Updated: Dec 4, 2018
Under the heading, ‘Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time,’ I asked the congregations at mass on the First Sunday of Advent to begin the new Church Year by asking what we could offer as a parish to others.
I gave a very brief reflection after the gospel and then drew the parishioners’ attention to the bits of paper and pens I had left on the pews. I asked them to have a quick chat to their neighbor, have a moment of quiet prayer, and then write down a word, phrase or sentence about what we as a community could give this year. We would collect their thoughts in the collection plate as it went around at the offertory.
Before I go on, a word of explanation, well, self-justification. This has been done in a hundred different ways by thousands of parishes over the decades. I have always avoided this kind of exercise, partly because it can raise expectations (i.e. give me more work), encourage gripes and…you know the rest. However, I had been asked by our new graphic and web designer to come up with a few ideas about what I wanted for a ‘logo’ for the parish that could perhaps go on our website, communications, stationery etc. (it’s her fault, really). Yes, I know, I’m about fifty years behind everyone else.
Anyway, I thought if I asked parishioners what it was we could offer or did offer, it might help the process of finding a ‘brand’, as it were, include them in the process, and that would be that. I am quickly finding that this involves a lot more than just coming up with a form of words but more of that later; back to the masses.
I expected that there would be a few nervous looks, followed perhaps by one or two being brave enough to talk and a resultant 20 or so replies: there was instant discussion, thoughtful pauses and 110 replies (we’re a parish of about 240 or so mass goers, including men, women and children). We just about ran out of bits of paper, and I think many represented more than one person’s input.
My late mother’s words were echoing in my mind as she oft quoted that old phrase, ‘Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.’
I shall say more about the replies as the season of Advent goes on. Each one of these replies is part of the gospel message, even those which said the same thing or used similar words, for each came from the lived experiences of different people. I am not going to gather them under headings, though they do fall into two basic groups: what we can offer and ways we can offer it. However, there was one overwhelming concept that came through nearly every one of them, explicitly or implied: friendship, and the desire for that friendship to be extended to all.
“The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In the days to come
the mountain of the Temple of the Lord
shall tower above the mountains
and be lifted higher than the hills.
All the nations will stream to it,
peoples without number will come to it; and they will say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths; since the Law will go out from Zion, and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Isaiah 2, 1-3
Think about these words from the readings for the First Monday of Advent (and in Year A for the First Sunday of Advent). The vision of Isaiah was that the whole world would see in the Chosen People a light to inspire and gather them into communion with God, into friendship with God and each other. Spend some time asking the Lord to renew his friendship within us and then inspire us to share that with one other person today, even in a small way.