unsettled

This month has been a demanding one personally; hence, I have managed only a few posts this month.

I will spare you the bureaucratic details that have been occupying so much of my time and headspace, but the situation is made all the more difficult by the public unraveling going on around us.

Although I have cut back on the amount of news that I see, the continuing revelations of foreign entanglements with United States elections and governance have been truly disturbing, as has evidence that the Russians have been detected infiltrating computer systems involved with the upcoming midterm elections in November. The Manafort trial, more books and articles being published about the administration and the investigation, DT’s tweets, and interviews with members of the administration and the president’s lawyers add to the unsettling mix.

The past week has also seen a lot of coverage of the grand jury report on sexual crimes by Catholic clergy and coverup by church officials in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The behavior described in the report is appalling, sinful, and criminal and my heart breaks for the victims and their families, but, unlike many people, I did not find the report shocking or surprising. We have heard similar stories from other US dioceses and from other countries for years now.

Some Catholics feel that the Church is being attacked or singled out for criticism, but I don’t feel that way at all. I see the root of the problem as abuse of power. Sexual violence is one form of abuse of power, but there are many others, verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, financial and employment discrimination, racism, and sexism among them. All of this has led some priests into a culture of clericalism, which, in turn, led to the coverup of crimes by “brother priests” and the silencing or ignoring of victims, who are usually lay people, although sometimes also members of religious orders, other priests, or seminarians.

For many people, the Pennsylvania report highlights the lack of accountability among bishops. While this issue has been on my mind for years, it is gaining new prominence in the Catholic and general press now and is being more openly discussed among lay people, theologians, and ethicists.

Pope Francis, when he visited Chile, made the mistake of dismissing sexual abuse survivors and supporting a bishop who mishandled credible allegations against priests. After public outcry, Francis appointed an investigator. Upon receiving the report, Francis changed course, met with Chilean survivors, and called all the bishops to Rome. All thirty-four bishops offered their resignations; at this point, Francis has accepted five of them.

There are now calls for the United States’ bishops to also offer their resignations, which the Pope could accept or not on a case-by-case basis. This is occurring in the aftermath of the resignation of retired archbishop of Washington, DC Theodore McCarrick from the College of Cardinals, after reports of abuse of both minors and adult seminarians. He has been ordered into seclusion; it’s not clear if he will be laicized if he is found guilty at a canonical trial, as has happened with priests.

Of course, for most bishops, the issue will be if they covered up crimes of priests in their dioceses or moved priests to other locations where they abused still more minors or vulnerable adults.

For me, there is also a larger crisis of leadership. If a bishop fails to protect children and teens from such terrible crimes, how can he credibly claim to be leading and caring for all the Catholics in his jurisdiction? For a variety of reasons, I have been avoiding dealing with the bishops in my diocese, concentrating instead on parish-level ministry and the Church as the people of God, not as a hierarchical institution.

Still, I can’t help but think that personal complications would be easier to bear if the government and the church were functioning with stability and rectitude.

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a rainbow at Mercy House

On Wednesday evening, I drove to Mercy House, the hospice residence where my mother lives, during a sun-shower after a heavy downpour. Given the time of day and the moisture in the air, I started to look for a rainbow. When I turned east, a full rainbow appeared before me, one end of it resting on Mercy House.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Phatar, a twelve-year-old who was also in residence at Mercy House, had become unresponsive and would pass away the following day, surrounded by the love of family, friends, and caregivers.

On Friday morning, the door to Phatar’s room was open, his bed made with the quilt pulled up. Near his pillow was a little memorial with a flower, the United States flag that had been on his door, a little poem that had been posted in his room, and his handprint in green paint on white canvas.

This morning at church, Father Clarence told Phatar’s story during the homily, about his cancer diagnosis, about his final months at Mercy House, about his desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and his baptism, and the comfort that brought him in his final weeks. There were smiles and tears as we listened.

Our mix of emotions in reacting to death is always complex, but I think most people have a particularly strong sense of sadness at the death of a child. It has also been sad watching Phatar’s mom these last months, suffering through every parent’s nightmare of the illness and death of their child. Still, I am grateful to have met Phatar and to know that he is now at peace.

The next time I see a rainbow, I will think of him.

father, farmer, and builder

This week, my daughters and I sang in the choir for the funeral of our friend Nancy’s dad. Nancy is a long-time church musician and liturgist, so many current and former choir members and friends arrived to support her by participating in the liturgy. We had 43 singers and 3 instrumentalists. The music was a beautiful and meaningful part of our prayers for Joe and being surrounded by so many musician-friends helped Nancy to play the funeral mass.

I know from personal experience how difficult it is to play for a loved one’s funeral or memorial. Because you have to concentrate on doing your job musically, some of the mourning that one would typically do at a funeral is deferred. My hope is that the memory of the music we shared will be a comfort to Nancy when she reflects on the funeral in the coming days.

The reflections offered centered around Joe’s roles in the community as a father of five children, a farmer in his younger years, and then a long-time builder of homes in our area. Each of these roles has many scriptural and faith references which were woven throughout the liturgy.

It was my privilege to write the universal prayer for the funeral. I served on the liturgy committee with Nancy for many years in our former parish and learned so much from her; I was honored that she asked me to write the petitionary prayer that closes the liturgy of the word.

Nancy and I have been supporting each other through an extended period of multi-generational family caretaking. Strangely, some of our most stressful periods have coincided. Fifteen years ago, I was staying at the hospital with one of my daughters when Joe had a serious stroke following heart surgery. I missed Nancy’s mom’s funeral when my mom had a heart attack while my dad was in the hospital for surgery. Now, Joe’s final illness and death happened while my mom is in a hospice residence.

I am truly thankful for Nancy’s support, friendship, and gracious example. I pray for solace and peace for Nancy and her family. Rest in peace, Joe.

flowers from Joe's funeral luncheon
Joe’s favorite color was blue, so there were blue hydrangeas and white roses on the tables at the funeral luncheon.

 

 

SoCS: organ

While I have been delinquent/busy/overwhelmed and a few other adjectives lately, I have mostly been skipping out on Stream of Consciousness Saturday, which I once did diligently, but when I saw that this week’s prompt was “organ,” I knew I had to write.

In my younger years, I played the organ. After several years of childhood piano lessons, the priest in our tiny Catholic church asked me if I would learn to play the organ so that I could take over when our current high-school-aged organist went away to college in three years.

So, I learned.

I was lucky that my first organ teacher was very good, so I developed good technique. It was also good that he played in a larger church in North Adams which had a pipe organ, so I got to learn on a decent instrument, even though I was practicing on a not-great electronic at my own church.

I played at my church, first substituting and then becoming our organist my sophomore year in high school. I earned $5 for playing two masses every weekend and $3 when I played for weeknight masses a couple of times a week. I played a few weddings and funerals, too. I admit that playing funerals as a teen was really hard.

My original organ teacher had moved away and I was back to studying piano as I was looking for a college to attend, but my teacher used her connections to get a list of nearby colleges that had good organ/music programs. Smith was on the list and I fell in love with it on a campus visit, applied early decision, and was accepted. I wound up being the only organist in my year and played often at Catholic mass and played preludes and postludes for ecumenical services and at some college events. I used to joke that I had the biggest practice rooms on campus, as I played the three-manual Aeolian-Skinner organ at the chapel and the four-manual Austin in the 2,000-seat John M. Greene Hall.

After college, I spent a couple of years in an assistantship at an Episcopal church and after my daughters were old enough, I went back to playing, mostly on a volunteer basis.

Unfortunately, there was a problem. Even as a teen, I had pain in my right arm. It would come and go, but I sometimes had longer bouts of pain, especially if I played the piano a lot. (I will spare you the discussion of how piano and organ technique differ.) As time went on, I had more and more problems which led to doctor visits, physical therapy, various diagnoses including what is usually called “golfer’s elbow” and eventual surgery. We had hoped that would finally solve the problem, but I developed calcifications which have made the problems permanent.

I have shifted some things that I would ordinarily do right-handed to my left hand to help protect my right hand from over-use and pain. Obviously, this strategy does not work with playing the organ which takes both hand and both feet. If I had been one of those people who was a fantastic sight-reader and improviser, I might have been able to continue playing because I wouldn’t need very much practice time; alas, I am someone who needs lots of practice to play well.

For a few years, I was able to continue some accompanying with the youth choirs at our church, swapping over to conducting as needed to protect my arm. When that parish fractured and we had to leave, I no longer had a reason to continue playing or access to an organ and I stopped playing totally.

Sometimes, it’s still hard. Sometimes, it seems like another lifetime. Most times, I don’t think about it – and then, something happens to remind me, like hearing organ played on public radio or getting ready for Christmas or a prompt from Linda, and I miss it…
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “organ.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2018/07/20/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-21-18/

 

 

One-Liner Wednesday: free

“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
~ Emma Lazarus
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Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out how here:
https://lindaghill.com/2018/04/25/one-liner-wednesday-difficult-concepts/

 

organist update

I posted here about a disconcerting incident at the church in Northampton when the organist fell ill at the console during mass on the first weekend in March.

As luck would have it, I was again in Northampton three weeks later for Palm Sunday. There was a gentleman filling in at the piano and organ, so I knew that the regular organist, a woman named Jeanne, was not there.

After mass, I asked two parishioners who were handing out church bulletins for an update. They told me that Jeanne had been ill with bronchitis and on medications, but arrived at church to play anyway – without eating breakfast, as she planned to receive communion. The combination was too much, resulting in the collapse which we witnessed.

The doctors ordered rest for four weeks before returning to work, so I hope that Jeanne was back in the loft for Easter Sunday, leading the congregation from the organ, and feeling well again.

(I am continuing in to be in catch-up mode on posts. With luck, there will be a post about why I was in Northampton again coming soon. Also, the navigation and layout problems with my blog are persisting, with a month’s worth of posts not loading on the main Posts page. The posts are accessible by using the prior or next post links at the bottom of each individual post.)

One-Liner Wednesday: commemorating MLK

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
~ remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his assassination
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Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out how here:
https://lindaghill.com/2018/04/04/one-liner-wednesday-funny-or-terrible/