This time of year every kid, and dare I say a good number of adults, are eagerly counting down the days to Christmas. As a child, my family had one of those great window Advent calendars where you opened a window daily to reveal a thought or picture inside. It helped us to track where we were in the Advent season. The Church does the same thing through the liturgy and it starts tomorrow on December 17.
The church’s countdown system is called the “O Antiphons.” (Read more…)
I know, Christmas can sometimes be outrageous because of the craziness and the loss of the sacred. That being said, I cannot help but enjoy this infographic even if it means, but for a brief moment in the immortal words of Jane Austin,
For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”
The info is interesting though…
In college I was surprised when a close friend explained her family crèche. It wasn’t the style or the model that caused me to pause. It was the addition of a figurine that I had neither seen nor considered before. This particular set included not only the baby Jesus figurine but an additional Jesus as described in Revelation 19:11-13,
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.
Let’s be honest, nothing says Christmas like an image of Jesus with “eyes blazing like fire and a robe dipped in blood.” (Read more…)
So, it is a private joy of mine to observe some of the arguements among the teens within our youth group. A few weeks ago, the subject was the date of the Solemnity of the
Incarnation (Thanks for the correction Fr. Schierer!) Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas for those who are unaware of the correct name) and how it was chosen. It seems that the theological urban legend of Saturnalia is right now at the forefront. Unfortunately, that would not be correct albeit a very popular theory.
Dr. Taylor Marshall at the Cantebury Tales blog wrote on the subject so beautifully and thoroughly that I thought he should say it. Please, oh please, will all the catechists out there teach your students correctly? December 25 is the historical date for the birth of our Lord.
Posted by Dr. Taylor Marshall
In two previous posts, we examined how the Bible indicates that Christ was born in late December and how Mary and the Apostolic tradition prior to Constantine confirm December 25 as the historical date of Christ’s birth at Bethlehem. Today we turn to our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.Please read:
In 2000, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy that a Jewish tradition holds that Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac on Mount Moriah on March 25. Mount Moriah is Jerusalem (see 2 Chron 34:1), and March 25 is the date on which Christ was crucified on the solar calendar (Easter like the Mosaic Passover is calculated by a lunar phenomenon). I think that you can see that there is a geographical and temporal parallel here. We see that the Father willingly offers His only-begotten Son.Cardinal Ratzinger also noted that March 25 was thought to be the first day of creation. Hence, March 25 has a cosmic significance. His Eminence also describes how the zodiac and Aries relates to this cosmic significance in the Spring, but that is a bit too much for our purposes. The important thing is that March 25 was the traditional date for the creation of the world, for the sacrifice of Abraham, and for the sacrifice of God the Son.On pages 107-108, Cardinal Ratzinger makes the observation that the day of Christ’s death was also reckoned as the day he was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. March 25, then was the annunciation of Gabriel. Add nine months to that and you arrive at December 25 as His birthday.Ratzinger then dismisses what he calls “these old theories” that teach that December 25 was chosen to cover over pagan holidays. Rather, the Holy Father recognizes December 25 as the true birthday of Christ the Lord. He expands that this alignment of meanings has liturgical significance.While we’re on the topic, Pope Saint Leo the Great spoke of the cosmic meaning of Christ’s birth in the depth of winter:
But this Nativity which is to be adored in heaven and on earth is suggested to us by no day more than this when, with the early light still shedding its rays on nature, there is borne in upon our senses the brightness of this wondrous mystery. (St Leo Magnus, Sermo 26)Also, Pope Benedict XIV argued in 1761 that the church fathers would have known the correct date of birth from Roman census records.Merry Christmas!
Starting today, the Church celebrates a Trinitarian festival of love through the feasts of martyrs. Each martyr(s) is unique in the manner in which they died. Martyrs offer their lives through will, love and blood. These feasts of martyrs include:
Why celebrate the martyrs immediately after Christmas? Good question. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) speaks of a short clown allegory that I believe is fitting to help us understand:
It happened in a theatre that the coulisses caught fire. The Clown was sent to inform the public. It took this as a joke and applauded; he repeated; they jubilated even more. Thus I think that the World will perish under general jubilation from witty heads believing that it is a witticism. (Either/Or, Vol. 1)
Cardinal Ratzinger used this allegory at the beginning of his book, Introduction to Christianity, p.94:
To meet the challenge of Christian belief head on, without watering down or making it seem more ‘reasonable.’
He wants the world to understand that Catholic-Christians, and especially her clergy are not fancy-looking clowns. When one looks at the themes in his writings, we see that he is truly concerned with the problem of relativism. He seems to see this as the core of the modern plight. In fact, in his homily that began the papal conclave after the passing of Pope John II of happy memory, he shared his concern that the next pontiff would need to address this issue head-on. His homiletic exposition, complete with a snappy tagline i.e., dictatorship of relativism, was expressed this way:
Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism – that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there carried about by every wind of doctrine” – seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times, We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires (The Holy See, Homily of His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: Mass ‘Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice,’).
John L. Allen, Jr. interviewed Cardinal Francis George following a press conference at North American College the day after the papal election (Jankunas, The Dictatorship of Relativism, p.vii). When asked about the homily, Allen says that Cardinal George made a historical comparison between Popes John II and Benedict XVI saying:
There was a fault line in the Soviet empire that brought it down….It’s concern for social justice was corrupted by the suppression of freedom…in the West, there’s also a fault line between concern for personal freedom and the abandonment of objective truth. (Allen, The Rise of Benedict XVI, p.166)
These feasts are so important to us because the witness of blood and love which are all based on the objective truth that Jesus is the Lord – even for those who did not actively choose the Christ. Closer to home, they are witnesses to the modern need to live less interested in ourselves and more interested in living a life that is uncompromising in every respect.
I also cannot help but mention that today is also the feast of St.Stephen the Proto-martyr. For deacons, especially permanent deacons, today is the institution of our ministry in blood. It also set in history the tone for our ministry. In fact, the restoration in the West is closely linked to being a visible witness to the gospel in the marketplace.
To all my brother deacons, Happy Feast Day!!! May we proclaim the gospel “worthily and well” and be a witness (preferably without blood) to the objective truth that Jesus Christ, incarnate of the Virgin Mary, is Lord.
The Church today has named this Third Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday. As we all know, Gaudete means joy but it is a very specific type of joy – a subdued, subtle joy. Not a full blown joy but more of a quiet “yay”. Why is that? Because we are still in a penitential season. The Christmas carols are not yet supposed to be playing, or at least, not constantly and at full blast. Of course that is a little hard at the office or on the Metro. That being said, we should be preparing for Christmas with an attitude of quiet and stillness. The words of Psalm 46:10 come to mind,
Be still and know that I am God.
If we do not embrace this season of Advent, how are we supposed to hear what obstacles the Lord desires to remove from our lives? If we do not make room for him in our heart, He once again will hear that there is no room in the inn. We try to practice this at every liturgy when we say,
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
Seriously, and let’s be honest, have we used the last two weeks to make room in our hearts for the revelation or the unveiling of His presence that He desires for us at Christmas? How are we to experience Christmas joy if we are celebrating up to that day? He has a special joy for us but it means we first must be still and quiet.
But there is a more important reason for us who claim Christ as our Lord and our love. Literally two weeks ago, speaking about the United States, Pope Benedict said:
“Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts” (Pope Benedict XVI, To the Bishops from the United States of America on their ad Limina visit, Nov. 26, 2011).
We need to use this time of preparation because it is our duty and obligation to provide a reason and a context for this season…
Yesterday, I had the privilege of baptizing two baby boys, Daniel and Joshua who can now say with the prophet Isaiah,
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; (Isaiah 61:1a)
We who have been baptized also share in that anointing and thus we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to:
bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners,(Isaiah 61:1b)
In imitation of John the Baptist, we need to be that,
“voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’”(John 1:23, cf. Isaiah 40:3)
Over the next two weeks, many of us here will be at holiday parties. And, while the culture encourages, much to its credit, a season of generosity and gift-giving…I look around and cannot help but wonder if it is not a distraction for hearts in which “the love of God has grown cold.” Bishop Loverde shared this week that he sees in the culture (and the Church) that Advent does not seem to build
“toward the coming (adventus) and reliving of the Christ Child’s birth in our lives, but rather toward some blend of sentimentalism, vacation and entertainment.”
We will inevitably meet those who are not practicing Christians and who are looking at us…looking at me asking, “Does he have something that I do not? Is he any different because of Christ? Why does he celebrate this season?”
Are you still celebrating?” I hope you are! The Christmas season isn’t over yet. The last day of the Christmas season is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (don’t sigh, it used to continue until Candlemas, February 2). And so, with Vespers this Sunday, all the celebrating ceases and we get back to the hum-drum of our Lord’s life…or do we? Maybe Ordinary time would not be so ordinary, if we took a minute or two to consider how the Solemnity of the Incarnation has prepared us for the rest of the Church year.
Michael Card, a Christian artist, released a song in 1987 entitled, The Final Word. The lyrics are worth a short read:
You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father’s wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.
He spoke the incarnation, and then so was born a Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born a baby who would die to make it mine.
And so the Father’s fondest thought became flesh and blood.
He spoke the living luminous word, at once His will was done.
And so the transformation that in man had been unheard,
Took place in God the Father as he spoke that final Word.
And so the Light became alive and manna became Man.
Eternity stepped into time so we could understand.
Michael Card sums up Christmas, and all the associated celebrations, with the lines, “When the Father’s wisdom wanted to communicate His love, He spoke it in one final perfect Word. He spoke the Incarnation, and then so was born a Son.” This alone should make our hearts leap for joy! The Father has made the deliberate choice to reveal the mystery of His love through the Word made Flesh.
Going deeper, we quickly realize that the Incarnation is the door through which the human body enters into theology. Even more importantly, upon reflection, we suddenly become aware that the human person finds its deepest meaning only when understood through the person of Jesus. Venerable John Paul II constantly reminded us of this and loved to quote throughout his Pontificate, the words found in paragraph 22 of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World(Gadium et Spes),
The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light…by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear (n. 22).
Our understanding of who we are is directly rooted, and thus finds its origin, in the Incarnation. Even our theology must finds its locus and be guided by the conception and birth of the Christ-child. John Paul II writes in Fides et Ratio,
The chief purpose of theology is to provide an understanding of revelation and the content of faith. The very heart of theological inquiry will thus be the contemplation of the mystery of the Triune God. The approach to this mystery begins with reflection upon the mystery of the Incarnation (n. 93).
The Solemnity of the Incarnation is not just the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. It is the “decoder ring” as it were for understanding God Himself. This in turn, becomes the very foundation of our Christian Anthropology which helps us answer the deepest questions in our lives, “Who am I? What is my purpose?”. We cannot even begin discussing the rest of the mysteries of our faith without a proper understanding of the Incarnation. In other words, as a speaker I once heard said,
If the language of Israel is Hebrew and the language of Islam is Arabic, the language of Christianity is the body.
How we understand the Incarnation must affect the way we view the rest of our theology. Our catechesis has always taught us that Original Sin necessitated the Incarnation for our redemption. St. Thomas, using St. Augustine’s formulation (De Verb. Apost. viii, 2), when responding to three objections, as he answered the question, “Whether, if man had not sinned, God would have become incarnate?” says,
Therefore, if man had not sinned, the Son of Man would not have come. And on 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners,” a gloss says, “There was no cause of Christ’s coming into the world, except to save sinners. Take away diseases, take away wounds, and there is no need of medicine.” (ST III, Q. 1, Art. 3, sed contra)
In the end, the Incarnation was simply a remedy for sin. Being a self-proclaimed Thomist, it pains me to say that I think there is a deeper mystery to consider apart from St. Thomas’ (and St. Augustine’s) position. In fact, I believe that the Franciscan Blessed John Don Scotus has something to add to the discussion. Peter J. Leithart, during his discussion on Necessary Incarnation, explains the Scotian position as such,
For [Scotus] the Incarnation apart from the Fall was not merely a most convenient assumption, but rather an indispensable doctrinal presupposition. The Incarnation of the Son of God was for him the very reason of the whole Creation…The main emphasis of Duns Scotus was on the unconditional and primordial character of the Divine decree of the Incarnation, seen in the total perspective of Creation.
In other words, from all eternity, God the Father called forth creation in order to have a place for us to encounter His Son in the flesh. WOW!!!! Many of the mystics (i.e., Sts. Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, etc.) would take it a step further and say that from all eternity the Father intended to give a bride to His Son and creation is His bridal chamber. The Incarnation then is the only way for humanity to encounter its heart’s desire.
This Scotian view can also found also in the thought and writings of two immanent Doctor’s of the Church: St. Lawrence of Brindisi, the Apostolic Doctor and Doctor of Conversions and Missions and St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of Love of God.
St. Lawrence of Brindisi wrote,
God is love, and all his operations proceed from love. Once he wills to manifest that goodness by sharing his love outside himself, then the Incarnation becomes the supreme manifestation of his goodness and love and glory. So, Christ was intended before all other creatures and for his own sake. For him all things were created and to him all things must be subject, and God loves all creatures in and because of Christ. Christ is the first-born of every creature, and the whole of humanity as well as the created world finds its foundation and meaning in him. Moreover, this would have been the case even if Adam had not sinned.
Additionally, St. Francis de Sales, the great Doctor of God’s Love wrote with some of the most beautiful words in discussing the why of creation. Fr. Lewis Fiorelli, O.S.F.S., in an essay appearing in: Human Encounter in the Salesian Tradition (Rome: international Commission for Salesian Spirituality, 2007) pp. 399-408, argues convincingly this de Sales Scotian view. By way of example, he says,
Many texts from de Sales could be cited in support of his Scotian understanding of the relationship between creation and Incarnation, but the words of his final Christmas sermon are especially apt. Just as a contractor designs a house that will suit the personality and wishes of his client, “the eternal Father did just that in creating this world. For his intention was to create it for his Son who is the Eternal Word.”
Fr. Fiorelli continues and discusses how St. Francis de Sales in his Treatise on the Love of God speaks of the Incarnation as “God’s Kiss to Creation.” I don’t think there is a more beautiful image to share with our wives and children-that the Word made Flesh is God the Father’s kiss to creation. From here, one has to admit that the rest of Jesus’ life is a wooing of his Bride into this eternal love affair. Every action, ever gesture now explodes with meaning with the understanding that Jesus called forth creation in order to woo His Bride.
In one sense, we suddenly understand that the cosmos was created, just because He wanted to present a gift to His Bride. Continuing that train of thought, in an age that needs to know the “why” to everything, the answer to the popular question, “Why did He created the billions of stars and galaxies if we are the only rational life?” is “Because He could. He desired to capture the love and affections of our hearts with sheer magnanimous beauty.” And, isn’t that what a Bridegroom does? Doesn’t He adorn His bride and her bridal suite so as to prepare her for that personal exchange of love?
It is true that regardless of our speculation, the Fall of Man happened – non contendere! But it is also true that the love of God for us is beyond compare. Is it so hard to believe that if He was walking and talking with Adam and Eve in the Garden that he would not want to further unite our hearts to His in eternal love? To embrace this Scotian view does not cheapen but only deepens our understanding of God’s love for us.
And, how did we get to these considerations? All of this because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
Who does not remember growing up singing about the three Wise guys…Sorry, I meant the three wise men? You remember the tune, “We three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar…” All of our créches have those Kings bowing before the Holy Family offering their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. What would our Nativity scenes be like without them? Actually, now that I think about it, the better questions are: “Who are these three Wise men” and “What is Scripture trying to tell us through them?”
To start, we should recognize that the Church found this event so important that the second Sunday following the Solemnity of the Incarnation is reserved for the universal Church to celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany. At the core, it is a celebration of not only the revelation of the Christ child to three Kings but a revelation of self-offering of these three strangers to the babe of Bethlehem.
When we investigate further, we first observe that Scripture does not say how many came to adore the Lord. Secondly, while most of our biblical translations say “wise men”, the Holy Writ actually calls them Magi (Greek μάγοι, mago):
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)
Antiquity treats the Magi very differently from wise men. Our notion of wise men though, is a result of the 1611 translation of the King James Version Bible. It has been passed on since – much to our detriment.
Magi on the other hand, carried a very different connotation and in fact, penalty. The Magi were actually those associated with the occult and necromancy. Historically, the term was first used to describe the priestly cast in Zoroastrianism. The English term for magic is a result of the practices associated with the Magi.
As you might already know, shepherds were considered the lowest of Jewish society. Rabbinic law recounts that a shepherd’s testimony was not acceptable in court or any legal proceedings. Ironically, Israel’s greatest leader and prophets were shepherds (i.e., King David, Moses, Amos, etc.). Even with their lowly status, it is to the shepherds that the angels first announce our Lord’s birth:
While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:6-15)
Now, there was one group lower than the shepherds. Yep, the Magi. There is an ancient Rabbinic saying that states, “Let anyone who learns anything from a Magi be accursed by God.” Could you imagine what the Jews and Bethlehem were thinking when the shepherds and Magi came to see Jesus? It would be like every junkie, bookie, and gangster showing up at your doorstep in Mayberry.
You may remember the Acts of the Apostles recount that Peter cursed Simon Magus (Acts 8: 9-13) and Paul cursed Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:6-11). The Magi were known for craving control over people and the elements regardless of the cost. And yet, they were the second to submit themselves to the Lord.
We should also clear up the issue concerning their gifts. In the ancient world, it would be inappropriate, down-right insulting actually, to offer a King gifts. Why? Everything in the Kingdom is His. The King to whom you submitted everything you owned was already His possession. And, Jesus, the King of the universe, is there anything material or immaterial that is not His possession? You would, on the other hand, offer a tribute. In other words, the best example of your skills applied to His material. So artists would provide their greatest works, farmers their best produce, and so forth. What did the Magi have to offer then?
Historians share with us that myrrh was used to create the special ink the Magi employed to write their incantations. Gold was then added to the ink to increase the potency of the incantation while frankincense was rubbed into the papyrus to seal and “eternalize” the spell, hex or curse. These offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the King of Kings were not to increase the Holy Family’s wealth or to get an early start on Jesus’ burial, but were the greatest tools of the Magi’s trade. What should this teach us?
Many of us live our lives as if everything we have purchased or that comes into our possession is ours to do with as we please. In a certain and very limited sense, this is true. The first lesson is that it would be more correct, to recognize that we are but stewards of his manifold gifts and graces (1 Peter 4:10). We should adopt a posture of thankfulness and magnanimity with all our possessions because they are not ours. It is the King’s right to reclaim or withhold them at any time. And we should not be upset when it happens because we know that it is also His responsibility to provide for His servants. Jesus reminds us of this when He says,
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles [eagerly] seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Matthew 6: 31-33) Emphasis mine.
The second lesson is that all we do is for the tribute of the King whether in work or pleasure – it makes no difference. We should be developing our skills for the service of the King, His Kingdom and the inhabitants of said Kingdom. I think we have forgotten that there is no vacation from our vocation and that all we do is a reflection upon our King.
The Epiphany is a wake-up call. It is a celebration in which we offer the King our best and greatest tribute. And, the only things we have to offer is ourselves and everything we do – without reserve. We are not supposed to give Him our leftovers, but our first fruits.
Maybe, with our families, we can reflect this Sunday on the following questions: