Category Archives: Current Affairs

On the New Pope Francis

Like many, I have been astonished at the vitriolic diatribes that poured forth after the Pope’s election.  I wonder how many people who might have been interested in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass have had that interest extinguished.  How many pastors and priests have thought, “Gee, I sure hope I don’t run into those folks.”  And how many with an interest and knowledge of more traditional liturgical music, art, and architecture will find themselves dismissed out of hand as “probably pretty unpleasant crazies.”

Thanks so much, guys!  I miss Pope Benedict XVI too, but acting like hysterical children won’t bring him back.  Or advance the cause of true liturgical restoration.

May God grant the Holy Father all the blessings and strength he will need to rebuild the Church!

How to Communicate with Those Who Don’t Give a Fig

Last week’s Catholic New Media Conference in Dallas left me puzzled.  Many of the speakers and other participants with whom I spoke were full of “spiritual direction, discerning, charisms,” etc. That’s what I call full-bore spiritual jargon.  I felt as though I had dropped in from another planet.

Don’t get me wrong – they were lovely people.  At the same time, they seemed to live in a parallel universe to the one I’ve been inhabiting for the last several decades.  If you were into apologetics, arguing with militant atheists, defending doctrine, elucidating ethics – these were the folks for you.  An online world of people who seem to live for talking about religion.

At the same time, this meeting was supposed to be about “the new evangelization” (a term that is making me increasingly nervous).  At best, these blogs, podcasts, comment wars, and tweets seemed more about fine-tuning the already-evangelized and/or already-interested.  Oddly enough, it reminded me of the original tract movements in England and the USA whose goal was to hang on to Protestants in the midst of the distractingly urban industrial revolution.  Preaching to form a better choir.  But new media or old, this presumes an interest in the topic.  Make an atheist into a Christian.  Clarify a Protestant into a Catholic.  Etc.

Many, if not most, of the people I know don’t give a fig about religion.  They’re doing just fine without it, thank you very much.  Maybe they harbor prejudices from their childhood or the media.  Maybe they never give it a thought at all.  Whether it’s the Four Spiritual Laws or 2,000 years of the splendor of Catholicism or Orthodoxy, it’s “thanks but no thanks” (and that’s assuming you got their attention for a second anyway).

There’s nothing like going to a conference looking for answers and coming home with even more questions.  But maybe that’s why I was there….


“Sunday Clothes”

Here’s a link to an entertaining article on Sunday dress in the Catholic Herald.  The author contrasts the Spanish and Anglo-American understanding of what many mothers used to call “church clothes.”

It wasn’t until I moved to Florida that I saw people who appeared to come to Sunday Mass directly from cleaning out the garage.  Shorts, flip-flops, the free t-shirt from the blood drive, whatever.  And this was a solidly middle-class or better parish. Our last bishop made a stab at addressing this issue in the diocesan magazine and the result was a flood of phone calls and mail to the effect that “he should be happy we show up at all.”

All he suggested was that we dress as well as we would “to meet with our boss.”  Hey, guess who’s supposed to be at the church?

Kleider machen Leute, as the Germans say.  For me, dressing well for Sunday Mass says that this event is special, even in comfort-loving America.  And it is.

Words that need a vacation…

Here’s a short list of words and phrases that I believe need a vacation.  Or we need the vacation and the words/phrases can hang around with each other:

  1. Vibrant – particularly in connection with parishes, arts centers, or community get-togethers
  2. Nurturing – any use whatsosever
  3. Ironic, irony – high-toned expression of superiority
  4. Transformative – huh?
  5. Our youth – whatever happened to “boys and girls” or “young men and women”
  6. Joining the conversation – I have no idea what this really means, but I believe it has to do with agreeing with your intellectual and/or ethical adversaries to your disadvantage (their idea of a conversation) or having a self-affirmation festival with people who think just like you do
  7. Anything that I find myself saying and realize I’ve turned into an unpaid commercial for a product or ideology

Are there other words and phrases that should join the planned round-the-world cruise?  Your additions are welcome.

What Do We Say? What Do We Sing?

In the last week or so, I’ve seen tragedy up close and at a distance.  The latter was the dreadful killings in Aurora, Colorado.  The former was a memorial service for a 22-year-old who had committed suicide a week before graduation from college and with no prior indication of distress or depression.

What do we have to say in the face of the tragic and inexplicable?  These are moments for deep truth and deep ritual, not platitudes and syrupy hymns.  What did I hear at Sunday’s Mass about my fears and worries, about personal tragdy and cultural disintegration?  A homily where God was described as “a little night light to keep us from being frightened.”

Let’s take a hard look at the way we act in these moments and what we offer to the dead and the grieving.

What do our rituals say about what we profess to believe?  Are we more than puppies that fall asleep?  Do we live on somewhere other than in the memory of those who love us?  And what about those whom no one loved?  Is there a judgment or do we all head for our own personal versions of Valhalla?   We have over 2,000 years of Scripture, Church teachings, and music. Trite phrases and a four-hymn sandwich are thin gruel inded.

Are Numbers Running Your Life?

Are Numbers Running Your Life?

No, I’m not talking about Vinnie the Weasel and the Numbers Game.  I’m talking about all those other numbers.   Numbers that we often use to evaluate our self-worth, to compare ourselves to others, and to determine whether or not we’re going to have a good life or even just a good day.  These can include:

  • Weight and Fitness:  personal avoirdupois, BMI, how many reps, how much weight, often we get to the gym, how many M&Ms we went through last night, dress or pants size
  • Measured Achievement:  all sorts of scores – SAT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT, Wii games (of course, only ones for “intelligent people”), GPA
  • Money: Dow Jones, amounts in IRA, 401k,emergency fund, savings, checking, wallet, giant penny jar, fluctuations in any of the above
  • Piety: Masses per week, devotions added up, size of holy card collection
  • Professional: Number of direct reports, department budget, size of choir, gigs completed, gigs booked

Especially the numbers to dread:

  • The read-out on your scale on Monday morning reflecting a great weekend
  • The numbers on the hymn board where you don’t select the music

We like numbers because they seem so concrete and factual – unemotional, in fact.  However, then we run and attach all our emotions and our happiness to them.  Ever ask someone how she is and get the response, “I gained 2 pounds and the Dow is down”? Gosh, glad I asked.  Okay, so exercise more, eat less and stop checking the market every five minutes just because you can.

In the long run, none of these matter.  I visit lots of cemeteries and have yet to see any of the first groupings on a headstone.  As for the second set, just remember what fun you had and hope for better music in the future.



Buying Shoes – Then and Now

I recently bought a new pair of running shoes.  (OK, I just walk, but you know what I mean.)  I went to a specialist shop for this and it was a wonderful trip back to the way buying shoes used to be.  I was greeted and asked to sit down.  We discussed what I was used to wearing and what I wanted.  I stood on the nifty device that showed where the weight was distributed on my feet.  I walked around, so that my gait could be observed.  Then my feet were measured with the Brannock device of my youth.  I tried on several pairs and the fit was checked. We consulted and tried some more.  I walked around; the fit was checked.  And I left with a great pair of shoes. 

That’s how it used to be whenever you bought shoes (leaving aside the nifty device).

Nowadays, unless I’m buying designer shoes,  I’m expected to hunt for my size, try them on with no place to sit, and test the fit by mincing down the aisle in shoes held together with elastic.  Did I forget the “inventory control” device that cleverly digs into the top of my foot?  No help, no advice, no interest, no offer to help find another size or style, or see if the fit can be adjusted – and shoes haven’t gotten that much cheaper.  Not even figuring in the ones that are languishing in my closet or go straight to St. Vincent de Paul after one wearing because of their blister-producing quality.

While this is about shoes, think about all the other choices and purchases we’re now expected to navigate on our own with no assistance from someone who might actually know something. Pump your own gas, check out and bag your own groceries, and the list goes on.  I can hardly wait till I’m expected to do my own surgery.

Wedding Thoughts

Medieval-wedding It's been a great wedding season on the First Coast!  Harp, organ, and a few harp plus organ weddings in Jacksonville and St. Augustine.  Watching armies of attendants and coping with music choices, I've come to two conclusions:

1.  Strapless dresses are great for runway models.  They know how to wear them and the dressed are literally glued and taped into place.  Bridesmaids spend a fair amount of time unconsciously tugging at their bodices.  It just kills the air of "chic" if it appears the wearer is worried that her dress will fall down.  Put your maids in something with straps.

2. Most wedding prelude songs are unmemorable and too long.  An exception is one I played yesterday: "Jesus, Stand Beside Them" by Austin Lovelace. Pleasant tune, only two pages, a prayer, and not overwrought.  Available from Cokesbury Publishing.

Don't get me wrong.  I love playing weddings and working with the couples and mothers on music selections.  There is something wonderful about the optimism of the couples, the parents' pride in their children, and the longing for everything to be beautiful that I so enjoy!

Mazel tov!