25 years later, I understand the essence of the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" (as it's called in English) much better. It was written by Giuseppi Verdi for an opera called Nabucco, and it's based on Psalm 137, a psalm of yearning for a lost country, longing to return from exile, and remembering the beauty of home.
Lately, I've been feeling those kinds of nostalgic feelings about the Church that has been home to me for my whole life, a life which has been lived against the backdrop of the Church's struggle to implement the changes recommended by the Second Vatican Council. Having grown up working in my parents' church supplies store, I was exposed to all the new thoughts and hopes and dreams that came from the Council, ideas like inclusive language, ecumenism, more contemporary liturgical music, a new understanding of original blessing rather than original sin, and the empowerment of the laity in the life of the Church. Since then, it seems, the Church has had a change of heart -- or perhaps it's afraid of further change because it can be so unpredictable -- and now its leadership seems to be taking the Church back to 'safe' old ways, retreating to what it once knew, even though that old knowledge is far out of step with our present times.
As the Church retreats away from the world and into itself, though, it leaves me feeling like the Hebrew slaves in exile, longingly singing for what has recently been lost. O membranza, si cara e fatal -- my heart breaks when I remember some of the positive changes that were made because of Vatican II -- that have now been unmade -- and the many improvements the Council suggested, that have died on the books. Arpa d'ora dei fatidici vati, perche muta dal salice pendi? The harp of the prophets hangs mute upon the willows... and why?? Even as I mourn, I know that if the Church doesn't change soon, it will collapse in upon itself -- and something new will have to rise up from the grassroots.
As part of those grassroots, today I sing along with the Hebrew slaves, but not with their desolate spirit. The melody of their sadness is being transformed into a melody of hope in my heart. Over the weeks since Pope Benedict announced his retirement, hope has risen and many voices have begun to converge, calling once again for positive change -- for deeper inclusivity, openness, transparency, and faithfulness to the Gospels rather than a blind clinging to the tired old doctrines, dogmas, and ways that no longer work -- and I join those voices to sing a melody of hope. Va pensiero sull'ali dorate, fly, golden thoughts, on the wings of the Holy Spirit, and help change to happen...