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?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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