Friday, May 22, 2015

NCCL Conference and Exposition

Ah . . . an entire week has passed since I last posted. My apologies. Very busy week for me. It is a gloriously beautiful Spring day here in Chicago.

I spent most of the week in Buffalo, New York, at the 79th Annual Conference and Exposition of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. On Tuesday, Br. Mickey McGrath and I gave the keynote presentation; Mickey's focus was on discovering the Good News through art. I focused on discovering the Good News in the liturgy. It seemed the presentations were well received. Here is a photo taken before the presentations.


And another taken after we were finished.


It was a wonderful few days spent with a great group of catechetical leaders from around the country. I remember well those days, a few decades ago, when liturgists and catechists were like oil and water. So refreshing now to see such a wedding of these two ministries in the Church; this week was a real boost for me.

Those in attendance appreciated the helpful resources we offered in our WLP booth in the exhibit hall, especially Mickey's artbooks and the RCIA resources from WLP's Fountain of Life series. You can find lots of information about this series on our web site.


I hope that your Memorial Day weekend is a good one. I am spending time with family tomorrow at a memorial celebration for a wonderful relative who passed away here in Chicago a few months ago. I am looking forward to this special memorial.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Death Sentence

Sorrow upon sorrow upon sorrow.

When will we ever learn?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Matthias and the Blackhawks Beard

Thursday greetings on this Feast of Saint Matthias. So grateful for my parents today, who brought me into this world 57 years ago today.

Saint Matthias is always pictured with a beard:


As many of you know, I am a somewhat enthusiastic Chicago Blackhawks hockey fan. One of the signs of support that we show when our team is in the playoffs for the Stanley Cup is to grow a beard, as do the players. So, this year, just to have some fun, I decided to join the throngs who have done so.

Lots of folks have looked at me recently, telling me that I look like "the most interesting man in the world!"



At any rate, so thankful today for the gift of life and the many people who bring me joy every single day.

See any resemblance? Matthias? Most interesting man in the world? Santa Claus, maybe?


Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lamenting the Loss of Beauty

Wednesday greetings on a cool but bright and sunny morning here in Chicago.

Following up on yesterday's post on beauty, I wanted to share something unfolding in my own life.

As many of you who follow this blog know, I live in the downtown area of the city of Chicago. I have lived there for thirteen years now. Many of you have seen the photos I post during the winter and summer months from my small balcony. The property right outside my balcony was a beautifully landscaped courtyard of a restaurant complex, whose owners carefully took care of the land, cultivating trees to maturity. The area is filled with birds of all kinds and lots of frolicking squirrels. To sit on that balcony, especially when my own flower boxes are in bloom, has been a delight for me for years, kind of my own little oasis in the busy city and in my busy life.



The property was sold to a developer several months ago. He is snatching up vacant property throughout my neighborhood and building apartment complexes. For the most part, the developer has taken eyesores and built four-story apartment complexes on the lots, definitely improving the appearance. But the lot next door we thought was different. Loaded with trees, we were all certain that the developer would build something that was truly special in the city, a complex that would be like none other, one that would be nestled within the existing park-like setting.

I guess I am a naive dreamer. I exercised my rights as a taxpaying citizen. I attended three meetings of our neighborhood community and expressed my concerns that the developer's plans included gobbling up the entire space and destroying the little forest that exists on the property. I spoke with my alderman's representatives. I sent emails directly to my alderman. Two nights ago, at what was the "final" meeting, I told those in attendance that, in conscience, I had to object to this destructive plan one more time, pleading for the saving of the green, open space. We were all told that "demolition will begin tomorrow." Deal done. When I got home Monday night, I stood on my balcony and just gazed at this natural beauty that had become such a part of my day to day life. I took a video of the area a week ago, when many of the trees were flowering.

video


I guess I still held out some hope that night that some miracle would take place. Why would the man who is the controlling owner of the development company (the owner of two of our professional sports teams here in the city) want to destroy something held so dear by so many? I only came up with one answer: for the money.

Last night, when I got home, I realized that my naive hopes were be crushed. It's simply all gone. Beauty sacrificed for corporate greed. I am filled with lament and sadness. All that, of course, is tempered by the fact that I have a job, I have a home, I have food on my table, all of which I am so grateful for. But a little part of me died along with those trees yesterday. My eternal optimism, which gets me into trouble too often, was taken down a notch yesterday. Here is the same view, taken last night.

video

Next week in Buffalo at the conference of Catechetical Leaders, I will be speaking about discovering the Good News in the liturgy; much of what I will have to say will focus on the power of art, the power of beauty to transform us. Liturgy, for many of us, is our own oasis of beauty in our busy lives. I lost one of those oases yesterday. I try always to bring my own life into the liturgy. These days I will bring a sense of sadness and loss; I will be looking for transformation.

Thanks for listening.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pew Research and Beauty

Tuesday greetings to all.

You may have already seen today's report from the Pew Research Center concerning "America's Changing Religious Landscape." The opening paragraph tells the story.

"The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks, Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men."

In 2007, 23.9% of respondents to a similar survey identified themselves as Catholics, while in 2014, 20.8% did, a drop of 3.1% in seven years.

These are alarming figures, for sure. Next week, I will be presenting a keynote talk at the 79th Annual Conference and Exhibition of the National Conference of Catechetical Leaders. My focus is on "Encountering the Good News through the Liturgy: Task and Source of Evangelization." I have found this particular talk quite challenging and, given today's Pew report, even more so.

I plan to talk about the way that beauty (space, art, furnishings, music) captures the heart of the believer at the liturgy, evangelizes, and sends the believer out into the world.

I am pondering the question about whether or not beauty in the liturgy can bear the weight of that responsibility? Where do Millennials discover beauty today? Every day on the train, I look at people in this age range and 90% of them are doing one of two things. Either their body is hunched over their cell phone and they are texting, searching, gaming, reading, or watching something. Or they are plugged into a musical device, listening through earbuds or those very large sets of headphones. No one (save yours truly) is looking up at other human beings, or looking out at the beauty of nature as it passes by, or what I see as the beauty of the urban landscape that surrounds us. Could beauty be something that could draw people back into the experience of Catholicism?

When I was in seventh grade at Saint Charles School in Woburn, Massachusetts, my sister, a year older, was "making her Confirmation." We didn't have a parish choir; Mrs. Cox, was the less-than-talented organist (she kept her foot on the lowest C pedal on the pedal board for the entire hymn, no matter what key it was in!). And Monsignor O'Neill made sure that our Masses (scheduled like this: Saturdays at 4:00, 5:00 7:00; Sundays at 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12 Noon in English, 12 Noon in Spanish, 5:00, 6:15, and 7:30) were no longer than thirty-five minutes. I don't think we had time for beauty! But that Confirmation celebration was different. Perhaps to impress the bishop, Monsignor would invite the Mishawum Valley Choral Society so sing at the Confirmation Mass. I had never heard anything so glorious in church before.

I remember sitting there as a seventh grader and when that choral group sang the Mallotte Lord's Prayer, something was triggered inside me. It was right then and there, believe it or not, that I felt that I was being called to be a priest. Folks, I get goose bumps right now thinking about that moment. The sheer beauty of that choral sound that filled that church filled me with such awe that, to this day, I know that moment meant that I would never be the same again.

Does the liturgy have the potential to be the vehicle of those moments today? When I think about my fellow commuters on the train, I wonder what would happen if we arranged for a forty-voice choir to enter our train car and sing some glorious piece of choral music.

It is a tremendous responsibility to ensure that we bring the best of art into our liturgical celebrations. Space, art, music, sung and spoken prayer, etc. Will this be enough to transform peoples' hearts? Are people generally or genuinely aware that their hearts could use some transformation?

Struggling here, as you can probably tell.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Liturgical Music Institute: Go!

Monday greetings on this very dreary Spring day here in the Midwest.

As many of you know, last year, I was privileged to be a part of the faculty at the Liturgical Music Institute, held on the campus of the gorgeous Immaculate Conception Seminary on Long Island.



After my experience, I shared these thoughts on the blog:

"Tuesday greetings from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception here in Huntington, New York.
First of all, let me share with you that this has been an extraordinary experience. There are close to thirty musicians here for this Liturgical Music Institute. And fully a third of them are in their twenties; some fresh out of music school, others still in school, and others in their first years as parish pastoral musicians. How refreshing and wonderful to have a group so diverse in age and experience."

World Library Publications and J.S. Paluch continue to help sponsor this fine institute.



Please do yourself a great favor and visit their web site, where you can find lots of information.

WLP will be sponsoring our own director of publications, Mary Beth Kunde-Anderson, and Steven Warner as faculty members at this year's institute.

This will be an experience that will shape your ministry for years to come.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Enlightened by Faith

Thursday greetings from Chicago, where the weather forecasters tell us our temperature today will reach 85!

I wanted to share one of my favorite little books that we publish here at WLP. Part of our "Fountain of Life" series, which focuses on the RCIA, Enlightened by Faith: Prayers for the RCIA Journey, by Anita Ahuja, is a beautiful and simple prayer book for catechumens and candidates. It is also available as an e-book.


Many parishes keep multiple copies on hand (there is quantity pricing) for those on the initiation journey. Here's a sample of one of the prayers for the period of the catechumenate:

The Call
Gracious Lord,
thank you for seeing the beauty of my soul
and accepting me as I am.
I am humbled by your faith in me
and grateful for your embrace.
I seek to know the truth.
Fill my heart with knowledge
and my mind with conviction.
Show me the way to the light
and open my eyes to your signs.
Open my ears that I may hear your call
and my hands to receive
the gracious gifts you offer.
Allow me to hear your call as clearly as did Samuel
and follow you in faith.
To our ever-faithful God, I pray.

Amen.

Thanks for listening to my little WLP commercial today. This really is a great resource that will help your catechumens and candidates.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.