Sunday, November 30, 2003

Music For the Day Peace, all. "Creator of the Stars of Night," possibly the premier Advent hymn, probably not known in many parishes. I have yet to serve a parish that included it in its repertoire before I arrived. But monasteries would not be without it. A word that strikes me: "Sidus," Latin for "celestial object," is translated as stars, but how can a poet translate that term into something inclusive of planets, moons, nebulae, comets, interstellar dust clouds and galactic clusters, not to mention the great attractor? So if you sing "stars of night," think those great photos from Hubble, not twinkle, twinkle. ... And an image from verse 3: that of Mary's womb being the wedding chamber. When I was younger, I would have found that a strange or jarring metaphor. Today, it strikes me as a warm image. Four weeks of Advent does not give a pastoral musician much of an opening for quantity .. which may be a good thing. This hymn is essential to parish worship, and a good complement to that other Advent chestnut. Feel free to comment on your take on this piece or other pieces in "Music of the Day" as they get posted.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Peace, all. A church musician should not let St Cecelia's feast day pass without comment. Sorry I was late. One person's opinion on what is needed in the realm of church music. 1. Good wages are not a guarantee of finding a good liturgical musician, but parishes have to pay them. There is no shortage of musicians these days. Sadly, many choose to struggle to make ends meet in bands and as peripheral performers in jazz or classical music. If you can find a church gig that pays pretty well, you have stability, usually only two very late nights a year, and the opportunity to make a difference. 2. Parishes and dioceses are responsible for training musicians and turning them into liturgical musicians, or ideally, pastoral music ministers. Sad that people who do play music in church are not often encouraged with lessons, workshops, and other supportive gestures that might tip the balance. Needless to say, every parish liturgist should ensure the budget includes a generous allowance for formation, musical and liturgical. 3. A seminary requirement should be voice lessons and music appreciation. Clergy need to know where they stand and not be intimidated by a lack of knowledge about music. 4. Acoustics need consideration in every new or renovated church. Natural acoustics should trump the desire for amplification whenever possible. I'm not sure I'd want my bedroom carpeted (sorry, GIA) and they don't belong in great quantity in churches. 5. We need more contemporary church music. Nearly nobody is satisfied with the current corpus of vernacular hymnody, and we need more people writing for liturgy to ensure we have a full field to cull for the classics of tomorrow. There's probably more, but that's enough to chew on for now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Peace, all. Not to pick on Mr Modl's post awfully much, but I wanted to mention to all the readers that retreats are a great and essential part of the Christian life, and not just for the "professionals." My first experience was when the seminarians hosted an annual gathering of scouts on their ball field every Fall. My first "real" retreat was when the Newman Community would go to the Trappist monastery for the annual student retreat. That was great. Since then, I've become aware of the TEC and REC movements, Cursillo, Marriage Encounter, and other similar activities. Many dioceses have retreat houses and I would encourage you to get on their mailing lists. I will put in a special plug for the dioceses of Dubuque and Marquette MI: wonderful places in which I have retreated. Monasteries too numerous to mention: call 'em and ask if you can visit. People beg off often on busy lives, spouses, children, commitments. Believe me, I have more trouble going on retreat now than when I was a grad student. Not every pastor I've worked for has been supportive of retreats. Thank goodness my wife is. When it gets too long since the last one, she nags me to make arrangements. But I think an annual retreat of some kind would do wonders for a stalled spiritual life and would enhance even a person who feels close to God. Once you start praying for God to arrange your schedule, you will find the time. Have faith!

Monday, November 24, 2003

Peace, all. Just back from First Reconciliation. I like the enthusiasm of second graders. I love having the whole family come. Long ago, I used to question the validity of catechizing for reconciliation at such an early age, but I think I've reformed my opinion. However, my ideal plan would be much more demanding of catechists. I think there are three, and possibly four times when reconciliation needs to be seriously catechized. Those people in the 70's and 80's who said we should teach 5th graders about penance? They were right, too. I think early high school would be a good third time. Maybe adults need a refresher. The reality is that as we mature our awareness, approach, and responsiveness to sin and grace changes. What good does it do to catechize a Catholic on a second grade level for a sacrament and leave it there? What good does it do to emphasize the communal celebration at school or RE and neglect the rest of the family? The only time, generally, Reconciliation is celebrated in a family group is at the first one -- unless parents bring their kids to parish services or to individual confession times. And the latter? That's hardly a liturgical celebration. Don't get me started on that. Reconciliation, if it is to be a fruitful sacrament, needs a serious overhaul. We should consider lay confessors. We need to rethink catechesis at different ages. We need to engage the whole family more often. We need use of Form III more regularly. Any thoughts?

Friday, November 21, 2003

Peace, all. Just a moment to puncture the priest as "person of Christ at the altar" and "bridegroom" arguments against the ordination of women. If a woman presiding at Eucharist is so much of a problem, what about concelebration? Has the Church suddenly taken multiple husbands? A woman is a problem, but a dozen men are not? Or has Michael Keaton decided to do a liturgical remake of Multiplicity? This is your problem when a perfectly good metaphor is run loose to do someone's dirty work. The most reasonable argument against the ordination of women is that we've never done it. All the other reasons trail off from there.
Peace, all. My mother hits town very shortly. The house is crazy today. The only reason I'm blogging now is because I single-handedly pushed a sleeper sofa up the basement stairs last night, did the dishes this morning, and I'm under my wife's radar at this very moment. My mother was one of the most active non-Catholic parishioners in my first home parish. She ran trips to Canadian shrines every year. Most of the parish had no idea she was a Baptist. My daughter is looking forward to 11 days of grandma's visit. So much so, that her homework, math flash cards, and lunch were left at the gate this morning. Poor Brittany. She never forgets things like that.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Peace, all. Jcecil got me thinking about Archbishop Chaput's cute comment about charity in connection with the USCCB's reiteration of Church teaching against contraception. When asked about the potential for reception the contraception teaching would have among a Catholic laity that has largely ignored such teaching in the past, the archbishop said that Catholics generally ignore Church teaching on charity as well. But we still emphasize it. If the Church taught charity in the same way it presents teaching on artificial contraception, we Catholics would be obligated to perform an act of charity every time it crossed out minds. Look in my closet and see an extra pair of shoes or an extra coat -- whoops: gotta give it away. Read about a prison escape and my mind wanders -- oops: have to get down to the county jail and visit. Drive past a hospital -- better pull in the lot here and check on the sick. Let's be real about this. If people performed acts of charity every time the thought crossed our minds, the world would be a better place, no doubt, and lots of saints would be raised up in the resulting chaos. But the reality is that conscience is a guide to a reasonably holy life for most of us who are unprepared or doubtful about being heroes. I admire Catholics who are open to procreation at every sexual act. But openness to generativity in marriage might have more in common with our approach to charity than Archbishop Chaput thinks. The real sin is when we ignore the urgings of charity over the course of a life. Never ever visited the sick? Never ever visited a prison? Never ever gave clothing away? These are signs of a possible defect in charity. In the same way, a couple practicing artificial contraception over the entire course of a marriage might indicate a possible defect in their approach to the sacrament. But isolated instances or a period of choosing not to conceive children? I can't buy it. At least not unless the bishops are asking all of us to kick it up several notches to sainthood right away. And I don't think they are, do you?

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Peace, all. I've dusted my algebra off and put it to use for liturgical purposes: m = 48(H-2) +12 and its corollary: H = ((m-12)/48) +2 Amy Welborn (http://amywelborn.typepad.com/openbook/) has a great blog and she commented this morning on the length and content of a bishop's Confirmation homily. Last Spring, our local bishop, a seemingly nice guy and cancer survivor, came to preside at Confirmation. His office told us that if we had a mid-week liturgy, there would be no Eucharist. First time in my experience, but I understood if the bishop wanted to ration his energy for his health, it seemed a wise choice, if not a liturgically quirky one. Then he preached for about forty minutes. And I thought, "Heck. He could have trimmed 15-18 minutes off this homily and done Mass." As it was, the Confirmation Word Service was well over an hour long. This brings us to my Homily Formula, in which "m" is preparation time for a homily in minutes, and "H" equals the length of a homily in minutes. Instructions: If you want to know how long to prepare, simply plug in your expected homily length (H) in equation number one. Obviously, divide by 60 to get hours of prep time. If you want to know how long you can preach, use equation number two. Insert the number of minutes you have to prepare this week (m) and do the math. And they say that math and science education is wasted on us touchy-feely liturgist types. Ha!

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Peace, all. A presentation I heard years ago still pops up in my consciousness from time to time. The speaker asked if lay ecclesial ministry was a passing phase or an institution heading toward permanence. His thinking leaned toward the former, and I found his observations both troubling and thought-provoking. I remember shocking a liturgy committee once by saying that if I were doing my ministry correctly, I would be training them to take over my job within a few years. "What will you do then?" they asked. I replied that the parish would still have progress to make in other ministries, and that my job would merely evolve into something different. Or maybe it would be time to move on. I have considered my lay colleagues in ecclesial ministry who conduct themselves like the worst of the preconciliar clerics to be somewhat traitorous of the values of Vatican II. Often I have seen ministries set up to ensure dependence and need, if not adulation. Honestly, I have to admit I get a charge out of being needed and wanted. But ministry must be approached with the ideals of Jesus: - If I'm not making progress in three years to let them fish on their own, I've likely botched the gospel timetable. - If I'm not modelling self-sacrifice, I might be turning into a pharisee. - Christ was a "doorway" to the Father, and ministry is not about setting oneself up as an icon. Nor is it browbeating or lassoing people through the door. A minister is just the porter, if you will: standing at the door, pointing, opening, and beckoning -- rejoicing with each person who passes the threshhold and draws nearer to God, immerses more deeply in grace. There are probably many more thoughts on this topic. I'm curious as to what others think ...

Friday, November 14, 2003

Peace, all. Woke up; got out of bed. Cooking thoughts ran across my head ... Three medium potatoes, 1/2 lb of bacon, seven cloves of garlic, half a bag of baby carrots, some fresh cilantro, and a sick child home from school. What to do?
Peace, all. The bishops wrapped up their meeting with a small handful of position statements. A few thoughts on where the bishops might go from here once they get back home to the episcopal mansion. 1. If you have one, why not sell it and give the money to the poor? 2. Rather than load up the travel docket with appearances at this men's group or that women's group (which you should still do) add visits to nursing homes, parish youth groups, rural or inner city churches without a resident priest, the Worker house, and places like that where you're not likely to rub shoulders with donors. People want good leadership if it can be provided. Butleaders need to provide good examples, perhaps inspirational ones. Not every bishop can (or would want to) live an eternal road trip in rectories, sell off excess diocesan property, actively protest abortion or the war, or forgive false accusers. But every bishop should do something. Why not today?

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Peace, all. An essay edited from my parish bulletin this past weekend: A hundred years ago, when it came to musical entertainment, people had to improvise. Public concerts were regular events in just about any community larger than a hamlet. At home, music education was put to use and families lacking the yet-to-be-invented record player played and sang music for their own enjoyment. When recordings became accessible, people didn’t need to go to the big cities to hear Leopold Stokowski conduct or Louis Armstrong play. But we all got used to hearing the very best on our tapes and records. Technology has continued leaping forward: hi-fidelity stereo, vinyl LP's, compact disks, digital recordings, computers, dvd’s with all the great features. Music has now made another shift with cable TV: now it is as much an event to watch as it is to listen to. In a hundred years, we’ve gone from playing and singing music ourselves, to listening to it, and now to watching it. From a musician’s point of view, I like watching music videos (as a film event). I also buy and listen to cd’s. But, playing and singing is a matchless experience, especially when I can do it with other people. Why? Do I think I’m as good as the pros? Not really. But that's not the point. We're now two stages removed from the making of music as a prime means of enjoyment. Whatever we may have gained in the quality of the music that creeps from our speakers, we've lost in the realm of the spirit, and of personal accomplishment. Music is made first to be shared, not consumed. That includes church music. Especially so, because music is an integral part of worship, and worship is not something done for us on our behalf. Worship is something we do actively. Long build-up to another pitch for parish singers and musicians. (What else?) 98% of the human race has a good singing voice. (The other 2% should sing just to get even with God, but that’s another story.) Give your parish music groups a second thought, especially if you're on of the 98%. If you consider yourself one of the 2%? You can still recruit others to take your place. Or get even; knock yourself out! Parents should never underestimate the value of music lessons either. My parents never encouraged them and I waited until I was 24 for my first. Although I turned out to be a decent musician, I think of the missed opportunities of rock bands and school choirs I wished I’d had. Make music this week — or encourage someone else to make it.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Peace, all. My church schedule has rearranged me this week. I'm home today, trying to catch up on things. My pastor requested I make a tape of how I play the First Reconciliation songs, as last year the second graders were a little unsure of me after they had practiced with their teacher. My wife commented how nice it is when I play the piano at home: the whole house fills up with warmth (or some such mush). I had to laugh because somehow, I don't think of Jack Miffleton or Christopher Walker as being very generative of the home-and-hearth gig. Inevitably, someone out there (c'mon, admit it) is wondering why on earth I'm putting up with twenty and thirty-year-old catechetical music for liturgy. And I have no excuses. Other than I'm about four steps down the chain of command on this particular puppy. I guess the only recourse I have it to alter the accompaniment to make it interesting. Which of course is why they want me to tape it. There's a good reason why I've always worked for somebody. I'd be terrible at freelancing. Look at the time. My daughter will be home from school within the half-hour and my writing project for a new publisher is still just 1/4 done -- just like when I went to bed last night. And where has the day gone?

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Peace, all. After making apple egg rolls for my family yesterday, I headed out for two of my favorite day-off activities: browsing at the public library and playing bridge. My friend Greg is a good guy and a pleasant bridge partner. We're usually in way over our heads against the top players in Kansas City, but we both relish the challenge. He'll be moving to Chicago in a few months, and I'll be missing his companionship. I've struggled occasionally with the place of games in my life. When I was in college, I was happier playing than studying. And mostly, my grades showed it. By the time I was ready for grad school, I had left behind ten years of tournament chess, and my competitive instincts had been tempered by other concerns. (But I did graduate cum laude.) Though I was always meticulous about going to Mass when I was in college, when I began singing in choirs and playing music in church, the whole timbre of my weekends changed. I haven't played tournament chess in almost twenty years. I only miss it a little bit. For some reason, out of the blue, I had an itch about seven years ago to play bridge. I went to the monthly bridge night at my Iowa parish. Though I was a few decades younger than my next-youngest competitor, the contact with older parishioners was nice. My wife actually insisted I continue the practice; she believed it was good pastoral ministry to connect with these men and women and broaden my perspective beyond liturgy. Not long after that, I had the itch to try the serious bridge games in town. Now I get one night a week to play cards and swim with the big fish. Fun. Last year, I volunteered to monitor the chess club at the parish school. The playing is mostly fun. A few kids have potential, but even fewer have the attention span to work on their game seriously. Of course, serious would be my own view. I used to buy chess books written in German because I wanted to get a leg up on my high school opposition. (Back in the 70's, you couldn't beat the Rolf Schwarz series for opening play.) But playing games comes with a caution. Sometimes my competitive instincts have overwhelmed my sense of charity. And playing games can eat up a lot of time I would be better putting to use with family, prayer, or any of my unfinished writing projects. The circle returns now to bridge and why I enjoy this game most of all these days. One aspect that tempers my over-competitive spirit: bridge is a partnership. I sink or swim with a partner. I can't do it alone. Lone rangers tend to fare very poorly at bridge. In the bridge partnership, communication and cooperation are important skills. I feel as if I'm building something when I play with Greg. Online bridge play has never appealed to me; I find it a shadow of the live game with the real human beings I sit with. I began to teach my daughter bridge a few months back. Ranking the cards is about all we got to -- ace captures king, king takes queen, etc.. She brought two of her stuffed kittens and we dealt the cards. How she cackled when our first hand was done. "Dad! My kitties beat us ten to three! Ha ha ha." No wonder she prefers mancala and Go Fish. When your stuffed toys can kick your Dad's butt at bridge, you'd better stick with learning the games he can teach you well.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Peace, all. Except for evening prayer, a school Mass, a choir practice, and a visit to the doc, I've pretty much spent all week in bed. So the advent of a day off seems a little like overkill. (Time off in a church job? This would be overkill? Am I crazy?) But I feel good enough to do a little grocery shopping while my wife goes to her class today. School's out for the little one, so my favorite child will join me for some nutrition acquisition. My whole life, I've loved grocery shopping. (My wife hates it, btw.) As a kid, I was fascinated by the neighborhood store (Agostinelli's) where my mom took us. When I moved to Chicago for my first ministry job, I loved going to a supermarket at 10 or 11pm, after choir practice. When we moved to a small town three years ago, it was an adjustment in many ways, but the medium-sized grocery (though lacking a variety of fresh seafood and some specialty foods) was a pleasant place for shopping and chatting. Now that we're living in a big city, I'm occasionally overwhelmed by all the choices. But I still like late night shopping. Emeril was cooking with apples the other night on the food network, so I think I'll be spending some kitchen time working on a few apple recipes later today. Then some card playing tonight. Ah! The simple pleasures. PS: Thanks to those kind folks who have mentioned this blog on their own sites. I'm pondering one of those upgrades which permits you to put photos and other stuff up. I'm tempted, but since I spend so much time on the computer as it is, I have to weigh the pros and cons of it all.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Peace, all. Out of the sickbed today for a few hours and into international politics (sidestepping into morality). About a year ago, I saw a reference to an article on Commonweal suggesting it might be time to cut loose our ties with the whole disgusting Israeli-Palestinian farce that tries to disguise itself as a peace process. I admit I never read the piece. But the very thought continues to intrigue me: that it might be morally wrong to even be involved in this sad and sorry dispute. If I had a drug addict friend, and she said she wanted to get clean, I'd do what I could to get her into treatment, go to NA meetings, etc.: do what a good friend should do. You might too, right? But if, after say five years, the talk proved all empty and the drugs were still flowing, I'd be doing a self-sanity check. If I were still stupid enough to be promoting 12-step meetings for sixty months, I'd have to wonder what role I was playing in the insanity. At some point, you have to let people who are insistent on crashing and burning to do so. In the case of an addict, if jail time is what they need to hit bottom, then so be it. Somehow US foreign policy strikes me as being more dysfunctional than the Sopranos (or any other TV family). Not that I expect the Bush administration to show any signs of health, but isn't the healthiest course just to check out of a situation that is clearly heading nowhere good? I hardly think any of the prezzes-to-be on the primary trail are going to consider this seriously. But then again, my sinuses are blasting their way out of my head this morning, and maybe it's time to go back to bed.

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