Tuesday, September 27, 2016

This Catholic in Beijing

Tuesday greetings on a beautifully clear and sunny day here in Chicago. I am appreciating the fresh, clear air especially today. My time in Beijing, China, was more than I had hoped for, but the constant air pollution was a bit bothersome, so it is good to back where the air is clear.

Some highlights of the trip.

Climbing a portion of the Great Wall was a dream fulfilled for me. Ever since seeing photos in my geography book in Fourth Grade, I always dreamed that one day I would be able to see the wall in person. It did not disappoint.

A short video from the Great Wall.

After touring the Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Lama Temple, Tiananmen Square, the Hutong area, and the beautiful lakes of the city, I have to say that the Temple of Heaven was my favorite. I returned there in the rain yesterday morning before heading to the airport. The park is one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited; acre after acre of trees and pathways, uncrowded (unlike every other spot in this vast city). I watched groups of Chinese people dancing and doing their Tai Chi. Elderly Chinese women come to the park, find a tree, latch their water bottle to one of its branches, and then exercise beneath the tree. Just so peaceful and calm. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a spectacular site.

On Sunday, I made my way, using the amazingly efficient Beijing subway system (which I used each day I was there) to Immaculate Conception Catholic Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Beijing. Social media is more than alive and well in China; my experience of the subway riders in Beijing was so similar to my experiences riding the "Green Line" subway here in Chicago.

The Cathedral sits in the middle of a busy neighborhood, filled with contemporary buildings. Frankly, it looks like most Catholic cathedrals here in the United States.

Here's the interior.

The Divine Mercy devotion seems central to the parishioners here.

The Mass was celebrated in English. The first and second readings were proclaimed in English and French. The cantor rehearsed the responsorial psalm with the assembly before Mass. All visitors were asked to stand and we were given a warm round of applause. All of the music was projected onto screens throughout the church.

Here are a few photos of the hymnal.

And the parish Sunday bulletin, this one in English because the Mass I attended was in English.

After all my recent comments about the misuse of the term "RCIA Classes," I was stunned to find the same usage in Beijing, in the parish bulletin!

Here's the video I took right after the Mass.

There were two large screens in the front of the church, broadcasting the Mass to those gathered in the courtyard. I arrived early enough to catch the end of the previous Mass, which was in Chinese. Paul Inwood's hymn for the Jubilee for Mercy was being sung in Chinese at communion.

Well, that's it for now. I am leaving tomorrow morning for Dallas for the Dallas Ministries Conference. I will try to post more of my impressions of China in the next few days.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, September 19, 2016

From Camden to Chicago to Beijing

Monday greetings. It's a picture perfect kind of day here in the Midwest.

I spent the majority of the weekend in the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey. As a gift to this diocese, much of which is made up of poorer parishes, we at WLP and J.S. Paluch decided to send me free of charge to the diocese to deliver a workshop and a keynote address. It was great being with over 500 catechists at this convocation and to share ideas about the RCIA and how the catechumenate inspires all forms of catechesis. Here's my first Powerpoint slide for the workshop.

I think the concept of moving to a year round model for the RCIA is especially daunting. People get caught in their routines of starting the RCIA in September and ending in the Spring. To envision a catechumenal process that welcomes people at any time of the year can create so much confusion, but it can be done and the majority of parishes that take the plunge find that this approach really benefits the catechumens and candidates and the parish as well.

Well, on a completely different note. A few months ago, while noodling around on airline web sites, I found a ridiculously low airfare that I thought was surely a mistake. A few days later I checked the site again and the fare was the same. So, I checked my calendar and made the decision to go ahead with the trip. It's a place I have always dreamed about going and a place that tugs at my sense of wander lust.

So, tomorrow, I'm headed to O'Hare for a non-stop flight to Beijing, China for five days. I haven't really had the time until this past weekend to do a lot of reading about Beijing, but I am excited about this opportunity. I'll be back at my desk a week from tomorrow.

I hope to blog and post photos while there, although the Chinese government does block internet access to sites like Facebook and Twitter. So all of this will be a shot in the dark for me once I am there.

I plan to go to Mass on Sunday. I did do some research into some of the Catholic churches in Beijing. As you know, there are Catholic churches that are "sponsored" by the Chinese government under the name "The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association," in which the government appoints its won bishops, not recognized by the Vatican. Then there are those that are recognized by the Holy See; it's pretty confusing.

I am hoping to attend Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing on Sunday. The archbishop there, Joseph Li Shan, is one of the few bishops openly recognized by both the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church and the Vatican. There is an English Mass there, but I hope to attend Masses both in English and Mandarin-Chinese.

So hopefully you will be with me on this short trip through following the blog. If not, I will share my little adventure with you when I return next week.

In the meantime, please pray for the safety of all travelers.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Last Night I Met a Christian

Thursday greetings on a beautiful day here in the Midwest.

Last night I met a Christian.

After doing some shopping and running around preparing for a trip I will be taking soon, I realized I was desperately in need of a haircut.

I walked by one of the cheap haircut places in my neighborhood and noticed it was empty of patrons, so in I went and met Mona, a middle-aged woman who was quite talkative. Usually, I just enjoy sitting quietly as my hair is cut; it can be a good time for reflection. But Mona wanted to chat, so I joined her in conversation. We talked about the challenges of living in Chicago; how we both shared our frustrations about our mayor's latest moves to tax us even more through a recent raise in water and sewer taxes.

She talked about her hesitancy to move out of the city, due mainly to the fact that her mother lives here. I asked if her family had lived in Chicago their entire lives and she shared with me that she was from Lebanon. I told her that I had befriended a cab driver on whom I rely for very early morning trips to the airport when I travel. I shared that he, too, was from Lebanon. Her first question, "Is he a Christian?" I said, "No, he is Muslim and we have had very spirited discussions about Islam. He has helped me understand the important place that the Blessed Virgin Mary holds in his faith and how Jesus plays a key role in it as well." She said, "Well, I am a Christian, and a Catholic to boot."

Then came the tirade from this Christian. "Islam was founded by the prophet Mohammed on the sword. Throughout their history they have done nothing but kill Christians." She went on and on. "And don't get me started on Obama; he's one of them."

My reaction? Stunned silence. I wanted to say that the Church had killed in the name of religion over the centuries, but I decided not to engage any further with this Christian. What I had hoped to be a relaxing and meditative few minutes really filled me with disappointment and sadness.

The haircut? Quite fine. Will I return to Mona? Not a chance.

What would you have done in my situation?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New RCIA Intensive at MAC in Baltimore 2017: Are You Coming?

Tuesday greetings to all.

On Thursday and Friday of last week, the Association of Catholic Publishers (ACP) held their annual membership meeting here in Chicago. ACP is the professional membership organization for Catholic publishers, whose mission is to support "a viable, vibrant, and diverse Catholic publishing environment throughout North America and beyond. It seeks to provide visibility to, advocacy for, and sustainability of published Catholic content." WLP is a member of the ACP and at the membership meeting all of WLP's managers and I enjoyed the various workshops that were offered.

One of the major things that ACP does during the year is to co-sponsor the Mid-Atlantic Congress (MAC) with the Archdiocese of Baltimore. This year's congress "Blessed as Living Witnesses" will be held February 16-18 at the beautiful Hilton Hotel Inner Harbor in Baltimore.

The organizers have asked Mary Birmingham and I to present an intensive for RCIA ministers. The intensive, "RCIA: The Conjunction of Catechesis, Liturgy, and Apprenticeship," will be a great opportunity for attendees; this is not your usual one-hour workshop, but a much more thorough opportunity to learn about the RCIA and deal with the pastoral issues surrounding its implementation in parishes.

I was on the first steering committee when MAC was conceptualized. It was close to my heart because I was hoping that this would be a great forward-looking conference for those who minister in parishes through the East Coast, Eastern Canada, and beyond.

So I am putting the call out there for all of my friends and followers of this blog to consider attending the 2017 MAC in Baltimore. Registration and more information can be found here.

I am so hoping to see many, many more of my East Coast friends and colleagues at MAC in 2017!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Invitation into the RCIA

Monday greetings from the sunny Midwest.

Yesterday at Mass, as part of the announcements, our parish staff member who oversees the RCIA made an invitational announcement about the RCIA in our parish, and it was one of the finest I have ever heard.

She simply looked out at all of us and said something like this: "You may be someone who regularly or occasionally comes on Sunday to Old Saint Pat's and are interested in knowing more about becoming a Catholic; what this whole Catholic experience is all about. You may know someone in that situation as well. Or you may have been coming here for years and feel the need to know more about becoming a Catholic. Well, in a couple of weeks, on a Tuesday night, the RCIA team here at Old Saint Pat's will be welcoming any and all people who are interested in furthering the conversation. We meet every Tuesday for dinner and then we see where things go from there. So there are twenty of us waiting to assist anyone who is interested. It's all about community, growing in discipleship, and learning. You may only decide to stay for four weeks or six weeks, or you might want to go all the way to Easter and beyond. Everyone is welcome. I'll be standing outside the church after Mass to answer any of your questions."

Her tone was warm and inviting. I noticed several people talking with her after Mass.

Of course, our parish's RCIA process looks like the typical September to May "school model" approach to Christian initiation. I don't know enough of the details to know if readiness is discerned along the way or if everyone who stays all year is "discerned" ready for the sacraments all at the same time at Easter.

At any rate, I thought that the invitation was spot on. It certainly didn't sound like an invitation into a course in Roman Catholic doctrine, which way too many RCIA programs have morphed into.

What does your parish's invitation to the RCIA look like? Sound like?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Mass, Some Sand, and Me

Tuesday greetings to all, following this Labor Day weekend. Instead of resting from labor, I decided to tackle a large painting project on my roof in Chicago; three days of painting equals some aches and pains for this 58 year-old guy. But the place looks great. And what a beautiful weekend it was here in Chicago!

Because of the weekend project, I wanted to get as early a start as possible on Sunday morning, so I decided to go to my parish's first Sunday morning Mass, at 7:00 A.M. I don't think I have ever been to as early a Mass as this in my life. That time of the morning in downtown Chicago is so peaceful. It was wonderful entering the church that seemed to be waiting for us to begin the Lord's Day. There was no music, save for the singing of the Gospel Acclamation, the "Alleluia" from O Sons and Daughters, intoned by the celebrant in a very, and I mean very, low register.

This early Mass experience will certainly not become a routine for me. But I have to admit that there was something beautiful and simple about this early Mass. I have been trying to reflect more deeply on the experience since Sunday morning. My first (ghastly!) thought on Sunday was this: "Wow, I feel so much more connected to the scriptures because the 'distraction' of the music isn't there." Can you believe I was thinking that? After all, I'm the "gotta sing, gotta pray" guy. Upon further reflection, I don't believe that it was the lack of music that caused me to be more focused. I think it was because I was sitting in the third row, very attentive to the excellent lectors and the inspiring preaching. And there were no crying children in the church; it was a quiet and focused experience for me. I found my "inner dialogue" with God's word to be better nourished on Sunday morning.

All of this is in the context of some reading and reflecting I have been doing recently about the dissolution of my "Jerry-centric" universe. I read recently that there are most probably more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on our planet. Just think about the last time you were at the beach, anywhere. Think about only those grains of sand that stuck to the bottom of your feet or between your toes. Now imagine every single grain of sand on every single coastline and beneath the waters' surfaces on our planet. We cannot even imagine what that amount is. And yet, astronomers tell us that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on earth.

What implications does this have for personal faith in God the creator, who sent Jesus Christ into the world to save me? It has enormous implications. There could be millions of stars (just a very, very small fraction of the entire sum of stars) that have planets encircling them that support life; and these life-supporting planets in far away galaxies just might be places that God sent a Savior to as well. I do believe that the Creator did spark the created order, the cosmos, the universe. But the thoughts and beliefs fashioned in me over the decades made for a parallel, but mistaken, belief that someone I, and we humans on this planet, were, are, and always will be the center of that created order and that all of this was created for me, for us.

I am learning more every day what it means when theologians refer to God as "totally other."

Going to Mass on Sundays, knowing that I live on a human-life-supporting planet orbiting a star that is only like one grain of sand among all the grains of sand that exist on this planet earth, makes me question so much. But it also somehow strengthens my resolve that this one guy living on Monroe Street in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, United States, North America, Western Hemisphere, Planet Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, Universe, has somehow known the love of compassion and mercy of that "totally other" Creator who became like me in Jesus Christ.

Whew. I think I needed to write all that down. Living life on this planet, in this universe, is grand, isn't it?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.