When the British Invasion (the second one, not the Tea Party one) hit the U.S. with an explosion of new music, I was just a pup. But upon first hearing and seeing the Beatles, I was hooked.
I thought how cool it would be to stand in front of a crowd holding a shiny guitar pumping out a song and singing along.
A few of my friends started taking guitar lessons, along with thousands of other American kids. I wanted to as well. But my parents wouldn’t let me. Not because they were totally against the music. In fact my mom loved Peter Noone, Herman from Herman’s Hermits. No, it was because I had already developed a track record for beginning something I wanted, only to abandon it shortly thereafter.
I learned a little Blues Harp (harmonica) and played a little bit with them when they were starting a garage band.
Despite not being able to be an axe man, I still loved the music. I wasn’t hooked on any one band, although a handful became my favorites. I just know I had music in my blood, and hearing the Blues for the first time solidified that fact.
As the years grew, my LP collection (long playing record album to those who may think I’m speaking in code) grew, as did my cassette collection and eventually CDs later on. I’ve stopped at CDs and can now be considered a dinosaur.
When I met Denise we always had FM radio on in the car, or even a boom box when we were outside. Music consumed me, and that wasn’t lost on my wife-to-be.
When we did get married (45 years ago this year), we went shopping in Providence (the one in Rhode Island, not the spiritual one). We stopped in a music store, just so I could drool over the plethora of electric and acoustic guitars on display. I absolutely fell in love with a blonde Gibson Epiphone six-string acoustic.
Denise looked me square in the eyes and said, “If you promise to stick with this and give it your all to learn how to play, it’s yours.” My mouth dropped open and I blurted, “I promise.” Boom, the blonde Epiphone made the ride back home with us.
I kept my promise. I got my hands on a book of guitar chords and practiced and practiced until my fingers bled. But I did it, although I knew as a young husband and father, my rock ‘n roll dreams were over.
I did develop an affinity for Christian music and ended up playing a five o’clock Sunday Mass each week with my family (two kids included) and other parishioners and a handful of youth.
Eventually I played dozens of Masses and prayer services and a few weddings. I was finally holding that shiny guitar and singing in front of a crowd — not of adoring fans, but singing praise to the One who was responsible for my talent.
I wasn’t, and I’m still not, a master of the guitar, but people can make out what I’m playing and that’s just fine with me.
Now to the crux of my column: Took long enough didn’t it? I was asked by a group of Catholic Nurses to play a Mass celebrating significant anniversaries of a number of Religious Sisters in the area, some having devoted their lives to serving God and ministering to His people for 40, 50, and 60-plus years.
The Mass was in the beautiful Saint Anne’s Hospital chapel. An oasis of peace and calm amid the nearby ER and operating rooms; amid the sickness and injuries and sometimes death.
It was the first time I played a Mass alone, but the chapel was the calm I needed.
I brought my 12-string acoustic with me because I feel it adds a depth and a fullness to the music, especially in an atmosphere like the chapel, and when I’m playing solo.
I can’t really remember the song list from the Mass, except one I chose for the Communion mediation. It was a favorite of mine — John Michael Talbot’s “Holy is His Name,” based on the Magnificat, Mary’s fiat, her yes to God’s asking her to be the mother of His Son.
After all had settled following the Eucharist, I began playing softly and slowly. As the song progressed, so did its effect on me. Somewhere during that meditation the congregation had disappeared and I was there, alone, talking to God. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord …. And holy, holy, holy is His name.”
When I finished, I knew I had tears welled up and the chapel was silent — in a good way, not the way when people feel relieved the train wreck was over.
The celebrant completed the liturgy, and as I was putting my 12-string back into the case, I could see a small elderly Dominican Sister approaching me.
I started having flashbacks to my days at St. Anne’s School and the times when mischievous me (the maringouin, French for mosquito, as my dad would call me) was pulled aside and gently (most of the time) reminded of how I should act and how I, in fact, had acted.
It evoked in me a hidden shiver. The Sister walked up to me and pointed a finger at me. “Oh no, not again,” I thought. She then said, “You made me cry.” I said, “I’m sorry, Sister, I didn’t mean to,” I said. She responded, “No, in a good way. The Magnificat has always been the example I’ve tried to follow during my time as a Sister. You touched my heart and soul. Thank you.” We embraced and parted ways, but the peace I had experienced playing the song was only magnified by the gentle woman’s reaction and response.
I have often told others, especially when they would share nun “horror stories” of how they were so nasty to students, that a large majority of the Sisters who taught me were kind, and Christ-like.
I, like thousands of others, read about the atrocities at schools in Canada where some Sisters mistreated and basically tried to eliminate the Indigenous culture there. I was appalled, but I also knew that the evil actions of the few can make the good look guilty as well. That happens in all walks of life.
From childhood through adulthood, some of, no, most of the kindest and warmest people I met were Religious Sisters, some of whom are still dear friends of mine to this day.
I am grateful for each of those good women who became, in one way or another, part of the fabric of my life, and I dedicate this column to them, past and present.
I say thank you to them for devoting their entire adult lives to God and His children, with their own fiats. And having made one of them cry remains one of the most warmest, most peaceful moments of this chaotic, anxiety-filled life of mine. In our hearts and souls that night we both knew for a fact that “Holy is His name.”