NE WEEKDAY EVENING A FEW YEARS AGO, I was directing our parish choir in singing a High Mass. I couldn’t help but notice a little blond boy sitting near the back of the church with his family. He was pretty well-behaved overall—especially for a roughly three-year-old—but he kept turning around and looking up at the choir loft in wonderment. (In my book, that’s no vice.)
After Mass, I unlocked the choir room, and all our singers paraded through to put their music away. A few minutes later, I was alone—or so I thought. I erased our music lineup from the chalkboard. I closed the lid of the piano. I put away a couple of stray folders. I stacked up the propers, ordinaries, and motets and put them in the filing cabinet.
That’s when I noticed him: the little blond boy. He had found his way into the choir room and was standing in the corner, silently staring at me as I scurried about putting everything in order. At last, he spoke:
“Are you God?”
An Honest Answer to the Little Boy’s Question
This is more than just a cute story. Ever since that evening, I’ve thought back to that boy and pondered the lesson he unwittingly taught me.
In the eyes of a small child, the people making music up in the loft are larger than life. Part of it is the mere fact that we’re up high, upstairs, where small children generally aren’t allowed to go. Part of it is that we’re mostly adults and teenagers—people who naturally look huge to a child.
But more significantly, we’re involved in something children can’t yet understand through the intellect, and yet it speaks to their souls. It is written on our hearts that there is a God, that He is almighty, that He is everywhere, and that He deserves our worship. Even children sense this. I believe they grasp it better when the Mass is veiled in a dead language—and when it uses types of music they don’t hear in everyday life, accompanied by the King of Instruments.
Most of this also applies to adults, of course. They just don’t express it with the same simplicity. An adult’s intellect is well-formed enough to know that the guy directing the choir is a mortal who has weeds in his front yard and drives an old Honda Fit. An adult may use more sophisticated words when he tries to explain what beautiful liturgy does to his soul, but he’ll still struggle.
Even when he knows he wants to be a part of it, he may feel profoundly unworthy to do so. This is something I’ve been keeping in mind as I’ve handled the recent flurry of new interest in our parish choir. The extended lockdown here in California has caused many people to reboot their lives, trimming the activities that had become mere routines and freeing themselves up for more of the sacred.
And so part of my job is to explain to them that we’re all just ordinary people who work hard to make the Mass more beautiful. It can be challenging to convince people that they belong in the loft, and that it’s OK to be human. But I figure that’s better than having them join us looking for a hobby and then trying to sell them on the sacredness of our pursuit.
Precious Yet Fleeting
After watching me pack up for a few more minutes, the little boy spoke again:
“Are you Mexican?”
Well, I probably do eat enough Mexican food to “convert.” At that age, the moments of insight are precious yet fleeting. But this child had already given me a valuable keepsake. I share it here hoping it will help you keep striving to uplift your fellow parishioners as you glorify God at every liturgy.