Experiments · Jesuit life · Reflection

The Long Experiment: Novena of Grace to St Francis Xavier SJ

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam: For the Greater Glory of God

While my primary placement during my recent novitiate experiment in Dublin was to spend time at the Peter McVerry Trust drop-in centre, I also had an extremely formative experience by being involved in the local Jesuit parish: St Francis Xavier SJ, Gardiner St. Here, under the generous and creative leadership of Fr Gerry Clarke SJ, I was welcomed to attend parish team meetings, help at the Gospel Choir Mass on Sunday evenings and also lead a Lectio Divina prayer group, a ‘school of prayer’ for local parishioners. The climax of this experience, however, was playing an active role throughout the famous Novena of Grace to St Francis Xavier SJ, which took place from 4th-12th March.

 

Novena 3
Novena Poster: As seen across North Dublin

My Novena experience began before those days, however, distributing posters for the event throughout North Dublin, and then collecting Fr Charles Chillinda SJ, the guest preacher for the nine days, from Dublin airport. Fr Charles is a Zambian Jesuit who normally works in media in Lusaka. He brought with him Meddy, Mutinta and Chiluba, three Zambian musicians who provided beautiful music throughout the week which added depth and vitality to proceedings.

 

Prior to arriving in Dublin I had had very little experience of working in a parish setting. I had never served on the altar nor preached to large congregations. I didn’t really know what the Novena to Francis Xavier SJ was all about. What was to come was, therefore, ‘agere contra’, ‘to go against’ my comfort zone, a test of my ability to adapt and discover apostolic skills that I may never have thought I had. My role during the nine days of prayer and Mass (which saw over a thousand people come to Church each day) was to deliver the ‘Petit Mots’, a brief introductory speech before Mass began, introducing the congregation to the theme of the day and to the life of St Francis Xavier SJ. I also had to serve on the altar, be a minister of the Eucharist and hold the relic of St Francis Xavier SJ after Mass for the congregation to venerate. There were 4 masses a day over the nine days which meant that I did this on over 30 occasions! It was truly a liturgical ‘crash course’ for which I was immensely grateful and I could feel myself move from feeling awkward to being comfortable as the novena progressed.

Novena

Being involved in all these different ways, the most satisfaction and depth came from the warmth and generosity of the local people who attended the Masses. I received so many well-wishes and words of encouragement and thanks that all of the efforts of the nine days (and before) were more than worthwhile. In addition, I made great friendships with other members of the novena team – from the many musicians to the sacristans and those who looked after the hundreds of candles required during the event. At a vocational level it was a great taste of what could be to come in future in terms of being on the altar and being able to see first-hand the power of the sacraments and of Fr Charles’ enthusiastic preaching. While I ended the week exhausted I also felt hungry for future ministry and so thankful for the variety of experiences and learning I had been exposed to. Overall I am indebted to Fr Gerry and the Gardiner St community for such a great ‘apprenticeship’ inside the experiment.

Laus Deo Semper: Praise God Always

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