On Moving…

Our years of formation for the diaconate are focused on four dimensions, or pillars, of focus and growth, which weave together to help us integrate them into our whole selves: Academic (our monthly coursework in various areas of faith, theology, and Scripture), Human (our continued growth in our human lives and relationships and integrated responsibilities), Spiritual (our growth in our spiritual and prayer lives), and Pastoral. The Pastoral dimension is supported by assignments within parishes to get comfortable in various aspects of ministry, help in specific areas, and “grow into” the practice of ministry.

It’s bittersweet to share that after two years at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Alton for pastoral formation, I’m moving to a new assignment at Saint Elizabeth Catholic Church at home in Granite City for my final year of diaconate formation, starting August 1.

I will miss the wonderful, faith-filled people of St. Mary’s, especially the community of Oblate priests & brothers, Deacon Jim, my fellow PSR catechists, Dennis & his wonderful music, and the many, many awesome families. I’ll be forever indebted to my pastor-supervisor Father Jeremy, to Fathers Ben, Paul, Dave, and John, and Brothers Leland and Jay-Ar, for the opportunities I’ve had to learn and grow – from helping lead the PSR program & teaching 7th grade, to assisting at baptisms and marriages, to occasionally helping with RCIA, to scheduling and communicating with those in the various liturgical ministries, to occasional visits to take Communion to the home-bound, and so much more.

I’m excited, though, to return to service in my hometown, in the parish in which I was baptized and began my Christian journey. I know the people of St. Elizabeth so well… I grew up with many of them, and call many of them friends and neighbors. I’ve worked side-by-side with many of them in starting the Koinonia retreat community in town, and in many other joint efforts between them and my family’s home parish.

I don’t start until August 1, but am already grateful for the time I’ve spent with my new pastor-supervisor Father Alfred, understanding the areas in which I’ll be able to help – helping to lead RCIA and PSR, helping with Baptism preparation, forming a bereavement ministry to help with funeral planning and families’ journey of grief, and helping to build up a crew of junior sacristans and recruit and train a new generation of altar servers. I’m so thankful to have such an opportunity 5 minutes from home for this last year of my formation!

Please continue to pray for my brother candidates and me as we continue this journey of discernment and formation, for our families, and for the people of the parishes in which we’re blessed to serve.

On New Pastors

Holy Family Church, Granite City, Illinois

Our home parish welcomes a new pastor today. In fact, all around our diocese, parishes are welcoming new pastors. Today is the “Day of the Big Move” each year, and this year is the biggest in about a decade in our diocese.

The last move ten years ago was tough on us. We deeply loved our pastor at the time, and he had been instrumental in bringing both Suzanne and me back to the church, and led us through marriage prep and presided at our marriage.

But on Day 1 when our new pastor Father Jeff arrived, there was no question that he was our pastor. The Holy Spirit had sent an amazing priest who we also came to love deeply. I still remember that on his very first Sunday, he made a point at the 11:00 Mass that pastors shouldn’t change anything big for their first six months or so, but there was one thing that he absolutely had to change immediately: The tabernacle was tucked away to the side in our church on Mary’s altar, and he insisted that we move it back up to the center immediately. (YES!) Right after Mass, I remember running around the church to gather a crew of the strongest men I could find, and then leading them over to Father and saying, “we’re ready to help you move the tabernacle.” Such is the spirit of our parish.

Yesterday we said goodbye to Father Jeff as our pastor. The last few times our Joseph (3rd oldest at 10 years old) saw Father Jeff, he just wrapped his arms around him, eyes filled with tears. Father Jeff is the only pastor Joseph has ever known, and Father Jeff has fostered a love of serving at the altar in Joseph and my other sons, and the seeds of possible vocations in them. This has led to a lot of great discussions about different priests and pastors we’ve known, and the different strengths and talents they bring, as well as the different memories we have with each of them.

Father Jeff has been such a wonderful priest and extended member of our family. We’re so thankful to God for his time with us, and we’re going to miss him terribly. But we also know that he has gifts that a new parish needs.

Today we welcome our new pastor Father Steve. We’re eager to see what gifts the Holy Spirit is sending to our parish with him! We can’t wait to meet him and welcome him in a special way into our parish and our family.

Whatever you do, remember that these moves are hard on our parish families, but they’re also hard on our priests. Pray for your parish, and pray for your priest and all priests! Introduce yourself to your new priest. TELL them you’re praying for them – and then DO it! Welcome them. Invite them over to dinner. Share with them a gift card to your favorite local quick bite or ice cream shop. Ask what you can do to help – and then do it.

We’re on this journey of intentional discipleship together. The Holy Spirit has worked through our bishop to send these men to new places where they’re needed. Let’s continue to pray and work through how these changes help make us stronger parishes and stronger intentional disciples.

Hairs on Your Head

Let’s see if we can really get the podcast rolling now that we’re in Ordinary Time!

I’m trying something new: At least one of our sons has asked if he can jump in and be a part of it, so he (and maybe eventually others) and a discussion between us of the Sunday Gospel may be our ongoing approach.

I’m eager to hear your feedback!

The BreadAlive Podcast is now listed on Spotify and Stitcher, and should be coming soon in both Apple Podcasts and Google Podcast (I’m just awaiting their review.) You can also add the direct RSS to your podcast player if you prefer.

A Juneteenth Reflection

In the Church’s calendar today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We reflect upon how the heart of Christ, pierced on the cross, overflowed with love and healing for all humankind.

In America today, many celebrate Juneteenth, the effective end of slavery in the United States. It marks the day when the last slaves in Texas were finally made aware that they were free, almost 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I had not paid much attention to this holiday before now. I’m thankful that this year, Adobe has given all employees globally the day off for reflection and advocacy.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflection the last few weeks as a switch has flipped in our culture and coworkers of color have suddenly felt much more comfortable sharing with us their stories of discrimination and fear – in their homes, their cities, and yes, even in our workplace. These are coworkers who have been my collaborators, bosses, and friends. They have continued to open my eyes to privilege that I have enjoyed because of where I was born, the color of my skin, and the hard work of my parents to provide safety and opportunity.

Let me be clear on two points, though: First, safety and opportunity don’t start and stop somewhere on a socioeconomic continuum. I have heard the heart-wrenching story of at least one coworker of very fortunate economic circumstances who has faced racism on his own doorstep because “he doesn’t belong” in his neighborhood.

Second, while extremely gentle set against the experiences of so many, I do have at least some firsthand experience of what discrimination and racism can feel like. I knew very well growing up of what my Grandpa and Grandma Halbrook faced when he brought her home to Granite City from Japan during the Korean War, in the wake of the World War. I still remember the emotion of my grandma as I interviewed her about it for an essay in 5th grade. Racism and discrimination have no boundaries either, save those we build to stop them.

Today, I’m reflecting upon moments in my own life where I recognize that privilege helped me in situations (many, many situations.) I’m reflecting upon the stories I’ve heard of coworkers that give me pause and make me wonder what else I can do.

I’m reflecting upon Father Tolton, the first known black priest in America, ordained in our diocese in 1854, who “believed that the Catholic Church had the means, really, to unite people of every race and give everybody the dignity that’s due everyone.. and drew men and women of whatever skin tone together under one roof,” (and the trouble into which that got him.)

[Read: What Would Tolton Think of Today’s Crisis of Racial Injustice?]

I’m reflecting upon the liturgy of the Stations of the Cross that the bishops of California will be hosting, focused on racism. [Read more]

I’m reflecting upon the difference in violent, destructive protest and peaceful protest, and praying that more see the importance and value of peacefully standing up for change.

I’m reflecting upon the importance of the front-line responders out there – the vast majority of them good, upstanding, and loving of all people – how hard it must be on them right now, how we need to help them set up systems that keep them and their communities safe from the “bad cops,” and how we also have to help set up support structures to help them deal with the ongoing stress that our society asks them to deal with in their jobs.

I’m reflecting upon the importance of doing my very best to raise our own sons to see all men as brothers and equals, and to recognize that they still have a level of privilege that they can use to make a difference.

I’m reflecting upon how all won’t truly be free until we respect all stages of life, from conception to natural death, and reinforce a culture and laws that ensure just support throughout life.

I’m reflecting upon today’s Solemnity – that of Jesus’ Sacred Heart, the heart which overflows with love for all men and women. “Jesus, meek and humble of hearts, make my heart like unto thine.” O Sacred Heart of Jesus, open our hearts to be unselfish in love for those around us.

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Streaming @ Holy Family “101”

With the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic and the closure of church gatherings, I was thankful to be called into a new kind of service, putting my liturgical & technical knowledge to use streaming some liturgies from my home parish of Holy Family in Granite City, Illinois. (Web | Facebook | YouTube)

While I’m currently assigned at St. Mary’s in Alton at the moment for pastoral formation in our diaconate formation program, my pastor-supervisor there told me when this started that it’d be best to stay close to home, safe with the family. It took a couple of weeks, but when the pastor of my home parish, Holy Family, called and said he was interested in streaming liturgies so the parishioners could take part and feel connected, I was thrilled to be able to help.

I thought it would helpful to share an outline of our setup and how we’re accomplishing the streaming for anyone else who might be interested or might find it helpful.

First things first… I started with a quick read of a blog post from Jeff Geerling from back when this whole “no church” thing started. Reading his post got my brain going about how to piece together a system. Thank you, Jeff!

Luckily, almost everything we needed was already laying around my house from past projects or tinkering. Here’s the end-to-end run-down, though:

Video Sources: Webcams & Pixel Phones

The two primary video sources are a couple of older Logitech C930e 1080P HD Video Webcams on tripods (1 in the image above.) I had these sitting in storage with the plan to install them in a video studio set up in the boys’ school’s media lab once Suzanne told me they were ready to redo it.

Two additional video sources we added on Good Friday and plan to use on Easter Sunday are our Google Pixel Android phones (2). This thread/tutorial tipped me off to this idea. It leverages the phones and laptop on a basic standalone WiFi network (3, using an old wireless router I had laying around) with the IP Webcam App running on the phones and alex.info’s IP Video Source 64bit (4) running on the laptop. The apps on the phones then broadcast constant video camera streams across the WiFi into the computer as a video source.

Computer & OBS Studio

The computer (5) running open source OBS Studio forms the heart of the system. OBS provides all of the switching and mixing of the various sources and encodes into an outbound stream. It’s nothing special – just a Dell XPS 13″ (a couple of years old) that I use for all of my personal stuff.

Imagery

I have been taking some photos around the church to use (i.e. for during the stations, as image inputs in scenes in OBS), as well as leveraging some imagery from Adobe Stock to create some of the before and after images, or the lower-thirds (when we put the citation of the reading, etc.) Of course I’m doing all of the image prep in Adobe Photoshop (shameless plug for my day-job/employer.)

Audio

For audio, we wanted to have the best we could, so we decided to use the existing church sound system (6), with the wired (ambo, choir loft submix) and wireless (priest & deacon) mics and other sources. A simple XLR mic cable from a spare output of the main church mixer into a Focusrite Scarlett audio interface (7). This, plus an additional mic directly into the Scarlett, allow basic audio control and monitoring, and then is fed into the computer as the audio source for OBS.

We also took the step of turning off the main amplifier & speakers in the church, so that we get just the sound from the microphones and the natural echo in the space, and not a bunch of additional sound from the amplified sound reverberating around. (It is basically a structure of brick, marble, and wood, with some plaster above.)

Streaming

When we’re ready to stream, we click “Start Streaming” in OBS, which we have configured to send the main stream to an account at castr.io (8) which makes easy work of “watching” for the stream from the church, then simultaneously sending it out to pre-configured streaming properties. We’re sending from castr.io to (9) Facebook video streaming on the church’s Facebook page and to YouTube, on a channel that we set up when this need arose.

(I also have an additional Facebook stream going out to a live video on my personal Facebook profile, that only Suzanne can see, that we’ll now use to test before we go live.)

Learnings & Gotchas

A few key learnings / gotchas…

  • The first “aha” I noticed from Jeff Geerling’s blog is that YouTube live streams take a 24-hour period to set up. So if you’re going to do this, get your Channel squared away immediately and make sure you validate and request live streaming. It’ll definitely take 24 hours from that moment until you can even think about streaming to YouTube.
  • The out-of-the-box config in OBS had a screen resolution and frame rate that killed the processor on the laptop, so I’ve been using a smaller video resolution of 1280×720 at 30fps.
  • We also initially tested sending from the laptop to the internet and castr.io via a wifi connection to the Internet. Not only was the router about 100′ away, but it was through a couple of brick walls, and we just couldn’t keep reliable enough of a connection. We kept seeing drops in the broadcast in the monitor at castr.io, so we knew it wouldn’t work reliably. Luckily, the local Best Buy had a 150′ cat6 cable available for same-day curbside pickup. A wired connection from the streaming computer to the Internet proved key for us.
  • On Good Friday, we had a good old fashioned issue with a microphone in the church system. We hadn’t even spent time testing that out before we started on Friday, but if it could happen any given Sunday at church, it could happen in this setup. This comes with all the usual caveats like fresh batteries in the mics’ battery packs, etc. Now we’re going to do some good old fashioned sound system debugging before Sunday.

That’s all for now. I hope it’s helpful or interesting. If or as we add or think of more, I’ll add it as updates below. Who knows how long we’ll be at this…

Let’s pray for a quick resolution to this pandemic, for comfort and recovery to those affected, and for strength for those caring for them.

Stay home, stay safe!

Marriage & Unmarriage in Heaven

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

I finally did it! I’ve envisioned this for a long, long time, but waited through a few years of formation, building a house, moving, unpacking, settling in, and several more months. Finally, this week, it seemed just about right. After talking with my spiritual director about it, I’ve finally tested publishing a podcast/audio version of my “weekly” reflection (below.) Let’s see if I can keep this up. If you’re interested, be sure to subscribe to the email updates (in the right-hand column) and/or the podcast feed. In future weeks I’ll work on the audio quality, intro music, and more. But to get started, here we go!

Just last week, my wife Suzanne made a joke around our kitchen island with some of our boys… she said, “Since your dad is married to me, his job is to help make sure I go to Heaven… so that I can remind him of all the mistakes he made for all eternity.”

Joking aside, this Sunday’s Gospel uses our idea of marriage as a backdrop for Jesus teaching us a bit about what to expect of the world to come.

Approached by Sadducees, some of His time who didn’t believe in the bodily resurrection, Jesus was asked about a hypothetical scenario rooted in the Jewish law of the time related to marriage. It was a question about a woman who had a succession of lawful marriages after one then another of her husbands had died, and to which of the men she would be married in heaven.

Jesus seizes the opportunity not to focus on their riddle about marriage, but rather to teach about the means to their question – what heaven is like, or even moreso, what heaven is not like.

Jesus takes the opportunity to point out indirectly that marriage in our current existence is a construct at the service of the church and society, but is not replicated in the life hereafter. He teaches emphatically about a life to come after our current life, pointing out that even Moses recognized God of the living, not of the dead. Jesus said, “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God.”

In one fell swoop, Jesus teaches that our earthly states of single or married life don’t follow us into heaven, but serve to help us get there.

Maybe that’s good news to those of us living a single life – we get to go into heaven with that unattached life intact, but we don’t carry with us any of the earthly loneliness that can sometimes come with living a vocation to single life. Our entire focus for eternity is gazing upon and worshipping the awesome reality of the love and power of God.

Maybe that’s good news too, to those of us living a married life – we go to heaven as the individuals that God created us to be. Maybe it’s sad that we won’t be “married” to our spouse for eternity. Or, for some of us, especially with those of us who have a lot of mistakes for our spouse to remind us of for eternity, it might be reassuring to know that maybe we can still love our spouse and loved ones in a new way, but be more focused on our love and worship of God than on dwelling on the wins and losses of our life.

A challenge for us to consider in this new week, as we continue to journey through this month in which we especially reflect upon the last things and those who have gone before us, is how we can continue to support one another in our Christian journeys in order to be among “those who are deemed worthy to attain the coming age.”

Married or single, in this community of faith, how do you support those around you? As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in the second reading, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ.” How can you support your spouse, your friend, your neighbor in this journey toward living in the love of God and sharing in the endurance of Christ more fully?

The more we care for our bodies, our relationships, these things in the world that God has given to us, but without becoming attached to them, the more we can be formed in the love of God and formed for the world that is promised to us for eternity. As the brother in the first reading from the second book of Maccabees said today, “It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again… with the hope God gives of being raised up by him”

May God give us the grace to live with ever-decreasing attachment to the things of the earth, and ever-greater support of one another in running the Christian race, until that day when, God-willing, we can join together in the praise and worship of God in the world to come, joined with all those who have gone before us in the army of Saints.