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When I was a kid, my dad won a beginner guitar in an auction. I played it for a while but had a hard time getting into it because my fingers hurt and I could never really keep it in tune. I gave up and started playing trumpet. Years later in college, I decided I’d try it taking up guitar again.
I’ll never forget going to the music store and buying my first acoustic guitar. Going into the store, I was nervous because I didn’t know a lot about how to play or what “picking out a good one” would be like. I picked up a few and played a couple of chords and I really debated whether it was all a waste of time and money.
I picked up a Takamine that was way out of my price range, and something magical happened. I actually sounded good. Suddenly, what I thought was impossible became possible. The guitar played in tune and it was a lot easier to play than the beginner one I started on. Time flew! I must’ve played that guitar for an hour before I finally decided to max out my credit card. Over the years, the better I got at playing and the more I knew about guitars the more I came to appreciate the value of a truly great instrument for both the musician and the listener. I found that each instrument is completely unique. From the quality of the wood to the care taken in bending and shaping, and the constant maturing that happens as the musician plays the instrument.
As I reflect on Mary as Mother of God, we celebrate her as the perfect instrument of God who played God’s greatest symphony. Unlike me wandering into a store trying to figure out how to pick a good guitar, God, the Master Musician, very carefully and intentionally chose Mary. Now, in the hands of the Master Musician even an average instrument can sound beautiful, but with Mary, God was able to work through her in a special way to bear Christ into the world. Mary, preserved from original sin, was the perfect instrument to breathe his eternal word. By her yes, she cooperated with God allowing him to produce the greatest song ever heard in the history of the world; a song of victory that resonates throughout the earth and echoes through every generation.
Today as we reflect on Mary Mother of God, we too are called to be instruments of his glory. Made in His image and likeness, if we allow ourselves to be bent and shaped by the Master we too can bear Christ’s presence in the world. We may not be the perfect instrument Mary was, but we, with the grace to fully cooperate with God the Master, can make beautiful music. As we pray and say yes to God, we will continue to make the unique and special melodies He created us for.
In less than 15 years, Curtis Stephan has leapfrogged from promising young songwriter to one of the most productive forces in liturgical music today. A lifelong musician, he received his bachelor’s in music and his master’s in jazz studies from the University of North Texas. He is a parish music director, composer, concert and recording artist and workshop clinician.
Since committing his life to serving the Gospel through music, Curtis has published five solo collections, starting with Through the Storm in 2002. His latest collection, Love Remains: Songs of Consolation, explores grief and finding Christ’s peace after his father’s death. Amid Passing Things features his Mass of Renewal, one of the most popular Mass settings in US parishes since the promulgation of the new Roman Missal in 2011. Curtis recently collaborated with fellow composers on Our Common Home, a collection inspired by Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ encyclical, offering timely music touching on themes of care for creation, poverty and solidarity.
Curtis travels the world presenting liturgical training and inspirational music, witnessing to all ages through workshops, retreats, missions, conferences, youth rallies and liturgies. Whether he is teaching the foundational elements of planning music for liturgy, the nuts and bolts of arranging and conducting or leading youth through the sacraments, he has the same goal: helping people connect with God and making disciples for Christ.
Curtis currently lives in Frisco, Texas, with his wife and three sons. He is director of music and liturgy for St. Ann Catholic Church in Coppell, a mega-parish with more than 30,000 attendees.