Thursday, December 27, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
It was Bethlehem, the end of a long night...
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
"Merry Christmas" as A Light to Enlighten the Nations
It seems to me that like all publicly displayed Christmas decorations, neighborhood Christmas lights strike a small chord of anxiety in the hearts of a lot of serious Christians. We wonder, do the good people who bedeck their storefronts and homefronts for Christmas know Christ? Do they know that He is "the reason for the season"? And if they do not, why are they parading around as though they did? After all, Christmas is properly our holiday; Christmas is the natal celebration for those who will in a few short months commemorate a Crucifixion.
But I love the fact that at Christmas all the world rejoices. I really love the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harry gets caught up in this most accessible of "our" holidays. In fact, it is most right that everyone joins in at the Christian's Christmas, regardless of the state of their present salvation/sanctification/enlightenment. Because Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnationof God, Christmas truly is for all people. God Himself, the Creator of the Universe, took on (universal) human flesh and the entirety of human experience at His conception and birth. This event is not only the beginning of the hope that is consummated at Calvary; it is the objective, effective beginning of our salvation.
...So let the whole weary world rejoice in its rather kitschy and bedecked way, and let the unbaptized, unwashed masses bedeck their lawns, and let whosoever will drive by and enjoy the implicit celebration of the Savior of the world. In the sheer grace of Christ having assumed our nature, His salvation is in some way already theirs...our's...everyone's.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
We distributed these gifts to nearby homes, and then settled in for a long winter's nap.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Saint Lucy, Patroness of the Blind
Her feast day is celebrated especially in Sweden, where elements of light and sight, as well as the martyr's crown, are combined in a beautiful family custom appropriate for Advent celebration; the eldest daughter of the household, wearing a white dress with a sash of crimson and a crown of branches set with lighted candles, rises early to serve breakfast to her family...
Lord, let now thy servant depart in peace; for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have given for all the world to see- a light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Who were the Spirituali?
The Spirituali were members of a Catholic reform movement from about 1510 to the 1560s.
Among them were Cardinals Gasparo Contarini(1483-1542), Giovanni Pietro Carafa, Jacopo Sadoleto, and Reginald Pole. These "Italian evangelicals" proposed to reform the Catholic church through a spiritual renewal and the internalisation of faith by each individual. Intense study of scripture and emphasis on justification by faith were seen as the means to that end.
The Spirituali took many of their ideas from older Catholic texts, but they were certainly inspired by the Protestant Reformation, especially Calvinism. The most notable expression of Spirituali doctrine was the text Beneficio di Cristo, written in a first version by the Benedictine monk Benedetto Fontanini 1543 and later revised by the poet and humanist Marcantonio Flaminio.
Although Spirituali occupied positions of high power within the church hierarchy, they failed to achieve much change, and more "fundamentalist" currents, such as the Jesuits, bore out the reforms of the Council of Trent. Ultimately, the Spirituali hoped for Church reform without a challenge to Catholic authority; that is to say, for a peaceful renewal from within...
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Which Church Father Are You?
... (most turn out to be Justin Martyr, but let us know...)
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Feast Day for the Virgin of Guadalupe
Here's the wikipedia entry on the VG.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Most Annoying Christmas Carol, etc.
Your King will come to you
As always, we go to the liturgy to learn how we are to live this season of both preparation and expectation. The antiphon of Matins of this Sunday exhorts us, “Daughters of Jerusalem, rejoice and be glad; your King will come to you!” And, “Let us cleanse our hearts for the coming of the great King.”So both joy and penance are interwoven during this season. Joy, because “He is coming; he will not delay!” And penance to prepare our hearts to welcome the promised One, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand,” St. John the Baptist cries out to us.
The penitential character of Advent is different than that of Lent. While the penance of Lent is primarily about expiation for our sins, the penance of Advent is about emptying ourselves of anything that is not of God so as to expand our desires for Him; to become a home for the Word. On the day of His coming we do not want to be like the bride of the Song of Songs whose response to the knock of the Bridegroom was that she didn’t want to get her feet dirty! We want our reply to be that of Esther: “You are wonderful, my Lord, and your countenance is full of grace.”“It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep.”
While in many ways Lent is the season of the monk—for our life is about conversion—I would say that Advent is our season par excellence. Why do we wait on the Lord throughout the night in vigils and holy hours but to express that yearning and longing to experience Him intimately in loving communion so that we can say, “this is my Beloved and this is my friend!”So during this holy season, I encourage each of you to enter into that deep inner silence of your hearts, and with God’s grace and the help of Our Lady, to be courageous to get rid of anything that may hinder your union with Him, so that on Christmas like Mary you can ponder the Word in your heart, and you can tell the world, “Lift up your heads; your salvation is at hand!
-Sr. Mary Catharine of Jesus, OP
Monday, December 10, 2007
One of many YWAM ballads
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Two killed in YWAM shooting
Youth With A Mission (YWAM) is an international and interdenominational Christian movement with operating locations in 171 nations. YWAM was launched in 1960 by one man who dreamed of young Christians spreading the Gospel much in the same way as waves break on shores. YWAM offers means for young people to work in short and long-term missionary service, and now has over 16 000 staff working in 1180 centers. YWAM trains and recruits over 25, 000 people each year "to know God and make Him known."
I am grieving and praying for the families of these fellow YWAMers tonight. Most of all, I know that as young YWAM missionaries, the staffers who lost their lives this morning had long since given their lives away to their Savior, Jesus Christ. YWAMers make a clear set of commitments, and they speak a clear and definite language; from the first day of our mission on bases around the world, we learned that the Father heart of God yearns over His creation and that He speaks to the depths of the human heart. Our lives are thus lived according to a preemptive yes to anything that He might ask of us. We gave up our idols and we gave up our rights, and we gave our full allegiance to the dreams of our God; there would be no other final claim upon us. For those who have given everything to God, to live is for Christ, and to die- it is gain.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of their God, rest in His peace.
"Merry Christmas" as I Know that my Redeemer Lives
Have you noticed that Christmas is all about children? It seems to be a foregone conclusion in our culture that they are the ones who know and can most fully enter the spirit of the season, such that adults are beckoned by every storefront and candy cane and bit of tinsel to participate annually in their glee (rather than the other way around, for once); and if for some reason we cannot enter easily into the life of a child, we sigh and hope that we might dutifully catch some of that properly childlike Christmas abandon sometime soon.
Think about the Christmas cinema: it’s Tiny Tim, and Natalie of 44th Street, and that little girl on It’s a Wonderful Life who can really comprehend The Mystery while everyone else frets at Christmas. And, I believe, we all sort of envy the Griswold family for their childish Christmas antics. Who really wants to be a deliberating and reserved grown-up on Christmas morning?
There’s something very true about the whole impulse; this is the time when we celebrate the fact that our Creator entered into the life of a little child. And if we sometimes feel irked with ourselves at this time of year because we are too old and grumpy and stingy to experience Christmas time with childlike longing and heart skipping, we might recall that we are indeed supposed to enter into the life of the child, in the real way in which we are called to be like little children by Christ Himself.
(In each Gospel, Jesus’ endorsement of the little child is immediately juxtaposed against the sad tale of the rich young ruler who has everything, but who walks away from the child-embraced Christ. The stark social-economic reality is that children get to Jesus because they’ve got nothing to lose, and we remember- with a very adult sobriety, perhaps- that for us the true life of a child is one of renunciation, of the positioning of one’s self to be, like children, without property, without political status, and without legal rights with which to enforce our will against another. The idealized life of the little child is thus potentially rather terrifying. Hello, Kierkegaard.)
Of course, children are not so easily terrified; as is most pronounced in the midst of our adult Christmases, they believe.
G.K. Chesterton does not talk so much about the absence of atheists in foxholes in his work On Conversion; rather, he notes the total absence of atheists in the nursery. Have you ever met an agnostic child? I haven’t. Children love, and rejoice, and decorate, not because the world is rosy or because they have found adequate justification for their beliefs. They know and they love. It’s simple.
The whole world wants to be pretty simple at Christmas too. I drive down the highway and I see billboards plastered with single-word sentiments at this time of year: “Peace!”… “Joy!”…About what? Downtown, there are little trees covered with lights. Why? People scramble to spend money creatively and congregate in ways that would otherwise appear idiotic. What are they playing at?
You see how incongruous these nasty questions seem in context. “It’s Christmas” (the world replies)- “that’s why!”
It may be that Christmas is when the whole weary world, from east to west, bares its most childlike, latent intuitions and its most simple, heartfelt impulses. This is the time when it makes no sense to ask qualifying questions; this is the time that we all simply know, and that we all love, just because. This is the time when the most secular of cultures reminds us that there is something to the fact that we all just simply know Christmas, and we all simply want Christmas in our hearts, on some level at least; and if we do not know and love Christmas when we see it, then there must be something- unchildlike - about our hearts.
(Keep the spirit of Christmas!… and you know what that means. -What, you don’t? Well then, you’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch…).
One of the world’s best philosophers of religion was lecturing nearby last week. He holds that glimmers of religious experience, sometimes encountered, constitute sufficient evidence- when combined with other cumulative clues to the existence of God- that is adequate to defeat even the verifiable detractor of the monumental problem of evil. I asked him about the content of this religious experience, which so many people anticipate with longing, like children waiting for Christmas. I have heard so many non Christian friends confide that they would gladly believe if God would just give them a sign, or if He would just make Himself clear enough for real rational assent. They want proof; they want something to justify that God-sense in their gut. Don’t we all? …And is this elusive “religious experience” best defined as consolation? Or the presence of hope? Or is it mere perseverence? How will we rationally evaluate it when it comes? My philosopher of religion pointed out how incongruous these questions seem in context. When you've met God, you just know.
Look around you: it’s Christmas time. Why all the fuss? Why this longing in our hearts to rejoice and have peace, and to have it now? -Well, it’s Christmas, that’s why.
Self evidence: We just know what we seek, and we just know when we are met by the God who made us. We know and we love. It’s simple. And every year at Christmas, the rest of the world endorses the Christian intuition as it joins us in this very simple experience of childlike knowing and celebrating, impulsively turning out Christmas because of the quiet mystery of the Incarnation of God. The world is full of childlike little people who simply know and love at Christmas time, and who wait breathlessly for….
Argue with that one, Mr. Grinch.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Tim Tebow's pro-life message
It turns out that when his mother was pregnant with him, she fell sick and was urged to abort him, because the fetus was too damaged. Today he wins the Heisman Trophy. The Gainesville Sun gives the full story here.
Additionally, Tebow mentions this toward the end of his post-award interview with Chris Fowler:
Congratulations to Tim Tebow and to his mother for her faithful courage.
P.S. Here's his acceptance speech:
My take on the Golden Compass
As a number of commenters mentioned, there is something useful in exposing yourself to culturally relevant phenomena, as it allows you have fruitful discussions with others who have seen it -- especially as a jumping off point for discussions about God. Some who have pastoral responsibilities may feel like they need to see the movie so they can speak about it intelligently with their congregation.
As for me, I don't think I have anything to fear from Mr. Pullman's second-rate ideas. In the last few years, as part of my theological education, I've read most of the really good stuff written by atheists. I've been exposed to David Hume, Ludwig Feuerbach, Antony Flew (in his atheist days), Sigmund Freud, A.J. Ayer, and probably a few others that I've forgotten. These men are all first-rate thinkers and bring real challenges to religious faith, and if, by the grace of God, my faith can withstand the assaults of their ideas, I certainly don't fear Pullman's ideas.
We don't often admit it, but heretics and atheists have often provided a useful service to the church, since they have forced the church to be clear about what it believes and why. Heretics rarely think they are heretics (Arius was a bishop, after all), and instead think that they are actually proclaiming the true faith; atheists often force us to confront false ideas about God that we often sloppily adopt (I still think Feuerbach was right about a lot of things, just not the most important one). Ayer's book forced Christian philosophers to engage in very difficult work for five decades to overcome the force of his arguments and we have seen the fruit of the work in the production of thinkers like Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and William Alston -- and Christians are better off for the work they have done.
The problem is that atheistic thought has fallen on hard times and nary a new idea has come forth in half a century. That's not to say that plenty of books about atheism haven't come out -- there seems to be a glut of them right now, but the fact is that most of them are either recycling old ideas or their new ones aren't very good. Most of it seems more pathological than intellectual, more emotional than philosophical. As thinkers, most of the public atheists today can't hold an intellectual candle to their predecessors.
So when I hear church leaders urge people not to go to these movies, it makes it sound as if we have something to fear, when we don't. Instead I'd like to hear a church leader stand up and say, "Look, we have nothing to fear from a little entertainment with an anti-church stance. Go see it and we can talk about why this is a caricature of faith and church -- and if we think it makes any good points, we can talk about that too." Telling people not to go pretty much proves the point of the movie.
The reality is that are many movies out there that provide worse messages. How about a movie that glorifies adultery, or prostitution, or serial killing? The simple fact is that the vast majority of what Hollywood produces is functionally atheistic and opposed to Christian beliefs. As far as I'm concerned Pullman at least has the decency to be honest about it.
Now, as for the movie itself, it was just fine. My wife and mother-in-law liked it, with my mother-in-law describing it as "magic". It has a good vs. evil plot, decent special effects, not too many plot lulls and so on. As science fiction/fantasy it wasn't too bad. Not up to the level of Narnia or a good Harry Potter movie or any of the Lord of the Rings movies, but decent fare. I thought the best character in the story is the polar bear, while most everyone else is a cliche.
In fact, for me the most tedious parts of the movie, and this is why I think Pullman as a critic of the church is second-rate, were the anti-Catholic parts. It just seemed so...preachy. I found myself rolling my eyes in disdain at the gross caricatures of religious belief -- the church wants to take away your free will, it thinks it knows what is best for you, the church thinks sin is bad for you, the church abuses children, etc.. There's nothing controversial or novel here, mostly just bad ideas recycled under the guise of fantasy.
Like I said above, the best character in the movie is a kickass polar bear -- he's really the one you find yourself cheering for. He's loyal, strong, brave, and has a chance to redeem himself for his past failures.
So, as two hours of entertainment, I'd say go see it if this is your kind of thing -- if you liked Potter, Narnia and LOTR, you'll enjoy this. You've got nothing to fear.
Finally, just a note on two ironies. First, there is something slightly amusing about releasing an anti-church movie during the season celebrating the birth of Christ. I think Christ wins this one hands down. Second, there is also an irony that the first thirty minutes of the film take place at a university that is supposed to be free of the influence of the church and the filming location is Oxford university -- Christ Church to be exact. I find it hilarious that a film that proposes that the church is opposed to learning and free will is filmed at one of the premier educational institutions in the world, but one that was founded for religious purposes. The very location refutes the point of the movie.
Well, I've gone on for too long, but I'd love to hear what other people think once they've seen the movie.
Update: It's not doing too well at the box office.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Friday, December 07, 2007
New Rector for Holy Cross Dallas
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Is anyone actually going to see this?...
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
In case you might be searching for opportunities to do unto the apparent least as unto our Lord through your gift giving this Christmas, some of my favorite ideas for making every little bit count:
- Gift and mentor the children of inmates while their parents are in prison, both at Christmas and throughout at the year via Angel Tree.
- Feed a family for a year through Alternative Gift Giving.
- Care for the homeless in your area through The Salvation Army.
- Provide a scholarship for a genocide orphan through Orphans of Rwanda.
- ...and as ever, support The Missionaries of Charity.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Divorce is Bad for the Planet... Researchers Say...
And people who divorced used 73 billion kilowatt-hours more of electricity and 627 billion gallons of water than they would otherwise in 2005."
Read the whole thing.
The Church's Christmas List
For Children: spiritual formation, education, provision, respect as human persons and children of God, a tender, forgiving, respectful, and serving home.
Monday, December 03, 2007
"Merry Christmas" as All Hail King Jesus
Over the past few years, I have just about had it with Jaded Evangelical Disilusion with Christmas on the one hand, and Flippant Disregard on the other. I heard a bright young person wish his friend a benign "Happy Holidays," in Church, on Sunday; very, very Annoying.
When I lived in a certain little spot in New England, the town square outside my apartment had this gorgeous enormous lit Christmas tree in its center; at dusk each night, it illumined its snowy environs along with the glittering snowflake which hung on the charming intersection of Chapel and College. There as now, Starbucks has everything in red (with a ubiquitous "pass the cheer" injunction), and Hark the Herald Angels playing; storefronts are bedecked in green. Christians, of all people, should be hilarious with delight at the way our world resounds with the Gospel at this time of the year.... and all without much effort on our part.
These Christmas symbols mean Something, and they emerge on a ready world each December, to be unveiled along with with the implicit Gospel which they signify- twinkling lights, for the Light which shines in darkness; evergreens, because God's creation is renewed with the Incarnation, being returned to the One for whom it was made, death is undone, life can now flourish; red, for the precious life-blood which accomplished it all. We exchange gifts to commemorate the unqualified grace of the cross, the proper Christmas Tree. There's even a poignant story behind Candy Canes.
And what are many Christians doing? They sulk about "commercialism," "pagan solstice origins," "seasonal stress," "holiday blues," and "Market Economy Exploitation of the Season." Oh COME ON. In a world where one's children may be slowly put to death for the mere confession of Christ, we get to rollick in His fame, and our very storefronts do it with us. This is a winter wonderland for Jesus' followers across the globe. It's amazing.
The Psalmist simply loses it when he describes his vision of his Lord: "my heart is overflowing with a good matter; I speak of the things which I have made for the King. Thou art fairer than all the children of men; grace is poured from thy lips; therefore God has blessed thee forever; in thy majesty ride prosperously... and thy right hand shall accomplish awe-inspiring things. .. I will make thy name to be remembered in all generations; therefore shall the people praise thee forever and ever." (Psalm 45) This is the spirit of Christmas.
Jesus is a rock star in the world at this time of year. Far be it from good Christians to dilute this kind of evangelism. The whole world around us wants to celebrate the Savior to this extent, as we can tell by the lights and tinsle and trees and gift giving madness. Rich and poor alike, throughout the world at large, wait to hear the good news preached to the poor at Christmas. The weary world wants to rejoice, even though maybe all it can do is decorate. But we knew that all along. Let's make their desire a reality at this time of the year.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Benedict's Second Encyclical: Spe Salvi
I refer all of you to Amy Wellborn's generous provision of links to the text itself, press reviews, and links to bloggers who are currently reading the enyclical and commenting.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
O Adonai, and leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm-
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign to the people, before whom kings shall shut their mouths and the nations shall seek: Come and deliver us and do not delay-
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no one can shut, who shuts and no one can open: Come and bring the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death-
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
O Daystar, splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death-
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
O King of the nations, and their desire, the corner-stone making both one: Come and save us, whom you formed from the dust-
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the desire of all nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God-
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
-Author Unknown, 9th century