Sunday, March 22, 2020

It’s Time to Ask Yourself What You Believe








Last Saturday morning was extraordinarily beautiful – the second day of Spring, in fact. I was asleep in bed and the sun was shining on my face as my cat Neo hopped on my chest to telepathically say, “Feed me!” I shook myself awake and realized it was Saturday of the second weekend of coronavirus quarantine. Normally, I spend part of my Saturday preparing for Sunday liturgy, getting music books ready for our parish instrumentalists and for myself. But there would be no public Sunday liturgy to prepare for because of our governor’s decree of no large gatherings for fear of the spread of COVID-19. 

I have pretty much spent the past week home alone with my brother Orlando and my cat who, by the way, was impatient with me as I slowly trudged downstairs to put food into his bowl. I was getting the coffee started when my iPhone went, “Ding!” It was a text message from my sister Teresa in Los Angeles. 

Let me explain that most of my family doesn’t hear very well so we don’t speak to each other on the phone. Texting is our preferred method of communication, and this morning my sister sent out a group text to our clan who is scattered across the West Coast from Los Angeles, through Portland, and on up to Seattle – plus one niece in North Carolina. 

“Hi, Family. Delfin is in the hospital again . . .” 

Delfin is my younger brother, fourth in a family of nine siblings. An artistic soul who paints, makes pottery, plays flute and writes poetry, Delfin has books of original poems published and available on Amazon. Several weeks ago, he was hospitalized for some kidney problems but he seemed to recover well from that. So Teresa’s text surprised me and the details were alarming. Delfin was suffering internal bleeding from an unknown source and had to be rushed to the hospital. While there, he suffered cardiac arrest and now he is intubated and in serious condition. 

My sibs and I asked questions and discussed our concerns. The only thing we could do now was wait for the next report as doctors worked to find out the source of the bleeding. 

Waiting is probably the most difficult thing to do when a loved one is hospitalized. Everyone has experienced what it’s like in a hospital waiting room, but it becomes even more challenging when the family is scattered around the country as we are. I learned long ago that the best thing to do while waiting is to pray. Thanks to social media, I’m able to ask friends from around the world to join me in prayer. 

I put the word out on my Facebook pages and Twitter, and friends there shared my prayer request with their circles. Delfin’s name was enrolled in my parish prayer list, and my choir is also praying. I also mentioned my brother in a worldwide Rosary circle that I pray with. As the morning unfolded, I estimated 800-plus people around the world were praying for my brother. I texted that info to my family. They were amazed and grateful. 

Numbers might be impressive but I know it begs a question for some people: What good does prayer do at times like this? Will prayer really influence God and result in a desired outcome? The short answer is simply No. God is not Santa Claus, and we are not na├»ve but hopeful children sitting on his lap at Macy’s department store. What happens if we don’t get what we pray for? Do we stop believing in God? 

It was theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who gave the world this memorable quote: “Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes us.” His thinking is right on, for if we think that our prayer produces a desired outcome then we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Prayer inspires us to accept God’s will, whatever that is and no matter that it might not match our will. Is that defeatist philosophy? If we don’t get what we’re asking for, why pray at all? 

I believe the power of prayer lies not in getting what we want but, rather, in assuring us that we are not alone in our ordeal. Whatever the outcome, God’s will be done. And although we might not realize or understand it at the moment, God’s will is infinitely wiser than our ability to see only what is before us. That’s a hard pill to swallow, especially in time of crisis, but I find solace and hope in knowing that I am not alone. 

My family’s concerns for our brother lie within the larger world’s coronavirus crisis. What is God’s will in all this? We don’t know. We pray in solidarity that God’s wisdom will eventually be revealed to us. Or, as the villain in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade said to our hero: “It’s time to ask yourself what you believe.” 







What do I believe? I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. I believe that God sent Jesus to us with the promise of eternal life. God so loved the world, and it is my faith in that divine love that sustains me and gives me hope – no matter what calamities or crises come my way. God’s will be done. 










Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Fear Is Useless






The new normal. One hears those three words a lot in this strange time of coronavirus crisis. Everything has stopped. The Archbishop of Portland has sadly decreed no weekend liturgies until at least mid-April and possibly even later than that, although the ministry of my parish continues. I am working from home and connecting with my office colleagues through the usual electronic outlets, including virtual meetings via video conferencing. I haven’t used my car in several days. Like most other Americans, I am literally quarantined in my humble home with no physical contact with anyone except my brother and my cat. I miss social interaction at the office during the week but what I really yearn for is Sunday Eucharist with my parish community. 

To be honest, I am not sure where I am going with this blog. I’m just typing this up as I go along, rambling on as someone who has spent too much time alone. Haven’t we all? I seemed to touch a nerve with my last blog in which I was honest about my fears about COVID-19. Almost 200 views in one day! I received a couple of snipey comments from people who deny the seriousness of the crisis, but I realize that skepticism is their response to the unknown. 

That’s basically what it’s all about, isn’t it? Fear of the unknown. We moderns delude ourselves into thinking we are in control of our destiny, and advances in science, medicine and technology support that illusion. But when it comes right down to it, we’re all marching at various speeds toward death, the great mystery for which there has been no satisfactory explanation. 

At this writing, the coronavirus has already taken the lives of more than a hundred people in the United States and 8,911 deaths worldwide. It will potentially get worse because anyone can be an unwitting carrier. Hence, the need for extreme quarantine. The fear is palpable, but what did Jesus say? 

Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.
-Mark 5:36 

Jesus said that in response to news of the death of the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue official. In desperation, Jairus sought out the great Miracle Worker among the crowds while he was teaching and healing. By the time Jesus arrived at the official’s house, people there said, “Do not trouble the Teacher further. Your daughter is dead.” Jesus ignored them and proceeded to bring this 12-year-old girl back to life. 

There is much wisdom in this Gospel passage. People in Jairus’ household had basically given up and even mocked Jesus when he said the girl was only asleep. Perhaps at great personal risk to his standing as a synagogue official, Jairus elbowed his way through the crowds of people to humbly ask Jesus’ assistance. Jairus didn’t care what anybody else thought. In the face of the unknown, with death literally knocking on his door, he could only trust Jesus. 

Fear is useless. What is needed is trust. 

As we wade through the unprecedented unknown of the coronavirus crisis, perhaps we could learn to trust God more. Many of us are getting bored at home alone. If we could transform that boredom into a deep prayer of trust, fear will go a long way in becoming useless. 


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Of Closed Churches and Generational Differences on COVID-19






It is very strange to sleep in on the Lord’s Day and not have to rush out to my parish where, on any normal Sunday, I accompany on piano for three liturgies. But this is not any normal Sunday. At this writing, the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, and other countries are in lockdown because of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, a pandemic that has gripped the world. Other sources have expounded on the details so there’s no need for me to repeat them here. But, with a 14-day incubation period, anybody could be an unwitting carrier of the virus that, among other things, causes extreme flu-like symptoms and, within the over-60 generation, possibly even death. 

Death. Right. I am in that demographic and COVID-19 was never on my plate as a possible way to die. As a matter of fact, I don’t want to die. Not yet, anyway. I have so much more that I want to do in life, so many more songs to compose, so many more books to write, so many more places to visit on this beautiful Earth. So please excuse me if I seem a little paranoid as I quarantine myself from the outside world. 

The controversy within my pastoral musician peer group, of course, is the closure of churches. Many bishops of many dioceses have closed down parish churches in order to curtail the spread of coronavirus. The bishops are wisely erring on the side of caution. Just Google “Catholic dioceses Mass cancellations” to see how widespread the closure is. 

My parish, Holy Trinity in Beaverton, Oregon, is closed for at least the next two weeks. We will not have Sunday liturgy on the weekends of March 14-15 and 21-22. My pastor is over 60. Half my choir is over 60. One third or more of my parishioners are over 60. My choir director is over 60. I’m over 60. Pardon me if we hedge our bets by practicing radical social distancing.

So I have no sympathy for my younger peers who are moaning about how the media and government officials and church hierarchy are overreacting to this pandemic. I cringe at how my younger peers are boasting on social media that their churches are “open for business.” I disagree with their argument that in recent years, the common flu caused more illnesses and deaths that COVID-19 – at least thus far. The coronavirus is totally new territory for which there is no vaccine or “flu shot” to combat it. Do my pastoral musician peers really want to face the prospect of several weeks of non-stop funerals? 

I choose life! I want to live! What’s wrong with that? 

I missed being with my people on Sunday. I missed doing dynamic music ministry with my choir and fellow parish musicians. I missed the Eucharist and intimate Communion with Jesus. I look forward to the day when we will all regather and celebrate the Risen Christ in our midst. Until then, here is a prayer from Saint Francis de Sales that my pastor, Father Dave Gutmann, posted on our parish website: 


Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same understanding Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
-Saint Francis de Sales







Sunday, February 9, 2020

We Should Glory in the Cross








As a composer, Bob Hurd has always grounded his creative work on liturgical need for the worshipping community. He never writes for just for the sake of having a “hit song,” although many of his songs have indeed become the most popular songs in the Catholic repertoire. So when I proposed the idea of us collaborating again, Bob immediately asked, “What are the current needs in liturgical music today?” 

I pondered that for a couple of days. This was shortly after the Christmas season for 2018 had concluded, and my parish was already planning for Lent, Holy Week and Easter. My music director and I sometimes joke that Holy Week is easy to plan for because we always do the same songs year after year. But that got me thinking. Why are we doing the same songs all the time for the great liturgical seasons? Yes, certainly there are classics in the Catholic repertoire that are essential to Holy Week and Easter: “Hosanna Filio David” on Palm Sunday; “Pange Lingua” on Holy Thursday; “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” on Easter Sunday. I would never dream of replacing those beloved songs at my parish. But when you consider all the ritual texts that occur during these holiest of days, there is wealth of source material that could use some fresh musical settings. 

OCP has not published a collection of new music for Holy Week and Easter since the year 2000. Music composed at that time was beautiful and have since become classics that are still in use today. But a lot has happened liturgically since the dawn of the new century. The official Mass text was revised in 2010, as mandated by the new Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition. And there is now an emphasis and preference for singing the actual Propers of the Mass: the Entrance and Communion Antiphons, and the official texts of the Responsorial Psalm. As some liturgists say, “We must sing the Mass, not sing at  Mass.” 

The Mass Propers are meaningful and underutilized in American Catholic parishes. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal has always given four options for singing at the Entrance rite:

In the Dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for the Entrance Chant: 

(1)   the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum as set to music there or in another setting; 

(2)   the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time; 

(3)   a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; 

(4)   another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.  

-General Instruction on the Roman Missal, #48


For various reasons, in America we latched onto that third or fourth option – the singing of an appropriate approved hymn, much to the detriment of singing the Antiphons. Pastorally, I can understand that. Singing a hymn or song is easier for the people, who are accustomed to hymn form, or the Refrain-Verse (responsorial) structure of modern song, which allows them to sing easily. The challenge of the Antiphons is that the official text varies in length and form every Sunday. To effectively sing them, the assembly must learn a new song each week, or fall back on a system of non-metered chant that has been the usual vehicle for the singing of the official liturgical text for centuries. Either option may be difficult for the average parish community. 

A number of composers are addressing this challenge either by setting the Antiphons to chant, or by creating a new system that allows for the text to be sung in a contemporary song form. I eagerly look forward to singing the fruits of their labor! For the new Hurd-Canedo collection, as Bob and I studied and prayed the various antiphons, psalms and ritual texts, we realized what a rich song writing opportunity we had. For example, here is the official Entrance Antiphon for Holy Thursday, now known in the Roman Missal as Thursday of the Lord’s Supper. 

We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
in whom is our salvation, 
life and resurrection, 
through whom we are saved and delivered. 

Such an amazing and meaningful text! On Holy Thursday, many communities sing a Eucharistic hymn for their Entrance Song, but the official antiphon sets the table, so to speak, and reminds the community of the fact that the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper is the beginning of the sacred Paschal Triduum. Notice how this Entrance Antiphon for Holy Thursday doesn’t even mention the Eucharist but is focused on the Cross (Good Friday) and the Resurrection (Easter). In other words, there is no compartmentalization of the three days of the Triduum. We don’t just sing of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday. We don’t just sing of the Cross and Jesus’ death on Good Friday. We don’t just sing of the Resurrection at the Easter Vigil. Right from the start, we are reminded by this Entrance Antiphon that the Triduum is one continuous celebration of our salvation through the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

As I prayed that Entrance Antiphon, I considered how an assembly might be empowered to sing that text in an accessible way. I also thought about the style of music that Bob and I are known for. Would it be possible to sing “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” as a gospel-style hymn? I typed up the text and placed it in front of me at my piano, along with pencil and blank manuscript paper. 

I gave myself a strict mandate: Use the official text only! No paraphrasing, and try not to repeat words, if at all possible. I recited the text aloud, over and over. Discovering a rhythm to those words, I began to put together some chords on the piano. From there, a melody emerged. After a couple of hours of playing through my rough draft, I had a song! I recorded it on my iPhone, scored it out on Finale notation software, emailed it to Bob, and gave him a call. It was a good beginning and we were on our way. 

“We Should Glory in the Cross” is the title song of the new Hurd-Canedo collection. At this writing, Bob and I are still in the studio, recording and mixing, so I am not yet able to share a sample track, but we are anticipating a release later in 2020. We also looked at the official texts for the Responsorial Psalms and antiphons for Palm Sunday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. In future blogs, I will write about these new songs. 


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Monday, January 27, 2020

Baseball Sign-Stealing Scandal: “Say It Ain’t So!”








I love baseball. Sometimes I think that makes me a dying breed, but then I go to a game to see my beloved San Francisco Giants at their beautiful Orenco Park, thrilled to be in a full stadium with fellow Giants fans. 

I’m a late bloomer; I did not play in Little League. Growing up in Los Angeles, I started out as a Dodger fan. (I know, I know. That means I’m a team traitor, but I moved to San Francisco in 1986, fell in love with the Giants, and never looked back.) But I didn't actually play the game myself until my college days in the 1970s, when I would watch my friends play informal pick-up games on the athletic field. One day, someone noticed me sitting alone on the grass.

“Hey, Ken!” a close friend shouted. “We need an outfielder. Come on down!” 

“Who, me?” I shouted back. “No way! I’ve never played baseball in my life. I would only embarrass myself.” My friend gave me a surprised look as the game continued, short an outfielder. Later, he approached me (let’s call him Tim). 

“What do you mean, you’ve never played baseball?” asked Tim. “Where have you been? I’ve seen you enjoy Dodger games on TV.” 

“It’s true,” I replied sheepishly. “I’ve never done any sports in my life.” I’m the oldest sibling, I had no older brother to introduce me to sports, and my father was already in his senior years by the time I was in grade school. So I focused on music and math but not sports. 

“Lame excuse,” said Tim as he handed me a mitt. “Catch!” He then tossed me a ball. What do I do? It was a clumsy effort but I managed to catch the ball. “Now toss it back to me,” said my new coach as he walked several feet away from me. 

My initial excursion into actually playing baseball was tentative but promising. “That’s it. You’re getting it. Way to go, Kenny!” I had to admit I was enjoying this impromptu game of catch. Then followed several afternoon coaching sessions when I learned how to throw the ball near and far, and how to catch it in several situations: long overhead flyball in the outfield; scooping catch at shortstop followed by a quick toss to first base; diving catch; you name it, I caught it. I was actually starting to get good! But then came batting lessons. 

I was a lousy hitter, or so I thought. Tim taught me the correct batting stance, and how to watch the pitcher and anticipate his pitch. Eye-hand coordination! The secrets of this sport that I only watched on TV were finally opening up to me! It wasn’t long before I started playing informal live games on our college field with other friends. I was having a grand time! 

I ended up as an outfielder, with centerfield as my favorite position. I developed a knack for catching a long flyball and tossing it back to an infielder just in the nick of time. As for batting, I never hit a homerun but I consistently sent fast choppers through that sweet spot between third and second, always forcing the shortstop to attempt a diving catch and missing. I always put the ball into play and generated a lot of RBIs. After a while, I noticed players on the opposing team would alter their positions slightly whenever I came up to bat. That sure felt good! I had a talent in baseball that I never knew I had, all because of friends who took the time to show me the ropes. Those skills have served me well throughout my life in parish and youth ministry situations whenever an informal baseball game was played. 

The upshot of my newfound skills is that I grew to love baseball even more. Being a player, I finally understood the nuances of the game and saw things I never noticed before when I simply watched on television: the double-play set-up; the need for the batter to run quickly and never dive into first base; the different kinds of pitches a skillful pitcher can employ; and the catcher’s signals to the pitcher to help him decide which pitch to throw: fastball, curveball, changeup, breaking ball, slider, etc.  And that aspect of the game is what is currently causing angst among baseball fans. 

Baseball is a game of inches and nuances. It’s a game of strategy in which the manager utilizes his players like a chess master; where the pitcher studies an opposing hitter’s stats and videos ahead of time so he can decide on the best pitch to get him out; and where the catcher, who has the best seat in the stadium, understands the flow of a game and calls the best sequence of pitches for the pitcher to throw. These catcher’s “signs” are essential in a traditional sport that is played in a loud stadium and does not use technology to transmit this essential strategy into player headsets. 

Naturally, sign stealing by the opposing team is going to give them an edge. If batters know in advance what pitch will be thrown to them then, of course, they will successfully fatten their batting average. The history of the game is littered with stories of teams who found ways to read the opposing team’s signs to give their hitters that edge. It’s not kosher; it’s cheating! And usually, cheating teams have been found out and penalized. 

In times past, cheating teams utilized their own system of counter-signs to convey pitch info to their batters. Fast forward to 2017. The Houston Astros, who had been in the cellar for several seasons, suddenly bounded into the playoffs. Their players’ batting averages were off the charts.






Now they were in the World Series, hitting their way to a championship by beating the red-hot Los Angeles Dodgers, who arguably had the best pitchers in baseball, including the amazing Clayton Kershaw. Followers of the game now know the reason for the Astros’ successful surge: they were cheating! They utilized technology and chutzpah to read their playoff opponents’ signs. A video camera was strategically hidden in centerfield, zooming in on the catcher as he discreetly signaled pitches to his pitcher. An Astro player studied the monitor and banged on a plastic trash can – a trash can! – to convey to his batter the pitch that was coming up: one bang for fastball; two bangs for curveball; no bang for changeup; etc. One of the enduring images of that World Series is a dejected Kershaw hanging his head low on the mound as yet another Houston homerun was batted against him. 





How low could a team go? Did the Astros think they could actually get away with this? They won the World Series; they had their dogpile on the infield after their last out and sprayed each other with champagne in the locker room; they had their victory parade through the streets of their city. To their credit, the dejected Dodgers returned to the World Series the following year against Boston, only to taste defeat again. Turns out the manager of the 2018 Red Sox was instrumental in setting up the Astros’ cheating technology when he served as a coach for the 2017 Astros. Hmmm. Can you smell the rats? 

No, the Astros and, apparently, the Red Sox could not get away with this. Thanks to a whistleblower, Major League Baseball conducted an investigation and found the Astros guilty of illegal use of technology. Justice was swift: Houston GM Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were suspended, and the team’s owner subsequently fired them. The Astros were also fined $5 million, and they forfeited their first and second-round draft picks for the next two years. 

In a further development, Red Sox manager Alex Cora was also quickly fired, as was Carlos Beltran, the new manager of the New York Mets who, you guessed it, was a player for the 2017 cheating Astros. At this writing, MLB is still investigating the Red Sox. So discipline is being handed down against executive and managerial staff. Players have not been disciplined because of their cooperation in the investigation. 

Both the 2017 and 2018 postseason and World Series are damaged goods. Both the Astros and the Red Sox will have an asterisk next to their championship pennants and trophies. Those games cannot be replayed. It’s too late! Many of those players have either retired or were traded to other teams. Meanwhile, the Dodgers and their fans will always wonder “what if.” There is no guarantee that LA would have won the World Series in those two years but their opponents’ cheating certainly makes the outcome suspect. Careers are forever altered. Pitchers Yu Darvish (now playing for another team) and Clayton Kershaw have a reputation for always choking in the postseason. So does LA manager Dave Roberts. If they had won the World Series in both years, their careers and stats would have been revitalized. Sadly, it is now too late to do anything about it. 

Please understand that I am in no way, shape or form a Dodger fan, but I do believe that the integrity of the game is of utmost importance. What does it say to the youth of America when cheating is so callously used to win championships? I think of all those kids in Little League, those high school stars, those college and minor league standouts and, yes, those everyday batters and outfielders like me who played informal pickup games in parish and school fields across the land. 

Baseball is supposed to be fun. We build our memories of the game on our skills and our following the rules that ensure an honest outcome. If that integrity is compromised then baseball is a sham. Say it ain’t so! 






Sunday, January 5, 2020

LIFE and DEATH


















Mystery of life. 
In youth 
you think you’ll live forever. 
You blaze a trail. 
You yearn. You live. 
Decades pass, 
the unexpected and unplanned 
become your life, a gift of love. 
Grateful. So very grateful. 

Mystery of death. 
Life crashes down 
as friends from youth are taken 
way too soon. 
You shake your head. 
You mourn. You pray. 
Time’s a thief, 
so unexpected and unplanned. 
Yet death cannot destroy your love. 
Still grateful. So very grateful. 

-Ken Canedo, January 2020 
as I mourn the recent unexpected loss 
of two high school friends, 
Michael Milas and Tony Smith,
Queen of Angels Seminary, Class of 1970. 
God rest their souls.