Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Misusing Micah

Of all the many ways people have of deceiving themselves about their duties as Christians, the most pernicious is the use of Scripture. It seemed in danger of happening to the Lord Himself. Satan told Him to go ahead, throw Himself down from the parapet, because as the Psalm says, "to His angels God has given a command about you... upon their hands they will bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone."

Of course Jesus saw right through the tricky use of Scripture and answered from the heart of the Law. Moreover, He answered about God, and about the duties that human beings have toward God.

One of the duties human beings have toward God is to think about what God would have us do. It's not our place to simply generally feel good, and from that sort of vaguely contented feeling to assume that we have done our part of "Thy will be done." No, we are supposed to act, and with intelligence. In Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons, St. Thomas More teaches his apt pupil Meg about how he plans to act with discernment:
Listen, Meg, God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind. If He suffers us to come to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and, yes, Meg, then we can clamor like champions, if we have the spittle for it. But it's God's part, not our own, to bring ourselves to such a pass. Our natural business lies in escaping. If I can take the oath, I will.
 Like St. Thomas More, all of us serve one another and the Church best when we think. Pope Francis praised this kind of action just last Friday at his daily homily.

What path does the Lord want? Always with the spirit of intelligence with which to understand the signs of the times, it is beautiful to ask the Lord for this grace.
 In a brief essay, a composer of some of the hymns that were very famous towards the end of the last century seems to be suggesting that discernment about sacred music is not appropriate for us as post-Vatican II Catholics. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was unanimously (sic) adopted, and therefore one of the attitudes which has been widely promulgated about it must be adopted by all of us--or at least by all composers--without question. Never mind that this attitude cannot begin to express all of what the Constitution expressed. One must obey the trope. Never mind that this very Constitution called for Gregorian chant to be given "first place" in the Roman liturgy.

Never mind that in addition to the passage quoted from Micah and a few other places in Scripture (Psalm 50, Isaiah 1, Amos 5), there are hundreds of places in which God tells us quite frankly that sometimes the form of our offerings please Him and sometimes they don't.

There is no trope. Human expression of feelings cannot be trump where the will of God is concerned. There is Scripture, and Tradition, and a thinking Church that wants to do our best for God. And it's not a composer's place to ask us not to think.

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