"This is really neat!" wrote Michael Wallacavage, as he sent around a link to this fascinating clip of Eric Whitacre's virtual choirs. Watch it, and I think you'll agree.
The singing starts at 6:27 and then again at 12:12 on the timeline. But don't skip what comes before! Whitacre's introduction is very interesting and engaging. He not only talks about the project itself, how it came about and so on, but also explains how he got interested in classical music. As a youth, his dream was to be a pop star. (He wanted to be the fifth member of Depeche Mode. Remember them?). But when he got to college he joined a choir instead. Not for love of music, mind you, but because it included a free trip to Mexico and the soprano section was full of "hot girls."
But then, Boom!, during the very first day of practice, as the choir launched into the Kyrie from Mozart's Requiem, he had a profound and life changing experience:
My entire life I had seen in black and white and suddenly everything was in shocking technicolor. The most transformative experience I've ever had. In that single moment, hearing dissonance and harmony, and people singing, people together, the shared vision, and I felt for the first time in my life that I was part of something bigger than myself.
Wow. I love it. What a powerful testimony to the influence of great music on the human soul.
Whitacre's experience contains, in a concentrated and intensified form, elements that are found in any deep encounter with value and beauty. I'll try to draw out a few of them, and hope you'll add your own reflections in the comment section.
Whitacre's experience opened his eyes to the depth, richness, and significance of reality. It wasn't merely a different perspective, it was a deeper one. What previously seemed humdrum and ordinary is now revealed for what it really is. All of a sudden, everything has color and meaning, including (though Whitacre does not say so explicitly) his own life and what he decides to do with it.
This doesn't mean that everything is honky dory. All of reality is revealed in technicolor. Not just the things that are noble and lovely, but also those that are ugly and painful. And yet, if the experience went deep enough, I suspect it also inspired a certain confidence that light is stronger than darkness, and that it has the final word.
It's worth underlining that the experience of a single thing of beauty, in this case Mozart's Kyrie, does not just affect one's perception of that one thing, but spills over onto everything else as well. In that way the experience of beauty is truly eye and soul opening. It improves our general ability to see and respond to value.
Whitacre's experience is also transformative. It does not just change his perspective, it changes him. That is why he is now a classical composer and conductor instead of a pop star. The change in his career is a reflection of a deep change in his person.
And note the manner in which beauty works these changes: not through force, or by leaving him with no other option, but by affecting his heart, and inclining it in a new direction. Whitacre is not compelled to give up his previous dreams, he wants to do so. The change, though sudden and drastic, is entirely free and organic.
This gentle, natural way in which values exert their influence is one reason they are so important in education. Exposing children to high values is a way of forming and enobling them that goes deeper and is more congenial than other methods of education involving discipline and rules. (Not that the latter can be eliminated altogether!)
Another fact about Whiteacre's experience is that it was totally unplanned and unexpected. Unlikely even. This also is a general feature of experiencing beauty. We can open ourselves to such an experience, and long for it, but we cannot simply decide to have it. If we are going to be swept up into something higher than ourselves, something (or someone) higher will have to do the sweeping.
This powerlessness on our part seems like a bummer. But really it is part of the blessing of beauty. Too much control is stifling and oppressive. Letting go is liberating. Or at least, it can be liberating. Everything depends on whether one is lifted up by something higher or dragged down to something lower than oneself. The former is liberating, the latter enslaving. (As an example of the latter, there's a song I sometimes hear during spinning classes at the YMCA, that challenges the listener to "disconnect from all intellect," "lose this inhibition," "break away from tradition," "get stupid," and so on.)
One last conspicuous feature of Whitacre's experience is that of a deeply felt communion with other people. "People singing," he describes, "people together, the shared vision… I felt for the first time in my life that I was part of something bigger than myself."
This unifying power is something that all genuine goods have in common, and it is related to the soul-opening power I mentioned above. Dietrich von Hildebrand explains this very well:
The human person has an "outer" and an "inner" side. When he is closed off, he touches the other only with his "outer side" and also touches the other from the outside. Something completely new happens as soon as man opens himself, lets his inner side appear and lets it touch the other person. Every experience of being deeply moved by value means such a breakthrough of the inner side, a self-opening of the person towards all others … [T]he crust of indifference, of egoism, and of pride, which forms on the outside of the person and closes him off from the other, melts under the influence of being moved by the world of values, [and] a union with all other persons constitutes itself simultaneously. The breakthrough of the depth of the person who is taken by the embracing rays of the realm of values … is simultaneously a falling away of the separating barriers between persons.
Don't forget, Samwise, that Pope John Paul II was an enthusiastic supporter of the Legion until very near the end of his papacy. For years and decades the Legion defended their modes and methods by saying, "We have the approval of the Pope."
It only came out later that the Pope had been deceived.
The same is true of the Covenant Communities. In many cases, if not all, they initially enjoyed the support of the bishops. It was only later that the bishops discovered that they hadn't fully known what was going on. Only later that they intervened to correct abuses.
Samwise, the "difficulty with the bishops" that the SotS encountered was not in the beginnging, but much later—only after many stories of terrible harm done came to their attention.
I know. I was there.
I don't say that there was no good in them. Rather I say that they went off the rails, and now provide a good source of "what not to do" wisdom as we consider the question of how to form wholesome communities—the kind that promote the good of persons.
I am aware of that, and admire Fr. Bob Oliver very much. I am hopeful that the Brotherhood's involvement with the Sword of the Spirit will have a good influence going forward. Their involvement is a recent development.
All that you say is true and somewhere in there is the heart of the matter. When something is not what it should be or what others might think it is or what it claims to be, problems surface. As I said, just a caution. BTW, my reference is to community and not to the Brotherhood of Hope.
If Bishops and Papal approval is not the criterion for authenticity this side of heaven, what is? I'm strictly speaking on a level of subsidiarity, that is, as a Catholiccovenant community meets the approval of the local bishop/archbishop who is in communion with Rome
Just a caution. Any community that has it's roots and is still associated with the Sword of the Spirit is one that should be carefully examined before it is held up as a model of community. From the outside it might look appealing, but unfortunately the Sword of the Spirit, while it claims to be ecumenical is more non-denomenational. This, imo, limits the potential of a community like this from becoming the force it should be in the Catholic Church. Unfortunately being approved by the Bishop of the diocese is no guarantee of authentic Catholic teaching within the community.
It is true, the Brotherhood of Hope--and the community from which they originated
had difficult in their beginnings with the Bishops. But as JPII says, a maturing process was necessary for them to be incorporated into the oversight of the Bishops. Today, Fr. Bob is a great example of one who is very influential in the Magisterium--when his order was initially exiled from New Jersey. Another example is the papal preacher Fr. Cantalamessa...
Well you did say, " I wish Fr. Bob had time for conversations like that. On the other hand, I'm not sure he and I see eye to eye on the subject".
Forgive me if read into that...my point is broader. JPII sums it up nicely:"There is so much need today for mature Christian personalities, conscious of their baptismal identity, of their vocation and mission in the Church and in the world! There is great need for living Christian communities! And here are the movements and the new ecclesial communities: they are the response, given by the Holy Spirit, to this critical challenge at the end of the millennium. You are this providential response." (ibid)
Further, I think you are overstating the case when you say Wojtyla strongly supports Catholic covenant community. The article you link says nothing about covenant communities. He is speaking generally about the "new movements" within the Church, including the charismatic renewal. I support those too.
And he reminds all that it is "easy to err", and that to "guarantee the authenticity" of a charism, it is essential to be in proper relation to the competent ecclesial authorities.
One of the ways (only one) the Covenant Communities went off track is that they were not properly related to the Church and Church authorities. This isn't my personal opinioin; it's the finding of the bishops.
My concern with this post isn't to diss community, but rather to make a start toward identifying and articulating the principles by which they can avoid error and dysfunction—the kind of error and dysfunction that caused so much damage in so many lives through the Covenant Communities of the 80s.