That was Fr. Jim at the beginning of the fourth Sunday of Advent Mass last Saturday night in my home parish. As soon as he said it I thought, "You're right!" and felt the worry and concern dissipate. No matter how much I prepare, comes a time to say, "Enough is enough."
This Advent, a purple cloth covered whatever table stood in for our altars: a typewriter table, a recycled table in a classroom, a steel dining table bolted to the floor with seats that do considerable damage to the unsuspecting knees. Four white French Vanilla candles in frosted glass holders brought new scents to each room. A strand of fake holly (nothing too pointed to be considered a weapon) was fashioned into a circle for three weeks and then straightened with the candles lined up across the table. We sang "O Come Emmanuel" in English and Spanish each week.
Everything is mobile, temporary. It can all be put away in a few minutes. Not unlike our lives.
The more permanent things: the heartbreak and longing in voices and on faces of men missing their kids, wishing they'd made other choices. There were last minute requests to be part of the Angel Tree Program (part of Prison Fellowship, they connect local churches with the children of incarcerated parents to provide presents for the kids). It's a great program, but it has become so popular that their deadline for signing up was September 1st, when many of the men I see today were still sitting in county jail waiting to go to court.
Today we logged the 104th death notification for 2009. Three of them came yesterday.
There were two Christmas plays presented by the men in one unit last Monday. Lots of laughter and cheerful faces as people left the chapel--and discovered we had some Christmas cards for them to include in letters home.
We Catholics will celebrate Christmas on our traditional day: the Sunday after Christmas, another chance to make the point that it really is a season, not a day.
"We are as ready as we're going to get," Fr. Jim said. "Now we just have to be ready to recognize Jesus however he comes to us." He comes to me in prison and I can't think of a better place to be.
Happy Christmas, everyone.