In late spring, during the Easter season, our children who were preparing for First Holy Communion had participated in a mini-retreat. One of the activities was to paint their handprint on a piece of clear plastic film. The handprints were placed on a window in the gathering space of the church, framing a large image of wheat and grapes. The children's names and the date of their celebration were noted on the handprint, and at the end of the season, were given to them as a keepsake.
The first year of this practice, I was also serving as an interim coordinator of music and liturgy. I still have great appreciation for the ministry of people who serve in this capacity, the result of the many months of intense preparation for the great liturgical feasts and seasons in the midst of the Sunday-to-Sunday rhythm of our lives of worship. That year, as we moved our way through Advent, the season seemed filled with grace, wonder, and yes, extreme fatigue!
Friends and colleagues offered their help, and parishioners scheduled themselves not only as ministers of hospitality, extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and readers, but also as set-up, clean-up, and all around helpful people for what was sure to be a week filled with the need for assistance.
In the early hours of Christmas morning, following midnight Mass (the fourth liturgy of the feast, with three more to go), a friend and I were straightening the church, when suddenly my friend called out. At first, I thought she had fallen, but when I found her, she was looking at that window where the children's handprints had been the previous spring. And there, in the frost of the early Christmas morning, the handprints shown through, a wonderful reminder of the links, season to season, person-to-person, the great story of God's love for us in Jesus Christ which is made manifest in the Eucharist, sacraments and the stuff of daily life. In that moment, we "saw" a bridge connecting Easter to Christmas, the handprints of two hundred children connecting with the handprint of the Child who came to be with us, Emmanuel.
As we enter into the final week of the Advent season, I hold all who serve in parish ministry in my prayers, and invite each of us to think about this: how may we build a bridge to someone else in this season of grace? Will we reach out to someone who needs to know God's love through service and sharing? Will we greet a newcomer with a smile, offering welcome? Will we reconnect with someone who has been away from the parish for some time? How will we leave a handprint in the mind and heart of another as members of the body of the One for whom we wait?