A weekly column by Father George Rutler.
Our parish is blessed with many musicians, some of whom you may recognize from the concert halls and opera, and others who visit when they are in the city. I am two handshakes from Puccini, because his granddaughter introduced herself to me after Mass one day. That greatest violinist, Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) grew up in Vienna in a musical home that Brahms occasionally visited, and he studied under Bruckner and Massenet as a child prodigy. His father was physician to Sigmund Freud, who couldn’t understand why the boy wanted to be a musician. That little boy shook all those hands. Bishop Fulton Sheen, who often assisted and preached here, received Kreisler and his wife Harriet into the Church. Shortly before he died, Kreisler lost his sight and hearing in an automobile accident. Bishop Sheen said that in his dying days Kreisler “radiated a gentleness and refinement not unlike his music.”
There is a story that Kreisler saved his money as a young man to buy a fine violin, only to find that it had already been sold to a wealthy collector of musical instruments, who kept it in a locked cabinet. The man refused to sell it, although he could not play it himself, but he let Kreisler play it to see how it sounded. The collector was so moved that the instrument could “sing” that he let Kreisler have it. By the end of Kreisler’s life, in addition to his beloved Vuillaume violin, which was his constant “second fiddle,” he owned several Stradivari, Guarneri and Bergonzi violins, almost all named for him. The tale of the collector is sometimes told of others, but the point has universal application as a parable of ourselves. We exist, but we only come fully alive through God’s grace, and when Christ enters the soul, it is like being taken out of a locked cabinet and being able to sing. This is the portent of St. Irenaeus of Lyons’ assertion: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” And, by the way, on a more exalted plane than my two handshakes from Puccini, Irenaeus was two handshakes from the Apostle John, who saw the Risen Lord.
That Lord once told a deaf man, “Ephphatha.” Pope Benedict XVI has said: “. . . this little word, Ephphatha – “Be opened” – sums up Christ’s entire mission. He became man so that man, made inwardly deaf and dumb by sin, would become able to hear the voice of God, the voice of love speaking to his heart, and learn to speak in the language of love, to communicate with God and with others. For this reason, the word and the gesture of Ephphatha are included in the Rite of Baptism, as one of the signs that explain its meaning: the priest touching the mouth and ears of the newly baptized says: “Ephphatha,” praying that they may soon hear the Word of God and profess the Faith.”