My wife noted the third verse of John Foley’s song rather apt this Advent. He channels James 5:9:

Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.

One of our retired priests made an offhand remark about a “minor key song” the first week. Not favorable, I took it, as can you. It wasn’t a favorite of mine from the otherwise fine collection Gentle Night. But maybe it takes maturity, a second or third listen, or something. Liturgy Committee suggested it as entrance for the Sundays of this season–not what I would have chosen, but I’m not disappointed.

It wasn’t one of my beloved’s faves. My predecessor in her parish used to do it, but very very slowly. My tempo on most liturgical songs exceeds the speed limit set by composers. Not too much on this one.

Getting back to my wife, she noted the infighting about Bishop Sheen, Pope Francis, the parish renovation here, and the usual intra-choir fussing. Maybe we need that reminder from the SLJ’s: Do not grumble, one against the other. Judgment in the song is implied, rather than spelled out.

I don’t think mature Christians need it to be spelled out. We grumble at our own risk, eyes wide open.

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Scramble For Christmas Programming

Image result for christmas cookieI don’t usually gossip about current parishes. But it’s going to be an interesting one this year, halfway through construction with lots of distractions on the side.

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow night will be the second-last full rehearsal before Christmas. I suppose I could ask my peeps to come in for an extra session or two. We might even need it. And some of them would come. But as I get older, I hesitate to demand, or even ask more of people at this time of year.

My reasons …

Most of my people are a year older than last year. If they aren’t getting more tired, the grandkids are aging and family time is still important. My predecessor used to ask for all three Eve Masses, 5pm through 10 o’clock. I won’t do that. More than one singer doesn’t like driving at night, and it seems one or two people always get asked to play chauffeur.

Some of my people resent getting pushed around by the powers-that-be connected with our renovation and temporary worship. Two of my better musicians have actually suggested boycotting some or all of December. I can’t go for that, obviously. I’ve had to play diplomat and smooth things over, but tensions are still running high here and there.

Most of my singers dislike the Mass designated as “Family/Children,”–the first of Christmas Eve. I had five singers last year, and the Liturgy Committee noticed. With disapproval. Four sopranos and a struggling alto (who generally does well with other singers on the part). I groused a bit with a friend from another church about the evaluation. He suggested a retort, “The good news is that it was better than it will be next year.”

I confess my own fatigue. We’ve lost two pets in the last week. My mother is having a struggle moving into assisted living on the other side of the continent. And then there’s loss among choir members: deaths in families, and medical conditions. I’ve had close to thirty percent attrition since September. In the last forty-eight hours, I’ve heard from three strong singers who won’t be with us for the rest of the month. I’ve already dropped one new song and fallen back on a nice arrangement of another piece for something simpler.

To outsiders, it might seem like a poor Christmas. But the truth is that my parish, like most, are not developing a new generation of singers. First rehearsal for a children’s prelude at one of the Eve Masses drew more parents (3) than kids (2).

Hopefully your holidays are going fruitfully, whether or not you are in church music. There’s still much for which to give thanks. I keep reminding myself … more often these days.

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Christus Vivit 227: Areas Needing To Be Developed, Sports

Athletics? Does this really need development? If so, what kind?

227. “Equally significant is the emphasis that young people place on sports; the Church should not underestimate the potential of sports for education and formation, but instead maintain a strong presence there. The world of sport needs to be helped to overcome some of its problematic aspects, such as the idolization of champions, subservience to commercial interests and the ideology of success at any cost”.[FD 47]

These are all challenges to the Gospel. Some might say nearly insurmountable. I still follow sports, though not nearly as much as I once did.

At the heart of the experience of sport is “joy: the joy of exercising, of being together, of being alive and rejoicing in the gifts the Creator gives us each day”.[Address to a Delegation of the International Special Olympics (16 February 2017): L’Osservatore Romano, 17 February 2017, 8]

Joy is indeed an elusive but fruitful quality one might seek in athletic accomplishment. Our second Doctor of the week is quoted:

Some Fathers of the Church used the example of the training of athletes to encourage the young to develop their strength and to overcome idleness and boredom. Saint Basil the Great, writing to young people, used the effort demanded by athletics to illustrate the value of self-sacrifice as a means of growth in virtue: “These men endure sufferings beyond number, they use many means to build their strength, they sweat constantly as they train… in a word, they so discipline themselves that their whole life prior to the contest is but a preparation for it… How then can we, who have been promised rewards so wondrous in number and in splendor that no tongue can recount them, even think of winning them if we do nothing other than spend our lives in leisure and make but half-hearted efforts?”[Ad Adolescentes, VIII, 11-12: PG 31, 580]

Check this link to get a look at the whole document by Pope Francis.

Any comments?

The text in color is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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I see the Sheen Beatification Adventure has taken a new twist or two. Nosy people have outed the Diocese of Rochester and its bishop as the source of concern heard and noted at Rome for the sainthood cause of their late-sixties ordinary. This has now been confirmed at the source.

Not quite the suspected Francis-Bishop(s), though social media voices think Archbishop Dolan (close friend of Bishop Matano) is still a prime suspect of string-pulling, given the tug-of-war with Peoria over the deceased’s remains. It seems to me that a cardinal could have spoken up just as easily from St Patrick’s rather than use an upstate proxy. It strikes me that heads are a-spinning because the culturewar narrative is broke: Left bishops should be targeting Right bishops. It’s supposed to work from across the ideological aisle. Not from a sense of prudence. Not from an “ally.”

Even as an advocate of more lay saints, and perhaps a century or two of moratorium on clergy and religious founders, I confess a bit of dismay about Bishop Sheen’s cause getting sidelined. My work-study job in grad school was in his archives. I read and organized media reports dating from 1934 until the year of his death. I felt I got to know him somewhat well, though I wasn’t Catholic during his time in Rochester. All the info I processed and organized struck me as a good starting point for a serious biography of the man. One of my professors confirmed that, reflecting that in another decade or two, many living people who knew him would be dead. If anyone was going to write the non-hagiographical bio, it would have to be in the 80s and 90s.

If anything, this shows how tied up people can be with their saints, canonized and otherwise. It’s hard to separate out the celebrity. On many college campuses, Cardinal Newman was something of a celebrity. For many Catholics, there’s at least one favorite saint–someone to admire, to feel an affinity for, a person with a similar story to ours.

I might ask: why would a lay person attach so much importance to a priest (which they could never be) who was a televangelist (which they will need millions of YouTube views and still not match). Do Catholics think of Fulton Sheen as more celebrity? Certainly there was some of that in our admiration for Pope John Paul II. But as a living pope, he also did things that impacted lives. Bishop Sheen, perhaps less so these days.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out when the Father Guli situation is clarified in the weeks ahead.

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Scripture for the Sick or Dying: Isaiah 35:6b-10

We continue an examination of the thirty-fifth chapter of Isaiah. In this third and last installment, we return to the image of a desert land redeemed. If God can do such for a wasteland, he certainly can work his glory to heal us.

Arabah is the valley to the south of the Dead Sea if I recall my biblical geography:

For waters will burst forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the Arabah.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water;
The abode where jackals crouch
will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus.

In other words, rather than be a place of danger and unfortunate surprises, human beings will find their pilgrimage home a sustaining one, and with sights of beauty. Our mortal death is inevitable. But sometimes we are graced with a happy death. I suppose if this reading were used for a celebration of viaticum, it might include a reflection that the journey to God will be eased and natural:

A highway will be there,
called the holy way;
No one unclean may pass over it,
but it will be for his people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray on it.
No lion shall be there,
nor any beast of prey approach,
nor be found.
But there the redeemed shall walk,
And the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning flee away.

Michael Perry used this text as the basis for a metrical hymn which I set to music some years ago. It was never published, and I doubt it was ever performed outside of the parish of my grad school years. I mention this because I think this chapter invites a musical setting. Mine came quite easy to me, and if we find our return to God echoes the last verses above, it will indeed be an opportunity for song.

For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.

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Christus Vivit 226: Areas Needing To Be Developed, The Arts

Pope Francis’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which can be found on this link at the Vatican site, looks briefly at the arts as a setting for engaging young people. First the post-synod document’s mention:

226. Nor can we overlook the importance of the arts, like theatre, painting, and others. “Music is particularly important, representing as it does a real environment in which the young are constantly immersed, as well as a culture and a language capable of arousing emotion and shaping identity. The language of music also represents a pastoral resource with a particular bearing on the liturgy and its renewal”.[FD 47]

And a citation from one of the original doctors of the Church. His prescription:

Singing can be a great incentive to young people as they make their way through life. As Saint Augustine says: “Sing, but continue on your journey. Do not grow lazy, but sing to make the way more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going… If you make progress, you will continue your journey, but be sure that your progress is in virtue, true faith and right living. Sing then, and keep walking”.[Sermo 256, 3: PL 38, 1193]

Any comments?

The text in color is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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Scripture for the Sick or Dying: Isaiah 35:3-6a

I think Isaiah 35 is far too rich for a single post you might read in a minute or two. In the middle of this text, the prophet turns our attention from the glory of nature and its occasional surprise glory.

In these middle verses we find the likely reason for its inclusion:

Strengthen hands that are feeble,
make firm knees that are weak,
Say to the fearful of heart:
Be strong, do not fear!

Fear is one aspect of serious illness. I’m not sure that strength, bodily or otherwise, is always an antidote for being afraid. Spiritually, I’d rather seek hope. If a body wants to be strong, there is always the gym and a healthy diet. Hope is far more elusive and difficult.

The theme of Isaiah 40:28-31 is quite similar. Even if you don’t believe in more than one Isaiah, clearly this theme of trust and the ability of God to strengthen us was an important one for the Jewish people. And it is for us Christians too:

Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then the eyes of the blind shall see,
and the ears of the deaf be opened;
Then the lame shall leap like a stag,
and the mute tongue sing for joy.

Jesus promised a fulfillment in the synagogue in Luke 4:16ff. It is a new dominion which the prophet also envisioned a few chapters prior to this text. God reminds us that though we might feel powerless, vulnerable, and disabled, our ultimate hopes will be realized. And more.

The Christian context of anointing is not necessarily a physical healing of all that ails us. That would be contrary to the laws of nature and the reality of bodily aging and decay. We seek hope in a deeper reality. We wish for a continuation of God’s good graces, but in a life beyond the trials and obstacles of the present day. We can’t really grasp it. It lies as far beyond our mortal experience as a garden is removed from a desert. But God’s promise is that it will come.

For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.

Posted in Pastoral Care of the Sick, Scripture | 1 Comment