December 2009


“God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human.”
Pope Benedict, Christmas 2009

While the reason the Pope is in the news this morning is due to the crazy woman who attacked him last night, he should have made the news for one of the best Christmas homilies ever.

Or do I say that about every homily he gives?

It’s good.  And you have the next 12 days to read and meditate on it!  Enjoy!

Full text, courtesy of Zenit.org:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

“A child is born for us, a son is given to us” (Is 9:5). What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly “God with us”. No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). For you the Saviour is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God’s incarnation have to tell us?

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch — they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His “self” is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one’s own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another.

Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence. There are people who describe themselves as “religiously tone deaf”. The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed — our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today’s world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us “tone deaf” towards him. And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly. In order to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear “tone deaf” and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself. The great theologian Origen said this: if I had the grace to see as Paul saw, I could even now (during the Liturgy) contemplate a great host of angels (cf. in Lk 23:9). And indeed, in the sacred liturgy, we are surrounded by the angels of God and the saints. The Lord himself is present in our midst. Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well!

Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel’s message, the shepherds said one to another: “‘Let us go over to Bethlehem’ … they went at once” (Lk 2:15f.). “They made haste” is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Saviour is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important? No doubt they were partly driven by curiosity, but first and foremost it was their excitement at the wonderful news that had been conveyed to them, of all people, to the little ones, to the seemingly unimportant. They made haste — they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that.

For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly, and so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think. The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God’s work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: “Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)”. For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place — however important they may be — so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbour is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.

Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to “come over” (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbours. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbours and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us.

We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. He calls each one of us, so that we too can say: “Come on, ‘let us go over’ to Bethlehem — to the God who has come to meet us. Yes indeed, God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has travelled the longer part of the journey. Now he invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here. Transeamus usque Bethlehem, the Latin Bible says. Let us go there! Let us surpass ourselves! Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards him, but also along very concrete paths – the Liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbour, in whom Christ awaits us.

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: “Let us see this thing that has happened.” Literally the Greek text says: “Let us see this Word that has occurred there.” Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made — because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him — this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself. This is what God is like.

The Angel had said to the shepherds: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God’s sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love.

Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist’s sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God’s love. Origen says of the pagans: “Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood” (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: “Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)” (in Lk 22:3).
Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

2000 years ago, a tiny baby was born for you.  Into a world where hope was lost, where the world was darkened by sin and by ignorance, came your Savior.  The world He entered was harsh — where justice was not purified by charity, where struggle was not redeemed by love.   The future of an average man or woman looked bleak, but one accepted the toils of daily life because there was no alternative.  Their cross was not just poverty — it was a the bitterness of an oppressive life lived without answers.

In that cave, God came to earth to answer man’s need.  We forget the immensity of what Christ’s birth really means.  We take our Christian society for granted, and don’t stop to think how different life would be without our Savior.

In the darkness of night — a darkness more profound than just the absence of the sun, a night much deeper than a certain time of day — Light came into the world.   To sanctify the darkness.  To die for man.  Because man, created in the image and likeness of God, had lost that likeness through the Fall and needed the Perfect Image to redeem him.   Because that is how much we’re worth.

Merry Christmas!

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of Our dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world In sin and error pining,
Til He appear’d And the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope The weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks A new and glorious morn.

I really liked this article by Danielle Bean: Let the Santa Wars Begin.   As the youngest in the family, I never believed in Santa — I didn’t grow up thinking that a jolly old man left presents under the tree (probably thanks to a certain older sister, although I don’t remember exactly).  I always knew that it was my parents, in the spirit of St. Nicholas, who sacrificed to buy the presents for us each year.    My siblings and I never sat on Santa’s lap in the mall– probably because we were terrified of strangers growing up, haha!  Yet I don’t think I was denied a proper childhood or anything.

Nor do I think it’s wrong for parents to tell their children about Santa Claus.  As Danielle mentions in the article, it’s usually all about how you were raised.

Anyway, it’s a good Christmas Eve read.  Another Christmas Eve post to come shortly.

You’re all lucky — my possibly-controversial post will have to wait until next year, as I left some sources behind in Nashville.

Chivalry is a topic that’s been on my list of “I should blog about that sometime” topics, but I haven’t really gathered all my thoughts together to write something worth reading.

I had heard about the new Dockers’ advertisement campaign, but after a good blog referenced an article about it today, I remembered how much I liked it and thought I’d post the text here.

It’s supposedly controversial (no surprise there)… but I love it (again, no surprise there):

Once upon a time, men wore the pants, and wore them well.  Women rarely had to open doors and little old ladies never crossed the street alone.  Men took charge because that’s what they did.  But somewhere along the way, the world decided it no longer needed men.  Disco by disco, latte by foamy non-fat latte, men were stripped of their khaki’s and left stranded on the road between boyhood and androgyny.  But today, there are questions our genderless society has no answers for.  The world sits idly by and cities crumble, children misbehave and those little old ladies remain on one side of the street.  For the first time since bad guys, we need heroes.  We need grown-ups.  We need men to put down the plastic fork, step away from the salad bar and untie the world from the tracks of complacency.  It’s time to get your hands dirty.  It’s time to answer the call of manhood.  It’s time to wear the pants.

It’s a blog post I’ve wanted to write for some time… but I think they’ve said it better than I could!

Three posts in one day.  Whew!

I had to post this… this news has made my day!!!  I wish I could throw a party!  But since I can’t, I’ll just sit here and drink Yuengling while blogging.

This morning, Pope Benedict approved 21 decrees to advance the causes for beatification and canonization of several future (we assume!) saints.  The list is full of great names, including Holy Cross priest Andre Bessette, a distant relative of friends of mine, and the incredible Polish Solidarity priest, Jerzy Popieluzsko, who was killed by the Communists.

It was no surprise that one of the causes he advanced (by declaring his life one of heroic virtue) was John Paul II, who can now properly be called “Venerable,” and who is now just a miracle away from beatification.  This news was pretty well-known.

But the surprise was the other pontiff whose heroic virtue was proclaimed.

Pope Pius XII!!!!

I’m so HAPPY!  One step closer to beatification, one step closer to canonization!!

From H. V. Morton’s A Traveler in Rome, one of the best books I’ve read on Rome, which was written during Pius’ lifetime:

“There probably has never been a Pope who is more certain to be canonized than Pius XII, and the stories I had heard about him made me anxious to see a man who will one day be numbered among the saints.”

Recommended reading to celebrate: Crown of Glory by Alden Hatch.

In breaking news this morning, Senator Nelson, who we thought was our only hope to prevent the 60 votes needed for the Senate to pass their healthcare bill, caved.

The Democrat leadership was willing to do anything to get his vote.  Nelson said they compromised on the abortion language, but it didn’t take long to hear that there was more to the agreement.

It seems that the federal government — a.k.a., you and me — will be paying for 100% of Nebraska’s new Medicaid recipients.

Nice work if you can get it.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with all of this.  We know the Senate bill does not contain the strict language that the House bill has (the “Stupak” language), but some are saying that whatever this compromise with Nelson did is enough to make pro-choice leaders mad.  But… it’s hard to imagine Harry Reid agreeing to any changes in the bill that would result in the loss of support from pro-choice Senators.  And Stupak-language would do just that.

I think I join thousands of Nebraskans when I express my disgust over Ben Nelson’s decision.

Yesterday, a commentator noted that Nelson’s courageous fight for the unborn showed that he understood the true meaning of Christmas.

Now we all wonder.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

I’m feeling pretty accomplished.  I made a list this morning so that I could check things off.  And I’m over halfway finished with it.

The things that I checked off have been on the list in my head for quite some time.  Wrapping presents, finishing up Christmas cards, mailing packages — it took almost all day, but now they’re all checked off my list, and I feel ready for Christmas!

This afternoon I went to the post office.  I knew it was closed, but I just needed to use the little mail-it-yourself kiosk in the corridor.  When I got there, I wasn’t surprised to see a line of several people.  I mailed my Christmas letters, then stood in the line.

Perhaps you’ve noticed something about people around this time of the year.  They aren’t happy.  They’re impatient in traffic, tired of waiting in lines, and sick of the weather.  They’re either coming down with a cold, suffering through a cold, or recuperating from a cold.  I’m sure they don’t intend to be Mr. Scrooge or the Grinch, but they are.

Today at the post office, I was expecting nothing different.  I knew there would be a line, and figured it would be full of grouchy people, angry that the post office was closed and impatient that they had to wait.

Boy, was I wrong.  There were two ladies in front of me, and while they waited they asked me a few questions.  I could mail my package like that? (I was reusing an old Amazon box.)  Were they just going to print their postage and then put it in the big bin?  What about if they were using one of the flat-rate boxes?

I answered their questions, until the lady using the machine started to leave.  Her card wasn’t working, and she had decided to abandon her quest to mail her package.  One of the ladies encouraged her to try again.  She did, reluctantly, apologizing for holding us up.

The card worked.  The woman thanked us profusely for encouraging her to persevere.  She left, wishing us all a Merry Christmas.

Now it was the questioner’s turn.  She began the process, asking questions the whole way.  The woman behind me chimed in, helping her through the process.  Then that lady began asking me questions about the flat-rate boxes.

Everyone was SO NICE.  Everyone in line was talking, sharing stories.  Two women behind me began talking about the snowstorm on the east coast.  As it turns out, they both have cousins that live in D.C., and they swapped stories.

The questioner was getting frazzled because she felt like she was taking too long.  One woman reassured her that she was fine — “We’re all human, honey.”  I’m not sure what she meant by that, but it was nice.

Everyone wished each other a Merry Christmas as we all went on our way.

As I left the post office with the cold rain chilling me to the bone, entering the crazy traffic …  the world was a little merrier.

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