Saturday, December 31, 2016

Well Said: Christmas

From my quote journal.
Fail not to call to mind, in the course of the twenty-fifth of this month, that the Divinest Heart that ever walked the earth was born on that day; and then smile and enjoy yourselves for the rest of it; for mirth is also of Heaven's making.
Leigh Hunt

Friday, December 30, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Clara The Rhinoceros

Clara the Rhinoceros, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1749
via WikiPaintings
Clara was very famous and I thought this painting was fascinating.

Well Said: Christmas

From my quote journal.
Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

El Greco, The Holy Family
via Wikipedia
Between Joseph and Mary there existed a holy affection, a spirit of service, and a mutual desire for each others' happiness. This is Jesus' family: sacred, holy, exemplary, a model of human virtues, ready to carry out God's will exactly. A Christian home must be an imitation of the house of Nazareth; a place where there is plenty of room for God so that He can be right at the centre of the love that members of the family have for one another.

In Conversation with God: Advent and Christmastide
This feast day falls on the first Sunday after Christmas. This year that would make it fall on New Year's Day, which is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. When a Sunday does not occur between December 25 and January 1, this feast is celebrated on December 30. (The Church — they understand schedule conflicts!)

I have a special fondness for this feast, engendered largely because of my fervent prayers to the Holy Family in a very trying time, after which Tom and I were given a miraculous sign. Life in the Holy Family is one of my favorite subjects of contemplation, whether when formally in prayer or in little flashes as our family goes through the weeks and years with good and bad times alike.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Fiesta in Figueres

Salvador Dali, 1916, Fiesta in Figueres
via WikiPaintings
Doesn't this capture a feeling of movement and the excitement of fireworks? I love this!

Lagniappe: Christmas

A little something seasonal from my quote journal
The best sitting room at Manor Farm was a good, long, dark-paneled room with a high chimney-piece, and a capacious chimney, up which you could have driven one of the new patent cabs, wheels and all. At the upper end of the room, seated in a shady bower of holly and evergreens, were the two best fiddlers, and the only harp, in all Muggleton. In all sorts of recesses, and on all kinds of brackets, stood massive old silver candlesticks with four branches each. The carpet was up, the candles burnt bright, the fire blazed and crackled on the hearth, and merry voices and light-hearted laughter range through the room.
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

A Movie You Might Have Missed #60: Departures

The gift of last memories.


When the small orchestra that Daigo plays for is disbanded, he and his wife move back to his small home town to start over. Misunderstanding a job description, he finds himself being trained as an "encoffiner" to prepare corpses before their cremation. This ceremony is carried out before the families of the deceased. This puts him in an uncomfortable position since handling the dead is a taboo subject for Japanese.

By turns moving, funny, and inspirational, this is one I've thought of a lot since I saw it. As we learn the rhythm of the encoffinments we see that this ceremony is not only a sincere expression of respect for the deceased but is also healing for the mourners.

There is much more to the movie than encoffinment, although that is the spoke around which the wheel turns. Each character from the town, the encoffinments, and Daigo's life, no matter how small, is a significant part of the whole story — much as each instrument in an orchestra comes together to play a symphony. Highly recommended.

Fifth Day of Christmas: Optional Memorial of St. Thomas Becket

The Church celebrates the optional memorial of St. Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr. He was born in London and after studying in Paris, he first became chancellor to the king and then in 1162 was chosen Archbishop of Canterbury. He went from being "a patron of play-actors and a follower of hounds" to being a "shepherd of souls." He absorbed himself in the duties of his new office, defending the rights of the Church against Henry II. This prompted the king to exile him to France for six years. After returning to his homeland he endured many trials and was murdered by agents of the king.
See also this entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Lagniappe: Christmas

A little something seasonal from my quote journal.
It is, indeed, the season of regenerated feeling--the season for kindling, not merely the fire of hospitality in the hall, but the genial flame of charity in the heart.
Washington Irving, Old Christmas

Fourth Day of Christmas: Massacre of the Holy Innocents

Duccio di Buoninsegna. Maesta (front, predella): The Massacre of the Innocents
via Wikipedia.
Nor must we forget that our greatest happiness and our most authentic good are not always those which we dream of and long for. It is difficult for us to see things in their true perspective: we can only take in a very small part of complete reality. We only see the tiny piece of reality that is here, in front of us. We are inclined to feel that earthly existence is the only real one and often consider our time on earth to be the period in which all our longings for perfect happiness ought to be fulfilled.

There is anguish for us, twenty centuries later, in thinking of the slain babies and their parents. for the babies the agony was soon over; in the next world they would come to know whom they had died to save and for all eternity would have that glory. For the parents, the pain would have lasted longer; but at death they too must have found that there was a special sense in which God was in their debt, as he had never been indebted to any. They and their children were the only ones who ever agonized in order to save God's life ... (F. J. Sheed, To Know Christ Jesus)
In Conversation with God: Advent and Christmastide
We forget that the first martyrs were the most innocent of all, victims of someone in a blind rage at being thwarted and fearful of being displaced. This year the slaughter of the innocents feels more personal than ever, after the Newtown tragedy. Read more about the Holy Innocents here.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Boulevard Montmartre on a Winter Morning

The Boulevard Montmartre on a Winter Morning, Camille Pissarro
via Lines and Colors

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Julie takes Bob Cratchit's coal. Scott throws snowballs at carolers.

Neither can figure out why the clock keeps ringing 1:00 all night long.

Episode 149 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast: a discussion of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Magpie

The Magpie, Claude Monet, 1868–1869

Third Day of Christmas: St. John the Evangelist

In his extreme old age he continued to visit the churches of Asia. St. Jerome relates that when age and weakness grew upon him so that he was no longer able to preach to the people, he would be carried to the assembly of the faithful by his disciples, with great difficulty; and every time said to his flock only these words: "My dear children, love one another."
This makes me think of John Paul II in his last years. Read more about St. John here.

Well Said: Christmas

From my quote journal ... Merry Christmas!
I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.

Taylor Caldwell

Monday, December 26, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Trio

taken by Remo Savisaar

Well Said: Noel by J. R. R. Tolkien

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven’s King.

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.
The Nativity, 1858, Arthur Hughes
This poem was published in the 1936 Annual of Our Lady’s School, Abingdon, Tolkien’s “Noel” was unknown and unrecorded until scholars Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull discovered it while searching for another poem in June 2013. Links and more info are here.

Second Day of Christmas: St. Stephen, The First Martyr

We have only just celebrated the birth of our Lord and already the liturgy presents us with the feast of the first person to give his life for this Baby who has been born. Yesterday we wrapped Christ in swaddling clothes; today, he clothes Stephen with the garment of immortality. Yesterday, a narrow manger cradled the baby Christ; today, the infinite heaven has received Stephen in triumph. (St. Fulgentius, Sermon 3)

The Church wants to make us realize that the Cross is always very close to Jesus and his followers. As he struggles for perfect righteousness - sanctity - in this world, the Christian will meet perfect situations and attacks by the enemies of God. Our Lord has warned us: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you ... Remember the word that I said to you; a servant is not greater than his master: If they persecuted me they will persecute you. (John 15:18-20) Since the very beginning of the Church this prophecy has been fulfilled. And in our days too, if we really follow Our Lord, we are going to suffer difficulties and persecutions in one way or another and of different kinds. Every age is an age of martyrdom, St. Augustine tells us. Don't say that Christians are not suffering persecution; the Apostle's words are always true ...: All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim 3:12) All, he says, with no one being excluded or exempted. If you want to test the truth of this saying, you have only to begin to lead a pious life and you will see what good reason he had for saying this. (St. Augustine, Sermon 6, 2)
In Conversation with God: Advent and Christmastide

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Well Said: Glorious Mess

From my quote journal.
One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don't clean it up too quickly.
Andy Rooney
And we never do.

Welcome Lord Jesus Into Our Midst

Adoration of the Shepherds
1535-40, Adoration of the Shepherds
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.
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.
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.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!

Isaiah 9:1-6
Thanks be to God!

May He bless you richly and may we recognize the blessings He sends us.
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Christmas Card!

The world's first commercially produced Christmas card,
designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole in 1843

Christmas Eve: Considering the Incarnation

Looking through old Christmas posts, I came across this bulletin insert from a few years ago. I found it good to reread and you may also so I present it again here.
Considering the Truth of the Incarnation

No worldly mind would ever have suspected that He Who could make the sun warm the earth would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm Him with their breath; that He Who, in the language of Scriptures, could stop the turning about of Arcturus would have His birthplace dictated by an imperial census; that He, Who clothed the fields with grass, would Himself be naked; that He, from Whose hands came planets and worlds, would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle; that the feet which trod the everlasting hills would one day be too weak to walk; that the Eternal Word would be dumb; that Omnipotence would be wrapped in swaddling clothes; that Salvation would lie in a manger; that the bird which built the nest would be hatched therein—no one would have ever suspected that God coming to this earth would ever be so helpless. And that is precisely why so many miss Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it. ...

No man can love anything unless he can get his arms around it, and the cosmos is too big and too bulky. But once God became a Babe and was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, men could say, “This is Emmanuel, this is God with us.” By His reaching down to frail human nature and lifting it up to the incomparable prerogative of union with Himself, human nature became dignified. So real was this union that all of His acts and words, all of His agonies and tears, all of His thoughts and reasonings, resolves and emotions, while being properly human, were at the same time the acts and words, agonies and tears, thought and reasonings, resolves and emotions of the Eternal Son of God.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ
PMRMaeyaert, Sint-Walburgakerk, Oudenaarde, Belgium
via Wikipedia, Creative Commons License 3.0
In our meditations upon the Incarnation we encounter many familiar images. This is natural and to be expected. It is automatic to think sentimentally and comfortably about the little babe, the adoring parents, singing angels, startled shepherds, and Magi with gifts, while traditional carols echo in our ears.

However, as Fulton Sheen reminds us, the reality of the Incarnation is not comfortable at all. It is God breaking into human time and nature and history to effect a miracle so outrageous that no one would have thought it up in their wildest dreams. The Second Person of the Trinity willingly takes on our limited human nature, purely for love of us. Shocking? Yes. Amazing? Yes. But comfortable? No.

This also is a good reminder that it is very easy to read into Scripture what we would like to see. Pulling the truth out of Scripture, also called exegesis, is considerably more difficult. That truth may prove quite a bit more surprising than we expect. God does have a habit of showing us truth in surprising ways.

To think of the Christ child at Christmas is natural. Undeniably those are the images of the season. However, the meaning of this baby for us and for all mankind is far from a sentimental picture. Jesus comes to us as a baby so we will learn something of his real nature and of the beginning of the path that he will tread and that we must follow.

Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898), The Nativity
Pope Benedict XVI helps us to consider further the layers of meaning in the Incarnation. In a Christmas homily* he said:
God’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. … God’s sign is simplicity. … God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. … He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. ...

In our meditations upon the Incarnation we encounter many familiar images. This is natural and to be expected. However, let us not settle for comfort. Let us dig deeper and discover the true nature of the Lord, he who is Love incarnate, who came to show that love for you and for me.
* Read online Pope Benedict XVI’s entire homily from Midnight Mass 2006, Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord 

Christmas Eve Lagniappe

A little something seasonal from my quote journal.
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
Dr. Seuss 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Ghost of Christmas Present

The Ghost of Christmas Present
from the original edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1843

The Greatest Journey, part 6

I love to reread this each year, journeying through Advent, so I'm reposting it.

Ending our examination of chapter five of  Go to Joseph, Father Gilsdorf leads us to consider Joseph when he first sees Jesus.
Guido Reni, St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus
In the depth of the night, Mary gives birth. The purest eyes on earth, undimmed by sin, look with maternal ecstasy into the eternal depths of the little eyes of her Divine Son, Who is also the Son of God, eyes now looking outward with infinite love into the world He created in the beginning.

Then Joseph approaches. His chaste fatherly eyes gaze in rapture on the face of the Christ Child. As a sure guide of the journey to Bethlehem, that "House of Bread," he has accomplished his first task. Soon there would be more journeys of pilgrimage and exile: the Presentation of the Infant, the coming of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, and years later, the finding of his Boy in the Temple. How can we not give to this Christmas procession the title of "The Greatest Journey?" And Joseph led the way.

What a powerful lesson to youth of all times. If we hold the more common modern view of the age of the Holy Couple, does it not become irresistibly appealing to the good young people living among us? Will they not perhaps be astonished and thrilled to discover how God entrusted the salvation of the world into the care of a very young man and woman? Will they not open their hearts to the call and challenge of God to undertake great missions that He has in store for them in the Church?
That is the end of chapter five but hopefully you can see why I found this little book so good. Tom and I are reading it together, a bit at a time, after dinner each evening.

More Christmas Punny Stuff

Last weekend I ran some Christmas jokes. Here's a second set which made me laugh just as much.

What nationality is Santa Claus?

He's North Polish!

Why does Santa Claus insist that all the elves wash their clothes in Tide?

Because at the North Pole, it's too cold to wash them OUT tide.

What did the reindeer say before launching into his comedy routine?

This will sleigh you!

Good King Wenceslas phoned Domino's for a pizza.

The salesgirl asked him: "Do you want your usual? Deep pan, crisp and even?"

And with that Irish you a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Santa's Workshop

Santa's workshop from the Silly Symphonies short of that name.

The Greatest Journey, part 5

I love to reread this each year, journeying through Advent, so I'm reposting it.

Continuing our examination of chapter five of  Go to Joseph, Father Gilsdorf considers the need for shelter, Jesus' impending birth, and the closed doors. An interesting theory is in the footnote so do not skip it.
Saint Joseph Seeks a Lodging in Bethlehem, James Tissot
Then, as the afternoon shadows lengthened into evening, Joseph began his search for a proper place for Mary, whose hour had come. Some scholars have suggested reading "the inn was no place for them," rather than "there was no place for them in the inn."(Luke 2:7)v The need was admittedly not just for any shelter, but for privacy and propriety. Yet the traditional meditation is forever valid: The heartsick Joseph on the first Christmas Eve knocking on doors and hearts was repeatedly rejected; Mary waiting prayerfully, quietly abandoned to God's providence, astride that blessed noble donkey; the Child within her abut to be born. "He came to His own, and His own received Him not." (John 1:11) People closed their doors in the face of the Creator, Savior, and Judge of the universe. It was a prophetic forecast of so many rejections in all the generations yet to come.

The Advent application good Christians have always drawn was to listen for Joseph's knocking and his plea to open the doors of our homes and hearts for Mary and her Child. "To those who did receive Him, He gave them power to become children of God."(John 1:12)

We move now in spirit to the refuge, probably a combination cave/stable used by shepherds like those still seen in the area, a place to shelter themselves and their flocks. We see Joseph busily and artfully preparing the place of delivery and the manger/crib for the Infant.

At this point we return to our opening reflections--Joseph the patriarch of the new and everlasting covenant, guardian and custodian of the Bread from heaven. God has appointed him "Lord of His house and prince of all His possessions." (CF Ps 105:21)

v Some scholars go beyond this. they say that the word commonly translated as 'inn"--katalyma--is actually best understood as a room set apart, a private room. The same word is used in Luke 22;11 ("And you shall say to the goodman of the house, 'The master says to you: Where is the guest chamber [or guest room] where I may eat the pasch with My disciples.'"). The theory here is that such a room was needed for childbirth, since, due to the blood loss associated with delivering a baby, a woman was ritually unclean for 40-80 days after a birth (depending on whether she bore a boy or a girl). furthermore, anyone who came in contact with a childbearing mother was also ritually unclean. Since Bethlehem was Joseph's town, and since he likely would have had relatives there, and since those relatives would have likely been inundated with other relatives like Joseph, the house would have been quite full. According to this theory, anyone in it would have risked ritual contamination by Mary's delivery. As a result, Mary and Joseph actively sought a less intrusive place (such as the stable attached to the house) and had the baby Jesus there. Again, this is only a theory, but it is an interesting one.
In part 6 Jesus is born.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Collecting the Tree

Father and son with their dog collecting a tree in the forest, painting by Franz Krüger (1797–1857)

The Greatest Journey: Part 4

I love to reread this each year, journeying through Advent, so I'm reposting it.

Continuing our examination of chapter five of  Go to Joseph we continue with Mary and Joseph on their trip to Bethlehem. So did anyone else ever imagine that they might have taken little side trips along the way? Yeah, me neither. As always Father Gilsdorf has some intriguing food for thought.
Saint Joseph, José de Ribera (1591–1652)
We may conjecture further about the last miles as they approached their destination. Would Mary and Joseph have chosen to bypass Ein Kerem, which was directly on their path? It was situated two miles north of Jerusalem. Can we suppose that, had they stopped there, the place where Mary had so recently aided her cousin in her own recent pregnancy, that there would have been a grand reception? Can we permit ourselves to picture the possibility of a reunion of the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth with Mary and Joseph, with little John sleeping in their midst? If this happened -- and again Scripture doesn't mention it -- Mary and Joseph would have had a day or so of rest and comfort in the generous company of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They also would have had the chance to replenish their supplies.

Despite the silence of the Gospel account, we will dare add one more rather plausible conjecture, Jerusalem lay directly on the path to Bethlehem. Would Mary and Joseph have failed to enter the Holy City? If so, would they not have paid a visit to the Temple? What a fulfillment that would have been it! The Holy of Holies had been vacant for centuries. The Ark of the Covenant vanished when the Temple was destroyed at the time of the deportation in 587 BC.

But dare we imagine that Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant, enters the new Temple? Within her womb resides the Shekinah of the Tabernacle.iv God's only begotten Son fills the Temple with a real incarnate divine Presence. He was in His Father's house.

One might construct another scenario. Perhaps a departure from Ein Kerem in the early morning, a visit to the Temple later in the morning after a two mile walk, about noon, and a final dealine to be met -- five miles of rather desolate ravel slightly southwest to Bethlehem!
And thou, Bethlehem, of the land of Judah, art by no means least among the princes of Judah; for from thee shall come forth a leader who shall rule My people Israel. (Mic 5:2 as cited in Matt 2:6)
iv The Shekinah--or Sh'cheenah--was the dwelling or the very Presence of God.
In part 5 Mary and Joseph arrive at Bethlehem.

Lagniappe: Rule #8

Rather, very, little, pretty — these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. The constant use of the adjective little (except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little better, we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one, and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then.
Rule #8, "An Approach to Style," Elements of Style, Strunk & White

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg

Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg
By Roland Berger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Talk about unintended timing. I chose this photo last week, well before the tragic news of the Berlin Christmas market terror. Let this photo remind us of the way the world should be, not the way it is. And that the reason for Christmas was the coming of our savior who helps us through tragedy.

Please join me in praying for the injured, the dead, and the souls of those who commit such horrible acts.

The Greatest Journey, part 3

I love to reread this each year, journeying through Advent, so I'm reposting it.

Continuing our examination of chapter five of Go to Joseph we now see Mary and Joseph set out on the trip to Bethlehem. Father Gilsdorf mentions things I never thought about in connection to this journey, such as how Joseph's skills may have come in handy or the concept of Mary as a living monstrance. Truly this is giving me something to contemplate as we grow closer to Christmas.
Saint Joseph, James Tissot
Then the day came for departure on the journey south to Bethlehem. Each day of this procession, Mary, like a living monstrance, rode astride the donkey, with Joseph walking along side holding the reins. Each night, he would have needed to have found shelter. Perhaps they stayed in roadside inns? The homes of friends and relatives? But surely, most often, the carpenter had to improvise, cutting and assembling branches to construct a lean-to. Nights in any desert are usually chilled, anyway, but given the time frame, this was also the traditional season of the cold winter rains.

On all sides were threats and terrors. Wild animals still ranged the wooded hilly areas.iii Other predators, equally cunning and merciless, were the notorious robber bands who scouted the trail for pilgrims to plunder. The courage, skills, and resourcefulness of Joseph are given wordless witness by the fact that this newly married couple not only made the journey but made it safely (undoubtedly with the protection of many angels).

In the daytime, there was the tedium of ascending hills and traversing valleys. As any woman who has endure the extreme discomfort of a late term will attest, this would have caused Mary extreme discomfort. This suffering must have struck a pained, compassionate response in her loving spouse. Bystanders probably observed them quickly and shrugged. Just a young man and his young, pregnant wife and nothing more. Who would have dreamed that before their eyes had just passed their Messiah, the Annointed longed for from the ages? Even less could they discern that the Messiah was truly "Emmanuel, God with us," the very Son of God. Scripture foretold that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son, and this was that very virgin!

Try as we might, the prayers and conversation of Mary and Joseph inevitably escape our powers of imagination. What did they share? How much did Joseph advance in holiness during this Advent?

iii Keep in mind that before the Romans denuded the Middle East and northern Africa of them for gladiatorial games, these areas were home to lions and bears.
In part 4 the journey continues.

Well Said: Principle and Practice

The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes; she is tolerant in practice because she loves. The enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe; they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.
Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

Monday, December 19, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Miracle on 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street. Valentine Davies.
via Books and Art

The Greatest Journey, part 2

I love to reread this each year, journeying through Advent, so I'm reposting it.

Continuing our examination of chapter five of Go to Joseph we now begin to take examine preparation for the trip to Bethlehem. Of course, that is of no immediate interest for contemplation if we do not also consider the spiritual side as well, which is thoughtfully brought up here. I especially like the link to Israel's history and Jesus' heritage which is brought up in the footnote. That was both a surprise and good food for thought for me personally in terms of considering Jesus' journeys. As a detail-oriented planner by nature, the idea of Joseph's pains to consider everything needed on a practical basis appeals to me also and makes me relate to him personally.
Mosaic of the enrollment for taxation before Governor Quirinius
The route of the journey was probably the same as that taken in the Visitation, which Luke tells us was through the hill country known as the shephelah, a geographical backbone down the center is Israel.ii The other routes were safe and more level, but this was the more direct route, and significantly, it was trodden by the feet of countless pious pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for the great Temple feasts. This distance to Jerusalem was about 85 miles. Joesph, however, was going five miles further south to Bethlehem to register in his ancestral home as required by the imperial census.

We can be sure that Joseph set a prudent daily pace out of respect for Mary's condition that added one more penitential aspect to this pilgrimage. Perhaps, then, about two weeks were required. These very weeks would correspond to our final phase of Advent. The earlier weeks were the period of prayerful preparation.

We can meditate on these preparations with a great spiritual gain. As an expectant mother, Mary prepared the customary necessities for her Child. We hear only of the swaddling clothes, but she doubtless had many other items to gather or to make with her own hands.

The spiritual preparations, however, would have been the most sublime experiences. Every expectant mother lives in constant awareness of the new life stirring in her womb. She must make sacrifices big and small and perform other acts of self-denial, all for the advantage of her child. She does so with great joy, and --if she is a believer--she will give thanks and pray for the life within.

But Mary heightens these maternal experiences in correspondence with her exalted holiness and her knowledge of the mystery of Who this Child of hers is. For her, the first Advent was filled with love, self-giving, peace, joy, and a constant inward contemplation. Hers was not only hope, but literally expectation, longing to behold the face of this Child, hers and God's. We recall the salutation of Gabriel, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee" ... is within thee!

In his own way, Joseph shared in this loving preparation. He, too, must have meditated on and adored the Child in Mary's womb. Enlightened now by heavenly revelation, he knew that his young wife was "blessed among women" and that "the fruit of her womb" was blessed, the Holy One of God. As a man with a mission to be the Redeemer's protector and provider, he labored arduously to assemble provisions for the journey. He would have carefully planned ahead to meet every need and to attempt to estimate the daily schedule, to plot the possible night-shelters.

ii This is also the route that King David took with the Ark of the Covenant in 2 Sam 6:2-16.
Next we will discuss the journey itself.

Well Said: Dracula and the difficulty modern man faces in accepting the supernatural as reality

Rare is the literary critic who looks at the recurring theme throughout the book of the difficulty modern man faces in accepting the supernatural as reality.

From its first page to its last, this is what Stoker is most interested in shaping his story around. The book has become so ingrained in our culture that millions who have never read it have absorbed the gist of the plot from the past century of adaptations, rip-off’s, and parodies in film, television, theater, and books.

This is part of the reason why the concept is missed, but the greater reason is the one Stoker illustrates time and again in his book – we deliberately ignore what we can’t comfortably explain.
William Patrick Maynard, Black Gate blog

How the Choir Converted the World by Mike Aquilina

How the Choir Converted the World: Through Hymns, with Hymns, and in Hymns 

by Mike Aquilina

I often catch myself humming or singing snatches of hymns when I'm cleaning the kitchen. This makes me laugh because I never in a million years would have thought I'd be the sort of person who sang hymns around the house. But it goes to Mike Aquilina's main point.
Our lives have a soundtrack, and the soundtrack has a lyric sheet. When we remember music, the words come back with it. Music is the most effective delivery system for words and ideas. And we don't need to read or study to get the message ... music is the most effective way to make a message memorable ...

The [Church] Fathers knew the power that music had over our minds—power over thoughts and feelings—and they respected that power. And they used that power to maximum effect. They knew that beautiful music could change the world. It makes us remember, it moves us to virtue, it heals us, and it makes us one.

The Fathers knew all these things—and one more important thing as well: they knew that music is a foretaste of heaven.
Aquilina talks about the power of music in the context of Jewish and Christian history. These chapters are fascinating and don't feel at all like history lessons. He takes us effortlessly into the times when music permeated the air, both from pagan rituals and Jewish worship as well as everyday life lived in the open. We learn why the Jewish music was unique and how it meant more than just a good tune to get you in the mood to think about God.

As the story continues through history we see the development of music into what we are more familiar with today. I began thinking about the music during Mass in a whole new way. In fact, I broadened my sights and began considering a lot of things in terms of the music which is often integral to them.

This book is really insightful about both music in relationship to human beings and to faith. It was much more than I was expecting from a book which I feared would be more interesting to music professionals than it is to me. I'll be honest. It was not only insightful but revelatory because it made me think about music and how integral it is to us in a way that just never occurred to me.

(I just never think about music at all, honestly. Certainly not like that. Talk about a whole new world.)

Aquilina points out that the earliest Christians used music to tell truths which helped change a violent, ugly, pornographic culture. Our culture mirrors that early one in a lot of ways, sadly. This book helps reorient us so that we can also make and appreciate music which can tell the truth to a world desperate for beauty and truth.

Note: The typesetting and layout are beautiful. That is all too rare these days and that visual beauty is especially complementary to Mike Aquilina's message that the beauty of music helped convert the world.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Jesse Tree - Day 18: Jeremiah

This is as far as I'm going to be able to get on the Jesse Tree this year. I have felt a real sense of connection to salvation history through Advent as I worked on this and I hope it has enriched your Advent also.


Our online Jesse Tree is to help us prepare for Christ's coming by studying His roots and Salvation History. 

Jesse Trees follow the same general outline but I've found they are widely varied in some of the details. Some may have one day for Moses, others may spend 4 days on different aspects of his life. I'll be following the basic outline but, therefore, using my own discretion in a few spots.

My sources for days and symbols are Catholic CultureLoyola PressFaith Magazine, and A few beads short.  

Day 18: Jeremiah

Symbols: tears

Jeremiah, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling

Jeremiah 1:4-10, 2:4-13, 7:1-15; 8:22-9:1-11

Jeremiah is often called the weeping prophet because of all the trouble he encountered in his 40 years of warning the people about the consequences of their sinfulness. He also continually expresses God's sorrow over Judah's lack of repentance.
O that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears,
that I might weep day and night
I myself always think of the better known passage which expresses Jeremiah's vocation and doubts.
Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth."

But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, `I am only a youth'; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." Then the LORD put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, c. 1630

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Greatest Journey, part 1

I love to reread this each year, journeying through Advent, so I'm reposting it.

I just finished reading Chapter Five of Go to Joseph (reviewed here), which examines Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem. This seems the perfect section to share with y'all especially since this is Advent. I will do this as a series, as is my wont. I think you'll see what a really remarkable little book this is from this chapter. This first section is rather long as I couldn't find a good breaking point until after the discussion of the timing for Mary and Joseph's journey.
Chapter Five
The Greatest Journey
Meister der Kahriye-Cami-Kirche in Istanbul
And Joseph went from Galilee out of the town of Nazareth into Judea to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem--because he was of the house and family of David--to register, together with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child."

The Bible is laced with special journeys. Think how our father in faith Abraham journeyed from Ur along the arc of the Fertile Crescent to what we now call Israel.1 Even more pivotal was the Exodus, where Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, a journey that is a type of our Christian redemption and is consistently echoed in the Gospels.

Then there was the Jews' joyous return from their Babylonian captivity, made possible by the tolerance decree of the conquering Persian Emperor Cyrus (559 BC-529 BC). There are others on a smaller scale that are also significant in a religious and symbolic sense.

We have already mentioned the virtuous mission of the pregnant Mary when she rose up in haste to visit and assist her cousin Elizabeth in Ein Kerem.

But of all these travels, only one deserves to be called the greatest, the holiest, and the loveliest of all: The journey to Bethlehem. Perhaps we should call it a procession.

Earlier we mentioned the chronology proposed by Fr. Gaechter. He conjectures--from reasons of suitability--that Joseph prudently made this journey to Bethlehem very soon after his formal marriage to Mary. The motive, he believes, was to spare Mary from the questions of the inquisitive Nazarenes once her pregnancy became visible. We later learn that the people of this village were capable of angry rejection of Jesus--"Is this not the carpenter's son?"

Another argument to favor the theory of an early arrival (rather than their arriving just before Jesus' birth) is that in the final weeks of gestation, Mary would have traveled the long rugged way with great discomfort and danger.

While this early date sounds logical and prudent, it would place the journey several months before the birth of Jesus. In this scenario, Joseph took Mary directly to Bethlehem, where he was able to obtain temporary housing and make advance preparations by his labor.

Once Mary reached her term and the birth was imminent, Joseph sought more suitable shelter and privacy. He failed to find shelter in private homes. The inn itself was no place for them in the sense that privacy and decorum were impossible, so he found refuge for them in the stable of the inn.

This is possible. It does not contradict the Gospel account nor does it fail to recognize the zeal, love, and prudence of Joseph. Nonetheless, it all remains mere conjecture.

Other less drastic solutions to the obvious problems could be offered. Perhaps Joseph owned or established temporary quarters elsewhere in the north. The acclaimed Fr. Rene Laurentin calls Fr. Gaechter's work "the most daring and painstaking reconstruction," yet his conclusion is as follows:
As interesting and penetrating as the many observations of Gaechter may be, the reconstruction belongs in the realm of science-fiction. The author boldly reconstructs the events: Mary, betrothed in October 9 BC, went to Bethlehem immediately after her marriage with Joseph, five months before the birth of Jesus, which Gaechter located in March 7 BC.
Some readers may not be aware that the first Christmas did occur some years before 1 AD. We only mark Christ's birth in that year because of miscalculations by the monk Dionysius Exiguus (c. 470-c. 544), who was entrusted with revision of the calendar.

Complex as all these considerations may be, pondering all this seems very helpful even in our booklet of meditations since it often highlights the overlooked problems and decisions Joseph had to face.

Nevertheless, we will be on safer footing to follow the simpler, traditional interpretation suggested by the inspired biblical data that has nourished pious reflection throughout the centuries.

1 According to The Columbia Encyclopedia (Sixth Edition, Columbia University Press), the Fertile Crescent is a "well watered and fertile area [that] arcs across the northern part of the Syrian desert. It is flanked on the west by the Mediterranean and on the east by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and includes all or parts of Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq."
Next we will discuss preparation for the journey.

Jesse Tree - Day 17: Isaiah

Our online Jesse Tree is to help us prepare for Christ's coming by studying His roots and Salvation History. 

Jesse Trees follow the same general outline but I've found they are widely varied in some of the details. Some may have one day for Moses, others may spend 4 days on different aspects of his life. I'll be following the basic outline but, therefore, using my own discretion in a few spots.

My sources for days and symbols are Catholic CultureLoyola PressFaith Magazine, and A few beads short.  

Day 17: Isaiah

Symbols: burning coal, scroll

Tiepolo, The Prophet Isaiah, 1726
Isaiah 1:10-20; 6:1-13, 9:1-7, 40:10-11; 62:1-3

You might be surprised at how many sound bites you know from the book of Isaiah. It is used fairly often in the liturgy and especially during Christmas and Easter. Almost all the familiar parts are related to the Messiah and how he will save us from our sins. He would not only be a king but a suffering servant. Here's a bit we'll hear soon.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. ... For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." 
Isaiah also has the roots of the tree of Jesse reference which lent itself to the Jesse Tree. And, my favorite part, there is the story of Isaiah receiving his vocation. He has a vision of heaven and a sudden vivid understanding of himself when faced with God himself. But his response is so instantaneous and honest that it can bring tears to my eyes. May I respond as honestly and as well.
And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar.

And he touched my mouth, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven."

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."

12 British library, Isaiha and tree of Jesse, 12th century

Christmas Jokes for the Weekend (and beyond)

Repeating this because these made me laugh ... again!

I wound up on one of those email threads where people kept capping each others' Christmas jokes. It was so much fun that I'm sharing them here. Plus a few more that I couldn't resist from other places.
I love hollandaise sauce. It caused a lot of cavities. My dentist told me I would need a plate made of chrome if I wanted to continue my hollandaise habit. I said, “Really?” He said. “Oh yes. There’s no plate like chrome for the Hollandaise.”

What do you call a bunch of grandmasters of chess bragging about their games in a hotel lobby? Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer!

Why does Santa have 3 gardens?
So he can ho-ho-ho.

What do snowmen eat for breakfast?

There was once a great czar in Russia named Rudolph the Red. He stood looking out the windows of is palace one day while his wife, the Czarina Katerina, sat nearby knitting. He turned to her and said, "Look my dear, it has begun to rain!" Without even looking up from her knitting she replied, "It's too cold to rain. It must be sleeting." The Czar shook his head and said, "I am the Czar of all the Russias, and Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear!"

Why do mummies like Christmas so much?
Because of all the wrapping!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji, taken by NNE, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Well Said: The only real choice we have to make

For me to accept baptism, I had to believe in Christ’s reality—in the reality not just of his life but also of his miracles and death and resurrection.

But how could I? Such things don’t happen. Look around you. There are no miracles. There can be no resurrection. The clockwork world is all in all.

But such things don’t happen, I knew now, was the ultimate irrational prejudice of the human mind: the belief that the symbols of reality are more real than the reality they symbolize. That’s us all over. We believe that money is more valuable than the work it represents, that sex is more essential than the love it expresses, that an actor is more admirable than the hero he portrays, that flesh is more alive than spirit. That’s the whole nature of our deluded lives, the cause of so much of our misery. One by one, we let idolatry ruin each good thing. ... The choice between idolatry and faith—which is ultimately the choice between slavery in the flesh and freedom in the spirit—is the only real choice we have to make.
Andrew Klavan, The Great Good Thing

Jesse Tree - Day 16 - Jonah

Our online Jesse Tree is to help us prepare for Christ's coming by studying His roots and Salvation History. 

Jesse Trees follow the same general outline but I've found they are widely varied in some of the details. Some may have one day for Moses, others may spend 4 days on different aspects of his life. I'll be following the basic outline but, therefore, using my own discretion in a few spots.

My sources for days and symbols are Catholic CultureLoyola PressFaith Magazine, and A few beads short.  

Day 16: Jonah

Symbols: whale

Jonah and the Whale
As a friend of mine once said, "Jonah is the comedy book in the Bible." It's 4 chapters long, it's an action story, and it's very funny. What's not to like?

The Church Fathers often compare Jonah's three days in the fish to Christ's three days in the tomb. I myself love the fact that Jonah is so busy running from God. Been there. Done that. Luckily without any huge fish being involved.

And I love the fact that God is so funny when he is poking Jonah at the end of the book. He cares enough to save the Ninevites who were the most hated people of their time. And he cares about each one individually, such as Jonah.

God Talks to Jonah