Once again our world has witnessed great and terrible tragedy in recent terrorist attacks abroad and too many acts of violence here in our own nation, reminding us how fragile is the gift of life that God has given us and how far removed we are sometimes from the fulfillment of God's plan for the world. In a moment like this, peace seems unattainable, and yet there are signs of hope in the countless acts of kindness, hospitality, and healing that surround those who suffer. We ourselves, especially in our ministry of music, are signs and instruments of healing for those who suffer. I was reminded of that reality during my parish's gathering for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, a special Mass to which we extended special invitations to those who lost loved ones this past year. The consoling music during the procession from our cemetery to the Church, accompanied only by chimes and the tolling of the church bell, invited those gathered to place their trust in the Lord, who is our light and salvation (we were singing the Taizé refrain, "The Lord is My Light"). When we long for hope and peace, we must be willing to put ourselves forward as instruments of hope and peace.
It is precisely this responsibility that also moves us to GIVE THANKS. The Lord has not abandoned us but is near to us especially in moments of struggle. As I gather with my parishioners for Mass on Thanksgiving morning, and later with my family for Thanksgiving Dinner (which I am hosting this year), I give thanks that the Lord sees fit to use me as an instrument of healing and peace. I am grateful that my faith in God enables me to have hope in the face of suffering and tragedy. And I offer praise as I recognize just how much God has given me.
As we begin the Season of Advent next weekend, we pastoral musicians, clergy, and liturgists will be frantically looking ahead in preparation for the Season of Christmas and even beyond (Lent begins early next year!) I invite you to pause at some point, as the season of ADVENT beckons us to slow down, if only for a brief moment between planning meetings, rehearsals, and program preparations (not to mention your own preparation for Christmas), so that we might recall our need and reawaken our longing for Christ. Only when we realize that we need the Savior can we really pray, Marana-tha, "Come Lord Jesus."
Many of you will spend a significant amount of time over the next few weeks immersed in the music of the season. I, too, will be spending a lot of time over these weeks with some of my favorite music, as once again I will be singing in the chorus for a performance of Handel's Messiah (with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra). It is a privilege and a blessing for me to have the opportunity to do this every year, not only because I believe ours is one of the best performances around (I know I am biased about that) but also because I am able to get in touch with these sacred biblical texts and reflect on the Paschal Mystery (we perform the complete oratorio). This year, "Comfort, ye, my people" will resonate anew in the hearts of all who hear it, and we will be encouraged by the announcement of the child born unto us who is "Prince of Peace."
Join me to give thanks for the dedication of our membership, our leadership, our staff, and the work everyone does not only for NPM but for the Church and its Liturgy. May the Lord bless you and your families and friends as you gather this week to celebrate and give thanks for God's abundant blessings in your lives!
God's peace to you,
Rev. Msgr. Richard B. Hilgartner
President and CEO
National Association of Pastoral Musicians