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From the Heart of the Shepherd

By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor

From the bulletin for the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe (November 26, 2023)

Christ’s Universal Kingship Is Cramping My Blues Career

It’s not so much thinking of song titles that keeps me from cutting my first blues album. I’ve got enough song titles to fill an LP. Consider the following set-list: “I’ve got the Unchurched-Family-Funeral Blues, Again”, “Father, I’m the Last in Line (Just like the Last Penitent Said)”, “(Two) Million Dollar Debt Blues”, “Please Wait While We Finish Installing Your Updates (Zoom Call Just Starting)”, “You’re the Pastor Now (and Everything is Your Fault)”. You can almost hear the soul in these soon-to-be classic tracks, right?

What’s holding up the album is not so much coming up with song titles as it is penning lyrics, composing music, recording the two being performed together, and then producing, promoting, and distributing the result. That’s pretty much all that is holding the project up. Perhaps after the New Year, if people stop dying, being born, getting married, or sinning, I’ll have time enough to focus on those last steps.

But while I am not yet a fully fledged blues artist, I know enough about the genre to get a bulletin article intro out of it. The essence of blues is almost Biblical. Many Psalms, in fact, you might consider “Blues Psalms,” given their content. “You have taken away my companions and loved ones,” laments the psalmist in Psalm 88, “Darkness is my closest friend.” And in Psalm 13 begins with this sad complaint:

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I bear pain in my soul,

and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

Imagine that set to a blues riff! Voicing complaints and laments to the Almighty is, therefore, canonized by the very Scriptures themselves. Our Lord, after all, died with a very bluesy Psalm on His lips: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (Ps 22:1)

But though the laments and complaints of the Israelites--from Job to Jeremiah and including Psalm 22--do not receive an answer in the Old Testament, they finally have their response from God in the New. In the light of the Cross (”dark” as it appears, at times) the lamentable things of this life are seen for what they are in the plan of God. In the light of Christ, we understand that “all the hairs of our head are counted,” and that no sparrow drops to the ground without our Heavenly Father’s knowledge (Mt 10:29-30). We see also that everything that comes to pass in our lives, the good as well as the apparently evil, comes about according to His just decrees, for “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him” (Matt 28:18). Finally, knowing that He is Love itself, we trust that for those who love Him, all things work for our good (Rom 8:28).

Recognizing that Christ is King of the Universe requires us to rethink what otherwise might give us the blues. As St. Paul both preached and experienced, only “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Whatever the immediate cause of our affliction (and that cause, when sinful, is not willed by God, but only permitted), when we set our hearts against whatever God in His wisdom has allowed, we are “kicking against the goad” as Saul was doing before his conversion (Acts 9:5). We are resisting what God intends to be part of our path to salvation. If we are not careful, we might even be calling “evil” what is in fact a great good, just as in Hell the day after Holy Thursday is known as Very Bad Friday.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we need to be happy about the real evils present in our lives. Good Friday was still a day of great sorrow for the Blessed Mother. But we do need to endure them with patience, faith, and hope. It’s probable that the Lord salted your Thanksgiving with at least some causes of sorrow: family situations, interpersonal strife, loneliness, anxiety about one thing or another. Proclaiming Christ King today, however, means reaching deep to give thanks for these “blessings” too, trusting that embracing well the cross in these guises “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17).

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