By JOANNE FOX
Christian music legend John Michael Talbot expressed his surprise when the concert-goers joined his singing with gusto.
“I thought I was in a Catholic Church,” he exclaimed in disbelief.
It took only a couple of seconds and the crowd laughed out loud when they realized his sarcasm was related to the notion that Catholics are notoriously poor singers.
The Grammy Award-winning artist returned to Sioux City June 4, at St. Michael Church, for a concert to benefit Holy Cross School. The event was the first night of Talbot’s 2017 concert tour “A Lifetime of Music & Ministry,” featuring four decades of songs, many of which the singer/composer confessed he hadn’t performed live in decades.
Talbot drew an analogy between his concert and its presentation on the feast of Pentecost.
“Sometimes the Holy Spirit can be a strong, driving wind that drives out junk, but sometimes, it can be a gentle breeze,” he said, before singing Veni, Sancti Spiritus, translated from the Latin, “Come, Holy Spirit.”
Talbot, a convert to Catholicism and founder of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage, in Berryville, Ark., engaged the crowd with audience participation.
“Place your hands over your heart,” he instructed, and those in attendance quickly obeyed.
“Jesus in holding your heart right now and the power of the Holy Spirit is within us,” Talbot continued. “Let’s make sure we walk with him because God alone is enough.”
Talbot combined his concert with some preaching, the opposite of his two-day mission in 2015 at St. Michael Church. Clad in an unadorned monk’s robe and looking like Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses, Talbot shared his faith journey that began as a “Methodist kid.”
“I was bored to tears, until I ran into some Jesus freaks,” he paused, “then, I ran the other way.”
Talbot shared how he experienced Jesus in 1971 “in a Holiday Inn,” and embraced the evangelical faith.
“However, I became disheartened with the evangelical world and started to read Scripture and the early church fathers,” he said.
His religious studies and spiritual searching eventually led him to embrace the Catholic Church, which he entered in 1978.
Talbot illustrated his monastic lifestyle in the song, He is Risen. With eyes closed for most of the music, Talbot kept time to the beat by crunching his toes – that peeked through his sandals – and gently tapping on his guitar to emphasize certain notes.
“Contemplative music emphasizes not only the notes, but the space between the notes,” he explained. “That ‘music’ between the notes is a sneak peak of heaven.”
Mason Proffit alum
Talbot’s guitar rifting illustrated why the former member of the folk rock band Mason Proffit could still bring it with the best, as he strummed out The Painter, which he had performed with his brother Terry – another Mason Proffit alum – in the album of the same name in 1980.
Talbot’s resonant tenor voice presented a different interpretation on the Peace Prayer of St. Francis before seguing to Holy is His Name, in essence the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Magnificat. The audience didn’t need much prompting as Talbot asked them to stand, raise their hands and “let Jesus lift you up.”
To keep the evening light and to remind the audience of his rock ‘n’ roll roots, Talbot plucked out the first chords of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, followed by Purple Haze, and with perfect comedic timing, added an open-mouthed grin.
“You were expecting the Grateful Dead,” he said in reference to the iconic rock band, most of whose members have passed on. “If so, you would be dead and grateful this concert is over.”
The gentle humor continued as Talbot introduced The Pleiades and Orion, calling it “one of Father David Hemann’s favorite songs.” Talbot strummed a few chords, appeared flummoxed, and asked the St. Michael’s pastor for the first few words to the song, which he gladly provided.
The only Catholic presence on Trinity Broadcasting Network, Talbot began sharing his messages of hope and inspiration each week on “All Things are Possible,” recently concluding its third season.
“Pope Benedict said we will only have unity (among the faiths) when we all get on our knees together and let go of our agendas and then, Jesus will surprise all of us,” he said.
Talbot continued, “Pope Francis spoke about unity as well, saying, ‘We no longer have time to argue with each other,’” as the monk vocalized on One Faith.
Talbot returned for an encore to sing Come Home, Little Children and Because You are Chosen.
A prolific author, Talbot’s 29th book, “Monk Dynasty” was published February 2016. He spoke about the Brothers and Sisters of Christian Charity and the Little Portion Hermitage Baked Goods, which were available for purchase.
Ever the comedian, Talbot proclaimed, “Maybe you can’t join the monastery, but you can eat like a monk.”
Talbot is a staunch proponent of a “monastic revival of the Catholic Church,” particularly in light of what he called “a grave crisis” in the church.
“America needs revival now, and the Catholic Church in America needs revival now,” he said. “Throwing institutional programs and degrees at the problem won’t solve it. Only radical conversion to Christ can solve our problems in the west.”