Advent: hold the Christmas carols, please

It’s Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year, penitential and contemplative in tone as befits preparation for a great feast. It’s a blessed relief from any number of things. I enter it this year sick at heart due to some recent events, ready for a time of prayer and quiet and humility and renewal.

Keep that elf doll away from me. Throw a curtain around that poinsettia display for a few more weeks. And in regretful (some will say regrettable) defiance of my bishop’s directive, I am fleeing my parish church for the duration in order to avoid Christmas carols at every Advent Sunday Mass.

Yes, carols. He used the plural and I assume that means more than one. It’s not as though Bishop Libasci is ordering the choirs to sing “Holly Jolly Christmas.” Nevertheless, I am not on board. I need Advent for the next not-quite-four weeks, not Christmas Lite. Carols at the kids’ concerts or at the store are one thing. Carols during an Advent liturgy are another.

The Mass is the Mass, and my feelings about the music are irrelevant to that. (We liturgical music critics can be insufferable.) My reaction to the bishop’s directive, though, isn’t a matter of mere distaste. I fear we’re diluting Advent and thereby losing something important.

I’ve worked retail, and I remember how we depended on November and December sales. Santa-shaped chocolates on the shelf and “The Little Drummer Boy” on the speakers put people into the shopping mood, so by golly we had the Santa chocolates on display and the music playing by Thanksgiving. We worked long hours. Our paychecks and material support for our families depended on that.

Wanna know what Christmas Eve is like for a retail worker after the store closes? There’s a lot of sleep involved – unless there are kids to be settled. Mass the next day, in all its glory and joy and beauty, is something to be gotten through.

I learned in those days to treasure and crave Advent. My attention to the Advent liturgies was renewed and sharpened. I hadn’t realized how much I had always taken the season for granted. The Old Testament prophecies, the old plainsong chant we now know as O Come O Come Emmanuel (however far from plainsong it’s been dragged by contemporary arrangements), John the Baptist’s blunt call to repentance: all became balm to my spirit when I realized I had to seek out and intentionally participate in Advent rather than just let it happen somewhere in the background. The beauty of the Incarnation, contra my bishop’s concern as expressed in his directive, wasn’t dulled by such preparation. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I mean no disrespect to Bishop Libasci, who has gone out on a limb as a Catholic leader in this very secular state of ours to advocate for refugees and defend religious liberty. The other aspects of his directive make sense to me, especially in view of the coming formal opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Christmas carols during Advent liturgies, though, affect me like physical blows. I’ve heard them before, albeit by the choice of music ministers rather than directives from the Diocese. However scriptural the lyrics, they don’t fit Advent any more than Easter songs would fit into Lent.  The carols’ ill timing evokes for me the malls and commercials and movies that hijack them before Thanksgiving.

I guess I’ll be crossing the state line for a few Sundays, although it’ll be odd not to be amid familiar faces. What’s going on at the altar will be familiar enough.

Reblogged from Leaven for the Loaf by the same author.

A note about Mitt Romney

This morning, Mitt Romney announced that he wouldn’t run for President in 2016. I wish him well.

I was a Santorum backer in the early 2012 process. When the New Hampshire GOP – and by extension, the Romney campaign – invited me to come on board in July 2012, I did so. It wouldn’t have missed that experience for anything. Romneycare put me off when the primary was in its early stages. Once Romney was the nominee, however, no question: he had my vote. In the course of the campaign, I grew to respect the man. He’s Governor Romney to me, not “Mitt.” Always will be.

One of the ways I evaluate a candidate is to see how much she or he annoys the security detail. The security team is charged with guaranteeing a candidate’s safety. The candidate’s job, at least here in the home of the First in the Nation Primary, is to maximize contact with voters. Something’s gotta give. Thereby hangs a tale.

In July 2012, Governor Romney was scheduled for a campaign stop in Bow, New Hampshire. It was a small venue, capacity 200 or so. Enthusiasm ran high, and we took calls throughout the preceding week from people wanting to attend.

Just a few hours before the event was to take place, the horrible shootings were committed in Aurora, Colorado. Both President Obama and Governor Romney briefly suspended campaign rallies, recognizing that it was unseemly to hustle for votes while victims of a mass slaughter were still being identified.

The Governor was already in New Hampshire when the news from Aurora came out. It was too late to cancel the Bow event; people were lined up hours in advance. The event was delayed. Word came down from the Romney staff that the planned speech was going to be replaced with brief remarks. No one left; everyone in attendance wanted to see him even for a short program. Yet more delay. Suddenly, those of us on the local staff got an urgent request from the Governor: could we please line up a local member of the clergy to offer a prayer? One of my more resourceful colleagues did so.

Finally, about an hour after he had been scheduled to speak, the Governor quietly stood before the crowd. The minister who had come to offer the prayer preceded him at the microphone. Then Mitt Romney spoke for less than five minutes, somber and respectful. No campaign pitch. Pure class.

When he was finished, the dark SUVs of the campaign lined up just outside with engines running, ready to go. Serious-looking people wearing dark suits and earpieces attempted to usher the Governor to one of the vehicles. Nothing doing. Without the slightest hesitation, as though the security detail and the idling vehicles were nowhere in sight, the Governor created an impromptu receiving line. He invited Fr. Tutor, the visiting minister, and Senator Kelly Ayotte to stand with him. And then he shook hands with every single person who had come, saying thank-you for patience and support. He did not look at his watch. He did not glance down the line to see how many people remained. That’s the Mitt Romney I’ll remember all my life. I was the last person in line, and I wanted to hug the guy. (I refrained. Couldn’t afford to lose the job.)

The security crew looked like it was going to have a collective breakdown. It was beautiful sight.

As I said, I wish him well.

A challenge for the New Year, courtesy of Robert A. Heinlein

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

I’ve seen that credited to Robert A. Heinlein, although I haven’t yet put my finger on the source material. A splendid manifesto, in any case. I keep a printed copy posted in my workroom.

I think I have a leg up on the list as a result of being a so-called stay-at-home mom for a couple of decades, although I’ve always let someone else do the hog-butchering. Reading that zestful catalogue of skills always inspires me to keep learning, keep my eyes open, reject boredom. Never, never think to myself that I know everything.

New Year’s resolutions, right there – and every day is a new year’s day.