For years, Carol Roux and her daughter Michelle have been participating in her parish’s annual Giving Tree. Taking tags from the tree in the narthex of Our Lady of Mount Carmel church every Advent, purchasing and wrapping gifts for children who otherwise would not have much to look forward to on Christmas. It’s a mother-daughter activity they’ve done together for so long that they’ve forgotten when it started. This year however–in addition to all the gift purchasing, wrapping and delivering–they did something quite different from their usual routine: they prayed together.
This Christmas, OLMC parish in Tenafly, NJ–spurred on by their pastor Fr. Dan O’Neill, OCarm.–decided to take on the Carmelite’s Prophetic Contemplation challenge in which individuals and communities are encouraged to root their service in Carmelite wisdom and prayer. Many people understand the term ‘contemplative’ to mean someone withdrawn or removed from the world. Carmelites embrace silence and solitude but we understand contemplation in a broader sense. We speak of contemplation as a gift of God that can be nurtured by a life of prayer, community and service. These three elements are at the heart of the Carmelite charism.
St. Therese, beloved friend, please accept these petitions, hopes, needs, and dreams on behalf of [child name(s)].
Please present them to our Loving Father so that God may do what is best for them.
We ask you, dear friend, with the bold confidence and loving surrender you taught us.
We make this prayerful petition in the name of Jesus and through the power of His Spirit.
“Doing service without thinking about or feeling anything during it causes you to lose something” says Michelle Roux. “Service is about working with other people to make everyone’s life a little brighter and better. The entire process of finding the gift has me thinking of the child. I want them to be able to open up that gift on Christmas and know that it was chosen with them in mind. I said a prayer for the children I was helping and continue to think about them.”
Her mother, Carol, has a uniquely imaginative and personal approach to her service. “When I purchase the gifts for the giving tree I try to visualize the child I am buying for and if the gift I am buying will put a smile on their face” she says. “I always feel that a spiritual element should be included in every physical service, prayer is an important part of my life and the act of doing to others.”
OLMC’s Mission Development Director, Elliot Guerra–who runs the Giving Tree along with Youth Minister, Justin Fernandez–saw it as an opportunity to re-invigorate a longtime program. “Like many parishes, the Giving Tree has been a tradition for decades, but Fr. Dan has really encouraged our staff, parishioners and our school families to to think differently over the past 18 months in terms of integrating our faith and our Carmelite spirituality into our daily lives” he says. “When I read about the idea of Prophetic Contemplation on Carmelites.net I said, ‘we’re doing all this action but how can we go deeper with this much needed activity.’ St. Therese and the story of her Christmas Conversion served as the perfect entry point for marrying social justice and action to personal prayer. Especially because it had to do with children!”
Families were also invited to share their prayer petitions and the prophetic work for children done in Therese’s name online using #ChristmasConversion or #PropheticContemplation.
This year’s program experienced unprecedented success as OLMC collected a record number of gifts–well over 800–and had many new parishioners deeply engaged and praying at every step of the process whether it was purchasing, organizing, wrapping or delivering gifts to organizations who help families in need in the Bronx or Northern NJ. “It was great to see so many new faces help out this year” says Guerra. “It was great to see moms and dads serving alongside their young children or parishioners with their grown children working until late in the day delivering to locations in the Bronx. All the while doing it in a prayerful context. We are definitely sold on the Carmelite idea of Prophetic Contemplation and will be figuring out ways to continue using it as a model this Lent and beyond.”
See a gallery of photos below from OLMC’s Christmas Conversion Challenge.