In the film The Mission, the source of today’s offertory, Gabriel’s Oboe, music plays a profound and subversive role — and I don’t just mean the soundtrack. Within the narrative of the film, music has the incredible power to transcend culture, to forge bonds of family and to stand up to the oppressive powers of empire.
At the beginning of the film, a Jesuit priest is killed by the Gaurani, the indigenous people the Jesuits have come to evangelize. His death inspires Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) to redouble his efforts to reach this seemingly hostile tribe. To do this, he climbs to the top of a local waterfall, which also happens to be the site of his fellow priest’s death, and he begins to play his oboe.
That’s right. Gabriel’s Oboe is the name of the song Father Gabriel plays on his oboe. Alone, in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by wary Gaurani with arrows knocked in their bows, Father Gabriel communicates something peaceful, beautiful and transformative not with his words but with music. Although the Gaurani chief breaks the oboe in half, Father Gabriel’s performance marks the beginning of his relationship with the Gaurani and their shared journey into the beauty and peace indicated by his song.
Later, the geopolitical situation of the region changes, and the Gaurani find themselves fighting for their lives against a Spanish-Portuguese force that would enslave them. One of Gabriel’s colleagues, an ex-soldier named Mendoza (Robert DiNiro), wants to fight. But Gabriel refuses, insisting that violence would be an affront to God.
When the attack does come, Father Gabriel decides to say mass. And the angelic worship reaches the ears of the mercenary forces, stopping them dead in their tracks until their sadistic commander forces them to fire on the Gaurani. Yet even while his home burns, Father Gabriel refuses to give up on the way of peace, leading the Gaurani women and children in song and in a procession with the consecrated bread of Communion held high before them. Gabriel is eventually gunned down by his attackers, but it is clear from the ending of the film that his legacy will endure for a very long time.
This morning, we don’t find ourselves in the same hostile context as Father Gabriel and the Gaurani, but that does not mean our worship has to be any less powerful. As we raise our voices in song, we are shaping new worlds, forging new bonds of family and resisting the powers of evil that would rather we be silent.
As you hear the notes of Gabriel’s Oboe and the sturdy hymns of our faith, know that you are being transformed. Open yourself to that reality, and you’ll be amazed at what results.