Friday, December 24, 2010

Incarnation is Fun

Years ago, I was home for Christmas and, since my family isn't Catholic, I headed off to the midnight mass alone: Holy Cross Church in Lafayette, LA, which at the time had an aging but wonderful pastor whose homilies were always as nourishing as fresh-baked bread dripping with real butter.

Alas, he was not the celebrant--some visiting priest was helping out, I suppose. It was standing room only, so I stood shoulder to shoulder with a few hundred others, enjoying the prelude of carols and the sight of candles and greenery everywhere. It was warm and comforting and inspired me to reflect on the Incarnation. Here it is, stretching out before me, the Incarnation is here in these folks packed in here waiting for mass to begin on a cold winter night. (Yes, it can get cold in Louisiana.)

The readings and the gospel were proclaimed and I was ready for a fine homily. But the priest... gave no homily. He stood there and laughed, and said, "Well, I know none of you really want to be here, I'm sure everybody just wants to get home so you can open presents, so we'll just move on now." Seriously. That's what he said. And we did. This was a failure to grasp the essence of the feast, to say the least.

One of our recent Gospel readings at daily mass was the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew. As I reflected on it in prayer, for some reason that incident returned to mind, and the subject of Incarnation has stayed with me day in and day out as Christmas approaches. I even re-visited the videoclip of the Simpsons "Catholic vs. Protestant Heaven." (As a former Protestant I must assert that the theology of incarnation is Christian, not just Catholic!)

A solid theology of Incarnation keeps us grounded, literally and figuratively. Holiness is organic, not pure otherworldly spirit. God was born in a weak human body in a barn that smelled of farm animals. Jesus is connected to us, one of us, located in our genealogy. A solid theology of Incarnation means that our starting point is not the sinfulness of the world, but the beauty of creation. It means Advent's Partner is Christmas, and Lent's Partner is Mardi Gras.

Google the Simpsons' clip on Catholic Heaven. I know, the material world is messy and painful and full of grief, but it is also so very beautiful. Incarnation is fun!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Three Candles

The third candle of Advent was lit in a parish church. We went to Harwinton today. Plain evergreen trees are up in front, and a tree overwhelmed with gifts for the needy is off to one side. A friendly, family parish with a small, nice choir. There were a few hundred of us. Two young parishioners were commissioned to be altar servers today. They stood before the assembly and accepted their new roles, were given albs, and were blessed.

The second candle of Advent was lit in a cathedral. Last Saturday, we took our youth group for a field trip to Manhattan. After a lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe and some sightseeing, we ended up at St. Patrick's for the 5:30 vigil mass. It was fantastic. A visual feast of art and stone and vast space. There were large LCD monitors on the pillars so everyone could see the sanctuary. Skilled lectors, a cantor with a pure clear voice, good hymns. There were numberless thousands of us. Several minutes before mass began, an usher walked down the central aisle and recruited likely-looking assistants to help with the collection. Kevin, one of our teen leaders, must have looked trustworthy, because he was chosen to serve and handed a basket. We think perhaps at the Cathedral, they have to handle such chores creatively.

The first candle of Advent was lit in a barn. That is to say, the Lodge. Floor and ceiling, windows, a fireplace... but the place is still very obviously a made-over barn. We had mass there to end a special celebration of the Missionary Cenacle Family. There were about forty of us. After the homily, six of our friends stood before the assembly and declared their desire to become candidates in the lay branch of the Family, the MCA. They received their copies of the Apostolic Rule of Life as a sign of their commitment.

A simple New England parish church, a cathedral, and a barn. What strikes me about this sequence of locations is not the extreme differences, but what they had in common. A sense of community does not necessarily depend on ever having met the people you're sharing Eucharist with on any given Sunday. A call to service must be answered, or there is no Church.... well, not our Church, anyway. And when you stand up, when you say yes, when you answer the call... you get something! Something you need, like an alb, or a basket, or a book. Maybe even a blessing. But you don't go forth unequipped.

Where will I be for the fourth candle?