Give back more than you’ve been given
By Matt Crosby
Our earthly lives are a gift from God. He created each of us with unique gifts and a definite purpose in his creation. We were made for this time, for this very moment, with certain gifts and talents, to be participants and missionary disciples in God’s salvific history.
In the parable of the talents from the Gospel of Matthew, we find a clear indication that God is pleased when we take what we have been given and cultivate it for his glory. Just as the good servants produced more from what they had been given, we recognize that our jobs, careers and hobbies, no matter how small and mundane, become an opportunity to give back to God more than we have been given.
Recognizing your talent
Jared Ostermann recognized his gift for music early in life with help from the people around him. Originally from Lawrence, Kansas, he began studying the piano around age 10. His family converted to Catholicism when Jared was 14 years old. In terms of worship music, this meant a switch from praise bands to choirs and organs.
“That was one of the striking things to me about the shift in churches,” he said. “One of the first things I noticed was the solemnity of the liturgy and the beauty of the choir and organ music at our parish.”
Around the age of 16, Jared became more involved in the parish choirs and music ministry.
“My first organ teacher was the music director at my home parish,” he said. “She encouraged me to start studying organ and to think about church music as a profession. I was also encouraged by the pastor of that parish.”
Jared later attended summer music camps and devoted more time to studying the organ during his high school years. And for a time, Jared was majoring in music and pre-med in college, a plan he called the “scenic route” to medical school.
“Actually, music is one of the majors that places best for medical school admissions, so it seemed like a logical path,” he said.
Later, while studying abroad in Vienna during his junior year of college, he realized he needed to make a choice about his future career. He visited with his local parish priest who was on sabbatical in Rome, prayed about it, and sensed that he should shift to a full-time pursuit of sacred and church music.
Jared went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Kansas, a master’s degree in sacred music from the University of Notre Dame, and a doctorate of musical arts from the University of Kansas.
Cultivating your talent
Jared currently serves as director of music at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Sioux Falls. At the cathedral, he oversees all liturgical music and conducts two adult choirs, with repertoire ranging from Gregorian chant to choral-orchestral major works. He also plays the pipe organ at most of the Masses at the cathedral and serves as artistic director of the Cathedral Sacred Arts Series.
Putting forth musical skills for the glory of God may be more natural for organists, Jared said, compared to musicians who sing or play instruments more suited to a performance career.
“By its nature, the organ, being found in churches, kind of leads you to be closely connected with church music from day one,” he said. “It’s not so much a shift in focus that has to take place mid-career, it’s more just a natural progression of things that you will end up working in a
The parable of the talents, described in Matthew 25:14-30, describes the life of a church musician well, Jared said.
“There is the duty to be a good steward of your talents, but the parable also makes clear that investing is risky, and a little frightening,” he said. “Church music is not a ‘normal’ profession with a clear career track, so it takes a certain amount of faith to pursue it and trust that the investment will bear fruit.”
Jared said a church music director is a jack of all trades, and musical skill, while certainly foundational, is only one part of the picture.
“I am in charge of managing 50 to 60 volunteer and professional musicians in the course of the year, which brings a lot of communication, planning and logistics,” he said. “Another key skill is public speaking, whether in front of concert audiences or choirs, and that has been maybe the most difficult to develop, with my more introverted personality.”
His role also includes working with guest musicians and planning weddings and funerals.
“The day-to-day is quite varied,” he said. “It can be a lot of emailing, a lot of practice work, rehearsal time, setting up a concert, or hosting somebody.”
He has also received correspondence from people in Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and various countries in Europe, a result of their access to the Sunday TV Mass that originates from the Cathedral of Saint Joseph.
“They’ll watch the TV Mass and like what they hear, and they’ll email or call me looking for what resources we’re using here,” he said.
Giving back in accordance with what you’ve been given
Years after praying for career guidance, he still notices a strong connection between music and medicine.
“Music is also a highly technical, demanding pursuit, especially when you have to perform difficult pieces publicly under intense pressure,” he said. “I can see a similarity there with the high stakes and pressure of medicine. Music is not life and death, but it sure feels like it is when you are in front of a crowd!”
Music is also a very competitive, egocentric discipline, and one aspect of the parable that speaks to Jared is the fact that each servant is given a different amount of talents.
Jared challenges, “Can you be content as a musician to invest your two talents, knowing that you will never be the ‘star’ performer who was given 10?”
Taking the talent God has given you and cultivating it to the fullest doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a star performer or the best at what you do. God asks you to give back in accordance with what you’ve been given, and this means being content with doing your best but knowing that you might not be the best in what you do.
In the same way, not all of us have been given the same talents. Recognizing what you’ve been given and being grateful for the chance to cultivate it, despite not having other talents or opportunities, is a deeper call to participate in God’s plan for you.
Don’t miss out
Too often, our jobs, careers and even hobbies are far removed from our relationship with God. Yet, these things can consume a significant part of our time here on earth. When we fail to recognize them as opportunities to cultivate our talents and give back to God, we miss out on an important lesson Christ taught us. We also miss out on the opportunity to be missionary disciples by sharing the fruits of our jobs and hobbies with those around us.