Christmas tree and Nativity scene lightings and festivals of Lessons and Carols are traditional ways parishes celebrate the Advent season and prepare for Christmas
But St. Thomas Aquinas parish, Flatlands, hosted something a little different last weekend – an Advent prayer opportunity based around the scriptural theme of “Waiting.”
Participants were invited to reflect on the theme in the lives of biblical figures and in their own lives, ranging from the everyday waiting for a train or a test result, to the deeper longings of the heart and soul for love and faith.
All five senses were engaged as participants withdrew from the busyness of the world and entered the parish’s Aquinas Center, where candles, meditative music and the scent of Christmas trees welcomed them.
Speaking in soft tones, Elizabeth Mathew, parish pastoral associate, prepared visitors for their personal journeys. Guided by stars and signs, participants moved in silence through three prayer rooms and a dozen interactive stations, collecting various items along the way.
“Take these tokens home as reminders of your journey and your time with God,” Mathew whispered.
Individuals visited stations at their own pace and lingered where they felt called to stay. Some stations offered “hands on” elements, including rocks and sand; others inspired written reflections; and some involved tasting symbolic foods.
Each station was designed to foster an encounter with the living God, who was waiting in form of the Blessed Sacrament at the last station.
Speaks to the Heart
“I’m convinced that in this experience God speaks to the heart of people,” said Mathew.
She brought the prayer room to the parish last year after attending a similar program offered by the Faith 4 Life youth ministry at St. Margaret of Scotland Church, Selden, L.I. She also introduced a Lenten variation of the prayer room this year.
Regardless of where each person is on his or her faith journey, the prayer rooms offer something for everyone, Mathew said.
This year’s participants ranged in age from eight to 95. Among them were adults enrolled in the parish R.C.I.A. program and the seventh and eighth graders from Midwood Catholic Academy, located in the former parish school.
Last Saturday evening, Sister Alice Michael, S.U.S.C., diocesan coordinator for the R.C.I.A. and children’s faith formation, visited St. Thomas Aquinas’ prayer rooms and emerged with a Tootsie Roll Pop in hand.
She explained to a visitor that she wasn’t just eating a lollipop; it was part of the experience.
“This teaches us about waiting for the Lord,” she said, “and being willing to wait for things in our lives,” even something as small as a treat inside a hard candy shell.
“A lot of times people forget what it (Christmas) is all about. I even forgot myself until I came here tonight,” shared parishioner Eugene Boasi, who attended with his wife, daughter and mother.
His mother, Elisa Boasi of St. Joseph Church, Keyport, N.J., said she’d never see Christmas the same way again.
“It (prayer room experience) changes your life,” she said. “People are so involved in their dally lives that they forget the real meaning of Christmas. It reminds you to get back to what it truly should be.”
The station that had the greatest impact on the Boasi family revolved around a dream – or nightmare – the Blessed Mother has of future generations celebrating her Son’s birthday, but forgetting all about her Son.
“It’s true and it made me sad to see that,” Eugene Boasi said. “I thought, ‘I can’t believe it. I’m guilty of the same thing.’ And I didn’t even realize until I was reading it.
Mathew hoped that the prayer rooms provided a place for everyone to grow in their relationship with God.
“My dream is that when people go home, they know Who they are celebrating this Christmas,” she said.