WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

‘Come gather round people’

WelCom December 2016:

Reflections

Following the announcement to award singer/songwriter Bob Dylan the 2016 Nobel Prize for literature, Fr James Lyons – writer, poet, former religious broadcaster, and parish priest at Wellington’s Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish – gave the following homily on Sunday 23 October, and drew from the Gospel Reading Luke 18:9-14 about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Fr James said it was interesting the way people joined in the singing of Bob Dylan’s verses he quoted. ‘There was a sense of happy involvement not always caught in homily time!’


Bob Dylan, Nobel Prize for Literature

Bob Dylan, Nobel prize winner. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Bob Dylan, Nobel prize winner. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The recent decision to award singer/song-writer Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize for Literature did not receive universal acclaim, but it got my vote! His scratchy voice, cheap-sounding guitar and harmonica could irritate and annoy, but his writing was very much in tune with his generation and has continued to intrigue, if not inspire over more than four decades.

His anti-war and freedom songs came with the rise of pop music in the 1960s, the years that brought psychedelic drugs and the free love culture to public notice. They were also my years of coming into priesthood, being borne into ministry on the wings of the Second Vatican Council; revelling in the new sense of freedom that the Council had given the Catholic Church; opening windows, as Pope John XXIII described the experience, letting fresh air into the Church and making it possible for the Church to engage realistically with the world.

There was excitement in those years, and Bob Dylan’s classic, The times they are a-changing, became an anthem for those of us who embraced the Council’s call for reform and renewal within the structures and practices of the Church. Each verse was a rallying cry for involvement and action. Here’s one of them:

Come gather round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving
Then you’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing!

To a young priest, encouraged by the Vatican Council’s vision for a more dynamic and relevant spiritual engagement with the world, it seemed we were leading the way to a new era of social justice and concern for the powerless. So, like many others, I was captured by another Dylan hit, Blowin’ in the Wind:

How many years can a mountain exist, before it is washed to the sea?
How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?
How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind….

These songs are secular, non-religious, but with an undeniable spiritual undertone. I always saw the wind as the Holy Spirit, blowing wisdom, energy and transforming courage into our lives; helping faith balloon out across the face of the earth.

Today, these same songs warn me against arrogance and prejudice, putting myself above others and judging those with views or attitudes differing from mine. The wisdom book of Ecclesiasticus [1st Reading] announces God as a most impartial judge but with a special concern for the orphan and widow and those vulnerable to exploitation.

The famous passage from St Paul [Tim. 4:6-8] tells of the battle over, the race finished and the faith intact – the mark of one who has made the message of Jesus their own and has lived justly, and compassionately and walked humbly the path of life. The gospel paints a very human picture of the temptation we all meet to condemn others by their appearance or reputation, without attempting to walk in their shoes.

How are you reacting now to the people around you – those who’ve come, as you and I have, to the temple to pray? There’s a Pharisee and Tax Collector in each of us, one trying to dominate the other: one praising God and judging the neighbour; one pleading with God and wanting to put things right. We just need to get things in balance, so we can withstand the battle, stay in the race and keep the faith intact! This is our Mission…

Bob Dylan was not everyone’s favourite, but a Nobel prize says he did some things very well. His songs encouraged me in those early years of turmoil and confusion in both Church and society, and they still do. If he was writing on today’s theme, he may have found these words:

How many rights must we claim till we see that sometimes a right can be wrong?
How many lives must a refugee lose before he’s allowed to belong?
How many nights must you sleep on the street before you can sing your own song?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind…
Come gather round people wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving
Then you’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing
How many times can a mountain exist, before it is washed to the sea?
How many years can some people exist, before they’re allowed to be free?
How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind…
How many rights must we claim till we see that sometimes a right can be wrong?
How many lives must a refugee lose before he’s allowed to belong?
How many nights must you sleep on the street before you can sing your own song?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind…