A sense of grace at Christmas time


By Barb Arland-Fye


Ten days before Christmas, my husband Steve decided to attend a reconciliation service at St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf. It was a Monday night — deadline crunch time for me — but I committed to meeting Steve in the church for the 7 p.m. service. Stress seemed to vanish as I stepped into the peaceful, dimly lit church and saw Steve waiting.


The printed program for the service stated it would be “Reconciliation in the Style of Taizé.” I envisioned easy-to-follow, repetitive prayers and music designed to create a sense of unity as we focused on our relationship with God.


Taizé refers to an ecumenical community made up of more than 100 brothers, Catholics and Protestants, coming from around 30 nations. The community is a “parable of community that wants its life to be a sign of reconciliation between divided Christians and between separated peoples (www.taize.fr).”

We began with a song asking the Lord to fill our hearts with peace. We listened to Psalm 130, which assured us that “with the Lord is kindness, with him is full redemption …”
The Scripture reading from Isaiah (40:1-5) contains this verse — “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” — which called to mind something a colleague said when we both worked at the Quad-City Times daily newspaper. Once in a while, in the rush to make deadline, disagreements occurred and feelings were hurt. This colleague always responded with grace. I asked her, “How do you manage to let it go?” She told me, “I take the King’s highway.”

Our printed program included an examination of conscience for children, teens and adults based on the Lord’s Prayer. I scanned questions for adults and discovered areas I am attentive to and areas that require more attention. What a terrific way to help me surface issues with my confessor!

Father James Vrba, St. John Vianney’s pastor, pointed to priests seated in back pews all around the church waiting to hear our confessions. Each wore a white alb and a purple stole. Even in the dim light their demeanor seemed so prayerful, humble. The image evoked a sense of “we’re all in this together!”

But as editor of a Catholic newspaper, I subconsciously feel held to a higher standard when it comes to confession. Won’t the priest be appalled by my sinfulness? When I shared how I felt with my confessor at St. John Vianney, he reassured me, and reminded me how good it feels to receive absolution. I agreed.

So, holding the printed copy of the examination of conscience, I zeroed in on my shortcomings and couldn’t have been received by a more compassionate confessor.
After confession, each participant had the opportunity to light a candle and place it in a sand-filled container at the front of the sanctuary. The warmth of the flames and the grouping of all those candles enhanced, for me, the sense of unity with the other Catholics gathered.

The choir, led by liturgy and music director Eleanor Kiel, sang a beautiful rendition of Dona Nobis Pacem in the round. We exchanged the sign of peace, a fitting conclusion to the reconciliation service. Both Steve and I felt uplifted. And I experienced a sense of grace, a gift, with which to enter Christmas Time.

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