Friday, August 26, 2011

My Friend, Matthew

It is with a heavy heart that I write this reflection on my little friend, Matthew the cat, my faithful companion who was taken from me so suddenly on August 25. He had just returned home after being locked up in the local animal shelter for five days. How he got there is a mystery. The staff told me some kindly person found Matthew wandering in the street and turned him in, thinking he was a stray. Luckily, he had the implanted ID chip, and the staff was able to contact me.

Oh, how Matthew loved being home again! He followed me around the house and wouldn’t let me out of his sight. After I treated him to his favorite canned salmon dinner, he meowed to go outside so he could once again roam free, see his feline friends, and climb fences and trees. As much as he enjoyed being with me, he also loved his freedom.

A few years ago, in my old Spirit Spot column on, I told the story of how Matthew adopted me. Re-reading it now makes me realize what a gift he was to me.

Of St. Francis, Sister Moon and Brother Cat

Last Thursday morning, we rose at 6:30 as usual, with Matthew hopping on my bed and gently nudging me awake to feed him. I then let him out and watched as he jumped onto the back fence and surveyed his world, his tail wagging happily. At 8:45 I went upstairs to get a book. Matthew was lying down at one of his favorite spots at the top of the stairs and his presence made me smile. Then I looked at him more closely. Something was wrong. Although his head was down, his eyes were wide open and he was not breathing. I called my vet and she said to bring him in right away.

I drove to the pet hospital as fast as I could. Matthew was a favorite of the staff, and they ushered us quickly into the examining room. The doctor checked for signs of life but she only confirmed my fear. She looked up at me gently. “I’m sorry . . .”

I am a pastoral ministry professional and very familiar with the five stages of grief. The shock that washed over me was mixed in with a little anger. How? How could this happen? Matthew was not even 5 years old. In his last check-up, the doctor gave him a clean bill of health. She said she has seen sudden death in young cats before. We discussed the possibility that Matthew might have ingested something toxic in the neighborhood. It is the risk that owners of outdoor cats take in allowing them free range.

The staff allowed me a few minutes alone. As I scratched Matthew gently behind his ears one final time, I thanked him for the privilege of being his friend. I blessed his body, pulled the white blanket over his head, and walked away slowly.

My house now seems a little emptier. Matthew’s food dish and water bowl are still in their usual place, and his favorite toys are scattered in every room. I catch myself in tears every now and then. Crying for a cat! And why not? After all, Matthew was my friend, my loyal companion. I was looking forward to his growing old along with me, with his purring presence a soothing balm for the passing years. Now, no more.

Memories flood my mind. On Sunday afternoons, when I returned home from church after a long morning of liturgies, Matthew was always waiting for me at the porch. He would hop on the hood of my car as I parked. I held out my fist to him, in the “fist bump” greeting that is exchanged between buddies. Matthew always walked up to me and bumped his little head on my fist.

Regular listeners of my weekly Liturgy Podcast have learned to expect surprise cameos from Matthew as he would sometimes sneak up behind me during a recording and meow into the microphone. Matthew often took walks with me in the neighborhood, and he delighted in showing off his athletic prowess by suddenly scampering up a tree that we passed by.

Occasionally, I would get a knock on my door. “Is that your white cat?” a new neighbor might ask. “Well, he just invited himself into my house!” Yes, Matthew was the unofficial Welcome Committee of the neighborhood.

What I found most endearing about Matthew is how he was always interested in what I was doing. If I was working at my computer, he would hop onto my desk and sit next to the laptop as I typed away. And boy, did he love music! He enjoyed my piano playing and always came into my studio whenever I played Bach. I actually tested this out a few times. When Matthew was in the hall outside my music room I would play rock or jazz and get no response. But whenever I played Bach, we walked right in and sat at my feet, his tail wagging gently to the music.

I will never again play “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” without thinking of my cat.

Matthew taught me a lot about enjoying life and enjoying the moment. His enthusiasm was always contagious. More than anything else, he taught me about loyalty. What a friend I had in Matthew!

Although he is no longer with me physically, Matthew will always live on in my heart. I have been writing down the stories of his many adventures over the past three years, and my plan was to someday write a children’s book. “Someday” needs to happen sooner than later. My book on Matt the Cat is all I have left of my little pal. Stay tuned.

St. Francis’ heavenly animal preserve just got brighter. Matthew, thank you for being my friend.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

First Folk Mass: 1968

This is the original draft of the Introduction to my book, Keep the Fire Burning: The Folk Mass Revolution. I eventually decided on a different Intro but this draft serves as a remembrance of my very first Folk Mass when I was a sophomore at Queen of Angels High School Seminary, Mission Hills, California.


In 1968 the world was a mess. The spring assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were followed by urban unrest and a violent Democratic convention in Chicago. The Soviet Union had crushed out dissent in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Millions were starving in Biafra as bloodshed escalated in the endless war in Vietnam. Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on birth control, drew the ire of progressive Catholics and was widely ignored.

Within the cloistered confines of Queen of Angels High School Seminary, this global turmoil was far removed. It was time for morning meditation, and the seminarians were supposed to focus on the spiritual platitudes from their olive green prayer book. But all that went out the window on this glorious autumn morning. There was a definite buzz in the air, a tangible excitement that sliced through the mandatory silence like the proverbial hot knife through butter. Here at the minor seminary of the conservative Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we were going to celebrate our very first Folk Mass!

I was a rowdy sophomore, ill at ease in my black-and-white boarding school uniform. Most of us seminarians, despite our fresh-faced youth, were already professional liturgists. We prayed a modified version of the Divine Office together morning, noon, evening and night. We celebrated Mass daily at 6:30 am, sometimes in silence, but usually in song with the seminary’s grand pipe organ swelling out in the “four hymn” mode so prevalent in the mid-1960s. On feast days we sang High Mass with Jan Vermulst’s Mass for Christian Unity. Occasionally, we sang in chant, and our alma mater was the beautiful Gregorian “Ave Maria.” But on this memorable morning, as Father Ready and the altar servers processed out of the sacristy, our voices rang out with a fire that we never before experienced at liturgy.

Come, let us worship the Lord, our God.
Come, sing praise to his name . . .

The accompaniment was simply three acoustic guitars and an upright bass, without a microphone, and the student musicians stood in the back of chapel, behind the assembly. Their stirring blend reminded me of my favorite Peter, Paul & Mary records. There was no cantor. In fact, that word had not yet been applied to Catholic liturgy. The momentum of the singing was carried by our unabashed youthful enthusiasm. We were worshipping God with the sound of our generation!

Something was happening in our Church, something that was quite beyond our secluded existence in California’s San Fernando Valley. As I sang along with my brother seminarians, I glanced down at the copyright credits on our printed worship aid. Our music director, Monsignor Gerken, had taken care to do everything properly.

“Come, Let Us Worship” by Bro. Gregory Ballerino. Copyright © 1967 by the Gregorian Institute of America, Chicago, Illinois.

“They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love” by Fr. Peter Scholtes. Copyright © 1966 by F.E.L. Church Publications, Ltd., Chicago, Illinois.

These exciting songs came from the Midwest a year or two prior to our singing them. Clearly, an extraordinary Spirit was sweeping the land. After that first Folk Mass, my life would never be the same.

The story of the Folk Mass is a largely forgotten chapter in the history of liturgical renewal in the United States. The mere mention of those words brings a variety of reactions ranging from wistful nostalgia to the rolled eyes of outright derision. The Folk Mass movement has been blamed for everything from the allegedly poor state of liturgical music today to the beginning of the end for the sensus mysterii. It conjures up images of guitar-wielding nuns in modified habits, too-groovy-for-their-own-good priests, and liturgical experimentation gone haywire. And yet, for many American Catholics, the Folk Mass was the only tangible way that the Second Vatican Council came to life.

The Council was certainly groundbreaking. News accounts of the bishops’ deliberations filtered back to Americans by way of official condensed reports in their diocesan newspapers or in Xavier Rynne’s “eyewitness” accounts in The New Yorker. Terms like Sacrosanctum Concilium, “ecumenical dialogue,” and “The Church in the Modern World” were weighty and even intimidating to the average person in the pew. But celebrating Mass in English? That got people’s attention. Congregational singing? It was awkward at first, but people reluctantly caught on. Guitars and folk music? Good Lord! What next? The Folk Mass was either embraced whole-heartedly or rejected vehemently. For the former, it was the means by which a whole generation became personally involved with their Church. . .


Keep the Fire Burning: The Folk Mass Revolution
by Ken Canedo

Available on