Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Rehabilitating the St. Louis Jesuits

I'm tired of all the snarkiness about the St. Louis Jesuits and their music.

Oh, I know it's Marty Haugen who bears the brunt of the "we hate folk Mass music" folks, while I prefer Bob Dufford and Dan Schutte. And Marty Haugen is not one of the St. Louis Jesuits.

But dang it all, I like this music at Mass! It's not the only music I like, but I object to its being made an object of laughter and scorn. I'm mad as heck and I'm not going to take it anymore.

My very favorite kind of music, hands down, is folk music, specifically folk ballads. I count it a blessing that I was a teenager when folk music had its shining moment in the sun. When I was a freshman in high school, I won a radio at the Ursuline Fair at my school. It was my very own source of music, and I listened to it night and day. My sister Marguerite, who shared my room, got to listening to it too. And it was guitars, ballads, folk harmonies, all of that beautiful narrative song that poured out of my radio.

I think the real problem with all you sourpusses out there who mock these cool old men and their music is that you had their work pounded into your head week after week throughout the 70's, 80's and 90's with no chance to sing or play the sacred music of our western heritage. You had little martinet music ministry leaders who thought the Catholic world began and ended with Vatican II. But it's not the fault of the music that the wrong folks got hold of it and turned it into a monopoly.

The music itself is fine. Here's the lyrics of one of my favorites, Be Not Afraid by Bob Dufford. We played this song at the funeral Mass for my son Simon, and again for Eric. I picked it out. When your child dies, you get a real visceral taste for what it's like to stand before the power of hell with death at your side. There was no song that offered me the gift of tears like this one at times when my faith was strong but the world was dark and felt hopeless.

You all know the melody. Now really, isn't this a beautiful expression of a central paradox of our Christian faith? That God is present in extremis?

1. You shall cross the barren desert,
but you shall not die of thirst.
You shall wander far in safety
though you do not know the way.
You shall speak your words in foreign lands
and all will understand.
You shall see the face of God and live.

Be not afraid. I go before you always.
Come follow me, and I will give you rest.

2. If you pass through raging waters in the sea,
you shall not drown.
If you walk amid the burning flames,
you shall not be harmed.
If you stand before the pow'r of hell
and death is at your side,
know that I am with you through it all.


3. Blessed are your poor,
for the kingdom shall be theirs.
Blest are you that weep and mourn,
for one day you shall laugh.
And if wicked tongues insult and hate you
all because of me,
blessed, blessed are you!


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