I’ve got something that I’m really excited to share with you that I’ve been working on for the past few months. It is a new podcast called, “Speaking With Deacons”, which I hope will give inspiration and insight for those who are ordained to, in formation for, or just curious about the permanent diaconate. In the first episode, I share about how I feel God has called me to be a deacon and I think you will be blessed by that (even if you are not a deacon). Future episodes (they will be released every other week) will feature interviews with deacons, hence the title of the show. It will be about hearing their stories and getting their advice. These interviews are part of my own journey to becoming a deacon, as I know I’ve got a lot to learn! So I invite you to be a part of that journey with me. 

I was joking with my friend Gene (who helped me set the podcast up) that this podcast is the the definition of a “niche” market. Of the 14K active permanent deacons in the US, the majority are over 65 and may not know what a podcast is or how to listen to one! But that’s okay. It is a labor of love. 

The #1 reason people listen to a podcast is through the recommendation of someone else. So please, if you know someone who is a deacon or is considering it, mention this podcast to them. And to God be all the glory!

Here’s the five minute clip on YouTube:

And here is the full 30 minute episode:

And the here are the major links to the audio podcast:

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/speaking-with-deacons/id1551646012

Google Podcasts: https://www.google.com/podcasts?feed=aHR0cHM6Ly9zcGVha2luZ3dpdGhkZWFjb25zLmxpYnN5bi5jb20vcnNz

Spotify: https://speakingwithdeacons.libsyn.com/spotify

The “Night of Hope” that was live-streamed last evening from Franciscan University exceeded our wildest expectations. There were 30,000 individual viewers, over a million page hits, and many who didn’t watch it last evening are now watching the video and sharing it with friends.

It was a powerful event. If you haven’t seen it I’d encourage you to check it out. Sr. Miriam Hiedland was wonderful, Scott Hahn was insightful, and Fr. Dave was inspiring. My worship team sounded pretty good, too 🙂 It was humbling to be a part of such a great team.

On a personal level, it was a healing moment for me. These past few months have been tough. I feel dumb to complain about it. On one hand, I still have a job and my family is healthy. On the other, losing numerous speaking and music events have been a blow on a number of different levels: financially, emotionally, and even spiritually.

Every summer, my year “crescendos” with great worship music, travel around the country, and re-connecting with other friends in ministry. As I go from weekend to weekend, I see God working in the lives of thousands of people. I’ve spend the past 25 years—over half of my life—spending the summer at youth and adult conferences. When I got the call that the summer conferences were cancelled, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I have mourned the loss.

So I was thrilled to be invited to lead worship for the Night of Hope. Like everything this year, it was a bit surreal. From my perspective, I was playing to a chapel of about 80-90 people wearing masks and sitting apart from each other. Yet I also knew on the other side of the camera were tens of thousands of people from around the world.

Unlike leading worship at a live conference, I couldn’t see what God was doing. But I knew He was doing something. I just had to keep praising Him with confidence knowing that other people were being blessed by it, even though I couldn’t see their faces (and even the few I could see were wearing masks). And then it hit me… that’s what these past few months have been about, haven’t they? Hoping in what we do not see.

St. Paul wrote, “Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees?” (Romans 8:24). Though some of the team later (lovingly) made fun of me for my “hindsight is 2020” comment, I still stand by my cliché: I think we will see God working more clearly when we look back on this time than perhaps we can see right now.

Last night gave me a glimpse of God’s glory. It gave me hope. I still don’t know what is going on, how long it will last, or why things are happening as they are. Like everyone, I’m worried about a second wave, riots in cities, losing more job opportunities, and potentially having to homeschool my children again. But I have confidence in the One who made heaven and earth and calls me by name.

Yesterday was May the Fourth, and today we celebrate the Revenge of the Fifth. So it seems like a good time for me to share my definitive conclusion about the latest Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker. Also, Tim Hepburn (my drummer) just asked me what I thought about it, and I figured he’d want it in writing.

I saw the movie four, maybe five times in the theater. I purchased the Visual Dictionary which was supposed to answer some of the many unanswered questions that lingered after the final questions. I paid attention to interviews with the creative team behind the movie to see if I might glean more information about the story they were trying to tell. I just finished the novelization of the movie yesterday.

I feel like I’ve seen and read everything there is to learn about Rise of Skywalker and have come to this conclusion: The Rise of Skywalker is the worst Star Wars movie ever made.

It was actually hard for me to come to that conclusion. I’m a huge Star Wars nerd and, by default, I usually love everything that comes after that trumpet fanfare and opening logo. I’m also a generally optimistic person and look for the good in everything. So I kept thinking it would get better if I watched it a few more times, or thought about it more, or read the book.

But the more I read and the more I watched, the worse it got. Perhaps there is more information out there, but at this point, it would not make it any better. I have no doubt it is the worst Star Wars movie that has ever been made.

However, I don’t think that it is the worst movie with the name of Star Wars attached to it that was ever made. That distinction goes to Attack of the Clones. From a cinematic perspective, Rise is a better film: it looks better, has great pace, and the actors give some great performances. However, Attack of the Clones, with all its faults, at least advances the storyline. Obi-Wan finds the clone army. Anakin and Padme fall in love and get married. The Clone Wars begin.

The only storyline that Rise attempts to advance is nonsensical gibberish that hits the nostalgia button any time your brain attempts rational thought. It is a type of pornography in that it only provides the briefest plot necessary to get to the action scene.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the novelization. I’ve read the novels for all the new trilogy, and I really enjoyed The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi books. They added depth to the characters and the story. But Rise read like a desperate attempt to explain away plot holes so big you could fly the Death Star through them, and by doing so revealed just how poorly written the movie actually was.

Let’s take one example, perhaps it’s most egregious. In The Force Awakens we encounter Ray, a woman has incredible power in the force but doesn’t know who her parents are. In The Last Jedi we learn that her parents were “nobodies”, and you don’t have to have a “bloodline” to be active in the force (which is what the “dark side” kept saying you needed). Personally, I thought that message was one of the best things about the movie.

The Rise of Skywalker awkwardly backtracks on that narrative and instead, Rey is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine! There were a lot of questions about this, the most obvious being, “who would sleep with this guy?” We were told to wait for the novel, it will explain everything!

Here is what happened, according to the book. The body of Palpatine you see in the movie is actually a clone that he sent his mind to as he was falling down the shaft in Return of the Jedi. But the clone wasn’t ready (darn!). So his followers kept trying to create a clone strand off the faulty Palpatine clone that might survive. One strand was promising, and this was his “son”. However, his “son” couldn’t use the force. At some point, his son had a child (with a non-clone?), Rey. But they didn’t want the Emperor to have her, so they left her on Jakku so the Emperor wouldn’t get her because, obviously, she would be a great human body for the Emperor to take over when she got older.

Of course, none of this was in the movie… or even makes sense. How does the human child of a force-impotent father become so strong in the force? How did her parents meet and have a child in the first place? Why did they not want the Emperor to have her (she would be the Empress, after all)? How did they escape from the Emperor’s grasp in the first place? Remember, this “son” was the only hope for the Sith existence, so you’d like to think they were, I don’t know, paying attention to him?

It feels like for every question that Rise brings up the writing team provides an even more complicated answer, hoping you’ll get tired and give up asking. There is so much about the movie you have to read a book (or books) to understand… and then you still don’t.

For example, what was Finn trying to tell Rey before he thought he was going to die? Not that he loved her, of course. That he was “force-senstive”! It is in the book! Silly audience, why would you think Finn loved Rey just because it was alluded to in the previous two movies?

Oh, and that kiss between Rey and Ben at the end of Rise? Did you think that was romantic? Foolish viewer. According to the book, and this is a direct quote, “And then, wonder of wonders, she leaned forward and kissed him. A kiss of gratitude, acknowledgement of their connection, celebration that they’d found each other at last.”

A kiss of gratitude! Of course! So, is that what the two women were giving each other in the final celebration? (Actually, no. The book also informs you they were married but didn’t like public shows of affection, which is why you didn’t know it until just then.)

There are just so many problems with the movie. How did the Emperor build ten thousand Star Destroyers, with an estimated compliment of about 50,000 people in them each (so that would be half a billion people just to run them, let alone build them) in a part of the Universe that was inaccessible (don’t get me started on the red “maze” they had to fly through… this is space, right? You can’t fly around it?). Since when was C-3PO’s memory backed up by R2D2… and why would that be a thing? Does some other droid back up R2’s memory? And what happened for those many years when R2 shut down because Luke went into hiding?

GAHHH!

The first movie of the trilogy, The Force Awakens, left a lot of unanswered questions. I was okay with that… it was the first movie of the trilogy. The last movie is supposed to answer questions, not raise new ones. It is supposed to resolve lingering storylines, not rehash previous plot points that had already been told, like the Emperor on a throne trying to get a young Jedi to turn while a battle rages in the distance. It was done better 35 years ago—a fitting epitaph for almost everything Star Wars (except the Mandalorian?).

I thought Force Awakens was a bit too much like A New Hope, but at the time I was happy to see an enjoyable Star Wars movie and really liked the potential of the new characters. I thought The Last Jedi did some really intriguing things and had some incredible moments, so I was excited to see what happened next. Rise was poorly written nonsense that seemed to try to cater to those who didn’t like The Last Jedi and in doing so pleased nobody.

I have friends who hated The Last Jedi and enjoyed Rise. I think it would be hard to find someone who likes both since the storylines, and even philosophy, are at odds with each other. Perhaps a reader might say, “The Last Jedi was the worst Star Wars movie, and Rise tried to redeem it!” Well, did it? No.

The movie isn’t without its good moments—I was happy to see Ren become Ben Solo (one thing everyone can agree on: Adam Driver’s performance was the best thing about the sequel trilogy). I suppose if you want to eat popcorn and watch a sci-fi movie that reminds you of Star Wars, you might enjoy it.

But even a part of your brain starts asking… does this make sense? Perhaps you assume that it would make more sense if you were a more avid fan.

Let me tell you, as an avid fan, it doesn’t. In fact, it makes things worse. That is why, for me, The Rise of Skywalker is the worst Star Wars movie ever made.

Happy belated Star Wars day, everyone.

My parish is closed until Easter. Disney World is shut down. It looks like Tom Brady is leaving the Patriots. They closed my local Bennigan’s on St. Patrick’s Day. I haven’t read the book of Revelation in a while, but I’m pretty sure these are all signs that Jesus will be back pretty soon.

Of course, there are some positives. The Cavs had a 1% chance of making the playoffs—I’m just going to say they would have made it were it not for the COVID-19 virus.

Missing Mass hurts most of all. However, it was only a few months ago the Church turned her attention to the plight of those who live in the Amazon, many of whom go years without receiving the sacraments. Going without for a few weeks seems to pale in comparison.

The challenge for those of us who are used to weekly/daily Liturgy is, how will we worship God when Mass is not available?

The same type of question was poised to the Jewish people at the time of the Exile. They were a people of ritual and sacrifice. For them, God was not “everywhere” but in a specific place: within the Ark of the Covenant inside the Holy of Holies within the Temple in Jerusalem. Then the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple and the Ark went missing, never to be found again until the discovery of Dr. Jones in the 1940s.

For the Jews it was as if God had been taken away from them. They were led off, in chains, to a foreign land with no priests, no sacrifice, and no temple where they could worship God.

A far worse situation than what we currently have in Ohio, or the rest of the country.

One might have thought this would have brought an end to the Jewish religion. Instead, it brought revival. No longer able to depend on the Temple sacrifices, the Hebrew people turned to the Sacred Scriptures. They build Synagogues that faced the direction toward where the temple once stood. The Rabbi—the teacher of the law—grew in prominence. It brought about an interior conversion in the people of God, and by doing so prepared a way for the coming of Jesus, who was known primarily as “Rabbi”. They studied the Word in Scripture, then the Word became flesh and dwelt among them.

Like the Exile was for the Jewish people, Lent is a time of purification and renewal. It is a time of interior conversion. There is no use wasting any energy in anger of what has occurred or why it happened the way it did. Instead of asking “Why did this happen?” (negative reaction) we should ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do about it?” (positive reaction).

In writing to the Christians in Rome (which was a tough place to be in the first century), St. Paul wrote, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Our God has made a career of taking bad situations and turning them into good (for example… the cross). This is an opportunity to grow in trust.

We must also remember that none of this, none of this, is beyond His Providence. When the little girl seemed dead and Jesus was told not to bother, he responded, “Fear is useless. What is needed is faith” (Mark 5:36). This is an opportunity to grow in faith.

As the prophet Habakkuk watched the armies from Babylon march into Jerusalem, and he couldn’t figure out why God would let such a thing happen. If you haven’t read that book of the Bible, you should. It is a beautiful example of someone wrestling with God’s will. He ends with a prayer of hope (another opportunity to grow), which I think is a great prayer for all of us:

For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, Though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, Yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

Praising God when things are good is natural. Praising God when things are bad? Supernatural. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with a song of praise during these trying times, mindful of the many who may be suffering more than we are right now. May the joy of the Lord be our strength.

Have you ever been to the Holy Land? I’ve had the chance to have visited there three times so far. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I believe that every disciple of Jesus Christ should try at least once in their life to physically walk where Jesus walked.

Doing so opens up the Scriptures in a whole new way. When you visit the place where Jesus told Peter, “You are rock, and upon this rock I will build my Church,” you get to see the cliff in the distance that Jesus was referring to. When you go to where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount and said, “look how the wildflowers grow… if God so clothes the grass of the field, will he not much more provide for you?”, you can see the beauty of the wildflowers growing on the hill.

Many call the Holy Land, “the Fifth Gospel” because, like the Gospels themselves, it is one of the best way of understanding and experiencing Jesus. I had studied Scripture most of my life and I thought I knew it pretty well. And then I went to the Holy Land and saw everything in a new way.

Here is what I am confident about: if you have never been to the Holy Land, a pilgrimage there will change your life. I’ve never had someone go to the Holy Land and describe their experience as “just okay”. It will deepen your relationship with Jesus. There is a grace that comes from the ground. You will celebrate Mass where Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose again.

So that’s my main point: at some point in your life, go to the Holy Land.

Okay, here is a secondary and not as important point as the first: would you like to come with me?

I’ll be honest, I don’t “do” pilgrimages, though I’ve been asked many times. But Fr. Louis Merosne made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse. He is taking people to the Holy Land to raise money for the poor in Haiti. None of us are making money on the trip, and even the tour company is donating the percentage they would usually make for those in need in Haiti.

So this would be a great chance to 1) go to the Holy Land, 2) with Fr. Louis, me, Bishop Dumas, and Greg Bottaro (do you know him? He is amazing), while 3) raising money for the Haitian poor. It is February 1st to 10th next year (2020) You can find more information at https://www.pilgrimages.com/holylandforhaiti/

I can’t stress enough how amazing the Holy Land is. You need to go at some point! And pray about potentially going with us. We’d love to have you with us in February, and it would be a great help for those in need!

I moved to Steubenville in 1994. Though I got accepted into the Master of Arts in Theology program, it was only as a part time student. My main purpose, or so I thought, was to do youth ministry in the Steubenville area. I wasn’t even convinced I’d finish the degree! Though I enjoyed the classes I took, I must confess that I wasn’t giving my all to them.

Until Barbara Morgan.

Someone recommended I take her course, “Scripture, the Heart of Catechesis”. Having come from an evangelical youth group, I really liked the “Scripture” part of the title. The “catechesis”? Not so much. But a good friend convinced me that I’d like it, and even brought me over to her house to meet her in person.

I had been told she was a passionate and dynamic teacher, so imagine my surprise when I met an old grandmother sitting in a reclining chair. Her hair was curly grey. She had large glasses. She wore the kinds of shoes that one could probably only get through some kind of medical prescription.

In the classroom, however, she was on fire. You could see the passion in her eyes as she talked about the “delicious truths” of the Catholic faith. She would quote St. Paul’s command to “guard the deposit” as if we were soldiers heading out to war. She warned us of the need to take our studies seriously, and “beware of the millstone” for those who lead little ones astray. And she explained that catechesis was more than arts and crafts, more than a classroom experience. It was about leading others into intimacy with Jesus Christ.

I tried to fake my way through the program but she saw right through it. One fateful day, she called me into her office and challenged me in a way that no one ever had. She asked, “What would it look like if you truly applied yourself?” She impressed on me that it wasn’t about passing the class, but passing on the faith, and that deserved the very best of my effort and ability. I had buried my talents in the sand, but I should be having them multiplied.

Even after graduation, she continued to challenge me and encourage me. She gave me writing projects and ideas. She brought me back to Steubenville to give lectures. I remember when she said I would make a good teacher, and I laughed. Me? Teach? No way. She encouraged me to apply for a position I thought I’d never get, and then advocated for me to get hired even after I pretty much botched the interview.

Fifteen years later, I’m now a tenured faculty member with a PhD in Theology.

Barbara had a way of seeing things in people that they couldn’t see in themselves. I’m not the only story. The majority of our Catechetics faculty were her former students and share similar things. She formed hundreds of men and women who went out in to parish or diocesan leadership, many of whom would say, like me, “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for Barbara Morgan.”

I got a call on Tuesday telling me that she had passed away. Over the twenty-five years I was privileged to know her, she was afflicted with a variety of medical issues, many of which were difficult to diagnose. She was truly a suffering servant.

The next day I said a prayer by her old office. I could almost hear her saying, “guard the deposit!” from the other side of the door. And then I smiled as I went to teach my next class… “Scripture, the Heart of Catechesis”.

Though she has passed, Barbara Morgan is still teaching at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Her voice echoes in the classrooms through her students who have since taken her place. Her vision lives on in numerous parishes and dioceses where our alumni do ministry. Her one voice has transformed into a thousand; her shaky speech into a deafening roar. I’m honored to be a part of the chorus she left behind. I pray that, like her, I would proclaim the Good News, guard the Deposit, and lead others into intimacy with Jesus Christ through everything I say and do.

Well done, good and faithful servant. You are loved and will be missed. Enjoy your heavenly rest.

Would you please say three Hail Marys? One for the repose of Barbara’s soul. The second for her family, especially for their holiness. And the third for the catechetical mission that Barbara started at Francsican, that we would continual to be faithful to that. Thank you!

As you have all heard by now, we have a new president at Franciscan University: Fr. Dave Pivonka. This is something many of us at FUS have been praying for, and it is such a joy to have it happen!

I first met Fr. Dave back when he was Br. Dave, in the mid-90s while I was studying at Franciscan for my Master’s degree. But I really got to know him by working together at the Steubenville Youth Conferences. He is a man of great faith and creativity, a wonderful preacher and “outside the box” thinker. I think he is going to make an awesome president.

One of the best things about Fr. Dave is that Franciscan University was a huge part of his formation. He is our first alumnus to be a president. He knows first hand what a powerful place Franciscan University is and can be.

I have heard a number of people comment that he will be Fr. Mike Scanlan 2.0. While that is quite a compliment, I don’t think that will be the case.

Let me make a Star Trek analogy: If Fr. Mike was Captain Kirk, I think Fr. Dave will be more like Captain Picard. Because he is bald? Sure, that is a part of it. Okay, a big part of it. I mean, come on, he kind of looks like him, doesn’t he?

I remember when STNG was first announced and the first picture of Patrick Stewart (Capt. Picard) was released. There was a “what the?” response from the fans. How was this older, shorter, bald British guy going to be the next Captain Kirk? The answer was that he wasn’t. He was his own man. STNG was able to use all the elements that you loved about the original series but took it in a new and exciting direction. It didn’t try to copy the past (and when it did, it failed). It “boldly went” into the future. Many (like me) think that Next Gen was even better than the original series.

That’s my hope for Franciscan. To keep what was great about our past but make it better than before. I think the Holy Spirit has given us a man who can lead us into that future. I’m excited to be a part of the crew.

What part of the crew? Worf, obviously. I mean, come on—tall, fierce, honorable…

Crap. I’m going to be Wesley Crusher, aren’t I?

Oh, well. Make it so.

This last weekend was not only the start of a new summer conference season, but the launch of a new ministry… Steubenville Worship!

For over the past decade, I have led worship at the summer conferences as “Bob Rice and the worship team” or “Bob Rice and the band”. Some summers we came up with names (I think one of them was “Bob Rice and the Random Knives”) but for the most part the way the worship team was titled gave the implication that it really about me with a bunch of other musicians who back me up. However, that doesn’t reflect the reality of who we are or what we do.

I’m thrilled to lead the group, but I’m also just a part of it. Many don’t realize that Dan Bozek, who plays bass on stage, also acts as the music director for the group and does an amazing job in helping everyone play the right parts. Everyone in the group contributes in one way or another. It really isn’t about, and has never been about, one person.

As I was putting the finishing touches on a live CD (now available!), I had to seriously think about who to put in the “artist” category. Though I sing most of the songs and also wrote a few of them, it is hardly a “Bob Rice” CD, like those that primarily feature my original compositions. I’m delighted that many others in the band get featured on the album, and to be honest in the future I hope that happens even more.

So I figured this was as good a time as any to make a name change: Steubenville Worship. I’m excited to see what the Lord does with it in the coming years!

Check out the nifty webpage I designed at SteubenvilleWorship.com. It has a list of the music we played last weekend (and will have set lists for all the music we do this summer), brief bios for all the musicians involved, but most importantly you can listen to OUR BRAND NEW ALBUM! Hope you are blessed by it.

 

So far I’ve played guitar on an elliptical, played accordion on a treadmill, wore a tux while running, and almost hurt myself so badly I would have had to cancel the race. But the big finish is this weekend where I run 13.1 miles to raise money for Dirty Vagabond Ministries! If you can help support this worthy cause, click HERE. Thanks!