What was the miracle? Reflecting on our pilgrimage to Detroit.

For one month and two days, I thought over and again about how to write a follow-up on our trip to Ohio and Detroit for the beatification of Blessed Solanus Casey. I am asked often how the trip went.

It was difficult. As time and reflection increased, I realized how difficult it was. There was so much to plan and keep track of in traveling with Peter’s medical supplies, in changing our routine, our time zone, our climate. More than any of that, choosing to separate as a family, leaving two children at home, was the most painful part. We have been together for a great deal of time. The days of frequent hospital admissions are drifting into the past. I remember them vaguely, like the last time it rained, but the ground has dried and I no longer recall immediately how it felt.

Then I chose it. I chose to leave two kids at home because the difficulties and cost associated with taking so many toddlers on a plane. It was reasonable. But sometimes, the reasonable option hurts.

My heart broke a little returning as my three-year-old cried while leaving her grandparents. She seemed confused at what was happening. To spend a week at grandma’s house must have brought back memories to her, the unconscious type of memories three-year-olds recall. There is little we can do other than talk and cuddle to help her. For my eldest, we involved her in whatever we could. She visited. She even stayed at the hospital with Peter and me, until I realized how important her presence was in the stable makeup of her younger sibling’s lives.

Of course, we did look for miracles. We quietly glanced this way and that. What would it be?

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On the long drive to Detroit, tucked in the backseat of a gray sedan between a car seat and booster seat, with my back burning ever so much, I played in my mind what would happen if Peter were cured of his primary condition.

He has defects in sodium absorption. His TPN accounts for this defect. If he suddenly absorbed the sodium given him through TPN, it would result in elevated levels of sodium because of the higher volume administered. That would hospitalize him.

The day after our three-hour jaunt to Detroit (three hours each way), Peter was not himself. I paced until 1 p.m. before paging the doctor again on his care coordination team. We planned to fly out the next day. I would rather get this over with and just know. He could be just tired. There were times when it was like this: exhaustion, unable to keep his eyes open, fussing to sleep. Then a long nap would descend upon him and he would wake, right as rain. The waiting killed me.

Dr. Henry called the local hospital and we drove over. Peter fell asleep in Kyle’s arms. As much as I wanted this to be the crisis that would occur if he could suddenly hold on to his sodium, I prayed to God Peter and I would be on that plane with my husband and daughter the next day.

The results came in. Labs were stable as they have been for months. Arriving back to our host’s home, Kyle hauled Peter in his car seat upstairs to a warm dark room and he slept for three hours.

And he woke, right as rain.

The primary issue persisted. Arriving home, Peter began to taste food. His condition and early malnutrition (sodium is needed to obtain the nutrients from the food we eat) caused him to vomit with each feeding. Such frequent vomiting led to an oral aversion in which he refused all food by mouth. Gradually he began to drink water but would do little else.

On Thanksgiving, we gave him some whip cream. In cases like this, great moments do not require a bowl of whip cream Multiple tastings will do, a teaspoon is glorious. He kept on tasting. For days he would take repeatedly whatever we put before him. Two days ago he gradually consumed a couple teaspoons of a smoothie. It is remarkable to me. It may not be inexplicable but is remarkable.

What do we feel most? Mostly we feel the depth of our time at home. On Peter’s second birthday it will be five months since his last hospitalization. In a reflective moment, Kyle himself called this a miracle and I quite agree. It is true that babies like Peter often turn the corner at one year or one-a-half-years old. Their immune systems are stronger. For babies with Peter’s SPINT2 genetic mutation, the outlook improves remarkably and the risk of mortality decreases significantly.

We never asked for a miracle we could mail in for approval to canonize Solanus Casey. We prayed for what God would give us. If this is what God has, I lay my head at his feet in thanksgiving. If this is a temporary reprieve from hospital life, I am grateful for that, too.

We arrived home to reminders of our life, not just our mattress and not simply togetherness, but our entire life with chores, homemaking and work, the pain and glory of the daily grind. I love our home and our town better. I grew wiser in the journey.

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Marc wrote for Patheos in a piece called, “Pilgrim vs. Tourist”, “Now the pilgrim takes joy in the journey with the understanding that the journey only exists because of the destination. The destination lights the journey with joy.”

The mass and the prayers for Peter were the destination. And yet, reading this again, I rather wonder if our destination was also… home.

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Thank you for joining us in prayer. Thank you for taking this journey with us.

The Beatification Mass of Solanus Casey

IMG_1149We left early. 8:30 somehow felt much earlier than it ought to have but that is EST v PST. Miriam was unhappy to wake. After loading bags and snacks aplenty into a five-seat sedan, I squeeze into the back seat beside the car seat, rotated my hips to accommodate Miriam’s booster seat, helped buckled her in and we went on our way. After an hour I recalled that I packed only one bag of supplies, I may have forgotten the nighttime supplies necessary for connecting him to his TPN. We pulled over to a gas station and searched his ice chest. I packed the night time supplies but left off the day supplies, also a necessity.

Should we drive back or find an alternative in Detroit? I hated the idea of the extra hour of driving in what would already be an immense day on the road. I paged FLIGHT, our care coordination team and when our doctor called back, immediately I said, “It’s not an emergency.” He understood the situation and we brainstormed our options. The best choice was the Emergency Department in Detroit. With GPS rerouted we continued our journey. The next hour we pulled over to unhook his TPN. Fortunately, the ubiquitous coffee shop of our country was there and I have a gift card. Reset with espresso, trips to the bathroom, and an unhooked toddler, we hit the road again.

Our first stop was the emergency department at the Children’s Hospital, where we went through the old routine with a healthy baby. We administered what we needed and were on our way. What would seem wild and stressful felt routine for us. There is nothing unusual about a stop at the ED.

Driving through Detroit, the old buildings amazed me. I saw large houses, large buildings all made of brick. The rain poured. I asked the gentlemen in the front seat to deliver me to where the handicap drop off stood while they attempted to maneuver traffic towards the reserved parking garage. I took the shortcut through security, thanks to our little guy, forgot his friar outfit and realized I had no way to access the digital tickets. “They really only work when the group is all together.”

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After thirty minutes, the men responded to which gate they would enter. Ticket Specialist, Kendell walked me across the stadium to said gate where we waited for those masculine figures to pass through the security gates. They came through after a time. After standing an hour, I was ready for action and with printed tickets in hand, led the way about three-quarters the stadium in the direction the volunteer pointed us. I did not pause until we found our seats and could settle in, with five minutes before mass began.

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The stadium and crowds were incredible. As the organ swelled, a long line of priests and bishops processed in.

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The beatification took place first with a letter from the Holy Father, an acceptance of said letter and unveiling of the picture of Solanus Casey.

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Our hearts swelled as well while they played the hymn of my life soundtrack, “O God Beyond All Praising.” This was the hymn I heard the Sunday I found out I was pregnant. This was the hymn they played the Sunday after I miscarried. This was the hymn we chose for our daughter’s funeral.

“Then hear, O gracious Saviour,
accept the love we bring,
that we who know your favour
may serve you as our king;
and whether our tomorrows
be filled with good or ill,
we’II triumph through our sorrows
and rise to bless you still:
to marvel at your beauty
and glory in your ways,
and make a joyful duty
our sacrifice of praise.

And in our hearts, we believed that what God had promised he would also do. God would grant us a miracle for Peter.

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I felt the same movement in my heart at the reception of Holy Communion.

There were moments of awe, humor and devotion throughout the mass.

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As we left and found we could not go to the altar to venerate the picture, we made our way to the exit, happily pausing to speak with CFR friars and ask for prayers. Fr. Benedict Groeschel began the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (the CFR’s) and Fr. Benedict Groeschel first taught me about Solanus Casey. We planned the name Peter Solanus for our first son (after using John for our miscarried baby). Yet at the sonogram and discovery of our first son’s sex, it did not seem right. We chose James Thomas instead. Then came the pregnancy with Peter and somehow, discovering his cleft in the same ultrasound appointment, we felt this to be right. Our son would be Peter Solanus Casey.

Blessed Solanus Casey played the violin (poorly). He had severe eczema. His birthday is the same as my brother-in-law, who tragically died last year. Solanus was a simple, hardworking, humble man on who the light of God shined. It has felt more like Fr. Solanus has looked after Peter more than we have looked after Fr. Solanus.

This trip has been a pilgrimage. It has been emotional and trying at times, but filled with the generosity of others. We return home soon, to be united again. The separation from our other children was the greatest pain for me. Having missed a few days of our novena, we’ll pray the prayer for a few extra days and are grateful for those prayed with us and for us.

Whatever God has for us and for Peter, be it a miracle of physical healing or a miracle of a life well lived despite suffering, we open our hearts to accept it joyfully.

“Blessed be God in all his designs!”

Days of Promise

Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Today is one of the days of promise.
The Immaculate Conception is the day we celebrate God’s gift of redemption to Mary, through the merits of Christ cross, applied retroactively in order to prepare a place fitting for God-made-man to dwell. In the same way, he applies the glory of his second coming retroactively by assuming her into Heaven, body and soul.
In this, he honors his mother and shows us the way.

Oil painting of the Assumption of the Virgin by Titian, 1516 - 1518

Today is a great day for me. Last year, I read post after post, related the Assumption to the Theology of the Body and resurrection of the dead. None of this resonated.
I have only held one deceased person in my arms, the same person I held within my body. This girl leaped with joy at John the Baptist did in utero. With the glow of angels around her, she died before she had a chance to breathe the air if she would have breathed at all. We did not see her body as it was. At our request, the nurse placed her bonnet on her head before we saw her.
I knew I had two children already waiting for me in Heaven, but I never saw them, never held them. I know there are other dearly departed in Heaven we long to be with, but we did not see them often on earth. My body was primed to know her every movement, as it was with all my children. This year’s celebration is different than before. When I think of Heaven now, it is a richer vision than ever before.

For the Lord himself, with a word of command,
with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God,
will come down from heaven,
and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left,
will be caught up together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air.
Thus we shall always be with the Lord.
(1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

These are days of promise. I will see her perfect body, restored and complete, not as she grew, but whole.

Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Pierre Paul Prud'hon
Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Pierre Paul Prud’hon

It is easy to accept God what God has on resurrection days like this. That is what these days are for – to carry us through the valley and dark times with the light of God’s promise. They are moments of Transfiguration to keep in mind as we travel the Way of the Cross. So let us stop and celebrate, seeing the way it went with Mary, and how it will go with us, should we fight the good fight, and hold fast to the faith.

Revisiting Young Ladies Institute (YLI)

As a 16-year old girl watching Felicity and 10 Things I Hate About You, there was nothing that drew me to the Young Ladies’ Institute (YLI), a large, active women’s organization at our local Catholic Church. My mother was greatly involved. With all the jokes about how young the ladies were (they were not) I did not understand this organization.

Like many other high school graduates I knew, I petitioned for financial support, a donation for missionary work, a scholarship for college, both of which received. YLI was a good organization. I thought nothing ill of it.

College and marriage took me to the midwest and east coast, far away from YLI which spans the west. Returning home, looking for projects to fill my housewife lifestyle. I volunteered to create the monthly newsletter.

In this way, I learned about the program to which my mother was greatly committed. I learned the events, the works of mercy performed, the offices and annual tasks. Every woman I interviewed had this to say about YLI, “I love YLI because they were there for me in my time of need…”

As life goes on, the structures of our relationships change. I found myself looking for friends who were able to be a part of daily life. I longed for a community I could plug into with like-minded women.

In the last two years, crises mounted. We were in need. YLI came to our aid through meals, donations, and putting together the most beautiful funeral reception I could imagine. Walking into my mother’s kitchen, seeing platter after platter of brightly hued fruit after burying my baby was a relief I did not expect. It was Beauty after Sadness.

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These women served and washed dishes while I talked with friends, hoping this would be the end of our grief. They did not do this only because they are my mom’s friends. They did it because they are my sisters, my YLI sisters. Despite my lack of involvement, they were there for me as no single individual could be.

Meanwhile, I considered the benefit of the parish in a small town, as put forward by Rod Dreher’s in The Little Way of Ruthie Lemming. Our friends can be like-minded, but in our lives we need to be confronted by people who are different: older, younger, married, single, with kids, without kids, wanting kids, not wanting kids, working, unemployed by choice or circumstance, conservative, liberal, faithful to the Magisterium, spiritual-but-not-religious, and so on. In adulthood, it does us no good to live in a bubble. For some, social media and steaming-on-demand create quite a secure bubble. We see or hear only what we want.

Then one evening, I decide to attend the YLI meeting in order to flesh out that month’s newsletter.

There are three young women there, all younger than me. I gravitated towards one, sitting on the outskirts with her infant. Feeling the need to explain my lack of involvement (too cool for the old ladies group), she scrunches her nose, smiles and says, “I like it. It’s fun.” When the meeting begins, I see what she means.

First, I felt like I was in Bewitched at some committee meeting. This gave me a sense of continuity with history. Housewives did not just stay at home mothering. They volunteered. They plugged into not just their children’s schools, but community groups, local nonprofits, programs that benefit the neighborhood. This is one fall out of a majority of mothers going to work. Neighborhoods wane because no one except paid employees has the time to improve them.

Secondly, Robert’s Rules of Order govern the meeting. A strange sight for a teenager, I see how that this structure is necessary. How else could you bring 18-year-olds and 80-year-olds together in one room? Without the structure, they would speak a different language. Like the Church, this order makes it bigger than the personalities of the leaders and the age.

Lastly, I cannot think of many tasks I like more than watching people interact. This was food for the mind and fodder for my humor.

I thought to myself, this could be it. This could be what I have been looking for. My community, right here.

And in the end, it provides more opportunities to tease my mother. That makes the experience priceless.

Confirmation is not a Graduation from the Church

While serving with the National Evangelization Team most of the dioceses we visited held Confirmation in high school. I received the Sacrament of Confirmation in 8th grade. Most of my teammates received it as a High School Junior. The debate went on throughout the year about which was better, younger or older. The arguments I heard for a later Confirmation focus on the ability to understand, to commit oneself to live as a Catholic, and to uses Confirmation classes to maintain the presence of youth in the parish.

To the first argument: There is a belief that the older we are the better we understand. It seems to me that children are better able to understand than adults the teachings of the faith. They understand how to believe by trusting. They trust the messenger and so believe the message. The age of doubt and questioning comes later. That age is an important milestone for a person of faith to assimilate and work through the beliefs from childhood into his or her own mind. Because teenagers are developmentally in a place of separating from their parents and forming their own identity, beliefs, and ways of thinking, throwing a sacrament into the middle of this stage might not be the best timing. With a lack of religious education in the home, one is more likely to find a teenager great in doubt than great in faith.

To the second argument: one can commit their life better when one is older. This is true in some cases. If I know myself better, theoretically, I know better what I want to commit to. Although I do not know what life will throw at me during the course of my commitment. I cannot predict how I will respond or if I would do it over again given the chance. If the commitment requires a change on my part, it might actually be harder to commit when I am older than what I am younger because we are creatures of habit.

Confirmation does not seem to require such a change. I still think it is problematic asking for a lifelong commitment in the throes of adolescence when all commitments seem to be under evaluation. Either do it much later or much earlier and avoid placing something so important in this particularly difficult time period. I do not recommend entering into serious commitments in the throes of a midlife crisis either.

If the Sacrament of Confirmation were pushed much later, are we not then treating it like the adult baptism in some Protestant denominations where it is seen as a choice that must be made by the individual, fully aware, and should not be made on the part of the parents? Can anyone ever be fully aware? Baptism is not treated this way in the Catholic Church. And Confirmation is not “Baptism, Take II.” Your parents chose first, now you get to choose. It is a different sacrament though it does complete the first.

Those who hold the last argument likely shutter at the idea of pushing the Sacrament of Confirmation beyond adolescence. They want to use the Sacrament of Confirmation as a retainer for the parishioners and their teenage children. We need a way to keep them in church, keep them learning! Placing Confirmation earlier would create a larger gap when they simply do not attend or engage their faith.

Should we really hold the sacraments hostage or treat them as a means to an end? Are we not diminishing the glory of Christ coming to us in the sacraments by holding it out as the prize for so many religious education classes attended? It is any wonder no matter how many times the youth repeat, “Confirmation is not a graduation from the Church,” they still leave when it is all over. Confirmation is thought of that wa because it is used that way by the church itself.

I have a reason for defending a younger age for Confirmation. This one I did not hear spoken of in those debates. We were taught at Confirmation we received certain gifts of the Holy Spirit. Those gifts are prayed for thus:

“All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life. Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

If we really and truly believe these gifts are given to the Confirmand in a particular way through the sacrament, if we really and truly believe a change takes place, then does it not seem odd to say, “let them struggle through their questions of the faith first, without the gift of understanding, judgment, knowledge, and awe, beforehand.” Would it not be better to prepare those we love with these gifts before they enter the dangerous territory of American adolescence? I would rather have my child blessed with the gift of courage when she faces high school boys than not. I would rather my son possess a gift of wonder and awe when he faces, as a hormonal boy, God’s creation in woman than wait for it. If we truly believe these are gifts and not things earned, why withhold them?

These were the thoughts I came to that year in those discussions. They were not educated thoughts. Rather simply born from reflection on the things we taught and the arguments we heard. I was pleased to hear up until recently in church history, Confirmation was given much closer to Baptism and is still done so in some areas. It is pleasing to hear the Archbishop of Denver restoring it to its place with the Sacraments of Initiation. I think we need this. In this modern world with its modern temptations, I think we need it desperately. Third grade is none too soon.

A comedienne’s way of being in the world

From Patrick Coffin, Catholic media personality and apologist (though not a philosopher):

Has any one noticed that women, as a rule, aren’t funny?

These talented women  — and I want to put it delicately but factually — are on the mannish side.

…Maybe this male-female difference an evolutionary biology thing. Maybe it’s that most men are attracted to women who find them funny as opposed to being funny per se. 

I did not make that clear and I think some of the blowback stems from my use of the word women. I take responsibility. I was referring *primarily* to female stand-ups, not every last woman on earth. Humor is somewhat subjective, and women and men laugh at different things for their various reasons. I stand behind the basic point, however, which is that comedy as an enterprise is essentially a masculine one. 

In some places, he says “women.” In some places, he says “female stand-ups.” In some places, he says “comedy as an enterprise”. Which is it?

We should define terms and distinguish between masculinity and traits commonly assigned to men. John Paul II defined femininity as a woman’s way of being in the world. By extension, masculinity is a man’s way being the world. With this definition, a trait, such as courage, is not masculine or feminine, even though society typically assigns it to men. Women are quite courageous. It just, in general, takes on a different style or look or context.

To say men have some qualities and women have other qualities is a form of fractional complementarity. The problem with fractional complementarity is it means the individual is incomplete without the other sex. That God made each person incomplete.

Men and women are complementary but in an integral way. My experience and worldview complement the man’s experience and worldview because I have experienced the world differently than he has. The sum is considerably greater than the individual parts. The individual parts are still whole and complete.

You cannot call a woman masculine because masculinity is a man’s way of being in the world and a woman cannot know it experientially. To call a woman mannish is an insult to her dignity as a woman, as it is to call a man girly. A woman can demonstrate traits more commonly associated with men but that does not make her less feminine because it does not alter the fact that she has and can only experience this world as a woman.

If masculinity and femininity refer to a man or woman’s way being in the world, respectively, then characteristics can not be masculine or feminine per se, but they are likely to be experienced in different ways by men and woman. Thus, if “female stand-ups” in “comedy as an enterprise” demonstrate traits more commonly attributed to men (“mannish”) then that is a reflection not of humor or women but of the business of stand-up comedy.

If we take humor as a characteristic and assume this method of “different ways of being in the world” then we could expect to see a different style of humor from men and women. If the feminine genius, according to Saint John Paul II, is a woman’s particular gift of regarding the human person and attending to others, then we could expect a more feminine humor to be deeply nested in context, attuned to her audience.

Perhaps this is why fewer women are in stand-up because that style of humor is anonymous. The comedienne speaks to a crowd, not an individual, must please many, must tell jokes, stories without the interpersonal interaction one might associate better with the feminine genius. A feminine style of comedy would be better demonstrated in a conversation, a back-and-forth, where she can build from and react to the other person in a humorous way.

Thus Coffin’s comment should have read, “stand-up comedy as a style of humor is more masculine.” One could add, “It is not well-suited to the common style of humor possessed by women.” He did not write that. Instead, he wrote, “Women, as a rule, aren’t funny.”

Women are not shocked and offended by this Catholic man’s words because they are politically correct. It is because we are human beings. It is because we expect a man of God to have a view of women that presents women in the image of God. God endowed women with humor because we are made in his image and I dare say, considering what women go through biologically, no one is funnier than God.

Heritage Academy

Maddi Runkles signed a pledge, along with all her schoolmates, based on “Philippians 4:8 (including language about ‘whatever is pure’) that ‘extends to my actions, such as protecting my body by abstaining from sexual immorality and from the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.’”

A girl is not allowed to walk at graduation because she is pregnant.

A girl broke the rules. A girl received punishment for breaking the rules (she was also suspended and removed as president of the student council).

A few thoughts, accompanied with some questions.

First: I think it highly unlikely no student has ever been caught with alcohol, drugs or under the influence at this school because it is so common nationwide. What is the precedent in enforcing this pledge? Were other offenders also suspended, removed from extracurricular involved and denied the privilege of walking at graduation? I do not see a precedent discussed in articles related to this girl. Suppose Johnny was caught in possession of marijuana in 7th grade, or Sandy was high freshman year. For school authorities to claim they are simply enforcing the rules, offenders of other types of crimes should not be allowed to walk at graduation either, no matter how much time has passed. Runkles is being punished for a sin that took place months ago. It is not possible to prove when the last offense occurred or how many times. Is there a statute of limitations in place? What would happen if she had the baby as a junior? Would they still not allow her to walk one year later, no longer pregnant, assuming she continued at the school anyway?

Second: the school has put in place unenforceable rules. Are there dormitories on campus? How would the school know if the students were engaging in sexual behavior in order to punish them? Unless there are dormitories on campus, it is very unlikely the students would engage in sexual behavior on campus and thus very unlikely to get caught in the act. Only a girl who is pregnant could be “caught.” When this became a rule rather than a pledge, the question should have been asked, how will we enforce this? Seeing that it would Scarlet Letter young women, they should have acknowledged they cannot regulate this behavior and sought some other way to reform the fallen.

Third: on what Christian tradition is this system based? The children signed a pledge. We could compare that to baptismal promises. The girl broke her promise. She states she went to the school, confessed her sin and asked for forgiveness. I hope this school teaches about purgatory, otherwise, I cannot see a biblical Christian precedent for their treatment of her. It seems too much like the wrong side of the woman caught in adultery and not enough like the woman at the well.

I am not proposing what the school should or should have done in this particular case, other than considered more carefully the injustice and foolishness of having a punishable rule like this in the first place. The Sacrament of Confession would also make the whole situation easier.

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Difficulties with Music Ministry

The many difficulties with music ministry in a California Central Valley Roman Catholic parish.

Cultural differences

Due to the high percentage of Spanish speakers at the Catholic parish, many of the approaches used in reaching out and working with the Spanish speaking community (SSC) are utilized or expected to work in the English mass community (EMC).

This approach fails for many reasons: the expectation of involvement, the expectation that there are qualified members in the community, and the expectation that qualified candidates will work for minimum wages or volunteer.

Motivation toward involvement

There is an expectation that those from the EMC will volunteer at the same rate as the SSC. This is incorrect. The SSC consists of more foreign-born parishioners who find a cultural home in their Catholic parish. Thus there is a personal motivation to get involved as involvement brings to them a sense of belonging and familiarity and a connection to their country/culture of origin. Particularly in considering those who immigrated from countries who experienced persecution, these parishioners have learned to keep the faith at all costs.

It is a different matter for the EMC. The EMC likely consists of more native-born Americans whose immigrant ancestors are not personally known. Thus they have grown generationally in American values of materialism, freedom of choice, feeling-driven morality, and individualism. Americans on the whole are increasingly moved by visual and not verbal approaches in advertising, and expect to be impressed or entertained in order to keep their interest.

Those members of the EMC are also more likely to have other sources of community. American culture is not Catholic, so for those who were public school educated and work in the world, the likelihood of having only Catholic friends is slim. The parish must do more to make the parish a cultural center. To do this, it must offer something unique the culture at large cannot offer. This is a bigger issue than music ministry but highlights the difficulty in obtaining volunteers.

The differences in a culture that has originated in a developing or impoverished country and/or has been persecuted for the faith and a culture raised in international, financial and religious security cannot be understated. The recognition of these differences should shape different approaches in outreach and evangelization.

A singing community

The SSC is a singing community. They know their songs. They utilize their songs. There is no expectation that one must be gifted to sing because all in the culture sing. Therefore it is a much smaller matter to obtain volunteers.

In contrast, the EMC is not a singing community. There are few songs other than some Christmas carols and patriotic tunes that the EMC will know by heart or spontaneously sing with the choir. While some believe the music must be made more simple in order for the EMC to grasp it, the reality is, as a non-singing community, the directors of music must make it worth their while to join in. This can be seen in the Life Teen or youth group community masses where the youth are taught St. Augustine said, “singing is praying twice,” and “God loves a joyful noise.” They are led by musicians who use music as a prayer of praise and therefore choose songs with words one might think to pray to God: “I will sing of your love forever;” “You alone are all I need,” “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” etc. If the EMC would like to see what motivates the youth from a non-singing culture to sing, it should consider how outreach is done for the youth: through sincerity, through witness, through the teaching of the meaning of singing as prayer. It is not necessary to copy particular music styles, although seeing musicians play well is another factor all in itself in this problem.

Further, as a non-singing community, fewer members of the EMC are trained as musicians. It will be more difficult to find qualified directors of music. In order to retain the services of qualified musicians in the EMC, it is necessary to provide a stipend or salary. Blindness to this reality is one of the greatest reasons music ministry programs in the EMC are failing.

Work requirements and the degradation of paid work

In some parishes, through the combination of cultural differences and financial security, some appear to place a higher value on volunteered time over paid time. “They should do it for the Lord,” or “they should want to give to their community,” are not unheard of sentiments. At the same time, job postings for a music director often require some form of higher education. To require a bachelors or masters preferred or years of experience and not to even consider paying wages at this level is one of the many professional insults levied at qualified musicians.

Additionally, many new music directors who are trained in traditional methods and education according to Catholic tradition are young men and women who have children. To both encourage families to bear many children according to ability and expect them to volunteer 5 to 10 hours a week is unrealistic and dismisses the primary vocation of parenthood for the vocation of service to one’s parish.

On one hand, the parish is requiring, along the American tradition, to choose from qualified candidates, but on the other hand, refuses to recognize the value of qualified candidates in that same tradition. They cannot have it both ways. They will either have candidates who have no more training, skill, or education than a minimum wage job would pay, or must pay more.

Unrealistic expectations

I’m sure parish priests can attest to the difficulty of implementing changes in a parish. A good leader first assesses the situation and gets to know the community. Only then, based on knowledge of the community, are changes slowly implemented.

Too many music directors are hired on the stipulation that they produce results either in the form of increased donations to the parish (supposedly a sign of increased attendance), the formation of multiple well-attended choirs, and a general increase in the singing of the community.

To expect these results in 6 months to a year, on low wages, in an environment resistant to change is unrealistic and harms the morale of the music director and potentially his or her willingness to work for a parish in the future.

If a parish would invest in a music director and realistically consider how a music ministry program develops, taking into account the unique qualities of the EMC, then they might see results.

If the parish does not believe the liturgy is worth investing in, that skill is not worth investing in, than the music programs and attendance will reflect that. There will be no pearl of great price for new members to invest in, no evangelization through music, no worship through music, and no growth in the community via music ministry. Trained professional musicians will learn their talents are better used elsewhere. To support their families they must invest elsewhere. Show the community that the programs are not worth it and they will respond in kind. Demonstrate that there is no higher art, beauty or prayer than the mass, and they will respond in kind. You cannot have it both ways.

You think this is what the Good Shepherd looks like?

Good Shepherd Sunday.

You think this is what the Good Shepherd looks like?

Think again!

Fr. Raphael, a priest in from Tanzania, shared in his homily about his experiences caring for the livestock in his native country. He looked after nearly 100 animals and some times drove them for miles to find green grass or water for their day. He ate once a day. One day, when he was 25, a lion attacked one of the cows. As the warrior of the community he could not just sit idly by. So knowing the tricks and techniques, he killed that lion.

That’s what the Good Shepherd will do for you.

The Canonization of Louis and Zelie Martin

I knew as a young Catholic that we are called to unity with God. I saw religious life as the way to achieve this unity. When the time came when I no longer felt God was calling me to religious life, and I began dating an amazing man, I wrestled with the concept of unity with God. If we are called to give our hearts totally to God, how can we give our hearts totally to another person? Indeed God had taken the place where my friendships and relationships failed as an adolescent. I did not know how to give me heart, how to love and be loved so vulnerably.

In Minnesota, Fr. Andrew Cozzens, now bishop, spoke on the spousal relationship between God and the soul. I asked me question, the very same one you read above. He said, “it is possible to have unity with God…all three of you.”

Now, on October 18th, we’ll have in the books a formally recognized illustration of this radical and blessed call lived out. Two individuals, a man and a woman, sought unity and total devotion to God. Both were told they did not have a vocation to religious life. They spotted each other on a bridge and married three months later.

Now they will be canonized together. Their youngest daughter is a Doctor of the Church (one of the four women). Two other daughters are on the road. Really, it’s only a matter of time for the remaining two. The power of marriage, of the decision of a person to abandon himself or herself to God’s will, and then to marry another who feels the same, this is a power that cannot be beat. The Trinity is a community of love and in the marriage of two people who have taken this path, the outpouring of love is indescribable.

Thank God for the soon to be Saints Louis and Zelie Martin. Pray for us!

For more about the lives, read here.