Saturday, April 30, 2005

Field Fright? Of Course Not
That horrific episode at the NBA All Star Game a few year back, where the young girl forgot the words to the national anthem must now run through the minds of every team official responsible for lining up that ritual for her or his sport. Look for our parish's children's choir on ESPN2 today for the MLS Game of the Week. Likely, the anthem will be preempted for commercials, but you never know. The Wizards made out pretty well: one forty-voice choir netted then over 250 tickets sold. They also insisted on a cd recording of the choir singing. Just in case forty of us got stage fright, the assumption is that we can still lip-sync it. Cheryl is our outstanding director. She's a little nervous about this event. I'm more worried the kids will lose a bit of focus on the purpose of the choir. They seem to have been bit by Spring Fever a bit more intensely this year; practices have been a little wild at the fringes, but at least the energy is still good.
If we could just keep that little sliver of enlightenment...
Stories that fill in background insightfully fascinate me. I found lead singer Leigh Nash's encounter with a late night talk show host on the Sixpence None The Richer web site: Although Nash has never completely overcome her youthful nervousness on stage, she bravely walked over to a chair on the "Late Show" stage following her band's performance. After asking where the band's name came from, Letterman teasingly interrupted Nash to ask if he could stop by her hotel room after the show. Nash's blank silence stopped him cold, chastening him into an apology. With that, she proceeded to finish her story. "It comes from a book by C. S. Lewis...called Mere Christianity," she resumed. "A little boy asks his father if he can get a sixpence - a very small amount of English currency - to go and get a gift for his father. The father gladly accepts the gift and he's really happy with it, but he also realizes that he's not any richer for the transaction..." "He bought his own gift," Letterman responded. "That's right," Nash continued. "C.S. Lewis was comparing that to his belief that God has given him, and us, the gifts that we possess, and to serve Him the way we should, we should do it humbly...realizing how we got the gifts in the first place." "Well, that's beautiful," Letterman stammered, with uncharacteristic earnestness. "If we could just keep that little sliver of enlightenment with us, things would be so much better..." I'm sorry one of my favorite bands from the 90's has closed shop. If I were a rock musician, I'd like to find likeminded bandmates to explore territory like this.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Weigel From Outer Space

... because I can't figure out what planet he's from with this comment: "The 'progressive' project is over --- not because its intentions were malign, but because it posed an ultimately boring question: how little can I believe, and how little can I do, and still remain a Catholic?" Funny, that sounds more like an attitude common to Catholicism amongst lukewarm believers. The Church has accommodated officially in saying you only have to go to Mass once a year, you only have to make a confession once a year, you don't really have to tithe, educate yourselves or your children, or really do much of anything but mark your life with baptism and a Catholic funeral. Everything else is optional.

Weigel must be running in pretty trim circles, because the progressives I know are strong advocates for the social gospel. Simplifying one's lifestyle to accommodate environmental awareness, energy consumption, less tv and radio, and taking more time to pray doesn't sound like minimalism to me. I remember a few of the shining examples of minimalism in my life:

- After the death of the pastor who baptized me, we received a German priest who prided himself on twenty-five minutes Masses. Parishioners used to good homilies and good music ousted the guy in less than six months.

- Just yesterday I received an anonymous phone call from someone upset we were doing music at the early Sunday Mass during Easter. Why can't we have a "quiet Mass?" The parish has had music at this Mass during Lent and Easter for years; why is this a problem now?

Are these the voices of progressive Catholicism? I think not.

The next thing Weigel will tell us is that progressives didn't want sung psalms, baptisms at Mass, Communion under both forms, adult education, RCIA, and the like because they take too long. I used to respect Weigel as a scholar, even if I disagreed with some of his ideology. But I have to wonder if he's not a spinmeister worthy of Reagan and the Bushes.

Not Extinct!
Give it up for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, thought to be extinct for decades, now found in Arkansas. Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Moral Misconduct Clauses
For seventeen years, there have been such clauses in each one of my contracts. Essentially, if I engage in "moral misconduct" as determined by the pastor, I'm out of a job. Makes sense. If I were, heaven forbid, caught in one of any number of criminal or non-criminal but sinful acts, I would lose my position and likely not get another job in the diocese. And unless my potential future church employers were naive or hoodwinked, there's a good chance I would not work for the Church for many years, if ever again. I was thinking about this in light of a lay person I know who will soon be replaced in his diocesan job by a priest. And also in light of priests I know who have engaged in sexual misconduct (with adults, not children), but remain active in ministry. Bishops have a huge credibility problem here. They and parish pastors expect lay ministers and school personnel to abide by moral misconduct clauses in their contracts, but the same standard is unevenly applied to the ordained. This leads me to a suggestion for all bishops: one standard of conduct for all the baptized. If a priest is caught in immoral behavior, the employment consequences should be the same for lay people in the same diocese caught in the same or similar behavior. If a lay person would lose a job, then the priest should also lose his job. If the lay person's loss was seen as "permanent," then the priest should never be permitted to earn a dollar from church ministry again. That might be different from laicization for the clergy. I could see a person able to operate as a priest in limited ways, but just not be able to draw a parish or diocesan paycheck or a diocesan pension. I do know of some bishops who have dealt quickly with clergy consensual adult sex or other scandalous non-child acts. Maybe some people think the standard for a priest should be tougher. I wouldn't argue against it. I think clergy should be accountable at least on the same scale as my lay colleagues and I are. What do you think?
Shhh! It's a Secret!
The war on terrorism is being lost, but let's not tell anybody. "The number of serious international terrorist incidents more than tripled last year, according to U.S. government figures, a sharp upswing in deadly attacks that the State Department has decided not to make public in its annual report on terrorism due to Congress this week." All the Bush Administration can say is that it has escalated the war. Good news for defense contractors. Bad news for the soldiers who will be asked to give their lives and health for $2/gallon prices at the pump. When you can inflate the profit margin, who needs a plan for peace? As usual, jcecil has the measure of things.
Who Was The First?
The discussion rages in conservative circles over who was first to attribute "Great-ness" or "Saint-hood" to John Paul II. Catholic Sensibility chooses stay out of the competition, conceding earthly designations of sainthood or greatness properly belong to the due process instituted by the Magisterium. Or to popular posthumous acclaim, at least for progressives. Michael Novak of the National Review claims, "To the best of my knowledge, we at Crisis magazine early on were the first to put the name 'John Paul the Great' in print, and new editor Deal Hudson emblazoned it on the front cover in 1997." Maclin Horton at Caelum et Terra: "I know I remember Daniel Nichols using that phrase--with the addition of 'Saint' ... And I thought I remembered it occuring in Caelum et Terra. Which it did ... in the Summer 1995 issue." However, I've done some further research, and I present my findings from the tales of a humble Iowa Catholic who was among the thousands who welcomed Pope John Paul to Des Moines way back in 1979. In fact on October 4th of that year, the following conversation between Beatrice Appleby and Margaret M. Laroquette was overheard by the editor of the Cornflower Hornblower on the bus trip back from the state capital ... Bea: What a great man, that Pope John Paul. Maggie: Indeed. He's so saintly. Bea: When our grandchildren get as old as we are, it wouldn't surprise me if they referred to him as St John Paul ... Maggie: ... the Great!" Even before the great conservative journals of the 90's were trying to anticipate each other in publishing the phrase, "St John Paul the Great" had already been uttered by two humble apple pie-baking Catholics on the back roads of Iowa. Our research department feels sure it can locate the town newsletter of Cornflower, IA to locate the actual text as it appeared in the following week's edition. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Time Machine
You can take a look at the earth about 270 million years ago, or just about any old time in the geologic past. A full menu of globes is available, as is a series of maps showing the geological development of the southwestern US. If you're a rockhound you'll find Ron Blakey's site quite interesting.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Neil on Benedict XVI's Homily
I am writing on Sunday afternoon, after reading Benedict XVI’s homily for his Inauguration Mass. I was struck by the Pope’s call for Christian unity: “Both the image of the shepherd and that of the fisherman issue an explicit call to unity. ‘I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must lead them too, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd’ (Jn 10:16); these are the words of Jesus at the end of his discourse on the Good Shepherd. And the account of the 153 large fish ends with the joyful statement: ‘although there were so many, the net was not torn’ (Jn 21:11).” Earlier, the Pope had told us that this unity will not be achieved through power: “God, who became a lamb, tells us that the world is saved by the Crucified One, not by those who crucified him. The world is redeemed by the patience of God. It is destroyed by the impatience of man.” Any unity, then, must not be centered on power, but on “God’s sign: he himself is love.” And Benedict XVI began his homily by suggesting that we can see “God’s sign” when we contemplate the communion of saints. “In the suffering that we saw on the Holy Father’s face in those days of Easter, we contemplated the mystery of Christ’s Passion and we touched his wounds.” I want to reflect upon one other saint today: Gudina Tumsa, general secretary of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekan Yesus (EECMY) from 1966 to 1979, who was abducted and then killed by a hostile Marxist military dictatorship in July, 1979. I am indebted to a recent lecture by Tasgara Hirpo, an Evangelical pastor who worked with Gudina Tumsa (Word and World 25 [2005]). Gudina was born in 1929, the son of farmers, part of the Oromo society, which had been reduced to a second-class status in the Ethiopian empire. He was ordained in 1958 and a year later, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekan Yesus was founded with 20,000 members. Today it has 4.4 million (it joined the Lutheran World Federation in 1963). The church managed to transcend the ethnic divisions of Ethiopian by remembering, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). The church transcended the feudal system of Ethiopia by adopting a democratic framework in which the highest authority was a general assembly that elected a president, vice-president, and other church officers. The first two presidents were laymen. Their theology transcended the ideologies of Ethiopia without any sort of escapism from an often unbearable social, political, and economic situation. For, as Gudina wrote in 1975, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s power to save everyone who believes it. It is the power to save from eternal damnation, from exploitation, from political oppression, etc. Because of its eternal dimension the Gospel of Christ could never be replaced by any of the ideologies invented by men throughout the centuries. It is the only voice telling about a loving Father who gave His Son as a ransom for many.” Prior to the Ethiopian revolution, Gudina had omitted the name of Emperor Haile Selassie from the intercessions during the Sunday liturgy. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was simply incompatible with the recognition of an absolute monarch who claimed the power to eliminate anyone who disagreed with him. When the revolution came, the EECMY released a pastoral letter that said that, since complete allegiance was only due to God alone, ideologies could never be considered absolute. This meant that Christians could not support animosities and differences, but had to work for peace and reconciliation. In 1977, the second phase of the revolution started. Mengistu Haile Mariam eliminated his opponents and claimed absolute power. The closing of churches began. Gudina was arrested twice before he was finally abducted and killed. His wife was arrested, tortured, and jailed for ten years. Gudina could have left earlier. But, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer before him, Gudina said, “I cannot leave my country and my church.” Gudina’s absolute adherence to Jesus Christ before any ideology whatsoever meant that he had risked his life under the Emperor only to be killed by Marxist revolutionaries. A week before his death, he had said, “To be a Christian is not to be a hero to make history for oneself. A Christian goes as a lamb to be slaughtered only when he knows that this is in complete accord with the will of God who has called him to his service.” During his life, Gudina Tumsa was called to struggle against ideologies that claimed the total life of Ethiopian society. He also struggled against those who claimed, on the basis of the “two kingdoms,” that Christians had nothing to say against these “ideologies of power.” Gudina struggled against those who suggested that there should be a moratorium on accepting resources and personnel from the former colonial powers, because, as he said, Christianity needed to transcend self-pride and national feeling to recognize that the church of Christ is one, all believers belong to it, and the Lord Jesus is the head of the church. Eventually, Gudina Tumsa went as a lamb to be slaughtered. I am sure that Gudina Tumsa and Pope Benedict XVI would have important theological differences. But Gudina, I think, would have understood what the Holy Father meant when he said, “The world is redeemed by the patience of God. It is destroyed by the impatience of man.” We will not become one flock through an “ideology of power” that would counsel “the destruction of whatever would stand in the way.” We do not even necessarily need heroes - only those who, like Christ Jesus and his follower Gudina, will stand “on the side of the lambs, with those who are downtrodden and killed.” This is “God’s sign” for us. Is it premature to find yourself mentally reciting, when you hear the name Gudina Tumsa, “Tu illum adiuva”?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Pope Benedict and the Aspiration for a Traditionalist Springtime
Hope, like its counterpart love, can explode on a person. I remember the feeling, distinct from love, when I knew I was going to be married. There was deep love for my fiancee Anita, yes. But I also had a different sense and feeling, namely that my life was going to be changing for the better. It wasn't so much the thinking along the lines that someone was going to share a household and make life easier for me. It was the sense that I was on the threshhold of a much better life. I would still say that marriage, despite its general and particular traumas, has justified my hope. My musical colleagues at Musica Sacra and elsewhere have new hope. I do not deny their feeling that they have been wandering through a desert of sorts for the past forty years. But I think those who expect the expressed authority of a pope to be the means, even the catalyst for a sacred music renaissance are deceiving themselves. False presumptions are in play here, and acting on the basis of such presumptions is bound to stifle future hope and entrench the current wave of bile and stubbornness in the various Catholic musical camps. My response on a recent Musica Sacra post by Arlene Oost-Zinner: ... I must admit being mystified over the expectation of a top-down renaissance of sacred music. Have not the particulars of church presentation always been in the hands of the local musician? It would seem to me that if some or many parishes languish on a level lower than reasonable expectations, that will not change by simple fiat from the top. Quality and artistry cannot be commanded like turning in a report on time. Such things need to be cultivated in the human spirit, beginning with the music student, and continuing with people who are in positions of music leadership. I would hope traditionally-sensitive musicians would realize the opportunity for teaching and mentoring good church musicians has always been with us. No one has ever legislated against that. I realize a lack of hope can adversely affect our ability and willingness to cultivate other church musicians. But the many of the problems in Catholic church music can be addressed by we musicians, right here, right now. Dennis Smolarski's book How Not To Say Mass is a good read for presiders. Maybe someday I'll write a similar book, How Not To Reform Liturgical Music. I would like to start with a few "How Not To" principles and then open up the comment boxes to more of your own.
How Not To Reform Liturgical Music
1. Publicly criticize others. This organization, and others like it, should close shop. Sample quotes: "that @#!#!#" "cancer" "these clowns" "diabolic threat" "may cause diabetic shock and coma" reveal to me this is more about childish bitching (and maybe jealousy). A few signatories on the list should be ashamed they associate themselves with such indulgence; this is way beneath them. One comment I found telling: "It would be interesting to find out what music Catholics WOULD like to hear during liturgy...we gripe a lot about what we don't like, but I don't hear much about what we DO like." It would be interesting indeed, because we might find that a significant fraction of what one of us does like would find its way to the "cancer" list of at least a third of our friends. The problem with activities like this society is that you always wonder who's next. A good rule of thumb is to say nothing at all if you can't say at least two or three positive things about something.
2. Keep your music students in your studios. One of the best ideas that plopped itself in my lap was when we hired an organist from another county. She came on board after an elderly sister left our parish for retirement in Dubuque. We outfitted a basement room of the church with a studio piano, and Millie was able to offer a day's worth of lessons before choir practice. Her piano students also had a six-week intro to organ. What a charming recital at the end of the season: families crowding into the choir loft for their kids.
3. Wait for (insert your favorite authority figure here) to kick butt. Right. Remember these are the same guys who keep most Catholic church musicians underpaid and overworked. I had a friend who was once told by the new pastor a half-hour before the Saturday night Mass his services as organist were no longer needed. The musicians who have clergy footprints on their behinds? They're not the bad musicians, just the unlucky saps who happen to be under the wrong pastor at the wrong time. The Soviets clearly showed what happens when authorities are put in charge of purges. See point one and be careful what you wish for; you could be next.
4. Let the school personnel and DRE's handle the kids. Our parish couldn't do a VBS last summer because of the school repair and cleaning schedule. So I gathered some of the VBS volunteers and some musicians and we held a "Young Person's Music Retreat." Last year's children's choir peaked at 22 members. We had 95 child retreatants. This year's children's choir peaked at 43 members, about one-third are boys.
5. Attend sacred music concerts instead of organizing them yourself. One nearby parish has a concert series. It's a significant effort for John, the music director, and I've heard it might not continue in future years there. But if your parishioners seem satisfied with pedestrian music, maybe it's because they don't know any better.
6. Play the blame game. It's a corollary of point one. You and a few others share the inside joke about Carey Landry or Bugnini's cabal to destroy the liturgy. But to the person in the pew, it looks more like water cooler gossip. Think about it from the view of music student parents. If they hear a church musician sniping at someone, do you think they're going to let you teach their kid or encourage her or him to join your choir? Do you think your business manager or pastor really cares about the crap you think sits in those 500 hymnals sitting in church? The seduction of blaming others is that as it is indulged, a person is often less able to look honestly at the self. If you want the blame game in full cultural swing, go to talk media and watch Victim-o-rama in full swing. The problem with playing a victim is that eventually the sympathy runs out, and you've not moved to the next step of taking personal responsibility for what is within your power to change.
If people are going to sit back and let Pope Benedict do all the dirty work, nothing will improve and things will likely deteriorate even more. But if you have true hope for the future of sacred music, my hope is that we will all keep working hard just as we did last month, last year, or ten years ago. Only the last leg of a relay team enjoys the personal elation of the ribbon flying around their torso after an event well run. We all must realize that none of us are running the anchor leg of this race. Our job is to take the baton, run as well as we can until it is time to pass the duty on.
Any other How Not To's?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Benedicts, the Choice between Maple and Oak, and the Input of the Young
Somewhere in the surfing of this past week, I read some blogger's retelling of the Rule of Benedict as it applies in community discernment. Namely, that in a group discussion, the abbot should solicit advice from the youngest members of the community first, working up through the trusted elders before himself speaking. John Allen on our new pope during the interregnum: He presided over 13 daily meetings of the General Congregation, the assembly of cardinals that worked through John Paul II’s rules for the transition, and then listened to one another describe the problems in their local churches. By most accounts, Ratzinger did a superb job leading these sessions, allowing each cardinal to have his say and even inviting people who had not yet spoken to do so. NCR's take on Benedict, especially this passage above, struck me as particularly Benedictine. It also struck me as sublimely pastoral and sensible. I caught myself at the hardware store today and thought I could do better in the future in my domestic church. Anita informed me months ago that water had seeped under our kitchen countertop and something had to be done as the wood underneath was not bound to be in sound condition for much longer. In the fine spirit of procrastination (and trying to squeeze several hundred dollars out of a family budget) I, of course, put off cabinet acquisition until recently. After school today, the three of us were at Lowe's: my dear wife, pondering the expasnion of the acquisition, my child trying to remain unbored, and me, the keeper of the family dollar, trying to remain financially solvent through First Communion. My wife and I got into a silly tiff over oak versus maple, a misunderstanding really ("Which do you prefer?" "I like the maple." "You don't have to say that just because I like it..." "Really, I prefer maple." "... because I could get used to the oak..." "Grrr, lets buy a grill instead and go home ..."). I waited till then to ask Brittany which she preferred. She, of course, went with Dad's choice of maple. But as she said it, I saw the wisdom in letting her have the first say in things like this. Later, when we were pricing dishwashers at Sears, and I discovered I had left my wallet in the car, she volunteered to get it, then to accompany me back to the parking lot. I suggested that she had a say in the dishwasher we'd get, and she should study the choices, because, after all, she'd have to operate it once we brought it home. Children should be personally invested in household things. I have fewer worries than my mother did about a child misusing the stereo or the stove or other things. And this line of thought carried me back to the Church situation. Many years ago, I was visiting some out-of-town friends. There had been some upheaval in religious ed or youth ministry or some combination thereof, as I recall. So I asked the kids what their take on the situation was, before I got the adult version. They seemed rather startled an adult was actually interested in their opinion. I was unaware of the Rule's position on discussions, but it seemed right to ask those most directly affected what their sense of the situation was. I have no idea how Pope Benedict would solicit the sense of the Church from a billion people, starting with those old enough to understand. But maybe that wouldn't be a bad place to start, be the person a pope, a pastor, or a parent. If you ask your kids about the state of the Church and their answer surprises you, feel free to share it in the comment boxes. As for me, I'm going to spend ample time reflecting on that approach in family, parish committees, and music groups, and seeing how it goes.
Pope Benedict loves cats. This is a definite plus. (thanks to Christine at Laudem Gloriae for the link.
Go To The Back Pew
Not something I would tell someone in the usual sense of things. I recommend my friend Lee's relatively new blog, From The Back Pew, linked on the sidebar over there. Lee will be a worthy read. He has a dry wit, he's a good writer, and he does not fear poking fun at himself or progressive positions when the situation calls for it. So go check out the Back Pew, link it on your page and tell about three hundred of your internet friends about it.

Angry Protest
Maybe you've heard the news from my city about the Vietnam veteran who spit tobacco juice at Jane Fonda. Three days later, the Kansas City Star is still printing stories about it. I guess a wave of letters to the editor will eventually give the story a slow and lingering death. Being out of the loop with the mainstream media as I am, I didn't hear about the story until yesterday, when I read the linked piece above. But a few things struck me as my own opinions started coalescing. I can certainly understand the sense of betrayal both Fonda and Smith felt and feel. Fonda has expressed public regret for her tour of Hanoi. But she was an actor, and it's not like actors have their political acts together any more than the rest of us ordinary voters. I can think of hundreds of better ways to protest the Vietnam War, most of them of a pacifist nature. Smith's act was not one of protest, but of emotion. I'm not without sympathy for vets who were first lied to by their country, then by their commanding officers in some instances, then rejected by some of their peers back home, then told to get lost by their government when they came home physically or emotionally damaged by the war. My number one motto for the Iraq troops has been from the beginning: support the troops; bring them home. But Mr Smith ran after his revenge. He ran away. I would feel some sympathy for a person who waited ninety minutes in line, gave the author a good piece of my mind, then waited to be escorted away by security folks. Violence is never pardonable, even relatively harmless violence such as spitting. As far as protesting is concerned, most all of the people I know who have been arrested for protesting nuclear arms or one of the Iraq Wars knew they were breaking the law. They were prepared for the legal consequences. They accepted them. Mr Smith ran away, hoping to strike a blow for vets and not get caught. Fonda trumped him again by not pressing charges. For me, this incident is a haunting shadow of the juices spitting back and forth in Catholicism this week over the election of our new pope. It points out to me a sizable fraction of the Body of Christ just cannot deal in a healthy way with its emotions regarding the "other." I'm not sure Catholics are any closer to repairing the loss of unity the past forty years have brought. But I hope Pope Benedict is aware that a good portion of his Church is inclined to spit-and-run in the name of orthodoxy, progressivism, or whatever the ideology.
Liturgical Muzak
A discussion hosted by The Recovering Choir Director was based on this query: " ... what is the CantemusDomino community's general reaction when they hear the Latin chant, such as in the Entrance Antiphon? How do they respond?" My response was: The only time I would encounter this is when I'm on retreat, so I'd just open the monastery hymnal and sing along. I have a passable understanding of Latin so it wouldn't be a distraction in that sense. It would be distracting if the community wasn't expected to sing the introit. I'd put that in the same basket as good liturgical dance: artistic, but not in keeping with the mainstream expectations of singing at the liturgy. Liturgical muzak, however well done, is for concerts, not liturgy. ... which apparently was clear as mud, because Bernard Brandt asked for a clarification, "to flesh out in detail what he means, either here or in his own page. There is an ambiguity which deserves further expression." Fair enough. But before I begin, let me point out that in seven years of blogging and message boarding, my positions regarding liturgical music should be quite clear to those who know me. The suggestion that I bear particular malice toward good liturgy is unfounded, unless one believes good liturgy can only be achieved by conformity to one's own personal taste. In which case, such a judgment on me speaks for itself. "If his meaning is that he believes that music without understandable words is the equivalent of elevator music, and has no place in the Divine Liturgy, then I would tend to agree with him."

I would be cautious about this assessment. I do think there are times for the use of instrumental music in the liturgy. And if the words are not understood in vocal music, that falls to a matter of incompetence for the singer(s), the director, the architect, the congregation, and the pastor ... and maybe all of them.

"If his meaning is that any use of Latin would tend to be music without understanding, then I would tend to disagree with him." I think my initial post was pretty clear. Presenting unfamiliar music (Latin language or otherwise) to a singing assembly at a time when it is used to singing is a severe pastoral abuse of the liturgy. That an unknown Latin chant might be both appropriate liturgically and beautiful artistically is irrelevant. If a parish determined that singing the entrance antiphon in Latin was a value, it is the responsibility of the music director and the pastor to ensure the people have the preparation and opportunity to sing it. If that responsibility isn't taken, then those responsible have violated GIRM 47. The self-styled orthodox, were they so inclined, would complain to the Vatican about a "liturgical abuse." My reaction, were I a visitor at such a parish, would be to avoid a return visit. "If Todd means that the chant traditions of East and West are merely pretty music without meaning in themselves, then I would have to disagree entirely." I would, too. But some worshippers, even including a few of my parishioners, would acclaim the value of the music they hear at Mass as entertainment. Thanks to both technology and the ego-driven star phenomenon, Western culture reinforces this attitude strongly, especially if the music is at all skilled. Music is for listening, not singing or playing. And now, thanks to MTV, music is for watching, not just listening. Such tendencies in contemporary culture work strongly against the encouragement of music making, especially in the young. Rarer today than twenty years ago would be the person who watches MTV and decides to form his or her own band. Rarer today than a hundred years ago would be the person who listens to Bach or Debussy and decides to learn a musical instrument--it's easier to buy another cd, and who wants to invest years of practice? "To ignore either the beauty of chant in the original or the power of chant in the vernacular would be short-sighted and foolish." Agreed, with the presumption that a church musician tends to the cultivation of singing chant in the assembly as one of the highest priorities. "It could be that he does not understand that the chant traditions were in fact inspired by the angelic choirs." I would point out that all good music (and much inexperienced music) be it chant or any vocal or instrumental tradition, is a grace inspired by the Holy Spirit. Sacred music, however one views its inspiration, quality, or appropriateness for worship, is a means to an end. Music is not the object of Christian worship. Catholic church musicians must operate from the two-fold goal of Sacrosanctum Concilium: the worship of God and the sanctification of the faithful. Church musicians must be able to make important distinctions: 1. The difference between music that merely inspires and music that truly is for worship. 2. The difference between music that is done for the benefit of one's own ego and music that is done for the good of others. 3. The difference between an audience and a prayerfully engaged assembly. Everyone has a place in the choir, but good parish music leadership must test itself beyond the disciplines of music alone. Otherwise, such leadership might find a better vocation singing in the assembly at Sunday Mass and working a nine-to-five producing music for secular purposes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Smaller but Better? Don't Count on it.
I say it again: don't count on it. Celebrants not "slightly hungover" are still giddy and in last night's and this lunch hour's search of St Blog's are saying it: the Church will be better off smaller and more faithful. But that would not be in keeping with tradition. First, let's acknowledge that the aspiration to faithfulness is good. But we must also admit that pettiness is unseemly for a Christian. After all, tradition tells us that when people are dissatisfied with how things are, they don't start up exclusive country clubs. In the fourth century, those who sought faithfulness went into the desert. There they found purity and like-minded followers. They were critical (dissenting, if you will) in what they saw the problems in Christianity were. But they didn't presume they were the only ones heavenbound. The Gospel message suggests our mission is to preach the Good News to everyone, not a select few. There is rejoicing over finding lost sheep, not throwing them to the wolves. There is rejoicing over the lost son's return, and the pouting older son is not portrayed very sympathetically by Luke. If people are dissatisfied with the Church, fine. If they want to criticize various people or notions they dislike, fine. If they wish for a time when some will be cast off the boat and into the deep, that would not quite be in keeping with the Gospel notion of charity. The Desert Tradition had it right: go where you need to go to find purity and intensity as you wish or need it. Welcome the seekers who come your way. Problem with country clubs as I've experienced them: they don't deal well with seekers.
An Ordinary Look
Catholics, including their liturgists and homilists, in considering the wide stretch of Green Sundays ahead ... actually don't consider it much. Most often, it just goes Sunday to Sunday. Advent and Lent are easy enough: definitive seasons with a more cohesive thrust. Christmastime adds the value of being compact. But Ordinary Time never seems to have a good focus, at least not in parishes I've known or worked for. My worship team asked for a more thorough planning process for liturgies in the coming year. And even though we're not tackling Ordinary Time just yet (the task for 2005-06 is to master the Big Seasons), I present a brief summary of the Gospel pericopes for the Ordinary Sundays yet to come in our present liturgical year: Sundays, liturgy designation, the gospel reference in Matthew, and the briefest of summaries. date -- liturgy designation -- Matthew -- summary Sunday 5-Jun Ordinary Sunday 10 9:9-13 Call of Matthew Sunday 12-Jun Ordinary Sunday 11 9:36-10:8 mission Sunday 19-Jun Ordinary Sunday 12 10:26-33 mission Sunday 26-Jun Ordinary Sunday 13 10:37-42 mission Sunday 3-Jul Ordinary Sunday 14 11:25-30 Jesus' prayer of praise; "Come to me" Sunday 10-Jul Ordinary Sunday 15 13:1-23 parables Sunday 17-Jul Ordinary Sunday 16 13:24-43 parables Sunday 24-Jul Ordinary Sunday 17 13:44-52 parables Sunday 31-Jul Ordinary Sunday 18 14:13-21 miracles Sunday 7-Aug Ordinary Sunday 19 14:22-33 miracles Sunday 14-Aug Ordinary Sunday 20 15:21-28 miracles Sunday 21-Aug Ordinary Sunday 21 16:13-20 to the cross; Peter as rock Sunday 28-Aug Ordinary Sunday 22 16:21-27 to the cross; Peter as Satan Sunday 4-Sep Ordinary Sunday 23 18:15-20 advice to a divided community Sunday 11-Sep Ordinary Sunday 24 18:21-35 advice to a divided community Sunday 18-Sep Ordinary Sunday 25 20:1-16a growing opposition to Jesus Sunday 25-Sep Ordinary Sunday 26 21:28-32 growing opposition to Jesus Sunday 2-Oct Ordinary Sunday 27 21:33-43 growing opposition to Jesus Sunday 9-Oct Ordinary Sunday 28 22:1-14 growing opposition to Jesus Sunday 16-Oct Ordinary Sunday 29 22:15-21 growing opposition to Jesus Sunday 23-Oct Ordinary Sunday 30 22:34-40 growing opposition to Jesus Sunday 30-Oct Ordinary Sunday 31 23:1-12 growing opposition to Jesus Sunday 6-Nov Ordinary Sunday 32 25:1-13 second coming Sunday 13-Nov Ordinary Sunday 33 25:14-30 second coming Sunday 20-Nov Christ the King 25:31-46 second coming You can see chunks of Sundays group together in topic (these are *not* themes). June has the mission of the disciples starting with the call of Matthew. Once school's back in session, we get two weeks of Peter, two weeks of godly advice, followed by a long stretch of Jesus vs religious leaders. Such a guide would help musicians, homilists, and environment people planning the liturgy, leading to a greater Biblical literacy, starting with the Gospels. My dream would be the following conversation on the way to Mass starting with a question from the back seat ... "Is it another parable this Sunday, Mom? Or are we in miracles yet?" "Parable." "Aw jeez. I was hoping for a miracle this week, not another story about farmers. I liked it when Jesus used spit and dirt to heal that blind guy." "Ewwwww," says the little sister in the car seat. "I was hoping for a miracle of a peaceful drive to Mass," says the Dad. "This week's gospel is about buried treasure," says the Mom. "Really?" "Next weekend we start miracles." "Cool." Although we're told we get a full gospel each year, you'll notice that big sections, even whole chapters are skipped Sunday to Sunday. You'll need to go to daily Mass or crack out your home Bible to get the whole story. (There's actually something to be said for sitting down and reading a gospel through beginning to end, but that's another topic.)
Back To Work
Some people who are both overjoyed and in dismay over the new pope don't get it. The purpose of a pope is not to be the Lamb of God on which the sins of the world are lain. Jesus did that once, for all. The purpose of a pope is to be nothing more than a herald of Christ's message, so that people do the work. The Gospel is lived out and the Reign of God is made manifest not by a single human being, but by the Body of Christ. Each Christian is responsible for this. Not pastors, bishops, or pope. For my liberal friends holding their heads under their pillows in dismay, let me give you a news flash: The sun rose this morning. The poor we still have with us. There's work to be done. So let's get out and do it. For my conservative friends nursing faint hangovers this morning: The sun just came up. You're still liable to be committing the same sins as the rest of us, so you may as well get to work, too. People who are either too happy or too sad may have been seduced by the cult of personality. Christian life is not lived in its earthly leadership. The best leadership sets the tone, sets an example, and nudges people here and there as needed. That is not the message Washington or Hollywood will preach to you; these folks want lemmings--far more malleable than independent thinkers and doers. The Christian message is simple: pick up the cross and follow the Lord. There's no footnote on that command to suggest a particularly good or particularly bad pope will permit slacking.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Happy Anniversary
Four years ago we picked up our little girl and brought her home to live with us. (She was little then.) Anita remarked that couples take much longer to court and decide to marry than we got to get to know Brittany. After checking a few online news services for photos from the Cassini fly-by of Titan, the Calder Cup Playoffs, and a possible new pope (in that order) I signed off, went shopping for bedroom furniture and kitchen sinks and countertops with Anita. She dropped me off at our two-in-one staff birthday celebration (youth minister and receptionist) where I heard the news, Habemus Papam! Our twenty-something youth minister seemed the most bummed out of those staff that were talking, but I find it hard to get either excited or discouraged with Pope Benedict. She was most curious. Ideology grows less and less relevant to me as I grow older. Pragmatism seems to have come to the fore. How can I pray better? How can I provide for my family? How can I serve my parish and facilitate their best possible celebration of liturgy? The pope will not have an impact on any of these three items, so the election of either a Latin American moderate or a theological European will not nudge my life's focus in any significant way. I also explained to my friend that real leaders are made and are most effective at the grass roots level. By the time you get to be pope (or bishop, most likely) your life is full of people who won't tell you when you're full of spit because they're so busy telling you who else is. The people who think Pope Benedict will come riding over the Palatine hill on a white horse leading the faithful minions of MaChurch will be sorely disappointed, I suspect. Our new pope strikes me as intelligent enough to know he's moved from the ranks of bureaucracy to the level of pastor. Effective pastors on the level of the Bishop of Rome get talented, intelligent, and qualified people to do the work. They know they can't be effective doing it all themselves. I know I've heard and read from dissatisfied Catholics ready to give up or bail out. My advice is: don't bother. The Church still needs you. Our new pope is intelligent enough to realize he also needs you. It's a big ship, and somebody's got to keep things running. Anyhow, anniversary day continued with a trip to two libraries, and then off to Brit's favorite restaurant where we all ate too much. Evening bath for the child (which took too long) followed by reading in bed. We sang the family anniversary song loudly in the car a few times and before night prayers. My short vacation will be over too soon: back to meetings and rehearsals tomorrow, same as last week, same as next year.
The Challenge of Arrogance
Stacy Meichtry's NCR piece on religious included this almost incredible story:
But many argue that responsibility was precisely what John Paul lacked when it came to the religious. Sr. Camilla Burns, who is based in Rome as the Superior General of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, couldn’t recall the last time her order had an appointment at the Vatican. Reached by telephone in Boston, Burns said what stuck out in her mind was the pope’s failure to turn up at an international assembly for religious held in Rome last November. “A year ago they got a commitment (from the Vatican) to meet with the pope. It was a great opportunity to meet 850 religious from around the world. But when the time came something else was scheduled. It created great sadness,” she said. “And he wasn’t ill that day,” she added.
I say "almost" because though it reveals a gross disregard for hospitality, it has the sad ring of truth in the dealings I've seen between clergy and religious.
I wouldn't pin the blame on the pope for this one. This looks like a screw-up from arrogant (or incompetent) Vatican flunkies.
Looking at the whole article, I also think it's decidedly unprogressive to expect a pope or any such mortal leader to be the single savior figure for the world's religious. Religious orders, if they want to be self-determined and self-sufficient, must take responsibility for their own members, their charisms, and their own relative success or failures.
I do think the boom in "traditional" orders is partly due to the general climate in the hierarchy that encourages those charisms: pray, pay, and obey. While I can understand 850 convening religious disappointed at their clerical snub, you can't live fruitfully while nurturing every injustice. And if you are attracting even a whiff of interest from potential postulants or lay associates, it sounds rather pollyanna, but as the song says, put on a happy face.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Already Done, Already Back, Already Spent
Last Friday the family and I were driving to the nearby suburb of Grandview, when we stopped for a red light near the Liberty Tax Service. For some reason, their employees were not all inside feverishly running returns for clients, but dressed up in red, white, and blue suits encouraging people to come in off the street and patronize them. One of the Uncle Sam's caught my eye, so I just laughed and yelled back, "Did 'em weeks ago. Already got out money back." Didn't mention already spent said money. If you waited till the last minute, don't worry. You'll probably spend your refund in less time than it took you or your accountant to prepare the refund. I'm always amused at the IRS estimates ... "The average taxpayer will spend nine hours and seventeen minutes preparing this return." Where do they get that stat? What they don't tell you is that the average taxpayer will spend a tax refund in seventeen minutes. Now if I can just get used to the way the new refrigerator door opens, I'll be okay.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

On the bookshelf
Merton's The Wisdom of the Desert, which I brought with me to St Louis for the Gateway Liturgical Conference. From the library, Alton Brown's Gear For Your Kitchen, which I'm simply going to have to get for my own. We have some kitchen remodelling coming up this summer. I have some serious gear-updating to do too. Another cook who uses tons of nutmeg, and why didn't I think of that before? I strongly recommend Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife, which was simply enchanting. Yesterday I finished Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon. I've had a paperback of it for years, but it's one of those reads I've never gotten around to. Nobody's writing post-atomic war stuff anymore. S.M. Stirling writes Dies The Fire in which all of the world's electricity just turns off one day. I guess I'll give it a try since another friend or two seem to really like it. Books like that just worry me. I wonder how long my daughter would last without modern medicine. (Before 1985, she would have just died shortly after birth.) But Alas, Babylon was quite good. For some reason, I was wondering how long it would have taken MLB to resurrect itself in a post-war US. (Let's see: the AL is toast; the Twins are absorbed into the NL to play the Cardinals, the Reds and various AA and PCL refugees.) And baseball's not even my favorite sport. We've been invited to an out-of-town wedding this summer. Anita commented that the wedding day is also the release day of the new Harry Potter book. She won't be able to wait in line at B&N or Borders or wherever she's advance-ordered Half Blood Prince. Maybe Brit and I will end up in a New York wedding while my wife whiles away a summer's week at Hogwarts. Any good suggestions for good reads?
On Weddings and their Preparations
On and off for the past twenty four years, I've assisted couples in various liturgical preparations for their weddings. While I was in grad school, prep consisted of talking with friends about music for their wedding. Those were among the best of times, especially for couples who were getting married at parish Masses. My friends Dave and Annie, for example, got married at the parish's Thursday night Mass. One of our choir members raised an eyebrow over the Litany of the Saints for the opening music. People singing! of all things. Our director took it in stride, but the choice was quite fine, especially in a candlelit setting. Occasionally, people would ask me to write a song for the wedding. Those kinds of assignments were usually fun. Except for my first choir director ... I had writer's block and didn't finish until the morning of the wedding. Driving to the church, teaching parts in the car, getting lost, getting delayed in arrival. My poor friend! She must have been ready to blow us up, but some weddings are renowned for the irrepressible joy of the couple, no matter what happens. Moving into parish liturgist mode, I spent my early professional years dodging mothers and lassoing grooms into wedding planning sessions. My first parish had no bench fee (none of my parishes have had them, actually) so I was able to steer couples to pianists (the pastor recycled the organ fund into some other account after the building was done) who could play the repertoire they were seeking. By 1995, my own wedding drew near, and it was a golden age. My wife and I would invite couples to our home for liturgy and music prep. Do you want a lemonade and some pie? How about a beer? My goal was not only to give them a polished plan and good musicians for their wedding, but to ensure a seed of Sunday participation was planted in them. Over the years, couples say I'm much different than their heads' trepidations would have led them to believe. I find wedding planning is much easier these days than fifteen years ago. While I miss playing for friends' weddings, I appreciate the window into another couple's joy. My first two years at my present parish, I did squat with weddings. It was pretty much the clergy's domain, and each priest had his own way of preparing couples. Almost immediately, our new pastor asked for my involvement in the wedding planning process, a request I was pleased to satisfy. When I was in Eagle Grove, I had been doing the counselling, the liturgy planning, the paperwork ... for all of five weddings in two years. That was neat, meeting with couples to do the whole thing. It's nice to have the liturgy and music portion back again. Confronting people about church involvement and cohabitation and all ... my instincts tell me watch for the middle road: don't shy away from the discussion, but don't expect conversion on the spot either. Once I worked with a couple who kind of gave me the willies. I could tell they were intent on hiding some aspects of their relationship, so I let my suspicions go. Focus on kindness. Focus on welcome. Focus on getting them to pray with each other. Focus on guiding their discussion in our meetings. It worked. Both were soon involved in the parish life, volunteering for church functions and being happily visible in the community. I was sad to have moved away before their wedding took place. So it's back to liturgy and music prep with couples. That's okay. I think I put it higher on my satisfaction scale than planning funerals with families, and for a church musician, that's saying something. I go into my meetings with couples convinced of these things: - Even if they are not completely reconciled with God and the Church, it is an experience of grace that brings them to plan a Catholic wedding. - Our parish (or whatever parish they will live in) will be enriched if these people get involved. - God knows these things, and I do too. Now the task is to convince both the couple and the parish this is so.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Monaghan on Catholics Schools
Somehow I don't think the Domino Pizza founder and Catholic millionaire-at-large has inrgatiated himself with the education crowd. Found on Amy Welborn's open book: Domino's has been in trouble before. When you get in trouble, you prioritize. You cut out a lot of fat. It seems to me, the first place I'd look, being a layman, would be the schools. There's probably 10,000 Catholic schools in the United States alone. And I think that's a business that pastors and even diocese shouldn't be in. I think they should franchise it. I don't think much of Monaghan's overall vision of Catholicism, but he's not out of the ballpark on this one. The edge of the infield dirt behind third base maybe, but not total left field. For starters, most people I know who question the parish-run Catholic school are progressives. They raise valid points on parish ministries than go lacking, the secular aspects of education, the real impact a school has on a person's faith, etc.. Sure I know the line: faith permeates the education of every Catholic school student. You can't measure it. You never know when a seed planted will sprout. And that all might well be true. The problem is: faith does not permeate the home life of every Catholic school student. Therein lies the main challenge, as I see it. About 30% of the kids at my parish's school come to Sunday Mass on any given weekend. Two weeks ago I was asked to develop a "remedial" effort for next year to introduce kindergarteners and first graders to "liturgy etiquette." Basically, teaching them how to worship, or at the very least, moving them out of the Cry Room/Cheerios/Go-To-The-Bathroom-When-I-Want-To experience of Mass. If a fairly liberal parish staff can identify such a problem and agree how to address it, I can only imagine what my more conservative commentators are thinking. The context of Monaghan's remarks is the supposed priest shortage. We don't have a shortage of teachers generally, so I'm not sure what he's thinking on the connection between schools and priests. It is true that parish schools take up a substantial percentage of a parish budget. In my parish, it's about 66%. I've worked in parishes where it's been a few points higher. I have heard non-progressive thrifties complain about having to "support" a school. And let's be honest, Catholic schools have totally changed over the past three generations, and these changes are not without problems. Take a look at these items: - On any given weekend outside of Easter and Christmas, there are fewer Catholic school students going to Mass than doing something else. - Some parents treat schools as an inexpensive alternative to poor city public schools and expensive prep academies. - Studies have shown that Catholic grade school graduates have no discernible catechetical advantage over Catholics who went to RE. The same studies show Sunday worship as a family is the single most influential factor in a Catholic maintaining faith practices and faith "literacy" into young adulthood. Catholic schools are still being built, by the way. Mostly in middle-class to wealthy suburbs, where the need is probably the lightest. Also where the cult of sport and affluence rates higher than Christian commitment in some quarters. A priest friend once related to me the gist of a Holy Week encounter in his parish. Thursday afternoon he was walking the parish grounds pondering his homily or something and he noticed the football coach (this was Spring, mind you) working with some boys. He walked over and asked if they were coming to Church that night. Church? the coach asked. Mass of the Lord's Supper--Holy Thursday, said my friend. Uh, the boys will be dirty, coach said. That's okay, said the pastor, they'll be just where they need to be. (My mind immediately flashed to Peter, then wash not only my feet, but my head and hands as well.) You know, we can't have the tail wagging the dog in our parish. Better if it happens the other way around. Even in the suburbs, the school can be a fine facet in a parish's ministry effort, especially if formation in the faith remains at the forefront as it did in American Catholic schools before 1945. But it's an issue that despite squirming from my NCEA colleagues, does indeed need to be discussed.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Neil on the Conclave and the Holy Spirit
Universi Domenici Gregis, the apostolic constitution that covers the election of the next pope, says, “From the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, where they will assemble at a suitable hour in the afternoon, the Cardinal electors, in choir dress, and invoking the assistance of the Holy Spirit with the chant of the Veni Creator, will solemnly process to the Sistine Chapel of the Apostolic Palace, where the election will be held.” Meanwhile, we are to be “supporting the work of the electors with fervent prayers and supplications to the Holy Spirit and imploring for them the light needed to make their choice before God alone and with concern only for the ‘salvation of souls, which in the Church must always be the supreme law.’” Well, what are we (and they) praying for? What would it mean for the Cardinal electors to receive “the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit” as they vote? Are we talking about a magical force? Perhaps just a state of complete sincerity? To answer these questions, we first have to ask a rather basic question: What is the Holy Spirit? This is a good question to ponder as we approach Pentecost (May 15). On Pentecost, we will remember when, “There appeared to [the Apostles] tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2:4). Throughout our meditation, I will be indebted to an article by the Benedictine monk Kilian McDonnell (Theological Studies 59 [1998]). Fr McDonnell tells us that when we speak of the Holy Spirit, we really must speak of the Trinity. And we can’t just rest content with mumbling something about “threeness.” We must speak of an actual “Trinitarian dynamic.” “God reaches through the Son in the Spirit to touch and transform the Church and world and to lead them in the Spirit, through Christ, back to the Father.” In St Paul’s words, Jesus Christ “came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:17). It is only in the light of this Holy Spirit that we can see Christ and come into the presence of the Father. The Spirit is the “how” of faith. But this does not mean that the Holy Spirit just is an instrument, nothing beyond a supernatural set of binoculars. The Spirit is “together with the Father and the Son” – in Fr McDonnell’s words, “The Spirit is the Great Insider.” And if we are “in the Spirit,” we are then brought to the “inside” ourselves - to fellowship with the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit thus realizes that striking patristic dictum, "God became man so man could become God." This is why St Paul will go so far as to say that Jesus died on the cross just “so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Gal 3:14). Through that “Great Insider,” the Holy Spirit, we really experience what the Greek fathers called theosis or divinization, and the Scholastics more scholastically termed “supernatural elevation.” “For,” as St Paul says, “those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Rom 8:14). And once we appreciate the sheer gravity of what it means to be adopted, we can grasp why the Orthodox Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia has said that "the whole aim of the Christian life is to be a Spirit-bearer, to live in the Spirit of God, to breathe the Spirit of God." This might seem like a bit much. And some of the Greek Fathers and (I think) all of the Syrian Fathers distinguished between what we might call a “full” and “less full” possession of the Spirit. While the “less full” possession comes with our baptism, “fullness” only comes when we begin to lead lives of real self-emptying. The Syrian Father Philoxenus of Mabbug even said, "You have two baptisms. One is the baptism of grace which arises from the water; the other is the baptism of your own free will" (Discourse 9.276). Of course, Philoxenus did not mean that one should get baptized on multiple occasions; he was simply suggesting that our baptisms need to be unfolded at a future moment when we decide to engage in serious discipleship. This might make for an interesting point of dialogue with our Evangelical friends who insist on the necessity of being born-again. The Spirit also reminds us of political concerns. When Jesus begins his ministry, he says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Lk 4:18), and goes on to proclaim very good news indeed for the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. The Holy Spirit also reminds us of the environment, because we, with the “firstfruits of the Spirit … groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies,” “and all creation is groaning in labor pains” with us (Rom 8:22-23). The Holy Spirit also reminds us of the importance of experience. Now, many of us fear any appeal to experience and distrust subjectivity, preferring the supposedly more ironclad objectivity of carefully constructed arguments and authority. But St Hilary of Poitiers writes, "We experience intense joy when we feel within us the first stirrings of the Holy Spirit." And the late Orthodox priest John Meyendorff told us, "The conscious and personal experience of the Holy Spirit is ... the supreme goal of the Christian life in the Byzantine tradition, an experience which presupposes constant growth and ascent." Christianity is, among other things, an inner experience. So what are we praying for when we ask that the Cardinal electors receive the “enlightenment of the Holy Spirit”? We ask that they share in nothing less than the fellowship in love of the Holy Trinity even as they deliberate in the Sistine Chapel of the Apostolic Palace. We ask God that this happens as they receive the “fullness” of the Spirit through deciding to lead lives marked by a Christlike purity and generosity. We ask that, “led by the Spirit,” their vote proclaims good news to the poor and oppressed and that they consciously wait for redemption with all of creation. We ask that they experience intense joy through the stirrings of the Spirit. This is more than praying for a magical force or for simple sincerity. But nothing is impossible for God.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

"Become a Nun, Save the Church, Get Fired"
A most interesting chant of protest against a JP2 bishop, don't you think? The latest on those campus ministry sisters getting fired includes VOTF showing up to picket-n-pray at the chancery, and a dialogue with a prioress, president, and the bishop in question. We have learned that Bishop Murphy was "personally upset" over the hubbub resulting from these dismissals. Say what? Do we care? Maybe some Ladies Blue Auxiliary can bake him a pie. Person to person, and as a friend, I suppose I care if someone is upset. But either one of two things is going on here: 1. The bishop made a tough, unpopular, but necessary decision. In which case, he should be mature enough to ride the storm out. Courage of his convictions and all. 2. The bishop flubbed the call and why shouldn't people be calling for his head on a pike? I'm not sure I buy the notion that just because a bishop is incompetent in getting priest predators out of innocents' way, he's clueless with other personnel decisions. Then again, do these guys take any courses at all in business ethics? Some St Blogger will probably try and tell me this is all about the lavender cabal taking over the Church. I think I'm sticking to the power corrupts theory. That glass slipper is a suspiciously close fit on Long Island.

Monday, April 11, 2005

One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic
The four qualities of the Church: that's where I'd say the new pope needs a firm focus. I'd hope that unity (as opposed to uniformity) would be high on the new pope's list. How can a single person help us recover a sense of unity in Christ? At the least, I'd hope he would avoid the divisive us vs them attitude spawned by John Paul's later curia, and the Catholic extremists of both left and right. The universal call to holiness: that has to be the root for everything we do from family life to traditional vocations to engaging the world in a moral dialogue and in reinforcing the social teachings of the Church. If it doesn't have holiness at root, these important aspects of the Church result in isolation, clericalism, and bored people tuning out the drone of preaching. Did I mention universality? It is an important synonym for catholicity, and a far better adjective for a Church than "orthodox." Apostolic does not mean doing it as we've always done it. It refers to what the apostles did: preach, convert hearts, start important things and let the people continue the job. A conservative or liberal pope would be irrelevant. What we need is a person who exemplifies the gifts the Church needs: unity, a sense of the sacred for all of us, an even stronger sense of the world community of Christ, and a sense of mission that can be elucidated then passed on to the clergy and laity locally. In a phrase: God help us find the right pope.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

A "Classic" 1970 Rite Roman Liturgy
Mark Sullivan asks at Irish Elk, "A magnificent, historic scene, as the world converges on St. Peter's Square – and could a better case have been made for the beauty and majesty of the classic Roman liturgy in the universal language of Latin?" My answer: no, this was about the tops. It was magnificently great liturgy. But your average parish Mass is not a masterful sendoff for a sainted pope. You can't recreate the mountaintop experience of a papal funeral every time two or three are gathered. Your average parish priest is no cardinal prompted by trained St Peter's MC's. Your average parish liturgist and committee are not the college of cardinals aided by a professional staff that regularly does liturgy on a stadium scale. Most telling, people went to the pope's funeral because they wanted to go, and in some cases dearly wanted to go. Many people treat Sunday Mass as an obligation. And it shows. Latin was the vernacular for the dying half of a world empire when it overtook the use of Greek for Christian worship. Rome rightly abandoned the language of the New Testament to maintain the liturgy for non-Greek speakers in the West. Today, we have near universal acceptance of the vernacular in the Catholic world. Say it true: we are not going back to Latin. Latin fits and works for these huge international gatherings. There it is appropriate. There it is suitable. There, it bears the weight of worship. But for your average parish liturgy, Sunday or daily, don't lose focus of the essentials: praying and celebrating well. The papal funeral was beautiful. But it would most likely have been just as beautiful and almost as meaningful if celebrated in Italian. Latin is not a panacea for liturgical problems of modern parishes. But I agree with Mark that when done well, the best of the 1970 Rite and the reformed Order of Christian Funerals is at least equal to the best of the 1962 Rite. I certainly would add it is superior for our day and time.
Blame or What?
Rod Dreher's obituary raises the ire of my friend Fr Jeff Keyes at The New Gasparian. "As a Pastor, it is my responsibility to advise parishioners that they should not accept at face value any news they receive from commercial media." As a liberal and in general I'd have to agree. But it has been fascinating to see media types miss the mark badly on the Catholic issues. I expect widespread ignorance of things Catholic, even from Catholics, so I don't find Dreher's poor aim to be so grating. He betrays a conservative American provincialism that's so far off the radar screen it's sitting in a horse-drawn carriage. Take a closer look at it. A few years back, I was drinking coffee at a cafe in Vatican City with an American friend, complaining about the pope and his puzzling inaction on several fronts. My friend, who is older than I, said, "Look, you don't know what it was like before. I was in high school during the last years of Paul VI's reign. The church was falling apart. We figured we were the last generation. Then John Paul II happened." So there's something to be said for perspective. If you're Chicken Tridentine Little, I suppose. Dreher is still upset about the sex abuse and cover-up scandals and gives our deceased pope failing marks for so-called "bad bishops." A lot of Catholics are still ticked off, so he's got company. One might think good Catholics can steer their prime energies elsewhere after three or four years, but that's another topic. Dreher could consider there's more to being a pope than running the Church as your own private army. Tradition is more than how Reagan or Eisenhower did it. There's more to ecclesiology than dealing with bishops as regional managers who depend on the bottom line to keep their jobs and cushy lifestyles. The Vatican has seen the sex abuse crisis as the responsibility of those close to the problem. Bishops. Seminary heads. The Vatican probably considers it a moral failing, not an institutional corruption. Frankly, I don't think Rome could have contributed a whole lot to the resolution of the scandal. New bishops are distrusted almost as much as old ones. The bishops themselves are the ones who must look within and try their best to restore their lost credibility as teachers and pastors. I think the Vatican has underestimated the scope and gravity of the problem, but they have only their own insitutional failings to blame, not a single man who was the product of the insititution. I guess I could agree John Paul II could have been more heroic in addressing the faults of the institution, but I think the target should have been the curia, not the bishops. American concerns are not Catholic concerns. We have most of the nuclear weapons in the world, but only a fraction of the Catholics. Even if the Vatican congregations listen when wealthy American correspondents complain about this week's piece of sky landing on their heads, most don't consider it any more than an annoyance in the face of the bigger problems of the world. Rich Americans complaining their kid was catechetically robbed by Sister Mary Butterfly? The secular and religious inroads against Catholicism on whole continents are far more alarming than the problems of SUV-driving neocon yuppies. If you consider the pope never wrote an opera or played ice hockey, then yes, you could say his legacy is incomplete. If you think setting aside what centuries of tradition say about the role of the bishop, you're entitled to your narrow opinion. What Rod's really writing about is "If I Were Pope." And I can take (and leave) his essay on those grounds. I don't think Fr Jeff has much to worry about. We can all muse about the ideal pope and consider ourselves in the chair of Peter. That dream will go as far as it should. Then when the real one is selected, we can wait for the first new piece of sky to fall on a Steubenville-stickered SUV. Then watch the new dissatisfaction sprout. My keep-it-in-perspective recommendation: the Serenity Prayer.
Neil on John Paul II's positions on capital punishment and war
I am writing this on the evening of the Pope’s funeral. Perhaps it is time that we looked a bit closer at his teachings. Why did John Paul II take surprising positions on capital punishment and warfare? He declared that “War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations,” and, during his papacy, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace even said, "Modern society has to have, and it has, the means to avoid war." In suggesting that just war theory was practically outmoded, Archbishop Renato Martino compared the just war to the death penalty. Regarding capital punishment, John Paul II had already limited its legitimate use to the “absolute necessity” of self-defense, and, as Evangelium Vitae claims, “such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” These developments, Thomas Rourke tells us, have to do with the realization that human beings, analogous to the divine persons in the Holy Trinity, are defined by their relationships to one another. Sin destroyed these relationships – in Maximus the Confessor’s words, “man’s tempter … had separated him in his will from God, had separated men from each other” – but we are reunited with God and each other through the Incarnation. As John Paul II wrote, “The Incarnation of God the Son signifies the taking up into unity with God not only of human nature, but in this human nature, in a sense, of everything that is ‘flesh’: the whole of humanity, the entire visible and material world” (Dominum et Vivificantem), and we all become brothers and sisters in a restored solidarity who can look at the entire cosmos with wisdom and love. This “taking up into unity” of “the whole of humanity” means that we are to touch Jesus in every single person – “For I was hungry and you gave me food …” (Mt 25:40). In fact, we cannot do otherwise. Seeing the presence of Jesus in other people is not merely an especially “graced,” ecclesiastical supplement to the “natural” way we may see others in, say, the secular courtroom. “Jesus shows that the commandments must not be understood as a minimum limit not to be gone beyond, but rather as a path involving a moral and spiritual journey towards perfection, at the heart of which is love” (Veritatis Splendor). And this rigorous “path” meant that the pope simply had to remove the death penalty from discussions of just retribution, limiting it to the “rare, if not practically non-existent” cases of self-defense. As Thomas Rourke writes about the Pope’s thought, “the practice of putting to death criminals who are no longer a threat to society weakens the intrinsic link between person and community and thereby helps to diminish the respect that we must have for the life of all human beings, even that of sinners, with whom we are bound both in time and in eternity.” This sort of “respect” is a lot to ask, but, then again, Jesus does not call us toward a “minimum limit.” And who can deny that there are aspects to the death penalty that “diminish the respect that we must have for the life of all human beings, even that of sinners”? The anthropologists Elizabeth D. Purdam and J. Anthony Paredes have written, "Just as Aztec ripping out of human hearts was couched in mystical terms of maintaining universal order and well-being of the state . . . capital punishment in the United States serves to assure many that society is not out of control after all, that the majesty of the Law reigns, and that God is indeed in his heaven." To the Pope, no order or assurance is worth more than the life of a human being, even a sinner, with whom we are “taken up into unity” in the Incarnation. And war? In Evangelium Vitae, the Pope noted, as “signs of hope,” both “a growing public opposition to the death penalty” and “a new sensitivity ever more opposed to war as an instrument for the resolution of conflicts between people.” William Portier says that, even if the Pope was not an absolute pacifist, his claim that morality is not a minimum, but a “journey towards perfection,” centered on love, “avoids a modern rights-oriented insistence on the legitimacy of self-defense and shifts emphasis to the kind of concern to minimize bloodshed” that we saw earlier with the Pope’s thought on the death penalty. The Church’s prayers for peace “so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war” (CCC 2307) are not then merely an especially “graced,” ecclesiastical supplement to the “natural” way we are allowed to see others in the realm of politics. When we look at other nations, we really must try to see the presence of Christ, remembering that “Naturam in se universae carnis adsumpsit” (He assumed in himself the nature of all flesh). Even when the Pope did call for a limited “humanitarian intervention” in Bosnia in 1993, it was because, as he said days earlier in Assisi, “In the tormented land of the peoples and nations of the Balkans, Christ is present among all those who suffer and are undergoing a senseless violation of their human rights.” Why did the Pope take surprising stances on war and the death penalty? In a word, Christology. Are we willing to follow him?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Pondering the Conclave
Taking a break from surfing various speculations on the new pope to add a few general observations of my own. 1. The net parish has lined up in two camps: a large one wishing and hoping for their kind of man and a smaller one feeling it's unseemly to openly wonder, but who will post other people's opinions and links on their sites. Let's face it: we're all thinking about it. Hopefully there's some prayer time being put into it, too. 2. My wife was asking why the speculation that the cardinals might want an "interim pope." I've read the historical justification for these selections: compromise candidates to serve until one of the two parties can gain a stronger edge the next conclave. It has the neatness of using indecision as a means for the Holy Spirit to actually inspire a better, if not best choice. On the other hand, a truly do-nothing pope would risk being a drag on the Church in a time when most all of us admit the challenges are with us more than ever. 3. All the talk about the various nationalities or orthodoxies of papabili leave me to the Pauline passage in which he chides his listeners for identifying themselves as with Paul, or with Apollos, or with Christ (the first century analogues of the neo-orthodox, maybe). It would be great to have a pope dedicated to unity, as opposed to one who puts too much trust in cardinals to impose uniformity. 4. If the pope were more a bishop than a world figure or spiritual leader, it would make sense to select the next one from among the bishops or even the cardinals. If I were to be consistent with my stated position on the s/election of bishops, the clergy of Rome should be the first ones considered. But I'm happy to concede that the Bishop of Rome is much bigger than the Bishop of Rome used to be, perhaps even thirty years ago. The cardinals should be considering candidates outside of their club, but none of the big name speculators seem to have that possibility on their radar. 5. Keeping the speculation sensible, this conclave will make an important choice, but there will still be hundreds of conclaves for the Bishop of Rome yet to come. At most, until the continent of Africa completes its tectonic journey into Europe and Rome becomes just another mountaineering peak for visitors from out of town.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Neil on John Paul II
I am writing this only several hours after Pope John Paul II died. May he rest in everlasting peace. I think that the Pope can be remembered as a traveler. He traveled over 700,000 miles and visited 129 countries. And he found himself in decidedly unexpected places for a pope. In October of 1986, the Pope was in Assisi alongside representatives of the world’s religions and said that all those who pray "are included in the great and unique design of God." On World Youth Day in 1997, the Pope was in a secularized Paris with a million young people. Many of them, Cardinal Lustiger said, “had not been baptized and lived in a spiritual desert.” The Cardinal said, “The youth were very cognizant of the fact that the pope was not there to ‘reform’ them, but had come in order to meet with them and speak to them, without compromise, of the splendor of Truth. He trusted them; they understood his disinterested affection.” When, in 1992, the Pope visited Hungary, he prayed at a monument in Debrecen dedicated to Protestant victims of the religious wars and did not hesitate to refer to those killed by Catholics as “martyrs for the faith.” In 2000, the Pope visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem and inserted a prayer into a nook that read in part, “we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.” Later that year, in Rome, the Pope said, “Today, the first Sunday of Lent, seemed to me the right occasion for the Church, gathered spiritually round the successor of Peter, to implore divine forgiveness for the sins of all believers. Let us forgive and ask forgiveness!” He said that our consciences would be awakened only after the recognition of past wrongs, “opening the way to conversion for everyone.” The Pope was a traveler, a pilgrim. In his last encyclical, he wrote, “I have been able to celebrate Holy Mass in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and seacoasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares... This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic!” Dr. John Sullivan has written on “Philosophy as Pilgrimage,” referring specifically to the theologian Maurice Blondel (1861-1949) and John Paul II: “First, a pilgrim is a person who goes in search of something desirable which is missing, rather than one who is in full possession of this treasure, truth or salvation. Second, a pilgrim is an engaged participant rather than a detached observer; the outcome of the pilgrim’s search is something of deep significance for the seeker; it is not a matter of indifference. Third, unlike a particular pilgrimage, after which we may rest, the pilgrimage of life that both Blondel and John Paul II have in mind is one of continuous and unfinished movement; it is not temporary but lifelong. Fourth, in the course of this pilgrimage, we build up a cumulative and coherent view of our experience, which should be seen in its entirety and wholeness, rather than as something fragmented and compartmentalized. In this cumulative and increasingly coherent perspective we should not have a sense of losing or leaving behind what has happened to us earlier or even long ago; instead we integrate what is important into ourselves and carry it forward in such a way that both it and we seem to undergo change in the light of each other. Fifth, as pilgrims, we must walk ‘out in the open,’ ready to mingle with others who travel on a different road, with those who go perhaps in a completely different direction; we should not need to be protected ‘indoors’ or isolated, in some form of quarantine, kept apart from possible alternative routes or sources of temptation.” The Holy Father’s pilgrimage has ended. But let his witness be an example for us, when we journey to the Assisi, Paris, Debrecen, Jerusalem, and Rome in our own lives. Mountain paths and stadiums are both embraced by God. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Yesterday our pastor showed me a copy of what was sent to the diocesan priests Friday from the bishop in case the Holy Father did die. I was surprised as to the thoroughness of the advance plans and suggestions for parish prayer, and there were many good ideas I had not thought of. Last night I told pope stories at the dinner table for Brittany, who was the youngest participant in the afternoon rosary. There were two teens from a parish family and about 40 or 50 others, mostly sitting in the back. It brings to mind why I dislike praying the rosary in small groups in a big room, as we had about three competing paces for praying. The leader suggested songs at the beginning and at the end, and the people did well with singing these. The guidelines spoke of a special Mass for the conclave. Anyone doing one of those? How has the attendance been at your parish's special events? Anything noteworthy in these liturgies?
O God, for whom the just receive an unfailing reward, grant that your servant John Paul, our Pope, whom you made vicar of Peter and shepherd of your Church, may rejoice for ever in the vision of your glory, for he was a faithful steward here on earth of the mysteries of your forgiveness and grace. We ask this through Christ our Lord. (Order of Christian Funerals #398.14) Our parish has the following prayer schedule: Sunday 2:30pm The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary Monday 7pm The Stations of the Cross Wednesday 7pm Mass for the repose of John Paul II Additionally, our church will be open at extended hours for individual prayer.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Alternative Via Crucis
Has anyone used such an alternative in their parishes or participated in one elsewhere? If so, what has been the response? Are people attached to the "traditional" Stations? 1. Christ's Prayer and Agony in the garden 2. Christ betrayed by Judas and arrested 3. Christ condemned by the Sanhedrin 4. Christ denied by Peter 5. Christ judged by Pilate 6. Christ scourged and crowned with thorns 7. Christ burdened with the cross 8. Christ assisted by Simon of Cyrene 9. Christ meets the women of Jerusalem 10. Christ crucified 11. Christ promises the kingdom to the Good Thief 12. Christ on the cross; the Mother; and the disciple 13. Christ dies on the cross 14. Christ taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb Pope John Paul II has used these "stations" publicly at the Vatican. Perhaps you believe the Stations shouldn't be tampered with. If so, why? Any experience of musical settings of Stations this past Lent, and if so, what were your opinions?
My sister-in-law called earlier today to say she's been praying for the pope these past few days. Both Anita and I come from non-Catholics families, so the offering was much appreciated. Brittany was asking this morning if we were going to watch the "pope channel." I think CNN's coverage has been non-stop, so that assessment is accurate. I dreamed I was watching people in a stairwell climb to pay their last respects to John Paul II. I noticed Sinead O'Connor and Michael Schiavo. As I looked at other faces carefully, I realized every person climbing the stairs had criticized him in some way. I was thinking to myself, should I go up too? As I decided it would be better to let people who really wanted to see him do so and began descending the steps, I woke up. Just out of curiosity: what are your parishes doing (or what did they do) to pray for the pope, or mention this in the Sunday liturgy?

Taking Stock
If the institutional church were interested in making an accurate assessment of the priesthood, it would consider taking some concrete steps to study the situation of declining priest-to-laity. The two frequent positions I hear trumpeted most often leave me dissatisfied: A It's the Holy Spirit's work B It's selfish human nature rearing (i.e. the culture) its head in the young While touted by opposite ends of the Catholic ideological spectrum, these positions share one commonality. The passive approach might have worked well enough for the middle part of the previous century when vocations were booming, presumably. On point A, I would counter we're all adults making discernments here. Actually setting aside one's possessions and attachments, picking up one's cross, and following Christ is a life activity God invites us to do. But thinking human beings have to accept the invitation for it to work. It may or may not be spiritually or ideologically convenient the priesthood is trimming down. People are still being attracted to it in significant numbers, and staying on board in significant numbers despite new challenges. That tells me God is at work in the invitation, and people are saying yes. Point B is popular with those who ascribe to modern society a cornucopia of evils that circumvent the healthy routine of call and response. I don't buy this either. People who have themselves failed to look in the mirror tend to blame others for their problems. Even if it's accurate, the blame game cultivates a similar acedia in its players. An alternative would be to survey clergy of all ages to discover the environments they were in that attracted them to the priesthood. What would we find? What age would the call be coming, and how would the shape of that age dynamic change over the past forty years? Where would the call come: the parish? the home? school? A few factors that would interest me that would help vocation directors focus their efforts: - How much has higher education drawn teens away from considering the priesthood? Many parents of the past two generations autoslot their kids into college. In society, career and marriage have been put off till after college. One can still meet available future spouses in and after college, but are seminary-recruiters giving up at the wrong time? The relevant study would be to see how the GI Bill affected seminary enrollment in the late 1940's. But is such a study even possible today? - The old profile of a kid going up the ranks through a whole line of all-boys' schools sounds impressive on paper. It presumes that a lack of female presence in their lives will result in lean, mean celibate (and orthodox) machines. But does it? One would think a call from God would be persistent all through dances, dating, co-ed classes, college life, and all. And with guys coming to the priesthood in their thirties and later, we see it is so. One side note on Mass attendance. Only ostriches and hyperreligious eugenicists deny the problem of declining Mass attendance. But there's no doubt that many potential religious vocations are sitting at home because the parents can't be bothered with Sunday Mass. I've met dozens of kids over the past twenty years who have a deeper spiritual connection to God than other kids with the advantages of parental support. People still put all their eggs in the parish school basket, and unless their main objective is a cheap college prep education, they're missing the boat. In casting their kids adrift without the faith grounding previous generations had, they misdiagnose that intellect and social environment are not the main cultivating environment for religiosity. Where do I think the best diocesan and parish efforts for vocations awareness should be? - Liturgy: making it attractive for inactive Catholics, especially their kids. It stands to reason that twice as many people active in their parishes will net at least twice as many candidates for religious life or priesthood. - Young adult ministry in colleges and amongst twenty-somethings. Dioceses might as well shut down their vocations offices if they're intent on closing down campus ministry. Parishes should be at the front lines for the young out-of-college crowd. - Pastoral presence of clergy everywhere. Just hanging out (and being approachable) should be 10-20% of a priest's time on the clock.

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