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As part of our series of articles by people for whom this Christmas will be notably different, a City solicitor-turned-Dominican sees how his priorities have been turned upside down.
Reflecting on my first Christmas as a Dominican, I realised that until last year I had lived the seasons of Christmas and Advent back to front.
I worked as a solicitor in London for seven years and at that time I would have felt competent to comment on what Christmas was like from about the middle of December – having already attended umpteen Christmas parties. Now, as a Dominican, I feel the need to wait until 1 January, the end of the Octave of Christmas, to adequately to describe the great magnitude and joy of Christmas with the other brethren and our congregation.
When I was a solicitor in the City, Advent was about socialising with colleagues, clients and friends. Individually everything was fun, but collectively it could be exhausting as well as bloating. When you asked anybody what they were going to do for Christmas, the reply would be: “Oh, I’m just hoping for a quiet one.” Christmas Day and the days that followed were viewed as a necessary time of recuperation from the stress of finalising work projects and attending the numerous parties. While I did my best to attend daily Mass and gain some sort of Advent focus, it was hard to be immune to the pressures of work and friendships, the pressure to feast with immediate effect.
Christmas Day itself marked the end of all the celebrations, not the beginning.
Last year all that changed. For me, Advent was a genuine time of preparation and reflection, a time to follow John the Baptist’s exhortations. Christmas was celebrated with my Dominican brothers as it should be – with joy and zest – for the full eight days of the Octave. I didn’t feel jaded by the weeks that had preceded it, and there was certainly no contemplation of a diet starting on Boxing Day. It felt appropriate that, having spent so long anticipating the coming of our Lord, sufficient time should be set aside to celebrate it. Such a profound event, an event that changed the world forever, cannot be absorbed in one day alone.
A real privilege of life as a Religious, and one of its great joys, is that all aspects of the life intimately cohere with the liturgy. The liturgical seasons are lived out: they affect the way we eat; whether there is wine at the table (Sundays and Solemnities); the chant alters; colours change; breviaries are swapped for the new season; there are the beautiful “O Antiphons” – the Magnificat responsories only sung at Vespers in the final days of Advent, adding to the delicious anticipation of Christ’s entry into the world.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a Dominican Christmas without study to aid preaching. For me, praying and studying the scriptures for the purposes of writing reflections for our student blog, Godzdogz, has been a wonderful way of entering more deeply into the glorious mystery of the Incarnation.
This Christmas after celebrating with my Dominican family I’ll be in London with relatives. It’s not a case of seeing some people for the day and others after the event; the whole eight days are equally Christmas for me now.
Br Toby Lees OP entered the novitiate of the English Province of the Dominicans in September 2012 and took simple vows as a student brother in September 2013.