Death, Septuagesima and the Hillbilly Thomists

Death comes to us all, but if we repent and seek to be saved, we can hope to be happy in Heaven

(photo: Register Files)

When my feeble life is o'er
And time for me will be no more
Guide me gently, safely o'er
To Thy kingdom dear Lord, to Thy shore. (Just a Closer Walk With Thee, Anonymous)

One of the things I love about going to an Extraordinary Form (of the Roman Rite) Mass every Sunday is the great depth of the old liturgical calendar. We recently entered the season of Septuagesima, which begins three Sundays before Ash Wednesday. Since in the old calendar the Christmas season extends to Feb. 2, the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Our Lady, it is helpful to have this time to transition from Christmas cookies and music to the austerities of Lent. Septuagesima reminds me that I want to have a good, holy Lent in which I acknowledge my own sinfulness, seek to make reparation, and renew my dependence on God.

I am finding myself quite ready for a good soul-cleansing Lent this year. It has been a hard last few months in our extended family and for many friends of ours. There have been many deaths, of both the young and long-lived, and the sorrow of it all has weighed upon me. Further, I find myself facing the reality of my own mortality, and what it means for my daily life now. One day, I too will die. And at the end of this time on earth, with all of its sorrows and joys, I will face judgment.

Interestingly enough, it is a group of musical Dominicans that has been further cemented this reality (in a hopeful way). My husband came home from work one day back in Advent all excited about a new traditional bluegrass and American folk album by some Dominicans of Province of St. Joseph. They call themselves The Hillbilly Thomists, based on Flannery O’Connor’s description of herself and her writings. The traditional bluegrass and American folk music of the album brings one close to the grittiness of our human existence. Yet, it also expresses in a profoundly simple way that we were all made for God and eternity with him.

The theme that death is coming and that Heaven is our real home fills the album. The reality that I need God’s mercy in order to get there hits me every time I listen to the album. Nearly every song on the album brings this reality to light.

If I want the band of angels to bear me away at my death on their snow white wings (Angel Band), then I better reconsider what I am giving daily in exchange for my soul (What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul?). The Church gives us Lent to consider these questions, and in this pre-Lenten season, we should do some serious soul searching, asking ourselves what is keeping us from loving God.

Then, when Lent comes, it is time to give those things up, and in this world of toils and snares daily walk closer to the Lord. When we do this we can ask him with hope, to guide us safely over to his kingdom shore (Just a Closer Walk with Thee). We can spend our Lent stealing away to Jesus within our hearts (Steal Away), and taking our trials and temptations to the Lord, who shares our sorrows and knows our weakness, in prayer (What a Friend We Have in Jesus).

At the end of Lent, while there will still be work to be done and daily toils to face, we can praise God for His wondrous love when he bore the dreadful curse for our souls (What Wonderous Love is This). Then we can proclaim to others his amazing grace that saves all of us wretches (Amazing Grace), and look with hope upon our existence in Canaan’s land where all is peace and joy and love and we will be united with the faithful who have passed before us (To Canaan’s Land).

Perhaps I am partial to bluegrass and folk music (which is surprising considering that I have been plagued by one song in particular my entire life due to my first name), but it has been food for my soul to hear the earnest, hopeful, and cheerful strains of these studious friars. I hope that my children do not mind their mother playing these songs throughout Septuagesima and Lent to strengthen her soul and remind her that there is Heaven after all of our trials and that beyond death we have reason to hope if only we stay close to Jesus everyday.

Death comes to us all, but if we repent and seek to be saved, we can hope to be happy in Heaven:

Dear friends, there’ll be no sad farewells
There’ll be no tear dimmed eyes
Where all is joy and peace and love
And the soul of man never dies. (To Canaan’s Land, by William M. Golden)