April 29, 2007
Readings: Acts 13:14, 43-52 / Rev 7:9, 14b-17 / Jn 10:27-30
HEARING, FOLLOWING, AND NEVER PERISHING!
At one of my Masses during the recent Christmas Novena, a group of musicians were accompanying the choir hastily formed for the occasion. The choir sang well. The conductor did her role with both passion and panache. Somehow though, there was just something that sounded wrong to my mediocre musician’s ears. I could not exactly put a handle on the whole thing, until the Mass ended, and a former student of mine, whose musical talents are far superior to anybody else I knew both as a student and as an educator, came up and told me what was wrong. The man playing the bass guitar simply did not have it. He was way out of key. He was not attuned. And he was not following the rest of the ensemble, much less the conductor who, in retrospect, looked like she was distraught.
There is something about lack of attunement that is connected to lack of ability to hear. That bass guitarist was playing alright. But he was not attuned. He heard, but heard not rightly. And because he did not hear rightly, he could not follow. His playing, owing to the lack of attunement, made him an odd ball standing out in an ensemble that, otherwise, could have made lovely liturgical music together.
One member’s inability to hear (be attuned to the conductor), and his consequent inability to follow the flow of the liturgical singing, was behind the ruin of the well-meaning group’s best efforts.
Hearing, following, and never perishing … All this obviously works as far as liturgical music is concerned. But today, our liturgy goes beyond the need for musical attunement. Let us take a quick look at the three readings …
In the first reading (Acts 13:14, 43-52), we are presented with two different groups of people. One group was made up of “converts to Judaism [who] followed Paul and Barnabas.” On the other side of the fence were those who “were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.” Their rejection showed them to be “unworthy of eternal life.”
In the second reading (Rv 7:9,14b-17), we are presented with a highly symbolic vision of perfect attunement between “the great multitude” “from every nation, race, people, and tongue,” and the “lamb” seated on the “throne.” Diversity and difference posed no obstacle to their “day and night” worshipping of God’s throne. One in worship is what has become of them. Diversity in all other aspects characterized them. Unity in diversity is possible if there is attunement, if there is obedience to, and worship of Him who now unites “the great multitude.”
In the Gospel (Jn 10:27-30), somewhat one-sidedly understood by tradition as pointing only to the Good Shepherd, we are really confronted, as much with a solicitous image of the shepherd, as a powerful icon of an attuned flock who knows how to hear the shepherd’s voice, and which, consequently also knows how to follow. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
Hearing and following are intricately connected with a promise from no less than the one who claims to be a Good Shepherd: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
Anyone who has led a bunch of rambunctious young people at summer or boot camp knows what grief a lack of attunement or inability to listen to instructions can lead to. Anyone who has joined a band and played a musical instrument minus that ability for keen attunement to others’ playing, knows only too well that conductors would consider such a one a pain to handle. Anyone who has joined a long trek or climb up a mountain knows how even a moment’s inattention or lack of attunement to the pacing of the group can lead to problems big and small, not only for the expedition leader, but also for the whole group.
Attunement is absolutely necessary for at-one-ment. Unity in diversity can only be reached if both leader and members have one and the other. For one who has led so many group expeditions up local Philippine mountains since 1987, I know whereof I speak. Lack of attunement leads to a more serious lack of at-one-ment. Disobedience to agreed upon rules of the climb and on the trail, even on the part of only one can jeopardize the whole trip and cancel out all potential enjoyment and any sense of healthy achievement – or worse – endanger the lives of everyone.
I remember turning livid when, as an expedition leader, I would find out deep into the trek, and at an advanced stage in the trail, that somebody has cut corners, disregarded all or some of the rules, or threw all caution to the winds, and showed utter lack of attunement to what sometimes we refer to as our own version of “rules of engagement.” For many young people, whose enthusiasm is almost always greater than their prudence, hearing (or listening to) the rules, and the ability to follow instructions are usually never a priority.
It is precisely this inattention to hearing, and the consequent inability to following, that may all too easily lead to perdition.
We live in a world filled with all sorts of noises, both from within and from without. The so-called “media moment” provides a disproportionate amount of noises that clutter our daily lives. The media defines our values. The media imposes what is good, what is best, and what is most convenient for everyone. The media makes choices for the masses, especially the young ones. Our values are mostly media-mediated. And given the massive noises of commercialism, individualism, violence, and consumerism that the media doles out day in and day out, people are left with no choice but to skip hearing altogether, and, instead of following, are simply co-opted by the clear choices of the media.
Today is traditionally called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The readings, especially the Gospel, do talk to us how caring and solicitous God is for our individual and communal welfare. But good shepherding will not be of much use if there are no people who are ready to hear, and willing to follow. As members of the Lord’s flock, we are confronted with the need to make our choice clear. Our response after the first reading clinches it for us: “We are his people, the sheep of his flock” (Responsorial Psalm). It is therefore, not so much “Good Shepherd Sunday” as the Sunday dedicated to the “Lord’s Flock.” The Shepherd’s invitation is clear. We are asked to hear and follow. We are meant to remain attuned to God and His will. But his promise and reward is no less clear: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
“Father, attune our minds to the sound of Christ’s voice, lead our steps in the path he has shown, that we may know the strength of his outstretched arm and enjoy the light of your presence for ever. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Alternative Opening Prayer).
Paranaque City, Feast of St. Benedict Menni
April 24, 2007