Reflections on Only the Lover Sings, Chapter 4

Below you find my reflection on the fourth section, titled Music and Silence, of Josef Pieper’s book, Only the Lover Sings. Click here for reflections on Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3.

Music and Silence

“Music opens up a great, perfectly dimensioned space of silence within which, when things come about happily, a reality can dawn which ranks higher than music.”

Music creates a listening silence wherein we are opened up to the divine. It clears the channel of noise, distraction and thought so we might receive.

1 Kings 19:11-13

11 And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 And when Eli′jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Eli′jah?”

God is to be heard in the quiet, in the receptive, listening silence.

This is why music is essential to the liturgy. Youth programs such as Life Teen and the National Evangelization Team understand this powerful role of music to lift the heart to God. It seems the music one encounters at a typical Sunday liturgy ignores this fact. Jennifer Fitz, who is wonderful at saying it as it is, acknowledges part of the problem is choice. Some parishioners or priests, whoever it is who makes these decisions at some parishes simply do not want better music. We have experienced that. There may be many psychological reasons for it, but it comes down to a lack of openness and a lack of recognition of what the fine arts have to offer.

The self/we-centered hymns of OCP keep one firmly grounded, they do not open us up to a listening silence that goes beyond the music itself.

Considering more on silence, let us contrast this power of music with Edward Munch’s, The Scream, discussed by Daniel Siedell via a Peter J. Leithart post on First Things. The Scream, we read, expresses Munch’s desperate silence scream through art.

“The painting is ‘the sound of our response to nature’s brute silence and indifference, undisclosed as gift through God’s Word’ (21).”

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The Scream – an 1895 lithograph

There is a silence that is a barricaded silence, a solitary silence, a silence in which you find you are truly alone. Then there is the silence that is peace, rest, respite, hushed, that opens our hearts to hear the word of God.

Pieper describes the former which is the “malignant absence of words which already in our present common existence is a parcel of damnation. Isn’t this the silence we, in this society, are so afraid of? With the constant distraction, I’m not sure I agree with those who say we are afraid of silence because are afraid to look inside. Many are, it is true, fearful of that introspection found in silence. But I think, for many who do not know God or the celebration of life made possible by the knowledge of a life beyond this life, the silence is a frightful fearful thing because it is empty. It embodies the scream, the solitary life without meaning.

Fine music opens the heart and mind. The silence is not empty and so need not be a cause for fear. One must be willing to listen. When one is ready to listen. The use of music as a path to interior silence must not be underestimated as a tool for evangelization.

We need the Cross of Christ: making sense of suffering

We need it all, as Pope Francis’ has said. We need those who are holy and those who are very sick. This is part of gradualism. We need the presentation of the Church as a haven. Too often we see a picture of heaven with angels, clouds and harps. But to some whose hearts have had to harden to survive, this is distasteful. They want reality. What is reality? Reality is a cross. Good Friday is reality. Mass is reality. If we go through life thinking every moment is not imbued with Christ’s passion than we are the one living an illusion. Christianity without the cross is an illusion.

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It is the act of bringing the fear of suffering into the one place that makes suffering make sense.

I am not consoled when I am told, everything is going to be okay. Well, I am a little consoled. But then the tribulation comes again…and again…and again. What then? When will it be okay? It is not okay now. When I have heard the legends of other mothers making it through. Then I am consoled. Hearing, “oh, it is awful, but it passes” then I am consoled. I am encouraged to advance, to hold strong. “This too shall pass” my English teacher said to me when with my drivers’ permit, I ran up on the curb with my mother’s car and the tire popped, on her birthday. This too shall pass.

We have to acknowledge the suffering, have to acknowledge that it is painful and hard. I love my job because I feel that so often adults do not acknowledge the suffering of teenagers because it is a sort of developmental suffering compounding some very serious trials they are undergoing. They trust me because I trust them and acknowledge that when they say they are suffering, what they are saying is true.

So why do we try to escape the message of suffering. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” Perhaps somewhere (maybe in the 1970’s and 1980’s) the message got out there that people will be attracted to Christianity by the witness of our joy. True. But perhaps joy was misunderstood as cheerfulness (God loves a cheerful giver, you know). And with the American can-do attitude, the emasculation of men in society and media, and the over-representation of women in the pews, maybe the concept of joy in the midst of suffering was lost. We were trying to sell something to the people outside of the pews. “Welcome to our Eucharistic Celebration” and all that.

It is a celebration, a wedding feast. But with a happy-go-lucky tune and few references to the unbloody re-presentation of Christ on the Cross during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the image is unfortunately skewed.

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Gina Loehr has some important points in her article, “The Passion of Pregnancy.” Perhaps the media would not be so successful at spinning conservative efforts to protect the unborn as a war on women if more recognition was made of the suffering of women who become pregnant, planned or unplanned. Taking a more compassionate approach, walking with the person (as many pro-life groups do), might get us further in the effort to support all life.

I am moved by the articles I read from those who suffer, encourage those who are also suffering. Philip Johnson, a 29-year old seminarian writes an open letter to Brittany Maynard, another 29-year old, who announced her decision to end her life rather than go through the stages of cancer.

Men like Fr. Benedict Groeshel were open about their suffering and the nature of the cross. He did not hide the cross, his willingness to endure it, and his desire to be free of it. That is honesty, and he reached out to countless seekers seeking answers.

The Baltimore Catechism (Q. 636) recognizes two goods of suffering. “: (1) To remind us of the misery that always follows sin; and (2) To afford us an opportunity of increasing our merit by bearing these hardships patiently.”

What is suffering? There is the suffering that is part of life (illness, death, severely cold or hot weather). The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (P. 385) puts it succinctly that these seem to be “linked to the limitations proper to creatures.” We are bodily creatures. These bodies have natural limitations. And so we suffer.

Then there is the suffering where we inevitably have the sense that it is unjust: “this should not have happened.” In Christ and in religion, we find some explanation: the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history (P. 386). Our actions ripple outward from ourselves and the consequences of one person’s sins, be they material consequences, physical, or psychological consequences, affects the generations that follow.

God is not the author of evil. “God is infinitely good and all his works are good” (P. 375). In the cross he suffered, and in the Resurrection he conquered suffering. We do not need to ignore the cross and have only images of the Resurrected Jesus. If we see images of what he endured, it provides comfort to those in agony, and we know, because we profess it that he lived, he rose from the dead. Each Passion message comes with the Resurrection message.

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If a doctor ignores the infection in the wound and thinks only of the wound healed, he will not adequately heal the wound. He must focus on what is bad, always with the healed state in mind. The Catholic Church is a hospital. If we are so self-satisfied, like the Pharisee, than perhaps we avert our eyes from the Cross because we are guilty of sin and making others suffer by our sin. Let us recognize the temptations we fall into, recognize that evil exists and that we all suffer, and then only can can fully appreciate the Resurrection.

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The Christian Mission

Since this devastating persecution of Christians and other non-radical-Islamic-terrorist/thinking persons began in the summer I’ve been posting a number is articles from Elizabeth Scalia, The Anchoress at Patheos.com. I’ve never gotten a comment on these articles. Perhaps it is because the topic is too gruesome or upsetting, perhaps it is because clicking a “like” button just isn’t the right thing to do, perhaps because people don’t want to think about it, like contemplating death.

St. Francis

I just don’t know the reason. More recently, I posted this:

“Is anyone hearing about the slaughter/exile of our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria from the pulpit? I feel like I’ve only heard about it twice and today the message was we should be more concerned with what’s happening here at home, which while that is important, with everyone plugged into their own personalized digital world, it seems like a little global awareness of our fellow man could be a good thing for us.”

Only one person responded. She wrote “I heard about it once.”

Next she posted this on my page as food for thought and I thought it was very good. To summarize: the internet floods us with news from the minute to the magnitude, from what happens in my no-stop-light hometown to New York to Nigeria to the Kardash ians. We can become so passionate of what’s happening over there that we fail to feel for what is happening here. Live locally he says. Do not be telescope Christians, as Peter Kreft says, with only our sights and sighs set on what happens far from neighbor. Here is my response:

I agree with what he says. I really do. I think we can live too much of our lives on the internet. However (if I could italicize that word I would) I think no matter where we hear about ISIS, internet/newspaper/pulpit, the awful thing is that as Christians are we suffering for our brothers and sisters? Do we hurt knowing the reality that they are dying in the name of Christ? Being exiled or sold as slaves? We should hurt for our fellow man, our local fellow man, we can’t bleed for every cause, but God help us, can we tear away from the leisure and entertainment to care that a massive persecution is taking place? Those places are relevant to us. The Church, the place of the ancient Church is relevant to us. We are one Body and all that jazz. Christ is being crucified, and nobody is talking about it (or so it seems). This is not the same thing as Cardinal Dolan or Fulton Sheen’s cause or celebrity gossip. It’s not even the same as Israel and Gaza. They are Christians! They are our people, our heritage. I heard more about the movie on the Mexican persecution than this one. Are they not just as much our people as the people who lived during through the Cristeros war are our people or the people of those whose families or are themselves from Mexico? We share the same Blood in Holy Communion. They are our people! And so my brother and my sister are being killed because they are in my family. Yes, there are people dying here, people on drugs, people committing suicide, and I care, I really really do, but this strange silence about ISIS…”

The author here makes some great point on a similar path as mine. She says “We must stand witness to these our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering and dying for Him. We must. It is our charge, our call and duty. It is our vocation before God. We must write about them and develop a literature for them as the Jews did for those who died in the Holocaust. Because this is another holocaust. It is the holocaust of Christians in an entire region of the world.”

So why the silence? What if it is because the question that arises is, what can I do about it? And quickly the devil answers, nothing!

Today I read this, Ephesians 3:13-21: Brethren: I pray you not to faint at my tribulations for you, which are for your glory.

If we are remotely alert to what is happening in Iraq and Syria, we should not be overcome. We should not held in fear for the fate of non-Muslims or Sunni Muslims or moderate thinking Muslims here in the US. We should not lose sleep. Our thoughts should not be consumed.

For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened by His Spirit with might unto the inward man.

We must pray for them. In all we do, we must pray for those suffering. Yes, those for suffering locally and those suffering in far off lands. We are called to pray for the innocent. Pray for strength, pray for endurance, pray for an end to this terrible, horrific thing.

That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height, and depth. To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge; that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.

In this old translation, these words sound so lofty. The Christians he writes to are shocked at his suffering, they are overcome and he tells them not to. He says to use the scandal of his sufferings to deepen their prayer, their faith, to find strength in what he endures. When we hear about someone enduring, somehow, it gives us to the strength to endure more. When we hear about them starving, we can be thankful for this meal we have. When I am home with my children I experience an acute awareness of their existence. They are always on my mind because I must be mindful of them for their well being. I can carry an awareness of my brothers and sisters in the Middle East in this way, praying for them, allowing it to deepen my gratitude and my charity towards my neighbor. Each man on the stret is Christ to us. If I want to help those suffering there, I can help those suffering here and offer that sacrifice as a prayer for the safety and survival of those persecuted.

Now to Him who is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand, according to the power that worketh in us: to Him be glory in the Church, and in Christ Jesus, unto all generations, world without end. Amen.

And it will not be in vain…

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Why not preach about that?

Comfort, give comfort to my people.

What is the function of mass? Depending on what generation of Catholic you are (if you are Catholic) the answer to this question will vary.

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Some say the function of the mass is evangelization or to build community. The importance is to reach out to others, to make the mass accessible to others. This will shape the direction of the physical components of mass, the smells and bells if you will. There will be an emphasis on cultural fitness of particular properties of the mass.

Some express that mass is primarily the vehicle through which we receive our Lord in Holy Eucharist. Mass is how Jesus comes to us. Confessions will be offered more readily so that there are no obstacles to receiving our Lord in Holy Communion.

In The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Cardinal Ratizinger, we read the mass is what we give to God. It is our duty. As such one attends closely to the rubrics developed through tradition regarding how those smells and bells should be used and ordered.

The mass is also the un-bloody representation of Christ’s crucifixion. Here the mass becomes solace to the suffering. What of the weary Christians in Iraq, fleeing for their lives from the ISIS? They reach the church, crowded, ill, hungry, thirsty. Perhaps they walk farther in looking for a little space to lay down and sleep, longing for a sense of safety. They hear the priest saying mass. Wandering over, they sit, they pray, they offer their hearts, their longing, their anger, their gratitude that they are alive, their desperate prayers for those left behind. The smell of incense lifts their hearts, reminds them that some things are the same now as they were when they had homes. My God, why have you forsaken me? Father forgive them, they know not what they do. Into your hands, o Lord, I commend my spirit.

The mass is all these things and more. This wedding feast of the Lamb cannot be separated and divided up in the function and benefits we receive. I believe it is primarily what we give to God. But what if I believe that because of where I stand culturally? It is the last thought, that mass as a place of comfort for Mary and John on Calvary, that makes me consider that God uses the mass to bring us to him from wherever on the path we may be, personally, communally and culturally.

Yet what we believe we need is not always what we truly need. Of late, I have pursued a conversation on what I believe to be an over-emphasis on the welcoming aspect in liturgical music. In an effort to make mass welcoming, and make the music accessible for those who do not read music, over time sacred music in many local parishes has been dumbed down. The popular mass setting used in this diocese is remarkably similar to the theme of My Little Pony. There seems to be a pathological fear of changing the mass setting because then people won’t know how to sing the ordinaries (as if no one could memorize the words without the music or as if the churches were in chaos before 2011 when our bishop requested the parishes use one of these three settings to help limit confusion with the new translation for parishioners).

What if, here in the American Roman Catholic Church, we do not need the emphasis to be welcoming? What the emphasis on welcoming is really a guise for comfort. Is the concern more that people should feel comfortable?

A growing generation of Catholics seem to long more for truth and the other-worldliness of the mass. Mass takes us from the mundane into Heaven. Here we see the truth. Here is clarity, not the mess of marketing and technology outside the church. We long for architecture that forces us to whisper, because it just seems too sacred (and too ambient) not to. American culture and progress seems, to me, obsessed with comfort. We avoid suffering at all costs. I think perhaps the over-emphasis on making people feel welcome, comfortable, at the expense of art, music, and architecture, at the expense of what we give to God, is a product of the American emphasis on comfort.

In Gothic times the churches were built to make the individual feel small, to direct his eyes to Heaven. I believe the newer generation of Catholics are looking for this. We need this. Here in America, we don’t need more comfort or more gratification. We need to be reminded we are sinners, that we are the pinnacle of creation and image God himself, but that we are terribly ungrateful sinners in need of his mercy. We need to be opened to the greater Church, the suffering Church, the longing Church. We are not home yet. It might help us to be reminded of that.

If we focus on the mass as pointing us to heaven rather than making us feel at home here in our church buildings, people will actually feel more at home. For all our choices and comforts, we are less secure, more depressed more anxious. The call of technology places us in a constant state of the “now,” of trends, of progress. Yet we are all the more unable to focus on the details, we are distracted. It’s difficult to meditate with the hum of technology all around us. We need a place we can step away from it all.

We must be careful to avoid the errors of thinking that comes from our cultural or personal weaknesses. The same can be applied to an overemphasis on outreach, on rubrics, on so many things, but I chose to address this issue of comfort because it seems ubiquitous here in America.

One final thought: as Americans, there is also a particular benefit to owing something to Someone, because we’ve been told for so long that all that matters is what we want and the virtue of rugged individualism, but that is a post for another day.