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.

A fruitful new approach to the Rosary

On our formation weekend this weekend, a few of us were talking over a meal about the intentions we pray for as we pray the Rosary. One of the guys shared an approach he takes and I’ve tried it and find it very helpful.

Instead of concluding each Hail Mary with the traditional, “Hail Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death,” substitute in the name of the particular person for whom you’re praying. It definitely makes it real and intentional…

Hail Mary… Pray for Suzanne, now and at the hour of her death…

Hail Mary… Pray for my boys, now and at the hours of their death…

Hail Mary… Pray for my mom and dad, now and at the hours of their death…

Hail Mary… Pray for Bishop Paprocki, now and at the hour of his death…

I still focus each decade, but this adds another even more intentional focus to each prayer.

Personally, I always pray:

  • The first decade for the Pope and my Bishop,
  • The second decade for priests and seminarians,
  • The third decade for deacons, those in formation, and religious,
  • The fourth decade for Suzanne, the boys, and our family,
  • and the fifth decade for other specific intentions for which I’ve been asked to pray.

A dirty cup of water

I saw something last night that really disturbed me. It didn’t all really click and set in at the time, but as the scene has continued to replay itself in my head over the last day, it pulls at my heart-strings.

At the moment, I’m in Little Rock, Arkansas with two of my sons. We’re spending a few nights here while they compete in the 50th anniversary World Championships of the ATA (American Taekwondo Association.)

Here’s the scene: Last night, we were having a quick bite to eat at a simple, local counter-service establishment. As we were sitting and eating, from across the room, I could see a man come into the restaurant, look at the counter and look around to survey whether anyone was noticing him, and then head to a trash can near the beverage counter. He didn’t look overly suspicious other than the way he came into the restaurant.  He looked tired and sweaty, but his clothes weren’t as rough or dirty as one might expect from a homeless person. But he proceeded to fish around in the trash can, find a plastic cup that wasn’t too dirty, and fill it with water from the soda machine.  He sat for a few minutes, savored the water, refilled the cup a bit more, took another big drink, and then threw the cup away, looked around again, and left the restaurant.

It was a hot day. I’m sure the man, if he was out walking on the streets, was in danger of heat exhaustion or worse. At the very least, he certainly needed a basic essential like water to even continue to survive.

I suppose that I was partially in amazement and partially in awe, but mainly just struck with wondering about him and his situation, that I didn’t jump into action to see if there was anything else I could do for him. (Ironic, at the World Expo of an organization whose motto is, “Always take action.”) I suppose that I also didn’t want to embarrass him or call attention to him because of how he had entered the restaurant and the way the whole scene had played out.

Like I said, though, that scene has continued to replay in my mind over the last day.

In this Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, we will hear Jesus tell the parable of the Good Samaritan to the scholar of the law who asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

In the parable, both a priest and a Levite come upon a man along the road who had been robbed, beaten, and left half-dead. Both saw him but passed by on the opposite side of the road, avoiding him and avoiding stepping in to help.

It took a Samaritan man, an outsider – an alien, to come along and take action.

The Samaritan man not only stepped in to provide immediate help, cleaning and bandaging his wounds and giving immediate aid, but then also took him to an inn, cared for him further, and arranged for the innkeeper to continue to care for him. He went so far as to say that he’d come back by to check and ensure that the stranger had been cared for.

This parable begs me to question how I had treated this “neighbor” with the dirty cup of water. Certainly not in the way that I hope and pray that I would. I can try to excuse it because of the way that it played out, and because I was focused on my sons, or other things. But I can also pray that I might find a better way to help in the situation next time.

Today, on our walk from the hotel to the tournament at the convention center, along the same little stretch of street – on the same block or the next block down from where we were last night, I saw an entirely different scene.  Another restaurant had put out a 5-gallon cooler of water and some cups for those passing by. There, I realized, was a modern-day “Samaritan” in the form of a business owner doing a good deed in the neighborhood.  It would be just as easy to ignore those on the street, to avoid the liability, or the cost, or whatever else. But here was a business owner who was choosing to take a simple step to make a difference for those who might need a simple drink of water.

“Who is my neighbor?”

What a great question to ponder. And what a great challenge to see and serve our neighbor in need… perhaps even more so in our modern society when it’s so easy for someone to slip through the door, steal some essential water in a dirty cup, and go otherwise unseen or ignored.

God, please grant me the grace to see my neighbor in need, to pass on his side of the road, and to help in the ways I’m able.

For Pentecost: Living our Baptism (in Lumen Gentium)

Some solid and challenging reflection on living our sacramental initiation into the Church in Baptism & Confirmation, all from Lumen Gentium (“Light of the Nations”), the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, one of the four constitutions of the Second Vatical Council – emphasis mine:

“The baptized… are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian… they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light… Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ.” (Lumen Gentium, 10)

“Incorporated in the Church through baptism, the faithful are destined by the baptismal character for the worship of the Christian religion; reborn as sons of God they must confess before men the faith which they have received from God through the Church.” (LG, 11)

“The Holy Spirit endows [those Confirmed] with special strength so that they are more strictly obligated to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ.” (LG, 11)

“The obligation of spreading the faith is imposed on every disciple of Christ, according to his state.” (LG, 17)

How am I doing at living out these aspects of my Baptism and Confirmation?

Reflection: March 2019

Originally written for and delivered as a reflection at Holy Hour at our March 2019 diaconate formation weekend – March 8, 2019:

A reading from the first book of Kings, Chapter 19 verses :3-8:

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. He left his servant there and went a day’s journey into the wilderness, until he came to a solitary broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “Enough, LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  He lay down and fell asleep under the solitary broom tree, but suddenly a messenger* touched him and said, “Get up and eat!”  He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat or the journey will be too much for you!”  He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

As we begin our Lenten journey, at the end of a week that had a day of fasting and abstinence, and another day of abstinence, this reading might make us think only of physical food like the angel pointed out to Elijah… food like a Filet-of-Fish, or a salad, or Saturday morning bacon.

And yes, refraining from physical food as a means of self-denial, sacrifice, and penance, is an important part of the spiritual life and of our penitential season of Lent.

But tonight, as we spend time with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ here in Holy Hour, I’d suggest that we turn our thoughts inward on this moment and the way we pray and approach this moment.  I’ll admit that, despite hours upon hours in adoration and prayer with Jesus in Holy Hours like this one, I still find it uncomfortable at times.  I wonder whether I’m praying “the right way.”  My mind gets distracted, and I feel bad that I’ve left Jesus sitting there looking at me, waiting for me, while my thoughts are elsewhere.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, despite my best efforts, I feel like I fail at spending time here with my best friend.

Sometimes, in those moments, I’m like Elijah, turning back and saying, “Enough, Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors!”

But that’s when I realize that Jesus is still sitting here, the most patient and loving of friends, still waiting for me.  He understands, and he’s ready when I’m ready.

Last month in the Holy Hour reflection, David talked about suffering and silence.  He went into vivid detail about his son’s suffering after his attack in the streets New York City.  It was an amazingly touching story, but my heart and mind quickly flipped beyond suffering and honed in on the word “silence.”

Silence.

Let me tell a little story….

The night before our last formation weekend, I had made the decision to take a HUGE leap for someone who makes his living working in the daily grind of the tech industry, for a software company that makes much of its money from the time and attention of consumers inside of advertisers’ experiences.

I had come to the realization that enough was enough when it came to the distraction of quick little glances at my phone for Facebook updates, Tweets, Instagram posts, even emails and text messages.  That Thursday, I had made the decision to remove all of the social media apps from both my work and personal phones, and to turn off all of the notifications on emails and other messages, except for work emails during working hours and texts from Suzanne at any time.

Immediately after taking that step, I noticed that I had entered a vast ocean of wonderful silence.  I actually hadn’t even realized how much I had longed for that silence… that peace.

By the end of our last deacon weekend, I was truly savoring the fact that I wasn’t constantly pulling out my phone as a distraction in those “down moments” between conversations to check what was going on out there in the broader world beyond my immediate experience and influence.

Yes, there have been times when I’ve really been tempted to reinstall those apps.  Yes, there are moments when I really want the distraction. But no, I haven’t given in, and yes, I truly am appreciative of the “new life” I’ve had in my new, more real, more focused, interactions with other people in real life over the last month.

I saw its impact on my time in our Salt Lake City office this week, when my phone stayed in my bag most of each day and I found myself more focused on my teammates and team members.  I’ve certainly seen its impact in the time that I spend with Suzanne, and my time with the boys and with our other family members and friends.

Silence.

In this morning’s office of readings, St. John Chrysostom reflected upon prayer and conversation with God as “a supreme good.” He spoke of how our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God, constantly and in every moment and action.  Our prayer should be just an ongoing awareness of God and conversation with Him through each day.  He says, “The spirit, raised up to heaven by prayer, clings to God with the utmost tenderness; like a child crying tearfully for its mother.”  He says, “When the Lord gives this kind of prayer to a man, he gives him riches that cannot be taken away, heavenly food that satisfies the spirit. One who tastes this food is set on fire with an eternal longing for the Lord; his spirit burns as in a fire of the utmost intensity.”

I can’t say that I’m there yet.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be there in this life.  But I can say with sincerity that the “technology Lent” that I started last month is yielding fruits in helping me be more attentive to and present for others in my life.

Not that I ever pulled out my phone during Holy Hour, but my mind still had the muscle memory of quick distractions, and that’s starting to fade away a bit.  I hope and pray that this little change helps me be able to be more present here in Holy Hour with my Lord and my friend.  I hope and pray that we each find those little changes we need to make in our lives in order to deepen our time in prayer and increase the frequency in which prayer finds root in the moments of our day.

Then, like the child clinging tenderly as to its mother, we’ll be able to eat and drink deeply of God’s presence and grace, and like Elijah, we’ll find ourselves strengthened for the journey, ready to get up and face our forty day and forty night journey to the mountain of God.

My we all find our ways toward deeper prayer, deeper presence, and being more deeply filled by God as we journey through this Lent together.  Maybe it can begin in a special way here tonight, as we each spend time face to face with our Lord.  May God give us this grace.

A dream, a perspective

I had a wonderful, vivid dream last night. I was in the middle of the most beautiful, never-ending liturgy, with people of every race and time and place. I was dressed in a simple alb and deacon’s stole, and my only concern for eternity was keeping the charcoal burning in a thurible. I was so content and happy, and even felt a little sad this morning as I recalled it and desired to be back there.

I was also supposed to fly to Dallas for an all-day meeting with my manager today, but my 7:30 flight was delayed to 9:30, then 11:30, then 1:30. Even with an earlier rebooking opportunity, we decided I’d just stay home and we’d meet virtually instead. It’ll be as productive but just not the same experience.

Much in this world is imperfect. We long for the perfect of the world to come.

Christ’s Body: Change From the Outside

The Bread of Life & the Church's present scandal

I woke this morning to the sounds of the crickets finishing their evening chorus to the rising sun, and I laid in bed for a few minutes starting my conversation with God for the day. As I did so, the words of the Act of Contrition started to flow through my mind.

“And I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishment.”

I couldn’t help but continue to think about all of my own sins of my life and how I was truly sorry for them and wanted God’s grace to continue to get better, but also how tied to those sins was a just punishment. I prayed that someday, someone would have the sense to continue to pray for my soul after death as, hopefully, I underwent my own purification in Purgatory before going to be with God for eternity in Heaven.

Then, of course, my mind couldn’t help but turn to the current scandal facing the Church because of so many men in power who also sinned, and who also didn’t do the right thing when the situation called for it. The ongoing, renewed, and even bigger than imagined scandal of abuse of minors, covering it up, fostering and allowing an environment of sexual immorality – all of it is so terrible and heinous and unimaginable.  I detest all these sins by members of our own body, members of Christ’s body.

The Homeless Man & The Body of Christ

Homeless girl sleeping on a bench in the night mysterious atmosphere

The other morning, I took our dog on our usual walk down the street and around the park. While in the park, we came across an older lady from our church who I’ve seen around town from time to time, collecting and bagging up aluminum cans and plastic bottles. She was at it again that morning in the park, pulling a couple of bottles out of one of the trash cans and putting them into the bag she was carrying.

From time to time in the past, when I had seen her doing this, I had briefly wondered why she did it – it never seemed like she needed to try to recycle them for the money, but I didn’t know, and I didn’t ask. The other morning when I saw her doing it again, though, it made me wonder…

We do not pray in vain

I found great beauty and comfort in this quote this morning:

“Take note of this, for it is a certain truth: we do not pray in vain for those who are lost, even if they are our enemies. Yes, we do not pray in vain – even though everything seems to be hopeless. If we are truly concerned for their salvation and bring them before the Savior, he will bring them under his special care, so that – perhaps before we are even aware of it – miracles can happen, even among those whom we had already given up for lost.”

– Johann Christoph Blumhardt, Vom Glauben bis ans Ende