Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Motivation for Adult Faith Formation: Juan Diego's Catechist

Today is the feast of St. Juan Diego, famous for his interaction with Our Lady of Guadalupe. This humble, faithful man, who worked in the fields and as a mat-maker, used to walk barefoot 14 miles every Saturday and Sunday (for 3-and-half hours!) to receive instruction on the faith. Later, after the death of his wife, he moved in with his uncle to a place only 9 miles away from Tenochtitlan, where he went for Mass and catechesis.

Since parish leaders today can barely motivate the average Catholic adult to cross the street for adult faith formation, it strikes me that his catechist must have been amazing for him to want to walk that far to hear about Jesus Christ.

Certainly, today's American Catholic adults for the most part are not poor, and probably not very humble. They have much to occupy their time and on weekends are more likely to seek entertainment and relaxation rather than enlightenment. The key to the kind of evangelization that elicits a real hunger for Christ and his community continues for the most part to elude us, although at least we are talking about it.

Juan Diego's instructor must have been one heck of a catechist!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hashtag Advent Calendar - Spiritual Discipline or One of Life's Little Indulgences?

This morning, I noticed that #adventcalendar is trending on Google+.

Since it takes thousands of posts from all over the world using a hashtag to cause something to "trend," I was curious, so I checked out the posts. As I scrolled through the first 50 or so entries, I saw not one mention of Jesus. Not one. What I saw were references to "countdown to Christmas." The advent calendars depicted, whether homemade or commercially produced, were almost all of the sort where one gets a small reward - a little toy or a piece of chocolate - every day.  Not one with a Bible verse, story or biblical figure.  In short, advent without Jesus.

Some of these "advent calendars" were from companies with daily prize giveaways - one even advertised their giveaway app to spread Christmas joy with prizes ranging from gift cards to a Kindle or a TV. Commercialization pure and simple...

There is even one from a real estate agency, showing a ready-to-move-in house for each day! Or, you could win a cruise from a cruise company. It makes sense that the hashtag is #adventcalendar with a small "a."  This is a totally self-indulgent and consumer-oriented secular activity related to waiting for the big gifting day. It's about getting stuff as you wait to get stuff - or it's another advertising ploy. (Oh, and over on Twitter, a hashtag #adventcalendarproblems has emerged for those disappointed with their daily result!)

On the bright side, briefly, earlier today, #Advent (with a capital "A") was trending as well, but has since dropped off the list. Entries under that have some of the secularized calendars, but many more references to Jesus and spirituality, so there is some hope that shreds of the original Advent traditions remain in some quarters. And, as Martha Stewart always says, that's a GOOD thing!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Preparing Catechists and Families to Form Catholic Kids for Advent

Yesterday I had the privilege of giving a workshop on Advent for catechists at one of our regional catechist in-services.  Almost 50 people attended my session, where I provided them with an overview of the meaning and symbols of Advent and ideas to teach them and share them with families of their students.

One of the truths I tried to communicate is that nothing we teach kids about Advent will make much difference unless their families are keeping Advent... so parent connection is key. Otherwise kids will see the season as only something we do in church - while the rest of the world celebrates a premature Christmas.

Here are the slides for my presentation - and below find links to the Pinterest board with classroom and home activities and the master for a parent take-home letter with tips for family Advent practices.

Pinterest: Advent Ideas & Crafts for Classrooms and Families

Parent Letter

Other Advent Resources - Videos and More on The Liturgical Catechist

Thursday, October 2, 2014

He Shall Send His Angels to Guard Over You

Today, on the Memorial of the Guardian Angels, I have to thank God for mine. I know, beyond a doubt, that I have one - and I am grateful.

It was on All-Saints Day, 1991 that I first met mine. I had gone to a noon holy day Mass at a local parish, picked up a fast-food lunch and was driving back to my office, on a 4-lane busy street in Rockford when I started across a major intersection, with the green light, in my small Hyundai Excel, traveling at around 30 mph. A semi-trailer truck had just cleared the intersection and the woman in the car behind him making a left turn had not been able to see around it. Not seeing me, she turned, right into my path.

In that moment, everything went into "slow motion" as I realized impact was unavoidable. As I braced myself, I sensed a distinct presence in the back seat of my car and a voice inside my head said clearly: "Relax. Go through this. You're going to be all right." Then, all heck broke loose as the slightly larger oncoming car hit my front quarter-panel, propelling me into a second impact with a concrete median strip on the other side of the intersection. I was physically jerked sideways, first one way, then the other.

Dazed, but unhurt, I managed to get out of the car with the help of some passerby who pulled the smashed drivers-side door open for me. The window next to me was completely shattered - the safety-glass now a spider-web.There were no air-bags in those days. Only later, when my left arm turned purple with bruising did I realize that I had instinctively thrown my arm up to protect my head, which meant the arm had broken the window, not my head. My injuries were minor, but could have been much worse.

In the aftermath, I recalled that presence and that voice. And I knew. I had not been alone in that car.

As a convert, I had never been taught about having a guardian angel as a child, nor had I specifically or consciously known it as an adult. However, I am convinced God has a plan for me - and that a head injury was not part of it at that point. My guardian angel did not stop me from being in that accident, but was there to reassure me that I was being protected.

Today, thank God for his protection and pray that your angel will be at your side when you need him/her.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream: Unleashing Charisms for Catechesis

This morning I woke up laughing. Yes, really. I had just had the wildest most off-the-wall dream about catechesis.

I dreamed I was teaching my Confirmation class at my parish, and my classroom aide was none other than Andy Warhol. (He WAS Catholic, by the way - and a regular daily Mass attendee.)  He was very quiet and did not do more than observe through most of the session. At one point in the lesson, I turned to him and asked if he had anything to add to what I had just said to the teens, and he simply pulled out heavy paper and art supplies and began to create a small painting, explaining how it related to the faith concept at hand as he went. He quickly finished the work, which fascinated the kids (and me!).  Then, as class was getting over, I asked if I could have what he had just made.  He seemed surprised, and possibly mildly annoyed, but he quickly signed the little artistic gem, and somehow it miraculously ended up in a frame. Then everyone else disappeared. I wanted to go show my DRE what I had, but somehow that was when it got weird, as most dreams do... I had to get to where she was by climbing out a window and navigating several slanted roofs, but other catechists were there to help... and then I woke up!

What if some of the quiet people in our lives have amazing gifts?  What if those gifts were unleashed and used for catechesis in our parishes?  Amazing things might happen!

I can't help but think that somehow thoughts about our diocesan day on Thursday with Keith Strohm of the Catherine of Siena Institute discussing how parishes can use Forming Intentional Disciples and the Called and Gifted   process of discernment of charisms, is somehow tangled up in what happened in my head early this morning.

Andy Warhol obviously had a charism for teaching - through art - but to look at him, you would not have suspected such depth. What Warhol "taught" was the significance of ordinary things. He turned soup cans, cars, bananas and more into art. Although he never really said it, he showed the inherent value and sacramentality of everyday life, which is a very Catholic outlook. Although he never used his gift for the good of the Church, he could have.

How many people in our pews are "hiding" their gifts - or not sharing them with their faith community?  What if the charisms in our parishes were unleashed for catechesis?  That's a possibility I can't help but think would produced amazing results in forming young intentional disciples. Who in your community is a potential creative catechist?  What would it take to help them discover that Christ is calling them to use their gifts in his Church? Do we have the courage to find out? Now THAT's a dream!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

America and the End-Times Industry: False Theology and Major Profits

When I answered a phone call from one of our parish leaders Friday morning, I really did not expect a mental trip back in time.  However, what we talked about catapulted me right back to 2003-4 when I was involved in the Catholic End Times catechesis revival. Tomorrow night, I will revisit that in a talk at a local parish (replacing a speaker who canceled.)

The Left Behind series of adult and children's books and the low-budget movie with Keith Cameron were a problem for Catholics 10 years ago. I had gotten into writing and presenting on this topic because before that, when I had been a parish DRE, I had encountered a catechist  trying to teach 7th graders that there will be a "Rapture" and then discovered the Left Behind children's books were not only in the parish school library, but were being read in the 5th grade classroom.

Anti-Catholic, based on a false interpretation of Scripture... yes this stuff is a catechetical problem for Catholics.

As a result, I ended up assisting the Catholic Conference of Illinois with writing a statement on the Left Behind books and videos. That led to an article in the final issue of the USCCB Department of Education journal The Living Light, several local and regional presentations and two national interviews. After that, things quieted down for me, and for catechesis,

In preparing for tomorrow night, I found that Left Behind has been an integral part of an entire industry in America. Dating back to the 1970 publication of Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth, which sold 10 million copies, Americans have been eating up all things apocalyptic. LeftBehind.com boasts that they have now sold 63 million copies of their books.  When you think about it, not only has Hollywood cashed in on apocalyptic movies about the end times and the anti-Christ, but the History Channel has made a career out of presenting various scenarios for the apocalypse, most based on misreadings of the Book of Revelation.

Now, Hollywood is giving us a major actor to play the main character in a new "major motion picture."  And here we go again. 

It's been interesting to see where this has gone in the past 10 years.  I will probably post more on this topic over the next few weeks until we see the reception of the movie...

Here is my PowerPoint, posted on SlideShare.  Feel free to share this with parish leaders and catechists.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Eucharist is NOT "Comfort Food"

(photo source: Getty)
Here in the Chicago area, we have been experiencing an early cold-snap, with temperatures we normally don't see for about another 6 weeks. Cooler weather typically brings out the cozy blankets, space heaters and puts me in the mood for cooking and baking.. and yes, it brings a craving for comfort food. The thought of a hearty soup when it gets down in the 30's at night and barely into the 60's by day is certainly more attractive than it was about a week ago when it was in the upper 80's and humid!  When we are cold, it's natural to seek comfort.

It strikes me that likewise, when one's discipleship is cool, there can be a tendency to look to God primarily for comfort, while avoiding the challenge of the Gospel, and to see the Eucharist as mere "comfort food." 

Jesus referred to himself as the "Bread of Life" and said that "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." (John 6:54) He promised eternal life to those who eat.  But what does it mean to allow Christ to remain in us? Is that just about being comforted?  Televangelist Joel Osteen famously preaches the Prosperity Gospel - that "God just wants you to be happy."  But is that what it is all about?

If Jesus is in us, that means all of him - and all of his life. Take a look at what Jesus asked of us. Jesus calls us to do as he has done - to wash feet and to sacrifice ourselves for others in his name. To preach, teach and baptize (evangelize).  He never said, "Come, sit in the pews and feed on me, and then go home and be comfortable."  He never said, "I just want you to be happy and to have everything you want." That is the trap we can fall into when our faith is just about seeking comfort - about us instead of about truly following Jesus Christ in all our thoughts and actions. He is not only the comforting Good Shepherd, but also the "narrow gate."

Instead of simply resting in him, Jesus asked us to live for the sake of the Kingdom - God's will for the world. He said “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."  (Matthew 16:24-25)

And where do we go, what do we do when we follow Jesus? We heard the apostle Paul tell us in this weekend's second reading that Jesus "emptied himself,taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." (Phillipians 2:7-8)  He did that for us, not for himself.

Discipleship is about learning that obedience, even to death, even death on a cross. The true disciple does not receive the Eucharist as if it is comfort food. It should be received to embody a total union with the One who calls us to submit to the will of God, whatever that may be, and wherever it leads us. It's not about us. It's all about you, Jesus. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"Late Have I Loved You" - Loving the God Who Loves Us

Music has a way of getting into my soul...  That's not particularly surprising, since according to the Called and Gifted process, one of my charisms is music. Anyhow, the song that keeps making me hit the repeat button on my iPod lately is this one from musician and blogger Sam Rocha, based on this famous passage from St. Augustine: "Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!"

It's been about a week since I purchased this song, from the album of the same name, which has been haunting my every waking moment. The question that came to me strongly a day or two ago was "Do I really love God?" Sure, I thought - intellectually speaking. That's not hard. But that answer did not seem good enough. I was gripped by Augustinian restlessness.

I was awakened very early this morning with a strong sense of that restlessness. Rolling around in my brain were lots of fragments, along with the refrain from "Late to Love." I struggled to recall what it was that had hit me as I led another song at Mass recently. Ah, "Servant Song" by McCargill - that old "chestnut!" The phrase "I am your song" had jumped out at me, along with the plaintive "Jesus, Jesus..."  Sure, I love Jesus, I thought. I have come to know and love him more deeply over the years - no problem. And for the past few years, I had come to a deeper love of the Holy Spirit, who fills me with song and inspires my writing.

But the Father. That's another thing entirely. But, I wondered, how could I say I love God, if I only have a formal, reverent respect and awe for one person of the Trinity - an intellectual assent to his authority and power? How does one move from the formal respectfulness of the public prayer of the Church to the Father to a lived sense of "Abba" - the Father who loves and is loved?

I won't go into the complicated history of my own stormy relationship with my father and father-figures in my life. It's messy. Affection, divorce, death, betrayal... yeah. Each person has a paternal relationship story of either presence or absence. Each of us has to navigate that and discover what it means to be loved by and to love the Father.

Botticelli: "St. Augustine in his Study"
The only answer to falling in love with an ineffable being is to see the face he showed us: Jesus. It's still a journey, but I feel like I'm getting closer to discovering the kind of love that Augustine found within the struggle to know God...
Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so. I entered, then, and with the vision of my spirit, such as it was, I saw the incommutable light far above my spiritual ken and transcending my mind: not this common light which every carnal eye can see, nor any light of the same order; but greater, as though this common light were shining much more powerfully, far more brightly, and so extensively as to fill the universe. The light I saw was not the common light at all, but something different, utterly different, from all those things. Nor was it higher than my mind in the sense that oil floats on water or the sky is above the earth; it was exalted because this very light made me, and I was below it because by it I was made. Anyone who knows truth knows this light. 
O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”.
Accordingly I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who is also God, supreme over all things and blessed for ever. He called out, proclaiming I am the Way and Truth and the Life, nor had I known him as the food which, though I was not yet strong enough to eat it, he had mingled with our flesh, for the Word became flesh so that your Wisdom, through whom you created all things, might become for us the milk adapted to our infancy.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
Confessions of St. Augustine, Office of Readings for August 28, Feast of St. Augustine
There's a reason this song is haunting me. God is calling. Thank you, St. Augustine... and Sam Rocha for being "the bell that chimes."

Friday, September 5, 2014

Evangelizing, Joyful Ministry: Embodying Jesus for Others

A friend of mine just posted this on social media after his daily Mass attendance:

"My Eucharistic Minister had such joy in her eyes it was like she was handing me the freshly swaddled baby Jesus. She snapped me out of my shameful inward focus with which I was approaching the altar." 

Wow. Just wow.

Do your parish liturgical ministers bring joy to their ministry? Do they see the encounter each member of the Assembly as important?
How can parishes form ministers for joy?
What can we do for our priests to help them find and radiate joy?

"The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice."
                 (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 5)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Beginning the Catechetical Year with Meaningful Prayer

Last week I saw a request on an email group for DREs asking for ideas for an opening prayer for the first catechist meeting of the year.  I put on my "If I were doing this" hat and came up with this little plan, which has connections to liturgy, scripture and Christ the Teacher. Here is a fuller version of that prayer suggestion.

When catechists arrive, distribute their materials, including the class rosters. 

Begin with the Sign of the Cross.

Let us pray.
you bless your people with many gifts for the good of your community.
Be with us today as we  prepare to share the Good News 
of your Son Jesus Christ with the children of our parish.
Fill us with your spirit of love and awaken in our hearts a sure knowledge of you.
Grant that all we do here will be for their good.
We ask this through Jesus Christ your Son,
Who lives and reigns with you in the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. AMEN.

(GOSPEL: Matthew 19:13-15. Use a Bible or Lectionary and hold the book up as you carry it from the table to where you will stand)

A reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them,
but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
After he placed his hands on them, he went away.

The Gospel of the Lord.

Ask the catechists to reflect on how Jesus would have looked at the children and how he would have spoken to them. How would he have taught them if he spent time with them? Give them a short silence to do that. Then ask them to take out their class rosters and when all are ready, ask them to read aloud slowly the first names of the children who will be in their class - all at the same time. If you  have the ability to do so, project group photos of children and activities from the program from previous years on a screen while they are proclaiming the names. (h/t Sister Caroline Cerveny.)

Let us pray. 
Lord, you have called each of us by name. 
Grant, we pray, the things we ask for this night (morning/afternoon)

INTERCESSIONS - (Have a few ready - pray for the parish, the families, all catechists, etc... and invite them to pray for needs they know of.)

Our Father....

Let us offer one another a sign of Christ's peace.

Then, the meeting can begin. What has happened is that the catechists have been invited to love their young students and to call each by name. You might also invite them to keep a copy of their roster at home in their prayer space, and to pray for each child by name regularly. 


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: The Spirituality of the Catechist

The Spiritualityof the Catechist: Feeding your Soul, Growing in Faith, Sharing with Others, by Sr. Janet Schaeffler, OP,  is a beautiful, deeply invitational short book for catechists who teach Catholic faith to people of all ages.

Sr. Janet, a national expert in adult faith formation, is a gentle soul and a wonderful storyteller. The pages of this simple and direct book are sprinkled with memorable, well-chosen  quotations and stories about spirituality and prayer, illustrating the dynamics of a fully-activated prayer life and relationship to the Risen Lord. She invites the reader to explore the possibilities inherent in spirituality in a deeply direct way.

Although the beginning is general enough to apply to any Catholic adult, the later chapters are more specific to how this should play out in the life of a catechist, who should pray for those he or she teaches as well as share prayer with them.

Yes, there is practical advice - lists of prayer types to explore, for example, and there are reflection questions at the end of each chapter, which makes this a great tool for further reflection or for discussion with others.

A much-needed book, which goes beyond the usual catechetical approach to how to pray with others and reaches the catechist where he or she lives, so that  having a deep and living relationship with God is foundational to sharing faith with others. This is a book not just for catechists and school teacher-catechists, but for catechetical leaders, RCIA teams and parish faith formation advisory boards.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

God is...

What is your image of God?  That's a good question.

I am facilitating a course on prayer, which asks as its first exercise, how the image one has of God affects how one prays, so I have been reading a number of descriptions of what the students think God is like.  For many of them, God is friend. For a few, God is an almighty theological construct to be feared and respected. For others, God has been a watchful judge.

Who is God for me?

Never Absent. Always. Forever.
A sometimes palpable presence I sense deeply near me and in me.

Yes, this presence is a Person. As I grow older, I am ever more aware that God is near. Even when I have been in the depths of pain or despair, I have known for a long time I am never alone. In the good things, God is with me, and we rejoice together.

Which Person? More and more, a triune presence - Jesus, trailing streams of the Father's glory and the
Spirit's encompassing warmth. Father-God, perhaps even more compassionate because of the suffering of his Son, oozing Spirit. Spirit - present in every breath, bringing Father and Son closer to me.

It has not always been this way. As a child, I only had a vague image of God as an old man with a beard watching me from heaven, usually with disapproval (no doubt the baggage of stern church ladies who watched us toddlers in the church nursery.)  As a teen during the 60's God was a mere intellectual exercise. Was God dead? That sappy sentimentalized Jesus guy - he was for people not smart enough to know better, right?

When did it change? Over time. With experience. With listening to the promptings of my heart. With the support of a community of faith. With the discovery that when I could rely on no one else, God was there. Over and over. Through it all. Once, when deep in meditative prayer, I saw myself walking through the corridors of the interior of my own heart toward a light glowing from just around the corner - a light I was in too much awe to approach...

When do I feel this Presence? Whenever I am mindful. When do I not? Whenever I let the tasks of daily life overtake and preoccupy me. Yet, beneath even that, I know.

I just know. God is...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Helping Young Children Appreciate the Mass

All of us have seen families who struggle to keep their young children "under control" at Mass. It's not pretty. Although this is understandable with children from birth until age 2-and-a-half, setting an early basis for a child's full participation at Mass not only helps them get through the experience with fewer tears, it can yield a big payoff when the child is older.

  photo from http://catholickey.org/ )
I have seen children as young as three who can lisp Mass responses, sing acclamations and familiar songs, and stand, sit and kneel when everyone else does - all because their parents participate in the Mass and expect that their children will too. These are the same little ones who remain reasonably quiet during the homily, perhaps while looking at a children's Bible or board-book about the Mass or the saints or while playing quietly with a Jesus or saints doll.

Sadly, most parishes are not helping parents with this piece. Interaction with parents of young children after baptism is one of the most-neglected areas of ministry in parishes today. The basis for young children's participation and understanding of the Mass actually begins with liturgical catechesis for youth, young adults and candidates for marriage. If parents participate fully in the Mass and make the effort to teach their children to do so as well, it makes a difference - for the experience of both parents and child.

Failure to do that is possibly one of the biggest reasons families don't go to Mass. Although we tend to blame it on the culture, sports and other distractions, many parents admit it's because they don't want to fight with their kids about going to Mass. Of course Mass is "no fun" when you sit on the sidelines and only marginally understand what is going on and why. Some families go anyway, but don't seem to be fully present. As a cantor facing the assembly, I have seen quite a few families in which neither parents nor teens sing, say responses or do anything other than sit, stand and kneel, all while staring straight ahead with a bored expression. (Happily most at least do the Sign of the Cross, say the Our Father and participate in the Sign of Peace.)

More than simply helping kids to participate, though, helping then to make real-life connections so they understand the meaning of the Mass is even better. (File this under things I wish I had understood better 25 years ago!)

Dan Gonzalez, a father of two, creator of The Mass Explained app for iPad and author of The Mass Explained blog has just posted this great explanation of what he is doing with his own children. He has also posted the priest paper doll for learning about vestments, the first of 10 art and activity lessons for young children on the Mass, to which he will add to each week of the summer.
If you think about it, Jesus didn't just suddenly walk into the Temple at age 12. He had been raised to participate in worship by Mary and Joseph. When my own boys were young, they went to Mass every week, and learned to sing and respond because I helped them follow along in the missalette and hymnal. While they may not go to Mass as often today as I would like, now that they are 29 and 31, when they do, they participate fully - because that was what was expected of them from the beginning. That's how it works.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cliff-Jumping: My Very Real Relationship with God

Ever had a vision so strong you could swear it was real? I have. More than once. I guess it's just because I am rather visually oriented... but then again, at other times, it's been a distinctly real internal auditory message. Well, God probably isn't particular about which of our senses he appeals to when he wants us to find him. In my experience, he just insists on finding me where we am, and just when I need it the most.

I first truly knew the presence of God  back in 1989, three days after my now-ex-husband walked away from our marriage. I was in my late 30's, had been a full-time mom raising my two boys, and the shock of learning that I was about to be alone and responsible for two small children with no job was huge. Not only was I emotionally devastated by the demise of my marriage, but I also had no idea how I was going to survive. Friday, Saturday and most of Sunday, I had a very strong recurring vision of being pushed toward the edge of a cliff and knowing I was being asked to jump off. I didn't want to. I REALLY, REALLY didn't want to.

In spite of this, I went through the motions of everyday life, taking care of my boys for the rest of the weekend. I dragged us all to Mass on Sunday morning, where I cried on the shoulders of fellow choir members, who comforted me, and yes, I participated in Mass. I was in a daze, attempting to sing praise and receive the Eucharist trying to stay sane under this huge load of stress. I knew I had to do something that felt like my ordinary routine.

Sunday night was when it happened. I don't really remember there being a specific catalyst, but by evening after I had put the boys to bed, I realized that I was no longer alone at the edge of that cliff - that I could indeed let go and fall off - but I knew without hesitation that God the Father was going to catch me. It was then that I realized I could go on with my life, and that I could rely on the very real presence of God. (Yes, it really took three days to "rise" again.) Looking back, I now see the connection between that turnaround with sharing the Eucharist with my community and with Paschal Mystery.

In retrospect, I realize that was one of several times in my life that God has reached out and definitively made his presence known. It was the first of two instances when it was pretty specifically connected to the grace of a sacrament. The other experience was directly related to celebrating Reconciliation and I have written about that previously. The experience I have described above is one reason I knew to trust the second one. I already had a history with God.

This relationship with God has been is a distinctly personal one, although I admit I probably don't always live up to my part of the commitment as I should. Holiness is not particularly easy for me - and I admit I struggle. But no matter how unworthy I may feel, no matter what I have gone through in terms of life difficulties, I have never for one instant doubted the love of the Father, through Jesus Christ. That is why, whenever I lead psalms and hymns that speak of God's mercy and love for those who suffer, I am genuinely praying - in gratitude for the one who "raises up the lowly."  Because I have been there - and lived to tell of the "marvelous works of God." Because "God, who is mighty, has done great things in me."

At first, for me, it was definitely a relationship with the Father. A child of divorce myself, I had always longed for the daily presence of a father figure. Later, during my Cursillo, I felt drawn to the person of Jesus, who became much more real to me through that experience. As the years have gone by, I have relied on the Holy Spirit directly during my teaching, writing and when I am a cantor. I'd have to say that which person of the Trinity feels closest is somewhat situational, but it is always a personal relationship - I never feel distance between us, though, like any relationship, there can sometimes be interference from distractions.

It saddens me when I hear that many Catholics don't think it's possible to have a personal relationship with God - or that it's simply too "Protestant" to do so. Marcel LeJeune says it's something we can and should choose. Well and good. But I suspect many people do not find themselves free to make that choice. They are perhaps too bound by awe of a distant all-powerful God and by all that keeps them rooted to the things of this world, including most especially their own "agendas" and expectations about God.

I believe the first step to making that choice is simply to be open to a greater agenda than our own - to be alive to the movement of God's grace and to be willing to respond to invitation. God is the one who reaches out to us - and he never stops. The Catechism says "grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life". (CCC 1996)

Do you want to claim your place as a child of God? Wait. Listen. Watch. Be aware. Be open. God is always near - and he has a plan for you. I can testify to that. For some of us,  it takes a mighty time of crisis. We are forced to crash and burn before we can be broken open enough to realize that the one who was crucified stands ready to take us by the hand and lead us through the darkness of human grief and despair that he himself once experienced. What I would wish for others is less drama and more willingness to not only acknowledge the existence and power of God, but to choose intimacy with him.

Review: Eucharist: A Journey of Transformation, Healing and Discipleship

How can we allow ourselves to be changed so that we may broken and shared to "become Eucharist" for others? That is one of the key questions that Mary Amore is trying to help people answer in the three talks on her new DVD  Eucharist: A Journey of Transformation, Healing and Hope.  Dr. Amore, who serves as the executive director of Mayslake Ministries has honed her presentation from her background in liturgical studies and her many retreats and parish missions.

Amore's presentations are sometimes theological, sometimes liturgical, frequently punctuated by storytelling and wisdom from life that enliven these experiences of liturgical catechesis and model how "liturgy and life are interconnected." She challenges listeners to make sacrifices, to take risks and become more than they think they can be, all through the power of the Eucharist.

In a guided reflection, she digs deeply into how listening to the Word challenges us to change, and how participating in the sacrifice of the Eucharist is an opportunity for real spiritual sacrifice as we offer all that we are and all that we love to God along with the gifts on the altar. She encourages us to enter the sacrifice and allow ourselves to be transformed  - to become consecrated and holy - the  "Living Body of Christ" (echoes of my favorite section of the Catechism, Paragraph 901.)

The Eucharist DVD consists of three 20-minute talks and a user guide for personal or group reflection:

Part 1: Eucharist as a Pathway to Spiritual Transformation
Part 2: Eucharist as an Invitation to Spiritual Healing
Part 3: Eucharist as the Renewed Call to Discipleship

Suggested uses are for RCIA, parish missions or personal reflection. I would add small communities of teens, young adults and adults as other suitable audiences - as well as parish staffs and other ministry groups. What might happen within a parish staff or pastoral council dynamic if the members honestly reflected on the Eucharist with this kind of depth?

The printable user guide sets up sessions that allow time for reflection, sharing, prayer and ritual. The questions dig deep and should provoke profound responses. Make no mistake, this is not superficial or mere "learning about" the Eucharist. Dr. Amore challenges us to become part of the power of the Eucharist that can transform the world. We do this by allowing ourselves to become like Jesus, to be disciples who are not only hearers of the Word, but doers who serve others and don't count the cost.

Bottom line: this is a beautiful resource for liturgical catechesis and I highly recommend it. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

An Ordinary Joe Writes an Extraordinary Book

The time has come, Paprocki said, to speak of many things. Of sports and bucket lists and movies, of cucumbers and the King. (Apologies to Lewis Carroll)

In Joe Paprocki's newest bookUnder the Influence of Jesus:The Transforming Experience of Encountering Christ (Loyola Press) he speaks of many things - all of which point the reader to the lived experience of finding God in everyday life.  When was the last time you read something about Jesus that mentioned THAT scene from When Harry Met Sally, Wilfred Brimley, sports teams and the Rolling Stones all in the same book?  It's all there, along with lots of other stuff, and somehow, it all makes sense.

Ignatian to the core, Joe Paprocki has definitely found God in all things. This is a book very much for people of this time and place, filled with pop culture and sports references, illustrated by life moments from a guy of a certain age, who lays out for readers a “game plan” for personal discipleship.

At times, the heavy emphasis on sports and popular movies might be a bit wearing for those who don’t really care for sports or certain kinds of movies. And yes, some of the many references are already dated, perhaps. Younger people might have to look up movies from the 80’s and 90’s, for example, but for “Boomers”, this book definitely speaks to the times of our lives. While some of the examples may indeed speak to us "older folks" the methodology - of looking to life experience for signs of the presence of God is a timeless example for people of all ages. 

The cultural references, however, take the reader right up to the present, which speaks to Paprocki's current full participation in the life of the world. This is not a book showing us how to find holiness in a quiet prayer corner, written by a hermit in a cell, but a call to live more fully who we already are as God's people in the world.

Paprocki’s main points are great, especially the chapter where he lines up essential behaviors of disciples (illustrated from the mainstream culture) with the six tasks of Catechesis. Throughout the book, he is good at distilling lists of points into memorable life strategies, and there are a number of these lists, making the book practical for people who like a point-by-point approach.

Photo from http://catechistsjourney.loyolapress.com/ 
The good news, according to Paprocki, is that “Exactly where we are is where God wants us to live as a disciple of Christ. It’s where he wants us to glow with the light of Christ so that others may recognize the kingdom in their midst.” Conversion to discipleship is, he says, about “changing while remaining who you are.” Evangelization is not pushy or “ham-fisted”, but just being your best self and living intentionally, focusing on others. “For Catholics, then, evangelization should simply be the act of helping others find God in the ordinariness of their lives.”

And that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St. Ignatius, via an ordinary guy named Joe, living a pretty normal daily life in the suburbs of Chicago, where he goes to work every day, watches TV, movies and hockey games, blogs, posts occasionally on Facebook, goes to an occasional concert and sometimes teaches children the faith as a catechist in his local parish.  If a guy like that can see himself as proud to be found guilty of living "under the influence"of Jesus, then so can any ordinary person.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

And We Have a Winner in the Book Giveaway!

Well, this morning I literally drew a name out of a hat from among those who made comments on my review of Pope Francis' new book, The Church of Mercy - and we have a winner!  

Michael Jacobs - congratulations!  Please contact me so I can get your address to Loyola Press, who kindly provided this giveaway.  As for the rest of you, thanks for visiting here and commenting on the post - I hope you will consider following this humble blog in the future.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Discovering Pope Francis' Message of Hope: "The Church of Mercy" (And a Giveaway!)

Hot off the press from Loyola Press, The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church by Pope Francis is a beautiful book, full of joy, hope and confidence in the unfailing love of God.  It's a message sorely needed in our times. It's a message, however, that comes with a challenge to give up our own personal agendas and take ownership of the agenda that Christ has given each of us at our baptism.

Consisting of excerpts from his homilies, addresses and official teaching documents, this collection, authorized by the Vatican and compiled by Giuliano Vigini, professor at the Catholic University of Milan, offers the reader comfort, refreshment and challenge, as well as an occasional healthy dose of papal humor.

Pope Francis' pastoral message is that there is hope - for everyone, most especially sinners - in Jesus Christ, and because God is patient, loving and merciful to us, we should be so with one another - especially to the poor and the stranger. We are called to come out of ourselves, abandon our will to that of Christ and simply serve - telling others about Jesus in word and deed - never afraid to show our hope and joy in the process.

We are asked to be an antidote to the evils of the culture by bringing that message out of the walls of churches to the very margins of life, in solidarity with those who have been pushed there - "to the outskirts of existence."  We are called to sensitize the world to the poor and the "uprooted" - refugees - "those who are obliged to flee their own country and exist between rootlessness and integration."

Francis' vision of a "Church of Mercy" is in tune with the social justice teachings of the Church - one that reaches out in love to the poor, the unwanted and those who suffer, in Jesus' name.  Our motivation for that, he says comes from our confident trust that God has already reached out in love to us. When we are able to abandon ourselves to Jesus, we will become a Church that fills the world with his love, one that is not afraid to testify to the message that God loves us all.

But, Francis tells us, before we do any of  this we have to let go of our cultural idols - power, violence, money, and yes, clergy careerism - to be "free from personal projects" and ambition. The Church must "divest herself of the danger of worldliness."  It is that, he says that kills the Church - and the person.  Once we let go, we will be free to choose the good and to become, like Mary, people of "listening, decision and action."

This is quite simply a "must read" book for every Catholic, lay and clergy alike. It proposes a reformed Church much closer to Jesus's intentions and asks us to steer away from worldly trappings - inner and outer - that prevent us from abandoning ourselves to Jesus's call to embrace the love of God and spend ourselves for the sake of others, sharing that love. This is how Francis explains why he himself has chosen not to wear full papal regalia, but to don simpler garb and go out into the world as often as he can, seeking the lost and the broken.  This is the Pope Francis who washed the feet of the disabled on Holy Thursday - Christian and Muslim, men and women - serving as an example, he is the very model of what he calls the Church to become.

Make no mistake. This is not just a "feel-good" book about the warm fuzziness of God's love. It is a real challenge to abandon ourselves to that love.

OK -  Here is The BIG Giveaway! 
You can win a FREE copy of this marvelous book from Loyola Press.  Make a comment here on the blog between now and Tuesday, April 29th and I will pick one out of a hat.  Be sure to include your name and an obvious way to find you when you "choose your identity" for the comment box. I will announce the winner on the blog on April 30th. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tonight: Jesus is BAA-AACK!

During Holy Saturday, we prepare and we wait. Jesus has gone into the grave. Knowing what we know, that this is not the end of the story, unlike the disciples, who are readying themselves for the end of the Sabbath, when they can anoint the body and complete the burial, we spend the day readying for Christ's return.  

Many of us will be at our parish churches later this morning decking the altar with our most splendid altar cloths, masses of beautiful flowers and candles which will be fully revealed tonight when out of the darkness of the Vigil, the light returns at the lighting of the candles and the church as we sing the Glory to God on this "truly blessed night," when we see Christ rising from the dead.

But before that can happen, we will go, with Christ, into the darkness. After the sun sets, we light the Easter fire and stand around it as we bless the Paschal Candle. Moving into the church, we each receive a lighted taper and stand together to hear the great proclamation of the Exsultet, a hymn about the candle itself, which explains the connections between the candle and God - who appeared to our ancestors in faith as a pillar of fire and who now appears as the Morning Star.

To prepare for tonight, read through this magnificent text. There is absolutely no better way to get ready.
The Easter Proclamation (Exsultet)
Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.
(Therefore, dearest friends,
standing in the awesome glory of this holy light,
invoke with me, I ask you,
the mercy of God almighty,
that he, who has been pleased to number me,
though unworthy, among the Levites,
may pour into me his light unshadowed,
that I may sing this candle’s perfect praises).
(V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.)
V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up to the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is right and just.
It is truly right and just,
with ardent love of mind and heart
and with devoted service of our voice,
to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father,
and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.
Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father,
and, pouring out his own dear Blood,
wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.
These, then, are the feasts of Passover,
in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb,
whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.
This is the night,
when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children,
from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.
This is the night
that even now, throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones. 
This is the night,
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer! 
O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!
This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness. 
The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty. 
On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church. 
But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees
to build a torch so precious.
O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.
Therefore, O Lord,
we pray you that this candle,
hallowed to the honor of your name,
may persevere undimmed,
to overcome the darkness of this night.
Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,
and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.
May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death’s domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.
R. Amen.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Cross - Sign of Wondrous Love

Today, as millions around the world venerate the wood of the Cross, we remember the great love that God showed us -  in spite of ourselves - that he gave his only Son to suffer and die for our sins.  St. Paul got it exactly right:
For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath. Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6-10)
We acknowledge our unworthiness, but claim that love when we venerate the Cross - but we also accept that the Cross has a place in our own lives at the times we are called to our own suffering - and to the sure knowledge that not only do we not bear those sufferings alone, but we, too, can be transformed by our suffering because of Christ's Paschal Mystery. His death and resurrection prove that God has the power to create good and set us free from evil and assures us that is possible in our lives if we believe.

Love, lifted on the cross for me
My Lord, my God, my salvation
Love, lifted high to set me free
My Lord, my God, my salvation...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Coming Soon: The Most Important 3 Days of the Church Year

As we move into the final days of Lent, it's not too early to start planning one's activities around the events of Holy Week, particularly Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. These three days, called the Easter Triduum, are simply the most important in the entire Church year, as we follow Christ through his last supper with his disciples, his arrest, condemnation, suffering, death on the cross and resurrection, i.e., the Paschal Mystery.

I always tell people who only show up on Easter Sunday that they actually missed the main event:  Jesus has already risen. Sure, it's great to celebrate that, but if we are present at the Easter Vigil on Saturday, we witness Christ's rising among us as we pass from darkness into light. I have written before about the importance of the Triduum, but I simply cannot say it enough.
Triduum (pronounced TRID-YOO-UM, not TRID-EE-UM, as many people say it) means 3 days. Since Pius XII restored the Easter Vigil in 1955 (based on ancient practice), the Church has celebrated these three days as a time apart - an experience of Paschal Mystery for the entire community. It is meant to be on every Catholic's calendar as a time to set other concerns aside.  Even though it is less common for employers to suspend work during the period between noon and 3 p.m. on Friday, Catholics should still be able to find ways to participate in all three days, as many parishes provide an evening service.

Jesus loved you enough to go through his suffering and death, so the least you can do is acknowledge that with your presence at the important liturgies of the Triduum. Thursday night is beautiful as we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist and wash feet as he did.  On Friday, we remember the great the love of a God who gave his only Son to suffering and death for our sake. On Saturday night, we witness the lighting of the fire of renewed life and hear about God's great plan for our salvation as we wait for the proclamation of Christ's Resurrection.

Maybe it's just me, but I have never once missed a day of the Triduum since I became Catholic. I cannot imagine not being there, and I certainly cannot understand why anyone would stay home or carry on with normal life activities while something this important is happening. Humor me, please, if you are one who has not typically attended the celebrations of the Triduum. Mark your calendar now - or as soon as the times for the liturgies of the Three Days are announced at your parish.  I guarantee you will not regret it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

No Sympathy for the Devil: The Scrutinies and Sin

My best guess is that the people in the pews this weekend who witness the First Scrutiny - a purification rite for those preparing for baptism - have no idea they are actually witnessing a liturgical exorcism.  The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults states the scrutinies are intended to
....uncover then heal all that is weak, defective or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong and good. For the scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. These rites therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all. (RCIA 141)
If their preparation has been what the Church desires, the elect have already been "instructed gradually about the mystery of sin." (143).   The explanatory material before the rite continues, mentioning that the elect "have already learned from the Church as their mother the mystery of deliverance from sin by Christ" (144)

Most already-baptized adults in the pews received this kind of instruction on sin in 2nd grade, and perhaps again in 8th grade or high school. At best, the last time they thought about it was when they talked about it again in the context of the preparation for baptism of their children.

Do we really understand what is meant by "the mystery of deliverance of sin by Christ?" "Mystery" is not a word we hear often in relation to sin. Just what does this mean for the catechumens, and for us, the baptized, as we watch the ritual casting out of the demons of sin over the next three weekends?

Remember that those over whom the priest or deacon will pray the Prayer of Exorcism over the next three weeks are not yet baptized, and are therefore subject to the full effects of Original Sin and seduction by the Devil.  At baptism, they will put on Christ and receive the blessing of eternal life and the strength to resist temptation. In the meantime, the exorcism and our prayers will strengthen them in their last days as unbaptized people moving toward baptism. It has been said that the closer a person gets to the font, the more the Devil tries to keep him or her away. The prayers of the scrutinies are designed to combat that.

We are talking about "sin" here - with no "s", not "sins" - which, of course, still are committed after baptism by even the best of us.  "Sin" - the consequence of the Fall of Adam and Eve, condemned us to eternal death. Christ's coming reversed that. And THAT is the mystery. The fullness of this mystery will be revealed at the Easter Vigil, when, during the Exsultet, we sing:
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer.
This is the mystery - that God could bring something wonderful - eternal life - out of the darkness of sin and death. That Christ's rising from the dead conquered Satan, sin and death for all time.

So, this weekend, as the elect come forward to have their demons exorcised, we the baptized should rejoice that we have been saved in Christ by our own baptism and are no longer subject to the full effect of Original Sin. For us, this is part of preparation for our renewal of baptismal promises at Easter, when we will once again reject Satan and his empty promises.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

First Sunday in Lent: What We Pray is What We Believe

This Sunday we hear in the Roman Missal how Christ set the pattern for Lent and how we today are to take it to heart. When we really listen to what the presider prays we can learn much about the attitudes and expectations of the season. This is not surprising. Lex orandi, lex credendi is an ancient saying, meaning literally "the law of prayer is the law of belief" - or what we pray (in the liturgy) is what we believe (see CCC 1124.)  Let's take a look at what the texts of the First Sunday in Lent say.

In the Collect, we hear:
Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observances of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ,
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects...
In the Prayer over the Offerings:
Give us the right dispositions, O Lord, we pray,
to make these offerings,
for with them we celebrate the beginning
of this venerable and sacred time.... 
 In the Preface:
...By abstaining forty long days from earthly food,
he [Christ] consecrated through his fast
the pattern of our Lenten observance
and, by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent,
taught us to cast out the leaven of malice,
so that celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery,
we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast. 
In the Prayer after Communion:
Renewed now with heavenly bread,
by which faith is nourished, hope is increased,
and charity strengthened,
we pray, O Lord,
that we may learn to hunger for Christ,
the true and living Bread,
and strive to live by every word
which proceeds from your mouth... 
Finally, in the Prayer over the People:
May bountiful blessing, O Lord, we pray,
come down upon your people,
that hope my grow in tribulation,
virtue may be strengthened in temptation,
and eternal redemption be assured.
What do we learn? That Lent is about not only right actions, but right attitudes (dispositions). That Christ himself, in his 40 days in the desert, is the model for Lent. That all of Lent is focused toward our celebration of the Easter Triduum (the Paschal Mystery) and that the Eucharist we receive at Mass strengthens and nourishes our ability to live the Cardinal Virtues - faith, hope and charity - as well as our ability to resist temptation. All of this, of course, is with reference to our eternal salvation and the eternal banquet in heaven.

So, convoluted though they may be, the prayers at Mass have a lot of catechesis about Lent in them. Listen this weekend, and take them to heart. How will you allow Jesus in the Eucharist to help you with your Lenten journey?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ashes - The Sacramental that Points to the Sacraments

Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments: they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church's intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.  (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 60)
We begin Lent with ashes, a sacramental made from the burning of the blest palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday.  By the definition above, the ashes should resemble the sacraments, but which ones?

The cross of ashes on our forehead is placed exactly where the cross of oil was placed on our heads during Baptism and Confirmation. Yet, made from ashes instead of holy oil, this mark is clearly visible - a public statement that we belong to Christ.

When an adult preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation is first signed with the cross, at the Rite of Acceptance into the Order of Catechism, it is an invisible sign, traced on their forehead by their sponsor or catechist: a foreshadowing of the cross of oil they will later receive at Easter. These are the words spoken:
Receive the cross on your forehead.
It is Christ himself who now strengthens you
with this sign of his love.
Learn to know and follow him.  
Words to remember today. The cross of Ashes is a renewed call to follow Christ, who first called us at our baptism and calls us every day of our lives to keep learning to follow him. It is the visible connection to the baptismal character of Lent that that Constitution laid out:
The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God and devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis. Hence:
a) More use is to be made of the baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy; some of them, which used to flourish in bygone days, are to be restored as may seem good.
b) The same is to apply to the penitential elements...   (SC 109)
So today, consider how your Ashes recall your baptismal invitation to follow Christ in everything. It began when oil was used to make that cross on your forehead...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

All of Me, Why Not Take All of Me?

I have mentioned before that I try to remember to offer myself to God as the gifts are being prepared or during the epiclesis (when the priest holds his hands over the bread and wine and calls down the Holy Spirit to change them into the Body and Blood). It's that part in CCC 901 about lay people offering their lives with the gifts.   You can read my explanation of that HERE.

On most days, it's pretty tame. Something like "God, take it all"  or "I give it all to you, Lord".  Sometimes, however, because I'm a musician and my head is full of random stuff,  the whimsey in me comes up with this:

All of me
Why not take all of me
Can't you see
I'm no good without you...

Yeah, God - I'm pretty much a mess without you. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

When the Bread of Life Can Make You Ill: A Celiac at Mass

As I continue to navigate the challenges of being a Catholic and being recently diagnosed with celiac disease, I have to admit I get a little catch in my gut as a reaction to anything referring to bread or wheat in songs or in the text of the Mass.  It's obviously psychological, like my latest tendency to pass longingly and nostalgically through the bakery section of the grocery store and glance at things I can never eat again.
 Wordle: bread of life
And yet this is important to who we are:
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
(John 6:53-58)
So what do you do when the bread that is broken and shared as Jesus' flesh can hurt you? When your low-gluten host is brought and distributed separately and is no longer part of the bread of the community?

You pray a lot. You feel sad. You learn that you will never know what part of the Cross you will be called upon to bear next in this life.

I know it's still the Eucharist, but now it's just a lot more complicated.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Discovering the Richness of the Source and Summit: "The Mass Explained" App Reviewed

Dan Gonzalez is a man who loves the Mass. In fact, he loves it so much that he has spent a great deal of time and effort creating a new way for others to deepen their appreciation of it.  The Mass Explained app, available now from the iTunes store, is a fascinating kaleidoscopic tour of important elements of ancient culture, history and Church tradition that have influenced or been incorporated into the development of the Mass and some of the cultural effects and connections that have resulted from it... and this is only Part I (Liturgy of the Word).  Currently, this app is only available for iPad, but a version for Android devices will be developed soon.

Gonzalez, a cradle Catholic who admits to starting out not knowing very much about his faith, says he was awakened to a desire to learn as much as he could about Catholicism after an experience in 1989 with a non-denominational Bible-study group. He began to read everything he could get his hands on about the biblical basis for Catholic faith and moved from an initial focus on apologetics to a deeper love and appreciation for "the beauty and majesty of the Mass." Gonzalez says "Amen, Kyrie Eleison and Agnus Dei—the Mass is a virtual tour of tongues and time-frames. The Hebrews, Greeks and Romans have all pressed their thumbprints into the liturgy." It is these "thumbprints" that he wanted to communicate in his app, along with ways for those who participate in the Mass to understand not only how the Mass got to be the way it is, but what it means to each of us as participants - how we live the Mass through understanding its meaning. The promo video outlines the underlying philosophy:

This new app focuses on the Ordinary Form of the Mass - the Mass in English as most American Catholics experience it, but references the Latin Mass appropriately throughout. Gonzales manages to steer clear of any particular "agenda" by being inclusive of the variety of worship that is embraced by the whole Church.

The Mass Explained answers such basic questions as

  • Why do we do what we do at Mass? 
  • What is the historical or cultural root or connection of each prayer, musical element or gesture?
  • What does this mean for the worshiper participating today? 
Designed as a learning experience in the form of a textbook divided into chapters, The Mass Explained app is more than a typical e-book. It is a full multimedia learning experience that takes advantage of visual and aural technology. The pages are filled with pop-up definitions and explanations, podcasts, 3-D tours, slide-shows, maps and more. You can read excerpts from Church documents, hear Jewish prayers that are the precursors of Mass prayers read in the original Hebrew, learn about how what the ancient Romans did in civil ceremonies influenced what we do at Mass, how our church buildings, processions and Catholic customs reflect ancient culture and both its religious and political practices. One of my favorite features as a church musician, is the samples of musical settings of the Gloria - from Gregorian chant, to Medieval, Baroque and Romantic classical composers.

The placement of the Liturgical Year in the discussion of the Gospel reading cycle may seem odd, but is deliberate - a decision, Gonzalez says, based on how the readings lead us through the life of Christ during the Church Year.

If I had anything to quibble about with this app, it would be that sometimes there seems like almost too much information. While reviewing the app, I tended to go down a few "rabbit holes" of fascinating history or custom and when I emerged I had to go back to the chapter title to remind myself why I had been there in the first place! Still, that just means this is a deep-level learning experience that will bear repeated use. It is perhaps not for the casual adult user, but for those who are seriously fascinated by history, culture, factual connections and more. It is, in fact, a short-course on the liturgy. As an information addict myself, I was hooked.

How could this app be useful? Gonzalez has suggested this could be used in high schools and in RCIA as well as in seminaries. I would expand that to general adult and parent formation for those who are willing to go deeper. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter could serve as a focus for group use. The promotional video above does a good job of suggesting reasons for use and could be used in a parish to promote participation in a group study.

At $24.99 each, this app may seem expensive, but a group discount for institutions through the Apple volume discount program means that ordering 20 or more takes the price down by 50% per copy. The app, Gonzalez notes, was created out-of-pocket with no outside funding and pricing reflects his costs, along with fees he will pay to Apple and to ICEL for use of copyrighted texts.

NOTE: I did not know Dan before I was given access to a pre-publication draft of this app and did not receive anything in return for my review process (other than a small spot in the Acknowledgements for some suggested tweaks.)