Mary Follows Me Into 2009

Happy New Year!  My first blogpost of 2009.  I am finally coming out of the fatigue I seem to get the last two weeks of the year.  It is a blur of Christmas, my birthday, and then the New Year arrives.  I seem to celebrate my birthday for an entire week.  I always celebrate New Year’s Eve by attending our Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God.  On New Year’s Day, I join with friends to celebrate the birthday of a friend whose birthday is January 1st.  This year on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, I watched the Vespers and Solemnity of Mary Mother of God from St. Peter’s on EWTN. Mostly because my Deacon friend said he was to be in the choir on Wednesday and serving communion on Thursday.  I may have seen him once.  I came closer to recognizing some of the security officers — from when I attended his deacon ordination in October.  I find that I do not make New Year resolutions — my SFO fraternity sort of does that for me.

In January, at our first SFO meeting of the year, we draw a name to pray for, a Franciscan saint to journey with, and a verse from scripture, or the Rule for the year.  The way this works is a person draws a name and that becomes the person to pray for all year.  Then, the person draws the saint and verse for the person whom they will pray for — make sense?  You do not draw your own saint or verse.  We begin this process by praying over the three baskets.  The person who just got their saint and verse then draws the next name. 

If you have been following my previous articles, it should not surprise you that I received this to follow all year–

“The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for [the Virgin Mary] by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.” — The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, 9

If there are two things that characterize 2008 for me, it is first a re-commitment to praying the daily office, well, daily; and secondly, a new devotion to the rosary.  The commitment to the liturgy of the hours has been accomplished simply by not turning on the TV when I first wake up and not turning it on when I first walk in the door from work.  I then discovered I could add Night Prayer.   I add my own petitions before praying the Our Father.  I am praying for people now in ways I never did before – and praying for them every day — twice a day.

The rosary — I had only been a random prayer of the rosary.  Various encounters had me rethinking this early last year.  My SFO fraternity decided to add a Franciscan Crown rosary apostolate.  Every Wednesday after our 7PM Mass, a few of us meet in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel to pray the Crown.  We’ve been doing this every week for several months now.  The glorious thing is that it got me back to attending weekly Wednesday night Mass and I’m lectoring again.  [I took a long ministry break while I was finishing my college degree – graduated May 2006 – partly why I got out of the habit of praying the office – all the textbook reading and paper writing]  When I was in Rome in October, I prayed the Crown on Wednesday night — well — because it is what I do now.  While in Rome, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was celebrated.  In the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, I prayed a rosary where they had set up a special place for veneration of a statue of Our Lady of the Rosary.

 

Our Lady of the Rosary - Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva

Our Lady of the Rosary - Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva

 

In December, I really celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  On Fridays, I go to Holy Trinity, a nearby parish that has adoration every Friday and Mass every week night at 7PM.  On that Friday, it was a Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe.  There were some bilingual parts — but certainly weighted toward more Spanish.  This is what I love about the Catholic Mass — it didn’t matter.  I pick up words here and there and celebrate anyway.  I was with a few of my SFO friends.  I followed the procession around their parking lot and stayed for the pageant — the dramatization of Juan Diego and his visit to the bishop regarding Mary.  This was all Spanish — again — it didn’t matter.  I can follow the story.  At my parish on Sunday, it was decided to perform the drama in English at all the English Masses that weekend.  What a treat!   I bought a small Our Lady of Guadalupe statue at the Abbey Store yesterday.

Throughout the year, I also used Praying the Rosary with the Daughters of Paul in my car to pray the rosary every morning in my commute to work. 

What about my saint for the year?  I have St. Angela Merici 1470-1540 — a Third Order Franciscan whose feast day is January 27th.  I’ll post about her later this month. 

Praying that you have a wonderful and blessed 2009.

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What Mary Did You Know Means to Me

This morning our offertory hymn was “Mary, Did You Know?”.   It is also the meditation song for the Joyful Mysteries on my Praying the Rosary with the Daughters of St. Paul CD.  I love this song and I enjoy hearing it any time of the year.  It is a beautiful hymn that has become a Christmas standard.  While the song puts me in a right frame of reflection for Christmas, it also evokes memories of Christmas past — memories of my Baptist past.   You see, I’ve met the author of this song on two or three occasions — most recently this past January at his concert at a nearby Baptist church.

The author of the lyrics of “Mary, Did You Know?”,  is Mark Lowry who is foremost a Christian Comedian of Southern Baptist upbringing.   I was introduced to his music and comedy while he was a member of the Gaither Vocal Band.  The Gaither name was revered in my home growing up.  My father was in a Southern Gospel quartet that toured around Georgia and the Southeast.  Bill and Gloria Gaither have written an amazing amount of music — many of which my dad’s quartet performed.  We were in a different church every Saturday night and back at our home church on Sunday morning.  I could say we were traveling around in a music ministry that attempted to sing people to heaven.  It was like this for me from about the age of 8 to 13 years old. 

As a young adult, I taught the teens in Sunday School which included my sister and her friends.  I always tried to encourage them in listening to contemporary Christian music rather than secular rock music.  In the Summers, late 80’s – early 90’s, I took them to Atlanta Fest — I remember the extremely early days of D.C. Talk, 4Him, Steven Curtis Chapman, Carmen — names that many of my readers may scratch their heads.  On New Year’s Eve, I would take them to Jubilate’ at the Omni Arena.  It was sponsored by Bill and Gloria Gaither with a line up of Christian performers that would ring us into the New Year.  The Vocal Band, with Mark Lowry, performed.  There was the first year where I saw Mark and chased him down for his autograph.  I treasured the ink pen he used for some time afterwards.  I joined his fan club.  Another year, I dragged some of my teens out to see him at a church in Powder Springs.  I waited in line to greet him, shake his hand, and say how his ministry blessed me.  He is a mix of comedic stories of his hyperactive childhood and very thoughtfully crafted parables that get across the message of Jesus.  He can sing too which is how he was invited to be a Gaither Vocal Band member.

All this funny business and he comes out with “Mary, Did You Know?” in 1991.  It quickly grew in popularity.   In 1998, it came out in a gift book format for Christmas — my first Christmas as a Candidate in the Catechumenate to become Catholic.  The book included additional readings and reflections in addition to the lyrics.  It enhanced my deepening discoveries of Mary and her role in salvation history.  Mark has stated in interviews that the lyrics began as a list of questions he would like to ask Mary and it was part of an Advent pageant script.  The words stuck with him until it eventually became a song.   

So, this past January I learned that Mark would be performing literally a few miles from my home.  I got tickets for me, my sister, and my nephew — like old times.  This is the first time in many years that I’ve been to a concert like this.  My nephew thought he was hilarious.  I was one of two Catholics there.  I know this because he always does a hand raising attendance for a litany of church affiliations.  I worshiped as a Baptist for 33 years and next April is my 10th anniversary in the Catholic Church.  It is the first time I’ve felt a minority complex in a way that nearly took my breath away.  What was once home to me is no longer the same.  I felt like a stranger.  In comic form, the Catholics are asked to say hello to Mary and thank her for this song since Baptists can’t talk to Mary.  It was not said in any irreverent way at all.  He also pokes fun at various Protestant demoninations – as I can attest – we didn’t understand fully each other’s practices either.  He causes us to laugh at our differences in some respects.  It is just his comment really honed for me how different my Christian life has become.  It saddened me to think how much many Christians are missing.  As a Catholic, I have gained so much spiritually in the last 9 1/2 years.  I can’t imagine my life had I not followed the Holy Spirit and the guidance of a trusted friend.  I’m in a church that doesn’t take Mary out only in the creche and put her away after Christmas — maybe mention her at the foot of the cross at Easter.  A son has two parents year round.  If you want to know about the son, just ask his mother.  I was browsing around the Family Christian Store for Christmas gifts and noticed a book or two on praying the rosary for non-Catholics.   

I’ve grown from my childhood experiences to understand that you don’t really sing people into heaven.  But, I firmly believe the Holy Spirit can float like a dove in the words of a great Gospel song — like the whisper of a feather.  They are sermons set to music meant to edify and to draw us ever closer to the truths that God wants us to understand.  I thought long and hard about saying some of the things I did in this article but it is what is on my heart.  Some of these thoughts have been swirling around in my head all year.  I will always sing this song and it will always make me cry.  I’ll always have fond memories of the one who wrote it.

Here for you is “Mary, Did You Know?”, performed by the man who wrote it.

I just discovered this video.  Mark gave a long 9 minute talk on Mary and Jesus right before singing “Mary, Did You Know?”  It is a wonderful sample of how Mark weaves humor with serious spiritual concepts.  You will enjoy this.  You will understand how he came about with the lyrics for this song.  This video ends right before he begins to sing the song.

High School Literature, “Jane Eyre”, & My First Rosary

I had the joy of being slotted into Honors’ English in High School.  I loved everything about reading and writing — not so much the studies of grammar and form — but literature, poetry, mythology and the likes.  The teacher assigned to the ninth and eleventh grade classes had a propensity for drama.  I don’t remember if this occurred in the ninth or eleventh grade because the same teacher taught both.  During the course of reading Jane Eyre, the teacher split us in groups of four or five students.  We were assigned the task of selecting a scene from the book and bringing it to life for the class.  My group chose the deathbed scene of Jane’s Aunt Reed.  Jane gathered with her cousins Georgiana and Eliza at Mrs. Reed’s bedside.  I either naturally gravitated toward, or was unanimously selected to portray Eliza Reed.  Eliza was known to keep her head in the book of Common Prayer and to pray on beads.  Eliza’s ultimate end was life in a convent.  It was decided I should somehow look like an aspiring nun.  A Catholic in my group said that I couldn’t be a nun without a rosary.  She would bring me a rosary.

I possessed the rosary all of maybe a week.  The beads were ebony on a silver chain.  We were given a few days before having to present our little act.  I asked my friend about the beads and how they were used.  I was told the single bead was to pray “Our Father” and the sets of ten were to pray ten “Hail Mary’s.”  I had no clue those were the brief names of lengthy prayers.  At home alone with the rosary, I simply said, “Our Father,” followed by, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, etc.”  Once I was introduced to the full rosary during RCIA, I had a good laugh over this recollection from my past.  

Eliza was an interesting character.  Below is an excerpt from Chapter 22.  It is the chapter following Mrs. Reed’s death.  Jane is assisting her cousins in closing the home.  It is the first time I’d read this passage since I, “embraced the tenets of Rome.”  I only now realize that Eliza was not yet a Catholic in the scene I’d portrayed.  She was discerning.

At last I saw Georgiana off; but now it was Eliza’s turn to request
me to stay another week.  Her plans required all her time and
attention, she said; she was about to depart for some unknown
bourne; and all day long she stayed in her own room, her door bolted
within, filling trunks, emptying drawers, burning papers, and
holding no communication with any one.  She wished me to look after
the house, to see callers, and answer notes of condolence.

One morning she told me I was at liberty.  “And,” she added, “I am
obliged to you for your valuable services and discreet conduct!
There is some difference between living with such an one as you and
with Georgiana:  you perform your own part in life and burden no
one.  To-morrow,” she continued, “I set out for the Continent.  I
shall take up my abode in a religious house near Lisle–a nunnery
you would call it; there I shall be quiet and unmolested.  I shall
devote myself for a time to the examination of the Roman Catholic
dogmas, and to a careful study of the workings of their system:  if
I find it to be, as I half suspect it is, the one best calculated to
ensure the doing of all things decently and in order, I shall
embrace the tenets of Rome and probably take the veil.”

I neither expressed surprise at this resolution nor attempted to
dissuade her from it.  “The vocation will fit you to a hair,” I
thought:  “much good may it do you!”

When we parted, she said:  “Good-bye, cousin Jane Eyre; I wish you
well:  you have some sense.”

I then returned:  “You are not without sense, cousin Eliza; but what
you have, I suppose, in another year will be walled up alive in a
French convent.  However, it is not my business, and so it suits
you, I don’t much care.”

“You are in the right,” said she; and with these words we each went
our separate way.  As I shall not have occasion to refer either to
her or her sister again, I may as well mention here, that Georgiana
made an advantageous match with a wealthy worn-out man of fashion,
and that Eliza actually took the veil, and is at this day superior
of the convent where she passed the period of her novitiate, and
which she endowed with her fortune.

Jane Eyre, Ch 22