Monday, March 27, 2017

A Call From the USCCB About This Morning's Post

Monday afternoon greetings.

A few hours after my blog post this morning, I received a call from the publishing arm of the USCCB regarding my post. The person who called me was inquiring about the post. She was cordial and sincere, asking me about what I said in the post. I explained that the use of the term "program" to describe the RCIA can send a confusing message; the term can define the RCIA as programmatic, another parish program, something that begins in September and ends in April or May. I explained that this kind of terminology is not used in the Rite itself; the Rite is clear that this is about an individual's journey of conversion to Christ; a journey that can never be neatly fit into a program; "the rite is suited to a spiritual journey." She apologized for not realizing that. She told me that she was new to the marketing department and that others had said that Journey to the Fullness of Life could be a useful tool for parishes. She admitted that it was not a timely resource and that the email should have described that fact in more detail. I was blunt and said that I expect more from the bishops' conference. She agreed.

Folks, I honestly felt that this was a moment of catechesis about the Rite and I was so grateful for the phone call and for this marketer's openness to learn and to enter into a dialogue. That really is the only way that the implementation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults will be be furthered in our parishes; through an honest exchange and dialogue.

So, be kind in your thoughts about the USCCB; a new person is on board trying to do her best to serve the Church; just a little slippage this morning.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

USCCB and the RCIA "Program": Really?

Monday greetings. Cool and soggy in the Midwest; looking forward to seeing the sun!

I just received a rather odd email from the USCCB. The subject line reads: "Assess and Improve Your RCIA Program." Of course I bristled at the labeling of the RCIA as a "program," especially from our bishops' conference. But I was intrigued as well, wondering what kind of new RCIA resource the bishops are releasing. It was even more surprising when I opened the email and found an image of the cover of Journey to the Fullness of Life."

Beneath the image were these words: "A report on the strengths and weaknesses as well as areas for growth of the RCIA program in the United States." Then, of course, the yellow "Order Now" button.

Apparently the publishing arm of the conference is trying to get rid of some back titles. The email should have explained that this "report" was based on a study done in 1997 and released in the year 2000. So the information gathered is twenty years old and the report is seventeen years old. A bit of false advertising, if you ask me. Sure, there are still some useful things in the report, but if someone thinks this is new information, they are in for a rude awakening. The USCCB should know better, or at least warn potential readers.

Monday morning rant now concluded; thanks for listening.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Friday, March 24, 2017

No, I Didn't Sing

There I stood at the United Center here in Chicago last night, awaiting the start of the Blackhawks game against the Dallas Stars.

At these games, shortly before the national anthem is sung by a strong tenor, three United States servicemen or women are led onto the ice. Last night, there was a veteran of World War II in a wheelchair, and two young men in uniform. Cheers erupt wildly from the stands as they are introduced to the crowd, deservedly so. These are people who protect our nation from harm. Then the opening chords of the introduction to the anthem are played by the organist and the anthem begins. Several years ago, in May of 1985, before a particularly tense playoff game against the Edmonton Oilers, a new "tradition" was born in Chicago. Blackhawks fans clapped and cheered during the entire anthem, a tradition that continues to this day. The fervor in the arena is palpable throughout the singing of the anthem. I must admit that I have been caught up in that fervor.

As I stood there last night, several thoughts came to me. The first is one that has has gnawed at me for years. Why is the national anthem played or sung before sporting events that have nothing to do with any type of national pride or history? Why, for instance, are servicemen and service women paraded out before the crowds; what does any of this have to do with the fact that we are about to watch a hockey game? The other thought, of course, was the one about which I blogged yesterday. At a time when many of our country's leaders, including the president, are working for their own gain and neglecting the poor and disenfranchised, are turning their backs on those who seek a better life within our borders (many of whom are fleeing unimaginable horror in their lands of birth), are inciting fear, racism, and bigotry; why should I join my voice and sing an anthem that seems to celebrate the downward spiral this country is inexorably caught in?

So, last night, I stood there and I did not sing. I clapped quietly. Amid the cacophony that assaulted my ears, I thought about the good that people here in the United States still do, despite the direction our country is being taken. I thought about my family's struggle with chronic illness and the little kindnesses we extend to one another. I thought about the fact that I can worship freely at my parish, Old Saint Patrick's. I thought about the efforts many of my colleagues here at WLP have done to assist the refugee family from Afghanistan that we are trying to help resettle here.

I came to the conclusion that I cannot let this president and those who follow him define who we are as a country. In my own small worlds of influence and just sheer day-to-day living, it is my responsibility to define who we are as a country.

I hope, some day, to begin singing the anthem again.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

I Just Can't Sing It Anymore

As many of you know, I am an avid hockey fan. I enjoy watching the Chicago Blackhawks and being at the United Center in person to watch a game is both thrilling and an emotional release for me.

On Tuesday evening of this week, I was at the United Center to cheer on the Chicago Blackhawks; they were hosting the Vancouver, Canada Canucks. When a Canadian team plays the Blackhawks at the United Center, the pre-game festivities include the singing of the Canadian national anthem, O Canada, followed by the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner. Truth be told, I just love the Canadian anthem and I get emotional each time I join in singing it. When I sing the words, "my home and native land," I recall my ancestors who emigrated to the United States from Canada. I am French-Canadian by ethnicity and ancestry through and through. I have come to love Canada, chiefly because of the marvelous people I have met and befriended in my many trips there in the last thirty years. They embody hospitality.

When the festivities on Tuesday evening turned to the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner, I began to join in the singing, just as I had done with the Canadian anthem. But then I stopped singing. I just couldn't sing it anymore. It was as if the entire election cycle, and the ensuing months since President Trump's election, came crashing down around me. I thought about the Afghanistan refugee family that we have helped sponsor here in Chicago. I thought about my ancestors who were welcomed into the United States as immigrants in the last century. I thought about the wonderful craftsmen, all Polish immigrants, who are currently remodeling my home; I thought about the great pride they have in their craft. 

I just couldn't sing it anymore. I thought about "the wall." I thought about the fear that our president has planted in the hearts of too many; a fear that is based on non-Christian principles of exclusion and alienation. I thought about relatives and friends who have been duped into believing in someone who treats women like trash. I thought about how proud I have been of this country and how quickly that pride has been eroded. Folks, I hate the fact that I have to say these things, and this blog is probably not the place to do so; I have rarely, if ever, "talked politics" here. For someone who's "gotta sing," I found my reaction on Tuesday night deeply troubling.

A few minutes ago, I came across the statement on immigration just issued by the bishops of the United States. It made me want to sing a song of thanksgiving for their prophetic voices, because I've "gotta sing" about something in these very troubling days for our country. Please read the statement and let's all do what the bishops ask us to do. Here you go:

The word of God is truly alive today. "When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt" (Lev. 19:33-34).

To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the resurrection. To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear. Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future. As shepherds of a pilgrim Church, we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: "We are with you." They may also be a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence. It is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity.

Intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well. When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus? Within our diverse backgrounds are found common dreams for our children. Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, "out of many, one." In doing so, we will also realize God's hope for all His children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14), strengthens us to bring our words to life. How might we, as Catholics and in our own small way, bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life?

1. Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children.

2. Meet with members of your parish who are newcomers, listen to their story and share your own. Hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees both to comfort them and to help them know their rights. It is also important to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other's concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.

3. Call, write or visit your elected representative and ask them to fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.

As Pope Francis said, "To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey towards our heavenly homeland." 

If you are offended in any way by what I wrote today, please know that I respect your own opinions and ask you to respect mine. I just couldn't keep silent, since our bishops called us to "reach out in loving dialogue."

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Training, Last-Wording, and Being Fed and Challenged

Wednesday greetings.

The past few days have been busy ones here. One of my responsibilities here at J.S. Paluch/World Library Publications is to facilitate the corporate portion of the training of our J.S. Paluch Advertising Sales Executives. These are the wonderful people who sell advertising to businesses for parish bulletins. Parish bulletins are printed by the J.S. Paluch Company here in Franklin Park, Illinois and at our printing facilities in California and Florida. The revenue generated by these advertisements in parish bulletins pays for the printing and shipping of the parish bulletin, so the parish receives them from us free of charge. We had a great two days of training together.

I have been invited to be a very small part of a concert this coming Friday evening at my parish, Old Saint Patrick's here in Chicago. The renowned Haymarket String Quartet will be performing Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ. As part of the performance, they have asked seven of us to give a less-than-two-minute reflection on these seven "words." I was assigned these: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I am a little nervous; two of the others offering reflections are Dr. Martin Marty and Fr. Ed Foley. I have been reflecting for a little over a week and wrote down my initial thoughts this morning. I will share them with you next week.

On Sunday I attended the 9:30 Mass in the lower hall at Old Saint Patrick's. I took a couple of photos.

It was standing room only in the church and the hall was packed; I would guess that another 50-70 were standing downstairs. Something's going right at this parish, for sure. I felt fed and challenged; a good "Woman at the Well" weekend for me.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Saint Mary Magdalene: Right In My Office!

Yesterday, our owner, Mary Lou Paluch Rafferty, stopped by my office to talk about her parish mission, which was led by Fr. Richard Fragomeni. Richard is one of our authors, was a professor of mine at Catholic Theological Union, and has been a colleague and friend for many years. As a gift to the parish, he gave them a "first class" relic of Saint Frances Cabrini. This got me thinking about relics and the fact that I was given a relic many years ago.

When I was preparing to leave my first ministerial position at Saint Mary Magdalen in Altamonte Springs, Florida, one of our parishioners approached me. Bettye was a "small person," had sung in our parish choir, was on the liturgy commission, and participated in many other parish ministries and events. She never let her diminutive size get in her way; she drove a huge, specially-equipped van, and was always quite a presence.

She came into my office as I was packing and she said she had a gift for me, a relic of Saint Mary Magdalen. I was a little skeptical, but I thanked her for her gift. I have had it in every office in which I have worked since leaving the parish in 1990.

Well, yesterday, after my conversation with Mary Lou, I decided to do some investigating. Here are a few photos of the relic, which is housed in a metal case embedded in a small cross.

I suddenly remembered yesterday that Bettye also gave me a small gold and marble box, which I had in a cabinet here in my credenza.

I lifted the cloth piece and found a piece of paper hidden beneath.

I realized that this was what people who work with the authentication of relics call "the papers."

Since Fr. Fragomeni is, what many consider an expert in the field of relics, I decided to send him a scanned copy of "the papers." It looked pretty official to me and was written in Latin.

I received a response from him late last night:

Now, the relic about which you ask.
This is a Ferrante relic. He was the Redemptorist postulator for relics in Rome.
What you have is the document for a relic of St. Mary Magdalene, Penitent. It was sealed in Rome on May 3, 1975.
It is a first class relic ex ossibus . . . from her bones. I assume you have the theca with the piece of bone. This is a holy gift and a sacramental of a great woman: the apostle to the apostles.

I was floored. Even reading that again gives me chills.

I feel like I need to have some kind of ritual on July 22 each year, her feast day.

This is such an inspiration to me, as I try to do my best at this discipleship business. Having a relic of Saint Mary Magdalene close to me will surely continue to inspire.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lives Crossing Again

Wednesday greetings from the frigid Midwest.

Sometimes your life crosses another life for a brief span of years. Then time, distance, and new directions in both lives mean a sense of separation. Last night I experienced a reunion of sorts. When I first moved to Florida from Boston in 1985, I was terribly homesick and I was "adopted" by a family in the parish. Their oldest son was an avid runner and his enthusiasm was infectious, so I became a runner/jogger myself. This was a strong Catholic family, involved in our Catholic school and in many of the parish's ministries. I would head over to their home after Midnight Mass and wake up with them as the baby Jesus was placed in the creche and the gift-opening would commence. It just gave me that sense of being "at home" in a faraway place, distant from my own immediate family.

Last night, I had dinner with that oldest boy, now a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, his wife, and their four sparkling, witty, and just-plain-fun sons.  It was a marvelous evening and it was such a delight for me to see how dedicated this family is to their Catholicism. I had this sense of some kind of fatherly pride as I watched them all interact, wondering if perhaps I had some small influence on this man's life.

These opportunities are rare, but when they do occur, one is left with simply a good feeling. We led the family onto a train on Chicago's transit system so that the boys could see Wrigley Field. The sense of wonder in their eyes was so gratifying.

I am grateful to God for the encounter, which brought so many wonderful memories back to my mind and heart, accompanied by a sense that I had contributed in some small way perhaps, to the Catholic foundation of this family of six. Thank you, Lord.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.