Tag Archives: Christianity

Faith and Prayer: Part 4

St. Joseph Cathedral, Sioux Falls
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After I had completely finished with school, I moved back to my hometown and got my career underway.  Soon afterward, I got a letter from my high school choir director, who was also the choir director at the local Cathedral.  The Bishop was commissioning a new all-male choir, and the members would be assembled by invitation.  I was proud that apparently my skills were enough to warrant my consideration.  unfortunately, I was working a God-awful 1pm to 10pm shift, and would never be able to make it to practice on time.  So the charter members of the Sioux Falls St. Joseph Cathedral Schola did not include me.

It was shortly after this time that I would meet the woman who would eventually become my Lovely Wife.  I guess we’ll call here Lovely Girlfriend for now.  Much to the consternation of my mother, Lovely Girlfriend was not Catholic, but rather Lutheran.  As we dated we both attended each other’s services at one time or another.  We dated for a while until she broke up with me.  I was a little confused, but I think it had a little to do with my living arrangements (yes, I had moved back in with my parents for awhile).  In the mean time, I met and began hanging out with another girl, who in our household is now sometimes facetiously referred to as She Who Shall Not Be Named (Lovely Wife doesn’t like to think about this time period).  SWSNBN was also very straight forward about her faith, which we openly discussed.  I also attended church services with her on occasion, at the Reformed Church of America in her home town.  One night, SWSNBN had agreed to meet with her ex for dinner one night.  Feeling that I didn’t really have a say in this (as we weren’t officially “dating”), I didn’t ask her not to go, but inside I was stressing out considerably.  So confused, that night I threw out the rote prayers of my Catholic background and pleaded with God to let me know what I was supposed to be doing here.  When Jesus met the blind man on the road to Emmaus, and asked “What do you want me to do?” the answer was “Lord, that I may have my sight.”  While he was looking for a return of his physical sight, I just wanted some insight on my future.  Did it involve Lovely Girlfriend?  SWSNBN?  Someone else?  I loved them both, but as it looked, to me it seemed that I would end up with neither.  Lord, that I may have my sight.

As it turns out, I did get back together with Lovely Girlfriend, who would become Lovely Fiance and eventually Lovely Wife.  I don’t forget the lesson that is often put “Let go and let God,” but there are still sometimes that I think over and over Lord, that I may have my sight.

Lovely Wife would go through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes to become Catholic, with me as her sponsor.  Although the question wasn’t completely settled, we thought it was best to at least start out on the same page.  In the meantime, I attended Bible studies with her, at first with a group from her Lutheran church, and later with a group from her best friend’s Methodist church.  I learned a great deal about my faith from attending these Bible studies and RCIA classes.

It was also around this time that I ran into my choir director, who assured me that “The invitation is still open,” for me to join the group.  Having a more amenable work schedule at this time, I excitedly accepted the invitation.  The music that we sang was incredible.  It was a mix of contemporary hymns, classical pieces (some of my favorites being 16th century polyphony) but perhaps most distinguishable, the Schola specialized in plainchant from the Pius X hymnal.  The music moved me, and gave me the feeling that I was ministering to others in my own way.

Coming in Part 5: Pain, questioning, and another reveal.

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Faith and Prayer, Part 3

After being away at college for a while, I had settled into a routine.  St. Thomas Aquinas, which had become my “home” church, held a Mass at 7pm on Sundays.  It was a perfect time to wind down from the weekend and prepare myself for the week.  Although I had several friends who attended that service, I liked to make myself scarce ahead of time, because I liked to have the time to worship with the community while at the same time worshiping by myself.

Most of the congregation at this particular mass consisted of students, but there were other members of the Ames community represented as well.  It was here that little old ladies would start the tradition of turning to me as I was getting ready to leave and saying something like “You have such a wonderful voice!”  At first I would respond with a thank you.  Later I would respond that it was God that gave me the wonderful instrument.  Later still, I started to tell them that St. Augustine said that “To sing is to pray twice,” a phrase that I still use.

After the 7pm Mass, the staff would have “Church Chats”, where one of the priests or a lay person would lead a group of parishioners in a discussion about faith, tradition, ethics, etc.  For someone who grew up in an environment where things just “are the way they are” it was refreshing.

English: Michelangelo's Pietà in St. Peter's B...

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The summer before my junior year, I had the great privilege of being able to travel to France and Italy with my family (my dad loves to travel and wanted to take my sister and I while we were still able to travel easily).  In Paris we went to Mass at Notre Dame, officiated on that day by a Cardinal (whose name I do not remember).  Having taken French in High School, (and of course with the conformity of the Latin Rite), I was pretty much able to follow along.  Going to Rome and the Vatican was an even more exciting experience.  Throughout Italy we had seen beautiful churches and works of art (e.g. St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and Michelangelo’s David in Florence) but nothing compared to St. Peter’s Basilica, or the Sistine Chapel.

 

English: Pope John Paul II on 12 August 1993 i...

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But the most exciting event was still to come.  By one of those “know someone who knows someone” connections we were able to get into Mass with a small group of people (about 30 or so) and Pope John Paul II.  Surprisingly to me, the Pope did not officiate the Mass, but rather was part of the congregation.  Looking back, it makes sense to me.  Afterwards, the pontiff greeted us all.  I was worried that I would be nervous and dumbstruck, but he was a very humble, warm, and witty person.  He asked us where we were from, and when we said South Dakota, he said “We don’t get too many from there.  New York, California, but not South Dakota.”  He also gave everyone a rosary.  I have never used a rosary very much, but of course I still have it and will use it on occasion.

My senior year, needing to fill out an elective for my degree, I took a New Testament class.  It was a great class to take, as the critical thinking and historical context added an extra layer of interest for me.  It was taught by Dr. Hector Avalos.  Dr. Avalos let us know early that he had a photographic memory, calling roll the first day without a class list in front of him, and subsequently calling out students that had skipped class, again without referring to any written class list.  He was very brilliant and thorough.  And he is an atheist.  This really troubled some students, and as a Christian, perhaps arguably should have troubled me, but it didn’t.  Taking this one class helped me reassess my own faith.  For a time I had to fall back on my basic articles of faith, and decided that I needed to scrub up a little more on my Christian faith.

After I graduated, I moved to Vermillion, SD to get a Master’s Degree from the University of South Dakota.  Here I was able to reconnect with some of my High School friends.  One late summer night, a few of us were sitting outside, downing some beers and smoking cigarettes (one habit I have thankfully dropped).  Perhaps inexplicably, we started talking about faith, religion, and the nature of God.  When I was walking home that night, I had an amazing experience.  Still ruminating on our discussion, I made a point to myself in my mind.  Today, I can’t even tell you what that point was (unfortunately) but I had an intense yet pleasurable surge of energy course through my body.  Not quite electrical, not quite fire, not quite ice, I don’t know how to explain it.  I do remember that it felt like it was coming from the inside out.  Prior to that time, my view of God was somewhat Deist in nature.  But here I felt as if I was being communicated with directly for the first time.  Or at least for the first time that I was able to recognize and acknowledge it.

Coming in Part 4, Back to Music and my Protestant Wife

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My Top 5 Christmas Songs

Merry Christmas (Bing Crosby album)

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OK, I am sure that every one falls into either one (or both) groups when it comes to Christmas songs:  you either hate Christmas songs or (and?) you have already read about a hundred of these posts.  But for some reason I just cannot help myself.  Typical of a blogger, I guess: “You MUST know all the minutiae of my thoughts!

But I digress.  Before I start, I have to point out that I just cannot get into Christmas music that is just about being in love, or with family, or Santa, or you know–anything that doesn’t have to do with the birth of Christ.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a religious prude or a Scrooge.  Many are even pretty good music, or at least very catchy.  I defy you to hear “Sleigh Ride” or “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and not be humming them for the rest of the day.  It’s just that most of them are extremely heavy on the schmaltz with an extra helping of cheese.  But there is one notable exception for me.  A song that I love so much I will make it my

Honorable Mention

“Blue Christmas”  Elvis wasn’t just the King of Rock and Roll, for me he is the King of Non-Christmas Christmas songs.

With that, on to the list:

5) Joseph’s Song

By Tonic Sof-Fa.  Although there are a few written from Joseph’s perspective (including a different one with the same title) there aren’t many.  Why do I love this song?  Parents, consider this: remember holding your child and having the gut feeling that he or she was going to change your life forever?  Consider holding that child and having the gut feeling that he was going to change history forever.   No video, but give it a click.  You won’t be sorry.

Joseph’s Song

4) Hallelujah

Probably the most famous choral movement of all time, there is just so much that I love about this song.  It is so quintessentially Handel.  I love hearing it performed live, and nearly jumping to my feet at the first couple of notes, as per tradition.  I have performed it so many times with various choirs that I can sing the bass part in my sleep.

3) Silent Night

So simple and elegant.  Wunderschöne, Franz Gruber.  Performed here by Bing Crosby, because you can’t have Christmas songs without Bing in there somewhere.

2) O Come, O Come   Veni Veni Emmanuel

Although I was born post Vatican II and never had to sit through a Latin Mass, none-the-less I have sung in enough Catholic choirs to have become aquainted with the Latin version, and I must say there is just something to it that burrows itself a little deeper into my soul.

1) O Holy Night 

Not much else to say here.

Some others’ (some serious, some humorous) takes on Christmas music:

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What’s in a Name: Inked Edition

Louis Comfort Tiffany, Window of St. Augustine...

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Earlier this year I waxed somewhat poetically about the names that were given to me by my parents.  Names (not just my own) still are somewhat fascinating to me.  I thought of this the other day when talking to my son.  Before he was born, my wife and I were leaning heavily towards calling him “Gus”.  My grandfather’s nickname was Gus, and it was one that not only we both liked, but would most likely be unique among his peers.   The only issue was that we could not agree on what Gus should be short for.  I wanted Augustine, after St. Augustine, the great theologian, philosopher, and church father.  Lovely Wife leaned toward Gustav because, well, she liked it.  When he was born we settled on a different name, but then it was suggested that we use Gus for a middle name.  The debate was renewed.  Finally, after several minutes of back and forth, Lovely Wife said, “What about just Gus?” So Gus it is.

Well, interestingly enough, often times now Little Guy will seem to ignore you if you use his first name, but pays immediate attention if you call him Gus.  Maybe it was meant to be in the end.  It will be up to him what he goes by as he gets older, but for myself, it turns out that I find myself calling him Gus about half the time.

That got me thinking about my own name.  In the Catholic tradition it is commonplace to give your child at least one saint’s name.  Alas, to this point there is still no St. Ryan.  My middle name is David, and while there are a few St. Davids, none are particularly well-known (King David of the old testament is not a Saint.)  This got me curious about St. Stephen (Stephen being the name given to me at birth).  I knew his story well–he is often known as St. Stephen the Martyr, as he is recorded to be the first martyr as seen in Acts 7:58.  I looked on the list of saints on catholic.org, and learned that St. Stephen’s feast day was December 26.  Most people would think “Oh yeah, good King Wenceslaus looked about, on the feast of Stephen…”, but my first thought was that December 26 was my parents anniversary.  Not only had they adopted a son originally named Stephen, but had also nearly named me Stephen themselves.  One of those odd syncronicities that I have run into quite a bit.  Curious, I looked up who feast day fell on my birthday, and found out that it was Sts. Joachim and Anne.  If you are unfamiliar with them, they are the traditional/legendary parents of Our Lady.  Interestingly enough, from my point of view at least, St. Anne is the patron saint of mothers.

Finally, today, I wanted to share with you my tattoo that I got a few weeks ago.  I wanted something that would be unique to myself, while honoring both my names and families.  With the help of Erin at The Electric Crayon, this is what I was able to come up with:

It is located on my right shoulder.  A couple of quick explanations.  I put it on my arm in tribute to the passage from the Song of Solomon “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave” (8:6).  While the narrator is talking about romantic love, I none the less connected it to love of my family as well.  The author is talking about the “tattoos” of the time, and their permanence, so to set oneself as a seal upon another’s heart was to make them permanently theirs, just as I belong permanently to my families.
Secondly is the letters themselves.  The big initials are the initials of my name, the ones seen everyday, by which I am known.  Inside those are inscribed the initials of the names given to me by my birthmother.  They are somewhat hidden, known to few, but still indelibly part of who I am.

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