Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sing!

...Jesus is Coming..
Readings for Sunday, November 29/ 1st Sunday of Advent:
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25
1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 24-26


Happy Advent! What joy to come to this blessed time of year when we begin again, a time of rejoicing at the things God has done and looking forward to the new things He has in store for us. As we begin a new liturgical year today, I want to start by changing things up a bit and inviting you all to stand up for a moment. Now I want you to repeat after me: I love the Lord! [Congregation responds] Now I’ve heard y’all talking after Mass, so I know you can get a little louder than that: I love the Lord! [Congregation responds louder] That’s much better, but I know we have some Italians in the congregation and just being good Louisiana people, we have to use our hands when we talk, so lets make sure to use our hands this time: I love the Lord! [Congregation responds, with hand gestures!] Beautiful! I’m glad y’all love the Lord! I love Him too. Y’all can sit now.

So, Advent has arrived once again, that season when Mother Church invites us to reflect upon what she calls the ‘twofold coming of Christ’ – the expectation of His arrival at Christmas, as well as the final coming of the Lord in glory that will take place on the Last Day, whenever that might be. It’s a time when we don once more the penitential purple and prepare our hearts for the Lord to come, but it is a penance that is marked with joy at the nearness of the Lord to us. Much like Lent, it is easy to have Advent simply pass us by and miss the great gift that it can be. I find for myself also that it is easy to get caught up in reflections that are rather spiritual rather than practical in my own ‘preparing the way’ for the Lord. So my intention for these four weeks of Advent is to provide practical, concrete ways for us to prepare our hearts, homes, and lives for the coming of Christ Jesus. I hope they are helpful for you as I pray they will be for me.

A few years back I went with some friends who were still in seminary to Houston over Christmas break for a ‘Chant Intensive’ workshop on how to read, understand, sing, and (somewhat) direct Gregorian Chant. When we arrived they split us into our groups and sent us to our practice rooms. My friends and I went to our assigned room with all of our books in hand ready to chant to our hearts content. The director arrived and, after a brief introduction and overview of the workshop, he asked us to stand. We all listened and he did with us the same exact activity I just did with y’all. At the end of it he asked us to be seated and said, “Alright, so now I know how loud y’all can sang.” So… *grins* … now I know how loud y’all can sing. Which brings me to practical point number one: sing!

It is scientifically proven that music has a profound impact on the human mind and body, that playing music has short-term and long-term effects on our brain, and that singing has a way of changing our mind and body both, but especially our heart. Johnny Cash once sang “Get rhythm when you get the blues” and with that he reminds us that music is able to move us. It moves our hearts and if there is anything in the time of preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus, it is most certainly our hearts.

Rock the Mic!
In the Gospel passage we just heard, Jesus warns us not to let our hearts become drowsy with worldly pleasure. Having experienced every aspect of human life but sin, He knows well how easy it is to get caught up in the pleasures of the world, in festivities, in the mundane things, and to lose the burning fire of love for God that is given us at our baptism. And so we come to this Advent season and we do that which brings life to a fire or brings flames from a burning ember – we breathe out life, we sing. The experience of singing is one in which we are able to pray not only with our voice but with our whole self and in the process of inhaling and exhaling the fire of our soul can be ignited and renewed. So we sing – at Mass, in the car, at home, in the shower, at work, wherever. All the time I hear it said ‘Father, you don’t want me to sing…or them to sing’ but the thing is that I do. If everyone sings it will be a beautiful noise! So I invite you to do one little thing at different times through the week and to sing.


Sing like this little guy.
As I said at the beginning, Advent is a time when we can begin again and bring new resolutions to our own life. For Advent this year I want to invite you to join with me in a new piece in the liturgy. In case you’ve not beaten me to the punch yet – it involves singing. Every day priests and religious brothers and sisters across the world stop at various times of day to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, a collection of psalms, scripture readings, hymns and intercessions. There are five different times it is done at the day, mostly in the same format. The last prayer of the day is a bit different though because after the concluding prayer and blessing, a hymn is sung to the Blessed Mother. A sort of goodnight lullaby where the tables are turned and rather than our mother singing to us, we sing to our mother. The first time I heard this done was when I was at the seminary in Covington. I went to the monks’ Night Prayer with a friend and at the end they all processed out in silence to the rear of the church and the lights were turned out. They wrapped around the rear of the church and came down the side aisle to the image of the Blessed Mother, which was illuminated by the only light in the church. And in that moment of darkness and quiet the Abbot intoned the hymn and the monks joined with him in solemn song. I got goosebumps then as I have them right now thinking about it. It is that same loving devotion to Our Lady that I hope to bring into our Masses here at St. Ann & St. Vincent. There are four different hymns through the course of the whole year, each one being sung for 2-4 months. I know it will be tough to learn them initially, but know that it will be well worth the effort and will great joy to Mary’s heart – and to mine and hopefully yours too. May Mary, who is ever watchful of us, her children, fill us with joy in this blessed season and may she bring to completion that great mission of bringing us closer to the Heart of Jesus. Come, Lord Jesus. Come, O Come, Emmanuel.