Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, June 01, 2007

“Jesus said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ The disciples said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish.’” (Luke 9:13)

“SOUL-SURFING” – June 10, 2007
The Body and Blood of Christ
(Luke 9:11-17)
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

As is often typical of an oldest child in a large family, I began developing a sense of responsibility for the whole world’s well-being at an early age. Without Mom and Dad ever intending it, I became convinced by the age of seven that it was mine to be all things to all people. Further, I learned from an early age that only I could do a job right; everyone else was destined to mess it up. When my younger siblings botched a simple household chore, familiar words rang through the house. “Bobby, come help your sister. She’s got dog food everywhere but in the dog’s dish.” Or, “Bobby, go help your brother take out the trash. The bag’s too heavy for him.” It’s no surprise that Bobby grew ever more responsible for the whole world’s well-being as the years progressed. Then I hit 7th grade where, maybe for the first time, it became clear that I was not the savior.

With two years experience as a string bass player under my belt by the time I entered our local junior high school, I was ready for the challenge of new and more difficult musical scores. And I felt among the especially chosen when I learned that Mr. Wagner, director of the junior high string orchestra, was himself a string bass player. While he could dabble at all the other instruments arrayed before him in the grimy hands of 7th graders, it was my instrument alone at which he admitted proficiency. He had high expectations of my abilities. I would not disappoint him, I promised myself. I’d make him proud of me. It was an easy promise to keep until the spring concert loomed.

Soon after we’d returned from Christmas vacation, Mr. Wagner distributed the music we’d be performing for the spring concert in April. While most of the music was unmemorable, he’d given us one piece that upon first perusal was terrifying. So many sixteenth notes on the page! Hardly any rests at all! Plucked notes becoming bowed notes in quick succession! This wasn’t your typical 7th grade musical repertoire! The fugue movement from Jaromir Weinberger’s opera “Schwanda the Bagpiper” is no fare for a bunch of grimy-pawed pre-teens fidgeting with violins, violas, cellos and one string bass, me! But Mr. Wagner was insistent: this difficult piece would be among our spring repertoire. We still had months to learn it. We could do it, he said. I could do it, I told myself. We were both wrong.

Come the morning of concert day, Mr. Wagner assembled us on the auditorium stage for the dress rehearsal. And to our credit, the orchestra had sort of mastered its simpler pieces, but “Schwanda the Bagpiper” remained as dissonantly raw as the January rehearsal when we first put bow to string. Violins shrieked in pain; viola players wiped sweat from their brows; cellists did battle with the untamed beasts they straddled, and I, lone string bass player with the running fugue before me, correctly executed about every 5th note. My mood blackened during the rehearsal as I had to admit defeat, that I could not play my part, that the whole composition was a disaster, that we’d be laughed off the stage that evening. Unable to face such opposition, I did what you’d expect a first-born, utterly responsible, sure-he-could-save-the-whole-world-person would do: I skipped the concert.

First thing next morning, a red-faced Mr. Wagner snatched me out of homeroom, demanding an explanation. “I couldn’t play my part,” I shamefully admitted. “The whole thing sounded awful, and I only added to the awfulness. That’s why I stayed home.” Later that day, I crept into the music room for our scheduled orchestra class to hear him compliment the group on their efforts the night before. No further word was ever spoken about my absence, not by him or any of my peers. And to this very day, almost 50 years later, I can still hum most of the bass part of the fugue from “Schwanda the Bagpiper.” The notes are still in my mind, but I couldn’t get my fingers working fast enough across those strings to actually make music.

Utter helplessness: in the gospel passage we hear today, it’s what the twelve disciples felt when faced with a seemingly impossible challenge. A huge and now hungry crowd had assembled in a remote place to listen to Jesus preach and witness him heal the sick. But now the sun was going down and something had to be done about feeding the mass. Toying with his frantic disciples, “Jesus said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ The disciples said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish.’” (Luke 9:13) And, of course, Jesus came to the rescue, making of such meager fare banquet enough to feed five thousand people, and there were leftovers to boot!

I wish I’d been more familiar with this gospel story back in 7th grade. Had I known what great things Jesus could do with what seems so very little, I might not have skipped the spring concert. I might have shown up, tossing out beyond the footlights the few notes from “Schwanda the Bagpiper” I could play correctly. And I might have been amazed that something far greater than my paltry efforts resulted, judging from the wild applause of the hungry crowd of parents seated in the auditorium.

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