September 10, 2023 Essay: A Rhapsody Of Hope For Our Time

Sep 1, 2023

There is invariably a cacophonous buzz that precedes most musical performances, whether for a concert at Carnegie Hall or a musical on Broadway. It is the clash of discordant notes of what seems like a battle of musical instruments, each trying to showcase the distinct virtuosity of its master. As the din reaches a crescendo, there is a sudden moment of stark silence followed by something rapturous. One majestic harmony of sound is created through the same instruments that moments earlier seemed to be at war with one another. A melody elevating the soul to a tranquil realm of beauty unabashedly reveals itself through the unique sound of each musical note. In that moment, there are no longer separate threads, but rather an elegantly woven tapestry of sound.

We live in a world where cacophony appears to be the norm. Discordant voices seek to sow division among us. We experience it on a daily basis, both close to home and from distant shores. We are awash with rhetoric that either attempts to stifle the human spirit or enflame a sinister urge within us to strike back impulsively. Unknowingly, we are being duped into believing that we are doomed to live in a polarized world, where you are either with us or are irrelevant. We lecture rather than listen, impose rather than collaborate, demand rather than discuss. To fall victim to this belief not only denigrates human dignity; it denies the presence of God in the world.

Cacophony, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It can be the foundation of something beautifully melodic. Similarly, differences among us, whether of opinion, politics, ethnic background, gender identification, race, religion, and so on, are exactly where God is to be found, where true harmony will be experienced. In his book, The Dignity of Difference, written in the aftermath of the tragic events of 9/11, Rabbi Jonathan Sachs reflected on the divine nature of the differences among us that require our understanding and demand our respect. When this occurs, we grow closer together and closer to God. He used as an example the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. When seen through his lens, it is not a tragic story at all. Rather, it is one of creative possibilities. We are enriched by our differences, not limited because of them.

The Church has not been immune from the contagion of polarization. There are voices, both loud and strong, especially in the United States, that are trying to undermine the authority of Pope Francis. They view him as leading the Church in the wrong direction and the synodal process as a waste of time. The Pope, however, has not succumbed to parry with them at their level. Rather, he sees within the wellspring of different opinions a way to discern the will of God for the church in the 21st century. Rather than stifling voices within the church, in October at the Vatican, he is bringing together representatives from around the world, including some of his harshest critics, and inviting them to listen respectfully to one another, bishop and lay, traditionalist and liberal, women and men, gay and straight, Catholic and non-Catholic, and to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The present cacophonous buzz in the Church is approaching the threshold of a profound silence, of listening in excited anticipation of what will assuredly be a rhapsody of hope for the universal Church in the modern world.

Similar to the synodal process initiated by Pope Francis, the parish has been engaged in a discernment process since 2019.  Several committees of parishioners, representing the various voices of the parish, met to discuss what it means to be a Jesuit Catholic parish in New York City today. It is my hope that with the release of the parish’s Implementation Plan in the Fall we will pause to savor the sound of our uniquely joyful rhapsody, before rolling up our sleeves and joining in the work of building a new paradigm of church, while remaining faithful to our rich traditions and noble past. As I reflect on what lies before us, I am reminded of Luke 12:48 – Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

The challenge of remaining alive to God’s spirit and relevant in today’s world will undoubtedly be daunting both for the universal Church and for our parish.  Let us join in prayer that we may be buoyed by the strains of a rhapsody of hope and boldly proclaim the kingdom of God so that all we do redounds to the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.

— Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J., Pastor