Happy Advent and, belatedly, happy Thanksgiving! I know it’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted anything in this space – in fact, yesterday’s post was a long-unfinished reflection that I decided to wrap up late in the night. Thanks to a glitch (probably prompted by the flickering lights as Seattle deals with early snowfall!), it got published before this post. Rather than find and fight the gremlins on my computer and in the cloud, I decided to just roll with it ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It hasn’t been lost on me that the last couple of things to be put on this website – and that have been front and center for the last six months – have been relatively heavy posts. Not a few of my parishioners expressed some consternation at the rather dour outlook I was presenting. Not only was the financial picture strikingly negative, but a particular point stood out for some:
It is one of my greatest sorrows that such community rarely, if ever, is to be found in the life of the Catholic Church. There are sometimes glimpses of lively and connected Christian community, but so very seldom to be found in a parish. I recall a classmate in seminary who said that we Catholics are sometimes referred to as “the chosen frozen” by other denominations, at least here in the United States. I wish it didn’t ring so true. And yet, I find that when I need meaningful friendships or personal support, the Catholic Church is not somewhere I can find either one.
Though not intended to be a direct statement on the life of my own parish and her people, it prompted at least a few folks to question just that. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a scene in Firefly where Kaylee asks Simon “isn’t there anything about this place you’re glad of?” Unlike Simon at the time, I am quite ready to answer in the affirmative: absolutely, yes!
On that front, I’ve recently made a more conscious effort to take time daily to review what blessings, graces, and joys I experienced recently. With the beginning of Advent this last Sunday, I was particularly struck by some very clear blessings and joys – not just in my own life, but in the life of the parish.
The first is simply the beginning of the Advent season. Here at Saint Mark – a parish that prides itself on taking pains to celebrate the liturgy worthily and well – Advent is an opportunity to really mix things up. Out go the regular flowers in the sanctuary, in comes the wreath! And not just any old wreath, but a four foot by four foot ring of decorated greenery, with beautiful, tall candles, raised up by well-ornamented brass stands (re-purposed candlesticks, I think, but I haven’t looked too closely). It’s quite lovely. And I always get a kick out of the pomp & circumstance of the blessing of the Advent wreath at the first Mass of the weekend.
Accompanying this is the addition of a new pew missal for our congregation: the Source & Summit Missal. I chose this missal specifically for its emphasis on chanting the Mass – it contains the full antiphons for every Sunday Mass: entrance, offertory, and communion. Now every parishioner who so desires may join in chanting the antiphons – as is both their right and duty! We practiced together before Mass and boy, did it pay off. For the first time in a long time, the congregation and choir sung the antiphons together- lifting their voices as they chanted ‘To you I lift up my soul, O God . . . . ‘. The choir helped keep the tones with a few hand bells, used sparingly but to great effect.
Capping off the first Sunday of Advent, we concluded the last Mass and then immediately had a brief indoor Eucharistic procession – exposing the Blessed Sacrament and processing around the inside perimeter of the parish. The pastor had the bright idea of leading a hymn as we processed, but he forgot the second verse (!) – but it was no less beautiful for his lapse in memory. I was heartened to see that easily half of the congregation stayed for the procession, with most of those joining in walking behind the monstrance. As we ended with the Tantum Ergo and benediction, I couldn’t help but again be moved, and grateful to be praying among so many devout and reverent brothers & sisters in Christ.
Why share all of this? In part, because good news seems awfully hard to find lately – despite the pandemic concluding and normalcy being within reach, it sure seems like a lot of us are still struggling to find peace and joy in the world. If you’re a member of my parish, maybe you’ll join me in seeing some of the graces that are peeking out behind the clouds. I’d be interested, by the way, in those that you see and would like to share! And for everyone reading this, regardless of parish, I hope hearing about these things still helps encourage you. It is good to know that we’re not alone in this: not only do we all struggle at some point, but we’re in it together – accompanied and buoyed up by the Lord.
Finally, to that end, check out this rather wonderful folk group I discovered recently. The first song in this playlist (‘Rain Clouds’) has been theme song lately – you’ll notice that some of my writing here is rather shameless inspired by the lyrics. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. In any case, God bless you this Advent – may it be full of graces & blessings.