Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Editing Away

I am currently editing a new resource for people working with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults as adapted for children of catechetical age.

Written by an experienced catechist, I am marveling at the way she approaches catechetical topics such as the Trinity, the parables of Jesus, and discipleship, among many others. It will be several months before we are ready for publication. I haven't ministered directly with children for quite some time now, so this is really a breath of fresh air.

The methodology is pretty straightforward. Each "session" includes lots of prayer time, icebreakers, scripture readings, activities, and rituals that are based on the topic. I am sure this is going to be a helpful resource for those ministering with children in the RCIA.

This is what is taking up lots of my time these days, and I am liking it.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, April 25, 2016

35 Years of the Notre Dame Folk Choir

What a marvelous weekend!

I left the office here on Friday and headed to South Bend, Indiana, where I spent three days attending the 35th anniversary reunion weekend of the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir. WLP publishes the recordings and music of the choir, most notably of composers Steven Warner and Karen Kirner.

We began with a banquet on Friday evening. I was asked to offer some remarks. The most impressive "remarker" was the current president of the Folk Choir, a young woman who told us that she really had no spiritual life before coming to the university and really had no interest in developing one. But that all changed when she joined the Folk Choir. She told us that her experienced helped shape a new soundtrack for her life, which will continue to be her soundtrack as she leaves the university after graduation next month.

If you have never experienced this choir, I can tell you that there is nothing quite like it. Their musical sound is wonderful, but more wonderful is their demeanor when they perform. These are young adults who are enthusiastic about sharing their faith through music. And this has been going on under Steve Warner's leadership for 35 years. Choir alums from past years were in attendance as well and they joined the current choir members for a concert on Saturday night and then again at the 11:45 Mass on Sunday.

Here is a photo from the concert.

And a short video of Chrysogonus Waddell's Jesus Lives. (I have been told that most of the videos I post on this blog do not play on Mac devices. Be assured I am working on it! For now, you can find the video here.)

This was the courtyard experience outside of the Basilica on the campus after Sunday Mass. Video link here.

It was a glorious conclusion to the weekend. Marvelous presiding and preaching, with a choir and instrumentalists numbering over 160. And a singing assembly rounded it all off.

Feeling so grateful to be part of this choir as its publisher.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"A Eucharist Abused"

For the past several weeks, I have been preparing a talk that I will be giving to a group of Canadian liturgists at the beginning of May. The focus of the presentation is on becoming one body in Christ. In my research I came across a catechesis given by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on December 10, 2008.

Here is an excerpt:

"The second important aspect of the teaching on the Eucharist appears in the same First Letter to the Corinthians where St. Paul says: 'the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the Body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread' (10:16-17).

"In these words the personal and social character of the Sacrament of the Eucharist likewise appears. Christ personally unites himself with each one of us, but Christ himself is also united with the man and the woman who are next to me. And the bread is for me but it is also for the other.

"Thus Christ unites all of us with himself and all of us with one another. In communion we receive Christ. But Christ is likewise united with my neighbor: Christ and my neighbor are inseparable in the Eucharist. And thus we are all one bread and one body. A Eucharist without solidarity with others is a Eucharist abused. And here we come to the root and, at the same time, the kernel of the doctrine on the Church as the Body of Christ, of the Risen Christ."

I have been pondering this last paragraph for quite some time, especially these two lines:

"Christ and my neighbor are inseparable in the Eucharist."

"A Eucharist without solidarity with others is a Eucharist abused."

I think about sitting in the fourth or fifth row at the 9:30 Mass at Old Saint Patrick's, my parish here in Chicago. Do I too often think that the Eucharist is only about "me and Jesus?" Am I there to get the nourishment I need for the week, kind of like stopping at the grocery store for some baby spinach? Does the Eucharist sometimes become a commodity for me?

What strikes me about those questions is that it is very difficult in my own parish to adopt that attitude about the Eucharist. I feel welcomed at Mass, I connect with those around me; the preaching challenges me to see beyond my own little world; the music--both in the texts themselves and in the way the assembly is drawn into the singing--"glues" me to those around me. And all of this is done in a parish that puts outreach to the poor at the very forefront of its gaze.

I realize that it takes two realities to become wedded together in order for the Eucharist not to be abused. The parish context makes all the difference; that's the first reality. The second is all about my attitude and posture. I need to see that "Christ and my neighbor are inseparable in the Eucharist." And, of course, what haunts me about this use of the term "neighbor" is that Gospel passage in Luke where the "expert in the law" asks Jesus the question:"Who is my neighbor?" And then unfolds the parable of the good Samaritan."

So, my neighbors are certainly those sitting around me at Sunday Mass. They are what I would call the "easy neighbors." But then there are those other neighbors, and you know the ones I mean here. That guy who badgers me outside of Walgreen's, looking for a handout. That person at work who never seems to have a good thing to say about anyone or anything. That person in my own life history who caused me such harm. That person on the train who has obviously just used drugs and sits next to me. The list goes on.

"A Eucharist without solidarity with others is a Eucharist abused." So, so challenging.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Inactive so Inactive

I make it a point not to be critical of my own parish when I write my blog posts. And this post is consistent with that policy, because my experience at Sunday Mass yesterday showed me how committed my parish is to the faith development of families and the young.

One Sunday per month, at the 9:30 Mass in the church, we have a more family focused Mass (we have two 9:30 Masses, one in the main church and one in the lower hall; both are absolutely packed) . The children's choir sings. Sometimes children, well trained as readers, proclaim the scriptures. Yesterday, the second graders preparing for their First Holy Communion, were in attendance at this family-focused Mass, with their parents, siblings, and as far as I could see, with other members of their extended families. Two adults, parents of two of these second graders, were the lectors, and they were quite fine. The child stood next to them at the ambo. The adult proclaimed the reading and the child leaned into the microphone at its conclusion and said "The word of the Lord." It was cute and appropriate at the same time. The intercessions were proclaimed strongly and beautifully by one of the dads and at the conclusion of each one, the young second grade son leaned into the microphone with his "We pray to the Lord."

There were three families that were in the sanctuary, behind the altar, for the entire Mass. The entire large group of second-graders joined them for the Eucharistic Prayer. Since these people were behind the altar for the entire Mass, I couldn't help but notice how disinterested they seemed. With the exception of one young man, and the catechist who was with the group, not one of these people ever opened their mouth to sing or pray aloud. And this is a community that sings and prays quite well; it was just a strange juxtaposition. There was a young family seated in front of me. Their son was the second-grader preparing for First Communion. His sister, probably a year younger, kept turning around and staring at me every time I sang with the rest of the community. The two children seemed to be in their own little worlds the entire time. Their parents hardly responded to any of the prayers and none of them sang a note.

I know that what I was experiencing yesterday is the reality in all of our parishes. We have parents who "enroll" their children in sacramental preparation programs, but do not come to Mass regularly, if at all. And I ask myself, "What is the point?" Then I remember that the point is that it is our hope that somehow these programs reach these parents and are tools of evangelization to help transform them into people who see the value of the Mass, of being part of the Catholic community that gathers each week.

For me, it was jarring to see inactive Catholics being so inactive at Sunday Mass, and right in my face and in the pew in front of me. It was a wake-up call, but also made me pray for all who, for whatever reason, do not taste and see the Lord's goodness regularly with other Christians. I am glad that my parish hosts this family-focused Mass each month. This is a parish with a liturgical life that is alive, with music that is accessible and beautiful, with preaching that reaches into peoples' hearts on all kinds of levels. I guess I just have to let God be God, and remember that I am not God. God is somehow at work in all of this.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, April 15, 2016

New WLP "Ceremonial Folders" Have Arrived!

Friday greetings from Chicago, where the sun has been shining brightly for three entire days!

We had a long-awaited arrival today here at WLP.

For many years, at various conferences around the country, people have been asking us if we have a particular kind of ceremonial binder for use in their parishes. As you may know, we publish three series of ceremonial binders in three-ring format, and another series that is designed to hold an electronic tablet. The folks at these conferences wanted something much simpler; an attractive folder in which can simply be slipped one or two single sheets, without any rings, so no need for hole-punching.

Well, we listened, we discussed, we decided, and then we designed. And today is the day of arrival. And, I must say, these are gorgeous.

Just snapped some photos for you. All four liturgical colors, plus black.

Here's is what one looks like opened up.

And more of a closeup.

You can see that an 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper simply slips into the corners, held in place by the beautiful grosgrain ribbon and fabric. People asked for this particular kind of folder for a variety of uses. One major use was for the lector; the intercessions could be placed on one side and the parish announcements on the other. Deacons asked for this, so that they could have the text for the Penitential Act on one side and the intercessions on the other. Priests and deacons wanted something they could hand to the bride and groom that contained the words of the wedding vows, so that the couple could exchange vows using a beautiful folder, rather than the "repeat after me" approach. Music directors asked if we had something they could slip the music for the psalmist into so that the psalmist held something more dignified and noble for the liturgy.

So glad that we were able to have these designed and manufactured. Look for these "Ceremonial Folders" on our web site. They will be posted there within a few days.

Thanks for listening to my little commercial!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"I Like It Here"

What is it like to feel "at home?"

I got a taste of that feeling last night. I attended the annual fundraising gala for Mundelein Seminary, Chicago's archdiocesan seminary that trains seminarians from over thirty dioceses around the world.

I have attended this event many times. It is definitely a "Who's Who" among Chicago's Catholic community. During the cocktail reception, brazen that I am, I tried to get Archbishop Cupich's attention and found him coming over to me and he offered me his hand to shake. I had about two minutes with him. I told him that I had watched his press conference live last Friday, in which he spoke about Pope Francis' new apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. He shared his own delight with the document. We chatted a bit more about it and then he told me that he wanted to thank Pope Francis for this pastoral, easy-to-read document. So, he sat down yesterday morning and wrote a thank you letter to Pope Francis.

As I mingled with my brother and sister Chicago Catholics last night, including my own pastor, former professors, publishing colleagues, lay and ordained friends, it struck me how much I feel "at home" here in this local church, the Archdiocese of Chicago. As a Boston-bred Catholic guy, it also dawned on me that I have lived here in Chicago nearly as long as I lived in Boston. I sensed so much hope in that large ballroom at the Chicago Sheraton last night. One of the seminarians, a Columbian-born young man studying for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, was seated at our table and it was great to hear him talk about how much he liked the seminary and how much he was looking forward to ministering in a bilingual community once ordained.

As the evening came to a close, I just had that sense that I was home, and that "I like it here."

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Peter Jones Gloria: Wow!

Sad news this week of the death of Canon Peter Jones, composer of the "Jones Gloria."

A memory immediately came to mind. At Saint Marcelline Parish in Schuamburg, Illinois, where I served as director of liturgy and music from 1992 to 1999, the "Peter Jones Gloria" was a favorite of our congregation.

My pastor had challenged me to begin looking at the way our music and liturgy program addressed the needs of young people, particularly teenagers. So he sent me to a "Life Teen" seminar in Arizona. I came back with mixed feelings. The predominant Life Teen model back then was that the parish should gather a group of adults to form the "band" that would minister at Life Teen Masses. I knew that I had kids in the parish who, because of an excellent choral and music program in our school district, were talented and willing to become ministers of music. So, instead of the direction that Life Teen was going, I decided to form a group of singers and instrumentalists from those who were interested in sharing their talents with the parish. It was a challenge. I had a piccolo player, a clarinetist, a bass player, and a flutist. At the first rehearsal, when I asked the teens who formed the choir to stand, they all stood, with their choir folders positioned perfectly in front of them. These were trained singers because of the excellence of the school district. It was close to comical when they sang "Awesome God," looking like they were singing Faure's Requiem!

A family approached me a few months after we began our monthly Masses featuring the teen music ministry. They were recent immigrants from Poland and they told me that their son who played the drums was interested in joining the group. We were all delighted. He played wonderfully at our rehearsals, and then came time for the first Mass at which he would be playing drums. And this is where the "Peter Jones Gloria" comes in.

I was playing the duel role of conducting the choir and turning and gesturing for the assembly to sing the assembly parts, especially those crisp "Glory to God's" during the "verses" of the Gloria. Well, it all started out beautifully, great tempo, terrific choir parts, and an enthusiastic assembly.

Then our Polish drummer, probably experiencing a bit of stage fright, began to pick up speed with the tempo. Nothing I did helped him to slow down and the Gloria took off like the William Tell Overture. The accompanist looked at me with sheer panic in her eyes as we were nearing triple the speed. And the Polish drummer just kept speeding up.

I must have looked like the Tazmanian Devil on my perch in front of the choir, spinning around to gesture the assembly to sing their responses. I remember thinking to myself, "The only positive thing about this experience is that this Gloria is going to be finished very quickly!" At the end of the piece, there was this moment of silence. I could practically hear the assembly panting in the same panting rhythm as the choir and their red-faced conductor! The young Polish drummer was beaming from ear to ear!

At the end of Mass, I asked the assembly to thank the musicians. And I asked for a special thanks to our new drummer, who infused the Gloria with so much gusto! Laughter and applause filled the space.

I really loved that setting of the Gloria. May Canon Peter Jones rest in peace. And may his Gloria resound in the heavens, at its normal speed, of course!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Cosmos Redeemed

What a delightful surprise at yesterday's 9:30 A.M. Mass at my parish, Old Saint Patrick's. The guest celebrant was Fr. Richard Fragomeni, professor at Catholic Theological Union here in Chicago (my alma mater). Richard is also the rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pomeii here in the city. I have known Richard for over thirty years. As part of my doctoral program, I took an independent study with him focused on the hermeneutical analysis of Paul Ricoeur (ask me about that experience some day!).

His homily was brilliant as usual. Richard is very much into talking about outer space, the galaxies, and the universe. He places faith in conversation with astronomy and science. In his homily, he basically said that other intelligent life forms are out there; we just don't have the technology yet to reach them. Ten billion galaxies. 100 billion stars per galaxy. And this is just the observable universe! And all of this in the cosmos has been redeemed by Christ, who rose from death. Hard to wrap my brain around all of this, but glad to hear a homily that really stretched me.

It reminded me of a question someone here at the office asked me the other day concerning baptism. "Jerry, if alien life were to come to earth, would you baptize the alien?" My response, "Would I allow the alien to baptize me?"

Lots to think about as this week dawns.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Even Catholic Reporters Get It WRONG

Friday greetings from the very cold Midwest.

We just had some kind of emergency in the same building where we are located. Fire alarm went off and we all found ourselves standing out in the cold as some snow pellets began to fall. Glad to be back in the warmth of the building.

I just read a neat story about a Catholic astronaut who was on the International Space Station and, through an arrangement with his diocese and parish, he was able to take consecrated hosts to the station, which he consumed while there. Then came this sentence, as reported by Catholic News Service:

"It was extremely important to me," said Hopkins, now 47, who grew up on a farm outside of Richland, Missouri, in a United Methodist family but completed the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes and became Catholic just before going into space."

Touching story, but why would the major Roman Catholic media outlet in the United States use the term "Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes?" This is a classic example of the bastardization of the RCIA. In the sentence, as constructed, "Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults" becomes the modifier, the adjective modifying the word "classes."

We have, by and large, missed the boat, don't you think? This kind of misrepresentation of the Church's teaching about Christian initiation and preparation for the sacraments really grates on me, can you tell?

Let's all agree to banish the term "classes" from any description of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Agreed?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Kudos to "The Bearded Servant"

Wednesday greetings from a soggy and wet Chicago. 44 degrees and raining, but the daffodils and forsythia are in full bloom. Just beautiful.

I wanted to share a link with you today; it is a "vlog" from Drew Hardesty, the "Bearded Servant."

Drew serves as Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Owensboro, Kentucky. I have never met Drew in person, but feel like I know him through his "Bearded Servant" vlog.

I have checked out his Facebook page from time to time. His vlog posts are, in two words, "really cool." I am inspired by his dedication to a ministry that goes way beyond the usual job description for a DRE. Just check out this video, which is his reflection back on his ministry during Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum. Those of us in or who have once served in parish ministry know well how parish staff members are stretched during this holiest of times. Just watching Drew's video reminded me of just how much parish staff members do in order to draw parishioners into the paschal mystery. The other vlog posts I have watched look to me to be great inspirations for young adults who have been called to work in pastoral ministry in parishes.

I am grateful today to Drew and dedicated servants (those with beards and those without!) who work tirelessly to bring us closer to Christ. Drew's use of social media, vlog posts, replete with wonderful drone video (you have to check this stuff out) pushes me to realize that ministering to parishioners, particularly the young, requires an awareness that, in 2016, we need to make use of as much varied media as we can to do the work of evangelization. Drew is one of those ministers who think way outside the box. Time for many of us more "seasoned" in pastoral ministry to do some stretching. I hope you are inspired by this dedicated "bearded servant."

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Easter Joy and Delight

Monday morning greetings from Chicago, where the temperature this morning is 37 degrees; it was 71 yesterday. Ah . . . Spring in the Midwest.

I went to the 9:30 Mass at Old Saint Patrick's, my parish, yesterday. I was glad that they used the interrogative form of the Creed, since I missed my annual renewal of baptism promises last weekend due to illness.

There is an image from that Mass yesterday that has stuck with me.

At Old Saint Patrick's, there are two raised platform areas to the left and right of the sanctuary; the one on the right is for the musicians and the one on the left has chairs set up on it for members of the assembly to sit. I noticed a young couple take their seats on that raised area before Mass. They had two young daughters; one looked like she was about two years old and the other looked to be about six months old; at the beginning of Mass this younger daughter was in one of those sling contraptions and was strapped tightly to her Mom. She became restless just a bit during the first reading, so the parents wiggled her out of the sling and her Dad happily bounced her, kissing her and received huge smiles from his daughter. He passed her back to the Mom after the first reading.

Michael Joncas' setting Psalm 118, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad" was the setting that was used. Both the Mom and Dad sang it with gusto. And when I looked up during the refrain, I watched as the Mom sang it right into the face of her little daughter. Reminded me of the image of my grandmother and my own mother singing lullabies to my younger siblings when I was growing up. But this Mom was smiling away and her daughter was just filled with joy and delight.

"Let us rejoice and be glad," indeed!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.