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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sneak peek: 2016 LCF CONCERT SETLIST

We're getting ready to begin the concert here at Mercy Center in St. Louis. The annual concert, which benefits both the work of the Liturgical Composers Forum and the ministry of our hosts, the Sisters of Mercy here in St. Louis, was added on as a final event for all the composers who could stay an extra night. A lot of work has gone into this by everyone, but particularly this year by the event coordinator, Jaime Cortez, whom I like to call "the hardest working man in liturgical music."

For anyone who is interested, these are the songs composers chose to do at our third concert.

Hymn for the Holy Year of Mercy (Paul Inwood)
When We Sing (Mary Jo Thum)
Take and Eat (Michael Joncas)
Psalm 139:  I Am One Wonderfully Made (Jeffrey Honoré)
Psalm 23: El señor es mi pastor (Lourdes Montgomery)
Psalm 122: Let Us Go Rejoicing (Orin Johnson)
See amid the Winter's Snow (Kevin Keil)
Who We Are (Tony Barr)
Psalm 146: Praise the Lord My Soul (Christian Cosas) 
The Lord's Prayer (Rino Angelini)
The Lord Is My Hope (MD Ridge)
Change Our Hearts (Rory Cooney)
Now Is the Time (Tom Kendzia)
Were You There/Amazing Grace (Marcy Weckler-Barr) OCP
The Supper of the Lord (Laurence Rosania)
Your Sacred Breath (Mark Mellis)
Gracias, Señor (Damaris Thillet)
Day of Peace (Janèt Sullivan Whitaker)
We Shall Draw Water (Paul Inwood)
Sweet Refreshment (Bob Moore)
Rain Down (Jaime Cortez)
Come and Receive (Carol Browning)
Blessing Prayer (Bob Fabing S.J.)

Psalm of Hope (Felix Goebel- Camala)
Evening Song (Luke Rosen)
Rejoice Always (Paul Hillebrand)
Jerusalem (Fergal King)
Jesus Is Risen Today (Kathleen Demny)
For You Are My God (John Foley, S.J.)
Blessed Are They (David Haas)

Five of our members who were able to attend the meeting were not able to be present at the concert. We also had nine choir members from the wonderful choir at Saint Margaret of Scotland in St. Louis, directed by another member, Peter Hesed.

Piano: Christian Cosas ( and some composers)
Woodwinds: Kate Basi (flute) and Mark Mellis (flute and soprano sax)
Bass and MC: Jaime Cortez
Guitars: Gary Daigle and Jaime Cortez
Conductors: Kevin Keil, Kathleen Demny, Jeff Honoré

May be next year we can manage a simulcast for interested parties. Well, it's not really party music, but we have fun anyway. Here we go for 2016, ad majorem Dei gloriam. Pray for us!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Second Thoughts: Cana, Torah, and Transformation (C2O and C3O)

I'm thinking that a good approach for me this year might be to take the "echoing God's word" approach more regularly, and write my blog following the "Second Thoughts" trajectory. In these posts, after the Sunday celebration, I look back at what I heard and thought, and write about that, rather than focusing on the preparation, which I've done a lot of in the last three years. I'll look over what I posted last time, and repost it to Facebook and Twitter if it holds up all right, especially for anyone who hasn't read them before, but I won't feel the pressure to write in advance of Sunday, and of course run the risk of repeating myself more than usual. We'll see how that goes!

This post will pull together some thoughts for the last two Sundays, the 2nd and 3rd Sundays of Ordinary time, Year C. Hearing the readings, I was struck again by what sounds like the underlying reality to all three, that God is approaching us, always, and that when that happens, things change. For Israel, exile and slavery become homeland and liberation, over and over again. Furthermore, the section of 1 Corinthians we heard as the second reading both weeks pulls the other readings, even the psalm, together for me, which emboldens me to write this only because I'm not sure that most preachers (rightly, perhaps) pay much attention to the second reading which seems not to "fit the theme" created by the first reading, psalm, and gospel.

It seems to me that our church wedding, our global wedding, our neighborhood and maybe our family wedding, is a big mess right now. We're empty water jars, we have nothing to offer anyone. Or those jars might belong to our parents, our nation, our church, they represent the way we follow the rules handed down to us, or rules that we made, thinking that they would save us, keep away chaos, keep other people and their ways where they belong. We may be guests at the wedding, entitled, and out of wine. We may be newlyweds who didn't plan so well, and see disaster on a fast-approaching horizon. We have gifts, of course, we want to profit from them, we want them to be good for us, but they don't really make us happy. We are not where we should be, we're not where we want to be, we know that we're less than the sum of our potential. How can we fix this? Who can repair us?


The period following the Babylonian captivity, described in the book of Nehemiah yesterday, was a very active time in the compilation, writing-down, and editing of the books of the Hebrew bible that would culminate in the Septuagint about 200 years later. In today's first reading, we hear about the reading of the Torah to the assembled returnees and those left behind, all the anawim, at the site of the razed temple after the return. We can only imagine the way this was heard by that displaced, bedraggled congregation, though its stories of creation from nothing, destruction and salvation, covenant, captivity and release must have been framed by its writers, editors, and the receiving ears in the experiences of three or four generations of exile and servitude in a foreign land finally ended.

People wept hearing their experience read back to them, wrapped in assurances of God's presence. And Ezra and Nehemiah, seeing this, want people to understand that the proper "response" to god's word is rejoicing. The assembly, the proclamation of the word, all of that should bring people to joy, to celebration, and the kind of celebration that leaves no one out, that is aware of those without enough and moves to fill what is lacking in their joy. 

The "wisdom" psalm we sang reiterated all that, that God's word is spirit and life. Torah is perfect, honey from the comb, refreshing, clear as light. 

"Today" is a day precious to the Lord. This Sunday, whenever it is, "Ordinary Time" is precious to the Lord. And its meaning is the same for us as for Israel: stop weeping about yourselves, be glad, "eat rich food and drink sweet drink." AND give some to everybody, even if they're not prepared, not gifted, didn't bring their own food and drink, or don't have it. The meaning of sabbath, of Sunday, of today, the meaning of assembly before and with God, is the care of one another, making each one feel like a necessary part of the whole. 

This is what St. Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians to remember. Today, Sunday, the gathering of the assembly, isn't self-indulgent, self-congratulatory. It's not self-focused at all. It's about the other, especially about the poor and those who don't have enough to celebrate, enough to feel the presence of God with them. We're members of a body, everybody matters. Every part matters. "If a clod be washed away by the sea," the poet John Donne preached, "Europe is the less."

Finally, the transformation of all the gifts within us to be able to fulfill the needs of all of us by others is the work of the same Spirit that filled Jesus and managed his ministry in life, which as St. Luke said, brought him back to Galilee after his post-baptismal sojourn in the desert. That solitude itself was spirit-driven, and it is the same Spirit which Jesus bestowed on humanity from the cross (Jn. 19:30b) and on the morning of the resurrection (Jn. 20:22). That Spirit is the Spirit of God, the God who has nothing to do with death, who is unbounded generosity and mercy, who wants to persuade us from within our lives and our history to be done with rivalry, hoarding, and death-dealing. It is this God who has lived in the place of the innocent victim among us, experienced us at our worst; who went to death with words of forgiveness on his lips, and returned from the grave with rehabilitating love for us and the desire that we go together in a new, different, life-giving direction. It is that Spirit that was summoned upon the water jars of Cana, and turned embarrassment into celebration, even as it hinted that no ritual alone would ever make us "clean" before God, but that God already accepts us with love and wants the wedding to go on with plenty of wine for everyone.

The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, is that Spirit. It's not a spirit of superiority, of shameful victory, of "God is on our side," but a spirit that just keeps whispering: Do not be afraid. Go into the dark. I've already been there. I'm still there. Whatever you thought was in those water jars, take a big drink and pass it around. If you think your life is good now, just wait until you give it away for the sake of others. Just wait until you "proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind,
(and) let the oppressed go free." You ain't seen nothing yet.

Christ invites us to participate in God's project, in James Alison's metaphor, to "play a different game," a game where everyone is beloved of God, is good, no matter what. It's the beginning of a new year of grace. I hope I can give myself time to internalize all this, and more important, just start acting on it.

What we sang this weekend:

Entrance: Turn Around
Psalm 19: Your Words, O God
Presentation: God Is Love or We Are Many Parts
Communion: Within the Reign of God
Recessional: Joyfully Singing or All Are Welcome

Link to James Alison's Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice  at Amazon.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Cana and God's approach

Once, at a conference, I heard Fr. Diarmuid O'Murchu tell a joke that alluded to the gospel of this Sunday’s mass, the wedding feast at Cana in John 2. It seems there was a wedding in a small church in Ireland, see, and the pastor was to be out of town on an extended holiday, so the young curate was given the wedding to officiate. The young bride-to-be was a dance teacher, and the young priest thought it would be lovely touch if she and her new husband had a bit of a dance at the end of the ceremony, right there in the sanctuary in front of the congregation and the Blessed Sacrament, to symbolize everyone’s joy at their blessed union. The couple thought it was a lovely idea, too, so on the day of the wedding, right there in front of the priest, the people, and the Blessed Sacrament, the young curate invited them to the dance, and they jigged and reeled for a couple of minutes and headed down the aisle. There was much jaw-dropping and head-shaking among the older churchgoers, who gave the pastor and earful when he returned from holiday. The pastor called in the young curate and says, “Now, look, Father, what the devil did you think you were doing having the couple dance there in the sanctuary, in God’s house, right in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and all?” The nonplussed young curate retorted, “Well, Father, Jesus himself went to the wedding in Cana. Sure they had dancing there?” The pastor shot back, “Aye, y’omadhaun, but they didn’t have the Blessed Sacrament at the wedding in Cana, did they?”
I’ve never been a big fan of “supercessionism” or replacement theologies, in which the Christian covenant replaces the Jewish one, with Jesus as the new Moses, the apostles replacing the twelve tribes, and all that truck. Happily, Catholic and Jewish theologians have definitively come to a new place with regard to all that, with Rome moving beyond even Nostra Aetate to a new place in the 2015 document, "The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable." What’s going on is far more radical for both Christians and Jews. For us, the “reign of God” which is incarnate in Jesus replaces the whole economy of human intercourse, our instincts of self-preservation, rule by force and strength, and survival of the fittest. To believe that God became flesh in Christ Jesus is to believe that as God’s incarnate Word, Jesus was the best God could do to show us both what God is like and what we ought to be like. This is what it means to be mediator Dei, one being who is truly God and truly human. The paradigm of God’s dominion shifts from self-preservation to the wondrous fountain of life that is kenosis, or self-emptying; rule by force and strength is replaced by service; “survival of the fittest” is replaced by abundant life, teeming through spacetime, the life of the Holy One poured into a grain of wheat.
In the reading from Isaiah, the desolate and forsaken people of Israel, returning after long exile, hear the good news that “your builder shall marry you,” that God will rejoice in her like a bridegroom rejoices in a bride. Using names that play off of one another in Hebrew (it would read something like this for us: “No longer shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ but instead, ‘Forsythia’! Not ‘Desolate,’ but ’Desired’), Israel reborn is renamed because she is a new reality. Anyone who has ever been surprised by love knows exactly what this is like, including the new names that come along with love, both informally between lovers and even formally, at times, in marriage. Love creates a new reality. The new names just articulate something that has happened much more deeply within us: we are radically changed. Love does indeed change everything. 
Doesn’t it stand to reason that, when God is the lover, things are transformed completely? Not just names, but the realities themselves. And the wedding feast at Cana becomes the first sign of the new encounter between God and humanity in Christ as John recounts it. The stone water jars, used for ritual purification (a religious rite) among the Jews, are filled with water which, without a word, Jesus changes into wine. Now, what was previously a religious law and legal prescription is impossible. Now there are a hundred fifty gallons of good wine where before there was just water for washing. There’s only one thing to be done: drink up! Here, in Jesus, there is a God who doesn’t want the wine to disappear at the wedding, and who doesn’t mind breaking a few laws of human religion in order for the wine to be made available for the joy of all. And these were people who, by the wine steward’s admission, were already drunk.
The young curate in Diarmuid’s joke saw that the joy of the new reality of the wedded couple was in perfect harmony with the God whose first irruption into our human enterprise was, by one evangelist’s account, at a wedding. The curate didn’t miss the reality of a personal God who is really present in people first, and in sacramental signs secondarily and differently. If love changes everything, and things aren’t changing fast enough, it might just be that we haven’t really fallen in love with this God who has admittedly fallen - ‘fallen from heaven,’ in a manner of speaking - for us. We wait around for all kinds of other lovers, we give ourselves to gods of our own making and religion that filters the true God through constrictive nets of power and control, but Jesus is the one who changes all that tawdry water into wine, showing us a God who offers us a way out of these hells, large and small, of our own making.
As Fr. Gene Walsh once said, “Jesus offers you two things: your life has meaning, and you’re going to live forever. If you can find a better deal, take it.”