Homily at the Chant Intensive
Wallace, Cavana, Sacred Music
Delivered at the Founders Chapel, University of San Diego, January 9, 2009
What is the common link between the days after the Epiphany which began with the arrival of the magi bearing their gifts to the new-born Messiah in Bethlehem, the later event of Christ's healing of the leper we have read in today's gospel and the setting of this liturgy within the framework of a workshop on church music? How can we possibly bring all three of these elements together? The opening lines of the early nineteenth-century popular parish hymn might come to mind, "Praise, my soul, the King of heaven; To his feet thy tribute bring! Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, Who like me his praise should sing?"
Today's gospel sets our blessed Lord in the context of his healing ministry, one which demonstrates his power as God as well as announcing the kingdom of heaven, both of which point to his mission to restore order to creation, and to bring harmony out of chaos.
Where there is disorder in any relationship, be it with God, neighbor, or within oneself, its effect resonates a disturbance in mind, body, and soul. In this context sickness and disease are telltale signs that there is something out of sync in our world, out of tune, the reason we need a savior.
Contemplating this further, I imagine that the scene of the gospel showing our Blessed Lord cleansing the leper and healing the sick, although dramatic and exciting, was nevertheless quite noisy. Within this context of his healing ministry, demons would often scream and shout at our Lord as they were being cast out of the physically vulnerable and the weak of mind. Frenzied, excitable crowds would no doubt be caught up in the waves of emotions generated by such events. Christ stands in the middle of a battlefield.
In the midst of all this noise, having brought healing to the leper, Our Lord asks for silence. But there is that human temptation to resist stillness, maybe the reason we are told in the gospel today that Jesus would withdraw to deserted places to pray--away from the clatter and clamor of daily life and living, to sacred rendezvous places where the sound of heaven could be gently heard.
In the classical work of the Divine Comedy, which describes in poetic fashion, both the liturgy of heaven and of hell, the Florentine poet, Dante, draws this point out by comparing hell as a place of constant noise with heaven as a place of silence and music.
In the Inferno, the "soundscape" of hell is characterized by disharmonious harshness and acoustic unpleasantness, screams and lamentations, wailing and the grinding of teeth. This perverted type of music is so terrible that it is overpowering and Dante must ultimately cover his human ears, a far cry (literally) from the melodic harmonies which the poet describes resonating through the heavens. …