Melrose church fire: In the silence of that night

By Deacon Ernie Kociemba
For The Visitor

This past Gaudete Sunday, Dec. 11, Isaiah told us the deserts are blooming, the lame are walking, the weak become strong and dormant senses come alive. It’s an exciting time, just as it is an exciting time for our faith community.

Nine months ago, a devastating fire destroyed our church in Melrose. As we wait for decisions to be made about its restoration, I paused to reflect on Christmas traditions celebrated at St. Mary’s.

Deacon Ernie Kociemba
Deacon Ernie Kociemba

One of my favorite traditions goes back 12 years ago to the first time I served as deacon at the Christmas Eve Mass. The church was beautifully decorated, the Christmas trees towered over the lifelike crèche, the choir director led the carolers in beautiful Christmas songs and people from all walks of life filled the church — a scene I’ve come to know and enjoy since I was a child.

Yet, even though I attended this Mass all the years of my life, that year was different in what it meant to me.

In a moment of silence right after the prayers of the faithful, the congregation was paid a visit by a stranger dressed in red. Not a sound could be heard as all eyes turned toward this bearded spectacle. He made his way reverently down the aisle and, after bowing to the altar and tabernacle, he moved to the front of the crèche where he knelt in prayer.

In that moment of silence, it became apparent  to  me that there was a deeper meaning to his presence than the commercialization we’d seen elsewhere. Through his deliberate reverence, one sensed this stranger was humbled in the presence of God.

I sensed his thankfulness for the gift of life and that special life born over 2,000 years ago.

It wasn’t long before this individual stood up to exit. As he did, my eyes gleaned the humble beginnings of the Holy Family symbolized by the crèche scene and provided a new lens in which I saw harmony, peace and unity among the parishioners.

This tradition pointed to a greater reality — that the real Christ dwelt among us that night.

Though I will miss St. Mary’s traditional Christmas Eve Mass in our now-damaged church, this event has provided us with new opportunities to enjoy. The parishes of St. John in Meire Grove, St. Andrew in Greenwald and St. Michael in Spring Hill and other neighboring parishes have invited us to celebrate their traditions.

These parishes have been and continue to be true Christmas gifts — a reminder we are part of a larger, universal church and family.

I pray decisions will be made regarding how and when we once again will have a place to worship and begin new traditions in our hometown. Regardless of how our church structure is restored, its real relevance will only be felt when we understand what church and tradition means in our heart.

Yes, the deserts are blooming and as Isaiah says, “Be strong and fear not, here is your God.”

Deacon Ernie Kociemba serves as deacon at St. Mary Church in Melrose.

About The Visitor

The Visitor is the official newpaper for the Diocese of Saint Cloud.

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