Sunday, February 28, 2010

Multimedia Meets Communal Penance Service

The Holy Spirit is hard at work in my parish, as always. When our liturgy planning committee began to plan for Lent, several of us, independently, encountered resources and ideas that convinced us our Lenten focus should be on reconnecting with our Baptismal call as we accompany our catechumens to the font. This is what we have been doing - each week focusing on a symbol or action from the Rite of Baptism.

Then, I encountered this amazing video that says so much about what the relation between Lent and Baptism:

Powerful images, no? This is formational - each time we watched it, we saw more meaning.

When people enter the church for our Communal Penance Service in a few weeks, we will be running this video repeatedly. When we begin, we will run it one last time, and Spanish speakers will proclaim the translations of the English words that appear on the screen. Then our bilingual liturgy will begin. The Examination of Conscience will ask us to recover our baptismal purity - and at the end, the presider will lead us to the font, near the door, and ask all to dip their hand into the water and bless themselves as they leave.

Now, understand, this is not a parish with big screens on the walls - this is new for us to try something like this.  A step forward into the age of media. One small step for St. John's Parish. One large step for the People of God!

Thanks to Sister Caroline Cerveny for posting this video for me to find... to enrich our Lenten experience.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Liturgy of joy: we can dance when we want to!

Liturgy really can be a celebration.  This is the most amazing moment from the Rite of Election - from the Diocese of San Jose. It opens with the song "Sign me up for the Christian Jubilee" (you can hear the closing bars of the song before the cantor moves on to the invitation of the elect to stand.)  Be sure to watch the whole thing. (The fellow in the foreground apparently can hardly wait!)

Rite of Election 2009 video, Diocese of San Jose (hi-res) from Diana Macalintal on Vimeo.

What does this teach us about welcome, about joy, about the love we want to share with our catechumens? Volumes!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday - an encounter with young adult postmodernism

I actually heard him before I saw him. The young man in the checkout lane was carrying on a rather loud conversation with the woman in front of me as I got in line. He talked too loudly and too much, as if he needed to fill a void with his continuous chatter and nervous laughter. As I stepped up and laid my purchases on the counter, he glanced at my forehead and quipped: "Ash Wednesday, huh?" "Yes," I answered as I laid my purchases on the counter and pushed the can of tuna to the front. "Got my fish," I announced'

The young man assured me that he, too would have gotten his ashes today, but he had slept until noon and then had to work until tonight.  As he finished checking me out, I told him not to forget his fish or cheese pizza that night. Immediately he responded with energy that although he was greatful that Jesus had died for him, he wasn't going to let that keep him from eating meat if he wanted! Obviously I had pushed a button, because he repeated that nobody was going to tell him what he could and could not eat. Surprised at his outburst, I mumbled something about it being hard to explain, as he continued to rant as I headed for the door, telling myself that either he was an uncatechized young Catholic, or a Christian of a denomination that still claimed the Ash Wednesday tradition in part but had lost the attached disciplines of fast and abstinence.

 No matter what the case, the  young man was exhibiting a dinstnctly postmodern mistrust of authority. He was not going to let anyone else determine his actions, and if I had continued to press, no doubt he would have echoed the statement I remember hearing from a 7th grader a number of years ago: "What does what God wants have to do with me? Why should I care?" (The inference: I dare you to prove to me that anyone, even God, has authority over me.) 

Interesting that even though he would not acknowledge anyone else's authority to make decisions for him, he felt inclined, at the outset of our conversation, to tell me he would have gotten his ashes, but....  He connected with the ash cross, even though he might be ignorant of its deeper meaning of discipleship and obedience to the discipline of God's will, not his. 

Her rather reminds me of those who elect to go to a "distribution of ashes" service without attending a Mass and receiving Eucharist. That, I always have said, is getting the sign of the promise to change without receiving the nourishment to assist the effort.  they miss the true reason for the ashes, at the same time, for some reason of habit or custom, they desire to receive them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Aren't We Proud to Profess What We Believe?

Yesterday at lunch at our diocesan center a small group of us at table were sharing our experience of Catholics at worship - and how often those of us who are musicians, facing the people, see the "zombies" standing there, with their lips not moving during the spoken and sung parts of the Mass. Someone brought up the question about how when the Creed is recited - there is such a lack of enthusiasm as people often mumble through it as if it is a chore and not a privilege and part of our baptismal call.

I know that group recitation of the Creed does have its pitfalls - we do tend to be distractible "sheep." Years ago, on Christmas Day, an elderly priest who frequently celebrated Mass at my home parish knelt down at the words describing the Incarnation, as perscribed, but then, because of his age, had difficulty getting back up. The assembly froze in horror, everyone in the room holding their breath as he finally struggled to his feet. By then, we were 'lost" - no one could remember the next words. There was a prolonged, embarrased silence. Then, one of the gutsy gals in the choir grabbed the hymnal, flipped it open, found the next words and shouted them out - and the relieved people were back on the train again.

My current parish assembly will often sing pretty well, and sometimes the responses are pretty good in the Preface Dialog, but the softness with which they proclaim the Creed has often bothered me. Our presiders are good about turning off their microphones so their voices do not stand out during the recitation, but it is notable how unenthusiastic and barely audible the people are. They are better for the Lord's Prayer, but why not the Creed, which although longer and more complicated, should be just as well-known to them?

Why is the Creed, the fundamental statement of what we believe, often such an anemic moment at Mass? And when the text changes from the new Translation come in and people have to read it, will they be louder, or softer, or just drop out when the words are not familiar?  Why does it just seem like the Creed is something we have to get through?

I am struck by the incongruity of the "performance" of the Creed and the words spoken by the presider after the Renewal of Baptismal Promises during the Rite of Infant Baptism and before Confirmation: "This is our faith. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord." The people's response is "Amen."  ARE we proud to profess it?  Many good Catholic people profess the faith by the witness of their lives - so why not with their lips?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Seeing Christ in the Face of the Poor - A Catechetical Moment

The homeless man sat, cross-legged on the sidewalk, his head slumped forward, dozing as the snow continued to fall, leaning over the small cardboard sign that read "Please Help".  Getting out of my car to go into the store, I walked over, greeted  politely and waited for him to respond.  He awoke at my second greeting - and I held out some money, asking gently, "Would this help you?" The head snapped up, and I was shocked to see he had a very angry-red-purple recent black eye. Someone had been beating him up - my heart sank in compassion. Blessing me, he shot me a toothless grin and took the money, continuing to call out his thanks as I turned away.  He was gone when I looked out the store window a few minutes later. I, however, was haunted for hours by the memory of the black eye and the sense that unlike him, no matter how challenging my life might be, was incredibly lucky to have food, ready cash, and a warm home to go back to. I felt regret that I had not talked to him longer or given him more.

Last year, during Lent, our parish focused on seeing Christ in the face of the poor, using a large hand-painted icon with haunting eyes (shown left) designed and painted by two parish artists. Those eyes, however, were not nearly as haunting as those of the homeless man.  In him, I saw a human being beaten down by life, his dignity stripped away, yet with enough essential humanity to express his gratitude with sincerity. It was the suffering Christ that haunted and still haunts me in that memory. "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers..."  Was it enough?  Why didn't I have the courage to do even more?

As a catechist and trainer of catechists, I have for a long time felt that my ministry is less-directly to the poor and those suffering injustice, and more toward teaching those who teach others about the poor.

Recently, I heard Sr. Helen Prejean tell about her life, how as a well-off child and later as a teacher-sister in Louisiana, she was sheltered from direct experience with poor people. It was not until she was asked to be a pen-pal with someone on death row that she encountered the life of the less-fortunate, and, as she put it, was drawn "into the fire".   Like Sr. Helen, although I normally give to several charities and am reasonably generous when appeals are presented to me, I have had little direct contact with the poor.  The encounter yesterday was surprisingly moving.  Truly a catechetical moment for me. I will be reflecting on how this should change me for some time to come.

This underlines the importance of direct service projects for youth - but more than that - for adults in the Church. If we sit in our comfortable pews and toss money into the basket when asked to contribute to a direct appeal, I think we run the risk of being too insulated from the poor.   The church needs to find more ways to provide wake-up-call moments of direct contact. Better yet, the poor need to know they are always welcome in our churches.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

If We Don't Even Give it Much Attention, Why Would People Bother?

I am hard at work finalizing a resource list for our bishop's approval for our diocesan Year of the Eucharist - gathering information on books, media, web resources, text supplements, etc. for enrichment for people of all ages on the sacraments of Eucharist and Penance (Reconciliation)  but I am finding it difficult to locate much for the latter that is not related to preparation of children for the sacrament. While Catholic authors, teachers and publishers have expended great effort to resource our ability to enrich adults to understand Eucharist, and rightly so, there is quite a bit less to support an updated understanding of Reconciliation for adults.

With relatively few Catholic adults participating in the sacrament on a regular basis, apparently either it is difficult to explain in a fruitful way, or there is not much market for such resources. High-quality pastoral resources, like the little book Reconciliation by Bishop Robert Morneau (Orbis RCL?Benziger adult spirituality series) and the small-group resource from Archdiocese of Milwaukee/LPI, Reconciliation: The Unfolding Mercy of God's Mercy and Love are relatively few.

So, I have to ask - if we don't bother - if we put little energy into updating people's understanding of this sacrament - why would your average Catholic adult change their mind? If people think of Confession as unpleasant, irrelevant and unnecessary - and they associate images of the old-fashioned confessional box, such as pictured above or shown on TV or the movies with the sacrament, it's no wonder few avail themselves of it.