A day late and a dollar short, as the expression goes. But I hope you all had a great Christmas.
I attended a wonderful Midnight Mass (actually at 8 pm) in the parish of All Saints in the Ashmont section of Dorchester. I love most things about this church and the services there, though it would be nice if there was a bit more participation from the congregation (e.g. during the Kyrie and the Gloria). It's so inspiring to see the ethnic diversity- the congregation is about 60% black and over 33% from the Caribbean Islands. I love the strong devotion to Our Lady that the services involve, always concluding with the beautiful Angelus. And I love the traditional language version of the Nicene Creed, and the formality of the worship.
This Advent, in preparation for the birth of Our Lord, I tried to deepen my spiritual journey in several ways.
I went to confession for the first time. This is a great gift that the Church offers to us, the ability to confess our sins to a priest and to be absolved. I'm saddened by the fact that so many people- particularly members of churches who don't practice the Sacrament of Confession- don't take advantage of this gift. Indeed, it was one of the greatest gifts the Lord gave us, the forgiveness of sins. The Church was wise when they developed this sacrament, because it's often very difficult to face up to the gravity and true nature of our sins until we share them with another person. And how beautiful and inspiring it is that the end of the confessional rite, at least for Anglicans, ends with the priest saying, "Pray also for me, a sinner." Because the priest is, also, human, also a sinner, and also in need as much as any one of us of the saving blood of Christ.
I also started for the first time, seriously praying to Our Lady, the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. I love this refrain, modified from the Axion Estin: "You who are more honourable then the cherubim, you who are incomparably more glorious than the seraphim, you who inviolate brought forth God the Word, you who are indeed rightly called Mother of God, we magnify thee." Mary not only typifies the highest glory and honour that a pure human being (as opposed to her Divine son) can reach, but she has appeared in vision to countless people since her Assumption, and she has served as an example to us. In her virginity she helps us overcome the sins of the flesh, in her humility she helps us overcome the sins of pride, in her poverty she helps us overcome the sins of greed, and in her love for her Son, for John her adopted son, and for those who followed her son she helps us grow in love. Truly it was said of her, "Thou art all fair, my love, there is no flaw in thee".
I tried to fast once a week, in honour of Advent. Advent was traditionally a fasting season, and I think we would do well to revive that. Our Lord talked about fasting as something important, as a necessary spiritual discipline to help us overcome the flesh, and as with everything, He was right.
Finally, I made another donation to Catholic Relief Services, for their hunger relief efforts in southern Madagascar. More than anything else, Advent and Christmas should be a time of giving, and of charity. Christ said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (he is quoted thus in St. Paul). The Tandroy people of southern Madagascar have suffered for decades if not centuries from the vicissitudes of living in a harsh and unforgiving spiny desert, where often there is little water, little greenery, and the only source of income is the herds of cattle, sheep and goats. These animals often destroy much of the native vegetation, leading to further soil degradation and loss of agricultural capabilities. In some drought years there has been little green vegetation and hardly any food other than the introduced prickly pear cactus- if you're familiar with these, they are hardly a very substantial food. This is one of those drought years, in which the southernmost regions of Madagascar are enduring extreme hunger, and in which children (and adults, but especially children) are dying in large numbers from malnutrition. Please consider making a donation- you can call Catholic Relief Services and earmark your gift to "Madagascar Food Crisis".
Have a blessed rest of Christmastide.