I’ve been singing my entire life, and have performed for several crowded auditoriums. But I’m not good at it.
On paper, I seem all right: middle school advanced chorus, high school chamber choir, a solo or two in the spring musical, etc. However, during those years, it seemed to me, and my teachers seemed to share this opinion, that these honors were mostly due to my overachieving and goody-two-shoes tendencies. I was far from the best singer. I had never had a private lesson, though I gleaned a thing or two from public school music education. I had no control over my voice. I couldn’t harmonize. I didn’t read music well. My attempts to sight-read new music in class were often met with glares and eye-rolls from girls with more perfect pitch. The icing on the discouragement cake was when, at a musical rehearsal, a so-called best friend pointed me out to a new student saying, “That’s Vicky. She can’t sing.”
After I left high school, I gave up on the idea of singing by myself in public. But I would always sing loudly in church. Many people I talk to find Catholic hymns to be mind-numbingly dull, but I disagree. With a sound music ministry, music is the most powerful part of any Mass. I feel closest to God when I sing. I hardly ever pray after Communion; I have to sing. People would notice, and some told me my voice was nice, but I was safe and comfortable being one of the congregation.
However, Sunday night Mass showed me that even voice lessons could not correct the one thing that held me back: my audience. Whenever I sang in the past, I sought approval from every single person in a 200-seat auditorium, when I had only to please an audience of One.
It was the first Mass of the semester, and my roommate, one of our music ministers, had a problem. She had three violists and herself on piano, but she had no guarantee that any singers would show up. I stupidly offered my services as a last resort. I say “stupidly” because I assumed I would just be part of the chorus as I was used to doing. I panicked when she told me I’d be singing the Alleluia. I knew what would happen: My nerves would attack my vocal cords as soon as I opened my mouth, and I’d either squeak or over-sing my way through the entire thing.
I escaped into the bathroom before Mass and intended to pray for some control over my errant nerves. But what came out of my mouth was, “God, please help me to realize that this is not about me. It’s all about praising You.”
I decided then that I was going to pretend that Jesus was the only person who could hear me sing. So after the second reading, I took my place by the piano and fixed my eyes on the furthest point up the aisle. I couldn’t see Jesus, but I knew He was there. I took a deep breath as the congregation rose. I opened my mouth. The notes flowed from my lips: rich, full, expressive, everything I had hoped my voice would be if I had more talent or training or both. It didn’t matter whether or not my voice was pleasing to everyone there; I felt my Heavenly Father smiling on his little daughter.
The Gospel reading from St. John struck a chord with me that day. John the Baptist says, upon seeing Jesus come to him, “I myself did not know Him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that He might be revealed to Israel.” (John 1:31)
John the Baptist was a popular fellow. People thought he was the Messiah. But he always pointed the glory back to God. It was not for his own glory, but God’s glory, that he went out and preached and baptized.
God did not give us our gifts and talents so we can hide them away, like the servant in Matthew, Ch. 25 who buried his master’s talent (the coin) in the ground, nor so we can use them on ourselves. He gave them to us so that we can use them for His glory.
God gave you gifts. Use them.
(And yes, I will be singing this Sunday at Mass.)