LET IT aLL sTART hERE
For Catholics who care...
I have invited a guest blogger here today. I hope you enjoy Fr. Michael Cambi's Christmas homily as much as we did. To read Fr. Cambi 's Sunday homilies check out the sidebar for his dedicated page at Let It All Start Here.
Ah the Christmas Story ... it is at once beautiful, incredible, inspirational, magical, and in many respects, unbelievable. Of course, by unbelievable, I merely mean, hard to believe ... I do not mean impossible.
We call it the Christmas Story, but it is no fantasy. It is, instead, a fantastically true story, about how our God came into time and space, to reveal himself to us through a face, and in the person of Jesus Christ, save the human race.
I haven’t been a priest for very long, but already, it’s become a challenge each year to figure out, how to preach the Christmas story from a fresh perspective, from a different angle, since it is so familiar to us all.
This year, I got a little help from my friend. Last week she told me a story, that surprised me a little bit I suppose, but saddened me infinitely more so.
Turns out that in some schools, our children are being taught something, about that little baby boy over there, whose birth we celebrate today. What’s that you ask? Well, that he grew up to be a great preacher, only to die tragically on the cross, and we don’t really know anything more about him.
Sisters and brothers, fellow believers in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ: I’m not about to preach politics on Christmas Day, but I must say, that if this version of history, is what our children are learning as the story of Jesus, it is our gravest duty and obligation to teach them otherwise!
That’s not the story of who Jesus was ... not even close! THIS IS....
Our Triune God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, though perfectly complete and content in Godself, desired to share love, beyond their own three-in-one communion. Humanity is fruit of that desire.
In order to communicate that desire, and reveal to us its meaning and purpose, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word of God, the only Son of the Father, emptied himself of unbounded glory, and bound himself in a human body, taking flesh of the Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, is true God and true Man, fully divine and fully human, from the moment of his conception, and remains so eternally. He was born into the world on Christmas Day, but did not begin his mission to reveal God’s love, until he was about thirty years old.
He was put to death three years afterwards. That means that for over ninety percent of his life, he lived in virtual anonymity and obscurity. Does that mean most of his life was a waste? Of course not! It’s actually the first lesson he gives us, about life in this world.
God desired to begin his life in the flesh, as the tiniest of children: a fertilized egg in the womb of his mother. He desired to spend nine months there, preparing to be born. He desired to be a helpless infant, wholly dependent on two human parents for everything. He desired to grow up learning from them, respecting them, obeying them, helping them, and loving them.
He was trained in carpentry by St. Joseph, to be a productive member of society, not living in isolation, but in relationship, with extended family members and neighbors, in a small town community, where people lived together, worked together, worshipped together, and relied on each other.
So the first lesson then, is that human life, at every stage of its existence, from the very first moment of conception, is of inestimable value. Because he lived every moment, from that first moment, Jesus Christ, God and Man, sanctified every aspect of human life, elevated its dignity, and empowered us to live it well.
He showed us that living it well means living it humbly, simply, selflessly and sacrificially, not primarily for one’s own good, but for the larger whole ... be it family, neighborhood, faith community, world.
Or as St. Paul says it, we are to reject godless ways and worldly desires, and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, eager to do what is good. This is how God wants us to be in the world, without being of the world.
Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promise, whom the prophets foretold. He is Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace, Son of the Most High, Son of God. And when John the Baptist had sufficiently prepared his way, Jesus left the shadows of Nazareth in Galilee, and went public.
He was indeed an extraordinary teacher and preacher, but oh, so much more than that. His audiences felt his power, saying he spoke with authority, and not as their scribes. That power was the divine authority wielded by his words. His words delivered teachings and revealed truths, yes, but they also altered reality.
They controlled natural elements and supernatural forces alike. His words changed water into wine. They cast out demons from the possessed, and hurled them into swine. They rebuked storms in such a way, that folks exclaimed, “Who then is this, whom even winds and sea obey.”
Jesus is the Divine Physician – a healer of body, mind, and soul. He fed multitudes of people from only a meager amount of food. He cured every kind of ailment and affliction, even those borne from birth, which was theretofore, unheard of. He raised people from the dead, back to life.
He forgave sins, restoring those spiritually lost and broken to wholeness, changing their lives forever. And when folks began murmuring about this forgiveness business, saying, “Who but God alone can forgive sins,” and accused Jesus of blasphemy, he responded like this.
“That you may know, the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth” – he said to the paralyzed man, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. All were astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”
What kind of man could do such things? Jesus asked his disciples what they thought, and Peter proclaimed the incredible truth, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus affirmed this identity in John’s Gospel, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No comes to the Father except through me.”
So he is not, just a memorable preacher and teacher, who inspired people 2000 years ago, and then died a tragic death. He is the only begotten Son of the Father; He is God. And there is no other name under heaven, by which we are to be saved, than the name of Jesus.
Not Mohammed, Buddha, or Jehovah; not Ghandi, Deepak Chopra, or the Dali Llama; not Oprah, Dr. Oz, Joel Osteen, or Joyce Meyers; nor any other preacher, guru, or life-coach you can think of. PAUSE
Most importantly, Jesus Christ is the sacrificial lamb, the Eternal High Priest, the author of our salvation. His desire and power, to forgive the sins of all people, for all time, realized its pinnacle of perfection, in his supreme act of selfless, sacrificial love, on the cross.
And friends, that’s no tragedy ... that’s his victory ... because three days later the tomb was empty ... for He had risen from the dead in glory, having vanquished sin, suffering, and death, forever.
How do we know, this is the ‘more to the story’ so many secularists in society set aside? Well, because we walk by faith, and not by sight. But it is not a blind faith based on ignorance or naïveté; rather it is an informed faith, in harmony with reason.
The Bible is as reasonable and reliable a document, as any other source of its time. And with the Apostolic Tradition of the Church, handed down alongside Sacred Scripture, the body of evidence convinces, in my humble opinion, beyond a reasonable doubt.
The scriptures report eye-witness accounts of the empty tomb, and of real encounters with the risen Jesus, one of which included a gathering of more than five hundred of his disciples. And John’s Gospel admits, only a fraction of such encounters were actually written down.
The apostles were transformed, from cowards hiding in fear behind locked doors, to courageous preachers, healers, and miracle workers, and continued as such, to their own violent, but joyful deaths.
St. Paul changed from the most determined persecutor of Christianity, hoping to destroy the faith, to its most zealous and ardent evangelist, founding new Christian Churches all over the Middle East and Asia Minor.
Through the centuries, tens of thousands of men and women have given their lives to God and Church, in ways that have given us models, of what it means to be faithful, to be holy, to be witnesses, to be disciples, to be saints.
For over 2000 years the Church has simultaneously suffered the cross of perse-cution, while expanding throughout the world. It continues to grow and flourish today, despite the drastic decline of regular churchgoers in the West.
Jesus is our Eternal High Priest, because the offering of himself on the Cross, once in historical time, now transcends time and space, and is perpetually in our midst, being offered on every altar at every Mass throughout the world, which effectively means around the clock, to continue the work of our redemption.
Jesus Christ is the Bridegroom and Head of his Church. This is where he desires to be God-with-us, more than anyplace else in the world. This is where he nourishes us, where we quite literally, feed on him, most profoundly in our reception of communion, but also, in his Word proclaimed from here, and in our shared song and prayer.
Two details from the Christmas Story cannot be missed, for they are not accidental. Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means, ‘House of Bread’. Upon his birth, Jesus Christ was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. A manger is a feeding trough for animals.
The powerful truth behind these symbols was affirmed by Jesus himself. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” PAUSE
Sisters and brothers, the story of Jesus began on Christmas Day, but it did not conclude on the cross. In fact, the final chapter has yet to be written ... and it will be, when he comes again in glory. In the meantime, we are to add the chapters of our own lives to the story. How so, you might wonder?
Well, the very first and still the very best Christmas gift ever given, is Emmanuel, which means God is with us. Jesus Christ is the presence of God, made manifest to the world. For our part, we continue the Christmas Story, by living the Christmas message.
And so in addition to the presents you exchange at Christmastime, you must not forget to give the fullness of your love, which is the sharing of your presence with each other ... your gifts of time, attention, companionship, empathy ...
... a helpful hand, a listening ear, an encouraging voice, a shoulder to cry on, a forgiving heart ... given to those who need the hope and joy of Christmas all year through ... and who will know that God is with us, whenever they see, hear, and touch His presence ... in you.
I have thought a lot about the so called "Catholic 'Man-Crises' " that our Church is presently faced with. I ponder the dilemma because I am, by nature, a problem solver. As I am out in the world, I am usually on a fact-finding mission related to one thing or another in an attempt to resolve something. For now, I am watching the goings-on at the Church. I am counting heads. I am listening to the men who represent our faith: past, present and future.
I have good news! We are going to be better than fine. I was reminded of this only after I re-read the words of our Lord to His disciples this morning: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Despite the temporary peak in our pop culture's embrace of the secular spirit or tendency to reject all forms of religious faith and worship, many men (and women) continue to gather in Christ’s name. And our Lord continues to keep his promise to us. He is in our midst! I see this more and more now that I am paying attention.
I have a delightful boy in my Faith Formation class. His name is Jonathan. He often shares with us the formation of his faith through the experiences he has at home with his family. There, too, is a man in our parish, late 50's, a "John Wayne type", who after receiving the Eucharist, genuflects pressing two fingers to his lips and blows a kiss up at the crucifix. He does this at every Mass he attends. These are but a few ways that I see our men engaged in their Catholic faith. I have written this poem to honor our Catholic men.
Blessed are you who brush dust
from the eyes of the Madonna;
wiping her porcelain face free
of our detritus with your hair.
Blessed is the man who strains
to hear the echo of your voice as
it was once raised in prayer;
is he who summons
the memory of the aged one
to his beside: Rosary in her lap,
Hail Mary on her lips,
she is determined
to give you this one thing.
Blessed are you who will
never forget where you came from; will
never forget that it was she
who walked ten thousand miles
on her knees
to bring you here,
to offer a kiss of gratitude
upon the cross on which He hangs.
This was a comment left by a woman at my blog, www.letitallstarthere.com in response to my post, Being Catholic is Eternal: “On entering, (a Church), all the rituals (the holy water, the genuflecting) immediately return and I can hear the stories of my grandmothers about saints and the hand of God gracing their lives in moments of tragedy or even an ordinary bad day.”
Sharon’s response made one thing clear to me. There is a question that all Catholics committed to following the call of The New Evangelization must attempt to answer:
How do we get people to trust us? How do we get them not to be afraid, so that we might invite them to experience the magical feeling, the beauty, the comfort and the peace that comes after having given Christ and His Church a chance?
How funny people can be! Think about the last time you were very lost on a car ride (Men are less likely to relate to this example…but just go with it). Most people would think nothing of stopping and asking a perfect stranger to direct them into their future. I mean, the trust element is huge! And I choose these words intentionally: “direct them into their future.” That is what really happens when you are lost and ask for directions. For that moment, if you think about it, you don’t know what lies ahead and you still ask a stranger to guide you. You trust him.
I can’t stop myself from wondering why it is so difficult for three of my dearest, most devoted friends, (who are “fallen away Catholics” or atheist)…why is it so hard for them to trust in me and open their hearts to my sharing The Joy of The Gospel? Am I too childlike? Am I not sophisticated enough? Am I not as intelligent as I need to be to convince them of something different than what they think they know? Is my life experience so much different than theirs that I’m disqualified? Am I so much different than they are? Why must they say these words in the middle of a dialogue, with a smirk and with a tone of condescension: “Good. I am glad it works for you?”
END OF CONVERSATION.
Once, I had an idea about a documentary I wanted to make to celebrate our altar boys who once served the Catholic Church. I saw a connection between the influence of Christ’s teachings, the Church’s guidance and the lives of service many of these men went on to live. My film would have been called: It All Starts Here. When I shared my idea with a friend of mine, she, in adversarial way, questioned me: “Why do you care if a person believes in God or not? What’s it to you?”
My answer was quick and certain: “It’s just the type of person I am. If I have found something that is helpful or works for me, I want share it. The world is a hard place to navigate. Everyone is looking for solutions to their problems. If I lost 40lbs and kept it off, I would share my secret. If I survived my child’s drug addiction and remained loving, healthy and sane…I’d share how I manage to do so. If I found the “fountain of youth”, I would probably tell a few people where it was. Why wouldn’t I tell everyone I meet about Christ at work in my life?”
I guess with today’s post I want to ask my friends and my daughter, whom I love: Won’t you trust in me at least as much as you might the stranger you’ve asked for directions when you were lost? It would mean a lot to me. Thanks.
Two months ago, I went to an estate sale in Danbury, Connecticut. Even though I had never been there before, when I entered the house I could sense immediately that this was once the home of a follower of Christ in the Catholic tradition. The owner was an older gentleman, and he began to approach me while I was studying a set of rosary that was for sale. (Like most Catholics, I LOVE religious articles like Miraculous Medals, crosses and statues of saints!) The rosary was fashioned out of mother-of-pearl, and the milk-white crucifix was embossed in silver giving it a holographic quality. It was exquisite even though it clearly had been repaired. As he stood next to me, the man volunteered to count the beads in each of the decades, because, to him, it simply wouldn’t do to have an incomplete rosary. But it wasn’t necessary for me to have a perfect set of beads. I could manage if one bead was missing. After all, a well trained Catholic school girl, could pray The Rosary on her toes! I was about to say as much when I realized that the man wanted to share something...needed to share something with me; the rosary was a just convenient vehicle. With reverence, he carefully arranged the rosary in front of us in a perfect oval, and fingered each bead, counting as he celebrated all that he knew and embraced about being Catholic. I listened closely, not wanting to miss a detail of his story. But, interestingly, several others listened as well. The man confessed that he had "taken a break" from Church…from God. But he also admitted that he was thrilled to be back! And I could see that his words were true. As he spoke I wondered, how many of the other eavesdroppers, had been “fallen away” Catholics--as Catholics who "took a break from God" referred to themselves. Some seemed just too interested in the details of his story and with his obsession for counting the rosary beads. They tried to look disinterested but seemed to know something of what he spoke of. His words were resonating within them, maybe even cultivating a seed.
I often speak to men who were once altar boys and served God in the Catholic parishes of their youth. In pubs or sometimes at work, men who know I am Catholic, albeit an "inconvenient one", are often excited and proud to share: “I was an altar boy.” I wonder why it is so important for them to witness to their Catholic past considering they openly admit to not having darkened the door of a Catholic church in years except for weddings and funerals?
As I listened to them tell their stories about walking to church in a blizzard for 7 a.m. Mass or drinking the "holy wine" with their best friend in the sacristy, I was sure of one thing: It all started here! The Church gave them something to hold onto. A seed was sown that may be dormant…but not dead; waiting, but not giving up on its chance to germinate.
The funny thing about them, is their unwillingness to admit that their turning away from God, or the Catholic tradition, only meant that they had chosen not to look upon the Presence of God as they once had. Nothing else had changed. If one chooses to open an umbrella to block the light and warmth of the sun from her upturned face, does that mean that the sun is no longer there? Of course not.
God remains faithful. He is there even when we are not there with Him. As Fr. Michael reminded us in his homily on The Second Sunday of Advent: God has always kept His promises to those who believed. "Through Isaiah, He also promised to send a messenger ahead of the Messiah, to help prepare his people to receive their Savior worthily. That promised was fulfilled in John the Baptist. John the Baptist promised the Messiah would come soon to baptize with the Holy Spirit, and Jesus showed up shortly thereafter.
Decades before that, as we’ll hear on Monday, God promised a humble peasant girl, through the angel Gabriel, that she would be the mother of this Savior, the Son of the Most High, who would rule over the house of Jacob forever. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary gave birth to Jesus.
Jesus promised his disciples that he would suffer and die, but would rise from the dead on the third day ... and He did! He promised to send them the Holy Spirit to help them continue his mission to the ends of the earth, and Voila! Pentecost Arrived ... in a rush of wind and with tongues of fire! He promised the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against his Church, and they haven’t. And yes, He promised He would come again in glory to judge the living and the dead ... and He will! But before that, there’s another promise, we must help him to fulfill. He promised to be with us always ... to the end of the age. His presence is indeed among us, primarily in the Church, and most profoundly in the Eucharist."
What we must remember is that God keeps the promise he made to us at Baptism. It is through the Sacrament of Baptism that we are gifted something that can not be returned, replaced or exchanged. We are given the Holy Spirit and He remains with us always, even when we attempt to block the brightness and warmth He offers.
I had to do more than just "casually" comment on our men in black.
Church clerics, for centuries have been required to wear distinctive clothing to identify them as ordained clergy. The Synod of Braga,
A.D. 572, ordered Priests to wear different clothes when they went out.
In the Middle ages, the dress of the clergy began to be regulated by Canon Law. There is a long history surrounding the question of "costume" where Priests are concerned and I urge you, for your own edification, to read more about it.
To get to the gist of the matter: Pope Benedict XIII, in 1725, forbade clerics to wear civilian attire. I have not found any evidence that regulations have been "officially" changed. (If you are aware of any, please share them here at: www.letitallstarthere.com.)
For the United States, the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884) promulgated regulations for clerical attire as follows: "...We enjoin upon our priests as a matter of strict precept, that both at home and abroad, and whether they are residing in their own diocese or outside of it, they should wear the Roman collar."
There are reasons why men wear uniforms for a particular position they hold. The postman wears a uniform. The police officer wears a uniform. The train conductor wears a uniform. All are civil servants. Surely, it is as important for "a servant of God" to be identified as just that. Priest are required to dress appropriately. They have been ordained. "Being ordained, or ordination, is a sacrament; that is a special blessing from God which makes an inner change in the man. Another word for this sacrament is ‘Holy Orders’. When a man receives Holy Orders, he is configured to Christ, which means that when he carries out his ministerial work he is acting in the power of Christ, and not in his own power. We call this a special grace of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit could be described as God’s power, energy and wisdom. In the most profound way possible, ordination creates a new man, one who, if living his vocation (calling) faithfully, can say with St. Paul: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’ (Galatians 2:20). He is changed not because of what he can do, but because of what he has become. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes Holy Orders as ‘The sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time…’ ." (CCC 1536). (The Papal Visit.org)
Sorry. There is no winggle room here. If one choose to be "configured to Christ", then this blogger believes that he ought to keep his commitment and act accordingly.
Oh and as a reminder: "The color black indicates poverty. Moreover, black is a color of mourning and death for the Priest, the symbolism is dying to oneself to rise and serve the Lord as well as giving witness of the Kingdom yet to come. Black is associated with sorrow but in the case of priestly robe this colour has another symbolic meaning. A black cassock is to remind a Priest that he ‘dies to the world’ every day and immerses in eternity. Blackness also symbolises giving up bright colours and thus giving up what the world brings, its glittering, honours and entertainment. Further, the colour black is the symbol of authority. A judge sitting on the judgment chamber wears black. An advocate who pleads in the court wears black robe. In the same manner, wearing the black robs during the services is a mark of the spiritual authority of Priests. In our very secular world, the wearing of clerical garb continues to be a visible sign of belief and of the consecration of one’s life to the service of the Lord and His Church." (Catholic Educatoin.org)
My phone sounded on the bedside table in the early morning hours and woke me from sleep today. The alert on my phone was for a new Facebook post concerning a young, autistic boy (don't know where he lived) who was asked not to bring his Bible to read in school. The message reminded me of one that St. Paul received on his journey to Damascus:
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9)
Most folks on Facebook assumed that the story was true, and they were up in arms, God bless them! Many hit the “like” button and “shared” the story with other Facebook friends. On the other hand, I presumed it was not made up, but vowed to look into its authenticity later. Meanwhile, I posted this 5am reply:
I'll do more than share this link.
In solidarity with this young believer
I will carry a Bible with me everywhere
I go from now on.
If you believe in God join me.”
I also committed to discussing this “phenomenon” of hardheartedness in a Godless world on my blog site: www.letitallstarthere.com.
I am fully aware of just how complicated this subject is. I am also fully aware of the special needs of an autistic boy as he attempts to negotiate our world. Also, I understand the premise of the “wall of separation between church and state” as used by Thomas Jefferson and others when referring to our 1st Amendment. Moreover, I am highly sensitive to the vague contradictions that hover, almost like specters, over our Constitution. The architects of the foundation on which our United States has been constructed called for: “a more perfect Union, Justice, Tranquility, and Blessings…” as they wrote the rules of the game. And so, I ask you this (something I intended to ask about the subject matter of Sunday’s blog post concerning NYT article, “In 7 States, Atheist Push to End….”):
Who do you think they are depending on for these good graces? Who do you think bestows perfection, justice, tranquility and blessings? Seriously. Who do you think they understood designed our moral barometer? Our forefather's were brilliant, insightful, one of a kind men.
(Like Jesus and John Wayne, they ain't making them like that anymore.) I believe that these men intuitively, the way birds know how to build nests, recognized that God was in all things. So there was nothing else to say. And of course they were much too busy, creating , building, forging something new and life changing to pick apart the benign, peace seeking, loving presence of The Word. Someone whose existence can only be a positive force in a man or woman's life.
Needless to say, rehashing the subject of people forgetting, dismissing, avoiding, or denouncing the presence of God in their lives is getting old for me. What about you? I can site modern day, great thinkers and statisticians who have studied this "war on God" and who have offered helpful, insightful, and credible opinions about what not only has gone wrong, but also what continues to go wrong out there in the world. But I choose not to. Instead, I want to urge my readers, fellow parishioners, and my entire Catholic family to not merely “like” and “share” on Facebook but to take a more active-- if not an aggressive-- approach to the idea (or practice of) the erasing of God from our universal conscience. Do anything, as long as it is peaceful, to be a witness to Christ. I have chosen to peacefully, counteract the ban on God by carrying His Word with me out there in the world.
Look for me wherever you go. I will be the tall, “inconvenient woman” carry her beautiful Bible. Won’t you join me?
"Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
Show the readers of this Blog that you are "tired as hell and you are not going to take it anymore..." Send me a photo of you standing up for Christ. Send it to: email@example.com
Find out how in tomorrow's blog.
For me…the Christmas Season has official arrived: We have celebrated the Second Sunday of Advent; we have lit Advent candles; I opened a window on someone’s Advent calendar; and I bought my first Christmas gift for a dear friend, the same dear friend who suggested we watch an old holiday favorite, Frosty The Snowman, and build a snowman afterwards. We dressed our snow fellow in baseball attire, then named him "Derek".
On my way to morning Mass today (I find myself going to Mass more frequently now ), I had an epiphany: I really get the meaning of the season. I am finally able to understand the fun in watching a children’s story. For once, I was able to lose myself in the glee of being a sculptor of snow. I feel so “child-like”, so empowered, so not self- conscious, that I even held my own in a snowball fight instead of giving up, giving in and walking away as my opponent covered me in cold, wet, white.
What has happened to change my point of view?
I realized this morning that I am truly able to feel the joy of the season. Joy? I hadn’t known the meaning of that word for all of my life. (Even as child, joy alluded me.) I know it now. Light heartedness? I had never carried a light heart in my chest. Most Children of Alcoholics don’t know what a light heart feels like. Statistically, we know many children of alcoholics come to experience a light heart, by draining the heart’s despair and hopelessness through the use of a siphon: drugs or alcohol...or both.
What has made me different?
The other day I was stopped in front of neighbor’s home and noticed the white twinkle of lights in his farmhouse windows. Kissing balls hung from the porch eaves like emeralds and red ribbons flagged in the cold wind. “Ah…” I thought, “how lucky they are to still have a small child in the house to motivate them to celebrate Christmas”. Then, I felt sad for a few moments because I don’t have that family life. My daughter Julia and I tried to know the joy Christmas, but honestly, I could never really bring her there. I felt bereft because, I thought: I can’t ever recall enjoying Christmas, for one reason or the other.
But then… before I spent too much time wallowing, Our Lord reminded me that what I was feeling simply wasn’t true any longer. He said: “You now belong to a healthy family. You’ve known joy, on and off, for nearly three years. You are a member of the Catholic Church, a member of a big, appreciative family whose main purpose is to show you how you are loved. You belong to a family whose responsibility to you is to remain “healthy” through prayer and practice, so that it can teach you how to become the best-version-of—yourself.
I heard Him clearly, then, suddenly, I felt the way the infamous figure, the Grinch, must have felt when Cindy Loo Hoo let him know that, despite himself, he was loved. "And what happened then? Well, in Stamford, they say that my heart grew THREE sizes that day. And then the true meaning of Christmas came through, and I found the strength of ten Grinches plus two."
Keep Christ in CHRISTmas!
Our little “country” parish in Stamford, New York is hosting a festive Christmas Cookie Swap after the noon Mass on Sunday, December 14th this year. I don’t bake. I don’t bake cookies, especially, because I don’t have the patience to drop spoon after spoon after spoon of batter onto a cookie sheet. But I knew that being a part of that parish event, sharing confections with other faithful believers, would herald in the beginnings of the lovely Christmas Season. So, I began searching for my mother's famous macaroon recipe and I started thinking about what Christmas has meant to me.
When I think of Christmas, I think of my younger brother and am propelled back to Christmas Eve 1970. At midnight our church glowed like a beacon at the top of the city’s highest hill. Every stained glass window sent its saintly image out into that dark night; a night where most everyone was nestled in their beds waiting for Santa to arrive. Everyone except the faithful, who were readying themselves to celebrate one of the most joyful and holiest nights of the year! I was 7 years old. I sat upon the dining room table in excited anticipation as I watched my mother and her girlfriend unpack the costume that would transform my six year old brother. There were ooohs and aaaahs throughout the unveiling. Charles would wear white ruffled shirt, white knickers trimmed with sparkling brocade, and a white, three-cornered hat adorned with a long, white, exotic peacock feather. He was chosen to be an angelic musketeer! ... one of six pages to lead the Midnight Mass procession from entrance to altar. The hallowed pages, altar boys and priests would follow the gilded crucifix as it weaved through the candle lit church till they gracefully settled into their assigned places in the sanctuary. Haunting and beautiful Christmas melodies sung by the choir were accompanied by woodwinds, and strings, and a gorgeous organ. Spectators could not help but feel God’s presence and sense His nod of approval over the glorious festivities.
This is how I remember Christmas. And with this memory, I choose to celebrate instead of grieve for my brother, who would never do anything in his short life as important or as grand as he did that night: participating in the celebration of our Lord’s birth. I can only hope he knew that to be true as well.
When I invited a woman who works at St. Mary's, Oneonta, NY, to read and respond to my latest blog bit on "The Catholic 'Man-Crisis' " at Let It All Start Here, she said: "I'd be happy to. I have six sons."
Six sons! What could I possibly say to a woman who has taken on the awesome responsibility of raising six men? And, raising them at a time that, as Fr. Cambi (Sacred Heart, Stamford, NY) suggests, has never been so challenging.
I say: Pray. This is not to suggest that one prays for something specific, but instead, that one assumes the posture of prayer so that the Holy Spirit may effect change in one's life.
Simply: "Be still and know that I am...." Psalm 46:10
This blog has been launched for two reasons: As a means of evangelization, and as a platform where Matthew Kelly's concept,
The Genius of Catholicism, could be examined. I'm composing this blog bit today with a copy of Kelly's THE FOUR SIGNS OF A DYNAMIC CATHOLIC on my desk, along side THE ESSENTIAL NIETZSCHE. You may wonder: What do these two men have to do with one another? Afterall, Matthew Kelly is a faithful follower of Christ, and Nietzsche is famous for his anti-Christian philosophy.... How does this work? Well, in a strange way, Nietzsche's insights into human nature support Matthew Kelly's belief in the necessity of prayer.
Matthew Kelly writes: "Dynamic Catholics have a daily commitment to prayer. God is not a distant force to these people, but rather a personal friend and adviser. They are trying to listen to the voice of God in their lives, and believe doing God's will is the only path that leads to lasting happiness in this changing world (and beyond)."
Nietzsche once said, "When we are alone and quiet, we fear that something will be whispered in our ear. So we hate silence and drug ourselves with social life."
Prayer is not only one of the four signs of a Dynamic Catholic, a Catholic who is willing to let God transform his or her life, but it is the catalyst for that transformation. God calls you to holiness, or to grow in virtue and character. So what can we do? What can the mother of six sons do as she supports her sons on their journey to manhood? Pray.
Tuesday, Charlene C. added this comment to my blog bit…“Thinking about the Catholic 'Man-Crisis' ": “Are some men afraid of the emotional aspect of our faith?” That is a terrific question Charlene!
This is a question that if answered could lead us to resolve not only the “man-crisis” within the Catholic Church but also within our secular culture.
Let’s face it…they ain’t men like Jesus or John Wayne anymore.
So guys…what are you afraid of? The emotional aspect of being Catholic or faithful? I have to think that there is much more to it. Once the thoroughly secular man turned Roman Catholic Writer and Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote: My conversion to the Christian faith, or to be precise my conversion to Christ, is something I have always regarded as a radical liberation from the delusions and obsessions of modern man and his society. (New Seeds of Contemplation, 1962) Is that what you are afraid of? Giving up an idea of who you wish you were or membership in a “fraternity” that inevitably disappoints (anyway)?
To be liberated from delusions and obsessions sounds like a healthy pursuit. I know what keeps men (and probably many women) from hurdling over or crashing right through these obstacles towards a life of peace, joy and contentment. Bad habits. Being stuck. An unwillingness to open one’s hand and discard what’s broken simply because something, even if it is something broken, it is better than nothing at all.
So there’s the problem! The fear of “ nothing-ness”. And yet we are creating a secular society or allowing secularism to seep in simply because we don’t have what it takes to stop the leak. We are too tired, too distracted, and too wishy-washy to lift a finger to plug the hole. Once again, as I ponder all of this I hear the words of that father quoted in Mark 9:24: “I believe; help my unbelief.”
These men call themselves Catholics. They are soon to be labeled “casual Catholics”. But to me...they seem to be more chameleons than Christian.
So what do we do? Women, you who have a father or have sons, a husband, or brothers who have lost their sense of conversion to God in Christ-- pray. Pray constantly. Pray that The Spirit effects change in their hearts... then changes their lives.
I applaud the content of The New Emangelization website and the blogs it offers. Bravo! Recently, I was given a bulletin from Saint Peter's, Merchantville, NJ. In it I was introduced, through The Pastor's Corner to: The Catholic "Man-Crisis".
Thank you Matthew Christoff for all the information and statistics! Your article will inspire many future Blog Bits at my own site: www.letitallstarthere.com. I am a parishioner at Sacred Heart Parish in Stamford, NY. I am one of the faithful women that the article speaks of. I am one of the faithful women who have morphed into "the face of today's Catholic Church". And this is what I know about the faithfulness of Christian women as compared to the faithfulness of Christian men: Women tend to be more prayerful, more willing to believe, more dedicated to Jesus and His mission..."that of being constantly ready to bring His love to others", perhaps because we have been give the grace from God to carry life within our bodies and deliver miracles into the world. We live a particular mystery that men are not able to. Many of us have experienced the divine in birthing children. We get it! And because we have carried (or have the ability to carry) another life inside our bodies we may also be capable of more readily embracing the super natural elements of prayer, The Mass, and the Eucharist.
We readily believe (the word "readily" is an essential part of this sentence since there are many, many men who come to believe in their own time)and are moved by the various aspects of the Mass, most specifically the Eucharist because of the miraculous gift God has given us through motherhood. Okay? Okay.
Now for the crisis at hand: Catholic men going MIA. I feel strongly that the answer to this crisis is in the Gospels. Why not read and study Jesus' methods of drawing disciples to Him? The solution to our problem is there, in our Bible. The Gospels offer "practical insights on how Jesus engaged and trained His apostles, His disciples... His Church. Thank you again for all your work. And I will be back. Evelyn Augusto (www.letitallstarthere.com)
The one thing I am rarely guilty of is not paying close attention to the directives of authority figures. I take their words literally and their challenges seriously.
So as you can imagine, I listen closely to what our beloved Pope Francis asks of me. And with that in mind, let us consider once again his call to every Christian, through his Exhortation--The Joy of the Gospel, to get busy in small ways (as well as thru wide-ranging campaigns,) and "take up, with the whole Church, this new phase of evangelization."
I am a great proponent of the Grassroots Movement. Small, creative, constant efforts are, to me, as powerful a means of revolt as any armament. Think of Gandhi's 1930's Salt March, a perfectly successful protest. You might be asking: where is she going with this? Why the allusion to a battle? Well, in our "call to be constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others", we will be called also to disarm and work against relativism. There is no way around it.
Historically, the Catholic Church, especially under John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, has identified moral relativism as one of the most significant problems for faith and morals today. But that is a subject for another of my blog bits.
As a grassroots effort "to go forth" and evangelize, I would like to offer this suggestion to Pope Francis: Reinstate the capitalizing of all pronouns referring to God . Faithful Catholics had been doing so for decades. And by doing so, the Catholic scribe bares witness to his/her faith. By doing so there is a clear message being sent to the secular world: We believe in God and we believe in showing reverence for God. To put it simply: We believe.
When I was learning to write in third grade, Sr. Vencenzia (1971) taught us to capitalize all pronouns referring to God. It was how we showed reverence for Him. Before word processors and before writing cursive was a lost art, I rewrote many sentences because I had not been paying attention to that little "Catholic Rule."
And yet my pastor, the other day (2014) informed me that: It is no longer done.
Who gets to change the rules? Is it more apathy at play here or our culture's lost ability to be constant and stand for something that is meaningful?
Would you like to join the army of "Spirit-filled evangelizers" that Pope Francis is searching for? You don't have walk 240 miles as Gandhi and his followers did. You can do something as simple as choosing to capitalize the "H" in the words: He, His...Him. After all, isn't it the least we can do for Him?