Friday, January 30, 2015

Pope Francis on Friday

Home for a personal day today but wanted to share Pope Francis' homily this morning. Good reminder of the first time I encountered Christ in my life. You?

 Pope Francis said in this morning’s homily: “lukewarm Christians who have lost the memory and enthusiasm of their first encounter with Christ are in grave danger of letting the devil into their homes. Christians must always retain that memory of their first meeting with Christ and their hope in Him to help them go forward with the courage of their faith … somebody who no longer remembers his or her first meeting with Jesus is an empty and spiritually inert person, as only lukewarm people can be.  The day of that first encounter with Christ, he stressed, must never be forgotten … Our memory is so important for recalling the grace received because if we chase away that enthusiasm which comes from the memory of that first love, this enthusiasm coming from that first love, then a huge danger arrives for Christians: a lukewarm faith; lukewarm Christians …   They’re there, immobile …and yes, they are Christians, but they have lost the memory of that first love.  And they have also lost their enthusiasm. In addition, they have lost their patience, to tolerate life’s problems with the spirit of Jesus’ love, to tolerate and to bear on their shoulders the difficulties….   Lukewarm Christians, poor things, they’re in grave danger … When I think  about lukewarm Christians I am struck by two distasteful images: the one described by Peter who talks of the dog that returns to its own vomit and the other described by Jesus of people who chase away the devil and decide to follow the gospel but when the devil later returns with reinforcements they open their doors of their house to him … this is like returning to the vomit of that evil that was earlier rejected and vice-versa … A Christian has these two parameters: memory and hope.  We must evoke our memory so as not to lose the beautiful experience of that first love which feeds our hope. Many times that hope is in darkness but a Christian still goes ahead.  He or she believes and goes forward because they know that hope never disappoints us in finding Jesus.  These two parameters are the very frames within which we can safeguard the salvation of the good people which comes from the Lord … This salvation must be protected in order that the tiny mustard seed will grow and bear fruit. It is painful and heart-breaking to see so many Christians - so many  Christians! – half-way along the road, so many Christians who have failed along this road towards a meeting with Jesus, going away from this encounter with Jesus. This road where they have lost the memory of that first love and no longer have any hope.”

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mass in the Extraordinary Form and Obstructed View Seats

Thursday greetings to all.

I wanted to reply to the comment made on my post yesterday. Commenting on my "obstructed view" at Mass, John Drake said:

Jerry, your reaction at this obstructed view Mass sort of echoes the reaction that many have to their first experience of the Extraordinary Form Mass. You can't quite see everything the priest is doing (facing the apse rather than the nave) but you know something holy is going on!

First of all, John, thank you for reading this blog and for your comment yesterday. Some of you may recall that I published a series of posts on my experience of Mass in the extraordinary form many months ago. Here is a photo I took the day I attended that Mass.

I am not discounting your or others' experience of Mass in the extraordinary form. From those posts, you can see that my experience of Mass in the extraordinary form was quite different that what you described in your comment. My problem was that I really was not understanding what was going on around me at that Mass. All of the bowing and what struck me as very odd choreography was more confusing to me than it was holy. And the fact that confessions were going on quite near me during the entire Mass, including the moment when one man waited until the words of institution were being read as his cue to rush to the confessional, struck me as quite odd; why would someone celebrate another sacrament when the preeminent sacrament was occurring right before his very eyes? Granted, it was a "low Mass," but frankly I was hard pressed to discover what was holy about that experience. Perhaps I need to take another stab, at a Mass with music.

And the real difference for me at my "obstructed view" Mass was that Mass in the ordinary form is what is at the heart of my Catholic life. That is the form of the Mass that shapes and nourishes me week after week. Even though I could not see what was happening, I knew what was happening and because of my rootedness in that liturgical form, it was holy for me. Perhaps those who attend Mass in the extraordinary form experience the same thing once repeated celebrations form them in a similar way.

As always, comments welcome.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Something Holy Happening Here

Wednesday morning greetings from the Midwest. Connected with several family members throughout the day yesterday as the blizzard swept through Massachusetts, the state of my birth. Thankfully, everyone is safe and warm.

Well, our IT department here at the "home office" worked their magic and now, with a new and much, much lighter laptop (I do not have a traditional computer here; just a laptop that I use at my desk and take with me on the road) I am up and running here again. Last week, I started to write about my experience at Mass the previous Sunday. Here's what I said: 

I have been attending Mass at Saint Clement Parish here in Chicago since returning to Chicago after the Christmas holiday. Saint Clement is ain the middle of a thriving neighborhood in the city and has a very small parking lot. Yesterday, upon arrival, I discovered that the parking lot was full, so I had to drive around several blocks to find on-street parking. I really do not like being late for anything, but yesterday I found myself entering the church building as the assembly was saying "amen" to the collect. There were no seats in the main body of the seating area, so I sat along the side wall, where there is a row of two seats inside a kind of ambulatory. At any rate, I had to take a photo to show you my "obstructed view" seat at Mass yesterday.

Well, here is the photo:

Basically, I could not see any of the ritual action at Mass. It was warm and cozy in this small side area of the church. I found myself being as engaged as I usually am when sitting in this church. But I also found myself kind of mesmerized by the fact that, although I knew exactly what was going on "up there," not seeing it drew me in in a different way. It struck me that what was happening was simply holy. Even though I could not see what was happening, there was a sense of beauty and awe that filled me. I thought about those who are sight-impaired, those who are completely blind and I wondered about their experience of Sunday Mass. The thought that kept going through my mind was "There is something holy happening here."

I wanted to share a photo I took last week, the day after the snowstorm in Amarillo, Texas. First, here is a photo of the hotel parking lot the morning after the storm.

Later this same day, I was able to take a short ride just outside of Amarillo. This is a photo of Palo Duro Canyon. This is the second largest canyon in the United States. Frankly, I had never heard of it. It was quite beautiful, a stunning landscape amidst the rather boring topography of the flat Texas Panhandle.

For this city boy, this was quite a breathtaking view. And I noticed something moving in a nearby tree. As I got closer, I realized it was a porcupine, eating the bark on the branches.

Quite a day in Amarillo, I'd say.

Glad to be back with all my tools at hand.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Quick Note

Monday greetings from the snowy Midwest.

I apologize for not having posted these past few days; I am still having some technical difficulties, which our IT department is working on, so please be patient.

I had a wonderful conference at SWLC in Amarillo. More to come on that . . . swamped right now after a week away.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Monday and Now Wednesday: Winter Storm Warning for Amarillo

Monday greetings on this Martin Luther King Day.

I was not scheduled to be at the Southwest Liturgical Conference Study Week this year. But we have had a personnel shift so I am stepping and going to Amarillo, Texas tomorrow through Sunday.

I have been attending Mass at Saint Clement Parish here in Chicago since returning to Chicago after the Christmas holiday. Saint Clement is ain the middle of a thriving neighborhood in the city and has a very small parking lot. Yesterday, upon arrival, I discovered that the parking lot was full, so I had to drive around several blocks to find on-street parking. I really do not like being late for anything, but yesterday I found myself entering the church building as the assembly was saying "amen" to the collect. There were no seats in the main body of the seating area, so I sat along the side wall, where there is a row of two seats inside a kind of ambulatory. At any rate, I had to take a photo to show you my "obstructed view" seat at Mass yesterday.


Well, folks, it is now Wednesday morning. I have been having some technical problems, either with a computer virus, or with the blogger program, so not able to download photos.

And I am in Amarillo for the SWLC. Woke up this morning to a winter storm warning from the National Weather Service. 6 to 10 inches of snow expected beginning this afternoon (right at the same time the conference is scheduled to begin) through tomorrow evening. I didn't even bring gloves! Last year at this conference, which was held in Beaumont, TX, we had a freak ice storm; ice covered the palm trees there, and everything else. No snow scrapers in the rental cars here. Should be an interesting few days.

I will keep you updated about the goings on here at the longest running liturgical conference in the United States.

Please pray for the safety of travelers.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Conscience Seared: What Can I Do for Nigeria?

Wednesday greetings from the frigid Midwest; four degrees this morning at O'Hare.

On my way into work this morning, my carpool colleague and I had a lively discussion about current events. The topics covered a few television shows we have watched recently on PBS; one having to do with a black family's pursuit of their genealogical roots in New Orleans (only to discover that a distant ancestor was an eleven-year old boy sold, re-sold, and re-sold as a slave). I watched the PBS show last night focused on the Ku Klux Klan, which I found both informative and balanced.

That brought us to both admit how fortunate we are to have warm, safe places in which to live. We may complain about the cold and the snow, or how our financial outlooks are not as wonderful as we had hoped, but we both admitted that we are fortunate indeed. I said, "Well, at least you don't have people breaking down your front door and entering your home and attacking you." I was referring, of course, to what recently occurred in Nigeria on January 3, when members of Boko Haram entered the village of Baga and massacred anyone in their path.

Most of those slaughtered (and there may be up to 2000 of our brothers and sisters who were killed), were women, children, and the elderly. The reason? They simply could not outrun the terrorists; they were mowed down in the bush areas surrounding the village, while those strong enough (mostly men) were able to flee.

The Mail and Guardian Africa, published the comments of a Nigerian Archbishop, as well as a representative of the United Nations:

A Nigerian archbishop called Monday for the same international support to tackle Boko Haram as France has received since it was hit by Islamist attacks last week.
“I see the very positive response of the French government tackling this issue of religious violence after the killing of their citizens,” said the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Jos in central Nigeria, Ignatius Kaigama.

We need that spirit to be spread around, not just when it happens in Europe, (but) when it happens in Nigeria, in Niger, Cameroon and many poor countries, that we mobilise our international resources to confront the people who bring such sadness to many families,” he told BBC World Service radio.
Kaigama was speaking after another bloody weekend for Nigeria in which three female suicide bombers, including one thought to be as young as 10, killed at least 23 people in the restive northeast.
His comments echoed those from the head of the UN children’s fund, Anthony Lake, who said on Sunday that harrowing reports from survivors of the a massive attack on Baga on January 3 and the use of a 10-year-old girl as a human bomb “should be searing the conscience of the world”.

"Searing the conscience of the world." What is the world community doing? What can I do? In a recent CNN report, Elizabeth Donnelly, said the following in response to those questions:

"The international community could do more to speak with one voice and coordinate better amongst itself to galvanize further and faster action in Nigeria, back those agencies and actors which are making progress, and identify gaps for greater support. An immediate priority is humanitarian relief and energies need to be focused on how to get essential help to internally displaced people and refugees."

Folks, take a deep breath right now. Look down at your hands. Turn your palms up and ask youself, "What can I do?" Recall the images of the millions who marched in France over the deaths of those journalists. Remember the line of world leaders with their arms locked together in solidarity over the horror of the murders committed there. Now look at your hands and ask youself again, "What can I do? How can I join my hands with others to help my brothers and sisters in Nigeria?" There are no world leaders locking arms over these massacres of our brothers and sisters in Nigeria, who are no longer breathing; their hands are gone.

I just made a donation to Catholic Relief Services. You can see what they are doing in Nigeria here. All I can do right now is offer my prayer and my resources. Perhaps later today I will express my own outrage to my representatives in Washington. Something has to be done. My own conscience has been seared. How about yours?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This Befuddled Servant

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

Very typical "lake effect" morning here. Here is the view out my office window, taken a few minutes ago.

Last week, like many of you, I watched and listened as the events surrounding the terrorist attacks in Paris unfolded.

My heart ached for those who were murdered, as well as for their families and loved ones. All of this happened while I was at a faith formation conference in New Orleans. There, over a thousand people had gathered to discover ways to proclaim the Good News of salvation to those whom God entrusts to our care. There were sessions focused on RCIA, catechesis, faith formation for adults and teens, liturgy, and evangelization. As I reflected on the terrorist acts (apparently committed because the French magazine had published images of the prophet Muhammad), I became confused, wondering how cold-blooded murder could be the answer to what is felt as a deep wound against ones own faith and beliefs (in this case, a form of radical Islam). I thought about my own Christian faith and came to the conclusion that there would be nothing so heinous committed against my Christian beliefs that would have me turn to murder as a solution. So, I am left with a sense of befuddlement, certainly shared by many around the world, a befuddlement that, for me, began with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

But this is all mixed up in my own mind. Just two months ago, I was in places in Italy where Christians were murdered just because they were Christians. And I was in places from where the call would have been issued to Christians to crusade against non-Christians through murder and slaughter. Over the holidays, I received the gift of spending time with my family in Massachusetts. My sisters are both living with debilitating diseases. When I look at them, I see more and more how precious life itself is. I have the sense sometimes that they look at every waking moment of their lives as a gift. And this inspires me beyond measure.

So all of this comes together in my mind and in my heart. Life is precious. Yet too many people, Christians and non-Christians alike through the centuries, have thrown life away; have destroyed what is precious not only in God's eyes, but in the eyes of the men, women, and children murdered in the name of religion.

Seeking some clarity, this morning I found the words of Cardincal Andre Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris. This was part of the message he asked to be read at all Masses in all Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Paris this past Sunday:

"I invite the Catholics of Paris to pray to the Lord for the victims of the terrorists, for their spouses, for their children and their families. Let us pray also for our country: may the moderation, temperance and self-mastery of those who have given proof of this up to the present be confirmed in the coming weeks and months; may no one yield to panic and hatred; may no one give in to the simplification of identifying some fanatics with the entire religion. And let us pray also for the terrorists, that they may discover the truth of God’s judgment.
We ask for the grace to be architects of peace. If justice is built, there is no need to despair of peace."

God, grant me, your befuddled servant, the grace to be an architect of peace.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Two WLP Books Win Illumination Book Awards

Monday greetings to all. I arrived home to Chicago early yesterday; even though it is cold and snowy here, it is just good to be home.

While I was in New Orleans last week, we received word about two awards that we received by a fairly new organization, The Illumination Book Awards, whose tag line is "Shining a Light on Exemplary Christian Books."

They present two kinds of awards. The first is what most organizations that give publishing awards do: they only give awards to books published in the past year. The Illumination Book Awards do this as well. Brother Mickey McGrath's book, Go to Joseph, won a bronze medal in the "Devotional Books" category.

The second type of award is quite interesting, their "Enduring Light medals," described on their web site:
"As most book award contests recognize only titles released during the previous calendar year or two, we’ve created the Enduring Light medals to reward exemplary Christian-themed books published since the year 2000. These medals are presented to books with enduring messages in five categories: Christian Thought; Devotional; Inspirational; Christian Fiction; and Christian Children’s Book."

It was with great delight that we were notified that Mickey McGrath's Saved by Beauty: A Spiritual Journey with Dorothy Day, won the gold medal in the "Devotional Books" category.
I was with Brother Mickey last week in New Orleans, as we were both speaking at the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference. It was wonderful to able to share the good news with him. If you have never heard him speak, you should definitely try to attend either the upcoming Mid-Atlantic Congress in Baltimore, or the LA Religious Education Congress in Anaheim; he'll be speaking at both.
Congratulations to Brother Mickey McGrath and to our fine staff here who worked with Mickey in the design and editing of both books. Have I told you lately that I love working at World Library Publications? Have I told you lately how proud I am of the staff here and our authors, artists, and composers?
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

You Have Put on Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality

Thursday greetings from the Archdiocese of New Orleans. I am here at the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference (formerly called the Hofinger Conference) presenting two workshops, one on rebuilding the RCIA and the other is entitled "You Have Put on Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality." And it is at this conference that my brand new book by the same name is being featured for the first time. The books were shipped here to my hotel from the printer directly, so this morning I saw it for the first time. As most of you know, this is a topic central to my own ministry and life.

Gracing the cover is a photo I took of the ceiling of the baptistery at the Duomo in Florence, Italy, in early November. This is a full-color small book; nearly all photos were taken by yours truly. It tells the story of the rediscovery of my own baptismal call, with photos of the font in which I was baptized. The second chapter focuses on the "two strands" of Lent; the baptismal and the pentitential, with an emphasis on the ways I discovered the Church's understanding and teaching on the baptismal strand.

The next chapter presents a model for celebrating a ritual of baptismal remembrance in a parish or retreat setting, with texts for the leader of prayer. The CD-ROM includes a downloadable version of the leader's text, as well as keyboard accompaniments for the hymns that I suggest for this ritual, as well as reproducible aids for the assembly. Also included are recordings of instrumental music a parish might play during the actual encounter with the baptismal water during the ritual. This music is piano, and piano and flute; all taken from my recordings (and the recordings done with my musical soul-mate Denise La Giglia, flutist). The final chapter presents strategies for cultivating a baptismal spirituality in the parish.

This book represents the culmination of decades of work, travel, and teaching about baptism. I hope it is a helpful resource for the Church. Can you tell how excited I am?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Arian Baptistery in Ravenna and Baptistery of the Duomo in Siena and a Surprise Around the Corner

Happy New Year one and all. During these holiday weeks, we operate here with a skeleton crew. Today is definitely one of those days. It usually takes me forty-five minutes to an hour to drive from my home in downtown Chicago to the office here in Franklin Park. All week, the drive has taken me between fifteen and seventeen minutes; just wonderful!

I have been doing some experimenting with converting videos to more usable formats. So, rather than taking you diretly to YouTube, the videos are now embedded here independently. Pretty cool. So, this first one is a video I took in the Spring of 2013 while traveling in Italy. This is the Arian Baptistery in Ravenna, built between the end of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth century.There is no font in the space now, but the footage begins with a focus on the area in the floor where the font would have stood. Everything looks quite plain until one sees the ceiling's magnificent mosaic, which depicts the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. The river itself is personified here. And then there is the circle of apostles that seem to beckon the newly baptized into their procession.

And here is a video of the font and ceiling of the simply amazing baptistery at the cathedral in Siena. The bronzes on the sides of the font are by several artists, including Donatello and Ghiberti, who did the famous doors of the baptistery in Florence. Here you go:
Why all the fonts and baptisteries? Hopefully I will have a surprise for you either today or tomorrow, which will put this all into perspective.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.