Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11/11: Thoughts & Reflections

Thoughts & Reflections
I just got back from the Freshman Welcoming Mass at Bishop Guertin High School.  At 9 AM!  Nice and early like in the old days, eh?  The purpose of blessing the new year for our new students was somewhat super-ceded by our school’s deep connection to the tragedy.  Brother Mark opened with remarks recalling how he was going in to a meeting in New York City that day, but they stopped the subways and had them go back and get out at Brooklyn.  He met and walked with several total strangers, stangers sharing a deep solidarity.

The celebrant, Brother Paul, spoke at length about the Ogonowski girls.  Their father was the pilot of the first plane and two of the girls were attending our school at the time; one more daughter came through the school later.  Brother Paul had some marvelous very recent quotes from the girls that show how well they have coped with this.  Their father was most remarkable for being a devout man who put his faith in action.  His contributions made the building of his parish in Dracut possible.  He gave land to victims of the Cambodian genocide.  He sacrificed to send his girls to a place like Bishop Guertin High School.  Their recent quotes spoke glowingly of what their father meant to them, how close he feels to them on their farm, and how Bishop Guertin gave them a good foundation to support them in the bad times.
        Caroline with a picture of her dad       John Ogonowski on the family farm

The morning of September 11, 2001, I was teaching New Testament to some Sophomores, when one of the teachers yelled over to turn the TV on.  We watched in horror as the second plane came in.  Eventually, the administration asked us to turn all TV’s off.  It turned out they had a very good reason.  I went out in the hallway during the next period and happened to be there as they told the girls about their father.  It was awful pain.  I hope I never hear or see anything like that again.  Nobody should.  We later found out several more direct and indirect connections between Bishop Guertin and the tragedy.  We were hit hard.  Monday we are going to stop several times to pray and think about this.
Our Living Waters alumnus, Chuck Trella, also has quite a connection to this.  He really shouldn’t be alive.  He was working for the company in the World Trade Center that was hit hardest by the destruction.  Chuck’s car strangely didn’t work that day, so he car pooled. Consequently, he was late enough to avoid the crash, but he lost friends, of course.  He has lived to see his wonderful family grow and thrive.
I just watched the “Flight 93” movie again last night.  God’s fingerprints of grace and redemption in a terrible situation were all over so many actions of that day.  The fact that so many on that flight were able to act so selflessly, not out of bitterness or revenge, but out of true love for others, is comforting.  Here is an excerpt from the Newsweek article about Todd Beamer:
Beamer…told [GTE} supervisor Lisa Jefferson about the hijacking and that the passengers were planning to jump the terrorists. And then he asked her to pray with him…He began to recite the [Lord’s Prayer], and Jefferson joined him: ‘Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.’ ” As they finished, Beamer added, “JESUS, HELP ME!”… And then, Beamer and his fellow passengers prayed a prayer that has comforted millions down through the centuries… in a time of great anguish: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ And then the famous last words, uttered naturally off of his confidence in his preceding (and unreported by the media) plea: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll!”
We prayed the Our Father together at Mass today with the same determination to do an excellent job this day and this year.  If life is worth dying for, it’s worth living for, too.  Beamer’s advice is just as poignant and urgent this September 11th as it was on that one.  Let’s roll!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Catholic Music Spotlight – Living Waters

Catholic music seems to come in all shapes and sizes these days. A group like Living Waters shows the staying power of the art form — this amazing group has been playing together, creating beautiful music for God, for over thirty years. I’m pleased to share my recent conversation with Mark Lajoie of Living Waters and hope you’ll check out their great music today.
Q: Please introduce yourself and your family to our readers.
We are Living Waters, a Catholic music group that has also been a faith family for 35 years.  LW started as a house music ministry group at a retreat center in MA in 1976. In imitation of Lighthouse in Ann Arbor it expanded to a full production with dance, drama, lighting and sound production. Travelling in our bus we played hundreds of concerts in at least 8 states, including Yankee Stadium, the World Marriage Encounter Convention, Hartford Civic Center and more. Many people came and went, but the basic band has been what we list on our ReverbNation site. We did many styles of music and venues, including liturgies, conferences and Teen Retreats, but as time went on, a lot of our music were original compositions. Many of us got married within the group and we settled, had kids and continue to meet and pray together. Actual performance has been rare lately, but we are working on preserving our original music and possibly recording & performing more soon. (We have now achieved our long-term goal of a digital album release, “Refresh”, on Amazon mp3 and more.)
Q: How did you get your start in music and specifically in Catholic music?
Personally, I have quite a conversion story.  I tell much of it in blog entries on my personal blog and on the band blog. Basically, as a teenager, I had reached a nadir of despair from the neglect of an alcoholic father and the resulting poverty. In 1971, I grabbed onto the guitar as a way to express myself.  In 1973, I had my conversion experience at a retreat house in Maine through the Charismatic Renewal.  Several amazing signs or miracles occurred to confirm my faith, probably because I was so broken and needed the special help so much.  There I met many of the friends who would eventually become my band mates.  Many of us moved to a retreat house in Massachusetts and met the rest of the band there. Through their love, friendship and prayer I revived and began to use my guitar and natural talents to write inspired songs.

Q: What inspires your music and how would you describe it to readers?
I am the main songwriter, although our keyboard player, Mike McBride has also written some of our most notable songs. Most of my songs simply ‘come’ in a rush of inspiration.  I truly believe they are something like what Paul calls “inspired songs”.  I can feel the Hearts of Jesus and Mary aching to reach others and touch them deep within.  My wife and I were praying for the great John Paul II, and “Peter the Rock” flowed out.  We sent it to the Pope through Ambassador Ray Flynn; he accepted it and sent me an Apostolic Blessing.
Q: How does your secondary career as a teacher fuel your vocation as a musician?
I teach Religion to Freshmen in a Catholic school, specifically, Basic Catholicism and Old Testament.  There are many opportunities where I am able to use our music.  For instance, when I explain the Papacy and primacy, “Peter the Rock” serves as a perfect Bible study to explain the formation of our Tradition.  Recently, this Lent, I played “I See His Face” when we did the Veronica Station of the Cross.  They really love it and respond and I can see some of them coming alive inside in heart and mind.
Q: What are some of your musical influences, both Catholic and secular? Who are your favorite musicians?
Early on?  The BEATLES, by far.  Also, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Byrds and later, U2 had a massive influence on all of us.  Our guitar player loved Rush, The Who and I liked Yes.  I also loved Handel’s Messiah and other classical music (and you can hear that in my “Apostles Creed”).  However, in the 80’s, it was CHRISTIAN ROCK that I fell in love with, especially, The Second Chapter of Acts, Petra, Servant and groups like that.
Q: How can Catholic families support and encourage Catholic recording artists?
I think we have a rare, priceless opportunity for a Catholic band.  We are climbing on the ReverbNation Christian charts and are now one of SEVEN “Featured” Christian artists.  There are several things people can do to raise the profile of Living Waters (and other Catholic bands) and spread our music:
-          Buy music on itunes, amazon mp3 or other sites; review the music
-          Request songs on Catholic Jukebox
-          Become a fan on ReverbNation
-          Press the “Like” button on our FaceBook Band Page
-          Add us on your MySpace Profile
I would also recommend other Catholic rock bands like Katholicus or bands on Catholic Rocker.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
I would like to stress the urgency of reviving the Catholic faith in today’s language and culture.  John Paul was dead right:  we must form a new civilization of love to transform our current culture of sensuality and death.  If you can create something that reflects your faith and engages the very real power of the Holy Spirit, using today’s new tools and sensibilities, do it!  AND, be a faithful consumer and supporter of those others who are trying to do this.  Vote with with your feet and your wallet only for “what is true, good and lovely” in the modern idiom.
Visit Living Waters at