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 clichĂ©: 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.

PHOTO: Fr. Chris Martin, Me, Megan Mastroianni, and Paul J. Kim 

In June I was doing music for a Steubenville Youth Conference that Paul J. Kim spoke at. If you haven’t heard of him, you should check out his website HERE. He’s an incredibly talented young man who is on fire for God and has a great message for young people. During his keynote, he talked about going to a Steubenville conference as a teenager and how the host of that conference said something that changed his life. It was a powerful story.

The next day, as we were all sitting together at lunch, he looked at me and said, “Hey, I think that was you!” Sure enough, it was. Then two other people on the speaking team that weekend, Megan Mastroianni and Fr. Chris Martin, both shared how I had also been at Steubenville conferences they were at when they were younger (2002 and 1996).

This became a theme throughout the summer. Katie Hartfiel shared a picture when she was a “fan girl” of mine in high school. Oscar Rivera told a story from the stage about how he had a conversion in 1995 (and still remembered the horse I rode in on). Kris Frank, hosting a conference for the first time, mentioned that I was the host at the conference he had a powerful conversation at.

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PHOTO: Me and Katie Hartfiel, 2001

I did the math and realized that last weekend was my 75th youth conference in 23 years. That number is a bit ridiculous. If you average about two thousand young people at each conference, that means the Steubenville conferences have given me the opportunity to share my gifts of speaking, music, and comedy in front of about 150,000 young people. There’s only one word that comes to mind as I let that sink in:

Grateful.

My first conference was in the summer of 1994. I was just out of college (Theater major from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL). I had met Jim Beckman (who was the host of that conference) a few months before at the first Catholic Heart Work Camp in Orlando (fun fact: I was the first Carpenter Commando). It was his idea to bring me to Steubenville, a place I had never heard of. At the time he said the weekend could use my gift of comedy (I was working at an improvisational comedy club at the time) to inject some fun into the weekend. But later he shared that he knew in his heart that I needed to experience the kind of Catholic ministry that Steubenville was offering. He was absolutely right.

So from the beginning there was a mutual blessing: the conferences blessed me by being a part of them, and I blessed the conferences by using my gifts in the weekend. It began with comedy but soon grew to songwriting (writing many of the theme songs of the 90s), speaking, hosting, and leading worship. In fact, over these past 23 years I’ve done everything you could do at a conference short of concentrating the Eucharist (yes, I’ve even spoken at a women’s session).

In 2005 I was asked to provide music for not just the youth but also the adult conferences as well. Since we’re counting, last weekend was my 67th young adult or adult conference. The fact that I’ve done over 140 Steubenville summer conferences really blows my mind. I still find them energizing, life giving, and powerful moments of God’s grace.

I am continually humbled and grateful for the opportunity to serve at the Steubenville Summer Conferences. I’m always excited when someone says, “I remember you from 1997!” Even if I didn’t say or do anything particularly profound that changed that person’s life back then, it is cool that God let me be a part of the team of people that blessed him or her.

This year the Steubenville summer conferences celebrated its 40th year. What an honor to have participated in 23 of those! While I don’t want to minimize the wonderful things God has done through me over these past decades at those conferences, I also realize that I have been more blessed by having the conferences in my life than vice versa. I could have said no to Jim’s invitation back in 1993, deciding instead to keep doing comedy and music in Orlando, and the conferences would have continued to grow and bless hundreds and thousands of teens. It would have been my loss!

Last weekend, just as I do at the end of every summer, I put my guitar down after the closing song of Mass and said a prayer of gratitude. There’s no sign of me stopping right now, but I also know I’m not the master of my own fate. I can’t believe it has gone on this long, so who knows?

All I know is that I’m so thankful for being a part of the ministry of the Steubenville summer conferences. I can’t imagine my life without them.

 

Bob and Sunny

PHOTO: Me and Clayton Farris, who plays “Sonny”, on the “Ask J” set. 

There was a time when adolescence was considered to be a moment of asking the Great Questions in life: Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why is there suffering in the world? In previous generations they’d ask family members, a teacher, or a friend for the answer. But today, they ask Google.

The challenge with the Internet is that you can find any answer you want to any question you ask. Many people don’t realize that “information” is not the same as “wisdom”. Deluged by a variety of opinions, blogs, and posts, it is easy to see why this generation is so relativistic—how can there possibly be a right answer when there are so many possibilities?

At Franciscan University, we wanted to create a web series that, we hope, would make a young person realize that perhaps Google doesn’t have the answers to the “big” questions we ask. And that’s where we came up with the idea for “Ask J”.

“Ask J” is a five part video series that follows J, a new employee at the Internet, as he tries to answer questions like “Why is there suffering in the world?” and “YOLO, right?” The hope is that it could be used as a discussion starter in youth or young adult settings, or something that could be shared on the Internet with a friend to start up a discussion about the bigger things in life. I got to serve as the executive producer of this project and it was a real blessing to be involved in such a high-quality production.

When Jesus taught, sometimes He explained things directly; other times He used parables. I think a lot of Catholic media does the former but misses the latter. I can see why: it is cheaper and easier to film a talking head explaining this or that Church doctrine. It takes a lot more work and expense to tell a story. Yet young people respond far better to narratives than lectures, and so we tried to create a funny story with engaging characters that might draw the viewer into thinking about deeper issues.

The more these are watched and shared, the more likely we will get to keep doing projects like this at Franciscan. So please, link to these via your social media and share them with friends. We have a lot of other great ideas we’d like to bring to life!

Well, you know you are too busy when “blog about summer” stays on your to-do list until you realize it is October already! Hard to believe time has flown by.

If you’ve been watching my tweets and Instagram, you might have amused yourself playing the game, “Where in the world is Bob Rice?” Since last May, I’ve gone coast to coast in Canada (Vancouver and Halifax), Southwest, Northwest, Northeast, and Southeast in the United States (Phoenix, Spokane, New Hampshire, and Florida), lots of singing in Steubenville (played 8 summer conferences) and even got to do a gig in Glasgow (Scotland). I have some fun trips coming up, too.

I know that sounds like a lot. Okay, it is a lot. People often ask how I do it all. My honest answer is that I’m not sure what I’m doing! I’m humbled and grateful for the opportunity to share the Gospel in so many places. I’m energized by seeing great ministry done in so many places in the world—these are experiences I bring back to the classroom and teach from. And I’m blessed the extra income supports my ever growing family and lets my wife be a stay at home mom.

Looking back on the past few months, the word that comes to mind is gratitude. Sometimes I am just plain stunned that I get to do what I do.

If you could spare any prayers, I’d appreciate them toward finishing my doctorate. It is probably the most difficult thing I have ever done, and even more challenging with a busy teaching and travel schedule. If you have wondered why the blogs have been more infrequent this past year or so, that’s the culprit.

If I got to see you this summer (or September), know that I pray for all those I get to share my gifts with every day! I hope something I said (or sung) might have helped you grow closer to Jesus Christ.

(The attached picture is the summer conference band, an amazing group of men and women that I was blessed to be with! From left to right is Catherine McManamon—lyrics projection, Nick Scanlan—vocal and rhythm guitar, Andrew “Alob” Laubacher—vocals and lead guitar, me, Taylor Tripodi—vocals, Dan Bozek—bass, Katy Blythe—vocals. On the bottom are James Roman—drums, and Andre Villeneuve—piano, sax, and flute. Though Andrew and Nick have moved on to “life”, hopefully the rest will be back to make music next summer!)

Over the past few months of travel I’ve gotten to talk to three different couples who have dealt with infertility. One couple just adopted a baby; the other two were praying about it. Infertility is a difficult cross for a couple to bear and I think many times we (as a society) are insensitive about it. It is very easy to ask a couple struggling with infertility the question, “Why don’t you adopt?” as if that was the simple and logical thing to do (regrettably, I think I’ve said something like that in the past).

My perspective on this radically changed a few years ago when we adopted our son, Joey. In our case, the question people asked was the opposite: since you have kids of “your own” already, why are you adopting?

Wondering why a couple struggling with infertility isn’t adopting a child or why a couple who has biological children is adopting reveals an underlying societal assumption that adoption is a consultation prize for people who can’t get pregnant.

But I’ve come to understand that adoption is a calling, regardless of being fertile or infertile.

I am grateful that Jennie and I were called to adopt Joey as he is such a blessing to us. And my prayers go out to all those who are discerning adoption (and I pray that more would be open to that call).

“In love (the Father) destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved” (Eph 1:5-6).

I’m excited to officially announce that my latest CD, “Mercifulove: Best of Bob Rice 2006-2015” is now available! You can download songs on ITUNES or download/purchase physical copies of the CD on CDBABY.

Though mostly a collection of previously released music, there are three “firsts” that make this CD special (well, to me anyway).

The CD is the first time I’ve ever recorded a “rejected” Steubenville Youth Conference theme song. “Rooted” was the theme in 2011 (to see that year’s promotional video click HERE… and then click HERE to see how far it has come!) so I wrote and submitted a song that I thought was pretty good. But when it was rejected I shelved it. Probably my artist’s insecurity, but I figured if it wasn’t good enough for the conferences then other people wouldn’t like it.

But over the years the song has been stuck in my head. I wanted to record some new music for the CD so I thought I’d give it a shot. And I think it came out amazing!

The second “first” is that this album has the first recording of a talk of mine ever put on a CD. About two years ago I gave an impromptu talk about how much Christ paid for us on the cross (you can see the video of that talk HERE) and since then many folks have been blessed by it. I’m really excited to have it on this disc because speaking is such an important part of what I do. My prayer is that someone will buy the CD for the music and be really touched by the message at the end.

The third and final “first” is that this CD marks the first time that a pope has formally declared a holy year based on the theme of my title track. I wrote the song “Merciful Love” based on one of my favorite psalms, Psalm 100, and I was in the studio recording it when Pope Francis made his announcement about the upcoming “Year of Mercy”. Wasn’t that nice of him to do?

Since I’ve emphasized the “firsts” I should probably also mention an important “second”: this is the second time I’ve released a “Best Of” album, celebrating a second decade of music. I feel blessed and privileged to have been making music for twenty years—and I can only keep doing it because of amazing people like you who listen to the music, share it with friends, and keep supporting the ministry. Without you guys I’m just strumming my guitar in the basement. It’s an honor to write, record, and play music for you all. I hope you are as blessed by the music I write as I am by your love and support.

All glory be to Jesus Christ!

PS. As I handed out some early releases of the CD, some asked why songs like “Heart of Jesus” and “Let Nothing Trouble You” weren’t on it. I’ll give more detail on that later, but the short answer is that I’m excited to be working with a publisher who is going to release some of my liturgical/worship songs (including those) on a separate album.

good-samaritan-icon

This morning’s Gospel reading is the famous story of the Good Samaritan. After mentioning that we must “love our neighbor as ourself” a scholar asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus tells the story of a man who was beaten by robbers and left by the side of the road to die. A priest and a Levite see him but stay away. But a Samaritan man has pity and helps him.

Jesus then asks the scholar, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37.)

The thing most people get from this parable is that we should help people in need. But there’s a deeper meaning that Jesus is communicating.

The context of the parable is, “who is my neighbor?” The Law said you were to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18.) Look back at the question Jesus asked the scholar. The neighbor was the one who “treated him with mercy.” Jesus is the neighbor we are to love as we love ourselves.

And then, by telling the scholar to “go and do likewise,” Jesus shows that the poor are our neighbors also. And by loving those in need, we are also loving God.

The Catechism says, “There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God” (CCC 1878.) It later emphasizes that the Ten Commandments, “must be interpreted in light of this twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law” (CCC 2055.)

We begin by the one on the side of the road, helpless and dying, and are saved by Jesus, the Good Samaritan, the Good Shepherd. This is our love of God. Then, once healed, we are to “go and do likewise” by helping those in need. This is our love of neighbor. And Jesus tells that, “whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40.) Which brings us full circle back into the love of God.

This is what I was attempting to convey in the latest VCAT video, “Love God, Love Each Other.” I know my previous post was about who made it, this post is about the “why” it was made.

May we all “go and do likewise” today!

good-samaritan-icon

This morning’s Gospel reading is the famous story of the Good Samaritan. After mentioning that we must “love our neighbor as ourself” a scholar asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus tells the story of a man who was beaten by robbers and left by the side of the road to die. A priest and a Levite see him but stay away. But a Samaritan man has pity and helps him.

Jesus then asks the scholar, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37.)

The thing most people get from this parable is that we should help people in need. But there’s a deeper meaning that Jesus is communicating.

The context of the parable is, “who is my neighbor?” The Law said you were to “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18.) Look back at the question Jesus asked the scholar. The neighbor was the one who “treated him with mercy.” Jesus is the neighbor we are to love as we love ourselves.

And then, by telling the scholar to “go and do likewise,” Jesus shows that the poor are our neighbors also. And by loving those in need, we are also loving God.

The Catechism says, “There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God” (CCC 1878.) It later emphasizes that the Ten Commandments, “must be interpreted in light of this twofold yet single commandment of love, the fullness of the Law” (CCC 2055.)

We begin by the one on the side of the road, helpless and dying, and are saved by Jesus, the Good Samaritan, the Good Shepherd. This is our love of God. Then, once healed, we are to “go and do likewise” by helping those in need. This is our love of neighbor. And Jesus tells that, “whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40.) Which brings us full circle back into the love of God.

This is what I was attempting to convey in the latest VCAT video, “Love God, Love Each Other.” I know my previous post was about who made it, this post is about the “why” it was made.

May we all “go and do likewise” today!