One Thing At A Time

ev-2016As I’ve gotten back into flapping my arms in front of a group of singers the past fourteen months, I’ve been scouring the net as well as a library of music publications here in my office. I look for any short essay (books are too long) that gives me one good nugget. Then it gets gets clipped and saved in a file in my desk marked “conducting.” Indispensable to me: Gerald Custer‘s column in GIA Quarterly.

Another useful resource is a British one, and this post from their site underscores a very important principle: One Thing At A Time.

I have a few trained musicians in the parish. My second predecessor is now retired and a choir member. She does some work with our psalmists. I often have her take about fifteen minutes to lead off the rehearsal with some aspect of vocal pedagogy. My pianist is a fine reader and experienced church musician. She often hears things I do not. But if I listened to these two ladies on every stumble in our music ministry, we could all be working hard into the late evening hours. Sometimes it’s better to move on, playing the long game.

Last night, after we were working long and hard on an old Mass setting (new to about 1/4 of the people) things were getting a bit sloppy on cutoffs for a Communion psalm. At a pause, my pianist mentioned it. I heard it too. But I told her we were going to skip over it. Ms Hopkins’ advice from that second link above includes:

You don’t have to fix everthing all at once. Rehearsals are a finite length and it’s important to finish on time. You can’t deal with every little point and it’s counter-productive to try. You’ll end up demoralising your choir and yourself. If you’ve planned your rehearsal properly, you’ll already have a good idea of what you want to achieve at a particular session.

All I wanted to do yesterday was get the Mass parts they haven’t sung in three, four years to gel with me, the instrumentalists, and the singers. We worked hard for the better part of an hour to get that done. Mission accomplished. I let the people go home a half-hour early.

That principle of attending to one thing at a time has merit for just about every church ministry I can think of: preaching, soup kitchens, RCIA, wedding planning–you name it.

Come to think of it, it has a lot of merit in one’s personal life. I’ve spent most of the summer revising my diet and losing some weight I’ve allowed to add. I’ve also been noticing that despite feeling better with improved nutrition and less bulk around my middle, I’m still dozing off during prayer or even the occasional liturgy. My body tells me to attend to sleep. It might take me some weeks to reinforce a new habit on that front. But maybe I could start up an exercise program instead. Do both at once? Pah! One thing at a time. I can take heart that it’s exactly the way I would do it with my choir. This Fall is a good time to reinforce a better sleep pattern. I’ll still be alive in two months. Focus on fitness can wait for a rested and refreshed body.od

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Amoris Laetitia 179: Adoption

amoris laetitia memePope Francis on adoption:

179. Adoption is a very generous way to become parents. I encourage those who cannot have children to expand their marital love to embrace those who lack a proper family situation. They will never regret having been generous. Adopting a child is an act of love, offering the gift of a family to someone who has none. It is important to insist that legislation help facilitate the adoption process, above all in the case of unwanted children, in order to prevent their abortion or abandonment. Those who accept the challenge of adopting and accepting someone unconditionally and gratuitously become channels of God’s love. For he says, “Even if your mother forgets you, I will not forget you” (Is 49:15).

What I would affirm from the Holy Father’s pen:

  • Adoption is placed squarely in the perspective of the child: “the gift of a family to someone who has none.”
  • In the US, we might wonder about the legislation comment, but it must be acknowledged that Americans adopt children at much higher rates than the rest of the world. Adoption might be expensive. Adoption might be frustrating for choosy couples.
  • The one miss here is not seeing adoption as only an alternative to abortion or abandonment, but also as a response on behalf of older children who languish in foster care.

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

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First Serve

serving-foodAre you familiar with the principle? Other authors and parish ministers have used it; it’s not original to me. “First serve” involves the invitation to volunteering or parish ministry. A new parishioner or a prospective old-timer commits for only one time.

In liturgy, it’s an easy thing to implement for some ministries. Hospitality ministers, either ushers or greeters have easy tasks, and if the regulars are welcoming of recruits, they can assist with the hands-on stuff. Art & Environment committee too. (Decorating for Advent or Lent or something like that.)

First Serve might be possible for a one-time singing commitment. Christmas can get fairly intense in some parishes, but everybody knows the familiar carols and harmony might break out surprisingly well.

First Serve is lilkely less useful for the ministries of more involved procedures (distributing Communion) or intense preparation (lectors).

From a powerpoint I developed for a workshop I did years ago, my reasons for offering a single-event “first serve”:

  • Newcomers get to know others who serve and get a glimpse of parish operations
  • They get their feet wet without a full-blown commitment
  • They can control their involvement; they know if they get sucked in, it will be their choice.
  • Small successes breed bigger ones

What do you think?

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Amoris Laetitia 178: An Expanding Fruitfulness

amoris laetitia memeWe open a section (178-186) titled, “An Expanding Fruitfulness,” with an acknowledgement of childlessness. Also a note that the sole purpose of marriage is not the breeding of offspring.

178. Some couples are unable to have children. We know that this can be a cause of real suffering for them. At the same time, we know that “marriage was not instituted solely for the procreation of children… Even in cases where, despite the intense desire of the spouses, there are no children, marriage still retains its character of being a whole manner and communion of life, and preserves its value and indissolubility”.(Gaudium et Spes 50)

This is an important distinction. For Christians, and even for non-Christians, marriage is ordered to the spiritual life. Marriage directs a person and her or his life-partner toward God in a way other avenues cannot. Marriage appeals to the basic human impulse for companionship. Marriage engages a believer and a companion to support one another in the pilgrimage to the Divine.

So too, “motherhood is not a solely biological reality, but is expressed in diverse ways”.(Aparecida 457)

Another important point. A person can function as a parent with no biological connection at all.


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

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Intercessory Prayer for Liturgical Ministers

I’ve had two recent encounters with this notion of liturgical ministers praying for another person. In my last community, someone associated with our sister parish suggested the Communion ministers in each location, in Iowa and in Honduras, be matched up with a name and to pray for that person’s service to the Lord. I’m not sure how it took hold; I relocated as it was commencing. But the effort was something that hand’t occurred to me before.

At our recent music ministry retreat, every member selected a folded piece of paper with a name out of a hat. The person represented by the name would be the subject of their special intercessory prayer for the coming year.

I think this touches on something that has been missing in mainstream American Catholicism. I hope to continue the effort in the future. But meanwhile, questions for you readers. Anybody ever experience a directed intercessory prayer for other liturgical ministers? If so, how was it handled? Did you find it beneficial?

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When Cozy Trumps Courage

fireplaceAt the risk of entering into a Wonderland of vocabulary twisting, a few thoughts on what I find constitutes conservatives, liberals, and progressives.

Liam described his current pastor in this comment.

My observation was, “Hmm. Your pastor actually sounds very conservative to me.”

Liam replied:

I can assure you, he’s not. I know what you mean, but I don’t agree that this behavior (and clericalism generally) is automatically “conservative”; that’s too convenient. I’ve seen it before on our progressive side of things, (too) many times over.

I think our culture finds it easier to categorize people into a single camp. And leave them there. Since politics is the driving force behind so much of what takes place (and I mean not just government, but celebrity, sports, labor/management, extended families, and even theological aspects of religion) it is way too convenient–not to mention comfortable–to put a tag on someone, and leave them there.

Speaking for myself, I am conservative in some aspects of my life outlook. I believe in conserving the natural environment. I believe in conserving virtues, and conducting myself in a realm of personal ethics and morals, and not just when they are personally convenient.

Sometimes, a progressive outlook accompanies this. As a young boy scout, for example, fire prevention was drilled into us. But I know that conservation thinking has evolved as we come to understand the importance of fire as part of the meta-cycle of a thriving forest or grassland. Being open to discovery is important.

In the realm of ethics and morals, I might consider the plight of two people, same-sex attracted. If God made them that way–in other words, if their sexual identity is part of their biological make-up as human beings, and if they seek a life defined by the virtue of commitment–then I don’t feel a compulsion to deny them a legal status that reinforces that. That doesn’t strike me as 100% liberal. Just a personal openness to change.

If I worked in forestry, I would have a problem, to be sure, to drop a lit match onto the ground where an environment was long overdue for a burn. Nor do I have a personal understanding of what it means to be gay, and certainly not the sexual orientation for it, so the idea of sex with another man is not at all appealing to me.

I’m not sure that stance of “personally opposed” makes me a flaming liberal in terms of how our culture defines its politics. But I’m not quite conservative either, despite my indulgence for shirts and ties on weekends.

Liam described a priest in his comment.

He’s the kind of priest who meanders and repeats his homiletic material (and uses way way too much first person, and is trigger-happy about trying to explain away any Gospel miracle apparently in order to seem down with, as it were, what he assumes is skepticism among his listeners) and his response to be called out on it is to joke about it almost weekly rather than do something about it.

I’ve worked with guys like this a lot. We haven’t always worked well together in the long run. Once I’ve gotten to know them, I might offer a gentle suggestion or nudge in a certain new direction. When I was younger, I was rebuffed for being one, ignorant, and/or two, conservative. After a long and frustrating conversation about a related issue I once told a pastor in a moment of mutual honesty that I thought he was still pre-Vatican II in some ways, he responded by declining to give me a cost-of-living raise. Thanks for proving my point, Father Hardly-A-Liberal.

Like Liam, I’ve known lots of people who could be tagged with the label “uber-progressive.” But as you get to know them, some are rather willing to explore new territory. And others have their claim staked, and they are not moving off that patch of land. Mind you, I have no problem with the monastic virtue of stability, even for someone not professing to be a monk.

But please: if you are so set in your ways, there is nothing gravely wrong about that. Just admit it. Concede you have a strong strain in yourself that is most decidedly non-progressive. Hang a hat on issues green, forward-thinking, or even liberal. But just confess that you have a comfort zone and sometimes cozy trumps courage.

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Amoris Laetitia 177: A Father’s Presence

amoris laetitia memePope Francis echoes one of my observations from yesterday’s post: the vital role of consultation with the mother of one’s children. My main takeaway from AL 177 is the importance of a father just being present to his children. Nothing surpasses that.

177. God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be “close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. And to be close to his children as they grow – when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they stray and when they get back on the right path. To be a father who is always present. When I say ‘present’, I do not mean ‘controlling’. Fathers who are too controlling overshadow their children, they don’t let them develop”.(Catechesis (4 February 2015))Some fathers feel they are useless or unnecessary, but the fact is that “children need to find a father waiting for them when they return home with their problems. They may try hard not to admit it, not to show it, but they need it”.(Ibid.) It is not good for children to lack a father and to grow up before they are ready.

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

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