In the last years of his life, the great cellist and conductor Pablo Casals suffered greatly from rheumatoid arthritis and emphysema. At 90, he was badly stooped, his head thrust forward, and his breathing laboured. He needed the help of his wife, Marta, to get dressed in the morning. Marta would then help him shuffle into his studio where he would, with great difficulty, arrange himself on the piano bench. Casals would then manage to raise his swollen, clenched fingers above the keyboard. A visitor describes what he saw next, one particular morning: “I was not prepared for the miracle that was about to happen. The fingers slowly unlocked and reached toward the keys like the buds of a plant toward the sunlight. His back straightened. He seemed to breathe more freely. Now his fingers settled on the keys. Then came the opening bars of Bach’s Wohltemperierte Klavier [Well-tempered Clavier], played with great sensitivity and control. He hummed as he played, then said that Bach ‘spoke to him here’ – and he placed his hand over his heart. “Then he plunged into a Brahms concerto and his fingers, now agile and powerful, raced across the keyboard with dazzling speed. His entire body seemed fused with the music; it was no longer stiff and shrunken but supple and graceful and completely freed of its arthritic coils. “Having finished the piece, he stood up by himself, far straighter and taller than when he had come into the room. He walked to the breakfast table with no trace of a shuffle, ate heartily, talked animatedly, finished the meal, and then went for a walk on the beach.” (From Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration by Norman Cousins).
Like music that inspires and exhilarates, the Spirit of God is the melody that energises the Church, uniting our many different voices into the song of the Love of God. God has formed us into a community, or Church, an instrument for bringing His life and love into our world. But what makes our Church more than just a gathering of good people is His “Breath” infusing the Church, His Mystical Body, with the music of His Divinity. Today we celebrate that presence. In Jesus’ breathing upon the assembled disciples on Easter night the new life of the Holy Spirit, the community of the Resurrection – the Church takes flight. That same Holy Spirit continues to “blow” through today’s Church, giving life and direction to our mission and ministry to preach the Gospel to every nation, immersing all of humanity in the music of God’s love, the symphony of the Resurrection.
During the coming weeks thousands of students are preparing for their exams. I suggest that no results, on a piece of paper, can ever determine or define the fantastic unique gifts and talents that every young person has in abundance. To measure kindness, compassion, optimism, energy, humour is far more important. Humbly I find young people fantastic and so very positive, despite the many challenges they embrace. St. Paul once said: “With God on our side who can be against us?” Essentially being open to the love of God in all our lives is surely a great gift. The life that this young generation now enter more fully is a vibrant one, full of energy and yet very challenging. I don’t think it is easy to be a young person in the present culture we find ourselves in. All of these young students will now experience the competitive environment that is the point’s race, finding the right college course and career path in a volatile global economy where so often only the fittest and leanest survive. The ‘burden of youth’ at times can be tragic, manifesting in addiction, anxiety and mental health issues. However, the enthusiasm, resilience and sense of hopeful optimism that is so real for young people, will carry them through the difficult weeks ahead.
I believe faith in the living God is a great source of strength and love for our young friends. Yes, there will always be difficulty and disappointment in life, but faith gives us a confidence and inner peace, that allows us all to live life to the full. God invites us to manifest our hopes and dreams into the realities of our day to day lives. Faith is grounded, in the knowledge that our God abundantly loves us for who we are, not for who we may like to present ourselves as. Faith allows us to hope even in the face of adversity and human struggle. Essentially faith informs us that we are not alone. Our God resides in depth of our human experience, even in the stress of getting ready for the Leaving Certificate or Third Level exams. Over the coming weeks pray for young people that the good Lord will bless them with strength, happiness and peace. A prayer I always prayed as I faced exam time and never let me down was, ‘Holy Spirit, send your power, help me to remember all that I have learnt, inspire me with the gift of Knowledge’, Amen!
PRAYER FOR PREPARATION TO STUDY
Lord, I know you are with me and love me. Give me peace of mind as I prepare for this time of study. Help me to focus on my books and notes, keep me from all distractions so that I will make the best use of this time that is available to me. Give me insight that I might understand what I am studying, and help me to remember it when the time comes. Above all, I thank you for the ability to be able to study and for the many gifts and talents you have given me. Help me always to use them in such a way that they honour you and do justice to myself. Amen
PRAYER BEFORE AN EXAMINATION
Dear Lord, as I take this exam, I thank you that my value is not based on my performance, but on your great love for me. Come into my heart so that we can walk through this time together. Help me, not only with this test, but the many tests of life that are sure to come my way. As I take this exam, bring back to my mind everything I studied and be gracious with what I have overlooked. Help me to remain focussed and calm, confident in the facts and in my ability, and firm in the knowledge that no matter what happens today you are there with me. Amen