Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Taking action The point being, when something terribly wrong goes on at your parish, what can you do about it? I would agree that lay people should educate themselves on good liturgy. Reading from a wide variety of sources, not just comfortable pet positions, is essential. Joining a parish liturgy committee can be an effective way to reach influential people. In my parish, few (but not zero) parishioners accept the general invitation to assist in the planning of homilies, liturgical seasons, and setting "liturgy policy," the latter occurring through our worship ministry team. Committees can easily be an abject waste of time. But as inefficient as they can be, consider the extreme unlikelihood of an individual swaying a priest to an opposite viewpoint. Maybe committees are unworkable from where you sit. But it's less likely an active lay person will be the personal liturgical adviser for your parish. Nor would we want such a role. Another option is to gather like-minded parishioners and pray. Pray the rosary. Pray the Hours. Pray whatever devotion you would like to pray, applying good liturgical principles that perhaps the rest of your parish ignores. A crusader should have a set of reasonable expectations, otherwise frustration and anger will result when the world doesn't respond to your crusading insight. Beware: this point is not a cop-out, not unless you believe the only way into heaven is to make a martyr of yourself in your parish. A fruitful crusader must be able to pick and choose battles, hopefully ones that are doable, if not winnable. Your favorite "heretic" presider may well have abuses documented in the hundreds. Do you have a reasonable hope of changing them all? Look at it from his point of view. "Even when I change one or two things to suit the rubricists, there's always something more they want from me. What good does it do?" Ultimately, a person must make a choice when things grow intolerable. I've never left a parish because the church was carpeted. But I did leave a parish because the liturgy committee grew totally at odds with a reluctant staff. We quit en masse just after Holy Week. Of course I would have been leaving town anyway that year to begin full-time ministry, but it was unlikely I would be staying at this parish, given the proclivity to take matters out of the hands of a competent laity and do silly things (like two separate Easter Vigils: Spanish and English). The average parish dwells far, far from the land of heresy and invalidity. Such claims strike me as extreme, and while I have no doubt these things do exist, that they are repeated so often seems to be a retelling of the Boy Who Cried Wolf than a news expose.
Will the New Rubricism be the death of us? I sure hope not. Remember this? "Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the Liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to insure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects." (Sacrosanctum Concilium 11) Conservative Catholics seem assured that all we need are more strict laws and rules, and everything will be fine. Hello. Check out this three-fold challenge: 1. Insure full awareness of what goes on at liturgy 2. Engage all the laity actively in the rite 3. Use liturgy to shepherd all people on the way to holiness My opinion is that the reverse of the pendulum in Catholic liturgy is quite often unfaithful in spirit and in letter to this core principle of Vatican II. Full awareness is admittedly a toughie. The best we might be able to do (other than revise the pitiful curriculum on liturgy in Catholic schools) is to ensure nothing major happens at liturgy that isn't prepared, and prepared well. Teamwork in planning and/or preparation is essential. An active laity in the pews, as well as providing service to others is essential. People also need to be trained and encouraged to do well as musicians, lectors, singers. Most of all, the parish liturgist and pastor must guide people in forming good worship habits: use of silence, good acoustics for singing, good sound reinforcement, etc. that call less attention to themselves and point more to Christ. Parish liturgy needs to be one of the means by which people transform their lives. Liturgy should lead to more prayer and deeper prayer. A parish with good liturgy should see the fruits of that liturgy in the various apostolates it embraces, especially toward the poor. At the risk of disqualifying myself for my own ministry, I think the prime quality of a parish liturgist (or pastor acting as such) needs to be that of a spiritual director, not a musician. The modern encouragement given to rubricists is badly misplaced faith. Faith in a god who is bound by human control -- that's not Jesus Christ. Thoughts?

Monday, March 29, 2004

Those who know me know I'm cynical about a very few things in my life. But politics are one of them. Getting into an interesting blog thread here so I'd like to share my thoughts as I change my stripe from being a gadfly in the conservative Catholic pond of St Blog's to being a pain to the "conservative" mainstream Democrats online. I was asked, "But, how did the liberal fringe help the party in 2000? By abandoning the Democrat at the top of the ticket for the Green megalomaniac?" Huh? Didn't the liberal Greens deliver the Washington senate seat in 2000? You know, Democrats thinking like this are starting to scare me. If they're still fixated on Nader, they're in deep doo-doo. "And how was the split frittered away?" I was asked. "Failing to take on the president strongly enough? I suppose there may be some truth to that." *light bulb* I think they've got it. Whew! I was starting to think maybe I was going to have to vote Democrat this Fall after all.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Sensibility on anger at liturgy Some comments here from Amy Welborn on getting mad (or not) at liturgy. My two cents as I jump off from there: Few are more frustrated than good liturgists at the perceived failings of parish worship. I remember coming down from the choir loft one frustrating night, and a good friend was sitting in church. "I can only imagine what you could do if you had something to work with here," she said. I appreciated her insight as I wondered if my face really made my discouragement that obvious. If I had wanted "something to work with," namely skilled singers, balanced sections, a meaty repertoire, and a top-shelf organist, I would have opted for music studies instead of theology, and taught at a college with eager, young singers who had to audition to make the cut. Or I would have formed a jazz-rock band and done music my way on the way to the Grammys. The lesson I learned was to seek God's grace not in my own desire and will, but in service and sacrifice. For me, this has meant rehearsing for hours with a doubtful fourteen-year-old pressed into singing at a cousin's wedding. This has meant gently nudging a choir of mostly retirees when our parish hosted the Chrism Mass. This has meant encouraging a clearly out-of-his-depth lector who, as it turned out, was a recent entry into Catholicism, had hardly ever volunteered a word at RCIA much less for a task, and who gave up dinner to spend hours preparing a reading as best he could. His friends were astonished beyond expression. I continually get the message that God chooses the unskilled, the incompetent, the sloppy, the faulty, and the unexpected to make the point. The point couldn't be more clear to me than if all 16-seeds made the Final Four one year. Liturgy is not the time to compose a thoughtful protest. If a distraction pops up, set it aside and return to focus. Ongoing analysis of hypocrisy, illicit or invalid things, heresy, or even the pedestrian values of incompetence, comedy, or accidental satire are not asked for -- not by God anyway. My opinion is that people who dwell on such stuff, have turned the liturgy away from worship of God to a worship of an expected personal ideal. For about an hour at my parish's 5PM Mass tonight, a small handful of mistakes will be made. Perhaps one or two particulars of IGRM will be ignored. A few wrong notes will be sung or played. And most people won't nod their heads before receiving Communion. Even a few distractions might lurch into a sinful thought or two. But you know what? Christ will be present. No matter what. Anyone who is waiting, expecting, and looking will find God tonight. You know something else? It will happen in your parish, too.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Weakland's retirement After his retirement in disgrace, admitting to an affair with and a hush-money payoff to a younger man, Archbishop Rembert Weakland has made some appearances lately that have stirred the pot. He was set to celebrate confirmation at his former secretary's parish in suburban Milwaukee this spring. A vigorous protest of some parishioners ensued, prompting his withdrawal. This week, I've noticed a heap of disdain on the net for his nerve at setting up a home page. I find myself critical of him in some of these instances, and of those who protest his retirement activities. First, though I have respected him as a bishop, musician, and sensible voice in Catholicism, I do think his continued participation in the public life of the Church presents a problem. Sadly, his past, and the general perception of bishops these days make it impossible for his voice to be heard. Plus, there are people in active ministry who can say what he has to say, say it better, and say it with more authority than he. If an article needs to be written, let someone else write it. If a confirmation needs to be celebrated, let another bishop or the pastor lead it. As for his web site, while I don't plan on bookmarking it, I will probably surf there from time to time. If his friends and followers want to visit there and read, that's no bother to me. If his detractors need their daily dose of rage, I guess that's on their souls, not his or mine. However, I detect a little too much huffiness about all this. Nobody bats an eye when Cardinal Law ocean-hops, getting "noticed" in Rome by John Allen or by the international media. Maybe Law finds comfort in an element of church society that doesn't want to ring his neck, and might still think rather highly of him. The same people who want Weakland shut up in a monastery for the rest of his life seem to say very little when Law wanders from the Maryland convent which serves as his American home these days. I think caution is advised when getting sanctimonious about public sinners. Look where it got the elder son, or is this past Sunday too far back in the memory banks?

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Some musical odds and ends Kingsfold is one of my favorite hymn tunes. My flute player has a hard adjustment this year, as the parish is learning "I Heard the Voice of Jesus," and she is used to "Star of the County Down," a very similar tune attributed to a Celtic source. Another choir member suggested we do Bob Hurd's "Behold the Cross" this year. I find I like it very much. At the end of practice tonight, someone brought a piece of Ricky Manalo's, "O Word of God" I think the name is. It's the sign of a healthy music group that people don't want the practice to end. Another healthy sign is when members love music enough to bring suggestions. I haven't had a group like that in some time. Three months from now, I have to play hammered dulcimer at a wedding. (The nice thing of the past four years is that I've not had many wedding gigs -- Saturday free time!) I used to dread playing for weddings of people I don't know. When I was in Iowa, Anita and I would have the engaged couple over to the house. In a relaxed atmosphere over a beer or a lemonade, we would present lots of options, and I found working with these young people very rewarding. (Mothers weren't invited.) Anyway, this is the first wedding of someone I know in about three years. It means I'm going to need to get serious about dulcimer after Easter. I go for several weeks without playing it, then it's time for catching up. If I were a full-time musician, I would play it more. Where can one find the time?

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Top ten orthodox Catholic pick-up lines What a fantasy. I would need to be young, single, and conservative. Nah. It'd never work.
Atlanta Archbishop approves of playacting during liturgy Really. Check this out. "At the celebration of the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, the rite of the Washing of the Feet is optional. Where it is celebrated in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, it is my decision that the rubric of the Roman Missal shall be observed, that is, that twelve men (viri selecti) should be chosen from the community to take the part of the Apostles during this rite, other directions in the Paulist ordo, or any other liturgical publications notwithstanding. The "Mandatum" or Washing of the Feet, should be explained to the faithful as a representation of Christ's linkage of the institution of the Eucharist to the establishment of the Ordained Priesthood, and the burden of service placed upon those who are called to the Priesthood, in keeping with the events described and recalled in this most solemn Mass." A few things. 1. John's gospel doesn't say it was just the Twelve who had their feet washed. It only says "disciples." 2. Washing feet as a liturgical ritual was practiced by both men's and women's religious communities in the Middle Ages. Most often guests and poor people of both sexes has their feet washed, depending of course, on which monastery fit their gender. 3. The "viri selecti" is a Tridentine innovation of 1956 which has unfortunately been passed along to the present with Communion-standers and other silly practices. 4. Select twelve "men?" Fine. Just let anyone else come forward to wash and be washed afterward. Cover the spirit and letter of liturgical law. 5. If the washing of the feet is a link between the Eucharist and the Ordained Priesthood, where, pray tell, is the washing of the feet during the ordination rite? 6. Aren't you glad that more than twelve "viri selecti" can receive Communion at Mass? Imagine if we were taking the Last Supper accounts literally: no women would ever be able to receive Communion. They weren't there! If only we could give bishops something productive to do. Sigh.
Viewing the Sea of Crises tonight ... ... and no, I wasn't reading the clergy sex abuse report. I was observing Mare Crisium (Latin, by gum!), not centuries old, but about 3.8 billion give or take. The moon. Rookie astronomers think the full moon offers the best viewing, but this isn't true at all. For lunar study, you want anything but. You get the contrast along lunar sunrise or sunset to observe mountains, craters, and other details in relief. In fact, just a day or even a few hours between observations can mean some interesting shadow contrasts on our companion world. The full moon just blasts your eyeballs and washes out the deep sky viewing all around. Those are the nights to go to bed early. Brittany is doing well as a first-time astronomer. Last week, she successfully identified four moons of Jupiter (though not by name yet), the rings of Saturn, and noted that Venus now presents a half-lit disk these days. Excellent! Chip off the ol' block. My wife Anita discovered a used 700mm refractor at a thrift store a few weeks ago. The 5mm eyepiece is a bit scruffy and the sighter scope is out of alignment, but otherwise, it's very nice to have my own telescope for the first time in about 25 years. Ah, that reminds me! The Strasenberg Planetarium in Rochester NY had two big instruments back in the 70's. After the Thursday night show, they would open the rooftop for the public. While the usual crowd wanted to see the rings of Saturn or the lunar landing sites, my friend Stephen and I used to annoy the heck out of the staff by asking them to find obscure things like the Garnet Star, the Owl Nebula, the minor planet Vesta, and stuff like that. Eventually we ticked them off so much, they let us have control of the 8-incher. The 12-inch instrument had a then-modern computer and tracking devices as accessories, so these guys just had to input the location, and it would gradually point to the right location. Then my buddy and I would race them to get the requested object in our view before they did. Saturn, anyone? Oh, we've got it here. We didn't even bother with the sighting scope. Stephen and I had gotten so used to our backyard telescopes, we would just line up the object along the tube and go. Brittany will be pleased at one of our upcoming treks to nearby Powell Observatory. I can just hear it now, said with a big smile, "Oh, I don't mind missing my bedtime, Dad. I loooooooove to stay up late!"
Sacraments before their time I was getting into an interesting exchange with a priest friend about the de facto excommunication of Catholic children after infant baptism. He correctly challenged me that excommunication as an ecclesiastical discipline, does not apply to young children, as there has been no sin or public penalty imposed on them, as defined by canon law. Agreed. But is the denial of Communion to children old enough to express a desire for Jesus a good idea? A child of three or four reared in a Christian home knows who Jesus is. Children attending Mass with their families know that Communion is where people receive Jesus. What more does a person need to know? Is approaching the Eucharist dependent on intellectual ability? And if so, how does that align with our understanding of God's grace? Twenty years ago when I was doing research papers on Orthodox-Catholic relations and the Orthodox approach to the sacraments, I became convinced that full initiation at infancy: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist was an ideal way to go. Sadly, when Brittany was baptized, I did not push the issue strongly. The liturgical climate has changed too much. Plus my wife was unconvinced. Back to current Catholic practice. Did you know that Confirmation and Communion are encouraged for seriously ill children who would benefit from the grace of the sacrament? Does anyone reading know of an instance in which a Roman Rite child received Eucharist or was confirmed before the "proper" time? I would be interested to know, and also hear from priests who have been involved in such experiences. Or have sacraments become something solely earned by developmental biology and cognition? And not by grace as being a member of the Household of God

Monday, March 22, 2004

Don't you just stand in awe of the Catholic Right? Who can beat this for impact journalism? Bernstein and Woodward took down a president ... Deal Hudson (Crisis magazine) topples a USCCB employee. Read the initial expose here. Then consider the crow of victory. Honestly, I don't think much of Mr. Ekeh's candidate. (I think less of Mr Hudson's.) And I think of Crisis as more of a fluffy rag than I did before. But doesn't it do your heart good to know that the real crises in the Church are covered to the point where we can go after folks like Mr Ekeh? Bishops? Check. Clergy? Check. Catholic politicians? Can't go there, but we've sure got the evil minions of the Culture of Death right where we want 'em. I don't know about you, but I sure will sleep easier tonight.
To observe or not to observe For the past few years, I'd given up the internet for Lent. I found it a refreshing break from the time psent on the computer, and a welcome break from the emotions stirred up all too often. This year, I've stayed online (which I hope was a good choice). I've noticed a few Lent-abstaining bloggers who have posted on Sundays or last Friday. I've also been in a few discussions through the years about the status of Sundays in Lent. These have been my understandings: - Lent runs from the first Sunday through sunset on Holy Thursday: 40 days - The four days prior to Lent are a warm-up period: part of Lent, but unnumbered. Sort of like preseason baseball: getting your act together before the daily grind hits. - Observances of giving up food, drink, and/or chemicals (such as nicotine) count as items of fasting (all substances) or as abstinence (single items). Example: a person who says she "fasts" from chocolate during Lent is not fasting. She is abstaining. Abstinence is not one of the three Lenten pillars -- it doesn't count as fasting per se. - Lots of people "do something positive" for Lent: read the Bible, go to daily Mass, pray the rosary daily, etc.. Question: If a person has committed to daily bible reading, would that person be keeping the spirit of Lent by foregoing it on Sundays or on St Joseph's Day? Do you get my drift here? At the risk of being too much of a rigorist, when I "give something up" for Lent, I give it up. Not on Sundays. Not on feasts. I think I can even apply this to abstaining from things like sugar or alcohol. On my feast day, I went out to lunch with my family (including my sister, who's in town) and though I ordered a nice seafood sampler, I abstained from dessert. I don't think I violated the festive nature of the day. I heard of a priest who once told his parish not to give up anything for Lent they weren't prepared to give up for the rest of their lives. The pont is to use Lent to make ourselves better Christians, not part-time ascetics. Any thoughts?
Look for number one or "My main reservation about the modern Catholic apologetics trend." Liturgy and prayer are number one. When young Catholics are studied for churchgoing and other indicative trends of their faith, the single most common factor in an active faith life is the reinforcement of prayer with family, especially parents. Catholics school without Sunday Mass as a family? You're better off saving your money and buying a large screen tv or some other creature comfort. (Not to mention giving it to the poor.) Kids without the benefit of prayer time with their parents (either at home or at the parish church) are just as likely to be ignorant and apathetic about their faith whether they attend Catholic school, RE, or nothing at all. A public challenge to pro-apologists: get to Mass and take your kids with you. While I suspect that most apologists do do this, the effort at engaging the human intellect as a means of combating DaVinci Code heresy will not alone suffice to energize the Catholic Church. In fact, the real danger is that right teaching and right conduct will be the foremost of many approaches to faith. Faith must be lived. Faith must be celebrated and taught by example. A child does not know what goes on inside of the parent's head. The child sees what the parent does from an early age. An older child incisively registers the hypocrisy we engage in. But a parent who can make and keep a commitment of prayer: that will be the best single path to holier children, not to mention a holier Church. The mind will often fail, and eventually it will fail totally. But the path of prayer can always be a constant.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Feast Day! When I was preparing for baptism in 1970, Father McCarthy, our pastor, asked me about a baptismal name. "Todd" wasn't a saint's name, so I would need a new name for baptism. He suggested "Thomas," because it was close in sound to my given name. I can't remember what inspired me to say I wanted "Joseph" instead. I was happy to discover later I actually had three feast days: today, May 1, and Holy Family. Years later, my friend Deni preached on St Joseph, noting that like his Old Testament namesake, he was a dreamer. (Go, go, go, Joe!) He also was silent. Not a spoken word in the gospels. Needless to say, that's a far harder quality to emulate. On my baptism day (The Feast of the Queenship of Mary) in 1970, I was disappointed that the water trickled across my forehead was going to be wiped off. I wanted it to stay until it evaporated. (To this day, I still have a negative reaction when the drying towel is so quick on the scene at this sacrament. Thankfully Brittany was baptized in a full font, so it took her much longer to dry off.) However, I also saw the virtue in permitting the water to be wiped off. I was a Catholic Christian now; my life had to be different than it was before. Frequently, it seems my life takes unexpected turns and I end up doing things and going places I would never have dreamed of. I still have my own dreams, but as I sit in my mid-forties now, I must come to terms with the likelihood that most of "my" dreams will not be realized. Rather than feel sad about it, I see that the really important dream is God's dream. God's dream led me to find a ministry I had not expected, a wife and child I had not expected, a way of life I would not have expected to have on my baptism day. Though I find obedience tedious and overrated as a virtue, I accede to God's will as much as I can. I try to stay attuned to God's dream, and though I don't often go silently, I try to emulate the model of my patron as best I can.
What else would you want a liberal lay minister to do? A serious question for my conservative readers. How would you suggest I assist in making my parish more friendly to conservative/traditionalist-minded Catholics? Be practical, my friends. I have little or no input on homilies, nor on the appointment of a new pastor. Keep your comments focused on liturgy and liturgical involvement. But if you want to stray into an area where my colleagues and I have some dialogue and I might have a bit of influence (say, in RCIA, adult ed, youth ministry, or some such) go ahead.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Talking SF ... ... with my friend Dale Price, and now with you all. Go to the SF site to read good reviews of books, tv, movies, and catch the occasional interview. I should put this site on my sidebar; it is one of my most visited. Given the quantity of poor SF out there these days, I try to go to this site first before I even borrow a book from the library. If their editors and readers say it's good, I've yet to be disappointed. As much as I loved Westerfeld's and Wright's books (first one: The Golden Age), I'm concerned about their being published as two and three volumes each. I don't have a problem with publishers making an honest living, but it seems disingenuous to "pretend" these works are more than a single story. Tolkien? I can understand not wanting to publish a single 1500-page tome. Another SF pet peeve: all Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy, and all the other books derivative of another medium, especially tv. Takes away shelf space from writer who have original stories to tell. Some day I'd like to take a real stab at writing a novel, and it will probably be SF. I had a great idea for one a few years ago, and actually got about 15,000 words into it, only to discover the idea had not only been developed elsewhere, it was nominated for a Hugo award. Since scuttling my project, I've been hoping to read Paul Di Filippo's A Year In the Linear City in this anthology someday.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Another good day today, but a long one. My wife lost her jury duty mail. The county courthouse left a message last night telling her she only needed to report if her notice was numbered between 1 and 130. Needless to say, it was a morning of rousting the troops out of bed early-early and driving into the city. After dropping off the good citizen, Brittany and I just had time to park the car a few blocks away, note the federal building, police headquarters ("We're okay, Dad; we're not doing anything wrong.") and city hall before meeting my dear wife on the front steps informing us she was relieved of duty. Then it was back to the parish to finish my column for the bulletin, and gather all the stuff for today's meetings at the chancery that I forgot yesterday in my rush to get home for Anita's allergy shots. Then shooting halfway downtown for two planning meetings at the chancery for this year's National Lay Ministry Conference locally sponsored in part by our diocese's Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry Center. Brittany loyally remained as my "assistant," which essentially meant she kept very quiet and occupied by practicing cursive writing and playing with her stuffed kitten and technicolor four-inch pony. In between conferences the chancery staff invited us to join them for a weekly soup and salad lunch. I think mac & cheese at Applebee's would have been a favored choice in some quarters, but salad, "o'chili," and green angel food cake was enough of a hit. A nice walk and spin on the swing set in Hyde Park after lunch kept me awake for my second meeting. After that, I dropped off my wife and child at the big public library across the state line in Johnson County. While in the neighborhood, I visited a coin store/pawn shop, and picked up an 1861 Indian cent, a key missing slot in my collection, which now lacks only 23 dates and types. Given that the 1877 cent is now valued at $1000 in F12 condition, I think it will be a long wait till I get the full set. Chronicles of Narnia is now on dvd, which my wife snapped up at the library. I found three books, including a collection of alternate history short stories (what if the Nazis won, what if the Confederacy won -- speculative things like that). Picked up Philip Dick's 1960 award-winning novel, The Man In The High Castle, which I read when I was a teen. Also Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life by astronomer David Grinspoon. Grinspoon is an excellent science writer. His book on Venus is superb. Time to dart upstairs and watch some Narnia with my wife.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Juridical Document on the Liturgy Coming our way. April 8th. Great. I can hardly wait. I cannot see how this is possibly productive. 1. The institution has lost so much credibility with the laity. They want to see bishops working on the big issues, not points getting covered already by others. 2. New IGRM, new Roman Missal, new Order of Mass, new translation guidelines, new committees, new this, new that ... one more document: isn't this overkill? Somebody's trying real, real hard to turn back the clock. Danged if those hour hands aren't a beast to budge. So the elderly priest in my parish is sometimes too fatigued to pour the Blessed Sacrament into chalices or even distribute Communion. Does that mean I'm going to be hauled off into ecclesiastical prison for my abuse, my abuse, my most grievous abuse? If the best the curia can do is to ban altar girls (tried that; didn't work) I think they need to spend more time on a sunny balcony enjoying the sea air than working at desks cooking up more schemes to skewer good liturgy before it gets out of the box.
Pluto: planet or no? I used to come down easily on the side of considering Pluto as a planet, but with this discovery I'm not so sure. The saga of Clyde Tombaugh's diligent and tenacious search for Pluto is inspiring. What is not generally known is that he spent an additional sixteen years searching for more planets beyond Neptune, but without success. Astronomers are right. Eventually we will find a body in the outer solar system larger than Pluto. At that point, I think astronomers will demote the little icy planet. It's really inevitable. Another bit of trivia: Galileo, in his observations of Jupiter in 1610, probably cast his eye on the planet Neptune, though he wouldn't have realized its significance at the time. Likewise, Percival Lowell, in his fruitless search for Planet X (Pluto) actually did have a pair of 1916 photographs that imaged Pluto. He just missed it. Don't miss your opportunities today, especially if they are heavenly ones.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Believing but not belonging John Allen's internet column for NCR is a must read. This week he was discussing the Vatican's Council for Culture's assembly in Rome. I was intrigued by his report on the Vatican assessment of the world's growing indifference to church attendance. One conclusion: people "believe, but do not belong." I would have loved to get my hands on the actual working documents and reports from this meeting. Allen reported the "working agenda" also included some strategies for addressing the issue. (Typical of Rome, though: call a meeting, set the agenda, list the solutions before anybody even steps on the plane to get there.) The suggested solutions were interesting, even if premature. The usual suspects: Catholic schools, more apologists, etc. -- despite a worlwide survey's finding of widespread disrespect for institutions. But an artist should be intrigued by the notions of cultural festivals, sacred art festivals and programs, the establishment of Catholic cultural centers, etc.. Then reflecting on the current round of liturgy scuffles, I was struck that ... - Institution-centered liturgical reform will not address the core issue of low Mass attendance, and if anything, could further alienate those who do attend Mass. - Parish staff-centered liturgical solutions might be a mixed bag, at best. In the best of situations (mutual respect and love between parish priest, liturgy staff, and people) the efforts must be collaborative. And at worst, the pew people will disengage as they do with other authority-driven impositions in their lives. - And even given the collaboration one finds in occasional parishes, the danger is that attention given to liturgy will become too much of an internal focus. A strong evangelistic streak needs to run down everything the parish does in liturgy, especially baptisms, weddings, funerals, First Communions, Christmas, and Easter. The narcissism and self-celebration I detect in liturgy -- yes, in both IGRM and Tridentine Masses -- will not address our challenges. Thinking and reflecting and getting excited about these core issues, I suppose I could envision a day in which I would no longer be a parish liturgist. (I have already spent two of my sixteen professional years in other ministries.) Evangelization has got to be a much higher priority in every parish. And I see fewer parishes taking it seriously than those who try to address the challenge of making their Sunday liturgies better. Efforts in this area need to be pragmatic. The Church can no longer afford to just throw "evangelization programs" at the masses and hope for the best. We need to assess what we do against the marker of who and how many are showing up on Sunday. If something isn't working, throw it out and try again. What do you think?

Friday, March 12, 2004

Another cool idea ... literally In another life, I could have been a space probe designer. Well, maybe not ... but I would have enjoyed going to Antarctica to watch the wind blow around something that looked like it came from The Prisoner. I thought the airbag idea of landing on Mars was pretty nifty in '97. I wish someone would hurry up and make the space elevator a reality. What an elegant way to get into space.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

If I lived in Rochester, it might be a big deal, but from my vantage point (Kansas City) New England and upstate New York look the same: rather impossible to go as a cheering, gawking alumnus. Still, it will be fun to tune in on internet radio this weekend to catch March Madness Division III style, an edition of college sports without the over-hype and scandal of so-called major intercollegiate athletics (much of which I view as minor league football and basketball in disguise). I do remember my student days when Rochester played one-third of its schedule versus Division I teams. Except for a tussle against Phil Ford, Dean Smith, and those Tarheels in 1977, UR generally was outmanned against what today would be I-AA schools. Still, a touch assignment for a school that awarded no athletic scholarships. But back in the Olden Days of college sports, my alma mater completed an undefeated season in 1942-43 against the usual Ivy-laden suspects as well as Ohio State. My uncle played on that team before shipping off to combat in North Africa. Dad was a tad sad his son never showed similar aptitude. Anyway, no matter where your school loyalties lie, have an enjoyably mad March, but remember to keep it in perspective.
A new bishop Our diocese gets a coadjutor bishop, as announced today. I think there are many positive aspects to this, as our present bishop is a cancer survivor and probably can use the assistance in ministry. I think having a bishop with a variety of educational and ministry experience is helpful. It is also good that he is not a bishop somewhere else. The regular precedent of moving an already consecrated and installed bishop to another diocese just rankles my traditionalist sensibility. I can't help but note again the appointment of a bishop from outside a diocese should probably happen less often than it does. Certainly a diocese in crisis mode might need an outsider to bring a fresh viewpoint. But Kansas City is certainly no more in crisis than most other dioceses these days. There! I've said it; now I'm over it. Our parish staff was abuzz today, as our confirmation is scheduled for five hours after Msgr. Finn's installation here. I suspect that will get postponed. So maybe our new bishop will come by for confirmation later this Spring. We'll give him a good and holy welcome when he does.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Indoor versus outdoor sacred music Help me on this; where did I read this analysis? Northern (read European) cultures developed a sacred music for mainly indoor ritual. Christian churches of both the East and West developed chant traditions because buildings (good ones) confine, resonate, and amplify the human voice naturally. Dance and rhythm developed as sacred art in warm climates (Africa, for example) because open worship experiences demanded a different and more effective way to unify people in prayer. Even Christian church bells are a percussion instrument, and bells are the only major outdoor expression of traditional Christian music. Do these considerations affect present and future considerations for sacred music? Is chant primary only in interior spaces? Is it primary only in non-carpeted churches? Does electronic amplification alter the landscape? Is plainsong's "pride of place" a legislation of an imposed Roman taste, or does it actually have artistic and/or pragmatic merit on its own behalf? Comments?
Lector Workshop We're getting a good turnout for the parish's lector sessions this week. As far as I can count, I seem to be the sixth parish liturgist who has trained lectors, and over the years, some particulars have been dealt with differently. Our lector steering team has tried to devise a parish standard for old lectors to check themselves against and new lectors to be held to. One of our parishioners, a retired professor of speech and literature, has been giving insightful tips on vocal production and a technical approach to speaking. I've learned a lot there. My contribution has been to introduce a form of Lectio Divina as a means of spiritual preparation. One failing I see in many people who prepare Scripture for proclamation (and I have done it myself) is to engage the intellect too early in the process. By this I mean to consult commentaries and notes before letting the text itself settle into one's personal prayer. My method involves: - Prepare about a week in advance of the liturgy with the Lectionary passge to be proclaimed, a pen and notebook or journal, and about 15-20 minutes of uninterrupted time. - Pray silently for about a minute of two, asking for God's grace and wisdom. - Read the passage aloud and return to silence, writing down a word, phrase, or idea that struck you. - Read the passage aloud a second time, this time asking, "What might God be saying to me in this?" Write down a sentence or two, even if there's nothing and you have to write, "I have no earthly idea." - Read the passage aloud a third time, with the question: What message is there here for my parish? Write down another sentence or two, even if you can only repeat the other sentence. - Only now, consult the note in the Lector Workbook or Biblical commentary. Construct an oral presentation of this Scripture passage so that it can be clear where the core message is to be heard. - Continue daily prayer through the coming week. Important considerations: 1. Read aloud because the lector will be communicating (or attempting to do so) through sound, and not by sight. Get used to the sound of your voice and to the difference in perception from silent reading. 2. Get in the habit of writing down reflections. Lots of things can be lost in the direct eye to brain connection, and it is a helpful discipline to write down spiritual matters when the opportunity is present. 3. Only after you have engaged in the spiritual disciplines of listening, silence, writing, and interpretation, are you ready to examine what other commentators have said about your passage. Don't permit your first impressions to be colored by "professionals." Take your own insights to the experience of the Church. During the week before your lector assignment, bring your passage to daily prayer. Use this as a springboard for planning your technical presentation of the reading at liturgy.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Should it have been NC-17? And if so, what was the liberal Hollywood establishment doing cutting Mel some slack with an R-rating? Just curious.
What I'm hearing on the liturgy translation front ... ... is to expect more delays, despite what we've been hearing about a speedy route from curia to pew for the NIRM (New & Improved Roman Missal). Last week, the English-speaking bishops got final drafts of the Roman Missal, including the Ordo Missae, the order of Mass that suggests a more literal approach to assembly responses ("And with your spirit," "my most grievous fault," etc.) A trusted source tells me the bishops are not pleased with these changes in the Ordo Missae. Wording of presider prayers, eucharistic prayers, and such will not find much resistance -- and that's pretty much set. But a wholesale tinkering with memorized responses will not find acceptance with North American bishops. So a fight approaches. Should be interesting to watch. The bishops will probably be glad to talk about something other than sex, I'm sure. Publishers and composers must be, of course, licking their lips over their prospects. Change the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and every hard-bound hymnal will be obsolete. Time to buy new ones. Or start from scratch with a new publisher. Put some songs on the 2006 heresy list? No problem. House composers will just come out with another few hundred songs to take their place. Bruce Harbert, and cardinals George and Arinze just don't get it. We tried rubricism and centralized micromanagement before. Vatican II started to get rid of it, remember? What I want to ask is this: how does this all promote the ideals of , , and . And if I get a chance to ask, ever, I will demand specifics. Not some starched-collar pink security blanket-and-thumb ideals dreamed up after a night of worrying about bedtime monsters. The time has never been more evident for mature unity in liturgical approach: looking at the evident problems in the application of the Roman Rite and moving on from the challenges themselves. Instead, we get backward-looking, warm-fuzzy-seeking conservatives who have the answer they want in mind, then attempt to alter Catholic worship to make the colors match their rose-colored perceptions. Meanwhile, time to break out some more red duct tape to hold together those old Sacramentaries. Looks like we're stuck with them for a few more years.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Conversion should be evident Off to a decent start this Lent. Went to our local Heartland Conference for the first time. It was nice to meet up with old friends from Iowa and share stories on my last parish. Good also to connect with my new friends around the Kansas City area. One thing struck me from today's final address, the speaker, Bill Huebsch, challenging all present that for church staff members, conversion to Christ must be readily apparent in our lives. I started wondering about that. Then I reflected a bit on the start of Lent, this opportunity for renewal of conversion. I probably missed more details in the final talk, having latched onto this one gem. I feel somewhat renewed by the conference, though not all of the speakers seemed on a top level. Probably a good few months till my annual retreat (probably here) so I'm thankful for some momentum on the spiritual front. Good workshops on restorative justice and on parish leadership.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Almost as exciting as Harry Potter ... .. would be seeing this film. Wherever it has tesseracted. The trailer on the Spy Kids dvd said it would air on ABC in February 2002. Fibbers. The trailer was most impressive, though it's clear considerable liberties have been taken with the book. Still, if this movie is at all decent, it will continue a veritable Golden Age of fantasy on film.

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