Sunday, November 29, 2015

Choose Your Advent Attitude: RESOLVE to Run to Meet Christ

In the Collect for today's Mass we heard - for the 5th year in a row - words which are by now becoming familiar:
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,

so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom."
The key to all this is that we are asking God for something called "resolve." Just what IS that?

According to the Miriam Webster Thesaurus, resolve is
firm or unwavering adherence to one's purpose
Synonyms decidedness, decision, decisiveness, determinedness, firmness, granite, purposefulness, resoluteness, resolution, resolve, stick-to-itiveness
Related Words doggedness, obduracy, obdurateness, obstinacy, obstinateness, perseverance, persistence, persistency, stubbornness, tenaciousness, tenacity; certainty, certitude, confidence, sureness; alacrity, eagerness, gameness, readiness; backbone, fortitude, grit, iron, pluck, sand
Near Antonyms doubt, incertitude, indetermination, uncertainty; aversion, disinclination, indisposition, reluctance, unwillingness
Antonyms hesitation, indecision, indecisiveness, irresoluteness, irresolution, vacillation
This is a great summary of what we are asking of God. We want to avoid all doubt and uncertainty, but instead to have the firmness of purpose to be ready to be ready for Christ, no matter what happens. In a world torn by conflict, hatred, bigotry and war, this is a pretty tall order. We are really asking for the same kind of certainty that recent Christian martyrs slain by ISIS have had. They died rather than deny Christ. Could we?

Not without the grace of faith. In the end, it is this for which we ask. Faith is not something we decide we will have. So, we ask God to send us the sort of confidence, that dispels the darkness of a world in a nighttime of fear and uncertainty, We ask this at Mass, because it is through the Eucharist that we can be transformed from people of fear to people of faith, from people of hesitation to people of eagerness.

We need Advent light now more than ever: to stand on tiptoe in anticipation of the dawn of what Jesus and the Prophets called "The Day of the Lord." This Advent, don't slump with fear and uncertainty. Instead, as we heard in today's Gospel reading, "stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand." (Luke 21:28) This should be your Advent attitude.  Raise your heads and look for the dawn.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The LORD is King: In Him Alone is Hope

This weekend, amid the uncertainty and political turmoil in the wake of recent violent terrorist activity, we find ourselves at the end of the liturgical year. As we turn the page to The-Solemnity-Formerly-Known-as-Christ-the-King, the first thing that strikes me is that the new name, "The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe" expands our very image of Christ. No longer is he just King over all the earth. Now, he is King of the Universe. (How very interesting that despite formal rejection of the theology of the Cosmic Christ, the name of this feast almost begs for it.)

If Jesus is all-powerful King, then every knee should bow indeed. No power on earth or anywhere else in the universe can match him. No political leader, no king, no dictator means anything in the end. What would such a universe look like if we took that seriously? Interesting to consider.

More than that, this is a celebration that helps us see who is really in charge. It's not us. It's This Guy:

R.  The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty.  
The LORD is king, in splendor robed;
robed is the LORD and girt about with strength.
R. The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty.
And he has made the world firm,
not to be moved.
Your throne stands firm from of old;
from everlasting you are, O LORD.
R. The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty.
Your decrees are worthy of trust indeed;
holiness befits your house,
O LORD, for length of days.
R. The LORD is king; he is robed in majesty.

If Christ the King of the Universe "the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth" is in control, if "his decrees are worthy of trust indeed," as long as we believe and trust, there is nothing to fear. Not terrorism. Not uncertainty about what people might or might not do if allowed into our country. We need only to follow his commands - to "Do this in memory of me." (Celebrate the Mass and receive Eucharist) and "Go forth and preach, teach and make disciples" - (Evangelize)  Most of all, we need to "Do as I have done" - wash feet, be servants, not masters, and trust in the will of the Father, even when it leads into Paschal Mystery - suffering, death - because that ultimately, leads to resurrection. 

If in Christ alone is certainty, then in the end, all we have is hope - and the promise that all will be well. At the end of time, good will prevail.  "The Lord is my light and my salvation. Of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Why Parishes Should Provide Ongoing Liturgical Catechesis on the Mass: "Intelligent Worship"

The best bit of wisdom in this week's second installment of Fr. Douglas Martis' Elements of the Catholic Mass is the reminder that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy made it incumbent on pastors to see that the faithful are properly prepared for their role at Mass.

He quotes:
"But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain. Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects." Sacrosanctum Consilium, 11
So, when was the last time YOUR parish provided support for full participation in the Mass by helping the laity to understand their role, both interior and exterior?  What ongoing support is there for them? You may want to start by sharing these weekly videos on the Mass, by giving the link and the study guide for each episode to small groups  or using them as opening prayer for parish meetings....

Or by downloading and distributing this handout on participation.

By the way, watch for more information on an upcoming new series of instructional books, From Mass to Mission: Understanding the Mass and its Significance for Our Christian Life on participation in the Mass for adults, teens and children from Liturgy Training Publications.  Yours truly was privileged to be asked to author the children's book and the accompanying teacher's guide! Publication will be early next year... (and the children's book will include a nicer version of my handout above.)

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Deeper Invitation: Elements of the Catholic Mass Video Series

This week, the Liturgical Institute at Mundelein launched a powerful new initiative - a series of short weekly videos on the Mass by director Fr. Douglas Martis that invites lay people into the beauty of the liturgy. Martis, whose liturgical expertise has roots in his studies in France, offers a look into the deeper meaning of the Mass that is not generally presented to the ordinary Catholic - and, if the first videos are any indication, he will do this by breaking open liturgical theology for the rest of us. His teaser video offers his reasons for offering this liturgical catechesis

In short, his experience of the joy that people have shown when they are helped to understand why we worship the way we do has motivated him to create a way to share his expertise and love for the Mass more widely - one short bite at a time.

Episode 1 goes deep - very deep - into the nature of the liturgy, the God we worship and why we do what we do, by exploring the meanings of  liturgy as "the work of the people," the work of Christ who saves us, and even bigger, the work of God:

Download this episode's study guide here.

Each week the Liturgical Institute promises a new video in this series. You can subscribe to receive the link in your email here. I, for one, will be looking forward to my Sunday morning inbox.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Stability of Ritual: When Your World is Chaos,Turn to the Mass

In Thursday night's Late Show interview with Stephen Colbert, Vice President Joe Biden, speaking about the role of his Catholic faith in dealing with the loss of his son, said this about the Mass, the Rosary and the comfort he derives from the regular practice of his faith:

“Some of it relates to ritual, some if relates to just comfort and what you’ve done your whole life.”

Bingo. When your whole world is sliding into emotional chaos, the familiar ritual of the Mass can be an island of calm - an anchor in a stormy sea. While Biden might not be able to name why this is so, he knows it in his heart.

I first discovered this truth while attending Mass each week during my RCIA experience, I quickly grew to love the ritual words and actions. I felt I had come "home." For an hour, I could leave my cares behind and enter into a time outside of time. It simply felt "right." Later, I stumbled into the Sunday morning choir Mass one day after my husband had asked for a divorce and received solace not only from fellow choir members, but from participating in the familiar postures, gestures, words and song of the Mass. There was definitely something healing in that experience  for me that day.

In other times of loss or transition through the years, I have similarly found relief in the Mass, most notably six years ago, when the man I loved died suddenly. For the first few months, I remember fighting tears often as song lyrics and Mass prayers caused me emotional turmoil, but I also remember a strong sense of the Mass as a trustworthy anchor in which I felt the presence of God.

The human need for ritual has been well-documented by anthropologists - and more recently, scientists. It's so strong, that even those who don't attend church tend to gravitate toward activities that involve ritual elements (such as sports) or to create "new traditions."

Yet the Mass, as divine ritual, is so much more than mere human rituals. Imbued with the very person of Jesus Christ, present in the gathered people, the person of the priest, the Word and the Eucharist, the Mass joins us to all times, places and believers, including those in Heaven. In remembering Jesus's Paschal Mystery, we discover its power among us today, and taste its future glory. We hear the words of the one who was, is and always will be the Word. We dine at the Eucharistic banquet along with angels, saints and holy ones gathered at the heavenly banquet.

The Mass is quite simply the Ritual of Rituals. It is the summit, the highest form of solemn ceremony, because its roots are in the words and actions of Jesus and his Apostles. So, when Joe Biden says he found "comfort" in the ritual elements of his faith, it's nothing to sneeze at. The spiritual consolations we receive from the Mass are real and important. They are certainly not the only reason we go to Mass, but they may be, in part, what gets people to repeat their participation.

Joe Biden, like many Catholics, rediscovers his center at the Mass, even while suffering the deep grief of a parent who has lost a child. “I go to Mass, and I’m able to be just alone, even in a crowd,”he said. While this is possibly not fully articulated, he appears to be trying to express the holiness and peace he finds, even while part of the gathered assembly. We are one with God, at the same time we are one with each other. In that, we find our deepest selves.

The Mass affords us all an opportunity to experience the dependable love of God, which like the ritual through which it is expressed, is unchanging. May all Catholics who struggle, like Joe Biden, find their peace and hope in the power of the Mass.

Colbert Opens the Door - Joe Biden Walks Right In: A Catholic Evangelization Moment on National TV

Last night, Stephen Colbert (who is not at all shy about his Catholic faith) conducted an extraordinary interview of Vice President Joe Biden - and Biden, in simple, heartfelt sincerity, shared how his Catholic faith, going to Mass and saying the Rosary, have been instrumental in his emotional survival of the death of his son Beau. It was one of the best Catholic moments on TV.
After some initial small talk, Colbert skillfully navigates the conversation to faith, knowing full well he is speaking to a faithful Catholic man. At this point, the tone of the interview takes on a quality of deep sincerity, as Biden begins by expressing humility and a sense that he is not the only worthy example. After describing briefly the role of his faith, Biden concludes: "So many of the good things of my life have happened around the culture of my religion and the theology of my religion."   Watch it here:

The second half of the interview turns to the role of the Vice President, but again back to navigating the landscape of loss...  the underlying message, however, is a strong testimony to Biden's character, to family, and indirectly, to faith.

All I can say is that this is very powerful stuff, even when sprinkled with the obligatory late-night jokes. These two talked about things that matter last night.

I find myself deeply affected. I hope that The Late Show with Stephen Colbert will provide us with many more such moments where the beauty and value of Catholic faith are lifted up in a positive light. Colbert sits in a position to deliver the message in a unique and powerful way, laced with his trademark humor and fully engaging the world.  This could be one of the most significant Catholic evangelization platforms ever.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

On the Air

It's been a while since I posted in this space. But don't think I have spent the summer relaxing. That would so not be "me." Actually, I've been busy. Really, really busy.

Yesterday, I was privileged to participate in a stimulating, high-energy interview with my friend and colleague Jonathan Sullivan on liturgical catechesis, in which we spoke of many things, including the importance of how catechists go about encouraging families to participate in the liturgy. You can view it here (Warning: I do tend to "get going.")

This comes at the end of a summer that also included preparing for a national webinar for Liturgy Training Publications on getting families to Mass, and completing a book and teacher's guide for children, grades 3-6 on the Mass. (publication date TBA)

Combine that with a busy summer at work and the usual gearing up at the beginning of the catechetical year, which starts in mid July and will continue until October, I hope you can see why blogging has taken a back seat to other projects. More in this space as I find time and inspiration...