On May 17, 1968, nine Roman Catholic activists broke into a draft board office in Catonsville, Maryland, transferring 378 files to the parking lot to be incinerated with home-made napalm. As the fire burned, the “Catonsville Nine” prayed for peace. They were arrested, tried and sentenced to prison, but four of them, including two priests—Daniel and Philip Berrigan—went underground, eluding capture for a number of months, occasionally surfacing to speak at antiwar rallies. At one of these public appearances, following a dramatic tableau of the Last Supper with giant puppets, Dan Berrigan made his escape inside one of the apostles.
Fifty years ago on Thanksgiving Day, a group of friends shared a festive meal in a former Episcopal church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. First constructed in 1829 as St. James Chapel, then enlarged and renamed as Trinity Church in 1866, the white wooden structure, with pointed Gothic windows, steeply pitched roof and tall attached tower displays the Platonic ideal of a New England church, the transcendent anchor of so many Northeastern towns. But its congregation had dwindled over the years. In 1964 it was deconsecrated and sold to Alice and Ray Brock, who put a bedroom in the tower and made it their home.
Advent is a time to keep watch for the unexpected comings of God, to prepare our own hearts to make room for the Blessed One, and to be ourselves signs to the world around us of divine compassion and justice. In a month that is already far too busy and rushed, these ten general practices are not offered as one more to-do list to work through, but as ways to slow down, take a breath, pay attention, and make room in our lives for the birth of the Holy.