Monthly Archives: December 2010

It *IS* Christmas every day!

Merry Christmas, everyone!!

A common expression, often related to the joy of getting, is “Why can’t it be Christmas every day?”

For those who judge things by feelings, Christmas gives good feelings and therefore should be every day.

Fair enough. Yes, it would be nice if everyone lived in a spirit of giving and peace and love and all that.

But the one way to make that happen is to realize the TRUE meaning of Christmas.

Isn’t it funny how many television shows and movies set out to tell us the “true meaning of Christmas is giving” or “the true meaning of Christmas is family” or “the true meaning Christmas is children,” or all these things that *aren’t* the “true” meaning of Christmas? Overtly, they’re telling us to think of Christmas as being “about” those things, as opposed to gifts and parties and decorations. However, subtly, they’re also telling us that the “true meaning of Christmas” is giving or charity or love or family or children instead of Christ’s birth.

Christmas is the day we celebrate the day God became man. Most Americans, like Joan Osborne, seem to have missed the memo while opening their presents from “Santa Claus”: God *is* one of us. Jesus Christ Emmanual (the Anointed Savior, God-with-us), the Word of God, became flesh and dwelled among us, and we have seen his glory.

Yet He did not just become flesh and go away. The hope of Christmas is that God came to love us and save us. The hope of Easter is that Jesus rose from the dead so we could, too.

Most people don’t seem to realize that most Catholic/Fundamentalist issues boil down to one principle. I forget the exact verse or quotation, but it is, I think, from Hebrews, that Jesus rose to the Father’s right hand and will stay there to the end or something. Catholics most certainly believe that–indeed, we use it as one of the “proof text” arguments against the Rapture, since Scripture is clear Christ will not return in full bodily form until the end.

However, evangelicals take this passage as an indication that Jesus is no longer man. This is why they deny Mary is Theotokos: Jesus was God-Man on earth, but, they say, now that He has risen, He is no longer man any more, even though He ate food in almost every post-Resurrection appearance.

Jesus promised to leave us orphans, and He didn’t. He who was born in the House of Bread (Bethlehem) proclaimed Himself to be the Bread of Life and proclaimed bread and wine to be now His Body and Blood.

“Christmas” means “Christ’s Mass.” Christ’s Mass takes place every day. It is amazing how many people show up for Christmas Mass. The priest at the Mass I attended said they had 12 masses at his parish for Christmas. Many of these people are “CAPE Catholics” (Christmas, Ashes, Palms and Easter) who “fly away” the rest of the year. Many are Protestants who come, either because their churches don’t have services for Christmas or they recognize the greater solemnity of Catholic worship for the occasion.

One Christmas, when one of our patrons, St. Louis IX of France, was meditating on the Nativity in his private chambers. A courtier burst in. “Your majesty! There has been a great miracle at Midnight Mass in the palace chapel! While the priest uttered the words of consecration, the face of Christ appeared in the Host!”
The king, perturbed, turned and asked, “Why have you interrupted my meditation on the birth of Our Lord and Savior to tell me of a miracle which occurs at every Mass?”

The Christmas Miracle happens every day. God becomes flesh at every Mass. If everyone took advantage of that gift, every day *would* be Christmas.


Shepherds and Car salesmen

Originally Published 12/24/2006

I recall reading a Christmas meditation somewhere that speculated about who *else* might have heard the message that First Christmas–and ignored it.

Were the shepherds the only ones who saw the angels in the sky and heard the first Gloria in excelsis deo? How many people figured it was just a dream or hallucination? How many people just heard the commotion and hid in fear? How many simply slept through it?

How many astrologers saw the star and ignored its meaning or misinterpreted it?

Did God call the shepherds and Persian Magi only, or were the just the only ones who bothered to respond?

Throughout the Gospels, from Bethlehem to Calvary to Emmaus, it’s the shepherds, the fisherman, the prostitutes and the tax collectors who “get it”. With a few exceptions, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, the theologians are out of the loop.

Today, I had my car in for a service, and, as I was waiting, I wandered around the dealership. I had brought my Christian Prayer with me to say Lauds. But first, I thought I’d wander around and look at the cars. A salesman came up to me and struck up a conversation. First, he noticed my “Good Book.” It’s often a moment of gentle evangelization when a Protestant asks about my “Bible” and then I say, “Actually, it’s a breviary,” which leads into an explanation of the Divine Office (Apologetics note: one of the many advantages of saying the Office vis the Rosary, besides that it’s actually liturgy, is that it’s a lot easier to explain the Office to a Protestant than it is to explain the Rosary).

As it turned out, he said, “Oh, I used to say the Office a bit in college, but fell away. . . .” As he proceeded, I was pegging him for some kind of Episcopalian. Of course, we were both “beating around the bush” a bit and speaking in non-denominatoinalese.

Then he started talking about his theological debates with some of the other car salesmen in town, and that got to my mentioning pursuing my MA in theology.
He said, “Catholic theology, I assume?” I replied in the affirmative, and that got us off the “beating around the bush”and into some pretty serious sharing.

He explained that he’s an orthodox Catholic, FUS graduate, but works with many Protestant ministries, as well, including the 700 Club. I talked about Flannery O’Connor’s theory of the convergence of Evangelicalism & Catholicism.

He warned me against the dangers of arrogance when one becomes a “theologian,” and I wholeheartedly agreed. Earlier on, he had mentioned how his theological debates (he specifically mentioned Calvinism & Purgatory) usually focus on the concept of relationship: God created us to relate to Him, and everything else stems from that. I agreed, and talked about my own work, how I’m working on a book on that topic, and my work with bioethics and the pro-life movement. I noted how I’ve been seeing the same problems popping up with “conservative” and “Loyal to the Magisterium” theologians that we see in “liberal” theologians now that “our side” is more mainstream, and he agreed: the fundamentalist treatment of the Catechism, for example, such that the absence of statement on some moral question (e.g., vaccines) makes it licit, especially if a stated principle (protection of health) can be exaggerated.

He said, “Yeah, like it’s OK to eat the baby if you’re starving.”

And I said, “We shouldn’t be thinking about what we can get away with or how much we can justify. My question is: if Jesus were standing next to me, what would He think of me partaking in this?”

That was about the time when the service guy came up and said my car was ready.

This Could Be the Night . . . When Children Rule the World

Veni, Veni Emmanuel

For the last day of the “O” Antiphons, here is “O Come O Come Emmanuel” from our very own St. Peter’s in Columbia:

When a Child Is Born

I recently did a “Pick Five” on Facebook, using one of the generic “current favorite songs” categories, to pick my five favorite “contemporary” Christmas songs. Top eight:

1. The Christmas Wish (Muppets and John Denver)
2. While You Were Sleeping
3. Incredible Phat (The Coldest Night of the Year)–originally Art Garfunkel, covered by Elaine Paige and otherwise obscure
4. When the River Meets the Sea (Muppets with or without Denver)
5. Was He a Boy Like Me (VeggieTales)
6. Alfie/It’s In Every One of Us
7. When Children Rule the World (Andrew Lloyd Webber & Jim Steinman)
8. When a Child Is Born
9. Because It’s Christmas (Barry Manilow)
10. Strange Way to Save the World

What Child Is This?

It’s so hard to find a recording that does this song right. People seem afraid to do the second verse and chorus verbatim:

“Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear!
For sinners here, the Silent Word is Pleading!
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The Cross be born for me, for you.
Hail, Hail the Word made flesh,
the Babe, the Son of Mary!”

“A Winter’s Tale”

I know this song from the fantastic Christmas album that Elaine Paige posted in the mid-80s, at the peak of her pop career.

Little Lew’s short life lasted from December 2002 – March 2003. I honestly don’t remember if it snowed in March 2003, and I was listening to this song among “snow songs”, or else the lyrics just hit me the following December, but this is one of the songs I always associate with Little Lew, and it still makes me cry.

“The nights are colder now
Maybe I should close the door
And anyway the snow has covered all your footsteps
And I can follow you no more
The fire still burns at night
The memories are warm and clear
But everybody knows
It’s hard to be alone this time of year
It was only a winter’s tale
Just another winter’s tale
And why should the world take notice
Of one more love that’s failed?
A love that can never be
Though it meant a lot to you and me
On a world-wide scale
We’re just another winter’s tale
While I stand alone
A bell is ringing far away
I wonder if you’re here
I wonder if you’re listening
I wonder where you are today
Good luck, I wish you well
For all that wishes may be worth
I hope that love and strength
Are with you for the length
Of your time on earth
It was only a winter’s tale
Just another winter’s tale
And why should the world take notice
Of one more love that’s failed?
It’s a love that can never be
Though it meant a lot to you and me
On a world-wide scale
We’re just another winter’s tale
It was only a winter’s tale
Just another winter’s tale
And why should the world take notice
Of one more love that’s failed?
It’s a love that can never be
Though it meant a lot to you and me
On a world-wide scale
We’re just another winter’s tale
We’re just another winter’s tale”

Doesn’t “Common Good” include souls?

One of the three basic principles of Catholic social teaching (along with Natural Law and subsidiarity) is the Common Good (solidarity), often contrasted in political discourse with “American individualism” or “Protestant individualism.” In practice, these three general principles tend to come in conflict, and even the Popes suggest they are difficult to reconcile, when, really, they’re not.

I once argued with a Franciscan University of Steubenville ethicist, for example, who argued that common good trumps individual conscience, and that’s why in his view vaccinations from aborted fetal tissue should be mandatory.

However, ever since that discussion, and the more refined my understanding of Catholic Social Teaching has become, I’m left with one big problem with “Common Good” as a standard of its own.

Natural Law is pretty straightforward.

Subsidiarity is pretty straightforward *except* that progressive Catholics (TM) tend to argue that they are supporting subsidiarity by their totalitarian positions because they think it is impossible to do most things at the local level, and federal or global control is the only way to effectively do them.

However, Common Good is very open ended. For progressive Catholics (TM), common good is a purely material function and might as well be Common Greed. Again, in the view of my aforementioned neoconservative interlocutor, a collaborator of Greg Popcak, physical health is more important than spiritual health.

Yet, as Francis Cardinal George, OMI, said, “Abortion destroys the common good.” There is no common good without basic morality. If basic morality and the family, which the principles of Natural Law and subsidiarity safeguard, are damaged, then so is common good. Of course, there is a great deal of truth to how economic evils lead to moral evils, and I’m not disputing that here.

What I am disputing is how any Catholic can really talk about Common Good and not acknowledge that the Common Good is meaningless without mass conversion. The primary good for any soul is salvation. Isn’t there an inherent conflict, then, between the Church’s emphasis on “Common Good” and the post-Vatican II emphasis on Freedom of Religion over the old model of the Catholic state?

Can we honestly talk about Common Good without talking about the necessity of converting people to Catholicism?
Can we honestly talk about Common Good without acknowleding that the state should play a role in at least preventing moral evil if not encouraging virtue and the practice of religion?
(That is *not* to say that the state should legally force people to be Catholic or punish people for adopting other religions, but a model like Malta or the Philippines, where Catholicism is legally favored, and Natural Law is upheld by civil law).

Alfie and The Christmas Wish

It’s a long one, but today’s Hour of Mercy Meditation is from the original and for some reason unavailable-on-DVD _John Denver and the Muppets :A Christmas Together_ special that spun off one of the best selling Christmas albums of all time.
The “Alfie the Christmas Tree/It’s in Every One of Us” Medley, followed by a couple minutes of Kermit/John Denver dialogue and then “The Christmas Wish” at 5:40.

When the River Meets the Sea

From Jim Henson’s Funeral:

I don’t know their names, but I can tell from the voices these are the original performers from _Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas_.

Casting Crowns – While You Were Sleeping

Advent Hour of Mercy: Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus


Heroic Virtue Versus Virtue Versus Justification

Too often, people treat their Catholicism as a lowest common denominator thing. Catholic moral theology is far more complex than most people give it credit for being, and that complexity is too difficult for most people to handle, so they like to oversimplify it.

For example, there is the concept of “justice.” In Catholic thought, as in Platonism, Justice means trying to negate an evil in society to create balance. Put another way, justice almost always means a legal sanction to do something that is normally wrong. Catholics who identify with either of our political parties tend to focus on certain kinds of justice at the expense of others.
Normally, it is intrinsically evil and mortally sinful to bind, imprison, enslave, maim or kill another person. However, in some cases, it is morally justifiable for the state to bind, imprison, enslave, maim or kill certain people out of justice. (I would submit that the Church is kind of ambiguous about whether it’s morally permissible to torture or mutilate someone who has already been convicted by due process). Yet, even when it is *justified* to do that to a person, that does not mean it’s morally obligatory. It means it wouldn’t be wrong to do that. However, if the state wants to show clemency to a repentant criminal, that would be not just justice but virtue.

Normally, it is mortally sinful to take property from another person. However, in civil and economic justice, it is morally justifiable for the government to take property from people for purposes of settling an economic or legal debt, for taxation, or for alleviating the economic hardship of the unemployed or underpaid (*HOWEVER AGAIN*, it would be best to take the money from those who, according to Church teaching, are not getting their money justly to begin with).

Normally, it is mortally sinful for individuals to “take the law into their own hands”, but it is sometimes justifiable to do things that are otherwise wrong out of extreme necessity.

However, too often, Catholics take that “justifiable” and equate it with “virtuous” or “necessary.” Again, war or the death penalty may be morally justifiable, but they’re never obligatory or necessary options. There is always a higher alternative.

St. Gianna Baretta Molla chose to avoid legitimate, morally justifiable, medical procedures that risked the life of her unborn baby. By doing so, she was practicing heroic virtue. That’s why she’s a Saint. She would have been morally justified in getting the medical treatment–it wasn’t a procured abortion–but she chose not to.

Heroic virtue means, when faced with two alternatives that the Church allows, you choose the one that is *more* virtuous yet *more* challenging and risky. Capital “S” Saints are people who exemplify heroic virtue par excellence, but all Catholics are called to practice heroic virtue in our lives.

And that is what bothers me, especially when talking with my fellow Catholics about political or economic issues–the fact that the merely *justifiable* is so often favored over the heroically virtuous. The heroically virtuous option is often derided as impractical, or imprudent, or even *against* Church teaching since the Church “allows” the justifiable option.

What part of “Nothing Positive” don’t you understand?

I don’t remember seeing this article before, although I may have used it in my series of reflections on Iraq last year. However, His Holiness, Benedict XVI, Pope of Rome, Servant of the Servants of God, etc., unequivocally condemned the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in April 2007.

He said that nothing good has come from the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. He condemned those who use God’s name to promote war, and he said that Christians are to be a people of peace.

I don’t understand how anyone who has faith in God can say the kinds of things that the Warhawks say. Prayer and fasting are the greatest weapons we could have. If all of America turned to the Eucharist, the Rosary, and the Bible. If all of America fell on our knees in penance and confessed our sins the way Jesus wants them confessed, imagine the ramifications that would have for the whole world.

The main weapon that atheists and Muslims have is not their lawyers or their bombs. It’s the hypocrisy of Christians.

Comments, Necons?

My Community

My Community has a website! There will be pictures uploaded soon of our recent day of recollection and the Mass where I made my three-year promises as a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites.

There are four “stages” of being an OCDS:
1. After the first year of attendance, a person is vested in the “ceremonial” Brown Scapular. This is not to be confused with the “Brown Scapular Confraternity,” which is a popular devotion administered by the Order. OCDS members wear a larger version of the Brown Scapular as the Habit of our Order, which we wear at official functions, liturgies, etc. We have the option of wearing a smaller brown Scapular or a “Scapular Medal” (any medal with Mary on one side and Jesus or His Sacred Heart on the other–the Miraculous Medal is a form of Scapular Medal) on a day-to-day basis.

2. After another 2 years, the person makes temporary promises of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. This is understood in relation with the state in life. We’re supposed to live in spiritual poverty and simplicity. The promise of Chastity is also in accordance with the state in life. It’s in principle the same thing every person is obliged to, but we are committing ourselves to strive for greater virtue and uprightness in this regard, making the penalty for sins against Chastity all the greater. The promise of Obedience mostly applies in practice to our particular Community. It’s not the same as the Vows of a religious person, since we’re not living in Community.

3. After 3 more years of study, if the person has passed through formation successfully, he or she makes perpetual promises of the same things, and is now bound for life to the Carmelite order. To try and leave the Secular Order of Carmel after this point would be the same as a religious brother or sister leaving an Order and would require a canonical process.

4. Some members choose to make, after 7 years, vows of chastity and obedience which add yet another level of strictness. This is mostly a personal, ceremonial thing. Some orders distinguish between “third Order religious” and “third Order secular.” Carmelites do not.

So the promises are the same, but the text says ” . . . for three years [the rest of my life],” leaving it up to the individual, at the appropriate time, to read the appropriate choice based upon whether he or she is making temporary or permanent vows. Well, of course, some people misread it, and it’s kind of fun.

So I was strongly tempted to say, ” I promise . . . . for three years, or the rest of my life, whichever comes first.”

Also, our local community’s founder and professor emeritus–a really bright guy–has a cool website where he’s posted some of his articles.

Wow! Interactive LOTH online in Latin

Here is a cool site that has the Vatican II Liturgy of the Hours, complete, in Latin, online in an interactive format. You click on the day of the year for saints or feasts, or on the season and week of the season, and then day, and it takes you right to the correct prayers. It’s really snazzy.

WOW! Cool! OCD Propers!!

A big discussion among Carmelites is the accessibility of Carmelite Propers for the Liturgy of the Hours.

The most recently published edition was done in the 1990s in England. It uses translations that are approved for use in England, but not approved in the US, so, *technically*, it doesn’t apply for people in the US to satisfy our obligation, but many of us use it anyway. In any case, the problem with the “little black book” is that it’s yet another prayer book to keep track of.

It’s cool, though: it has the special prayers (technically called Propers) for the Liturgy of the Hours for all canonized or beatified members of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, regardless of whether they’re “old observance,” Discalced, or some other branch. It has collects and Office of Readings readings for the saints and Blesseds who are not on the General Roman Calendar, and it has spewebcial antiphons and readings for days that are solemnities on the Carmelite Calendar, such as John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, All Carmelite Saints and Elijah the Prophet.

It also has a wonderful collection of Carmelite prayers and hymns.

But, as I say, it’s hard to keep track of. I was in the middle of searching for it to celebrate the Solemnity of Our Holy Father, St. John of the Cross, when I thought to look it up online.

Well, I found this edition, dated 2007, in PDF, posted on the website of an OCDS community. It doesn’t seem to have all the extras of the “little black book,” but it seems to have the same saints, only the texts are the correct translations for use in liturgies in the United States.

Why wasn’t this talked about before it passed?

So, Obama has now unconstitutionally usurped control over what our kids eat.
If you have your kid in a school that takes federal money, the federal government now has the power to dictate what your kids eat before, during and after school and on vacations.

What country are we living in?

Does anyone care anymore?

“Keep Christ in Christmas” “Support our Troops”: HUH?? What happened to “Peace on Earth”??

Tried to go to a Christmas Festival in Augusta sponsored by the Alleluia Community. Was expecting some nice parish shindig, but it was actually this huge deal with half the downtown cordoned off, cops everywhere, a parade, etc.

I was worried about the crowed, and the drums were hurting my valve. Gianna said, “I’m scared; let’s go home.” Then Joe said, “Me, too.” So we went to the Mall to see “Santa” instead.

Anyway, as we were parking, a “Christmas train” was leaving for the parade (gussied up truck with a trailer). It had “Keep Christ in Christmas” on the front, and “support our troops” on the back.
Plus, the loud marching bands. And ROTC people walking around in military uniforms, carrying fake guns, and everything in me said, “What does this have to do with Christmas? Whatever happened to ‘Peace on earth to men of goodwill’??”

Why have we gone so terribly wrong?

How is all this honoring the One Who said, “My name is Mercy”?

You know, Communism may be the AntiChrist, but Neoconservatism is the False Prophet.

G. K. Chesterton on Suicide versus Martyrdom

About the same time I read a solemn flippancy by some free thinker: he said that a suicide was only the same as a martyr. The open fallacy of this helped to clear the question. Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end. In other words, the martyr is noble, exactly because (however he renounces the world or execrates all humanity) he confesses this ultimate link with life; he sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live. The suicide is ignoble because he has not this link with being: he is a mere destroyer; spiritually, he destroys the universe.