Listen to this cover of the song “The One that I Want” from the musical Grease, and if your face hasn’t melted too much, try to continue reading.
I’ve often heard the complaint that the Catholic Church wants everyone to be the same, that there’s no chance for self-expression within the Church, and that Catholics will always be judgmental of that which is different.
But I think that even though our Church calls us to sing the same song, She loves the fact that we all sing it in our own way.
All of the great songs are covered over and over. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is a great example of that. So are Christmas songs. These tunes are sung in all different cultures by all different types of people. But no matter who’s singing them, how they’re singing them, or how well they do it, they are still the same songs.
I think there is something to be learned from that. It is not that the Church doesn’t want us to be ourself. In fact, she calls us to just the opposite. St. Francis de Sales puts it rather succinctly when he says, “Do not wish to be anything but who you are, and try to be that perfectly.” Not anything other than who God made you to be, with all your little quirks and interests and gifts; just be that as best you can. Let all that isn’t you go away.
I guess the real question is, “How can we all try to do the same thing or get to the same place or worship the same God without becoming the same?” But when we sing, we sing our own way. If you are bouncy and goofy, you sing it like John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. If you are kind of dark and brooding, you sing it like Angus and Julia Stone. Different aspects of the song become apparent, it is given different tones, it takes on a different quality, but the same beauty and message is present in both. This is what we are called to as Catholics.
We have the Fullness of Truth. It pisses people off when we say that, when we say others have pieces of truth, but we have the whole thing. So be it. But how we proclaim that truth is all our own. What part of it we see clearest is a part of our identity. How that truth moves us is different than how it moves others.
But it’s still the same Truth, the same Beauty, the same Goodness that fills us and stirs our souls to a brighter and richer warmth.
There’s a quote that I wanted to use, but The Google can’t find it for me, so I’ll paraphrase: Sinners all end up looking much the same; it’s the saints that are wildly unique. You’d be hard pressed to find much to separate two drunks in a bar; it’s easy to see the vast gulf of personality separating St. Francis of Assisi and St. Benedict. Two gossiping women sound much the same; Mother Theresa and St. Gianna Molla were their own persons.
In the words of every rapper ever, “Do you and imma do me.” Always remember, however, that who we are is going to have a common thread, a common structure, a common Truth, just like all music has certain characteristics and rules no matter what the genre or artist.
Let us be as unique and beautiful and moving as the music we love.