Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Social Media: A Blessing and a Curse: Let's Try to Tell the Truth

Tuesday greetings on the feels-like-a-Monday Tuesday!

Social media is a blessing and a curse, don't you think?

I was visiting Facebook on Memorial Day and came across a re-post, which showed the late President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, walking amid the white crosses presumably at Arlington National Cemetery.

The caption read:


The implication, of course, is that our current president is not a "REAL AMERICAN PRESIDENT." It perturbed me slightly. For whatever reason, I went against a basic instinct and read some of the comments posted to the original post:

"He wasn't kissing the #ss of the Japs that attacked us."

"He wasn't a Muslim either."

"Not going to happen this year."

"Where is our Commander and chief. Honoring a country that bushwhacked us."

So, what did I learn from this? If you are going to share a post posted by someone else, first check the comments on the original post; they will be dragged long with the post.

Secondly, the ferociousness of my fellow citizens in this country exposes such a deep hatred; I find it difficult to wrap my brain around this. Where is this country headed?

Thirdly, I did some research and found that our current president was in the same place yesterday as Nancy and Ronald Reagan were when their photo was taken: Arlington National Cemetery.

Yesterday we honored those who died to protect the freedoms we enjoy in this country. One of those freedoms, of course, is the freedom of speech. I just wish that when citizens exercise this freedom, they do so without hatred, with malice toward none, and with the simple truth.

Thanks for listening to my rant.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Our Journey Through Advent (In May!)

Friday morning greetings to all.

A little commercial on this sunny, warm, and humid day here in the Midwest, if you don't mind too much! Hard to believe that as Catholic publishers we are already gearing up for the Advent Season!

If you are interested in a great take home resource for your parishioners for the Advent Season, please consider WLP's Our Journey Through Advent and Nuestro Camino por el Adviento for 2016.

Our office copies just arrived from the warehouse, and the cover art is just beautiful. Snapped this photo this morning here in my office.

These booklets contain a Blessing for the Manger, an Advent Daily Prayer and an Advent Household Table Prayer, as well as a short scripture passage and daily prayer for each day of the Advent Season. The back cover is graced by the "O" Antiphons.

I can't recommend this resource enough to parishes that want to help parishioners journey through the Advent Season.

Thanks for listening and I hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend, and a splendid celebration of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Convergence: Night

Thursday greetings from the warm and sunny Midwest.

These past two days, I have been speaking about the convergence of three experiences I had last week. The first intersecting piece of that convergence was the experience of the awesome beauty of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, where I hiked and climbed last week.

The second intersecting piece, far removed from the first, was a performance of Ka by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas; there I was awed by the sheer creativity of the human mind.

The third and final piece was my own reading of Elie Wiesel's Night


This book recounts in vivid detail Wiesel's account of his family being taken from their home and sent to concentration camps by the Nazis shortly before the end of World War II.

As I read, I thought of the grandeur of God's creation I was experiencing in the mountains of southern Utah. I also thought of what the creative spirit of the human mind can produce in something as stunning as the experience of seeing Ka. As I hiked the trails in Utah, I had noticed that the majority of people hiking those trails were folks from outside the United States, many of them German and French speakers. It struck me how different the world is seventy years after the experience recounted by Wiesel.

It is easy to find God in the mountains, at least for me. It is easy to find God when I hear inspiring music and behold the beauty of the human body dancing and interpreting that music. But, reading Night, I found myself struggling. Do I find God in the easiest of places for me precisely because it is so easy?

I remember back a little over fifteen years ago, sitting with my youngest sister, whose health was in serious decline; she would be dead within a few months. I had never asked her, or anyone else in my family, for that matter, if I could pray with them. I remember the moment as if it happened ten seconds ago. When I asked her if we could pray together, she just smiled and said "yes" so easily. I told her that in my entire life, I never knew the presence of Christ more than I did than when I was with her in her illness. I tried to pray with her, but my emotions were so raw that the words were difficult to get out.

After that visit, a friend of mine, who happened to be a Catholic priest, drove me to the airport to head back home to Chicago. I remember saying to him how angry I had become about my sister's illness. I said, "May God strike me dead for saying this, but Jesus only hung on that cross for three hours; my sister has been on that cross for sixteen years; where is God in this?"

It's easier to answer the question "Where is God in this?" when one is standing on a mountain ledge gazing out at indescribable beauty. It is easier to answer the question "Where is God in this?" when one is seated in a theater absolutely engrossed in the beauty of the human form at a take-your-breath-away performance. That question, "Where is God in this?" is not easy to answer at all when faced with illness and fear and death.

My life experience could never come close to what Wiesel and his family, and six million others, faced at the hands of the Nazis. Yet the same question was asked then. Here is a short excerpt, now famous, which addresses that very question. This recounts the hanging of two men and one child who had been condemned to die by the Nazis. Everyone in the camp was forced to march by them after they were killed, as a warning not to have contraband items or do anything to plot against the guards.

"Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing . . . And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.

"Behind me I heard the same man asking: 'For God's sake, where is God?' And from within me, I heard a voice answer: 'Where He is? This is where--hanging here from this gallows . . .'

"That night, the soup tasted of corpses."

-- Night by Elie Wiesel. Copyright 1960 by MacGibbon and Kee, originally published in French by Les Editions de Minuit, copyright 1958.

This convergence stretched my very soul. Do I go for the easy ways, or the difficult ways? This Christian believing is so hard so often. I guess all I can do is keep my eyes open . . . continue to question where to find God . . . continue to not be afraid when doubt settles in . . . and just keep asking "Where is God in this?"

Read Night. If you already have, read it again.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Convergence: Awed by Ka

Wednesday has dawned warm and sunny here in the Midwest.

Before continuing with my reflections about the last week, which I began yesterday, I wanted to share with you that today is a day of celebration in my heart. 58 years ago today, on Pentecost Sunday in 1958, May 25, something happened that would change the course of my life. And it happened right here:

That is the font in which I was baptized; at Saint Anthony of Padua Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts. So grateful to my Mom and Dad who gave me the greatest gift I have ever been given on that day!

Yesterday I talked about how I was awed by the beauty of God's creation as I hiked through Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park in southern Utah. I found myself in Las Vegas for two nights to end the trip; some friends were getting married there. I decided to take advantage of all the amazing entertainment that is part of the whole experience, so I went to see the Cirque du Soleil production of Ka at the MGM Grand Hotel. Here's a photo I grabbed from the internet, showing the moving stage platform, that went from horizontal to vertical and back throughout the performance; just magical.

I had seen two other Cirque productions in the past. This one was over the top. Just having seen so much of God's creation in nature, I thought I couldn't be "wowed" any more than I had been while hiking. As the production unfolded, what came together before my eyes was simply just more amazing beauty. The soundtrack, piped in through a great sound system in the theater, as well as in speakers in the seat back of my theater chair, was sublime. And the beauty of the performer's bodies, with their dancing and acrobatics, was breathtaking. And the sheer genius of the human minds that conceived of the staging and somehow worked with engineers and construction workers to put this all together just boggled my own small mind. It was 90 minutes of sheer delight.

The beauty that I experienced over the several days I spent in the Southwest made a lasting imprint on my mind and heart. Two very different experiences, for sure, but both showing how God's wonders continue to be worked today.

These are parts one and two of my experience of "convergence." Tomorrow, I want to reflect on part three, which was the fact that during this trip I read Elie Wiesel's Night.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Convergence: Spellbound First by Bryce and Zion

Tuesday greetings from WLP's home office here in Franklin Park, Illinois; a beautifully sunny day here.

I'd like to take a few days on this blog to reflect on the past week. It was a week of convergence. I traveled to some of the most beautiful places on this planet, beholding God's grandeur in nature; I went to a show on the Las Vegas "Strip" that showcased (at least for me) some of the ways that God's creative design of the human mind and spirit come together in an extraordinary way; all of this while reading Elie Wiesel's Night.

Let's start with the beauty of God's grandeur. I was so thrilled to be able to hike through Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park in southern Utah. First, some photos taken at Bryce.

These towers are called "hoodoos," formed from millions of years of erosion

This photo was taken shortly after sunrise on Thursday morning. Notice how the sun lights the interior of the formation, almost like there is a lamp lighted in between the hoodoos.

I took this photo during a noon hike through the canyon.

I spent most of Friday and the early part of Saturday hiking the many trails in Zion National Park. It was absolutely breathtaking. And with the elevation, it WAS absolutely breath taking! Here you can see the trail, heading from the valley floor. This was the "Angel's Landing" trail. Unfortunately, I was unable to complete the hike the last half mile because of the fear that gripped me on the final leg of the trail. At one point, the trail is only a few feet wide and is a sheer one thousand foot drop down on either side. And the trail was packed with people and the wind was howling. Just didn't see the point of putting myself through that kind of stress! Yes, I was scared. But look at this amazing beauty.

On Saturday morning, I hiked up a trail leading to three emerald pools. This is the final and highest pool. You can see me standing there; this will give you some idea of the vastness of these spaces.

I did lots of reflecting as I hiked, praising God for this tiny piece of creation in a cosmos too large for me to comprehend. The vastness of spaces like this make my brain feel so small and I just feel so tiny in the grand scheme of the created universe. Yet, I felt that God was somehow reaching out to let me know that I, too, am part of this beauty of creation.

I was struck at the number of international visitors present on the trails at both Bryce and Zion. My guess is that 80% of the people were from outside of the United States. I just didn't expect such an international experience in my own country. I heard French and German spoken most often. And in the three days, I found not one scrap of trash on any trail; these were people who respected this land. For a guy from a big city in the flat, flat, flat Midwest, this was extraordinary scenery.

As I climbed and hiked, I thought about a book I am editing for the children's catechumenate. The author has a chapter on discovering God's presence. I thought about that chapter a lot as I spent these days in these beautiful places. And I remembered a young man, a catechumen in a previous parish, who was a doctoral student in nuclear physics. He had come to the conclusion, after years of studying the physical world, that there was some thing, or some force, or some one who was responsible for holding all of this together. He discovered God in nuclear physics and came to know Jesus Christ. When I pondered the fact that there are billions of galaxies in the universe, each containing billions of stars, even the vastness and grandeur of these spaces in Utah seemed so insignificant. Yet, this is the world in which I am planted right here and right now. It was a challenge to my faith and an affirmation of it, all at the same time. Certainly not what I expected, but I was happy to let my spirit, soul, and mind engage in the conversation.

Thanks for listening to Part One of the convergence.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Taking Some Time Away

Tuesday greetings to all.

Just wanted to share that I am going on vacation and will return to blogging (hopefully more regularly) on Tuesday, May 24.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Training for Deacon Candidates and Their Wives in Dallas

Monday greetings on this day after Pentecost

I spent the weekend in Dallas, Texas, where I taught the diaconate class of 2020, and their wives, on Saturday and Sunday at the Diocesan Conference Center.

The topic for over eight hours on Saturday and just a little over six hours in Sunday was the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. To describe this group of dedicated men and women as "spirited" would be an understatement. I just loved their enthusiasm and dedication. These were two long days of presentations, discussions, and process. I was so proud of the great folks at the Diocese of Dallas, who see the tremendous importance of training their potential deacons so thoroughly about the initiation process. Here are a few photos of this esteemed group.

As I was doing my presentations, I couldn't help but think about the fact that Pope Francis, just last week, opened a conversation about the issue of women being ordained to the diaconate. The wives are required to attend most, if not all, of the five-year training with their husbands. As I looked out into the crowd, I wondered if there would come a time, perhaps decades from now, when diaconate formation might include women who would eventually be ordained to order of deacons.

I celebrated my birthday Saturday while with these fine folks. I felt a little isolated from friends and family, but my colleagues and friends in the Office of Worship (Patty Hughes and Sylvia Garcia) made sure it was well celebrated. Every few hours on Saturday, someone jumped up and said that they had mail for me. So, four birthday cards were sent my way, signed by those attending the sessions. And then they had birthday cheesecakes for the afternoon break. It was a blast!

So often in parishes, it is the deacon who is asked to coordinate the RCIA. I have seen mixed success with this. I was hoping that the weekend would be a time when these men and women would see the RCIA as an apprenticeship, as "basic training," rather than a course in Catholic doctrine. The power and potential of the initiation process is largely untapped in North America because it has reverted to a syllabus of topics rather than a school of discipleship. I hope my words and our discussions helped these wonderful Catholics see the difference and get fired up about what the Church's vision for the catechumenate really is.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Visiting Mickey McGrath's Studio and Joseph's House in Camden

Thursday greetings from the very, very green Midwest, where we received nearly two inches of rain overnight.

Yesterday morning, I had the privilege and honor of visiting Brother Mickey McGrath's studio in Camden, New Jersey. Mickey's studio is in a poor neighborhood, a place that, as Mickey describes, "has really changed my perspective on everything."

This post will be filled with photos. The second floor of the row house is where Mickey does most of his work. Here is one wall lined with some of his recent paintings.


And here is the spot that I wanted to see for so long; the place where Mickey stands to do his drawing and painting.

And here we are, with a lovely image of Christ on the wall behind us.

After the delicious breakfast that Mickey made, we talked about a future project with WLP, and I am so excited that we will be working with Mickey as he creates a follow-up to his immensely popular and award winning Dear Young People: Inspiration from Pope Francis for Everyone. We did lots of creative thinking and I think this new book is going to be a delight!

After our visit, Mickey took me over to Joseph's House, a homeless shelter.

I have seen photos and heard Mickey talk about this special place for quite some time. Believing that creating beauty can help heal and save, Mickey created some drawings on the walls of Joseph's House. Clients who use the shelter, as well as members of volunteer groups, have helped add the color to these drawings, actually doing the painting. I am so proud that WLP and J.S. Paluch helped to provide the materials for this project.

Here are some photos. These are the cots upon which sleep those who seek shelter here during the overnight hours.

And here is Brother Mickey, standing in front of the paintings.

And here are two photos of the three paintings on either wall.

I was so moved as we walked through Joseph's House. In too many places, the homeless are considered society's "throw-aways." But here, they are obviously given care and are surrounded with beauty that they themselves have helped create.

Art has such a capacity to reach into the human soul and do the work of transformation. I hope that the people who gaze on these works of art are touched by God.

Finally, here is a photo of Mickey and me as we concluded a very special morning visit.

Thank you, Mickey.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

South Jersey Parish Mission

Tuesday greetings from South Jersey, Swedesboro, NJ, to be exact.

I have been here since Saturday morning. Over the weekend, I offered a reflection at five Masses here at the Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit, as a kick-off to the parish mission. This area of farmland and new homes here in the suburbs of Philadelphia once had three different Catholic parishes. About seven years ago, the parishes were consolidated, which resulted in the retention of two worship spaces, combining to create Holy Spirit Catholic Community, which is served by two diocesan priests. This is the Diocese of Camden, NJ.

This is the interior of the worship space in Mullica Hill.

I offered the reflection here at the 4:00 P.M. Mass on Saturday. Then I drove to the other worship site, located about fifteen minutes away in Woodstown. They use the original country church for the 6:00 P.M. Mass on Saturday, and their large multi-purpose space for a Mass on Sunday morning. Here is a photo I took of the exterior of the church.

The music in both spaces is led by a number of parish musicians. The singing in this small church was just splendid. It is amazing how being close together in a small, beautiful space can lend to the singing of the assembly.

The space includes some beautiful stained-glass windows, all depicting various saints. It was pointed out to me that just after the turn of the 20th century, this church was built and the saints windows installed. Someone must have had a premonition, because all of the figures depicted in the windows were indeed saints, except one:

Notice the"S" and "K" in the window. These letters stand for "Saint Kateri," who obviously would not be declared a saint more than one hundred years later! Very cool.

Sunday morning was interesting. I offered my reflection at the Mullica Hill site at 8:00, and then left quickly right after the reflection in order to be shuttled over to Woodstown for the 9:00 Mass. After offering the reflection there, it was back in the car to head back to Mullica Hill for the 10:30 Mass. I certainly began to appreciate the reality of parish consolidation. The parish staff told me that it was not the easiest of processes when the parishes were combined. There had been a third parish church in the area, a very small parish serving the rural area. It was decided that that small church and parish needed to be closed and the parishioners consolidated with the other two, forming the new parish. In this area, with a long history of Catholicism, naturally there were hard feelings among the parishioners. I was told that at the time of the time of consolidation, parish giving dropped nearly 50%. It took time and lots of strong pastoral leadership to bring the folks together and it seems to have worked quite well. Parishioners are a mix of suburbanites of Philadelphia (there are some huge homes here, built on farmland), and farmers. This is one of those areas where the famous "New Jersey Tomatoes" are grown and harvested. As I drove through the area, I noticed field upon field of tomato plants; The plants are now about three to four inches tall. I would love to return in July or August to taste these tomatoes right off the vine!

The parish mission began on Sunday night in Mullica Hill, with a focus on Baptism. The size of the crowd was a bit thin because it was Mother's Day. Last night's mission session was held in the larger space in Woodstown, with a crowd about twice the size, where our focus was on the Eucharist. Tonight we return to Mullica Hill to focus on the sacrament of Confirmation, as well as what it means to be missioned into the world.

I have so enjoyed my time here in South Jersey. Tomorrow morning, before heading to the airport, I will stop in Camden where I will visit my friend and colleague Brother Mickey McGrath. I am looking forward to a tour of his studio; I have wanted to do this for years. I'll be sure to take some photos to share here.

I hope this final week of the Easter Season, as Pentecost looms on the horizon, is a joyful one for you.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Let's Sing the Seasons!

Last Friday, I attended a meeting with some of the members of our team here at WLP. It was our final meeting about our Sing the Seasons choral reading sessions for 2016. We have a dedicated web site for these events. Check out the cities to which we will be bringing the choral reading sessions this coming summer. I know they are impossible to read right here, so check out the web site!

It is wonderful to be able to bring our fine choral music to pastoral musicians all over the country. I will be the clinician for the sessions in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Archdiocese of New York, and will join a team of WLP clinicians for our Chicago West session.

The music is quite varied. We will be presenting music for SATB, SAB, two-part, and children's choirs. Styles range from strong music from the African-American tradition to chant-based pieces to strong choral anthems to contemporary pieces.

It's not too early to reserve your space, so register today.

I leave tomorrow to spend five days in New Jersey where I will be leading a parish mission at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Mullica Hill. Please pray for the people of the parish!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Thank You, Canadian Friends

Tuesday greetings to all.

I spent Sunday and Monday in Newmarket, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. I gave a presentation on Sunday evening at Elizabeth Seton parish. They were expecting 100, set up for 150, and more than 150 people came. That was pretty cool.

Here is an interior photo of the church and a few of the font.

We celebrated Vespers in the church to begin the evening. Boy, do these Canadians sing! And then we gathered in the parish hall for the presentation, entitled "Becoming One Body in Christ."

I enjoyed my time with these wonderful Catholics. Probably more than anywhere else on the planet, I feel so "at home" in Canada. My roots are French-Canadian and there is just something about the genuine hospitality I have always found there that warms my heart. The people in attendance seemed quite engaged as I spoke about baptism as the fundamental sacrament for becoming the people of God, the Body of Christ. I also used the metaphor of "conditioning the body" to talk about the ways that we become, build, and strengthen the Body of Christ.

Thank you, my Canadian friends, old and new.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.