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Saturday, May 12, 2012

From the Pastor - The Sound of His Voice

A weekly column by Father George Rutler.

The earliest recording of a voice was thought to have been that of Thomas Edison in 1877 reciting “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on his own invention. But recently an 1860 recording was discovered on a device consisting of carbon paper etched with a stylus, called a “phonautograph” by its inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. A woman is heard singing “Au Clair de la Lune.” There are remarkable recordings of William McKinley, Walt Whitman, William Gladstone and Alfred Lord Tennyson reciting “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” There are even a few seconds of what is thought to be the sound of Queen Victoria’s voice.

Microphones have changed classical rhetorical style to small-time conversation. Listen to Gladstone, and it almost sounds like grand opera. In 1843 Daniel O’Connell spoke to hundreds of thousands at Tara. Elizabeth I rallied thousands of troops against the Armada, declaiming from horseback. Sometimes “repeaters” were used: men who would echo the speaker’s lines rank to rank, but voices were trained to be heard, and Benjamin Franklin attested that the Methodist bishop George Whitfield could be heard by thirty thousand from the steps of the Philadelphia courthouse.

We do not have a recording of Christ’s human voice, but it was strong enough to be heard by possibly fifteen or twenty thousand, if we add families to the four and five thousand men at the feeding miracles, and could be heard even in the worst agony seven times. It frightened hypocrites but whispered like a charm to children. While His voice cannot be heard on a machine, we know what it said. St. John’s transcript has Him saying seven times: “I AM — the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Gate, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection, the Way and the Truth and the Life, and the True Vine.” When Pilate asked Jesus if He was a king, he thought the reply “I AM” meant only “yes.” The crowd knew that He meant something more, something Moses had heard from the Burning Bush.

In a larger sense, we have heard the sound of His voice and live in it. The whole Creation is a recording of the divine voice saying “Let there be light.” And everyone engrafted to the True Vine by baptism is a recording of that voice, for Jesus said to the 72 disciples, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16). As He ascended, He commanded us spread His voice to all nations. There are people today who would try to drown out that voice with their microphones and teleprompters. To them, the Second Vatican Council spoke: “. . . the Bishops, from divine institution, have taken the place of the Apostles, as the pastors of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ; he who spurns them, spurns Christ and Him who sent Christ” (Lumen Gentium, 20).


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