- On September 8, 2013
I went to a youth convention years ago where a youth minister talked to the teens about the music they listened to. He went over their favorite songs and all the not so hidden allusions to things that went against the teachings of the Church. At the very end, I remember he made a statement about the so-called “love songs” that they loved so much. He said, if the song is truly about love, then you should be able to relate it to God since He truly is the love of our life.
I have thought about that many times over the last few years when I hear hit songs on the radio, or listen to the songs that the teenagers on the youth retreats want to use as their theme songs for a talk, meditation or prayer service. I bring this up, because when I read over the readings for the 23rd Sunday, the last phrase from the Book of Wisdom got stuck in my head: “And thus, were the paths of those on earth made straight.” That line kept reminding me of a lyric of what I think is one of the greatest love songs of all time, although a tragic one. The song is “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles, and it is the 20th and last number one record they ever recorded.
The story of the recording of that song is that Paul McCartney wrote it at his farm in Scotland as just a sad song, something he could relate to, because he stated: “writing sad songs keeps me from going to the psychiatrist.” Besides writing the song by himself, he also played piano and wrote the arrangements for the other instruments. The band went into the studio in late January after the “Apple rooftop concert” and recorded it with John on bass (playing very poorly) and George and Ringo adding other guitars and drums. Weeks later, John invited American producer Phil Spector to come in and arrange certain tracks for the album, and when he heard that song, he added full orchestration and a large choir to the final recording. When Paul heard the finished product, he and producer George Martin were both enraged and it led to Paul taking the management company, Phil Spector and Apple studios to court and finally breaking up the Beatles.
It is a tragic yet apropos story. For like the parables of Jesus, it puts the message into real life. Paul’s words speak of a struggle with a love that is always there: “The long and winding road, which leads to you door, will never disappear. I’ve seen that road before, and it always leads me here; leads me to your door.” What makes the road long and winding is not the obstacles that love puts in our way, but the crooked paths we take trying get to love, and all the false loves we follow along the way that can distract us.
If you look at the three readings for this Sunday, you see that in the Book of Wisdom, we are called by God, but struggle to answer the call because of fear and timidity. But God gives us the Holy Spirit, and His wisdom makes straight our path and leads us to His door.
In the second reading, Paul tells Philemon that he knows we desire to do what is good, but our own desires can cloud our reasoning. He states that perhaps that is the reason why certain struggles or tragedies happen, it is so we will desire the good and grace of what we missed. That God can indeed work through our misfortunes, so that we will trust in Him and desire what is truly good. His path will never disappear, and it will always lead us where we need to go.
And then in the Gospel, Jesus uses the harsh words of “hate” not to destroy the relationship we have with other, but to get us to focus on what we really love, that which God has written on our hearts, and that which will fill us with joy. When He tells us to calculate the cost of what we build in our life, he is telling us to get our priorities straight and look at who and what are in our life. Are those persons and things leading us to God, or are they leading us away from God? Are they making us holier or are they near occasions of sin? Are they helping us to grow or are they keeping stagnant? Are they fulfilling the desire that is written on our hearts or are they filling us with desires that go against who and what we are created to be? Maybe, if they are the obstacles in our path, the crooked roads that lead us away, or the distractions that keep us from being who we are called to be, then maybe we should cut ties with them, no matter how painful it may seem.
Then, what we may think are more bumps in the road that cause us to take another road, are really the crosses of discipleship that lead us away from what is harmful, and actually helps us to continue down the straight and narrow path. It is often easier to walk with a crowd down the wrong path, then to walk alone with God down the right one, especially if it entails carrying a cross. And while it may seem a daunting task, we also have to remember, we never carry it alone, in fact, the love of our life carries the majority of the weight if we have the faith to walk with Him.
I think of my own discernment to the priesthood and what was a ten year long and winding road. I could easily get frustrated and say, if it wasn’t for my pride or my sinfulness, I could have been a priest 10 years earlier. But God gave me such wonderful lessons along my long and winding road that have allowed me to relate to my parishioners in such humble and practical ways that I never would have done before. He gives us blessings that prove that He is with us, even when we turn away, and He tells us not to despair, because He can use even those moments of weakness to do His will. Our fear, our pride, our unworthiness; His love cancels out all of them. And if we trust in Him, he allows us to be wonderful instruments of His grace.
And so it is with our “long and winding road.” That last number one record for the Beatles is so sad because many hear it and think of what could have been if pride and other obstacles didn’t get in the way. What if the Beatles had not broken up after that last record, what great things could they have done? But for me, I think about what God was able to produce in spite of their problems. That in the tragedy of the break-up of the greatest rock band of all time, John Lennon went on to record “Imagine” just one year later, and Paul McCartney recorded his first solo album which produced my favorite song of all time: “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Had they stayed together, John and Paul may have never matured into the artists they later became, and the emotions that fueled the writing of those two great songs may never have been to put to words.
St. Augustine said, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you, O Lord.” May our heart find rest in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, who has written His word on our hearts. And may the words He inspires in our hearts, be a great love song to the One, Who is the Love of our life.