In the play, “The King and I,” a song proclaims, “Whenever I feel afraid … ( I) whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I’m afraid.”
This weekend as we listen to the Gospel there may be much whistling breaking out in churches all over the diocese. We are being told to expect the sun to disappear and the sky to be pitched into blackness. Those who have been long dead may be turning around every corner and we can expect angels to be making house calls. “It will be a time unsurpassed in distress.” If this is the good news God is giving to us, we really do not want to hear the bad.
However, the church never lets her children whistle in the darkness. When the difficult words of Scripture need to be proclaimed, she takes special care to offer Christ’s words of assurance to us in other ways. At liturgy this weekend, listen carefully to the various prayers taken from the Roman missal for use on the thirty-third Sunday in ordinary time.
In the entrance antiphon, God will tell us he thinks words of peace, not affliction, and will answer us when we call to him. The collect (former opening prayer) has us asking God for the “constant gladness” that comes from serving God who is the “author of all that is good.” Both the prayer over the offering (former offertory prayer) and the Communion antiphon have us asking to be near to God, to be devoted to him, to be filled with happiness, to be assured that what we ask for in prayer will be given to us.
The prayer after Communion sums up the actions that flow from people who know that the darkness of sky, the uncertainty of death, have no power over us, because in all things, we belong to God! In confidence we pray that in our remembering of Jesus, we may be made into people who are charitable.
It is because of this union with Jesus in the Eucharist that we Catholics do not have to whistle to hold fear at bay. We people of the Eucharist cannot keep from singing! A Quaker hymn written in the 19th century by Robert Lowry, “How Can I Keep From Singing?” is a standard hymn in most of our church hymnals. Perhaps it will be sung in your parish this weekend. The words of this hymn echo Sunday’s Gospel, as they express “earths lamentations” — filled with darkness, tyranny, tempests and death knells. Yet the chorus of the hymn reminds us of the very depth of our faith. “… No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I’m clinging … how can I keep from singing?” Indeed, in this Year of Faith, how can we keep from singing?
Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh.