I spent the last four days with the staff and parishioners of Saint John the Evangelist Cathedral in Milwaukee, leading their parish mission.
It was such an honor and blessing to speak in such a historic and storied space.
The mission sessions were held twice reach day on Monday and Tuesday.
I was so impressed with the people at the Cathedral parish. These are people who have been formed in the Church's liturgy so well. Their comments at the sessions and in the periods of discussion revealed such deep liturgical spirituality and formation and a sincere willingness to learn and absorb so much more.
Here's a photo I took of those gathered at one of the sessions. The cathedral provided a meal for each session; the folks were fed both physically and (hopefully) spiritually!
One of the more touching moments occurred last night. The cathedral is a downtown parish and the outreach to the hungry and the homeless is so obvious. Being a downtown parish means that the homeless and those with mental challenges often wander in and out. Last night Ralph wandered in and had supper with us. Ralph has had quite a history at the cathedral, replete with outbursts and inappropriate behavior in the past. But last night it was amazing to watch the parishioners as Ralph joined us for dinner and the mission presentation. I was a little alarmed when he arrived because of his sudden and loud outbursts, but when I noticed that the parishioners were not alarmed and treated him as they would treat one another, I immediately calmed down. When I asked questions of the crowd, Ralph raised his hand and answered. His speech was close to non-coherent to me, but I did catch that he was saying that God wants us to be close to him.
One of the final ritual moments of the mission was a ritual of reverence at the altar. I stood at the cantor stand, singing Paul Tate's Take and Eat This Bread, with its lyrics "Come before the table, come with all your heart . . ." as each participant in the mission approached the altar and bowed, or laid their hands on the altar, or revered it with a kiss." Even though it was not the appropriate thing to do, I did raise my phone and took a somewhat blurry photo of that ritual moment.
After everyone had finished showing reverence to the altar, and as I continued to sing, I looked up and noticed that Ralph alone was at the altar, with his hands firmly holding on to its surface. He blessed himself over and over again. When I meet people like Ralph, I often wonder if he would have been one of the people that Christ chose to be counted among the twelve apostles.
I am so grateful for the time spent in Milwaukee. I needed some spiritual time away and spending so much of it in one of the most beautiful churches in North America fed my spirit. The parishioners touched my heart deeply with their generosity of spirit, honesty, and hospitality.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.