Saturday, July 30, 2011

St. Ignatius and I, or Cherchez le Jesuit

As we celebrate the feast day of St. Ignatius, I have to acknowledge that he is the saint who pursues me a bit  like the hound of heaven.  For some reason, almost every major spiritual crisis in my life has somewhere in it had the influence of a Jesuit, whether in person, or through something I read.

In addition, I am extremely visual, and Ignatian meditations on Scripture tend to affect me deeply, because I really can enter the story. For that discovery, I acknowledge my debt to Fr.J. Michael Sparough, SJ, whose leadership of a meditation at a retreat at a key time in my life and subsequent personal advice helped me realize that God was trying to get my attention.  At any rate, I have often found myself in a time of discernment, during which I feel an urge to look around to see where the Jesuit influence is.

What is it about St. Ignatius? The methodology of discernment, I think, along with the working philosophy that God is to be found in all things. He is not an easy saint to follow, certainly. I have an attraction to parts of the Spiritual Exercises, but the idea of finding the time to go through the entire discipline is a little daunting. Still, the impulse is there, in the background, waiting for the right time.

In the meantime, I have to admit that the vagaries of my life journey lately have convinced me of the inevitability of turning my life over to God's will and not mine. My own attempts at achieving goals have been met with mixed success and not a little failure.   The following song pretty much says it. Take a listen, and bring to mind this great leader of the Church, St. Ignatius -- then ask how he may be speaking to you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Story of Unexpected Love

Last night, after the featured presentation of "Sherlock" on my local PBS station, I almost changed the channel.  I am glad I didn't.  They showed a short Oscar-nominated film in Dutch, with subtitles. I normally have little patience for subtitled films, since I am an avid multi-tasker, and when I have to focus on reading rather than hearing the dialog... well, you know how that is! About a minute and a half into this, however, I stopped having the urge to reach for the remote.  This film, about an aging office clerk with romantic inclinations ends up being a story of great love, in a most unexpected way.  I am thinking this might be a great conversation-starter for parish faith formation. Watch and see if you agree if "there is no greater love than..."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"The Mass in Scripture" - Expanding Catechesis for the New Roman Missal Through Lectio Divina

Stephen J. Binz's Lectio Divina Bible Study: The Mass in Scripture is a marvelous, deep study of the scriptural roots of the Mass which can prepare people to begin using the texts of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal.  This resource gives adults an opportunity to grow in understanding the Mass through its biblical sources by discovering and praying over Scripture either individually, or as a group. In the ancient tradition of Lectio Divina, the assumption is that "the reader trusts that God is present and speaks to his people through the inspired word, working profoundly through our minds and hearts."

Beginning with early Christian accounts of the liturgy and its Jewish roots, Binz gives a brief outline, with questions for reflection.  He then opens with the first Lectio exercise - reflection on the Apostle Paul's teaching on the Lord's Supper, 1 Cor.11:17-19, which he calls "the Church's oldest existing teaching on the Eucharist."  Binz then guides the reader/participant through the process: Listening, Understanding, Reflecting, Praying and Acting. This is the process which will be used for the next 30 sessions.

The subsequent sections of this book consist of 6 "lessons" each, which focus on:
     Honoring God in Covenant Worship
     Introductory Rites of the Mass
     The Liturgy of the Word
     The Liturgy of the Eucharist
     The Communion Rite and Dismissal

While most resources about the Mass begin with the Sign of the Cross, Binz rightly starts with the Entrance Antiphon - and a scriptural reflection on what it means to process to the house and altar of God. Not only does he have lessons on the words we speak, but when an action has a scriptural significance, he guides the participant through that as well. An example is Lesson 12, "Praying to the Father, Through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit" - in which we are guided through the scriptural roots of the Collect prayer. Another is Lesson 24, where we focus on the scriptural tradition of sacrifice.

How can this in-depth study be used? Binz gives three options: individual study (with suggested accountability to another person), group study in a weekly format meeting to go through all 30 lessons, or group in a 6-week intensive format where  people meet once a week to share about the entire section.

What is immediately obvious from any of these options is that this study is a definite commitment. It is not for the casual Catholic, but rather for those who are willing to make an effort to explore their faith and are ready for the consequently deeper reward of greater understanding. Participation in this process can give people an opportunity to encounter the biblical roots of the Mass, to pray and reflect on those passages, and to allow that process to enrich the prayer of the Mass.

While The Mass in Scripture is a fine response to the call for a deeper catechesis on the Mass to coincide with the implementation of the new texts, it is definitely not for every group in a parish. It IS, however, perfect spiritual nourishment for Small Christian Communities and other people of mature faith who regularly and faithfully attend and fully participate in the Mass. I am of the mind that we should feed our most faithful and engaged parishioners the choicest spiritual food, if they are ready and hungry for it.  This resource definitely fills that need at this important time in the Church.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Community of Song - Family of Support

I was privileged to be part of a very special rehearsal last night. Approximately 30 veteran choir singers from 5 parishes and some young singers from a local Catholic high school convened at one of our area parishes to practice music for a funeral. As far  as pick-up choirs go, this one was excellent - with a pretty good balance among the voice parts.  The Holy Spirit called together a group of people who not only are up to the challenge, but who have the hearts to bring their best.

Our director, Todd, a talented young man who had called us together to prepare music for the funeral of his older brother, Mark, who had suffered for the past several years from a brain tumor.  Todd is an excellent director, organist and a composer and arranger of church music in his own right. Todd and Mark's mother, Janet, an alto who has sung for many years with several local choirs was also there to sing. The high school students - about 8 of them - were all young people who had experienced Todd as a teacher there - they had driven probably about 45 minutes to an hour to join us. The rest of us were local - and have sung with Todd and/or Janet over the years in several area parishes.

We all met some new music for the first time last night, but what some people did not know, the rest of us did, so all in all it was a good rehearsal. However, good as the musicianship was, the point was the gathering of a community of friends - people who feel close enough to this family in their time of grief to give up an evening and a half day tomorrow morning to be there to celebrate Mark's birth to eternal life - to pray together in song.

Anyone reading this who is an experienced choir singer will understand. Belonging to a parish choir is very close to an experience of Small Christian Community. For most of the year, choir friends pray together twice a week (at rehearsal and Mass) in word and song.  We share each other's joys and sorrows willingly over a period of years - and our commitment to each other is quite strong.

Parish musicians are a bit like each other's second family in many ways. We give up time around Christmas and Easter to be at church to sing rather than spend that time with our families.  We laugh together, we enjoy each other's good news, and we pray, cry and hug each other through the bad times.  I have been privileged to experience this in three parishes myself.  It is a special privilege to belong the the parish musicians' community, and one that fosters a spirit of great commitment in many good people.  It is an example of Christian community at its very best. The rest of the parish can certainly learn from this model of fidelity and commitment.

Last night was special. Tomorrow will be even more so, when, at the funeral, we will sacrifice our time and offer up our talent to help a family lay a beloved son and brother to rest. None of us will give a second thought to what else we could or should be doing with that time.  We know what is important.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Resources for Liturgical Catechesis in Spanish

Just updated my website, The Liturgical Catechist, with a new page of resources in Spanish (some biligual).

There are a few nice ones created especially to be bilingual, but, as is typical  of most resources in the Church, most are simply resources originally written in English translated (or with sub-titles). It is what it is. Someday, perhaps, when we have more people from the Hispanic culture who have been well-educated in liturgical theology and practice, we may see more resources created from within the mindset of their culture. Until then, these are pretty good and readily available from major Catholic publishers.  As always, if you have suggestions for additions to my resource lists of things that are specifically liturgical-catechetical, please let me know.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When the Catechist Fails to Live Up to His Role

Yesterday was tough for many Catholics, especially for regular EWTN viewers and "fans" of the now-infamous Father John Corapi, an admitted former drug addict who underwent a major conversion a number of years ago and who for the last few years has been a regular feature, explaining Catholic teachings.  If you were under a rock yesterday and missed all the commotion, there is a good summary of the facts here and a summary of what has been said around the blogosphere here.  Corapi's religious order's summary of his misbehavior  includes cohabitation with a former prostitute, drugs and sexting, as well as hiding millions of dollars in assets despite his vow of poverty.

Normally, I would not comment in this space on scandals in the Church, but since the latest involves a  television catechist and preacher, it seems appropriate to evaluate what has happened in light of that role. This news reveals a sordid secret life beneath the public persona and a stunning lack of authenticity. Corapi's situation, the scandal and dismay it has caused among the faithful are a good illustration of the damage that can result when a person acting in the role of  trusted catechist fails to live up to the role in his or her private life.

It is no surprise that Catholics are divided even in the face of this evidence, in their opinion of Corapi.  Many who defended him in the past continue to do so. Others are not so sure. I will only say that I very occasionally watched him on EWTN to see what he was about and personally found his style to be too "ranting".  I have never liked people that feel they have to shout to be heard.  In retrospect, I wonder if this was not a case of trying to convince himself of the truth of his own words.

Untypically, Corapi himself, who rather sadly resembled Anthony Weiner in his protestations of innocence and blame-laying at the beginning of this debacle, has so far been silent about these latest developments.  However, his Twitter feed this morning promises a "very special announcement" tomorrow.  Not holding my breath, although I do admit to the kind of natural curiosity one has when watching a train wreck or other disaster.

I wrote a few weeks back about the guideline that catechists have "authenticity of life."  The Guide for Catechists says, "The work of catechists involves their whole being. Before they preach the word, they must make it their own and live by it... The truth of their lives confirms their message. It would be sad if they did not 'practice what they preached'..."  And sad it is, as we are now seeing in Corapi's case. Now, of course, this guideline does not mean that a catechist has to be perfect - we are, after all, a church filled with sinners. However, when the split between the public teacher and the private man is revealed to be so great, his credibility as an instructor on Catholic doctrine (including morality) is irreparably compromised.  Many people trusted and loved this man, and thought of him as holy.  Now they have to untangle the lie of his private life from the truth of anything he taught.  That simply should not be happening.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Biblical Walk Through the Mass - Review

Want a simple book for the average Catholic to enrich knowledge of the Mass and help people deal with the changes of the Roman Missal? A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy by Edward Sri may be the answer for people who want a way to take ownership of the Mass and navigate the changes. While not without some minor deficiencies, this resource is written at the right level for many parish communities and for the background of its people.

Sri's enthusiasm and love for the liturgy of the Mass is evident throughout the book, and his explanations are simple and thorough. While this is a book that explains and tells, rather than letting adults discover the richness of the liturgy, it has its place among resources a parish should consider when planning their fall formation on the Roman Missal. It is written at a popular level and in a very positive tone. In fact, there are places where the reader senses the delight with which Sri enjoys the Mass.

Sri gives not only the scriptural roots of the Mass, but he also gives an explanation of the Liturgical Year, cycles of readings, and other essential elements of the Mass along the way. He explains why we read what we read, and the dynamics between the hearer and the proclaimed Word.  He even discusses the dynamic between personal belief and intellectual belief in the Creed and the history and meaning of intercessory prayer.  He traces the Old and New Testament roots of the Eucharistic Prayer.  He does not assume that his reader knows any of this - and for many adults, that is a good tactic and starting point. He glosses his explanations with pertinent quotations from Vatican II documents, popes, theologians and liturgists.

Sri's explanation of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is occasionally a bit reductive (as when he discusses how the bread and wine symbolize the offering of our lives "and all our little sacrifices," referencing Jeremy Driscoll's book on the Mass instead of connecting it to the more powerful call to claim the priesthood of the laity and offer our very lives along with all our joys and sorrows in paragraph 901 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church).  He discusses the relation between the Sanctus and the hymn of the angels at Christ's birth, but misses the opportunity to define the "new" term "hosts" - about which some adults, unfamiliar with the language, have had questions as to whether this refers to the Communion bread... when it refers actually to armies of angels.

I also found it more than a little disconcerting that he moves immediately from the discussion of the "Lord I am not worthy" to an aside on how receiving Communion must be like how Mary felt at the Annunciation, as if the Marian connection is the only one to be made at that point. It IS a legitimate element of eucharistic spirituality, but again, not the only one. After a one-sentence explanation of the actions of the priest at the purification of the vessels and the Prayer After Communion, Sri then jumps immediately to the Concluding Rites without any instruction to the communicant about the meaning of  the Communion procession, the purpose of song at this point, the communicant's posture or what they should be doing after receiving or when the priest sits.  There is no mention of the silence after Communion or of the role of internal prayer. It just seems as though something essential is missing here in terms of catechesis. Since Sri did a nice job earlier in many of his explanations, going beyond Scripture to focus on the meanings of postures and gestures, I was actually surprised at how quickly and superficially he moved at this point and thereafter to the conclusion of the book.

Back to what he does do well, when discussing the revised texts of the Mass, Sri gives extensive and clear explanations for why the change expresses something essential about the Mass.  He also shows  how the new wording reclaims the scriptural roots of the Mass. In fact, I found it useful to keep a Bible nearby when reading, since Sri gives many Scripture references.  It is by taking the time to read the pertinent Scriptures that the reader can take things deeper.  When Sri does quote Scripture, I found it interesting, though not unpredictable, that like many more "traditional" Catholics, he uses the Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition, rather than the New American Bible, which is the one we hear read at Mass.

I would point out that I have not seen the DVD or the study guides and workbooks that Ascension Press has produced for this book. In itself, I would give Sri's book three-and-a-half stars out of 5... it has limitations, certainly, as do many of the resources for the new Roman Missal. However, for the majority of people in the pew, this book will do little harm and a great deal of good. If nothing else, it will help people reclaim an enthusiastic sense of the rhythm and scope of the Mass, its roots in Scripture, as well as its beauty.