Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Baptismal Spirituality and the Way We "Do" the RCIA: A Correlation?

Wednesday greetings on a warm but drizzly day here in Chicago.

Yesterday's post about the correlation between the way a parish goes about doing the RCIA and the retention rate among new Catholics kind of got me feeling low. For nearly thirty years, I have been talking about the vision for RCIA that the Church espouses. It can be clearly traced from the Second Vatican Council through the publication of the Rite itself, as well as in the General Directory for Catechesis from the Congregation for the Clergy at the Vatican through to the expression in our own country in our National Directory for Catechesis. Frankly, sometimes I feel like I have been banging my head against the wall with all of this.

I did have a bright spot yesterday. A friend and colleague, Fr. James Burkart, a priest of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, celebrated his birthday recently. We are Facebook friends and there was, of course, an explosion of best wishes and birthday greetings for Fr. Jim on Facebook. Then came his note of gratitude: "Thank you for all the birthday wishes. It was a beautiful day . . . Just like the day I was born [insert smiley face]. November 17 is the anniversary of my baptism, the day I was re-born. That is the day I received the promise of eternity. When is your baptismal anniversary?"

Some responses, like mine (May 25) pinpointed the day exactly. Others said that they didn't know but were definitely going to find out. What struck me was the correlation (perhaps) between the way too many parishes "do" the RCIA (all programmatic, all teaching and little else) and the development, or lack thereof more precisely, of an adult baptismal spirituality. If RCIA ministers would work on developing an appreciation for what baptism means in their own lives, then perhaps the way they do the RCIA would shift. Am I on target here, or off base?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, October 26, 2015

RCIA and Retention Rate

Monday greetings to all.

This past Friday and Saturday, I was privileged to work with the RCIA team at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Sudbury, Massachusetts. We walked through the various steps and stages of the Rite and were able to really "chew" on the many issues that arose.

One of the biggest challenges that parishes face is that moment when they come to the realization that a "one-size-fits-call" programmatic approach to the RCIA simply does not address the real spiritual needs of people. Questions abound. When RCIA team members have used the following words for decades when speaking about initiation, it can be even more challenging: teach, classes, program, finished, lecture.

I have been part of parish's RCIA team when we made the decision to move to a year-round process, welcoming people into the RCIA at any time of the year. It was difficult, at first, but after a few years, we wondered how we ever did it any differently in the past.

Doing the RCIA using a syllabus of topics to cover, with different people teaching the "classes" each week is a snap. Quick. Easy. I am haunted by what I believe is a very, very poor "retention"rate with these programs. And I find generally that RCIA ministers are fearful of that issue and will not ask the tough questions. How about you and your parish?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Joyful or Sour?

Thursday greetings on this feast of Saint John Paul II.

Just wanted to share what I found to be a rather funny photo taken during Pope Francis' papal visit to the United States.

In this photo, one can see the joy of the Gospel emanating from his Holiness. Not so much for the security agent . . .

Reminded me of Pope Francis' remarks about how Catholics sometimes can look like or seem like "sourpusses."

Look around you at Sunday Mass this weekend. Are you surrounded by joyful people or sourpusses?

I am headed to Boston later today for some family time and also to give a two-day workshop on the RCIA at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Sudbury, MA, pictured here. Doesn't this just look like the perfect New England church?

 I am looking forward to spending two intense days of study with my Massachusetts "peeps."

If you haven't yet taken a look at WLP's resources for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, please do so today. There has been much interest in these fine resources for parishioners and for those responsible for parish communications regarding the jubilee year.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How Is Your Parish Extending Hospitality?

Wednesday greetings from the Midwest, where we are experiencing an unusually warm string of Autumn days.

I have been thinking more and more about my experience in Edmonton last week. And I wanted to put a question out there to all of you. It was one of the questions that my Canadian friends chewed on as they dove into the topic of hospitality and "creating an oasis of mercy" in their parishes.

Here's the question:

What practical things can your parish do (or that your parish does) so that parishioners and visitors alike experience real hospitality in every encounter with the parish.

I was astounded when one person from a parish told us that newcomers receive a flower delivery from a florist, at their homes, as part of the welcome they receive from the parish.

I have reached the conclusion that intentional hospitality takes:

1. Commitment
2. Time
3. Energy
4. Financial Commitment
5. Changed Hearts

What else does it take?

Please respond here or over on the Gotta Sing Gotta Pray Facebook page.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Archdiocese of Edmonton: RCIA and Hospitality

Monday greetings on a cool, clear, and crisp autumn day here in the Midwest.

On Thursday and Friday of last week, I was in the Archdiocese of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. Edmonton is a beautiful "city on a hill." I took this photo from the grounds of the Archdiocesan pastoral center, a beautiful spot for sure.

On Thursday morning, members of the clergy gathered at the Providence Renewal Center for a morning session on the RCIA. The priests and deacons were engaged throughout the morning, as we talked about the rite; its history, vocabulary, and structure. After lunch we were joined by over fifty members of the laity who minister in Christian initiation in their parishes. We talked about the apprenticeship model. It was heartening to have the clergy and the laity all together to hear the same message about the originating vision for the catechumenate from the Second Vatican Council.

Most members of the clergy left at about three o'clock. I then worked with the laity, focusing on the movement from inquirers to disciples. Finally, we concentrated on the various moments of conversion and discernment in the RCIA process. It was a good day. I did have the opportunity to see the chapel at the renewal center, a lovely and peaceful place.

On Friday morning, the Archdiocese sponsored an event which drew people from nearly every parish in the Archdiocese. Creating hospitable and welcoming parishes is a priority in the diocese, so we spent an entire day focused on hospitality, which they termed "creating an oasis of mercy." Frankly, I found it amazing that a diocese would spend the large amount of time, energy, and resources on an entire day just on hospitality and welcome. And I was proud of the Archdiocese of Edmonton for doing so. The people gathered were so engaged. The reason why I was asked to speak was because of a post I wrote several months ago on this blog about the experience of welcome at Old Saint Patrick's here in Chicago.

I was asked to share that story as a starting point. Then those gathered shared stories of significant moments of hospitality they had experience in parishes.

I then gave a presentation on "Hospitality and the New Evangelization." In the afternoon, I shared insights about the practical ways to create a welcoming and hospitable parish. Then, the folks in attendance were asked to share their answers, at their tables, to five questions:
1. What is your personal intention when being hospitable?
2. What is your parish’s intention for becoming more hospitable?
3. What practical things can you do personally to become more hospitable?
4. How do you get to know the newcomers in your parish?
5. What practical things can your parish do so that parishioners and visitors alike experience real hospitality in every encounter with the parish?

Finally, at the end of the day, people were asked to choose a picture from among many pictures placed on a large table, a picture that captured the essence of the day for them. It was wonderful to see people hold up the chosen picture and to explain why they chose it.

What an inspiration for me and for any diocese willing to look at intentional hospitality!

I was treated to a tour of the cathedral in Edmonton, the Basilica of Saint Joseph.

The interior is stunning.

Photos of the altar and cathedra (the Archbishop's chair).

I always enjoy my time in Canada. I am of French-Canadian descent and I love hanging with lots of people whose last names end in "eau!"

I experienced such warm hospitality during my entire time in Edmonton. Special thanks to all the good people who welcomed me there.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fonts and Mercy Resources

Tuesday greetings on this crisp autumn day in the Midwest.

On Saturday, a wonderful group of dedicated parishioners from the tri-parish cluster in West Allis, Wisconsin, gathered for a retreat day focused on Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. It was held at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, which has a substantial baptism font. I snapped a few photos while there.

As soon as I saw the two steps going down into the font and the two steps leading out of the font toward the altar, I thought immediately of the two fonts in Ephesus I had seen only a few weeks earlier. Note the similarities. First the font from the Basilica of Saint John.

And the font from the Church of Mary.

While at FDLC last week, several diocesan worship office directors asked me about our resources for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Lo and behold, samples arrived today and will be ready for shipment to dioceses and parishes within the next week.

The first is a resource for the home, in Spanish and in English, Celebrating the Year of Mercy: Our Jubilee Journey. 

These booklets contain background material about the Year of Mercy, the Prayer of Pope Francis for the Jubilee, Mercy Prayers for Pre-Schoolers, Grade-School Children, and Young People. There is a recipe a family can use to make "Happy Heart Cookies." There is also a description of the designation of a family "Mercy Bank" in the home, with suggested donations to the bank (from five to twenty-five cents) for each work of mercy done during the jubilee year. Mercy Prayers, with suggested scripture readings are also included, one for the start of the day and one for the end of the day. A nice explanation and description of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy contain suggestions for each work. There are "ponderings" for each day of the week, a Litany, and a meal prayer. Finally, on the back of each booklet are instructions for downloading music to inspire the household during the Year of Mercy; this is a special collection we have put together from among WLP's fine "mercy" pieces. This is an excellent resource for the home, for families to make the journey through the jubilee year.

Also arriving today was Week by Week through the Year of Mercy, which contains English and Spanish texts for each week of the jubilee year. These are all contained on the enclosed CD-ROM as well for easy download into parish bulletins or various take home materials for the year.

I hope you take the time to examine these fine materials as December 8 quickly approaches.

Thanks for listening.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Church of Mary in Ephesus

Thursday greetings from Dallas, Texas.

As promised, today I would like to share my experience at the Church of Mary in Ephesus. You can read all about the history of the church here, courtesy of the Ephesus Foundation. It was on this site that the third ecumenical council was held in 431. 250 bishops gathered here to debate the issues surrounding the divinity of Christ. Nestorius advocated the position that Jesus was born human and became God. In this view, Nestorius argued that Mary should be called the Christotokos, the "Christ-bearer." The more popular opinion, espoused by Cyril of Alexandria, was that Jesus was God from the beginning and that Mary should be called the Theotokos, the "Mother of God." After heated debate, the latter position won out and Nestorius was excommunicated. Nestorianism is the error that carries his name; the position that declares that Christ has two distinct persons.

Here is a floor plan, indicating (in French) the additions over the early centuries.

Here are a few photos I took of the "interior," now in ruins.

Standing in this space, I couldn't help but think about its place in the history of the development of Christology and Mariology. I prayed a "Hail Mary" here, and when I reached the words "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners," I couldn't help but be moved by the fact that those words, declaring Mary the Mother of God, had their origins here.

If you look at the floor plan, you will see an octagonal baptistery in the upper left of the plan. As was the case with the baptistery at the Basilica of Saint John, which I shared yesterday, this one at the Church of Mary is in ruins and is exposed to the air and the elements. The stairs going down into the baptismal pool and coming up from it, are not in very good shape. Here are a few photos I took while in this amazing space.

I did take a video. In it you will see the crosses that adorned the walls.

For those contemplating the building of a church, or the building of a baptistery or font, these baptisteries, some of the earliest built in large churches, can serve to inspire.

More on the stunning ruins of Ephesus in the next few days. Thanks for coming along on this journey into the history of Asia Minor and its importance in the place of Christianity.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Baptistery of the Basilica of Saint John in Ephesus, Turkey

Wednesday morning greetings from Dallas, Texas and the annual meeting of FDLC (Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions).

I wanted to share two Turkey experiences with you, one today and one in the next few days. And, to no one's surprise, they have to do with baptisteries and baptism fonts.

One of the final stops on the tour of Turkey was the ancient city of Ephesus. I visited the ruins of the Basilica of Saint John.

It is believed that John the Evangelist spent his final days here; his remains were buried here and a basilica was eventually built over the site of his grave. There was a model of the church, encased in plexiglass, that showed what the church looked like when it was built.

Here is the sign beneath the model, which gives a brief history of the site.

This was an enormous structure and included a large eight-sided baptistery. All of the ruins are exposed to the air and elements, which is unfortunate. Here is a photo of what remains of the font in the crumbling baptistery.

A closer photo of the pool; note the stairs going in and the stairs coming out.

I took a typical "Jerry" video of the baptism space.

It was pretty amazing to stand in this ancient place and to behold the final resting place of Saint John. I imagined those who would have been born anew in baptism in this massive space and felt connected to them in this sacrament, only a few miles away from where Saint Paul preached to the Ephesians.

Next up will be the baptistery at the Church of Mary in Ephesus. I hope these images help you in your understanding of the history and significance of the way baptism was celebrated in the early centuries of the Church.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Kurban Bayram: The Feast of Sacrifice

Monday greetings from the home office. I returned to the United States on Thursday and have just about recovered from the jet lag.

There is so much I want to share about Turkey. Today I would like to focus on an event that happened to coincide with my visit, the Muslim festival Kurban Bayram, or the Feast of Sacrifice. For Muslims, this three- to five-day feast commemorates Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to show his faithfulness to Allah; essentially the same story in the Old Testament where Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac until the angel prevents the killing.

I noticed for several days before the event that, while driving, I was seeing lots of pick-up trucks and trailers carrying mostly sheep and goats throughout the city streets. I was in Antalya, on the southern coast of Turkey, on the day that the feast began. There are two great feasts that are celebrated during the year for Muslims, the end of Ramadan and the Feast of Sacrifice. Part of our little tour group in Antalya included a Turkish man, who helped all of us understand the feast, in which he had taken an active role for most of his young life. He told us that the feast was all about family and charity. Those with the means would purchase a young lamb or goat (sometimes other animals were chosen). Depending on where the family lived, arrangements would be made for the purchase and slaughter of the animal. In rural communities, this would usually be done on the farm or in the yard. We happened to be in Antalya, a city of over a million people, on the first day of the festival. Our Turkish friend found out where the mobile slaughter houses were set up in the city, so we decided to drive to one to witness the event for ourselves.

We arrived in a city neighborhood and found the site, the ground floor of a parking garage. We watched as the pickup trucks and trailers arrived with the animals. The place was filled with people, young and old, and the animals were lined up to face the slaughter.

Being someone who is a city guy and who never really spent much time on a farm or with farm animals, this was a real eye-opener for me. We watched one lamb have its throat slit and die within minutes. As the animal is killed, someone prays a ritual prayer. Then the animal is skinned and the meat and organs are harvested. The entire process takes about 35 minutes and is done with speed and cleanliness.  This was definitely not for the faint of heart. This video does not show the actual slaughter, but it will give you a good idea of the setting.

Traditionally, families divide the meat into thirds, one third for the family, another third for extended family and friends, and the final third for the poor and needy.

As I was walking back to the car, I looked up when I heard this animal "baah-ing."

So, what went on in my mind? I thought about the "suffering servant" from Isaiah 53:6-7:
"We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way, but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all. Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth."

I also thought about how striking the prayer is we pray each time we are at Mass, "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us . . . grant us peace."

Here, before me, was a lamb being led to the slaughter, actually lots or lambs. One of our companions said, "Don't they know what is about to happen? In a matter of minutes, they will be killed." I watched as the young children were petting the animals that were next in line, a look of fascination and wonder on their faces as they watched what looked like sheer brutality to me.

I started praying, thinking of the Lord Jesus, whose own sacrifice saved (and continues to save) me. And I recalled that his sacrifice was once and for all. Unlike the Muslims, we do not sacrifice animals any more; the one sacrifice has been accomplished in Christ; there is no need for animal sacrifice in Christianity.

Oddly, I started thinking also about our upcoming feast of Thanksgiving and the fact that millions of turkeys will be slaughtered in order for our feasts to be complete. Granted, this slaughter has nothing to do with religious sacrifice, but I couldn't help but think of that one turkey that the president "pardons" just before Thanksgiving. There was no "pardoning" in Turkey that day of Kurban Bayram.

Travel brings the cultures of the world right up to our eyes. I felt so privileged to be in Turkey for this Muslim feast.

Tomorrow, I am traveling to Dallas for the annual meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, representing WLP and J.S. Paluch. I want share my experience of two ancient baptisteries and fonts I experienced in Ephesus. Hopefully, all the technology will work "on the road" so that I can share these amazing places with you.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.