with many voices

Mar 9, 2020

Perhaps it is that I am feeling a bit weary after a full few days but today’s gospel reading left me feeling a bit heavy. When Jesus says to his disciples “be compassionate,” I am aware of my lack of compassion. Then Jesus says “do not judge” and I can be pretty judgemental. Then he adds “do not condemn,” “grant pardon,” “give”… well i’m so aware of my inability to live up to this that I feel my infidelity and a bit of fear because (in the concluding words of the reading) “the amount you measure is the amount you will be given back.”

Things are not looking too good for me this morning. So what is my way forward?

Well it came from an unlikely source. Let me explain.

Here at Holy Cross Seminary we are without a music teacher at the moment and I am stepping in for a couple of weeks. Last week I gave the seminarians a quick introduction to the development of church music in the Catholic tradition. I mentioned chant then reflected on the beauty, complexity and power of polyphony which paved the way for many beautiful modern compositions. Chant is simple single melody line which focusses on communicating and prioritising the text. Then there is polyphony (literally) bringing many different and simultaneous yet harmonious voices to this mission of communicating God’s word.

So I was pondering what piece of music to use tonight with the seminarians to help them to understand and appreciate how the beautiful texts of our faith can be enhanced by beautiful melody. Then I thought back to my feeling after reading today’s gospel and the text that quickly came to mind was “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” (Agnus Dei…).

Then I looked back at the first reading. Daniel and his friends are in the same boat as me, overwhelmed with frailty, vulnerability and imperfection and sin. Daniel cries out “we have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly, we have betrayed your commandments and your ordinances and turned away… we have not listened…”

And the spoken words of pleading “have mercy on us” don’t seem to be enough. Then I recalled the beautiful 1967 setting of “Agnus Dei” by Samuel Barber, and I found it online and played and prayed it.

As I listened my eyes filled with tears and I appreciated again that Jesus is forgiving me, a poor sinner, through the beauty of this sung prayer. Then I played it again and savoured this renewed reality: the sinner who repents crying Lord, take away my sin is forgiven. Thanks be to God!

An Invitation:

  • You might have time right now to pray with this beautiful music. If not set time later, or play it and pray it as you drive to work this morning.

12 Comments

  1. Thank you Father John for sharing your reality. Hope you will feel the blessings of this week. The chanting is beautiful thank you for sharing the link.

    Reply
  2. Praying with music for me seems to take me to a new dimension and can move me to tears. I feel closer to my Lord and the music often stays with me through the day reminding me again to br in His presence. Praising with music is prayng twice as much . I am off to mass now and will be listening to Agnus Dei on the way and offering prayers for you and our special seminarians. Thank you again for inspiration each day

    Reply
  3. Thank you Father John, for all you do and say. I am an older Anglican who loves some church music. Can I commend the lovely “REQUIEM – a thanksgiving for life”, by the late Sir Philip Ledger, sung by the Choir of Christ’s College Cambridge. It has some glorious music in it, some of which I am playing right now, particularly the Thanksgiving Hymn which I am sure you will find very uplifing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pz27Zju1zFE

    Reply
  4. Yes praying is a powerful means that link us with many voices and many hearts for the common good of all. Thank you Fr John for the powerful prayer/ reflection. It is humbling and a most spirit filled moments.

    Reply
  5. I went to Assisi while in rather early stages of grief after the death of a family member. I took a walkman and a tape that was bought out by the National Office of Renew. Unfortunately that tape eventually wore out and I haven’t been able to replace it. The hymns on that tape and the headphone were a real retreat. The amount of tears shared, (an ocean) was equalled to the amount of grieving accomplished. Many times I have noticed tears as a hymn is sung in Mass. John thank you for FFF and thank you for bringing to mind the power of music and its ability to heal. Today readings sure call to mind my inadequacies.

    Reply
  6. Fear of our failings, because we are human, we have to keep reminding ourselves God is love, an abyss of mercy, and do away with fear.

    Reply
  7. Music is my pathway to Heaven.

    Reply
    • Your beautiful human response has touched my heart, and further deepened my sense of what it means to be human, of unity, and compassion. Thank you God and thank you Fr John.
      Monica

      Reply
  8. Fr John; I knew the melody as Samual Barber’s Adagio for Strings and it is a brilliant setting for the words for the Agnus Dei. The week after the terrible attack on the Twin Towers in New York the Conductor of the Last Night of the Proms in London, who was from the States broke tradition and decided to play this piece as the last music in tribute the those who died in the attack. He requested the audience not to applaud afterwards. I don’t think the Agnus Dei words were performed with or they maybe hadn’t been added at that time!

    Reply
  9. In a wonderful retreat in 1992 I found myself in tears during meal time as in a silent retreat we listened to music. I was frustrated by the tears and asked the Lord “Why? Why am I crying. He said that so much classical music was written in praise of God. And so was a prayer and the Holy Spirit was making me aware of that.

    Reply
  10. I lived through a period of Church life when there was a myriad of pietistic practices. In my school days we were obliged to write JMJ (Jesus Mart and Joseph) or JMJJB on the top right hand corner of all our work..

    I learned later that Bach and other composers did the same on their music pages.

    It was a way of dedicating or making a tribute to God.

    Of course my schoolwork never reached the heights of Bach’s organ compositions but I am glad to have the familiarity of offering what I do, even small things, to the Lord.

    Music is my soul’s delight

    Reply

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