The Song, Not the Singer

There is a story told of a young Spanish priest whose best friend was a revolutionary during the time of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. The revolutionary was caught by the police, tried and sentenced to death. The priest went to see him the night before his execution to anoint him and give him Holy Communion. To his surprise his life long friend refused the sacraments. He told the priest he never believed in ‘all that stuff. The priest was confused and said, ’we’ve been friends all our lives, I don’t understand.’

His friend replied, ‘for me it has always been the singer, not the song.’

Our second reading tells of Paul’s anger and impatience with the Christian community at Corinth. Paul was preaching in Ephesus and got word from his friend Chloe about the divisions and fractiousness taking place in Corinth. There were those in the community who boasted they belonged to Paul, others laid claim to Apollo, others to Cephas. For these people it was the singer not the song. So Paul asks the probing question, ‘was Paul crucified for you, was Cephas crucified for you or Apollos? Paul, Apollos, Cephas, they were the singers, Christ is the song.’ Paul reminded them of something they had forgotten: they were all baptized into Christ and belonged first and foremost to Him, who suffered and was crucified for their salvation.

This is the week of prayer for Christian unity. If we look at the situation of Christianity in the world today doesn’t it in someway reflect the church in Corinth? There is not one church but countless churches each one claiming to be the true church, the real church. Certainly we get along better than we did years ago. There is tolerance and mutual acceptance. We will pray for unity, show solidarity in some social issues but we all see ourselves as number one. Someone suggested that if Paul were writing his letter today he would call us out for insisting; ‘I belong to Luther or I belong to Calvin or I belong to Wesley or I belong to Pope Benedict.’ As he did with the Corinthians so Paul would do with the Christians of today, challenge us to find, retain and respect our unity in Christ. Singers may lead us to Christ but in the end our allegiance and our faith must find its source and center in Christ, the song, the endless song of God’s love for all of us, a love made visible in the crucified Christ.

Too often people have been caught up in the singers, the personalities, the eloquent preachers, the builders, the organizers and have lost sight of the song. One of my teachers in the seminary told us one day; ‘make no one less than Christ your hero because anyone else is capable of failing you.’ We’ve certainly seen too many examples of that in painful scandals in our own church and in some of the mega-churches where pastors failed their people.

Paul the singer boasts that the only song is the crucified Christ, the love of God made visible. As we continue to celebrate this Mass we pray for ourselves, we pray for each other that see beyond the talent or the faults of the singer and always hold on to the song, a song that sings of God’s endless love for each of us, the crucified Christ.