Monday, March 18, 2013

Performing Faith

Yesterday, I had the great fortune yesterday to play for the CCD students at a vibrant downton Boston parish. It's the type of performance, apart from playing for Irish dancers, I enjoy most. They're not a critical audience, to be sure, but they receive what is shared with joy and enthusiasm.

Being a musician, like being a Christian, is a humbling profession. That is, one must always have a self-critical awareness, acknowledging that the tradition one belongs to is always wider and freer than any single expression of it. I am an Irish musician, not Irish music; I am a Christian, not Christianity. The Church serves the mission of God's Kingdom, it is not the Kingdom.

When a musician performs from the heart, or when Christian discipleship is lived out authentically and joyfully, a possibility of transformation arises. The musician shows forth what the music is capable of, the performance opening up new horizons the musical imagination. Likewise can a Christian show, within his or her concrete social reality, a new possibility for being human. The Christian shows, Through word and deed, the Christian's life in the world witnesses to the values of the Kingdom and shows how the things of this world can help us toward our final end but may never become the end itself.

Karl Rahner once noted within the institutional Church dangers associated with not adapting swiftly enough to the changes of historical situations, the danger of making the Church an end in itself rather than the means to our ultimate end, the Kingdom of God, the danger of becoming a merely conservative force out of touch with people's living realities.

The Church serves the mission of God, God does not serve the mission of the Church. We err destructively when we confuse this.

"Opposition, criticism, and protest" Rahner suggests, belong essentially the life of the Church - in every era, women and men of good will must be willing to stand as prophets, recalling the Church to its core identity, its base memory, its constitution as a bearer of the Gospel. These prophets will labor, always, under the shadow of the Cross. Yet, as Rahner reminds us in one of his typically unending sentences:
If we cannot be Christians except by following our crucified Lord in the assent of faith and hope to all the futility of human existence, which at least in death achieves its most radical and palpable manifestation, if, furthermore, this act of faith and hope in accepting the futility of existence on the part of the Christian has to be posited not merely in purely cultic acts or in the private and interior sphere alone, but in the hard down-to-earth secular sphere of the Christian's worldly life, then it follows that from his Christian understanding of existence the Christian can find the understanding and the courage to venture upon that commitment which he has to take upon himself without any assurance of success and which has to be ventured upon in any really effective attempt at achieving social change in the struggle against all the forces in society that cling onto their own selfish interests. (Rahner, "The Function of The Church As A Critic of Society")
 When faithful Christians express a sense of hopelessness, of frustration at the seeming futility of their voices that call for reform within the Church they love, Rahner's words give rise to hope: your faith in Christ, the crucified and risen one, does not guarantee that your words will be met gladly or with easy reception. Indeed, just as the Word was rejected by the world, so will your words inspired by love and fidelity to the Word fall under the shadow of the Cross.

The summons to be a prophet carries the most dire of all risks: abject failure. Being inspired by God's grace, in a world stained by sin, hardly guarantees that you'll be successful. Based on the "cloud of witnesses" in our tradition, it seems, if you dare to speak out under the inspiration of the Word, you're probably going to be silenced. In every generation, this dark grace falls to many and invites a discipleship lived under the shadow of the Cross where hope in the Resurrection enables the endurance of the Passion we enter into for speaking the Truth.

A true musician plays music not because he has to, or because he gets something, but because the music bursts forth from the soul...the musician cannot not play. The Prophet's soul is similarly marked, being one who cannot not speak and live the Gospel, even when the Cross looms in the distance. 

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