By Msgr. Owen F. Campion - The Priest, 11/1/2012
Regular readers of The Priest will notice an absence this month. This edition does not contain the usual column presented each month by Father Benedict Groeschel. Father Benedict has advised us that he will not be writing anymore.
News of his decision reached us too late to find a substitute. We are looking for another columnist to replace Father Benedict, and we hope soon to introduce this new columnist to readers.
This is a good time to thank Father Benedict for his long involvement with The Priest. Several years ago, Father Benedict suffered a serious injury when a car struck him. For awhile, it was not always clear as to his survival, but even though he survived, the event took a heavy toll. Yet, Father Benedict carried on for The Priest. I am sure that he did so because he wished to serve his fellow priests who read this magazine. We knew it was hard for him, but he never let us down.
On a more personal note, over the years, Father Benedict has been for this editor a trusted and helpful adviser. I felt that I could relate to him. It was more than just smooth communication between us. Father Benedict inspired me. Father Benedict, may God bless you. Pray for us.
Now to another facet of this month’s edition. Grin and bear it, priests of all ages! If your tastes correspond with mine, it will be a matter of grinning and bearing it when it comes to modern popular music. Still, to say it again, grin and bear it! Listen to the lyrics of modern music and learn.
Bewilderment at best, hopelessness at worst, always selfish to the extreme, always weary and yearning — these are the tones underlying modern music. It is the music that youth especially hear thundering, as high volume is the norm, from their cell phones, radios, and from performers on stages.
Modern music very much differs from the songs that predominated during the years of the Second World War. Recently, while searching on the Web for something, I found a link to a gala concert in London in 1990 on the 90th birthday of the late Queen Elizabeth, mother of Britain’s still-reigning Queen Elizabeth II, and widow of King George VI.
For many years, the “Queen Mum” almost universally was held in British popular opinion in a reverence bordering on adoration. No one can watch the recording of this concert and not have a sense of how highly admired the late Queen Mother was. (She died in 2002.) She initially won that public acceptance, and public love, by her self-sacrificing and relentless care for the British people so heavily burdened by the war.
Commentators and the general public, in the days between 1939 and 1945, arguably the darkest time in British history, noted that even after the most ferocious German bombing raids, the “All Clear” hardly had sounded before Queen Elizabeth and King George VI would appear amid still-smoking ruins, with dead bodies and the bodies of gravely injured lying all about, to give comfort and encouragement.
As would be expected, music from the war years dominated the concert. The great vocalist of the period, Vera Lynn, later honored by the crown for her patriotism, was the star. She did very well for her 73 years!
It was a great concert. The orchestra was superb. The performers were excellent. Most interesting for me were the words of the songs. Of course, grimness lay in the background. Anything else would have been dishonest given the peril of the times. The songs, nevertheless, were upbeat and without exception hopeful.
“We’ll meet again,” ran one. “I don’t know where, I don’t know when, but we’ll meet again, some sunny day.”
“When the lights go on again all over the world!” was another. And, Vera Lynn brought the house down with her trademark of those days, “There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover tomorrow, just you wait and see.”
This is the point. Everything was threatening, and everything was threatened. The British endured far more than did we Americans. The very existence of the British culture was at stake. Thousands were dying at the front. Thousands had died. German bombing was pulverizing major cities. Food was in short supply — you could buy only one egg a week!
Still, the overriding theme was hope and confidence. Why? This, I strongly suspect, had something to do with it. The British people of that generation trusted in their traditional values, and at that time Britain was a religious society overall. True, the Anglican Church had begun to loosen its once tight moral demands. Religion nevertheless remained the fount for decisions about right and wrong.
Listen to those songs, and then listen to popular music today. The contrast is vivid and sad.
On the cover of this edition of The Priest is a young man, unsmiling, without expression, without joy, staring into space. His image could be the photograph to accompany so many modern popular songs. He seems to be asking if life is worth living? He does not show that he has found the answer.
The Priest’s staff chose his picture for the cover precisely to convey this image of just drifting along, presenting it as a reflection of the attitude of so many people today.
Despite whatever worries or inconveniences the current economic slump creates, Americans by and large, much more often than not, have it good. At least, they have had it good. Having it good, or having had it good, has formed a collective social expectation and the test by which the worth of life is measured.
The picture on the cover conveys a reality. This collective social expectation, as reward and as test, has come up wanting.
This month’s edition coincides with two efforts within the Church, initiated by Pope Benedict XVI. The first is the Year of Faith, in which believers, and especially priests, are invited to look into their hearts and lives to gauge their faith. Are we converted? Can we stand beside Paul on the road of Damascus? Does faith transform you and me? Is it the light of our lives?
So many people in this day and time wear the countenance of the young man on The Priest’s cover.
If we are converted, we are in Christ. Christ is God. God is love. It is a series of simple declaratory statements, but each of them is profound. They are particularly profound for priests. In persona Christi, the Lord leads us and drives us. As did Jesus, we love God’s people. We sacrifice our lives for them, as Jesus gave life itself on Calvary.
The confusion of that young man on the cover touches us, please God. It inspires us to set about the task of the New Evangelization, the other important theme for this edition and for this time, also emphasized by the Holy Father.
I now finish these reflections. I will return to that image on the cover and think. Join me.
November traditionally is the month of the Poor Souls in Purgatory. Counseling the grief-stricken and burying the dead are major tasks for priests. This month’s edition features an article on Page 38, by Father Anthony Marques, about using vespers in funeral rites. On Page 49, Father Terence P. Curley writes about the New Evangelization and grief.
On Page 43, Father Ronald Witherup, the Sulpician Superior General in Paris, but an American and a Scripture scholar, looks at eschatology in Mark’s Gospel. It considers the last things and the end of things from the perspective of this Gospel.
This article will be the last contribution by Father Witherup to The Priest’s series on the Marcan Gospel. We are happy to say that beginning next month he will reflect regularly on the Gospel of Luke.
Next month’s article on Luke especially excites me. Father Witherup is writing about the Lucan canticles. The climax for morning prayer is the Benedictus, from Luke, and in evening prayer it is the Magnificat, also from Luke. Father Witherup’s piece very well explores each, along with other similar verses in Luke’s Gospel. TP
MSGR. CAMPION is editor of The Priest and associate publisher of Our Sunday Visitor. He is a former president of the Catholic Press Association and the Vatican’s ecclesiastical adviser for the International Catholic Union of the Press.
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