Tag Archives: Bl. John Paul II

In defense of Christian music

March 5, 2013

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Photo/hoyasmeg. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Is Christian music really Christian? Is it even any good?  Photo/hoyasmeg. Licensed under Creative Commons.

I had a discussion with a music student once about whether there was such a thing as an “African sound” — popular music with an identifiable sound produced in a number of African countries. This person had studied different forms of indigenous African music and argued that it would be impossible to pick out one “sound” for the continent.

A visit to the iTunes Store reveals how many “sounds” or musical genres are out there—African pop music falls under “World.” Christian music also has its own category along with hip-hop, classical and heavy metal.

Do we need a Christian category?

Does Christian music have its own “sound”? Isn’t all music somehow inspired? Don’t we serve God by writing about life without having to say Jesus’s name all the time? Do we risk ghetto-izing Christian music by creating this category? Isn’t the Christian category just a place for musicians who aren’t good enough for the real musical world?

The blogger at Bad Catholic Read or Die raised these questions in their recent post, Five Reasons to Kill Christian Music. While I think they’re right to say that some Christian music isn’t that great, I’d like to argue in favor of keeping the Christian category.

First of all, I assume the criticism was directed at contemporary Christian music and not the work of masters such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Mozart, Palestrina or King David of the Old Testament, all of whom wrote overtly God-centered music.

The biggest defense I would give for any self-identified Christian music is that it points us toward God and helps us become better Christians.

What we listen to matters

St. Paul gives us an idea of what music is best for our souls: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

This doesn’t mean we should only listen to songs eligible for a Dove award but it does seem to exclude music that focuses on hook ups, break ups or anything else that draws us away from God. Of course there are quality artists writing morally meaningful songs on secular radio but often you have to sit through a lot of junk before you find something beneficial.

Music is a reflection of what’s in the heart of the musician. It can be beautiful but sometimes it’s not so good morally. In his 1999 Letter to Artists, Bl. John Paul II draws a distinction between an artist’s moral and artistic self:

“It is one thing for human beings to be the authors of their own acts, with responsibility for their moral value; it is another to be an artist, able, that is, to respond to the demands of art and faithfully to accept art’s specific dictates. This is what makes the artist capable of producing objects, but it says nothing as yet of his moral character.”

Can’t  get regular air time?

Why is there a separate category for Christian music? Not because all the Christian musicians decided to go off into a corner to sing only to the “saved.” It’s because the secular world doesn’t have much tolerance for messages about God unless they’re critical or derogatory.

If you love someone, you want to talk about them. That’s why people write songs about God. Expressing their faith is real life for Christian artists. If we did away with the Christian category, musicians would have to write codes into their songs to express their faith. Maybe some are already doing that. Living under persecution, the early Christians communicated with codes; I hope it doesn’t come to that again.

It seems to me, the biggest reason the blogger thinks Christian music should be scrapped is that they think it’s bad. They apparently believe Christian musicians copy their “successful” secular counterparts to create insipid, formulaic songs about angelic praise, clouds and how “Jesus saves.” Some of it is like that but I would challenge anyone who thinks this to listen to Christian radio for more than five minutes and check out artists such as Matt Maher and For King and Country.

According to Bl. John Paul II, the Church does need music that explicitly expresses the faith:

“How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of the mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love, and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God.”

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Can good really come from suffering?

August 5, 2011

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When I visit a suffering person, I sometimes don’t know how to act. I really can’t feel their pain. It seems like the person is bearing a heavy and unjust load, and anything I come in with is pretty light in comparison.

A person is in pain and I don’t feel like I’m much help. How can any good come out of the situation?

Suffering is a mystery that requires faith and humility.  Any good that comes from it in no way “justifies” it.  But love and goodness can be the fruits of suffering–whether from sufferers or those in contact with them.

A woman I know suffered a traumatic brain injury late last year and spent a long period in recovery, including 10 days in an induced coma. Also, after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Tucson, Ariz. in early January, she was in a similar condition. In both cases, thousands of people responded with prayers and words of encouragement. Some even experienced positive change in their own lives.

Through the Gospel, writes Bl. John Paul II in his 1984 apostolic letter Salvifici Dolores, (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering), Christ teaches us to do good when we suffer and also to do good to those who suffer.

In the messianic programme of Christ, which is at the same time the programme of the Kingdom of God, suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbour, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a “civilization of love”.

Suffering always involves an experience of evil and evil is a lack, limitation or distortion of good, Bl. John Paul states. “Man suffers because of a good he doesn’t share, from which he is cut off or of which he’s deprived himself,” John Paul writes. Therefore, suffering explained through evil always in some way refers to a good.

In taking on his own suffering, Christ destroyed this evil and replaced it with good as he accepted our sins with that love for the Father which overcomes the evil of every sin. Jesus himself is present in each suffering person, since his salvific suffering has been opened to every human suffering, giving us the opportunity to participate in the work of redemption.(Col. 1:24)

Love is released when a person offers their suffering to God and suffers virtuously by persevering through all that disturbs and causes harm, Bl. John Paul states,

In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintains in him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, that it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity linked to awareness of the meaning of life.

Also, when the suffering person is “gravely ill, totally incapacitated, and … almost incapable of living and acting, Bl. John Paul writes, “all the more do interior maturity and spiritual greatness become evident, constituting a touching lesson to those who are healthy and normal.”

It seems clear that the suffering person can bring good or love into the world, but what about those who aren’t suffering?

Bl. John Paul states that a suffering person unleashes love in family members, caregivers and even strangers—as it did in the Good Samaritan. Suffering can stir unselfish love that affects his heart and actions. It opens a sensitivity of the heart that has a unique emotional expression to it.

But this love can’t be forced, Bl. John Paul writes. “The eloquence of the parable of the Good Samaritan, and of the whole Gospel, is especially this: every individual must feel as if called personally to bear witness to love in suffering.”

Suffering doesn’t automatically cause love to grow but it does provide a challenge and an opportunity, writes theologian Peter Colosi, in his article, “John Paul II and Max Scheler on the Meaning of Suffering,” What the non-suffering person does for the sufferer isn’t as important as the fact that they do it with as much love as possible, according to the philosopher Max Scheler, who influenced Bl. John Paul.

A brain-injured woman in an induced coma may not be able to acknowledge our love or we may feel awkward trying to figure out how to love and serve a suffering person. But as Bl. John Paul points out, good—and love—will come from the situation if we allow the Lord to show us how to be the Good Samaritan.

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