My Chicago Home

My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Monsignor Reilly, Great Jazz and an Amazing Week

A score of tough days resolved for me on a high note yesterday, thanks to a famous Irish priest from New York, some great jazz and a flurry of Holy Spirit activity.

My sleep has been troubled, lately. The same week I wrote Pushing 'the Pill' leads to loss of Liberty for the Catholic News Agency, I was awakened by nightmares, filled with a sense of how dangerous this world is becoming. 

So, when I heard world-renowned Monsignor Phillip Reilly was visiting Chicago last weekend and giving a talk entitled "Be Not Afraid" at St. Isaac Jogues Church in Hinsdale, I felt drawn to attend. Stations of the Cross, benediction, and Monsignor's powerful message (see below), put everything into perspective. 

At a little reception afterwards, I found myself face to face with this lively, Irish priest from Brooklyn. I mentioned my Pushing 'the Pill' article and how it was the most controversial topic I had ever tackled. Monsignor Reilly took my face in his hands, looked warmly into my eyes, and said, "Marianna, relax!" 

Steve Vining's inspiring album,
featuring "Choose Life."
He told me the "Pill" had brought great evil to the world, and we needed to speak out on this topic, but that we did not do so alone. He gave me the sense of this great cloud of believers standing together for life. 

Monsignor's face shows effects of cancer. His nose appears to have been surgically reconstructed. But he exudes peace and down-to-earth humor and joy that is contagious. He is a great advertisement for embracing life to the fullest.

That night triggered several days' worth of amazing events. Also attending were my friends Vicky and Steve Vining and their young daughters. As we chatted, Steve mentioned he had produced a CD and was soon to release another. Before we parted, Steve dug around in his car and handed me Telling Visions, which he produced and wrote with the help of his wife, and performed with the accompaniment of some of the finest jazz musicians in Chicago.

Chicago area musician Steve Vining
I popped in the CD and listened to it all the way home, volume cranked. Now, I knew Steve was a musician who played and sang in bands, but he also worked full-time at DePaul University, so I thought his musical "hobby" involved a casual garage band. 

To say I was pleasantly surprised by his music would be an understatement. My family and I listened to the CD for the next several days, returning again and again to the amazing vocals, harmonies and soaring jazz riffs.

One of my favorite songs is Choose Life. This truly epic arrangement uplifts the spirit, inviting it to soar to an appreciation of life's beauty, and how only one "choice" leads to fulfillment:

"The answers are laid out before you
yet the questions are all that you see, 
You curse at the lock and you kick at the door 
not admitting that you hold the key..."

 and: "You're making your decisions constantly, 
with each thought and each passing breath, 
Gliding on the cutting edge of life, 
on the cutting edge of death."

Bravo, Steve and Vicky. Especially moving, is that this CD evolved after the couple experienced a full-term pregnancy loss. They were later blessed by the birth of their now 12-year-old daughter, and have a five-year-old girl they adopted from Guatemala. Their life is that wonderful jumble of not-always-controlled joiƩ de vivre and chaos found in any home with little ones. I could picture the scene perfectly when Vicky described their family "exercise" time, when they all walked "laps" and romped in the basement.

Never would I have guessed that this busy mom had written songs and vocalized, and her husband also wrote songs, sang, played guitar in and produced, an album reminiscent of "Sting" and "Steely Dan," but with its own irresistible sound. 

By Monday, I could not settle to anything until I shared this music with Deacon Tom and Dee Fox, who produce Catholic Vitamins podcasts, affiliated with the Star Quest Production Network (SQPN). I have been contributing little Missionary Moments to these podcasts for several months, ever since being interviewed for Catholic Vitamin W -- Witness, about living our faith daily. 

I knew Deacon Tom was interviewing the star of the soon to be released movie October Baby that afternoon. He was preparing a special podcast with a pro-life theme, and I could not get the thought out of my mind that Steve's song, Choose Life, would be a perfect addition to the show. 

Deacon Tom and Dee are amazing in their flexibility. By bedtime last night, the special October Baby podcast was posted, featuring Deacon Tom's exclusive interview with leading lady Rachel Hendrix and musical interludes and the entire Choose Life song by Steve Vining! I can't resist saying it -- modern technology rocks. Jesuit Father John Hardon would be so pleased. This renowned Servant of God, theologian, friend and spiritual director of the Vinings, had often encouraged Steve to put his musical talents to use for spreading truths of the Faith. So:

* If you have never heard of Monsignor Phillip Reilly or his groups, Helpers of God's Precious Infants, then do a search and learn more. His loving, compassionate approach has been saving babies and mothers across the world for 50 years.

* Go see October Baby when it is released in theaters March 23. You are sure to be inspired by this gripping film produced by the creators of Fireproof and Courageous.

* Check out Steve Vining's CD Telling Visions, especially his song Choose Life. The CD is available through various online suppliers, including

* Listen to Deacon Tom and Dee's special J -- for Justice Catholic Vitamins broadcast featuring October Baby's leading lady, Rachel Hendrix, and Steve's song.

* Pray for Father Hardon's cause for beatification to move forward.

* Finally, pray daily that life might be cherished and freedom honored everywhere.

A Message from Monsignor Phillip Reilly's March 9, 2012 talk, Be Not Afraid:

When planes crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Monsignor Reilly was praying at an abortion clinic a few blocks from New York Harbor, across from the twin towers. A black cloud enveloped the area, but babies continued to be killed at the abortion center, so Monsignor stayed to pray, only reaching Ground Zero around midnight. 

At the site, he closed his eyes to pray a rosary and had a vision. He saw workers within the building at 9 AM, getting coffee and water, preparing for their day, secure within their familiar work environment. When planes slashed through the building, these workers had nowhere to flee, no way to save themselves. Monsignor then "saw" in his vision a mother's womb, invaded by weapons of terrorism, the abortionist's tools. Ground Zero, said Monsignor, is all around us.

Go to the abortion mills to pray, he urged, to be witness to this tragic taking of human life. Do not be afraid of "Golgotha." Accompany these little souls in spirit as they are so brutally evicted from their earthly home by their own mother's choice. Monsignor reminded us that these babies are safe with God. These women are "mothers forever," who emerge from abortion centers wounded and needing unconditional love and forgiveness.

On a final note, Monsignor told how a priest friend was on the scene with the firefighters, before they went into the World Trade Center. They asked the priest for general absolution, saying, "Father, you know we're not coming out alive." 

Who were these firefighters? Many were family men -- fathers with little ones at home, said Msgr. Reilly. They turned and went up into the burning towers, saving literally thousands of workers, "doing the right thing" step by step, fulfilling their vocations, until the very end.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Noisy World is Enemy of Prayer

Overview of a busy, Chicago street.
Photo by Bartholomew
Noisy world is enemy of prayer, says Pope Benedict 
By David Kerr  
.- The constant noise that accompanies modern life is an enemy of God’s word being heard in prayer, Pope Benedict XVI said. 
“Interior and exterior silence are necessary in order to hear that Word,” and yet, “our age does not, in fact, favor reflection and contemplation,” the Pope said March 7. On the contrary, “it seems that people are afraid to detach themselves, even for an instant, from the spate of words and images which mark and fill our days.” 
The Pope was addressing over 10,000 pilgrims who gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Wednesday general audience. This was the first audience of the year held in the open air. It was also the last in the Pope’s series of catecheses on the personal prayer of Jesus. 
Today, his particular focus was on Christ’s silence on the cross, as well as the need for silence in our own prayer. 
Photo by Bartholomew
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is repeatedly “withdrawing alone to a place far from the crowds, even from his own disciples, where he can pray in silence,” he observed. 
The “great patristic tradition,” the Pope said, also teaches Christians that “the mysteries of Christ are linked to silence, and only in silence can the Word find a place to dwell within us.”
 He then explained to the pilgrims that this “principle” of silence “holds true for individual prayer” and for Catholic liturgies, which, “to facilitate authentic listening, must also be rich in moments of silence and of non verbal acceptance.”
Silence has “the capacity to open a space in our inner being, a space in which God can dwell, which can ensure that his word remains within us, and that love for him is rooted in our minds and hearts, and animates our lives,” taught the Pope. 
Even when people feel “a sense of abandonment” in the silence of prayer, and they worry that “God does not listen and does not respond,” Pope Benedict said that they should be reassured that “this silence, as happened to Jesus, does not signify absence.” 
“Christians know that the Lord is present and listens,” the Pope assured, “even in moments of darkness and pain, of rejection and solitude.” 
This is why the prayer of Jesus, as recounted in the Gospels, “is a reminder that we need to stop, to experience moments of intimacy with God, ‘detaching ourselves’ from the turmoil of daily life in order to listen.” In doing so, we return “to the ‘root’ which nourishes and sustains our existence.” 
Pope Benedict then quoted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church as he reflected on Jesus’ silent prayer reaching its apex during his passion and death on Golgotha. 
During that time of suffering, when “his cry to the Father from the cross encapsulated ‘all the troubles, for all time, of humanity enslaved by sin and death, all the petitions and intercessions of salvation history are summed up in this cry of the incarnate Word,’” he said. 
“Here the Father accepts them and, beyond all hope, answers them by raising his son,” he concluded. “Thus is fulfilled and brought to completion the drama of prayer in the economy of creation and salvation.” 
Pope Benedict then addressed the pilgrims in various languages before leading them in the singing of the Our Father in Latin and imparting his apostolic blessing.