Singing The “Unsingable”

lute playerDuring the prelude of my parish’s funeral Mass today, one of my singers rendered this chestnut of modern sacred music as a solo.

It brought to mind my experience of that piece thirty-plus years ago in another parish. During my grad school days, week after week at the parish’s Thursday Night Folk Mass (yes, they were still calling it that–too radical for Sunday music at first) the entire assembly, two-hundred to three-hundred strong, sang this setting unaccompanied with full gusto. Hands together, hands uplifted–the whole charismatic, happy-clappy thing. Never before and never since have I experienced this particular piece done in this way.

It brings to mind a sentiment I often read online. (Real life not so much.) Catholics in the pews can’t or don’t sing (fill in the bank). Chant. Syncopated P&W. Latin. Strummed music. Piano-accompanied music. New songs. Old songs. My opinion: poppycock, to use the theological term.

People will sing anything–or give it a prayerful try–if they have something to sing about. Their faith. Their sense of community.

I bring that optimism to music ministries I lead. We will sing any text that contributes to a sense of liturgy and mysticism and that is focused on telling the story of God. The best music will work, regardless of genre or style. Nothing is unsingable. Unless, sadly, there is weak or no faith. In that case, nothing is singable.

Posted in Liturgical Music | 1 Comment

Amoris Laetitia 199: Some Pastoral Perspectives

amoris laetitia memeChapter Six of Amoris Laetitia finds the Holy Father discussing “Some Pastoral Perspectives.” As you might surmise, these are among the most controversial and most resisted of the teaching contained in this document. We’ll continue to take things carefully, one paragraph a day, one paragraph at a time.

Let’s read the introduction for the document’s second-longest chapter, which Pope Francis is careful to offer as a reflection, not a plan:

199. The dialogue that took place during the Synod raised the need for new pastoral methods. I will attempt to mention some of these in a very general way. Different communities will have to devise more practical and effective initiatives that respect both the Church’s teaching and local problems and needs. Without claiming to present a pastoral plan for the family, I would now like to reflect on some more significant pastoral challenges.

You can always check the full document online–just click on the hyperlink above. This chapter treats five topics as follows:

  • Proclaiming the Gospel of the Family Today (200-204)
  • Marriage Preparation (205-216)
  • Early Years of Marriage (217-230)
  • Crises, Worries, and Difficulties (231-252)
  • Death (253-258)

By the time we’re finished with these themes, we will be well into December. Ready for the ride? If so, then buckle in.

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | Leave a comment

On My Bookshelf: The Hubble Cosmos

hubble-cosmosUpfront: I’ve been an avid reader of National Geographic since 1969. I usually catch up these days at the public library, as I never wanted to recycle their magazines. And those volumes get heavy as the years pile up. I could see myself with piles of hundreds of yellow-bordered zines piled high on sagging bookshelves … but I’m not really into hoarding. Also, my wife would certainly have something to say about it.

NG used to distill a handful of related articles into books on a topic. I remember the first time I got one–Australia, I think–it occurred to me this narrative was familiar. And indeed, I already had the book … in articles found in separate magazines.

The Hubble Cosmos doesn’t appear to be one of those best-of books. I borrowed it from the library for a three-week stay on my bedside bookshelf. The pictures range from pretty to pretty inspiring to awe-inspiring. The text tells the story of the Hubble Space Telescope as lensed through its various observations and discoveries. There are touchstones in the history of astronomy and physics, figures like Galileo, Einstein, Hubble, and others who are not household names, but contributed mightily to our understanding of the universe. The story of the telescope itself is fascinating, woven into the narrative.

Each chapter is a “moment,” and there are twenty-five of them. It was a surprise to me how broad the mission of this telescope has been. It was also heartening to read how inspiring the images sent back from Earth orbit have been to ordinary citizens.

This book can be enjoyed as a coffee-table tome: just look at the pictures. Even little kids would like that. Chapter narratives are broken up by lots of images, as well as sidebars that touch on related topics. The text is accessible to high-school-age Earthlings and the science therein is good, not at all dumbed down, but gives a good basic explanation of things like dark matter, exploding stars, exoplanet atmospheres, cosmology, and other information.

On the NG site the book will set a purchaser back $50, but I’d say it’s worth it. If you or someone you know has a love for space and heavenly things, you and/or they will return to The Hubble Cosmos over and over. Highly recommended.

Posted in Astronomy, On My Bookshelf | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Amoris Laetitia 198: In-Laws

amoris laetitia memePope Francis doesn’t shy away from a mention of some of the more challenging family relationships, the loved ones of one’s spouse:

198. Finally, we cannot forget that this larger family includes fathers-in-law, mothers-in-law and all the relatives of the couple. One particularly delicate aspect of love is learning not to view these relatives as somehow competitors, threats or intruders. The conjugal union demands respect for their traditions and customs, an effort to understand their language and to refrain from criticism, caring for them and cherishing them while maintaining the legitimate privacy and independence of the couple. Being willing to do so is also an exquisite expression of generous love for one’s spouse.

For your reference, remember that Amoris Laetitia is online here.

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | Leave a comment

More Grimm

grimm-logoThirty episodes into viewing, I reviewed this show last month. Now I’m a bit into season 5.

I have to give this program a solid B. It’s not without flaws. It’s also not without a devoted fandom. I haven’t hooked into that, mainly because I want to spare myself surprises that may come as I catch up with the last eighteen episodes I haven’t yet seen.

As the Grimm braintrust navigates long story arcs, it manages to weave in an X-Files monster-of-the-week, introducing viewers to a parade of human-animal chimeras. Various urban legends like aliens, Bigfoot, crime waves, and world takeover conspiracies are explained well by the secret subcultures encountered by the various characters.

The fourth season shakes things up quite a bit. By the end, a few important characters are killed off–some good, some bad, and some good-turned-bad. The title character’s home goes through another few battles then gets sold off early in season 5. His fortress-of-solitude is burned. He gains an apprentice (think Batman’s Robin), loses her, then regains her only to have her mysteriously kidnapped. I was thinking spin-off when the character disappeared the first time, but that seems to be off the table. Probably for the best.

As I observed in the previous review, lots of elements of hero fiction join the urban fantasy vector. They all get blended for good effect.

The flaws:

  • There was a lot of early attention given to mysterious keys that somehow (think National Treasure) produce a map that leads somewhere to something. But the Grimm braintrust seems to have forgotten it.
  • They almost went down the Order of the Phoenix road with the main character looked upon with suspicion by friends for what seems to be erratic and irrational behavior. That would have hurt worse than losing a lot of crime-fighting stuff. But the idea got resolved pretty quick. Maybe quicker than it needed to be.
  • I thought of a few narratives that would have been interesting to explore, but it would have required some movement away from the central city, Portland, where all the weird happenings occur. Two characters go to Europe, but otherwise, the Pacific Northwest is the center of the universe of strange.
  • Lots of violence. Too much, I think. Sometimes a more disciplined approach would have given things a bit of variety, if nothing else. I’m aware it’s a violent world and scheme they have running here. Sometimes there’s more menace with subterfuge, and the threat of harm than people actually getting hurled across rooms, beheaded, or otherwise beaten.

Ninety-some episodes in, the characters and their relationships are compelling and do create great loyalty. At least among the viewers I know. For a network show, surprisingly good. Buffy and the X-Files have lapped Grimm. But hanging in that universe would require an effort of genius. Most works of television genius get cancelled by network execs long before their time.

Posted in fantasy, television | Leave a comment

Amoris Laetitia 197: This Larger Family

amoris laetitia memeThe question posed to Jesus echoes for us today: who is my neighbor? What persons will be in my extended Christian and sacramental family?

197. This larger family should provide love and support to teenage mothers, children without parents, single mothers left to raise children, persons with disabilities needing particular affection and closeness, young people struggling with addiction, the unmarried, separated or widowed who are alone, and the elderly and infirm who lack the support of their children. It should also embrace “even those who have made shipwreck of their lives”.(Catechesis (7 October 2015)) This wider family can help make up for the shortcomings of parents, detect and report possible situations in which children suffer violence and even abuse, and provide wholesome love and family stability in cases when parents prove incapable of this.

To be sure, I find the complaint of government control of what could or should be charity to be an empty excuse. Nothing exempts a Christian from extending the love and inclusion of family to those who are specially in need of assistance. Nothing whatsoever. For your reference, remember that Amoris Laetitia is online here.

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | Leave a comment

Amoris Laetitia 196: A Big Heart

amoris laetitia memeWhat does Pope Francis mean by a big heart? A pastor for whom I once worked often preached on this at weddings. Authentic sacramental love is self-giving, and ever-widening. It extends to friends and neighbors in need, and even to the poor and needy. Such additions to married love inspire others to notice and to remark, “This is good. This is of God.”:

196. In addition to the small circle of the couple and their children, there is the larger family, which cannot be overlooked. Indeed, “the love between husband and wife and, in a derivative and broader way, the love between members of the same family – between parents and children, brothers and sisters and relatives and members of the household – is given life and sustenance by an unceasing inner dynamism leading the family to ever deeper and more intense communion, which is the foundation and soul of the community of marriage and the family”.(Familiaris Consortio  18) Friends and other families are part of this larger family, as well as communities of families who support one another in their difficulties, their social commitments and their faith.

St John Paul refers to a “dynamism” in a family that looks outside of its four walls of home. I would agree. In our world in which so many people are adrift from the nearness of extended family, such associations are especially important. Check Amoris Laetitia online here.

Posted in Amoris Laetitia | 1 Comment