Friday, June 5, 2015

Did Jesus draw a line in the sand?

“3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
11 “No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and no more.”

I have reservations about expressing the following thoughts just I as have reservations about jumping down a subway platform and grabbing the third rail. But I think what has developed and occurred between Dr. Romeri and Abp. Chaput needs some consideration beyond what is clearly a matter of, among other things, justice. As clearly articulated by the tenets of our faith and religion, Abp. Chaput is ordained and imbued with the Holy Spirit to literally be “in persona Christi” and “Alter Christus” to his flock. But one has to consider whether his actions and words in response to Dr. Romeri’s performance place the archbishop both as one of “the teachers of the law” at once with his duty to represent Christ in all matters.

Corresponding that to the scripture, what was our Lord “saying” by twice writing something in the dust? We cannot know. Was it akin to a line in the sand that he challenged the accusers to cross and exact their justice? Couldn’t have been, as “He wrote in the dust.” For myself, the message was contained in the act of communicating in the most temporary of mediums, dust, sand, dirt, whatever. Perhaps, and we’re not privy nor should we be, Abp. Chaput may well have drawn lines in the sand directly for Dr. Romeri, and then advised him to “go and…….change.” Unfortunately, the public testimonies don’t point to that type of just intervention at this stage.

But my thoughts are not about the Philadelphia story. I believe that there’s a much larger lesson for all of us to consider with the remainder of our tenures as DMM’s, choir/schola masters and such- if we musicians reverse roles from “the accused” to the “teachers of the law” we may very well end up morally wanting and bankrupt, and walk away because “our principles” and, more importantly, our concerns and charges that we drew in the sand- “Reform the Reform…..Abandon the Novus Ordo…..burn the guitars, drums and pianos……pour boiling lead onto all the microphones….let the people sing the Ordinary, WE’LL handle the Propers, thank you very much……and you better believe it’s the Chant and Polyphony Channel in the gallery, 24/7, deal with it!- this sort of stricture-driven mentality may not prevail going into the next centuries, particularly with little influence being exerted by the American prelates, the disturbing inclinations of the European prelates, some of whom preside over vacant Sees, and the emergent, burgeoning Church in Africa and Asia. I know that orthodoxy in those regions is valued much more than in the western Church right now. But we will not be the arbiters of their emerging liturgical traditions.

My advice to young, dedicated musicians who want to serve the Church in any capacity: Be knowledgeable first and flexible second. I know that is precisely how Dr. Romeri was perceived in both St. Louis and Philadelphia. I heard his name more associated with NPM than practically anybody else’s including Virgil Funk. Dr. Romeri was neither strict nor intransient. It seems that his concept of “sacred, universal and beautiful” was at a level that his archbishop, for whatever reason, couldn’t appreciate and then somehow decided Romeri was the immovable object.
The wind’s gonna blow the figures drawn in the dust, and it will break the trunks of the oldest and strongest of trees if it wills. Can we bend and not break? Can we accept a call to diversity and turn that into a beautiful asset and not an onerous chore? I think these and many more questions will face the next sequence of generations of church musicians as a grave concern.