“Go to Father Check – tell him I sent you. St. John Fisher Seminary – in Stamford. You know St. John Fisher Seminary?”
I extend my arms, palms upward, mock-exasperated: “Father, I teach there.”
Father laughs warmly. “That’s not a problem, not a problem. They won’t reject you as a seminarian just for that!”
Of course, Father is just teasing me. I think.
Sacred Beauty is leading a Lenten parish mission based on the Stations of the Cross, Sunday afternoons at Holy Family in Fairfield. It’s a first for our ministry; we’ve been leading public Holy Hours since 2016, and we did something similar in the Diocese of Brooklyn last year, but this is our first mission in the Diocese of Bridgeport. We feel it’s what we should be doing; Bishop Frank told us to fan out more into the diocese, and we’ve consulted with our spiritual director and our chaplain. And it’s been blessed – with lovingly curated music and meditations and Lenten Sunday-appropriate home baking on our part, and with prayer and joy and warmth and welcome on the part of the parish and its pastor, Father Norm, who has presided at Eucharistic Adoration and offered Benediction every week we have been there.
Something his parishioners know well, though one might miss it on the altar: Father Norm is one of the funniest people you will ever meet. Our organizational sessions have been filled with laughter; my Sacred Beauty ministry partner and I leave every meeting with lighter hearts and sorer ribs. It’s not a small gift – when every day has, on top of all the prayers, works, joys and sufferings which the old Morning Offering promised, stresses and frustrations aplenty. Father Norm sees – and experiences – them all, in brilliant color, alongside a gift for finding (and mining) their many rich veins of incongruity and absurdity. But for now, he’s sitting, eyes closed, next to the deacon in the front pew, as we continue our long course through the passion and death of the Lord.
It’s not your average Stations of the Cross; for the most part, we’ve been praying two or three stations a week – or even just one, as in our meditations on the Crucifixion last Sunday. This allows for anything from fifteen minutes to an hour of readings, prayer and song to be devoted to each station.
And what material! Pope Emeritus Benedict repeatedly told of how the best testimony for our faith is the beauty of our art and the lives of our saints. Week by week, my associate in Sacred Beauty has meticulously chosen and judiciously edited works from Fathers and Doctors of the Church, popes and theologians, men and women – works of aching devotional piety, of profound mysticism, of high theological intensity. Each and all tell of the mercy, the generosity, the inexpressible love of God – and do so in authorial voices so individual and so authentic as to cry out: This person knows God.
As for music, we’ve brought chant, art music and conventional hymns, contemporary Christian praise and worship and early American shape-tone songs; we’ve even brought a couple of original pieces of our own. As part of our prayer on the Fourth Station, we sang Wayfaring Stranger – a song from the American Great Revival of the 1830’s. As we learned, Emmylou Harris recorded a version some years ago; Father Norm was humming it through most of the reception.
While we invest many hours – on some level, the whole week – into preparation for each Sunday, we place no great stock in our own role in this. The words are holy, and so are the saints who wrote them; we are definitely work in progress. Perhaps the music, for all that we prepare and practice, might be performed with more precision or professionalism by others, but we sing with all the musical gift and love and prayer at our disposal. If it pleases God and brings us and others with whom we pray closer to Him, that is more than enough for us.
This week, a friend from our past ministry upstate has come to pray with us at Holy Family. Father Norm is giving him the grand tour – the history of the parish, a walk around the campus. As we all clear tables and pack up boxes together at the end of another blessed afternoon of work and prayer, I hear Father Norm calling after him:
“Father Check. C-H-E-C-K. St. John Fisher Seminary. Tell him I told you to give him a call, you hear?”
Paul Chu is co-founder of Sacred Beauty, an approved Private Association of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport, dedicated to Eucharistic contemplation and to artistic and intellectual creativity reflecting the beauty and holiness of God.