Spirit and Sentiment: Lent’s Songs of Quiet Love

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Initially posted on the McGrath Institute for Church Life blog, published at the University of Notre Dame,, on March 22.

Some milestones in the Lenten season are literally a pleasure to celebrate as days for rejoicing or gaining new insight or simply making this journey of ours a bit more sentimental. When the liturgical calendar brought us the solemnity of St. Joseph, spouse of the blessed Virgin Mary, on March 19, it was traditional and meaningful to have a parish party—a feast for the senses which help incarnate Eastertime love in god’s family.

A tradition of honoring St. Joseph

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This was the second annual St. Joseph’s Day Italian Fest at St. Monica Church in Mishawaka, IN—a town whose recipe of Catholic ethnic populations includes descendants of immigrants from Calabria. Folks from all backgrounds, including two accordionists named Schmitt and Doolin, had signed up for the fund-raiser to reaffirm Italy’s long history of honoring St. Joseph.

As pastor Rev. Jacob Meyer explained in the parish bulletin, “This is the day when Italians celebrate the intercession of St. Joseph for lifting a devastating famine. Let us follow in their footsteps and thank God for our own bounty and for the powerful intercession of St. Joseph, protector of the Holy Church.”

I had discovered the March 19 tradition of “St. Joseph’s Table” years ago when my family lived in Hoboken, NJ. Italian-Americans created sharable shrines comprising delectable breads and desserts.

Playing music for St. Joseph

Dave Doolin (left) and author Bill Schmitt (right) play their accordions at a parish festival honoring St. Joseph on March 19.

Now, in 2019, I focused less on food than on other ways to energize St. Monica Parish’s trek toward Easter. Dave Doolin and I had prepared a repertoire of Italian-spirited music. The overtones of St. Patrick’s Day, two days earlier, gave way to love songs like “O Sole Mio,” “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “Come Back to Sorrento.”

A Solemnity dedicated to a husband seemed to deserve some emotive performances we associate with Italy, Rome and romance (sometimes via Hollywood screenplays). I wondered: Did our “set list” properly reflect an intersection between sentiment, this holy day, the story it represents and its Italian connection?

Franciscan Media essay about St. Joseph and his March 19 feast says yes. The essay reflects on Joseph as a “just” man—that is, someone who shared in God’s own holiness as part of a mutually loving relationship. Joseph was capable of self-donating agape. He responded with trust to God’s mysterious will and empowering grace.

“The rest we can easily surmise,” says the Franciscan Media essayist. “Think of the kind of love with which he wooed and won Mary, and the depth of the love they shared during their marriage.” This just man was “simply, joyfully, wholeheartedly obedient to God—in marrying Mary, in naming Jesus, in shepherding the precious pair to Egypt, in bringing them to Nazareth, in the undetermined number of years of quiet faith and courage.”

There was nothing “sentimental,” as in sappy or passive, about this man. There was “passion” in the sense of “emotion,” or an intense “feeling or conviction,” or “ardent affection” (definitions from Merriam-Webster). He was “all-in,” despite uncertainties and challenges ahead, for the mission God gave him.

Channeling the ardent affection of St. Joseph

So I focused on the passionate quality of the music to be played at the St. Joseph Fest, drawing inspiration from the saint’s tender strength I rediscovered in this often-overlooked love story. I found lyrics (whether written by Italians or show-biz composers) illuminated the incarnation of Christ’s agape in our world.

I recommend attending any St. Joseph Fest you may discover in your area next year. Let the abundance of food remind you of the gratitude Italians traditionally express for their release from famine—a spirit well-suited to Lent’s “desert experience” of abstinence awaiting Eastertime fullness. Any accordions in that desert?

Regardless, let your festival sing to you of St. Joseph—Mary’s husband, Jesus’ foster-father and the Church’s patron for our journey. God transformed a betrothal-gone-awry into the pure, powerful and enduring love of the Holy Family. Let the notes of perseverance, expectancy, transformation and accompaniment echoing in the best of those romantic songs re-energize your hope during this season of purposeful sacrifice.

Some of the songs we selected for the festival

O Sole Mio (O My Sun, My Sunshine)
by Giovanni Capurro and Eduardo di Capua, 1898

When night comes and the sun has gone down,
I start feeling blue;
I’d stay below your window
When night comes and the sun has gone down.


Three Coins in the Fountain 
by Jule Stein and Sammy Cahn for a 1955 movie

Three coins in the fountain…
thrown by three hopeful lovers…
one heart will wear a valentine… 
make it mine.


Come Back to Sorrento 
by Ernesto DeCurtis and Giambattista De Curtis, 1902

When I pass a garden fair
And the scent is in the air
In my mind a dream awakes
And my heart begins to break

But you said goodbye to me
Now all I can do is grieve
Can it be that you forgot?
Darling forget me not!

Please don’t say farewell
And leave this heart that’s broken
Come back to Sorrento
So I can mend.


Arrivederci, Roma 
by Renato Rascel, Pietro Garinei, Sandro Giovannini for a 1955 movie

Arrivederci, Roma …It’s time for us to part.

Save the wedding bells for my returning,
Keep my lover’s arms outstretched and yearning,
Please be sure the flame of love keeps burning,
In her heart!


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“I ♥ Valentine’s Day,” When the Church Shows the Love of its Life

heart photo for blog

Initially posted on the McGrath Institute for Church Life blog, published at the University of Notre Dame, on February 14.

Valentine’s Day can be awkward for a lot of people. It’s unlikely the holiday will come up in Church conversations, except in the young adults group. Catholics may see little connection between their faith and the chocolate overdoses of February 14. But it is a day that takes on new dimensions when viewed through a Christian lens.

Unfortunately, we can’t “baptize” this celebration of love as was done in the past; we can’t call it “Saint Valentine’s Day” anymore. Doubts surrounding historical details about Valentine of Rome, believed to have been a third-century martyr, resulted in his removal from the liturgical calendar of feast days. Nevertheless, he’s still the patron saint of virtuous romance. And it’s arguably still good to give human love its own place on the calendar, albeit a secular one.

The downplaying of Saint Valentine is not a crisis. True love still has many champions. The connection between Feb. 14 and eternity is secure. Every saint is, ipso facto, a patron (supporter) of loving, just as every saint is a patron of thanksgiving. More to the point, God is Love. Jesus Christ incarnated on earth the highest form of love, agape, marked by self-donation and transformation. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, St. Paul painted a picture of love more comprehensive than any saint’s hagiography. Love is patient and kind. Love never fails.

Valentine’s Day is also a great time to focus on the human heart. The standard image is omnipresent in media and marketing, but it remains an evocative symbol. My New World Dictionary Concordance to the New American Bible says this: “In biblical language, the heart is the vital center of life that is specifically human: sense life, the life of the will and intellectual life. For this reason, the figurative use of the word is vaster in the Bible than in modern languages.”

The Bible speaks of thoughts arising from the heart. Both Old and New Testaments describe numerous qualities possessed by the heart: It sees and listens; it responds and understands; it is obedient and steadfast. “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

Our Catholic faith and human nature are especially drawn to the particular qualities of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These inspire our efforts to cultivate compassion, perseverance, purity and contrition, flowing through wounded hearts.

No amount of advertising, sentimentality or ostentation will overwhelm our whole-hearted witness. Perhaps we can keep the Valentine vision elevated through our reflections and conversations, both in parishes and in our encounters with those on the margins of human affection.

February 14 can challenge us to take love more seriously. My wife Eileen and I, in discussing our evening restaurant plans, can share our backstory: We’re celebrating our gratitude for blessings that have made our home a domestic church.

Priests and chaste singles can evangelize through their discoveries that true love still abounds even if it doesn’t fit the greeting-card mold. The word “heart” is indeed vaster in its spiritual meaning than in the languages of popular culture and the marketplace!

Kids can treat themselves to those chalky candy hearts. First, help them realize that some of the “platitudes” imprinted thereon— “Hug Me,” “Smile,” “Be True,” “For You”—hint at deep longings of the lonely.

Catholic families and parishes must be refuges where dumbed-down interpretations of love visibly rise to the higher ideals of agape. Do we allow the culture’s standards to sink, or do those candy hearts connect to the Sacred Heart? Let’s share and exemplify our love stories—especially how our relationships with the Lord make Valentine’s Day sweeter.

It may be awkward. But, knowing there’s a Saint Valentine interceding for us, we can follow his lead—standing in as patrons for a day. Love never fails, so we shall not fail love.



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Healing Culture–and Hearts–So Politics Can Work



No discussion at the three-way intersection of our polarized society, our use of news and our faith-based values that can help renew healthy communication will bear fruit without the kinds of insights Bruce Stirewalt recently presented on Book TV.

Stirewalt, digital politics editor at Fox News and author of Every Man a King: A Short, Colorful History of American Populists, served up some important thoughts at the Savannah Book Festival. The most valuable thoughts for the discussion mentioned above come from his answer to the last question, found at the 56:00 mark in the Book TV video.

These are comments that illuminate our exploration of toxins at work in politics and journalism today. They are comments about the human being and about culture.

They speak for themselves, so I present several of them here—perhaps out of order, but definitely “what the doctor ordered” regarding culture-healing priorities to be prized by Catholics and all people of good will:

  • “We are a soul-sick, broken-hearted country.”
  • “The object of every heart is to be truly known and truly loved.” As we cry out for unconditional love, our insecurities and anxieties prompt us to lash out at each other rather than reach out with compassion.
  • “We’ve replaced more precious, more valuable, more meaningful things with the shoddy work of politics.”
  • “That soul-sickness will never be fixed by politics.”
  • “Politics is what lets us do the right thing. It’s not the right thing or the point of anything.” –attributed to the late Charles Krauthammer
  • “Our broken culture is the headwaters of our broken politics.”
  • “We need strong social capital to create a culture.”

(video from Book TV, promotional photo from Fox News)



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New Finger-Pointing, New Point-Making

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I want to contribute to a renewal in 2019 at the intersection of three of our society’s most crucial questions: How can we reduce the polarization in our culture in order to solve urgent policy problems? How can we reinvigorate inclusive, civil and well-informed conversations in the public arena about the things people care about most? Are there changes in journalism–and in the generation and consumption of news–that could help achieve the first two goals, building on faith-based values and professional standards?

Here are a few things I’m doing:

  • Seeking out more media interviews and public presentations to help guide discussions about this renewal. I was privileged to be interviewed by Teresa Tomeo on her “Catholic Connections” daily radio program on Feb. 4, 2019 archive: You’ll find our 15-minute discussion starting at about the 17:00 mark of her second hour. We discussed the growth in negative trends like jumping to conclusions, weaponizing facts and interpretations, and pointing fingers rather than seeking truth.
  • I’m compiling a growing list of resources for people to use in research and collaborations aimed at answering the questions above. Here’s the first iteration of the list, published at my LInkedIn page.
  • As a subset of my content at this OnWord.net site, I’m compiling the commentaries related to my When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer book and the polarization-related questions in the “When Headlines Hurt” blog (“me-dia.blog”). You’ll get a good idea of my opinions and writing–and what I can bring to media interviews and public speaking engagements.  Contact Bill Schmitt at billgerards@gmail.com and at 574-276-0340.



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Make a “Net” Work Better (4 New Ideas for 2019 World Communications Day)

When Headlines Hurt CVR_final_smaller

For my blog dedicated to my particular focus on news, social polarization, and Christian values encouraging conversation for the common good: Click me-dia.blog in navbar above.

World Communications Day 2019 won’t be officially celebrated until June 2, the Sunday before Pentecost. That’s part of the tradition behind this annual opportunity for reflection, established after the Second Vatican Council to generate insights about how we’re all getting along with each other via the mass media.

Pope Francis has once again allowed us to open this gift early, thanks to the online preview of his 2019 World Communications Day message posted on January 24. That’s the feast of St. Francis De Sales, patron saint of media, writers and journalists.

Here are four useful quotes from this year’s message, titled “We Are Members One of Another: From Social Network Communities to the Human Community.”

  • “The net works because all its elements share responsibility.” Pope Francis praises the power of the digital media to spread an abundance of information and bestow a sense of vast, interactive community. But he cautions that too much of the information we share is used to defame others, spread untruths, violate human dignity, and affirm our narcissistic identities by defining our social-network communities in terms of whom we exclude. Real communities, in physical places or in virtual “social media,” require us to build connections of trust and interdependence, he says. The most resilient communities contain networks we form with others not because they are “the same” as us, but because they are unique, bringing different perspectives.
  • “Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each to his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” This quote (Ephesians 4:25) extends the community metaphor to the idea of a body and its many parts, a powerful mirror of the Body of Christ. It echoes the Epistle reading (Corinthians 12:12-30) from the Sunday Mass of January 27, where Paul describes for a different Christian community how the eye must not wish it were an ear or a hand. Each member provides something uniquely valuable: “God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as He intended.” One might say these roles should inspire a sense of empowerment, along with humble truthfulness and responsibility, in each of us. We owe it to each other to be authentic and cooperative, not identifying ourselves by our supremacy or our adversaries. Our community strength comes from our otherness, Pope Francis says, as well as “the connections between that otherness.”
  • “God is not Solitude, but Communion; He is Love, and therefore communication, because love always communicates.” The pontiff extends the network and community metaphors to God as Trinity, a relationship between the lover, the beloved, and the very act of loving. We humans participate in that trinitarian love in our life-giving encounters with others. We must always communicate love, thinking not in individualistic terms—as the media often encourage us to do—but in personal and interpersonal terms. If we use “the Net” to share stories of beauty and suffering that build up our best selves and encourage us to pray and learn together, “then it is a resource.”
  • “The Church herself is a network woven together by Eucharistic communion, where unity is based not on “likes,” but on the truth, on the Amen.” Our joint “Amen” in worship and thanksgiving, clinging to the Body of Christ, encourages us to welcome others as brothers and sisters, and particularly as “traveling companions” on a purposeful journey toward the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The Pope has many other inspiring thoughts in his World Communications Day message, and we among the first readers can start now to consider our responses.

He draws a connection between one’s devotion to the love of God and the networking we do through values-informed conversations in everyday life. That recalls what St. Francis De Sales recommends in Introduction to the Devout Life, as discussed in the January 24 post in the McGrath Institute blog.

Francis sees truth, trust, mercy, and justice as essential to the proper use of online media. Otherwise, our huge daily doses of information may be weaponized. We turn against each other in relativistic wars of labeling and lies. Today’s networks can become traps of vulnerability and isolation, as was discussed in this blog’s January 23 post, with reference to insights from the “Higher Powers” conference of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

The pontiff’s reference to the “Amen” we give in our Church communities reminds us we can activate good stewardship of real-life relationships with God and our neighbors right where we are. As I comment in a book of reflections on Pope Francis’ 2018 World Communications Day message, our Amen in prayer can gratefully affirm the dignity among imperfect children of God. We’re peacemakers called to stem tendencies toward social polarization. God’s communion of redemption overrides any notion of “me-dia” that spotlight me. We share a journalistic role reaching out to a world hungry for good news.

Bill Schmitt is the author of When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer? The Pope’s Words of Hope for Journalism (2018), available from Amazon as an e-book and paperback.

An independent journalist, author and marketing-communications consultant with clients in higher education, community-building, and faith-based collaboration, Bill is an experienced commentator on the subject of news, social polarization and problem-solving conversation.

Blog & bio: OnWord.net | LinkedIn: billschmitt-onword | billgerards@gmail.com | 574-276-0340

mary and me april 18

Bill Schmitt

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“The Devout Life” As a Conversation-Starter

Initially posted on McGrath Institute Blog, published at the U. of Notre Dame, January 24

The fine art of conversation, used as an instrument to share hope and advance the common good, has taken a beating. Many Catholics feel inhibited in their discipleship, fearing their beliefs and values aren’t welcome in discussions of crucial public issues. They don’t want to be called “haters.”

Freedom, human flourishing and our eternal destiny are at stake if our faith is set on “mute” much of the day. Polarized societies are unable to solve problems, or see solutions, when there’s no trust, no agreement on truth. Stalemated discussions risk stagnant souls. Jesus—the way, the truth and the life—taught us, “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” (Matthew 10:27)

St. Francis de Sales, a witness of charitable dialogue

The feast day of Saint Francis de Sales, on January 24, is a good day for us missionaries to recommit as advocates, not administrators. De Sales (1567-1622) is the patron saint of writers, journalists and the Catholic media. As bishop of Geneva, he became an avid writer of books, pamphlets and correspondence focused on lay people. He defended transformative truths simply and gently.

This Doctor of the Church completed work on the final edition of his spiritual classic, Introduction to the Devout Life, 400 years ago, in 1619. But notice how timely his guidance is today. De Sales asserts the everyday pursuit of devotion to our loving God is inseparable from effective outreach to minds and hearts. His Introduction includes a substantial section about virtue in discernment and discussion. Chapters 26 through 30 offer valuable remedies for this coarsened culture.

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest,” he writes. “Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation.” Elsewhere, we’re cautioned that jumping to conclusions—so common amid the media’s labels and exaggerations—can deaden devout living and, by extension, toxify debate: “Rash judgment begets uneasiness, contempt of neighbor, pride, self-satisfaction and many other extremely bad effects,” such as slander.

St. Francis de Sales, a model of the personal touch

For De Sales, respect is at the core of communication with God and people. Both connections are deeply personal and yet rooted in relationships and encounters, not pretenses or assumptions. Pope Paul VI updated this message when he said, “Contemporary man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers.”

That’s what De Sales means when he describes a devout life. It comprises experiencing God’s profound love, then responding with “ardor and readiness in performing charitable actions.” These are one-on-one actions, not merely an attitude toward mankind in general. De Sales personifies this, addressing his Introduction not to some faceless population, but to a particular person—a woman named Philothea whom he is instructing. “Throughout this entire book,” he explains in the preface, “I keep in mind a soul who out of desire for devotion aspires to the love of God.”

A uniquely Christian form of dialogue

He’s suggesting a uniquely Christian dialogue we can model for others. Speaking to individuals, about individuals, reflects an authenticity the mass media can’t duplicate. We must nurture families, parishes and communities with infusions of truth and trust; focused on others, not ourselves; recognizing real desolations and consolations. Catechists and other ministers can cultivate these qualities, perhaps by writing in visionary Catholic or secular media, not as office-holders but as correspondents pondering and conveying God’s voice in the zephyr.

First, we should let His love remove our own fear of speaking up. Francis de Sales can provide inspiration and practical wisdom. Devout communication is not distracted, disruptive or pro forma. It’s proactive. This saint, echoing Jesus, tells us to keep spreading the word to brothers and sisters, not audiences. If we regard God and His children with joy and ardor, the fine art of conversation can revitalize the fine art of conversion in ourselves and our society.

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A Franciscan Call for News from a “Good Place”

Initially posted on McGrath Institute Blog, published at the U. of Notre Dame, Jan. 23, 2019

Setting aside the missteps in virtue one often finds in sit-com scripts, the show “The Good Place” offers worthy insights about good and evil from a quirky perspective of the afterlife.ted danson smaller

Promotional photo from nbc.com

In the recent episode “Book of Dougs,” the character played by Ted Danson examines heaven’s files on two deceased “Dougs.” It turns out one Doug, who lived recently, forfeited a lot of scorecard points that could have counted toward his happy destiny. He had unintentionally contributed to environmental damage and exploitative behaviors, among other things. Danson concludes, “Every day, the world gets a little more complicated, and being a good person gets a little harder.”

Living in a complicated, polarizing climate

This scene captured in fiction a wise critique recently made of modern society: In a globalized, information-immersed culture, where unlimited moralism and relativism try to co-exist, the interconnected corruptions we’ve discovered expand the range of our potential moral responsibility and burdens of guilt. At the same time, we’ve sidelined God, losing that ultimate source of forgiveness, resulting in frustration and polarization.*

I’ll amplify and generalize: It sometimes seems we’re blaming everybody for everything, driven to make God-like judgments when wrongs and failures offend our sense of justice. We are all at risk of standing accused, either as individuals or as members of unlikable categories.

At Mass, we admit to serious imperfections and to “my most grievous fault.” But in the secular liturgy of national news media, these deficiencies rise to an even higher threat level. Our cultural discourse adopts labels that go beyond “sinner” to include “extremist” or “idiot” or worse. Weaponized name-calling divides us while we strive to exemplify integrity.

Guidance from Pope Francis on fake news and social media

Pope Francis recognized humanity’s struggle to demand accountability amid massive frailties when he released his 2018 World Communications Day message—“The Truth Will Set You Free”—a year ago this week. Francis criticized “fake news” attacks but also pointed out how we all need to exercise the best journalistic values today because we’re all information gatekeepers when we publish online.

The pontiff cautioned against spreading disinformation that erodes trust and insults human dignity. It is good to seek justice, so he urged rebuilding compassionate communities and cultivating a marketplace of ideas that prizes reality and discerns sharable values. As discussed in a book I published last year, our pope drew heavily upon the healing words commonly called the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi.

The humble, sacrificial love in this prayer offers sustainable ways to become instruments of peace. Another aid is the Serenity Prayer, embracing moral diligence while understanding everybody’s limitations. The Holy Spirit’s gifts and fruits, plus redemption through Jesus Christ, help wonderfully!

How to make it easier for people to be good

The Catholic Church is blessed to share this Good News of the Gospel, which overcomes bad news and mad news. I suggest framing it more intentionally to answer the dilemma Doug faced on TV: As social issues become more complex and urgent, can we make it easier for people to be good and counteract wrongdoing?

Be more imaginative – We in the Church can be more proactive in answering yes to the above question. Gatherings in parishes and elsewhere could increase our attentiveness to the pain and fear of people burdened by name-calling and greater evils. We could group-watch news programs and popular culture, then model follow-up dialogues, welcoming many voices—from the pews, including family members, and from the marginalized we encounter.

Seek fellowship and engagement – Our Church is global and local. We can foster fellowship opportunities that cultivate agreement on principled priorities and strategies. We “Dougs” can generate and share news about community consciousness at grassroots levels, pursuing truth in charity. Information about the successes of subsidiarity will engage, rather than enrage, others.

Start small, leave the rest to God – This quest for virtue requires relationship and cooperation with a God who isn’t me or you. Jesus taught, “No one is good but God alone.” Acknowledging and trusting transcendent wisdom brings mercy and understanding, not shame or disempowerment. We can only address the world’s complexity incrementally, in modest but meaningful ways.

Accept your label from Christ – The renewal of news through the Good News does not promise that we won’t be grouped or labeled. But let’s take valid identity from the Lord. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”


*For quotes more exact than my notes and deeper wisdom, watch the whole talk by Wilfred McClay. It was part of the “Higher Powers” Conference hosted at Notre Dame in 2018 by the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture   –Bill Schmitt

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