Can this low moment in church life become an opportunity?
Remembering The Holocaust – Defiant Requiem
It was Monday night, 27th January. The money-counters had finished. The lodgements had been noted. We had the tea and cake. I went home. I pressed the remote – having no idea what was on, or even if I was interested. I came upon BBC 4. The fortress town of Terezin was featured (some 80,000 Czech Jews were sent from there to the death camps).
It was a remarkable story told by many of the survivors from Terezin. The story of that town, was weaved together through music, led by Rafael Schachter. Even more incredible was the fact that people in that town could lift their spirits each night — despite work, hunger and hopelessness — through lectures in Science, Art history, Theatre (comedy & satire), and Song. The more hopeless the situation became, the more urgent their commitment was.
Schachter then decided to put on a performance of Verdi’s Requiem in Terezin. The Elders (in the camp) were shocked at Jews singing a Catholic Mass! Schachter insisted on the Liberation theme and so 150 Jews put on 16 performances with utter conviction in an appalling place. This indeed was ‘Liberation theology.’ The Nazis scoffed at the irony of these Jews singing their own Requiem. The film ended with a new performance of Verdi’s in the same space; in the remains of that fortified town – where all of this happened. This was a triumph of the human spirit.
I quietly wondered and was almost afraid to draw inspiration from this programme. Nothing can compare with what happened in Terezin.. Nonetheless, I asked myself: What might lift our spirits? What might move us beyond the ‘death knell’ of the Church as we know it? Is Francis outrageous or even deluded to talk of the ‘Joy of the Gospel’? I know it seems wrong to allow my mind wander from the depths of suffering, in such a story, towards the weariness in our Church. But my spirit was touched and did go wandering.
Can music do something for us? I saw it happen in our parish here last year when a group decided to put on a “show”. It took months of preparation. It involved many people who would be on the fringes of church life. It was delightful. It started as a fund-raiser but ended up being a Community builder.
And I wondered and wandered – Francis wanted us to drop the funereal look. He suggested that the papacy needed conversion; that bishops needed to be refreshed; that the model of management needed to learn the principle of subsidiary (much talked about years ago); that all those who know little of God or Gospel must find a welcome in the Eucharist of our lives; that Christ is for everyone everywhere. This too is music and sounds rather Gospel-like!
Who will be our Rafael Schachter? Can we create a Defiant Requiem in a hostile society or more so, in an apathetic culture? How do we escape into music from our deep embarrassment of what we did or didn’t do as a church? Where will our music come from? The low point (in a summary way) has been the stupidity in our collective imagination with the New Missal. The poetry of Liturgy was clobbered. ‘Sursum Corda’ – how are you? The ‘miracle’ of Benedict’s resignation and the Election of Francis were indicators of an explosion of the Spirit and a high point. ‘The Joy of the Gospel’ and its imaginative approach to life was indeed new music for our spirits. The loud and very clear challenge in Rome (by Francis) is important but the new way of ‘making music’ has to happen locally. This is the crunch factor.
Can we now emerge as characters of hope; with a fresh imagination; with a low moment in church life becoming an opportunity? Is this crisis, an opportunity? We can create a new language; dump the baggage of pedantry; move beyond the time-wasting discussion around contraception/abortion/second relationships/same sex marriage/limited versions of priesthood. We can escape the sexual disaster created by a ridiculous theology. We need new music. We can find it.
My last word then concerns that story from some thirty years ago: ‘What is the difference between a Liturgist and a Terrorist? ‘ ‘You can negotiate with a Terrorist!’ We all know the story but the truth in there has damaged our Church badly where the rigorists ran the business and the fundamentalists protected their fears and literalism used the Scripture for apologetics. All those who led us astray and all of us who followed such directions now need to know the need for new music. The Honduran Rodriguez Maradiga who talked about Gerhard Muller seemed to begin a new song! We need to move on from a static view of Church and life.
Terezin was very moving. We pray too in song that we can be ‘liberated’ in our Requiem from all that freezes and destroys the Joy of the Gospel in our lives.
Seamus Ahearne OSA is a member of the ACP Leadership Team. He ministers at St Oliver Plunkett Church, Rivermount, Dublin 11.