Tag Archives: inspiration

The Blind Man & the Child

By Ann Tran as told to Jean Seah.

Some years ago in Adelaide, I was struggling with my faith and with attending Mass.

One day in the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier, I was kneeling in prayer when I felt a tap on my leg, a sign that someone had entered the pew. I moved over, but felt another tap, so I moved again. Finally after moving all the way to the end of the pew, I looked up and realized that there was a blind gentleman tapping me with his cane. He hadn’t figured out that he was tapping a person, not part of the pew.

He was a very handsome and tall man with the most beatific smile. At the Sign of Peace, he nodded at everyone around him, and you wouldn’t have known that he was blind except for his walking stick.

I thought to myself, “If this blind man can travel all the way through the city to come to Mass, so can I.”

At the next Mass I attended, a little child, perhaps 11 years old, sat near me by herself. She looked as if she had come after school. She sang each hymn with a reverent joy that pierced my soul.

“Ok, God, I get the message,” I said interiorly to Him. “If this child can come to Mass by herself, so can I!”

Although I was a regular parishioner at the cathedral, I never saw either of them again.

The encounter with the blind man got me thinking, and the encounter with the girl was affirmation.

God speaks to us in mysterious and subtle ways — it may be in the tapping of a blind man and the singing of a child.

___

Also see: “Crawling to Mass“.

Music inspired by wife’s illness, recovery

(c) 2015 Photo Courtesy Stephen and Afton SylvesterWhile many newlyweds spend their first few months experiencing the joys and challenges of married life, Musician Stephen Sylvester and his wife, Afton, were struggling with a surprising and potentially devastating medical diagnosis. Recently, Ignitum Today Columnist Heather Renshaw sat down with Stephen to chat about life, faith, and Sylvester Band’s campaign to record music borne from that difficult yet inspiring time. Parts of this interview was edited for space and clarity. 

Ignitum Today: Okay—so let’s get to know Stephen Sylvester—the man, the myth, the legend. Where do you come from, and what was your faith life like when you were growing up?

Stephen Sylvester: (laughing) Oh, Lord…well, Stephen the Catholic musician began as an Alabama native who grew up listening to his parents sing. I’m the oldest of 10 children, and the Catholic faith and music are probably the two things that my family is most recognized for. I started playing for the youth Mass at my old parish in Mobile, Alabama when I was in high school, and by the time I graduated college and started working, I was an accomplished worship musician.

IT: You’re one of those “slash” people, right? I mean, you’re a youth minister-slash-musician. How did that happen?

SS: It was sort of forced upon me at first: one of those, “Oh, you play guitar and sing? Here’s a youth Mass you’re now responsible for” situations. I really enjoy doing both, although it can start to consume your weekends.

IT: But at a certain point, it became something you owned—that you wanted to do?

SS: It definitely was. I think the first time I really started treating the music as a prayer was while I was leading music for a Sunday night Mass. I just sort of lost myself in praising God, and I found that I could still fully concentrate on what I was doing. After that, I knew I had been given this amazing gift, and I knew it was important for me to continue to share it with everybody.

IT: Wow, that’s amazing! When did that happen?

SS: It was during the spring of last year, actually, so not that long ago. I had been leading liturgical music for a while, but it just “clicked” at that point. It wasn’t really easy after that per se—that’s not the right word—but the music felt much more authentic. I didn’t ever feel like I was distracted from Mass by the music I was playing after that; it was more like it helped me enter into the liturgy. And, in turn, I think it helped everyone else do the same thing.

IT: Awesome. So you just celebrated your first wedding anniversary, right?  Congratulations!

SS: Oh, thank you! Yeah; we actually went through some pretty tough stuff at the very beginning. About a month after our wedding day, my wife’s parents split up, which was really hard on her, and about a week later, we found out that Afton had leukemia.

IT: Oh, Lord, have mercy! That’s a whole lot to handle on top of getting used to married life! How did you cope? And … is Afton okay now?

SS: I know,(c) 2015 Courtesy of Stephen and Afton Sylvester right? I’d like to say we prayed a lot, but honestly, it was just a lot of nights comforting each other as we got used to the new normal. Afton cleaned the house from top to bottom when we got home, because that’s her de-stress method, and I wrote songs, which is mine. And now she’s just fine!

She’s actually due to have our first baby at the end of October, and her doctors think that there’s a very good chance that she will make basically a full recovery. So, even if she doesn’t go into total remission, she will still have a normal length and quality of life.

IT: Praise the Lord! That is incredible! You must have had a bunch of prayer warriors going to bat for y’all.

SS: I know for a fact we had, like, a prayer army! We’ve actually heard from a lot of folks that the way we handled the whole situation inspired some people to return to their faith. I didn’t think at the time we were doing anything spectacular, but I guess God was working through us the whole time.

IT: Amen! So, you said that when all this craziness was happening, you turned to music as a stress reliever. Is this when you started to write your own stuff?

SS: Yeah, that was my coping mechanism. Writing down what I was feeling became how I would figure out what I was feeling. I’d tried my hand at writing songs before, and they all sucked (laughs). But what was coming out of this really difficult experience was actually pretty beautiful. I wanted to look back on it and not remember how awful it was, but how much Afton and I have changed for the better since then.

IT: So, I heard a rumor that you’re hoping to do  something pretty big with those songs.

SS: (laughs) Well, over the summer, I felt really compelled to record the songs I had written. And almost as if to confirm that I should, some friends of mine who are amazing musicians jumped on board to help make it happen. I sort of asked God to let me know if now was a good time. On paper, it really doesn’t seem like it, but everything falling into place so quickly seemed to me to be a pretty clear sign.

IT: When do you begin recording, or have you already?

SS: Not yet; we have to raise some money first. We wanted to do this thing right, so we’re going to a legit studio in Fairhope, Alabama, and we’re going to have everything professionally mixed and mastered. The total cost is going to be about $7,000. We started a crowdfunding campaign to help, though. And it seems like a lot of people want to help.

IT: Very cool! Please tell our readers more about the campaign.

SS: If you go to kickstarter.com and search for Sylvester Band it’s the first thing that come up. The incentives range from a digital single to stickers to a copy of the finished album to a house concert; it just depends on how much you want to donate. And the campaign is only going until October 1st, so we have to raise the full 7K before then, or else the project gets halted for awhile.

IT: Ooh! So people need to get on it, then, yeah?

SS: Please! I’ve been bombarding social media all week asking for folks to share the link to the Kickstarter [campaign]. That’s what will really help us, getting the word out. And, of course, prayers! Those help!

IT: Awesome! What do you think listeners have to look forward to? How would you describe Sylvester Band’s sound?

SS: Well, I think we have a message of truth and beauty that is not explicitly Christian, so we have the potential to reach a much broader audience than just Christian music listeners, although I’m sure everyone will enjoy our sound. We’re a mix of roots rock, bluegrass, folk, and 60’s R & B, plus some blues influence. We actually have a demo up on soundcloud that is a hint of what we sound like. You can check it out here: https://soundcloud.com/sylvesterbandofficial

We’re planning some local concerts for now. If we suddenly explode into popularity, then we will definitely tour the parts of the U.S. where folks want us to come. One of the potential extra things we will do if we raise more than our 7K goal is to do a release party here in Fairhope [Alabama].

The main thing is that we will make the EP available on formats like iTunes and Spotify so everybody can hear us. We really want everybody to hear us! I hope people decide to support us both because they like the message and they dig the music.

IT: Amen. Music with a message. I like it. Let’s get everybody over to Kickstarter and make this puppy happen!

SS: Let’s do it!

IT: Thank you so much for your time, Stephen, and for what you’re doing to build up the Kingdom of God. Blessings to you and your family!

SS: It was a pleasure talking to you, and may God bless your family as well.

(c) 2015 Photo courtesy Stephen Sylvester

Columnist’s Note: For the “Rolling Stone” (aka uncut) version of this interview plus some fun facts about Sylvester Band’s frontman, please head over to RealCatholicMom.com. -HR

Patience in the Desert

Desert-stock6785-large

For forty days Christ suffered in the desert, fasting and depriving Himself of comfort, choosing to undergo hardship and temptation for the sake of teaching us the importance of fortitude, penance, and trust in God alone.  Christ made Himself uncomfortable to show us the importance of doing the same, of not being afraid to do the difficult for the sake of greater sanctification, and to not shy away from suffering which redeems to remain in excessive comfort which weakens.  During Christ’s forty days in the desert He was a model of perseverance as he endured the necessary trial, embodying patience as He waited on His Father to make the next move, in order to lead by example and show us how to use adversity to grow in virtue.

In the same way, especially during this season of Lent, we are called into the desert.  Some of us are called to journey into the desert, leaving behind peace in prayer and letting Christ’s suffering make us uncomfortable, inspiring us to renew our efforts to remain in His grace by reminding us how incredibly unworthy of Him we are.  Others of us are already in the desert, struggling to make it through, thirsting intensely for a single drop of blood from His side to show us He is still there. In this dryness Lent calls us to unite our sufferings to Our Lord’s, thus being saved through them.  Still, others of us are called to thrust ourselves into the desert that comes with recognizing that something in our lives needs to change, to leave behind the suffering that comes with knowing a difficult, dreadful decision must be made, and take on the trials that come with finally making the decision.  This kind of desert involves a leap of faith, plunging into the barrenness without provisions or directions, literally surrendering it all to His Providence, and trusting that He will guide your paths to their right conclusions, even if the direction you decided to start walking was incredibly far from right.

Each of these struggles, each type of desert, when experienced during this Lenten season and united to Christ’s own desert tribulation, becomes a sanctification.  Each trial can become a wellspring of grace, and at the end of each desert there is the promise of respite.  For some this Lenten dryness may only be a continuation of a spiritual low-point which seems to have no end; for them, Lent is a reminder that the desert will end, that even in the desert life can be found, and if they only hold on to the Father as Christ did, He will send angels to minister to them as well, when the time is right.  For those who choose to seek out the desert, because their spirituality has been on a high and they are ready for new, rigorous ways to awaken new parts of their soul, the desert is humbling, for even Christ could not go through the desert without suffering, and even their shining souls can profit from the buffering of the sands of sacrifice.  And for those who walked into the desert, hearts already in pain, and knowing the way was only going to grow harder before it became easier, this is the time for patience.

Patiently wait upon God, in faith await His guiding hand, He will not allow you to perish on the way.  He holds you in the palm of His hand, and whether He uses the desert to guide you back to true path you left behind, or to reveal a new way to you, you will be stronger for having braved the desert, and He will reward your faith.  May we all, at our different stages of the journey and within our different deserts, join together under the Holy Church, embrace her liturgical seasons and the lessons they are meant to teach, and emerge from the desert strengthened in faith, proven in hope, and full of love for God and neighbor, love we are ready to extend in the spirit of Christ’s sacrifice.

God bless you all on your Lenten journeys!

Writing With Faith

What’s the balance between faith and writing? Where’s the point where you have to stop and think: Am I focusing too much on fiction and losing grip on the Truth? Have I lost sight of what really matters? Am I dwelling on things that aren’t real, and wasting my God-given talent on something that’s only in my head?

I believe I found that balance, and the answer might surprise you.

With art, there’s no limits, no rules, no right way or wrong way. But, for us Catholics, we are living a Truth that we want to keep important even when we’re writing in our leisure time. It’s happened to me before that I became so absorbed in the worlds I created in my head that I forgot to pray before bed at night. Then I woke up and found my Bible, and wondered what it was that I kept doing so wrong. Why was this an either/or situation? How come I had to choose between the two things I loved most—God and writing—when God Himself gave me this gift of writing?

I see musical artists who seem to have found a balance. People know they’re Christian, but listen to their music anyway. Sometimes, the fact that they’re Christian only makes them more popular. It takes a lot longer to read a book than it does to hear a song, though, so I found little hope in dwelling on the secret of a music artist. They’re similar, yet not. Both forms of art tell a story and appeal to different audiences. The Christian artists appeal because of their personality, because of their style, or maybe because of controversy. I never thought much on that.

I didn’t know how to find my niche in the writing world as both a Christian and a writer. Life kept presenting me with two choices: God or writing.

Don’t let life lie to you.

I used to feel really bad that during the day I will often find myself daydreaming about my stories, putting myself into the heads of my characters and their situations, working out solutions for them or simply playing out a scene over and over again. Something in the back of my mind nagged me that I should be reading the Bible or the Catechism instead of setting my mind on this petty distraction. And of course, I should spend more time with Bible-reading; I’m working on that. The point here, though, is that I thought I was almost sinning by putting so much devotion on a story that only I knew about. Was it unChristian to do this?

Of course, if that was the case, all artists would be unChristian.

I know as a fact that every writer puts more of themselves into their work than even they realize. I’ve had friends read some of my pieces and point out little details that sounded just like me, things I never realized myself but that on retrospect were a great part of my world at the time. This never changes. A real writer spills themselves onto a piece of paper and doesn’t clean everything up, so something is always left to stain the page. The stain is a part of your soul, a fingerprint if you will. Finding that balance between being a Christian and a fiction writer involves simply living and thinking like a Christian.

It’s all about putting God first in the end. Put Him first and you won’t have any problems!

I want you to realize that if you’re a real Christian, it’s not an either/or situation. If you’re a real Christian, you’re living out your faith in the fullest possible way. If you’re a Christian, if it is what you are, then it’s going to come out in your writing. If you have a conscience and common sense, if you know what makes a good story and you know the teachings of Jesus, if you never spend a day without sitting with Him for just a little while—your story is going to reflect this, accidentally.

Or is it really an accident?

Just like a person who really enjoys the ocean, and surrounds themselves in a setting by the sea with lots of sand and seagulls, will doubtlessly reflect this if they spill their heart onto some paper—the same goes for writing as a Christian. Surround your heart with Christian things. Make sure you know what’s first in life, and center your work on the Person Who is most important. Center yourself on the Source of all creativity, and things related to Him, and your writing will reflect this in ways you never expected. Someday your friends will read your work and tell you, “That sounds a lot like something Jesus would say! Did you do that on purpose?”

Fear not: If you keep Christ within view in all things, He’ll appear in your story where you never planned to put Him. He’s sneaky like that!