Our pastor (Fr. Tom- St. Peter the Apostle Church) recently offered the parishioners a copy of the book, Rediscover Catholicism, in one of the chapters, the author Matthew Kelly offers the following poem. It seems not inappropriate for the Christmas season. In this post, I share it and a few basic reflections.
’Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile:
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar”; then, “Two!” “Only two?
Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?
Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three—” But no,
From the room, far back, a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loose strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet
As a caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said, “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice,
And going, and gone!” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand
What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of a master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,
Much like the old violin.
A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
A game—and he travels on.
He’s “going” once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.
Myra 'Brooks' Welch
Part of what is striking about Myra Welch’s poem is how she draws out the individual need of healing, the value of a person the world may not see, and the need for this healing to come not from within, but from without. I do not think that anyone can deny this to be a world in need of radical healing. The recent school shootings in Connecticut have made this only too terribly clear, but only a willed self-delusion could have prevented a person from seeing it before. With suicide among the youth reaching epidemic levels, high rates of depression, divorce and broken relationships, and troubles abroad, the signs of the times are clear enough to any who would see them. If society has ever needed radical healing, it needs it now.
Not only does society need healing, though, individuals need it as well. Among the most troubling signs of the times is the high youth suicide rate, higher rates of depression and mental illness, and problems of bullying (1). For some reason individuals have decided that their lives lack any real meaning, value, or purpose. The violin is cheap, “battered and scarred,” and thought scarcely worth the while of others or of the individual himself. And so people auction themselves off cheaply, sometimes moving from one causal relationship to another, while life becomes a dreary chore and monotonous task. It could scare be otherwise in a world where consumerism reduces man to an economic unit and supposed death of God reduces him to a blob of matter.
Both society and man himself need healing; a reasonable man could scarce deny as much. Here, though, lies the problem. This healing cannot come from within. A sick man goes to a doctor, he does not cure himself. A broken violin cannot repair itself and a bent sword not straighten itself. If this healing cannot come from oneself, however, neither can it come from society. A broken violin may not be able to repair itself, but neither can it be repaired by another violin, especially when that violin probably needs repair as well. If man needs healing and cannot cure himself, nor can he be cured by another man or society, then there is only one option. If a house cannot repair itself or be repaired by anything or anyone inside the house, then it has only two options. Either it must sit broken and unhealed for eternity, or else it must be cured from the outside.
This creates a problem for the secularist. To a man who tries to abolish God from the world either by reason of the intellect or the will—and both such men exist—no healing is possible. Such accounts for much of the gloom and despair of the modern secularist and the depression and even suicide mentioned above. Evidence of this may be found in the agreement of two so different figures as Pope Benedict XVI and the atheist physicist Steven Weinberg. Weinberg, for example, exemplifies some of this gloom when he writes, “It would be wonderful to find in the laws of nature a plan prepared by a concerned creator in which human beings played some special role. I find sadness in doubting that we will” (2). In Spe Salvi, the Pope explains this gloom, by pointing out that a world without God is a world without justice and consequently, without hope.
Modern man may look on his materialist prison and despair. But he should not since hope comes not from man himself, the heroic individual that he thinks he is, nor from others. As Myra Welch put it, hope for the broken violin and the broken man exists in the same place, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand.”
(1). I have written on bullying and youth suicide here.