Condemning a Closed Mind

3 September 2009. Friday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time
Col 1, 15-20; Psalm 100; Luke 5, 33-39

We do get an impression that those who consider themselves pious and religious have a passion for the old. They latch onto traditional attitudes and values. They are conventional and thus are averse to changes or innovation. And thus, if progress is to be spoken of, the traditional and conservative will slow it down. If they hold on to the past, any alteration of an outdated practice will have strong reactions and criticisms. What they have been used to, though effective in the past but not anymore today, will have to go. The point of the passage is that it condemns a person with a closed mind. New wine should be put in new wineskins. It cannot be in the old container. When new wine releases gas in fermentation, the inelastic skin will burst.

First, a closed mind will not allow change. However, the Christian spirit is adventurous. The whole outlook of Jesus was startlingly radical and new. Where the trend is to love whoever loves us, Jesus demands loving even our enemies. Where the first communities thought that they were a Jewish sect, the Spirit showed the disciples that He means the evangelization of the Gentile world. Through Paul, Christianity became a universal religion. The Spirit continuously leads us to new truths, new insights, new paths to take. Faith is dynamic and alive as it moves with history. Unfortunately, the person with a radical idea may have to fight for it --- even die because of it. Galileo was a heretic when he said that the sun was the center and the earth revolves around it. And he suffered greatly, especially from those who still held that everything revolved around the earth as Copernicus said.

Second, a shut mind will not be open to new methods; they would rather stick to the tried and tested. But the outmoded methods will not be able to keep up with the fast changing world. Take for example music. Everyone knows that music is amoral: meaning it is neither bad nor good; it depends on how you use it. When used for its real purpose, music can bring us to loftier things. It can help our hearts dream of higher moral ideals as a community of faith. When we sing together at mass, we experience community. When we sing a love song, we experience love --- including that part of love that cannot be grasp and articulated. When we praise God as the people of the bible have been doing, we are enabled to pray and bring our hearts to God; as well as connect with our ancestors.

But when music is used for a different purpose especially when the words of the song glorifies the values of the world, then music seduces the person to do evil. In the past, rock music has been associated with force, sex and drugs. Since the appearance of Trixie Smith in 1922 whose lyrics included “rock” and “roll”, rock stars exhibited an attitude, a lifestyle that is altogether outrageous. I am glad that nowadays rock singers and bands are much healthier than before, most of them have a positive attitude toward life. Some of them are even Christian bands singing songs about faith. But take note: I said the lyrics --- not the musical form. Rock music is a musical genre like classical, pop, country or jazz. Rock became popular in the 1950s, and it has spawned sub-genres like acid rock, art rock, progressive rock, pop rock, psychedelic rock, speed rock, punk, punk rock, funk rock, etc. The “evilness” lies not in the musical arrangement, but often in the content of the song.

In Catholic liturgies, we are asked to use three kinds of judgments when we choose songs. First, the musical judgment: Is the music good? Second, the liturgical judgment: Are the words of the song appropriate for the liturgy? And finally, the pastoral judgment: Can the people sing it? Since Vatican II and the latest rules in liturgical music stressed the value of maximum participation at mass, then we have to consider the people who come to mass, their age-group, their culture, and their ability to pick up the tune. If the aged and infirm attend a specific mass, then the songs are appropriated to them. Ideally, the choir sings the traditional songs. If the congregation is made up of teenagers, then perhaps a Christian rock song can make them sing.

Thus, it is about discerning which means are the most effective in evangelization. The key is what we call creative fidelity. The first reading from the Colossians tell us whom we should ever be faithful: Christ and no one else. And the rest? We should never tire in finding new ways and means to spread the Word of God. In other words, if it takes a million cartwheels or a flying trapeze to bring a soul back to God, then by all means learn them. Flexibility, as St. Ignatius would always remind us, is a virtue.

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