Surprised By The Familiar – Pastor’s Reflection (November 19, 2017)
Amazement on a trip gratifies, but amazement at home really equips a person for Thanksgiving Day. How priceless is the familiar becoming extraordinary!
Such a sensation overtook me yesterday afternoon (Sunday, November 12) when we hosted a recital for the principal Organist for the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris, Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin. Her entire presentation revealed the capacities of our Schantz organ in a way I do not get to contemplate while I say Mass. The organ evokes marvelous emotional variety, particularly as it interacts with the vaulted structure of the church. Several factors enhanced my savoring of the music. First, we had a large and attentive crowd. Second, through the Archdiocese we worked out an arrangement with Con-Ed for additional LED conversion in both of our churches. The electricians had just replaced the vault lighting at St. Vincent Ferrer. The amazing contours of the church interior were bathed in a soft, gentle, and economical light. (By the way, another crew has re-lit the parish offices at St. Catherine of Siena and is now working on the hanging chandeliers and shrine lights in the church.) Third, it came to me as a great pleasure to watch James Wetzel welcome people to this program and, in a congenial way, to invite them to peruse the opportunities offered by the life of our parish.
Upon this foundation of well-being, providence rested something spectacular. After she completed the scheduled works of her program, Mme. Cauchefer-Choplin addressed the crowd and invited us to listen to an improvisation. She began to play and immediately articulated two themes, the Dominican Salve Ragina and Immaculate Mary. Here were two most familiar lines of music and she made magic of them. She played with them across every mood and volume of the spectrum and I suspect that nary a stop went unheard. Taking this in, I was struck by how improvisation of this sort demands equal parts play and discipline. On the one hand it demands imaginative, “out of the box” thinking, on the other it requires a thorough command of the instrument’s potential and of the musical tradition. I just sat there and hoped she would not stop.
I have heard our organ for many days each week over the last seven years, but this gracious lady from Paris introduced it to me all over again. To say she is a virtuosa states the obvious, but so is James and I get to hear him all the time. What set me up for the grace of this experience was taking the time for it. Quite simply, at 3 pm on Sunday I chose to take an hour of real leisure and it paid me back in spades. I found that at the end of this time I returned to reality and sailed through vespers and the 6 pm Mass on a flying carpet of energy.
Thanksgiving will now usher in a season replete with chances for real leisure and they are chances to be amazed by the goodness and beauty in our own lives. This year, more than ever, we need to grab them.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!