By ERIKA ANDERSON, Special To The Bulletin | Published December 6, 2012
A busy December Saturday night. A championship SEC football game. Nothing could deter more than 450 people from coming together for fellowship and a celebration of their faith at Holy Trinity Church’s annual Advent by Candlelight event Dec. 1.
This was the fifth year the parish hosted the event, which attracted participants of all ages. Beginning with the Saturday vigil Mass, attendees then gathered in the church’s Loreto Hall to enjoy a meal together. The evening, which featured keynote speaker Edward Sri, Ph.D., was sponsored by and benefited the parish’s adult faith formation ministry and was designed to prepare parishioners for Advent.
Terri Thomas, director of adult faith formation, said the event has grown each year since it first began in 2008. Because it is held at the beginning of Advent, the evening focuses on Mary. Groups of parishioners were assigned various images of Mary, and hostesses designed centerpieces and a meal for each table. Each participant received more information about the table’s assigned Mary image.
Softly lit by both candles and twinkling white lights, Loreto Hall hummed with conversation and laughter of those who attended. Participants also bought raffle tickets in hopes of winning one of dozens of gift baskets, which lined the room.
Parishioners Cheryl and Tom Brown said events like Advent by Candlelight give the large parish of more than 2,500 families a more close-knit feeling.
“Holy Trinity is a big parish. But events like these make this huge parish seem like a small, quaint neighborhood church,” Tom said. “People live such fragmented lives. We’re so busy, and a lot of people don’t have good neighbors. This is their community. This is their neighborhood.”
His wife, Cheryl, agreed.
“Community is my biggest reason for coming to this. It’s such a neat environment, and people put so much thought and effort into their tables,” Cheryl said. “Everyone contributes something. You can really see the Holy Spirit is working here.”
Following the dinner, participants headed into the church for Sri’s talk. Sri, a nationally known speaker and author, is the chancellor and professor of theology and Scripture at the Augustine Institute master’s program in Denver. He first gave credit to those in attendance.
“When they first asked me to speak, and I saw it was a Saturday night, I thought ‘who’s going to come to church on a Saturday night?’” he said, also referring to the SEC championship game that participants were skipping. “And to do it on a football night? You guys are dedicated.”
Using several mysteries of the rosary, Sri focused his talk on Mary as an example, especially during the upcoming year, which has been designated by Pope Benedict XVI as the Year of Faith.
“There are people out there trying to aggressively convince people that there is no God,” Sri said. “But rather than trying to fight them, this year is about calling us to look at our own lives, to examine our own faith journeys. This year is about us getting back on track and recalibrating our faith.”
In her life, Mary, Sri said, offers a perfect example of reliance on God.
“In her journey of faith, Mary was a human who had to make decisions. She suffered, she faced ambiguity. But step by step, the Lord was leading her to deeper and deeper surrender, love, trust and faith.”
Sri spoke of the Annunciation, when Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she was to bear the Son of God. Mary spoke the ultimate “yes,” which should be a reminder to all to trust in God’s will.
“Sometimes, when we sense God is asking us to do something, we cling on, afraid of the unknown,” he said. “Whenever we get that sense that God is knocking on our hearts, we have a choice to make. Mary was open to whatever God wanted from her. We can learn from her.”
Mary had a servant’s heart. She “saw life as a gift given to her in service of God,” Sri said.
“We can look at our own lives. We all have plans and goals and things we want to accomplish. And God often uses our own desires to set a plan for our lives,” he said. “But do we really ask God every day ‘Lord, how can I serve you?’ Mary teaches us to do the right thing with a servant’s heart with great joy.”
In the Visitation, Mary, when she heard of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy, ran “in haste” to greet her, Sri reminded attendees.
“We need to be more like Mary. We need to run in haste to the things that are most important—to God, to our family and our friends,” he said. “Life is so distracting and we let the things that don’t matter get in the way. Let’s run in haste to the things that do.”
“The Lord is asking us to take one step at a time. Sometimes we don’t want to let go—we want to cling on,” Sri said. “As we begin Advent, let’s ask ourselves how we can be more like Mary. Mary gave up everything to walk with Jesus. What little steps can we take to get closer to our Lord?”
Following Sri’s talk, attendees gathered back in Loreto Hall for coffee and dessert. For many, like parishioner Tina Carroll, the speaker’s words hit home, inspiring them to take on Advent in a new, meaningful way.
“When he talked about Mary as the Mother of God, those words hit me in a profound way. She carried the Son of God in her womb. As the mother of two kids, that just really had an effect on me,” she said. “The big message to me was about openly accepting the will of God like Mary did. Not our will be done, but His.”
Kathy Scasny attended the event with her husband, Mike, and said that Mary has always influenced her life.
“The Blessed Mother has always been dear to my heart,” she said. “I just thought Dr. Sri was awesome. Mary’s intercession is so important in my life and for the world. This was just a beautiful event.”
Jan Hipp, whose son Branson is a seminarian for the archdiocese, said she learned a lot about herself from Sri’s talk. Hipp and her husband, Mark, are in a new phase in their life, now that their five children are adults.
“I really learned that I need to look inward. I’m in a transition period in my life. My husband and I are empty-nesters. We did our jobs—our kids are great,” she said. “But our kids were our lives. Now both Mark and I need to get back to the real center of our lives, which is God. What Dr. Sri said about looking to Mary as an example was just beautiful.”