26 August 2013

Fortunate Fall : Audrey Assad

I must admit that I get most of my music from Spotify and have for the last two years or so. The low, low price of $9.99 a month to listen to and carry around any song I want? Worth it. (Spotify does have free options you can certainly use and be happy with. I just like to spend the $10 to bring playlists and radio wherever I want on my phone, even internationally if I have I have the playlist saved. It is worth it because I listen to music almost constantly if the situation allows. But this isn't a plug for Spotify...)

So when I actually purchase an album, it is not only because Spotify doesn't have it (well, it doesn't have this one, to be truthful), but also because I really, really like the album. This is definitely the case with Audrey Assad's Fortunate Fall, released 13 August 2013. After I'd seen enough thrown around about this album (friends on Twitter, Marc's review on Bad Catholic), I decided I really needed to check it out. I had listened to Assad's previous albums, finding a few songs here and there that I really liked, so I was familiar with her.

Here's a pretty pretty album picture
which I got from Christian Music Zine.
Fortunate Fall blows her previous albums, as well as the majority of contemporary albums, out of the water. Yes, I feel entitled to make that huge statement. The album is beautiful in lyrics and musicality, which seems to do no justice in description. Centered around this idea of the fortunate fall, felix culpa, "O happy fault that merited such and so great a Reedemer," this album weaves through an experience of the faith in a way which can truly be called universal and Catholic. I listen to it and see myself at a midnight Christmas Mass. I listen to it and see St. John standing at the foot of the cross. I listen to it and see the priest holding up the host, now become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, at the altar.

One of the best parts about the album is how Catholic it is. The album could be split into three parts, separated by tracks 1 ("Fortunate Fall"), 4 ("O Happy Fault"), 8 ("Felix Culpa"), following one's faithful journey. The first section is the most desolate, remorseful for our our transgressions when we consider our sin, the mystery of the Incarnation and the power of the Cross. It us us staring at the Crucifix and realizing how beautiful it is. Interesting to note in the first track is the English lyrics (which becomes apparent later in the album) "O Happy Fault, Fortunate Fall." God meets us where we are.

I see the Mass in some way in each song. For example, in the second track Help My Unbelief, a bridge of repeated "My Lord and my God," calls to mind the transubstantiation--the changing of bread and wine to flesh and blood. I am reminded of the same in the next song, "Humble," at the lyrics: "We bow our knees / We must decrease / You must increase / We lift you high." and also of the stations of the cross, of Jesus who was "Humble and human, willing to bend.../ ...Not too proud to wear our skin / to know this weary world we're in."

Then, an impossibly beautiful melody of "O Felix Culpa" (4: "O Happy Fault") begins the next section, and suddenly we know Latin, because we are learning. The second section is our living the faith, despite sorrow, strife, adversaries, even our own desires. Reminiscent of St. Francis of Assisi's prayer, track 6 ("I Shall Not Want") asks, "From the need to be understood / From the need to be accepted / From the fear of being lonely / Deliver me, O God." These songs are our desperate moments before the Blessed Sacrament, struggling but determined, surrounded on all sides but coming out fighting.

The third section is begun by "Felix Culpa," which follows the melody of "O Happy Fault" but the track is purely instrumental. Perhaps the language progression from English to Latin to only music is a progression of purity: perhaps in the end, we will need no words, because the music of our hearts in union with the Love of God will be a language all its own. This idea of a progression continues throughout the album and through the third section which I think of as the final stages of the refining of one's life. It is as if the Saints have looked back upon their lives and told Assad that they are humans just as we are. It is as if souls in Purgatory can almost taste the Wedding Feast. The mystery of the descent of the Holy Spirit is at the forefront of my mind during "Spirit of the Living God," who is beseeched to "descend upon Thy Church once more and make it truly Thine." "Lead, Kindly Light" can only be the inspiration the Church Militant needs to persevere in the faith to the end, even to death, despite the darkness of the world. "You Speak" speaks of fulfillment and fullness, the old law passing away, the soul being refined each day as the faithful one presses on.

As the readings at Easter outline salvation history from the Old Testament to the Gospels, Fortunate Fall outlines the individual's salvation history. The wonderful thing is that all Saints go through this process: discovering the Truth, striving to live a faithful life, being refined and made holy at each step. The universality of this path adds yet another dimension to the album, because then the album isn't only a collection of songs which are only a collection of words and notes. Fortunate Fall becomes our story. Fortunate Fall is the story of all humanity.

I am not benefiting in any way from promoting Fortunate Fall. I just think it's that good and needs to be listened to by others. No lyrics, song titles or rewards are mine. You know I'm not getting money because I straight up pay for Spotify still. Go listen to this album. Go buy this album.

21 August 2013

Summer Lovin' (My Favorite Blogs)

People around the blogosphere are killing it these days. Who says Summer has to be lazy? Read on!

1. Steve Gershom. Or should I say Joey Prever? In this fantastic post Steve Joey (I still don't know what to call you, man) came out (pun?) with a couple weeks ago, he basically gives a run-down of his life as a Catholic, SSA individual committed to celibacy. It's basically a big deal. I applaud Joey for his courage and sincerity. I have been following his blog for nearly a year now and have really valued getting to read things from his perspective and prompted to think about how homosexuality fits into God's plan. And, no, I'm not going to start promoting SSM, but I do think we as the Church need to take extra care to treat people as people, not as labels. Okay, soap box done. I cannot wait to hear more from Joey and his journey.

2. The Catholic Gentleman. New to me with thanks to Facebook. I know I don't need "how to be a gentleman" lessons, but this blog and page is pretty legit and is so refreshing to read after nonsense like this. I particularly have liked this post on Confession and:

Karol Wojtyla, who would become Pope John Paul II, out on a camping trip, shaving in the woods. Can't get much more manly than that. ;)

3. Thomas Peters Recovery. Unless you've been sleeping under a rock for the last month, I'm sure this blog/story has floated across your screen if you're part of the Catholic blogging world (if not, sorry for making assumptions). Nearly five weeks ago, Thomas Peters from American Papist was involved in a swimming accident which left him with serious damage to vertebrae in his neck. However, his recovery has been remarkable. I've pretty much been checking my feed for updates when I get off of work and every update holds good, even incredible, news. Please add him to your prayer list. You can even join their novena here.

4. Carrots for Michaelmas. Need your daily dose of mothering help/aweseomeness? Haley to the rescue! Made a momma for the third time, by now 12-week old Gwen, Haley has been sharing great link-ups and wisdom that I am definitely bookmarking to make use of in the future. Katherine of Shouting Hallelujah shared 7 Books for New Moms. As someone who couldn't imagine going without reading for more than a couple hours, I will definitely be consulting this list. Haley also shared On Marrying Young, which I hope will also be a valuable in the upcoming years.

5. The Crescat. Oh lady. When I click on a new post from Katrina, I always prepare myself for hilarity and piercing observations. Her post earlier this week, A Church By Any Other Name Is A Worship Center, considers the prevalence of "worship communities," the names of which make them unidentifiable as a denomination and likely unidentifiable as a church. She writes,
"Funny how all these questionable sounding nondenominational worship communities make me think of everything but God. I get the human desire for community and companionship but I don’t go to church looking for human interaction. I go looking for interaction with the Divine. I think these community churches are what happens when people start looking for the parish to fill their social needs over spiritual ones."
And then she jokes that Journey Church with "Don't Stop Believin'" in the hymnal would be great. Except maybe she's not joking.

Last, but certainly not least, one of the best parts of Summer (and the only holiday in August!): the Assumption!

I adore this painting by Nicolas Poussin. The colors and light and clouds and flowers and billowing... So pretty and it strikes me as the perfect balance of majesty and soft femininity, completely fitting for the Blessed Mother.

That's all for now. What blogs/bloggers/posts are you loving?

I share more links/random thoughts on Twitter, and pictures of food experiments, pretty things and nail polish on Instagram. Hit me up and let's keep the sharing going!

18 August 2013

Set the World (and Our Hearts) on Fire

Today's Gospel Reading:
Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

The first two things I thought of at this reading were (1) the lovely quotation from St. Catherine of Sienna:
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” 
and (2)

just a very little bit.

Today's Gospel reading is all too appropriate for what is happening in the world today. The persecutionthe burning and attacking of churches and Christian institutionsin Egypt is front-page news. Dozens of buildings and thousands of people have been attacked in the last week. And while this is all occurring, our country's leader is saying little, our country's government is still providing the country with monetary aid.

I do not expect the world's actions to align with what I would do, but I think Christians need to be aware of how close our own country is coming to accepting these actions. Already religious freedom is being limited in grave matters like abortion, and while it is all advertised as supporting "choice," it is giving us no choice. No choice for hospitals and doctors forced to perform abortions; no choice for healthcare organizations forced to fund them (unless one wants to pay an extraordinary fine); no choice for young women who are now presented with only the encouragement and expectation of murder; no choice for men whose masculinity and rightful family leadership role is being taken from them in the name of "rights" they could never understand.

And as violence occurs on the other side of the world and our country soon forgetsif they even acknowledgeit, the same violence is all the sooner to happen in our own towns because of our ignorance and lack of action. Literal fires are being started and we are neglecting the nurturing of the fire of the Holy Spirit which should always engulf our hearts. We are forgetting the value of suffering, which is my only hope for all the attacks: that the suffering will create martyrs, that martyrs will inspire conversion, that conversion will strengthen the Church.

In his homily today, Father said that: "All must burn by fire until the only thing left standing is the cross of Jesus Christ." Our own fires must combat the aggressive fires of our adversaries. We must live our faith in a way which shows others the love of Christ, converts others to Catholicismthe one true Church of Christ, teaches and edifies Christians, and shows the world with unshakable certainty that Catholics are a force to be reckoned with. We must not be lukewarm in our faith. We must not back down when our liberties are limited. We must not turn a blind eye to our brothers and sisters who suffer. We must not be afraid when they revile and persecute us, as it says, "Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in Heaven," for they did the same to Christ (we should expect nothing less), for He will be with us to the end of the age.

Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, and all the Saints of Heaven: pray for us.

17 August 2013

The Church That Brought Me Home

Listening to a certain music tonight, my mind flashed back to walking campus in the Fall, crossing through one of the buildings to cut down on time to get to the chapel. In my mind, I entered it in the brilliance of the morning, sunlight filtering through stained glass and reflecting off the marble. I thought instantly of the Crucifix where I gazed at Jesus, probably for days in total, at Mass and in free moments when I had the time to visit. My thoughts next drifted to the Pieta statue on the right side of the church, to which I felt particularly drawn when I first began attending Mass. Directly above this statue is a painting of the Holy Family, with Mary gazing fondly at the Child Jesus. The compassion in her face inspired many a prayer to be myself half as good a woman and mother one day.

Then I remembered the stand-out moments and Sacraments. The first night I stepped into the church with some nervousness and steeling of breath. I can never recapture the stillness of the moment. My mind did not wander. It is as if I were standing at the threshold of a secret door, with a light I could just make out at the edges of the frame. I feel as if I peered into the moment of that Mass as down a shadowy corridor. Four months later I would find myself drawn once again to the chapel in a back pew between classes "just wanting to pray in silence for a minute," but finding myself with tears streaming down my face, acknowledging all my neglect of God and worthwhile living. I think that was the first time I really acknowledged Christ's presence. I wouldn't be sitting too far from that seat when another year later, week after week, daily Mass made me (dizzy from incense) hungry for the Eucharist with a fierceness I never would have expected.

And then taking one brilliant step forward to kneel in the glimmering chapel in the early morning after my first Confession, breathless again, but this time nothing was still. Light, emotions, thoughts were bouncing brilliantly that morning in a way which only makes me look back now in near disbelief (near, because I know it was real; disbelief, because it was too real). It was as if the air had changed, as if I could see things differently and clearly. Then a light rain began and I imagined it a sign of the grace that I hoped had just fallen down on me.

And then the slow steps at Easter Vigil, being sealed with the Holy Spirit as Monsignor made the Sign of the Cross on my forehead in oil, breathless as always as I knelt and offered myself to Jesus' Church and Jesus offered Himself to me--body, blood, soul and divinity--and opening my eyes to see the Crucifix again, and always. The Eucharist was bitter and sweet, death and life, impossible and perfect at the same time.

Remembering that church fills me with longing. It was where everything began: the first time trying to really understand Catholicism, the first time the same readings of the day for everyone in the Church went from limiting/oppressive to unitive, the first time I felt drawn to a place because I felt God there, the first time I began to love a Mother I've never even seen, the first time Latin prayers fell from my tongue, the first time I confessed and felt truly forgiven....

My attachments grasp specific, ordinary objects like "that pew" or "this slant of light" or "the marble here" to keep the memory full, but each of these church-specific objects inspire my thoughts to holy actions and beliefs. My life changed, I became a different person, in that church. That church feels more like home to me than any other place because that church is where I started coming home to the Church. I will be thankful every day for that change, and for the prayers and work (though people probably didn't realize what work they were doing) that brought me to the chapel on a Winter night, and back on a Spring morning, and back every week; back dragging my feet with uncertainty, back in a rush, back nearly bounding to the altar; back and broken-hearted, back and joyful, back and torn, back and earnest; back and begging, back and praying, back and singing, back and proudly professing the Credo; back and forgiven, back and Confirmed, back and reunited with the Church. Back, always back home to Catholicism.

11 August 2013

If You're Waiting for the Catholic Church to Become "Church Me," You're Wasting Your Time

"The Church needs to get with the times. The Church needs to allow women's ordination (wymyn priests!) and contraception. The Church needs to change the nature of the sacraments [which is impossible], etc. etc."

Shut your mouth.

The only thing the Church NEEDS to do is guide you on the path to holiness. She is not going to do this by indulging your every fleeting desire like an overly permissive, push-over parent. The Church has rules because She knows what is good for you. Whining that the Catholic Church needs to welcome trendy changes is like a child begging to touch a hot stove. Mother will never say, "Yes, touch the stove because it is good for you." She says, "No. I know what will happen and am protecting you." Even if you do not know and understand every doctrine and discipline of the Church, you are expected to be obedient to it because God the Father, Who Himself first loved us, and Jesus Christ, Who Himself established it, and the Holy Spirit, Who Himself preserves it, give us the Church to raise ourselves to sainthood.

I know that this post is not going to convince the masses that the Catholic Church has good reasons about its beliefs and practices and that, no, it does not need to "get with the times" or "be realistic about contraception." But, my goodness!--this is a frustrating subject because it is often the case that many people who make such statements (1) do not actually know what the Church teaches and (2) would not even follow the Church if it did do things like support impossible marriages and ordinations.
This is how this subject makes me feel. Minus the glasses.
Faith is not a salad bar. "Those greens are looking good, but I'm totally not feeling like black olives today." (By the way, you should be, because black olives are delicious.) Your faith then becomes as ever-changing as a picky five-year-old's palate. You cannot simply pick and choose which doctrines you will follow and still be Catholic. You cannot be interested in finding the one true church and the love of God if you want a Church tailored to your specific whims and fancies. You are instead looking for "Church Me," with yourself as the God and authority of that Church.

So don't pretend, "If the Church only did such-and-such, I would join it." You wouldn't, because you would find another thing the Church does that makes you uncomfortable. Living the Faith shouldn't make you comfortable. It challenges you to find the truth. Living the Faith shouldn't be easy. It asks you to deny yourself constantly, to suffer and to live for God. Is it hard to shed selfishness and focus your efforts on glorifying God and edifying others? Yes, it is. Is it worth it? Yes, beyond measure.

"Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself,
and take up his cross, and follow me."
Matthew 16:24

10 August 2013

The Communion of Saints

One of my favorite memories from college took place on a Monday night. The church on campus had a Traditional Latin Mass, which, as I understand, had come together by the hard work of a small group. Ask and you shall receive....

At this Mass my sponsor's husband, H, served as a sacristan with our friend, L, and a few other men who had no previous experience serving. The Mass was great, of course, and many who heard it went to a meeting directly after where the visiting priest gave a short presentation on the Mass throughout history and answered questions. He also complimented the sacristans on their exceptional work and L laughed quite loudly because the group had practiced a bit last minute and wasn't sure how smoothly everything would go. My sponsor, M, looked up at her husband and laughed a little and I bit my lip because that was the only thing to keep my grin from becoming guffaws as well.

After the meeting, M, H, L and I went out to dinner with another server (whose name I cannot remember at the moment unfortunately, but he was a nice guy). H chose Buffalo Wild Wings, which I'm pretty sure M sometimes objected to, but decided he'd earned the celebration. We sat around the table talking about the Mass, Popes, M's pregnancy, music, beer....

Probably anyone else would have shrugged at the casual nature of our time, but perhaps because I was a recluse who often stayed at home or perhaps because this particular group was easy to get on with or perhaps because honey barbecue sauce was involved or perhaps because we weren't simply friends but brothers and sisters, this dinner became one of my happier and best memories of college. Watching L demonstrate different ways to make the sign of the cross, or M talk about the genius of the best movie score writers or all joking about the over-enthusiasm of sports spectators in the room... All of these little moments together build up one of the best moments I felt true communion with other people. I knew them and loved them and their company as siblings, and the night quenched my thirst for decent social interaction abundantly.

I think moments such as these remind me of the kind of person I am, namely a socially awkward kind. I choose to be alone not only out of frequent preference, but also out of ease. The number of truly good friendships I have is few and only after weeks without their presence do I realize that's the reason I feel unsettled and like something is missing. I believe this is the reason for my frequent nostalgic episodes. I'll spend hours thinking of the "good days," which more extroverted and gregarious people experience on a regular basis.

But this post isn't to lament my self-inflicted weirdness. It is to serve as a reminder of the good moments in my life, to remember L's studious pondering of the menu for the feast ahead, to remember M's acting out the songs she sang, to remember the ease of a new friend's inclusion to the group (or maybe I was the new one, now I think of it), to remember H's sense of pride and success at everything going smoothly. It's to remember friendship in one of its best forms, and to remind me that many more episodes of perfect friendship will occur in Paradise with all the Saints. "The communion of Saints" is more beautiful than I thought it would be.

(I wonder of St. Therese would like honey barbecue sauce.)