Monday, January 20, 2014

We Sing Anyway

Today, I am not exactly sure how far I will run.  From my plans, it looks like 15, but it is just before 4 AM, so I can't say at the moment.

I don't usually write two blog entries a day.  But today I will as my running blog entry will come later.  

But today, I feel the need to lead off the day with a blog entry recognizing the importance of music at St. Pius X and the changes I have seen over the years.  Years during many of which John Weber was the directory of liturgy and music.  I had received an email from John as recently as January 8--twelve days ago.  Yesterday, we found out he has passed away Friday morning in an emergency room.  It is quite astounding that in this day and age of almost instant information it took two days for the parish community that he had served for so long and so well took two days to find out of his sudden and very unexpected passing.

How have my family and I been involved in music at St. Pius over the years?  

The earliest involvement was my oldest son singing in what was then the Children's Choir.  St. Pius X has not had a children's choir for quite some time now.  If there is one thing I would hope to see again some day that John did not facilitate (although I do not know if he tried) it would be that.  It seemed like a great way to encourage early involvement in this important ministry.

Other than that for about the first decade of our time at St. Pius X, we just sang at mass.  The mass we most typically attended had a piano with a group singing relatively recent songs.  It was called the contemporary choir.  And clearly it was a choir--led by Kevin Cronin.  Over the years it had numerous guitar players including a guy who would always hold his guitar vertically before the last verse or chorus of a song.  Kevin even played guitar briefly when there was another piano player available years ago.  There was some tambourine music occasionally.  A flute came and went.  And there was a bass guitar who actually helped me get my bass guitar playing started.

My involvement with 40 More Days over the years was rewarding.  Learned to play bass guitar.  Got interested in but never brought to church the mandolin.  Wrote a song for my middle son's first Eucharist that was also played for one other child that year and for my youngest son.  Enjoyed playing with my oldest son.  Sang off and on.

The "older" contemporary choir has continued.  For a while down to just a piano and singers.  Now back with a guitar and occasional flute.

And over the past several years John Weber played organ.  He could, of course, play piano.  With his operatic training he could play and cantor quite easily but supported other cantors.  He was involved in getting my son to play occasionally when neither of John nor Kevin Cronin was available to play for the cantor.  He also led a group that sang at some of the high holy masses.  

He supported a music community at the church that gave nearly every parishioner the opportunity to regularly attend a mass with music that they preferred.  With music that spoke to them.  With music that made sense to them.  

Music that makes sense to us as individuals and families was a great thing to have access to.  I have enjoyed the more contemporary Christian rock-like music.  And I still enjoy the other contemporary choir.  Sometimes the cantors and organ seemed slow, but they could be just as powerful at the right place and time.

In recent months, John had also taken over the job of getting information about altar servers out.  That affected my middle son who has served the parish well through this ministry.

Everything seemed fine.

And then yesterday, when my son was supposed to play an afternoon mass with a cantor, we found out that John Weber had passed.  He hadn't responded to my son's requests for music in advance.  And we found out the reason why.  

The details are apparently still foggy. 

But I have never seen my parish's pastoral life director so visibly shaken as when she addressed the parishioners who came to yesterday's evening mass.

I have never seen Kevin Cronin (who managed to bring himself to come to play piano yesterday at the 5:30 mass since he was fully prepared to play and my son was not) at less than 100% when playing and singing.  As mass went on he got stronger.  It was his third mass of the day.  He had subbed at the 8 AM mass when John was missing (John was supposed to play Saturday afternoon) but no one knew what had happened.  Kevin normally plays at 10:30.  And this was the third mass.  I remember that particularly at the start of the responsorial psalm, "Be glad in the Lord, give thanks to God's name/Be glad in the Lord, give thanks to God's holy name," the start of the playing seemed slightly paused.  Slightly off.  Slightly slower than usual.  By the end of mass he was his usual strong playing self.  But I think for at least one song, I detected a vulnerability.  Natural, but not often seen.

And this is the second passing of a young and well loved and well known parishioner.

What struck me yesterday were a few other things.  Our Pastoral Life Director commented not only on his musical skills but also on his laughter.  How she loved hearing him.  Being able to bring joy and laughter to others is a very undervalued skill.

Second, Fr. Sam referred to Catholics, particularly those who bothered to come to the 5:30 mass rather than staying home to watch football, a peculiar people.  He wondered what moved us.  He wondered what kept us focused on our faith when so many things pulled against that direction.  He told a story of a rabbi who, in the face of a very secular Jewish community, would yell "Shabbat" on the corner near Sundown every Friday.  Finally someone asked him why he was doing this.  He told the person, "So I don't go crazy like the rest of them."  Obviously, this was intended to make light of the fact that in secular society, those of us at mass during the time of a huge entertainment event were considered crazy.  But those of us at church at the time see ourselves as following where our hearts lead us.  Following where we need to go for nourishment.  To have our spiritual hungers fulfilled.  

Third, Fr. Sam made a comment saying, "We sing anyway."  He commented on singing anyway despite the passing of John Weber.  And at the start of mass, Carol Pacione (our pastoral life director) had asked us to raise our voices in song even stronger than we usually did.  I know I tried.  Not perfect. It was a day of emotion.  It was a day of sadness.  It was a day of songs that I did not completely recognize.  It was a day of microphone problems and the challenges of trying to follow Kevin Cronin in light of that.  But it was a day on which I raised my voice anyway.

Fr. Sam went on to comment about many deaths and how we sang anyway.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, whose life is remembered in a holiday today.  Oscar Romero (whom he bring up often).  Other modern day church martyrs.  People die.  But we sing anyway.  We sing of being glad in the Lord.  We sing of giving thanks.  We sing of his holiness.

I believe that taking the Catholic doctrine literally brings an eternal sense of optimism.  Some may say that is just to control the masses when they get down.  I say it brings light to my heart in good times and in bad.  I say it opens up opportunities to experience the best in life even when others only see the downside.  I say it keeps my heart vigorous and young.  And while I did not know John that well as an individual, from what I do know he shared in the optimism and joy of living out our faith while he was alive.  And he enjoyed finding ways to open the way for others.

I believe that John is in God's presence.  I know some don't believe in God.  Or believe in other versions of God.  So be it.  But I believe that he lived out his faith in a way that will bring him to eternal joy in the kingdom of God with harmony and justice.   And I believe that those at the 5:30 mass will continue to sing anyway. Seeking joy.  Listening to Father Sam.  Enjoying whoever carries the music.  

And I thank Kevin Cronin for being there. Through everything at St Pius X over the 17 1/2 years my family has been a part of the community Kevin has been there.  Is he a perfect person?  No--but none of us are.  But he is a great musician and has been there to do what the parish needed whenever needed.  

May we all keep on singing.    

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