Friday, May 31, 2013

Expanding Our Hearts in Joy

Friday greetings from Texas.

At this morning's reflection session for those gathered for this leadership conference, I quoted His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama:

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can."
Such inspiring words. When I returned to my hotel room after the morning's reflection, I found the homily Pope Francis preached this morning at Mass. Here is an excerpt:
"It’s the Spirit that guides us: He is the author of joy, the Creator of joy. And this joy in the Holy Spirit gives us true Christian freedom. Without joy, we Christians cannot become free, we become slaves to our sorrows. The great Paul VI said that you cannot advance the Gospel with sad, hopeless, discouraged Christians. You cannot. A certain mournful behavior, no? Often Christians behave as if they were going to a funeral procession rather than to praise God, no? And this joy comes from praise, Mary’s praise, this praise that Zephaniah speaks of, Simeon and Anna’s praise: this praise of God!"

Two powerful and inspiring men to start my day off. Hope yours is a good one, benefiting others as much as you can and with great joy!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Making Music in Texas

Wednesday greetings from the state of Texas.

I am here helping lead the music and prayer for a Catholic healthcare system's annual leadership conference. I am working with another musician who has organized a choir and our first rehearsal today went quite well. So it should be a good few days here.

People often ask me questions like "What church to you play at?" or "Do you have a regular church gig?" or "Are you the musician at your parish?"

I answer all of these questions now with a "no." I was a full-time music and liturgy director from 1984 through 1999. I occasionally substitute in my own parish, but that may only happen once every two years. Being here and practicing some challenging pieces to accompany the choir and having that sense of satisfaction when a group of singers simply creates a beautiful sound makes me miss those music-making days.

I often tell people that my dream retirement is returning to a small parish with a nice little choir and a few weekend Masses and the occasional funeral or wedding. I do miss playing and thank the Lord that I still have my chops. Perhaps what I miss most is the community that choirs form. And what I miss the least is the evening meetings!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

New Translation Tuesday: Preface for the Trinity

Tuesday morning greetings from the "home office" here in Franklin Park, Illinois.

Well, it certainly was an interesting discussion that several Facebook friends and I had late yesterday concerning this text, the preface for the Most Holy Trinity, celebrated this past weekend.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,

always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.
For with your Only Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit
you are one God, one Lord:
not in the unity of a single person,
but in a Trinity of one substance.
For what you have revealed to us of your glory
we believe equally of your Son
and of the Holy Spirit,
so that, in the confessing of the true and eternal Godhead,
you might be adored in what is proper to each Person,
their unity in substance,
and their equality in majesty.
For this is praised by Angels and Archangels,
Cherubim, too, and Seraphim,
who never cease to cry out each day,
as with one voice they acclaim:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts …

I posted the text, wondering how others heard it or prayed it. Some comments:

I listened to that five times this past weekend and decided that the translator probably lost some hair trying to write it. Or chewed off his fingernails. Well, the same substance, different manifestations...Could have been both...

Reads much better than it sounds without the text in front of you. Even then, you have to know the sentence logic behind subordinate clauses and even sub-subordinate clauses.

This seems perfectly sensible to me. Really.

Reading it in print, it makes enough sense to me...but on the other hand, it annoys me. When prayers seem to be more about clarifying doctrine than praising God, they just sort of tick me off.

Really, whoever translated and approved this should be ashamed. I heard it three times this weekend and couldn't follow it at all. My guess is the assembly tuned out to their happy place.

 I had to pray this at three liturgies...and I still can't comprehend. I hope Pope Francis gives Episcopal conferences the responsibility for translations again...but I'm not holding my breath!

Has the Latin truly been translated into English if phrases like "a Trinity of one substance" do not account for the way English is understood by its speakers? "Substance," really? There is not a single living native English speaker who would ever use the word "substance" to explaining the essence of God. It remains in our liturgical language as jargon - professional jargon; words used by one professional to prove to another professional that he's done his homework. Used in this manner, it is a phrase that is not understood by the vast majority of Catholics. It is a phrase that should not appear in prayer. The prayer pretends to be intelligible only when the mind focuses on the mysterious contradictions in numbers and ignores the nouns. If one pays attention to the nouns and interprets their meanings according to modern English usage, how could he or she be faulted for believing that Catholics worship three Gods. My two brothers and I each have something proper to our individual persons and yet are made of the same substance: physical humanity. Likewise, we are not one person, but we are a threesome made of the same substance.

I saw the pain in the presiders face as he tried to sound prayerful. He is a good presider and a spiritual man, but by the middle I was just grimacing and by the end paying attention to the child in the pew in front of me happily playing until I hear the music start.

The reason why I posted this was because of my own experience at Mass on Sunday. My pastor prepares well to pray these texts. And each week he chants the preface dialogue and the preface. I was sticking with him as the preface unfolded and he tried his very best but ended up getting caught up in the language, trying to make it all intelligible for us. But he had to stop at least twice and I really felt for him.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Baptism, Pope Francis, and the Eighth Sacrament!

Saturday greetings. Just had to post today because today is the 55th Anniversary of my baptism.

Also, I found today's homily by Pope Francis to be a great gift on this day:

The faith of the People of God is a simple faith, a faith that is perhaps without much theology, but it has an inward theology that is not wrong, because the Spirit is behind it … Vatican II says “the holy people of God ... cannot err in matters of belief” (Lumen Gentium) … If you want to know who Mary is go to the theologian and he will tell you exactly who Mary is. But if you want to know how to love Mary, then go to the People of God who teach it better. The People of God are always asking for something closer to Jesus. They are sometimes a bit insistent in this. But it is the insistence of those who believe … I remember once, coming out of the city of Salta, on the patronal feast. There was a humble lady who asked for a priest’s blessing. The priest said, ‘All right, but you were at the Mass’ and explained the whole theology of blessing in the church. ‘Ah, thank you father, yes father,’ said the woman. When the priest had gone, the woman turned to another priest: ‘Give me your blessing!’ All these words did not register with her because she had another necessity: the need to be touched by the Lord. That is the faith that we always look for. This is the faith that brings the Holy Spirit. We must facilitate it, make it grow, help it grow.

Then there is the story of the blind man of Jericho who was rebuked by the disciples because he cried to the Lord, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The Gospel says that they didn’t want him to shout, but he wanted to shout more. Why? Because he had faith in Jesus! The Holy Spirit had put faith in his heart. And they said, ‘No, you cannot do this! You don’t shout to the Lord. Protocol does not allow it. They were as if saying to the Second Person of the Trinity, “Look what you do!’ … And think about the attitude of many Christians. Think of the good Christians, with good will. We think about the parish secretary, ‘Good evening or good morning, the two of us - boyfriend and girlfriend - we want to get married.’ And instead of saying, ‘That’s great!,’ they say, ‘Oh, well, have a seat. If you want the Mass, it costs a lot ...’ They say this instead of receiving a warm welcome, ‘ It is a good thing to get married!’ But, instead they get this response: ‘Do you have the certificate of baptism,?’ ... and they find a closed door when this Christian and that Christian has the ability to open a door, thanking God for this fact of a new marriage.

We are many times controllers of fait, instead of becoming facilitators of the faith of the people … And there is always a temptation to try and take possession of the Lord. Then think about a single mother who goes to church, and she says to the secretary, ‘I want my child baptized.’ And then this Christian says: ‘No, you cannot because you’re not married!’ But look, this girl who had the courage to carry her pregnancy and not to return her son to the sender, what is it? A closed door! This is not zeal! It is far from the Lord! It does not open doors!

And so when we are on this road, have this attitude, we do not do good to people, the People of God. But, Jesus instituted the seven sacraments with the attitude of an open door and we are establishing the eighth: the sacrament of pastoral customs! … Jesus is indignant when he sees these things because those who suffer are his faithful people, the people that he loves so much. We think today of Jesus, who always wants us all to be closer to Him. We think of the Holy People of God, a simple people, who want to get closer to Jesus. We think of so many Christians of goodwill who are wrong and that instead of opening a door for them, we close the door of goodwill ... So we ask the Lord that all those who come to the Church find the doors open to meet this love of Jesus. We ask this grace.

The First Sacrament: Baptism.   The Eighth Sacrament: The Sacrament of Pastoral Customs! Just awed by this homily today. Thank you God and my parents for the gift of Baptism and to you, Pope Francis, for your gift today.   Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Christian Journey Filled With Hope

Friday greetings from a cool and sunny city of Chicago.

Been a bit under the weather for a few days. My apologies for not posting yesterday.

There certainly has been quite a bit of cyber-talk about Pope Francis' comments about redemption. The central line is this: "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!"

This has certainly caused quite a bit of questioning and confusion as well, even among the commenters on this blog yesterday. My understanding is that Christ's redemptive act on the cross, the shedding of his blood, was an act of redemption meant for all people. There are those who reject the faith knowingly, in an exercise of their God-given gift of free will. The central belief that the Lord intended redemption for all, means that they too are caught up in that act of redemption.

I think it is a good thing to think about those people in our own lives who have turned away from the faith. I think of a relative of mine who, though baptized, confirmed, and who once was a regular mass-goer, now is an avowed atheist. I think of him with love in my heart and I pray that some day he will turn again to embrace the Lord who gave him life and children and the love of his family. I believe that Christ's redemptive act is still at work in his heart. In this sense, I can see what the pope meant when he said, "Even the atheists. Everyone!"

I thank God that God is God and I am not! As I travel the country talking with people about the faith and underscoring the importance of cultivating a sacramental spirituality, there is one place that I simply do not go. And that place is the place of judgment. When someone asks me about a son or daughter who has turned away from the faith and has not had their own children baptized, then asks me whether or not the son or daughter or the grandchildren will be condemned to hell, I just cannot provide an answer, because I know not the ways of God and how God works in the particular person's heart and mind.

My heart is filled with lament at times like this and when questions like these arise. And I remind myself again that God is God and I am not.

About eight weeks ago, I shared with you the fact that my friend, Mary, died suddenly in her sleep. I am still grieving her loss. A few days ago, her 45 year-old brother had a massive heart attack and suffered irreparable brain damage. Yesterday, his wife and family faced the decision about the continuation of life support. Joe died peacefully after life-support was removed. These are the realities that families face every day. The faith of this family is certainly being tested. I think it is wise to think about what the pope said, especially in the tough times. I often tell people that we really can not even wrap our brains around the height and depth of God's redemptive love. Often, this is our only solace.

I find great comfort in the words of Bl. Pope John Paul II. In one of his last letters, Mane Nobiscum Domine, he had this to say about the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist:

It must not be forgotten that the Eucharistic meal also has a profoundly and primarily sacrificial meaning. In the Eucharist, Christ makes present to us anew the sacrifice offered once for all on Golgotha. Present in the Eucharist as the Risen Lord, he nonetheless bears the marks of his passion, of which every Mass is a “memorial”, as the Liturgy reminds us in the acclamation following the consecration: “We announce your death, Lord, we proclaim your resurrection . . ." At the same time, while the Eucharist makes present what occurred in the past, it also impels us towards the future, when Christ will come again at the end of history. This aspect makes the Sacrament of the Eucharist an event which draws us into itself and fills our Christian journey with hope.

So, even when friends and family members turn away from the Christian faith, I hold onto what John Paul II said, and believe that Christ's sacrifice, his redemptive act, which we remember and celebrate every Sunday, fills my own "Christian journey with hope."   Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pope or Prayer?

Thanks to all for words of comfort and understanding after my post yesterday.

It is being reported that as part of Pope Francis' homily today, he said this:

"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace."

This is what we will hear on Sunday:

"In a similar way, when supper was ended,

he took the chalice
and, once more giving thanks,
he gave it to his disciples, saying:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the chalice of my Blood,
the Blood of the new and eternal covenant,
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me."

Lex orandi, lex credendi? Yes or no?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Being Catholic and Living with "Why?"

Tuesday greetings to all.

The past few weeks have not been easy ones for me, for a number of reasons. At the tail end of my trip to Italy, I received an e-mail from my sister, letting us all know that her cancer, which has been fairly well "contained" for the past four years, has spread to her spinal column (later we found out that it has also appeared in her skull and ribcage). This was deeply troubling news, of course. I had a long conversation with a good friend of mine, a believing Catholic, about all of this. I said that as I have grown older, I have learned to live my life in a way that celebrates fully those moments, places, people, and times when my heart is filled with joy. And to let those moments of grief and sadness be times of feeling that grief deeply and that sadness acutely. In other words, I can't let the sad news diminish the joy, nor let the great joys obliterate the sadness. Ironically, approaching my life in this way has resulted in a certain even-ness of spirit and mental outlook.

This past weekend, while leading the retreat with RCIA ministers in Brooklyn, New York, I was speaking with them about the eucharist as a table of reconciliation. During that presentation, I invite people to think about those whom they consider have done unforgivable things. And then I ask them to envision these people around the table of the eucharist and somehow to imagine that the immensity of God's reconciling love is too vast and too deep for us to come close to grasping. I told them that I believe this is one of the most challenging aspects of the eucharist; I asked them to ponder what it was that Jesus did with Peter around that charcoal fire on the seashore following the resurrection. Peter, this "rock," who only days before said about the Lord, "I don't even know the man," is now reconciled around this charcoal fire with bread and fish on it with the words, "Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these?" Scholars have often pointed to this little charcoal breakfast fire with bread and fish on it as a kind of eucharistic meal. Who do you need to be reconciled with around that charcoal fire?

As I spoke these words on Saturday, I couldn't help but recall a conversation I had recently with the husband of a woman who has unfortunately lived with three debilitating diseases in her life. "How," he asked me, "can a loving God give my wife these three diseases? She is such a good person with so much to give; why would God do this to her?" Of course, I know that God does not "give" anyone diseases. But as I sat there with this struggling man, I knew that there were no ready answers for him. And I told him so. I told him that it just was aweful. But I also told him that they both were surrounded by people, family, and a parish that loves them. His was a simple question, without a simple answer.

And all of this comes to a head this morning as we see images and hear reports about the unimaginable devastation in Oklahoma wrought by tornadoes. Parents of dead children are asking those same questions, all revolving around that one word: "Why?"

So, here I am left with the fact that I have been preaching and teaching about the immensity of God's reconciling love and, at the same time, trying to work through ultimate questions about the nature of God and the mystery of sickness and evil. I guess this is the kind of thing that keeps a person of faith going; engaging in the challenging and very difficult questions. It was all so much easier when I was younger and people around me didn't have cancer, when natural disasters seemed so much farther away, both physically and emotionally, when the world seemed to me more of a place of goodness and peace.

Feeling the movements of the 22nd Psalm today, which begins:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?

And continues:

My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief.
Like water my life drains away; all my bones grow soft.
My heart has become like wax, it melts away within me.

As dry as a potsherd is my throat;
my tongue sticks to my palate;
you lay me in the dust of death.

 Then goes on:

Many dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me.
So wasted are my hands and feet

that I can count all my bones.
But then ends with this:   For God has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out.

I will offer praise in the great assembly;
my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.

Feel like my own life is buried somewhere in the words of this psalm today.   Let's pray for all who suffer, especially today for those in Oklahoma.   Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Association of Catholic Publishers: Two Awards for McGrath, Kerr-Breedlove and WLP!

Monday morning greetings from the home offices here in Franklin Park, Illinois. I arrived home from New York yesterday morning. The retreat for RCIA team members for the Diocese of Brooklyn was held on Saturday afternoon and people seemed to appreciate the time to engage in the retreat to help them more fully cultivate a sacramental spirituality.

Yesterday, I just felt the need to return to some kind of "normalcy," (whatever that is!) after so much recent travel. I had purchased flowers and herbs last week, so yesterday, on a beautiful sunny day here in Chicago, did my annual flower box plantings. Here is a first look for you.

Speaking of planting, we received some thrilling news on Friday from the Association of Catholic Publishers. They announced their annual "Excellence in Publishing" awards for 2013 and WLP won two awards. Jennifer Kerr-Breedlove's Sowing Seeds, Bearing Fruit: A Five-Year Process for Growing a Singing Congregation won the second place prize in the category "Resources for Ministry." Jennifer's book is really a "must-have" for any music director. I have listend to Jennifer give workshops based on the work outlined in this book and she is just so balanced and pastoral in her approach. Congratulations, Jennifer!

We were also thrilled to discover that another book published by WLP had one a coveted first place award in the category "General Interest." Brother Michael O'Neill McGrath's Saved by Beauty: A Spiritual Journey with Dorothy Day with a foreword by Robert Ellsburg captured the award.

Brother Mickey's artwork and compelling text put the reader in touch with the life of this amazing woman. Visually stunning, Brother Mickey shares his deep love and devotion to Dorothy in this masterpiece. Congratulations, Mickey!

I am so proud of our authors, artists, and staff members here at WLP. Awards are awards; let's face it. But what these works represent is our commitment to work with talented people to help serve the needs of the singing, praying, and initiating Church. This is a "feel good" day for this publishing house!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Two Coasts in Two Days and Grateful

Friday greetings from Chicago.

My apologies, folks, for the inconsistent posting these past few weeks since my return from Italy. So much to catch up on here at work and at home. Yesterday was spent at a meeting in Los Angeles and in a few hours, I am headed to New York to give a retreat at the beautiful Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston, NY for the RCIA ministers in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Every once in awhile I pause and realize how grateful I am to be able to work and minister with others in our Church. I see the dedication of so many across the United States and Canada; I see people who, despite the fact that they struggle with some Church structures, are committed to lighting a new fire of hope in this era of new evangelization. I count myself blessed to be among them.

I promise to post more regularly when I return next week.

Please pray for the safety of travelers.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

May, Moms, and Mary

Greetings on this Feast of Saint Matthias (and my own feast of sorts as well!)

I decided late Friday to spend a few days in Boston with my family over the weekend.

I went to Mass on Sunday with my parents. The Archdiocese of Boston is one of few provinces in the United States where the Solemnity of the Ascension is not transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter. So on Sunday I got to hear the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, which I have not heard in many years.

Something struck me about the music at Mass at this particular parish. We sang "Gentle Woman" at the Preparation of the Gifts and the cantor sang an "Ave Maria" as a solo after communion. I sat there, trying to make a connection between these songs and the readings and prayers that we had heard and prayed during Mass. Then I had one of those "duh" moments. The Marian music was obviously chosen because it was the month of May? Or perhaps because it was Mother's Day?

Anyway, I just wanted to throw this out there: do you sing Marian hymns at Sunday Massduring May? Do you sing Marian hymns on Mother's Day?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Lost in Translation

Here's a little snippet from an on-line article I read this morning. Seems something was lost in the translation of this particular German Cardinal's report on the Pope Emeritus' physical appearance.

German cardinal 'shocked' to see retired pontiff's decline
(ANSAmed) - Berlin, May 8 - A colleague of retired pope Benedict XVI says the former pontiff is in failing health, according to published reports.

Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, said he was shocked at the declining health of Benedict.

During a meeting between the two clerics on March 18, Meisner said he was stunned at how small Benedict had become, saying he was only half of his previous size, the German Catholic News Agency (KNA) reported.

I have a busy travel schedule over the next several days. I am flying to Boston to be with family tomorrow; I return here Monday evening; fly to Los Angeles for meetings on Wednesday and Thursday; return here Thursday night; then it is off to New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn on Friday, then back Saturday night.

Please pray for the safety of travelers.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

North American Forum on the Catechumenate and Its Gift to Me

Thursday greetings from Chicago.

For the past week, I have been digesting the sad news of the impending dissolution of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. Perhaps you read the article in the National Catholic Reporter.

Many colleagues with whom I have ministered through the institutes offered by Forum over the past twenty-five years have shared their own sadness. I have become a bit melancholy about it all and began to wonder just where Forum's institutes have taken me over the years. And here is a list of dioceses that I can recall:

In the United States:

Arlington, VA
Atlanta, GA
Baltimore, MD
Belleville, IL
Birmingham, AL
Boston, MA
Bridgeport, CT
Brooklyn, NY
Buffalo, NY
Camden, NJ
Charleston, SC
Charlotte, NC
Chicago, IL
Cincinnati, OH
Corpus Christi, TX
Dallas, TX
Denver, CO
Detroit, MI
El Paso, TX
Evansville, IN
Fall River, MA
Fargo, ND
Fort Worth, TX
Galveston-Houston, TX
Gary, IN
Grand Rapids, MI
Green Bay, WI
Hartford, CT
Indianapolis, IN
Jefferson City, MO
Joliet, IL
Juneau, AK
Kalamazoo, MI
Kansas City in Kansas, KA
Kansas City-Saint Joseph, MO
Lansing, MI
Las Cruces, NM
Lexington, KY
Little Rock, AR
Louisville, KY
Madison, WI
Memphis, TN
Miami, FL
Milwaukee, WI
Mobile, AL
Monterey, CA
Newark, NJ
New Orleans, LA
New Ulm, MN
Norwich, CT
Oakland, CA
Omaha, NE
Orange, CA
Orlando, FL
Philadelphia, PA
Phoenix, AZ
Portland, ME
Portland, OR
Pueblo, CO
Raleigh, NC
Richmond, VA
Rochester, NY
Sacramento, CA
Saginaw, MI
Saint Louis, MO
Salina, KS
San Antonio, TX
San Diego, CA
San Francisco, CA
Seattle, WA
Springfield, MA
Springfield-Cape Girardeau, MO
Springfield in Illinois, IL
Stockton, CA
Syracuse, NY
Tucson, AZ
Tulsa, OK
Wheeling-Charleston, WV
Wichita, KS
Youngstown, OH

In Canada:
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Moncton, New Brunswick
Ottawa, Ontario
Peterborough, Ontario
Saint John's, Newfoundland
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Toronto, Ontario
Vancouver, British Columbia
Nelson, British Columbia

And Overseas:
Deidesheim, Germany (US Miltary Ordinariate)
Ramstein Air Base, Germany (US Military Ordinariate)

Through the work and ministry of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, I have had the privilege of seeing the Church in so many places across North America.

I remember traveling to Juneau, Alaska and listening to the bishop there tell us that when men are ordained there, they usually get their pilot's license at the same time, since they need fly a sea plane in order to visit and bring communion and say Mass for Catholics in very remote areas. Some of these Catholics may celebrate Mass once every three months. And I remember this vividly because when I returned to the parish in Port Orange, Florida after this trip, there was much lament that the parish had to go from having four priests to three priests.

And I remember talking with a priest in the rural diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Missouri. He opened a map of the United States and was able to draw a small sqaure on that map, letting me know that what was in that square was the territory of his parish and that he puts an average of 80,000 miles on his car each year. And I remember this vividly because when I returned, I was at a meeting at my parish during which people were complaining about how long a walk it was from the paschal fire back into the church at the Easter Vigil and how long it took.

You see, for those of us who ministered as team members with Forum (bishops, priests, deacons, vowed religious, and baptized lay leaders), the gift we received from our experiences far outweighs anything we could have given to the tens of thousands of people who came to our institutes. The gift that I received was, in a word, balance. We got to experience the Church everywhere, from places where the the bishop was rarely seen and who was far removed from the daily lives of the people to places where the bishop walked with his folks through a week-long training institute and even played the accordion for them at a reception one night.

This balanced perspective made me the Catholic lay leader that I am today and I will forever be grateful to the North Amercian Forum on the Catechumenate for that gift; it is one I will treasure always.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sweet Home Chicago

Tuesday greetings from Chicago. I returned from Europe on Sunday afternoon and am gradually and slowly getting over the jet lag.

As I look back on the last several weeks, I realize what a blessed man I am. To be able to go on this baptismal pilgrimage was such a gift and I am so grateful to our good God.

The work ahead for me now is to work with the Catholic pilgrimage company to craft this pilgrimage that I hope will take place late in 2014. There were so many places, so many baptisteries and fonts that I think people would appreciate seeing. Choosing from among the many sites will be difficult. I drive about 2500 miles over those two weeks and I know that pilgrims do not want to spend lots of time in motor coaches, so I will do my best to craft a journey that will capture the best of what Northern Italy has to offer by way of fonts and baptisteries (among other sites.)

Lots of work to catch up on here at the office. Thanks for coming along on the journey with me, at least virtually!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The End of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate and the End of My Pilgrimage

Friday greetings from Udine, Italy.

As I was about to sit down and write this blog post, I received an e-mail from the offices of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate in Washington, D.C. I have been a Forum team member since about 1987 and served on their Board of Directors and chaired that Board until November of 1999. The e-mail was from the current Board of Directors, announcing the dissolution of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, effective June 30, 2013. Many of us have been aware of the financial challenges facing Forum for a number of years, chiefly due to the decline in attendance at Forum's RCIA training institutes. The reasons for this drop in attendance are varied. I believe there are two chief reasons: 1. Lack of funds on a parish and diocesan level for training of persons in the RCIA; 2. A growing decline in the perceived importance of the full implementation of the Rite in parishes and dioceses.

To say that I am sad would be an understatement. I simply would not be sitting here in Udine, Italy, after having spent two weeks scouring the North Italian countryside for baptisteries and baptism fonts had it not been for the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. Had Forum's founder, Fr. Jim Dunning, not visited our parish in Florida in 1986 and seen something in a young music and liturgy directory there that told him that there was something in this 28 year-old kid that might help the initiating Church, I don't know where my life in ministry would have gone.

And this is simply nothing compared to the tens of thousands of Catholic clergy, vowed religious, and lay men and women who have been trained by Forum through institutes, writings, and a commitment to a mission and vision for the implementation of the Rite. Jim Dunning himself often expressed the view that Forum should only be around for a few years, after which dioceses would be able to provide the training themselves. Perhaps his vision and viewpoint has only now come to fulfillment; it has taken not a few years, but thirty. Unfortunately, with the budget cuts faced by so many dioceses, I am not sure if they will be able to do the kind of training sorely needed in this field. Other dioceses have taken on the training and done a marvelous job. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is not another "program," like RENEW, or CHIRP, or ACTS. RCIA is at the heart of the Church's sacramental life: it is baptism; it is confirmation; it is Eucharist. The North American Forum on the Catechumenate helped so many see that vision and put it into practical and pastoral practice. My hope is that this was enough of an impetus to keep the power and potential of the baptismal catechumenate moving forward.

Back in the mid-1990's, I helped lead a pilgrimage through northern Italy that was sponsored by Forum. That pilgrimage did more for the development of my own baptismal spirituality and my commitment to help others cultivate a baptismal spirituality than anything else in my life. This is the main reason why instead of two weeks at the beach for vacation, I am here searching out places to help prepare another pilgrimage for other people in 2014. It was Forum that enabled all of this to happen in the first place.

I am deeply sad and deeply grateful all at the same time. I think of those team members, like Jim Dunning and Christiane Brusselmans, and so many others who shaped my life. I think about the scores of Forum team members with whom I worked and ministered all over the United States and Canada. I think of the thousands of good Catholics who shared their own stories of conversion at our institutes over the years. I think of diocesan leaders who committed themselves to hosting those week-long "Beginnings and Beyond" institutes for so many, many years, as well as other institutes. I think about the present and former staff members of Forum's national office. Most of all, I think of the hundreds of thousands of people whose life journey brought them to the Catholic Church and who moved along a road of conversion and formation, ministered to by people who had been trained and formed by the North American Forum on the Catechumenate.

Perhaps it is fitting to share these last images of my baptism pilgrimage, which is drawing to an end. These are some of the oldest baptisteries in the world, found on the coast of northern Italy, in the ancient cities of Aquileia and Grado. I first encountered these on Forum's pilgrimage. When I encountered them again yesterday, I was struck by the fact that billions have been baptized as Christians since these holy places were established some time in the fourth century. As I need to say my own farewell to Forum, I do have a deep sense, especially when seeing the long history of the Church's initiatory sacramental life, that the work of evangelization, conversion, and baptismal practice will go on and billions more will "put on Christ" at fonts all over the world.

First, Aquileia. The church was built in the year 313 and was the scene of a historic anti-Arian Council in 381, which was attended by Saint Ambrose and Saint Jerome.

The frescoes in the crypt show the early Christian practice of baptism by immersion:

And here is an image of the baptism of four women, all at the same time in the same font:

This is the original fourth-century baptism font found in the ruins excavated beneath the piazza next to the current church.

And here is the later fifth-century baptistery and hexagonal font in the baptistery. The restoration work done since I last visited is exquisite.

And, finally, the baptistery at the cathedral of Saint Euphemia in Grado, several miles to the south of Aquileia:

On this day when I am mourning the apparent end of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, I am grateful for all that Forum has meant in my own life. And, by extension, to you, the faithful readers of Gotta Sing Gotta Pray, I hope that my Catholic formation by Forum has enriched your own.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Two Baptisteries in Ravenna and Mosaics, Mosaics, Mosaics!

Wednesday greetings from Ravenna. Arrived here yesterday afternoon and immediately searched for the two significant baptisteries here: Neonian and Arian.

The Neonian is the older of the two, dating from the late fourth to early fifth century. The octagonal font within is a later addition, built, if I remember correctly, in the fifteenth century, to mimic the size and type of font that originally stood in the baptistery.

Here is the exterior of the octagonal building.

And here is a video taken inside.

The mosaics are extraordinary, as you can see.

Here is a photo of the octagonal font. The sun was shining into the font; makes it seem as if the light is radiating from within.

More photos of the mosaic work:

In this center of the ceiling is a depiction of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John the Baptist:

Around this central image are the apostles, and they appear to be moving; some suggest that they are poised in dance positions. Imagine emerging from this baptism font as a newly baptized adopted child of God and gazing at the apostles dancing with joy? (Did you know that that is what occurred on the day you were baptized?!)

Next stop was the Arian Baptistery. Arianism was widely practiced here in Ravenna; the belief that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, did not exist for all time, but was created by the Father and was subordinate to him. This view is obviously in opposition to the Catholic understanding of the Trinity and is heretical. At any rate, the baptistery is another stunning one. Here is the exterior of this octagonal building:

There are no remains of the actual baptism font in this baptistery and none has been constructed. The floor simply has a large round stone marking the area where the font would have been. It important to note that both of these baptisteries' original floors are nine feet below Ravenna's current street level. Especially in this photograph, you can see how much the city streets have been built up over the centuries. This is true especially in Ravenna, which sits on marshland.

Here is a video of the interior. Hold on to your seat for this one. I apologize for my camera work; it's a bit dizzying! Notice anything similar between this Arian Baptistery and the Neonian Baptistery?

The ceilings have very similar designs. More photos:

The third figure in the scene is the personification of the River Jordan.

Today was a day to see more mosaic work; the mosaics here in Ravenna are among the finest in the world (and oldest). There is an entire department of the university here dedicated to the restoration and maintenance of mosaics.

The church of San Vitale is a stunning example of the work.

The work is so fine that some of it looks like rich Persian rugs attached to the walls and ceilings; hard to describe, but definitely breathtaking.

More photos of this stunning building:

These mosaics have got to be seen to be really appreciated. My great hope, of course, is that Ravenna will be one stop on the Baptism Font and Baptistery Pilgrimage I hope to lead in the Fall of 2014.

Sorry for so much posting today. This is definitely a city for the senses; wonderful things to see, hear, taste, smell, and feel!

Early tomorrow it is off to Udine; the longest drive of this trip. But Padua is halfway and my hope is to stop there and visit one of the most visually stunning baptisteries in the world at the Duomo in Padua.

I hope you are enjoying this little taste of the baptism fonts and baptisteries of Northern Italy.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.