Over the years, many a December homily has reminded me of the stark contrast that exists between the ethos of the Church’s Advent season and the general tone of the human activity that takes place at the same time of year in that bleak place to which many Catholics have come to refer in hushed whispers as the secular world. One especially notices a tension between the pace of life in the frantic and stressful build-up to the commercial Christmas and the tone of calm but vigilant waiting in stillness that the Church encourages during Advent.
I write this blog to you in the midst of that tension.
Since being in Ireland and working full-time in a Catholic parish, I have been very grateful to observe my thoughts, prayers, and activities naturally syncing up more with the rhythm of the liturgical year. Through regularly attending daily mass and picking music to match the readings about thrice per week, I’ve come to appreciate more than ever before how the Church calendar walks us through the continuing story of God’s rapport with humankind day by day, training our hearts to be immersed in this story of salvation. This advent the prayer, ‘Come Lord Jesus,’ has never been too far from my heart. And I have been filled with a sense of waiting excitedly for the day that He arrives.
One of the ministries that was put into my charge has contributed immensely to this: Each Tuesday in Advent, there is a Holy Hour before the Eucharist in the day chapel, in place of the ordinary 7pm mass at Clonard. My role has been to plan spoken reflections and soft meditative songs to play at intermittent points throughout the hour of otherwise silent prayer. As I understand it, this is a ministry that was introduced to the parish just last year, by Teach Bhríde IV’s very own Nick Galasso, adapting a format used by the Notre Dame Vision program for their hour of Eucharistic Adoration. It has been such a blessing to step into Nick’s shoes this year—spending a bit of time each week practicing songs and selecting readings from Scripture and from various spiritual reflection pamphlets (Thomas Merton actually helped out quite a bit with these, most appropriately providing some words of Advent insight last week on the very night of his 45th anniversary).
This ministry, in combination with a more concentrated effort to spend time each day in individual prayer, has indeed helped me grow closer to God through moments of silence over the past few weeks. However, at the same time I have had my share of Christmas chaos thrown in as well. These last couple weeks have been filled with preparations for the Christmas Carol Services that each of the primary schools put on here at Clonard Church. Mary and Ben had put in immense hours of work to help Scoil Mhuíre prepare for a service that included every single student in the school! The work really paid off, as everyone was blown away by the great confidence and gusto with which the children led the entire assembly in singing each piece, including a Polish carol and a Nigerian carol.
The Carol Service for Kennedy Park will happen tonight, and our last full rehearsal took place just yesterday, occupying nearly all the energy that Joy and I could muster. While in our case, unlike Ben and Mary’s, we have not been charged with the daunting task of planning and directing the entire service (Thank goodness!), Kennedy Park has found a way to put both of our talents to use for it. I’ll be the piano accompanist for the whole production, and Joy’s skills in sound engineering have helped out immensely with planning a good sound and microphone configuration for the kids, who will be singing from the altar. I can’t wait till tonight, when we get to watch all of the hard work that the Kennedy Park students have put into these rehearsals over the past few weeks go on display before the beaming faces of their family and friends!
In all the busyness of helping this Carol Service come together, the moments of quiet reflective prayer built into my life by the observation of Advent have definitely helped me to approach all the activity and work that must be done around the parish with a calm service-oriented state of mind. May your spirits be filled with peace and joy, as you prepare to greet our Lord’s coming in your own ways this Christmas!
P.S. I wrote the above post before the carol service but am publishing it after, so I just thought I should let you all know that it all went terrifically! The church was filled with a jubilant energy, supplied equally by the enthusiastically singing students and their delighted parents in the assembly. I couldn’t be prouder of all the kids involved! God bless!