Many parishes, collaborative or not, will have Giving Trees, Christmas concerts, Parish Book programs, and children's pageants -- all helpful reminders of the "reason for the season."
This second week of Advent holds special meaning. Pope Francis has invited us to "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36), and has called "an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its center the mercy of God. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy." We know that the Amesbury/Salisbury Collaborative is challenging itself to reach one million acts of mercy this year (Disciples in Mission, The Pilot, 10/2). Other collaboratives are also creating opportunities to assist parishioners in living out the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, and receiving God's mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Year of Mercy begins on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception -- Mary, our "Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope." St. Mary Parish, Brookline, will have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the day, between the holyday Masses. Father Clary, pastor, will be available most of the day to hear confessions. They also plan to incorporate the Divine Mercy Chaplet more in the devotional life of the parish.
The Catholic Community of Gloucester and Rockport is offering an Advent Mission and Retreat from Dec. 8 through Dec. 10. Each evening will begin with Mass at 7 p.m., followed by a reflection on the theme "Mercy and Discipleship." Father Gary Gurtler, SJ, will be guest celebrant and homilist.
To kick off the Year of Mercy, the Lowell/Dracut/Tyngsborough Collaborative is having a Divine Mercy Overnight Vigil at St. Rita Church in Lowell, from Noon on Dec. 11 to Noon on Dec. 12, with confession available for 24 hours. The poster announcing this collaborative-wide event quotes the Prophet Zechariah (2:14b) "See! I am coming to dwell among, says the Lord," with a picture of the monstrance sending a powerful message.
The Acton/Stow collaborative will use the Year of Mercy as the guiding light for their faith formation program, Growing in Faith Together. Their December sessions will prepare for the Jubilee Year and include a holy door experience. Planning is also underway for the collaborative to observe the 24 hours for the Lord that Pope Francis has proclaimed for early March 2016.
In the Newburyport/Merrimac/West Newbury Collaborative, Father Tim Harrison and Father George Morin are planning a parish mission in Lent on the theme of Mercy.
The Quincy collaborative has put together a full calendar for the Holy Year of Mercy. They will begin with Mass and a reception at St. Ann Parish on Dec. 8. Respect Life Holy Hour will take place at St. Mary Parish, Jan. 20, and Mother Olga Yaqob will give a "Reflection on God's Mercy," Feb. 22, at Sacred Heart. The calendar continues with monthly events throughout the year, held at different parishes in the collaborative.
To mark the Year of Mercy St. Edward the Confessor Parish in Medfield has launched "Faith in Action." This newly formed committee will offer service and outreach opportunities to parishioners who desire to answer Jesus' call to serve people in need. St. Edward and St. Jude parishioners are invited to read Pope Francis' book on mercy, "The Holy Year of Mercy," and participate in reflection sessions on the book in January.
A sign of God's mercy is how we reach out to the poor. The Lynnfield Collaborative sets up an evergreen tree with tags from St. Vincent de Paul Society and other charitable programs. Families are encouraged to take a tag, or two or three and purchase what has been written on the tag. Donna Delahanty, Director of Parish Ministries for the collaborative says, "By the Third Week of Advent the sanctuary is filled with the donated and wrapped gifts. The visual is a powerful example of our human love for one another."
Returning to Advent preparations, Lynnfield's Faith Formation program prepared a booklet for each child with practical information and wonderful suggestions to help families celebrate Advent and Christmas. The collaborative began a new tradition this Advent: praying for vocations to the priesthood. Special prayer cards were inserted in the new missal for all in the assembly to pray together before the sending rite.
The Saugus Collaborative Faith Formation group is conducting an Advent program from Renew International. The program is Advent Awakenings, and will be conducted in a small group environment for four weeks in December.
Many parishes, collaborative or not, will have Giving Trees, Christmas concerts, Parish Book programs, and children's pageants -- all helpful reminders of the "reason for the season." A common -- and legitimate -- concern about the collaborative process is that it is exhausting work. There is no denying this, but the energy, dedication and love of the Lord and his Church seem to keep these good priests, staffs, and parishioners going. Come Lord Jesus.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
SUSAN ABBOTT IS EVANGELIZATION ASSOCIATE, OUR LADY OF GOOD VOYAGE SHRINE.