Sister Prejean's songs of praise

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Tuesday 05, January 2010 | Category:   Vocation and Discernment,Consecrated Life

The book and film Dead Man Walking did a lot to get the word out about Sister of St. Joseph Helen Prejean's efforts against the death penalty. But did you know the book was also made into an opera, with music by Jake Heggie and a libretto by Terrance McNally? Heggie has also set to music Prejean's poems The Deepest Desire: Four Meditations on Love called The Deepest Desire: Four Dramatic Songs of Praise, which talk about the vocation of love and her own vocation.

The texts of the songs are below. Here's a performance:

Prelude: The Call

More is required
More is required than being swept along—
All the currents pulling me
Easy and wide in a long, slow drift—
Without rudder, floating backwards, now to the side.
What can one person do against a sucking tide?

I coil like a bow;
I gather like a fist;
I forge like a rudder
And I lean into the wide, slow drift.

I tack and veer by God's own will.
I raise my voice against the silence.
My voice alone until a chorus joins.


Love is the pure energy of God: pray for it ardently.
Be grateful when it comes into your life: give of it generously.
Lavish it on others: even the undeserving ones.
Cultivate friendship with care: it is the best love of all.

I catch on fire
Long black dress to my toes—Flowing black sleeves and veil.
A walking bolt of black material.
Fourth grade religion class-Teaching full force:
The gospel according to . . .
Lit candle.

Fifty little eyes wide. Twenty-five voices shout:
"Sister! Sister! You're on fire!"

Flames shooting. Hands beating.
Silence. Breathing.

Children, this teaches us always to be careful with fire.

Now, years later, when I pray
I catch on fire.

The deepest desire

I thought I knew my heart's desire:
To love God. To be with God in Heaven.
A bud unfolding; a dutiful, prayerful nun.
I pleased God, I thought,
By being obedient.
It made me feel holy.

But getting to heaven takes a long time.
And dwelling far below was a Voice, calling:
"Lose yourself!"
"Lose yourself upon the deeper currents!"

Then I heard cries from the heart of the city:
"Is there life before death?"
I saw. I heard. I followed.
I made my way to prison cells.
I made my way to death chambers.
I saw. I heard. I followed.
I witnessed.

A desire for justice woke in me.
A fierce desire that will not let go.
The deepest desire.
The deepest desire of my heart.
"Come home!"
"Come home!"
"Come home!"

Primary colors

I live my life in primary colors.
I let praise and blame fall where they may.
I hold my soul in equanimity
And leave the fruits of my labors to God.
At night, when I pray, I catch on fire.
And when I put my head on the pillow,
I fall instantly to sleep.
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