I write you on behalf of our Dominican Shrine of St. Jude, the Parish of
St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena, and the Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry. Please join a program of communal prayer to prepare for Christmas 2017.
Preparing for Christmas with Jesus in the safe womb of the Virgin Mary
When we wish another grown up, “Merry Christmas,” what do we actually want for them?
We might hope they unwrap what they have always dreamed of, or that they would really take a break from work and savor the tastes and sips of the season, better yet, maybe this year they will find themselves under the mistletoe with that certain someone. But exchanging gifts, giving feasts, and falling in love are the works of people who feel safe. What we want for others, and ourselves, at Christmas is a safe place, a place safe enough to thrive in.
But the safest place for thriving is a child’s Christmas.
We inherit our desires for Christmas from our own childhood. Hopefully at this season our families surrounded our young selves with as much beauty, abundance, and attention as they could muster. Even if they couldn’t or didn’t, the absence of this well-being makes us want it for others all the more passionately. Think of the invisible carpet of safety under a child sitting on the floor captivated by a new toy, imagination and hands equally engaged. Think of the time and treasure devoted by parents and family to the creation of this one moment. Now we take this trouble over Christmas because we hope it sets the tone for all of childhood. We also do it for ourselves. We hope the child’s freedom from care will bring the security of Christmases past into our adult present.
Do you think the child at the heart of Christmas was safe? How do you read the story? The Scriptures show Jesus born of a family in forced transit, without the conventional comforts of childbirth. He is born to parents in an unconventional union and together the three go on to become refugees in Egypt. Yet this child is never unaccompanied. Mary and Joseph are both overtaken by events, but steadfast in their love and care. Further, the shepherds, the angels and the Wise Men, are signs of protective presence; they testify that God, who sent them all, is the safety of the child. The Child Jesus knows this and testifies to it when he is found in the Temple among the Doctors. He will make his security in the Father the firm witness of his whole fleshly career, all the way to his Crucifixion.
The Christmas Story is of God providing security in vulnerability. The Christ Child is laid in the Manger for himself and for every child, God taking note of each Soul from its first moment. The Child in the manger, and the child by the Christmas tree, both speak on behalf of God to the vulnerable child inside each of us.
If we get this message and work to make life safe for one child, we make it safe for a whole family, and if we work for the safety of all children we foster the life of our whole race.
Beginning on December 17 and concluding on Christmas Day, we will pray in common for the safety of children, so that childhood may have the power God designed for it. We want to pray that every child may know the safety of the womb, the cradle, the playpen, the classroom, and the playground. We want to beseech God for the well being of children in broken homes, addicted homes, and refugee camps. We will pray that God’s
providence may reach little ones who live in poverty and who live with disease.
The Novena Prayers will be said at each Mass celebrated in the two churches of our Parish. But at three services the preaching will also address our longing that childhood be safe, and the longing for safety by the child in each of us. The preached services will be at 6 AM (the Misa de Gallo) at St. Vincent Ferrer, 5:15 pm at St. Catherine of Siena (December 17 at 5 pm and December 23 -24 at 4 pm), and 6 pm at St. Vincent Ferrer.
At each church there will be a place of prayer for this Novena, complete with holy cards and slips for making petitions.
Christmas Novena Services will be at the Midnight Missa Cantata in the Dominican Rite at St. Catherine of Siena, and at the 8 am Mass at Dawn at St. Vincent Ferrer.
May the blessing of the Christ Child touch the child in you this Christmas.
For all the Friars
Sunday, December 24, 2017
Mass of the Vigil with Carols at 4:00 PM – St. Catherine
Sung Mass of the Vigil at 6:00 PM – St. Vincent
Christmas Lessons and Carols at 9:00 PM – St. Vincent
Solemn Mass During the Night at 9:30 PM – St. Vincent
Midnight Mass in the Dominican Rite at 12:00 am – St. Catherine
Monday, December 25, 2017
Mass at Dawn at 6:00 AM – St. Catherine
Mass at Dawn at 8:00 AM – St. Vincent
Sung Masses During the Day at 9:00 AM – St. Catherine
Sung Masses During the Day at 10:00 AM – St. Vincent
Solemn Mass During the Day at 12:00 Noon – St. Vincent
**There will be no Evening Masses on Christmas Day
At the outset of Advent, the Liturgy places this collect (the Opening Prayer of the Mass) on our lips:
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess
the heavenly kingdom.
I say this prayer every year, but this time “run forth” strikes me powerfully and not in a positive way, because I do not feel like running forth. The days are dark, it has been a packed Parish Fall, and a tumultuous secular year. My introverted self pines for my cozy room, a cocoon of the familiar where I may hibernate until things change, climactically, and otherwise. My mood is right on time; nature says its time for a “long Winter’s nap.” But the prayer comes in the Gospel’s time, summoning me to exert myself before I feel like it. Why so much concern to wake me up?
“Run forth” expresses the longing in the heart of Jesus, implanted by the Holy Spirit in the Church,
articulated clearly in her prayers, and apparently heard by almost no one. The ancient manual of church life called the Didache puts this desire into words as blunt as an alarm clock; “May grace come and this world pass away.” Inbuilt to the religion of Jesus is the desire for a new age.
Instinctively we prefer our own age and so we read talk of the Second Coming through a lens of fear; “I better behave or I will be in trouble.” But the Gospel actually proposes to change our instinct so that we may read the Advent of Christ through a lens of promise.
What he promises is a life beyond all the dead ends we see in the life of our own age. If we were to count up the personal, relational, cultural, climactic, and political ways in which we do not see a way forward, we might feel quite hemmed in. Here faith intervenes to say that what seems like a solid wall now will yield before the plan of God. Honesty demands that we name the dead ends and all the pain they cause us, and faith asks us at the same time to acknowledge a reality beyond them. This is the promise of Jesus in all its living reality. I always think the Berlin Wall offers the best image for Advent, inevitability toppled.
Once we understand this, then, His future Advent becomes a real object of desire, and even now we see His
teaching in a new light. We begin to recognize the Sermon on the Mount not as the way to keep our nose clean but as a disclosure of how people will in fact behave in the world that is coming. Indeed, Christ has left us the
sacramental life as a pledge of what lies beyond the walls of this mortal life. Sacraments are a way of seeing and seeing beyond, and so they teach us how to hope. Vigilance born of hope, not fear, means that we live now so as to be ready to belong to that time. We are bold enough to want more than getting in to Heaven, we seek to be at home in it.
Perhaps this talk sounds funny coming from the Church, for we expend so much energy in conserving our theological, artistic, and liturgical heritage. Sometimes religion does become a servant of nostalgia for the seeming coherence of former ages. Occasionally our outlook is so curatorial as to give the impression that we might dread the Second Coming simply because it will mess up the ritual. But in fact all that we have received from the past comes to us as a platform for hope. What God has enabled us to achieve offers a pledge of what He will exceed; just as our current sacramental perception of Him promises to yield before the unobstructed encounter with
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Indeed, Advent revolutionizes Christmas in just this way. So often we celebrate Christmas as an exercise in nostalgia for things past, the Church’s and our own. These are days when memory comes to console or to open wounds. But the complete experience of Christ leaves us with an active nostalgia for what has not yet happened. Every year at this time we unpack so much familiar stuff from the boxes in our attics and the crannies of our minds. Indeed, the rituals and the objects, the sounds and the tastes of Christmas offer an anchor amidst change. But Christ is more reliable, and the world He brings will be happier.
I run forth because I have a destination that gives focus to my mind and velocity to my steps.
May the magic of the season help us to remember where we haven’t yet been.