Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Tweeting" at funerals (part 2)

The challenges of the new social media.


Over the past few days I've been thinking about those callers I heard on the radio who did not see anything wrong with tweeting at a funeral.  To me it just seems the wrong thing to do.  Yet, some do not.  So I gave it some more thought and I think that it may go right back to the whole nature of the new social media.  Many young people today experience community and interpersonal communication in a much different way than previous generations.  Viral community, typified by numerous "friends" on FaceBook or Myspace that one has never met, communicating via "tweeting" or "texting," have replaced real communion where one actually sits with others in person.  When faced with a social situation at which one is actually present to others, young people almost always pull out the cellphone and start texting and tweeting.  I see it in my nieces and nephews all  the time. Many young people have to connect because that is the way in which they communicate and enter into community.  Texting, tweeting, and using the smartphone during an event - liturgy, meeting, class, etc., is not that "out of bounds" because that is the way they normally interact with others.  In many instances, they would not consider that "tweeting" at a funeral is wrong because it is just what one does.  It's almost akin to whispering to someone who is sitting next to you.  They do not intend anything more than that.  They wouldn't see it as a "big deal." Yet when it happens, whether it is in the classroom or a family gathering or in a church, whether the person intends it or not, they are sending the message that what is happening here is not as important as what is happening there.  Somehow, we have to convince them that what is happening right now, here in this place, is where their attention needs to be.  Maybe it's something as simple as asking that all cellphones and internet devices be turned off before the liturgy starts.  Many churches already do this.  Maybe it is necessary for the celebrant to remind the community at the beginning of liturgy that we need to make a conscious effort to focus on the here and now and to turn off all other distractions.  But it is clear that we have to take this real shift in communication and community into account when celebrating the liturgy.  We have to help them participate in the Church's liturgy.


The challenge of liturgical participation.


Even beyond the challenges posed by the new social media, there are many reasons as to why people can fail to be able to participate well in any liturgy.  Two immediately come to mind from my perspective as someone who has taught liturgical studies: either the liturgy is done so poorly that the persons participating cannot begin to find their way into a meaningful celebration or the person's own faith life is so undeveloped that they cannot enter into the symbolism and meaning of the ritual.  For the purposes of this discussion, let us assume that the funeral being celebrated is being done so with reverence, care, solemnity, and according to the Rite of Funerals.


 At most Catholic funerals, there are guests, people who do not share our Catholic faith.  There are also "lapsed" Catholics, people who no longer practice their Catholic Faith.  Within the assembly, then, there are people who are going to find participation difficult because the ritual acts and words taking place do not carry any deep meaning for them.  They are in one sense spectators.  Yet, they are spectators at a sacred event, which if it is a well done liturgy, can hopefully touch the good faith or even nascent faith of some in a grace-filled moment.  And we who believe, who call ourselves Catholic, should be ready to respond to that graced moment.


So what exactly is going on at a funeral? "In the face of death, the Church confidently proclaims that God has created each person for eternal life and that Jesus, the Son of God, by his death and resurrection, has broken the chains of sin and death that bound humanity. Christians celebrate the funeral rites to offer worship, praise, and thanksgiving to God for the gift of a life which has now been returned to God, the author of life and the hope of the just."  [from the Introduction to the Rite of Funerals.]

"And so we join with all the angels and saints in your song of joy: Holy, holy, holy, Lord ..." As a liturgy, a funeral Mass is a sacred service within a sacred space.  It is an action of God's people the Body of Christ and of Christ Himself, the head of the Body.  It is a mystical moment in which the prayers and actions of the heavenly Church of Christ, the angels, and saints is joined with those of the earthly Church of those striving to live saintly lives.  When we celebrate a liturgy, we are part of extraordinary moment of theophany, encounter with God in Word and sacrament.  When we enter into the sacred space of the church building, we bless ourselves with water and the sign of the Cross to remind ourselves of the Sacrament of Baptism by which we were made a part of God's holy people.  Our participation in the liturgy and the encounter with the holy transforms us more deeply into the Body of Christ, if we orient ourselves by our attention, intention, and participation in the liturgy towards the holy encounter with God that is occurring.  That is why the cellphones, the iPads, and the tablets need to be turned off.  We need to be present to the liturgy, undistracted from what is outside of it.  Tweeting would obviously fall into this category.

Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  When we come to a funeral, we are there to pray and worship.  I'll say it again, we are there to pray, not to tweet, text, or email.  We are there to worship God in Word and sacrament, not in Apple or Microsoft.  We are there to pray for both the living and the dead, not to be texting our friends.  We pray in the hope of salvation for the one who has died, that they may be found worthy through the goodness of their life of eternal life in heaven.  We do not pray that they have eternal life as if this were an option.  Life after death is a reality  for all.  How that eternity is spent is another question all together.  So, we petition that God, in his mercy, will grant the deceased eternal life with Him, not apart from Him. We pray for the living, especially, the loved ones and friends of the deceased that they may be consoled by the hope of faith and supported by our prayers for them.  Lord, speak to us the word of faith.  So, when you come to church for a funeral, or any liturgy, unless you're a doctor or nurse on call or someone like that, turn off the cellphone and turn on the prayer.  After all, at the end of your life, who are you really going to need to tweet?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"Tweeting" at Funerals (Part 1)

Yesterday morning, Myra Kraft, the wife of Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots football team,  was laid to rest after a long battle with cancer.  Her funeral was at Temple Emmanuel in Newton MA and was attended by 1,000 mourners, including luminaries from the political, sports, and financial worlds.  She was, by all reports, a lovely person who embraced charitable causes near and far, working tirelessly on their behalf.  Myra Kraft was 68 years old.  May she rest in peace. "May His great name be exalted and sanctified ..."


Later in the day, I was listening to sports radio in my car and there was a huge discussion going on about the fact that a number of people who attended Myra Kraft's funeral "tweeted" during the service.*  Some were reporters, some were people who were just there.  One of the commentators was appalled, the other was basically saying, "this is the way of the world today.  Tweeting is one of the ways in which people basically communicate today.  We just have to accept it."  Callers to the show were, for the most part, opposed to "tweeting" at a funeral and they gave all kinds of reasons.  But there were still some who saw nothing wrong with it, especially at a funeral of someone who was such a public figure as Myra Kraft.  


As you can guess, I have my own opinion on all of this.  Some of this comes from my own background as having been involved in media relations and communication for the Archdiocese of Boston, the rest comes from my Catholic faith.  So here we go.


When I worked with the media, there were numerous liturgical events that were well covered by the press.  The funeral of Congressman Joe Moakley, a funeral of a serviceman killed in Afghanistan, and the installation Mass of then Archbishop Sean O'Malley come to mind, by way of example.  In many instances, the liturgy was broadcast live from inside the church with press in attendance.  The presence of the press inside the church was agreed to by the Archdiocese and the persons and families involved.  The press inside were allowed to take notes, use tape recorders and laptop computers.  But, they were also in a place, off to the side, where they could least distract from the service.  In these instances, everyone agreed to the press presence, they were there specifically as reporters to report, and there were ground rules.  If we had twitter back then, I'm sure it could have been accommodated as a reporting tool under the same rules.


Now, if the Kraft family had invited the press in to the funeral service as the press and not as mourners, if it was understood by all that they were there to report, and if they were "tweeting" as part of the "reporting," then I see no problem.  It may not be what I would like to see at a funeral but it was the family's decision.  It is also a funeral conducted within another faith community who I'm sure understand the funeral service in a different way than I do within my Catholic faith and may see nothing inappropriate about "tweeting" at a service.  I don't know.  But, if that is not the case and a reporter was there as a "mourner," and proceeded to "tweet" anyway, then I do have a problem with that because they were taking advantage of their invitation to be there as a mourner in order to report the event.  If they want to report about the funeral after it is over, by all means do so.  That's what reporters do.  If they feel that the funeral was a private event and they should respect that privacy, that's even better.  But to "tweet" or "report" during the service without the Kraft family's permission is I think a boundary issue. 


Now as far as the other "mourners" who were at the funeral and were tweeting, my question to them is "why?"  To what purpose?  What good is really being served here?  Who was being served here?  Certainly not Myra Kraft.  Certainly not her family.  "Look at me!  I'm at Myra Kraft's funeral with Donald Trump and Tom Brady!"  They can't even claim some kind of press/media, "I'm just doing my job" excuse. When the Kraft family looked out and saw the tweeters sitting there, if they noticed them at all, I think they thought they were there to show their respect and esteem for her and the Kraft family and to offer prayers and support to them.  Let me ask the tweeters this.  How would you feel if your were at your mother's or wife's funeral and you looked out and saw someone looking down at their phone and texting messages?  Well, then, why would you think this is a good idea for you to do it at someone else's loved one's funeral.  Danny Ainge, the general manager of the Boston Celtics, once said in an interview that he thought most tweeting was basically a selfish act, designed to draw attention to the person tweeting.  I think in the case of people tweeting at Myra Kraft's funeral his point was proven true.  Next time, turn off the cell phone.  No one is that important.


At this point, I think there is more to be said about people who text or tweet at ay liturgical service especially, in my case, Catholic.  Part 2 of this post will look at "tweeting at funerals"from this starting point.


*For those of you who are not familiar with "tweeting," it means basically to post messages from one's phone to your twitter account for anyone who "follows" your account to read.  As an example, I have a twitter account which right now has over 600 followers.  I "tweet" a text message from my phone and my "followers" get it.  

Friday, July 8, 2011

Pastoring Multiple Parishes - Part 2

Bishop Christopher Coyne and Father Jonathan Meyer conclude their conversation about the challenges facing the Church, priests and parishioners when it comes to having a pastor responsible for multiple parishes. Father Meyer currently is pastor of 3 parishes and shares with Bishop Coyne some of the joys and burdens of such an assignment. Noteworthy in their conversation is the place of a “Communion Service” when no Daily Mass is offered. Bishop Coyne points out importance of BOTH sacrifice and communion when attempting to participate in the Most Holy Eucharist. For this reason, Father Meyers reports that when Daily Mass is not able to be offered in any of the parishes, there is no Communion Service in that parish on that day. Father Meyer contends that while some might see this as a disadvantage, he views it as a positive to foster vocations to the priesthood. Bishop Coyne and Fr. Meyer talk about how Mass schedules are not the only concern in multiple parish settings. Baptism, RCIA, funerals, weddings: these are all vital aspects of parish life that require flexibility on everyone’s part to build up the Body of Christ, the Church.


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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Patience with Oneself

"Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability - and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually - let them grow, let them shape themselves without undue haste. Don't try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incompleteness."  Tielhard de Chardin

Monday, July 4, 2011

Words to Ponder on the Fourth of July

"Speech on the Occasion of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence"  Calvin Coolidge, July 5, 1926.  (Conclusion) 


"Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.


"No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped."

Video on the New Roman Missal

This is an excellent Life Teen video directed towards youth ministers to help them explain to their teens the new English translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal which we will begin to use on November 27 of this year. I think it speaks to adults as well.


New Roman Missal for Youth Ministers - Word for Word by Life Teen from Life Teen on Vimeo.

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