HILE POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT XVI is alive and well, it occurred to me rather suddenly that there might be something many of us are feeling, but may not know it. We are mourning his loss. It is very much like a dear friend or loved one who has moved far away. It is deeply sad. We have had no time to mourn or grieve; the Conclave was scheduled sooner than if a pope had died.
For sacred musicians, Pope Benedict XVI was (literally) a godsend, sent to us at the right time. There will likely not be another pontiff like him again, one with such passion for sung liturgy. He led by example and not by decree, yet he wrote and spoke knowledgably and prayerfully about liturgical music in a way that exuded natural authority. The evidence of his leadership is not only seen, it can be HEARD.
With the excitement of the Conclave over, many musicians are understandably expressing a great deal of anxiety regarding the unknowns about Pope Francis. Perhaps this anxiety says more about us that is does about the pope. But still, we are human and the apprehension is natural.
That being said, do we not trust the Holy Spirit? Did not the Holy Spirit guide Pope Benedict in his decision to resign? Did not millions of the faithful pray for the Holy Spirit to guide the cardinals, human and imperfect as they may be? Did not the cardinals themselves pray for guidance? Regardless, the Holy Spirit has been present throughout this historic time. God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways. We must obediently accept the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
As for those of us who work “in the trenches” – in parishes – the support of the pope and wisdom of Sacrosanctum Concilium often do not impact us, quite sadly. But whether we work in a supportive environment not, it is the support of the faithful that matters. Even with a supportive pope or a supportive pastor, we can’t do much on the local level without the people’s consent. (Abraham Lincoln was keenly aware of the absolute necessity of obtaining pubic support to accomplish moral justice.) So, we still must catechize the faithful, sometimes more by example and less by words. While striving for the ideal, it is at times wise to give up something in order to gain important strides elsewhere, lest we are left with nothing. (This is also smart politics.) Truth is the daughter of time, and in time, a well-catechized congregation will be hungry for authentic sacred prayer. The Church’s vast treasury of sacred music belongs to the people! This is the truth that will bear out.
A very wise friend (whose work most of your know and respect) mentioned that Benedict’s resignation was like the moment he realized his parents could no longer fight his battles. He had to fight his own battles. And so must we.
The fire of the Spirit has already been lit under so many. The mustard seed has been planted. (The train left the station a long time ago!) The creative output from so many wonderful composers is extraordinary. (E.g., Some of us of late have been receiving extraordinarily beautiful choral settings of the propers from Chris Mueller every week!) So MANY composers are so generous. Are they going to stop composing now? I think not. If Theodore Marier could accomplish his great work in the 1970’s, than so can we in a post-Benedict era. Theodore Marier was not initially happy with some of the liturgical changes in Vatican II. However, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work when everyone else was taking a completely different direction. Let us be mindful of his leadership by example that started in a local parish.
Like the apostles, we may feel afraid and locked away in the upper room (while the women witnessed the empty tomb.) Like the apostles, the Church is left with the Holy Spirit to guide it.
We must also accept that the Holy Spirit brought us Pope Francis for VERY good reasons that are not yet revealed to us. Pope Francis is here to be the servant of the Church. In a few short days, he has also done a number of simple things that have spoken volumes about humility and simplicity. In less than a week he has led by example. Perhaps this comes naturally to him. Remember that the very first thing he asked was that we pray for him and that we pray for Pope Benedict. We must continue to pray for Pope Francis. Viva il Papa!
John 15:16: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.