HAVE RECENTLY had a couple of discussions with fellow musicians who seem a bit down and out about things in their personal lives, their working environments, and even within the Church. Perhaps it is because of all of these things are interwoven in the life of the church musician. I will admit, there’s a lot to be discouraged about today. One has only to look at the news—whether it be on the local, national, or international scene—never mind what’s going on in the Church. Being human, I have all too often fallen prey to the changing emotions that rush in every time I see something wrong that should be easily fixed, only to find the problem tackled in the same useless way, always hoping for different results.
Gargantuan Efforts • Most of my life has been spent in parishes with pastors who feel the sung liturgy is all fine and well on paper, but rather impracticable in real life. And these men have all been fantastic, solid priests. I remember in my early days as an organist and choirmaster how hard I worked to try to convince, cajole, beg and plead the pastor to add little portions of sung dialogue to our parish’s Sunday Mass. I remember the gargantuan efforts expended to add sung propers to the Sunday Mass and then the worry everyone showed about how the congregation would take them, and then the desire of others to “walk the project back” at the first sign of the inevitable complaints. I remember humming for days over these things. I have endured just about everything that anyone working in sacred music is likely to encounter, and I have encountered it within communities of both the Older and Newer Rites of the Roman Liturgy. Recently I mentioned to my much younger assistant that there are certain battles I am no longer going to fight and she told me that I was becoming bitter. I can honestly say that isn’t the case—but why?
Our True Vocation • In graduate school, a very wise professor told me to always remember that working for the Church is a JOB, not a vocation. It’s easy for the conscientious choirmaster to see his position as a vocation, as it is so intertwined with worship and evangelization—both of which do belong to his vocation. The love he possesses for chant and polyphony (what Vatican II referred to as the “thesaurus musicæ sacræ”) and the desire he has to bring others closer to Christ through the medium of great music are wonderful things. Nevertheless, they belong solely to the realm of his job. My VOCATION has always been (and will always be) to my wife and children, and anything that upsets my true vocation should be gotten rid of. Please take this to heart.
Stepping Back • Each of us living in these United States needs to remember that we are still allowed—for the time being—to openly practice our Faith, and not a small number of people still devoutly practice the Catholic Faith. We don’t have to worry about sneaking into someone’s house at the peril of our lives to attend Holy Mass. Even if we have to drive some distance to get to a Mass celebrated reverently, it isn’t anywhere near as bad as our ancestors had it just 100 years ago. I remember reading Lawrence Welk’s autobiography (yes, I grew up watching the Lawrence Welk Show), in which he mentioned that during winter time in North Dakota it took his family three hours to get to Sunday Mass through the snow in an open buckboard wagon. I highly doubt anyone today has to go through anything so difficult.
Perspective • Is it unpopular to believe that Christ is the Son of God and Savior of the entire world? Is it unpopular to believe that the Catholic Church is the one true Faith, and that all She teaches is true and revealed by God? Is it unpopular to have more than 2.1 children? Yes, yes, and yes—but any persecution we might experience is nothing compared to what thousands each year suffer (somewhere in the world) who are being martyred for the Faith.
Flawed Leaders • I hear many friends agonizing over the confusing statements (and sometimes evil beliefs) expressed by the leaders in our Church, some of whom occupy very important seats in the Vatican. Do I enjoy hearing these things? No. Do I think it is driving people farther from the Faith? Yes. But do I really believe anything I say or do is going to change that situation? Heavens, no! I can pray about it—and that’s about it. Or, I can laugh at the absurdity of it. It’s a bunch of old, mostly white men, who are trying so hard to be a part of the younger and hipper generation that they don’t know ridiculous and out of touch they really are.
My Creed • What I do know is that God is still in control, no matter what anyone might think or say. I am still able to raise my family in the Faith of my Fathers. Raising my children to love Christ and always practice the Catholic Faith (and get married and have lots of children) is what I can do right now—and that will change the world. Please don’t tell me I am burying my head in the sand or that I have chosen the BENEDICT OPTION. I fully believe that we as Christians are called to be leaven in the world and to transform it from within, but please, let’s do it in the manner of Christ. He spent most of his time teaching those closest to Him. Yes, He addressed the crowds and the church leaders, but the bulk of His time was spent with those around Him, and look at how those few changed the world.
Watch Out For This! • If you allow bitterness and anger over the current problems in the Church or the world (or even in your parish or situation) to sour your heart and mind even during the precious time you are given with your wife and family, that’s a travesty because you have chosen to let the devil win. Build a strong, healthy (and please) a joyful family intent on getting to Heaven and I promise, much of your frustration will either be washed away, or more likely, be seen in its proper light—a gift from God to help you grow in holiness.
My Father’s Sudden Death • I was blessed to have incredible parents who raised four children, all of whom still happily practice the Faith. They taught us our catechism well, and I clearly remember my mother telling a friend she didn’t know how she would be able to live if any of us ever left the Faith. At the same time, my siblings and I have often commented that having such a great family life meant that we’d rather spend time with each other than chasing after ungodly friendships—because we had a lot more fun as a family. When my father died very young, I found out just how many people had been strengthened by knowing how strong of a family we had. Don’t undervalue your family, your true vocation.
What I See • I promise I will pray for all of those experiencing discouragement, but—good Heavens!—fight it like the plague! Be grateful for all the Lord has given you and done for you, and don’t waste your precious time agonizing over things you simply can’t control. Every time someone tells me how bad it is in the Church today I always confound them by saying that the Church in these United States is more alive today than it has been in 50 years. When I was growing up we considered ourselves fortunate to find one other family that felt the way we did and practiced their Faith. These days, my wife and I have so many great friends and families in our Catholic community that I can’t decide which families I would rather marry my children into.
Relish Your Treason • Yes, Christendom is gone for the time being, and it will mostly likely be centuries before we rebuild something like it, but there isn’t much use in bemoaning the fact. Just pick up a brick and start building, but make sure that your job doesn’t get in the way of your vocation. The world today is so rotten that the simple act of sitting down to supper together as a family is an act of treason against the world. Relish every act of such treason you can commit (and your children will love it as well). Remember, you are the King’s good servant, but God’s first, and therein lies our joy.