HE SEASON OF LENT will soon be upon us, during which we make extra time to devote to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. As musicians, we are well aware that certain “seasons” of our professional life – or of our calendar year – also demand extra time spent at the keyboard, or in front of the choir, or studying scores. For many of us, the self-discipline required to hone our musical craft through daily practice has become second nature. But I propose that we take the opportunity this Lent to transfer that same sense of self-discipline to honing (or rather, to letting God hone by grace) our interior lives.
Lately, I have been reading Dom Chautard’s The Soul of the Apostolate, a book that I would consider required reading for anyone who works in parish ministry. The central thrust of the book is reminiscent of that old Latin adage, nemo dat quod non habet – “you can’t give what you don’t have.” As parish musicians, our fundamental aim is to be conduits of that grace which God wants to lavish on the souls of His children through the beauty of liturgical music and the sacred liturgy. Dom Chautard, following St. Bernard of Clairvaux, challenges us not merely to be channels but to be reservoirs of this grace. Not to be “running on fumes,” as it were, but to be pouring ourselves out to our choristers and our parishioners and our co-workers from the overflow of grace that God pours into us through prayer. He writes:
“Is there anyone who does not know St. Bernard’s saying, to apostles: ‘If you are wise, you will be reservoirs and not channels’?…The channels let the water flow away, and do not retain a drop. But the reservoir is first filled, and then, without emptying itself, pours out its overflow, which is ever renewed, over the fields which it waters. How many there are devoted to works, who are never anything but channels, and retain nothing for themselves, but remain dry while trying to pass on life-giving grace to souls! ‘We have many channels in the Church today,’ St. Bernard added, sadly, ‘but very few reservoirs.’…As a mother cannot suckle her child except in so far as she feeds herself, so [the ministers of the Church] must first assimilate the substance with which they are later to feed the children of the Church…The interior life alone can transform divine truth and charity in us to a truly life-giving nourishment for others.”
My challenge to myself this Lent – and one which I propose to you, dear reader – is that I pray at least as much as I practice. If an hour at the keyboard is an hour well-spent, how much more an hour of silent prayer before Our Lord present in the Most Blessed Sacrament? If fifteen minutes of score study is a productive use of my time, how much more a daily rosary for the intentions of my family and friends? If ten dollars for lunch in the midst of a busy workday is money well-spent, how much more could be gained from skipping that meal and giving ten dollars as a stipend to have Mass offered for the holy souls in purgatory? And so on…
May God who, in His mercy, gives us both the grace to pray in the first place and then, in accordance with His will, the grace of answered prayers, pour these graces into our hearts with reckless abandon, so that we can be overflowing oases of His grace in a world so desperately in need of it.