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.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Good News: Four Good Priests

Thursday has dawned rainy and cold here in Chicago.

The final night of the mission here in Chicago occurred last night at Saint Pascal's on the city's Northwest Side.

Here are a few photos I snapped before things got rolling.

Each evening of the mission, I was invited to and ate dinner with the four pastors of the parishes sponsoring the four-parish mission. I don't spend lots and lots of time with priests these days, so I was somewhat "all ears" during our conversations.
As you may know, the Archdiocese of Chicago is in a liminal moment right now. Our archbishop, Cardinal George, who submitted his resignation to Rome over two years ago, is simply unwell, with a recurrence of cancer and other complications in the past few weeks. So, as we pray for the Cardinal, we also await word from Rome about a new shepherd. I listened to these fine priests talk about their frustrations with the current situation here, all too much to go into here. What I came away with, however, was the sense that these four guys are dedicated priests, men who, despite their frustrations, simply love their people. They love being priests. They want the best for those whom God has entrusted to their care. They are intelligent, articulate men who want nothing but the best for their people and for the Archdiocese of Chicago. They represent a good cross-section of priests here in the Archdiocese, and perhaps elsewhere. The youngest is a Polish-born man, whose vision for the Archdiocese is filled with hope and optimism. Next is a Mexican-born man, who is obviously cherished by his people, and vice versa. Next is a man who worked in the corporate world for years, who came to Catholicism after having been a Baptist for most of his life; he was ordained later in life than the other men. The fourth man, a Chicago native, was ordained in his twenties, what used to be considered the usual path; he, like the others, is articulate and respected by his parishioners. As I sat there last night listening to them talk, agree with each other on some issues and disagree on others, it dawned on me how much these are men of the Church, men who love the priesthood, men who would do anything for their parishioners.
I began the mission session last night in a different way than I usually do. I talked about these pastors. I told those in attendance how much I had learned about these men in the last several days. I told them that I knew that one thing was certain: these pastors love their people. Then I asked the folks in church to not be afraid, even if they are not the "touchy-feely" type, not to be afraid to thank their priests and, after Mass on Sunday, simply to tell them, "I love you, Father." Then all joined in a round of applause for their good pastors.
I don't do a lot of parish missions; my schedule just can't allow it. But, I can tell you one thing. This particular mission helped restore my respect for the Roman Catholic priesthood and for the communities that are cared for by such loving men. Too often, only the bad news about priests is heralded in the media. These four men represent so much of the good news about priests. For that, I am forever grateful.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Medicine and Nourishment

Wednesday has dawned bright and very cold here in the Midwest. I heard on the radio this morning that today's normal high temperature is 51 degrees; of course it was only 18!

The parish mission has been going quite well. These things take alot out of me, so I am so grateful to the pastors and people of Saint Pascal, Our Lady of Victory, Saint Bartholomew, and Saint Robert Bellarmine for their kindess and hospitality. These are four parishes, all located within a few miles of each other, that are serving the people of their portion of the Northwest Side of Chicago so well. I have had dinner each night with the four pastors and the deacon from Saint Pascal's. I don't usually hang out with priests. I have found our conversations stimulating and their dedication to their people admirable. It has been wonderful to see four parishes come together as one for a parish mission.

Saint Pascal's itself is quite large. Here is an image of the interior I found on the web:

I am not used to speaking in a place with such a long main aisle; I have felt somewhat disconnected with the folks who sit way in back. The crowds have been large and people seem to be responding well to the message. Last night we focused on the Eucharist from three perspectives: table of sacrifice, table of nourishment, and table of reconciliation.

I quoted Pope Francis, reminding those gathered of his words from Evangelium Gaudium:

"The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak."

I find particular solace, comfort, and challenge in this statement of Pope Francis. I hope those at the mission found the same. One more session of the mission takes place tonight. I hope I remember to take some photos to share with you.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Parish Mission on Chicago's Northwest Side

Monday greetings to all during this Third Week of Lent.

Beginning tonight, I will be leading a mission for four parishes on the Northwest Side of Chicago: Saint Pascal, Saint Robert Bellarmine, Our Lady of Victory, and Saint Bartholomew. Yesterday, I decided to attend Mass at Saint Pascal parish, where the mission sessions are being held. Of course, when I woke up, this is what greeted me outside my front door:

More snow is predicted for tonight and tomorrow here in Chicago. We are all just grinning and bearing it here in the Midwest!

Saint Pascal's is a beautiful, one hundred year-old church on Irving Park Road here in the city of Chicago:

They had a nice sign in the foyer announcing the mission:

I love talking with Catholics about the three sacraments of initiation and what baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist mean in our day-to-day lives. This will be the focus over the next three days.

Please say a prayer for those attending the mission, that this will be a time of renewal and re-discovery for them and for me.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, March 21, 2014

In These or Similar Words by Paul Turner

Friday morning greetings to all.

When I returned from California yesterday, I found a new WLP book on my desk, a book that I helped edit over the past several months. It has now arrived and is in stock in our warehouse. I believe this book will prove to be one of the most helpful resources for clergy and laity alike in this Roman Missal, Third Edition era.

Announcing Fr. Paul Turner's new book: In These or Similar Words: Praying and Crafting the Language of the Liturgy.

Paul begins his introduction in this way:

"What happened to the parts of the Mass that used to say, 'In these or similar words'?" This was one of the most frequently asked questions I heard in the years leading up to the implementation of the Third Edition of The Roman Missal. Priests were especially concerned.

The answer is complicated, but I thought it was a good question and deserved a thorough response. That's why I wanted to write this book.

Paul continues:

Priests asked about improvising words because every one of us has a unique style of presiding at Mass. Even though we all operate from the same book with the same rubrics and words, each of us puts our own personal stamp on the liturgy, whether or not we intend it.

All priests use their own words at some time during the liturgy. There have always been places where the rubrics encourage this, often with the expression "in these or similar words." Some priests have a special gift with this freedom. They disclose their personal faith, and they connect with their people. They fortify the unity of the assembly as people prepare to share Communion together. Other priests, quite frankly, don't have this gift. They make inept remarks, they drone on too long, or they repeat themselves. People in my congregations have had to put up with my verbal strengths and weaknesses throughout my years as a priest.

And a final few sections from the introduction:

Catholics have a right to expect that they will hear and say the correct words when they gather for the Eucharist. The predictability of the liturgy is the Procrustean bed of Catholic spirituality. Nonetheless, the Church allows some flexibility to the liturgical words. That freedom helps infuse the Eucharist with new life each time we gather to pray.

I've divided this book into four parts. The first chapter directly answers the question, "What happened to the parts of the Mass that used to say, 'In these or similar words'?" I think the answer will surprise you.

In the second section, I'm treating the parts that can and should change with every Mass. We've always been free to compose some of our own words, and this has not changed . . .

I'll follow this up with a presentation of some of the words that people have found difficult or puzzling in the revised translation of The Roman Missal . . .

Finally, I've added a section at the end pertaining to the rubrics. The Roman Missal is a book full of words to say, printed in black, but it also contains actions to perform, printed in red. I've witnesses considerable variation in the way that priests and people handle the red ink, the rubrics of the Mass. Occasionally, I hear a fellow priest summarize his philosophy this way: "I say what's in black. I do what's in red." 

I tell him, “No, you don’t. I’ll take that challenge. Let me watch you say Mass. Nobody does exactly what it says in red. Everybody changes something.” Even when I watch papal ceremonies on television, I see actions that appear nowhere in the rubrics. Some priests don’t realize what they’re doing. Some do. So, for a fuller look at the celebration of the Mass, and to put the original question in a broader perspective, I’ve concluded the book with a section called “[In These or Similar Actions].”

As I read and edited this book, I realized how helpful Paul's pastoral and scholarly approach would be for clergy and laity. He includes a few "quizzes" in the final section. These "quizzes" test the reader on our actions at Mass and whether or not these actions correspond to the rubrics. I took these little tests and found them fascinating (and my lack of knowledge became all too apparent!).

This book is sure to stir some discussion. I look forward to entering into fruitful dialogue. But first, we all need to read this fine book (blatant commercial here). So be sure to call our great folks in WLP Customer Care at 1 800 566-6150, or log onto our web site and order your copy today. Let's get the discussion started!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

In These or Similar Words: Praying and Crafting the Language of the Liturgy Copyright © 2014, World Library Publications. All rights reserved under the United States copyright law.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Back from California and a Wonderful New Memento

Thursday greetings from Chicago. I landed at O'Hare this morning just before 1:00 A.M., so I am a bit on the punchy side today.

Well, the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress was one of the best in recent years. Estimates of those in attendance varied, but it looks like there were 15,000 young people there on Youth Day and between 36,000 and 41,000 adults for the rest of the weekend. I wanted to share a few photos with you. Here is a shot of our booth space before we began our set-up on Thursday:

After approximately eight hours of set-up, here was the result:

Quite a transformation! WLP's own Meredith Augustin was the music and liturgy coordinator for the so-called "Urban Fusion" Mass on Friday evening in the Anaheim Arena. Here is a shot from the side balcony:

Monsignor Ray East was the main celebrant. He chanted the dialogues and the people responded beautifully. His preaching challenged us all, especially me, to open our hearts in forgiveness. The music was wonderful; all in all, this was a beautiful liturgy. We sang Trevor Thomson's I Am Yours: Consume Me Completely at the communion procession. This piece just came off the presses and will be available soon. Trevor is a new composer for WLP and this is a gorgeous piece, as are his eucharistic acclamations from his new Mass for the Healing of the World (soon to be published by WLP), which were sung at both closing liturgies in the Anaheim Arena.

I am usually not a fan of convention liturgies; too often they are way overdone; usually too much of everything. I do not find that to be the case generally at L.A. Congress Masses. I was renewed and fed, which isn't such a bad thing in the middle of all the excitement that can border on mayhem at Congress.

And, when it all ended, we were so fortunate to be assisted by three able-bodied men from our California printing plant; they saved us lots of aches and pains:

While I was away, the presses at all three J.S. Paluch printing plants (Chicago, Florida, and California) were busy printing commemorative flyers for the upcoming canonizations of John XIII and John Paul II.

 These are beautiful mementos, with the images on the front and the bios on the back.

And, if you are fortunate enough to be a J.S. Paluch bulletin parish, you will be receiving these in the coming days.

Well, that's about it for now. Looking forward to a good night's sleep tonight.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

California "Winter"

Thursday morning greetings from Anaheim, California. Here, of course, for the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. Over the next four days, tens of thousands of Catholics will gather here for days of prayer and formation. On this anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, it will be interesting to see how this papacy has begun to re-shape the lives and ministries of the Catholics gathered here.

WLP's Noelle Garcia composed the theme song for today's youth day gathering and our own John Angotti composed the theme song for Congress, which begins tomorrow morning. Please check out WLP's home page for more information about these songs.

I will take some photos over the next days for you. We begin in a few minutes with our staff breakfast, followed by at least five hours of set up time of our booth in the massive convention center exhibit hall.

After all my lament about Chicago's winter, just needed you to know that I got to spend a few hours sitting outside yesterday in the sunny 78 degree Southern California "winter!"

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Leaving a New Winter Storm Behind!

Tuesday greetings from the Midwest.

Well, we have had a one-day thaw here. I was expecting to leave Chicago tomorrow morning for the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. However, mother nature seems to have other plans, as a winter storm warning has been issued beginning late tonight into tomorrow. So, I will be leaving this evening for Orange County instead. "The winter of our disconent" indeed!

On Sunday, I celebrated Mass for the First Sunday of Lent in a local parish here in Chicago. About a third of the way through Mass, a family arrived (probably because of the time change overnight) and sat behind me. What happened next was something I have never experienced in the pews. The woman in the family sat directly behind me. At the end of most of her responses at Mass, she launched into a whispered conversation with the Lord. As a matter of fact, at the preface dialogue, she ended with "It is right to give him thanks and praise, Father . . . and I praise you and I adore you and lift up my soul to you . . ." These conversations went on throughout much of the Mass. It was as if she were at a private event. Her responses to the prayers were so hurried that she finished lines of the Lord's Prayer, for instance, a few seconds before the others in the assembly did. It was quite distracting, to say the least. Just simpy odd. Have you ever experienced anything like that?

Please say a prayer for safety of all travelers. We have many WLP team members here and around the country, as well as artists from the U.S. and some traveling from abroad (Australia), all headed to Anaheim in the next few days for the Congress. Please keep us in your prayers.

Hopefully, my next post will be from warm southern California!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Catholics and Pope Francis

A Pew Research Study was released in the past few days. The study surveyed a national sample of 1,821 adults, including 351 Catholics.

Some points to note:

There also is broad consensus among Catholics that Francis represents a major change in direction for the church, and that this is a change for the better. Large majorities of men and women, Catholics in all adult age groups, and both regular Mass attenders and more infrequent Mass-goers express this view.

Change for the better. While Francis has yet to make any changes in doctrine, what I find to be a "change for the better" is the change in tone. The "Francis Effect" on me has had to do with the way that this pope expresses himself; he does so as a pastor. His oft-quoted exhortation to priests is something I believe he embodies: he asked priests to be "shepherds living with the smell of the sheep."

The Study also focused on the effects of this papacy, one year in:

Many commentators have speculated about Francis’ effect on Catholics in the U.S. and around the world. The survey finds he is widely admired, but has his leadership sparked increased devotion among the faithful or inspired former Catholics to return to the church?

The evidence on this question is mixed. Pew Research surveys conducted since Francis was elected find no change in the share of U.S. adults who identify as Catholics: 22% of Americans describe themselves as Catholic today, identical to the 22% who did so in the year preceding Francis’ election. Aggregated data from Pew Research surveys also find no change in self-reported rates of Mass attendance among Catholics. In the year since Francis became pope, 40% of U.S. Catholics say they attend Mass at least once a week, unchanged from the months immediately preceding the papal transition.

What I found most astounding about this research is the 40% number. I guess I always thought that number was much lower, but in a similar study conducted about a year ago, the percentage was nearly the same. If you were asked today, "What is the percentage of self-identified Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly?" what would your answer have been? I guess mine would have been a little less than 20%. I guess I am a bit of a pessimist!

In my travels I have been asking RCIA ministers if they have noticed any changes since Francis became pope. These answers, of course, are anecdotal. One person said that she received a call from an Episcopalian who said that Pope Francis is the reason that she is now seeking full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Another said that the number of catechumens celebrating the Rite of Election this year has grown substantially in her diocese. It will be interesting to see the numbers once the rite is celebrated this coming Sunday.

I know one thing. This blogger is much more excited and committed about being a Catholic than he was one year ago.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Baptistery Journey to Italy

Well, folks, as you can obviously tell, the Baptistery Journey to Italy, scheduled for November is ON! Take some time to view the video above to learn more.

Here is the cover of the brochure for the journey from our tour company, Peter's Way:

The site has a more detailed page about the journey.

For those of you who follow this blog on a regular basis, you know that my interest in baptism and the cultivation of a baptismal spirituality has been a passion of mine for a few decades now. And in April and May, I was able to visit the baptisteries and see the fonts that you can see in November, 2014.

I blogged during that entire trip. Here you can read about and see some videos I took in Ravenna.

And if you are interested in the baptisteries at Siena and Pisa, look here.

Verona and Parma can be found here.

This is more than just a pilgrimage to Italy. My hope is that it will be a "pilgrimage within," during which we will all deepen our own understanding and appreciation for our baptism: that day when everything changed; that day that meant that, in Christ, nothing would ever be the same again.

I will write periodically about the Baptistery Journey to Italy in the coming months. I believe so strongly that a journey like this can really help change peoples' lives. If you or anyone you know might be interested in coming along, please check out, or have them check out Peter's Way Tours.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mardi Gras and Mission

Happy Shrove Tuesday to all.

We are preparing for our Mardi Gras luncheon, hosted by our crack editorial team here at WLP.

Just visited the parish web site for Saint Pascal's parish on the Northwest side of Chicago and found a very nice advertisement for a multi-parish mission I am presenting next month:

So, if you know anyone in the Chicago area that could use a mission focused on living the Catholic sacramental life, let them know about the mission.

Well, time for the last hurrah before Lent kicks in tomorrow.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Back from MAC

Monday morning greetings from Chicago where, you guessed it, it is snowing; just a little "lake effect." Glad to be here, however, as I understand Baltimore, where I was the latter part of last week, is getting quite a bit of snow.

So sorry not to have posted more last week during the Mid-Atlantic Congress for Pastoral Leadership (MAC). Days and nights were filled with lots of activity for us. It was a marvelous conference. As many said, "It's all about Pope Francis!" Many of the talks that folks attended focused on what the pope has been saying and doing in the last several months. Here is a photo of the Mass, which was celebrated by Archbishop Lori and concelebrated by many other bishops and priests. Archbishop Lori concluded his homily with an extensive quote from Pope Francis' Evangelium Gaudium.

WLP sponsored four speakers: Mary Birmingham, John Angotti, Brother Mickey McGrath, and me. Here are a few photos of our booth:

I presented a talk focused on WLP's Believe, Celebrate, Live the Eucharist, the program for liturgical catechesis written by the staff of Saint James Cathedral in Seattle. Having celebrated Mass there a few weekends ago, I was able to tell the participants of my first-hand experience of liturgy celebrated so well.

Well, it's "back in the saddle" here at WLP, where we are gearing up to leave next week for sunny (hopefully) southern California and the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.