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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Confronting "things visible and invisible" (B4O)

In a recent catechetical talk about the Nicene creed, my friend Father Paul Turner was explaining the difference in the new translation of the phrase, "visibilium omnium et invisibilium." In the former translation, this was rendered "all things seen and unseen," but currently is rendered "all things visible and invisible." He sees this as an improvement. His point was, for instance, I know that my friend Gary Daigle is unseen, but I'm also fairly certain he's not invisible. Most of the time. I get this, and I appreciate the difference. But about just what is invisible that we believe God created, I'm an agnostic. For instance, are there living things like angelic spirits, and demonic ones, who inhabit an unseen world? Or rather, an invisible world? I can certainly appreciate an unseen world of mesons, strings, and hidden dimensions that exist in a real if empirically, for the moment at least, unknowable, and indescribable "place" in spacetime.

I think grasping what an unclean spirit is has some importance in understanding the ministry of Jesus, as it's fairly common to see him and the twelve performing exorcisms. In today's Gospel he encounters a man with an unclean spirit. The unclean spirit apparently recognizes him in some way. The spirit tells Jesus to get lost, that he(the spirit) is nothing to bother about, and that they have no beef with each other. And then the unclean spirit does what unclean spirits seem to do: he lies. And in what sounds like a confession, the spirit in Mark's story misleads those who hear him. "I know who you are: the holy one of God." The spirit, in other words, wants hearers to identify Jesus as the "Messiah," which in the popular imagination was a political figure who would deliver Israel and restore its former glory. In this first gospel, however, Jesus does not want this message spread around, precisely because that is not his identity nor his intention. Jesus tells the unclean spirit, "be quiet—go away."

In another encounter with demons later in Mark (5:1-20), in the region of the Gerasenes, there is a little more clarity about who these demons are. They identify themselves: "Our name is 'Legion,' for we are many." Jesus expels the demons, Mark says, into a herd of pigs, who run off a cliff into the sea. These "unclean spirits" are more identifiable — they are the occupying troops of Tiberius Caesar. In a sense, what might be called a "parabolic" sense, one variety of unclean spirit that possesses the children of God is the array of political and economic oppression that deprives them of their freedom and keeps them from achieving their communal potential.

Reading that information back into this first encounter, can we learn anything about this "unclean spirit"? Perhaps it's an idolatry of ideology, and the need that we have for God to make the world the way we wanted, to make us winners, to make our enemies subject to us. Perhaps it's anything that debilitate the individual or the community, and keeps us from achieving our potential. Whatever that may be, two things seem clear from the Gospel. First, Jesus is very terse with his command: "Beat it. Get lost. And get away from here." Second, his ability to do this impresses people, Who associate it  with the divine, and disassociate it from their religious teachers. His ability separates him, makes him the subject of rumors, sent him up as a prophet.

This seems to put us about where the other scriptures today want us to be, right? The first reading from Deuteronomy describes the prophet as one who speaks God's word to people. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the temple priesthood, the palace, and the nonaligned prophets were the vectors that shaped the journey of Israel and its story for 1000 years. It is no accident that the New Testament saw Jesus as priest, prophet, and king. And whereas all three were required to true the path to God for untold generations, Jesus is God's word, God self-regulation. Jesus was God saying, "you want to see me? Look at this!"

And we who have been given Christ's spirit, who have been formed to continue Christ's mission, what unclean spirits need to be told by us to "get lost"? I can think of a couple. One is the false Messiah of political influence. It's the idea that "freedom isn't free," followed by some endorsement of violence or war. Another is any misidentification of our way of life, our economic or political system, our ecclesial affiliation, or attempt to name and claim our view of God, as our gospel demon did, as being of privileged divine origin.

The difficulty is that, in order to live responsibly after hearing today's readings, we have to call out the unclean spirits. Yes, we ourselves have been given this prophetic calling. Ever since Jesus breathed his last on the cross, being Messiah wasn't his job anymore. It's ours. The work of calling out the demonic liars, hard as it is, belongs to us.

I'm literally agnostic about "things invisible." I'm not agnostic however about the demons I can see. But I like the approach Jesus takes in the gospel. There's no battle, there's no fire and brimstone. There's just that calmly if perhaps firmly uttered sentence: Come out of him. There is the parable of "Legion's" almost humorously accommodated escape. Exorcising unclean spirits may take the form of a refusal to participate in flag-waving faith in drones and missiles; it might be years of faithful religious life as a feminist, or the public withdrawal from an ecclesiology communion because of internal policies of discrimination or systemic prejudice. The strategies of exorcism are as many and varied as the demons they seek to remove and the manifestations of Christ who remove them.

Let's keep working at it, trying to do a little better than our best, knowing that our best still may not be good, but that less than the ideal is still not bad. In the landscape so visibly full of false gods, any small movement of exorcism, and any utterance of any minor prophet, moves us a little closer to the empire of God.

Music we're singing at St. Anne this week:

Gathering: Healer of Our Every Ill (Haugen)
Psalm 95: If Today You Hear His Voice (Cooney, Psalms for the Church Year IV, GIA)
Presentation of Gifts: We Cannot Measure How You Heal (Bell)
Communion: How Can I Keep from Singing
Sending forth: If/Si (Cooney)

Friday, January 23, 2015

What have we got to lose? (B3O)

"Jonah," by Rembrandt (I think)
The gospel of the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time takes up the narrative of Mark at verse 14 of the first chapter. We have already been told (in verse 1) that what follows is "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God," we have met John the Baptizer and heard his message, seen Jesus baptized, and driven into the desert by the Spirit. Now, a mere fourteen verses into the story, Jesus reappears with his own message, "The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news." Things happen pretty fast around here. Today's gospel ends with the call of Peter, James, and John who leave everything to follow Jesus on his journey.

What would make them do such a thing? It's not a stretch to imagine that Peter was married, or had been, since we're about to meet his mother-in-law in a couple of weeks, and James and John may have been part of an extended family who depended on them for their sustenance in the hand-to-mouth economy of peasants who lived in a conquered nation within the Roman empire. And yet, we're told, when Jesus called them, they left their nets and did as he said.

The consensus of biblical scholars seems to be that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptizer, which accounts for the similarity of their message. John and Jesus both preached the imminence of the rule of God, and the need for repentance. John stood on the frontier at the Jordan, the boundary waters of the Promised Land, preaching to the pious, idealistic, and the merely curious that the reign of God is near. He urged them to wash away the past and their complicity in the compromises that had become barricades between them and the covenant they had with God. Enter the Promised Land, enter again into the covenant of God, he was saying. Cross over Jordan again to the place you received from God in the exodus. Reclaim your freedom, your status as the chosen, and start living in God's country.

These were dangerous words, because God's country was ruled by a different god, Augustus and then Tiberius Caesar, and that god had appointed a regent, several of them, really, whose purpose was to keep the pax Romana and be sure the money kept flowing in. John preached that "the ax was already at the foot of the tree," and that the messiah of God was near, the one who was going to clean up the mess of the world, and restore the kingdom of Israel.  John's message was, "the reign of God is at hand."

That became Jesus's message too, only Jesus had the death of John as a warning about strategy and probably about the nature of God's kingdom. It wasn't going to be like the kingdoms of this world. Ironically, it may have been his own baptism by John, and the spirit-driven "retreat" in the desert that followed it, which revealed this to Jesus. He was not the avenging warrior of a God who was angry and wanted vengeance. He was "beloved son," the first among many brothers and sisters with the same Abba.

Nevertheless, his preaching took the Baptizer's message: The reign of God is at hand; repent and believe the good news. How was it possible for Jesus to receive a baptism of repentance authentically, some have asked? Against the skandalon of his baptism of repentance by the lesser figure in the economy of salvation, the story of Jesus's baptism appears in all four of the gospels. By the criterion of embarrassment, scholars think that this event must have been historical. What matters, I think, is what we mean by repentance, or rather, what the gospels mean by repentance, which is different from what most of us think of today.

The Greek word that is most often translated as "repent" in the Greek is a form of the verb μετανοὲω which means, literally, "a change of mind," but we need to hear "mind" as a metaphor for the direction of a person's life, that is, of the whole purpose. It's like an interior U-turn, a going in a completely different direction. John, and Jesus after him, was telling people to look at their lives as they have been living them. Look at them honestly. His message was something like, "Okay, so you've joined me out here in the middle of what everyone thinks is nowhere, the wilderness, but we know better. This is the Jordan, people. This was the place where we first entered into the place of God's promise. How is that Roman empire working out for you? How is the pax Augustana working out for you? Remember Moses, Josue, David, and Solomon? Remember who God called us to be? Cross over Jordan again. Go in a new direction. Wash off the dust of the empire, and walk in the kingdom of God."

"Repent" wasn't so much about the kind of things we think of today as "sins," but about the direction of life, the focus of allegiance, the thing to which we give our heart (i.e., "cor-dare", credere, to believe, or better linguistically, be-love). The call to repent was a way of saying, "You're going the wrong way. Turn around." Mark's word for his book, taken from the preaching of Jesus (and John?) was evangelion, a word borrowed from Rome's civil religion, a word generally found in the plural that described the mighty deeds of Augustus that brought peace to the world. For the apostolic church, however, there was one whose victory over death made him victor over Augustus, and that person, the person of Jesus Christ, was the mighty deed of peaceful victory over the empire and its god.

So the "follow me" of Jesus probably was the end of a long process of conversion (turning around) for Peter, James, and John, who no doubt had also heard the preaching of John the Baptizer. It turns out, as we follow Mark's story, that those three and the others in the inner circle of Jesus had a different idea about the kind of band they were getting into, and the kind of evangelion that Jesus was preaching. It took a while to work all that out, longer, in fact, than Jesus was going to be around. But they acted on their best impulses, stopped what they were doing knowing that it wasn't the best they could do, and followed him.

The first reading tomorrow, from the satirical Book of Jonah, lacks the context of the whole story which we are supposed to conjure from our religious memory in its absence. But remember the whole story: God calls Jonah to preach in the huge pagan city of Nineveh because God wants them to be converted or else. Jonah makes a run for it, leaving for Spain. God sends a storm, the superstitious sailors assume the gods are angry and someone on board is causing the storm, and a game of chance helps them key in on Jonah, whom they throw overboard. God sends a big fish to swallow Jonah and vomit him up right on the shores of Nineveh. Clearly outgunned, Jonah does what God asks and preaches repentance in Nineveh. To Jonah's complete chauvinistic disgust, the Ninevites repent and the city is spared. This was not the outcome he hoped for.

While the details of the story are not primary for this Sunday, at least one line of the narrative sparkles in the light of the gospel: "When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out." God repented. What does that mean? Well, God made a U-turn in the story. God changed direction. Jonah didn't, which is why this book is read yearly on Yom Kippur in synagogues around the world. It's double-edged sword says that not only does God forgive everybody, even pagans, God also is capable of "changing direction," and we ought to be ready to follow.

It's the psalm that ties all this together for me. God repents. Jesus can repent, in the sense in which we're talking, submitting to John's baptism of repentance, to enter into a focused covenant with God that takes precedence over all other allegiances, compromises, and authorities. And we too are called to repent. "Teach me your ways," we sing this weekend. We hear Jesus's call to the disciples, "Follow me." We hear him say, in so many words, "Hey, how is that American dream working out for you? How expensive is the 'peace' you experience when it's purchased with blood and hatred and unspeakable violence? I have a different empire, a different God. What God wants is a family, and all of you, every one of you, friend, stranger, and enemy, are brother or sister to every other one. Turn around and believe in this good news."

Once again, like every year, every Sunday, every encounter with the gospel, we have to ask ourselves, "Really. What have we got to lose?"

Here's are the songs we're singing at St. Anne's this week. I bet a lot of it is being done by a lot of you, too!

Entrance: The Summons by John Bell
Psalm 25: Teach Me Your Ways, by Rory Cooney, antiphon 2 (OCP)
Preparation Rite: I Say Yes, My Lord  by Donna Peña
Communion: Here I Am, Lord by Dan Schutte
Sending Forth: I Send You Out by John Angotti

I'm off to St. Louis for a concert, minister's day of renewal, and the Composer's Forum. Thank you for reading! I hope to be in touch soon.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tom O'Hern's Final Trip to Kenya

Back on the feast of Christ the King, I wrote about the death of my friend Tom O'Hern, who died in Chicago after a brief illness during a visit to the United States to visit supporters and publicize his work among the poor of Kenya. I mentioned his work in my book Change Our Hearts.

This week, we got the joyful news that the Kenyan government had finally OK'd the return of Tom O'Hern's remains to Kenya for burial this week. Sometime in the second week of January, Family Hope Charity board member David Kunzweiler reported, the "Kenya Embassy in Washington DC, USA along with the Kenya Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nairobi administered all the paperwork needed and have now granted written permission for Tom's remains to be safely returned to Kenya." The party accompanying Tom's remains arrived in Kenya yesterday. A mass of the resurrection has been scheduled for Thursday, January 22, at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Kariobangi.

We celebrated a Mass of the Resurrection for him at St. Celestine Church in Elmwood Park, Tom's home parish, back in November. A Vincentian priest contemporary of Tom's (and mine) presided at that mass, Fr. Ed Murphy, which was well attended and joyfully celebrated by his friends and colleagues both from this nation and from Kenya. Kenyan seminarians and at least one priest sang and danced in their native language during the presentation of the gifts. It was a great celebration, comforting to all of us who still felt a raw hole in our heart with Tom's sudden passing. 

Now Tom will rest forever in his real home, the place where his heart was. His spiritual presence will continue to bless the work of Family Hope Charity in and around Korogocho, the Nairobi slum where he spent the last years of his life bringing a message of hope and self-esteem in a place plagued by AIDS, alcoholism, abandonment, and political corruption. His work lives on in his absence, and part of the mission of the team that accompanied his body to Kenya will be to see that the local infrastructure of FHC is prepared to keep doing the good work Tom began.

In talking about Tom yesterday with our mutual friend Fr. Ed Murphy, Ed told me a story about another Vincentian colleague, Fr. Frank Gaydos, C.M., who had also fallen in love with Kenya and who also died (from cancer) while in the United States, a few days before he was scheduled to return to work in the seminary in Nairobi. Ed said that the new saddened the provincial community profoundly, and it fell on one of Frank's friends to call his confreres in Kenya to let them know about his death. The call was made, and one of the other seminary professors there said he would let the students know.

When that professor came into class the next day, he told the students, "I have to give you some news." The students replied, "We already know." The professor responded, "Know what?" The students said, "That Father Gaydos died." Confused, the professor asked, "How did you know that?" They answered, "We saw him walking this morning by the bamboo trees." The professor ask them what that meant, that he was walking in the garden. "This is his home," they said, "this is where he had to return to rest."

Some of us Westerners, enlightened by science and convinced by proposition and proof, will find that story to be a charming anecdote or parable, but Ed said that it actually happened, and that in Africa this sort of thing happens all the time among people who are more in touch with the integrity of the material and spiritual worlds than we who have had our vision narrowed as we confused facts with truth. Whatever the case may be, Tom is back home now amid the people he loved, literally, to death, and his mortal remains will mix with the earth of Kenya. Life will beget life.

Jody Kunzweiler wrote a tribute to Tom after his death. I'll end this little posting with a quote from that, and urge those who can to help continue Tom's work among the poorest of the poor, those who live without even the solace of hope by supporting Family Hope Charity. Jody wrote:
People of faith must, every day, confront a world in which the greatest killer of innocent children and others is neither war nor disease, but rather, simple indifference.  Too many of us, faced with the unfathomable misery on this planet, choose to turn away, rather than make what difference we can.
There are some, though, who see worship not as recitation of prayers but rather, as work with those whom God created and man has forgotten.  These are people for whom the ultimate glory to God is found in the smallest kindnesses to His children, wherever scattered.   These are people who believe with all their heart, yet live that belief with every selfless gesture imaginable.
Tom believed that Jesus Christ gave up His body to be crucified for the remission of the sins of all humans.  But Tom was evidently not content to be redeemed himself by mere sacraments alone.  For him, the Cross was not an icon, but a challenge put before him.  And he took up that challenge, and carried his own heavy cross, responding to the words of his Lord who said "Follow me."
Every day, Tom woke up in poverty, and for his daily work, walked into Hell.  Today, as his life ended, his Lord lifted the Cross off Tom’s shoulder, and welcomed Tom to walk into Heaven.
As we hear the gospel Sunday and the words of Jesus, "Follow me," echo in our churches again, let's remember Tom's legacy, and be grateful for someone who showed us that it's possible to radically follow Christ and change lives by something as simple as organizing a soccer team.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A grand night for sinners...and singing

I mentioned last week about our Vicariate 1 welcome mass for Archbishop Cupich. It is now history, and I thought I'd give a brief report for those who are interested.

We ended up with about 105 singers from (at least) seven parishes. This was about 50% more singers than I had expected, but they were nearly all there at the rehearsal Tuesday night, so there weren't any surprises on Thursday night. Rehearsal with the instruments was later than we'd hoped because the rehearsal fell on the unfortunately necessary snow-day of first reconciliation. Nevertheless, we had a good rehearsal and a second night for Gary and me of black-and-tans at McGonagle's. Thursday made it a trifecta.

The music was wonderful from beginning to end, as far as I am concerned, and the choirs from St. Hubert's, St. Colette's, St. Raymond's, St. Thomas of Villanova, Our Lady of the Wayside, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Anne's should be very proud of assembling such a warm sound in one two-hour rehearsal at St. Anne, and singing in Spanish, Italian, and Polish to boot! Gary Daigle and Marcy Weckler admirably covered the piano, and our 16-piece orchestra filled the church with a beautiful noise.

If there was any downside, it was that there weren't more people there. Our church holds about 1300-1400 on the main floor and mezzanine, and we probably had around 900-1000 there. We were guessing that some of the announcements may have scared people off with the concern about overcrowding and parking issues, which is too bad. Overcrowding wasn't any kind of an issue except in the choir area, and parking problems are de rigueur in downtown Barrington. But that little "problem" aside, it was a memorable night for us all. Archbishop Cupich's homily was from the heart, warm, humorous, and challenging. He worked a full day, attending a catechist conference at another vicariate church, then visiting several sites within St. Anne including our school and resale shop called "House of Hope" before joining the staff and other parish leaders for a light dinner preceding the liturgy. After mass, he graciously stayed for well over an hour of photographs with parish groups and individuals, and I'm guessing he left St. Anne's a very tired ordinary, resolving not to come back if there is a photographer in the same zip code.

Again, I want to offer my thanks to all who participated in making this liturgy beautiful, which includes literally dozens of people in the parish who worked on refreshments, environment, hospitality, and other ministries, as well as the musicians. Archdiocesan liturgical leaders Todd Williamson and Wendy Silhavy were with us as well; Wendy, in fact, sat in on the flute.

It was a grand night for sinners. "All Are Welcome" was big and had room to inspire because (finally) we got to sing all the verses, and everyone had a sense, if only for a minute, that the reign of God is bigger even than the church, and we need to keep aspiring for its vision even as we bump up against the limitations and restrictions of our human institutions. Just before mass, as we called one another to worship, we sang "You Have Built Your House of Living Stones." I was elated as they sang the bridge that Siobhan McGuire from St. Hubert's had extorted in exchange for the participation of her choir (really, Siobhan, we would have sung it anyway, but it was delightful to have you there!) I'll leave you with those words and a few of Genevieve Cano's lovely photographs as we both embark on another day of work for the reign of God.

How awesome is this temple,
The people where you dwell,
Where earth unites with heaven: Emmanuel!
You have built your house of living stones,
Nothing of our hands can hold you.
Who can build your house but you alone?
Who can hold you?
Build us into a house of prayer,
A house of peace, a house of care,
Inn and hospice, fortress, banquet hall,
Home for all.

Gary Daigle conducts the vicariate choir singing "You Have Built Your House." Photo by Gen Cano.
Blessing us as we sang, "I send you out on a mission of love," John Angotti's rousing anthem.

Archbishop Cupich, Bishop Rassas (l.), a couple of the deans and three of our priests, and our deacon Jim Condill.
Photo by Gen Cano.

Friday, January 16, 2015

"Come and See" - evangelizing for a collaborative world (B2O)

Dominic Crossan has an interesting insight about the parables of Jesus that I have been (finally?) recognizing while reading one of his more recent books, The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus. It is this, in a nutshell: Jesus was proclaiming a different world, the "kingdom" or empire of God, in opposition to the one of the ruling emperor, Caesar. There was widespread belief that the messiah would do this by cleaning up the world for God in a violent way, by overthrowing the conquerors and restoring the kingdom to Israel. But that wasn't Jesus's idea. The empire of God, he wanted to teach, was nonviolent, and achieving it had to be non-violent. In fact, God does intend to "clean up" the world, but it is going to require the peaceful cooperation of humanity to achieve it. The "apocalypse" will be participatory and distributive: the economy will change to benefit everyone so that all have enough, and the empire of God will be brought by way of an understanding of the God-emperor as Abba, the Father, an understanding that will guide human behavior so that we will treat each other as brothers and sisters who imitate a model parent, acting with love toward one another, loving each other with a love like self-love that seeks good for the other person, seeking to serve rather than to rule. In order to teach that kind of a participatory world, that kind of empire of mutuality, he needed a pedagogy that was participatory. Parables invite us into that kind of world, a world where we have to make decisions at crisis points that change our understanding of who we are and what we are supposed to do.

There is much to support this idea as well in Amy-Jill Levine's new parable study, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. Casting aside interpretations of parables that perpetuate an idea of Jesus that serves the agenda of supercessionism or assume evidence not in the stories themselves, she seeks to get us to deal with the parables as invitation into a new way of thinking, paradigm-shaking stories that provoke us into taking responsibility for the world, reshaping our economic and social relationships with one another.

As I was thinking about this weekend's beautiful scriptures, it occurred to me, steeped as I have been through the good fortune of having been shaped by the example and preaching of team members and vision of the late North American Forum on the Catechumenate, that the way Jesus spread the gospel, that is, the good news of the arrival of the reign or empire of God, was to invite people to try it out, in today's reading, for instance, by the invitation to "come and see" where he lives. "Where" Jesus lives is in the reign of God. Yes, on that day, perhaps for those months or years, it was in a house in Capernaum, but as Andrew, his unnamed friend, and soon Peter and Philip were about to find out, "where Jesus lives" was in an alternative kingdom, as close to the old one as turning around and looking in another direction. Where Jesus lives is in the reign of God.

Do you want to see what John was talking about, Jesus says to Andrew? Come and see. Walk with me. Eat with me. Talk with me. Let's start something together. I can't tell you about it; you've got to experience it for yourself, because it's so wonderful you will want to bring others to the table.

Evangelization isn't an idea. It's an encounter with a person. The gospel is a way of life, and it is a way of life that we undertake together, with Christ. Even Jesus did not attempt to go it alone. It's hearing Jesus say to us, as I've put it before, "How's that other god you're worshiping working out for you? How's that imperial peace make you feel? How's that kingdom of fear and hoarding and weapons and threats working out for you? I have another way, another emperor, another "kingdom," and it doesn't look like the one you're used to, but it's as close as turning around. Come and see. Let's try it out together.

The author of the gospel of John has just finished that soaring prologue that testifies that the Word of God, with God from the beginning and so close as to be the same being, became a human person and pitched a tent among us. Jesus reveals in his humanity what God is like: inviting, seeking collaboration, the origin and source of "light for the human race." At the outset of his public ministry, Jesus gathers a few people around him, inviting them into his house. Why did they go? They must have felt the pull toward that other empire, the other God, the one who had, in their celebrated but distant past, delivered their ancestors from Pharaoh, the god of Egypt. Like Samuel, roused from sleep by hearing the sound of his own name, those called by Jesus awaken to a wondrous vocation that might yet remake the world.

So Sunday, a billion Catholics and other Christians will sing together, "Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will." I hope that their pastors tell them to listen to their own voices, to hear those dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of hearts singing with others across the planet, and offer there and understand the call of Jesus to "come and see," to sit together in the house at Capernaum, hear the offer of a better God, a better empire, and a better life, and take a step on the Way. All that is required is to "repent and believe the gospel." Turn around, and live like a family instead of rivals. We don't have that much time. Let's not waste it.

What we're singing at St. Anne this week:

Entrance: Here I Am, Lord (Schutte) With its echoes of 1 Samuel in the refrain, Dan's beloved song will call us to worship and sharpen the ears of our hearts to hear the word of God.
St. Ann Glory: a simple rite of candidacy for our children preparing for first Eucharist will take place as their parents bless them with baptismal water as we sing the Gloria.
Psalm 40: Here I Am. We will sing the setting I wrote a million years ago at St. Mary's Seminary in Perryville, MO. I wrote more about this when writing about the recording it was on, Cries of the Spirit, Volume 1.
Preparation of Gifts: Gathered and Sent (Cooney, publication in process) This song is part of the collection of songs in preparation at GIA right now. I wrote it for Bill Fraher, who commissioned it a few years ago for Old St. Patrick's at Pentecost. For today, I think it looks forward from this first "gathering" of disciples to their being sent into the world after the resurrection. It's no different for us who gather every Sunday and who are sent back into our lives to continue to choose the empire of God over selfish, bloody options offered by civilization. "Once, we were no people; / Now, we are people of God, / Gathered by grace, sent by the gospel. Gathered and sent for the world."
Communion: Lord, When You Came (Pescador de Hombres) Gabaraín. Probably everybody in the country is singing this today! And a few other countries as well.
Recessional: The Summons (Bell). Probably spells out the wonder and challenge of the call of Jesus as well as any worship song can, with a singable and inviting melody to help us sing it well together.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Archbishop Comes to Barrington

If you are a pastoral musician or liturgist working in a parish, you know that the weeks and then the
days leading up to Christmas are chock full of preparations, intensifying the regular Sunday-to-Sunday routine with weekday liturgies about which everyone has extraordinarily high expectations. Christmas is to church sort of what Thanksgiving is to home: everyone comes over with high hopes for a great experience, and the last thing you want to do is disappoint anyone. At Thanksgiving, of course, it's the meal itself and the festive gathering. At Christmas, in church, it's the music, along with the conjuring of memory and re-grounding we experience in the nativity story itself. We "dress the table daintily, our finest treasures use/ That all a-sparkle it may be, and bright with lovely hues," as Alfred Burt wrote famously in one of his wonderful carols, and then reminded us with kind piety, "And you who would the Christ-child greet, your heart also adorn."

Winter has its own plans, of course, so it's not unusual in these northern climes to have inclement weather cancel a rehearsal, or dissuade all but the most dedicated of singers from making the trip to the church to practice on a frigid evening. Thus into the mix of accelerated activity and stress Mother Nature is capable of further complicating the process of Christmas preparation. One sets ones sights first on the afternoon of December 25 when the crush of preparation will subside and one can begin to interiorize the beauty of the day for which one's life is being spent, with one sleepy eye open and one side of brain aware that the weekend, and then the holy day of January 1, and then ANOTHER weekend, are just a few days away.

All of this is by way of saying that the last thing one needs is for the pastor to announce that the archdiocese is celebrating welcome masses in the vicariates (yay!) for the new archbishop (yay!) and we've been selected to host one of the first ones (yay?) on January 15, three weeks after Christmas (WTH???) And this bomb was dropped about a week before Christmas, about as inopportune a time as it can be imagined. And yet, as you can see, two and a half "yays" outweigh one and a half "WTHs" and so one goes about the work of mustering the forces and doing what I do best: foisting off work on other people.

I want to begin by saying how thrilled we all are in the archdiocese that we have been blessed with Blase Cupich (pronounce SOUP-itch) as our new bishop. Hours after his arrival he was already doing things that impressed us, reaching out to the sick and politically marginalized, and making clear that his leadership style was Franciscan (in the papal sense, not specifically the OFM sense) which let the entire midwest, and maybe the country, breathe a huge sigh of relief. It is the overwhelming sense of gratitude about his appointment and arrival that made the preparation work easier, if not always a joy. It meant more meetings, and you know how I feel about meetings.

(A quick aside: pity Archbishop Cupich for having a given name spelled in such a way that autocorrect wants to turn it into "blasé" even when it's capitalized, even in this blog, and certainly in every Microsoft product available. I wonder whether instructions will be issued downtown about how to disable the accent mark in autocorrect so that Twitter won't titter when news releases and cathedral programs refer to the archbishop by a derogatory adjective where his first name should be!)

The first thing I did was contact the music directors of the twenty-five or so Catholic parishes in our part of the archdiocese. Our Vicariate 1 comprises the north and northwest suburbs of Chicago. It's a geographically large area comprising all of Lake Country and part of Cook as well, so two masses were planned for the Vicariate, a second one being scheduled for a month from now in Vernon Hills, about ten miles north and east of us, for the more northerly parts of the Vicariate. I received responses, mostly well after Christmas, because, one might say, "the luck of the draw that created more work in your life does not constitute a crisis in mine." I'm not complaining—I'm guessing that if this had happened to one of my colleagues, I might have waited until after Christmas to open that email too, or at least respond to it. Heck, Jesus didn't go visit the mortally ill Lazarus until three days lapsed.

We had our one rehearsal last night with the choir, and what a great night it was. We had over a hundred choir members from seven parishes (including ours) show up. We're singing parts of the mass in English and Spanish, and have included Polish and Italian in the response to the Universal Prayer as well, and the Agnus Dei from chant mass XVIII. Everyone was so enthusiastic. We were given an entire section of the floor level of the church, and we completely fill it up. Tonight, we're going to have a rehearsal with most of the instrumentalists, the Barrington Brass Quintet and the rhythm section from the World's Most Dangerous Liturgical Band, along with Gary Daigle and Marcy Weckler Barr, who are playing piano for most of the music. Tomorrow evening for mass we'll add the string quartet, sax, and our new archdiocesan music director, Wendy Silhavy, playing flute.

So this, along with the conference in New Orleans and preparing for a concert with Terry in St. Louis in two weeks and the Composers Forum after that, has been occupying my time, and why I don't have the psychic space to write much on this blog. Don't think I don't miss it, but at least I've been putting myself to good use in the meantime! A big shout out of gratitude to my choir and musicians, along with Pat Stewart from St. Francis de Sales in Lake Zurich, Gary Daigle and the folks from St. Edna's, Marcy and her group from St. Thomas of Villanova and Dan from Our Lady of Wayside, both in Arlington Heights, Siobhan McGuire and the choir from St. Hubert's in Hoffman Estates, and Brian Fife and his choir from Mt. Prospect.

I'm saying "thank you" in advance, because you gave your hearts and souls and time to this effort, so even if I screw something up tomorrow, what matters is we did this for the right reasons: love and service of the gospel and our vocation as music ministers.

Thank you also to the publishers, GIA Publications and World Library in Chicago, and OCP in Portland, along with composer Ricky Manalo CSP and Marcy Weckler-Barr, for allowing us to use your music and getting us copies for this large choir. For all of you who might be interested in what the music for the mass will be, here it is. It's the mass of the day, a weekday in ordinary time, made a little extraordinary by the circumstances of the archbishop's coming to town.

The liturgy is at 7:00 p.m. at St. Anne's in Barrington, with prelude music beginning at 6:30. If you come, bring your own shoe horn and Crisco. I think there will be a Christmas-sized crowd there for this wonderful event.

PRELUDES to include:
Marcello, Psalm XIX, the Barrington Brass Quintet
Bach, Brandenburg Concerto #3, Chicago String Quartet
"He Is Risen," South African freedom song (Thula Sizwe), adapted by Marcy Barr
"We Praise You," by Michael Balhoff, Darryl Ducote, and Gary Daigle
"You Have Built Your House of Living Stones," by Rory Cooney

Entrance song: All Are Welcome, by Marty Haugen (GIA)
Penitential rite from "Lead Us to the Water," by Tom Kendzia (OCP)
Salmo 95 (94) by Eléazar Cortés "Ojalá Escuchen Hoy la Voz" (WLP)
Celtic Alleluia, by Fintan O'Carroll and Christopher Walker (OCP)
Multilingual Intercessions, by Ricky Manalo CSP (English, Italian, Polish, and Spanish) (OCP)
Preparation rite: We Come to Your Feast, by J. Michael Joncas (GIA)
Eucharistic Acclamations: Misa Luna, by Peter Kolar (WLP)
Agnus Dei from Mass XVIII
Communion: Heart of a Shepherd/Corazón de un Buen Pastor, by Rory Cooney (GIA)
Communion: Within the Reign of God, by Marty Haugen (GIA)
Sending forth: I Send You Out, by John Angotti (WLP)

Cantors: Terry Donohoo and Luís Galvez, with a little help from our friends.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Blogging takes a back seat

I love writing, I really do.

It helps me in a lot of ways, but mostly it helps me by letting me sort out my thoughts and feelings about my life and work. It gives me a way to share my experiences with others. And it helps me, as a songwriter who would really like people to listen to my music, connect with people and make a case for my music when I can't be a "road warrior" and spend my time traveling and doing that kind of thing in person.

Lately, though, with the Christmas crush and things at home (son Desi home from college, Terry off work and enjoying time off at home) I've been much less rigorous about writing here. January has turned into this insane time of preparing for a couple of appearances, with an added workload of a weekday mass set up for Vicariate churches to be able to meet the new archbishop (on January 15). Then there's the annual Composers Forum in St. Louis the last week of the month. I must sort of coast along in my little cloud most of the time, because it feels like a smothering schedule through mid-February. And yes, it's my own fault!

So please bear with me as I try to manage all that. I get to be a part of the Gulf Coast Conference this weekend in NoLa, and have a concert with Terry and Peter Hesed's musical forces at the CSJ Motherhouse in St Louis later this month. Then I get to do a day of reflection with musicians in Minneapolis and work with the redoubtable Lynn Trapp next month. Lots of good work, new faces and old friends, and a chance for people to hear some of my new songs and sing some of the old ones. It's a good life, but it causes these late-night panic attacks, when I'm typing my blog on my iPad at 2:30 a.m. because if I didn't get up and do something I'd be tossing and turning in bed.

I love this medium that allows me to connect with you, my colleagues and friends, some of whom I haven't met yet. So when I'm unable to keep up with this blog at my usual pace, don't think it's from lack of desire or interest. Be happy for me that I get to sing a little more, in new and different places, or that as a family we have more time together. As my schedule settles back into its usual routine, I'll make time as before for writing here. I have a list of ideas that I dictate to Siri as they strike me through the week. I just need the psychic space to parse them out into sentences.

In the meantime, I'll post the occasional observation, or share some musical or liturgical idea on Facebook or Twitter, and let you know there about what and when I'm posting here. I'm still here: I think sometimes that I write just to be sure of that. For tonight, though, I think I've managed to make myself sleepy enough, listening to myself drone on with Seinfeldian nihilism about my wonderful life, that I can go back to bed and catch a few winks before morning.