The Long Game

When word came out of a liturgical institute in San Francisco, I noticed the same Samuel Weber, OSB attached to it. I don’t know the man, but name-recognition is there: his work arranging plainchant accompaniments for the Hymnal For The Hours at GIA a generation ago.

Discussion went ’round and ’round at Pray Tell here, including places it needn’t have gone, but my sense of it was this:

Who’s willing to invest the effort of a generation to make (great things) happen?

My skepticism was rooted in a man who spent five years trying to get it rolling in St Louis. Maybe it wasn’t in the cards there. After a few years in the Bay Area, it hadn’t caught on in a giant, let alone big way there. I’m enough of a pragmatist and music lover to give plainchant a go. I don’t think we will ever see it reach some golden ascendancy as many reform2 musicians hope. But if I were surprised by a contrary future, I wouldn’t shed tears over it.

I saw on PrayTell’s facebook page and blog that a non-music/liturgy person is now to head a revamped institute of Catholic culture, and to do so long distance. Aside from the ideological overtones of this Californian adventure, a few comments seem to be in order:

  • I stand by my assertion that the longed-for building up of culture, musical, liturgical, or anything, is the project of a generation. Not of a single expert, bishop, or guru. In fact, if a single charismatic person is able to shift appearances, I’d be likely to attribute that to an expression of local celebrity, if you will. More likely than not, a one-person show will leave town with the charismatic leader.
  • I am sure good intentions reside with all players in this show. Fr Weber is a fine musician. As a Benedictine monastic, he has my automatic respect. If subjective accounts of his faith in supplanting whole musical system in parishes can be trusted, I think he’s fatally misguided. But it seems not much of lasting impact has happened in St Louis, nor on the music front in San Francisco.
  • I had a priest friend who got really attached to a new liturgist. Even after the new guy went home after a few months, my friend still had him writing up prayers and music plans for the abandoned parish. I think ministry has to happen in-person. I think it can be done part-time. But I think real relationships with real people who have the potential to take real action are necessary. The new hire for the revamped institute may well be able to draw a salary from three time zones away. She may well be able to raise money from contacts and raise the national stature of a diocesan center for Catholic culture. It’s even possible her ideological baggage will drift into the background. But I don’t think this new effort will be successful. Archbishop Cordileone has stumbled into a modernism here.

If I were a person who had the archbishop’s ear, I would start with these points. I think whatever institute he wants to have needs leadership willing to commit for ten to twenty years, likely beyond his tenure as ordinary. A liturgy/music effort won’t happen overnight. I think one can set aside all the ideological shadows darkening some aspects of this vector and still have concerns.

Speaking from experience, I went into my first parish position with the intent to stay there for good. I lasted three years. I’ve been let go from other positions because I didn’t fit the pastor’s vision. I’ve left others because I felt the difference in mission between me, the priest, and/or the community wasn’t going to get resolved. When I look back, I don’t think I’ve done much more than scratch the surface in my longest assignment, which was seven years. If these parishes forget me, so much the better.

If I were to dial everything into reverse to the dawn of my ministry career, I’d hope I’d have the same aspiration. Not to make a difference all on my own. But to find like-minded companions who could work together to nudge, invite, explore new ground.

So my last, biggest question: a metro area of San Francisco’s significance, and why can’t they find somebody local to head up music, liturgy, or whatever the heck they’re trying to accomplish?

 

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About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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