Some of the readers of this column might remember a band called Milli Vanilli which caused quite a music controversy. In 1990 the duo of Rob and Fab exploded on to pop music scene. They had five big hits, including three number one songs. Then it was discovered that they weren’t really singing on their records or at their concerts. They were simply lip-synching. The actual vocals were by two former American soldiers who just didn’t have the “look” the record company wanted. People in the recording industry were outraged, and Milli Vanilli had to give back the Grammy Award presented to them for Best New Artist. Regularly in the gospels Jesus accused the Pharisees and the priests of his day of simply doing an Old Testament lip synch. They mouthed the appropriate words but were not singing God’s song. As a priest who stands up on a regular basis to preach the word of God I’m haunted by that lip-synching accusation from Jesus. I’m also deeply uncomfortable about the instances of lip-synching which characterise so many areas of our faith, especially in relation to the sacraments and how we celebrate them.
Every year many young parents come to me and priests throughout the country to have their new born babies baptised. The birth of a baby is a happy event, an event to be celebrated and ritualised. All parents want the best for their children and for most parents in Ireland today that wanting the best still includes having them baptised. Serious questions exist as to why some parents want Baptism for their children. In many urban areas it may simply be to insure that they get into a Catholic school. In the Baptism ceremony, very direct questions are asked of the parents about their willingness to raise their children in the Faith:
“You have asked to have your child baptised. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him/her in the practice of the Faith. It will be your duty to bring them up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us by loving God and our neighbour. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”
In 35 years I have never known any parent to say no to that question and yet in so many cases I have huge reservations whether they have any grasp of what is being asked of them. The lip synching continues when parents present children for First Communion and perhaps the worst of all is Confirmation. Every few years more than 60 children in our parish present themselves for Confirmation. They promise publicly that they will be committed to their faith and to practicing it regularly. If I have ever seen 5% of them in church afterwards it is the most there has been. Far from being the Sacrament of commitment and initiation into the Church, Confirmation is for so many the Sacrament of exit out of it. More Milli Vanilli, more religious lip synching.
Now some of you reading this will perhaps be angry with me because I’m even raising these questions. You may be thinking he is on a rant and he must surely have gotten out of bed at the wrong side this morning. I’m sorry if I have upset you but I believe passionately that these are fundamental questions of integrity that we have to have a conversation about.
Someone once defined integrity as being when our inners match our outers! So many times in the Gospels, Jesus holds up a mirror to all of us and asks us that uncomfortable question; ‘Are we who we say we are?’ That is the question for each of us every day.
One, then another and another
On the skim down from above,
Bedding the forest table before me
With comforting crunches and crackles.
This gigantic death scene of leaves
Does not smell of sorrow or sadness,
Rather, the earth is coloured with joy
And the leaves make music in the wind.
– Joyce Rupp