“Blest are the eyes that see what you see. I tell you, many prophets and kings wished to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. “Luke 10, 21-24.
We begin a new academic year and celebrate a Mass of the Holy Spirit. To call upon the Holy Spirit at this time is a tradition that marks a taking-off point for learning in our classrooms and the new knowledge we acquire from every subject or academic discipline, including teamwork in athletics or practice in dance, drama, and song. We welcome this time in our lives, and embrace this growth, expecting wisdom along the way.
If the New Testament has one recommendation for students, teachers, or staff, it comes from Saint Paul, who tells us: “Don’t stifle the spirit.”
Recall from today’s gospel: “What you have hidden from the learned and clever, you have revealed even to merest children.”
So expect the spirit to inspire you, and go with it! But don’t stifle the spirit! What are the sources for our inspiration? Let me focus on an example of how one musical genius, drawing on his experience as a young man, continues to inspire us today.
In 1970, Paul McCartney and the Beatles released his song “Let It Be.” You may recall the lyrics:
When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be. And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be. And when the broken-hearted people in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be. Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah whisper words of wisdom, let it be!
So we whisper words of wisdom, and it may sound easy, but this too has complications and may take time to discern and sort out.
Here’s my story. At the time of its release, Let It Be, led the pop charts as one of the top songs of 1970. It was such a popular song that my seminary choir of thirty male voices wanted to sing Let It Be in a concert; and give a solo performance to Vito, our very best tenor.
From time to time, besides the traditional Church music, the seminary choir sang appropriate contemporary songs like Blowing in the Wind, or Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters, and with success. So we wanted to try Let It Be.
To the choir at the time, the religious element in the lyrics appeared to be that of Mary’s words to the Angel Gabriel “Let it be according to thy Word.” The song might echo the Magnificat, the most traditional of Catholic hymns and prayers. Or so we thought?
Enter our Choir Director and the formidable Dean of Students, Father Joe, a traditionalist who put up a fuss about everything and everyone. He was dumbfounded over our suggestion of singing of Let It Be. His reaction was almost a declaration of war and told the choir members that the lyrics had nothing to do with the Mother of God. He was confident that the song’s lyrics about Mother Mary meant “Mother Mary” as in marijuana!
“Really,” we asked? Consequently, we were not permitted to perform the song, however popular it was. For fifty years, the battle over the song’s true meaning has been on my mind until Paul McCartney cleared up this matter.
This argument brings us to the present. I’m a big fan of James Cordon that goes back to Cordon’s Broadway debut, as the class cut-up in Alan Bennett’s play History Boys.
The British stage and screen star is fabulously talented, including his Late, Late Show where he popularized Carpool Karaoke in which top recording artists like Elton John, Barbara Streisand, the Jonas Brothers, or Adele join James cruising around Hollywood in a van.
With 45 million views on YouTube, the most-watched of all the Carpool Karaoke took place last year not in Los Angeles but in Liverpool, England, where James Cordon sang along with Sir Paul McCartney, himself.
The twenty-three-minute feature is pure magic. McCartney takes James for a guided tour down Penny Lane — he points our his parish church of Saint Barnabas where he was a choir boy, then goes to a pub where McCartney startled its patrons with his presence. They drop in at his childhood home, now a museum dedicated to the Beatles. We get to see the very place where the Fab Four’s songs were first composed and first practiced.
Inside the Range Rover, McCartney and Cordon sing up a storm. It’s here where McCartney reveals for the first time the origins of the song. Let It Be was about his mum, who had died when he was a very young lad. The inspiration for the song came to him in a dream, when she appeared to him, and how she let him know that her death and the troubles he suffered would pass, and he need not worry. That there will be an answer, just let it be!
Clearly, James Cordon was teary-eyed and telling McCartney, “You got me emotional there, Paul!” And added: “That’s the most beautiful story I’ve ever heard.”
With such genuineness, I too was teary-eyed, and what a revelation! After so many, many years, it’s meaning for me has an even deeper resonance. The song was not about marijuana, and Mother Mary did not refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Yes, both the choir and its director were wrong.
Instead, Mary was Paul McCartney’s mother’s first name, her name at Baptism.
This song and its inspiration, like all gifts of the spirit, work in mysterious ways – they are the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, understanding, piety, and even awe before our all-powerful God.
This is a God who hears our nighttime prayers and knows our hearts and dreams and brings consolation, hope, and a whisper of wisdom.
Like so many figures in the bible — Joseph and Mary, this Holy Spirit actually can work and affect our thoughts and dreams.
It’s the very spirit that lights the way into loving relationships with mothers, fathers, children, husbands, and partners. It’s the very spirit that we celebrate today and lights the way for our present studies and in our future work and, yes, even in our songs.
And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me, shine until tomorrow, let it be!
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.