dedication

In the days leading up to the dedication celebration of our parish’s new church building in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, I found myself praying with lovely little story in a book by Margaret Silf:

I remember well the morning when, after listening to all my outpourings regarding the chaos running riot in my life at that time, my long-suffering and very wise friend commented simply, ‘Just let the Spirit hover over the chaos.’

Silf goes on to connect chaos with creation – with God utilizing raw material to make something new, and God declaring that it is good. She explains, “Chaos is a sacred reality, the very thing that is needed for a new creation to begin. Chaos is a gift, overflowing with potential.”

I’m sure that those who worked on the project of building a new church for the people of St Joseph’s parish would agree that chaos was at least a small part of the picture. Whether it be the abundant rains that fell during the building of the foundation, or the many tradesmen working simultaneously on the floor, the ceiling, and everything in between, or the logistics of the parking lot (aka construction site) on Sunday mornings, chaos is a reality with projects such as these.

Organized chaos. That’s how I would describe the very moment that the doors were opened and the parishioners started streaming into the finished building, the majority of people seeing the beauty of this creation for the first time. No amount of planning or forethought could predict exactly how this would go. And the spirit hovered over it, showering everyone with grace.

The archbishop helped us to breathe life into this building on Saturday. The altar was ceremoniously and beautifully anointed with sacred chrism, the walls and the people blessed with holy water, and our prayers and intentions for the future of this space carried to God as incense filled the air. The Dedication Rite, beautifully orchestrated with a reverence befitting of the occasion, is something that few people are privileged to experience in one lifetime. It is a moment saved for all eternity in the life of this parish family.

During his homily, Archbishop Chaput likened this dedication to the dedication of ourself to God, in baptism and confirmation. And every time we receive Eucharist, or participate in the celebration of any sacrament, the Holy Spirit, which hovers over the chaos of our lives, showers us with grace. At the same time, the significance of this particular dedication for each of us is enormous. It is a new beginning, for the church in Downingtown, but also for each of us. A Holy moment of conversion. Grace abounds more and more.

During the chaos we have experienced as a parish family these past months and recent years, the spirit has hovered over us, blessed us, and called to us. May we continue to learn how to answer.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

-Ephesians 3:14-17

listening

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I’m listening
flowers in the garden
laughter in the hall
children in the park
I will not take these things for granted
anymore

to crawl inside the wire and feel something near me
to feel this accepting
that it is lonely here, but not alone
and on the telephone
you offer visions dancing

I’m listening
music in the bedroom
laughter in the hall
dive into the ocean
singing by the fire
running through the forest
and standing in the wind
in rolling canyons

I will not take these things for granted

-toad the wet sprocket, in the song ‘I will not take these things for granted’

tradition

Living over 700 miles from our families sometimes makes the holidays difficult for me. Because of the challenge in scheduling around me, my husband, and our two employed young adults, we won’t be “going home” for Christmas this year.

This saddens me.

I will miss the always amusing banter between my three brothers and my husband. The way that they can recite lines from funny (stupid) movies as if they had been part of the original cast.

I will miss both of my niece’s gentle spirits. Their kind, compassionate, smart, funny hearts.

I will miss the amazing conversations I always seem to have with all of my nephews. The way that I marvel at how much they’ve changed. How I appreciate and savor every word, every smile and frown, every uninhibited expression.

I will miss the snow. The way that, when you drive from the east side of the state to the west, the snow banks get deeper and deeper.

I will miss my mom’s gingerbread boys. Soft and sweet, with the perfect blend of spices, these are one Christmas treat I cannot resist.

I will miss both of my sisters-in-law, a truly profound blessing to me. Their witty wisdom, their enlightened grace, their calming and subtle affect on my sometimes over-stressed heart.

I will miss hot coffee in the morning at the kitchen table on Allen Road and the relaxed, wonderful conversations that always seem to happen there. When the sister and her boys come in and fill the house with energy.

I will miss Christmas mass at Cabrini, the chill in the air, the beautiful decorations, the lovely choir, singing all the favorites.

Mostly, I will miss the wonderful opportunities to bring everyone together. The crowds of relatives, the festivity in the air, the hustle and bustle. The overflowing love and affection. The smiles, laughter, and enjoyment of the relationships I hold most dear.

I find myself half-heartedly putting up the decorations in my own house this year, 700 miles away. My favorite Christmas playlists don’t have their usual appeal. And yet, I have a profound awareness of the gift of my own little family here in Pennsylvania. It is as if this year, when I am missing my larger family’s traditions, the “little” family traditions we have become magnified and treasured. It’s God’s grace that has shown me this truth.

Today, I thank God for my families, large and small, and the wonderful ways that they shower me with grace.

I invite you to do the same.

communion

This week, by some mysterious movement of God’s grace, I participated in a holy hour at my church. As a community, we celebrated our strong faith, prayed together, and voiced our pain, concern, and love for one another. The church was packed in this visible sign of our communion with one another. No angry outbursts were made, no demands for justice nor cries of outrage. This was a profound, beautiful, act of unity and faith.

For those of you that don’t know, my parish has been a focus of media attention during the recent grand jury reports in Philadelphia. Our pastor is the “first member of church hierarchy” to be named.

It struck me, as I knelt in the pew reflecting on the joyful mysteries during our communal rosary, that this beautiful bond of community was made stronger simply in the ways in which all of our senses were made holy and tangible.

The visible sign of grief, mourning, and penance in the black robes of our priests. The breathtakingly beautiful monstrance on the altar.

The smell of the incense as the altar was blessed.

The hopeful, lovely sounds of the cantor who led us in song. The voices reading scripture, leading a reflection, offering intentions. The believers joined in the words, “Lord, hear our prayer.” The sound of the men’s voices as they led the rosary for us all.

The touch of the rosary beads as we joined our voices saying the Our Fathers, Hail Mary’s, and Glory Be’s.

These are difficult times for our parish, and really, the entire church. As in any crisis, I think it is easy, sometimes, to forget the things that ground us in our faith. In her wisdom, our church has hundreds of years of tradition, and thousands of pages of explanation, and dozens of experts to describe the “proper” way to celebrate, mourn, pray, recite, listen, participate, gather.

Having been a participant in this holy hour, I can confidently say that all of these years, pages, and experts were not necessary. Two or more were gathered. And Jesus was with us. And it was very, very good.