The Garden of the Soul

The American Roman Catholic world of the 18th century frequently found lay folk lacking in sacramental ministers.  With this challenge to maintaining their faith through regular public worship and Mass attendance, lay faithful found ways to continue their faith through the use of home-based prayers and family (or small community) devotions.

As print material became more affordable and easily accessible, the ubiquitous volume for English-speaking Catholics was Richard Challoner’s The Garden of the Soul.  Through its many editions, this volume described its principal feature as its “completeness as a manual of devotion; for it blends solid instruction with prayer; and provides the Catholic with all that is requisite to sanctify every day, and in more special manner the Sunday, whether by public, or domestic, or personal acts of worship” (Richard Challoner, The Garden of the Soul (London: [publisher not identified], 1775), 8).

I’ve run into this volume numerous times (as readers of American Catholicism and liturgy are wont to do).  But I’ve never batted an eye at the “Garden of the Soul” theme.  It sounded pleasant—a place where one might want to walk with God and not hide away.  Or, perhaps it evoked the notion of tending and caring for something that could grow.

Today’s Gospel gives us another take on gardening the soul.  Seed falls on good ground.  Seed falls on rocky soil.  Seed falls among weeds.  Seed is scattered and sometimes it bears fruit and other times it doesn’t.

Good News Flash: All this soil is in the same garden.

I am the rocky soil.  I am full of weeds.  I bear fruit (sometimes) and other times I do not.  I am the good ground.  All at the same time.

Terry Smith:
Image from Garden Tool Box

We Westerners who like to be specific and linear have trouble with drawing analogies to something whole; we are either red or green, black or white, White Sox or Cubs.  But, the Gospel continually confronts us with the words of Jesus which defy divisions.  He knows his faith-filled disciples: the same ones who will walk on water and proclaim that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world,” will fall asleep in his greatest hour of need, and complain about mundane little nothings instead of simply listening to Jesus.

We are all these things at once—the good, the stunted, the griefs, the anxieties, the joys and the hopes.  But, the good news is that Jesus comes to save not just part of us—but all of us.

He’s here for the whole garden.

There is hope for us, not only in our public and liturgical worship, but in our families, our friends, our small communities, and our spouses.  We can practice caring for these messy gardens together.  We can practice hearing and doing God’s word.  Whether we have ready access to sacramental ministers in the 21st century or not, we can feed our souls through the source and font of our faith in the Eucharistic celebration of the Mass, and in daily prayer both by ourselves, or where two or three might be gathered.

If, as Jesus says in our parable today, the seed is the word of God—the more we might tend to hearing it and filling our lives with God’s word, the more we might create good ground and, with hope, a fruitful harvest not only for ourselves but for the whole world.

So let us pray—at home, in our hearts, and in our liturgy.  Those with ears ought to hear.

We are living in “The Era of the Holy Spirit”

The following reflection on Pentecost comes from Fr. Gerard Austin, OP, scholar in residence at Barry University in Miami, Florida. Father Austin was one of the co-founders of the liturgy program at Catholic University; he is a teacher of countless students, and an esteemed scholar of the liturgy. His writings continue to inspire and enlighten those who seek to understand the liturgy’s history and its meaning today for the life of faith. This passage first appeared in the newsletter of the Dominican province of St. Martin de Porres, New Orleans, LA. It is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.


For the first generations of Christians of the early Church, the liturgical year consisted of only a weekly celebration of the Resurrection: the Day of the Lord, the Sunday. At this celebration all the various elements of the Paschal Mystery were recalled. God was blessed, thanked, and praised for all the wonderful works of creation and redemption – especially for the wonder-of-God par excellence, God’s only-begotten Son, who gave of himself for us.

By the end of the second century, we see attestations of an annual celebration as well. It was modelled upon the weekly celebration, but it lasted for a period of fifty days, thus being referred to by St. Athanasius as the “Great Sunday.” Thus our present “Norms Governing Liturgical Celebrations” state: “The fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost are celebrated in joyful expectation as one feast day, or better, as one ‘Great Sunday’.” This fifty-day period has its roots in Jewish tradition, sharing for example, in the notion of being a “seal,” a completion.

At first, no particular day or days of the fifty-day period was privileged; rather, during the entire period was celebrated: the death, the resurrection, the later appearances, the ascension, the sending of the Spirit, and the waiting for the final coming of Christ. Nevertheless, before the second half of the fourth century, certain churches and certain Fathers of the Church did emphasize different aspects of the Paschal Mystery on particular days (as the Ascension on the fortieth day, the sending of the Spirit on the fiftieth day), but never destroying the notion of whole as whole. This approach was called the “global view of the Great Sunday,” and during this time the notion of “Pentecost” extended to the entire fifty days. The entire period was a “period of the Spirit.” Jesus had promised his followers that he would not leave them orphans; he would stay with them but in a new way: through his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, which he would leave to them as his departing Gift.

Thus, one can well argue that the entire period from the Ascension of Christ to his Final Coming at the end of time is the “Era of the Holy Spirit.” This era, in which we are now living, is an era where Jesus is no longer with us in bodily form, but in a new way— in the presence of his Spirit. We have been assured the Gift of that Holy Spirit, but still down through the ages the Church never ceases to cry out, “Come, Holy Spirit, come”- not just on Pentecost but each and every day.

I think my favorite book on the Holy Spirit is I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY SPIRIT by Fr. Yves Congar, O.P.  I find it significant that the final chapter of that highly respected three-volume work is entitled “The Life of the Church as One Long Epiclesis” (the Greek word meaning ‘invocation’ of the Spirit). We know that Jesus ‘promise not to leave us orphans is true, but still we pray each day that the Holy Spirit who already abides within us (and among us), might penetrate even more deeply into every fiber of our being! Yes, Pentecost is not just a once-for-all event of history; it is an ONGOING MYSTERY OF FAITH.

Let us allow the global view of the Great Sunday, the view that contains all the multiple aspects of the ‘Paschal Mystery’ to be reflected in our own private prayer as well. In conclusion, may I suggest your praying slowly the following trilogy of mantras:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

“Lord Jesus, Crucified and Risen Lord, send me your Spirit.”

“Come, Holy Spirit, come!”

Together in Christ: Remembering Bishop Patrick McGrath

It is always gratifying to hear stories of pastoral bishops who support good liturgy in their dioceses, and who develop a real sense of trust and collaboration with their diocesan liturgy personnel.

Bishop Patrick McGrath late of the Diocese of San Jose, California, who died this past week, was one such bishop. I asked Diana Macalintal, who worked closely with him for many years as liturgy director for the diocese, and who is a former contributor to the Pray Tell Blog, to reflect on Bishop McGrath’s life and ministry. What follows is her tribute.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.


Together in Christ: Remembering Bishop Patrick J. McGrath
Diana Macalintal

The Diocese of San Jose, California, mourns the loss of its retired Bishop Patrick J. McGrath, a beloved shepherd, visionary leader, and advocate for the radical inclusivity and love of Jesus for all people. Bishop McGrath passed away at the age of 77 on May 7, 2023, from pneumonia that developed after a recent surgery.

Bishop McGrath’s dedication to the Diocese of San Jose was evident in his actions, words, and unwavering commitment to fostering a welcoming and compassionate church. His acceptance of others and his support for both the ministerial and the baptismal priesthood of the diocese was remarkable. Known for his genuine kindness and openness, he showed gracious hospitality and good humor as he presided over both altar and dinner tables throughout Santa Clara County during his twenty years as San Jose’s second bishop. He leaves behind a profound impact on the Catholic community he served so faithfully.

But for those, like me, who worked with him closely for most of those twenty years, his death marks the loss of a mentor, friend, and tangible sign of hope for the church we both loved.

In 2001, Bishop McGrath (pronounced “McGraw” but who liked to be called “PJ”) hired me, a 32-year-old, lay woman of color, just beginning graduate studies, to be his diocesan liturgist. I found myself working not only with clergy but also with colleagues who were mostly women, lay, from all across the Americas and Asia, and over the years, growing ever younger. Bishop McGrath did not simply continue the work of his predecessor, Bishop R. Pierre DuMaine, who had instituted diocesan programs preparing lay women and men for leadership roles and placing women in key positions throughout the chancery and diocese, including his team of liturgical Masters of Ceremonies. Bishop McGrath built upon the good work handed down to him and forged more ways to implement the principles of the Second Vatican Council he believed in so deeply.

Having become a seminarian in 1964, the vision of Vatican II was his compass; though he himself was not present there, he faithfully wore the pastoral ring given to bishops at the Council. He believed that the baptismal priesthood was foundational to the mission of Christ. So he consulted regularly not only with his clergy but with lay leaders, parishioners, and youth. The diocesan pastoral plan he initiated was radically synodal in its development long before Pope Francis came on the scene.

Though Irish through and through, he wholeheartedly desired that the liturgy foster the gifts of the various cultures of those who lived in the multicultural Valley of Heart’s Delight, as Silicon Valley was called. Our diocesan liturgies were both solemn and filled with the lively sounds, colors, voices, gestures, and rituals of the people of the diocese he so loved and who loved him.

His greatest hallmark, however, was his compassion and concern for those pushed closer and closer to the margins of the church and for those growing more invisible at the peripheries of society. At a time when the fidelity of religious sisters in the U.S. was being questioned, Bishop McGrath rallied to show spiritual and concrete support of their life and work in our diocese.

When Catholic theologians were being investigated and judged by the U.S. Bishops without any dialogue, Bishop McGrath offered an unflinching apology in his opening address to the 300+ theologians gathered in his diocese for the Catholic Theological Society of America’s annual meeting in 2011, and he encouraged them to keep doing their work because the bishops desperately needed them. The theologians responded with a standing ovation, something I doubt most bishops get these days from such an audience. A week later, I was in Bishop McGrath’s office and thanked him for his remarks, which meant so much to the theologians there, many of whom were my friends. He said to me, putting his hand on his heart, “Diana, the way we have treated them…that’s not how you treat family.”

Whether it was addressing unjust policies toward immigrants, standing with students protesting gun violence in our schools, dialoguing and praying with our Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities, working to reunite families torn apart at our borders, advocating for structural inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church, making sure they knew they belonged, were loved, and were needed, Bishop McGrath was consistently striving to live his motto: “Together in Christ.”

He was prophetic in a gentle way, and in his words and actions he expressed the things that we wish so many more bishops would say: you are loved, all are welcome, I am sorry, we need you. In a 2015 interview with America, Bishop McGrath said this:

“I love the church, I love the people. I wish there were some relief that could be given to
the people in difficult situations, a tangible welcome, not a perfunctory ‘You’re not all
bad.’ You’re not just part of the periphery of the family; you’re a part of the family and
you’re welcome to the table.”

Not many bishops would have embraced me and the gifts I had to share with the church as readily and kindly as Bishop McGrath did, and how I loved him for that. As our diocese continues to mourn and I hear stories from many other colleagues here, I realize that he made everyone feel this way, like we all had something necessary to give and share, that we all belonged, together in Christ.

Our diocese has lost a good shepherd, and the church, a needed voice in our divisive times. May we honor his legacy by remembering that we are all family in the body of Christ.

Read Bishop McGrath’s full obituary here.

Brief Book Review: Guide for Forming a Parish Bereavement Ministry

Guide for Forming a Parish Bereavement Ministry
By Robert Valle

“Each death is sacred because each life is sacred.” This is the truth at the heart of Guide for Forming a Parish Bereavement Ministry.

Who should read this?
Everyone who is responsible for parish liturgical celebrations that minister to the bereaved: pastor/clergy, liturgist/musician, lay bereavement ministry volunteers.

For those in leadership positions, the word “forming” is central. The book doesn’t merely tell how to recruit and organize (though these important aspects of the ministry are covered). Instead, the approach comes from an awareness that true ministers must care for the bereaved. It also emphasizes that the entire parish is responsible in the ministry of prayer for the bereaved.

Why is this book useful / practical?
This book is filled with numerous concrete ways to go about the responsibilities and specific tasks that will assist others as they walk the way of grief and sorrow. A deep experience and understanding of the realities of parish life are evident throughout its pages, with everything flowing from the formation process in a parish context.

The process is guided by the Order of Christian Funerals, with formation sessions and facilitator’s guides to help along the way. These will assist bereavement ministers through prayer, reflection, and sharing.

Why is this book significant / important?
The Church’s liturgy is presented as the primary catechetical and formative source for ministers. To reinforce/reiterate: as with all liturgy, the whole parish is primary in this ministry, with particular ministers drawn from it. This focus is particularly helpful in situations that find parish ministers working with unchurched children/families of the deceased, who might think of the parish merely as the location at which the funeral rites are staged.

Why should I use this guide?
The funeral rites are one of the moments richest with promise—and fraught with peril—in the life of a parish. Rich in the promise as a means to evangelize and share the Gospel; fraught with the peril of traversing an emotion-laden time in the lives of the bereaved. In the end, this Guide is a wonderful resource to lead all to the fullness of hope in Christ, the Resurrection and Life.

A side benefit
This resource is a concrete example of how to do liturgical/sacramental theology with the Church’s rites as a starting point, and how to incarnate that theology in the spiritual life of the parish and its members. A fine model for anyone interested in catechizing from the liturgy is presented here.

Valle, Robert. Guide for Forming a Parish Bereavement Ministry. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2023. 144 pages. $54.95. ISBN: 9781616717223.

REVIEWER: Alan Hommerding

Hurried Solemnities

Solemnities and the many other liturgical feasts that fill our calendar are meant to be true celebrations.  Our current Missal translation even uses the word “festival” in some of the prayers.

However, sometimes the added liturgical elements can provide a challenge to celebration.  I remember as a seminarian, that when a solemnity added a third Scripture reading, a Gloria and a Creed to the Eucharist, meant that the little time that we had in the mornings between chapel and departure for class all but disappeared. Unfortunately, the most memorable element of many solemnities was that we would not have time for breakfast and that there would only be two or three minutes between the end of the Eucharist and our having to be in the van to go to class.

When you have time to spare, then the solemnity can be celebrated beautifully. Some institutions are fortunate enough to be able to modify their schedules and cancel class or work to allow for the fulness of worship options on these day. But when you do not control the rest of your schedule it can be a challenge. It would be hard to tell parishioners that the 7 AM Mass will be at 6:30 or 6:45 AM tomorrow because we are observing a particular solemnity.

I remembered these experiences from my seminary training last Saturday.  We celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.  This is truly a beautiful liturgical feast.  But I had a group on campus for weekend classes. The Eucharist is usually offered for them 45 minutes before class begins.  Some students do come, but it is a challenge to make it to the campus that early. They were not late for class, but there was a certain tension between the competing liturgical and time concerns.

This leads to some reflections. Ought we schedule the liturgy earlier when we have solemnity? I am not a morning person, and while I do value the additional elements in the liturgical celebration, I also find it hard to equate getting up earlier, even by 15 minutes, with celebration. Do we skip parts of the Eucharistic liturgy? This is against liturgical norms and rubrics, but I suspect that often the celebrant “forgets” the Gloria and especially the Creed.  Or do we fast track the Mass, so that the Gloria and Creed are quickly recited in a scrupulous way, so that each and every word that is prescribed in the Missal is prayed albeit at breakneck speed?

Obviously, there must be some common sense and it is not always possible to sing the Misa Criolla at a regularly scheduled daily Eucharist, particularly in the early morning. But it is also true that we ought to make solemnities more festive. Extra liturgies could be scheduled later in the day to allow for proper celebration of these days, but the experience of the so-called Holy Days of Obligation, shows that these often have poor attendance.

But how ought we do justice to our rich liturgical heritage that expects longer celebrations on special days and the ancient principle that Sacramenta sunt propter homines (sacraments are for people)?

Cover art: Tower clock of Ss Peter and Paul’s Church, Old Brampton, Derbyshire, from Wikimedia Commons.