Monday, September 14, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross (for Liturgical Musicians)

Today we raise the Cross high in celebration because of the saving work Jesus did for us. This day commemorates the finding of the true cross by the Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helen, at the Holy Sepulcher, the original church in Jerusalem on the spot where Jesus died. For years, the cross was a symbol of shame, as the Roman governors intended it, but the cross began to symbolize Christ’s victory over death because death, sin, and suffering will never, ever have the last word.
The theme the Church draws out of these readings is “being lifted up.” Moses made a bronze serpent seraph, mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone bitten by a serpent looked at it in prayer, he lived. Jesus, in the Gospel, talked silently with Nick at Night describing that just as Moses lifted up the serpent, he would also be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. This lifting up, was the act of crucifying him on the cross. Paul, in Philippians, tells us when we bow down to Jesus, we lift him up in the glory of God the Father.
If we continue with this theme of lifting up, we turn directly to your ministry of singing. For those of you who attended church yesterday, do you remember what the preacher said? Probably not. However, one of the songs probably stayed with you a little longer. No one ever goes home humming the words to the sermon. This stresses the importance of good music in liturgy because it lifts up the people and gives them hope, joy, and gladness that they came. I have often heard a person who is despondent approach me after mass to say how much a particular song spoke to their situation.
My job as a preacher and your job as liturgical ministers is to save souls. That is the real mission of the Jesuits and of Ignatius. We have to lift up the downtrodden, inspire the complacent, confront the arrogant, and bring hope to those are ready to lose it. When we go to mass, we have to think of others’ situations. Imagine if this is the last mass of a person’s life. What do they need? What if this is the first time someone comes to mass? What is it that you want to provide them as a gift? This is serious business. It is about how I can serve the larger community.
I was fearful of singing because everything that is inside of me is exposed. There is nothing to hide behind when you open your mouth in song or blow your breath into a trumpet. Breath sustains life. Your breath will give life to those who need it. Music is a self-conscious place, but when we think of the service we are called to give others, we become less self-preoccupied. An important rule to remember is that everyone wants you to do well. Not a single person wants to criticize you or bring you down. Therefore, offer your breath, freely given, and make each note the most beautiful note that you can.

How do you give this gift? Let your body smile. Look at the congregation. Connect with them. Show them the emotions that the composer imagined. Convey the message of salvation. You are the instrument Christ is using to reach someone who is unaffected by the homily. Christ will use every power in his resources, especially music. What is the message then that you are to convey?: That God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that the world may have eternal life. You, too, have to give your whole selves to others in song so the people may grasp the truth that eternal life is meant for them. Let your music be that which is lifted up so that anyone who gazes upon you and hears your notes of beauty will be wrapped up in the divine mystery. Lift up your voices. Lift up your breath. Lift up your hearts – because someone today needs to hear that God deeply cares for them – through you.