Thursday, August 27, 2015

Too "Protestant?"

Thursday greetings from Atlanta, Georgia. I am here to lead an RCIA seminar as part of the J.S. Paluch and WLP seminar series. Parish bulletin editors and RCIA ministers from across the Archdiocese will gather this morning to learn ways to build a better bulletin and ways to help rebuild their RCIA processes.

What I have found pretty consistently in my work with RCIA ministers is that they readily answer the first two questions that I pose to them. "The RCIA in my parish is . . ." and "The goal of the RCIA in my parish is . . ." For the most part, peoples' responses include "forming a relationship with Jesus Christ in the context of the Catholic Church," and "forming disciples." When we take a look at what is actually occurring in these parishes, I usually find out that these RCIA processes consist mostly of a series of lectures on Catholic teaching. I do not deny the great value of teaching as part of the RCIA process, but if the process is not more holistic, I do not believe that that sought-after goals are easily achievable.

So, my aim today, as with most of these presentations, is to assist people to see that we need to embrace the model of apprenticeship, espoused by the Second Vatican Council, as the operative model in our RCIA processes. I find it more challenging to do so in areas of the country where Catholics are in the minority. Just last week, in Orlando, a woman in one of my sessions cautioned all of us about not being "Protestant" in our teaching and in our formation. I found the comment a little odd, but certainly understandable. I remind people constantly that this is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process centered on Jesus Christ, of course within the context of the Catholic experience. Some people feel that if we do not teach and teach and teach the Catholic doctrines, then we are doing nothing more than churning out merely "Christians." Of course, we know and believe that our experience of Christ in the Roman Catholic experience is centered on encountering Jesus Christ in the sacramental life of the Church. We are given access to this grace each time we celebrate the sacraments. But people need a lived experience, a nurturing and ever-developing relationship with Christ in order to know him in the sacramental life.

So, the RCIA needs to achieve a balance among many factors, the chief one being that very introduction to Christ and the nurturing of that new relationship that will gain strength throughout the living of the Christian faith in the Roman Catholic Church. This is not easy in the majority of parishes in which the RCIA has morphed into basically a course in Catholic dogmas and precepts. I find that RCIA ministers can often become wary of sharing their own personal relationship with the Lord, based on a fear that they will somehow sound too "Protestant" or "Evangelical" and less "Catholic." This is a very difficult nut to crack, but cracking needs to happen in order for seekers and inquirers to see real life people in whose life experience a relationship with Christ has made the difference.

For those of you in RCIA ministry, have you encountered this kind of resistance? It would be interesting to hear your stories.

I am headed back to Chicago tonight to catch an early morning flight tomorrow to the Diocese of Saint Petersburg in Florida, where I will be presenting two keynotes at the Florida RCIA Convocation. More about that as it unfolds.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Thank Your Parish Musicians Weekend

Wednesday greetings from Washington, DC, where I led a WLP Sing the Seasons Choral Reading Session last evening at Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac, Maryland. This is the view from my hotel window.

It is sunny and cool here, with very low humidity. This is such a beautiful city.

The parish church is quite beautiful. Some photos I took of the interior. Here are two photos of the font, which is just inside the main space. A wall of glass separates the font from the gathering space.

I took this photo with a view from the upper bowl of the font looking down the main aisle toward the altar.

The musicians in attendance sang wonderfully and brought the WLP Sing the Seasons Choral Music to life. It is so satisfying as a publishing house to see people sing and pray this array of choral music.

Which brings me to an important point. Having been a director of music and liturgy in three parishes in the past, I know how hard pastoral musicians work to bring people closer to the Lord through the art of sacred music. Too often their efforts go unnoticed or, worse yet, are regarded simply as "their job" here in the parish.

So, this coming weekend, why not take the time after Mass to thank your parish musicians? Everything they do is for you, so please show your appreciation for their hard work.

Let's make this coming weekend "Thank Your Parish Musicians Weekend."

Lots of travel ahead for me today and in the coming week.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saturday in Orlando

Saturday has dawned bright and humid here in Central Florida. Here at the Orlando Liturgical Conference today is the day where are liturgical ministers in the diocese have been invited to register and attend. The place is packed and vibrant and energetic. This conference occurs every two years; definitely check it out for 2017.

Today is a day when the Spanish-speaking community is well served with a keynote by Fr. Juan Sosa and a whole host of workshops in Spanish. This diocese definitely has its act together for this conference, serving the people so well.

My two workshops yesterday were new ones for me, or at least ones I have not presented in quite awhile: "Liturgy in Action: Go! Believing What You Pray and Living What You Believe" and "Working Together in Pastoral Ministry." Today's workshop is "The Art of Crafting Prayer Services."

So grateful to be here in this vibrant diocese.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Orlando; The "Real" School

Friday greetings from steamy Orlando, Florida. We received nearly four inches of rain here late yesterday, accompanied with loads of thunder and lightning. Brought back memories of the years I lived here. It has been a trip down memory lane here for me. Yesterday, I got to spend some time with the first pastor who hired me as director of liturgy and music at Saint Mary Magdalen Parish in Altamonte Springs back in 1984, Fr. Paul Henry. Paul is now the rector at the Shrine of Our Lady, Queen of the Universe, which primarily serves the tourist community in and around Disney and the other resorts and theme parks in this area. Here is a picture with my first "boss." Such a delight to see him.

Here's the WLP booth here at the Orlando Liturgical Conference.

I came to this diocese fresh out of the seminary, after having studied theology for four years. But the real school happened here in this diocese in a large, vibrant, suburban parish. It was after seven years in pastoral music and liturgy ministry here that I felt a yen to return to school to study theology once again, this time putting my pastoral experience in dialogue with theology. This yearning led me to Chicago, where I enrolled in the doctoral program at Catholic Theological Union. Being here in Orlando reminds me of where my journey has taken me. It is definitely good to be here. I am now going in to hear the conclusion of Tony Alonso's morning keynote address.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Whirlwind Brings Me to Orlando

So hard to believe that a week has passed since my last blog entry. Following the catechetical conference in Massachusetts, I spent time with my family and we had our annual family New England Clambake. I can still smell that copper boiling pot's wonderful steamy aroma!

After a few days at the office, I find myself now in Orlando, Florida for the Orlando Liturgical Conference at which I am giving three workshops, one focused on collaboration in ministry, another on crafting prayer services,mane a final one on the connection between liturgy and life. Msgr. Kevin Irwin, Fr. Juan Sosa, and Tony Alonso are three of the keynote speakers.

There are over 700 registered for the three days, including many of the diocesan clergy, who are here this morning for Kevin Irwin's presentations.

While in Massachusetts, I attended Mass with my parents at Saint Andrew Church in Billerica. It was a Saturday anticipated Mass in an un-air conditioned small church on a sweltering day. Even with the heat and the incessant buzzing of lawn mowers outside, I was so happy to celebrate there. The music was done well. People sang all around me and the cantor was not overpowering at all. Just a simple and joyful celebration of Mass. So good to see my parents connected to this new Billerica collaborative of four parishes and being served so well.

I will do my best to post as these days unfold.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Paulist Center and St. Cecilia: A Marvelous Few Days in Boston

Thursday greetings from Springfield, Massachusetts, where the day is dry, sunny, and warm. I am here to help support three of WLP's finest: John Angotti, Bro. Mickey McGrath, and Mary Birmingham at the New England Convocation for Catechetical Leadership, which begins today.

On Tuesday evening I led the WLP Sing the Seasons Choral Reading Session in Boston at the Paulist Center. Over sixty marvelous musicians (and excellent sight-readers!) came and brought our music to life in a wonderful space with great acoustics. Here are a few photos I took of the Christ figure that is suspended in the space.

We were so pleased to have Richard Clark in attendance. He is the long-time music director at St. Cecilia in Boston. We recently published Richard's Communion Antiphons for Advent. Richard was able to lead us through a few of the antiphons. Be sure to listen to the sound clips of several of these antiphons on that same page.

Yesterday, Richard gave me the grand tour of Saint Cecilia's. The two pipe organs serve the singing assembly there so well. Richard's playing was superb and I so enjoyed being there; a place that when I visited there over thirty years ago was pretty dark and dingy. The renovation/restoration is quite stunning. It is now a bright and warm place. Here are some photos I took.

And a video of Richard Clark at the organ in the loft.

If you are ever in Boston and looking for a place downtown to go to Sunday Mass, be sure to check out Saint Cecilia's.

Looking forward to spending time here with the New England catechetical folks and our WLP folks as well.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, August 10, 2015

WLP Choral Subscription Packet

Monday greetings to all. Here's a first for you; my first video message!

So, what's this all about? WLP's choral subscription is a three-times-per-year mailing of our newest choral octavos. Sometimes, like in this mailing, we include a Mass setting (Trevor Thomson's Mass for the Healing of the World). If you are a music director and don't yet have an annual subscription, click on the link I provided, or on the image below, and order yours today - only forty dollars for all this great music. And each packet comes with a CD; we record each piece with the talented conductor Paul French and a group of twelve professional singers from the Chicago area. Ask your parish musician if the parish subscribes. If not, what a fitting gift!

OK, thanks for listening to (and watching!) my little Monday morning commercial. Now back to listening to these great new WLP titles.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Create This Sign

Friday greetings from a still sunny and warm Midwest.

Mike Novak, one of my colleagues here at WLP and J.S. Paluch took this photo this morning on his way to work. This parish is on a very busy street, just around the corner from our offices.

And it was just yesterday that I wrote this on the blog: "My hunch is that in most RCIA processes in North America, we place too great an emphasis on teaching Catholic doctrine and much less emphasis, if any at all formally, in actually introducing seekers to Jesus Christ and cultivating that new and burgeoning relationship."

What this sign says is that by going to classes one can become Catholic. It's all about teaching. Most schools open for the school year in September and, for this parish, "classes to become Catholic" open in September as well.

The Second Vatican Council's Ad Gentes 14: 

        The catechumenate is not a mere exposition of dogmatic truths and norms of morality, but a period of formation in the whole Christian life, an apprenticeship of sufficient duration, during which the disciples will be joined to Christ their teacher. The catechumens should be properly initiated into the mystery of salvation and the practice of the evangelical virtues, and they should be introduced into the life of faith, liturgy and charity of the People of God by successive sacred rites.

I guess I could sit here and moan and groan about this misdirection, or, perhaps even better, misunderstanding of what the catechumenate is. Instead, I'd like to invite you to come up with your own phrase for what you would put on that sign instead. Looks like the sign could fit eight words. What words would you choose?

Feel free to comment here or over on the Gotta Sing Gotta Pray Facebook page.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Jesus Friend

Greetings on this Thursday, a beautiful sunny day here in the Midwest.

I wanted to share a bit more about my experience in the Diocese of Lafayette, Indiana this past Saturday.

Approximately 90 RCIA initiation ministers had gathered at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Carmel, Indiana for the all-day diocesan annual RCIA day.

The topic: RCIA: Forming Intentional Disciples. Those of you who have been following the blog posts here for the past month or so know that I have been struggling with the topic on a personal level after having devoured Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus.

My challenge was to, in some way, lift the "cone of silence" surrounding my own personal relationship with the Lord, while teaching others in initiation ministry that this kind of coming out from under that cone is essential as they help form others in the Christian way of life. My hunch is that in most RCIA processes in North America, we place too great an emphasis on teaching Catholic doctrine and much less emphasis, if any at all formally, in actually introducing seekers to Jesus Christ and cultivating that new and burgeoning relationship.

So, there I stood in front of an eager and dedicated group of RCIA ministers.

About half way through my day-long presentation, after having prepared the people for trying to accept the challenge to move their RCIA processes into a more holistic kind of Christian formation, I decided to stop and tell them how the Lord Jesus became a real, personal friend in my life. So I told the story that I mentioned here in a previous post.

There is a difference, most definitely, between writing your story and telling your story. I caught myself getting emotional and I must admit that I was taking my glasses off and wiping my eyes several times. It was very, very quiet in the room. I wasn't sure if people were just captivated by it all, or if they may have been frightened by the prospect that what I was saying was that they, too, have to tell the story of the Lord as their personal savior as they care for those in the RCIA. I am sure I must have sounded like an "evangelical" (whatever that really means) to some of them. As I concluded, I told them that because of my personal encounter with the Lord, sitting there staring at the crucifix in the seminary chapel when I was really at the nadir of my life's story in y mid-twenties, my life's direction changed and, because I experienced the Lord as a faithful friend, all kinds of possibilities and reorientation opened up before me. I then thanked them for listening. And then we moved on to the next Powerpoint slide.

You know, it's tough sometimes to know if what I do actually does anything at all. I hope and pray that people will dedicate themselves to helping people meet the one who, as the catechism says, is "the content of catechesis."

One man, at the end of the day, said that what he was coming away with was the fact that his parish needs to do much more with the training and sustaining of sponsors in the RCIA process. He said that he will rely on a sponsor being able to help introduce the seeker to the Lord Jesus, in one-on-one moments, by sharing in personal witness. Great idea!

So, there you go. Actually feeling OK about it all, thank God.

Thanks for listening today.

I know this is a bit on the "schmaltzy" side, but I find it appropriate for today.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Making Music in Carmel and a Splendid Baptism Font

Tuesday greetings on a warm and sunny day here in Chicago.

Last Friday, I drove the 175 miles down to Carmel, Indiana, to lead a WLP Sing the Seasons Choral Reading Session (our first of this "season"). We had a delightful time at the Church of our Lady of Mount Carmel.

When I arrived, I was struck by the beauty of the baptism font in the large narthex. The sides, in between the white arches, are made of glass or plexiglass and there is a blue hue to the water; pretty stunning.

I took a short video while there.

While speaking with the director of liturgy and music, I found out that, even though the font itself is quite stunning, it is not very practical when adults are baptized because there is no real easy way to get in and out. The one to be baptized has to be helped to sit on the edge, then helped in; then the process is repeated once the baptism is completed to help the newly baptized out of the font. I thought of the many fonts that I have seen in Italy, mostly from around the fifth century, that have this same design. It must have been difficult for the one to be baptized to get in and out of those fonts as well. Frankly, I just thought this font in Carmel was splendid.

The next morning, I led the RCIA day for the Diocese of Lafayette in the same location in Carmel. Many of you know that I have been preparing for this day for some time now, with its focus on "forming intentional disciples." It was a challenging day for me; I will share more details about it in tomorrow's blog.

Tonight, we have our second "Sing the Seasons" event, this time here in the Chicago area at Saint Mary of Gostyn in Downers Grove, Illinois.

More tomorrow.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.