One of the great gifts that I have received is my love of music. As a kid, I used to run to the A&P where each week they had for sale an LP of Classical Music. The first disk was called “Curtain Raisers” and consisted of overtures or preludes to great operatic works. Each week another disk came out and I rushed to buy it, until I had all 12 in the set! Some were symphonies, chamber works, some vocal, some sacred. But I would put them on my rickety tiny record player and play them over and over again.
Neither of my parents were Classical Music lovers. They enjoyed popular Italian music. They just could not figure out what had gotten into me!
In high school, I would take the train to Grand Army Plaza where the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library was located and I would haunt their record collections to take back home an opera or a symphony to play on my improved stereo. My parents became a bit worried when I started bringing home German Opera! What was happening to their son?
This love of music has been such a gift to me throughout my life. It has made me a better priest since it has deeply humanized me and made me more responsive and compassionate to others.
While I was on winter vacation recently, I decided to allow the great Piano Concertos of Beethoven to mold and fashion my soul. So I took my iPad and my headphones and listened deeply to the five piano concertos created by the great musical genius of Beethoven. While listening to the fourth concerto, I seemed to be drawn into the music, feeling the music and understanding what Beethoven was saying to me. I believed I achieved an altered state of consciousness that put me at one with the music and its meaning and its composer, as well as with God. I can’t explain it any other way. It helped that I was benefiting from the tranquility of my surroundings and that I was not rushed; that I was free from tensions. My vacations tend to become retreats since it gives me more time for prayer and an opportunity to become more human and more humane.
The Lord reaches us in so many ways and bestows His gifts through a variety of means at His disposal. For me, He has chosen music and art, but for others He touches them with the joy of playing sports, or the art of gardening, or the joys of philosophy, or the comfort of conversations that edify and build up. The smile of a baby can create an ocean of care and love. For many, it is the solid ability to work at a craft or hobby which in its accomplishment brings a sense of peace and satisfaction. For still others the free care and joy of a pet that builds us up and makes us more human and loving with people can be a potent form of God’s individualized and constant care for us, often unrecognized.
This is what we try to do every Thanksgiving Day. We seek to call to mind all the blessings we have that go unrecognized in our lives. The Scriptures often state that the sin of ingratitude is the basis of all sins. Adam and Eve sinned because they were not fully thankful for the blessings that God had already lavished on them.
The fault is that we often do not develop the ability to recognize the gifts of the Lord. We lack the silence, the mindfulness and the appreciation of them. We go through life in a hurry to do the next thing and, by this rushing, go right past the blessings. Often when we are sick, we begin to value health. Why should it take that to make us see?
The cures of the blind in the Gospel are primarily about this kind of blindness: a blindness to the God who is present and active right now and right here in my life. To be cured of this blindness is to see God intimately involved in every aspect and moment of our lives using all the means at His disposal.
There is a powerful scene at the end of one of my favorite novels called “Diary of a Country Priest”. In it, the author, French novelist Georges Bernanos, has the saintly priest of the title, who is dying of stomach cancer, visit the home of a classmate of his who has left the Priesthood. He has a terrible attack of his illness there and his friend, who though has left the Priesthood can still administer last rites in an emergency, goes to get the holy oils. The saintly country priest in his dying breath says, “No need. All is Grace.” At the last moment of his life he saw that every single instance of our lives is a grace filled gift of God and that God is present in each moment of our existence. We are never alone. God is always with us. If only we had the eyes to see!