Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lent at Saint John's Seminary

Thursday greetings on a snowy morning here in the Midwest. Took nearly two hours to drive to work this morning. So frustrated with the ways that Chicago suburbs like Oak Park and River Forest clear (or don't clear) their streets when snow arrives. This is winter. This is the Midwest. This is not rocket science. They are putting the public in danger. Just don't get it.

At any rate, safely at the office now and simmering down . . .

After re-reading my post of yesterday, more memories kicked in, this time of my experience of Lent while preparing for the priesthood at Saint John's Seminary College and Saint John's Seminary School of Theology in Boston.

Here are some photos of saint John's.

Lent in the seminary was, in a word, wonderful. And why wouldn't it be? Here we were, scores of like-minded guys, all trying our best to develop a spiritual life, entering this holy season together. The seminary just didn't seem the same during Lent; it just felt holier somehow. Remember this was the seventies and early eighties. I recall the Friday night celebrations of Stations of the Cross in the college seminary chapel. We had guys up in the organ pipe chambers that were suspended above the choir area. Their disembodied voices would speak some of the parts in "Every Man's Way of the Cross," the "in" way of the cross back then.

I was usually at the organ, playing the hymns for the stations. And the singing was always full throated and "beefy." I miss that unique sound.

We had very moving communal celebrations of reconciliation. We also had long, often boring and unhelpful addresses by the various rectors of the seminary, at least for me. And I remember going to my confessor often during Lent, always feeling God's love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

Most of Lent, for those of us involved with liturgy and music at the seminary, was focused on preparing the liturgies of Palm Sunday and the Paschal Triduum. There were lots of choir rehearsals. And then there were the music rehearsals of the entire seminary community on the mornings of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. We would rehearse the whole house of guys, teaching them new chant pieces, psalms, acclamations, and hymns.

As I look back on all of this, I realize what a special place that was for someone like me who is "into" the liturgy. The "audience" was always captive and the closed community meant that we were all "in this together." Special place, for sure, but certainly not reflective of pastoral life at all. I think, though, that I was able to take the good pieces and make them work pastorally in parishes in which I ministered. Grateful for many things those seminary days taught me. Still bitter, frankly, at what would at times be an oppressive, paranoia-inducing structure that did little to embolden the human spirit, at least of this guy. Life is like that. Not just in seminaries, I guess.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lent as a Kid

Greetings on this Lenten Wednesday.

This week, while giving the parish mission, which ended last evening, I was thinking about the ways that I was formed in my Lenten practices growing up. This, of course, was before the catechumenate was restored, so there was no real baptismal focus; everything was penitential.

In our Catholic School, right before the beginning of Lent, we were all given this flat piece of cardboard, with instructions on how to fold it and turn it into our Lenten "mite box." It didn't dawn on me until recently that the word "mite" referred to the widow's mite in the Gospel story . . . duh! I did a search for an image of a mite box and found this one, which is sponsored by the Lutheran Women's Missionary League.

Anyone else given these "mite boxes" when you were younger? Seems that Operation Rice Bowl is pretty much what Catholics use today.

Of course, I remember that each of us in our family had to give up something for Lent. I remember giving up candy most of the time, and popcorn (a family favorite, popped in a pan on the stove) one Lent.

And Fridays were always interesting, food-wise. I remember my mom sending me down to "Hatfield's Fish Market" on Main Street, to buy a few pounds of haddock for supper. And I remember that the price was 69 cents per pound. I will never forget the smell of that place!

I remember that one Lent my parents tried to get us to pray the rosary every Friday night as a family, on our knees, in our living room. As Lent wore on and the days became longer and warmer, I remember looking out the living room window into the street, where my friends in the neighborhood were playing outside. I remember trying to speed up the "Hail Mary's" so that I could get outside with them as quickly as possible!

And then there was Good Friday (I know, technically outside of Lent, but we didn't know that back then). We always attended the Good Friday Celebration of the Lord's Passion as a family at three o'clock at Saint Charles in Woburn, Massachusetts.

Frankly, I loved this liturgy, with all its kneeling and standing, its long Passion Gospel, the veneration of the cross and, at my parish, the veneration of a relic of the true cross after the service was completed. It was all so wrapped in mystery for me, even as a little kid. But on that day, every year, at 12:00 noon, my mother would let us kids know that "for the next three hours there will be no talking in this house. If Jesus could hang on the cross for three hours for you kids, then the least you can do is remain quiet." I believe those three hours, from noon until three, were the most peaceful three hours my mom had the entire year.

Now, of course, I experience Lent in different ways, primarily be preparing for the renewal of my baptism at Easter. The penitential aspect is still alive and well, but I like to look at the season as a time to think about and be grateful for my baptism. At the conclusion of the parish mission last night, I asked the parishioners to talk about what they gleaned from the mission; what new insight they might have discovered. One woman raised her hand and it took her quite awhile to speak because she was overcome with emotion. Finally, she said, "I learned how truly grateful I am that my parents had me baptized. I never thought about how important that was in my life."

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bearing the Marks of His Passion

Tuesday greetings.

I had a moment of befuddlement after last night's presentation at the parish mission at Our Lady, Mother of the Church here in Chicago.

During my presentation, I shared very deeply about the ways that the Eucharist has been a source of strength through my own life's difficulties, as well as ways that the eucharist is a place of nourishment and reconciliation.

After the presentation, a woman approached me, telling me that she had been away from the Church for thirty years and that it was a serious illness that brought her back to the Church. Then she said that she was astounded at how enthusiastic my faith was and that she could "never believe like you believe."

I told her that I have struggles with my own belief as well; that there are times when I feel like I am in an area of darkness. She repeated that she just could never see herself believing like I do and said that she didn't think that she could ever be as enthusiastic about her faith.

I told her that God has so much more planned for her life. And I said that just sharing the conversation with her revealed to me how much God has been, and continues to be, present in her life.

I guess this conversation helped me see that much of what I share comes from a wounded place inside of me; a place where scars run very deep. But it is in that same place that I know the paschal mystery has really touched me and brought a sense of hope.

Last night I shared a section from St. John Paul II's Mane Nobiscum Domine, the apostolic letter that inaugurated the Year of the Eucharist at the end of his pontificate:

"It must not be forgotten that the Eucharistic meal also has a profoundly and primarily sacrificial meaning. In the Eucharist, Christ makes present to us anew the sacrifice offered once for all on Golgotha. Present in the Eucharist as the Risen Lord, he nonetheless bears the marks of his passion, of which every Mass is a “memorial”, as the Liturgy reminds us in the acclamation following the consecration: “We announce your death, Lord, we proclaim your resurrection . . . “ At the same time, while the Eucharist makes present what occurred in the past, it also impels us towards the future, when Christ will come again at the end of history. This aspect makes the Sacrament of the Eucharist an event which draws us into itself and fills our Christian journey with hope."

Not sure if this is too much of a theological leap, but, as one who has "put on Christ" in baptism, I wonder if some of what the pope says about Christ is also true of me? Since I have been baptized into the Risen Lord, I feel sometimes like I bear the marks of the passions that have occurred in my own life. And it is that last line that always inspires me: "fills our Christian journey with hope."

The final session of the mission takes place tonight, when we will focus on the Sacrament of Confirmation and end with a focus on the Eucharistic table as a table of mission.

Thanks for listening to my struggles today.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Parish Mission and Too Much Snow to Elect

Monday greetings from the cold, cold, cold City of Chicago.

The Lenten Mission at Our Lady, Mother of the Church began with me offering reflections at each of the weekend Masses. When I arrived at the parish on Saturday afternoon, I was greeted with this sign:

It was a wonderful Lenten weekend and we began the mission sessions last night, with a focus on Baptism. Tonight we turn to focusing on the Eucharist. This is an ethnically mixed community. On the Fridays during Lent, Stations of the Cross are celebrated in Polish after the morning Mass, in English at 7:00 P.M. and in Italian at 8:30 P.M.

I was reading all about the various Rites of Election around the country on Facebook all weekend, then came across this sad announcement, namely that the Rite of Election was cancelled in Boston due to barely passable roads around the Cathedral of the Holy Cross due to the massive amounts of snow in the city.

Very busy day and week for me here. Hope your Lent is off to a good start.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, February 20, 2015

"If Jesus Were Alive . . ."

Friday greetings from the "will-Spring-ever-arrive-it-is-way-too-cold" Midwest.

While reading an article about Wednesday evening's prayer vigil outside the cathedral in San Francisco, I chuckled, then felt a bit sad when I read this line:

"N., . . . , a senior at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco and one of the event leaders, said the participating students are 'learning and living the Catholic values of acceptance and love' at their schools. 'We hope the archbishop hears this,' she said. She added that if Jesus were alive, 'he would be here next to us.' "

Ouch. I am hoping that this young Catholic student was misquoted. "If Jesus were alive . . ."

It struck me because of the struggles many of us have been going through lately with the acts of terror that continue in our fragile world, wondering where our Lord is in all of this. Pope Francis, in this morning's homily at Mass, had this to say:

"Do you have room in your heart for prisoners in jail? Do you pray for them so that the Lord can help them to change their life? May the Lord accompany us on our Lenten journey so that our external observance becomes a profound renewal of the Spirit. That's what we prayed for. That the Lord may give us this grace."

While I know that the pope was asking us to pray for people who are actually incarcerated, my thoughts went to those who are imprisoned by ideologies, ideologies that espouse murder and terrorism. Perhaps this is where the Lord is calling me this Lent. While I often feel helpless, like there is nothing I can do to help bring an end to terrorism, perhaps the "profound renewal of the Spirit" for me means praying for those who are imprisoned by ideology.

As the First Sunday of Lent comes upon us, let's pray for one another and those in such prisons.

Over the weekend and into early next week, I am leading the parish mission, beginning with scripture reflections at each weekend Mass at Our Lady, Mother of the Church parish here in Chicago.

I hope and pray that my heart will be opened to this profound renewal and that the hearts of those who gather at the parish will be given the grace that abounds in this holy season.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

This Christianity Stuff Is No Picnic, Is It?

Thursday greetings from the frigid Midwest; seven below zero here this morning.

At yesterday's Ash Wednesday Mass at Saint Sabina in Rome, Pope Francis concluded his homily with these words:

Soon we will make the gesture of the imposition of ashes on the head. The celebrant says these words: “You are dust and to dust you shall return, (cf. Gen 3:19)” or repeats Jesus’ exhortation: “Repent and believe the gospel. (Mk 1:15)” Both formulae are a reminder of the truth of human existence: we are limited creatures, sinners ever in need of repentance and conversion. How important is it to listen and to welcome this reminder in our time! The call to conversion is then a push to return, as did the son of the parable, to the arms of God, tender and merciful Father, to trust Him and to entrust ourselves to Him.

I have been pondering the image in the latter part of this homily's conclusion; the call to conversion being a "push to return . . . to the arms of God, tender and merciful Father." I am left with the question as this Lenten season begins: What is giving me a "push to return?"

As you know, I have been struggling with many things these past few months, particularly the senseless violence by terrorists, especially the recent murders of those Coptic Christians, many of whom were confessing their faith in Jesus Christ as they were murdered. Frankly, when I read the words of the Holy Father, that this God of ours into whose arms we are "pushed," is a "tender and merciful Father," I wonder where that tenderness and mercy can be found? I guess in my life I have never really experienced what a "pure enemy" is. Do you know what I mean? When I look at the evil actions that people commit, I can usually discover some reason for that action. I am one of those people who turn almost immediately to the "benefit of the doubt" approach when dealing with those kinds of actions. But I think I am discovering in these terrorists what I am calling the "pure enemy." And that just isn't like me at all. I have been reading about their beliefs about the end of time being imminent. Am I supposed to think that because they believe that that their actions are somehow justified?

And then comes the constant haunt from Saint Matthew's Gospel:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust."

So, if I have discovered, for the first time in my life, the "perfect enemy," I think the Lord might be "pushing" me into some kind of more perfect love for that perfect enemy. And I am just not sure what that means or will mean as I continue to struggle with these issues.

Darn, this Christianity stuff is no picnic, is it? Happy Lent!

Thanks for listening.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.