The great Italian composer Giacomo Puccini wrote a number
of famous operas. Among them are La Boheme, and Madam
Butterfly. In 1922 the 64 year-old Puccini was stricken with cancer.
In spite of the disease, Puccini was determined to complete his
final opera Turandot, which many now consider his best.
He worked on it day and night. Many urged him to rest,
thinking he couldn't possibly finish it anyway. When his sickness
worsened, Puccini said to his disciples, "If I don't finish Turandot,
I want you to finish it for me." Then came that fateful day in 1924
when Puccini was taken to Brussels for an operation. He died
two days after surgery.
Back in Italy, Puccini's disciples gathered together the various
scores from Turandot. They studied them carefully and then
completed the opera. In 1926 the world premier was offered
in Milan's magnificent La Scala Opera House. It was directed
by Puccini's favorite student, Auturo Toscaninni.
Everything went beautifully until the opera reached that point
at which Puccini was forced to put down his pen. Tears ran down
Toscaninni's face. He stopped the music, put down his baton,
turned to the audience and cried out, "Thus far the Master wrote,
but he died." Then there was silence throughout the Milan opera
house. No one moved; no one spoke.
After a couple of minutes, Toscaninni picked up the baton
again, turned to the audience, smiled through his tears and cried
out, "But the disciples finished his work!" When Turandot ended,
the audience broke into thunderous applause. No one there ever
forgot that moment.
The story of the writing of Puccini's Turandot bears a striking resemblance to the story of Christianity. In particular, it recalls that moment in the history of Christianity that is referred to in today's Gospel. Before Jesus was able to complete his work of establishing God's kingdom on earth, he died. So he asked his disciples to complete his work.
Today, like our ancestors in faith before us, we stand at that point in the history of Christianity when it is our task, his disciples' task, to complete the work Jesus began. In a way, as we continue to bask in the beauty and the mystery of the death and resurrection of the Christ, each of us is being challenged by Pope Francis as were those disciples of Acts: "Why are you standing around, get to work!"
For the task before us, we have more than the sketchy notes Puccini's disciples had. We have the story of the life of Christ so full of compassion and understanding, so full of forgiveness and healing. We have God's Word manifest in and through Jesus, and that Word is truth. Today we receive our commission from the Master himself as he tells us through Francis: "REJOICE AND BE GLAD!" Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News!
To complete the Master's work we too, like Puccini's disciples, must understand the score -- the text prepared by the Master. Our ability to carry on the spirit of Jesus is directly related to our knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures. Pastoral staffs, dedicated catechists and competent instructors in our parishes offer the opportunity for adults and children to understand and reflect on the Scriptures. In the light of Jesus' challenge to proclaim the Gospel, all should avail themselves of such programs that help us “understand the score.”
To complete the Master's work, we must also connect Jesus' message and mission to our gifts. Like Puccini's disciples, each of us is called in her or his own way to bring the Gospel to completion in these times. In our families, in our work places, in our community, in our church we bring the message of Jesus' healing and compassion to life by what we do and say each day. This is what it means to live by Christian values. At the end of each day, we must ask how the reign of God is closer to completion because of our Christian witness.
Finally, like Puccini's disciples, we must practice for the final performance. We must rehearse for the eternal banquet by coming together as one body in Christ to celebrate the message and mission of Jesus in our lives through this Eucharistic celebration. Each of us comes to this altar to share in a foretaste of the heavenly banquet which Christ initiated by his death and resurrection and which we are called this day to bring to completion.
So we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Holy Spirit by recommitting ourselves today to the mission of the Master: to live peacefully, to act justly, to bring compassion and healing to conflict and division. May it be said of us: "But the disciples finished his work!"