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Encountering the Divine: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel Luke 24:35-48 by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

Sunday’s gospel (Luke 24:35-48) recounts an appearance of Christ to the disciples after the resurrection. Over the years, many people have wondered and asked, what exactly were these “appearances” like? What actually happened?

Whatever did happen, the experiences transformed a group of frightened individuals, broken apart and scattered by the death of their friend, into a vibrant faith-filled community; a community unafraid to face opposition and adversity.

Moreover, this “community” began getting a reputation for treating the most vulnerable members of society (widows, orphans, the sick, slaves, children and the unborn) with a dignity and compassion unheard of in Roman society at the time. (Yeah, people who fell into any of those six categories were especially vulnerable during the First century: Little or no protection and not much recourse to care.)

That got me thinking about the mission of the Church: To be unafraid to go out and care for all the categories of human beings that are vulnerable, prey to exploitation and labeled as ‘unimportant’ by society, the government or whatever the politically correct social mores and politics “du jour” might be. When this happens, inspired by the Spirit of Christ, the mission of the Church is fulfilled.

I love it when I see everyday folks caring for humans that would otherwise be voiceless or don’t get much consideration when state or federal budgets get drawn up; or certain groups that get ignored because the media doesn’t consider it “newsworthy.”  (Think of all the news hype and talk and chatter surrounding the former New England Patriot’s Aaron Hernandez murder trial. Now think of this: 3 women die every day in the U.S because of domestic violence. How much news coverage does that ever get?)

I guess I’m lucky (really, blessed!) to have spent 27 years of my life crossing paths on a daily basis with people who actually care for the humans who don’t always get cared for. For me, this is one of the most profoundly enriching of working in the Church. And, like anything else the experience is surprising: You sometimes find it in the Church where you don’t expect to; you find it lacking where you would have expected to find more of it…

I hope that everyone can cross similar paths with people, whatever your calling or vocation in life. Such experiences of bold compassion are life-giving. They can completely change your outlook on life and your vision of the world.

Having witnessed them, something of the “Divine” appeared and made its presence felt.

Copyright 2015 Steven Michael LaBaire

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First spring outing in the kayak: Who can identify these ducks??

Miraculously we hit 70 degrees on Sunday and out came the kayaks!

sylvia yule susan's kayak

cats watching the snowI live in central Massachusetts and not that long ago we were buried under over 4 feet of snow. Even though the front walkway, the deck and the back half of the driveway have been clear for a few weeks now, I still expect to walk out my door to huge snow mounds.

Finally, we are into the warm weather:  grass turning green, red buds on the maples, spring peepers singing at night and the robins greeting the dawn. And it’s actually becoming light at 5:45 am! My favorite season of the year.

The Blackstone and Quinsigamond rivers run through my hometown of  Grafton and water levels are high. Rich and I kayaked on Lake Ripple which has a dam and other smaller waterfalls:

The thrill of the day was this duck sighting:

These ducks were very accommodating; I was able to watch them for a long while. They even got out of the water and walked on a nearby lawn. Waddling around they looked comical, quite the contrast from their elegance in the water.

But I have yet to identify them! I am thinking the grey one with the tuft on the head is a female and either a Hooded or Common Merganser. I believe the second duck is a male Common Merganser as the head is actually dark green. There appears to be a yellow eye ring. No clue at all regarding the third duck who was totally black!

mystery ducks1 featured

If any of you out there know your ducks and can identify them, please leave a comment and let me know. Are they migrants passing through or native to central Massachusetts?

susan selfieThanks for your help! Whether or not I find out what they are, it was a wonderful day out on the water in early spring.

Addendum: Mystery solved. Someone from the The Great Backyard Bird Count Facebook group said they are domestic mallards. She wrote further, “The one with the puffy head is a crested mallard – that’s a genetic deformity that’s been bred into them. Note the different colors and patterns and long bodies, characteristics of domestic mallards. Hooded mergansers are short-bodied and compact, and all mergansers have very distinctive, saw-toothed bills.”

The snow does eventually melt away and things do get better!

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Exploring the rich symbolism of the Paschal (Easter) Candle

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

Exploring the rich symbolism of the Paschal (Easter) Candle

During the entire 50 days of the Easter Season, from Easter Sunday until Pentecost Sunday, the Easter (Paschal) candle stands prominently at the head of the center aisle, at the entrance to the sanctuary.

A sign

The Easter candle is a sign of the Risen Christ’s enduring presence in our midst and of our participation in his victory over death.

Details of the Easter Candle

You will notice that there is a cross on the Easter Candle. There are also five nails into which five grains of incense have been placed, While the cross represents the instrument of Christ’s death, the nails represent the wounds on his body, The candle, therefore, represents the Lord’s passing from death to life. The grains of incense represent Christ’s death which has been accepted by God as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice” (Ephesians 5:2). Furthermore, the book of Revelation says that incense represents “the prayers of the saints” which rise before God (Revelation 5:8)

Beginning and the End

from wikipedia

from wikipedia

Above and below the cross are the letters “Alpha” and “Omega” (see image). These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet respectively. In between these letters are numerals indicating the current year—2015. The juxtaposition of these numerals conveys that Christ is eternal, his love is undying, his victory is everlasting: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13)

The symbolism

At the conclusion of the Easter Season, after the last Mass of Pentecost Sunday on May 24, the Easter Candle is moved to a place next to the baptismal font where it will be lit at every baptism. It will also be lit and placed next to the casket at every funeral Mass. Hence it will remind us that in the water of Baptism we are called to share in Christ’s victory or sin and death by embracing a life of discipleship. With the death of every Christian we celebrate his or her passing from death to new life—in the pattern of Christ himself.

The final word

The Easter Candle silently, yet eloquently, expresses the story of our Easter faith. This “pillar of light” towering over us, reminds us that “God’s Grace is taller than us, bigger than us, greater than us.” The victory of Christ is the final word to the human story.

Copyright 2015 Steven Michael LaBaire

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From Kitten Cam to Granny Cam: The beauty of seniors

Picking up Peaches from Purrfect Pals (from The Critter Room)

Picking up Peaches from Purrfect Pals (from The Critter Room)

Foster Dad John has a new foster—meet Peaches Chutney. She is not a kitten but a beautiful elder calico. At thirteen she (along with four other older cats) was surrendered to a shelter. All five cats have hyperthyroidism, a common condition for older cats that requires treatment.

Lady Peaches Chutney (from The Critter Room)

Lady Peaches Chutney (from The Critter Room)

Adopted by a community

Foster Dad John’s shelter, Purrfect Pals, rescued these five seniors from being euthanized as the other shelter could no longer keep them. Members of the Kitten Cam community raised over three thousand dollars in just a few days to secure medical treatment for these cats.

And now Peaches Chutney (aka “Granny”) has won the kitty jackpot being placed in the home of Foster Dad John. John has a special affection for seniors as several of his own cats fit into this category.

 As you can see, cat and human have fallen in love:

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Do cats really sleep 16 hours per day?

It’s funny watching the chat that goes along with the live Granny cam: “O! She moved.” “Cute meow!” Obviously not a lot of action from a senior. Cats are reported to sleep some sixteen hours a day. We’re getting a first hand look with Lady Peaches.

Growing mellow with age

me-with-noah1Peaches is a cat that I instantly want to scoop up into my arms. Senior cats can be so loving and affectionate. I remember my Noah, standoffish and grouchy most of his life until he hit fifteen; then he turned into a total love. Bacci was a senior I adopted from my late mother’s nursing home and I lost my heart to him the day he tapped me on the arm with his giant mitten paw.

Old is good.

Calling for John

Calling for John

And I love how Foster Dad John’s “Granny cam” brings that point home. This Granny cam is such a wonderful way to promote the idea of adopting senior pets. They have a lot of love to give and want all the love you can give in return.

Old is scary.

Old is good but old is also scary. You take risks getting attached to seniors. They have health problems. They suffer and sometimes they get crabby because they hurt. And they pass away and break the heart you gave so freely to them.

Taking a chance with the heart

me and jackieElderly cats. Elderly people. My best friend just turned eighty and I am fifty-nine. Jackie is deep, gentle, loving, funny and empathetic. I can’t imagine my life without her but I know that time will be coming sooner rather than later. I know it’s risky to give my heart away so totally to her but I can’t help it. It’s worth my heart being busted to pieces just so I can be a part of Jackie’s life, even for a short time.

John and Peaches. Me and Jackie.

Yeah. Old is good.

Check out the Granny Cam on Livestream and see Peaches in action (though likely she will be sleeping :-)).

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When fear stares you in the face, what do you do?

susan singingA month ago while attending mass we sang a song I had not heard in years. It triggered a happy memory; in my mind’s eye I was back in my cantor’s place, playing that song on my guitar, singing, and leading the congregation.

It had been a long time since I played that song. It had also been over five years since I had enjoyed a happy memory of cantoring.

The next phase of healing

A while back I wrote about losing my singing voice and then having it restored when my throat was blessed on the Feast of St. Blaise (see previous posts). I described how that healing was more than physical—that there was an emotional healing as well. That healing unfolded over time; I consider it now complete with that pleasant memory of playing and singing as a cantor.

It would prove to be the prelude to the psychological portion of the healing yet to come: how to deal with the fear of performing in public again, especially when it was in public that my voice would fail me.

Never again

Five years ago I made a pledge—that I would never again be controlled by fear. I made a conscious decision to accept what I deemed as invitations from God, even when those invitations aroused dread within.

The challenge

Two weeks ago I received such an invitation, one that inspired so much fear that it felt oppressive. After that sweet memory of cantoring, God was issuing me an invitation—to go public again with my singing.

Sounds simple enough. But to me, cantoring was that was the proverbial monster in the closet. It was as a cantor that I suffered mortification as my voice failed in spectacular fashion in front of a full church. Not once, but several times.

Fear was staring me in the face. Sitting on my shoulders, leaning on me, unrelenting until I decided how I would respond.

My response? “I’ll think about it.”

I kicked the can down the road. I told God I would “pray on it” when I knew full well I was supposed to accept that invitation.

God then responded with sweet mercy that I did not deserve. It came through that interview with The Priests (see previous post). In listening to them I was struck as they described how they reflect on the lives of their parishioners while they sing. They don’t think  about performance techniques. They don’t worry about their voices. They aren’t swept up in their fame.

They are thinking about people like you and me.

That gave me great pause. It was time to get over myself and accept God’s invitation to cantor for my parish. I knew then I would have to run straight into my fear.

Taking the plunge

photo by Ellen Linn

photo by Ellen Linn

So, I offered to sing at the 9am mass on Easter morning. Fortunately I forgot that it was the children’s mass and that the church would be packed to the rafters. I forgot too how difficult it can be to get parking and how little time there is between the masses on Easter to set up the equipment and get ready.

Remembering

I didn’t remember until the day before and then I was really afraid! I could feel fear rising up inside of me, paying no heed to my mind which said simply, “Practice, prepare and you will do just fine. Keep your head about you and own the moment.”

I knew in my mind I could do it. But the fear raged on nonetheless.

I broke out in a cold sweat and felt pressure on the chest. Fear pressed down to my gut.

I knew I had to run headlong into it. I called on St. Paul to come with me. He’s good at dealing with fear. And he has always come quickly to my side when I needed bolstering.

Time to face the music

I stood in front of the packed church, guitar strapped over my shoulder. It was ten minutes before mass and I wanted to sing to the people to help them get into the mood. It would also help me to work out my fear.

Some things you never forget

As I started playing and singing, the song flowed out of me as if I had never stopped cantoring. The mass began and I led the people in the opening hymn; the church filled up with voices singing “Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!”

And at that moment I understood.

This is what it means to be living in the present moment. This is how you conquer fear.

You own that moment. You claim that moment. You call it out and hand it over to God and you stay rooted in that moment.

And fear cannot harm you.

Oh, you will feel afraid! That’s a given. But feelings cannot control you if you stay rooted in the moment. This where God can best help you because he is always in the moment. Time has no meaning for him.

Be not afraid.

St. John Paul II was famous for that expression. But I don’t believe he meant that we were never to experience fear.

I understand now that “Be not afraid” means fear will not conquer. It will come and it will go, and you will still be left standing if you call out that fear and give it over to the One who knows no fear.

The monster in the closet shrinks perceptibly when you name it, claim it and push through it with the Lord at your side.

And that’s what happened on Easter morning. The longer I sang, the more fear retreated. Fear is a coward when confronted.

Fear will try to come back each time I sing. But it will never again control me.

What has caused you fear and how did you overcome it? Maybe like the woman in the picture we just do it one step at a time, knowing our Friend is at our side.

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An interview with The Priests at St. John’s Food Pantry: International singing stars with the hearts of servants

Published in the April 3rd edition of The Catholic Free Press.

****************************************************************

WORCESTER–March 27, 2015.

Father Eugene O'Hagan and younger brother Father Martin serve a hot breakfast to hungry patrons.

Father Eugene O’Hagan and younger brother Father Martin serve a hot breakfast to hungry patrons.

On a rainy Friday morning …

It was not your typical Friday at St. John’s Food Pantry in Worcester. As some five hundred of the city’s poor streamed in for a hot meal, three new faces greeted them. These men radiated warmth and kindness as they dished up generous portions of scrambled eggs with ham, Belgian waffles, and various meats and vegetables to grateful patrons.

Surprise guests

Most could not have guessed that they were being served by world famous singing stars The Priests. That very night the critically acclaimed group would give a concert at the Hanover Theater to a near capacity crowd.

Concrete results from the concert

Frank Carroll arranged for the performance to raise funds for the food pantry. He invited Fathers Eugene and Martin O’Hagan and David Delargy, all from Northern Ireland, to serve breakfast at the pantry to give them a full picture of the good their concert would bring to the poor of Worcester. “I wanted to show them exactly where the funds were going,” he said.

“An eye opener …”

from L to R: Father David Delargy, Frank Carroll, Father Eugene O'Hagan, Bill Riley, Father Martin O'Hagan

from L to R: Father David Delargy, Frank Carroll, Father Eugene O’Hagan, Bill Riley, Father Martin O’Hagan

Father Martin writes of his impressions in his tour blog at thepriests.org: “The centre caters for so many people who are unemployed, homeless, suffering from mental problems and more besides. It is an oasis of peace and connection … We had the great invitation from Frank Carroll to visit the scheme and it was so humbling: the graciousness of all and the gratitude of those who came to be looked after … I will always carry this experience: We are not what we have! This was indeed an eye opener …”

A well-oiled machine serving the needy

The Priests were given a full tour of the facility by manager Bill Riley who explained that some 2000 people are serviced each week through the twice weekly hot meals and foodstuffs given to families. Father Eugene, Father Martin and Father David chatted with many of the volunteers including students from Holy Name High School. Some of the students were on exchange from China.

Persistence pays!

According to Father Martin, Mr. Carroll had worked for three years to arrange for The Priests to perform.

Winner Emily Suuberg

Winner Emily Suuberg

“The whole evening was electric …”

The concert that night was a rousing success. Soprano Emily Suuberg from St. Mary’s in Shrewsbury who had won the competition to sing with The Priests “sang very well indeed and with a wonderful stage presence” according to Father Martin.

He went on to write that “The concert was met with great enthusiasm and the audience connected with us immediately … The whole evening was electric … the evening finished with The Irish Blessing and the audience loved every moment of it …we left the stage very uplifted.”

A tribute to “The Sound of Music”

One of the hallmarks of their U.S. tour has been in paying tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of the movie “The Sound of Music.” Each priest remarked how much the musical had meant to them during their childhood. Father David shared that “We are going to sing “Edelweiss” and we’re going to invite audience participation, get them to join in as well, have a ‘sing-a-long’ moment.” Father Martin had been most impressed with Lady Gaga’s tribute to the musical and commented that “she was amazing. We got to see Lady Gaga in a slightly different light.”

Juggling act

Just how do international singing stars who are also full-time parish priests balance everything? Father Martin grew thoughtful in his response: “It is a bit of a juggling act to be very honest, yes, but we are away for certain periods of time during the year; we’re away for two weeks at this particular point. We do have other concerts throughout the year but they’re in spikes. We’re able to go to the venues, sing and return fairly quickly. So we’re there in the parish most of the time to be very honest with you. So it’s about juggling three separate diaries from three very different parishes. Eugene is also under the radar of the bishop. It’s trying to put all that together; we strike the balance and it works pretty efficiently.”

Much to juggle!

Father Eugene among other things is a canon lawyer, judicial vicar and Chancellor of the Diocese of Down and Connor. He is also the parish administrator of three different churches.

Father Martin has been a Diocesan Advisor in Religious Education for thirteen years and is currently the parish priest at three various churches.

Father David has spent seven years as a teacher of Religious Education and German at Our Lady and St Patrick’s College, Belfast, and also was Chaplain to the University of Ulster at Jordanstown. He also is the parish priest for three churches.

Listen to the entire interview with tidbits not included in this post:

Remaining grounded

All fervently believe that parish life keeps them grounded. There is no time to be carried away by fame and glory when there are so many people who need their attention.

Thinking of parishioners as they sing

It is, in fact those very people that the singers reflect upon as they perform. “All our experiences as priests, whatever they may be, the pastoral experiences or the personal experiences with people can also be very much woven into the music,” said Father Martin. “So as you’re singing you’re actually thinking about people, you’re thinking about contacts, you’re thinking about a particular situation that you were involved with, or a time of vulnerability in someone’s life or a high point in their life. So that’s another aspect in terms of the music: you weave people and circumstances into it and it’s wonderful.”

Feeding on the music

Music feeds them spiritually. “I think with music, when you marry the music with the words of the psalms, when you sing songs like ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Panis Angelicus’, it takes the expression to another level; you end up expressing the core of yourself which you can’t do with the spoken word,” said Father David. “We’re fortunate with the gift of music and being able to sing; it brings it to another place and you can’t but be affected by that, singing the words. It’s a beautiful marriage of the words, our faith and the music and it certainly helps your spiritual life.”

Heart to heart

The Priests

The Priests

“We all had the same singing teacher, Frank Capper, and he used to say, ‘What comes from the heart goes to the heart,’ said Father David. “You really have to feel it yourself before you can communicate it to others and that’s what we really try to do.”

There is no doubt that their beautiful messages of love, faith and service resonated with the audience at the Hanover, along with the patrons of St. John’s Food Pantry.

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Article and photos copyright 2015 Susan W. Bailey

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“Late have I loved you …” St. Augustine’s dive below the surface

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

from The Confessions of Saint Augustine

This prayer of St. Augustine reminded me that it’s not enough to ride on the surface of life.

It’s like how I feel when I go kayaking. I take in the scenery, enjoy the splashing of the water as I paddle, and drag my hand through the water to cool off. I always have such a sense of well-being when I go kayaking.

It’s all wonderful but I realize I am just an observer.

640 stream

What if I became more a part of things?

Surrounded by the warm, clear water and subjected to the heat of the sun, the urge to go swimming takes over and I jump in. All those wonderful feelings of peace and contentment are magnified when I immerse myself in the cool water.

It takes some effort to enter the water. Maybe it will be cold. Painfully cold. I won’t know what the bottom will feel like. Will it be squishy with plants and mud? Will there be rocks to hurt my feet? Maybe a fish will bite my toes!

I can’t see all the way to the bottom so I have to go on faith.

Is it worth the effort? I think so. It’s always worth it in the end.

Deciding to go below the surface in our lives is a risk too.

We have no idea what we will find. We have to trust in Something beyond ourselves leading us into the unknown.

For St. Augustine, going beneath the surface of his life turned out to be a life-changing experience. He finally heard the invitation. And it was so compelling that he took the risk and dove in.

We can gather from the words of his prayer that it was well worth the risk. It was the first of many dives into a wonderful unknown for this saint.

Are you being invited?

Perhaps this is the invitation you are hearing this Lent, to stop being a bystander and become part of the action. We can sit in our boats and ride on the surface or we can take a chance on jumping into the water.

St. Augustine makes it sound quite inviting to me. How about you?

Here’s a beautiful song by the St. Louis Jesuits based on the prayer of St. Augustine:

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Reader survey–Let’s make Be as One a better blog for you!

reader survey graphic

I want this blog to be about you and the best way to do that is to find out a few things:

  1. Does this blog provide content you are interested in or that you find helpful?
  2. What would you like to see on this blog?
  3. Is it clear to you just what Be as One is all about?

If you could take just a few minutes to answer 10 simple questions, it would help me greatly in making this blog more interesting and meaningful for you.

Thanks in advance for taking the time! Susan

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