Oh, Look! Another Blog List!

Happy New Year!

I wanted to begin 2017 with a web-worthy listicle, to help you start the year off right.

Not my personal New Year’s resolutions (lying to myself is bad enough, lying to you would be worse).

And not a list of my personal opinions on how to have a better prayer life, experience more fulfillment at Mass, or find the best bargains at your local Catholic goods store.

I wanted to give you punchy little nuggets of insight that would glisten like stars in the firmament of your ever-increasing faith.

I even considered calling these brief insights, “Inslights,” because of their diminutive size, but changed my mind after actually typing “Inslights” and seeing how stupid it looked, along with realizing at least three ways it could be used to make fun of me in the com box.

The short version is—I got nothing. Almost nothing. What I have is a fair-sized collection of list ideas I decided against, which I’ll be happy to pare down and share in a wholly self-centered attempt to claim that I accomplished my listicle goal.

And so…

Rocking the Cradle Catholic’s

  1. Confessional Block? Here Are Ten Handy Starter Sins You’ve Probably Committed.
  2. Must-Have Accessories For Girls Who Serve Mass (Check out the “Hair Cincture”)
  3. Obscure And Unpronounceable Saint Names To Saddle Your Kids With For Life
  4. A Dozen Rockin’ Altar Boy Sneaker Colors For Parishes That Use Red Cassocks
  5. Five Songs No One Seems To Like But Every Parish Tends to Sing
  6. Ten Altar Wines For Under $2 A Gallon (and worth every penny)
  7. Provisional Deacons With This Season’s Most Promising Thurible Swings
  8. Seven Shades Of Gaudete Pink Even Barbie Wouldn’t Wear
  9. Pope Francis’ Top Ten Favorite Argentinian Disco Hits From His Personal Playlist
  10. Stylish Hand Sanitizer Bottles For The Extraordinary Ministers In Your Life

If you’ve had worse ideas than these, please feel free to share. Don’t be shy.

I am in no position to judge you.


Taking My Son on Vocation

My son is in the vocation discernment stage of life—one I didn’t spend a great deal of time in, myself, truth be told, which led to a certain amount of stupid choices both personal and professional.

Would that I had all the money I spent pursuing the elusive “Miss Right” instead of discerning marriage and the spouse God intended for me (thanks for making it happen in spite of my faulty reasoning, God). And would that I had all the time I spent blue-skying about achieving fame and fortune behind a guitar when I knew deep-down that I didn’t have the stomach for being a starving artist.

I listened to nobody but myself back in the day. My son, on the other hand, has been listening carefully for God’s voice while watching and learning from the world around him. As the result of his attentiveness, he is very seriously considering priesthood.

That’s a fact of which my wife and I are very proud, by the way. He’s the last shot my immediate family has at moving the old surname into the future, but judging by the number of Moores in the world, I figure there’s enough distantly-shared DNA around to handle civilization’s needs for the foreseeable future.

In the age-old paternal spirit of, “I’m going to help my boy do a better job at this whole life thing than I did,” the Moore boys recently went to a vocations fair hosted by our archdiocese.


Is it just me or is “fair” something of a generous word for a series of folding cafeteria tables in a grade school gymnasium? You’d think a Catholic religious vocations fair might at least feature some themed midway games—Ring-of-the-Fisherman Toss, Knock Over the Altar Wine Bottles, Whack-a-Heretic, stuff like that.

Seriously though, it was a great thing to see. But just between us, I’m not sure the archdiocese didn’t stack the deck a little. At least in terms of the options for young men. I mean, what diocese these days wants to lose guys to the religious orders?

There were more than twenty or so orders of sisters represented and only about eight or nine for men. One of those was the archdiocese itself and one was the no-priests-allowed De La Salle Christian Brothers (of whom I am fond, by the way, as they were the guys in charge at my high school…make of that what you will…in their defense, it was the ’70s).


Nobody consulted the Knights of Columbus about having beverages on hand for the dads.

As you might expect, some orders had their elevator speeches down better than others, and everybody had brochures and trinkets available. By the way, just so you know, in case you go to one of these fairs and you’re used to trade shows and such where people are blowing considerable marketing budgets on their presentations, prepare to be underwhelmed by the trinketry.

Even the archdiocese, without the vow of poverty, had a less-than-memorable assortment. I mean, how many of those rubber bracelets does one kid need? I think my guy came away with four. To be fair, he also got a nice wrist-rosary at one table. And the Redemptorists had some cool wooden coins. The Franciscans, of course, went the humble route with some simple stickers on a roll (and some fun shtick about how their IT department designed them to fit on any cell phone case).


But hey—trinkets, shminkets, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve got my eyes on the prize. Ordination time. That’s when the REALLY cool swag starts to flow. Mothers gets the maniturgium—the linen cloth a newly ordained priest’s anointed hands are wrapped in; according to pious tradition, Mom shows the cloth at the pearly gates and gets to cut the line.

What about Dad? He gets the stole from the priest’s first confession. The impressive, ecclesiastic, straight-from-the-Vatican official name for that? “The stole from the priest’s first confession.” And as far as I know, there are no heartwarming pious traditions attached to it.

Perfect. Isn’t it?  Mom gets something that sounds like the Pope gave it to her personally and Dad gets the chamois that’s been mopping up sin. A nicely embroidered, but sin-stained length of cloth that they’re obviously not going to let into heaven.

Probably the only good thing to come out of meager vocations over the years has been clearing up the backlog of fathers standing in line to have their sons’ confession stoles validated.

Now, while we didn’t get any relics or signed saint photos or anything like that, there was one thing every table had that was more valuable than any memento. They had joy—100 percent genuine, light-in-the-eyes joy.


Joy…Joy…Joy…Joy, down in their hearts.

Each and every man we spoke to was so happy and so obviously pleased with where God has placed him that there wasn’t a single second when I thought one of them might be blowing smoke.

What father doesn’t want that kind of joy for his son?

And when you come right down to it, the only name any of us should be concerned with passing on is the Holy Name of Jesus.





The Pope Put Me on Waivers


Okay. This is weird. Please, tell me I’m not the only one who got one of these letters.

Just a few days after I read about the pope’s overhaul of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and while Francis was in Sweden for Reformation Day, I got a letter in the mail from the Vatican, telling me that I am now officially a Protestant until further notice.

I’ve been traded! My whole family has.

It’s not that we did anything or didn’t do something. Apparently, the pope just thinks it’s time for some new blood among the laity, so I, along with my wife and son, are being traded to a large, local Methodist congregation in exchange for a guy from their praise & worship band.

And yes, I was insulted by the ratio. I’ve got the “Humility Prayer” on a loop on my smartphone.

“Why?” I wondered. But then it hit me. I’ll bet the Methodists heard that I’ve been experimenting successfully with cold brew coffee and they want me to train the baristas at the fancy coffee shop they have in their narthex.

I just wanted to share the news so you won’t be too surprised when the blog title changes to “Rocking the Part-Time Protestant.”

Hmm…maybe this could this get me a shot on The Journey Home when we get to come back.

Catholic Spring? Great Idea!

I’m not a naturally political person, but this whole Wikileaks thing has really gotten me on board with the concept of Catholic Spring. I haven’t read the entire email chain that mentioned it, but I am all over that idea. What could be better than a specifically Catholic bath soap? If Irish Spring could do it back in the day, why can’t we?


Can’t you just see it? Catholic Spring, all the smells and bells of Christendom coming together in an ecclesial cloud of cleanliness—which is next to you-know-what.

Catholic Spring could be the official soap of the showers for the homeless at the Vatican…and maybe even at the famous Catholic cafeteria people are always talking about. Having eaten there myself from time to time over the years, I can tell you that a good wash-up is always called for afterward.

(Note to R&D and Marketing: Maybe there’s a toothpaste idea here. Catholic Spring leaves your mouth feeling fresh-from-the-confessional clean. Kick it around. Just spitballing here.)

The laity would go crazy for Catholic Spring.

Schools could sell soap instead of candy bars for fundraisers…or it could be the official soap of homeschooling. Of course, I suppose the regulators will make us put a “do not eat” warning on the wrapper.

Catholic men’s groups could have contests making carvings out of bars of Catholic Spring. 4th Degree Knights of Columbus could play cool games trying to catch a bar on the tip of a sword. The shavings could be collected for a nationwide contest to see which Council can create the largest ball of soap remnants.

Oh, the possibilities! Famous Catholics could get behind the product.

Peggy Normandin could change the name of her show from Call me Catholic to I Smell Catholic, brought to you by Catholic Spring.

Father Mitch Pacwa says, “It washes away everything except the stains on your soul!”

(Note to R&D: Catholic Spring Soul & Body Wash? Maybe not. Check with Doctrine & Dogma on feasibility.)

Fr. Michael Gaitley could write a hygiene book, 33 Days to Catholic Springtime Freshness.

Patrick Coffin could pretend to interview a bar of Catholic Spring online, with delightful curmudgeon Dr. Ray Guarendi providing the soap’s voice.

I’m not saying everybody will be happy with Catholic Spring. The far-right Catholic press will say, “It’s only 99 and 44/100 percent orthodox!” The far-left press will run editorials like, “Clean House Before Cleaning the Faithful.”

Still, maybe Catholic Spring could be the unifier that brings people back to doctrine.

(Note to marketing: Joe Biden and Paul Ryan have a “Sonic guys” conversation about Catholic Spring after having each used it to wash his hands during a party at the Vatican embassy in Washington.)

There’s no doubt Catholic Spring would be as popular as those Wikileaks emails said it would be, but to ensure demand, it might be smart to attach a sense of entitlement to the product. So it’ll only be APPROVED for use by the laity, where the primary reason for Catholic Spring is to give bishops a uniform method for washing out the mouths of Catholic politicians who mangle Church teaching.

(Note to Marketing: Nancy Pelosi removes a bar of Catholic Spring from her mouth, looks toward camera and says, “Orthodox, yes. But I like it, too!”)

Personally, I can’t wait for Catholic Spring.


Confession from the Communion Line

Because I like to keep this blog focused on subjects that don’t get people all upset, I thought I’d visit the completely unemotional topic of on-the-tongue versus in-the-hand at Communion time.

That clicking you hear is the sound of Catholics navigating away from this subject faster than they put in their earphones when somebody carrying a copy of The Watchtower sits down next to them on an airplane.

I’m not really much of an activist either way on this one, except to say that I do enjoy the ritual of a bow before that goes with receiving Communion while standing. But that said I do find the whole thing a little confusing. Am I the only one who goes through this process every Sunday?

“Whose Communion line am I on? Oh, good. Father Daniel. We’re the same height. He doesn’t have to reach up to my mouth. I don’t have to bend down to meet him halfway. On the tongue it is.”

Other times, it’s this. “Hmm. Diminutive extraordinary minister at 12 o’clock. This could end up looking like bobbing for apples at best and a desperate attempt to flail at the Eucharist with my tongue at worst. Let’s go in the hand.”

There are more important things to be thinking about during Communion but I can’t seem to help it. I’m 6’3” (6’4” in my Sunday shoes). That’s not as tall as my brother (6’7”) but still, not a lot of the people I receive Communion from during the course of the year are my height or taller. Taller is great. The perfect on-the-tongue angle.

Sometimes I wonder why there’s even a decision involved here. You’d think being in the Universal Church would make things like this easier. But I guess such subjects have been going on since the faithful got into it over circumcising gentiles.

Not having a solid rule to follow has been a problem for me before (a rule about Communion, not about circumcising gentiles).

Back in the ‘90s I went to the famous EWTN morning Mass at their little onsite chapel in Birmingham. When I went up for Communion, I hadn’t noticed that the priest was using intinction (immersing the host inside the chalice before offering it to the communicant…communicee…communi…never mind).

Maybe because it was early morning and I had just spent the night at a Birmingham Super 8 near a loud and busy stretch of railroad. Maybe it was because I was self-conscious, knowing the Mass was being televised. Or maybe it was just because I’m a guy whose mind wanders easily. Whichever it was, I soon found myself standing in front of a priest—my arms outstretched in proper in-the-hand form—waiting to be handed a host that had just gone into the chalice. Basically I was indicating that I was expecting to be given a handful of the Christ’s Blood.

Father looked none too pleased, as I recall. I quickly “dethroned” my hands, took Communion the old-fashioned way, and legged it back to my pew, hoping the folks back home didn’t see me being a moron on TV. Not that anybody I knew was up at that hour.

At the time, I wouldn’t even have considered receiving on the tongue. I did what I had been doing for years, ever since Communion rails started disappearing.

It’s really too bad about those Communion rails. Remember them? They made putting the host on your tongue a pretty easy process for priests—lots of elevation over the target area. I imagine EMs would appreciate the ease of it, too.

Maybe this would be a good compromise: Kneel for the Precious Body, received on the tongue and then stand for the Precious Blood. That way, you don’t run the risk of hosts being carried absent-mindedly back to the pew (or worse) and people who feel it’s important to “take” Communion rather than “receive” it can get that experience when they approach the Precious Blood.

I’m not under the delusion that I’m the first ever to come up with this one. And I’m sure somebody out there knows why it’s an unworkable idea. It just seems to me like something to try.

Of course, friends of mine who are I-am-never-not-kneeling communicants would have to agree that kneeling to receive the Precious Blood is out of the question. But they probably never go for the chalice, anyway.

Okay. I’ll stop now. Maybe I am the only one who sits around thinking about this stuff. But it keeps me sitting here typing in the evening and generally out of trouble.

Whichever way you receive Holy Communion, may you always find yourself in a state of grace when the opportunity arrives!

Now let’s talk about whether or not Confession counts if Father doesn’t ask for an Act of Contrition.

Only kidding!

The Hostess and the Hothead

It amazes me when I run into a fellow cradle Catholic with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible. Or rather, it would. I’ve never actually run into a fellow cradle Catholic with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible, except for friends who are priests, professional apologists and such…you know who you are.

My own biblical literacy is in no way shape or form even approaching encyclopedic; in fact, it’s probably just north of anemic.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a Bible. And I open it almost daily. I’m a voracious Bible-opener, as a matter of fact. I identify words, entire sentences and even whole chapters in a single sitting. But I rarely find myself really soaking it in, lectio divina style.

I need to work on that. I know. Fortunately, being Catholic, I hear plenty of Scripture at Mass, along with homilies to help me put them in context. That said,  there are a couple of people I think get a raw deal when homily time rolls around.

First of all, Martha—of Martha, Mary and Lazarus (the family, not the folk group, if there is one). She gets absolutely no credit for everything she was getting done so her sister and everybody else in HER house could comfortably soak in the teachings of Jesus during Luke, Chapter 10.

Somebody in the room could have at least thrown her a bone. Don’t you think? I’m not saying it should have been Jesus; Mother Angelica got it right when she once pointed out that Martha was probably looking after chores and pretty much ignoring the learning opportunity. She probably had a little correction coming.

But shouldn’t following up with people been part of the Apostle job description?  Luke’s gospel is silent on the subject, but I hope somebody—maybe one of the less high-profile guys—gave Martha some props, “You know, Martha, we all appreciate the great spread you put out, but sit down with Mary for a while. This stuff is worth listening to. If we need more olive oil we can get it ourselves.”

Anyway, I think it’s time we all cut poor Martha a break. Mary probably wasn’t a whole lot of help when Jesus WASN’T around. You can just see Martha spending her time putting things into Mary’s hands and giving her explicit instructions on what to do with then, only to have Mary forget the instructions shortly thereafter because she got distracted scrapbooking about Jesus and the Apostles

The other person I wish got a better deal in homilies is the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. We hear a lot about him being a hothead but not a heck of a lot about his father’s parenting skills. The older son was definitely NOT of the impression that everything his father had was his.

You gotta hope Dad wised up and fattened up a calf for his eldest after all the hoopla about little brother blew over. And that’s not just my opinion. I heard something similar on Catholic radio recently from someone a lot smarter than I am about such things.

Yeah, I feel a little strongly about this. Why? Because I have personally displayed both Mary and prodigal tendencies over time and such behavior, while forgivable as anything is, can be very annoying.

I am married to a Martha (actually, her name is Mary Ann), a focused, get-things-done woman who could use a lot more help than I provide in terms of domestic life. And I grew up the younger brother of a guy who was a much better son to our mother than I ever was, providing her with useful assistance instead of simple comic relief that masked largely selfish life decisions.

Am I reading my own baggage into those gospel passages?  Of course, I am. But if lectio divina is about truly entering into biblical stories, I’d really like a chance to sit down for a chat with Martha and the prodigal’s older brother. Maybe even at the same time. Who knows? The two of them might even hit it off!

Yes, yes, I know. Martha was a real person and the brother was made up by Jesus. I’m just having some fun. Although, I have to think Martha probably developed a soft spot for that older brother when she first heard the Prodigal Son story.

Please join me today in saluting the people in life who take care of business and get things done so the rest of us can enjoy the ride. They have a lot to teach us.

Even if stopping to learn cuts into our scrapbooking time.

Death, Taxes…and Decaf

It’s been an odd couple of weeks around our house. And if I weren’t Catholic, I think they would have depressed me greatly.

First of all, we lost my mother-in-law. “Babci” as her grandchildren called her, passed to the next life after a short hospital stay. True, she made it to 90 and was sharp as a tack all the way, but that doesn’t make our dinner table any less empty. She lived with us for five years and suppertime is now decidedly diminished without her nightly report of events gathered from a day spent cruising her favorite cable stations.

Due to some logistical issues, we had to postpone Babci’s burial until a week after her funeral Mass. We buried her on a Monday morning and stopped by later to see how she was settling into the new neighborhood. We also took some measurements we needed to order her monument; that included the uneasy process of measuring other people’s monuments for reference.

Please tell me someone else out there has done that.

While we were skulking around measuring tombstones and taking photos of the latest in posthumous real estate, my son asked if my wife and I knew where we would one day be buried. I’m telling you, this kid is fearless about the realities of life. You should have seen him leading prayers and singing to Babci in her hospital room (she always loved to hear him sing).

Fortunately, an answer to his question was at the ready. Mary Ann and I had discussed the subject in recent days. Our plan is to be buried in the very same cemetery. We have a daughter there who died in utero and now we’ll have Babci and my late father-in-law there.

What my wife said to Michael next came as a bit of a surprise…even to me. It seems that, while making arrangements for Babci’s interment, she made a reservation for herself and me in the two plots right next door. It makes perfect sense, getting in at today’s prices, but it still took me a little by surprise.

And the way they arrange things in cemeteries, it’s husband on grave right, wife on grave left; that means, the way these plots sit, it’ll be Babci and me, side-by-side, until Jesus separates the sheep from the goats.

Fortunately, it’s no big deal. Babci and I were great pals and I’m glad my son won’t have to decide where to put Mom and Dad when our time comes.

Of course, there’s that old Irish tradition that says if you get a chill, it’s because someone walked over your grave, wherever it may be. I’m thinking of heading over to the cemetery and putting some barbed wire around mine to keep people off of it.

Like I said. It’s been a strange couple of weeks.

In case you’re among the people who believe unpleasantness always comes in threes, let me give you one more. My doctor hates me. He probably found out I bought a cemetery plot and wants to make me feel old enough to use it.

Trust me. This is going somewhere.

He diagnosed me with acid reflux and suggested I start drinking decaffeinated tea instead of my standard coffee. Congratulations are in order. I have matured into the target audience for the stomach medicine Larry the Cable Guy sells on television.

I’ve had, on average, about a quart of black coffee every day since around 1978. None of those cream and sugar confections, just good, honest black coffee. It was good enough for my mother; it’s good enough for me. Now, Dr. Killjoy wants me to disrespect my mother’s memory and start drinking decaffeinated tea. I’ll drink some, but no coffee at all is off the table.

So let’s see…my household has lost a beloved member, I can picnic on my own grave, and I now have to order my coffee from the conspicuous orange-lidded pot that tells your fellow diners that you just can’t take the hard stuff anymore.

Not a laugh-riot couple of weeks.

But here’s the strange part. As much fun as it is to complain and crack jokes about all of this, I’m incredibly at peace with it all, including being in the over-50 pharmaceutical demographic. I’ve been that way ever since we all gathered around Babci’s hospital bed to pray with some wonderful priest friends who stopped by to visit her, anoint her and give her the Apostolic Pardon.

Watching her pass peacefully, having received all the sacramental care she could have hoped for made me very unafraid, all of a sudden. The sense it all makes is undeniably logical…death comes…for everybody…that’s that. But it doesn’t win…it just happens…it has to happen so we can get where we’re supposed to be.

As I said above, if I weren’t Catholic, recent events would have left me very depressed; as it stands, I’m happy for mother-in-law, because she had a beautiful send-off, and I feel not-at-all intimidated by that little patch of earth, with my name on it, over at Resurrection Cemetery.

I love being Catholic. It gets us through everything…maybe even decaf.


Even My Smartphone Is Catholic

Anyone in the mood for a statement of the obvious? One of those painfully obvious revelations with gobs of hidden meaning? Something so mundane you couldn’t possibly believe a guy would waste time writing about it?


We’ll probably regret this, but go ahead.

Great! I set a couple of alarms on my phone recently—an Angelus alarm and a Divine Mercy alarm and it turn out to be a really good idea. This works out great for me. It’s a really easy way to keep your prayer life in line. At least if your prayer life is as pathetic as mine. I don’t even say the entire chaplet at the hour of mercy. I do the brief “Three O’Clock Prayer” from that holy card you may have seen around.

Hey. God never gives me more than I can handle and I follow His example.

The thing is, my little attempt at reminding myself to come up for air and pray resulted in quite a nice moment just a few days ago.

This is riveting. Tell us more!

A priest friend from England was in town and invited us to join an intimate group for Mass (Novus Ordo, ad orientem, very cool); afterward, those of us in attendance chatted with Father narthex once he had—

Once he had—hmm. Is it “Divested?” “Unvested?” “Devested?”

Anyway, he was back in black-and-white, holding court from a chair in the narthex; Father is quite the raconteur and a lot of fun to have around. While we were bantering, the noon hour arrived and my smartphone rang out to let me know, because it is not only smart but also devotedly Catholic and a thorough professional.

My son, who has seen me forget to silence my phone in church before, gave me a little, “Oh, Dad” smirk, to which I responded, in a rather self-satisfied, or perhaps self-defensive tone, “It’s my Angelus alarm.”

If there hadn’t been one or two people there who we don’t know very well, I would have added something like, “What? YOU don’t have an Angelus alarm on your smartphone? Mother, did you know that our son doesn’t have an Angelus alarm set on his smartphone? Where have we gone wrong?”

There’s a reason why my son holds his breath for a few seconds whenever I start to say anything in public.

We all feel for your son. But can we get on with it?

Here’s the part where I start to look really good in the Catholic dad department. No sooner did I get the word “Angelus” out of my mouth when Father said, “Angelus? In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit….”

There we stood, seven or eight of us, praying an impromptu Angelus as casually as if we got together to do it every day of our lives. And it was all because of me and the incredible example I set for my son with my little Angelus alarm.

As Peggy Normandin says on the radio, “You can call me Catholic!” (She does not, however, do the repetitive, rap-style version I’m currently doing at my desk.)

Prideful much? What does this mean for the rest of us?

Probably nothing but it made my day…a least until we got to the closing prayer of the Angelus, which I have a hard time getting word-for-word for some reason. But other than that, it was a definite highpoint.

Actually, it was the Universal Church aspect of the whole thing that made me want to tell you about it. No one thought it was weird. Everyone knew how to pray the Angelus (some better than I, which includes my son), and we slid immediately back into conversation after acknowledging our shared faith in the Incarnation and our shared debt to Our Lady for saying yes to the event.

Spontaneous prayer is great, but sometimes there’s nothing like the oldies.



Father’s Day & Sunday, Perfect Together.

dad-behind-churchFather’s Day brings a lot of things with it—and not just unwanted neckties, hastily purchased Father’s Day cards and a free afternoon of beer and baseball for Dad. It brings out the statisticians, too.

They can be a sobering bunch, statisticians, and rightly so; the effects of fatherlessness are enormously sad. But there’s one stat we hear in Christian circles that brightens the third Sunday of June considerably.

We’ve all heard it said that a kid with a father who’s devoted to his faith is far more likely than the opposite to remain faithful over the long run. Of course, we’ve all heard lots of things, supposedly supported by one study or another. But where’s some real-life evidence for this one?

I’m glad you asked! (See what I did there?)

I’d like to share some personal experience backing up that particular finding. I hadn’t thought about this for a while until a recent Sunday Mass, when I saw a little girl run from her mother during communion and over to her father, an usher, squealing “Daddy!” through her pacifier.

That took me back to a memory…one I only have because my mother told me about it. Mom was always doing or saying important things in my life. You might remember her saving said life with guitar lessons in my last post.

When I was a toddler, my father ushered at church all morning on Sunday and then came home to pick up the family for noon Mass. As my mother used to tell it, during Mass, I would occasionally bolt from the pew and charge down the aisle toward the narthex (not that we used fancy words like “narthex” back then; I ran to the back of the church). Mom didn’t worry about me for the same reason I wasn’t scared to leave her—we both knew that Daddy was at the end of the aisle.

You know what that means. Don’t you? It was probably 1962 and Vatican II was still in session. It means that keeping kids under control during Mass was hard even when Mass was a more solemn event than it is in Novus Ordo times.

As the ancients wrote, Etiam Missa religiosissima parvulum subsistere non potest, si patrem ejus videre desiderat. “Even the most reverent Mass cannot stop a small boy if he wants to see his Daddy.” Or something ancient-sounding like that.


Now, as I said, that memory is only truly mine in the retelling—a memento from my mother. But the image of my father as a guy who believed church to be important has been vivid all my life. I’m sure he wasn’t a saint, but every Sunday, that guy who spent his days moving meat and produce on a loading dock was dressed so nicely he could have been mistaken for mayor of Jersey City.

From a photo of him standing near the church in his Sunday best, to another of him marching in rented tails in the annual Holy Name Parade, to the “Usher” tie clip he wore to Mass (and which my mother kept in her jewelry box), my father remained a model of manly devotion to his faith for me over the years, even though he died when I was five.

He was 42.

So, for all of you dads out there who sometimes wonder if the flying circus that is your attempt to get the family to Mass on Sunday is really worth it, trust me—it is.

Happy Father’s Day, everybody! And if you’re so inclined, I’d like to share a song about my mom and dad. My attempt at a country rocker and you can find it right here.

I Was A Teenage Folkie

This past Lent, I did something I hadn’t done in a long time—I played guitar in church. No, I didn’t just walk in and start jamming to “Shout from the Highest Mountain”—I was invited. And I’m pretty sure that not jamming to “Shout from the Highest Mountain” was implied in the invitation.

The parish my wife Mary Ann works for had a weekly Lenten lectio divina and benediction service followed by a soup supper; they were wonderful evenings of prayer and fellowship. During planning, Mary Ann mentioned they were thinking it might be nice to have some acoustic guitar for the traditional benediction hymns; a cappella can be risky without a choir to help out.

I don’t know if she was already thinking of me or if it was my loud “ahem” followed by a pose with my acoustic air guitar, but I got the gig.

As I stood in the choir loft on the first night a ton of memories came flooding back. Like the night in the choir loft of my childhood parish when steampipe heat and a cloud of incense made me drowsy enough to drop the only guitar pick I had with me and watch it spiral into the pews below.

Fortunately, we lived really close to church; I ran home, grabbed another pick and made it back in time for the next song.

Playing guitar in church meant a lot to me. And it was the happy result of an idea my mother had years earlier (this story gets a little maudlin, so I’ll make it quick).

About two weeks after my fifth birthday, my father’s heart gave out on a New Jersey loading dock (I know, it sounds like the opening of a Bruce Springsteen song). The short version is: Dad died, I shut down, I eventually showed interest in the guitar, Mom signed me up for lessons and in so doing pretty much saved my life. Seriously. Playing guitar is one of the few really vivid memories I have after my father died.

Those guitar lessons eventually led to joining the parish folk group when I was 11 or 12, which led to several years of—you guessed it—jamming to “Shout from the Highest Mountain” and other hits from Hymnal for Young Christians.

Yes. I used the word, “folk.” The f-bomb of liturgical music.

Say what you want about those old guitar Masses; without them I may very well have spent my after-school hours doing things I’d be regretting more right now than I regret playing “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” as the Communion meditation a few times.

Yes, THAT “I Don’t Know How To Love Him.” And no, I didn’t sing it; Lorraine or Joanne sang it, depending on who was there that week. Listen, it’s a well-known fact that various portions of Jesus Christ, Superstar and Godspell were deemed liturgically licit in 1972. I’m pretty sure I even saw it penciled into the margin on the “Of My Hands” page in a copy of Hymnal for Young Christians.

All this has stayed on my mind these past weeks because, sometimes, grownup and more orthodox me feels that I should be embarrassed by those folk group days, but I just can’t bring myself to be (well, not entirely). There were definitely times when we went over the top and jumped the liturgical shark (e.g., “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” mea maxima culpa) but it all did me too much good to have been all wrong. I even kept on playing for parishes throughout high school and college; in a real way, those long-ago guitar lessons kept me in church when a lot of my contemporaries were bailing on it.

Besides, without my conservatory grounding in folk hymns of the sixties and seventies, I wouldn’t have been available to help out my wife with those guitar arrangements for Lent. Turns out a little bit of guitar suits the melodies of “O Salutaris Hostia” and “Tantum Ergo” just fine.

And I got a free soup supper out of the deal; of course, I also hung around to help clean up afterward, in my non-musical role as my wife’s live-in volunteer (actually, I prefer “Ministerial Support Specialist”).

What can I say? I’m in love. And as anyone who has ever played in a parish folk group can tell you—they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

Yes. I really typed that.