Tuesday, February 23, 2016

RCIA As Inspiration . . . Really?

Greetings on this Lenten Tuesday.

I have just put the finishing touches on a workshop I am presenting on Sunday at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. The cab to the airport arrives at 4:30 tomorrow morning. Ug.

I am giving two workshops and it is this second one that has taken up much of my time: "The Catechumenate as the Inspiration for All Catechesis: How and Why?" The inherent challenge with this workshop lies in the fact that the implementation of the RCIA, at least in the United States and Canada, has fallen far short, thus far, of the Church's vision for the catechumenate as articulated time and time again in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, as well as in the Church's various directories for catechesis. So, it is not easy to talk about something that is supposed to inspire something else when that original something, in practice, shouldn't be used to inspire, well, anything.

I know I have been sounding rather down about the RCIA recently. But if we don't start naming the truth--that the RCIA, by and large, as practiced in North America has greatly missed the mark--then we will be stuck in this catechetical rut indefinitely.

A little gem from the United States own National Directory for Catechesis:

Dioceses and parishes should present catechesis for Christian initiation that
- Summons the catechumen to profess faith in the person of Jesus Christ from the heart, to follow him faithfully, and to become his disciple
- Recognizes that Christian initiation is an apprenticeship of the entire Christian life and so should include more than instruction.

And that section goes on.

Here is an example I found on the internet a few years ago. This is an RCIA "schedule" for a parish RCIA program.

RCIA meets every Wednesday evening from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.  in the
Parish Hall with some exceptions, check the schedule below.
Catholic Vision Overview
September              3             Welcome and "Tour of the Church"
September              10           Mary and the Rosary & Communion of Saints
September              17           Marriage & Sexuality
Birth control & assisted fertility techniques
September              24           Teaching Authority in the Church
October                 1             Sacrament of Baptism
October                 8             Sacrament of Confirmation
October                 15           Morality Issues: abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia
October                 22           Sacrament of Reconciliation: history & current practice
October                 29           Scripture: Catholic Principles of Interpretation
November              5             Eucharist (1): what, how and why of Sacrament
November              12           Eucharist (2): What does Sacrament mean to me
November              19           "Four Last Things" (+Purgatory)
December              3             Liturgical Year: vessels and vestments
December              10           Ordained ministry, celibacy and Priesthood of the Baptized
December              17           Proclaiming the Kingdom
Catholic Vision of Worship
January                   8             Mass; History of the Liturgy
January                   15           Mass; Liturgy of the Word
January                   22           Mass; Liturgy of the Eucharist
January                   29           Mass; "Full, Active, Conscious Participation"
Catholic Vision of Life
February                5             St. Benedict
February                12           St. Francis of Assisi
February                19           St. Ignatius of Loyola
February                26           St. Teresa of Avila & St. John of the Cross
March                    5             St. Francis de Sales/St. Vincent de Paul
March                    12           Brother Lawrence
March                    19           Br. Charles de Foucauld
March                    26           Contemporary Saints
April                       2             Jesus; Who is He and what does he want with me
April                       9             Receiving the Holy Spirit
April                       23           PotLuck/Sharing Your Triduum Experience
April                       30           Ministry Leaders Visit
May                       7             Ministry Leaders Visit
December              1             Rite of Welcome 9:00 a.m. Mass
March                    5             Ash Wednesday/Rite of Sending 7:00 p.m. Mass
March                    8             Rite of Election* 5:00 p.m. Mass
March                    23           First Scrutiny          9:00 a.m. Mass
March                    30           Second Scrutiny 11:30 a.m. Mass
April                       2             Presentations of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer 9:00 a.m. Mass
April                       6             Third Scrutiny         9:00 a.m. Mass
April                       13           Passion/Palm Sunday 9:00 a.m.
April                       17           Holy Thursday Liturgy  7:00 p.m.
April                       18           Good Friday Liturgy  3:00., 7:00 p.m.
April                       19           Easter Vigil Practice at church @ 10 a.m.
April                       19           Easter Vigil Mass @ Sundown
                                             Reception after celebration

Just type in "RCIA Program" or "RCIA Schedule" into any search engine and you will find schedules like this one. Have we missed the boat for the most part?

At any rate, I am looking forward to the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress and I will report back about how the RCIA presentations were received (or not!).

Gotta sing. Gotta Pray.

Monday, February 22, 2016

What Do Those Living Outside the U.S. Think About What Is Going on Here?

Monday greetings to all.

This weekend marked yet another senseless tragedy here in the United States, the apparent random shooting of six people in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

I often wonder what my brothers and sisters living outside the United States think about what goes on in our country, especially all these mass shootings.

I remember well visiting the wonderful city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan nearly each year in the early part of this century. Each time I visited I stayed at the Mother House of an order of Ursuline Sisters. I remember their keen interest in American politics. When George Bush was elected to a second term, I was with the sisters just a few short weeks after the election was "decided" by the courts. One of the elderly sisters questioned me at breakfast, "Jerry, how is it that you voted Bush in again?" Without engaging in a political debate, I simply said, "Sister, I exercised my constitutional right and I cast my vote a few Tuesday's ago; for that I am grateful. I have only one vote." It amazed me how engaged these elderly women were with the political system here in the United States.

As the current election season unfolds, I wonder what my Canadian friends, and those from around the world who follow this blog, think of what's happening in the United States right now. Just driving into work this morning and listening to the results of the recent caucus and primary, my carpool colleague and I wondered aloud how a certain candidate continues to garner support.

By the way, I am counting myself with Pope Francis, who said that those who build walls instead of bridges are simply not Christian.

As you know, I usually stay away from political topics here, but just had to wonder this morning . . .

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Why Is It So Difficult for Me to Say "Thank You?"

Friday morning greetings from a much warmer Midwest. Feels good!

In recent days, I have discovered something about me. In the wake of some very good news about a close family member, I have found it difficult to express my thanks to God. And I guess this mirrors another, deeper aspect of my own life.

I think I am very good at focusing in prayer when someone is in need. I pray the rosary, asking the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of "Our Lady, Mother of the Afflicted," to intercede on behalf of those who have asked me to pray for them because of some serious health or life issue. Asking for help and comfort from the Lord is something that seems to come naturally for me. I simply throw my prayers God's way. When a surprisingly good diagnosis was reached for my family member, my mother said, "Of course, we never told the doctor that it was because of all the prayers." Simple, straightforward faith from a woman who has seen her own share of life's heartaches.

But this week, when it came time to thank God for good news, I found myself stuttering before the Lord.

Then I remembered how a certain pattern has developed in my own life. And this pattern appeared as recently as this past Saturday. After I finished giving my morning of reflection for liturgical ministers at Saint Michael Parish in Schererville, Indiana, I headed to the men's room. In the bathroom, I met an elderly man who said, "You know, there are people who have tremendous gifts given to them by God. You are one of those people and I am so happy and grateful that I came here this morning." Instead of thanking the man, I said what I usually say, "Well, God is good."

Why do I have such a problem with simply thanking someone when I am complimented? Perhaps it is something deep inside of me that has been ingrained for years of my Catholic life; something about not being deserving of praise and thanks from others. So, I deflect most compliments and simply say that God is good. Maybe I just need to look people in the eyes and just say "thank you."

Perhaps that is all I need to do with the Lord in these days of tremendous joy over good news received. But I am so used to asking for help from God that I find it difficult just to be thankful.

Sometimes writing a blog post like this is like spiritual therapy for me.

Lord, help me today to try to say "thank you" to others when they see something inside me for which they are grateful and to you when my heart is full of gratitude.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Peter and Chloe Kolar: Music for Pope Francis in El Paso

Thursday greetings from the Midwest, where a warm-up is promised over the next few days. Hooray!

Yesterday, as you know, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. He also made his way up a ramp and blessed immigrants across the border, who were lined up along the Rio Grande in El Paso. So moving to see.

And for those of us here at WLP, it was an extra special day. Thousands had gathered in the Sun Bowl Stadium of the University of Texas at El Paso to watch the Mass in Mexico live on the jumbotrons there. And WLP's own Peter Kolar directed the El Paso Diocesan Choir. If you want to see where the Church is alive and well in the United States, look no further than the Southwest and El Paso in particular. Four hours of song, dance, and prayer preceded the broadcast of the Mass at the Sun Bowl. I was able to watch it as I sat at my desk, but missed watching the diocesan choir before the Mass actually began across the border. I was able to watch it this morning, as can you here. [Sorry, folks, but the video has now been made "private" and can no longer be viewed.] The pre-Mass music led by Peter and the diocesan choir begins at 3:53:00. You gotta watch and listen!

One of the most touching moments was when Peter's seven-year-old daughter Chloe sang a solo in a song Peter wrote for the occasion. Tears came to my eyes as I watched and listened. The timing was amazing as the song was sung as Pope Francis blessed those across the Rio Grande. 

After Chloe's ministry to the thousands gathered there and the tens of thousands watching via video feed, there was a tended father-daughter moment, captured here.

Congratulations, Peter, for serving God's people so well with your extraordinary talents. We are so happy and proud of you!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Indiana and "Believing That Things Can Change"

Wednesday greetings.

I spent a wonderful weekend in New England with my family. They have a way of putting my life into perspective. So grateful for good news and the opportunity to celebrate it (See last week's post).

On Saturday, before leaving for Boston, I had the privilege of leading a morning of reflection for liturgical ministers at Saint Michael the Archangel Parish in Schererville, Indiana. Here is a photo of the group gathered:

The church was built in the last decade or so. Here are some photos of the interior.

The baptism font is a John Buscemi design. The grate in the floor is opened at Easter when adults are baptized; it reveals the baptismal pool.

More of the interior.

I went to daily Mass with those assembled on Saturday and it was treat to hear the chants from the Roman Missal sung so well.

Just a few minutes ago I was sent the text of Pope Francis' address to the inmates of the Centre for Social Adjustment in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. Take a look at this one line:

"Celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy with you means learning not to be prisoners of the past, of yesterday.  It means learning to open the door to the future, to tomorrow; it means believing that things can change.  Celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy with you means inviting you to lift up your heads and to work in order to gain this space of longed-for freedom."

Don't you think these words are as appropriate for you and me as they are for those inmates? Pope Francis sure has a way of cutting through it all and bringing God's mercy right into my own heart.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Dancing and Crowning: Ravenna's Neonian Baptistery

Last evening I had the chance to review some of the videos I took while in Italy a few years back. This is the video from the interior of the Neonian Baptistery in Ravenna, which was finished by the end of the 5th century.

What I love about the stunning mosaic on the ceiling is the way the apostles' feet suggest that they are dancing as they rejoice in the newest addition to the Body of Christ, baptized below.

Also, each apostle carries a laurel ring, a crown awaiting the moment when the baptized person will be crowned in glory at the heavenly banquet. A little interpretation on my part, of course, but as this Lenten season unfolds, let us be reminded of our own baptism and what awaits the faithful servant.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Different Beginning of Lent for Me

Thursday greetings from the frigid Midwest.

This has been quite an unusual ramp-up and beginning of Lent for me in a deeply personal way.

In the spirit of protecting the privacy of my immediate family, I can't get into the whole thing. But over the past five weeks, we were teetering on what looked like a 99% probability of a cancer diagnosis for one of my family members. This has surely been a roller coaster ride of emotions, mixed with sadness, anger, confusion, and deep worry.

Yesterday afternoon, after a call from the oncologist, we were informed that there is no trace of any cancer whatsoever.

I cannot describe the relief and utter joy I felt. I had already booked a flight for Saturday night to visit my family in Massachusetts and now, instead of a weekend of concern, it will be a weekend of celebration, and for that I am so grateful.

But I am also reminded of those who do not receive such good news when going through a diagnosis of any kind, especially revolving around cancer. Too many people close to my heart, including my own family, live with the reality of cancer and its treatments. My heart is close to all of those who suffer in any way.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

RCIA: A Question for You!

Greetings on this Ash Wednesday.

I am in conversation with a colleague about the re-translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults that is now in progress at ICEL.

A question arose about Paragraph 33 #1.

This is found under the general heading "Adaptations by the Conferences of Bishops in the Use of the Roman Ritual."

"The conference of bishops has discretionary power to make the following decisions:
1. to establish for the precatechumenate, where it seems advisable, some way of receiving inquirers who are interested in the catechumenate (see no. 39);"

Then, when one finds no. 39, here's what is found:

"The conference may also provide, if circumstances suggest and in keeping with local custom, a preliminary manner of receiving those interested in the precatechumenate, that is, those inquirers who, even though they do not fully believe, show some leaning toward the Christian faith (and who may be called 'sympathizers.').
1. Such a reception; if it takes place, will be carried out without any ritual celebration; it is the expression not yet of faith, but of a right intention.
2. The reception will be adapted to local conditions and to the pastoral situation. Some candidates may need to see evidence of the spirit of Christians that they are striving to understand and experience. For others, however, whose catechumenate will be delayed for one reason or another, some initial act of the candidates or the community that expresses their reception may be appropriate.
3. The reception will be held at a meeting or gathering of the local community, on an occasion that will permit friendly conversation. An inquirer or 'sympathizer' is introduced by a friend and then welcomed and received by the priest or some other representative member of the community."

So, here is my question. Does anyone do this? Do you prepare some kind of "way of receiving inquirers?"

Comments and dialogue welcome here in the comments box or over on Gotta Sing Gotta Pray's Facebook page.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Two Cab Rides

Shrove Tuesday greetings from the snowy and cold Midwest.

My travels have ended until the end of this month.

I wanted to share two travel stories with you, both involving cab rides.

When I was in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, we had snow the second night I was there and as I was returning to my hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, I was impressed when I entered the cab. The sound system in the cab was top notch and there was a female jazz singer performing beautifully over that system. I mentioned to the cab drive how much I was enjoying the music. It ends up that he is a concert pianist and was a close friend of the singer. I told him a little about myself and he asked me if I liked Durufle's Requiem. He said that of all the music ever written, he thought the Kyrie from the Requiem was the finest piece of music ever written. He said he had a favorite recording, from Saint John's College in Cambridge, which he began to play as we approached my hotel. There were people waiting at the doors of the hotel, hoping to find a cab. As the Kyrie began to soar and the cab drive started to wave his arms in the air, conducting the piece, I was swept away with the amazing performance of this piece. You can find it here.

When the doorman signaled that he had a few people that needed the cab, the cab driver rolled down the window and said, "You will have to wait, because we are listening to Durufle's Requiem." The driver turned the meter off and we just sat and listened in awe. 

Once the piece concluded, feeling exhilarated, I left that cab driver a very nice tip and told him that this was the finest concert experience I had ever known in a taxi. Just amazing.

Story number two. 

On a cab ride from O'Hare to my home on Saturday, after a long day of traveling from Baltimore, the driver, who was from India, asked me what I did for a living. I told him that I helped run a Catholic publishing company. He paused for a few minutes and said, "Tell me, sir. Do you believe in Darwin's theory of the evolution of man or do you believe Jesus Christ?" I said that I thought the question addressed two different approaches, and comparing belief in Jesus Christ to belief in Darwin's theory was not a direct enough comparison in which to engage in conversation. He paused for a while and said that his grandfather in India had taught him about the gods of the Hindu religion but that he never really believed in any of that growing up, simply couldn't make sense of it. Because he loved and respect his grandfather, he would never openly question him about it. He pressed me more to talk about the theory of evolution and the Christian understanding of creation. I told him that the Catholic Church summons me, a believer, to place faith in conversation with reason and science. I said that much of our creation stories in the Bible arose from the myths of my ancestors in the faith, who did not have the scientific knowledge we have today. I told him that I absolutely must engage in a conversation about the science of evolution, but that I believed in my heart that the spark that originated all life in the universe is traced to a loving and creating God. I couldn't help but think of my philosophy courses so many years ago and Aristotle's "un-moved mover," and the other arguments for the existence of God.

He said that there was no divine "spark" that began it all. I said that the human person's spirit and sense of reason can only be explained, at least in my believing heart, by looking at a God in whose image I am created. And that spark of life, that spirit of the human person is something that continues on after our earthly bodies are exhausted.

He told me, loosely quoting Darwin's theory, that human persons developed spirit and reason over billions of years due to three chief needs: food, sex, and land. These needs are what eventually developed into the human person becoming able to communicate and develop what I was calling the human spirit sparked by the divine.

When we arrived at my home, I thanked him for the conversation, as did he.

Part of me wishes that I could have brought these two cab drivers together and that the three of us could read Darwin, the Bible, the tenets of Hinduism, all the while listening to Durufle's Requiem.

You know, it is quite amazing what happens when one does not remain passive in the back seats of taxi cabs. I was grateful for both of these encounters.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Baltimore and Expanding a Narrow RCIA Vision

Thursday greetings from the Mid-Atlantic Congress for Pastoral Leadership here in Baltimore, Maryland. Here is the view from my hotel room, looking right down into Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles.

We finished setting up the WLP booth this morning; we begin our exhibits in a few hours.

WLP and J.S.Paluch printed the programs for the conference and we are sponsoring two workshops, one by John Angotti, the other by yours truly.

This has been a busy conference season for me since the beginning of the year. I will have a few weeks off before heading to Anaheim for the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress at the end of the month.

At Mass on Sunday morning at Old Saint Patrick's in Chicago, a woman sitting next to me introduced herself, letting me know that she follows this blog. So a shout out both to that parishioner, and to my Dad; I found out recently that he reads the blog regularly. Hi Dad!

I am hoping that the folks here at the conference grow in their faith. I am talking about rebuilding the RCIA, with a focus on the initiating community. Too often, the RCIA has morphed from the "Father Smith Instructs Jackson" approach simply to "The RCIA Team Instructs Jackson." It takes some stretching for RCIA ministers to envision the entire parish as the initiators. But I really do think it is not rocket science; it just takes a commitment to expanding a narrow vision. But you already know that, because you read this blog!

Please say a prayer for those gathered here in Baltimore.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.