Monthly Archives: August 2012

Putting a song in the old priest’s heart

At one of the churches I play at, an elderly priest — a monsignor, as it so happens — occasionally says Mass. For a while, things went well, with no problems. But a few months ago, Catholics will recall, we changed up the words used at Mass. This has given the priest a lot of trouble. He couldn’t find new pages in the new Roman Missal. He skipped quite a few places. He paused awkwardly while he tried to figure out where he was. And it led to a few awkward situations where everyone except the monsignor realized he had missed something.

Everyone hoped it was just the new missal, that he would eventually be able to adjust. But it’s clear that the priest, who was ordained a half-century ago, is starting to suffer from other problems related to age and won’t be able to stay in ministry much longer, a conclusion I acknowledged when he confused my car for his and couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t unlocking. I suspect most of the folks at church have figured out his plight, which makes him an inadvertent example of Christian suffering. Although he may not want to admit it, the idea of losing his mental faculties is one that, no doubt, is frightening to him. And it’s not much fun to have to be pushed off the stage, which is why the pastor has put in extra effort to make sure the monsignor can continue saying Mass, even as he slows down.

But I don’t think he’s lost everything yet, if last weekend serves as an example.  As he stood, already vested, about 10 feet to my right, I was plunking away at the electric keyboard (this parish doesn’t have a church building yet; it should be finished in a few months, so the keyboard will have to do) to try to get the debuting cantor a little more at ease before Mass. We were playing through the Communion hymn, which this time was “Song of the Body of Christ”:

[Sorry. The above version’s not very good,  but YouTube is limited. I saved you from one with … ugh … liturgical dance.]

I was singing the refrain. The cantor was singing the refrain, with a bit of a wavering voice. And I heard another voice, though I couldn’t place it. But I needed to continue on, so we went to the first verse.

“We come as your people/we come as your own/united in each other/love finds a home,” I sang. The cantor sang the same thing. And so did the third voice. I looked over. It was the monsignor. He smiled. And so did I.

He may be struggling in a lot of other departments. His homilies may not have the focus they once did, and he will keep struggling to say Mass for a while. But for that small moment, everything was clicking again. This was pure joy.



So the other day, I went to Chick-fil-A, which, I guess, has been facing some sort of controversy.

I won’t be rushing back anytime soon. Not because of what they stand for, but because the chicken was too spicy for my tastes. (I really don’t care what the execs of companies support or oppose on their own time.)

Also, I don’t like pickles.

See, I don’t subscribe to the idea that if you go to some restaurant, you subscribe to all they stand for (and vice versa). Furthermore, an infinitesimal percentage of the money you spend will go to Cause You Do/Don’t Believe In, but most of it will go to Jobs People Need to Survive and other good things. (Look, I’m Capitalizing to Make a Point!) Also, if I boycotted every company that had higher-ups that espoused opinions I don’t care for, I’d pretty much have to check out of society. I prefer to spend my time trying to make the lives of people around me better, thank you.

Look, if you want to not spend your money at places that has stuff you don’t agree with, bully for you. But I’m not interested in any lectures if I don’t follow your lead. I’ll just let my taste buds figure out where I’d like to spend my food money, thank you.

Parts of speaking

One of the tricky parts of having multiple lines of work is that I often have to use multiple speaking styles, depending on whom I’m talking to.


Day job: We’re all college educated, and we’re all writers and/or editors. So we can use almost any complicated, absurd word under the sun, and almost everyone will get it. Our jokes tend to be more erudite, too.

Nonwork friends: See above. But I tend to use less formal language, because I’ve known most of them more than a decade. We’re all capable of the big speech and can pull it out, but when you’re discussing “NBA Jam,” it’s not necessary. Boom-shaka-laka!

English Mass: Here, we have a wider mix of people. Almost all adults have a high school education, but they may not have college under their belts. Many folks are tradesmen or -women, and others are retired. So I have to drop some of the big words and explain more stuff, just in case.

Spanish Mass (speaking in English): For most of these folks, English is not their first language, and they don’t have as wide a knowledge base in the English language, especially in idioms, as I do. Many of them are less-educated tradesfolk. So I have to simplify my speech a lot more.

Now, here’s the tricky part of the last two: I do have to change my normal speech a little bit to communicate well — but I run the risk of sounding like I’m talking down to these good folks, and I totally don’t want to do that. Here’s how I try to avoid that:

1. Do not change your tone of voice. You know what I mean — some people switch to a patronizing tone when they have to switch their speaking style. This is not good. Do not do it. And be vigilant that you’re not doing it, because people can read a lot you don’t mean out of the tone of your voice.

2. Err on the side of overexplaining, and if you’re called out on it, just explain that you do that a lot just because you’re not sure what knowledge base people have. This turns it on you and keeps them from feeling dumb, if you tell them you do this a lot.

3. Listen. You can pick up on others’ speaking styles and move from the general to the specific. I mean, you’re supposed to be listening anyway, because it’s polite, but it also provides you with cues that help you determine how you should be speaking.

It’s not like anyone bats 100% on this, especially me. I was talking to a couple after English Mass a few weeks ago about how my company was selling stock. I used the term “IPO,” which means “initial public offering,” referring to the day we started selling stock. A couple minutes later, the nice lady politely said, “I fear I’m not as up on some of these terms as you are. What’s an IPO?”

Two journalists, two divergent paths

I recently returned from vacation, which was great. I saw three baseball games, toured the University of Notre Dame for the first time, visited my dad’s side of the family and made a brief visit to West Virginia, part of a path from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati.

But I want to focus here on an early part of the trip, where I drove to rural Ohio. There, a guy I interned at a newspaper with six years ago lives and works. He and I both worked in newspapers for a while, and neither of us does now. I’m still editing.

He was ordained a Lutheran minister last month.

Continue reading

The president, the cardinal, and the “take your ball and go home” Catholics

Timothy Cardinal Dolan is a smart man. A good man. A pretty good shepherd of not only the New York archdiocese, but also the U.S. church, which he often ends up talking for as head of the U.S. bishops. He’s solidly orthodox and forceful in ensuring Church teachings are heard in the public square, and he’s worked very hard against the HHS contraception mandate.

I like this guy.

Or, if you believe right wing Catholics, he’s causing scandal, appeasing evil, and is a secret Democrat, and you can’t be Catholic and Democratic because of the party’s stances on Very Bad Things.

All this, because Dolan didn’t not invite the president to a Catholic charity dinner, to which the presidential candidates are usually invited because of their status as presidential candidates. Sigh. Continue reading

So much to do; so little time

I’ve been quiet lately on this blog, simply because I’ve been insanely busy. There’s the day job, of course. Then I’m playing five Masses a week, filling in on Sundays as another parish searches for a new music director. I’m also looking to buy a house and visiting with friends for various birthday gatherings, and I’m preparing to go on vacation next week. This all doesn’t leave much time to blog.

It’s good to be busy. It means I make a little more money and spend more time with friends, even if it comes at the cost of gas money and sleep. But I’d be lying if I said I weren’t looking forward to vacation, my first in three years. And I’ll be relieved when things calm down, just a little bit.