Hymns and Hope

Last night I attended an Advent service of song and readings at my parish church accompanied by two close friends, one a secular agnostic and the other a nonpracticing Mormon.  The choirs offered sacred selections ranging from ancient chant to English carols to traditional CandleChristmas music, interspersed with readings from Isaiah and Luke and reflections from individuals such as John Henry Newman. The pastor opened the evening in prayer, dedicating the music to the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, and the lonely. The evening was beautiful, spiritual, and thoughtful.

What I found noteworthy last night were the sentiments expressed by my friends who would have little to no connection with the Catholic Church if not for events like this service. With opinions formed by the secular media (and maybe America blogposts when I compel them to read my writing), it's not surprising to me that they have a less than charitable, though perhaps not entirely incorrect, view of the Church. Absent from this service, naturally, was any mention of the neuralgic issues that internally divide and embitter Catholics, and thus cause others to view as a group less capable of unity than even our polarized political institutions.  Instead we were greeted with candle-glow and chant, prayer and procession, words and songs that conveyed a softer side of Catholicism. No explicit attempt to persuade or convert, but rather an invitation to share space in a warm and beautiful church on a dark and cold winter's evening, hearing stories that have offered hope to peoples across the globe for thousands of years, listening to emotive music that prompts reflection and thought beyond our daily and scattered lives. This is the Church at its best. As it so often fails to attract the attention of twenty- and thirty-somethings due to a whole range of obstacles, concerts such as this might just break through the noise. Permeating the evening was Christ's message of love and inclusiveness, his compulsion of his followers to practice charity and respect, and perhaps most importantly of all, that we are part of something much larger and much more mysterious than what we see around us. These messages are much needed by many in my generation, not because we are incapable of getting bits and pieces of it elsewhere, but because the message of hope offered by the Church is so radical a claim that to go without it is to miss out on living life fully.

At a time when so many young adults are inclined to stay far away from churches, perhaps a ninety-minute choral presentation and similar events are the right tools to convey that message. Ideal? Probably not. But if my friends' glowing reviews of the evenings are any indication about the effectiveness of such ministry, perhaps such opportunities should be expanded, the net cast wider, and the eternal message of faith, hope, and love recast into ever evolving mediums.

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7 years ago
'Permeating the evening was Christ's message of love and inclusiveness, his compulsion of his followers to practice charity and respect, and perhaps most importantly of all, that we are part of something much larger and much more mysterious than what we see around us.'

This is the Church I have known since a child and communicated to me by the nuns, brothers and priests and the liturgy.  It is one of the reasons why I love Catholicism.  The Holy Spirit dwells in this Church and it is the special creation of God.

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