Who Put the “Lent” in Valentine?

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Happy Valentine’s Day to you! Please accept a gift that has no calories but still has a lot of energy in at least two different forms–my excitement about a little book I produced to make people smile about the deeper meanings of this holiday, and the bona fides behind the quotes used in the book to elevate it above the usual level of Valentine greeting.

Please let me know if you’d like a copy of Heartfelt Gifts to You, to Share: On Valentine’s Day, There’s More to Say. You’ll find that I took the featured quotes from the Bible, where there are many verses that use the word “heart.” After reading many of those verses and doing some research and reflection regarding them, in addition to research about Saint Valentine, a martyr and  the patron saint of love, I wanted to share some thoughts with friends about our appreciation for this day….

Especially for this holiday when it happens to coincide with Ash Wednesday, the solemn start of Lent!  The theme of the book wound up being love as a mixture of joy and self-donation–a purposeful, action-oriented love that secular celebrations may downplay even as the Church highlights the “big picture” of humility, penitence and transformation that can really prove heart-warming over the course of 40 days.

This mini-book became my way to “christen” the current phase of my communications career, which is represented here at OnWord.net. I hope my collaborations with good folks like you can contribute to the common good in creative ways embodying faith and reason. That will happen as we all share our respective gifts with others, including the gifts described in the Bible, with Jesus Christ as their hallmark.

My heartfelt thanks go out to all the people, like you, who bring grace into my life, into our lives–even when it’s not so easy, when the world isn’t only roses and chocolates. Most importantly, I’m sharing my gratitude with my wife Eileen, who is truly my Valentine.

If you would like a free copy of this pocket-size greeting, please email me at billgerards@gmail.com. Its celebration of solidarity in a journey toward perfected love is suitable to share on any day of the year. But Valentine’s Day is a happy day for launching this initiative–particularly in 2018, with its clear connection to Lent. We’ve all got a date with destiny!

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This Present Is Past and Future

Videotapes and a digital hard drive

They say robots dream of electric sheep. Families dream digitally and analogously.

I’m still waiting for one Christmas gift to arrive. Actually, I still have to pick it up from a store. And it’s a gift for the whole family, including me.

It’s a hard drive that will contain the digital versions of 8mm family movies from the earlier days of the Schmitt family–when I was growing up. This gift will also contain VHS home movies that I took of the next-generation Schmitt family, when our daughter Mary was growing up with Eileen and me. Also included are movies that family members took of our wedding day, on their own VHS cameras. Perhaps Eileen and I could have hired a professional videographer to capture our wedding ceremony and reception back then, but it never occurred to us.

I can hardly wait to see this collection. I can’t say I will rush to view all the hours of all those films in their new format, but it will be exciting to possess–and to present to our family as a gift of the past that will endure into the future.

The past is a great gift. In our family’s case, it’s an alternative to those websites that tell you your family’s history and even give you a sense of your identity through your DNA. This digital present will not be cheap when I pick it up from our local camera store, but it will probably be cheaper than paying for DNA analysis, and it will be a more dynamic, panoramic glimpse into our identities–as individuals and as a family, shaped by places where we lived, relatives and friends we cherished and activities in which we participated. To have this kind of a past–and to have a record of it–is itself a gift that we’re appreciating all over again.

As we enter this new year, I wish all of you a wonderful future, especially as it will be reflected in the specific year 2018. I also wish for you plenty of time to remember and celebrate your past–and plenty of mindfulness with which to appreciate the present moment. In every moment, our personal and group identities reveal themselves, sink their roots into our lives even more deeply and bear fruit to the outside world with unknowable future impacts but unshakable foundations in authentic experience. The records of our lives may be transferred from older formats to newer ones, but they are best stored in minds and hearts that can appreciate and appropriate the best of our identities, forgive and laugh about our character flaws and build truths upon truths.

I’m looking forward to giving my family this gift from the local camera store because it will somehow be a “live” part of our family, making the past more accessible so we can understand the present and approach the future with greater wisdom and stability. In a world where analog memories seem obsolete but digital life sometimes seems ephemeral, may this gift transition the Schmitts away from the reel-to-reel but preserve us in the real-to-real.

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The Spirit of Christmas Now, in Words & Music

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“I see friends shaking hands, saying, How do you do? / They’re really saying, I love you.” Louis Armstrong made a good point in the great song, “What a Wonderful World,” which resonates with his own happy heart and the eloquence of songwriters George David Weiss and Bob Thiele.

The point is that people often say two things at once. Along with their actual words, such as “How do you do,” there’s a spirit of something bigger to which we’re giving voice. It can be inferred from the words we’ve chosen to say or the way in which we say them. Let’s set aside the times this double meaning can be negative, perhaps because of sarcasm or a sly phraseology; I propose to meditate for a minute on the times when the meaning is positive and uplifting, and going further, I’d like to meditate on the words we sing and the songs we play.

This is timely for me because, for some months now, I’ve been privileged to be performing songs along with a group called the Music Village “Jammers.” Our South Bend-based group plays on instruments like guitar and bass violin and ukulele—and I join in on my accordion—in all sorts of community venues, in a rather casual but purposeful mood. Our intent is always to lift up people’s spirits and foster a sense of community and friendship among diverse people, using a wide range of songs that bring back fond memories or evoke smiles for all.

I’ve become aware that that a lot of what we perform conveys an upbeat double meaning, frequently based on great lyrics (thank you, songwriters!) but also based on the song selections we’ve made and the joy we visibly share with our audiences.

We’ve recently brought out our repertoire of Christmas songs; these tunes, whether they contain direct references to religious beliefs or are more secular in nature, can carry listeners (especially kids and families) aloft on their lyrics into a happy world of double meanings. Through these deeper themes—like expectancy and hope, or gratitude for tangible gifts and amazing graces, or beloved memories as the lens through which we choose to see the present—we’re able to generate a holiday spirit bringing folks together, regardless of any specific faith affiliations among performers or audiences.

Here’s what I’m meditating about: This phenomenon need not be tied strictly to Christmas songs; it can help to remind musicians and a range of audiences that this power to unify and uplift resides in us all year round, if we choose to play music that will enrich people’s hearts and if our community audiences set themselves free to listen and respond. We’re fortunate to continually revive a legacy of songs that tap into the brightest themes of just about every holiday, and we also enjoy an even broader legacy of songs that are neither seasonal nor time-bound. Because “Jammers” performances throughout the year have reminded me of “standards” for all occasions, I’m inclined to say what might seem corny: We musicians and listeners are able to help make every day a holiday (or at least a chance to cultivate hope, love and nostalgia) if we’ll just take certain songs—and the smiles they bring—more seriously.

So I close my meditation with a thought exercise in which I invite you to participate. Without in any way downplaying music designed specially to hit home for the holidays (see what I did there?), what are some non-Christmas songs that we could play during this season whose lyrics also express brilliantly the sentiments we need to sustain us through all four seasons, over and over again?

Here’s a very preliminary list of timeless, always-timely songs to ponder, subject to addition or subtraction by you:

For epiphanies (with a small “e”) in which we discover the “good stuff” in the world:

  • “What a Wonderful World” – already mentioned
  • “Till There Was You”—from “The Music Man” and The Beatles!
  • “You’re My Home”—from Billy Joel
  • “On a Clear Day”—from Barbara Streisand

For appreciation of our significant others, families and friends:

  • “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”—from The Hollies
  • “I Just Called to Say I Love You”—from Stevie Wonder
  • “Love Makes the World Go Round”—Deon Jackson’s song or the song from “Carnival”
  • “Shower the People You Love with Love”—from James Taylor
  • “You’ve Got a Friend”—from Carole King

For anticipation/pursuit of peace, happiness and better times:

  • “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”—from Bob Dylan
  • “The Impossible Dream”—from “Man of LaMancha”
  • “Turn, Turn, Turn”—from The Byrds
  • “Over the Rainbow”—from Judy Garland
  • “To Life”—from “Fiddler on the Roof”
  • “We Are the World”—from Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie

(Thanks to the Music Village Jammers, some of whom you see gathered in the photo above. Thiss was a free public concert in downtown South Bend on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.)

 

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Christ the King and the Public Square

The Solemnity of Christ the King is capping the 2017 Liturgical Calendar this Sunday. In spite of, or because of, that term “king”—which sounds so old-fashioned and dictatorial to many Americans, this special feast that ushers in Advent offers tips for evangelization suited to our chaotic political culture. It reiterates the blessings of wise, benevolent governance, as experienced in a relationship of communion and common cause with the sovereign Son of God.

P. Bracy Bersnak, a professor at Christendom College, talks about this in an audio presentation you can find at the college’s online publication, “Principles.” . The site’s compelling motto is: “Clear Thinking on Contemporary Issues.”

Begin your visit to this site by clicking on the excerpt from Bersnak’s lecture titled “Principles of Catholic Participation in Politics.”  Noting that Christendom College’s own mission is “to restore all things in Christ” and to help renew the political life of our society in the light of His kingship, Bersnak presents Christ at the center of a New Evangelization that can bless America’s turbulent public square. We must act as representatives of Christ’s Kingdom on earth, a kingdom of abundant love based on every human soul’s dignity, which is at the heart of Catholic social doctrine and ongoing discipleship.

“It has never been more important for Roman Catholics to participate in politics than it is now,” he says. “Not just because we have a basic responsibility to contribute to the common good of our country, but because our very freedom to live in accordance with the teachings of our faith is being threatened.”

Bersnak reminds us that Jesus said “the Kingdom is among you.” (Luke 17:21) It is already a powerful force, although we can’t experience its fullness while still pilgrims in our fallen world. Christ the King is accompanying and elevating us, urging us to bring the teachings of our faith into the public square not as tools of subjugation but as instruments of cultural renewal.

Missionary disciples, take note that solidly Catholic colleges and universities, to the degree they are generating and embodying Christian insights within caring communities, are blessing their students and can bless society. Christ’s Kingdom is definitely alive on these campuses—and indeed it’s alive among many Catholic and non-Catholic organizations, such as dioceses, faith-based hospitals and religious non-profits dedicated to compassionate and sustainable societies.

We need to make this potential of the Kingdom of Heaven more explicit in the ways we perceive, describe and market the organizations and initiatives that already contribute valuable resources to the New Evangelization. Catholics won’t be likely to share gifts like Bersnak’s lecture—and people hungry for restoration of the pubic square won’t seek or receive such

gifts—unless we let our lights shine more brightly. Producers and grassroots advocates for instruments of cultural restoration must work together to collect, proclaim and distribute our organizations’ ongoing work for the Kingdom.

We need to offer without shame the wisdom the Lord is cultivating among us, helping the secularized world to connect with it in non-threatening ways and clarifying our positive motive. Pope Francis said it best in The Joy of the Gospel when he proposed for the Church “a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything” for the purpose of evangelization.  

The existence of Christendom College’s separate “Principles” website is an example of the impulse to bring the Kingdom more alive for all of us. In addition to a traditional website (christendom.edu) displaying the “products” of academia, this branded, purpose-driven online publication (getprinciples.com) carries messages for a much wider audience. These messages convey urgency, propose applications for what we’re learning and explain the importance of taking the next step.

I predict this phenomenon will spread. “Faith and Reason,” a site created by Franciscan University of Steubenville, also assembles select talks, TV shows and various examples of its campus’s fertile faith life into one place for easy reference. Those wanting tried and true road maps to follow while our secular society loses its bearings can gain easy access to both the resources and the reasoning behind the school’s endeavors.

Hillsdale College has been doing its own non-denominational evangelizing to the broader world and reaching people who want values-enhanced, history-rich road maps. With a special “Imprimis” site that summarizes talks given by its guest speakers, Hillsdale provides universal access to some of the instruction and inspiration students receive. Many online visitors sign up for core courses such as “Constitution 101”.

The college demonstrates its own missionary impulse, resonating with Bersnak’s call for Catholics to be Kingdom emissaries.

Likewise, dioceses, parishes, faith-based agencies and other groups can become more “intentional” and explicit about their collective messages of hope for the world and how they are embodied in the things we do every day. We need to show the Kingdom at work even in the Tuesday night discussion group that attracts eleven parishioners or the diocesan program that makes the Church more inclusive but receives no fanfare.

Let the “principles of Catholic participation in politics”—and in the culture more generally—go forth through multiple media from diverse sources, using the gifts of catechesis, apologetics and plain old marketing. Shout from the highest bandwidth! We’re doing this for Christ the King of all, the King of the Universe, with an Advent eye watchful for His coming, no matter what liturgical season we happen to be in. More important than the timing or technique is the evangelization itself.

As Jesus instructed, what we have heard in whispers, behind closed doors or humdrum digital portals, we must proclaim from the housetops. (Luke 12:3)

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Spanning the Centuries in Photos

Century_Center_December_2_1977 (1)

South Bend’s Century Center, in an evocative photo by Lou Sabo. A picture for all centuries….

Yes, this picture was taken in 1977 by my friend, a photographer whose great pictures show his love for his native city and the power of images to span the past, present and future. Catch his lecture this Saturday, Oct. 7, at 1 pm in the Saint Joseph County Public Library downtown. He will offer his unique perspectives on the evolution of South Bend and visions for its future.

SJCPL, an outstanding library, has archived many of his photos at the Michiana Memory site. Enjoy the images and then come to meet Lou in person on Saturday! Eileen and I will be there!

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Look for Helpers, Make Them Headliners

 

Thanks to the USA Today website and the previous reporting of Entertainment Weekly senior writer Anthony Breznican for perhaps the briefest and most powerful “webinar” to instruct today’s journalists.  It’s a simple lesson from Fred Rogers (1928-2003), the Presbyterian minister who hosted “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS for decades.

He recalled in an interview that he learned from his family to “always look for the helpers” whenever there is news coverage of a catastrophe. This is timeless, profound advice that has been recalled when terrorist attacks and other tragic events occur. It deserves to be repeated as we watch the inspiring TV images of people helping people during the flooding disasters in Texas and Louisiana.

In this brief video clip, Rogers urges journalists to give plenty of attention to the rescue teams who not only save individual lives, but also convey messages of sacrificial love, bringing hope where there is despair. We can be grateful that many journalists have taken Rogers’ advice in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

This is certainly a time to be grateful to the emergency workers and all good samaritans. And it’s a time to learn from, and vow to nurture, the best side of human nature. May Houston, America’s fourth largest city, and many other towns now in tumult emerge as the latest adult versions of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, where respect and shared dignity clearly elevate minds and hearts. That program was truly made for “mature” audiences.

Many journalists have put into practice the lesson seen in this video clip–the same lesson taught in the Bible when Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Bravo to those professionals who use their media as channels of peace. The creators and audiences of today’s disaster coverage need to keep this lesson in mind long after the floodwaters have subsided.

Parables of surprising goodness shall always be with us, and they deserve to be retold. They awaken us to tangible examples of missionary discipleship and mercy, countering the world’s plentiful alt-narratives of fear, division and disrespect. Whether or not overly politicized and polarizing news stories are “fake,” they risk being fatal to a society when they ignore “the rest of the story”–the realities of love and true community. They devastate an otherwise fertile human ecology in which everything is connected to everything else. They deter communicators and citizens from sharing the bold visions and fruitful relationships Mr. Rogers, our families, and our culture once taught us to be.

Shall we resolve to watch this “webinar “–and this wonderful musical addendum from PBS–whenever disasters or divisions threaten to cut off communication and stifle hope-filled curiosity? After all that we’ve learned, or should be learning, won’t you be my neighbor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Proud Daddy, Keep on Browsin’

mary and cardinal 2017

Come Holy Spirit! One of your fruits is joy, and it was joyful to see Mary Schmitt among the CUA students bringing up the Gifts to Cardinal Wuerl at the Mass of the Holy Spirit on August 31. Thank you, Lord, and please bless Mary and all her classmates during the new school year. (And thanks to Catholic TV–and EWTN–for broadcasting this Mass, with live streaming online. Who says there’s nothing good on TV?)

Now a junior at The Catholic University of America, my amazing daughter Mary has been part of the orientation team welcoming new freshmen for the second straight year. Thanks to my dad status, I can go online and get a sneak peak at some of the videos being shown to the newcomers. That’s especially fun when my daughter is in those videos, and I’d like to share that fun with you.

In the first video, you’ll see Mary three times–truly honest and reflective, truly happy and engaged in community. She’s the commentator making me feel guilty that the next “care package” needs to include more goodies. I’ll take the hint! May all college students everywhere experience the gift of true friendship and true hospitality made easier by a shared sense of faith, hope, and love!

Can I share my own joy one more time? Go to my Facebook page and watch the brief, new video from the CUA Alumni Association, posted on Aug. 27. (By the way, in the spirit of true friendship, please become my Facebook friend if you haven’t yet. And maybe follow me on Twitter?) If you can find the two quick scenes in which Mary Schmitt appears, email me at bschmitt@alumni.princeton.edu. If you have spotted her, I will send you a little prize.

Here’s to a great year of learning and wonder, challenge and joy, for all college students!

(This post was updated on August 31.)

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