As liturgical musicians, Joy, Cameron, Ben, and I get to witness the tremendous power of music day after day. The right song can help a room full of shy 4th-graders loosen up and get excited to sing and learn. It can help a mourning family put words to a grief too deep to express. It can light up the faces of elderly parishioners, revealing a glimpse of their younger selves who first belted out some old beloved hymn when they were children. The right song can bring relief, bring healing, bring consolation, bring joy. The right song can teach us how to hope again when all hope seems lost.
Last week, in both of our parish Confirmations, I got to hear the right song. In Clonard, we had the great joy of celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation twice: for Kennedy Park School on Thursday and again for Scoil Mhuire on Friday. The ceremonies were full of joy and richness as Bishop Denis preached a beautiful homily on believing and belonging and then, along with Msgr. Denis Lennon, anointed the boys and girls as full-fledged members of the Church. The teachers in the schools and the parents and volunteers in the parish worked tremendously hard to help the students prepare for this important sacrament, and it really showed. The art projects the students put together to commemorate their Confirmation filled the church with vibrant color. The lectors and cantors carefully and eloquently proclaimed the Word of God to the congregation. And, of course, the two school choirs really outdid themselves with beautiful, prayerful, jubilant singing. And, twice over the course of the Confirmations, I was struck by just the right song, songs that both expressed what was happening in the Sacrament and illustrated for me the power of what this Sacrament can do in these children’s lives for years, if they let it.
First, during the anointing of the students with the blessed chrism, Teach Bhride sang the beloved Folk Choir classic, “I Have Been Anointed.” As these young men and women were anointed with oil and the grace of the Holy Spirit poured forth over them, we sang, “The Spirit blows through creation, and lifts my newborn soul: Hallelujah!” What a beautiful, fitting image to express the tremendous hope for a renewed beginning that Confirmation offers: as we prepare to embark on our adult journey of faith, the Spirit of God rushes over us, lifts us up by His grace, and fills us with great gifts like courage and wisdom to bear us up along our way. Later, once mass was concluded, the student choir sang, “Each Step of the Journey,” another favorite of the Notre Dame Folk Choir. As the newly confirmed processed out of the church as fully-fledged Catholics, we sang them out with a Trinitarian blessing: “God be with you in ev’ry pass, Jesus be with you on ev’ry hill; Spirit be with you on ev’ry stream…God, Christ, and Spirit on the journey.” Truly, this was the right song at the right moment, expressing the love and grace of God that will accompany these young men and women on each step of their adult journey of faith.
In addition to the beautiful lyrics of “I Have Been Anointed” and “Each Step of the Journey,” the presence of the songs themselves carried a weighty significance for me on these Confirmation days. You see, “Each Step of the Journey” was written by Karen Schneider Kirner in 2007 and “I Have Been Anointed” was written by Steve Warner in 1996. Penned in northern Indiana and published as songs of a certain University choir, these songs had tremendous value and beauty from the beginning. From the moment Steve and Karen opened themselves to the guiding of the Spirit, allowing their gifts for songwriting to be used to glorify His name, God was at work within them. In fact, He was at work in them long before that, throughout their lives, whenever they said yes to His grace and its ability to use our gifts and talents for far greater good than we could ever imagine. Could they have imagined, though, when they said “Yes” to putting their talents out there, to praying through song and inviting others to join the prayer, that one day a church full of eleven- and twelve-year-olds in Wexford, Ireland, would be belting out their songs? Could they have calculated the reach those beautiful songs of prayer would have, across generations and oceans, bridging cultural gaps and bringing a unity of prayer to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame and the Church of the Annunciation in Clonard? Knowing these two dear liturgical musicians, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that when they sat down and penned these songs, they did so not out of a desire for international acclaim for their music, but with a prayerful spirit rooted in love of God and of the power of music to speak His message of hope and love to His people. And yet, look how far their songs have reached. There, in the singing of those two songs of blessing and anointing, hides the true power of the Sacrament of Confirmation: once we open ourselves to the Gifts of the Spirit, He will lead us on journeys we could never predict, and our lives of faithful discipleship will change the world in ways we could never imagine. Steve and Karen’s music, which has touched so many hearts through the years, has reached all the way across the ocean to bless the boys and girls who were anointed by Bishop Denis last week. Now it’s their turn. Truly, these young men and women have been anointed with the song and the Spirit of God. We their Catholic family wait in joyful hope to see the wondrous, transformative ways their own gifts will bless the world.