A few weeks ago, Andre Bocelli came to town. If you do not know who Andre Bocelli is, I will tell you a bit of him in the homily, but he is the most famous tenor singer of our age. I wanted to see him so bad, but tickets, of course, were really expensive, and I had given up hope on seeing him. Less than a day before the show, I got a phone call from a good friend, and she said, “We have an extra ticket. Do you want to go?” and I was like, “YES!” I was able to change all my plans and see Andre Bocelli in concert. It was such an amazing show. He sang my favorite song, “It Is That Time to Say Goodbye” it such a wonderful song. He sang “The Prayer,” which he originally sang with Celine Dion. The newest song that he sang is called “Perfect Symphony” he did that with Ed Sheeran originally. He has sung with some of the most famous people of our time, Josh Groban, Pavarotti. He sang before all three of the popes that I have lived with. So, Pope John Paul II got to sing for and meet him. Pope Benedict XVI got to sing for and meet him. Pope Francis got to sing for and meet him, so he truly is a legend of our time. I want to talk about what it means to be given a gift like that, to be given a voice.
The first time I had heard his song was in 2004. I was doing a cross-country trip by myself, going through those questions about, “What am I going to do with life?” I just got in my truck and drove across the country. I happened to stop in Vegas because that was on the way. I went to the Bellagio Fountains, and that was the first time I ever heard “Time to Say Goodbye.” It touched my heart. I was discerning priesthood whether or not to continue with the priesthood. It gave me the sense of time to say goodbye, let go of my former way of life, and embrace the priesthood calling.
I did not know, and the first time I saw him on tv, he never looked at the cameras; he was always looking down. My mother watched with me, and she said, “What is wrong with him? He won’t even look at the camera.” Andre Bocelli is blind, and so I said to my mother, “Mom, he is blind. He cannot see.” One of the most painful things of his life was taken away from him as a child.
As we enter more deeply into the season of Advent, it is the season of looking for the light in the darkness.
When he was a child, he was diagnosed with glaucoma at five months old, and so he could barely see when he was younger. It would be all blurry when he walked around, and then he became completely blind at the age of 12 when he got hit by a soccer ball, Europe it is a football, he got hit by that by playing with the kids at the blind school, and he went blind. For him, that was a devastating thing. He became very frustrated because he was blind and had to learn how to do everything anew. They did a movie about him on Amazon, and there is a scene of him in the hospital, and he put his ear to the wall. His mother looked at him and said, “Child, what are you doing?” She goes over next to him and puts her ear to the wall, and she hears music. One of the blind teachers there was a great singer and pianist.
His life began early on with the drama. There is a beautiful video where he is playing piano, this came out a few years ago, and he is telling the story of being carried in his mother’s womb. He told the story, and he said, “Before I tell this story, I just want to say that I tell it because of my conviction of being a Catholic.” He said, “I am not only fighting against something, but I am also fighting for something.” And he said, “I am for life.” He said, “As I sing, and play, and talk during this video, I want to help comfort those that are afflicted. For those in difficult situations, I want them to know that they are not alone. Life is hard, but we need to listen and to listen with our whole heart.” This is the story that he told.
When his mother was pregnant, the doctors suggested that they abort him because he would be born with a disability. He tells the story of how the doctors had to apply some ice on his mother’s stomach when the treatment ended, and the doctors suggested that she abort. They told her that it was the best solution because the baby would be born with some disability. He says, but that brave young wife decided not to abort, and a child was born. He said that the woman was his mother. I am proud of him, but I can say she made the right choice. He told the story to encourage people going through difficult situations. He shares his life story because he wants people to know that despite any brokenness, despite any disability, despite any blindness, there is love, there is music, and there is goodness in this world. The video came out about 1-1/2 years after recording it, so it surprised him because he was recording it to help his non-profit that helps people in Haiti.
In the scripture passage today; The Lord has removed the judgment against you; the King of Israel is in your midst; you have no further misfortune to fear.
It was not until Andre Bocelli was in his early twenties that he met his maestro. Before then, he did not know what he was doing. He was playing in piano bars; he did not have a lot of direction in his life; people had told him that his voice was not that good anyway. He was struggling until the maestro came into his life and took him on as a student. He promised him that if he followed everything he did, he could make him the greatest singer in the world. The maestro took him under his wings, and there is a beautiful scene in the movie where Andre is recording his first record. Because he cannot see the distance from himself to the microphone, the maestro would just put his arm on him and kind of guide him back and forth so he would be in the right position. And, at the end of the recording, when Andre Bocelli finally makes it into the world to become a success, he says to his maestro, “Can I give you a hug” and he hugs his maestro.
These scripture readings today begin and end with singing. It starts with Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always in the Lord. I shall repeat it: rejoice! Shout for joy, Daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!
It starts with the command that we sing joyfully and rejoice, and then it ends with God rejoicing in us. It says he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals. It is so important that we rejoice even in the midst of difficulties.
This Sunday, we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. We wear rose because we are rejoicing that the Lord is near, but sometimes He comes to us, oftentimes He comes to us in the midst of our suffering, and He comes to us in silence.
In the first reading, there is a phrase that says, he will renew you in his love. Andre Bocelli never regained his sight, but he was renewed in his spirit. If you see an interview of him now, he is the happiest, the most grateful, the most joyful man for the gifts God has given us. That is not to say that we will not struggle with difficulties but if we have this faith in Jesus Christ if the Lord is in our midst, He is renewing His love for us, it is a whole different playing field. You can see the world with great joy and great wonder. The Hebrew word for this says it is silent love, and it renews you in His love. So, this silent love that is in us is renewing us.
The movie that they made about Andre Bocelli is called “The Silence of Song” because his maestro made him silent so that he could hear better. Can you imagine that? Not only was he blind, but he had to be silent for himself to sing.
So, as we draw towards Christmas, as we draw towards the end of the world, the coming of Christ the King into our lives lets us be renewed. Let us be grateful that our mothers, too, gave us the gift of life that they chose to have us, our mothers and fathers. Let us be grateful even when there are difficult things in our lives; even if there are challenges, the Lord constantly renews our inner selves. Let us realize that you have a maestro. You have somebody that believes in you. You have somebody who promises that if you give Him everything, He will make you the best you can be, and that maestro is Jesus. Because Jesus is constantly guiding you, constantly has His hand on your shoulder, embracing you, constantly with you. So, no matter our disability or struggle, you can rejoice and be glad and sing and praise us because we have a maestro in Jesus.