As any Servant Priest/Brother, I have shared very few experiences with Sr. Clare. However, I do recall two small anecdotes of when we collaborated in preparing the liturgical music for certain special occasions.
The first anecdote occurred when the Home of the Mother received approval as an International Public Association of Faithful from the Pontifical Council of Laity in Rome. As a sign of our faith and gratitude, the Home wanted to do our best in preparing the celebration. Three Cardinals each celebrated a Mass in thanksgiving to the Lord in one of Rome’s many basilicas. The liturgical music played an important role and we made every effort to prepare it as best as we could. Each community of Servant Brothers and Servant Sisters prepared the different voices for the polyphonic pieces we would later practice together once in Rome.
I’m not sure if it was there in Rome when Sr. Clare took part in the choir practice. I just remember how in the months that followed, in the vows ceremonies and entrances into the Novitiate, we had to revisit some of those same songs. The choir practices were too few in number and too short, considering all we had to prepare. So, we tried our best to take good advantage of our practice time. I usually played the role of “Choir Director”, but seeing as how we didn’t have a piano or tuning fork and oftentimes the sheet music got lost in the shuffle between celebrations, I sometimes forgot the right notes for the songs. Whenever this occurred, it just made things harder and we lost a lot of time. That’s when someone mentioned that Sr. Clare would surely remember the notes. From that day on, the problem was solved. And whenever we began with a brand new piece of really complicated polyphony, I always began choir practice with, “Sr. Clare, could you please give us the note?” Sometimes there were over thirty of us singing and nobody knew how to start the song. But she did. She had a unique musical talent, what is technically referred to as “absolute pitch” or “perfect pitch”. Very few people have this gift and those who do have it are usually very experienced in music, with years of musical studies. I don’t think she had studied music; she just had an unusually keen ear. She never liked it when I asked her to give us the note, especially because it made her the center of everyone’s attention. And yet, she immediately responded and remained composed, making the effort to be docile. She quickly gave us the right note, to help shorten the practice time and once more disappeared from the center of attention. That way, we could start the song on the right note, and she always started on the right note.
Singing in the Holy Land
The second anecdote happened in the Holy Land. The Home of the Mother organized a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2012, with our founder, Fr. Rafael Alonso. There were very few of us who could dedicate time and effort to the liturgical music on the pilgrimage. By that time, I was already a priest and was thus only able to help prepare the music on a couple occasions. On one of these occasions, we wanted to sing the Spanish song “Gethsemane”, but it did not come out that well. You could tell we were nervous and that we had forgotten some of the lyrics. It was like one of those times where you keep humming with your mouth half-open, hoping that everybody else will keep singing the words that you have forgotten… But, this time nobody kept singing and we ended up either laughing or crying at how pitifully it came out. We found out that we were going to be able to have a Holy Hour in the Basilica of Gethsemane – with the entire Basilica all to ourselves, just for our group. Not only that, but we were also going to be able to walk through the garden with its ancient olive trees, amongst which Our Lord Himself prayed. We felt discouraged seeing that we were so few for the music. The guide himself kindly asked us to not sing that song, “Gethsemane”, that we had sung before, as it had really come out so badly. That was when Sr. Clare “lost her patience” in a good sense. She started preparing songs for the liturgical celebrations as we went along on our tours of the Holy Land. In fact while we were waiting to enter the Basilica (we were one of the last groups to enter), she taught Sr. Kelly Jo and me the voices for a song that we had to sing acapella!
There was not going to be guitar or anything, because it was a song with a solemn tone and a guitar would only clash. That meant that the entire song would depend on only three people. It was the song, “Watch and Pray”. The lyrics say, “Stay here and keep watch with me…Watch and pray…” However, having practiced it so little, Sr. Kelly Jo and I were fairly reluctant to sing it. Seeing our hesitation, Sr. Clare said, “OK. I’ll start off on my own and then the second time you can both come in, and then the third time, I can sing the other voice.” That “other voice” was really quite complicated. It was a very high voice with a completely different rhythm, what’s known as “counterpoint”. It was really difficult and I thought that the song might be too “showy” and distracting, shifting the center of attention from the Lord to ourselves. I feel a bit ashamed now, having to admit this, but I even told Sr. Clare that I was worried that perhaps Fr. Rafael was not going to like it and he might find it out of place. That’s when she told me something similar to what she told Fr. Kevin when he left Playa Prieta: “We should give the Lord our best effort and that’s something Father will be happy about.”
Later on, during this moment of adoration, obviously the songs did not come out perfectly, but we did our best. What we did experience was an authentic spirit of prayer, and the Lord bestowed so many graces on us all. Father was very pleased with that Holy Hour. At a certain point in the celebration, while we were all gathered near the rock where the Lord prayed, Father had all the Servant Priests/Brothers and Servant Sisters place our perpetual vows cross on the rock, asking the Lord to grant us the grace that our cross and our prayer always be filled with the Cross and the Lord’s presence.