Archive for the ‘Sunday mass’ 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

Duty is not a dirty word

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Today is Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples.

For the last ten days, my parish (St. Luke the Evangelist in Westboro, MA) has been praying the nine-day novena to the Holy Spirit. In the midst of this novena, a 40-hour devotion was held in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

I tried to live up to my duty and participate fully in this prayerful time but fell flat after the fifth day of the novena. Still, I was looking forward to mass this Sunday in my church.

However, duty called.

King George VI understood about duty, despite his stuttering which made speech making nearly impossible.

Attending to my duty

As some of you already know, my husband Rich is a deacon in the Melkite Church which is Eastern Catholic. The liturgy is celebrated in the Byzantine tradition. It is a beautiful celebration that touches greatly upon the mystery that is our faith.

My feet of clay

I am not always up to the lofty state of mind that one needs to be in to attend these liturgies. It requires that you stand for pretty much the whole hour. This is a challenge for my bad feet and sore back.

The liturgy is entirely sung. Everyone sings which is commendable but the singing isn’t always good. Unless I am caught up in the Spirit of God, the singing can prove to be quite distracting.

I am not proud of the fact that these minor matters get in the way of worshipping God during these liturgies. But they do.

I really wanted to worship at my parish where the music can soar. But duty came first.

Saying goodbye

Rich had told me earlier in the week that a longtime and key member of his church (Our Lady of Perpetual Help), Corinne, was leaving the state to be near her children. This woman had served Our Lady of Perpetual Help for 30 years and would be sorely missed.

Corinne had been one of many at Our Lady of Perpetual Help who had welcomed me as one of their own.  I wanted to say goodbye and wish her well.

Duty called, and I chose to attend liturgy at my husband’s church rather than our own.

Where duty led me

Each morning I dedicate my day to God with a prayer that Henri Nouwen prayed. In part it says, “I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me …”

I attended the liturgy. As a result, I experienced a gentle outpouring of the Spirit which I know I would have missed had I not done my duty.

The Spirit brings life

It began during the homily as Fr. Paul spoke of different times in the Scriptures when the Spirit was mentioned. He recalled Ezekiel 37 when the prophet Ezekiel saw the valley of dry bones come alive again into living, breathing people because he did his duty by obeying God and prophesying over them. A valley of bones rose to new life as a result.

The Spirit promises

Fr. Paul also mentioned Joel 2:28 and the promise of the Spirit:

It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.

What had the Spirit done for me?

It was then that I began to reflect upon the remarkable yet quiet transformation that had been going on in my life since I lost my mother two years ago.

In thinking about those readings, I realized that I was like those dry bones in the valley, brought back to life. I was dreaming dreams again. All of this because of the outpouring of the Spirit into my life.

Personal Pentecost

I began to experience a personal moment of Pentecost, becoming suddenly very aware of God’s presence pressing in on me from all sides. Rather than feeling oppressed, I felt liberated, deeply loved, and grateful for the wondrous gift God had bestowed on me in the wake of my grief.

And all this I was privy to because I had opted to do my duty.

Duty can be beautiful

Doing one’s duty is the most basic reason for doing anything. But as frail humans, sometimes it’s all we’re capable of at that moment.

How wonderful God is that He will bless my performance of duty! Because I had demonstrated to Him an openness to whatever He had in mind for me, I was able to receive His blessing.

Duty had opened the door.

I had prayed it that morning and performed it through my duty: “”I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me …”

Lay down your burden

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I just loved the homily given on Sunday by our pastor, Monsignor Mike Foley. He shared a true and compelling story of how he applied the above verses from the gospel reading to his own life.

Several years ago, Monsignor Mike was pastor to the largest parish in our diocese, St. Ann’s in Milford, MA. With approximately 3500+ families in the parish, St. Ann’s at one time had 5 priests to serve. Back in the early 2000′s, the death of a pastor caused the bishop to effectively “shuffle the deck”, redistributing pastors and promoting an associate to pastor to fill the various needs of the diocese. Monsignor was at the bottom of the deck. In the end, he was left alone at St. Ann’s without even the help of a deacon because the deacon was sick. He would not be able to get extra help for at least 3 months. On top of everything else, it was during the height of the sexual abuse scandal which rocked Boston and surrounding communities.

Monsignor knew he was in trouble. He described the various ways he could have reacted:

  • Get angry with the bishop
  • Work himself to death
  • Or turn to the Lord in prayer

He decided to turn the Lord in prayer. At at time when one would think more hours would need to be devoted to work, Monsignor Mike took 2 extra hours (together) out of his day to spend time with the Lord in prayer. He confessed his need and allowed the Lord to give him rest. He took the will of God (His yoke) on his shoulders, surrendering his own will for what he thought ought to be done, and surrendering the will and expectations of others.

In the end,  God showed him how to prioritize his work, helping Monsignor in his decision making, and ultimately, remaking the vision of the parish.

Monsignor Mike really shared from his heart. At one point, standing in front of the altar, he pointed back to the gospel book stating, ” I know that it works to allow God to carry your burden. I’ve lived it!”

All the while I’m marveling at the fact that this holy priest would spend 2 solid hours in prayer. As always, he, in essence, fertilized the desire already in me to deepen my prayer. It’s so helpful when God sets before you such wonderful examples like Monsignor Mike. We at St. Luke the Evangelist in Westboro, MA are so fortunate!

Thanking my angel – better late than never!

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

I have a long commute to and from work which leaves lots of time for prayer and thought. Yesterday I was reminiscing about my high school days, prompted by the discovery that a youth minister I had known back then had passed away. Although raised in the Catholic faith, I started exploring when I was 15 and ended up joining a non-denominational youth group which originated out of Park Street Church in Boston. The youth minister was the Rev. Wayne Anderson (eternally grateful to you, may you rest in peace). I accepted Jesus as my personal savior when I was 16 and enjoyed the companionship and safety of palling around with a large group of like-minded and fun-loving Christian teens. We spent time playing competitive team sports, singing contemporary Christian hymns as lustily as we could, studying the Bible, listening to dynamic teachings about Jesus, and praying for each other.

This youth group was exactly what I needed at that time of my life. It was a safety net and so much more. My own home life was strange to say the least, in fact dysfunctional, yet because I lived in the middle of it, I never really thought much about it. I only knew that I felt very alone and this group took me in. I gained 1 eternal and 2 lifelong friends out of that experience (one of them being my husband of 32 years).

When I entered college, I no longer had access to this group and I keenly missed the fellowship. My faith came upon hard times and I found most of my beliefs being systematically stripped away. Only one thing remained: all through my teen, college and 20-something years, I never stopped attending mass. My husband had a lot to do with that but I also think it was because I had a gut feeling about the Eucharist. As a child I experienced some beautiful times of prayer after receiving the Eucharist (images of a gleaming hardwood floor, cleaned after receiving; also of a rose bush growing in my heart) and in a sub-conscious way, it taught me that Jesus was present in that bread, somehow.

This foundation was very important to my remaining with the Catholic church. My time in that youth group built on that foundation, showing me what it was like to have a personal relationship with our Lord, and  to share that with other believers. After college I wandered around in a spiritual desert for 18 years, but I never lost that hunger and thirst for God.

At 37 I had a conversion experience that brought me home for good. But in reminiscing yesterday, I realized that I had led a charmed life, and I suddenly started thanking my guardian angel for helping to lead me to where I am today.

I have never paid much attention to my poor angel (whom I have dubbed “Celeste”) but lately I find myself thanking her whenever I escape bodily injury from a potential car accident, tripping, falling down the stairs, etc. In thinking about my life’s journey yesterday, I knew at that moment that she had been leading and guiding me.

So, after 55+ plus years, I want to say a public “thank you” to my dear Celeste and I promise, I will pay more attention to you! God has been so good to give you to me.

Do you remember the Guardian Angel Prayer? Let’s see if I do . . .

Angel of God, My Guardian Dear
to whom God’s love commits me here.
Ever this day be at my side
to light and guard and rule and guide.

Amen.

Yeah, I had to look it up! :-)

A beautiful church, a wonderful homily, a heavenly liturgy

Monday, January 17th, 2011

I had the privilege of attending liturgy at St. Marie Church in Manchester, NH, the home parish of many members of  Vita Nova, the organization running the women’s retreat that my partner, Ann Wagstaff, I will be leading the weekend of March 11-13. Ann and I were invited to mass at St. Marie’s so we could worship with the retreat team before we had our meeting about the upcoming retreat.

I looked forward to the prospect of attending mass with these wonderful women but I had no idea just how beautiful St. Marie’s was, and I was pleasantly surprised and quite fascinated by the story of this magnificent cathedral, and its phoenix-like rising from the ashes of disrepair and a dying congregation.

This is a church that has been lovingly restored, both physically and spiritually. Approximately 27 years ago, a young 33 year priest was assigned to a dying French parish in the midst of of the city of Manchester. The church building was in desperate need of repair, but the congregation needed a much deeper healing. According to the stories I heard that Sunday, this young paced the altar in the empty church, begging God for an answer and he received a rather unusual answer: hire an evangelist. An evangelist? Where would the money come from? But following the example of Mary, the priest said yes and proceeded to secure the funds. A few days after saying yes to God, a parishioner came forward with a donation for $20,000. The priest was off and running! He hired an evangelist and the two of them gave presentations and conferences to the local area, teaching and sharing the faith. The parish community began to grow.

The priest then made another bold decision: he discontinued the practice of bingo, their largest source of funds. That occurred many years ago and today the parish is thriving. Over the years, the congregation grew in faith and numbers and today, St. Marie’s is as beautiful and healthy inside as it is on the outside.

This pastor has since been transferred after 27 years of faithful service The current pastor,  Fr. Moe, gave a beautiful homily based on the Gospel story of John the Baptist, recognizing Jesus as the Christ, and crying out that He was the Lamb of  God. In the homily Father spoke of references to the Lamb of God in the old and new testaments, concluding with the Book of Revelation where the 4 creatures are worshipping God on the throne by crying out, “Holy, holy, holy!” Fr. Moe spoke of the eternal liturgy taking place in heaven and how every earthly liturgy is connected with that heavenly one. In essence, we we were worshipping God with the saints, the angels and the heavenly hosts. As I heard Father Moe’s words and gazed upon the magnificent altar of St. Marie’s, it was easy to be transported straight to heaven, and imagine the heavenly Father, Son and Holy Spirit on the throne. When you look at this slide show I’ve prepared, I think you’ll see why.

A healing miracle has occurred for me since visiting this beautiful church and soon I will post about it. Stay tuned . . .

In the meantime, enjoy the slides of this lovely cathedral.

[cincopa AoKAKaqlifBt]

Meeting my longtime email friend who shared great lessons

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Last night was a long time coming! For approximately 8 years, Lisa Hendey, webmaster of the phenomenal Catholicmom.com website, host and producer of the podcast, Catholic Moments (carried on SQPN), and author of The Handbook for Catholic Moms and I have been emailing and occasionally talking on the phone. I had long hoped we could meet but despaired of it because I’m on the east coast while she is on the west coast.

Nothing is impossible for God, however and last night He granted our wish, and at the parish where I first met my husband and sang with the folk group back in the 1970s, St. Paul’s Parish in Wellesley, MA. Lisa was hosted by WINGS, a group dedicated to cultivating spirituality in women. Lisa gave a talk based on her wonderful book, and I was pleased and proud to provide some music for the occasion. Lisa was kind enough to snap a picture of me, and I took some of her while she gave her presentation. Pat Gohn from the Among Women podcast was with us also, making for a wonderful night of fellowship with friends.

Lisa is a warm and engaging speaker, sharing experiences from her own life which are practical, and doable, by anyone. I particularly loved how she engaged the women in conversation, using half of her speaking time conducting a group discussion. Your parish or event would be well served by having Lisa come and speak.

She shared one tip that I really took to heart – how she prepares for Sunday mass by reading and praying on the gospel reading each day of the week prior to Sunday. Lisa shared of how her hunger for hearing the Word at mass was tremendously enhanced by that time spent each day reflecting on the gospel reading. And she ended her Sunday by reflecting for few moments on that reading and what transpired at mass before going to bed. This is something any of us can do, no matter how busy we may be. The gospel reading is easily found online at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website, where you can read and even listen to it.

You may not experience results from this exercise right away but if you stick with it, the blessings will just keep coming and coming. I know that ever since I started making a habit of praying the Divine Office through listening to it on the DivineOffice.org website, it seems that I am much more alert and awake to the promptings of the Spirit.

Keeping faithful to the little things does indeed make a big difference. Just refer to St. Therese, the Little Flower. Her whole life was made up of little things. Blessed Mother Teresa understood it well too, remarking how we must “do small things with great love.”

Lisa Hendey understands that. Her faithfulness to God’s call over the years has yielded tremendous fruits. Be sure and visit her Catholicmom.com website and see for yourself.