Tuesday, December 27, 2005

It's Dated Dec. 25th, It Talks About the Bible, ...
This Doesn't Violate the Moratorium -- Does It? :-)

Falling birth rates not just a problem in Europe

December 25, 2005


"But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John."

If, like increasing numbers of Europeans, you have "some problems with conventional organized religion" (as Harry Potter's J.K. Rowling puts it), you've probably forgotten that bit from the Christmas story. It's Luke 1:13, part of what he'd have called the back story, if he'd been a Hollywood screenwriter rather than a physician.

Only two of the gospels tell the story of Christ's birth. Mark plunges straight into the son of God's grown-up life: He was writing for a Roman audience and, from their perspective, what's important is not where Jesus came from but what he did once he got going. But Matthew was writing for the Jews, and so he dwells on Jesus and his parents mainly to connect the king of the Jews with all that had gone before: He starts with a long family tree tracing Joseph's ancestry back to Abraham.

Like Mark, Luke was writing for a gentile crowd. But, like Matthew, he also dwelt on Jesus' birth and family. And he begins with the tale of two pregnancies. Before Mary's virgin birth, he tells the story of her cousin Elisabeth: Zacharias is surprised to discover his impending fatherhood -- "for I am an old man and my wife well stricken in years."

Nonetheless, an aged, barren woman conceives and, in the sixth month of Elisabeth's pregnancy, the angel visits her cousin Mary and tells her that she, too, will conceive.

If you read Luke, the virgin birth seems a logical extension of the earlier miracle -- the pregnancy of an elderly lady. The physician-author had no difficulty accepting both. For Matthew, Jesus' birth is the miracle. Luke leaves you with the impression that all birth -- all life -- is to a degree miraculous and God-given.

There's a lot of that in the Old Testament, too, of course -- going right back to Adam and Eve, and God's injunction to go forth and multiply. Or as Yip Harburg explained in his rollicking biblical precis in the show ''Finian's Rainbow'':

''Then she looked at him

And he looked at her

And they knew immediately

What the world was fer.

He said 'Give me my cane.'

He said 'Give me my hat.'

The time has come

To begin the Begat.''

Confronted with all the begetting in the Old Testament, the modern mind says, ''Well, naturally, these primitive societies were concerned with children. They needed someone to provide for them in their old age.'' In advanced Western society, we don't have to worry about that; we automatically have someone to provide for us in our old age: the state.

But the state -- at least in its modern social-democratic welfare incarnation -- needs children at least as much as those old-time Jews did. And the problem with much of the advanced world is that, like Elisabeth, it's barren. Collectively barren, I hasten to add. Individually, it's made up of millions of fertile women, who voluntarily opt for no children at all or one designer kid at 39. In Italy, the home of the Church, the birth rate's down to 1.2 children per couple -- or about half ''replacement rate.'' You can't buck that kind of arithmetic.

Here's a story from Friday's Japan Times:

''Japan's population has started shrinking for the first time this year, health ministry data showed Thursday, presenting the government with pressing challenges on the social and economic front, including ensuring provision of social security services and securing the labor force.''

Happy New Year, guys! And, as the reporter adds, ''Japan joins Germany and Italy in the ranks of countries where a decline in population has already set in.'' And don't forget Russia, which is even further ahead in the demographic death spiral. Of the great powers of the 20th century, America's still healthy birth rate, like its still healthy Christianity, is now an anomaly.

Demography is not necessarily destiny. Today's high Muslim birth rates will fall, and probably fall dramatically, as the Roman Catholic birth rates in Italy, Ireland and Quebec have. But demographics is a game of last man standing. It's no consolation that Muslim birth rates will be as bad as yours in 2050 if yours are off the cliff right now. The last people around in any numbers will determine the kind of society we live in.

You can sort of feel that happening already. ''Multiculturalism'' implicitly accepts that, for a person of broadly Christian heritage, Christianity is an accessory, an option; whereas, for a person of Muslim background, Islam is a given. That's why, as practiced by Buckinghamshire County Council in England, multiculturalism means All Saints Church can't put up one sheet of paper announcing its Christmas carol service on the High Wycombe Library notice board, but, inside the library, Rehana Nazir, the ''multicultural services librarian,'' can host a party to celebrate Eid.

To those of us watching Europe from afar, it seems amazing that no Continental politician is willing to get to grips with the real crisis facing Europe in the 21st century: the lack of Europeans. If America believes in the separation of church and state, in radically secularist Europe the state is the church, as Jacques Chirac's ban on head scarves, crucifixes and skull caps made plain. Alas, it's an insufficient faith.

By contrast, if Christianity is merely a ''myth,'' it's truly an immaculately conceived one, beginning with the decision to establish Christ's divinity in the miracle of his birth. The obligation to have children may be a lot of repressive Catholic mumbo-jumbo, but it's also highly rational. What's irrational is modern Eutopia's indifference to new life.

A year or so back, I had a conversation with an European Union official who, apropos a controversial proposal to tout the Continent's religious heritage in the new constitution, kept using the phrase ''Europe's post-Christian future.'' He used the phrase approvingly. But the evidence suggests that, once you reach the post-Christian stage, you don't have much of a future. Luke, a man of faith and a man of science, could have told them that.

©Mark Steyn, 2005

Thursday, December 22, 2005

They Defended our Right to Observe the Reason for the Season

I saw this picture from Arlington National Cemetery linked from Michelle Malkin's blog. In your prayers this Christmas, please remember the men and women of our Armed Forces who died defending us, thereby ensuring that we can openly celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
And may perpetual light shine upon them.

May the souls of the faithfully departed
through the mercy of God rest in peace.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

December 18, 2005

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Old Calendar: Fourth Sunday of Advent
Today is the second of the O Antiphons, O Adonai (O Almighty God). As Moses approached the burning bush, so we approach the divine Savior in the form of a child in the crib, or in the form of the consecrated host, and falling down we adore Him. "Put off the shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground . . . I am who am." "Come with an outstretched arm to redeem us." This is the cry of the Church for the second coming of Christ on the last day. The return of the Savior brings us plentiful redemption.

2nd O Antiphon:

And leader of the house of Israel, who Appeared to Moses in the bush's flaming fire, And gave to him the Law on Sinai,

To redeem us with outstretched arm.

Thou art He "who didst appear to Moses in the burning bush." "I have seen the affliction of My people in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of the rigor of them that are over the works. And knowing their sorrow, I am come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land, into a land that floweth with milk and honey" (Exod. 3:7 f.). Thus spoke the Lord to Moses from the bush which burned but was not consumed, which is a figure of God's condescension to assume the weakness of human nature. The human nature of Christ is united to the burning divine nature, and yet it is not consumed.

As Moses approached the burning bush, so we approach the divine Savior in the form of a child in the crib, or in the form of the consecrated host, and falling down we adore Him. "Put off the shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. . . . I am who am" (Exod. 3:5, 14).

O Adonai, almighty God! Mighty in the weakness of a child, and in the helplessness of the Crucified! Thou, almighty God, mighty in the wonders that Thou hast worked! Mighty in guiding, sustaining, and developing Thy Church! "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).

"Come with an outstretched arm to redeem us." This is the cry of the Church for the second coming of Christ on the last day. The return of the Savior brings us plentiful redemption. "Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you" (Matt. 25-34).

Excerpted from The Light of the World by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.

Now Back to the Moratorium

Here's another great post from a milblog, again via Michelle Malkin. (And just because it involved Iraq, doesn't mean it's political ;-)

More Civil Affairs

In another recent letter from Brian:

I have a new story from last night that is pretty neat. We got a call fairly late in the evening that two Iraqi nationals were up at the hospital and needed to be picked up. Evidently they had been treated in Baghdad and flown here, which shouldn’t have happened, and the hospital that released them expected someone here to get them back to their town.

Nobody really knew what to do with them, so they called us, since we are civil affairs. We went to the hospital and that’s where the story begins. When we got there we found out that it was an Iraqi man and his grandson. The grandson has cerebral palsy and had somehow got a hold of some kerosene where he lives and drank some of it. When the American military found out, they put him on a helicopter along with his grandfather and flew him to Baghdad for treatment.

We brought one of our interpreters so we could communicate, then figured out what to do. Evidently a flight in the morning had already been identified for them, so we just had to put them somewhere for the evening, since the hospital here refused to let them stay over night, saying, “We’re not a hotel”, which I thought was a little ridiculous.

Well, we decided to put them up for the night at the local mosque, because we know the caretaker really well and work with him often on various projects. This all took a couple of hours to figure out so by this time the child had fallen asleep so I wrapped him up in his blanket and carried the little guy out to the truck to take them over there. He didn’t wake up until we got outside and into the cold air but when he did, he didn’t seem afraid at all that a stranger was carrying him. It seemed like he knew that he could trust us, and when we got to the mosque and I went to get him back out of the truck he reached for me and put his little arm around my neck when I carried him inside. I guess it made quite an impression on the mosque caretaker as well, because he told our interpreter a little later that he was very moved by it. He told her it was such a sight to see an American carrying an Iraqi child as if it was his own. Like he was carrying him to safety. I’m not sure how much the child knew what was going on, but when I laid him on the bed they had ready for him, he looked up at me and smiled.

The caretaker and his wife invited us to stay for tea (a common custom in this culture) so we sat down and visited with them and the grandfather of the child. As it turns out, the grandfather is a village elder where he is from and holds a significant amount of authority and power. He had never dealt face to face with Americans and kept saying how impressed and amazed he was with us. He said that he watched all of us work and he had never seen a group of people that work day and night every day without tiring and that work together so efficiently. He had been in the Iraqi military years ago and said that it couldn’t compare to the level of efficiency and effort of our American military. He also couldn’t believe that we would do so much for a man that we had never met before and did not know. That we would fly his grandson all the way to Baghdad, treat him, and get them back home. He couldn’t believe that we all cared so much about people we didn’t know, and that my fellow Marines and I would take time to sit and talk with him and look after their well being. He kept saying, “Look, you are all officers and you talk to me and look after me. I am nothing.”

Judging from the stories he was telling, evidently he had been fed the propaganda that the Americans were conquerors and that we had come to “swallow Iraq up.” With reference to me carrying his grandson and us treating and looking after them he said, “Look, this is not how conquerors behave.” Our interpreter said that he kept repenting for the way he had thought and for what he had done before, which led us to believe that he had probably supported the insurgency in one way or another. He repeatedly said that he would go back to his home and tell everyone about the Americans and how we really are. That we are here to help them and to help rebuild their country and give them a better life. Since he probably has quite a bit of local influence, this could be pretty good for our cause. Who knows, maybe we helped prevent some insurgent activity and possibly saved a couple of American lives down the road somewhere. I hope so.

After tea we left for the night, then came back early in the morning and got them on the flight back to their home. I was left with a good feeling about the whole experience. This is one of those things you don’t get to see on the news. How we completely changed someone’s mind about what Americans are like and how we were able to save a little Iraqi child. The man assured us that under the old regime before we were here, his grandson certainly would not have been flown to Baghdad and treated and saved. When we said goodbye to the man, he shook my hand and blessed me and wished me long life. That was pretty neat.
Christmas Moratorium* Temporarily Held in Abeyance

Michelle Malkin had a link to this blog and I couldn't resist posting it:

US Troops Terrorize Iraqi Family

December 14, 2005 Staff Sgt. Carlswell, from 23rd Infantry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, greets an Iraqi family at a traffic control point in Mosul, during pre-election security operations. Photo by Staff Sgt. James H. Christopher III

The horror!!! Look at the wrist lock he’s employing on that innocent child!!!

Coach TC
12/15 at 06:23 AM •
(27) comment • (1) pingsPermalink
Page 1 of 1 pages

In case you're curious, the moratorium was on posting. I'm still reading political magazines, blogs, etc. -- I'm just not blogging on politics during the Christmas season. :-)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

See Advent’s Meaning Through Mary

Pope Benedict XVI
Nov. 26, 2005

(courtesy www.catholicculture.org)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With the celebration of First Vespers of the First Sunday in Advent we are beginning a new liturgical year. In singing the psalms together, we have raised our hearts to God, placing ourselves in the spiritual attitude that marks this season of grace: “vigilance in prayer” and “exultation in praise” (cf. Roman Missal, Advent Preface, II/A).

Taking as our model Mary Most Holy, who teaches us to live by devoutly listening to the Word of God, let us reflect on the short Bible reading just proclaimed.

It consists of two verses contained in the concluding part of the First Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). The first expresses the Apostle’s greeting to the community: The second offers, as it were, the guarantee of its fulfillment.

The hope expressed is that each one may be made holy by God and preserved irreproachable in his entire person — “spirit, soul and body” — for the final coming of the Lord Jesus; the guarantee that this can happen is offered by the faithfulness of God himself, who will not fail to bring to completion the work he has begun in believers.

This First Letter to the Thessalonians is the first of all St. Paul’s Letters, written probably in the year 51. In this first letter we can feel, more than in the others, the Apostle’s pulsating heart, his paternal, indeed we can say maternal, love for this new community. And we also feel his anxious concern that the faith of this new Church not die, surrounded as she was by a cultural context in many regards in opposition to the faith.

Thus, Paul ends his letter with a hope, or we might almost say with a prayer. The content of the prayer we have heard is that they [the Thessalonians] should be holy and irreproachable to the moment of the Lord’s coming. The central word of this prayer is “coming.” We should ask ourselves what does “coming of the Lord” mean? In Greek it is “parousia,” in Latin “adventus,” “advent,” “coming.” What is this “coming”? Does it involve us or not?

To understand the meaning of this word, hence, of the Apostle’s prayer for this community and for communities of all times — also for us — we must look at the person through whom the coming of the Lord was uniquely brought about: the Virgin Mary.

Mary belonged to that part of the people of Israel who in Jesus’ time were waiting with heartfelt expectation for the Savior’s coming. And from the words and acts recounted in the Gospel, we can see how she truly lived steeped in the prophets’ words; she entirely expected the Lord’s coming.

She could not, however, have imagined how this coming would be brought about. Perhaps she expected a coming in glory. The moment when the Archangel Gabriel entered her house and told her that the Lord, the Savior, wanted to take flesh in her, wanted to bring about his coming through her, must have been all the more surprising to her.

We can imagine the Virgin’s apprehension. Mary, with a tremendous act of faith and obedience, said “yes”: “I am the servant of the Lord.” And so it was that she became the “dwelling place” of the Lord, a true “temple” in the world and a “door” through which the Lord entered upon the earth.

We have said that this coming was unique: “the” coming of the Lord. Yet there is not only the final coming at the end of time: In a certain sense the Lord always wants to come through us. And he knocks at the door of our hearts: Are you willing to give me your flesh, your time, your life?

This is the voice of the Lord who also wants to enter our epoch, he wants to enter human life through us. He also seeks a living dwelling place in our personal lives. This is the coming of the Lord. Let us once again learn this in the season of Advent: The Lord can also come among us.

Therefore we can say that this prayer, this hope, expressed by the Apostle, contains a fundamental truth that he seeks to inculcate in the faithful of the community he founded and that we can sum up as follows: God calls us to communion with him, which will be completely fulfilled in the return of Christ, and he himself strives to ensure that we will arrive prepared for this final and decisive encounter. The future is, so to speak, contained in the present, or better, in the presence of God himself, who in his unfailing love does not leave us on our own or abandon us even for an instant, just as a father and mother never stop caring for their children while they are growing up.

Before Christ who comes, men and women are defined in the whole of their being, which the Apostle sums up in the words “spirit, soul and body,” thereby indicating the whole of the human person as a unit with somatic, psychic and spiritual dimensions. Sanctification is God’s gift and his project, but human beings are called to respond with their entire being without excluding any part of themselves.

It is the Holy Spirit himself who formed in the Virgin’s womb Jesus, the perfect Man, who brings God’s marvelous plan to completion in the human person, first of all by transforming the heart and from this center, all the rest.

Thus, the entire work of creation and redemption which God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, continues to bring about, from the beginning to the end of the cosmos and of history, is summed up in every individual person. And since the first coming of Christ is at the center of the history of humanity and at its end, his glorious return, so every personal existence is called to be measured against him — in a mysterious and multiform way — during the earthly pilgrimage, in order to be found “in him” at the moment of his return.

May Mary Most Holy, the faithful Virgin, guide us to make this time of Advent and of the whole new liturgical year a path of genuine sanctification, to the praise and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent

December 17 marks the beginning of the O Antiphons, the seven jewels of our liturgy, dating back to the fourth century, one for each day until Christmas Eve. These antiphons address Christ with seven magnificent Messianic titles, based on the Old Testament prophecies and types of Christ. The Church recalls the variety of the ills of man before the coming of the Redeemer.

1st O Antiphon:
Who hast issued from the mouth of the Most High, Reaching from end even unto end, Ordering all things indomitably yet tenderly,

To teach us the way of prudence.
Divine Wisdom clothes itself in the nature of a man. It conceals itself in the weakness of a child. It chooses for itself infancy, poverty, obedience, subjection, obscurity. “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the prudence of the prudent I will reject. . . . Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of our preaching, to save them that believe. For both the Jews require signs, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews, indeed, a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. . . . But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the strong. And the base things of the world and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen, and the things that are not, that He might bring to naught the things that are” (I Cor. 1:19 ff.).

  • Come, O divine Wisdom, teach us the way of knowledge. We are unwise; we judge and speak according to the vain standards of the world, which is foolishness in the eyes of God.
  • Come, O divine Wisdom, give us the true knowledge and the taste for what is eternal and divine. Inspire us with a thirst for God’s holy will, help us seek God’s guidance and direction, enlighten us in the teachings of the holy gospel, make us submissive to Thy holy Church. Strengthen us in the forgetfulness of self, and help us to resign ourselves to a position of obscurity if that be Thy holy will. Detach our hearts from resurgent pride. Give us wisdom that we may understand that “but one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:42). “For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matt. 16:26.) The Holy Spirit would have us know that one degree of grace is worth more than all worldly possessions.

Excerpted from The Light of the World by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.
(Courtesy of www.catholicculture.org)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

"As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us"

If a stranger brutally injured you, would you show mercy to your attacker? Victoria Ruvolo did exactly that in October, 2005, at the sentencing of Ryan Cushing, a 19-year-old whose "prank" had nearly killed her.

Ruvolo, 45, of Lake Ronkonkoma, New York, was on her way to hear her niece sing in a recital when her car passed Cushing's. He was riding with five other teens who had just gone on a spending spree with a stolen credit card at a nearby supermarket. One of their purchases? A frozen, 20-pound turkey. Cushing decided to toss the turkey into oncoming traffic, and when he did, it smashed through Ruvolo's windshield, crushing her face. It took 10 hours in the operating room at Stony Brook University Hospital, a medically induced coma, and a month in the hospital before, miraculously, Ruvolo was able to go home. She still had a tracheotomy tube. Months of painful rehabilitation followed.

During her ordeal, Ruvolo was in touch with Cushing, who wept and expressed remorse for his action. At his sentencing on October 17, 2005, Ruvolo asked the judge for leniency. Part of her statement read: "Despite all the fear and the pain, I have learned from this horrific experience, and I have much to be thankful for.. Each day when I wake up, I thank God simply because I am alive. I sincerely hope you have also learned from this awful experience, Ryan. There is no room for vengeance in my life, and I do not believe a long, hard prison term would do you, me, or society any good."

Cushing was sentenced to six months in jail. He could have gotten a 25-year prison sentence had Ruvolo not intervened. Ruvolo added: "I truly hope that by demonstrating compassion and leniency I have encouraged you to seek an honorable life. If my generosity will help you mature into a responsible, honest man, whose graciousness is a source of pride to your loved ones and your community, then I will be truly gratified, and my suffering will not have been in vain..Ryan, prove me right."

Ruvolo, an animal lover with four cats and a dog, all rescued, told the media, "What would vengeance do? God gave me a second chance, and I'm just passing it on."

Courtesy: Beliefnet.com

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

How Penguins Commit Suicide

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Christ Was Born for Our Salvation

Pope John Paul II
Homily at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1998)

1. "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy.... For to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2: 10-11).

On this Holy Night, the liturgy invites us to celebrate with joy the great event of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. As we have just heard in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is born into a family poor by material standards, but rich in joy. He is born in a stable, for there is no place for him in the inn (cf. Lk 2: 7); he is placed in a manger, for there is no cradle for him; he comes into the world completely helpless, without anyone's knowledge, and yet he is welcomed and recognized first by the shepherds, who hear from the angel the news of his birth.

The event conceals a mystery. It is revealed by the choirs of heavenly messengers who sing of Jesus' birth and proclaim glory "to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased" (Lk 2: 14). Through the ages their praise becomes a prayer which rises from the hearts of the throngs who on Christmas Night continue to welcome the Son of God.

2. Mysterium: event and mystery. A man is born, who is the Eternal Son of the Almighty Father, the Creator of heaven and earth: in this extraordinary event the mystery of God is revealed. In the Word who becomes man the miracle of the Incarnate God is made manifest. The mystery sheds light on the event of the birth: a baby is adored by the shepherds in the lowly stable, at Bethlehem. He is "the Saviour of the world", "Christ the Lord" (cf. Lk 2: 11). Their eyes see a newborn child, wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in a manger and in that "sign", thanks to the inner light of faith, they recognize the Messiah proclaimed by the prophets.

3. This is Emmanuel, God-with-us, who comes to fill the earth with grace. He comes into the world in order to transform creation. He becomes a man among men, so that in him and through him every human being can be profoundly renewed. By his birth he draws us all into the sphere of the divine, granting to those who in faith open themselves to receiving his gift the possibility of sharing in his own divine life.

This is the meaning of the salvation which the shepherds hear proclaimed that night in Bethlehem: "To you is born a Saviour" (Lk 2: 11). The coming of Christ among us is the centre of history, which thereafter takes on a new dimension. In a way, it is God himself who writes history by entering into it. The event of the Incarnation thus broadens to embrace the whole of human history, from creation until the Second Coming. This is why in the liturgy all creation sings, voicing its own joy: the floods clap their hands, all the trees of the wood sing for joy, and the many coastlands are glad (cf. Ps 98: 8; 96: 12; 97: 1).

Every creature on the face of the earth receives the proclamation. In the astonished silence of the universe, the words which the liturgy puts on the lips of the Church take on a cosmic resonance: Christus natus est nobis. Venite, adoremus!

4. Christ is born for us; come, let us adore him! My thoughts already turn to Christmas next year when, God willing, the Church will inaugurate the Great Jubilee with the opening of the Holy Door. It will be a truly great Holy Year, for in a completely unique way it will celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of the event and mystery of the Incarnation, in which humanity reached the apex of its calling. God became man in order to give man a share in his own divinity.

This is the good news of salvation; this is the message of Christmas! The Church proclaims it tonight, by means of my words too, for the peoples and nations of the whole earth to hear: Christus natus est nobis Christ is born for us. Venite, adoremus! Come, let us adore him!

C.S. Lewis on 'Xmas and Christmas' -
Some lessons from the barbarian mists of Niatirb
12/7/2005 5:08:00 PM
By Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. - Denver Catholic Register

Fifty years ago C.S. Lewis published an ironic little essay called, "Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus." In it, he reverses the letters of his home country, "Britain." Then he writes about the strange winter customs of a barbarian nation called Niatirb.

It's worth reading, as we get deeper into Advent. I'll share with you just one passage. "In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound, (the Niatirbians) have a great festival called Exmas, and for 50 days they prepare for it (in the manner which is called,) in their barbarian speech, the Exmas Rush.

"When the day of the festival comes, most of the citizens, being exhausted from the (frenzies of the) Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much as on other days, and crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas, they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and the reckoning of how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine.

"(Now a) few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast.

"But (as for) what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, (this) is not credible. It is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and so great things (as those involved in the Exmas Rush), in honor of a god they do not believe in."

What Lewis wrote about in Britain half a century ago is increasingly true about our own country today. We're already half way through Advent. What have we done to really live it? The world has an ingenious ability to attach itself to what Christians believe; tame it; subvert it - and then turn it against the very people who continue to believe. Too many Americans don't really celebrate Christmas. They may think they do, but they don't. They celebrate Exmas.

The world - left to its own devices - has no room and no use for the birth of Jesus Christ. It has contempt for Christians who seriously strive to be His disciples. So we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being the saints God intended us to be. We can at least seek to be holy by tithing our time to sit quietly with God; allow Him to fill our actions and our choices with His Son; and let Him shape us into the men and women He needs. We can get up and experience the dawn in silence as a reminder of what Advent and Christmas mean. We can prepare ourselves to be alert for the voice of God and to receive God's word afresh and proclaim it anew.

We need to understand that in many ways America is no longer a Christian culture. Of course, that can change. Many good Catholics and other Christians still live in it. But if people really understood and acted on the meaning of Advent, the world would be a different place.

Advent means "coming." What's coming in the reality of Christmas is an invasion. The world needs the invasion but doesn't want it. It's an invasion of human flesh and all creation by the Son of God; by the holiness of the Creator Himself.

All of us in the Church were baptized to be part of that good invasion. The doubts, the failures, the mistakes of the past don't matter. Only our choices now matter. How will we live our Christian faith from this day forward? How will we make our Catholic witness an icon of Christ's Advent?

For our own sake, and the sake of the people we love, we need to pray that our yearning for God will truly reflect God's yearning for us. And when it does, then the world will be a different place.
What Are the 'O Antiphons'?
Fr. William Saunders

The “O Antiphons” refer to the seven antiphons that are recited (or chanted) preceding the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. They cover the special period of Advent preparation known as the Octave before Christmas, Dec. 17-23, with Dec. 24 being Christmas Eve and Vespers for that evening being for the Christmas Vigil.

The exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they are in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the “O Antiphons” was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, “Keep your O” and “The Great O Antiphons” were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the “O Antiphons” have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church.

The importance of “O Antiphons” is twofold: Each one highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah. Let’s now look at each antiphon with just a sample of Isaiah’s related prophecies :

O Sapientia: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

O Adonai: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” (11:4-5); and “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us.” (33:22).

O Radix Jesse: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (11:1), and A On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (11:10). Remember also that Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:1).

O Clavis David: “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” Isaiah had prophesied, AI will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (22:22), and “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.” (9:6).

O Oriens: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1).

O Rex Gentium: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” Isaiah had prophesied, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (9:5), and “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (2:4) .

O Emmanuel: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”

(7:14). Remember “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”

According to Professor Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one - Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia - the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” Therefore, the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, “Tomorrow, I will come.” So the “O Antiphons” not only bring intensity to our Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Office of Readings
Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle
From a Sermon of St. John Chrysostom on St. John's Gospel

We have found the Messiah

After Andrew had stayed with Jesus and had learned much from him, he did not keep this treasure to himself, but hastened to share it with his brother. Notice what Andrew said to him: We have found the Messiah, that is to say, the Christ. Notice how his words reveal what he has learned in so short a time. They show the power of the master who has convinced them of this truth. They reveal the zeal and concern of men preoccupied with this question from the very beginning. Andrew’s words reveal a soul waiting with the utmost longing for the coming of the Messiah, looking forward to his appearing from heaven, rejoicing when he does appear, and hastening to announce so great an event to others. To support one another in the things of the spirit is the true sign of good will between brothers, of loving kinship and sincere affection.

Notice, too, how, even from the beginning, Peter is docile and receptive in spirit. He hastens to Jesus without delay. He brought him to Jesus, says the evangelist. But Peter must not be condemned for his readiness to accept Andrew’s word without much weighing of it. It is probable that his brother had given him, and many others, a careful account of the event; the evangelists, in the interest of brevity, regularly summarise a lengthy narrative. Saint John does not say that Peter believed immediately, but that he brought him to Jesus. Andrew was to hand him over to Jesus, to learn everything for himself. There was also another disciple present, and he hastened with them for the same purpose.

When John the Baptist said: This is the Lamb, and he baptizes in the Spirit, he left the deeper understanding of these things to be received from Christ. All the more so would Andrew act in the same way, since he did not think himself able to give a complete explanation. He brought his brother to the very source of light, and Peter was so joyful and eager that he would not delay even for a moment.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Making Christmas Come Alive
Fr. Roger J. Landry
December 24, 2004

In 1223, St. Francis of Assisi inaugurated a pious practice that in places today has become so common that many think that it always existed. This great saint, as he was traversing the rolling hills of central Italy one December to proclaim the Gospel, noticed that few of his countrymen were taking the mysteries of the faith seriously. Many were not even preparing for Christmas at all. Of those who were preparing to celebrate the Lord’s birth, they looked at it as an event tied exclusively to the past. The mysteries of the faith had become sterile. The central persons in the drama had become stale and lifeless, incapable even of stimulating his contemporaries’ imaginations — and therefore no longer capable of inspiring them to a greater relationship of mutual love with God in the present.

To counteract these tendencies, on Christmas Eve 1223 in the town of Greccio, Francis set up the first crèche in recorded history. He brought in live animals — an ox and an ass. There was a young baby and a young set of parents. There was plenty of hay and a manger. There was even the attempt — with hundreds of burning torches — to create the luminescence of a bright star. And Francis could not have been happier with the results. People came from all over to see the living nativity. Through all the sounds, sights and even smells, the people became convinced that Christmas was not just a cute story, but a real event, one that was not just PAST, but something which they were called to enter in time. Soon living crèches like this spread throughout Italy. The phenomenon soon extended into art, as artists started to paint nativity scenes with all the main characters dressed anachronistically in 13th century garb — to emphasize that Christmas is not just a past event, but, even more importantly, a PRESENT one, in which every believer is called to “go now to Bethlehem” and “pay [Christ] homage.” As St. Francis’ first biographer wrote, “The Child Jesus had been forgotten in the hearts of many; but, by the working of his grace, he was brought to life again through his servant Francis and stamped upon their fervent memory.”

All the crèches in our homes, the beautiful praesepio here in Church, the Christmas pageant with our children after the 5:30 Vigil Mass — all of these have the same purpose, to “bring the child Jesus to life again” so that he may be “stamped upon our fervent memory.” Just as in St. Francis’ time, the “Child Jesus has been forgotten in the hearts of many.” Notice I said in the HEARTS of many, and not the MINDS. The minds of multitudes still recall details of Christ’s birth. Their memories are full of the words of Christmas hymns learned long ago. But their hearts are cold. Their reflection on Christ Jesus in Bethlehem does not ignite their hearts on fire with greater love for him.

That’s why this Christmas, one of OUR contemporaries — whom I believe future generations will regard as a great saint, much like we regard St. Francis today — is trying to do FOR US what the poverello from Assisi did for his generation. He wants to try to “bring the Child Jesus to life again.” The means he proposes does not involve animals, or hay, or our best attempts to emulate a shining star. They involve something far more basic, something that we can often take for granted and treat as lifeless as a plaster statue of the baby Jesus. To help the Child Jesus come to life in us, Pope John Paul II has called us all to live an intensely Eucharistic Christmas.

He wants us to see the connection between Christmas and the Mass, promising us that if we do, our appreciation for both will increase tremendously. The structure of the Mass is meant to recapitulate the entire life of Jesus, from his incarnation and birth, to his death and resurrection. Have you ever wondered why we sing “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth” at the beginning of every Sunday Mass (outside of penitential seasons)? When have we heard those words before? Those are the very words, of course, that the Angels used to announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds, which the Church proclaims at the Christmas Midnight Mass. At the beginning of every Mass, we’re called to reflect that the angels are announcing to us again “good news of great joy for all the people,” that Jesus, Emmanuel, is present. The same Jesus whom the shepherds went in haste to adore comes down on our altars through Christ’s own power working through his priests. The Gospel for Christmas Mass during the day climaxes with the expression, “The word took flesh and dwelled among us.” That of course is true for what happened 2000 years ago, but the Word-made-flesh continues to dwell among us in the Mass. In the Eucharist, Jesus remains God-with-us. Because of the Eucharist, the Church is the modern Bethlehem. The word Bethlehem means, in Hebrew, “house of bread,” and in each Mass Jesus, the “Living Bread come down from heaven” (Jn 6:51), comes down from heaven for us. The Baby Jesus took on a body so that he could give that body for us. He was placed in a manger, a trough from which animals were accustomed to eat, and that could not have been more appropriate considering that that very body placed in that manger was intended for us, his creatures, one day to eat.

This connection between Christmas and the Eucharist is depicted very strongly in one of my favorite paintings, which is found in a tiny chapel in Providence, Rhode Island, where my priest confessor lives. Behind the tabernacle, there is a beautiful painting of the nativity, with Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds and the animals. But there’s one noticeable difference about this nativity scene. In the focal point of the whole painting, to which all of the adoring eyes point, there is not a manger or a painting of a child Jesus, but rather, there’s the TABERNACLE of the altar — the real one, not a painted image — where Jesus is truly substantially present. The effect is unforgettable. The same Son of God who was worshipped in the stable is worshipped there still. The only difference is that the veil of Christ’s divinity is no longer humble human flesh but the even humbler external appearances of bread and wine. Making that one change in Christ’s veil, we could sing about Jesus in the Eucharist what we chant about him in swaddling clothes:

Christ, by highest heav’n adored; Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold him come, offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in [hosts] the Godhead see; Hail th’incarnate Deity,

Jesus, our Emmanuel, is pleased to dwell with us as one of us. But we know that not all of us are as pleased as he is. We recall that when Christ came into the world the first time, some people had room for him, some people did not. Mary and Joseph had room for him and gave their whole lives over to him and his mission. The Shepherds had room for him, left all their flocks behind and, in the middle of the night, ran to adore him. The Magi had room for him, and studied the heavens to discern a sign of his presence. When they discovered one in the star, they traveled for weeks, over hundreds of miles, to come to adore him, giving him the best gifts they had. But others did not have room for him. The inn-keepers had no room for their creator — or even to give shelter to a woman nine month’s pregnant. King Herod had no room for him, and in fact tried to have him killed. The scholars of the law had no room, not even enough curiosity to make the six mile journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to verify whether the wise men’s story was true. The vast majority of people in Jesus’ time, in Jesus’ land, simply did not accept him when he, the long-awaited Messiah, at last came. That’s why St. John will say in the Gospel for the Mass on Christmas day, “he came unto his own, but his own people did not receive him.”

In the Eucharist, we have a chance to get it right, or to get it wrong. Jesus in the Eucharist comes to his own, hoping that his own will receive him. We were made his own through baptism, much as the Jews were God’s own through circumcisions. The question is whether we’ll receive him with love, or whether we’ll — for one bad reason or another — not make room for him. I’ve always thought one of the reasons Jesus came as a baby is because we know from human experience that when we truly receive a baby, our whole lives change. Our sleeping patterns change. Our independence changes. Our bank accounts shrink. Our responsibility grows. If we truly receive Jesus, our sleeping patterns will change, as we’ll make time for prayer and make time for Mass. Our independence will change, as we become more dependent on him and allow others to become more dependent on us. Our bank accounts will shrink, as we start working more for him and for his kingdom and less for us. Our responsibility will grow, as we stop passing the buck for passing on the faith to others and ourselves become like those shepherds who returned from the encounter with Christ “glorifying and praising God.” Every year at Christmas Jesus comes to us almost as an orphan left on our doorstep and we either take him in, adopt him, allow him to grow with us and change us and our priorities, or we leave him outside. Jesus was born so that we might be reborn. The celebration each year of his birth is meant to lead us to a rebirth of faith.

Pope John Paul II teaches us that the way to enter most fully now into the mystery of Christ’s incarnation is through the Eucharist. He urges us to model our “Eucharistic amazement” on Mary’s Christmas awe. “Is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion?” Just as Mary’s life was centered on Christ Jesus and she made his mission her mission, so our lives are supposed to be centered on the same Christ Jesus, making him in the Eucharist the “source and summit” of everything we do and are. If we would have journeyed on foot to Bethlehem 2000 years ago to adore Christ in the manger, the Pope is calling us to journey a short distance by car to adore him here. If we would have had room for him if he came knocking on our door, then we’re called to make room for him here, and make room for him every week, and if we can, every day. This is the way Christ will come alive again in our lives. This is the way he will be stamped upon our fervent memory. This is the way he will be remembered in our hearts.

Jesus is now knocking on the doors of our hearts with the hands of a little baby. As he said in the last book of the Bible: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” As he fulfills those words literally in the Eucharist, we finish with the prayer Christians have lifted up for centuries:

O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

Our Whole Life Should Be An ‘Advent’
Pope John Paul II
The Holy Father's Address at the General Audience on December 18, 2002

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In this season of Advent, the invitation of the Prophet Isaiah accompanies us: “Say to those who are fearful of heart. Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God ... will come and save you” (Is 35,4). It becomes more urgent as Christmas approaches, enriched with the exhortation to prepare our hearts to welcome the Messiah. The one awaited by the people will certainly come and his salvation will be for all.

On the Holy Night, we will again recall his birth in Bethlehem, in a certain sense, we will relive the feelings of the shepherds, their joy and their wonder. With Mary and Joseph we will contemplate the glory of the Word made flesh for our redemption. We will pray that all men may accept the new life that the Son of Man brought into the world by assuming our human nature.

Advent: get ready for final coming

2. The liturgy of Advent, filled with constant allusions to the joyful expectation of the Messiah, helps us to understand the fullness of the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, we must understand that our whole life should be an “advent”, in vigilant expectation of Christ’s final coming. To prepare our hearts to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, will come one day to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize his presence in the events of daily life. Advent is then a period of intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come and who continuously comes.

Mystery of the Incarnation

3. With these sentiments, the Church prepares to contemplate in ecstasy, in a week, the mystery of the Incarnation. The Gospel recounts the conception and birth of Jesus, and reports the many providential circumstances that preceded and surrounded such a miraculous event: the angel’s annunciation to Mary, the birth of John the Baptist, the choir of angels in Bethlehem, the arrival of the Magi from the East, St Joseph’s visions. These are all signs and witnesses that highlight the divinity of this Child. In Bethlehem is born Emmanuel, God-with-us.

In the liturgy of these days, the Church offers us three outstanding “guides” to show us the proper attitude to assume in going to meet the divine “guest” of humanity.

Three wonderful persons to guide us into the promised land

4. First of all, Isaiah, the prophet of consolation and hope. He proclaims a true and proper Gospel for the people of Israel, enslaved in Babylon, and urges them to remain vigilant in prayer, to recognize “the signs” of the coming of the Messiah.

Then there is John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah, who is presented as a “voice crying in the wilderness”, preaching “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (cf. Mk 1,4). It is the only condition for recognizing the Messiah already present in the world.

Finally, Mary, who in this novena of preparation for Christmas, guides us towards Bethlehem. Mary is the Woman of the “yes” who, contrary to Eve, makes the plan of God her own without reservation. Thus she becomes a clear light for our steps and the highest model for our inspiration.

Dear brothers and sisters, may we allow the Virgin to accompany us on our way towards the Lord who comes, remaining “vigilant in prayer and rejoicing in praise”.

I wish everyone a proper preparation for the coming celebration of Christmas.

This is a Christmas Tree

It is not a Hanukkah bush, it is not an Allah plant, it is not a Holiday hedge.

It is a Christmas tree.

Say it: Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas ...

Office of Readings
Tuesday of the First Week of Advent
From a Sermon by St. Gregory Nazianzen

The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the immovable seal, the perfect likeness, the definition and word of the Father: he it is who comes to his own image and takes our nature for the good of our nature, and unites himself to an intelligent soul for the good of my soul, to purify like by like. He takes to himself all that is human, except for sin.

He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first.

Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by one who was God, so that God might overcome the tyrant by force and so deliver us and lead us back to himself through the mediation of his Son. The Son arranged this for the honor of the Father, to whom the Son is clearly obedient in all things.

The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice. When he found it, he took it on the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven.

Christ, the light of all lights, follows John, the lamp that goes before him. The Word of God follows the voice in the wilderness; the bridegroom follows the bridegroom's friend, who prepares a worthy people for the Lord by cleansing them by water in preparation for the Spirit.

We need God to take our flesh and die, that we might live. We have died with him, that we may be purified. We have risen again with him, because we have died with him. We have been glorified with him, because we have risen again with him.

Monday, November 28, 2005

What is Advent?
(from Catholic Culture (www.catholicculture.org))

Christmas is here! Or is it? Before the end of October one sees the signs of Christmas everywhere. But by the time December 25 arrives, most people are "Christmased" out — too many parties, rich foods and stretched budgets. We Catholics don't need to draw our drapes and twiddle our thumbs while the rest of society is celebrating Christmas in advance. Instead, we can celebrate two seasons: Advent and Christmas.

The Church begins a new Liturgical Year on the First Sunday of Advent (November 27th). During the subsequent four weeks, she prepares with mounting expectation for the coming of Christ in a spirit of waiting, conversion and hope.

Focus on the Liturgy

There are always four Sundays in Advent, though not necessarily four full weeks. The liturgical color of the season is violet or purple, except on the Third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday, when optional rose vestments may be worn. The Gloria is not recited during Advent liturgies, but the Alleluia is retained.

The prophesies of Isaiah are read often during the Advent season, but all of the readings of Advent focus on the key figures of the Old and New Testaments who were prepared and chosen by God to make the Incarnation possible: the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Joseph, Sts. Elizabeth and Zechariah. The expectancy heightens from December 17 to December 24 when the Liturgy resounds with the seven magnificent Messianic titles of the O Antiphons.

History of Advent

In 490, Bishop Perpetuus of Tours officially declared Advent a penitential season in the Frankish Church of Western Europe, ordering a fast on three days of every week from November 11 till Christmas. This forty days' fast, similar to Lent, was originally called Quadragesima Sancti Martini (Forty Days' Fast of Saint Martin's).

By contrast, the Advent season of the Roman liturgy, developing a century after that of the Frankish Church, was a non-penitential, festive and joyful time of preparation for Christmas. By the thirteenth century a compromise was reached, which combined the fasting and penitential character of the Gallic observance with the Mass texts and shorter four-week cycle of the Roman Advent liturgy. The liturgy of Advent remained substantially unaltered until Vatican II mandated a few minor changes to more clearly delineate the spirit of the Lenten and Advent seasons.

Customs of Advent

The first Sunday of Advent is a good time for each family member to choose a secret "Christkindl" or Christ Child for whom he or she will perform little acts of love — such as a prayer, a small gift, a sacrifice, a note or a piece of candy — throughout Advent.

Another such Advent practice is that of having an empty crib or manger, which each family member will soften with straw earned by a sacrifice, a prayer or a work of mercy. After Christmas, the family will gather before the Infant Savior, in his now-padded crib, for their evening prayers or for Scripture reading.

When employing new Advent customs within your domestic church it is important to remember that they are only aids, not goals in themselves. With joyful hope and anticipation, then, let us prepare for the coming of the Son of God, praying with the Church: Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay!

Office of Readings
Monday of the First Week of Advent
From a Pastoral Letter by St. Charles Borromeo

Beloved, now is the acceptable time spoken of by the Spirit, the day of salvation, peace and reconciliation: the great season of Advent. This is the time eagerly awaited by the patriarchs and prophets, the time that holy Simeon rejoiced at last to see. This is the season that the Church has always celebrated with special solemnity. We too should always observe it with faith and love, offering praise and thanksgiving to the Father for the mercy and love he has shown us in this mystery. In his infinite love for us, though we were sinners, he sent his only Son to free us from the tyranny of Satan, to summon us to heaven, to welcome us into its innermost recesses, to show us truth itself, to train us in right conduct, to plant within us the seeds of virtue, to enrich us with the treasures of his grace, and to make us children of God and heirs of eternal life.

Each year, as the Church recalls this mystery, she urges us to renew the memory of the great love God has shown us. This holy season teaches us that Christ’s coming was not only for the benefit of his contemporaries; his power has still to be communicated to us all. We shall share his power, if, through holy faith and the sacraments, we willingly accept the grace Christ earned for us, and live by that grace and in obedience to Christ.

The Church asks us to understand that Christ, who came once in the flesh, is prepared to come again. When we remove all obstacles to his presence he will come, at any hour and moment, to dwell spiritually in our hearts, bringing with him the riches of his grace.

In her concern for our salvation, our loving mother the Church uses this holy season to teach us through hymns, canticles and other forms of expression, of voice or ritual, used by the Holy Spirit. She shows us how grateful we should be for so great a blessing, and how to gain its benefit: our hearts should be as much prepared for the coming of Christ as if he were still to come into this world. The same lesson is given us for our imitation by the words and example of the holy men of the Old Testament.

An Awesome Cardinal

Believe me, I had nooo problem with Cardinal Ratizinger being elected pope. However, I have to confess, I was rooting for my favorite Cardinal, Francis Arinze. In case you're wondering why, check out this interview with him from Inside the Vatican that I came across while visiting Summa Mammas (great blog, check it out). (And I love that accent of his -- I can't help smiling as I "hear" him answer the interviewer. :-)

An excerpt:

ITV: Recently, an issue that has been given a lot of attention are the moral obligations of Catholics during election times. Is it a duty of them to vote for pro-life politicians, and should those Catholic pro-choice politicians be given communion?

ARINZE: You are asking me if a politician says, "I vote for abortion, and I will continue to ask for abortion." Then you ask should he be given holy communion. So, you are really saying, this politician says, "I vote for the killing of unborn children." Because we call things by their names. And he calls that pro-choice.

Suppose somebody voted for the killing of all the members of the House of Representatives, "for all of you being killed. I call that pro-choice. Moreover, I am going to receive Holy Communion next Sunday." Then you ask me, should he be given communion. My reply, "Do you really need a cardinal from the Vatican to answer that question?" Can a child having made his First Communion not answer that question? Is it really so complicated? [my emphasis] The child will give the correct answer immediately, unless he is conditioned by political correctness. It is a pity, cardinals have to be asked such questions.

If a person has a way of life which is against the major Commandments, and makes a boast of it, then the person is in a state which is publicly sinful. It is he who has disqualified himself, not the priest or the bishop. He should not go to communion, until his life should be in line with the Gospel.

Add it to Your Christmas List

John Paul the Great:
Remembering a Spiritual Father

Author: Peggy Noonan

As the leader of the Catholic Church, the oldest continuing institution in the Western world, Pope John Paul II has shown himself to be a giant in every sphere he touches-personal, theological, political, ecumenical. In an age fairly rich with heroes, Pope John Paul II is truly the great man of the past century-a man who personally confronted all that century's tragedies, from Nazism to communism. And now, in old age, he wrestles with materialism, "the culture of death," and scandals that could, on his leaving, tear the Church in two.

This pope is also a paradoxical figure-an intellectual animated by confidence and joy, a poet and playwright, a supporter of freedom who decries its abuse, a tough political gamesman, and a mystic convinced that the bullet that nearly killed him was directed away from his heart by the hand of the Mother of God.

Here, bestselling author Peggy Noonan brings her sharp observations, acute sensibility, warmth, and wit to the life of this pope and shows the personal effect his journey has had upon her and millions of others throughout the world. Written with heart and depth, this book is a brilliant celebration of a man whose life teaches us perhaps the greatest lesson of all: how to live.

The Littlest Fireman

The 26-year-old mother stared down at her son who was dying of terminal leukemia. Although her heart was filled with sadness, she also had a strong feeling of determination. Like any parent she wanted her son to grow up and fulfill all his dreams. Now that was no longer possible. The leukemia would see to that.

But she still wanted her son’s dreams to come true. She took her son’s hand and asked, “Billy, did you ever think about what you wanted to be once you grew up? Did you ever dream and wish what you would do with your life?”

“Mommy, I always wanted to be a fireman when I grew up.” Mom smiled back and said, “Let’s see if we can make your wish come true.”

Later that day she went to her local fire department in Phoenix, Arizona, where she met Fireman Bob, who had a heart as big as Phoenix. She explained her son’s final wish and asked if it might be possible to give her six year old son a ride around the block on a fire engine. Fireman Bob said, “Look, we can do better than that. If you’ll have your son ready at seven o’clock Wednesday morning, we’ll make him an honorary fireman for the whole day. He can come down to the fire station, eat with us, go out on all the fire calls, the whole nine yards! “And if you’ll give us his sizes, we’ll get a real fire uniform for him, with a real fire hat — not a toy one — with the emblem of the Phoenix Fire Department on it, a yellow slicker like we wear and rubber boots. They’re all manufactured right here in Phoenix, so we can get them fast.”

Three days later Fireman Bob picked up Billy, dressed him in his fire uniform and escorted him from his hospital bed to the waiting hook and ladder truck. Billy got to sit on the back of the truck and help steer it back to the fire station. He was in heaven. There were three fire calls in Phoenix that day and Billy got to go out on all three calls. He rode in the different fire engines, the paramedic’s van, and even the fire chief’s car. He was also videotaped for the local news program. Having his dream come true, with all the love and attention that was lavished upon him, so deeply touched Billy that he lived three months longer than any doctor thought possible.

One night all of his vital signs began to drop dramatically and the head nurse, who believed in the hospice concept that no one should die alone, began to call the family members to the hospital. Then she remembered the day Billy had spent as a fireman, so she called the Fire Chief and asked if it would be possible to send a fireman in uniform to the hospital to be with Billy as he made his transition. The chief replied, “We can do better than that. We’ll be there in five minutes. Will you please do me a favor? When you hear the sirens screaming and see the lights flashing, will you announce over the PA system that there is not a fire? It’s just the fire department coming to see one of its finest members one more time. And will you open the window to his room?

About five minutes later a hook and ladder truck arrived at the hospital, extended its ladder up to Billy’s third floor open window and 16 firefighters climbed up the ladder into Billy’s room. With his mother’s permission, they hugged him and held him and told him how much they loved him. With his dying breath, Billy looked up at the fire chief and said, “Chief, am I really a fireman now?” “ Billy, you are,” the chief said. With those words, Billy smiled and closed his eyes one last time.


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