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Monday, September 30, 2013

The Big Island Bus Ride of 1992

It was one of the strangest days of my life, a confluence of the sun and moon, earth, air, fire, and water at the edge of world. And that was before dinner, when things got really interesting.

I've talked about this long enough, and so I felt I should finally tell my version of the story of the Big Island Bus Ride of 1992. Over the past several years, much has been written about the nature of memoir, and distinctions made between what actually happened and how an individual remembers it, between, I suppose, truth and experience, or between fact and truth. I don't know about all that in this case, I'm just going to tell you what I remember, completely open to the interpretation of others and correction on matters of fact. I'm certainly not trying to expand on my memory of what happened, nor change any of the details. I'm just saying that I might be wrong about aspects, and if I am, it is unintentional and subject to revision.
November 1992, in St. Louis. Photo by Gary Bohn.

1992 was the second time that our little trio was invited to the Big Island Liturgy and Art Conference (BILAC). This year, I had been asked to write the theme song, as I detailed in the "Songstories" post I did a few months ago on the song, "I Am for You." But as it turned out, Gary was unable to attend the conference. We had all just finished a diocesan conference in Springfield, Illinois, on the weekend of All Souls-All Saints, and after Hawaii were headed to Tom Kendzia's parish in Kingston, Rhode Island, for their annual concert. Gary's daughter Paige had been born in October, so he was only able to make the Springfield part of the trip. The trio picture that was part of the packaging of the Vision CD was taken in St. Louis that weekend. 

The Big Island conference was, until 2003, held at Malia Pua o Kalani Catholic Parish in the Hawaiian homelands of Keaukaha near Hilo, a beautiful, vibrant community led by Rev. George daCosta and a pastoral team including Joe Camacho. This small community hosted BILAC every year, bringing in liturgists and musicians from the mainland and treating everyone to a relaxing week of Hawaiian hospitality amid the natural beauties of the Big Island. BILAC was a real symbol of the possibility of church for so many of us, a cooperative effort by a small group of committed people, in the context of their parish community, to create an enriching experience for everyone involved, attendees and presenters alike. Presenters stayed in residences with families, some meals were served family-style at the parish center, others in homes. It has been a marvelous model of church.

Marty Haugen and David Haas have been, with Joe Camacho, the musical heart of BILAC and the main connection between the mainland and the community there. They are regular attendees, often with their families, and have developed deep roots over the years among the local community in Keaukaha. Other guests of BILAC over the years reads like a "Who's Who" of the U.S. liturgical and church music scene.

In 1992, in addition to Marty, David, Terry, and me, Bobby Fisher, Rev. (now Msgr.) Ray East, the late Sue Seid-Martin and Fr. Jim Dunning were attending the conference. On the last full day of the conference, it had been a tradition for the group to take the parish bus and do the volcano tour, to visit the caldera of Kilauea for the day. This was a particularly exciting time, because Kilauea was erupting, and the lava flow had made it out to the sea, crossing and closing the seaside road between Hilo and Kona. If we had time, we were told we could go to the site where the lava flow was entering the sea. Along the way, we would stop for an hour or so at a black sand beach on the western side of the island that was constantly being created as the current carried northward the lava that had exploded when it hit the sea water.

The day was everything we had expected it to be. As it drew near sunset, we were indeed able to drive down to the southeastern side of the island, where the lava flow was crossing the highway and running out into the Pacific. Along the edges of the lava flow, actually “lava tubes” with a hardened crust on top, it was possible to see the asphalt of the highway burning. All along the desert plain between the mountain and the ocean, wherever the flow came near a tree, moisture in the roots of the trees would superheat, and the bottoms of the trees would explode, so there were loud pops and booms at intervals. Where the lava flowed into the ocean, there was a deafening roar and towers of steam as the flow exploded into rock and sand. Bushes and trees were on fire everywhere. The highway itself, running almost in a straight line east and west at that point, seemed to divide the world in two between the sea to the south and the volcano to the north. At one end of the highway, the sun was setting into the orange horizon, at the other end, the moon was rising into the deepening indigo sky. It was almost impossible to take in, like coming upon the world being reborn in fire and water.

We finally gathered back onto the bus, taking the long way back to Hilo since we were on the "wrong side" of the lava flow. We stopped in a village in a kind of strip mall at a Chinese restaurant owned by parishioner, and ate a lavish dinner and laughed a lot, sharing our mutual amazement at the spectacle we had been privileged to witness. After dinner, we got back onto the school bus that had been our limo for the day.

The bus moved to the end of the parking lot. From here, we would descend the rest of the way to the highway and then finish the trip to Hilo. Fr. George was the bus driver, and said something to Joe, and Joe and a couple of the other hosts got out of the bus and began inspecting something on the outside while the rest of us continued our conversations. Suddenly, there was an audible "clunk", and the bus started moving.

I'm not a mechanic, so I don't know the exact problem. I want to say that I remember it was the universal joint, but whatever broke in that moment left the bus with no power to the steering or brakes. The men outside, one of whom had been UNDER the bus when it began moving, started chasing us. Some of them had children inside the bus, who began to panic and scream when they saw their dad fall in the street behind us. We were all now in a runaway bus with almost no steering and no brakes, rushing down a mountainside toward a highway where there was a stoplight, and beyond the highway, the sea. The bus accelerated as it descended, Fr. George used the lights and the horn to alert oncoming traffic of our situation, but we were otherwise unable to communicate. This was before cell phones were ubiquitous, and even though one or two people had them, the coverage in this rural area was thin.

As we approached the highway, I could see that the we were not going to have the green light. We would be going through the light on the highway on red, with no way to alert anyone we were coming. Terry was sitting next to me on the bus, clinging to my arm, Ray East was in the seat in front of us. Mothers were holding their terrified children. I remember thinking, "This is how you die. It happens quickly, and you don't expect it at all." Nearing the intersection, collision with the cross traffic seemed inevitable. I told Terry to brace herself, that we were going to be hit. Miraculously, that did not happen; the bus negotiated four lanes of the major highway without a collision. To me, it appeared as though cars had gone through the bus without hitting it. Of course, this is impossible. I have no idea how we managed not to have a major pile-up.

But we still weren't finished. We were still going downhill, with not much between us and the sea. After what seemed like another half-mile or so of coasting, there was a series small rises in the highway, like little hills. Finally, as the bus tried to make its way up the last one, it did not have enough momentum to carry it over. So now the bus began to slide backwards without breaks, down the hill, and up the previous one, and back and forth, until it finally rocked to rest.

At least two people got off the bus and were sick from terror. People were able to contact someone to bring vans, and within an hour or two we were all shuttled back to our respective lodgings. I was staying at a family's house with Ray East and Jim Dunning. For some reason, we had a car at our disposal, and of course my first thought was, Jesus, do I need a drink. But after driving around for a while, and being unable to find an open liquor store, I went home and found something milder to calm me down before trying to sleep.

Now, this is just my recollection of a strange evening of all kinds of miracles. Others will no doubt remember them differently. But, as I recall it, that is the amazing tale of the Big Island Bus Ride of 1992. Jim and Sue have gone to their rest since then. May they bless and guide us who are left here in the Church, especially the lovely people of Malia and the homelands, and Joe and Father George.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Teaching the torches to burn brightly for n years

Recording session, probably Family Resemblance (2002)
In practically every post about a song or album of ours, I mention her voice with some kind of hyperbole. Or what seems to be hyperbole, until you actually hear the recording. As someone said of her, probably Gary, she could sing the phone book and make you cry. It's just the way she does it. She can't help it. She opens her mouth, and heaven comes out.

And today is her birthday.

She's a private person. I even had to ask her permission to acknowledge her in my blog. But I couldn't let her birthday go by without some kind of notice, some little tribute, because so much of what I've become, more than half of my life, has been shaped by our relationship. And when you or anyone else hears a song of mine on a CD, or Pandora, or iTunes, you're hearing my ideas filtered through Gary Daigle's or Tom Kendzia's talent, and permanently colored by Terry's interpretation of it.

With Betsey Beckmann (l) and
Ginny Temple (r) at LAREC 2003
And not just mine. The original recording of Liam Lawton's "The Cloud's Veil" was Terry's vocal, along with his "The Lord Will Heal the Broken Heart" and others. Same goes for Dan Schutte's "Table of Plenty" and "River of Glory," and Tom Kendzia's "Endless Is Your Love." But there's no denying that she is "the voice of Cooneytoons." In the early days, especially, days of singer-songwriters in liturgical and pop music, I was told by more than one person that they thought Rory Cooney was a girl, because that's who was singing on the recording. I could do worse, that's for sure.

That's all about singing, and there's a lot more to the story, hers and ours, like there is about everybody's. Granted that it's not The Greatest Story Ever Told or anything, but it's a really good story, and I was thinking today that it's just like almost every other great story about real people in that it won't ever really be told. Cripes, I can hardly remember it, and I'm part of it. And it weaves in and out of other peoples' realities (and fantasies), so it would clearly need to be told posthumously. And by "posthumously" I mean after everyone now living on earth and their great-grandchildren are all dead.

Sorting through my memory and the apologies I would have to make for revelations crossing the Mars-Venus boundaries of propriety, I've settled on ten Greatest Donohoo Moments from the ages that I believe will pass historical muster. If they do not, then by Saturday morning, September 28, there will be fewer than ten, and possibly no one to write the next entry into this postequinocturnal olio.

The "master" of the house, at NIU graduation 2007
10. Graduation NIU...After early years of working as an inhouse nanny for two gorgeous little girls in St. Charles, with Desi in tow, and with Desi safely at school at St. Anne's across the street from our residence and where I was working, Terry went back to school to get her MA in English at Northern Illinois in DeKalb. After a few hundred long, long commutes, particularly in winter, she and a few thousand of her closest friends graduated on a gorgeous May Saturday in 2008. Separately from the weather, it was a radiant day in the northwest suburbs.
9. Cabin in Wisconsin (2007) Both Terry and I are cancer survivors, thanks be to God. The first of three vacations we took to Wisconsin, all of which were meticulously researched by herself, came just a couple of weeks after Terry's surgery took place, in the weeks before she started her first round of student teaching and radiation. This was a lesson in generosity, healing, and patience for me, I hope, for Desi as we enjoyed the quiet beauty of the northern Wisconsin forests.
8. Trip to St. Martin. We had miles and we had time. We wanted to go to a Mexican resort area and chill for a week, but no seats or rooms were to be had. So we just asked the airline agent, "Where can we go for x miles that's warm?" and we were flown to Princess Juliana airport in St. Maarten, NA. We quickly drove out of the Dutch side of the island and ensconced ourselves at a bougainvillea-draped resort on the French side of the island, where we felt more of our culinary fantasies might be fulfilled. It was here, people-watching at a clothing-optional beach, that I was sunburned within an inch of edibility, and Terry got some kind of food poisoning, on the first day. My movement thus restricted to Frankenstein-like lurchings at night, we managed excursions to shaded venues like an amazing butterfly farm, and lots of restaurants. Verdict: near perfection.
7. Search for March Street. In the winter of 2008-2009, Terry decided that if we were ever going to buy a house, the time was now. She had landed a job at Carmel Catholic HS in Mundelein, and began a search for a place that would be a little closer. After a house-to-house search worthy of Seal Team Six in the tri-county area, in spite of two false starts and rejected bids, we landed our current residence in Lake Zurich, almost exactly equidistant between our jobs. She did this single-handedly while I went along for the ride, grousing about my weight-loss regimen to the real estate guy and the Gurreris who kept her company and gave her advice. Well done, Ms. Donohoo.
6. Swann in Love. In brief, the worst movie idea (based on Proust, for chrissake) made into the worst movie in the history of cinema, and she took me to it anyway, because it had Jeremy Irons in it. If there is a Dumb and Dumber 12, it and all its predecessors would not equal in value the torpor of its banality. What I did for love.
2010 outside San Xavier del Bac, Tucson
5. Desi's graduation. The moment when you got to give the boy his diploma. It would have been a Kodak moment, if the other kids and I hadn't been in the nosebleed seats at the opposite end of the arena, requiring a telephoto lens of the kind generally associated with spy satellites. No matter. It was a perfect moment from any distance. 
4. Desi being born. I think I barely had returned from a Forum gig the afternoon of June 25, and early the next morning Terry went into labor. We had, of course, done the classes, and even made a practice run to the hospital, to find the route of fewest bumps from Elgin to Barrington. The other kids were around, Joel coming over after work in the village, and then the hottest summer in history in our 2nd-story flat with all the kids. And a lovely woman (thanks, Cynthia, and God bless you, wherever you are) from the parish bought us an air-conditioning unit for the bedroom window. Good times. And good to get the house in Barrington the next spring...
3. "Change our Hearts" at the NPM Cry of the Poor concert. At an NPM in Cincinnati, I think, in 1985 or so, John Foley and others arranged a benefit concert that was recorded with proceeds going to aid the hungry. We were invited to be part of the concert, as it was being co-sponsored by NALR, and the song they chose was "Change Our Hearts." It was a house band, and most of us composers were in the choir. But Terry came out to sing the lead vocal in the song, in a sweet red dress that was perfect for the event, the song, and her. 
2. Hurricane Andrew (?) incident at Guggenheim cabin Saranac Lake. I wrote about this a while ago, but need to reiterate it because it's part of Cooney-Daigle-Donohoo lore. We were giving a concert and doing workshops for the Diocese of Ogdensburg in upstate NY, staying at the Guggenheim family lodge near Saranac Lake. Unfortunately for everyone, the violent remnant of Hurricane Andrew (I think) blew through the evening before the conference, knocking out power to the area between the concert and the conference. We were in complete darkness in a cabin we didn't know, a huge one, with what we thought of as a walk-in fireplace. The wind is screaming outside, rain coming down horizontally. The three of us are huddled by the fireplace trying not to be scared out of our minds. Then there is a BANG BANG BANG at the front door, and suddenly it's like a scene from Friday the Thirteenth. And, in fact, it is a Friday. Lucky for us, it was our host, the diocesan director of RE, with a bottle of Jameson's, and we all lived happily ever after. Trucks cleared the road early in the morning, we cleaned up in town at a rectory that had power and water, and went on with the gig. God provides.
1. Volcanoes and the Big Island bus ride of 1992. If I don't finish this soon, it won't be Terry's birthday any more. This event needs a post of its own, so I will do it in the next few days. Suffice it to say that it was a Day in the Life. You'll see what I mean. 
Tie for #1: Ireland for the whole month of October, 2000, with Desi and your mom. Through the goodness of Martin Brown, OSB, some colleagues in Dublin, and Brian Foley and his family and colleagues in Belfast, we scraped together enough work to make a trip to Ireland that took up over three weeks in October 2000. We spent a week in SE Ireland at an equestrian resort near Wicklow, a week in a "traditional" thatched bungalow near Limerick in a village called Murroe, and a week in Belfast. So many great memories from those days, and stories we still tell. I'm not sure that any of our work made any difference to them, but our time in Ireland made a difference to us, and it was one of the great adventures of our life together. 

Here are a few samples of Terry's singing through the years: you can hear how she just keeps getting better, and we are holding out hope that there will be yet another collection in the near future that will provide a span of thirty years of her gift to the music of the church.

Terry singing (1984) You Alone
Terry singing (1992) Be Thou My Vision
Terry singing (1999) Cloud's Veil
Terry singing (2006) New Jerusalem
Terry singing (2012) Turn Around
Thanksgiving 2011 at the Bean, Chicago, holding her
great love (in her right hand), and standing next to me ☺

Happy birthday, my dear love, and may Good Health and Happiness relentlessly hunt you down. And if they need any help, may they enlist the assistance of Prosperity. Thank you for everything that has been.

Speaking of memoirs and great stories, a very fine look at the whole process of remembering and sharing memory is artfully rendered in actor/director Sarah Polley's film Stories We Tell. Terry and I watched this last week, and it really stays with you.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seeing Lazarus (C26O)

"There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus...”

The sentence that struck me the most when I was trying to read a little bit to work with this parable was one that had this as the kernel of the idea: “It can’t be just about the rich and the poor. After all, Abraham was a rich man.” That is so right. We want to make Luke the apologist for the preferential option for the poor, and there’s some truth in that, no doubt. But we have to understand the gospel as a whole, too, including the passages that remind us that God doesn’t play favorites, and calls all people his beloved children. The thing about God is, there aren’t any walls.

This might be the big problem in this parable. It’s a problem for the rich man, anyway, because there’s someone at “at his door” (or, other translations put it, “sitting at his gate”) whom he does not see. The rich man is self-possessed; he has everything he needs, and one thing he does not need is to go outside his gate and see the poor man there beyond the threshold. The poor man is idle, he doesn’t even seem to have the strength to beg. At least, that is not important to the story.

And there's the detail of the dog. I can hear Jesus telling this story and getting a big laugh about that, at the rich man's expense. Even the dog could see that Lazarus needed some help. This poor dumb street animal, at least, licked Lazarus' sores. Rich guy: bupkis. 

What happens, inevitably and suddenly, is that both men die, and suddenly, that threshold that the rich man was loath to cross in his life has become uncrossable in death. Even now, the rich man apparently doesn’t “see” the invisible Lazarus, doesn’t approach him for the favor of mercy. Instead, as a child of the covenant which he did not keep with his fellow Israelite, he calls out to Abraham, who gives him the bad news. Even in his desperation, the rich man makes no attempt to cross the chasm. Does he feel entitled, somehow, to relief, because he is child of Abraham?

I don’t think this parable is intending to say, “You’d better give to the poor, or else you’ll burn in hell.” Hell as a place of fire and suffering was not an image to which pious Jews would appeal, and Jesus would be among them. I think it’s trying to say, “You’ve got to look at what’s happening to the people right outside your gate, the people just beyond what you choose to see every day. You’ve got to stop just sitting there, doing the same old things, and get up and go out and see what’s going on to people right outside your door, and help them out." The price for not doing so will be some separation, some unbridgeable distance between people that will result in anguish. There are all kinds of explanations for the anguish - start with lack of self-actualization, or some Marxist dialectic that leads to revolution, or the unrealized potential of the human enterprise. Fill in the blanks. If the threat of hell enters the picture, the whole scenario takes on less of the urgency of the empire of God, the inviting rule of agape, and more of the triumph of superego, the preadolescent desire to do right  in order first to avoid punishment, then possibly to win the affection of mom and dad.

Thinking about this, I couldn't help but hear Pope Francis's words in his homily in Brazil. Who wouldn't hear them, with Luke's parable in this gospel ringing in our ears? ""We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities when so many people are waiting for the Gospel! It's not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people." (Emphasis mine.) A couple of weeks ago, I traveled the parabolic arc with the two lost sons, and found myself outside a door looking in to a sumptuous feast. Should I go in, or not? Can I accept myself as sinful and imperfect, no better or worse than my brother, and make Dad happy? Here, a few verses later in Luke, I'm inside, and find myself looking out over my sumptuous table to the street. What am I seeing? What am I missing? Can I get up and go out there where it might not be safe, and make a difference? Two parables, two tables, two doorways. Both invite me to leave the safe place, and go on a spiritual adventure. I might find myself by losing myself.

We listen to Pope Francis exhort us to action; we talk about the “marginalized,” “marginal” people, on the edges of our experience and awareness. Sometimes, like the panhandlers who stir us from our reveries of our affluence and richly deserved diversions, we choose to ignore them, justifying our sangfroid by naming ourselves the caretakers of their own good, they who would go and spend our pocket change on booze (not like we would, for instance.) Sometimes we can’t see them because we’ve become inured to the suffering of the world by our collusion with the strategies of economic imperialism. People are just invisible to us because we’re blind to them; they’re not part of our American paradigm of having enough to get by and being able to get what you need when you need it. “Marginalized” people are the ones who are “outside the gates” of our consciousness, as individuals and as a nation and culture. But just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not out there, nor does it decrease their suffering nor our peril.

We sometimes quote Robert Frost’s poem “The Mending Wall” with the phrase, “Good fences make good neighbors,” and we don’t seem to realize that Frost was using that phrase ironically. The poet was aware of the fragility of fences, of how nature seems to abhor what separates people from each other. “Don’t fence me in,” sang Pete Seeger, and he wasn’t making a suggestion, either; he was singing a manifesto (probably unlike the urbane Cole Porter, who wrote the song which he didn’t like!) Those gates and fences that make good neighbors are bad for community, bad for a sense of solidarity, and they tend to fail unless they are attended to by people who feel more is lost by sharing than is gained by solidarity.

Interestingly, the article in Hear Then the Parable by Bernard Brandon Scott that deals with the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is called, “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.” Jesus, in his storytelling and world-making, knew the irony of that phrase. He could see the failure of the covenant in the blindness of his rich man, and could only hope to rekindle the sabbath mutuality inherent in that covenant with a flint-spark struck from a story about a reversal; a gate, a margin, an obstacle to vision that became a self-fulfilling prophecy of absolute and irreversible alienation. Talk to the people of Belfast, Berlin, and Bethlehem about their walls, and how much they’ve helped their nations. Do you ever wonder whether the people planning to build a fence along the Rio Grande read the same gospel you do, or if they do, which god they mean when they say, “one nation, under God”?

I’ll leave you with a few lines from Frost, building on Scott’s essay, and a prayer that we keep our doors and gates and eyes wide open:

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know 

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense. 

Something there is that doesn't love a wall, 

That wants it down.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The i(pad) doesn't lie, Volume 2 - wedding music

Bless this day,
Tragedy of life,
Husband joined to wife.
The heart sinks down and feels dead
This dread-
ful day.
Bless this bride,
Totally insane
Slipping down the drain,
And bless this day in our hearts
As it starts
To rain.

("Getting Married Today," from Company, by Stephen Sondheim)

Why am I even writing this? Nothing but grief will come of it. When it comes to wedding music, as "Bart the Genius" Simpson says when at a loss in school to offer an example of a paradox, "Well, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't."

But no sense in not coming clean. My late friend and mentor John Gallen used to joke that a theologian's role was to make you feel better about what you're already doing. The Jesuit in him, I think, wanted to both find a path to the truth and compassion for himself and for the rest of us who had a hard time sticking to that path. Like you, I know the ideal about what wedding music should be like. But, like marriages, weddings rarely achieve the ideal. We keep trying.

The technique I use for trying came from Mary Prete during her tenure directing music at Old St. Patrick's before Bill Fraher arrived, which was before I arrived in Chicago as well. At St. Jerome's in Phoenix, I had always planned the music for every wedding individually with the couple, from beginning to end. I can't remember how many weddings we did in those days, but it couldn't have been the number I'm doing now, or there wouldn't have been time for anything but wedding meetings. When I got to St. Anne, I must have mentioned this or heard about Mary's strategem (which was very successfully adopted by Bill when he took over at OSP) and we started using it as well: the wedding fair.

We just had one last Monday night. I schedule them twice a year, once in the fall, and once in the spring. Truth be told, there aren't that many weddings scheduled between now and the spring wedding fair, and most of them have already been planned, but people work differently, and some whose weddings are a year away want to get a jump on these things. Most of the weddings at St. Anne fall between the time after first communions in mid-May and the end of October. Last weekend, we had five, which is exhausting with the rest of the weekend schedule, but rare.

In the twenty-plus years I've been at St. Anne's, it's clear that this technique of introducing couples to wedding music has spread around a lot, not because of me, but because of Mary and Bill and the influence of networking through NPM and other gatherings of music types. We invite everyone with a wedding scheduled to come to the church on a Monday evening. I give everyone a copy of Pastoral Press's (OCP) wonderful Celebrating Marriage, edited by Paul Covino and others, along with some worksheets of my own devising. I give the couples a 15-20 minute "users' guide" to the book so they can see how valuable it is and easy to use, and then we do about an hour of 30-60 second pieces of options for wedding music so they can hear the songs in context, know their names, hear about suitability at different times of the ceremony, and hear them with a variety of instruments. My wife Terry Donohoo and I do the singing, and we have a flutist, trumpet player, and string quartet there as well, playing arrangements I've done myself or purchased over the years. 

I make it clear that what we're doing musically isn't meant to be exclusive at all, just that the pieces we present tend to be the ones most often requested. This brings up the iPad system, which I mentioned in the title of this blog post and in a similar one a couple of weeks ago about funeral music. In my iPad wedding songlist, I move the songs I use for the nuptials-du-jour to the top of the list, and put them in order. New songs will be added, though some that are unique to a particular wedding will not be in ForScore, but only in the MusicNotes app. (MusicNotes is a handy online sheet music store that both allows you to print a copy of the music you purchase and offers an iPad app that lets you keep an electronic copy which is, in most cases, transposable.) The songs near the top of the list, say the top twenty-five or thirty, would be most frequently played. At the wedding fair, we do pieces of between thirty and forty songs. 

We have two worship spaces at St. Anne. Our daily mass chapel has about 150 seats, and is architecturally speaking about half of our old stone church, high ceiling, stained glass, and really excellent acoustics. The main worship space is much larger, with two levels of seating, about 1000 seats on the floor and another 300 or so in a mezzanine. My estimate would be that our weddings are divided about half and half, and generally along the lines of numbers of guests. As for music, we have done just about everything, from occasionally me having to do the entire wedding alone as cantor and accompanist (I hate this, but will do it especially because it doesn't cost the couple any more money than their church stipend), to having a cantor and one or two other musicians, to one wedding that had a twenty piece orchestra, two cantors, and a children's choir. Weddingpalooza.

I made a wedding website at the parish site, so that couples could download the worksheet and grid that I give them at the wedding fair in case they get lost. On the website, the grid is expanded, and the song titles are links that allow them to hear clips of recorded versions of those songs for reference. If you'd like to check out the site, go to

So back to the top, to the wedding music, and "damned if you do." What I mean is, everybody has their bugaboos about this wedding thing. I try to walk a middle line, but I'm sure I have my trigger point and prejudices as well. I don't deny people the ability to use the Wagner or Mendelssohn marches because of the secular origins of those pieces, because frankly, most people, nearly all people, don't have any idea about the secular origins of those pieces: their frame of reference is just the wedding repertoire. On the other hand, people do know the frame of reference for songs like "All I Ask of You" from Phantom of the Opera and whatever that hit-du-jour was from Jekyll and Hyde, and I am reluctant to allow songs that can barely be qualified even as romantic (as though murderous obsession were romance) in a sacramental celebration. Reluctant to the point of obstinate, I guess I would confess. In a hundred years, maybe, when all people know of Lloyd Webber is "All I Ask of You," and the rest of his nachtmusik is forgotten, maybe. Instrumentally. Maybe. I probably won't have to worry about it. Probably.

Mostly, we try to give lots of options, including a less monarchical runway option processional, like a song ("We Praise You") done as a stately instrumental, followed by singing the music when the procession is over as a gathering song. I really do believe that wedding music should be liturgical, with communal singing, but the church has bigger problems with weddings than the music. In any case, none of these problems will be solved by intransigence about music selections. Pretty much the first three rules of the reign of God applies to wedding music as well: invite, invite, invite. 

OK, here's the list from my iPad, and I'll add on the music we sampled at the wedding fair that is not on the top 30 list with a (*).  For the record, our parish uses Gather, Third Edition in the pews, so the hymnody, while pretty universal, is oriented toward that book. Also, note that these songs aren't in any particular order; the ones nearest the top were simply used most recently. Nearly every one of them was used during the past weekend's five wedding marathon.

* Bach - Third Brandenburg Concerto
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Bach)
Canon in D (Pachelbel)
I Say Yes, My Lord (Peña)
Psalm 34 for Weddings "Every Morning in Your Eyes" (Cooney)
When Love Is Found (Wren, O Waly Waly)
Be Thou My Vision (arr. Cooney)
Here I Am, Lord (Schutte)
Ave Maria (Schubert)
Trumpet Voluntary (Clarke)
On Eagle's Wings (Joncas)
Ode to Joy (Beethoven)
Song of Songs (Cooney)
Cloud's Veil (Lawton)
Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin (Wagner)
One Bread, One Body (Foley)
Wedding Song (Stookey)
Allegro Maestoso from Watermusic (Handel)
Psalm 103 The Lord Is Kind (two settings, Cooney and Cotter)
Salmo 23 Nada Me Falta (Peña)
March from A Midsummer Night's Dream (Mendelssohn)
Lover's Waltz (Unger and Mason)
Lord of the Dance (Shaker Hymn, Carter)
I Have Loved You (Joncas)
Taste and See (Moore)
No Greater Love (Joncas)
I Will Never Know (Kendzia)
Psalm 128 All the Days of Our Lives (Cooney)
Covenant Hymn (Daigle and Cooney)
Le Rejouissance (Handel)
I Found the Treasure (Schutte)
* May We Be One (Daigle and Cooney)
* Ave Maria (Bach/Gounod)
* We Praise You (Balhoff, Daigle, Ducote)

And don't get me started on singing the Glory to God. We'll sing it when the priests threaten to speak it if it's not sung. I should safely be retired by the time that happens.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Worthy to stand (sit, wander about) in your presence and serve you...

With Pope Francis's blessed personal aggiornamento, opening the windows of the church by the force
of his own faith and personality to a more deeply love-driven dynamism, will come the inevitable chorus of voices calling for the lynching of all law and order as the enemy of real Christian discipleship. I'm certain of it; it's a pendulum swing as old as Christianity itself. The visionary apostle preaches the Way as freedom from the law, and those who feel oppressed by law rally around that sermon, empowered by the gospel, ready to throw law out the window. 

The love of the liturgy is the liturgist’s bane. There is a kind of standing joke among ourselves that once you’ve started seriously studying ritual, you can never really go back again, and you can forget about actually praying. It is a joke, but what makes it funny is that there is some truth to it. Liturgy is essentially conservative. Its nature is to pass on tradition. Christianity's tradition, however, is transformation of the past by the vision of an alternative present and future: the reign of God. Fr. Richard Fragomeni, a professor of liturgy at Chicago Theological Union, once called Catholic liturgy "anti-ritual ritual" for this reason. It is an oxymoron, a paradox, to use ritual, an essential conservative activity, to foment the peaceful revolution that is the reign of God. And yet, that is exactly what it does, in spite of our best attempts to minimalize it, bowdlerize it, spiritualize it, turn it into entertainment, and ignore. Filled with the Spirit of Jesus and empowered by the word of God, it effects what it signifies.

I am as big a hedonist as anyone I know. I don’t believe for a second that God wants us to be suffering for a moment more than we have to, and we only have to when it’s our time to do so in life, and those times come for everyone. It’s our duty to relieve suffering, especially for those who have no one to advocate for them. I firmly believe that.

On the other hand, I cannot fathom why priests will say things like this at mass, during the Eucharistic Prayer: “Please kneel or be seated, however you are comfortable.” When I first heard this, I ran to my office to thumb through my handy Pocket Guide to the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, a work of fiction upon which I rely heavily in my parish work, along with my now out-of-print Liturgy for Dummies. Imagine my amazement to discover that there is no reference at all in the GIRM, either in the 1967 or 2000 version, to the comfort of the assembly. There are various times for various postures of sitting, standing, walking, and kneeling; sometimes there are options given, the occasional bow or genuflection, but not a word about being comfortable. How did this word creep into the clerical vocabulary in the context of the Mass?

Well, I think I know that, for instance at weddings and funerals, some nice guys just don’t want to tell people to kneel knowing that there are some congregationalists and maybe even a marginal agnostic who just have trouble with the whole kneeling thing. Um, fellas, let them deal with it. They’re grown-ups, or if they're not, they have parents. We don’t have to control how other people act at mass. Even Catholics have two choices. In the United States, the general posture during the Eucharistic Prayer is kneeling. That’s what almost everyone does, so let them do it. But the practice in the US is the exception in the Catholic world, where the general discipline, the one used in Rome and which finds its rubrical origins in the GIRM itself, in both the old and new versions, is to stand during the Eucharistic prayer (hence, perhaps, the gratitude once expressed there that we can “stand in your presence and serve you.”) So, if you don’t want to alienate Catholics or grumpy atheists, just have people stand. Standing is a gesture of respect, even in the US culture. No one needs to sit for their comfort, and if they do, they can choose to do that. That’s called "being an adult." Theologians call it "free will."

But for some reason that is unknowable to the ritual heart, we have been told to sit for the Eucharistic prayer, or even to sit for a longer gospel, so that we’d be more comfortable. You know, comfortable, the way that “taking up your cross” makes you feel, or turning away from sin. 

I have confronted (gently, of course, and respectfully) the perps on occasion when this happened, and guess what? They kept doing it. Why? Because the priest thought that people couldn't pay attention that long and keep standing, and he didn’t want to “lose them” for the homily. Here's what the General Instruction says. You decide: “When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his own word, proclaims the Gospel. (29)”  We read in GIRM 60, “The reading of the Gospel is the high point of the Liturgy of the Word. The Liturgy itself teaches that great reverence is to be shown to it by setting it off from the other readings with special marks of honor: whether the minister appointed to proclaim it prepares himself by a blessing or prayer; or the faithful, standing as they listen to it being read, through their acclamations acknowledge and confess Christ present and speaking to them; or the very marks of reverence are given to the Book of the Gospels.” (emphasis mine)

Do you think there is a person in that church who hasn’t spent 30 minutes to an hour in line at Six Flags or Disney World to sit for a two-minute ride, and they can’t stand up for the gospel to be proclaimed on Sunday, having sat for probably 8 minutes before, and again for the next 15 minutes or so after, with a brief stand-up again for the creed and intercessions? See, I think that if someone is so uncomfortable standing for three or four minutes to hear the gospel, they can just decide to sit down.  

Some members of the community, members of my choir included, are completely perplexed by this bit of palliative ritual improvisation, and when I told them the story, that not only had this decision been made for the sake of “comfort,” but that we had requested it be discontinued and been dismissed for it, they were incredulous. Why? Because they are adults, and they can stand, most of them, for a few minutes without having even a minor problem with their health or attention span, and if they did, they would just sit down, and they wouldn’t need to be told to do so, and no one would think they were less reverent than anyone else.

I don’t know how it got to be such a chore just to do the ritual. Let the rite teach us what it means, let’s not make up something that it means, and change the ritual to fit our ideas. Let’s take full advantage of all the options available to us, and be creative within the boundaries set by church. But let’s not confuse hospitality with comfort. Our invitation is not to a cruise, but to a journey that is on foot. There will be time to sit down, but that time is (usually) not when the gospel is proclaimed, and Christ himself is speaking to his people, or offering us, and the whole universe along with us, as a living sacrifice of love to Abba in the Eucharistic prayer. That's got to be as worth standing for as a ride on Space Mountain, doesn't it?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Albums 11—Cries of the Spirit, Volume 2 (OCP, 1996)

Track List

Psalm 69: Turn to God in Your Need
Psalm 126: I Had a Dream
Psalm 17: When Your Glory Appears
Psalm 66: Let All the Earth Cry Out
Psalm 71: I Will Sing Your Salvation
Psalm 98: The Lord Comes to Rule
Psalm 128: All the Days of Our Lives
Psalm 122: The Road to Jerusalem
Psalm 103: The Lord Is Kind
Psalm 33: Song of the Chosen
Psalm 138: On the Day I Called
Psalm 22: Why Have You Abandoned Me
Psalm 97: The Lord Is King

OCP Product Page: Click here for Cries of the Spirit, Volume 2. Includes links to sound clips, octavos, and the CD (not available on iTunes)

The first CD we recorded after my move to the Chicago area in 1994 was Cries of the Spirit, Volume 2.  My desire was to preserve the psalm settings that were first published on You Alone and Do Not Fear to Hope, which were going out of print and not being transferred to the CD medium. Also, there were a number of psalms I had written for AssemblyBook, which was the subscription worship aid that North American Liturgy Resources had attempted for three years or so with John Gallen, S.J., as liturgical consultant. Some of these also had made their way onto GIA's Psalms for the Church Year, Volume 4, as I explained on that blog post.

Of the psalms recorded on this album, Psalm 66, 122, and Psalm 22 had appeared on You Alone (more info at link). When re-recording them for CotS2, we lowered the key of Psalm 66 from A to G, making it a little more cantor-friendly, I think, by lowering the top note from F# to E in the verse.  Psalms 98, 128, and 103 had been recorded on Do Not Fear to Hope. On that record, we had recorded Psalm 98 with a different antiphon (the Christmas seasonal antiphon, "All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God"), and half a step lower, in Db. For this recording and the new octavo, I included several antiphons and a total of six through-composed verses, the entire psalm, making it very versatile throughout all three lectionary years.

On this recording, we also just used the three of us as cantors, mostly because we had been performing and, I suppose, marketing ourselves as a trio since Mystery in 1987. And Terry and Gary do the lion's (and lioness's) share of the singing because I prefer to enjoy listening to the recording, and didn't want to hear myself singing the songs later and wishing one of them had done it. I settled on singing two of the songs that didn't require much vocal range or nuance to pull off, "I Had a Dream," to which I also had some emotional attachment, and "On the Day I Called."

Observations. It's hard to determine popularity with some of these settings, because octavo sales are skewed by the presence of many of the songs in both OCP's seasonal missalettes and in their series Singing the Psalms, where many are also anthologized. In octavo sales alone, the most popular of the psalms on CotS2 was "Psalm 138: On the Day I Called for Help." Unlike the original Cries collection, CotS2 did not have a guitar book edition, but the octavos had guitar versions (melody line and chords) in the back pages of the fascicle.

Here are a few words on the songs of CotS2, at least the ones I didn't write about on the earlier recordings mentioned above.

Psalm 69: Turn to God in Your Need—I was trying for the passion of a flamenco song, with guitar-based rhythms and a solid, uplifting melody in 6/8. The verses are more lyric, pleading, with a contrasting third verse (of four) in the relative major key. It only comes around a couple of times on Sunday, and once with a different antiphon which just happens to fit the rhythmic pattern (In your great love, O God, answer me.)

I remember exactly when and where I was when I wrote "Psalm 126: I Had a Dream." It was the summer of 1972 at summer school at DePaul University, Chicago. What a great summer. I also wrote a setting of Psalm 46 that summer called "There Is a River," beating Manion to the title, at least, by over a decade. Yeah, so his song is better than mine, but mine would sound better with David Gates singing it.  The great setting of Psalm 126 is the Huijbers "When (or Home) from Our Exile." I miss that one!

Psalm 17: When Your Glory Appears. Again, this is only used once in the three-year Sunday lectionary, on one of the last Sundays in Ordinary Time. My urtext of choice was the Book of Psalms in the Jerusalem Bible, which, remember, used the then-approved name for God, Yahweh, when it appeared as the tetragrammaton in Hebrew. My friend Tom Conry reproved me for doing this way back then, trying to drive the point home that God's name in the Hebrew scriptures was kind of like an "in" joke, like God saying, "I am who I am — you wouldn't understand," and for us to keep calling God by that name is absurd. So I stopped doing it, but it was too late when the music was in print. In some places, other divine names work fine, in others, a little finesse is required. This is one of those places. Still, in my opinion, it's worth the effort. Through-composed verses and playing between major and minor modes help deliver this psalm text in an organic way.

Psalm 71: I Will Sing Your Salvation. I think that somewhere there was a fever dream where Richard Proulx, Randall Thompson, and The Doors were trying to influence this setting, and they all won. I guess the modal, metronomic feel reminds me of early Proulx like his "Look for Me in Lowly Men" and "Song of the Three Children," the contrapuntal feel of the verses is reminiscent of "A Testament of Freedom" by Thompson. And the blues modality and melodic arc are Jim Morrison-like. I guess I couldn't make up my mind, but the eclectic sound is a metaphor for universal salvation. :-)

Psalm 33: Song of the Chosen. Originally recorded for DNFTH, we re-recorded this with the optional antiphon used for the Rite of Acceptance in the RCIA. The original is still lots of fun, though.

Psalm 93: The Lord Is King. In setting this psalm, I used some ideas from a less-successful setting of this psalm and also of Psalm 97 I had written some years before. The guitar-driven feel of the original music is there in the current version, while the flute descant colors the jazzy refrain. 

Thanks to OCP for keeping many of these songs in circulation. Even if the noose tightens around non-verbatim settings for responsorial psalms (and verbatim ones using older translations, for that matter), remember that songs "inspired by" psalms can be used at lots of times inside and outside the eucharist! And gosh, I'm really sorry that I had to write that sentence.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mammon, Mammon, my dear old mammon... (C25O)

“I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles...”

“Mammon” is one of those words that translators tend to leave alone in the Scripture. Words like “maranatha,” “alleluia,” “hosanna,” “talitha cumi,” “ephphetha,” and the jarring phrase “eloi, eloi, lema sabacthani,” tend to be left alone in translation. Even the word “sabaoth,” a word from Isaiah that summons visions of armies, but has a subtler and wider meaning, is retained in the Latin editio typica of the Sanctus as “Dominus Deus Sabaoth,” translated ultimately in English as "Lord God of hosts." “Mammon” comes up in Sunday’s gospel, and rather than dealing with it, we just glide right over it like we understand what it’s talking about, or else we substitute words like “money” and “wealth” for it in the gospel:
No servant can serve two masters. 
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other. 
You cannot serve both God and mammon.

According to what I’ve read, “mammon” doesn’t exactly mean wealth or riches or money; there were other words to convey those meanings in Aramaic and Greek. Rather, mammon means something like “whatever it is about money that causes people to become corrupted.” Mammon exudes the scent of an evil spirit, something that calls people to its service and leads down a way to the loss of self. It is, apparently, an option to God. One can serve it or God, but not both. And as Bob Dylan reinforced with us, “ya gotta serve somebody.”

Then there’s that mysterious parable preceding the little poem about money of which “mammon” is a part. It strikes me (and this thought is not original with me, at all) how many details of this parable are like the parable of the two lost sons: the word “squandering” appearing in both with reference to the main characters; both find themselves in a crisis, both hatch a plan, both throw themselves on the mercy of another character, the father in the case of the son, and the master in the case of the steward. We have the troublesome (to some) detail that “the master” (ho kyrios - did Luke mean Jesus?) praised the steward for his ingenuity in what appears to be an act of embezzlement. What I love about these parables is that even with our best scripture scholarship, literary and anthropological commentary, we’re still pretty much guessing about what people might have heard, even about what Jesus actually said. One enlightening account simply summarizes the story this way: what is it that the steward is good at, for what is he commended? Forgiveness of debt, which we have already seen in Luke, in Jesus’s prayer, is at the heart of the experience of the reign of God. In other words, forgiveness (particularly the measurable, physical forgiveness of debt) is everything. Risk everything to do it, and throw yourself on the master’s mercy, and you can be sure of the outcome! 

Yet another commentator sees the marks of class rivalry in the story, so that Jesus sets up the crowd of peasants to expect the master to act with justice and punish the steward for selling him short to his clients, but instead, he praises the steward for his ingenuity. The class war is thrown aside by the empire of God. If masters don’t act like masters, what’s going on in the world? The prejudice of the peasants would be exposed, in a non-threatening, humorous way, for what it is. Another reading sees that the steward’s action to save his own skin by “making friends with dishonest wealth” also preserves the honor of the master, whose merciful reduction of debt would be seen as prodigally generous. Having created a win-win situation, perhaps the steward could look forward to a Lucan “reversal,” and find that he’s back into a job that he had so recently lost. Who knows?

The thing is, because the set of lectionary readings we have is a sort of “canon within the canon” of scripture, because the other reading(s) and psalm are a context and illumination of the Gospel message, we have an idea what the Church’s wisdom is on the text, even as we struggle to make sense of the difficult story ourselves. The short reading from the prophet Amos, from whom we will also hear next Sunday, is a warning to the rich who don’t get the meaning of the Sabbath, who participate in Sabbath rituals but don’t let their deeper meaning change their behaviors so that the poor receive some measure of mercy from the abundance of the rich. Psalm 113 today and Psalm 146 next Sunday both are hallels which praise God precisely for being a good who “lifts up the poor.” Psalm 113 exults:
He raises up the lowly from the dust;
from the dunghill he lifts up the poor
to seat them with princes,
with the princes of his own people.
So there’s not so much ambiguity when the readings are taken as a unit, it seems to me. Serving God, rather than mammon, means using one’s wealth, however much one has been given to steward, in a particular way. People with money in the empire of God are expected to make life easier with their money for those for whom life is hard. (One giveaway for this interpretation, it seems to me, is the option to use a “shorter version” of the gospel, a version which completely omits the parable of the crafty steward, and only keeps the little poem on the use of wealth as the reading for the day.) 

As we’ll see next week, Luke’s Jesus keeps hitting away at this theme of the relationship between the rich and poor, making clear that the rich bear a responsibility in this world for the plight of the poor. Recall that it is Luke who follows his beatitude blessing the poor (not just Matthew's "poor in spirit") with a “woe to the rich,” and who tells his amazed disciples that it is easier for camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich person to enter the reign of God. I see no reason to spiritualize that saying. It’s hard for me to be generous with my money, and I’m only rich in the sense that everyone who lives in this country is rich. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for people with tons of money to keep hearing that they have to give it up for the poor in order to enter the reign of God. I might just take the other side of Pascal’s wager! But even the infancy narrative in Luke alludes to this theme, when the mother of Jesus sings her “Magnificat” in the presence of her kinswoman, confessing that God “has filled the poor with good things, and sends the rich away empty handed.”

Still, the parable might be reminding us not to get too fixed on the little guy, because the empire of God just might be so different from our expectations that our idea of justice is just out the window. Stewards write off debts, and rather than being punished for their dishonesty, they are praised by their master for being creative. Maybe the key is just that: stop thinking so much, forgive everyone as best you can, and throw yourself on the mercy of   the master.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The long and the short of it

Amen, I say to you,
wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world,
what she has done will be told in memory of her. (Mark 14: 9, from the “long form” of the St. Mark Passion (Year B))

You know the old saying about “whoever isn’t part of the solution is part of the problem,” right? Well,
what if there are two problems, and trying to solve one is compounding the other one?

I think about this a lot, but what got me going this time was the irony of the amount of time I spent writing about the parable of the two lost sons last week, and then at two of the three masses I played for Sunday the priest read the short version of the gospel. This edit includes the critical set-up line, that is, the complaint of the scribes and Pharisees about Jesus's table company, and then the first two of the three parables, the lost sheep and lost coins. It omits the parable of the prodigal son, shortening the gospel reading time by about half. In one case, the priest said that everyone had already heard the latter parable in Lent; in the other, it was the other side of the coin, that people never hear the first two parables. In both cases, I wasn't all that upset since, as I explained in what I wrote over the last few days, the heart of all three parables is the same if you follow the exegetical evidence. Furthermore, it was Catechetical Sunday, and there was both a blessing of catechists after the homily and a witness talk by catechists after communion. With the Bears kicking off at noon, we did need to get to communion by 11:55. Have to keep the home fans happy. KIDDING!

As a general rule, I prefer that we read the longer version of the scriptures, and shorten other stuff if necessary. It's not like we Catholics overdose on the Bible. Today's readings (including the psalm) were so rich, I just longed for someone to walk us through that beautiful garden, provoking our corporate imagination to the possibilities of the alternative worldview proposed by the parables. There were moments of hope. The pastor even broached the political implications of the gospel in a fairly concrete way. But if you skip the parable of the prodigal son in the C24O readings, using the short version, you never get to the crux of the issue, that is, how do we answer parable's unspoken questions? Those questions, of course, are, "Are we going into the feast with the lost, or not? Do we want a restored family like the father wants, or do we want what we think is our 'right'?" And maybe most importantly if least obviously, "Do we not even realize that our outrage and protestations of superiority are gross illusions, and if we insist on staying outside, well, we're nothing but outside?"

I've already talked that to death, but as I said above, this brings up a problem that comes up with some frequency in the liturgy: should we use the longer version of the story (usually a gospel, like a Passion narrative, or one of the long Johannine stories used for the Scrutiny Sundays in Lent), or the shorter one? Here are two problems I mentioned above, at least as I see them. First, there is the length of these readings, when Catholics are obliged to be at mass, presumably with small children and infants. Clearly, the hierarchy, as represented by those who compiled and approved the lectionary, see this as a problem as well, and so they allow for a shorter reading as well as the longer (and preferred) reading. So, problem number one is having a worthy celebration on major feasts, several of which are on the pathway to Easter. For those in the majority who do not or cannot attend the Triduum services, Palm Sunday is the one time during the year that the Passion is read at liturgy. And this generally has to be done with the rite of blessing the palm branches attached to the entrance rite as well. As I see it, this is both a problem of sustaining the attention of the assembly, including the children if possible, and the length of time required for mass.

Secondly, there is the problem of what actually gets heard. There is no option in the lectionary, for instance, to read the introduction to Luke 15 (the crabby scribes) and then listen to just the Parable of the Two Lost Sons, though that is the way the reading appears during Lent in Year C. With the Passion narrative in Year B, the Passion according to St. Mark, the short reading omits the anointing at Bethany, the Last Supper, the arrest at Gethsemane, the trial before Caiaphas, and the denials by Peter. These all have aspects that are necessary for hearing the resurrection narrative on Easter, and for helping us differentiate the gospel narratives from one another. This struck me more than ever last year, having re-read the Borg-Crossan The Last Week, in which Mark’s narrative of failed discipleship among the apostolic community in the gospel, and the lauded demonstration of discipleship by the woman who anointed Jesus at the house of Simon the leper, is so persuasively argued. (This is not even to mention the irony, so thoroughly documented by Radford-Reuther in In Memory of Her, that the promise of Jesus that the memory of the [unnamed!] woman’s discipleship would be kept forever is omitted from this proclamation.)

But the liturgy isn’t scripture study, obviously, as important and under-used as scripture study is, especially among lay Catholics, in the church. So for the past several years, as liturgy director in a parish, I’ve opted for the shorter passion, allowing a bit more attention to the blessing and procession with palms. I ache for a homily on Passion Sunday that is less devotional and pays more attention to the cost of discipleship and the consequences of agape and kenosis. Or why not zero in on the second reading from Philippians, and that hymn's spiraling rhetoric that soars to its conclusion that “every tongue should proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord.” I wanted to hear someone say, “and when you say ‘Jesus Christ is Lord,’ you are saying that the economy is not lord, the war is not lord, revenge is not lord, Putin, Obama, Bernanke, Ji, Ayatollah, Murdoch, Netanyahu is not lord. And this is what happens to those who follow this through to the end.” I want to hear someone explain why this itinerant preacher of gospel, this “holy man,” this worker of wonders, this healer, was killed, and so many others are not. What was so dangerous about him that he was crucified as an enemy of the empire? Why won’t you tell us this, I want to say?

But without the longer version of that narrative, no one well ever notice the woman who washes Jesus’s feet and anoints him, who puts her love for him and his embodied word above her economy and reputation. I’d like to hear a homilist reprove "fiscal conservatives" and tell us that “the poor you have always with you” is not an excuse to forget the poor, or give them a can of beans or a quarter in the poor box; that it’s a way of saying, “you will always be among the poor,” while acknowledging the discipleship (being “at the feet” of the master) of the unnamed woman in Simon’s house.

No, we'll never hear that if we don’t hear the long version of the passion, and we won’t hear the long version as long I suggest or urge the shorter version for the sake of the little ones and their parents. And we won't hear the unspoken question to the hearer invoked in the parable of the two lost sons as long as it's an option to omit it, and another five pounds of parish and diocesan needs have to be squeezing into the already stuffed ten-pound bag of the sacredly hour-long Sunday mass. 

So you see? Here we are stuck between the Scylla of enculturated attention deficit disorder and the Charybdis of the unwritten law of the hour-long mass, between the rock of the clock and the hard place of the eucharist as community catch-all, bulletin board, and recruitment poster.

It’ll be all right. “Repent, the empire of God is at hand” is an imperative, there is an urgency about it, but it is still God’s work, and it is always an invitation, and not coercive. As long as we stick to the gospel, and hold to it together in reflective solidarity, at least we’re on the Way. (I'll take some more of that Kool-Aid, thanks.)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

All are welcome—to what? (Part 2)

This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

The readings for this Sunday are the ones we heard, one might say providentially if forgettably, on the weekend after 9/11/01. One would think that such a nexus would provide some meaty material for the homilies on the weekend after the memorial of that awful day, with its "never forget, always remember" refrain, about what Christians need to remember and forget. What I got last night was about the sacrament of penance. Maybe that worked for some folks, but not for me. And that was with the omission the parable of the two lost sons, since the short version of the gospel was used. It was like scripture gave us a sledgehammer, and we used it to swat a fly.

Earlier this week, I pointed out that Kenneth Bailey, in his essential work on the literary criticism of the parables called Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant’s Eyes, says that the semiotic center of each of the three parables is a community celebration. He demonstrates this by using the Greek texts of Luke, pairing off phrases from the outside of each story, until what is left is the “center,” and in each case, it’s the celebration. This stands to reason: the group of parables in Luke 15-16 comes after the observation by some of the Pharisees that “this man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” so the parables are a response and riposte to that accusation.  God’s search and prodigal mercy are only part of the story, though they are the doxological foundation for what follows. The announcement of the arrival of God’s empire is the point of  the ministry and in particular the meals of Jesus. 

But which God is it whose empire is here? It is the God of mercy, who abandons all propriety, including heaven and godliness itself, to embrace the world. Of note, too, is the fact that the younger son does not repent, any more than the coin or lamb found their way back. He can be said to have a change of heart, but not because of his rudeness, arrogance, or reprehensible behavior, just because of his discomfort. Whatever his motivation for returning, his father doesn’t wait to hear it. He comes out and meets him in the road, cutting off his planned speech with his song of restoration.

The detail that is out of place in these finely balanced parables is the response of the elder son. This is such a masterpiece of storytelling that it is virtually without peer among the parables. The vindictive (and disrespectful) elder son, presumably a metaphor for anyone, scribe or Pharisee or anyone, who can’t deal with the generosity and extravagance of God’s mercy measured against his or her own perceived fidelity to the covenant and the “lost” son’s wasting of his father’s fortune, is still outside when the story is over. His rancorous “sound byte” of protest, masquerading as a plea for justice, is followed by the father's protest of love that bids him enter the feast. This detail has no parallel in the storyteller’s economy. It’s meant to echo inside the hearer, and irritate the heart until the hearer makes a decision: does the son (do I) go into the feast, or not?

The scribes challenge Jesus because they see his table-fellowship as an offense against God. If he claims a special relationship, or any relationship to God, and shares his table with sinners, then he brings dishonor to God, and commits blasphemy. It's an important question to them, and apparently, even to us, as the question of who is in and who is out persists in Christian assemblies to this day. This parable and the questions it raises about who is inside and who is outside the feast, who it is that Jesus wants to have dinner with, brings up the paradox of “all are welcome,” and forces us to ask, “all are welcome to what?”

One year, the cover of our bulletin sported this quotation for this Sunday (I made a note of it): "Every parish must find a way to make all welcome at the Sunday Eucharist--to make all ages at home together around the Table, and in the sharing of our Christian lives." Well, yes. But I would contend that the point of the Christian Eucharist is not solely nor even primarily to gather people around the eucharistic table, any more than the table-ministry of Jesus was just about eating. The purpose of eucharist, identical to the purpose of the empire of God, is not a bigger church—it is a transformed world. Eating justly at the Eucharist is a way of training us and empowering us to eat justly at the table of the world, and to bring others to that table. Jesus did not seem particularly concerned about “converting” pagans to Judaism: his seemed to perceive his mission as reintroducing Israel to its own heart, and helping it find its way out of the morass of legalism and class distinction that had penetrated its identity. The outward thrust of the gospel, apparent in Luke and Acts, and to some extent generated by the expulsion of Christians from the temple and synagogues in the late 1st century CE, offered to the client nations of the Pax Romana an alternative to Caesar’s empire.

As someone involved in initiation ministry and who sees the great good in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, though, I can see that the table ministry of Jesus vis-à-vis the modern eucharist brings up a debated point. If the table is the entry point to the reign of God, why does baptism precede it? It seems the example of Jesus shows that we eat together first, then, as one “gets it” and comes to realize God’s universal love and the arrival of God’s empire, then one is baptized. This is, at least, a conclusion one might draw from the silence of the NT about this, that baptism is the end of a process, not the beginning of one; the result of table-fellowship, not the doorway to it. The feeding of the multitudes was not preceded by a mass baptism, even a Johannine one, necessarily. Changing church practice on this would uproot our entire tradition, but would solve our problem of the closed table. The church is having none of it. Not the Roman one, anyway.

But the eucharist is not the same as the table-fellowship of Jesus, is it? The eucharist, as Pope Benedict once unhappily if correctly put it, is opus Dei, the work of God, saving the world through, with, and in Christ. The analog for the table-fellowship of Jesus in the modern church is not primarily the eucharist, which is less than a tithe of the day for even the rigorous daily mass attendee. It is, rather, the work of the community of Jesus in the world to be present to the world, to heal, reconcile, and exorcise, the work of announcing the good news to the poor, in the many places where that happens. It seems too simplistic to me to assert that anyone can come to the table, any time they want. It seems reasonable for the Catholic Church to say that its self-expression in the eucharist requires that a person be initiated into the community publicly to fully take part. This is because one must be part of Christ, an event signified by baptism and confirmation, to take part in the messianic mission into which the Church is sent in the eucharist, a mission which includes the cross. Simply stated, one can’t “do” Christ until one is “made” Christ, and the making happens, once and for all, at the baptismal bath and the anointing of confirmation, followed by eucharist. Others churches can do as they wish with the breaking of the bread, but this is how Catholics have done it, for a couple of thousand years. So, there is sound theological reason for maintaining the closed table.

But on the other hand, we have in the eucharist what Fr. Richard Fragomeni has called “anti-ritual ritual," that is, this inner energy that the eucharist has to break out of any boundaries we set around it because its imagery and history is so full of outsiders and the invitation to “come and eat without cost.” It is the eucharist itself that is calling us to break down the boundaries that keep some outside and some inside all kinds of human endeavors including the Church. But its call is not to a false unity, a pretense of intimacy that requires no human solidarity, but the genuine article into which one must opt and not be coerced, into which one can only be invited, not conscripted. This kind of unity is built within the eucharistic community in its ritual and then missioned with energy into the world at the end of every eucharistic celebration.

“Dining with sinners and eating with them” is not about sacramental actions, it’s about living daily life in the reign of God. This kind of being-with the marginalized and rejected is the kind of work parishes and churches ought to do outside of their eucharistic assemblies, the very kind of efforts for which those assemblies ought to be preparing us. Those who begin to see our solidarity with and care for the powerless might then be encouraged to be in solidarity with us, come to know the God who called us to this mission, and join us around the table of the Messiah which points toward and begins to celebrate the eschatalogical banquet that is already-not-yet taking place in this world.

I feel that there is an almost equally strong case for an open table. In the sense that, if the Eucharist is a sign of God’s action in the world through Christ, and that it is a “rehearsal” of right relationships that ought to endure outside of the church event, then an open table could say, “Look, here is everyone, with God letting divine presence come to 'good and bad' alike, stranger and friend, rich and poor, member and non-member. Now, go ye and do likewise." That works for me too. It doesn’t take away deeper meanings of Christic incorporation among the baptized, but it allows the meaning of the sacrament to develop in a person’s life. It’s not that far, it seems to me, from our practice of baptizing and giving Eucharist (in the East) to babies, who also don’t “know” what they are receiving but are allowed to grow into it, the way people do with everything. Put another way, the unity of the world, all children of one Father, that the Eucharist symbolizes on behalf of the kingdom pre-exists the experience of the Eucharist, otherwise, the Eucharist isn’t a sacrament. The reign of God is “at hand,” already here, and the Eucharist, like the meals of Jesus, is a sign of that reality. Participating in the Eucharist then, for anyone, “effects what it symbolizes” because it is first and primarily opus Dei, the work of God, not the work of people, neither the priest nor merely the gathered body of believers.

"Amazing Grace" was probably sung in a lot of churches this weekend, preparing to hear, or reflecting on, the gospel parables. When I was a teenager, I had a problem with the line 'saved a wretch like me." I think I had some sense of being a sinner. But God loved me, so I couldn't possibly be a wretch. It took time for me to learn to look at all the sin in which I participate, and of which I was not aware, and against which I have no apparent power. And I do not have the martyr’s desire to throw myself in front of a Tomahawk missile, or protest outside of Walmart or other users of foreign child labor, or do the research required to find out which kinds of coffee that I drink keep people impoverished, and which pay a fair wage to their workers. I guess I feel that, unless I'm dreaming through life, or unless I'm better at serving the marginalized than Mother Teresa, I'm a wretch, and I'd better get busy admitting it. As a wretch, I’m in plentiful company. Isn't St. Paul eloquent about it in the letter to Timothy we happily heard this weekend? 
I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. 
Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant,
along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 
This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Of these I am the foremost. 
But for that reason I was mercifully treated…
God’s love doesn’t make me not a wretch—it makes my wretchedness irrelevant. As a wretch, I’m beloved by God who calls me “child” and holds me in mercy in spite of my wretchedness, like the prodigal, kenotic father in the parable of the two lost sons. Whether I’m the older or the younger son in the story doesn’t really matter: I’m God’s child, and so is every other person.

So what does that parable have to do with 9/11? I think I know, and I think the preachers know, and I think no one wants to say it out loud, because Caesar is listening, as are Caesar's happy citizens. It’s easier to gaze at our navels and talk about welcoming people into church than it is to talk about not killing Syrians and Afghanis and Iraqis, housing and caring for the mentally ill on our streets, or subsidizing the military-industrial complex. It’s easier to criticize the church’s closed eucharist than to criticize immigration policy or the growing hegemony of the rich. In any case, it’s easier to criticize than to formulate a strategy of grace and intervention and do something.

Still, the Eucharist of Jesus, in its classic Catholic form, keeps rehearsing us in right relationships, and needling us in our complacency with the two-edged sword of the divine word. Even when it’s a problem, the Eucharist can’t help but nudge us in the right direction, not because we’re so clever, but because it’s the opus Dei. It's God's work, God's idea. Thanks be to God.