Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Teaching the Truth in Love

My first real attempt at writing hymns arose directly out of theological error.

I was on retreat, and opened up a hymnal, published with ecclesiastical approbation, and found the section of hymns recommended for Communion time. It was appalling. Page after page of nothing but bread, wine, wheat, fields, grain, wine, wine, wine.... Any uncatechized person reading this hymnal would have no earthly idea that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. They would, however, have a pleasant idea of agriculture.

I couldn't begin to count the number of times I have complained about a text that is frankly heretical, only to hear--sometimes from good theologians--"It's only a song." It's only a song. It's only a homily. But songs and homilies are the means by which error or truth can spread.

In my frustration, I wrote a bad hymn. It was bad because I am not a composer. But the text was all right. Soon I was told how to write hymn texts to Public Domain tunes, and haven't stopped writing since.

Early on in my writing, I took the pen name Ephrem after the great Syrian Doctor of the Church, St. Ephrem, and I took the same tactic. St. Ephrem wrote at the time of the Manichean heresy, which held St. Augustine's mind in bondage for some time before he found the truth. The heresy spread, in great part, by heretical hymnody.

St. Ephrem took the same melodies and wrote doctrinal hymns. Those accustomed to singing error--teaching themselves error by singing error--had a medicine to apply to their minds: the truth.




In his impromptu homily at the Prayer Vigil Saturday evening, the Holy Father alluded to a long-standing aspect of the Tradition. Bonum est diffusivum sui: The good diffuses itself towards others. This is a teaching that is at the heart of nearly all of Pope Francis' preaching about the mission of the Church. It is very fitting for God--perfect Love and Goodness--to pour out that love and goodness. It is not at all necessary that They did--but it was aptissimus: very fitting indeed. And this is how we and all creatures came to share in being. And as a Church, we are called to go out of ourselves in a similar way.

How many people in our Church have ever been taught to consider the Trinity, or the contingency of creation? Are these considered normal topics for homilies? For how many decades have these topics been considered too difficult and theological?

And the music in most of our parish churches teaches the emptiest of lessons: "I'm ok; you're ok." Without even beauty to challenge us, we are lulled to sleep, in an era that more than anything else needs disciples who are alive and awake.

Let's say a cohabitating couple decides one morning to go to Sunday Mass. "All Are Welcome" is the opening hymn. Sounds good, doesn't it! Sounds like we could keep living in any way we choose, and still be Catholic.

They go to Communion.

They go home and do what cohabiting couples do.

They do not go to Confession.

They may or may not go to Mass next Sunday. And no one tells them any of their actions might be harmful for them.

Does anyone care enough about the souls of uncatechized people to truly shepherd them, to teach them the truth, to lead them to meet the Lord in the fullness of the sacramental life?

Does anyone care enough to remove the obstacles--the skandala--that keep them from the encounter with the living God?