Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Particulars

Every family has its holiday traditions; and most families have at least one family member who is fixated, even fanatical, about maintaining one certain family tradition.  Lots of families play touch football on Thanksgiving; some families have Uncle Joe who insists that every family member join in four regulation-length quarters of touch football, regardless of weather.  Lots of families have traditional Christmas desserts; some families have Aunt Millie, who insists on baking all twelve traditional desserts herself.   
Well, around here I am sort of Uncle Joe when it comes to decorating the church.  We must have all four regulation-length quarters of Advent before we decorate the church for Christmas on December 24th.   Normally that is fixation enough to make my priest friends shake their heads.  But this year, when Christmas Eve was also the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and we didn’t move a poinsettia or hang an evergreen garland until the four Advent candles were snuffed after the 11:00 Mass?  That made them stare slack-jawed in wonder.
A sight to behold truly it was.  Anthony Dao, Kelly Weisgerber, Elaine Vining, Peter & Melissa Franklin, and Margaret McDermott, were poised with all their gear ready by noon, and with their kids and some eighth grade RE students, plus some concerned parties who asked (Browns!), and help we dragooned from families leaving after the 11:00 Mass (Kirks!  Bierwirths!).  Many hands make light work, they say, but I still saw a lot of heavy lifting despite the many folks doing it.  It certainly was quick work; all was done and festive by two o’clock!  And wasn’t it great to arrive for Christmas to a church that looked so different than it had during Advent, just a few hours earlier?  So give them a cheer for their hard work, our beautifully decorated church, and putting up cheerfully with Uncle Joe.
I think some cheering is on order, too, for our choirs (including the kids!) and musicians, under the gifted leadership of Chris Mueller.  There was different music at each of the Masses, and it was all excellent, which was quite the workout for the singers.  We also had all the standards we need to sing – and I saw you singing, too, you there in the fourth pew, who are usually so reticent. 
Similarly dedicated and beautiful work was provided by our lectors and altar servers, which makes such an enormous difference to the richness and intelligibility of our liturgies.   Along with our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, many of these folks arranged their schedule to be of service to us, rather than to fit their own (or their families’) preferences, and some even assisted at more than one Christmas Mass.  Let’s hear it too for our ushers going about their work, welcoming folks, helping them find seats at the crowded Masses, and especially gathering the vital Christmas offertory.  Few of you see our dedicated group of counters who give their time during when so many others get to relax, to make sure all gifts are accounted for and correctly deposited.
The Holy Name guys were the only ones able to do their work in advance, since they put up our outdoor stable, which takes much heaving and ho-ing.   The population of the stable, including the guest of honor in the manger, arrives only at Christmas during the first Mass, or when the star brings them at Epiphany.     
We never applaud work done for the Lord, but it wouldn’t be inappropriate if you were to speak a word of thanks to one of these folks whose work you notice and value.  We are blessed to have such talented folks who make our church and our worship beautiful and reverent, and they might enjoy hearing it from your lips that you appreciate them.  Some are easy to spot; some prefer to remain anonymous and behind the scenes, but if you identify them yourself, it’s fair for you to offer your gratitude to them, even if they blush.
And speaking of decorating trees, the Parishioner Tree in the rectory is looking great.  You should stop by and see it soon, and if your family card or photo is not yet hanging on it, bring it with you or send it in.  We want to see you!
To all the folks who pulled off another magnificent Christmas despite the logistic challenges of the date, I know who you are, and I marvel at your skill, generosity, and faith.  Thank you so much for all you have done, and doubtless will continue to do in one way or another, keeping this parish family’s excellent Christmas traditions.  Thanks especially, and God bless you, for humoring your crazy Uncle Joe.

Monsignor Smith

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Hush now; be still

The Nativity (ca. 1665-70); Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

It came upon the midnight clear, 
That glorious song of old, 
From angels bending near the earth 
To touch their harps of gold! 
Peace on the earth, good will to men, 
From heaven's all gracious King! 
The world in solemn stillness lay 
To hear the angels sing. 

“Solemn stillness.”  Silence and the birth of Christ just go together, and not only in Christmas carols.  Why mid-winter?  Why midnight?  For the silence.  We sing of it often, but how often do we get it?  How often do we seek the silence, to obtain what we know accompanies the birth of Christ?  Are these carols merely souvenirs of what was, are they signs of our yearning, or is there some help here for us who hope to greet the newborn King?
As long as I’ve been Pastor here, it has been my practice after everybody has left from the last Christmas Mass to sit silently in the church.   It started simply enough; after the mayhem of six Christmas Masses and the joyful greetings at the door, I was completely spent, but too hopped up on adrenaline and grace to rest, much less sleep.   Exhausted and grateful, I flopped down into a pew just so, fully vested, and simply enjoyed the presence of the Lord, rejoicing in the church so beautiful and somehow still filled with the echoes of the people who had worshipped there over the previous twenty madcap hours.  Now I plan for this respite, and look forward to the time of joyful, grateful silence.
It is perhaps a luxury of my celibate state to have on Christmas day, with its many demands, that long period of silence to pray and praise God.  Nonetheless, I think most people in some way associate this holy day and its joy with silence.  Maybe it is the silence of sleeping children; maybe the frosty silence that winter brings to an evening.  Maybe you get to enjoy some silence while making your preparations; wrapping, or baking, or decorating.  And maybe, just maybe, you have a routine that brings you to silence in the presence of the living God; before your Advent confession perhaps, or when you make a nighttime visit to our outdoor crèche.  It is then that we touch on the simple truth our days so rarely allow, that our God reveals Himself in silence. 
Elijah learned it when he went up the Mount Horeb to encounter the Lord: And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  (1 Kings 19:11-12) The “still small voice,” or, as it is otherwise rendered, the “tiny whispering sound,” is characteristic of our God.  And to hear Him, we must be silent.
That night in the stable, the infant Christ lay in the manger, not entirely silent perhaps, but saying nothing; the Word became flesh and was wordless.  But the love of God for His poor foolish people and His desire to be with us rings out like a shout, or more like a song.  And looking into that tiny crib, we understand. 
We make a lot of noise in church at Christmas, and I am among the chief culprits.  We pray and sing our praises, and greet one another with true Christian love.  It is good, very good, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.  But this year my wish for you, my invitation and exhortation, is that you seek the silence of Christmas, and not just sing about it.
Seek the silent intimacy of a snuggle with your little ones, while they are still disposed to let you.  Take note of the unplanned and precious moments of silent intimacy that spouses share in which so much is mutual and understood.  Rejoice in the wordlessness in which you express so much of who you truly are, for your family, for your friends and neighbors, and in your work.  Survey the glory of creation in the silence of a winter’s dawn.  

And seek the silent intimacy in which you come to know your God.  Stop the recitation of tasks and worries, still the preoccupations and distractions.  Turn off your phone; the Lord is calling you to be with Him.  Hush now; be still.  Behold, He comes.  Christ is born for this: enjoy the presence of the Lord!
Silent Night 
Holy Night 
All is calm 
All is bright 
Round yon virgin Mother and child 
Holy infant so tender and mild 
Sleep in heavenly peace 
Sleep in heavenly peace 

May your Christmas this year be marked by silence; the silence in which God reveals His presence and His love.  From Father Gallaugher and Father Grisafi, and from all the folks here at the rarely-silent rectory, peace to you!  Blessed Christmas.
Monsignor Smith