Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 7, 2004
Embattled singer turned to Mary
Light One Candle
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
The Christophers is an old friend to singer Aaron Neville. He was on our television program Christopher Closeup a number of years back and he supports Christopher ideals. So I looked forward to meeting Aaron on a recent visit to New Orleans.
When you first meet him, he can be a little intimidating. He's tall and strongly built and doesn't smile easily. But this four-time Grammy Award winner is not only an artist of unique range and ability, he's also a walking example of faith in action. Maybe some background would help to flesh out who this man is.
Born in 1941, Aaron - along with his three singing brothers - grew up in a family in which money did not come easily. In fact, after a 1966 hit called Tell It Like It Is, Neville and his brothers found that they had been exploited by an unscrupulous music company. Add to this situation the fact that Aaron had married his teenage sweetheart and they were raising four children.
Making ends meet could not happen on music gigs alone, so he had to find other jobs. World class singer Aaron Neville has worked as a freight handler, a longshoreman, a ditch digger and a steel mill worker. And still he found himself unable to make ends meet.
So he did some things he'd live to regret. With some unsavoury friends he became involved with car theft. He was caught and sent to jail for almost two years. That experience was followed by a desire to escape, so he turned to heroin. His wife, still his faithful companion, sometimes had to leave with the children during the worst of his drug experiences.
At times, Neville wondered if life was even worth living. But he looked for and found a way out of the darkness. And it involved a passionate return to the faith of his childhood.
In the 1950s South in which he grew up, segregation was the rule. Very few people could or would stand up to this institutionalized bigotry. But some did.
Aaron and his brothers were blessed to know nuns who educated African-Americans in the deep South, including the parish school the children attended. There they learned lessons about charity and trust. There they also learned that no matter what society said, they were valuable people, made in the image and likeness of God. They were also taught that our loving God would never desert them. No matter what.
That's a lesson that the bottomed-out Aaron Neville needed to know and believe after the prison years and a decade in drug purgatory. So he gave himself and his voice to God's care. He prayed like he'd never prayed before.
In addition to a personal embrace of the Lord, Neville entrusted himself to Mary, the mother of Jesus and to St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes. And slowly, wonderfully, his life started to turn toward hope and happiness. He broke the drug habit. He returned to his wife and children and began to find work as a singer. And, above all, he remembered the source of his strength and healing.
He was not a fair-weather follower of the Lord. He didn't just sign on when times were hard. No, he stayed faithful. To this day, Aaron Neville gives the credit and the glory for his talent and his success to God, who was there to be the lifeline he needed.
He wears a pierced earring made from a medal of St. Jude. It's there to remind him that everything we are comes from God. This initially intimidating man is, in truth, a sweet, kind and generous person. He truly embodies the Christopher motto: "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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