“Advent is about preparing ourselves to welcome not a fairytale character, but the God who challenges us.”

– Pope Francis

I am the unofficial, self-appointed president of the Sarah Kroger fan club. She has a beautiful voice, but an even more beautiful prayerful witness. Recently, we were fortunate enough to collaborate with a few other Catholic organizations to offer a two-night Advent concert with Sarah. We took the opportunity to pair the event with focus groups of Catholics in their twenties and thirties to understand where they were in their faith journey and understand how parishes can be more present in their lives. More than twenty young adults came to the concert 90 minutes early to have some robust conversation over Chick-Fil-a and be honest about how the Church was - and was not - showing up for them and how they were - and were not - showing up for the Church. Most participants were practicing their faith but felt like they didn’t have a place or voice in typical parish life, and most of their experience of the faith was actually outside of a parish. As I brought the conversation to a close and welcomed people to move to the concert, I thanked them for staying in the discussion and promised them that the Church was eager to hear them.

As the concert began with a short video, I sat in the way back, a few rows behind some of the young adults with whom I had just spent time. Two rows in front of them sat an older woman. Two of the young ladies were quietly chatting with each other. Sarah had not even come to the microphone yet when the older woman sitting in front of them turned around and asked angrily, “Are you two ever going to be quiet?” They looked at each other with big eyes, and I shuddered. As Sarah began to sing, a young couple with a baby came in and sat down in the pew next to the older woman. She scowled at her pewmates, sighed, grabbed her coat in a huff, and moved to a different section. The husband put his arm on the shoulder of his wife as I put my head in my hands.

Thankfully Sarah’s music helped all of us move on, but as I watched my fellow millennials pray in song throughout the concert, I couldn’t help but wonder how that situation could have been different if the older woman had seen what I had just seen and heard what I had just heard from her fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It caused me to reflect on how often I can be quick to judge based only on the thing I see versus the broader picture surrounding someone or something. So many of those we love confess to being far away from the Church based on unfortunate moments and interactions that reinforce a narrative about who the Church is. We can bemoan those reasons as silly, but frankly that doesn’t accomplish much in helping others come closer to Christ. Prayers that you will see and hear the deeper experience of your sisters and brothers wherever they are on the journey this week!

by Daniel Cellucci

December 15, 2023

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