Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Insanity:" Trying to Figure Out What to Do

Wednesday greetings from Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. I am giving an RCIA presentation here on Friday.

Thanks for your comments on my previous post about the canonization rush. I was surprised at how many people with whom I work told me that they had been thinking similar things.

"Insanity." Over the past several days, this word has been used in the media to describe the horribly botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, as well as the alleged murder here in Chicago of a fourteen year old girl, Endia Martin, by a fourteen year old girl friend of hers, apparently over a dispute about a boy they both liked. It saddens me deeply that people who breathe the same air that I do, who eat food to nourish their bodies like I do, who have the capacity to love, somehow turn to violence and murder to end a human life, whether sanctioned by the state or not. As a member of the human family, my sadness is mixed with outrage.

Last night, while getting my hair cut, the news report about Endia's murder played over the sound system in the barber shop. The woman who was cutting my hair simply said that she could not understand how this could happen: "That was not the way I was brought up; that's not the way anyone should be brought up."

As these "insane" events fill the news, I can't help but think of Pope Francis' call to Catholics to reach out to those in need; to reach out to the poor and marginalized; not to sit in our churches and only pray for them, but to do something. I want to do something but I feel so paralyzed in a city that seems to care more for the cultivation of the flowers on Michigan Avenue and the flower boxes that adorn the windows of City Hall,

than for protecting its citizens.

I agree that this is insanity. We, as Catholics, need to do more to abolish the death penalty. We, as Catholics, need to heed the Gospel's call to bring peace to our world. I just seem stuck with only praying for all of this right now. I need to figure out what to do.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Canonization: A Bit Unsettled

Happy Monday to all.

I set my alarm for 3:30 A.M. when I went to bed on Saturday night. I woke up with the alarm and sleepily watched the canonization Mass. For me, Pope John XXIII remains one of the central heroes of my life. He was a man who was supposed to keep the Church in neutral, not push any buttons, and maintain the status quo. Instead, inspired by the Holy Spirit, this simple man ushered in one of the greatest reforms the Church has ever seen. It is because of his actions that I am the Catholic that I am today.

I read with concern today the article published in the National Catholic Reporter by Fr. Thomas Doyle, "Records show that John Paul II could have intervened in abuse crisis - but didn't." I have always felt that the rush to canonize Pope John Pope John Paul II has been just that, a rush. It would seem to me that there needs to be a longer period of reflection before someone is named a saint. Fr. Doyle's article is deeply troubling and makes me even more uneasy about the quickness of the decision for canonization. Anyone else feel that way, or am I totally off base here?

I went to Mass at Notre Dame de Chicago yesterday and was greeted by the breeze blowing through these ribbons; just a wonderful announcement of the resurrection of Christ; lifted my spirits and brought me much joy.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Playing and Playing and Playing

What a week! I am usually at the NCEA convention the week after Easter, so not having gone this year, I found my schedule a little more open than usual here at the office. So, I made the decision to steal away a few hours every day to play every single keyboard accompaniment to every single song in WLP's hardbound hymnal, One in Faith, to be released in the Fall.

I have been driving everyone crazy around here. Tuesday we all "celebrated" Advent and Christmas, as I played everything from "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" to "In the Bleak Midwinter." As the week moved on we went through the Lenten and Easter Seasons. I have about 250 more pieces to play through. The reason why I am doing this is two-fold. I want to be more and more familiar with the pieces, new and old. I am also doing it, not with an editor's hat on, but with the hat of a music director.

So far, I have found some surprises, a few wrong notes in accompaniments for traditional hymns that have been in our accompaniments for decades. What has been most rewarding, however, has been the sense I am getting that this is just a fine hymnal, with a wide breadth of music in every genre for the worshipping church. I can't wait until the book is printed so that we can begin sending out samples!

I hope your Octave of Easter has been filled with joy. Mine certainly has!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Triduum "Outside the Book"

Feeling sad today, especially after yesterday's post.

A friend of mine asked me to post a question concerning celebrations of the Triduum in parishes. He recounted something that occurred at his parish during Saturday's Easter Vigil. As the pastor began the homily, his focus was on the word "alleluia" and the joy it expresses as it acclaims the resurrected Lord. He told the congregation that it was important for them to share the joy of the resurrection with everyone. He then invited everyone in the congregation to follow him outside to the area in the front of the church. He led everyone outside and, once there, asked them to join him in proclaiming "alleluia" to the north, then to the south, then east, then west. Everyone did as he asked and the neighborhood resounded with these "alleluia's." My friend, a committed Catholic who knows the liturgy well, thought it was "kind of strange at first." But then he said that it was quite powerful and was filled with meaning for the folks from that Chicago neighborhood who had gathered for the Vigil. "It was really kinda cool," he said. After the proclamation, everyone then followed the pastor back into the church. The pastor concluded the homily and the liturgy continued with the celebration of baptism.

My friend wondered if there were things "outside the book" that take place, or have taken place year after year in parishes during the Triduum. I thought immediately of my experience at Saint James, my former parish where, at the veneration of the cross on Good Friday, the members of the congregation remove their shoes and socks before approaching the cross. And then I thought of the Vigil at Saint Clement that I experienced on Saturday and the creative pronouncements during the blessing of the candle, which I described in yesterday's post.

So, my question to you is this: Is there a custom that has developed in your parish during the Triduum that is "outside the book?" Does it make you fidget in discomfort when it occurs? Is it "kinda cool?" Is it something that is laden with deep meaning? Please feel free to share.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Triduum of Beauty, Simplicity, and Joy

Easter Monday greetings to all. Christ is truly risen, alleluia!

For more years than I can remember, I have been a key person in my various parishes' celebrations of the Triduum: music and liturgy director, cantor, psalmist, choir director, liturgy committee member, fire-lighter, etc., etc.

This year, I spent the Triduum in the pews. I had nothing at all to do with preparing the liturgy; I had nothing to do with any ministerial functions, save being a member of the baptized! And I must say that my heart is overflowing with gratitude to the hundreds of people who put their talents together to prepare celebrations that touched me deeply and profoundly.

For Holy Thursday's Mass of the Lord's Supper, I went to Saint Clement Church in Chicago. I have given retreats and presentations at this parish over the past several years. I know the pastor, Fr. Ken Simpson, and several members of the parish staff. After the procession, seeing this,

the deacon's and celebrant's feet, helped set the tone for the celebration. The liturgy was simple. The music drew the assembly into the mysteries being celebrated. The preaching was spot on. The footwashing was extended to everyone in the congregation.

The procession to the downstairs chapel was reverent. Everything was done with care. I felt well cared for at Saint Clement.

The font seemed to be "waiting."

I had intended to spend the entire Triduum at Saint Clement, but something had occurred here in the Archdiocese of Chicago that changed my mind. When I first moved to Chicago in 1992, I was welcomed by a group of priests, one of whom I knew from my work with the catechumenate. He invited me to a barbecue and it was there that I met the other priests, his friends, whose hospitality I so appreciated and never forgot. One of those priests was Fr. Mike O'Connell. I only saw Mike a few times after that initial meeting, but I never forgot his kindness and hospitality.

In early December, Mike was removed from ministry because of an allegation of sexual abuse that allegedly had occurred in the 1990's. He had been serving as pastor of Saint Alphonus parish here in the city, a large parish in the Lakeview neighborhood. I was heartbroken when I heard the news. Well, just last week, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that the allegation had been proven unfounded and Mike was reinstated as pastor on Tuesday of Holy Week.

I was overjoyed at this news. When thinking about where to go for the celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, I decided to go to Saint Alphonsus. I wanted to be at a service on Good Friday led by this man, this priest who undoubtedly had experienced the cross in profound and painful ways in the last four months. I wanted to hear what his homily would be like.

When I arrived at Saint Alphonsus, a church which I had never visited, I was given a program. The liturgy was to be in English and in Spanish, with a dose of Latin motets as well. The choir was amazing. They created the finest choral sound that I have ever heard in a Roman Catholic church. I was blown away. The Passion Gospel was chanted by a narrator, a "speaker" and one of the parish priests, who sang the words of Jesus. The choir sang the parts of the "chorus." It was superb in every way. We all stood for the passion; no cushy sitting down in this parish.

Fr. Mike was not the preacher, which was disappointing for me. But what happened later in the service touched me deeply. When it came time for the procession and unveiling of the cross, it was Fr. Mike who carried that cross down the aisle, pausing three times, unveiling first one arm, then the other, and chanting in Spanish "Mirad el árbol de la Cruz donde estuvo clavado Cristo, el Salvador del mundo" ("Behold the Wood of the Cross, on which hung the Savior of the world"). As he passed by, carrying that cross, I couldn't help but think about what must have been going through his own mind and heart. I felt very close to the Lord Jesus in his passion at that very moment.

Here are a few photos from that evening.

The crucifix used for the veneration must have a parish story or custom associated with it. Fr. Mike and another priest held it for us as the entire congregation came forward to venerate it. Afterward it was placed in front of the altar.

As was the case at Saint Clement, the beautiful baptismal font at Saint Alphonsus just seemed to be "waiting."

It was a stunningly beautiful and moving celebration of the Passion. Once again, I felt well cared for.

On Holy Saturday morning, I wanted to pray morning prayer with a community. Unfortunately, all the parishes within a few miles of my home didn't list Holy Saturday morning prayer on their web sites, so I did a web search, typing in "Holy Saturday Morning Prayer Chicago." The first link was a parish about 28 blocks south of where I live, Saint Barbara in the Brideport neighborhood of the city. I had never been there before. 

The church was established by Polish immigrants. The interior was already decorated for Easter. There were about eight of us there, who prayed morning prayer together. Simple and beautiful. Afterward one of the people, who happens to help out with music ministry there, welcomed me and asked me to come back any time, especially since I was looking for a parish. Simple hospitality goes a long way. Here is a photo I took on Saturday morning at Saint Barbara's. 

I returned to Saint Clement for the Easter Vigil. During the lighting of the fire and the blessing of it and the lighting of the candle, there were several people placed throughout the crowd outside who shouted out "Christ yesterday and today!" Then "the Beginning and the End!" Then "The Alpha!" Then "The Omega!" "All time belongs to him!" "And all the ages!" To him be glory and power!" "Through every age and forever. Amen" "Amen!" "Amen!" Amen!" Then we all shouted "Amen!"

The liturgy unfolded with beauty and simplicity. When I arrived, I had noticed how stark the interior was; no flowers at all. Just before the Gloria began, the organ's zimbelstern was activated and bells began to ring. The pipe organ's introduction was massive. As the Gloria was sung, people seemed to come out of nowhere, carrying flowers and soon, the area around the altar was adorned with flowers. As the Gloria ended, we all heard the bells in the exterior bell tower begin to fade away.

Eight young adults were baptized. Another perhaps fifteen were welcomed into full communion and a few baptized Catholics completed their initiation through confirmation and first communion. The elect knelt in front of the font and three large pitchers of water were poured over them in baptism. They re-entered the church after the reception into full communion and all of us renewing our promises and making our way up to the font to bless ourselves with baptismal water. Then came the confirmations. The laying on of hands and anointing was done with deliberation and great care. The music throughout was superb; the singing of the congregation was strong.

It was such a joy to then celebrate the Eucharist. I was truly filled with Easter joy.

Folks, it was an overwhelmingly beautiful and touching Triduum for me. The sense of love and gratitude I have for those of you who bring the Triduum to life in your parishes is so deep and real for me. I needed these three days more than you know. And I am sure there are people just like me who needed the Triduum in your parishes as well. God bless you for what you do beautifully for God!

And now we have fifty days to relish these treasures.

Christ is truly risen, Alleluia.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

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.