Friday, February 12, 2016

Dancing and Crowning: Ravenna's Neonian Baptistery


Last evening I had the chance to review some of the videos I took while in Italy a few years back. This is the video from the interior of the Neonian Baptistery in Ravenna, which was finished by the end of the 5th century.

What I love about the stunning mosaic on the ceiling is the way the apostles' feet suggest that they are dancing as they rejoice in the newest addition to the Body of Christ, baptized below.

Also, each apostle carries a laurel ring, a crown awaiting the moment when the baptized person will be crowned in glory at the heavenly banquet. A little interpretation on my part, of course, but as this Lenten season unfolds, let us be reminded of our own baptism and what awaits the faithful servant.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Different Beginning of Lent for Me

Thursday greetings from the frigid Midwest.

This has been quite an unusual ramp-up and beginning of Lent for me in a deeply personal way.

In the spirit of protecting the privacy of my immediate family, I can't get into the whole thing. But over the past five weeks, we were teetering on what looked like a 99% probability of a cancer diagnosis for one of my family members. This has surely been a roller coaster ride of emotions, mixed with sadness, anger, confusion, and deep worry.

Yesterday afternoon, after a call from the oncologist, we were informed that there is no trace of any cancer whatsoever.

I cannot describe the relief and utter joy I felt. I had already booked a flight for Saturday night to visit my family in Massachusetts and now, instead of a weekend of concern, it will be a weekend of celebration, and for that I am so grateful.

But I am also reminded of those who do not receive such good news when going through a diagnosis of any kind, especially revolving around cancer. Too many people close to my heart, including my own family, live with the reality of cancer and its treatments. My heart is close to all of those who suffer in any way.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

RCIA: A Question for You!

Greetings on this Ash Wednesday.

I am in conversation with a colleague about the re-translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults that is now in progress at ICEL.

A question arose about Paragraph 33 #1.

This is found under the general heading "Adaptations by the Conferences of Bishops in the Use of the Roman Ritual."

"The conference of bishops has discretionary power to make the following decisions:
1. to establish for the precatechumenate, where it seems advisable, some way of receiving inquirers who are interested in the catechumenate (see no. 39);"

Then, when one finds no. 39, here's what is found:

"The conference may also provide, if circumstances suggest and in keeping with local custom, a preliminary manner of receiving those interested in the precatechumenate, that is, those inquirers who, even though they do not fully believe, show some leaning toward the Christian faith (and who may be called 'sympathizers.').
1. Such a reception; if it takes place, will be carried out without any ritual celebration; it is the expression not yet of faith, but of a right intention.
2. The reception will be adapted to local conditions and to the pastoral situation. Some candidates may need to see evidence of the spirit of Christians that they are striving to understand and experience. For others, however, whose catechumenate will be delayed for one reason or another, some initial act of the candidates or the community that expresses their reception may be appropriate.
3. The reception will be held at a meeting or gathering of the local community, on an occasion that will permit friendly conversation. An inquirer or 'sympathizer' is introduced by a friend and then welcomed and received by the priest or some other representative member of the community."

So, here is my question. Does anyone do this? Do you prepare some kind of "way of receiving inquirers?"

Comments and dialogue welcome here in the comments box or over on Gotta Sing Gotta Pray's Facebook page.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Two Cab Rides

Shrove Tuesday greetings from the snowy and cold Midwest.

My travels have ended until the end of this month.

I wanted to share two travel stories with you, both involving cab rides.

When I was in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, we had snow the second night I was there and as I was returning to my hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, I was impressed when I entered the cab. The sound system in the cab was top notch and there was a female jazz singer performing beautifully over that system. I mentioned to the cab drive how much I was enjoying the music. It ends up that he is a concert pianist and was a close friend of the singer. I told him a little about myself and he asked me if I liked Durufle's Requiem. He said that of all the music ever written, he thought the Kyrie from the Requiem was the finest piece of music ever written. He said he had a favorite recording, from Saint John's College in Cambridge, which he began to play as we approached my hotel. There were people waiting at the doors of the hotel, hoping to find a cab. As the Kyrie began to soar and the cab drive started to wave his arms in the air, conducting the piece, I was swept away with the amazing performance of this piece. You can find it here.

When the doorman signaled that he had a few people that needed the cab, the cab driver rolled down the window and said, "You will have to wait, because we are listening to Durufle's Requiem." The driver turned the meter off and we just sat and listened in awe. 

Once the piece concluded, feeling exhilarated, I left that cab driver a very nice tip and told him that this was the finest concert experience I had ever known in a taxi. Just amazing.

Story number two. 

On a cab ride from O'Hare to my home on Saturday, after a long day of traveling from Baltimore, the driver, who was from India, asked me what I did for a living. I told him that I helped run a Catholic publishing company. He paused for a few minutes and said, "Tell me, sir. Do you believe in Darwin's theory of the evolution of man or do you believe Jesus Christ?" I said that I thought the question addressed two different approaches, and comparing belief in Jesus Christ to belief in Darwin's theory was not a direct enough comparison in which to engage in conversation. He paused for a while and said that his grandfather in India had taught him about the gods of the Hindu religion but that he never really believed in any of that growing up, simply couldn't make sense of it. Because he loved and respect his grandfather, he would never openly question him about it. He pressed me more to talk about the theory of evolution and the Christian understanding of creation. I told him that the Catholic Church summons me, a believer, to place faith in conversation with reason and science. I said that much of our creation stories in the Bible arose from the myths of my ancestors in the faith, who did not have the scientific knowledge we have today. I told him that I absolutely must engage in a conversation about the science of evolution, but that I believed in my heart that the spark that originated all life in the universe is traced to a loving and creating God. I couldn't help but think of my philosophy courses so many years ago and Aristotle's "un-moved mover," and the other arguments for the existence of God.

He said that there was no divine "spark" that began it all. I said that the human person's spirit and sense of reason can only be explained, at least in my believing heart, by looking at a God in whose image I am created. And that spark of life, that spirit of the human person is something that continues on after our earthly bodies are exhausted.

He told me, loosely quoting Darwin's theory, that human persons developed spirit and reason over billions of years due to three chief needs: food, sex, and land. These needs are what eventually developed into the human person becoming able to communicate and develop what I was calling the human spirit sparked by the divine.

When we arrived at my home, I thanked him for the conversation, as did he.

Part of me wishes that I could have brought these two cab drivers together and that the three of us could read Darwin, the Bible, the tenets of Hinduism, all the while listening to Durufle's Requiem.

You know, it is quite amazing what happens when one does not remain passive in the back seats of taxi cabs. I was grateful for both of these encounters.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Baltimore and Expanding a Narrow RCIA Vision

Thursday greetings from the Mid-Atlantic Congress for Pastoral Leadership here in Baltimore, Maryland. Here is the view from my hotel room, looking right down into Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles.

We finished setting up the WLP booth this morning; we begin our exhibits in a few hours.

WLP and J.S.Paluch printed the programs for the conference and we are sponsoring two workshops, one by John Angotti, the other by yours truly.

This has been a busy conference season for me since the beginning of the year. I will have a few weeks off before heading to Anaheim for the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress at the end of the month.

At Mass on Sunday morning at Old Saint Patrick's in Chicago, a woman sitting next to me introduced herself, letting me know that she follows this blog. So a shout out both to that parishioner, and to my Dad; I found out recently that he reads the blog regularly. Hi Dad!

I am hoping that the folks here at the conference grow in their faith. I am talking about rebuilding the RCIA, with a focus on the initiating community. Too often, the RCIA has morphed from the "Father Smith Instructs Jackson" approach simply to "The RCIA Team Instructs Jackson." It takes some stretching for RCIA ministers to envision the entire parish as the initiators. But I really do think it is not rocket science; it just takes a commitment to expanding a narrow vision. But you already know that, because you read this blog!

Please say a prayer for those gathered here in Baltimore.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Challenger Disaster: Thirty Years Later

Thirty years ago today, I was sitting in my office at Saint Mary Magdalen Church in Altamonte Springs, Florida, where I served as director of liturgy and music. It was a very cold, crisp morning, by Central Florida standards. The 500 plus kids in our Catholic school were all standing out on the soccer field, shivering in the cold.

One of the really cool things about living in Central Florida, at least for this northerner, was watching the launches of the space shuttles. Even though we were over fifty miles away, we could still watch the trail of smoke as the shuttles soared into the air. On more than one occasion, I would set an alarm, grab a lawn chair, and sit in a vacant field near my house for the spectacular night launches. It was like watching an instant sunrise.

Since I had seen so many launches, one very close up on the sands in Cocoa Beach, I decided to stay in my office that cold January morning. Someone rushed into our music suite and said that something had gone terribly wrong with the launch. I ran outside and saw our school teachers ushering very confused and startled children back into the school. I looked up in the air and saw the reason. It was obvious that just a minute before, something had indeed gone terribly wrong. The trail of smoke from the Challenger still hung in the air, but where it stopped, I could see trails of other smoke cascading down to the earth.

The school children were on the soccer field for this particular launch, of course, because Christa McCauliffe, the first school teacher in space, was aboard the doomed flight.

About an hour after the disaster, when it was clear that there was no way that any of the astronauts could have survived the explosion, I was summoned to the pastor's office, where I found the pastor and the principal of the school. They asked me to put together a prayer service for the children that would help address their shock, grief, and confusion. The way a kindergartner reacts and the way an eighth-grader reacts to a tragedy like this is very different.

Frankly, I don't remember much about the prayer service, save two things. Firstly, I had never seen a group of more than five hundred children more silent than that day when they assembled in the Church. And secondly, we were asked to choose a piece of music that we thought would be appropriate. So, my associate and I sang Eternal Father, Strong to Save. It was one of the most difficult moments in my music ministry. My voice tends to fail when I feel intense emotion, but somehow we got through those final two verses, which is my continued prayer on this day thirty years later.

O Spirit, whom the Father sent To spread abroad the firmament;O Wind of heaven, by your might Save all who dare the eagle's flight,And keep them by your watchful careFrom ev'ry peril in the air.

O Trinity of love and pow'r, Your children shield in danger's hour;From rock and tempest, fire and foe, Protect them wheresoe'er they go: And then shall rise with voices freeGlad praise from air and land and sea. 

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

RCIA: Stumbling Blocks

Tuesday greetings from the home office here in Franklin Park, IL.

These past several weeks have been busy ones for me. Last week, I gave two seminars on "Rebuilding the RCIA and Building an Evangelizing Community." The first was held at Saint Frances Cabrini Parish in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania for folks around the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Here are two photos I took.

The next day I was in the Diocese of Greensburg at the Bishop Connare Diocesan Center. The snow had been falling gently. Just a picture perfect setting.

And yours truly with the enthusiastic RCIA ministers in the diocese.

Diocesan leaders from several offices were present and I asked them to offer some opening remarks. It was striking how similar the remarks were from both dioceses. Both dioceses seem to be in somewhat of a holding pattern with respect to training RCIA ministers. Both talked about the RCIA needing more attention and a much-needed shot in the arm in this area of Pennsylvania.

As the new translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults continues to unfold, it is my hope that the dawn of the new translation will see a resurgence in training in dioceses around the English-speaking Catholic world.

Some in attendance spoke about their frustration with the priests in their parishes. One said that when the time for the Rite of Sending for the Rite of Election neared, the pastor said, "Oh, do we really need to do that?" These RCIA ministers expressed frustration that often their biggest stumbling block in their parishes as it implements the RCIA is the pastor. I have found this to be true in most places I have visited. In too many dioceses, there simply isn't the formation for RCIA in the seminary curriculum nor in ongoing priestly formation.

Of course, for every one of these sad stories, there are others where the pastor is completely on board with the vision of the Rite and works very hard alongside the baptized with the full implementation.

Uneven pastoral practice? Absolutely. When a person asks me what they should do, or how they should approach a pastor who doesn't understand the rite or who refuses to celebrate the various rites or refuses to allow the dismissal of catechumens, I often come up empty. I urge people to buy a gift for their pastor, Paul Turner's Celebrating Initiation: A Guide for Priests. I know this book has been enormously helpful for seminarians, priests, and those charged with helping shape the rites in the parish. Beyond that, I am at a loss.

Several years ago, I was asked to speak with a group of priests in a diocese in the Northeast. There were guys that I had been in the seminary with at the gathering. When I talked about the apprenticeship model and the need for directly connecting catechumens and candidates with the life of the parish during the catechumenate, one young priest pounded the table and said, "What you are talking about is nothing but a bunch of fluffy field trips. These people need the meat! They need to learn the dogmas of the Church. Don't you realize that the majority of the people in our pews don't even believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist? We must give the catechumens and candidates the meat!"

Now, as I say all the time, I am certainly not against sharing and teaching the tenets of the faith during the RCIA process. But that thrust has to be balanced (according to the Second Vatican Council, the Rite itself and both the General Directory for Catechesis and the National Directory for Catechesis.) All of these guiding documents point out that initiatory catechesis has as its centerpiece an apprenticeship approach that must achieve a balance among the four pillars of formation: Catechesis, Community, Prayer, and Apostolic Service. It's not about teaching catechumnens and candidates about community, prayer, and apostolic service; it's all about having them become involved in these various aspects of formation while they are in the RCIA, while they are in "basic training."

I know that in my own lifetime I will never see the fulfillment of this vision. All I can do is plug along and try to help people see that the RCIA cannot be in the shadows, "in Room 102 on Tuesday nights from 7:00 to 8:30." The mission is worth it because I believe that initiation is more than imparting Catholic information; it is about forming disciples of Jesus Christ through a process of learning by doing.

Thanks for listening.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.