Sunday, March 27, 2011

First Scrutiny - Moved to Tears

This morning at Mass, we celebrated the First Scrutiny with our catechumen.  Casey is a very young adult, and very unchurched.  She came to us this morning, her hair in a messy pony tail, wearing jeans with holes and a hoodie with the word "Love" emblazoned on the chest, and was seated in the front row.

As the cantor, I could see her clearly.  Her participation in Mass was minimal, but it was clear she was listening. The story of the Woman at the Well seemed to engage her attention. After the homily, she stood up, obviously only knowing the bare outline of what was to happen (as is proper, she was not over-rehearsed).  She stood in the center aisle, among the people, with her sponsor, bowing her head as the invitation to prayer over her and intercessions were read.

Then the surprise happened.

The presider asked the people from the parish community seated immediately around her to stand and place their hands on Casey's shoulders.  A group of people rose and joined her and her sponsor as the Prayer of Exorcism was read, asking for healing and protection for her from Satan as she enters her final preparations for baptism at the Easter Vigil.  Her face told it all - she got it.  She was fighting back tears all through the prayer at the enormity of the realization that the entire community was supporting her and holding her up in prayer. It was powerfully evident that she understood that Christ wanted her for his own so much that his whole people was praying for her in love.... that "Love" on the front of her shirt had finally found the reason she had chosen to wear it this morning.

Good liturgy finds ways to foster those "gotcha" moments - to demonstrate the love of God in such ways as can move participants along in their journey to conversion.  This morning, Casey was moved to tears - and later on to delight, as near the end of Mass, a couple renewed their marriage vows on their 25th anniversary - once again surrounded by the love and affirmation of the community. She grinned with joy as she realized what was about to happen when they came up - this, too, was obviously new to her. Again, she got it.

Church is essentially the love of Christ poured out to and through his community of faith. We have to keep trying to find good ways to show that through how we celebrate - to newcomers and to each other.

Thanks to Jerry Galipeau, for his great idea from his recent workshop about placing her in the center of the people and inviting them to lay hands on her.... it works! And thanks to my parish RCIA leaders and pastoral staff - for having the courage to try this.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Third Sunday of Lent: Discipleship of Hope in Christ

The following is the article that will appear in this week's bulletin at my parish, as the third installment of our reflection on the qualities of a mature disciple, as outlined in paragraph 75 of the RCIA.

Third Sunday of Lent:  The Discipleship of Hope in Christ

At baptism, we were called to become disciples of Jesus.  Adults preparing for baptism and children baptized as infants look to us to teach them how to become people who “in all things… keep their hopes set on Christ.” (RCIA 75)  A true Christian never loses hope, never gives up, because he or she knows that Jesus has already won the victory – that through his suffering, death and Resurrection, Christ has defeated sin and death.   No matter how much we suffer in this life, we know that Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us with God, where we and our loved ones who end their earthly life as baptized, believing disciples of Christ, will live, not die.  Nothing can overcome that promise.  What does that mean for our daily life?  Our baptism calls us to be beacons of hope in a very dark world.  While non-believers point to evil in the world, we must not fear to show that as Christians we are not afraid. 

Look at Jesus, not at the darkness.  Like the woman at the well, know that he is the Messiah, our Savior. Show your children and those preparing to become Christians that this is not a world of despair, but one of hope.  Even in worldly unhappiness, we can have a deep, unconquerable joy because of the “living water” Jesus gives us and because of what He did for us.

Joyce Donahue, for the St. John’s Liturgy Planning Committee

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Second Sunday of Lent: Discipleship of Witness

Here is what will appear this weekend in my parish bulletin - the second installment of our examination of the 5 elements of mature discipleship described in paragraph 75 of the RCIA:

As we continue our Lenten journey with those to be baptized at Easter, we are their examples of mature baptized disciples.  RCIA section 75 says that those preparing for baptism learn from the community to “give witness to the faith.”  All the baptized should be evangelists for Jesus Christ in their words and deeds – and give testimony publicly to the goodness of God.  We do that when we live the teachings of Jesus in all our relationships and commitments, but we also should never to be afraid to tell about our faith.  The adults preparing for baptism and the children of our community look to us to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and to learn to speak of it themselves.  Quite simply, this is how the Catholic faith is passed on.  Do you live your faith “out loud?”  Do you talk to your children and friends about how God has helped you?

We learn of Jesus’ Transfiguration in today’s Gospel from the words of the disciples who were there that day and saw what happened. The witness of the Gospel writers, who carefully preserved every detail, has passed the faith down to us.  Our baptism calls us to pass it to others.  Lent is a time to consider how  we can  have the courage to be a witness.

Joyce Donahue, for the St. John’s Liturgy Planning Committee

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Social Networking Death - Comfort from the Church Virtual

Bob Piercy, a talented, creative man and a fixture on the liturgical music and workshop scene as well as the amateur stage in the Joliet and Chicago area, passed  away tonight after a long battle with "graft vs. host disease" a complication of bone marrow transplants.  He will be missed. You can read more about him here.

I first met Bob in 1990 at the Office for Divine Worship in the Archdiocese of Chicago, when I was temporary coordinator for the Office of Christian Music and Worship for the Diocese of Rockford. I can remember several trips I made up there with members of the Liturgical Commission to consult about what to do about our closed office. Over the intervening years our paths crossed occasionally at conferences. I watched as he published several resources on praying liturgically and singing with children. He was good at what he did. My last conversations with him were some months ago when he still hoped to prepare lesson plans for children for implementation of the new Roman Missal.  Over time, it became clear this would not happen, as his energy level was much too low to work. I sensed his frustration at wanting to do so much and being able to do so little.

Tonight, as he lay dying, someone in the room was reading to him from emails and Facebook postings - as people who knew him over the years sent in their prayers, gratitude and best wishes.  A post on his wall tonight explained that someone was reading these to him and that he seemed comforted by this. The wall shows many, many people sending their thoughts.... which continue beyond the post from the family that Bob had gone to be with God.

Although many of his friends were miles away, thanks to Facebook and email, they could still affirm him and support him in prayer as he crossed into eternal life. The "Church Virtual" - the community of people who cared about Bob, near and far, was indeed gathered tonight. Rest in peace, Bob. You are loved. You will be missed.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What Good Am I, If... A Cry for Charity and Justice

Just found this powerful song from iconic British pop singer Tom Jones, who has reinvented himself as a gospel singer.  His moving rendition of "What Good Am I" particularly struck me as a powerful call to love our neighbor - to step out of our egocentrism and reach out to help, in charity and the change the lives of the unfortunate by working for justice. A great song to meditate on for Lent.

Here are the lyrics:

What good am I - if I'm like all the rest 
If I just turn away - when I see how you're dressed 
If I shut myself off - so I can't hear you cry 
What good am I? 

What good am I - if I know and don't do 
If I see and don't say - if I look straight through you 
If I turn a deaf ear - to the thundering sky 
What good am I? 

What good am I - while you softly weep 
And I hear in my head - what you say in your sleep 
And I freeze in the moment - like the rest who don't try 
What good am I? 
What good am I? 

What good am I then - to others and me 
If I've had every chance - and yet still fail to see 
With my hands tied must I - not wonder within 
Who tied them and why - and where must I have been? 

What good am I if I say foolish things 
And I laugh in the face - of what sorrow brings 
And I just turn my back - while you silently die 
What good am I? 
What good am I? 
What good am I?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Discipleship of Prayer

Sharing what will be in our parish bulletin this week as we ask people to meditate on how well they are living the baptismal call to discipleship.

First Sunday of Lent:  The Discipleship of Prayer

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) describes the formation of those preparing for baptism at Easter as a time they learn from others in the faith community.  What do they learn from us?  First they learn “to turn readily to God in prayer.”   That assumes that we who are already baptized and have grown to maturity in the faith are good examples – for these adults and for our children, who are watching us to discover what their baptism means.  Do you spend time with God? Do you pray to God whenever you need to make a decision? Do you pray using Scripture? Do you pray regularly, alone and with others? Do you teach your children to pray?  These are all important parts of being a disciple of Jesus – and he is the first and best example. 

Jesus began his ministry, as we see in today’s gospel, with 40 days in the desert, where he spent time alone, in prayer, meditation and solitude.  Lent calls for us to spend time doing the same, for our own good, and for the good of those who are looking at us as examples of mature faith.

Joyce Donahue, for the St. John’s Liturgy Planning Committee

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lent: Reflecting on and Recovering our Baptismal Call to Discipleship

I was very interested to see that Pope Benedict, in his Lent 2011 statement, referred to the baptismal character of Lent - the underlying reality that defines how we should live the season.  He said that baptism is a call to develop "the adult stature of Christ."  

In our parish, it is customary for our Liturgy Planning Committee to determine a focus for each major liturgical season.  Last year, we focused on the baptismal character of Lent, taking an action or symbol for each week from the Rite of Baptism itself and focusing on words from the rite that define our baptismal call: 
  • WEEK 1: Exorcism/Anointing: "May you have strength in the power of Christ our Savior"  
  • WEEK 2: Chrism: "As Christ was anointed as Priest, Prophet and King, so may you live..."
  • WEEK 3: White Garment: "You have become a new creation. and have clothed yourself in Christ"
  • WEEK 4: Lighted Candle:  "Receive the light of Christ...This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly"
  • WEEK 5: Ephphetha: "May the Lord Jesus... touch your ears to receive his word, and his mouth to proclaim his faith"
This year, we actually developed the same theme the Pope proposed, how we strive to reach that "adult stature of Christ". We decided to continue our reflection on baptism, this time, focusing on the behaviors a mature disciple of Jesus Christ should be developing as defined in paragraph 75 of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

The following is the focus statement that will appear this weekend to assist our community in reflecting more deeply.

As we begin Lent, our focus at St. John’s will be the call we each received at our baptism to be a disciple of Jesus.  As we walk with those who will be baptized at Easter on the final weeks of their journey to the font during Lent each year, we are asked to re-examine how we are living up to our own Christian initiation. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) describes the process of growing to maturity as a Christian as becoming a person who turns readily to God in prayer, is a witness to the faith, sets his/her hope in Christ, is inspired to Christ-like deeds, and who practices love of neighbor even at cost to self.  The St. John’s Liturgy Planning Committee, a bilingual group of six people who study the readings together to plan our celebrations for upcoming liturgical seasons, has determined that these elements of discipleship will form our focus for Lent this year.

Over the weeks of Lent, we invite you to consider your own call to discipleship. How often and well do you pray? Do you witness to your faith in your family, work and other settings? Are you a person of Christian hope? Are your actions inspired by Christ? Do you love others enough to make sacrifices for them?  Please consider using this list in your personal prayer time, or posting it next to your bathroom mirror, so you are reminded each morning to live up to your baptismal call.  May our Lenten journey together as a parish community be a time to become more truly disciples of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Lent, as the Pope reminded us in his message for Lent this year, is essentially a time to reconnect with our baptism. We are asked to reconnect to the grace of the sacrament and to our baptismal call, to become the people God wants us to be.  Starting today, for 40 days, we engage in a communal retreat with other people of faith, encouraged by the readings of the Mass and strengthened by the Eucharist.  On our forehead, where once, when we were claimed for Christ at baptism, the oil marked us with the Cross, on Ash Wednesday we receive the mark of our failure to live up to our potential as true disciples.  This video captures the essence of that:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Christian Art & Spiritual Formation: There's Going to be an App for That!

I experienced a wonderful workshop last week on the power of Christian art given by Professor Eileen Daily of Loyola University, Chicago. She offered some interesting, easy steps to lead ordinary people to meditate on Christian art from many eras and artists, using some simple questions to focus.  It was an interesting experience - both when done in a small group and as an individual meditation.

The process involved each person selecting a choice from her collection of art prints removed from purchased books and mounted on cardboard - that they could hold and look at closely during the meditation and discussion time.  We were guided in terms of what to look for in certain genres. I chose the William Blake "Virgin and Child in Egypt", and Andy Warhol's "Camouflage Last Supper" paintings.  It was an "aha" moment for at least several people in the room, including me. I will never look at these in the same way.  However, there is no substitute for standing in front of a real work of art and experiencing it as the artist originally intended. Those experiences have the power to move people even more deeply.

 Daily's own journey to this work began with a powerful moment of conversion that she had in front of a painting in the Vatican Museum of Modern Religious Art, which propelled her on a personal quest that involved a career change and has involved her in academic work in this area, including writing  a teaching guide and CD-Rom called Beyond the Written Word: Exploring Faith Through Christian Art.  

Now Daily is moving her passion to the next level.  The project is to create a mobile app for phones.  The iChristian Art app will be a way to allow people to visit an art museum, stand in front of an artwork and experience it with a guide to scriptural references, symbols, and more. In effect, the art will become catechetical, but "painlessly" so that average people can learn more about scripture and its stories without sitting in a classroom or church.  Daily says, "This project started out as a book but then I realized that most people don't bring reference books to the museum. Ah, but, most people do bring their phones."  Take a look at her eloquent video explanation of what she is working on, here.

This project, however, will need about $9,000 to complete - mostly in terms of getting the hundreds of pages of texts of the meditations included.  If you can help, check out her fundraising page here

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Social Media Lent? What's Missing?

Just found this nifty site: Living Lent from the Catholic Young Adult Ministry of the Diocese of Tulsa.   It promises to assist users to keep their Lenten commitments by sending daily reminders of their sacrifices, sending reminders on Fridays to abstain from meat, notifying users of special feast days and Sundays, and displaying a community of users who are recommitting to their promises so others are encouraged to follow.  In effect, it’s a social media Lent. You journey with a community of accountability, with reminders along the way to keep you on track.

Using social media as a kind of support group  is an interesting option in terms of Lent.  Lent, by its very nature, should be a communal activity. Lent is really a time for the parish community to recall what it means to be a baptized disciple of Jesus Christ as they accompany those to be baptized to the Easter sacraments. The Pope has noted the connection to baptism in his Statement for Lent 2011.  However, so many people are ignorant of this core theology of Lent.  Most, following what they remember being taught as children, at best treat it as a private 40-day personal meditation on sin, not really sharing their journey with others, besides the traditional off-handed comments about “What I am Giving Up for Lent.” Others simply go through the motions of giving something up, out of habit.

The idea behind the site is, at its heart, good.  However, the only links on the site are to an examination of conscience, act of contrition and Stations of the Cross.  If all the site does is provide accountability for the disciplines of Lent, without catechesis on their purpose, it misses a golden opportunity.  This means it is about the disciplines of Lent without describing the tradition: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  It is about chronicling the actions without doing much to change the heart.  A connection is lost when all that is present is the external action and an invitation to contrition and to meditate on the Crucified Christ – without the great big “why” of it all. 

We are not only baptized into Christ’s death, but his life as well.  In the Rite of Infant Baptism we are anointed “priest, prophet and king” according to the model of Jesus.  (See Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 897ff)  We receive a baptismal call to grow into mature disciples – people of prayer, witness, and hope, who consider what God wants before acting, and who practice love of neighbor at the cost of self (see the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, paragraph 75.)  Lent is a time to recover this meaning, to reconnect with our baptismal call… and we do most deeply it within community.

Unfortunately, the developers of this website are missing the bigger picture. What they are doing is reinforcing an old misunderstanding of Lent as a time only of self-mortification and reflection on the plight of Jesus on the Cross with the purpose of somehow cleansing us to celebrate Easter. The reality is that it is much greater than making a commitment to a chosen discipline. Lent is a time to recover our identity as baptized disciples, to let go of all that keeps us from living out our baptismal call well.  That requires a journey of conversion that we undertake hand in hand with our faith community, and no, there really is not an app for that.

Where is the App for the New Roman Missal People's Parts?

From the Department of What If...?

What if a Catholic wanted to look at the new people's parts outside of Mass - but they really are more wired than book-based in terms of how they learn and function?  What if there were an app that allowed people to view the new responses, explore a little explanation, and maybe even go to other sites to learn more about the scriptural roots or history of this part of the Mass in the Church?  There are plenty of pamphlets and books for people - but will the average Catholic-on-the-go read them? There are websites aplenty - but you have to know about them or be linked there.... Hmm.

Oh, how I wish I were a software developer!