Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Grateful Heart

A grateful heart.

As I look back over this past year, I find the emotion that is heartfelt gratitude welling up inside of me.

It has been a year of what I would describe as too many losses for me. Please indulge me for just a moment as I share my gratitude for some wonderful people who have touched my life profoundly.

Mary Miller. Mary (guitarist and vocalist) and I provided the music for the 9:00 A.M. Mass for years at Saint Marcelline Parish in Schaumburg, Illinois. After we both moved on from the parish, we remained close friends and had two special dinners every year, one at Christmas and one in May, right around our birthdays. I am so grateful for her friendship, her wonderful family, and her infectious smile and bright blue eyes that filled me with appreciation for life. Mary, may you be singing with the choirs of angels.

Joe Marotta. Joe was a friend and colleague in initiation ministry who, just months after being ordained a deacon, drowned while vacationing with his family. He was 39. I am so grateful that this fine man's faith journey intersected with my own. He was thoughtful and caring and engaged his intellect as his theological studies unfolded. He was never afraid to ask questions. Joe, may your service continue at the table of the heavenly banquet.

Charlie Odegard. 14 years ago today, I attended Charlie and Jennifer's wedding. To this day, I will never forget the wonderful reception, held on the top floor of the Civic Opera House here in Chicago. Charlie was simply a good and decent person. I am grateful for having known Charlie Odegard and for the strength and courage he showed and shared with Jennifer and so many. Charlie, be assured that we are taking good care of Jennifer.

Eva Cruz. Eva and I worked together, leading RCIA institutes around the country, for over twenty years. She taught me much about ministry in the Hispanic community and ways to facilitate the inculturation of the rite. She was an activist who worked on behalf of poor and disenfranchised women. I am grateful for the many, many RCIA institutes we shared and for the example of her dedication to family and to the poor. Eva, may you be surrounded by the great women saints, among whom you are now counted.

Rev. Warren McCarthy. Warren was the pastor at Saint Marcelline parish in Schaumburg, Illinois. Back in 1992, Warren wrote me a hand-written letter inviting me to consider joining the pastoral staff as the director of liturgy and music. Warren was a man of great intellect with a profound dedication to the mentally challenged. He and I worked closely together as we led the parish through a building and renovation project for the church. I am grateful for Warren's kindness and for another hand-written note he sent me shortly after my youngest sister died in 2001. His words have stayed with me: "Jerry, I know that your sister is with God." Warren, may you now know the face of God.

As Thanksgiving approaches, my heart is filled with gratitude for these wonderful people and for the too-many gifts that God has given me.

I will remember all of you who visit these pages as I give thanks tomorrow.

A blessed Thanksgiving to you all.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Evangelii Gaudium

Have you begun reading Pope Francis' new Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium yet?

I just started it myself and am looking forward to reading the rest of it. I just eat this stuff up.

Just one paragraph for your meditation today:

7. Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”. I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.

And this, too:

Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound "decentralization".

Wonderful thoughts as Thanksgiving nears.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Pope Welcomed Catechumens and California Welcomed Me with Trees and Flowers

Monday greetings to all. So sorry not to have posted in the past several days. My travels brought me to Northern California, for the Northern California Faith Formation Conference, held in Santa Clara.

While there, speaking about RCIA topics, Pope Francis was in Rome celebrating the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechumens. My friend and colleague, Fr. Paul Turner, e-mailed me, letting me know that he had watched the celebration on EWTN. I was so pleased this morning to find the video of the rite, which you can find above. I am pretty sure that this is the first time since the catechumenate was reawakened by the Second Vatican Council that a pope has celebrated this rite in Rome. I know that Pope John Paul II celebrated the rite here in Chicago when he visited here in the late 1970's. The video is quite touching; please take the time to watch it.

Some other images from my trip out west. Here is the WLP booth at the conference:

And, flower-lover that I am, a photo I took just outside the convention center:

I did have the chance to visit the Muir Woods near San Francisco, home of a forest of California Redwood trees. It was beautiful, peaceful, and majestic; a haven that I needed.

Arrived late last night to a very, very cold city of Chicago. Glad to be back home and anxious to begin preparations for Thursday's feast.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pope Francis and Catechumens

Monday greetings from Chicago.

Today I read about the events at the Holy See that will officially mark the closing of the year of Faith. One of those events will be a gathering of catechumens from around the world. Vatican News Service reports:

"The second event will take place on Saturday 23 November, which will be dedicated to catechumens, with the theme “Ready to cross the theshold of faith”. More than five hundred catechumens will be present, accompanied by their catechists, from 47 different countries from all five continents. The Pope will receive 35 of them at the entrance of St. Peter's Basilica and will ask them the traditional questions that form the rite."

I am assuming that this will be a celebration of the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of catechumens. I would give my proverbial eye teeth to be there to see how this rite unfolds.

Today is now Tuesday; yesterday ran away from me after I began this post. I leave tomorrow for northern California for the Northern California Faith Formation Conference, to be held in Santa Clara. I am giving two workshops and two "TED" style presentations of some of WLP's resources. Gotta get to that work now. I will post from California as the days unfold.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Notre Dame Celebration Choir

Friday, November 15, today, marks the 14th anniversary of my employment here at World Library Publications, the music and liturgy division of the J.S. Paluch Company. I have now worked here twice as long as I have worked anywhere else. Seems that the time has simply flown by.

Tomorrow, I will be attending a concert by the University of Notre Dame Celebration Choir to be held at Saint Edward the Confessor parish here in Chicago, beginning at 7:30 P.M.

Should be a wonderful evening of music-making by these singers, instrumentalists, and handbell ringers. Here's a shot of the exterior of Saint Edward's. I will try to get some photos tomorrow night.

When I was in parish ministry, I so enjoyed conducting the parish handbell choirs. A few times, I was asked to substitute for a player who was sick or otherwise could not make it to Mass. And folks, these were some of the most hair raising musical moments of my life. You see, as a keyboard player, I am responsible for all the notes on the page of a particular music score. But, when one plays handbells, one is responsible for only a few notes on the score. And, when playing handbells, the score seems to run by rather quickly. I remember standing at the handbell table on at least one occasion and missing a critical note and getting so flustered that I lost my place and never quite recovered! A true musical embarrassment indeed. At any rate, I am looking foward to watching and listening to a top-notch handbell choir tomorrow night at Saint Edward's.

I hope your weekend is a good one.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray. (Gotta ring!)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pope Francis and the "Papal Tone"

Thursday greetings from the home office of J.S. Paluch and World Library Publications.

As I read the news reports about the election of officers for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops over the past few days, I thought about how much it means to an organization when the "face" of that organization changes.

We see this all the time in American politics. What we have seen in the Catholic Church over the past year in this regard has ben quite remarkable. Pope Francis, the new "face" of the 1.1 billion of us around the world, has certainly given the Church a different "face." I have been reading with interest the reports about certain groups of people who are unhappy with the new pope. Others are thrilled. And Francis has made no substantitve doctrinal shifts at all. His has been a shift in what I will call "papal tone." And frankly, for this blogger, it has certainly been a refreshing shift. I remember, as if it were yesterday, the election of Bl. Pope John Paul II, whose presence and papacy really signalled a papal presence on the world stage for really the first time in history. I remember when he walked onto the altar platform on Boston Common in October of 1979; when he turned the corner and walked right over to us, the musicians, I had a feeling of exhilaration that was overwhelming. Suddenly, I felt connected with the papacy and with my brother and sister Catholics all over the world in a way that I had never experienced. And, for the first time in my life, I was among over one million of my brother and sister Boston Catholics gathered on the Common that day.

I must admit that I am feeling something similar with Pope Francis. This is not to deny the influence John Paul exerted in the later years of his papacy nor the influence exerted by Pope Benedict. I just feel a freshness, an excitement about Catholicism in general that I see being experienced by many, many people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. And this, I believe, is chiefly due to Francis' change in tone. There just seems to be a return to Gospel basics with this new pope; a renewed dedication to help the poor and disenfranchised; of seeing Christ in the suffering. None of this, of course, is new. It's just that we now have a pope who has obviously lived these basic values in his own life and who continues to preach about them, and this preaching is at the core of his papacy and his "papal tone." I, for one, am appreciating the tone and what appears to be a new Catholic renewal.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Come to the Manger

Wednesday morning greetings from the cold and windy Midwest.

I arrived back in Chicago at around midnight last night; first time in a long time that a plane was only about one-third full.

It's always a thrill for me to come back to WLP after a few days away; so much going on here these days. These pre-Advent days are especially busy for us.

I found several new octavos and a new collection in my mailbox when I arrived this morning. One in particular caught my attention and I want to share it with you. Kathleen Basi's Come to the Manger: Christmas Carols for Flute and Piano is a brand new resource. The name says it all. Included are arrangements for Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming; O Come, Little Children; I Saw Three Ships/Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella; Sing We Now of Christmas; What Child Is This?; and Angels from the Realms of Glory/Angels We Have Heard on High.

I know that when I was a music director, I was always looking for collections just like this one. Musicians, this one is a must for your library. I just played through some of the pieces and they are delightfully different and wonderfully crafted.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Garden City, Kansas: A Real Gift

Monday morning greetings from Tampa, Florida.

What a whirlwind these past several days have been.

On Friday morning, I left Chicago, headed to Garden City, Kansas. Back in April in Wichita, I met three members of Saint Dominic's parish from Garden City at an RCIA event sponsored by the various dioceses across Kansas. They asked if I might be willing to come to their parish to speak with the people in a kind of "mini-mission" to conclude the year of faith for the parish. Frankly, I had never heard of Garden City before. They assured me that two commercial flights a day came into their airport. So, I said, "Yes."

I first flew to Dallas, then hopped on a small jet to Garden City. As we approached the small airport, I was stunned by what I was seeing as I looked out the plane's window: farmland, with crop circles as far as the eye could see. I snapped this photo just before we landed.

Now I have done my share of flying in my life and usually am at about 35,000 feet when flying over states like Kansas. But this was amazing to me; no towns that I could see, just thousands and thousands of acres of farmland. When I got off the plane, I was struck by the stiff breeze and the even stiffer odor being carried by that breeze.

I found out later that this is cattle country and tens of thousands of heads of cattle are kept in "feed lots" throughout the area. Folks, to echo and adapt a line from The Wizard of Oz: "Toto, I don't think we're in Chicago anymore!"

After retrieving my bag at baggage claim,

I met my host and we drove ten miles to the parish of Saint Dominic. In the gathering area, I was greeted by a large sign announcing the mission.

I gave a presentation on Friday night, focused on reclaiming the power of the sacrament of baptism. Then on Saturday morning I met with approximately 20 musicians from three area parishes. I focused on contextualizing music ministry within the larger ministry of evangelization, talked about pastoral musicians as true artists, then launched into a presentation and discussion about Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship. After lunch, it was time for the final presentation, focused on the Eucharist, seeing it through the lenses of sacrifice, nourishment, reconciliation, and mission.

I absolutely loved my time and the people I met in Garden City, Kansas. Folks, I realized that I was in the middle of the country's (and parts of the world's) food source. Corn, milo, sorghum, wheat, and soybean are all planted, cultivated, grown, and harvested here. Feed is produced for cattle here. It gave me a new appreciation for the prayers of the faithful that I have prayed for decades: "For farmers who till the soil . . . For good weather for our crops . . . For an abundant harvest . . ." I met people who have farmed here for generations. As I said, a whole new appreciation and an expansion of my appreciation of how diverse our country is. I felt about as far away from downtown Chicago, where I live, as I could.

And the faith of the people I met ran deep. Praying at Mass with the people of Saint Dominic's was a real treasure for me. The music drew me in. I felt so privileged to bring forth the wine at the preparation of the gifts.

I would describe my short visit to Garden City, Kansas as a real gift.

Here is a photo of the sanctuary of the church.

Very early yesterday morning, I flew back to Dallas, then home to Chicago to do laundry. I went back to O'Hare last night and flew here to Tampa, Florida, for a few days of business meetings. On my walk this morning:

I had to wonder, "Am I in the same country in which I woke up yesterday morning?"

I am feeling so blessed to be able to have seen so much of our country over the past few days, and actually over the past several decades. It dawned on me that I have visited all but one of the fifty United States and all but one of the Canadian Provinces.

Well, that's about it for now. Joining my prayers today for all of our country's veterans, living and deceased.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Better and Gearing Up

Where did today go?

It started at 57 degrees and pouring rain here in Chicago. It's now 42 degrees and the temperature is going nowhere but down.

I am feeling much, much better. I am a person who rarely falls ill, so this has been unusual for me; makes me feel for those who suffer serious illness every day of their lives.

Travel is gearing up soon again for me; some spiritual presentations in Garden City, Kansas late Friday and Saturday and a session on Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship with musicians there on Saturday morning. Then it's back to Chicago early Sunday afternoon; laundry in; laundry out; then it's off to Tampa, FL Sunday evening for a meeting of our J.S. Paluch parish consultants.

Hopefully more tomorrow.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Tuesday greetings from the Midwest.

Not much to report. I have been home sick in bed for the past three days and decided that today would be the day to return to work; bad idea.

This is kinda how I feel:

Catching up on work here and will probably head home soon. Gotta shake this thing soon!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.