Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Parish Lenten Novena Shows Many Faces Of Hope

By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published March 25, 2004

“Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is dancing to it today.”

These words, which encircled an image of a candle that was surrounded by a crown of thorns, were the theme of St. Michael the Archangel Church’s nine-day Novena of Hope held March 1-9.

The novena featured nine different programs, each dedicated to a specific theme of hope during Lent. A different speaker presented a topic each evening, including “Hope in Prayer,” “Hope in Reconciliation,” “Hope in the Way of the Cross,” “Hope in Fasting,” “Hope in Almsgiving,” “Hope in Families” and “Hope in Teens.”

A night was also dedicated to the lives of the saints, and on the final day of the novena, March 9, Archbishop John F. Donoghue presided at a liturgy that included the anointing of the sick.

The church was full of a diverse group of people, as black and white, Hispanic and Asian, young and old squeezed into the pews for this last installment of the novena, “Hope in Suffering.”

The archbishop, along with St. Michael parochial vicars Father Terry Crone and Father Mario Pino, and pastor Father Paul Flood, processed down the center aisle, lined with members of the Knights of Columbus fourth degree honor guard. Also in the procession and presiding over the service was Bishop Elias Manuel Bolaños, SDB, bishop of the Diocese of Zacatecoluca, El Salvador, the home diocese of Father Pino. Bishop Bolaños was the guest speaker for Friday’s novena session—“Hope in the Way of the Cross.”

The archbishop began the service by blessing and sprinkling holy water on the congregation.

Hope comes from God, the archbishop told the crowd in his homily.

“I believe that hope is this: Hope is the feeling we experience, when we open our hearts to the promises of God,” he said, adding that hope is not only a feeling of happiness and joy.

“Yet, we are also adults—we know the troubles of the world—and we know too, that hope is best felt, best enjoyed, and most needed, when things are not so happy, not so optimistic, and when the diagnosis is not necessarily bright,” he said. “For beside the hope that leads us to joy, there also walks with us on the path, the hope that leads us through suffering.”

He spoke of the “birthplace of hope,” when Adam and Eve first chose to disobey God and he told them the consequences of their action.

“Hope was not born in joy—hope was born in suffering and the worst failure,” he said. “Hope did not rise up at the sweet invitation of the Creator to walk with Him in the Garden of Paradise, but under the terrible curse of His expulsion. But even so, God allowed hope to enter into the vale of human suffering—He wanted Adam and Eve and all their descendants to have hope to cling to, such was His abiding love, even in the presence of His awful anger.”

He spoke of the suffering of Mary as she watched her Son die on the cross, and Jesus’ torturous prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

“And as we walk through that Garden of suffering, seeking to share in the hope that was both Mary’s and our Lord’s, let us try to remember that if hope seems to falter under the weakness of our imperfection, it is, nevertheless, held up on either side—supported under the arms, as when one who stumbles is helped by his brother—held up by faith, the fastness of our belief, and by love, the only thing God can be for us, if we give Him our hearts.”

Following the archbishop’s homily, Bishop Bolaños addressed the Spanish-speaking members of the congregation in his own homily.

As the choir led the crowd in singing “There Is a Balm in Gilead,” the crowd came forward to be blessed with holy oil.

As the priests and bishops anointed people’s foreheads, they prayed, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Then, anointing their hands, they prayed, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”

A reception followed the event, where many parishioners gathered for food and fellowship and discussed their novena experiences.

Parishioner Robert Bietighofer attended each night of the novena.

“It was outstanding and uplifting,” he said. “Everyone goes astray and we all need something like this—something enlightening to get us back on track, especially during Lent.”

Michael Ostro, organist and director of music ministry for the parish, said the novena was a great success.

“I just thought it was great. There was a wonderful feeling of grace and of parish unity,” he said. “Having the archbishop here tonight just brought the whole week together.”

Shirley Heinsch said that the novena was “very, very powerful” for the parish, as it brought together the Hispanic and Anglo communities.

“And it was wonderful because each speaker spoke to people’s hearts in a different way,” she said, adding that she felt that evening’s anointing was especially powerful. “We all need some healing. And in the same way we are realizing that the grace that this creates is for our whole church, our whole community.”

She gave much credit to Father Flood who has “worked very hard for our parish.”

“It’s wonderful because Lent is a time to be proactive. It shouldn’t be a time to concentrate on what we are giving up, but how we can serve the Lord.”

Father Flood said that he wanted to try something besides their traditional parish missions that are usually held during Lent. Two families in his parish had lost young infants, and he felt a strong calling to emphasize the theme of hope.

“I wanted to give some hope, some meaning,” he said. “And at the same time our Catholic rites are very moving and powerful. We can just let them speak for themselves.”

With the theme of almsgiving, a representative from Life Link of Georgia spoke about organ donation. With the theme of “Hope in Reconciliation,” the sacrament of reconciliation was available.

“We wanted to create a sort of smorgasbord, where if someone couldn’t get to it every night, they could pick and choose what they wanted to attend,” he said. “If someone was having difficulty in prayer, there was a night for them. If someone wanted to put their prayer into action, there was a night on the saints. If someone needed reconciliation, there was a night for that. Each of our speakers contributed in a unique way and brought their gifts and talents to our parish.”

Father Flood said it was important to hold the novena at the beginning of Lent.

“We thought it would make a strong statement to start the Lenten season, and that it would help us all in our journey toward Easter,” he said.