BIBLE PASSAGE that has always struck me very forcefully is Romans 12:1–2: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (RSV).
Saint Paul is appealing to us by the very mercies of God, so this must be serious stuff indeed. And what is he asking us to do? To present our bodies as living sacrifices: to make of ourselves, even in our bodiliness—“from top to bottom,” one might say—a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord. And he says that if we do this, it counts as our spiritual worship. He could not be clearer in affirming the fundamental unity of man as a creature of body and soul, who worships the Lord as one being, not as a mind doing its own thing and a body left behind to do its own thing. Then, as if to explain further what he means, he says that we must not take on the form of this world, but rather be transformed through those good, acceptable, and perfect things that express God’s will. And this will amount to a re-creation of us, a making new of what has become old, stale, and wretched in our fallen nature: “Behold, I make all things new,” as Jesus says in the Book of Revelation (21:5).
There could not be a teaching more timely and more urgent in our day, when Catholicism has been reduced in its glory and transformative power by decades of facile conformism to the fads and fashions of a secular anti-culture. Nowhere can this be seen more evidently than in the realm of sacred music for the liturgy. Saint Paul’s solemn appeal to give ourselves body and soul to the spiritual worship of God, resolutely turning our backs on this world’s depraved, tawdry, or imperfect offerings, was ignored, even denied, as churches were filled with insipid or heretical lyrics, worldly rhythms, and secular styles.
Thanks be to God, a reversal is beginning to be seen, and a growing number of musicians are taking a different path—one that is genuinely new, with the freshness of the Spirit that hovers over the Church in all ages, not the oldness of the flesh celebrated in the carnal carnival of contemporary society. Centuries of magnificent musical treasures inspired by the Holy Spirit are being newly discovered and sung, in accord with the manifest mind of the Church. And new music worthy of the temple of God is being written—music that strives to be good, acceptable, and perfect, by the high standards of the Sacrifice of Praise.
In every age, the challenge is the same. Christianity should inform culture and transform the world, rather than being informed by the prevailing secular culture and being itself transformed into a second-rate image of the world. We must always be on guard lest the world mould our minds after its image, rather than letting ourselves be renewed in our minds after Christ’s image.