Showing off

Aurelio Porfiri

Please consider with me the following scenarios: your doctor is curing a health problem for you and he demonstrates good medical skills but you are not happy about that; or, your driver shows that he knows how to properly drive you, but that drives you crazy; or the teacher of your kids is so good at his or her job that it makes you insane… Yes, you think there is something wrong here: it’s you.

Now, these apparently nonsensical situations are very common in one field: church music. It happens, quite frequently, that if the choir is singing well or in polyphony there is always the frustrated person that has to notice that they are showing off. Of course sometimes people show off, but going from one extreme to the other is not the right solution: in medio stat virtus, virtue stands in the middle.

We know that the choir also has to help the congregation to join in some parts of the Mass. But please ponder that carefully. “Also” is not “only,” but “also.” However the real problem here does not have to do with liturgy but with the insecurities and frustrations of people raising this kind of objection. Where we should praise God for showing His greatness through the work of dedicated choirs, there are some who would rather pleasure in having the whole world matching their level of mediocrity.

We need to know that it is good to resist to these ways of falling down to mediocrity. The American writer Scott Alexander says it very well: “All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating, and mediocrity is easy. Stay away from easy.” When people talk to me about lowering standards to meet the needs of the people, it is like wanting to help the poor by being sure to remain poor.

Many years ago I had a spiritual director that gave me a lesson that I have never forgotten: beware of the evilness of mediocre people. I came to realize that mediocrity is possibly the worst sin, because it is the mother and father of many other sins. When we make ourselves beautiful for God, in our singing, painting, preaching and so on, we are doing what we would do for someone we truly love. We give our best for God, like the widow of the Gospel, giving little when you only have little, giving more when you have more. God is not a lover that deserves to be loved with cheap stuff.

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