Mountain top experience, now what?

So for the gospel reading of August 6th, we have the story of the transfiguration. In this story, Jesus has chosen his closest followers to come with him and pray on a mountain. The gospel describes how Jesus’ appearance changes and he is dressed in dazzling white. Here for the first time the disciples’ are experiencing, not just Jesus the human being, but Jesus in his full glory. Every Christian and every Catholic also will eventually have a similar experience in which they experience the presence of Christ in a real and tangible way. For more info about this, see my blog post, Have you had a transformation experience? What happens afterwords? How should we respond? Why do we have such experiences in the first place?
All these questions can be answered by looking at Luke 9:33-35. Having experienced Jesus in his fully glory, Peter exclaims, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  It is so easy to make the same mistake as Peter. We  can have  an amazing Godly experience and want to stay there forever. We want to pitch our tent. Every time we pray, go to mass or adoration or listen to music, we expect God to speak to us in the same way, to have the same emotional high.
I am guilty of this way of thinking. I remember when I first started taking my Christian walk seriously. The churches I attended were mainly non-denominational churches and sometimes my mother’s Baptist church, I remember watching other people have emotional responses to either the pastor’s sermon, the music, or a particular prayer and I wouldn’t feel anything and wouldn’t know how to respond. I took Spiritual formations at Regent University and there was a moment where the whole room erupted in spontaneous praise, and I did not know what to do. I felt like my faith was somehow inferior because I lacked these emotional responses. Luckily I have the type of personality that doesn’t renege on her commitments and I had made a commitment to follow Jesus.
Finally a member of my spiritual formation small group invited me to her very large non-denominational church. I don’t know what made that night different or why God decided to speak to me, but I finally had that mountain top experience. For awhile I would chase after these emotional highs, and only attend non-denominational or pentecostal services. I evaluated my relationship with Christ with how on fire I was about my faith. Just ask my parents lol, I couldn’t do anything that wasn’t Christian minded. Eventually though I couldn’t keep up especially after becoming Catholic. My Mom remarked that she was glad that the Catholic church has mellowed me out, but it wasn’t just a mellowing, I was becoming cold and dead. So where did I go wrong?
After Peter makes his statement about pitching a tent, God speaks up in verse 35, “This is my chosen son; listen to Him.” God gives us these amazing experiences, but he doesn’t want us to seek after these experiences, He wants us to seek after Him and obey Him. So If you are lucky enough to have one of these transformation or mountain top experiences, learn from Peter, don’t try to pitch a tent there. First of all, it is exhausting to be spiritually high all the time, and secondly we have all of  heaven to have these amazing experiences with God. Instead strive to obey God; don’t go back to the way you were before. If you have not had such an experience, try to persevere in obedience for surely by your obedience you will encounter God. Take advantage of all the different ways one can encounter God in the Catholic Church.
As for me, I am trying to develop Godly habits such as daily prayer, daily scripture reading, and going to Mass and adoration when I can.
A quote from my  Holy Spirit devotion book is really insightful, ” The Spirit reveals the glory of God to us in those moments when we transcend our daily life and catch a glimpse of the grander and Holiness of God. These moments gives us the strength to walk the difficult path of daily life.”
My prayer for you all is the same as in the book, “unfold the veil for a moment, Lord and let us see Your glory.”

Patience like a banana?

I’ll never forget, during the life in the Spirit seminar, when Father Dave Pivonka compared patience to a banana, because both go bad so quickly. In a way, it is true. I never feel like I have enough patience. One minute I am responding brilliantly to a crisis, and the next minute I am frustrated and venting with everyone I see. What throws me off my game? The answer is simple; other people and my inability to control them. It seems I have adapted the uncanny ability to accept unforeseen circumstances provided that it is no ones fault, but the minute something goes wrong and it was someone’s responsibility, then I become frustrated. I know that I am not alone in this. Most of my friends are having their patience tested in one way or another. God’s ways are not our ways. Instant gratification typically doesn’t happen with God; he’d rather test our faith and trust. Never has this point been made clearer, then in August 3rd’s daily mass reading. I must admit that my eyes had not been open until attending mass and listening to Father Charles’ homily.
The Old testament reading for that day was Jeremiah 31:1-7. According to Father Charles, Jeremiah is prophesying that the lost remnant of Israel will be found. Father Charles explains that in a literal sense this prophecy never came to pass and that the remnant of Israel lost in exile would remain lost. However, in that day’s gospel, we can see that the prophecy figuratively came true trough the person of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 15: 21, we are told that Jesus is traveling through the areas of Tyre and Sidon. Father Charles points out that this is the area where the lost tribes of Israel would have relocated. This helps explain Jesus’ statement in verse 24. He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” We can also see that this is no ordinary pagan woman. In verse 22, she refers to Jesus as the son of David. This shows that she has some familiarity with the Jewish religion. This is not enough for Jesus, who rebukes her by saying, “it is not right to take food away from the children and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26). This line always confused me because I failed to understand the symbolism behind it. However, coupled with Jeremiah it makes sense. The tribes of Israel, who had managed to survive the exile would have considered themselves God’s chosen people. Over time when Jeremiah’s prophecy had failed to come to pass, they would have considered the lost tribes as inferior. Hence the reason why Jesus refers to the woman as a dog. He  is essentially testing her ability to be persistent. She remains humble and acknowledges  that she is not equal with the children of Israel, but that even she deserves the leftovers (verse 27). It is with this proclamation of faith that Jesus agrees to heal her child and in turn begins the reconciliation process that was foretold in Jeremiah. It is important to note that between Jeremiah’s prophecy and Jesus’ ministry was 600 years.
The point is that God gave the Israelites a vision in which the lost would be restored. It was their job to trust that God would be faithful. However, I don’t blame the Israelites for losing patience, because I know that I could not have maintained my patience for over 600 years. Yet it is not just patience that we need. From the woman we learn that in order to withstand God’s rebukes, we need to be humble, trusting and persistent. So if God has given you a vision, stay humble, be persistent in prayer, trust that God will bring it through, and have patience in God’s timing.  Also remember that God can use other people to rebuke us and that he is waiting to see how we respond. Lastly I am thankful for Daily Mass in which my eyes can be opened to the meaning behind God’s word for us.

Adoration: the treasure of the Catholic Church

I finally returned to the perpetual adoration chapel after a very prolonged absence. I honestly can’t explain why it took me so long to return. Perhaps it was arrogance or even ignorance in that I believed I didn’t need it. However, I was very much wrong. In this blog post, I’d like to share what adoration is and my journey towards adoration
For those who don’t know, Eucharistc adoration is defined as, “adoring or honouring the Eucharistic Presence of Christ. In a deeper sense, it involves “the contemplation of the Mystery of Christ truly present before us”.
There are different types of Eucharistic adorations:
1. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
This is a church service, where groups of people gather to adore the Eucharist. Like the Mass, it has it’s own unique stricture, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning is marked by the hymn  O Salutaris Hostia and the benediction ends with the hymn, Tantum Ergo, and the divine praises. The middle is the longest part and can be silent prayer or have music.
2. Holy hour
This is one an individual or group of people decide to pray in front of the sacrement for an hour of silent prayer
3. 40 hours
This is a special devotion, where the eucharist is exposed for 40 hours. For example, 3:00 PM Friday to 6:00 AM Sunday. In this devotion there are special rituals such as: reciting a sequence of an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory be 5 times — the last cycle being for the intentions of the Holy Father.
4. Perpetual Adoration
This is when the Eucharist is exposed 24/7 and people take turns being in the presence of Christ.

I truly believe that adoration is the treasure of the Catholic Church. From very awkward beginnings, I have learned to truly appreciate this special devotion and the power it has had in transforming my life. My first experience with adoration was awkward indeed in that I was not well prepared at all for the experience. I was not Catholic at the time. In fact, I was quite the opposite; I was pentecostal of the vineyard variety. So how did I end up at adoration? Well I had been talking to a very close Catholic friend about good preaching. I had asked him, who his favorite preachers where. He mentioned Father Mike Jolly from Saint Joan of Arc Church. I said that I’d be interested in hearing him preach, but didn’t want to go to Mass on Sunday. He invited me to adoration that was geared towards Youth and Young Adults. Later I would know it as a benediction service. Unfortunately the priest was not holding the service that night. This was of course disappointing, but since I was already on my way to the church, I decided to still attend. Turns out that since there was no priest, the service was very much striped down. I don’t remember much except feeling a bit bewildered. All the required hymns were in latin so of course I didn’t know them. Secondly it was silent prayer for an hour. I don’t recall up until that point ever praying silently for that long. I remember feeling very small, like a child. I kept getting distracted and looking around. I also felt different because everyone was kneeling, but I was not due to my disability. Yet in the mist of all these negative feelings, I definitely got a sense of sacredness and peace that was missing in my own church’s Young Adult service.
As a student working on my Masters in church history, I wanted to investigate the reasoning behind Eucharistic adoration. It is through this investigation that I read John 6:48-58. This is also known as the bread of life discourse, in which Jesus tells us that his flesh will be poured out for the whole world and that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink. Furthermore, we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. I began to believe that this was a direct reference to the Eucharist and that the bread and wine was not just a mere symbol, but is literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Hence, I had began to accept the source and summit of the Catholic faith.
Having come to this revelation and not getting very convincing answers from my pastor, I began to explore the Catholic church in earnest. I had heard about Catholic underground, a ministry that offered benediction of the blessed sacrament and even though I wasn’t Catholic, I decided to attend. This was a much better experience than the first time. They had praise and worship music. I still didn’t know the latin hymns, but it put me at ease. I remember that I got the same peaceful feeling. It dawn on me that one doesn’t need artificial lights or a loud praise band to make an impact. While in my previous church I had always questioned my emotional response since the service was designed to elicit emotion, here I knew that my emotional response was authentic because the purpose of the service was to strictly praise Jesus.
While in the process of becoming Catholic, I joined 2096, a weekly adoration group at Saint Matthew’s Catholic church. It was here that I found the support and encouragement to continue my journey as well as meeting life long friends. Unfortunate 2096 would be disbanded and I would soon have to search for other avenues for adoration.
Having unfortunately lost my weekly adoration group, I was also in the process of reading Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly. This book was very impactful and one of the things it encouraged was holy hour devotion.  I had never done a holy hour, I had always done benediction with light contemplative music. I was nervous about the prospect of being alone with Jesus in silence for an hour. What do I talk about; what do I wear? Over the years I’ve found what works for me and what doesn’t and I know that it has helped my relationship with Jesus, but also the Catholic church.
I hope that my testimony encourages you to, not only seek out adoration for yourself, but encourage others, who might benefit from the peace that comes from being in the presence of Christ. It can be scary and challenging to sit in silence especially in today’s world of noise, but I promise you that you will have peace, a newfound respect for the Eucharist, and an increase in faith.

Have you had a transformational experience?

If you’ve ever taken the time to read the daily Mass reading on a consistent basis, you may have noticed that The Catholic church at least tries to organize the reading around a theme. For instance, for liturgical year C cycle II, the 16th Sunday in ordinary time, the readings were Genesis 18:1-10, Psalms 15:2-5, Colossians 1:24-28 and Luke 10:38-42 and for July 18th we have Micah 6:1-4, 6-8 and Matthew 12:38-42. In both Genesis 18:1-10 and Luke 10:38-42, we are presented with people,  who are trying to entertain an important guest. In Genesis, we have  Abraham, who is visited by three men. It is heavily implied that these men have been sent by the Lord. He invites his guest to rest while he prepares a meal for them. He quickly delegates various responsibilities to the different people in the household. After the meal has been prepared , Abraham sits with his guest and enjoys their company. The guest bless Abraham by saying that when they return his wife, Sarah will be pregnant with his child.
In Luke 10:38-42, we are presented with Mary and Martha. Martha, like Abraham, is entertaining an important guest, Jesus Christ. Martha is described as being distracted, anxious and worried about entertaining her guest. She wants her sister Mary to remove herself from the feet of Jesus and help her. Jesus rebukes her and states that Martha has chosen to worry about many things when only one thing is needed and that Mary has chosen the good portion. Why is it that Martha gets rebuked by Jesus for wanting to delegate her responsiblities and yet Abraham essentially does the same thing and gets a blessing?
The key has to do with resting and enjoying the moment. Abraham, unlike Martha, was not anxious, worried, or distracted. He served his guest while still managing to sit and listen to them. Paul tells us in the Colossians readings that we too can serve his church without anxiety or worry because of the mystery, which is that we have Christ in us.
So how do we practically go through life without anxiety and worry. Well in the mist of our serving, we need to have Mary moments, where we have a transformation experience with Jesus.  This brings me to July 18th’s gospel. In Matthew 12:38-42, Jesus rebukes the scribes, who ask for a sign. Jesus, in verse 42, mentions the queen of the south. He says, “At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.” Once again, Jesus is reminding us that he is the wisdom that we should seek. He is the Son of God. If we go out of our way, like the queen of the south did for man’s wisdom; how much more should we be willing to travel to experience the wisdom that comes from Christ? Unfortunately though, there are so many people, who have never been inwardly transformed by the wisdom of Christ, because for whatever reason we don’t rest in him.
I’ve had the joy of having a transformation experience. The best way to describe it is to use emotional language, but it isn’t really a feeling. It is an assurance deep inside yourself that there exist something greater than yourself; a sort of peace that passes all understanding. Suddenly a weight has been lifted and you feel free and you have no fear or worry. It is the place where the world disappears and you are alone, but yet not alone. it is in this place that you can feel God wrap his loving arms around you. It is not something that is limited to a one time experience, but rather it is an experience that we should carry with us everyday.
God’s mercies are new everyday and each day offers a new opportunity to go into that deep place, where you can taste heaven and feel yourself sitting at the feet of Jesus. God desires to share himself with you and he has gifted his church with numerous opportunities to experience him intimately. The first way is through the unbloody sacrifice of the mass, in which God represents himself in the form of bread and wine so that we may consume him and be one. The second way is through adoration in front of the consecrated bread. It is here that we have a direct line to experience the presence of Christ directly. I liken the difference to talking to your lover on the cell phone verses going on a date. While one can have intimacy over the phone, it is another level when you can be in the real presence of your lover. Similarly when we pray, we are talking to God on the cell phone, but when we pray in adoration, we are essentially going on a date with Jesus. Confession can also be a moment for transformation in which we feel God’s love through hearing the words, “you are forgiven.” Lastly sacramentals such as the rosary and praise and worship can offer opportunities to have a transformation experience. Ultimately each person is different and experiences God in different ways; however, we should always strive to rest in Christ and to be transformed by his presence, which is real and inviting.

Solutions to the Catholic music problem

In my blog thus far, I’ve attempted to show that there is a Catholic music scene; however, the artists in the scene are relatively unknown due to the Catholic church’s liturgical structure, Western European cultural influence, and tradition. Now I will be outlining ways the Catholic Church can support these artist.
1. An argument for contemporary music a Mass
Obviously the best way for Catholic artists to gain exposure is by showcasing their music at Mass. This is the most effective way because a good majority of Catholics only come to Mass and thus Mass is their only exposure to Christian music. The use of contemporary music at Mass is very controversial.
If you recall in my last post, I linked to an article by Peter A. Kwasniewski. He argues against contemporary music at Mass. His main thesis is that using music with secular origins conforms the mind to the world instead of to the divine mysteries and does not foster a contemplative atmosphere. Furthermore, he argues that the instrumentality of the music is what lingers in the soul, not the lyrics. He states,  “A piece of music carries with it and conveys not only what its maker may be thinking and feeling, but in a deeper way, the thoughts and feelings of the context and culture out of which the musical style or its elements emerged.” (1). He proclaims that, “our calling as Christians is to bring holiness from the altar into the world, and, as much as we can, to transform the world, renew it, sanctify it by the power of the sacred mysteries. Christians have never seen it as their job to bring elements of the fallen world from the outside into the temple, remaking liturgy, preaching, and art forms into reflections of that world.”(1) I’d like to respond to this argument.
First, I would like to ask, isn’t all music inherently secular? Music, in my opinion, has always found its origin in human society and culture. Perhaps the only exception would be Plainsong or Chant since this style directly relates to the Hebrew chanting of the Psalms. As time went on, this chants would become more elaborate. In fact, Gregorian chant is derived from a synthesis of Roman and Gallican chants.(2) It would go on to replace the local chant tradition of Rome. According to David Wilson, Gregorian chant was promoted, not by the church, but by Charlemagne, who ordered it performed by the priests upon pain of death.(3) This brief history summary serves to  showcase that even music written for the church and by the church had cultural influences. If culture can influence the early church’s music choices, then it can continue to influence the music of the church today.
Furthermore, Kwasniewski doesn’t just support plainsong, but also Renaissance polyphony. He states, “Traditional Church music is derived from sacred precedents: Christian plainchant from Hebrew chanting of the psalms, Renaissance polyphony from plainchant (when singing a motet by Palestrina you can feel the Gregorian influence upon every line), Baroque styles from Renaissance ones;”(1) This is hypocritical when one considers the origins of Renaissance polyphony. According to Msgr. Charles Pope, Renaissance polyphony emerged as harmony was introduced into Church music. (4)  He describes that harmony entered into church music as a culture shift occurred due to the reintroduction of Greek Philosophy, “Several factors influenced the introduction of harmony. First, there was the reintroduction of Greek philosophy and some of its views back into the Western world through scholasticism.” (4). Likewise Msgr. Pope points out that,
” the music was not without controversy. There were two main problems with this new style called polyphony. The first problem was the intelligibility of the text. With multiple harmonies being sung, the Latin text, often staggered across many parts and voices, became harder and harder to understand. Clergy in particular complained of this, arguing that the sacred text was taking a backseat to musical flourishes. In addition, the “theatrical showiness” seemed secular to many. The second troubling issue was that many of the composers of the day drew from secular melodies that were often heard in taverns, in theaters, and on the streets. They would often take these recognizable melodies and set them as a cantus firmus (musical theme or foundation) of sacred compositions, including the parts of the Mass.” (4).
Hence it seems hypocritical of Kwasniewski to promote polyphony when he accuses contemporary music of have the same problems that originated with Polyphony. I believe he can be criticized for having a slanted view of the history of sacred music. I also believe he misunderstands the nature of contemporary worship music. Kwasniewski seems to think that contemporary worship music involves slapping Christian lyrics onto secular music. The reality is that Contemporary worship music and gospel music arose as spiritual hymns for the 21st century church. It arose to sanctify the secular, to take what was secular and make it holy. Contemporary worship music especially gospel music was not an attempt to secularize the sacred like Kwasniewski believes. However, since contemporary worship music at mass remains controversial, I have a few  guidelines.
`1. Whenever possible use Catholic sources and Catholic artists
This avoids two criticisms. First, it avoids the criticism that this music is not sacred because it did not originate in the church. Second, it avoids the criticism that funding contemporary music funds protestant artists, which in turn promotes heresy. The vigil project is a good example. It is a group of Catholic artists, who currently have written 7 songs for the Lent liturgical year and they are working on Advent as well.
2. Save the upbeat song for the recessional.
This allows the church to be mindful of the sacredness of the mass and allows room for contemplation.
3. Absolutely no secular music
If it is not written by a Christian or Catholic artist and is not in a hymn book, don’t use it.
4. Avoid theatrics, Mass is about contemplation, not entertainment.
5. Coordinate the music to the Gospel message
This makes the use of Contemporary worship music less like a gimmick and more like it is relevant
There are less controversial ways to allow artists to promote their music.
2. Adoration with live music
Here in the Virginia Beach area, we have a ministry called Catholic Underground in which there is adoration accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a singer. Afterwards there is a free concert featuring a Catholic artist. Unfortunately, this only happens twice a year.
3. More Diocese should host and sponsor Catholic music festivals.
So far the only dioceses that I know that sponsors an annual concert are the Toledo Diocese and Diocese of Cleveland. They sponsor Exclaim and the Fest respectively. One criticism I have of these festivals especially the Fest is that they fail to invite Catholic artists. If you are going to have a Catholic festival make sure you have at least two Catholic artists; otherwise, you become indistinguishable from other protestant sponsored festivals and promote the belief that there are no good Catholic artists.
4. More Catholic conferences like Steubenville and market the conferences as open to all ages.
Maybe I’m bitter since I wasn’t Catholic in middle school and high school, but why is every single conference geared towards youth or college individuals? There is very little for older Young Adults or even adults. Likewise this is a great way to get Catholic Artists on board. In fact The Josh Blakesley band recently gained popularity from touring with Steubenville youth conferences.
5. Parishes should allow more room for Charismatic prayer groups.
Worship in the Holy Spirit by its very nature is improvisational and therefore offers a great way to incorporate Catholic contemporary worship.  I would also like to see more Charismatic Masses offered by individual parishes.
The main point is that Catholics deserve to have opportunities to express themselves through contemporary praise and worship. If not at Mass, then the Church should find other avenues to offer these opportunities. While silent contemplation should reign supreme, people also crave worship music that is relevant and allows them worship with their whole body and allows improvisational prayer expression. A balance of both modes of expression is what is needed in today’s church.

Catholic music scene part 2

So when I last wrote, I attempted to refute the claim that that there is no contemporary Catholic music scene. However, I would agree that Catholic artists have more of an uphill battle than protestant contemporary artists for very specific reasons related to Catholic worship liturgical structure and culture, plus tradition.
1. Mass
So the first thing we have to understand is the difference between Mass and other Christian services. The Catechism of the Catholic church defines Mass as, “at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood.” Hence when we speak of Mass, there is the notion of sacrifice that simply isn’t present in other Christian services. Because of the sacrificial nature of Mass, there is a great desire among Catholics to keep the Mass holy, pure, and undefiled by worldly conveniences.This desire has led the Church to define certain aspects as appropriate and not appropriate to be used at Mass. These guidelines insure unity in the liturgy and help to mitigate abuses. Protestant evangelical services have no such restraint placed on them and freely utilize worldly conveniences in order to be relevant, modern, and attractive.  This relates to music in so far as the Catholic church has attempted to define the music that is appropriate for Mass as Sacred Music, but as this blog post points out that definition has changed through out the history of the Church and what was once thought not sacred has now become sacred. It remains to be seen whether the use of contemporary instruments will remain controversial or whether the ideal of sacred will yet again evolve. The point I wish to make is that contemporary musicians find greater acceptance in protestant circles when they do not have to adhere to the notion of sacred and thus have a wider performance space. I am not advocating that this is ideal in that I feel that the notion of sacredness is important to the Catholic church identity and need not be sacrificed. I do; however, often question the premise that using a guitar impedes on sacredness. For an argument that it does see this post.
2. Class room of silence verses body movement
As a revert from nondenominationism and Pentecostalism, this was a distinction that I pick up on right away and it took a while to adjust.   In the Pentecostal tradition, worship is a sensory experience in which the whole body is involved in worship. Hence during a pentecostal service, you will see people dancing, jumping up and down, falling on the floor, hands lifted high, shouting, crying, and kneeling. I don’t think there is a name for this style of worship, but I call it body movement. I define body movement as the belief that one can hear from God when one has relinquished control of one’s body and is free to express oneself in worshiping of God.
The Catholic Church has subscribed to the belief that, instead of worship being a sensory experience, it should be a contemplative one. However, there still are sensory elements in the Catholic church such as incense, but these elements are designed to foster contemplation. Mathew Kelly coined the term, “classroom of silence” to describe the idea that through silence we can hear the voice of God. I believe that this emphasis on silence is largely a western European cultural phenomenon and a traditional consequence. Before Vatican II, the laity were not encouraged to be active participants in the liturgy. Instead, they were encouraged to pray contemplatively about the mystery that was unfolding before them and to contemplate on the scripture reading. Hence, before Vatican II silence was the ideal. The laity were spectators. Vatican II sought, among other things, to give the laity a more active role in the Mass. Hence, the Mass was now offered in the vernacular instead of the traditional Latin; the priest faced the people; and the laity were allowed to serve as Eucharistic ministers. However, despite these changes, the idea that the laity are spectators still lingers. This is why, despite the changes, most Catholics still remain relatively disengaged at Mass.
I also believe that silence as an ideal may be somewhat cultural. I base this conclusion on my limited experience in African American Catholic churches. These churches tend to be much more lively. The laity tend to actively participate in the singing and evidence of body movement can be seen. Often times a select few will raise their hands and sway. However, when it is time to be silent, they are respectful and reverent. I’ve heard similar things about Latin American Catholic churches. Interestedly enough, the Boisi center published a paper stating that a preference for improvisational worship may be due to the incorporation of American values such as innovation, individualism, and volunteerism. (Cite: http://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/centers/boisi/pdf/bc_papers/BCP-Practice.pdf).
Most contemporary worship styles cater to the body worship movement as opposed to contemplative since contemporary worship relies on improvisation. Hence, In a strict liturgical style, it can be hard to incorporate contemporary music especially upbeat style songs. Vatican II has left some room for incorporating improvisational worship. For example, a Catholic Church may  cater to a particular culture by incorporating that culture’s music and self-expression into the liturgy. The debate remains how much incorporation should take place before it tarnishes the sacredness of liturgical worship especially the Mass.
I do not know the answer to the question of how much incorporation is too much; however, I do feel that there is room for compromise and utilizing new ways to offer contemporary worship to balance out the overemphasis of silence. It is these solutions that I’d like to talk about in my next post.

Catholic music scene?

In my first blog post, I mentioned how I love Contemporary Christian music or CCM. I do tend to appreciate more the edgier side of CCM mainly that of rock and metal. As a new Catholic, I often found myself wishing and longing for music that reflected my theological beliefs a little more closely. However, as a new Catholic, I simply assumed that such a thing did not exist after all I didn’t hear contemporary music at Mass and if I did hear it at all it was always at adoration and always Protestant songs. The only exception was Matt Maher. If you’ve been in the Catholic Church awhile, I can guarantee that you either love Matt Maher or are sick of hearing his music everywhere lol. I, unfortunately, fall into the latter camp. So when I was suddenly thrust with the responsibility to pick the music for Adoration ministry, I found myself frustrated with the lack of options. On one hand, I found it a little disingenuous to use Protestant songs during adoration, yet on the other hand, those were the most requested other than, you guessed it, Matt Maher. Hence, I was on what seemed like an impossible quest to discover contemporary Catholic Artists. I wish I could take credit for all the wonderful artists I have discovered; most of the credit goes to the Catholicplaylistshow.com. The question is what does the Catholic music scene look like if there is one; why is it so hidden: and what can the Church do about it?
I believe that, in contrast to this article, there is a Catholic music scene. This scene comes in a variety of different sounds.
1. Folk mass artists
You have artists, who are clearly classically trained or at the very least have served as the cantor of his/her church. These people have beautiful voices and usually do traditionally sounding songs in a modern way. One such example is Tom Booth. Most of these types of artists I found, not on Catholicplaylistshow.com, but on http://www.spiritandsong.com. Most of these artists became popular during a time when there was a large demand for Folk masses usually around the 70’s and 80’s. Thus the music associated with Spirit and Song has a dated feel. There are a few exceptions such as Matt Maher, Jackie Francois, Ike Ndolo, and Josh Blakesley.
2. Proudly Catholic
In this category, you have artists that are Catholic and definitely want that to come across in their lyrics. A particularly bad example of this is the band The Thirsting  (see below)
Anyone else getting a POD vibe up in here? As a Christian rock lover, I want to like The Thirsting, but it’s hard to listen to music when the lyrics just make you laugh. I have to give them credit for incorporating the term Sacrament into a song that couldn’t have been easy. Better examples exist including Father Kevin Mcgoldrick’s Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue, which is a devotion song to Mary. Christian rock bands had to come to the realization that overemphasizing Christ can come across as silly sometimes; anyone remembers Skillet’s Forgive or Comatose? Likewise, bands like the Thirsting must also come to realize that overemphasizing Catholic theology can also be silly. I believe The Thirsting learned their lesson as their second album is better. Case in point The Road by The Thirsting(see below )
It is my hope that the Thirsting will find a balance between promoting Catholic ideas and their hard rock song so that they can move into the 3rd and my favorite category.
3. Alternative rock music
These are artists that have managed to find the balance between authentic lyrics, rock music, and message. It is not obvious on first listen that these artists are Catholic; however, a brief look at their bio page will reveal that they are indeed Catholic. You don’t normally associate Alternative music with the Catholic church, but there is a surprisingly large number of artists. In fact, there used to be an annual concert series called Rocking Romans, sadly it appears that the last one was in 2012. Some of the cool artists featured were Milo and Pointe Blank. Recently there has been a renewal of this style of music in artists such as Cody Roth and Donny Todd.
4. Worship music 
This probably makes up the majority of the Catholic music scene. Most recently the Vigil Project set out to pair solo artist together to create 7 songs for the church that spanned significant events between Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. It culminated in a Pentecost vigil. There are other worship bands too such as the Josh Blakesley band, Out of Darkness, and NOVUM. These worship bands are trying to be like the Catholic Hillsong or Jesus Culture. They mainly play at Catholic conferences and praise and worship events. Finally, you have the worship solo artist such as Dee Simone, Sarah Heart, Tori Harris, and John Finch.
5. Worship pop artist
These artists try to blend catchy pop tunes with worship lyrics. Think of Audrey Assad’s first 3 albums and you have the idea. These kind of songs are sometimes vague about their subject matter in that the songs are more like love songs. Examples include Alverlis, Andrea Thomas, Jamie Thietten, Connor Flanagan, Aly Aleigha and Landers.
So this concludes my brief survey of Catholic Artists and there are so many more artists! If interested in learning more, you should subscribe to the Catholic playlist podcast. In my next post, I’ll tackle why these artists are so hidden and what the Church could do about it.

False dichotomies

Loving the sinner versus holiness

So I’ve been wanting to talk about this issue since my first blog post. It seems that I can’t go a day without hearing some controversy regarding the proper application of Catholic teachings. This all started when Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation, “the Joy of Love” in which he advocated mercy for those in irregular unions, by suggesting that they may partake in the sacraments of the church. It continues with more and more Catholic churches and Catholic individuals embracing the LGBT community. Here are a couple of examples:
https://www.facebook.com/ladygaga/photos/a.89179709573.79898.10376464573/10154330349204574/
In the first example, we have a Facebook post from Lady Gaga espousing her Catholic faith. She says that she was moved by the homily in which the priest reminded everyone that, “the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect.” This is actually a misquote from Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium, which states, “Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” It is an interesting message from Lady Gaga as she has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights. In the second example, we have a story about the Philippines (a traditionally Catholic country) electing a transgendered individual. What does this mean? Is Pope Francis responsible for the watering down of Catholic values in favor of inclusivism and mercy? Is there room for mercy and love, while still respecting the universal call for holiness or must the Catholic church promote one over the other? Lastly, what does it mean to be an “LGBT” Catholic? I will strive to answer these questions.

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Peace be with you: what does it mean to have peace?

I attended daily mass Tuesday as part of Spirit and Truth. Father Daniel opened with an interesting question, “What are we worried about?” Some of the answers were failure, death, hurting others, and the state of society. Then Father Daniel asked, “what is the  peace Jesus promises to the disciples when he says, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.’?” I replied that, “it is a peace that passes understanding, a peace that transcends our surroundings, because we trust that Jesus will provide.” I was able to answer the question, because I’ve been lucky enough to experience this supernatural peace. Father Daniel challenged us to strive to carry this supernatural peace daily, My struggle is that even though I have experienced this peace, it has never lasted. I believe the peace stealer is either disappointment in oneself or disappointment in others.
Disappointment in oneself can be remedied by recognizing that we cannot disappoint God. He knows us intimately. He knows the number of hairs on our head. He is omniscient so he knows what we are going to do before we do it. Yet despite all of that, He still chose to die for us. God’s love is unconditional. This is the reality of Go’d’s love. By virtue of Baptism, we have been justified and sanctified. We are cleansed and have become new creations. We do nothing to earn this. Likewise, we cannot maintain it on our own; we need to rely on God, who doesn’t fail. So the next time we feel that we are a disappointment, or a failure, we can know that we haven’t lost the love of God and that we can trust  him to pick us back up. This truth leads to peace.
Disappointment in others can be a tricker situation. It comes from our need to feel accepted by others and our innate sense of righteousness. When we are rejected for whatever reason, we feel wronged. However, the reality is that we shouldn’t let others dictate our sense of worth nor should we feel the need to punish others for being equally broken people. The latter is what I struggle with; I want people to hold themselves to the same standards that I hold myself. However, God doesn’t do that with me. Imagine if God demanded that I meet his level of perfection. Luckily God doesn’t demand that of me. Yes, I know what you are thinking, “be perfect as my heavenly father is perfect.” This perfection is the result of cooperating with God, through the merits already won for us by Jesus Christ through his punishment on the cross. God doesn’t punish us for not being perfect; instead, He punishes Himself through Jesus Christ and in turn makes us perfect by our direct cooperation with Christ.  Thus if God doesn’t punish me for my imperfections, then who am I to punish others. Note that Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross does indeed remove the punishment of sin; however, in order for this to be effective , it must be applied through faith, charity, and the sacraments of the church. (For more information see Thomas Aquinas, summa theologica, tetria Pars, Q 49 article 3)
God wants us to have peace, which can only come from placing our faith, hope and trust in Jesus Christ. We should not allow disappointment to rob us of this peace. So the next time you are at Mass and hear the words, “peace be with you,” reflect on the peace that Christ wants to give you; a peace that passes all understanding.

Catholic revert goes to Outcry Tour

What I learned about Ecumenism

So I have a confession to make; I love contemporary praise and worship music and I hate the organ and gregorian chant. I know that saying this makes me sound pretty anti-catholic, but you will not find a stronger defender of the faith. That being said, music is a big part of my spirituality. When I first encountered Christ, it wasn’t through gregorian chant, old school hymns, or organ, but it was through Christian rock music and eventually Christian contemporary music. So despite all my misgivings, when I heard about a concert with Hillsong, Kari Jobe, Jesus Culture, and Elevation worship, I knew I wanted to go.  These are my insights about the night and what it means for ecumenism.
1. People crave authentic worship.
During the concert, we watched a video where they interviewed each artist and got their insight on what church means to them. I don’t remember who said it, but one quote that stood out to me was, “I believe God gave us music so that we could have the ability to move and touch the human heart.”  I firmly agree with this quote. When it comes to it, sacred music should touch and move the human heart. It doesn’t matter the style or setting. The question you should be asking yourself, does the music at my church/parish move me into a closer encounter with Christ? What makes bands like Hillsong so popular is that you can  feel their passion for the Lord in every song. Can the Catholic church ever have this authenticity? I believe so, but it begins by putting away our legalist attitudes about what worship is supposed to sound like and start embracing all forms of music.
2. Music can unify.
The major theme of the Outcry tour is unity. The whole night they talked about how they wanted to focus on worshiping Jesus without focusing on denominational differences. How were they able to do this? They did it through music, which glorified Christ. The didn’t preach or debate or lecture. Instead they just played music and called out to Jesus. They explain how Jesus calls all to be one; how the church is stronger together then divided. If they Catholic Church truly wants all to be one, then the Church needs to support Catholic contemporary artist, who are able to bridge the gap. I remember that the Richmond diocese sponsored a concert with both protestant and Catholic artist and opened it up to the public. I wasn’t Catholic at the time, but I attended as well as my non-Catholic church. I listen to Ike Ndolo sing about the importance of the real presence in the Eucharist.  Imagine if some of my protestant friends heard the message and were moved to investigate. Maybe that planted the seed in me. Music unifies in ways that nothing else can.
3. There are points of dialogue that develop when people come together.
One of the best speakers of the night was the representative from World Vision. He was trying to get people to sponsor a child, but what he said was striking. He said that Jesus did a great miracle when he took the bread and wine and transformed the molecules to do something great, and Jesus can take earthly substances and do the impossible. I don’t know about you, but that sounds awfully Catholic to me and dangerously close to transubstantiation. I remember turning my friend and saying, “he is half way Catholic.” Now imagine if I had been able to engage him further or engage my protestant brothers and sisters further, what would happen? Maybe they’d come to see the sacramental outlook isn’t crazy at all, but that it is God choosing to do impossible things with  earthly elements.
4. Humor makes the message easier to swallow.
Once again the World vision minister stole the show and his message is still very much in my head. Why? Because he was funny and when you are funny, you are engaging. He made jokes about eating at McDonalds or taking bibles from Hotel rooms, or only wearing a light jacket because he is from Minnesota and should be able to handle a little 60 degree weather. Yet when it came time to be serious, he was serious, and I was moved because I was engaged. When is the last time you heard your Catholic priest crack a joke on Sunday during his homily? I’m not saying that I want my priest to be stand up comedian, but somehow we gotten so lost in the amount of honor and respect due that we forget that we can have joy. 
5. Protestants are desperate to hear about the real presence; they just don’t know it. 
When listening to the worship songs, one central theme that stood out to me is wanting to be in God’s presence. I recognized it in the song, Show me your Glory by Jesus Culture. The lyrics state, “I long to look on the face of the One that I love. Long to stay in Your presence, it’s where I belong.” Note the longing mentioned in the song. I remember thinking how sad is it that they have lost the doctrine of the Real Presence, and how lucky I am as a Catholic that I have a 24 hour adoration chapel, where I can be in the real presence of Jesus when ever I want. I can look upon his body made manifest in bread and at Mass I can touch the body with my hands. I don’t need to imagine some incomprehensible spiritual reality, but instead God loves me so much that he comes down to meet me by the power of the Holy Spirit and when I consume him, he and I become one.
6. Commercialize Christianity is alive and thriving and it sickens me.
Come on people, wake up! The whole concert was a walking advertisement for Christianity and we ate it up. I know that hosting concerts is not a cheap affair, and for that reason I will gladly pay a ticket price. However, what sickens me is that they then try to sell t-shirts, hats, books, and whatever merchandise. I would like to know where the money and the merchandise goes. Does any of the money go to charitable organizations or does it go to pay the so called Christian entertainers? If they really wanted to preach the gospel, why not play for free and take a love offering. Invite the homeless and give them the left over hoodies and jackets. This leads me to my next point.
7. Hillsong senior pastor, Brian Houston, has become arrogant. 
While I hate to talk bad about someone I don’t know, I know that first impressions mean a lot. So right off the bat, I walk into the place and they are passing out free books, written by Brian  Houston. Secondly, the first 5 minutes of Hillsong’s introduction is spent talking about their movie set to come out this year (oh goodie). Finally after playing merely two songs, Brian comes out to preach. He decides to do a word study sermon, focusing on the word, “unusual” as it appears in the bible. He first focuses on unusual miracles as found in some translations of Acts 19:11. This would be alright, except for the fact that he spent the first 5 minutes talking about how his church is an unusual miracle. He brags about how his church was not afraid to pursue contemporary music instead of hymns and how they were the only church to have a movie made about them. He even bragged that they reinvented the podium to make room for the worship band. The next 10 minutes were a little better. He talked about Hebrews 11:23, which in some translations, describes Moses as an unusual child. He then brags about how his niece is an unusual child and proves it by showing her dancing (while this is cute and funny, I’m not sure how it is relevant other than giving him another opportunity to brag). Lastly, he talks about how unusual children should be fostered, because God has place a calling on them to do great things and God needs more people to paint outside of the lines. I must admit that this was my favorite part of his whole sermon. He offers to pray for those that feel unusual so that they may discover their God given calling (this spoke to me specifically).
Next came the altar call and this is where I really began questioning Brian Houston’s motives. I generally hate altar calls, and no it isn’t just because I’m Catholic. I see that if they are not done correctly, they can make grace and salvation cheap. An altar call is where one pledges their life to Jesus. By committing their life to Jesus, one is told that they are now saved, their sins are forgiven and they are now a new creation. When done correctly, it can be a powerful experience. Everyone needs to have that conversion experience, where they come to know the Lord personally. The Catholic church recognizes this especially in programs like discovering Christ. The major and important difference is that the Catholic church rightly recognizes that this is not the end; that the journey is not over and one conversion experience is not enough to save you or to keep you from sin.
Anyway back to Brian, so he goes through the standard altar call procedure. He asks those, who haven’t made a personal commitment to Jesus, to raise their hand. Now normally, the people, who raised the hand, would be either be invited down to the front or to a booth, where there are people waiting to mentor them; to help them in their walk and usually give them a free bible. None of that happened. Instead, Brian tells the people that they should: 1.tell someone about their commitment so that they can be held accountable, 2. get a bible, and 3. become a member of the local church. So you mean to tell me that one of the largest and richest churches in the world cannot even be bothered to have a booth with a prayer team, or give out free bibles, or connect people to local churches? Instead the money was spent passing out free copies of his book, Live, Love, Lead. Why? Does Brian Houston really think that his book will have a greater impact than the bible? I hope not, but that my friends is the impression that I’m left with.
conclusion:
I don’t mean to end on a negative note. I also believe a lot more could be said especially about the false dichotomies between body movement and the class room of silence as well as between welcoming the sinner and holiness. However, I did learn the in order to have true ecumenism, we Catholics must put aside our legalism and worship wars and recognized that ultimately what is important  is encountering Christ, whether that be in the extraordinary form Mass, nous ordo Mass, gregorian chant, organ, piano, guitar, drums, violins, Choir, or praise singers. We can learn from our protestant brothers and sisters and they can learn from us. In the end, we all give praise and honor to Jesus, who is king.