Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Is it worth it?

I have "threatened" to write on this topic before when certain things came up. Only now did I find the motivation actually to do it. So, here goes.

As a musician, I can say that there is nothing more gratifying or rewarding than playing or singing at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It truly is a privilege, and it's a chance for musicians to employ their art in the realm in which art originally developed from the beginning of history--the realm of religion.

But, as we know, the Church militant is made up of imperfect people. It is a hospital for sinners, and not a mansion for saints. Anyone who has worked in the church knows this quite well and has likely felt its effects. It is well known that musicians of every variety have been mistreated by their pastors and parishioners. Musicians, to be sure, aren't the only ones. One of my teachers used to say, "Remember, the only one whose job is worse than yours is the janitor's, because everybody thinks they can do his job."

Many have sacrificed much to work in the service of the Church, only to be shoved out the door for trying to maintain tradition or even orthodoxy--not to mention plain old common sense. I myself have experienced this, and something was relayed to me by a friend recently which caused me to reflect on some things that have happened to me in the past. It really opened up a lot of old wounds, much as I tried not to let it.

I once held a job as a church organist which I sacrificed a lot to take. I moved to a place where I knew no one at first and ultimately had few friends. (I actually was convinced for awhile that this was because of some problem I had; only later did I realize that this was because of circumstances.) I barely made enough money. I was given no health insurance (in spite of the fact that the importance of this was preached from the pulpit). I lived in a bad neighborhood. And I was lonely. This was not a healthy situation.

I poured my heart into the job, only to be put through a ton of bureaucracy after my first year, as they were trying to resist my program. The pastor stood by and watched this episode, keeping his involvement to a bare minimum. Foolishly, I kept the job for a few more years, until things deteriorated completely. In the lead up to this deterioration I had all manner of insults hurled at me by one of the parish leaders who should have known better--and who happened to have thought quite highly of my work (or at least said so) for a great portion of my tenure. Such a turnabout can be quite traumatic for the one on the receiving end of it.

These kinds of episodes lead many organists to wonder whether it's worth it to work for the Church. After all the organist gives up--family holidays, concerts with friends, vacations (since the pay is often not good), even essential financial security--he ends up being mistreated, treated like a leper.

So, is it worth it? In short, yes.

Here are two perspectives that have helped me to achieve and maintain some equilibrium:

1. We must be motivated by service to Christ and His Church. Period. "Service" does not mean "customer service." That is to say, we are to give people what they need, not what they want. "Christ and His Church" means the entire Mystical Body of Christ, not just the local parish community. This is by far a firmer foundation than whatever might be included in the local pastoral plan of action or other such thing. To serve the Mystical Body of Christ is also to lay the groundwork for future generations, and not just give in to the desires of the ascendant group; in fact it may involve, depending upon circumstances, resisting completely the "ascendant group." (N.B. The "ascendant groups" in many places are soon to be on the descent.)

In other words, church employees do not work for a pastor, they work for Christ and His Church.

2. I have found that the only way to maintain my sanity is to offer up my difficulties and unite them to the Mystery of the Cross. That may sound lofty, but it's actually very dirty work. If the Lord was mistreated, how can we expect anything different for ourselves? This takes practice, and I must admit that I've only begun to practice. Who knows how long it will take for this attitude to be the "default position" of my thinking. As one who has a strong sense of justice at times, I imagine that this is might be very difficult for me.

Of course, there's a difference between offering it up and asking for it. I think it's obvious that we musicians in particular owe it to ourselves and to the parishes we visit to make sure that our respective philosophies are compatible enough to work. Similarly, if one finds himself in an obviously impossible situation, he has every right to leave, perhaps even the duty.

Now, a word specifically to those of you in the pews. If you like the work that your parish music director is doing, take the time to tell him. He needs to hear it. Believe me.

And if you don't like what he's doing, go easy on him. There's a lot that goes on that isn't apparent from the nave, and sometimes what the musician is forced to do makes him even more miserable than it makes others.

Finally, whether you like your parish musician or you don't, pray for him. He needs that too.

And let us all pray for the day when the worship of God, the Sacramentum Caritatis, will cease to be something that divides and instead truly unites us, as it is meant to do.

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