“The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated… Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate.” (Pope Benedict XVI, SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS, 64)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 In Review

This week between Christmas and New Years Day is always prime time for news organizations to show you what a good job they did throughout the year keeping you up on current events. They remind you of what happened, since any news observer cannot remember back to the last newscast. They will also do some considerable editing and commentary to show that Obama's first year was a major success, especially considering all the turmoil he inherited from the Bush administration, which aparently includes Nigerian panty-bombers.


If you are going to subject yourself to this media self-praise, I recommend reading a year in review from someone who remembers the events of 2009 a little differently than anyone else:

On a more upbeat note, the nation finds a new hero in US Airways Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, who, in an astonishing feat of aviation, manages to land a US Airways flight safely in the Hudson River after it loses power shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia. Incredibly, all 155 people on board survive, although they are immediately taken hostage by Somali pirates.
. . . President Obama, speaking on health care before a joint session of Congress, is rudely interrupted by Kanye West, who grabs the microphone and declares that Beyoncé has a better health-care plan. No, wait, sorry: The president is rudely interrupted by Republican congressperson Joe Wilson, who shouts ``You lie!'' Wilson later apologizes for his breach of congressional etiquette, saying, ``I should have just mooned him.''

You'll have a much improved recollection of 2009 reading this alternative than with CNN. It has been one crazy, unforgetable year. The good news is, 2010 will have its work cut out for it if it wants to be crazier.

A continued Merry Christmas, and may 2010 be all you hope for.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Thus saith the Lord: A voice was heard on high of lamentation, of mourning, and weeping, of Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted for them, because they are not. Thus saith the Lord: Let thy voice cease from weeping, and thy eyes from tears: for there is a reward for thy work, saith the Lord: and they shall return out of the land of the enemy.
(Jer 31:15-16)

And all that sat in the council, looking on him, saw his face as if it had been the face of an angel.
(Acts 6:15)
Matthew points us to Jeremiah for a prophecy of the Holy Innocents. We needed the pointer, because most people would have thought that he was referring to the Assyrian slaughter of the Kingdom of Israel. That is where most of her children, and those of her maidservant, resided. Save the tiny tribe of Benjamin, the tribal family structure of all her children all but ceased. The surviving dominant tribe of Judah and the priestly tribe of Levi would better be described as the children of her older sister Leah.

But Matthew reminds us that the Word of God is not limited in meaning. The children of Bethlehem are hers, as this is the location of her tomb. Thus we can proceed to the words of comfort that dilute the sorrow of story. "Let thy voice cease from weeping, and thy eyes from tears: for there is a reward for thy work, saith the Lord: and they shall return out of the land of the enemy."

Two years ago today, my family was in our parish chapel for Mass. My son, Jack II, a joyful boy that would give Saint Stephen a run for his money in the most angelic face category, was just a tad over two years old. His language was at a stage where he knew very few words of his own, but could do a manageable job of parroting what he's heard. Even before his birth, we thought this boy would one day be a priest. This day of two years ago, he would provide yet another confirmation.

After communion, as the celebrant was finishing with the purification of the sacred vessels, the chapel was silent as can be. My son took advantage of the silence. He had quietly observed Mass from start to finish. He was too young to be bored. His older sister, Jackie I, was at that stage, and she was working her way through that boredom. Jack III wasn't yet a year old.

The priest made his way to the chair to be seated for a moment. At this particular parish chapel, the congregation universally remains kneeling until the closing prayer. As the priest sat down, Jack 2, for no reason we can figure out, shouted twice, "Re-joice!"

This brings to mind the words of Saint Paul from a little over two short weeks previous, "Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice." It's Christmas, of course. This day of Christmas, though, reminds us that the Lord is a sign of contradiction (Luke 2:34, Acts 28:22).

I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I, but that it be kindled? And I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized: and how am I straitened until it be accomplished? Think ye, that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, no; but separation. For there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided: three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against his father, the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother, the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Luke 12:49-53)

Since our first miscarriage, we've had a special connection to this Feast of the Holy Innocents. It's a sad connection, still in the back of our mind wondering what person was lost. Was it a boy or girl? What would he or she have looked like or been like? And try as I do, it is hard to understand why some die before baptism. I certainly have no claim to any merit for my baptism.

It's hard. Any family that's been through it knows that, though the grief is handled in different ways. Most friends of ours are certain that they have saints in Heaven interceding for them. We do pray to our departed children, now three in number. As far as their status, all I have to say is that I don't know and the Church doesn't know. The news is primarily good, though:

As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,"allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. (CCC, 1261)

I guess Limbo could be looked at as their worst possible fate, and that should be enough for my peace. Still, there is a pain that we carry. There is a desire that can't be fulfilled. And that's the way it will remain until the day that He fixes the mess that we make.

This day two years ago, we were just two to three weeks from laying to rest our second miscarriage. The death of innocents read in the liturgy was a reminder of the innocents that the Lord himself took, by his own accord, from our joy. Quite appropriately, we often are reminded on this day in the homily that abortion is our modern day equivalent of this biblical slaughter, only on a much higher scale.

But at least the abortionists can't see the face of the children!

How could Herod's thugs have slaughtered children in their mother's arms? This kind of depravity is unimaginable. Certainly not unprecedented - from Genghis Khan to Hitler to Saddam Hussein, we have plenty of examples to show that this kind of depravity is possible. But still beyond imagination.

Similarly, we celebrated the martyrdom of Saint Stephen just two days ago. They stoned him, even though they knew he was innocent. The Sanhedrin saw that he had the face of an angel, the face of innocence, and they still had him stoned.

How could they? How?

Early in Christmas, we commemorate two great acts of murder. It seems so distant from the tranquil adoration of the shepherds just a few days ago. Yet my son had it right. Rejoice! As one man with the blood of Stephen on his hands said, "Rejoice in the Lord always!" These days of Christmas should shock us out of our sentimental picture of an idealistic Nativity scene. The contradiction should not be blurred. If it is blurred, then we'll always be at the whim of apparent fortune.

We must trust in the Lord, as the man with Stephen's blood on his hands once said, "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." That means abortion, miscarriage, terrorism, despotism, genocide, starvation, etc., etc. Our challenge is to stay in the fight for good, but not be scandalized by the bad. Never get discouraged.

Sorrow is as certain as death and taxes. If rejoicing is a certain reaction for us as well, we'll be much further along. How many of us have looked into the face of Jesus and sinned? We have the blood of God on our hands, yet that same blood can cover our sins. How's that for a contradiction?

As we commemorate the death of innocents this Christmas, let us rejoice. Because to us was born the most innocent of the innocents, who will turn his own murder into our redemption. If the urge hits you, remind the somber that today is a day of Christmas - God came down to us -us in our depravity. No matter what happens, no act of evil will overcome that. Rejoice!

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself. (John 12:32)

Thou must leave thy lowly dwelling,
The humble crib, the stable bare.
Babe, all mortal babes excelling,
Content our earthly lot to share.
Loving father, Loving mother,
Shelter thee with tender care!
Loving father, Loving mother,
Shelter thee with tender care!
Shelter thee with tender care!

Blessed Jesus, we implore thee
With humble love and holy fear.
In the land that lies before thee,
Forget not us who linger here!
May the shepherd's lowly calling,
Ever to thy heart be dear!
May the shepherd's lowly calling,
Ever to thy heart be dear!
Ever to thy heart be dear!

Blest are ye beyond all measure,
Thou happy father, mother mild!
Guard ye well your heav'nly treasure,
The Prince of Peace, The Holy Child!
God go with you, God protect you,
Guide you safely through the wild!
God go with you, God protect you,
Guide you safely through the wild!
Guide you safely through the wild!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

God Among Us

Come Lord Jesus, do not delay; give new courage to your people who trust in your love. By your coming, raise us to the joy of your kingdom, where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Collect for Dec. 24th, Roman Missal)
Lo, the hand of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. Rather, it is your crimes that separate you from your God, It is your sins that make him hide his face so that he will not hear you. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt; Your lips speak falsehood, and your tongue utters deceit.

No one brings suit justly, no one pleads truthfully; They trust in emptiness and tell lies; they conceive mischief and bring forth malice. They hatch adders' eggs, and weave spiders' webs: Whoever eats their eggs will die, if one of them is pressed, it will hatch as a viper; Their webs cannot serve as clothing, nor can they cover themselves with their works. Their works are evil works, and deeds of violence come from their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they are quick to shed innocent blood; Their thoughts are destructive thoughts, plunder and ruin are on their highways. The way of peace they know not, and there is nothing that is right in their paths; Their ways they have made crooked, whoever treads them knows no peace.

That is why right is far from us and justice does not reach us. We look for light, and lo, darkness; for brightness, but we walk in gloom! Like blind men we grope along the wall, like people without eyes we feel our way. We stumble at midday as at dusk, in Stygian darkness, like the dead. We all growl like bears, like doves we moan without ceasing. We look for right, but it is not there; for salvation, and it is far from us. For our offenses before you are many, our sins bear witness against us. Yes, our offenses are present to us, and our crimes we know:

Transgressing, and denying the LORD, turning back from following our God, Threatening outrage, and apostasy, uttering words of falsehood the heart has conceived. Right is repelled, and justice stands far off; For truth stumbles in the public square, uprightness cannot enter. Honesty is lacking, and the man who turns from evil is despoiled. The LORD saw this, and was aggrieved that right did not exist.

He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was none to intervene; So his own arm brought about the victory, and his justice lent him its support. He put on justice as his breastplate, salvation, as the helmet on his head; He clothed himself with garments of vengeance, wrapped himself in a mantle of zeal. He repays his enemies their deserts, and requites his foes with wrath.

Those in the west shall fear the name of the LORD, and those in the east, his glory; For it shall come like a pent-up river which the breath of the LORD drives on. He shall come to Zion a redeemer to those of Jacob who turn from sin, says the LORD. This is the covenant with them which I myself have made, says the LORD: My spirit which is upon you and my words that I have put into your mouth Shall never leave your mouth, nor the mouths of your children Nor the mouths of your children's children from now on and forever, says the LORD.

Rise up in splendor! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; But upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.

Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: Your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses. Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, For the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. No longer shall violence be heard of in your land, or plunder and ruin within your boundaries. You shall call your walls "Salvation" and your gates "Praise." No longer shall the sun be your light by day, Nor the brightness of the moon shine upon you at night; The LORD shall be your light forever, your God shall be your glory. No longer shall your sun go down, or your moon withdraw, For the LORD will be your light forever, and the days of your mourning shall be at an end.

Your people shall all be just, they shall always possess the land, They, the bud of my planting, my handiwork to show my glory. The smallest shall become a thousand, the youngest, a mighty nation; I, the LORD, will swiftly accomplish these things when their time comes.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

(Abraham was) the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, the son of Ca-inan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalale-el, the son of Ca-inan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa, and Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of She-alti-el, and She-alti-el the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. (Isaiah 59:1-21, 60:1-5, 18-22; Matt 1:1; Luke 3:34b-38; Matt 1:2-17)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tale of Two Hymns

As one who has no schooling in music, formal or informal, I’d like to take my hand at music critic and historian, setting my mystagogical gaze at two hymns of the season. The two hymns honored for this treatment: Angelus ad Virginem and Adeste Fidelis.

Hymn: Angelus ad Virginem


The word that comes to my mystagogue mind is “sweet”. Most encounters with God’s angels are anything but sweet. When Abraham met some angles, they went on to raze Sodom. Jacob fought one all night long, and almost won, until the angel decided to up the ante and made him gimpy the rest of his life. Balaam would have been annihilated were it not for his talking ass. Zachariah was made dumb for nine months. And Peter was hardly treated as if he were the Vicar of Christ. Thus was the way man and angle would mingle.

This meeting between Gabriel and Mary was different. The angel’s gentleness and deference to his queen stands in stark comparison to other angelic meetings, and the hymn poetically delivers this message: This is no ordinary request, and she is no ordinary woman.

The origin of the hymn is not precisely known, but it’s latest composition must have been the mid-14th century when it was published in Ireland. The melodic organ accompaniment featured in the video followed several centuries later, and the cheery notes reflect it’s proper place in the liturgy on Gaudete Sunday.


Gabriel, from heaven's king
Sent to the maiden sweet,
Brought to her blissful tiding
And fair 'gan her to greet.
'Hail be thou, full of grace aright!
For so God's Son, the heaven's light,
Loves man, that He a man will be and take
Flesh of thee, maiden bright,
Mankind free for to make
Of sin and devil's might.'

Gently to him gave answer
The gentle maiden then:
'And in what wise should I bear
Child, that know not man?'
The angel said: 'O dread thee nought.
'Tis through the Holy Ghost that wrought
Shall be this thing whereof tidings I bring:
Lost mankind shall be bought
By thy sweet childbearing,
And back from sorrow brought.'

When the maiden understood
And the angel's words had heard,
Mildly, of her own mild mood,
The angel she answered:
'Our Lord His handmaiden, I wis,
I am, that here above us is:
And touching me fulfilled be thy saw;
That I, since His will is,
Be, out of nature's law
A maid with mother's bliss.'

The angel went away thereon
And parted from her sight
And straightway she conceived a Son
Through th' Holy Ghost His might.
In her was Christ contained anon,
True God, true man, in flesh and bone;
Born of her too When time was due; who then
Redeemed us for His own,
And bought us out of pain,
And died for us t'atone.

Filled full of charity,
Thou matchless maiden-mother,
Pray for us to him that He
For thy love above other,
Away our sin and guilt should take,
And clean of every stain us make
And heaven's bliss, when our time is to die,
Would give us for thy sake;
With grace to serve him by
Till He us to him take. Amen.


Hymn: Adeste Fidelis


This hymn was composed by John Francis Wade, and Catholic Englishman who spent much of his life in the 18th century in exile from his homeland. His place of exile was town of Douay in Brittany, which was a center of exile for English Catholics. The plight of English Catholics was foremost in his life, as he, in 1745, fought on the side of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in his failed attempt to claim his rightful thrown.

Despite the Jacobean origin of this masterpiece, bygones are bygone in modern times, and Wade’s hymn is universally sung by Anglicans and Catholics alike as the most popular way to greet the Christmas celebration. The text praises the mystery of the Incarnation, and beckons all of mankind to adore the divine Christ Child. But it mixes very interestingly with a melody of defiance, influenced by nationalism and the counter-reformation. The video offered, a choice sure to please Andy’s personal taste, highlights this defiant strain, welded perfectly to the news of glad tidings (see if you can spot Mr. and Mrs. Andy).




Monday, December 21, 2009

Our Darkest Day

And he hath broken my teeth one by one, he hath fed me with ashes. And my soul is removed far off from peace, I have forgotten good things. And I said: My end and my hope is perished from the Lord. Remember my poverty, and transgression, the wormwood, and the gall. I will be mindful and remember, and my soul shall languish within me.

These things I shall think over in my heart, therefore will I hope. The mercies of the Lord that we are not consumed: because his commiserations have not failed. They are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, said my soul: therefore will I wait for him. (Lam 3:16-24)

Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia. (Charles Schultz)

This image of the Rising Dawn, Orient, Dayspring, or Sun of Justice (depending on the verse or translation), is one of the most used of the coming Christ. There seems to be something in our human programming that attracts us to this as it seems universal among various pagan religions. What images hope like the rising sun? It’s often used in analogies for certainty, as in, “As sure as the sun rises in the east…” And as this rising sun, an image of the our Lord’s Advent, Nativity, Resurrection, and Return, a hope we can believe in with certainty, comes up over the snow (the picture is the view from my doorstep), today in Vespers, we address our Savior as “Oriens”, the Rising Dawn.

I’m sure the ancient mystagogues figured this out years ago, but the dawn of this day is special, since it's our shortest day, making “Oriens” a fitting placement on the calendar.

This brings to mind an interesting documentary I saw last year, The Star of Bethlehem. It’s impressive. That’s assuming the self-produced film isn’t a hoax, and not being much of a star gazer myself I’m not in a place to pass judgment. The filmmaker and star, Frederick Larson, details his personal faith journey, his research and his amazing findings, showing what he believes is the real star. However, I was uncomfortable with part of what he stated.

According to the film, as I can recollect, he found these amazing messages in the stars around the time of Jesus’ birth that seem to correlate with the biblical account. However, Christian Tradition was ignored, and without a good reason in my opinion.

According to his figuring, the magi arrived somewhere around December 25th. I assume he’s using the Gregorian Calendar, but he didn’t specify. After showing these results, he goes on to say, “I’m not saying that Jesus was born on December 25th. I don’t think anyone believes that.” [My recollection of the quote]

Well, I hate to break it to him, but I do. His findings actually might suggest it if he would take another look at them and the biblical Nativity. I’m a year removed from watching it, so I can’t document it completely, but I don’t think he took into account two facts:

1. Zachariah was incensing the Holiest of Holies roughly six months before the annunciation. Such a ritual could only take place on one day in the year – Yom Kippur. This would have occurred between mid-September and mid-October, Gregorian (it would be interesting to see the actual dates of Yom Kippur from 2 and 3 BC). From a theological perspective, this makes perfect sense – to announce the forerunner, the one who will provide a baptism of repentance, on the Jewish Day of Atonement. This, quite conceivably, could have taken place on the Autumn Equinox. So, with some rough reckoning (Annunciation six months later, and our Lord’s Nativity nine months later) we can see, with the Bible as our guide, that Jesus must have been born sometime near December 25th.

2. Under the Julian calendar, June 24th was the Summer Solstice, and December 25th was the Winter Solstice. Of course, June 24th is the Nativity of John the Baptist, the one who said, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” And, on the old calendar, the sun in fact did decrease daily, until the darkest day of the year, December 25th. God could pick no better day than this one to bring to us the Light of the World, when the world was most in need of light.

The date of December 25th fits biblically and uses the natural rhythms of nature to tell us something theologically. Frederick Larson, for all his interesting work on the biblical star, missed that. I still highly recommend this video – it is extremely impressive despite my quibbles. But it’s too bad, because even if he doesn’t give the date of Christmas credence, his research still points to it. His findings also gives the magi longer than twelve days to arrive at Bethlehem, something they would definitely need if they in fact launched from Susa, Babylon, Nineveh, or some other place of Zoroastrian-Persian origin. An arrival on January 6th (Julian) certainly wouldn’t seem out of the question with his findings.

I guess the point is, Catholic Tradition is reliable, as sure as the sun rises in the east. In fact, more sure, because even the atheists know that the day will come when the day won’t come.

And although I will keep in line with the Church and celebrate Christmas on December 25th, it is still not lost on me that Jesus was born on the old December 25th, the Winter Solstice, which is in fact today. Happy Birthday, my Lord!

O Rising Sun, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. (Vespers Antiphon, Divine Office for Dec 21)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Light Number Four

Rise up in splendor! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; But upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. (Isaiah 60:1-2)

I was asked last year to write an article on the Advent Wreath for a parish newsletter. It was never published. But, here you go:

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come.” Let the hearer say, "Come.” [Rev 22:17a]

Please ask yourself, “Can I genuinely pray from the heart, ‘Amen! Come Lord Jesus!’ as John the Apostle did?” It can be difficult. For many of us, our lives are comfortable. We all have times of stress, anguish, and unhappiness, but most of us are not ready to trade the life we know for the tribulation of the Second Coming. Fear of this is understandable. But that fear can be replaced with “joyful hope” through the pious observance of Advent.

What would Easter be to us were it not preceded by the journey of Lent, walking with our Lord to the Cross? So too, Advent is the key to the preparation for and appreciation of the Incarnation, manifested by a birth in the poverty of refugee lodging. God the Son condescended to become man. Imitate Him during this much-neglected penitential season.

A simple, traditional devotion to aid your family’s liturgical focus is the Advent wreath. Place the blessed wreath at the center of your dinner table. After the family has gathered for the meal, turn off ALL the lights. Before the meal blessing, light the candles, one each for that particular week of Advent. The lighting should be accompanied by prayers, Advent hymns, or readings (made more challenging by the dark, of course), customized by your family’s preferences.

From our faith, we know that we live in a world of darkness and Christ is our only light [Jn 1:3-5]. But our eyes adjust to the darkness, and we can fail to recognize our need for the Uncreated Light. This nightly devotion provides us a perspective on reality. The burning candles become for us, “…a symbol of the prophetic light gradually illuminating the long night prior to the rising of the Sun of justice.” [Directory on Popular Piety, 98]. The subdued light draws the family together and reminds them of Whom is at their center, and that they too are refugees until the day they behold the Eternal Light, gathered with their true family for a feast beyond imagination. After four weeks, even children will anticipate the Infant Jesus more than Santa Claus.

Whether He’s descending the clouds, placed in a manger, or lifted by the hands of a priest, you and your family will welcome the Divine Guest in your heart, and pray with grateful longing, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

For resources on this and other family Advent devotions, visit our Gift Center and view the Advent Workshop at www.catholicculture.org.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Mary, Did You Know?"

Answer: Yes

The Home Nativity Scene

Let thy thoughts be upon the precepts of God, and meditate continually on his commandments: and he will give thee a heart, and the desire of wisdom shall be given to thee. (Wis 6:37)

Ah, yes. Nothing marks the approach of Christmas like the home Nativity scene. This little addition to the home is the most popular and most explicit image of the event we celebrate. What is key, though, in this season of Advent, is not to write off the centuries-old tradition as a mere decoration to enhance the jolly tiding, but to spend time gazing on this scene. Use it for Advent meditation to invite the Baby Jesus into your home and heart. That's it's true purpose.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets this. As in years past, I took an interested role in the Nativity display this year. We have a little hearth grill in our dinette, a grill that's never been used for its intended purpose. This happens to be one of those vacuum spots in the home. I think all homes have these spots located in various places. Although we use the space to house fruit bowls and potato baskets, it inevitably vacuums in all those things that we don't want to put away. Junk mail, cell phones, bills to pay, tools from the garage, prayer cards, recipe books, various pieces from toy sets, refrigerator magnets, etc.

Come Advent, we make it our Nativity location. It has a handy overhead light, and it really stands out as we eat our meals, particularly those meals lighted by the Advent candles. It also keeps the figurines out of reach of the really young ones. The only problem is, old habits die hard.

This year, I took on the Nativity setting on my own. I carefully relocated the potatoes, onions, and the huge fruit platter. All those alien objects also were given a new home. Then the trusty Costco Nativity set was laid out on our added drop cloth and with a homemade backdrop. I resolved to make it a top priority to keep this scene clear in order to facilitate unobscured meditation.

Well, my resolve was not up to the task. And, hey, I have to admit, when we got into the major task of stocking our pantry with yummy homemade Christmas treats (some of which did get sampled early for quality control), even I, Mr. Resolve, resorted to using the hearth grill to gain the needed counter space, being too lazy to clean as we go.

That's okay, I told myself. A momentary laps won't do too much damage. I re-resolved myself. I re-instructed the family. This was to be holy ground, and we shan't desecrate it with profane objects like grocery coupons!
After repeated requests and relocations, I came into the dinette to see tomatoes, fresh from, of all places, Costco, removed from their box and set neatly upon a platter, right there with our other Costco product. Well, no problem. Just pick up the platter, move it, and move on. Hours later, the tomatoes are back, this time without the platter.

Resolve is officially spent. In fact, I think it is easier to change the story than it is to keep foreign objects out of the Nativity scene. So I've decided to just go with it.

So with some slight editing, my favorite hymn, one of the first to rise out of the shadows of Cromwell's England (can you believe they banned Christmas Carols? Those Calvinists were serious killjoys) will need some slight editing.

While farmers watched
their crops by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around

"Fear not," said he,
For trembling
Had seized their tomato-stained hands
"Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all of man,"

"To you in David's
Farm this day
Is born of David's line
The Savior who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign."

"The heavenly Babe
You there shall find
Near ripe tomatoes displayed
And meanly wrapped in swathing bands
And in a havestbasket laid"

Thus spake the seraph,
And forthwith
Appeared among the vines
Of angels praising God, who thus
On gaspacho they did dine

"All glory be to
God on high
And to the earth be peace;
Ketchup henceforth from heaven to men
Begin and never cease!"

I wonder what Cromwell would think of that one? Not that it matters. He never had to worry about keeping a manger scene pristine, that despot.

Friday, December 18, 2009

To Arms! To Arms!

Okay, Armchair Activists. You are being called to call on some critical causes. Don't think about it. You are being implored by trusted sources, so just do it. Do it now, do it often.
Tom Peters is covering the healthcare sham, and he has some things you can do to help. He's asking you thank Senator Nelson for standing up for the unborn, and to remind Senator Casey of his promise and obligation to stand up for the unborn.

And, hey, why you're at it, why not take some actions to kill this avenue for separating you from your money and freedom. Hugh Hewett is one of many sponsoring the Free Our Healthcare Now action.

And, while you're at it, please express your support for the implementation of the new English translation of the mass. Adoro has the details. We have a better chance of getting that done than we have avoiding the government takeover of healthcare (include abortions, contraceptives, and the firing of medical personnel for standing up their religious freedom), but don't let that keep you from supporting the bishops who want to do the right thing and are taking fire from the embedded liberals in every diocese.

Take 15 minutes, save the world, and get back to your day.

A Good Lesson for Advent

This post from the Acton Institute, along with the documentary trailer, really struck me:

Just over a year ago, I traveled with the Acton Institute to Rwanda in preparation for a new project on poverty. Although we were there primarily talking to entrepreneurs about wealth and poverty, it was impossible not to have questions about the 1994 genocide. In less than 100 days, nearly one million people were murdered and tens of thousands were responsible for these deaths. Flying into the country with that knowledge, a mere 14 years later, I didn’t know what to expect. I was anxious and unsettled, the same sort of tension that I felt while visiting Tim’s body at the funeral home. The weight of death stood in stark contrast to such a vibrant culture.

Genocide destroyed Rwanda — socially, economically, and politically. After some measure of stability was restored, the new leaders needed to find a way to further return order and rebuild the infrastructure that was lost. Punishing the murderers and enacting justice was immediately a problem. How do you uphold justice when the guilty are too many to count? The small, landlocked country didn’t have the prison space to lock up all of the killers. With an overwhelming backlog of court cases and little hope of full reparation, Rwanda’s leaders tried something revolutionary. Incarceration and execution were set aside in favor of reconciliation. Beginning in 2003, over 50,000 killers who acknowledged their part in the genocide were released and reintegrated back into society. The doors were opened for genocidaires to live side by side with the surviving members of families they had destroyed.

Advent should help us to face the ugliest elements of our lives, reminded of the shortness of our time to fill the valleys and make low the hills. The Gospel of Gaudette Sunday contains a stark note of caution regarding the One, "...Whose fan is in his hand, and he will purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." Few things can focus the need for repentance like examining those in extreme situations:

Filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson jumps headlong into the tension between the justified victim and the repentant killer. Her hour-long documentary, As We Forgive, tells the personal stories of two women struggling to forgive the men who took their families from them. Hinson also shares the testimonies of the men, wracked with grief and remorse, as they do their best to find forgiveness and rebuild trust. With the help of Rwandan mediation groups, the victims and killers meet face to face in an
attempt to reconcile.

There is nothing forced about the forgiveness process Hinson exposes in As We Forgive. She simply uses the camera as a window through which the audience watches it unfold. The story follows Rosaria, who has already forgiven the man who killed her family. Her journey in the film is one of re-building trust. I liked Rosaria immediately and was amazed by the peace and gentleness that flowed from her, despite the incredible hardships. But not so with another woman, Chantal, who has no desire to meet the man who wronged her. The pain she suffered is tangible and forgiveness is nothing compared to the justice she feels she deserves. Hers is a story of deep grief and a desire to withhold forgiveness.

I will never forget the personal stories I heard from the survivors of the genocide during my visit. The stories of the killers, however, were not told nor did I ask to hear them. Hinson, on the other hand, has the insight to recognize the importance of the guilty men’s accounts. Both men describe the darkness that overcame them and how the weight of their actions has affected their lives. Their burden of guilt is heavy and, although terrified to meet and interact with Rosaria and Chantal, both men do whatever they can to redeem themselves.

Anyone else have trouble forgiving those in the family who squeeze the toothpaste from the top of the tube?

Check out the whole post - I think it's a timely subject. While you're doing that, I'll head out to check Home Depot and see if they rent bulldozers. I've got to ramp-up my leveling project.

Next mystagogue project - avoiding the "righteous anger" crutch. [Oh, how I love that one :( ]

UPDATE - I notice that the author of this post is a new contributor to the Acton Institute blog. She's got an interesting video of her own on Rwanda and poverty. Check this out:

Thoughts on Poverty. from Tabitha Blanski on Vimeo.