Thursday, April 17, 2014

There I Was, In My Warm Bed

At this moment in Rome, Pope Francis is celebrating the Mass of the Lord's Supper at Don Gnocchi Centre. He will undoubtedly be washing the feet of twelve elderly and disabled people, honoring and upholding their human dignity in a simple yet extraordinary gesture.

Human dignity. One very early morning this week, I awoke after having tossed and turned most of the night, thinking about work and some challenges in my own family. I reached over and turned on my iPhone, logged onto the internet, and first saw the story of the capsizing of the ferry in Korea. There I was, in my warm bed. Suddenly it dawned on me that there were other human beings, just like me, who were going through a period of immense and unfathomable personal torment at that very moment as that ship went down.

There I was, in my warm bed.

For some reason,

this came to mind at that moment.

And then I recalled Saint Paul's words in First Corinthians:
"If one part [of the body] suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy."

There I was, in my warm bed.

As we celebrate the paschal mystery over the next few days, my hope and prayer is that we (I, in a particular way), will remember how connected we are to the human family. Some members of this family share our Christian faith; others do not, yet we are all created in God's image and likeness. And as many of us are in the "warm beds" of our own lives, I hope that we will remember those who live through the cold-heartedness of an every-day existence. I will be remembering those who live in fear, whose family's safety is threatened each day. When we wash one another's feet, let us honor and uphold the human dignity of those whose feet are washed in our assemblies and, by extension, remember that all our brothers and sisters across this planet have as much of a right to an upholding of human dignity as do those who gather in our churches.

There I was, in my warm bed.

A very blessed and grace-filled Triduum to you all.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Roman Missal: Something's Gotta Change

Tuesday greetings from Chicago, where we awoke to about an inch of snow on the ground. It is actually quite beautiful, but it should all be melted in a matter of hours. The view on the train platform this morning:

While away on vacation last week the new CARA survey on The Roman Missal was released. Frankly, I did not find any of the findings that surprising. In my travels, I have noticed that the majority of priests over forty have expressed dismay with the text; younger priests have generally expressed satisfaction with the text.

I would like to share more of my own experience. It is becoming increasingly more difficult for me to pray with the celebrant at Sunday Mass when the official texts are prayed. I am listening so intently to the words and phrases that I am too distracted to actually pray. Sometimes I try to tune out the praying of the collect, for instance, just so I won't get bogged down in trying to figure out what the prayer is actually saying. This saddens me. Since I have been somewhat of a "travelin' man" Catholic for the last year, I have had experiences of excellent celebrants who have prepared the texts quite well. But even then, I find myself being impressed more by their preparation and delivery than by the texts themselves. I knew, certainly, that this would be the case for me as the implementation of the new translation began to unfold. But I expected this not to be the case today, a few years later.

I am speaking from my Catholic heart here, not my publisher heart. I believe that something needs to change in the next several years. I need the English-language texts of the Mass to make sense when they are prayed. I need the English-language texts of the Mass to inspire me at face value, without having to decipher the meaning embedded in a convoluted word-order. I need the English-language texts of the Mass to draw me deeper into the theology they express in much more straightforward ways. I am growing tired of doing linguistic analysis at Mass. I am not there to analyze; I am there to pray with my sisters and brothers. Something's gotta change.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Back Home from Where It All Began

Monday greetings to all on this day filled with fours!

I had a wonderful week away, spending time on the shores of Cape Cod and with family members in Massachusetts.

While there, I had the chance to visit the church where I was baptized, Saint Anthony of Padua in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

When I was baptized, the font was located in the sacristy. A few years ago it was restored and brought into the church and placed at the side altar of Saint Ann.

Here is a photo I took with the lid swung into the open position.

And here I am. This was a special moment for me. I had visited the place in 1985 and had not been back since. May 25, 1958 . . . the day that everything changed at this font.

Lots to catch up on here at the office. I will have more to share over the next several days.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, April 4, 2014

More from the "Unwelcomed Stranger"

Friday greetings from the Midwest, where this blogger was suddenly caught in a surprise "April shower" this morning as he headed to the train; more like an "April deluge!" Sitting here trying to dry out.

I am leaving later today for a week of vacation and I do not plan to blog during that time. Just need some down time away from it all.

Many of you have made comments here and sent me personal emails, Facebook messages, and notes regarding my recent post "Still An Unwelcomed Stranger." Thank you.

In the mid-1980's, the parish staff at Saint Mary Magdalen in Altamonte Springs, Florida, where I was director of liturgy and music, asked Fr. Jim Dunning, founder of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, to visit our parish and present a staff development day. He came on a Saturday and went to every one of our parish Masses. When he met with the staff on Monday morning, he was asked about his experience of Sunday Mass. To be honest, as a guy who grew up in the Boston area, Sunday Masses I attended with my family were quick 35-minute affairs for the most part. When I arrived at Saint Mary Magdalen, I was blown away by the singing at Mass, by the engagement of the assembly; this was Sunday Mass the likes of which I had dreamed about. So I figured that Jim Dunning would share the same sentiments.

Jim stated that at each Mass he positioned himself in different areas of the church, looking a bit lost, looking a bit like he was searching for a place to sit or some direction from an usher or parishioner. He told us that no one reached out to him in welcome. I was embarrassed by this. Frankly, it started me on a road to ensure that parishes where I ministered would do their very best to put hospitality and welcome at the center of our efforts as a parish. I must admit failures and successes along the way. And I guess for the past year, I have been doing a bit of what Jim Dunning did that weekend in Florida so long ago.

One person has suggested that hospitality and welcome needs to be a kind of two-way street in Catholic parishes. He likened the experience to someone who goes shopping for a particular computer in an electronics store. If not waited on by a salesperson, the shopper needs to reach out, find a salesperson, and begin to seek help to find the particular computer. This got me thinking. Perhaps when I arrive at a parish, I should go to any person and simply say, "Hello, I am visiting here, can you tell me about your parish?" I think I will try it over the next few months and see what happens.

Folks, I am not looking to be bombarded by hordes of welcomers when I go to Mass. Frankly, if I were to sit down in a pew and someone either turned around or tapped me on the shoulder, or glanced over at me and simply said "Hello, I haven't seen you here before; I hope you feel welcome to come back any time; I really love my parish," that would speak volumes to me.

Maybe there's a new little handbook for pew Catholics in the works in my mind . . .

Well, signing off for at least a week now, unless something in our Catholic world occurs that spurs me to blog. Enjoy these waning weeks of Lent.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Wall and Prayer

Just finished watching the latter part of the Mass just celebrated by Cardinal O'Malley at the "wall" that separates the human persons living on one side in Mexico from the human persons living on the other side in the United States. I didn't realize it until watching this Mass that one can actually see through the wall. Here are some images of this travesty:

A platform had been set up right in front of the wall; it was upon that platform that Mass was celebrated.

And people received the Lord even through the wall:

It was stunning as I watched the Cardinal give the final blessing. You could see through the fence to the people in Mexico, only a few feet away, blessing themselves as the prayer was pronounced. Seems that prayer can break through any obstacle.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, March 31, 2014

What Are We Begging for This Lent?

Yesterday's Gospel of the healing of the man who had been born blind is one that always touches me deeply.

The homilist at the Mass I attended, reflecting on this man "who used to sit and beg," asked us all this question: "What are you begging for this Lent?"

That question has haunted me since yesterday.

And I think, with Pope Francis' words in today's Angelus reflection in Vatican City, I am coming close to answering that question:

“At times our life is sometimes similar to that of the blind man who opens up to the light of God and His grace. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is rather like that of the doctors of law. From the heights of our pride we judge others, even the Lord. Today, we are invited to open ourselves to Christ's light, so that our lives might bear fruit; to eliminate our behaviour that is not Christian; we are all Christians, but we all at times behave in ways which are not Christian, which are sins. We must repent of this, and eliminate these forms of behaviour … to behave like 'children of light', with humility, patience and mercy. … Those doctors of the law had neither humility, nor patience, nor mercy. … We must not be afraid! Let us open ourselves to the light of the Lord, He Who always awaits us, to let us see better, to offer us more light, to forgive us … so we can be reborn to a new life”.

What am I begging for this Lent? Humility, patience, and mercy.

What are you begging for this Lent?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Still an Unwelcomed Stranger

Friday greetings from a rainy and cold Midwest.

It has been nearly a year since I stopped worshipping at the parish I called home for over a decade: Saint James here in Chicago. Since leaving the parish, the church building has been torn down.

It hadn't been in use for nearly five years. I was one of those who agreed that it should come down and the parish should follow the vision of Cardinal George to build a new church a few blocks away, in an area where people live and there is more activity occurring than the original site for the church.

The reasons for my leaving are quite complicated and I most probably will never share them here. Put simply, it became more and more painful and stressful for me personally to go to Mass at Saint James in the months leading up to my decision to leave. It simply was not a healthy environment for me.

Over the years, in my travels, I have heard people complain about an aspect or aspects of their parishes. Some have deep disagreements with a parish staff member. Others dislike the music choices. Others deeply dislike a new or renovated parish church. I once heard a prominent pastoral theologian, who himself was a pastor of a Catholic parish, respond to one of these complaints by stating directly to the person complaining: "There are plenty of Catholic parishes. I would urge you simply to leave the parish that is causing you so much pain and anguish." The surprised complainer looked at the priest and said, "Oh, this is my parish; I would never think of leaving my parish!" I must admit that I felt an inner resonance with this person and the response given. And that has been my own mantra for most of my Catholic life, until this time last year.

When one reaches a point, like the point where I was, that attending Mass is too painful and stressful, I knew that I had to make a decision, and that decision was not an easy one. But it was one that had to be made.

In the year since leaving Saint James, those of you who read this blog have watched me float around from parish to parish. This has been a painful year for me as a Catholic. I have not yet found a community that resounds with me. And I am still floating. It is quite challenging to remain faithful (which I have done) and to do so without a kind of permanent home in which to live my Catholic faith. I wonder where God is leading me. I know that it is somewhere; it just hasn't become apparent yet.

I have worshipped in places with very small congregations where I am obviously a stranger among regular parishioners. Yet no one, not a soul, in any of these places has ever reached out and asked me if I were a newcomer; no one has reached out and offered any kind of personal welcome. This has been more than disappointing for me. And it makes me think about how complacent some Catholics are in their parishes, in parishes where the numbers of Sunday worshippers may be on the decline. I have continued to be a tithing Catholic. I am not patting myself on the back here; I just very simply follow the call to give ten percent of everything that I earn to the Church. While I am certainly in no way a wealthy person, my weekly contribution is not insubstantial. I have often wondered if a money counter, or a pastor, or a business manager would ever notice a larger-than-usual check from a non-registered-in-the-parish person at Mass in the collection (and often several weeks in a row) and perhaps give me call, either thanking me or inquiring about whether or not I want to register in the parish. So far, nothing.

Perhaps I am craving some kind of special treatment and I need a dose of humility here, and maybe that is the lesson to be learned in all of this.

Perhaps what this past year has taught me is something more important. When I do eventually find a spiritual home, a parish community, I need to be someone who doesn't hesitate to reach out to a newcomer or visitor. This has been a hard way to learn this lesson.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.