mystery. Preserved from the stain of sin from the moment of her conception, Mary has been described at times as being pure as the driven snow.
Which brings us to today, which was one of those very rare snowy days in Louisiana.
We are about as geared to snow as New York is geared to hurricanes.
And so many people have said – we never see snow like this!
This is kinda nuts for here.
But it happens, and it’s beautiful.
Just like the Immaculate Conception happened, and it’s much more beautiful.
I know. But it’s been a long day.
And so, from our little town, a glimpse into our Feast Day here – filled with Masses, Holy Hours, beautiful meals with friends, smoked turkeys, French Onion soup, fires, Rosaries… Blessed Feast Day.
Is there any such thing as grief which is good? Grief is horrible. Terrible. Life-altering.
Last month I was calmly working through the piles of paper on my desk, so happy that I finally had a chance to get all of this work done, when the phone buzzed in. It was a hospital chaplain asking me to call my sister-in-law immediately.
I was worried her mother had died, or even that my brother had died. I was absolutely floored when I learned that my dear niece had died.
It’s not that it’s not my story to tell, although it isn’t really. But there’s not much of a story. She had stomach pains and digestive issues and was admitted into the hospital. In the morning she wanted to shower so they left her alone, and when they returned she had died.
More info will pan out, but having only one niece and a small family, I’ve felt the loss acutely. And her beloved daughters are being well looked after, and prayed for to no end.
Still, it’s a difficult time. As much as I deal with death, dying, those bereaved – and have dealt with it all in my own life – this has struck me in a profound way. I never anticipated this happening, and it’s been a cause for great reflection.
And the painful reality is, that life goes on. Life goes on in all of it’s fullness and beauty, and a new generation needs the strength of those left behind to witness. If you may, please pray for the repose of the soul of my niece, and for the consolation and welfare of her two daughters.
But life goes on. Life is changed, not ended, and life is for the living.
I’m thankful for the years I had to spend with her, and the many lessons that she helped me to learn in life. I miss her, and will always pray for her.
I’ve actually grown to really like this in many respects…. However:
Many people look at me in shock when they find out that in my previous life, prior to Priesthood, I was a musician. There are next to zero recordings of anything I’ve ever played for; however, this is one of them. And the only reason I deeply dislike this song is because of the way I play it. To be fair, Kitty Cleveland sings it beautifully, and her artistry makes the song.
The background: Kitty and I had worked together numerous times, and eventually started working together at the annual Divine Mercy Mass, at St. Joseph’s Church in downtown New Orleans, after I had been playing the organ for it for a few years.
Fr. Stan Klores was in charge of it, and the ceremony at the beatification of St Faustina Kowalska was absolutely beautiful (as are they all, to be honest, I have no clue who is in charge or who plays for it anymore.) Fr. Stan knew me from Seminary, and always asked me to play the organ for the large Masses he planned. It’s one of the reasons that I don’t know him that well, as I was always a half a block away or so in the choir loft, as opposed to praying with him prior to Masses in the Sanctuary.
But back to our story here….
At one of these Masses we finished the Communion Hymn, and Kitty, who was the cantor. said, “Let’s do this”, and gave me a lead sheet (a lead sheet consists of a melody w/ words, and chords written above it.) She pointed to the piano, and I thought well sure, this looks simple enough.
So, we played through it to an outburst of thunderous applause, which I didn’t understand, aside from Kitty’s beautiful artistic talent.
But the point of this story is, that I was reading chords and words, and had no clue what do do musically with them, and had to make it up on the spot. So, I chose word coloring… which was making the tone of the playing fit with the mood of the words. Whatever. I honestly had zero time to consider the piano arrangement.
Fast forward to after ordination, and Kitty called me to play in a studio for her for the recording of the song, which was an entirely graced event, and I said “Ohwell sure.”. I had played the song three times already, and people seemed to like it, so, why not?
I was ordained at this time and my Pastor complained mercilessly about my going off to play music (which I did twice during my year with him,) however; I did go off to record with Kitty this song, and played it as I saw it, with my previous word coloring in mind, and the thought that we had done this piece together several times prior. It’s heavy and clunky.
To my mind, the transformation in the song comes when Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread; which is why the entire piano prior to that part of that song is in the lower realm and rather vague. There’s a part in the recording which Kitty insisted that we rerecord over my playing, during an interlude. It really shows, though I do agree with her in retrospect. I just never had the time to think about the arrangement of it.
But, in the listening, it’s obvious that my thought process goes along with the revealing of Jesus Christ in the breaking of the bread. What really makes the entire recording plausible is Kitty’s artistry, recording experience, and the master technician which saw the whole thing through. (He expertly deleted a very sour note.)
I am at least fond, however, of the synthed vocals which I tracked over the piano, and which is more reflective of my organ playing style.
Whatever. The message in the song is beautiful; we both prayed our way through it, and it has touched the hearts of many. +
Our St. Vincent de Paul Society joined with others across the Northshore for the annual “Walk for the Poor”. Our council raised over $2K to help with those in need. May the Lord continue to bless our St. Vincent de Paul Society, and all of those who we are able to help, and from whom we learn so much about Jesus Christ.