Monday, December 5, 2016

SANTA IS THE MAN!!!!

Hello St. Francis,
I hope this message finds you stress free and spiritually prepared for the coming of Christ at Christmas!!!  Yup, me neither.  Still running around like my hair is on fire trying to make all of the last minute preparations.  As a Music Minister, this time of the year takes on a whole new set of stresses, but I would be naive to think that my stresses are more stressful than yours.  As a matter of fact, have you found yourself in that conversation yet?  Two people facing off to see who has the most to do!!!  "I have 73 people coming and I don't know where my tree topper is and I have to wait in a 14 hour line at the store and then it closed and....."  "You think that is bad well...blah...blah...blah..."  You know what, it's a tie!!! Everyone is stressed!!!  The good news is that regardless of whether you cook the very best Christmas roast of all time, or whether you remembered to send all 14,000 Christmas Cards or whether the neighbor has better lights than you do, in just a few days, Good Ol' Santa will be moseying his extra large bag of toys into town.  Thank God!!!  It's over.  

Not to sound judgmental but I don't understand how people can dislike Christmas or this time of year.  Is it busy?  Yes.  Does it drive you nuts?  You bet it does.  Are people who dislike this time of year afraid that they are on Santa's naughty list?  What would the big guy from the North Pole tell you?  Ho! Ho! Ho! Yes, I think he would laugh at our stress.  Does that statement make you hot enough to melt Frosty?  So let me give you this disclaimer before the following statement...No one cares how perfectly your packages are wrapped or whether your Christmas shindig is the best of ALL TIME!!!  So, why do we place our Christmas spirit in those things?  Shouldn't it just be...I don't know, FUN!!!!!

Our Jolly Old St. Nick may have the answer...indulge me here.

S stands for solidarity.  Stand together to serve others and appreciate the traditions of your family and faith.
A stands for appreciate.  More appreciation = Less scepticism
N stands for neighbor.  Tell them that you love them (or at least fake it till you make it)
T stands for Tears.  Let yourself be open to the true emotion of this time
A stands for adaptable.  Don't sweat the small stuff.

In the end, Santa Claus is coming to town and he won't leave coal in our stocking if his cookies are a little burnt or if those stockings aren't perfectly matched.  The only coal in our stocking are the pieces that we put in ourself.  Loosen up!!! Santa Claus Is Coming To Town!!!

MUSIC FOR DECEMBER 10TH AND 11TH





Monday, November 28, 2016

Away In A Manger...Music for December 3rd and 4th

Hello St. Francis,
I am excited to tell you that my home is officially decorated for the Christmas season.  Lights, wreathes, Christmas stuffed animals and a big tree right in the middle of my living room.  When I first got married, both of my grandmothers gave us as a wedding gift beautiful Christmas Manger scenes.  One, is crystal and quite frankly I am afraid of breaking it every time I open up the box ( I can be a bull in a china shop) and the other is a children's set with plastic and durable figures.  I appreciated these because as I grew up there was always a manger in just about every room.  I also felt like the "kids" set was a little premature as we had just gotten married and it was July.  To this very day, my grandparents amaze me with their wisdom.  The lesson that they were trying to give to me is one that I am just beginning to realize.

This year, as my kids were helping us decorate the tree, we got to those manger sets and my daughter began to talk about how she was learning about how much Jesus loved her because He came to earth to be friends with us.  My son asked me who was Jesus' mommy and daddy? And, who were all these other figures that we were putting near them?  And so, the conversation began.  It wasn't a conversation about what they wanted Santa to bring them or which decoration should go where, or, whose stocking got hung in the most conspicuous place.  It even wasn't about "Lucy", our personal "Elf on the Shelf".  The conversation was about Jesus.  As young as they are I felt as though they began to understand something about God and about Christmas.  They are still looking forward to Kris Kringle's annual visit but this year, they want to not just leave cookies and milk (and carrots for the reindeer) by the tree.  This year, they want to also leave a present for Jesus.  I told them that just by remembering how much Jesus loved them, they are giving Him the only gift He wants.  They were amazed!!!  All they have to do is love Jesus and that makes him happy?  I said, "That's it".  My son said "Do we love him the way we love you and mom?"  I said, "That's Right".  "So, I am going to love Jesus as much as I can"  he said.  Then my daughter said "and we should probably try to be nice to other people too since Jesus asks us to do that".

Maybe it was my grandmother's wisdom or maybe it was just the fact that the manger sits right next to our Christmas Tree just like they did at my grandparents house and as it always did at my parents house but I'm sure glad I got that gift.  Maybe, when my kids are all grown up and their grandmother's give them a manger they will remember this conversation that they had with their parents and teach their kids about how much Jesus loves them too.

PS - THIS SATURDAY THE 5PM MASS WILL BE CELEBRATED AS A FAMILY MASS FOLLOWING OUR PARISH RETREAT.  ALL ARE INVITED TO JOIN US WITH THEIR FAMILY MEMBERS TO SING WITH US AT THIS MASS.  REHEARSAL WILL BE AT 4PM IN THE PARISH HOUSE.  ONCE AGAIN, ALL ARE WELCOME!!!


MUSIC FOR DECEMBER 3RD FAMILY MASS

Psalm 72 - Blakesley!!!




MUSIC FOR DECEMBER 4TH


Psalm 72 - Blakesley!!!



Recessional - Ready The Way - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GGd6n5g8bo

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

To "Live" Thanksgiving or to Just Be Thankful

Hi St. Francis,

So, now that it is common knowledge that Parmesan cheese has more tryptophan in one teaspoon than is found in a pound of turkey which destroys my after dinner nap time on Thanksgiving, I guess I have to come up with something else to do.  Oh yes, I will be watching some football...after Thanksgiving Day Mass at St. Francis at 10:00 am!!!  I don't know about you but this fall has just flown by.  I am still thinking about the warm sunshine of summer and then BANG!!!  There are no more leaves on my trees and frozen turkeys abound at the local store.  I do love Thanksgiving.  It is a time to really spend with the family.  However, things certainly have changed since "back in the day" every night was family dinner night.  I guess we can lament over that but life is just different than it was even a few years ago.

So often I hear it said that we need to remember what we are thankful for around this time of year. As a matter of fact, St. Ignatius called "lack of gratitude" one of the worst sins.  So, we put on our nice clothes, maybe even say a prayer before dinner, a dinner that took 5 hours to make and 20 minutes to eat and we act thankful.  Seems kind of shallow, but, nothing is meaningless when it includes Pumpkin Pie!!!  So, how do we go from acting grateful to actually being grateful?

In our churches, schools and places of business we are seeing lots of boxes to put some canned goods in.  It makes us feel good to help those in need.  But, what if we actually skipped the nap, the Macy's Parade or dare I say the football game and actually spent some time being grateful by serving those who have so much less to be grateful for.  Everyone knows about the "local soup kitchen" that serves Thanksgiving Dinner to the poor.  This is what I know, those folks who have so much less than I are so much more grateful for the little they have than I am for the abundance of blessings in my life.

On top of all of this, this weekend marks the beginning of Advent, the new beginning of the Church Year.  During this time we are called to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus.  Maybe its time we did some preparing.  I guess when your refrigerator and your wallet is empty, you learn to appreciate even the smallest thing when it's in there.  I know that as I mindlessly stare at my full refrigerator, I come away thinking, "There's nothing in here to eat".  Do you think that could work with our own sense of entitlement and our "right" to be in a place where we have freedom, prosperity, comfort and health?  I think that I want to be grateful because I see the true joy in the eyes and hearts of those who are truly grateful.  What is hard for me is understanding that in order to be truly grateful that I maybe have to recognize things that I am not entitled to or that I haven't earned and that I certainly do not deserve and then pray for the wisdom to have even a small idea of what my life would be like if I did not have these things.

So, when we go to that "Soup Kitchen" I guess the question is, who is really giving and who is really receiving?  When we realize how lucky we are, maybe we will begin to understand what Thanksgiving is supposed to be.  Maybe, our new beginning can be an epiphany of the abundant blessings we have and maybe with that knowledge, we will see God, ourselves and others in a whole new light.  For when we empty ourselves, we are filled with God's love and grace.  That is the way I want to start off my year.

Jim


Music for the 1st week of Advent!!!  Sing Away St. Francis.

Processional - Emmanuel - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFghkY6OwA0

Psalm 122 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-fob3QoxGY

Offertory - Steal Away To Jesus - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqvB0-9lJyg

Communion - Taste and See - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WzBnq_p4SQ

Recessional - Soon and Very Soon - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmGiu9JfbIs

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Inclusion...Making People Welcome Involves An Understanding Of Who They Are...Music for November 6th

Hello St. Francis,
What a beautiful week it is turning out to be.  I hope you got a lot of your favorite candy for Halloween and you are in the midst of celebrating the beautiful traditions of All Saints and All Souls. November is traditionally the month when we remember our loved ones who have passed on to heaven.  It is a great way to reflect and pray, especially when we can recall all of the wonderful traditions and life lessons passed on to us by those who have gone before us.

This week, I would like to speak about what some people feel is a difficult topic.  How do we as a parish and as a universal church create and nurture a community of inclusion, welcome and diversity? It is a question that has recently been posed to me a few times and over the past few weeks, I have really taken some time to think about it.  There are certainly many layers of this discussion, but, this week I would like to focus on one particular aspect; race, culture and the community parish.

First and foremost, I truly believe that the overwhelming majority of our churches seek to be inclusive.  It is easy when you can follow the lead of Pope Francis who calls us all to be more welcoming and inclusive.  Obviously, the first step in being welcoming is to be welcoming.  With open doors so many Catholic Churches have adopted a charism of smiling at people, saying hello, welcoming them to church and even engaging folks in conversation.  It is truly a wonderful sight to see people of different cultures, ethnicities and races sharing time, space and faith together.  I truly believe that God is so pleased with this.  Sometimes though, I think we stop there and what I have come to believe through my own reflection is that many times I, as an American of European descent can feel like that is all we can do in our church.  But, when I look around my parish during Mass, I don't just see people who look like me.  I don't just see people who grew up with the same traditions and the same experiences I have had at church.  Maybe the next step is to begin the process of creating liturgy that is multicultural.  Now, I am not speaking of Masses that are celebrated in different languages.  Many parishes have liturgies "specifically" for Spanish, French/Creole, Vietnamese. Polish speakers and these liturgies most certainly are an important and necessary aspect to parish outreach.  What I am speaking of is the predominantly "European" feel to the average "9am Mass" on Sunday.

So, here is the question.  If we are called to walk in solidarity with others, does that mean that we just introduce them to the way we do things and expect them to adjust to it?  Is it our expectation that Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans fully and actively participate in worship that relates very little to their culture?  It's a tough question.  There are a lot of variables.

1.  Will diversifying the culture of the liturgy in any way damage the beautiful and rich tradition of it?
In my opinion, it depends on who you ask.  Living in a culture that generally caters liturgy to "European Americans" would mean that some of the standard homily topics, music, etc. may be "nontraditional".  But, have we considered that we are "welcoming" people by asking them to conform to the culture of "European" Mass only.

2.  Aren't there "CHARISMATIC" churches that do that type of thing?
Maybe, but aren't we all called to be charismatic.  Doesn't charisma breed energy, passion, the very fire for God that we pray for?  This doesn't mean that every Mass, every day has to be fundamentally changed, it just means that we adapt the "adaptable" parts of our Mass to serve all.

3.  But what about the time honored traditional "hymns" that we all love?
Now, don't get me wrong, as a student and advocate of music, I love the beautiful traditional hymns of the Catholic Church.  These hymns absolutely belong in any liturgy.  Most people certainly do not feel as though a change in philosophy constitutes throwing to the side the many beautiful musical traditions of the church.  At the same time, I believe that if we only see these "hymns" as belonging in a church, we are looking at this from a very narrow perspective.  There are equally as prayerful, meaningful and traditional hymns of every culture that also belong in our inclusive church.  Songs that maybe I have not heard, but, maybe if we put the shoe on the other foot, we will recognize that many people and many cultures probably did not grow up with MY "traditional" standards.

So, what is the answer?  All I know is that in my 20 + years of doing this, I have witnessed people becoming connected to our faith by many paths.  I have witnessed people express their prayer and emotion while a traditional hymn was being sung and I've witnessed the same thing happen when an African American spiritual or Hispanic song of worship have been sung.  And, so many times, European Americans will approach me and ask "What was that beautiful song"?  It works.

Finally, an analogy.
Let's say I invite you over for dinner.  I will ask you what type of food you like, if you have any allergies, if you have a favorite food.  When you come over, I am pleased to prepare something that you really like.  At the same time, I will also make something that I really like and then we can both eat everything.  It's cordial, it's welcoming, it says to you that I care about who you are and want you to feel comfortable here.  Maybe, it's time for us as a church to really begin to consider how much more beautiful we could be if we just tried something new.  Maybe, what we need is to make our welcome and our inclusion intentional by experiencing the culture of the community we call our parish.

Thanks for listening,
Jim

Here are the jams we will praising God with at SFDS this weekend.

Processional - Come, Now Is The Time To Worship
Psalm - 17 - Lord When Your Glory Appears
Offertory - Every Time I Feel The Spirit
Communion - Day Of Peace
Meditation - Hiding Place
Recessional - Every Praise

Monday, October 17, 2016

It is our Grace that is Amazing

Hello St. Francis!!!
This week let us all live in the joy of God's Amazing Grace.  Sound Good?  I don't know about you but sometimes the "Grace Tank" feels like it is on empty or I just do not have the right amount of grace to be who I am called to be.  Just getting through the day sometimes can be a challenge in itself. Being full of life and positive energy is just too much to ask.  I spend a good deal of time studying the saints of the church and very often I am inspired but too often I come to my own realization that I am disconnected from their humanity.  "It can't be real"  I say.  I can't do what they did.  God must have chosen them for a special mission and armed them with some "extra" grace that we normal folks don't get or understand.  "If I only had what they have." I say to myself, 'Then, I would have what it takes to live more grace-filled".

So, there is a whole bunch that can be said about this.  But, let's keep it simple because life is too complicated already.  Here are two statements of truth that we often forget or deny.

1.  The grace that has been given to me and you is exactly what we need to live a life of positive energy and joy.  Serving others and being saints!!!

2.  God did not give Mother Theresa or Pope John Paul II or Pope Francis any more life giving grace than He has given to us.

That begs two questions that I ask myself and I hope you think about this week as you do what you do.

1.  Does that mean that God's grace is something that I already have and don't use all of the time?
2.  How do I find it?

Great questions if I do say so myself.  Here is my simple answer to this difficult question.  Remember when Jesus took 5 Fish and Two Loaves and fed 5,000?  Neat trick huh?  But what if he wasn't given the Fish or Bread by the young boy who had nothing else to give?  Was it a miracle of Jesus or was it the giving of what the boy had that made it possible for great things to happen?  I think Jesus would say it was the offering of what he had.  I believe that when we are not afraid to empty our "Joy Tank", or our "Faith Tank" or our "Help Someone Tank"  then we will realize that we have more than we thought we have.  Maybe the only reason we haven't felt more "Grace" is because we only use the small part we know we have and hold back the infinite part that we have to trust we have.  It is easier to know than to believe, that is true, but maybe the only difference between us and those great saints is that they just emptied their "Grace Tank" and believed that God would fill it up again.  Maybe, they believed that God would increase their grace, but, what I believe is that IT IS ALREADY THERE!!!  All I have to do is believe in it enough to see.  May we all see God's Grace this week at work in our lives in small and profound ways.
Jim

Music for October 23rd
Processional - Glory Glory Hallelujah Since I Laid My Burdens Down

Psalm 34 - Taste and See

Offertory - Bless That Wonderful Name

Communion - Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone 

Recessional - Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What It Means To Be Intentional...Music for the Weekend of October 16th

Hello St. Francis,
I wanted to take this week's blog as an opportunity to share a vision we all have as a faith community. The term INTENTIONAL has become sort of a buzz word in the Catholic community over the last few years and it is certainly something that is a necessary part of a healthy and vibrant faith community, but, how do we become more intentional?

So often, I feel like we are somewhat called out by our church, school, or workplace to be intentional, and I think the average person, like you and I can often say that we are being intentional. We are committed to our work, our family and our church.  We give 110% to make sure that we are doing what we are asked to do.  In terms of our commitment to our church, we make an effort to go each week and we may even say hello to some folks that we have never met before.  We support the mission of being a welcoming church and we enjoy the time we spend there in prayer.  This is all great stuff, and may I add, more that a lot of places can say.  But, from time to time we are asked to do more than we may feel comfortable with.  This in turn can make us feel uncomfortable or even distressed.  I mean, we all have real and legitimate reasons why we can't do any more than we do. I get it, we all get it.  So, that's the end of that...right?

Well, I just have one question that I ask myself all of the time and maybe you do as well.  "If not me, than who?"  You see, the best part about making that extra effort to be intentional is that through that extra effort we become intentional.  If I only do what I am 100% comfortable doing than how do we grow into a deeper relationship with others, with our church or with God?  I believe that truly being intentional requires us all to take a leap of faith into uncharted territory.  So, when someone stands at the pulpit and asks for people to consider taking on a ministry, whether it be music, lector, Eucharistic Minister, Minister of Hospitality, Religious Education instructor, do we look around and hope that someone accepts the challenge or do we take that leap and make an intentional decision to support our community?

Here is the secret.  When you make that leap you are rewarded with a sense of pride in your community and a new vision of the love and grace of God abundantly flowing through your life.  The liturgy becomes yours to an even larger degree and your prayer, that at one point was done with words now is reinforced with intentional actions.

I want to extend an invitation to you to become more intentional.  If the music we pray at SFDS inspires you, join us in inspiring others.  The Music Ministry is having a Meet and Greet event on Monday, October 24th at 7pm in the Parish Office.  Come by.  Talk to the parishioners who are involved in this ministry.  Ask them how their intentional action has increased their faith.  And then, taker that leap.  Whether it be in this ministry or the many others at SFDS, be intentional and become the inspiration for others to take the same leap.  You know what they call that?  Being A Christian.

Thanks and See You This Weekend.
Jim

Music for October 16th
Processional - O Magnify The Lord
Psalm - The Mountain of God
Offertory - The Lord Is My Light
Communion - Stand By Me
Recessional - Go Out

Monday, October 3, 2016

Music From The Soul - Music for October 9th

Hello St. Francis,
It has been a while since I have written.  The good news is that the summer was wonderful and we in the Music Ministry have been hard at work over the past few weeks preparing songs of praise and meditation for our Liturgies.  I must say that working with the amazing people at SFDS is a true blessing in my life.  I enjoy every minute of it.

As you may know, we are continuously inviting anyone who has an interest in joining us in the Music Ministry to give it a try.  One of our goals this year is to involve more people in the Ministry.  I hear so many of you singing from your seats every Sunday (Thanks for that by the way) and whatever the reason is that is holding you back, let it go.  We are a "Come When You Can" Ministry.  I understand that making a commitment in this busy world is not easy, so we try to remove the commitment.  Every week, I send out links to recordings of the music we sill be singing as well as the sheet music.  There are NO REHEARSALS!!!  We get together around 10:00 on Sunday morning to go over the songs and then sing at 11am Mass.  If it is the 11am Mass that poses a problem, no problem.  We are also looking to expand our ministries at every Mass.  The bottom line is that whenever you can make it, we want you to.  If you can't, no problem.  The point is, having your voice, or instrument once a month or twice a month or every week would be a great addition to what we do.

To that end, we are having a Meet and Greet on Monday, October 24th at 7pm in the Church office for anyone who has questions or would like to spend some time with us.  It is an evening of prayer, music and fellowship.  No obligations, just a time to get together.

Finally, I would like to formally welcome Quincy Dover to our Music Ministry team.  Quincy will be the principle accompanist at the new 5pm Sunday Mass.  Quincy comes to us from Queens and is the Director of Music at St. Gregory's Church in Brooklyn.  He is an amazing young man and a fabulous musician.  You may want to check out our new 5pm Mass on Sunday to hear for yourself!!!

Talk to you next week.
Jim

Music for October 9th