Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What We Need is Better Catechesis on Marriage

Lots of cyber-ink has been expended in discussing the passing of the same-sex "marriage" law in New York and discussions, especially among Catholics, has been heated. The issue, it seems to me, is that there is confusion between the American cultural understanding of marriage and the Church's. The difference is that for most, marriage is only about human love, not a divine institution that is an integral part of God's plan for human beings.

The American cultural understanding is that marriage is primarily about ratifying the love of two persons.  The Church's view, in contrast, is that while that is certainly true, marriage, as a sacrament, has a larger purpose.  Therein lies the the difference. The understanding that many people who support gay "marriage" are working from is simply reductive.

Elements of the larger sacramental purpose include the formation of a family unit which will be fruitful and open to creating and nurturing new life (children), which forms the basic building block of society and images the love of God.  Sacramental marriage is the natural result of the complementarity of male and female, who find their fulfillment in each other, and is the result of Natural Law and God's intention. It is not only the way we create loving environments for raising children, it is simply and most naturally the best way we provide those children with a model that validates and balances their own gender identity so that they can grow up to take their own natural roles in their own families.  Along the way, sacramental marriage is a school for love and gratitude and a mutual journey of human and spiritual growth.  The giving of oneself in sexual union is not only human, physical gratification, but a spiritual experience that mirrors divine love.  You can read more about Catholic teaching on marriage here.

Of course, we have not always lived up to this ideal. In a world where marriages frequently fail because one or both partners is unable to live up to the "job description" we have not really been our own best advertisement for this vision.  However, it remains the vision in spite of our limited ability to live it out because God's plan for man and woman is rooted in both biology and psychology. Humans were created as male and female for a reason. We are different. Necessarily so. Our difference is the original, unchanging biological mechanism for procreation and continuation of the human race. The psychological balance of male and female is one of the building blocks of family and society. We frankly offer different and complementary gifts. While in our modern society gender roles may be less strictly defined, the partnership of male and female remains the most common expression of human family around the globe.

This is not to say that a committed same-sex couple cannot engage in at least some of the elements of a good marriage. This is not to say that their love is not real, and certainly not to say that they should not have the same rights in the civil realm. This is not even to say that they cannot raise children in a loving home (although in my experience, those children can sometimes be confused or troubled.)  However, what those who deny the validity of Catholic teaching fail to see is that the purpose of a same-sex union is imperfect because it is primarily about validating love, and that the other elements are not present. The difference, of course, is mostly on two counts - the complementarity provided by two genders is absent, and the fruitfulness is, of course, missing.  What is less obvious (and frankly a lower priority for those who see marriage as a purely human union) is that such unions are not the result and expression of Natural Law and God's plan.

The issue, as I and some other commentators see it, is that since many young men and women today are not choosing sacramental marriage in the Church, and since so many Catholics see same-sex unions as logical and necessary from a human standpoint, we have failed to pass on a sense that the Church's view of marriage is either valid or important.  It is a fact that a significant number of marriages fail, mostly because the commitment is to nothing larger than love and sexual gratification.  It is a fact that fewer Catholic young people are seeking sacramental (or for that matter even civil) marriage. That being acknowledged,  it is important that we revisit the purpose of a lifelong union between man and woman.

This is, quite simply, a call for better catechesis of our own people about the meaning and purpose of the Sacrament of Marriage. We certainly cannot and should not tell non-Catholics what to believe, or how to conduct their lives in the civil sphere. What we can and must do is help our own people understand the special differences between a union that merely images human love, and one that images the fulfillment of divine love. Quite simply, the same-sex union of two people, though it may be loving and positive, is not the same as marriage.

A sacramental concept of marriage has something greater and more sacred to offer, and we need to preserve that treasure and pass it on to our younger generation. This is quite simply a call to textbook publishers, catechetical leaders, preachers, parents and others who help form young people to do better. If we don't, Catholic marriage will increasingly be seen as no different than anyone else's civil union.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What Language Barrier? We are One!

Music and the Mass are universal languages. You don't always have to understand to get the gist. Last night, my parish, St. John the Baptist in Joliet, celebrated our patronal feast with a bilingual Mass that brought our aging Anglo population and our vibrant young Hispanic people together.  The event was celebrated by our bilingual Anglo pastor, Fr. Fred Radtke  and our recently ordained Hispanic (bilingual) associate, Fr. Rommel Perez, a combined choir featuring members of our frankly aging English choir and one of the very young and energetic Spanish choirs, and a small but hearty crowd of about 125 people from both language communities. (OK, it was a Friday night.. you had to be really committed to be there)

Beginning with a sprinkling rite around the outdoor statue of St. John the Baptist and ending with a rousing rock-and-roll Spanish praise song: "Eres Todopoderoso" (translated so we could do it in both languages) it was a celebration of who we are: a community that is coming together, more and more, around the sacraments and the concept of community, despite our differences.  Both priests preached separately - not translated - but the homilies were really more or less about the same thing. Fr. Fred talked with passion about his vision for a unified community.  Fr. Rommel, from what I could understand with my barely adequate Spanish, preached with great enthusiasm about what a wonderful community San Juan Bautisto is and how we are one.

The music, as is usual at these combined celebrations, featured both groups at their best. As I said, Oscar's Spanish choir is definitely younger, but it, too, holds a mystery - the seeds of the future. The youth in the choir all speak and sing perfect English. In time, the music in this parish will become even more bi-cultural, I suspect, as will the parish, since we are beginning to see a few more young Hispanic families at the English Mass. We will always, for the foreseeable future, need celebrations in both languages.

For the present, we are definitely at our best when we gather both cultures around one table for liturgy. The energy, youth and future  is definitely on the Hispanic side, but the older Anglos have vision, stability and a deep understanding of Church to offer. It's a great combination.  Today, when we come together to celebrate our parish festival with games, music, food and fundraising, we will also be at our best. We are One Body. We all need each other. Together we will build a future that looks very different from today's reality. What is clear is that we will do it together - because nobody is going anywhere.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Time to register: VLCFF Roman Missal Implementation Course

Beginning August 7 there will be another opportunity to take the 5-week University of Dayton online course "Roman Missal: Preparing for the New Translation."  This will be my third time as facilitator of this particular course - and I can tell you this is a great experience for parish leaders and high-functioning catechists. The course walks students through the changes in the people's parts of the Mass, the possible benefits of helping Catholics to renew their understanding of the Mass, and allows leaders to work through some strategies and ways of speaking about the changes to people in their parishes, sharing ideas and challenges along the way. It's a good opportunity to work through some issues, and hear from other leaders.

Register here

Course Summary:

In the U.S. on the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2011, we will implement the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. Unlike the revised liturgy of over forty years ago, we will not see any major changes to the way we celebrate Mass. What will be different is the translation, a slight rearrangement of the texts in the book itself, the addition of some new prefaces, new proper prayers for the saints that have recently been added to the church calendar. Most of this the average person in the pew won't even notice. What will be noticed is the people's responses. Just as we learned the English responses fairly quickly over four decades ago, we will no doubt do the same with these new texts now. Why this new Roman Missal? Why the new translation? What opportunities does this have for us to learn more about Mass and pray better? These and other such questions will be addressed in this course.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My New Website is "Ready for PrimeTime"

Well, it's up and launched.  I have been working on a personal website to share resources for liturgical catechesis - and it now has enough on it to be useful, although I will continue to add items to it.
The Liturgical Catechist features what I consider the best and most-useful resources for catechesis for, about and from Catholic liturgy. These are the websites, books, videos and more that I consider essential to the ministry of every catechist and every liturgist.  Take a look... and bookmark it if you like what you see.  Thanks!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Liturgical Catechesis Expert Removed From Ministry

I am deeply saddened to learn that one of the best voices out there on the beauty and power of Catholic liturgy has been removed from ministry due to a credible accusation of sexual misconduct.  Fr. J. Glenn Murray, SJ is one of my liturgical catechesis role models.  His video from Loyola Press,  "Why We Go to Mass" is a classic - explaining in a lively and memorable way why Mass is NOT boring. 

Murray,a popular speaker and primary author of the USCCB document Plenty Good Room: the Spirit and Truth of African-American Catholic Worship, has been removed from ministry by the Jesuits and put on administrative leave. So sad.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Permission to Sing the New Translation Granted

Well, it's official. The USCCB has voted to allow parishes to begin using the sung parts of the Mass employing the new translation early - beginning in September, if the local bishop permits. Here is the statement.  Kudos to the bishops for realizing that Advent is rather a poor time of year to begin singing new settings.  Sentiment around the web (on Facebook and the blogs) has been mixed, but mostly positive. 

This change will mean that parishes can begin learning the new Gloria text in the fall, so that the first time they sing it will not be at Christmas liturgies.  Sure, the people who only come for Christmas and Easter will be confused, but that, frankly, is not our problem. (I am of the mind that "you snooze, you lose".)  At least the "regulars" in the pews and the musicians will have had exposure to it during September through November, so Christmas renditions of the Gloria should be properly strong and unconfused.

I have been in consultation with our parish music director - and after an experience last fall where we attended a choral reading session with both new Mass settings and re-worked familiar ones, we are in agreement that new, at least for now, is better.  Somehow, music and words get entrenched in our brains together, so that changing words to familiar tunes (and adding extra notes to accommodate the extra words) seems to make it much more difficult.  We, as trained musicians and pretty good sight readers normally, found it very hard to put new words to old music. Maybe later, when we learn the new words well, it will be easier to go back and resurrect old settings.

So, with the opportunity to introduce the new sung parts more gradually, and the spoken parts beginning in Advent, parishes should have an easier time of it. The bishops' decision is one of great common sense.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pentecost: the Gift of Mission - not "School's Out for Summer!"

Pentecost often seems a bit of  an afterthought in parishes.  Pastors and music directors may be tired from a busy round of First Eucharist, Confirmation and even Ordination liturgies, as well as other "rites of spring" such as graduations and weddings. Art and environment ministers, who have been propping up the dying flowers of Easter, are lucky to grab a few swatches of red fabric with which to adorn the worship space for this weekend. Catechetical leaders are too often "done" for the year, with classes over, there is no perceived need to catechize about the significance of Pentecost. Cantors and choir members who have been doggedly singing "big" Easter Season musical selections for weeks,  may only be looking forward to a summer hiatus from rehearsals and performances that will come after those pesky "add-on" celebrations of Trinity and Body and Blood. God's tired people, we may only be looking forward to summer.  We approach this great feast almost unconscious of its significance.

What do we need to make Pentecost a true celebration of the presence of the Spirit in the Church and in our lives?  As the raising up of our identity as a people sent out to renew the world in the name of God? I am convinced that the "school year model" is the chief difficulty.

Psychologically mimicking the cultural calendar emphasis on "startup" in the fall, we begin giving the celebrations of the Liturgical Year attention in September. (Ever notice how poorly we promote the August 15 celebration of the Assumption as if we expect no one to show up?)  We work hard through October and November on music, environment, and other elements of the celebration to make Advent and Christmas "big", and then we sigh with relief in January.  We rev up again to prepare liturgically and catechetically for Lent, then the Easter Triduum. Entering the 50 Days, filled with those initiation sacrament celebrations, ministers can feel like we have been working hard for months and just want to "cruise" through until the traditional summer "shut down" of rehearsals and liturgical ministry meetings and preparations.

The energy needed to sustain the 9-month blitz of the school year model  can be increasingly missing. Too few people doing too many tasks: too few and aging volunteers, often serving in multiple ministries; too few staff members asked to do more because the economy has meant reduced ability to provide support staff. The solution? Perhaps in part, it is to re-evaluate and re-focus on why we are here in the first place.

The Church was created for both celebration ("Do this in memory of me.") and mission ("Go forth and preach and teach..."). We are here not merely to be comforted and to sustain the services we provide to our existing membership, but to be "sent forth" to love and serve - and to tell others the Good News. If this were better understood, we would see the importance of Pentecost - as the day to re-commission all the baptized, to affirm the staff and volunteers, and everyone who lives the faith.

Rather than seeing this weekend as the liturgical afterthought that ends the Easter Season and (almost) kicks off the summer break, we should see Pentecost as time to re-commit the entire Assembly to our core identity and mission.  There is no "vacation" period in the Liturgical Year. Pentecost calls ALL of us to continue to be who we are:  24-7, 365 days a year.  To do that, we need everyone in the Church to serve in the work needed to celebrate and go forth.  There should be no watchers and pew-sitters, only workers.  Many hands make light work, as my grandmother used to say! Come holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love... and the energy needed to spread it!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What is "Authenticity of Life"?

Today was the 45th annual World Communication Day in the Church, and as usual, there was a papal statement attached to the event. This year's title is  "Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age".  The phrase "authenticity of life" particularly jumped out at me, because I have been reflecting recently on what that means in point 8 in the Vatican's 1993 "Guide for Catechists". Here it is:

8. Coherence and authenticity of life. The work of catechists involves their whole being. Before they preach the word, they must make it their own and live by it . "The world (...) needs evangelizers who speak of a God that they know and who is familiar to them, as if they saw the Invisible".  What catechists teach should not be a purely human science nor the sum of their personal opinions but the Church's faith, which is the same throughout the world, which they themselves live and whose witnesses they are.
Hence the need for coherence and authenticity of life. Before doing the catechesis one must first of all be a catechist. The truth of their lives confirms their message. It would be sad if they did not "practice what they preached" and spoke about a God of whom they had theoretical knowledge but with whom they had no contact. They should apply to themselves the words of St. Mark concerning the vocation of the apostles: "He appointed twelve, to be his companions and to be sent out to preach" (Mk 3:14-15).
Authenticity of life means a life of prayer, experience of God and fidelity to the action of the Holy Spirit. It implies a certain intensity and an internal and external orderliness, adapted to the various personal and family situations of each. It might be objected that catechists, being members of the laity, cannot have a structured spiritual life like that of religious and that therefore they must content themselves with something less. But in every life situation, whether one is engaged in secular work or in the ministry, it is possible for everyone, priest, religious or lay person, to attain a high degree of communion with God and an ordered rhythm of prayer, including the finding of times of silence for entering more deeply into the contemplation of God. The more intense and real one's spiritual life is, the more convincing and efficacious will one's witness and activity be....
Compare what Pope Benedict says today of the online persona:
In the digital age too, everyone is confronted by the need for authenticity and reflection. Besides, the dynamic inherent in the social networks demonstrates that a person is always involved in what he or she communicates. When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals. It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others. To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically. Furthermore, it is also true in the digital world that a message cannot be proclaimed without a consistent witness on the part of the one who proclaims it. In these new circumstances and with these new forms of expression, Christian are once again called to offer a response to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).
So, what is "authenticity of life?"  It means that what you see is what you get.  A true Christian witness, whether acting as a catechist or interacting online preaches the Gospel at all times because he or she lives it. In the words at the Ordination Rite of a priest or deacon being presented with the Book of the Gospels., a catechist is asked to "Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach."  At all times.

A catechist - or any true Christian - should not have a separate church life and another public life.  How we conduct ourselves every day, whether online, in the classroom, in the workplace or other public forum should be of one piece and should always reflect the teachings of Christ and his Church.  Even when dealing with  issues about which we may personally struggle with accepting Church teaching, we must at all times present a coherent picture of that teaching, and not our own opinion. That is what being "authentic" means.  And it's not always easy.  When Christians speak, we represent Christ and his Church - in a world that needs to hear the authentic voice and not just another personal opinion. St. Paul puts it well to the Corinthians:
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. (1 Cor. 2:12-13)
This is our call - to be effective witnesses - and we are able to do that because, as St. Paul puts it in verse 16, we "have the mind of Christ." Therefore, whenever speaking in public, whether online, or as a catechist, we put our authentic Christ-filled voice at the service of Christ and his Church.