Saturday, April 28, 2012

Over and over, again

You might think that, after Holy Week and Easter at Notre Dame, things would quiet down a bit. But such has not been the case! We are in the thick of preparing the Folk Choir for an epic, post-graduation tour of Ireland and Scotland. And we've just moved into "wedding season" – my wife and I have a wedding every Saturday from last weekend through Commencement.

But today, I want to muse a bit on repetition.

About three weeks ago, one of my dearest friends – a physician and a visionary and a man whose zeal for excellence in health care is nothing short of breathtaking – this physician friend of mine came very close to open heart surgery. Only at the last minute, in something that might've been seen as a bit of a miraculous intervention, did the doctors decide on "bypassing the bypass" and electing for stints instead. It was a life-changing, and life-giving, decision.

This dear friend talked with me a lot about the days heading into surgery, knowing as only a physician can, that he was going to have his sternum cut apart, his heart lifted out of his body, and then all of it put back together again. And after the initial days of panic and soul-searching, he decided to do something that touches the deepest parts of our own hearts and souls.

He decided to say things. Over and over again. Repeating things.

With his permission, I am sharing his mantras with you now:

"Please, Jesus, I am uniting with you, because of my love for you."

"Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus."

This was his own, personal chant – a mantra of thanksgiving, miraculously enough. A mantra of hope in the midst of potential terror and despair.

As I reflected on my friend's profound stance toward his own fragile state and mortality, I became acutely aware of what we all need to do as pilgrims on this earth: we need to say things, over and over again. Likewise, we need to hear things, over and over again. Because seldom do our hearts and souls retain the deepest truths in the deepest recesses of our being. Repetition is part of the key to retaining these truths; it is an intimate part of our spiritual journey.

This world frowns on repetition. Society seldom hits the repeat button. "What's next!" is our theme, our modus operandi. We prefer the new, the exciting, the yet-to-be-encountered. But rosaries, mantras, litanies: all these things, wrapped up in the counter-cultural stance of seeming monotony, are the things we truly need. We need to hear our parents say "I love you" daily: when we hear this, it's a little easier to understand the everlasting love of our Creator. We need to say "I forgive you" often, because when we do this, it's a little easier to understand that God does so, with us, every day as well.

Repetition: thanking a person, or our Creator, over and over again. Pleading and praying, over and over again. These are the things that bring meaning and hope to our lives. Not the caricature of the new and improved.

I thank God for the friends I have in my life. My physician friend is someone who has partnered with me for almost a decade, enthusiastically breathing life into the mission and ministry Notre Dame Folk Choir. I was humbled when he shared his mantras with me, for though he may not have understood it, his simple stance of thanksgiving was one of incredible courage and holiness in the face of death.

And it is when we walk these roads with our friends, when we walk them over and over again, that we become aware of the fact that we are, indeed, treading the paths of holy ground.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The 153 Fish

There are church musicians that I've overheard, on occasion, talking about folks that show up just for the big stuff. "C and E Catholics," they disdainfully opine. "I want nothing to do with them. In fact, sometimes I save the best music for the following week, when all the regular church goers are there."

Not me.

There is a verse in the Gospel of John, that makes mention of a seemingly insignificant bit of trivia: that when the net was hauled in, there were some 153 different kinds of fish present in the catch. Knowledgable theologians among us have claimed that the number is mentioned because, at the time of Jesus, that's how many kinds of fish were known to humanity. The number was meant to signify, according to these theologians, the expansiveness of the net: not one species was left behind. All were gathered in.

When the Folk Choir sings at Easter, we are spreading the net. And even for those who might, in fact, be the "C & E Catholics" in our midst, I want them as part of the catch. In fact, my work is all the more closely aimed toward those who have been marginalized, for whatever reason, from the joy that faith affords. The net is plenty big enough. And Lord knows, we've worked very hard at our song over these past few months. Let everyone in!

There are a lot of reasons people can choose to be away from the Church right now. And few things, more than likely, can dissipate the anger or soften the stones that are now their hearts. But I'll bet on joy. Joy, an unabashed joy-filled expression of faith, is infectious – people who witness this will never be the same again. And they will thirst for more. At least, that's my gamble, week after week.

And there is no greater day to roll the dice, to spread the net, to blast the "Alleluias!", than the blessed octave we now traverse.

There is a beautiful old Irish prayer, "Ag Críost, an Síol," which exhorts its listeners:
"To Christ the fish,
To Christ the oceans,
Into the nets of Christ may we be caught."

Spread the net. Jesus would be proud of us, fishermen and women, using rods and reels loaded with joy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Taking (the Cross) to the Streets

It is the oldest thing imaginable: a parade.

And in this week of the Old being made New before us, we bring the cross outside the confines of the Basilica. That cross – the same one we've used for a generation – is a huge, heavy, unobliging hunk of heaviness that leaves splinters in hands and is a dangerous thing to control in and of itself (trust me, I've seen the thing clean the clock of several bystanders who weren't prepared for its wingspan).

Tonight, winding our way through the dusk of Notre Dame's residence halls, we carried this cross. We were escorted by a small phalanx of trumpets, brass players announcing a unique parade that was headed their way: a parade which was beyond the usual ken of carnival-goers.

For this is not your average parade, and it isn't about fun – it's about joy's final triumph over sorrow.

We've done this Campus-Wide Stations of the Cross service for almost twenty years on campus. And it's remarkable, in not-so-little ways, as to how the campus landscape lends itself to the service.

Consider this: The Second Station - Jesus Takes Up His Cross. This is done on the patio in front of Bond Hall – exuding classical Roman architecture to its core (the architecture reminiscent of the empire that sentenced Jesus to death).

Or the Third Station – Jesus Falls the First Time. This takes place in Lyons Arch, and navigating that cross up and around those convoluted steps is a perfect illustration of the Via Crucis.

Or the Eleventh Station – Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross. Here, the backdrop is the War Memorial ("Stonehenge"), memorializing those who have gone before us carrying their own crosses in mortal warfare.

And finally, there is the Fourteenth Station, when that immense sign of execution is lifted over the baptismal font of the Basilica and carried solemnly up the main aisle of the church, all the while surrounded by the chanting of "Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom." We have brought the cross back to the vault. And the lights go dark, and the hundreds who are there sing "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"

This is no ordinary parade. It is the procession through sorrow to what, for Christians, lies on the other side of sorrow – the promise of the Resurrection.

And we have a big old, splintered, unwieldy mass of wood to thank for this spectacle.