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Use the Music

by Jim Philipps

Music stays in your mind. That—s why this Youth Update offers a little traveling music for your Lenten journey.

The musical themes you—re certain to be hearing (whatever kind you prefer) offer a connection to the stories of Jesus— life, death and resurrection. Listen for these themes in your favorite music and look for them in your life.

You may wish to read this Youth Update very slowly, just one section each full week of Lent. Use the music as the melody of your week. Use it to help you remember the life of Jesus and your connection to that life. Use the end of each section to help you reflect.

Week One: Feel the Pain

“As a result of this [Jesus' teachings], many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, —Do you also want to leave?—” (John 6:66-67).

Because Jesus was speaking about connections between his own life and the bread of life (the Eucharist), people were leaving him. Jesus almost sounds cynical when he asks, more or less, “Well, are you going to turn your back on me too?”

Faith Hill also sounds a bit cynical as she sings these questions in her song, “Cry”: “Could you cry a little? Lie just a little? Pretend that you—re feeling a little more pain?”

Just as those lyrics put it, the worst thing about feeling lonely or rejected is that, when it—s you in that emotional state, you feel as if you—re the only one who—s ever been there. That—s not true, of course. Everyone wonders sometimes if he or she is likable at all. Even Jesus.

The day before Jesus— experience of rejection, he had performed a spectacular miracle. With only five barley loaves and two fish to work with, Jesus managed to feed thousands of people (John 6:1-15). The crowds were ready to make him a king.

Now that the food is gone and Jesus has challenged his followers with difficult teachings (see John 6:60), the crowd—s attitude shifts. How must Jesus feel to see so many people turning away?

Maybe you—ve experienced feelings of loneliness and rejection because you can—t find your niche. Maybe you—ve just found out that someone you counted on isn—t really a friend at all. Maybe the pressures of school, family and social activities just feel like too much to handle right now.

It might help to remember how Jesus— story ends: “Simon Peter answered him [Jesus], —Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life—” (6:68).

Oftentimes, when we reach out from those dark and lonely places—as Jesus did—to someone who cares about us, we find out we—re not really so alone after all.

Who do you turn to when things seem darkest? Have you thanked them? Do you know someone going through a lonely time who could really use a friend? Could you be that friend?

Week Two: Full of Forgiveness

“My son—now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:31-32).

These are the words that the Father speaks to his beloved older son in Jesus— parable of the Prodigal (lost) Son. The rock-pop group No Doubt sings a similar message in “Underneath It All”: “You—ve used up all your coupons and all you—ve got left is me and somehow I—m full of forgiveness.”

No Doubt isn—t singing about fathers and sons, but the issues bear comparison all the same. The song says, “You know some real bad tricks and you need some discipline.” The father of the prodigal son could say Amen to that.

The younger son had lost his sense of right and wrong (and his father—s money) in a far-off city. Now he has returned home to find his father joyful and his older brother angry. The older son cannot understand how his father could throw a party for his irresponsible brother.

The father sees things differently. Here is an opportunity for the family to be whole again. “Please join us,” he pleads with his angry son.

And so God the Father pleads with us. Have you noticed lately how heavy that grudge you—re carrying has become?

Perhaps you—ve been hurt by a friend who—s really sorry and whom you miss a great deal. If you could only let go of your anger long enough to hear him or her out, your friendship could come to life again. You might be angry with your mom or dad for asking you to take on more responsibility than you—re ready to handle. Has your brother or sister ruined a prized possession and you just can—t get past the loss?

Forgiving means making a decision to let go of a grudge because your relationship with the person is more important.

We never find out what the older son decides to do in the story Jesus tells. We do know, however, that if he can—t get past his anger he can—t join the party. And the field in which he is standing is a cold and lonely place to spend the night.

Is there someone you miss very much and need to forgive? Is there someone to whom you need to apologize?

Week Three: Making Progress

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

Most of us spend a lot of time struggling with the first part of that biblical verse. But how about the second part? Do you love yourself?

In “Work in Progress,” Alan Jackson appreciates his own good qualities, few as they may seem to his wife. Loving yourself does not mean that you are selfish or egotistical.

The person who constantly talks about how much better he or she is than you are in sports or in science class or in getting dates is not exhibiting self-love. Those kinds of people often don—t feel good about themselves until they—ve made you feel bad.

The self-love Jesus is talking about comes from realizing how delighted God is by you. You are a unique creation, and God sees the magnificent potential for greatness within you. Do you see it?

Maybe you have a special ability in math or in writing. Perhaps you have a gift for athletics or sportsmanship. You may have a great flair for painting, dancing, acting or public speaking.

Are you the person who makes others in your group feel comfortable? Or who has the courage to speak the hard truths to your friends when they need to hear them? Perhaps you have a fascinating hobby or an extra-special helping of patience. You may be the one called to serve God and the Church through a religious vocation.

If you—ve yet to figure out your particular talents, this may be the week when God will give you vision. Let God remove any heavy burden of feeling, “I—m just not good enough.” You are loved and cherished more than you can imagine. God knows that you, too, are a “work in progress.”

What are your gifts and talents? Have you complimented yourself lately?

Week Four: No Conditions

“But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them” (Luke 10: 33-34).

Jesus— story about the Samaritan must have really shocked some people. Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies. This doesn—t matter, however, to the Samaritan in Jesus— parable. All he sees in the injured Jewish man is a person who needs his help.

That—s what loving others is all about. You see a person in need and you do what you can to help.

“I swear I ain—t going nowhere,” (I—m not going to leave you) sings Musiq Soul Child to his girlfriend, who thinks she has to “deserve” love by looking attractive. Musiq says, “My feelings are truly unconditional.”

How about you? Can you express unconditionally positive feelings?

When that freshman comes to you asking how some school system actually works, what do you see? A “neighbor” who needs you—or an obstacle to getting to class on time? What do you see when a friend who—s having a hard time asks you to sit and talk for a few minutes? Or when your exhausted mom or dad asks you to help around the house?

Do you ever take a few minutes just to ask your younger brother and sister how things are going? Must the elderly woman down the block shovel her own driveway of snow because she—s been mean to you? Or can you offer your help to her anyway?

Loving your neighbor is not about doing heroic things—although one day you just might. It—s about seeing a person for who he or she really is—special just like you.

What is one nice thing I can do for a person in need? One nice thing I can say?

Week Five: Moments With Meaning

“The young man said to him [Jesus], —All of these [commandments] I have observed. What do I still lack?—” (Matthew 19:20).

At the end of her American Idol hit, "A Moment Like This," Kelly Clarkson sings, “People search for every moment. Some people wait a lifetime.” To most of those who saw her on national TV, it seemed that she was singing about the experience she was having right then. Yet the song makes sense on several levels.

It—s the same way with the experience of the rich young man. He was also searching—for something missing from his life.

Like the young searcher who finds his way to Jesus in Matthew—s story, you do the right thing more often than not. The values that your parents or guardians have taught have become a part of you—even when you wish they weren—t! Still, things don—t always work out the way you want or expect them to work out.

Perhaps you—ve studied your hardest to get a good grade on that history test, but there—s a guy in the third row who cheated his way through. Or you—ve tried your hardest to make a team only to get cut, while someone who hardly practiced made the roster. You may have experienced the death of a beloved grandmother or grandfather who didn—t get better despite your prayers.

When you hear about people flying planes into buildings or about acts of violence or vandalism in your own community or school, it—s only natural to wonder about what—s really going on. What—s the point of being good? How can any of us make a difference?

This is a good week to do what that young man does. Take your questions and struggles to Jesus. You can create moments of happiness, moments with meaning.

What are the Big Questions you have for God right now? Who are the people God has placed in your life to help you on your search for meaning? How can they help you?

Week Six: Heaven Hears You

“Jesus said to [the young man], —If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me—” (Matthew 19:21).

I—m going to let you in on a secret that might shock you. Some high school students are not delighted to go to Mass! O.K., maybe that—s not such a big secret.

When I ask students who tell me this why they don—t like to go to Mass, they often tell me that they—ve been there and done that already. Nobody—s added any new chapters to the Bible in a few thousand years. The Mass seems pretty much the same to them.

Look again. The basic teachings of our faith, the basic structure of the Mass, are unchanging, but you aren—t. For example, each time you reflect on a parable of Jesus, you bring with you life experience that you didn—t have before.

You—ve probably memorized the Eighth Commandment about not bearing false witness. Now, however, you know much more about how much “bearing false witness”—in the form of gossip and rumor—can hurt someone.

Your new life experiences may have caused you to rethink your image of God as well. Perhaps you used to think of God as a year-round Santa Claus. All you had to do was ask nicely and you got what you wanted.

Now you know that prayer doesn—t work that way. Sometimes the reason God lets certain things happen are hard to figure out. Chad Kroeger can—t figure it out very well in “Hero,” when he sings, “Heaven don—t hear me.”

Growing in faith means letting go of outdated images of God so that you might form new ones that will serve you better. The “search for God” that this process requires is sometimes difficult because it—s hard letting go of things which are comfortable.

Remember how hard it was to give up that stuffed animal or blanket you loved when you were little? Or how scary it was to go from elementary school to junior high or to high school?

The young man goes away sad after speaking with Jesus in the second part of Matthew—s story, probably thinking that it was impossible to follow Jesus any more closely than he already was. That—s never true, however.

To search for God is to receive an invitation to enter into a deeper relationship. You—ll have to “hold on to the wings of eagles,” as Chad Kroeger sings.

When you let yourself rest with that image (which is very biblical), perhaps you can feel the faith and trust that it would take to allow yourself to be carried into the sky by a majestic bird. What a yes that takes!

As Jesus— advice to the young man points out, you accept the invitation partly through prayer but also through giving of yourself to others, confident that your love will make a difference.

When was the last time you spent some time in prayer? What relationship in your life really needs your attention right now? What is one particular way you might give of your time and talents to help a particular person or your community?

Your musical journey through Lent is ending. Use music to underline the message of every season—on the calendar and in your life.

Listen Up During Lent

Audio approaches to Lenten reflection are available. The February and March editions of Cornerstone Media—s monthly audio Powerthoughts CDs combine these themes with today—s hit songs. These are great for youth meetings and group discussions, as well as personal prayer. For more information, contact Cornerstone Media, Inc., at 707-542-8273 or check them out on the Web at www.cornerstonemedia.org. For $20, you—or your youth minister—can order a single CD.


When I consider a song, it—s hard not to think of who—s singing it. Are there some individuals or groups you just wouldn—t even consider listening to?


Some songs don—t call for a second listen! I don—t think it—s a good practice to reject anything without some consideration, however. Jesus certainly never worked that way. One complaint his enemies made against him was that he spent too much time with offensive and undesirable people—sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes. Listen critically. Ask yourself what message or values the song seems to be promoting and if they—re consistent with your own values. A singer or group that you really don—t like might still offer a song that moves you in a good direction.


Using some of these songs for prayer is more of a stretch than with some others. Do you really think it—s worth the trouble?


Absolutely! A song that contains an insight into truth based on human experience gets you thinking. Reflecting more deeply on any aspect of your life can—t help but bring you further into the mystery of God. God uses all people—including people with musical talents—to communicate. One complaint people of faith often make is that our culture is too secular. Authentic religious belief doesn—t get enough attention in the media. Looking for a spiritual meaning within a secular song turns the tables. When you find a deeper meaning in the popular music you already enjoy, then every time you hear that song, that message will replay in your soul.


In some ways, popular songs and parables are alike—they lack important details! Aren—t we supposed to care about details?


Songs and parables leave details out as an invitation to fill them in for yourself! The very act of doing that draws us into the story. Stay with questions like the one you posed here and you—ll find yourself looking at your own beliefs about justice and forgiveness—and whether they mirror Jesus— teaching. Your comparison is really insightful! People remembered Jesus— parables because they had the same qualities that make many songs popular: They were brief and easy to understand and talked about real struggles and experiences. Not every song is a parable, but some artists give their listeners lots to think about after the music fades.

Jim Philipps is a frequent contributor to Youth Update and has written about the Bible as well as contemporary issues that challenge us all.

Chad Broering (17), Christine Homan (17), Stephanie Schmackers (14) and Kyle Seitz (16) met at St. Sebastian—s in St. Sebastian, Ohio, to consider this edition of Youth Update, to recommend changes and pose questions for the author. Sandy Niekamp, volunteer youth minister, extended the invitation.



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