As some of you know, priest and/or seminary recruitment videos have been getting attention at dotCommonweal (here and here) among other places this week. Last month, I posted this video with no comments following. The Fr Barron critique got 163 at dotC.

I will share with you all what I wrote in response to my Ascension Press contact last month:

- If you aim at high school, the more crucial calling–and the two priests hinted at this in the film–is the call to holiness as a baptized person. Your film will nudge the already-Catholic. A young person who has given up on the Church won’t sit still for ten minutes, no matter how good your production values and how moving and honest the witness is.

All of the videos under discussion presume an active faith. People of active faith–they numbers in the few tens of thousands I would guess–will be steered into ministry of all sorts, including Holy Orders largely through the personal witness of others. What these videos do is to touch on the inner drive and inspiration of the individual.

- It’s only effective to the people we’ve already got. Young people I know on the fringes of faith are not impressed with information. But they are willing to be accompanied if a person is willing to listen to them and answer what’s on their agenda.

We have believers in the millions who are largely disengaged from active faith. Who is gong to make the videos that will nudge them into intentionality, discipleship, and commitment. What is the greater need: a few thousand more priests, or a few million more disciples?

Posted in Commentary, film, Ministry | Leave a comment

The Armchair Liturgist: Cuing Passion Responses

PrayTell is discussing the theoretical role for the assembly in the Passion narratives of Palm Sunday and Good Friday. That’s explored territory on this blog. Liam offered a significant contribution, though:

What happens when the assembly is given a “part” in the “script” is that it spends more of its time waiting for its “cues” than immersing in the Gospel. Even putting aside the issue of liceity, as a substantive matter it’s very dubious.

In many places, it’s also traditional, going back more than forty years. I remember objecting to having the words, “Crucify him!” put into my mouth.

I find it better to use refrains at key moments. This year we are using “Jesus, Jesus, truly the Son of God” as an echo of the centurion’s acclamation after the death of the Lord. By having the musical interludes, we avoid the frowny-faced accusations of illiceity. To a degree.

How would you cue the assembly to either spoken or sung interludes? Anybody really sticking up for “Crucify him!”?

Posted in Holy Week, The Armchair Liturgist, Todd's music | 7 Comments

DPPL 259: Modern Aversion to Death

STA altar at night smallModern society fears and avoids death–we all know it.

259. “Hiding death and its signs” is widespread in contemporary society and prone to the difficulties arising from doctrinal and pastoral error.

My sense is that human emotion overrules what religion might teach about death and dying.

Doctors, nurses, and relatives frequently believe that they have a duty to hide the fact of imminent death from the sick who, because of increasing hospitalization, almost always die outside of the home.

And yet the dying often have a way of knowing and will show great peace and insight at the time of death.

It has been frequently said that the great cities of the living have no place for the dead: buildings containing tiny flats cannot house a space in which to hold a vigil for the dead; traffic congestion prevents funeral corteges because they block the traffic; cemeteries, which once surrounded the local church and were truly “holy ground” and indicated the link between Christ and the dead, are now located at some distance outside of the towns and cities, since urban planning no longer includes the provision of cemeteries.

Burial of the dead has become a business commodity. Open land within cities is more valuable for the living, if not for business interests. Vigils can be held in “neutral” locations–families are spared the burden of hosting gatherings. And even new parishes in the suburbs prize the “holy ground” of athletic fields. A cemetery has a professional staff that provides services few parishes can offer.

That isn’t to say the link between Christ and the dead isn’t weakened. But there are strong cultural factors that lack malice. For the Church, and especially the local parish, how does one restore old links or even find new ones?

How indeed do we engage death more directly?

Modern society refuses to accept the “visibility of death”, and hence tries to conceal its presence. In some places, recourse is even made to conserving the bodies of the dead by chemical means in an effort to prolong the appearance of life.

The Church speaks of “intolerance,” but I think more is at stake.


The Christian, who must be conscious of and familiar with the idea of death, cannot interiorly accept the phenomenon of the “intolerance of the dead”, which deprives the dead of all acceptance in the city of the living. Neither can he refuse to acknowledge the signs of death, especially when intolerance and rejection encourage a flight from reality, or a materialist cosmology, devoid of hope and alien to belief in the death and resurrection of Christ.

Economic exploitation: bad.

The Christian is obliged to oppose all forms of “commercialisation of the dead”, which exploit the emotions of the faithful in pursuit of unbridled and shameful commercial profit.

Other thoughts or observations?

Remember, the full document Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

Posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents | 2 Comments

Contrition and Delay

A number of years ago I was on retreat, and the monastery provided Penance form II–not for retreatants (there were only 2 or 3 of us on site), but as a matter of course for the monastic community. We lay people were informed and invited, and I took advantage of the opportunity.

I had one more serious sin that I listed after about three or four venials, and the monastic confessor paused and said, “Let’s visit that last one.” It wasn’t quite going to slide in anonymously with routine offenses. He offered a few sentences, and then an act of satisfaction that fit what I had done.

When I read yet another analysis of St Mary’s cathedral sprinkling system here, this advice struck me:

(T)he archdiocese’s statement buries its apology in the penultimate paragraph—well after it rehearses the many important acts of charity it offers to the neediest San Franciscans. … But when a transgression of this magnitude becomes known, the risk of scandal is real—the first order of business is remorse, not self-defense.

Our parish penance service went very long last night. I wasn’t there once the confessions began; we also had an Easter Vigil music practice elsewhere in the building. When the music was nearly over, I rushed upstairs thinking that I needed to check on lights, candles, and clean-up. But I was surprised to find a lot of people still at liturgy.

Five confessors handled about 160 penitents in ninety minutes. That was almost three minutes per penitent. How much longer would that liturgy have taken if people were leading in with lists of all the good things they had done before the serious sin?

What if public relations were a sacrament? What would be the liturgical theology of the San Francisco apology? It’s embarrassing enough to have one’s words sifted through in internet commentariats around the world. To be sure, the world has noticed. Is it fair for past transgressions to be rehashed? For a one-and-done offense, I think it’s a bit harsh. But as part of a recurring pattern, perhaps not.

For a single penitent, canon 988 advises, “confess in kind and number all grave sins committed.” To model this, does the person responsible for the installation need to get out there and say, “I did this, and it cost n dollars”? Does that person have to be the bishop, even if he didn’t approve the installation?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I do observe a few things:

  • Stories like this never completely go away, not in the internet age.
  • If there are future stumbles, critics revisit the past.
  • The pattern is one of human nature: grievances are nursed and resurfaced when the time suits.
  • This is not a pattern of conservatives, liberals, blogs, mainstream media, or advocacy groups alone. It is a matter of people being people.

Maybe the hidden and missed lesson in all this is the opportunity for the Church as institution (its spokespeople, leaders, and others who want to participate) to model contrition, confession, and acts of satisfaction. On that last point, is anybody really satisfied with this story?

In contrast, an alternative to dousing the homeless or selling off the Vatican’s artistic treasures: make sure the poor enjoy them, too.


Posted in Commentary, Rite of Penance | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

DPPL 258: Matters to Avoid Concerning Death

STA altar at night smallFive aspects to avoid:

258. In matters relating to doctrine, the following are to be avoided:
• the invocation of the dead in practices involving divination;
• the interpretation or attribution of imaginary effects to dreams relating to the dead, which often arises from fear;
• any suggestion of a belief in reincarnation;
• the danger of denying the immortality of the soul or of detaching death from the resurrection, so as to make the Christian religion seem like a religion of the dead;
• the application of spacio-temporal categories to the dead.

Different cultures have associations with one or a few of these. Reincarnation is often visited with in the West these days. What does the Church mean by “spacio-temporal categories”?

Remember, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

Posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents | 1 Comment

Heroic Priesthood Redux

Check Cathleen Caveny’s review of the Robert Barron video Heroic Priesthood. I think there’s room to poke a bit at the assumptions of the piece, but the consistent tartness of the commentariat also left me wanting.

I have a few young friends in the pre-priest stage, so I’m aware of the basketball set-up among seminaries here in the Midwest. I’m also very aware of the prevalence of the Culture of Sport among modern college students. It doesn’t get any more intense than at an American Division I university. It is part of the very identity of the city in which I live, even among townies who never attended the university or have yet to go off to college. Ms. Caveny asked, “And really: why basketball?” Simple. Inculturation in 21st century America. If it were Rome, it would be soccer. And it is.

Will Fr Barron’s video recruit young men to the priesthood? No. Is the contrast between camaraderie and community a problem? Seems so.

First question first. When colleges recruit students, they are not recruiting young people to careers and vocations. They are advertising the community of the institution. I observed a lot of the materials that swamped the young miss these past few years. You had to look deep past the glossy images to find anything that told you this enclave will form you to be a good doctor, a good business person, a good teacher. Mainly, the recruitment focus, in print and on college tours, was about the quality of life one will experience as a young adult.

I think Heroic Priesthood is a better-than-average presentation of an important slice of seminary life. Many American young adults lean indeed to self-focused rather than community. It’s not a total individualization, and it’s not totally inappropriate. My young friends identify as “Cyclones,” frequently clump together wearing red “uniforms,” and collectively engage in large group social events.

Often, they are also focused on their own fields of study. They crave success and regard from others. They close themselves off to possibilities. They are concerned about how their needs will be met when they interact romantically, academically, and even in the Church. I’ve known more than one person whose four-year mission at the student center was planned out: first year, get involved and get noticed; second, get a key leadership spot; third, live-in peer minister (the apex in some eyes) and then in senior year off to seminary, marriage, or career-starting internship.

Fr Barron is not only a filmmaker, he is now a seminary rector. Our pastor approached him about coming to our campus as a speaker. But he’s focused on his new, and important role as the leader of an important school. Invitation declined. I think Heroic Priesthood is a seminary recruiting tool that derives from the man’s self-image and his position. There’s nothing wrong with that.

What happens with guys once they’ve left the seminary behind and enter the wilds of a messy and dirty Church is another thing. My observation is that the semi-eremitic life of the modern priest presents the Church with a morale problem, especially if there’s been a huge attachment to the semi-monastic life of a seminarian.

Priests are people too. And people need social and human interaction. Praying Mass in red vestments with a totally black background lets the young viewer imagine the details and the people to be filled in. It’s a filmmaker’s artistic prerogative–it’s not a literal representation of the Calvary a young priest might feel interacting with the old, the women, the liberals, and the babies of his first assignment.

I think a problem with seminaries might be the emphasis on the clerical over the apprenticeship model of formation. We know that Baptism and the subsequent vocation to discipleship is better done one-to-one rather than in a classroom. Living the Christian life is not like a college laboratory: lecture, then lab, then report. It’s more like the world: wash, rinse, repeat. You have to practice being a good Christian. Marriage was like that for me. I suspect we’ll get better priests when the guys break out of the seminary walls and mingle with the masses. But the Mundelein rector would likely be the first to tell you his graduates are only starting their formation as priests.

I think Fr Barron’s critics could do well to lighten up. Like many artistic endeavors, this film tells us something of Father Barron, the person. I would be cautious about reading too much theology into it. The public musing about his possible personal careerism are also inappropriate, even if they are true. And if they are, it’s none of my business. Or anyone else’s.


Posted in Commentary, film | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

DPPL 257: The Paschal Meaning of Death

STA altar at night smallWhat does death mean? How do pastoral ministers work with and serve people in grief and pain?

257. It is always necessary to ensure that popular piety is inspired by the principles of the Christian faith. Thus, they should be made aware of the paschal meaning of the death undergone by those who have received Baptism and who have been incorporated into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Rm 6,3-10); the immortality of the soul (cf Lk 23, 43); the communion of Saints, through which “union with those who are still on their pilgrim journey with the faithful who repose in Christ is not in the least broken, but strengthened by a communion of spiritual goods, as constantly taught by the Church” (Lumen Gentium 49):”our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective” (Catechism 958); the resurrection of the body; the glorious coming of Christ, who will “judge the living and the dead” (DS 150; Roman Missal Creed); the reward given to each according to his deeds; life eternal.


The link of the believer to Christ is well-established in the New Testament (even beyond these two citations above). Paul preached we are joint heirs with Christ. The Nicene Creed emphasizes our relationship with the dead as part of the essence of traditional Christian faith.

The Church is concerned about practices that might be contrary to the paschal character of the final things, or move against what we know as Christians to be true of the Risen Lord.

Deeply rooted cultural elements connoting particular anthropological concepts are to be found among the customs and usages connected with the “cult of the dead” among some peoples. These often spring from a desire to prolong family and social links with the departed. Great caution must be used in examining and evaluating these customs. Care should be taken to ensure that they are not contrary to the Gospel. Likewise, care should be taken to ensure that they cannot be interpreted as pagan residues.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

Posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents | 1 Comment