“Beauty will change the world.” These poignant words of Fyodor Dostoevsky have been resonating in me for quite some time. I, like many, have been pondering how to best present the message of the Gospel to a world that so often loses sight of the true and the beautiful. Popular media, all too often, presents images and stories that do not lift the human spirit and inspire the soul.
Even in our church, stories of pain and division are what garner headlines. One merely has to think of the many trials related to the priest abuse scandal and the financial situation in our own Archdiocese of Philadelphia. These stories can easily lead to a degree of hopelessness and despair. We certainly could use a revolution of hope.
It is this desire for a revolution of hope that the idea of the first Abbey Faith and Music Festival was born. For quite some time, I have walked the pastoral grounds of Daylesford Abbey, a Norbertine religious community in Paoli, Chester County, envisioning an event that would bring people, young and old, together for a day of musical praise, worship and prayer.
During those prayer walks, it was as if I could visualize the fields filled with God’s people celebrating the gift of our Catholic faith, a place where darkness flees and joy fills the heart. In my heart, I knew that the Lord could make this vision a reality if it be his will.
Well, this vision indeed became a reality this past Sept. 20 when close to 2,000 people gathered for the first Abbey Faith and Music Festival. This event was the culmination of close to a year of intense planning and preparation.
In October 2013, I approached Abbot Richard Antonucci, O. Praem., and his brother Norbertines with the idea of the fest. I presented it as a way to bring people, particularly youth, to the Abbey to learn more about the unique Norbertine life and to celebrate, in the words of St. Augustine (whose rule the Norbertines follow) our God who is “Beauty, ever ancient, ever new.”
I shared with them about the very successful Abbey Youth Fest which has been held for the past 14 years on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Benedictine Abbey near New Orleans, which now draws over 5,000 each year for a day of music, sacraments and prayer. Thankfully, the Norbertines gave their blessing to begin the preparations.
Immediately, we set about the task of preparing for this all-day outdoor concert event. This could never have been accomplished without the collective talents of so many, especially the talents of fellow parishioners at St. Norbert Parish in Paoli, where I serve as director of youth ministry. God has truly equipped his Body with the collective gifts needed to do extraordinary things for him. I have learned that the church cannot be stopped when the Body of Christ comes together to unite our time, talent and treasure in service of the Gospel. This unity of vision and purpose helped bring about this amazing day.
Parish youth groups, Catholic high school and college campus ministries from near and far joined us for the Abbey Fest. There were also many families and older people who came to enjoy the ministry of Matt Maher, Audrey Assad, Greg & Lizzy, Kara Klein and Paging Samuel, some of the most gifted musical artists in the Catholic/Christian music industry today.
We were encouraged by a great message from Bill Donaghy from the Theology of the Body Institute. We experienced the joy of a huge Mass on the field. We waited in long lines to receive the great gift of God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of penance. We finally capped the day with a gorgeous time of Eucharistic Adoration as thousands knelt in silence while holding flickering candles.
The comments of those who attended include words like “beautiful,” “uplifting,” “speechless” and “awe-inspiring.” Thank you Lord for your grace and beauty which touches hearts.
For me personally, I have been re-inspired in my ministry to youth. Events like these prove to me time and again that our youth are hungry for the true and beautiful, for a relationship with Christ. The Abbey Faith and Music Fest was a grace-filled moment when I witnessed that hunger being met by the Beautiful One that we adore, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am motivated anew to present the Gospel to the young people in our parish and beyond with the undying hope that they will respond with open hearts as they encounter truth and beauty incarnate.
Mark Griswold is director of youth ministry at St. Norbert Parish in Paoli and director of Abbey Faith and Music Fest.