Monday, October 24, 2016

A City Oozing Cubby Blue

Monday greetings. It is one of those picture perfect days here in Chicago; sunny, crisp, and clear.

This has been quite a weekend here in Chicago. As you know, the Chicago Cubs are heading to the World Series for the first time since the 1940's. The city is absolutely electric. On Saturday afternoon, I decided to travel downtown for early voting. Here is Daley Plaza, with the iconic Picasso sculpture in the background. "Cubby Blue" is everywhere! The city seems to be oozing it.

At Mass yesterday at Old Saint Patrick's, a young couple with their five year-old son got up after communion to talk about the importance of giving to Old Saint Pat's, so that our ministries can continue to flourish. Once again, there was no pressure, just a personal witness to the importance of the parish in this young family's life.

The music was stirring. It is so good to be in a place where the congregation sings so well. You know, there are very few of the old "Glory and Praise" songs from the 70's that touch my heart any more. But this weekend, one that has always done so was sung, The Cry of the Poor. It always brings back memories of the "folk group" that sang once a week at the Masses at the seminary I attended. The descant (which I sang quietly yesterday) is just haunting and beautiful.

Hoping as this week unfolds that yours is a good one. Go Cubs, go!

Gotta sing. Gotta Pray.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Haunted . . .

Friday greetings on a beautiful, crisp Autumn day here in the Midwest.

Quite a whirlwind week for me. I left Chicago and headed to the Archdiocese of Baltimore on Tuesday to be in time for Wednesday's planning meeting for the 2018 national convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. There was lots of energy in the room as we talked about theme (or no theme), possible plenum speakers, breakouts sessions, and prayer experiences. Here's a photo I snapped during the meeting.

Last night, I gave a presentation on cultivating baptismal spirituality at a parish at which I was liturgy and music director from 1992 to 1999, my last full-time parish position. During my time at Saint Marcelline in Schaumburg, Illinois, I helped spearhead a huge renovation project, which included the installation of a new baptismal font. We used the original font in the design. Here are a few photos of that font.

The group that had gathered for my presentation was the "Women at the Well." This is a a group of women at the parish that has been meeting several times a year now for ten years. Their husbands volunteer to prepare and serve the meal, then provide the clean-up afterwards. We had about 40 women in all present. The evening ended with these "women at the well" gathering around the baptism font for a ritual of baptismal remembrance.

It was such a delight to greet old friends. One big surprise for me was the fact that the women with whom I had ministered in the parish (who have now either retired or moved on to other things) were invited. It was an emotional reunion filled with the sharing of stories, sad and happy. Surely a step back in time, but a sheer delight for me. These were my "peeps," the women who showed me what real hospitality could be back in the 1990's. This was my family when I came to Illinois. My love for them was rekindled last night.

Something happened after we concluded the evening while I was on my way out of the building; it has haunted me all night and into today.

One woman, who was a parish leader at the time when I was there, a really wonderful dedicated lay minister, ran after me and asked if she could speak with me privately.

She said something like this. "Jerry, I just wanted to thank you for something you did for my family when you were here that I have never forgotten. You may remember that I was caring for my aging mother when you were here. When she died, you allowed us, even though it was against the parish rules, to have someone speak after Communion at her funeral. It meant so, so much to my family and me. I will never forget your kindness in allowing us to do that. I have often told people over the years of that kindness you extended." And then she was choked with emotion, as was I. "I just need to say say thank you now." I gave her a big hug and then I left to head back into the city to my home.

Why did this exchange haunt me? Frankly, I wondered how many other families who had lost a loved one did we simply say, "No, I am sorry but our parish prohibits anyone from speaking at funerals; please do that at the funeral home."

Was I one of those unbending parish staff members who "stuck to my guns" in almost every case when a family asked for some time to talk about their loved one at a funeral? I was so glad to have had the encounter last night with a grateful parishioner. But I wonder how many other people I personally may have alienated because of an unbending attitude and demeanor?

This is what has haunted me since last night.

Anyone else haunted by this kind of stuff?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, October 17, 2016

My Parish's Annual Appeal

Monday greetings from Chicago, where today's temperature is expected to reach 83 degrees! The leaves are turning to their beautiful autumn colors, but the temperature is telling us it is still summer!

This past weekend, at my parish, Old Saint Patrick's here in Chicago, we had the annual "appeal" by our pastor. I had received a letter from the parish earlier in the week, outlining the various ways parishioners can give to the parish; weekly giving, electronic giving, wills, trusts, etc. In previous parishes where I have ministered, this weekend always meant the handing out of annual giving pledge cards. One parish asked each of us to consider "taking a step" in our giving by increasing that giving one half of one percent, or one percent.

I was seated in the lower hall this past Sunday, and our pastor was preaching at the Mass upstairs in the main church. After the proclamation of the Gospel in the lower hall, a staff member came forward with a large pole and poked the bottom of the projector suspended above the main aisle, turning it on. There was a screen that had been lowered behind the altar. So, through this technology, we in the hall were able to see and hear our pastor's annual appeal. Here's a photo I took.

Fr. Tom preached a wonderful homily and then told us that, despite what the people in the development office might think of what he would say next, he simply thanked us for our generosity in the past. He never once asked for money; he just invited us to keep everything in our parish moving along as we teach, preach, and invite young people into the lived experience of Catholicism in our parish.

I have heard the age-old complaint from Catholics for years: "All they ever do in that parish is ask for money." Here was an example in stark contrast to that. A simple and genuine word of thanks to the parishioners for their generosity.

I liked it. What does your parish's appeal look and sound like?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, October 14, 2016

This Befuddled Believer

Friday greetings on a beautiful Autumn morning here in Chicago.

I have been thinking a lot lately about "big picture" stuff. On Saturday of this past weekend, while attending an Oktoberfest event in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, my friends and I, after grabbing our plates of German sausage and our beer, searched for a place to sit at the long tables beneath the tent. It was a striped white and red tent; here's a photo is took.

There was a tuba band playing, people were dancing, singing, clapping their hands in rhythm, and just having a grand time. I found some chairs right across a table from an older couple; looked like they were in their early seventies. He had retired from the Air Force and they lived in a rural area in central Wisconsin. Since I love meeting new people, I quickly started a conversation with these two folks and, with a great sense of gratitude and relief, engaged in a conversation that had absolutely nothing to do with the current presidential election campaign. We talked about some of our Catholic experiences. We talked about our families. We talked about travels to Germany. We talked about how great the food was at the festival. We talked about how much we loved the music in the tent. We talked about how beautiful the day was. My new friend even shared some jokes with us. It was just a delight.

As I sat there, I realized what a grace that moment was for me. Lately I have been thinking so much about the vastness of the universe. And I think about the seeming insignificance of this planet of ours within the big-ness of it all. And sometimes doubt enters my mind about how God could have created all of this and how God could have created this human species, and how God could have had anything to do with the fact that I came into existence on this tiny planet. I just can't wrap my brain around the cosmos; I know I have to do more reading to help enlighten my mind.

When all of this thought rages in my mind, I am always, always brought back to one thing. And that one thing is Jesus Christ. My belief that this creator God broke into humanity by sending the divine offspring, Jesus Christ, to save us from death, becomes stronger when I have experiences with other human beings, like the experience I had with those two folks in the tent on Saturday. I just had this overwhelming sense that this God of ours was somehow present right there in that tent because this God had taken on our human flesh; it was like a "His eye is on the sparrow" kind of moment. And I cherished the encounter and I thanked God for it and the insight it brought to this sometimes befuddled believer's mind and heart.

I hope that your weekend finds you discovering God's presence in the simple encounters.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Chanting the Conclusion of the Readings and Gospel at Mass

Thursday greetings from the sunny and cool Midwest on a crisp Autumn morning.

While at the cathedral in Milwaukee this past Sunday, I was reminded of a liturgical practice from The Roman Missal implemented there some years ago.

At the end of the first and second readings, once the lector had concluded the proclamation of the text, the cantor (without the use of a microphone, kind of in an "off stage" fashion) sang "The word of the Lord," using the intervals indicated in The Roman Missal, a perfect fifth after the first reading and a minor third after the second reading. All responded with "Thanks be to God," mimicking the interval. The pastor, who proclaimed the Gospel, also chanted "The Gospel of the Lord," using the interval indicated in The Roman Missal, with all responding "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ."

I was wondering if the followers of this blog have implemented this practice in your parish. Have you tried it? If so, when do you do it? If so, who sings the conclusion? The lector? The cantor? Someone else? How has it worked/not worked for your parish?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Trip to Milwaukee's Cathedral and the Upcoming Parish Mission

Happy Tuesday all.

I spent part of the weekend in southern Wisconsin, attending the annual Octoberfest in the quaint little town of Cedarburg.

On Sunday morning, I attended the 9:30 Mass at the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist in Milwaukee. I always feel so nourished there by the music, the always stunning proclamation of God's word, the challenging preaching, and the space itself, which lifts my heart.

Certainly one of my favorites baptism fonts. 

I'll be presenting the parish mission at the cathedral the final weekend of October. They've created a dedicated Facebook page for the mission; pretty cool! And they asked me to do a little informational video as well.

So, if you are in the Milwaukee area, please consider stopping by for the parish mission sessions.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Welcome to America: "That Was God's Work!"

Thursday has dawned with warmth and rain here in the Midwest. Nothing in comparison to what friends and family are facing along the southeast coast of the United States. Here's a prayer we sent to all of our J.S. Paluch bulletin parishes yesterday:

Let us pray.
As hurricane Matthew approaches,
may we, our loved ones, our homes, our community, and all those along the East Coast
be protected from the storm and spared from all harm.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Last evening, we welcomed a refugee family from Afghanistan to the United States through WLP's collaboration with Exodus World Service. Three of us arrived at about 5:00 P.M. with three cars filled with the household items we had collected to help this new family set up an apartment. Unfortunately, there was no apartment ready for them, so a motel stay was arranged for them until an apartment is found, typically within a week. We took the time as we awaited their arrival to deliver the items to their motel room.

We had collected everything needed for the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms, as well as non-perishable food items, tools, toiletries, cleaning supplies, supplies for laundering clothes, and some other items, like paintings and decorative items, to help them make their apartment into a home.

The level of anxious anticipation in our hearts was overwhelming. All we knew was that our family consisted of a set of parents and their 22 year-old daughter. They had flown yesterday from Delhi, India and they did speak some English.

We waited in the parking lot and when the van transporting them from the airport pulled into the parking lot, my heart swelled with anticipation.

Never in my life will I ever be able to erase the memory of the smiles on the faces of our three new family members. The Dad, a medical doctor, the Mom, a mid-wife, and their daughter all had grins from ear to ear. They had been traveling for over forty-eight hours in order to fulfill a dream that apparently had taken years to materialize. Michele vonEbers, WLP's Rights and Permissions Manager, was the catalyst for the entire project and she inspired all of us here in our efforts to reach out to help this refugee family. She held a vase of flowers and when she gave them to the Mom, the woman's face was filled with sheer delight. The Mom clutched the flowers to her chest and never let them go until we were settled into their motel room, where she gently placed the vase on the window sill. Here we are, Michele, Raquel Hernandez, WLP's Customer Relations Manager, and I, with our new arrivals.

This family's gratitude was a gratitude unlike anything I had ever witnessed. They arrived with several large suitcases and a few backpacks. My heart was so moved as I realized that this is pretty much all they had in the world. I thought of my townhome, filled with so much, and I felt that what we had done for this newly arrived family, was so small compared to what we all treasure as possessions that we take advantage of every day.

When we hoisted all their belongings to their motel room, the folks from Exodus explained that everything they saw in their motel roomall the items we had been collecting over the past few monthswere gifts from the people who worked at our company, a Catholic publishing company. Again, the look of gratitude on their faces just took our breath away. The Dad, whose English-language skills were quite good, but with a heavy Afghan accent, explained to us that when they left Afghanistan four years ago and moved to Delhi, they had converted to Christianity. He had helped translate the Bible into Pashto, which is a member of the southeastern Iranian branch of Indo-Iranian languages spoken in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. He also told us that he had written and translated four book of original poetry. This Dad was a talker, let me tell you! His enthusiasm and excitement, which had to have so much to do with the fact that they had landed in their new home after so many years, was effusive. I stood there, wondering what their lives must have been like in Afghanistan, what hardships they had endured over the time that they fled their country, the many difficulties and challenges they faced as they applied for refugee status in the United States, and the discrimination they must have experienced through all of this. The Mom just smiled. The daughter looked quite overwhelmed. I will never forget the largeness of her eyes as all of this newness began to settle in.

We were able to point out some of the items we had brought. When we showed them an original painting that WLP's Alan Hommerding's late Mom had painted, their eyes lit up. We told them that we brought this painting for the wall of their apartment, to make it feel more like home. Emotions got the best of me when the Dad smiled and said, "It is just like Afghanistan; it is so beautiful! Thank, you, thank you!" Here's a photo I took.

We then said our farewells and were thanked with hugs and handshakes all around. The staff remained to help orient the family to the motel and to planning the many meetings that will unfold over the next several days, weeks, and months, as they help the family get settled in their new surroundings.

When we walked out of the motel room and began to walk down the corridor, I turned and looked at Michele, Raquel, and our case worker from Exodus, and simply said, with my voice choked with emotion, "Folks, that was God's work." Didn't need to say any more.

It will be a challenging road ahead for our new family who was welcomed to American last night. We will do our best to keep connected with them and to ease their transition in whatever ways we can.

There is a way out of the frustration we all feel about those who are driven from their homes due to war, violence, and unspeakable terror. I felt that last night was one of those ways, and for that I will always be grateful to Michele vonEbers and a group of people I am privileged to work with and lead here at World Library Publications.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.