Though I’m not of Catholic background, leaning, or persuasion, during my December 13, 3rd Advent Sunday visit to Holy Cross Parish , I discovered a service rich with meaning, a congregation close to its pastor, meaningful music, and worshipful reverence. For the first time in my Catholic Church visits, I was actually welcomed and greeted by a number of warm and friendly people when entering the church.[img_assist|nid=146236|title=Holy Cross Catholic Church|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=166]
What Happened Here?
Holy Cross Parish has been on my list to visit for some time, to bring balance to my Catholic Church visits in Anchorage. So far I’ve observed a Catholic reserve entering their churches with a priest, sometimes, greeting parishioners as they enter. Often no one else is welcoming arrivals. This did not happen during my visit to Holy Cross Catholic Church. The outside doors were opened and I was warmly greeted by two individuals. Inside several more individuals again greeted me, and then another. What a difference it makes!
The church is relatively new and modern. Spacious, it is wider than deep which I liked. All were within easy viewing of clergy and participants. Acoustics were great. I estimate a culturally mixed group of 250-300 were in attendance this Sunday.[img_assist|nid=146237|title=Fr. Dan Lighting Advent Candles|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=466]
Starting on time at 11 a.m., the priest Fr. Dan Hebert lit the Advent candles accompanied by brief remarks. When lighting the 3rd Advent candle, he noted it was the JOY candle, and spoke about the need for JOY. He stressed we would hear much more about JOY during the entire service, and he was so right. I confess the simplicity of the candle lighting was an emotional moment for me, as well as the attendant meaning of each candle. Finally, I was impressed Fr. Dan was so meaningfully “hands on” in the candle lighting. It was a real treat, and so appropriate.
In keeping with the very participative service I was witnessing, I was profoundly affected by the renderings of the musical group. Composed of 6 musicians, half played strings (guitars & violins), and all sang. The effect was beautiful. Their sound carried well throughout the church even though they were located in the upper right-hand corner. This was music that was made beautiful by its simplicity.[img_assist|nid=146238|title=Holy Cross Musical Group|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=221]
At the conclusion of the reading of the scripture, the reader clearly announced “The Word of the Lord”. This simple phrase, missing in so many church services, dramatically underscores what just happened.
Homily Worked for Me
Fr. Dan’s homily was on Joy, as promised. He understands how to communicate with his people. He began by noting how hard it is to rejoice when war, killing, current economics, health care problems, crimes, Ft. Hood killings, the Service High assault, and problems with our personal lives are on our minds. But he reminded us that “God is in our midst” and to “go find God in your life”. He admonished us we are to “bring glad tidings to the poor” and that we’re all poor. I could feel this was both literal and figurative in this congregation.
Fr. Dan made several useful concluding observations:
1. Things seem to come together when God/Jesus is back in our life.
2. Life is joyful when God/Jesus becomes part of your journey.
During his prayers, Fr. Dan asked “Lord, hear our Prayer” and requested He “Gift us with Your Joy.”
Just before Mass, Fr. Dan finished his homily by gesturing inclusively to the communion table and the elements of Eucharist by noting “Here’s our Joy right here”. During the quickly-served Mass, the musical group and audience sang “On Jordan’s Banks” and “Tis a Gift to be Simple”.
In conclusion, Fr. Dan said “We have a choice to rejoice or choose sadness and despair”. After leaving he warmly greeted parishioners with both hands as they streamed around him. I was in a bit of a daze as I left. This had been an unexpected Catholic service and I was happy to have been a part of it.