From the BlogSubscribe Now

Friday Thoughts – Mary Didn’t Walk Alone

Last Advent I had a series on Learning from Mary how to do about Advent. I wish to continue with that theme this Advent.

When Mary hurried in haste to visit Elizabeth, she traveled a great distance. A teenage woman would not have traveled alone across 60 miles of Israeli terrain.  Although the gospel does not speak of it, she was probably accompanied.


As we walk this road, we cannot walk it alone.  This Christian life is live in the Body of Christ. For those of you searching, plug-in find your faith family in your parish.  We also have our brothers and sister who dwell with God I heave.  They are our help and strength: St. Andrew, St. Francis, St. Anthony, St. Therese, St. Jude, St. Rita, St. Philomena.  Plug-in; pray for their powerful intercession.

At the mass we all unite with all the saints and angels in heaven as well as every other person that has ever been to mass.  We all walk together on our journey.  The Church is like this unmentioned person who accompanied Mary.  We don’t know but of few of the millions of members of the Church, both living and dead, nonetheless, we walk together to serve our fellow man.  

Musings, Dreaming and ‘Communio’

All that follows, the geeking out and philosophizing, will act as an apology for attempting the impossible. I am going to try, in the next few lines, to describe the experience of what may best be called a symposium. I’ve written before about the difficulties of capturing reality within the confines of the written word. And the more I see of reality, the more readily I believe the challenge to be an almost overpowering one. And though no writer is exempt from wrestling with the muses, it was Chesterton (surprise surprise) who put it most eloquently and complained about it most often. He believed there to be a whole library full of the best stories never written, a bibliography of dreams that eluded the pens of their writers. Recently, I was highly amused to discover that the cult-classic Sandman comic book series turned this idea into a running gag; the house of Dream contains miles of shelves full of such imaginary books (Chesterton’s contribution is an intriguing tome by the name “The Man Who Was October.”)
So the symposium. Unlike Plato, I have not the memory or patience to write it out as a dialogue. I can, however, provide you with the dramatis personae. The participants included a group of friends each representing different sides of my life: a seminarian, a theology major, a friend from Slidell and a Dominican grad (For the past 5 years, Providence has delightfully deigned that I be acquainted with a new Dominican grad once every two months.) The content of our conversation ranged from chapel veils to jockstraps, from voodoo to theological anthropology. There is admittedly nothing unique about such plurality of topics. Wider spectrums are common among college discussion in these United States. What was impressive from my perspective was the spiritual dimension that was just bordering on the edge of my sensation. Understand: I know these people. Not only do I know their ideas, their feelings and their beliefs. I know them, they themselves, their hypostases, their personhood. And, as I looked on, I watched as they tried to give of themselves, form and matter, body and soul, to everyone in the room. Admittedly, the arguments, though unique, weren’t the quintessence of profundity. Yet, the sincerity of their souls registered to my senses. I could feel the impact of their attempts at self gift, and that is something that left me speechless. At a break in the conversation, I turned to my friend from Slidell (she was only one besides me who had known all the people in the room before that evening) and said “I would not interrupt this for the world!”
That evening was not the first time friends from my different spheres had come together. Nor, praise God, will it be the last. What was unique, though, was that I could perceive the journey our conversation took as we tried so hard to give ourselves to each other. And the best part; we succeeded! Our words had an impact. Our striving reached a goal. There was the titillation of travel and the relief of destination. The experience of it was something more than closure: it was a consummation of sorts. We did not solely dream: we awoke from our intellectual musings to find a dream come true. And that is the difference between a library of stories never written and even just one book that was able to make it out of the authors head and onto paper. The journey is shiny and pretty and perplexing, and that is all wonderful, but I would say (and Chesterton, being a Thomist, would agree) that all the thrill of the potential must be realized by a movement to the actual. Or, in laymen’s terms, words in my head must be put down on paper before we can truly experience their impact. My book cannot remain in the realm of dream: it must take on pen and paper the way God took on flesh. A conversation with friends, an evening of self gift, must give way to a newer reality. Then, the lines between dreaming and waking cease to exist. In the comic book I spoke of above, the character Dream laments that all dreams will die when humanity breaths its last. But this is preposterous! The dreaming will not fail because the darkness has not overcome the light of the human race. A day will come when self gift and communio personarum will be fulfilled and on that day all the stories never written will become lived realities. All the dialogues ever had in goodness and in truth will no longer be acted out like plays but will be sung as hymns. And what is now nothing more than delicate visions in the night will become for us one with the world everlasting. For have you not heard: God too dreamt human dreams when he took on the flesh of a babe, swaddled in Mary’s arms. He argued and mused, debated and dreamed, and though He did all this with human words, they are words that shall not pass away.

Guest Post: How to Understand Scandals and Other Things – Insights from Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Now for the final installment on Archbishop Fulton Sheen from Luke from Quiet, Dignity, and Grace.


________________________________________________________




Insight #3: “If you do not live as you believe, you will begin to believe as you live.”


This gem comes from what is now called the Sheen Catechism.  The Archbishop’s skills as an orator are alive and well in this collection of 50 talks which are now available on mp3.  They were originally recorded in his private study and are truly beautiful.


In a discussion on the moral life, he lays out the idea that if we don’t live as we at least claim to believe, eventually, our beliefs will change.  Why is this so?  Well, we human beings, as good as we may be at fooling others, are just not capable of fooling ourselves.  When there is a tension or a hypocrisy in our life, we want it gone.  If we Say we are Catholics, for instance, but begin gradually not living the way we ought to, then the eventual consequence is that we will very likely give up the belief.  We will choose a belief that better fits the way we live our lives.


Pithy though the quote may be, this quote has serious power from a spiritual, rational, practical, and even psychological point of view.  Sheen not only studied philosophy and theology, he also read heavily in modern psychology, trying to find the best of its efforts, even if it meant sifting through a lot of less useful ideas.  This quote has the power to transform your life if you understand it at an early enough age.  If you believe your religion is important, you had better live like it.  This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, of course.  Nobody is.  But you better do your best and you better make it a priority to live up to that standard.  If not, eventually, the battle gets more difficult.  And Sheen was expounding this in the golden age of American Catholicism.  What has happened since his era?  Mass attendance has fallen by almost 50%.  People have created a whole new brand of Catholicism in which they consider themselves Catholic but disagree and disobey major Church teachings as well as almost completely abandon sacramental practices.  Unfortunately for many people, they stopped living in a way that lined up with their belief.  And in due time, their beliefs changed.


Insight #4: How to Understand Scandals


First, a fact: There Are scandals.


This shows us that Christ chose the people of His Church in their human condition, he chose them as they are, not as they should be.  After all, Christ was a cause of many scandals; why should his Church, his Mystical Body, be exempt from scandal?  For instance, Christ’s disciples knew that He was God made flesh.  But they witnessed his humiliations and, ultimately, his death on the Cross.  What greater scandal could there be than a dead God?

Christ experienced wants of hunger and thirst and even died at the hands of sinners.  So his Church experiences tragedy, scandal, and sin.  But Christ being in pain didn’t mean that He was not God.  Christ’s own death couldn’t even triumph over the fact that He still was, is, and always will be God.  Similarly, Christ guarantees that his Church teaches the truth, but he doesn’t guarantee that his teachers will always be perfect.


It is true that there are bad Catholics. But remember this.  While “our faith increases responsibility, it does not force obedience.  It increases blame, but it does not prevent sin.  If some Catholics are bad, it is not because they are members of Christ’s Mystical Body, but it is because they aren’t living up to its demands.”


An Interesting Point


Think of the concept of a scandal.  Someone has to do something that disappoints someone else.  In other words, if a Catholic priest commits a sin and it becomes public knowledge, the only reason it would be a scandal is if you would expect a Catholic priest to be good.  So when people throw their arms up in disgust at the Church, they are really displaying that they look for something good in the Church.  Namely, they expect holiness.  That’s a very important psychological point!  The media can only draw the scandal out and make great headlines because everybody Expects the Church to be Holy.



You never hear someone complain that a sun-worshiper or atheist has fallen in his or her duties.  No news headline would ever grab attention if it read “sun-worshiper steals money from church” or “humanist steals money from school.”  Nobody expects anything from a sun-worshiper, humanist, etc.  But insert the word priest and we have a scandal.  It’s easy to be a communist or an atheist, and it’s very morally lax.  But it is demanding and morally difficult to be a Catholic.



Furthermore, if the Church, which some people criticize for its human failings, was actually a perfect institution….would anybody want to be a part of that?  If the Church was actually perfect, then most of us would be ineligible to join.  In fact, aside from Christ, Mary, and a few saints, we’d nearly all be cast out with the plants that grew on bad soil.  Christ told us some of the harvest would be thrown out at the end.  If being Catholic really kept us perfect, then Christ’s words would be either a lie or they’d be impossible.  Because if we were all perfect, there would be none cast aside at the end.

_________________________________________

I apologize for this but blogger was acting up so I had to highlight in a weird color for you to see the most important text of the blog.  Go check out Luke’s blog Quiet, Dignity, and Grace.

Guest Post: Insights in the Writings of Archbishop Fulton Sheen


Now for the second edition of Luke’s piece on Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  Don’t forget to check out Luke’s blog, Quiet, Dignity, and Grace.

__________________________________________________________

Insights Gained

I am young in my knowledge of Fulton Sheen.  I have read 10 of his books and listened to hours of his audio catechism (the same one which John Paul II used to learn English).  It is not possible to succinctly state everything I have learned from this very amateur study.  However, I will try to explain what I consider to be the four most powerful things I have learned from this Servant of God.


Insight #1: The Importance of the Eucharist and the Holy Hour

Reading Sheen, one constantly runs across Eucharistic metaphors.  He frequently employs analogies of wheat being sifted, ground, chewed, etc. to our world today.  We in a sense are that grain and our lives, if we unite them to Christ’s, will follow the pattern He set.  The world will chew us up; we will suffer.  On the other hand, Christ, by becoming the bread of life for us, enables us to receive the merits he won on the cross through the Eucharist.


So the suffering we encounter is a sign that we’re living the way Jesus did.  The world reacts against us because it knows that if our love is real and our faith is true, it is doomed.  What could possibly keep a Christian on the path in the face of so much resistance?  Only the very gift of Christ, who both gives us the true bread from heaven and IS the true bread from heaven, containing in itself all delight.


Fulton Sheen makes the Eucharist the source and summit of his thought precisely because it was the center of his spiritual life.  This was one of two promises he made on his ordination to the priesthood: he would make a holy hour in the presence of the Eucharist every single day.  It is one he never failed to keep, no matter how busy he might have been or how ill his health may have been.  In the later part of his life, Sheen spent years doing retreats for priest.  He noted that he felt people needed some concrete advice after coming out of a retreat if it’s going to make any real difference in their life.  His advice was always the same: make a Daily holy hour.  It was simple advice to give, but challenging advice to follow.  But precisely its simplicity is what also made it attainable.


This practical goal he set wasn’t always practical for him.  He writes in his autobiography of having to do some extra convincing sometimes to get into churches for his Holy Hour.  When did he find time in his schedule?  In the morning.  Sometimes, Very early in the morning.  He writes in his autobiography of once having to climb out of a window because the church he was visiting had been locked up by an impatient pastor.


And don’t forget: this wasn’t a man with lots of free time on his hands.  He wrote and studied constantly.  His work as a professor at Catholic University kept him in the books and he even destroyed his course notes every year at the end of the year.  Any teachers out there know how much extra work that would entail.  Archbishop Sheen had early morning flights, plenty of train rides around the country and Europe doing extra catechetical and evangelical work for no extra money.  He was the head of the Propagation of the Faith apostolate in the United States, and the private theologian to a handful of celebrities.  How many times did he fail to keep his daily holy hour?  Zero.  This is his first recommendation in building a spiritual life and anyone who has ever tried this, even temporarily, knows how powerful it is.  Sheen was built up by this grace for decades!!


Insight #2: The Beauty of True Humility and Piety


Modern day readers who look back on Fulton Sheen’s works may find his piety a bit pervasive.  We’re not used to it these days.  We expect people to keep their religion to themselves and not to let it out of the box too often.  Certainly we don’t expect religious fervor to permeate every conversation we have or sentence we write.  But, when you read Sheen, you read piety.


For instance, whenever the late archbishop wants to refer to Jesus, he has a handful of options available to him.  He could use the following: Jesus, Jesus Christ, Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Lord, the Messiah, etc.  There are countless ways to refer to the second person of the Trinity.  And if you were typing on a typewriter or heaven forbid using an actual pen and paper, some of them would save more space than others.  Sheen constantly used the title “Our Blessed Lord.”  Now, this may seem like a small thing.  But when you read book after book and listen to talk after talk you start to see just how much extra time it would take to say “Our Blessed Lord” rather than Jesus.  Add to this that whenever Jesus was referred to as “he” or “him,” those words are capitalized, you start to see how much reverence Sheen had for Our Blessed Lord.  Archbishop Sheen’s respect for God’s name was no doubt due in large part to his devotion to the Holy Hour.


Aside from his piety and the beautiful way in which he utilizes poetic imagery in his theology, Fulton Sheen also displayed a deep-rooted humility.  He famously said at a retreat given for inmates that there was only one thing which separated him from the men imprisoned: they got caught!  His autobiography is filled with deep looks into his own self and almost uncomfortable descriptions of his own failures.  He feared, at the end of his life, that he had been too flashy, accepted too many of the world’s comforts, and had too much pride.  He also has a painful recollection of a moment in which he, ever so briefly, hesitated when greeting a leper.  He had meant to place a crucifix in the hand of an African leper when he hesitated and dropped it.  After that, he picked up the crucifix, and proceeded to kiss the hands of every single leper in the village as he greeted them.  That moment and the description of it shows how penetrating Sheen’s self-knowledge was.


And what is the great mark of a saint?  Seeing himself in God’s eyes.  Holding himself accountable the way God would.  Surely Fulton Sheen knew what great good he was called to.  The slightest imperfections were things he saw clearly about himself.  That humility is probably what further spurred his great piety and devotion.  You see, when we, like Sheen, realize how lowly we really are, suddenly genuflecting, praying before meals, using reverence when speaking the divine name, a morning offering, nightly examination of conscience, and all the other common practices of piety which Sheen constantly recommended become a natural reaction to the simple truth that we are not God.  The Archbishop knew this truth intimately.


________________________________________________

Check in soon for the final installment.

Guest Post: Archbishop Fulton Sheen

We are lucky and honored to have our very first guest post. I’ve wanted to do this for a while, but have not pursued it enough to see it to fruition.


Welcome to the thoughts of Luke Arredondo, the author of a fellow Blogspot blog Quiet, Dignity, and Grace (which was nominated for best new blog over at the Crescat’s Annual Cannonball Awards). I have know Luke for nigh on six years. We were in the seminary together. We played music together (he is an accomplished trumpeter). We prayed together and we’ve laughed together (a unique experience for the who have had the pleasure).


Luke, now a DRE at a local parish, is married with a beautiful baby girl. I’ve known for a long time that he is an avid reader and no author is more close to his heart than Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. When I asked to write a post, it seemed most appropriate for him to write on Sheen. Due to the breadth of his writing, it will be spread out over three posts.


Without further ado …


_____________________________________________________________



An Ambassador of Faith


Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, to older Catholics, is a household name. Unfortunately for the younger generations, his name is not yet awell-known one. However, it seems the tide may be turning in the other direction, even if slowly. Seminarians are reading his works,YouTube users are seeing some of his great tv spots, and in parishes around the world, prayers are being offered for his case for canonization.


I first discovered the writing sof Fulton Sheen while a seminarian. I’ll forever be in debt spiritually to Neil Pettit, whose pile of books sitting on his desk attracted my attention on a number of occasions. On a whim, while heading out the door to my week of vacation in Destin, I asked if I could borrow his seminal volume on priesthood entitled The Priest Is Not His Own. Never will I look at the world with the same eyes.


These posts are born of a deepdesire to do two things:

First, to impart some of the most powerful insights I have gained from reading Sheen’s works.

Secondly, to hopefully encourage those who read this post to go directly to the source and read some of the Archbishop’s beautiful meditations and deepen your own faith in Christ.

If all goes well, reading these posts will lead you to read Fulton Sheen’s own works and will in turn lead one deeper into the mystery of faith and particularly to a devotion to the Eucharist.


Short Biography


Fulton Sheen was born in El Paso, IL. His name was actually Peter John Sheen, but he became known by the name Fulton as a child and it stuck withhim. Although Sheen grew up in arural, farming community, his intellectual gifts would take him to some of themost prestigious places of study in the world. And he would succeed in everysingle challenge placed before him, even earning the highest possible honors in postgraduate work at the prestigious theology school in Luvein, Belgium.


After earning his doctorate, here turned to the US where he became a professor of philosophy at Catholic University of America and went on to host an Emmy-winning television program, Your Life Is Worth Living, which attracted viewers of all faiths and walks of life. His charisma came through the tv screen as well as his humor. At his acceptance speech for his Emmy award, he thanked his four writers Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.


All throughout his life, Sheen was busy studying and writing. He is theauthor of over 30 books. His most well-known works are his Last Seven Words and his magnum opus Life of Christ. Shortly before his death, he met Pope John Paul II in New York, and the Holy Father told him that he had written well and spoken well of the Church. He died in his private chapel during a holy hour in 1979.


_______________________________________________



Stay tuned next week for the second post by Luke!

The Honest Young Woman (or, Sincerity and Dialogue)

“An error is more menacing than a crime, for an error begets crimes. An Imperialist is worse than a pirate. For an Imperialist keeps a school for pirates; he teaches piracy disinterestedly and without an adequate salary. A Free Lover is worse than a profligate. For a profligate is serious and reckless even in his shortest love; while a Free Lover is cautious and irresponsible even in his longest devotion.” –GK Chesterton.

It is amazing the kind of friends one meets in this post-modern world of ours. One such friend, who is thoroughly Pro-life has, within the past three weeks, invited me to a couple of meetings with abortionists. The first time round, the abortionist was also a convert, so the meeting made sense. But the second one was unapologetically pro-choice and, what was worst, it was very much political. I make this somewhat flippant statement, but I mean it wholeheartedly. I believe that a sin is not nearly as bad as an erroneous belief, that politically advocating abortions is worse than having an abortion yourself. “For it is out of the heart that good and evil come.” See the preliminary quote if you think this idea needs to be fleshed-out anymore.

That is why, from among the many wonderful and strange things I heard that evening, there are two in particular that I want to highlight. The first came from the mouth of one of the Planned Parenthood doctors who had, from among the many noble elements in her liberal ideology, chosen to retract liberal socialism in favor of fiscal conservativism. Namely, she argued that healthcare reform demands efficiency, that abortions are cheaper and more efficient than paying to carry a baby to term and, therefore, the government should pay for abortions. What a strange logic! It would be like saying that public school meals should be low grade and cheap because that’s what’s best for taxpayers. The health of the person in question in never brought into the question. But is saving tax-payers money really the goal of healthcare reform? Is it not to provide better health care to the poor and marginalized, regardless of price? You cannot in one breath support an admittedly expensive overhaul of the healthcare system and then, in the next breath, say that you want the cheapest alternative. If you want good healthcare, you must be willing to pay for it. Regardless of whether or not socialized medicine is the best approach to solving the problem, it seems quite obvious to me that cheap ‘fiscally conservative’ healthcare is the worst. It’s like the inverse of cash for clunkers, where Uncle Sam forces on his constituents a poor product and in return asks them to pay for it.

I will not dwell on this argument however, for something more fantastic happened that evening. Towards the end of the discussion, when all sides had made their points and spoke their peace, the small, nervous woman who had been running the Powerpoint stood up and spake thus; “I know that there are some conservatives in this room and I applaud them for their ability to remain chaste, but I want to have sex!” The room went quite for a split second before the Planned Parenthood officials interjected, politely asking the poor girl to calm down and reserve such comments for other times. Had I not been one of three men in the room of fifty people, I might have stood up and defended the young woman. I dare say, it is likely that she was the most sincere person in the room that night! If we are to dialogue about sexuality and healthcare, we must begin by discussing the reality of a couple alone in a room wanting to have sex. It seemed to me that the most appropriate time to discuss sexuality’s longings and desires is at a meeting devoted to “healthy sex.” The doctors and lawyers in the room seemed to think otherwise.

Which brings me back to where I began, with Chesterton talking about error being worse than sin. A young woman who stands up in the middle of a crowd and admits to not having the strength to live a chaste life deserves some sort of accolade. She may be a sinner, but it is Lent! Judge her not. Speaking personally, I think that she was honest and should have been commended for it. Yet, notice the strange reality that followed. Rather than being welcomed and applauded by her feminist friends, she is quieted down and asked to keep to herself. They were embarrassed of her (for her, about her, etc?)! I offer no solution to the conundrum here. I simply want to point out how erroneous beliefs lead to paradoxical behavior in reality. I, the close-minded Christian, was more than willing to let people stand up and say “I want to have sex!” It was the progressives that invoked censorship. Indeed, I hope that God rewards the courage of that young woman, the only one of us willing to speak about woman’s sexual desires at a meeting devoted to the topic of woman’s sexual health. More importantly, I pray for those who support abortion on demand but place strange limits on when women can talk about wanting to have sex.

In Praise of My First Parking Ticket

O joy and rapture, my first parking ticket! Months after discerning out, of fearing that my blank record would reveal me to be the abnormal former-friar that I am, I can regain anonymity under the guise of illegality. The solemn pink slip of paper. The unsettling surprise of finding it on the windshield before pulling off. The slight sigh of relief when you realize that it will only cost you $30. $30! That’s barely half a tank of gas. What a bargain! And apparently I can pay it online. With the great advances of the digital age, I’m spared the hassle of digging up an envelop, writing a check, packing postage or going down to the station to see that my bill is clear.

The back story, though, is more epic still. I was on the way to adoration at TulaneCatholicCenter and could not find a parking spot. (A pox upon ‘The Boot’ and its Monday night reveling!) I was first tempted to park in an empty teacher parking lot, but my conscience grabbed me and I chose to pull out. Then, I almost pulled in behind a small Civic that had left just enough room for one more vehicle. But, alas, my conscience gripped me again. The bumper-stickers and ornaments indicated that the owner was a female and the thought of blocking a woman in on a Mid-City night while I ran off to be with Jesus was too terrible to bear. Therefore, rather than stop, I rounded the block, returned to the CatholicCenter and saw the fated spot. It was behind the old NewmanGirlsCollege. A car was already occupying part of the space. There was a ‘no parking’ sign, but it was frightfully askew and hung next to an adjacent dumpster. I assumed that it indicated ‘do not block this dumpster’ which, due to my pathological fear of being crushed by a garbage truck, is the very thing I always try to avoid. I considered my situation, that I was burning gas and missing out on time with the Lord, and decided that the signage was ambiguous enough to warrant the risk. I pulled in all the way, as far from the dumpster as possible, and ran inside to adore Christ. The chapel being located directly above the spot, I comforted myself by thinking that the Lord and I could look out together and discern the results of my actions. The Just Judge would be there with me when I discovered whether or not I had committed a crime.

Admittedly, the situation was full of moral ambiguity. As much as I might be tempted to compare my thirty dollars to St. Paul’s lashings thirty nine lashes, I know that the gravity and intentions of the situations separate our sufferings. Yet, I must say that it is some consolation to know that I was in the upper room in prayer when first the arm of the law was raised against me. God be praised! After leaving formation, I return to the world, not as one of its members, but as one of those commissioned by their baptism to convert it. Fasts and solitude are wonderful: but the thrill of risking a parking ticket to be with the Lord is a new one and, I say, a quite refreshing one. So take heart, my friends. We may not have persevered to the point of shedding blood, but our witness to a world is heroic none-the-less. O, if only I could talk to the one who gave me the ticket, to make that one understand that I would do it all again (my ignorance of the law remaining) just to be alone with the Lord!

Pellas Apollo and Paper Dolls

As I write these words, I sit at the desk of my new job: copy boy. I join the generations of proud copy boys whose noble feet have moved our civilization forward since the invention of the Gutenburg Press. I’m afraid that it is their skill and effort that will fuel our civilization till the Apocalypse recounted by that first printed tome: the Gutenburg Bible.

Sitting here in this room, meditating on these topics of respectful work and working revelation, a rather flippant thought comes to me. It has haunted me for some time yet I have never put down into writing. It first popped into my head thanks to Dunder Mifflin and The Office, it was confirmed by St. John of the Cross during my time in the Monastery and, as I sit stationed surrounded by stationary, it occurs to me that there might indeed be an omen in this strange situation. Is it possible that we worship paper? Have we have enshrined it in the way the ancient worshipped the wheat in worshipping Baal, or exulted mere sex in the shrines of Venus? If what man worships is essentially what he spends the most time with, than the Philistine worshiped the field, the Roman worshiped power and lust, and we worship these things indirectly through paper. And not just paper. I include media of any sort under this umbrella: TV, radio, internet etc. But our worship is of an insane sort.. While it is true that men can be tempted to live by bread alone, or that they can be convinced that fertility is necessary for the progress of civilization, it is our own backward 21st century that would insist that life is dependant on print and media. Imagine telling a solemn Philistine, who’s spent his whole life laboring under the delusion that he should worship the god that brings nourishment through food, that all his years have been wasted. Reaping is nothing, we would tell him, in comparison to a reem of 8×11 canary paper. See the proud Roman centurion. Try telling him that his greed for wealth and women, born of the desire for food and children, are really second to the need for Facebook. Our idols are not wood and stone, but paper dolls.

If there are any regular readers of my bloggings, (and I do thank you for your loyalty) they might have realized that I like this exercise of contrasting contemporary culture with the ancients, especially the ancient pagan. I do this because I believe that we live in an era of Neo-Paganism (which should not strike you as a surprising concept) and because I believe that we are far worse off than the original pagans (which should be an unsettling concept). Now, I’m not so backwards so as to assume that things were best under Caesar and Pilate, or that they were perfect in the days of Leopold or Leo. I do not idealize the past. There was famine. There were needless wars and petty politicians. There were sinners and saints, but at least they were sane. I use this admittedly extravagant metaphor about the cult of copy-paper to point out a strange and bewildering fact about contemporary life. We are indeed wanton and wasteful, but not in the way our forefathers were. They might have treated the field with a certain amount of idolatry and women as if they were waste, but we moderns have outdone them in according waste-paper with respect and relish. We’ll spend the same time and energy indulging in media, be it printed or electronic, that an honest heathen spent in wandering in the fields and frolicking in the city.

Even our concept of labor is tainted by this petrifaction of communication. Across this country, we claim that ‘doing work’ consists of moving paper across desks. Our business men and women don lavish garb to perform this exercise. I am not criticizing those men and women. I have great love and admiration for many of them. I know that they suffer a great deal of stress and make great sacrifices so as to distribute information and keep the wheels of commerce moving. My question is not with their skills or service, but with their product. Or, as GKC would say, I wonder whether or not there search for goods is really a search for the Good. Were the apocalypse (Zombie, Nuclear, Terrorist or otherwise) to happen tomorrow, there would be few ‘usable goods’ left after all the paper had burned. More tragic still, there would be fewer people with enough practical knowledge and common sense left to know what to do with a fruitful field or a pregnant woman. People of this age complain of feeling disconnected with reality and my immediate thought is that they are quite right. They have placed a veil between themselves and the fruits of creation. It is an irony of fate that the veil if made of paper or, better yet, of a computer screen.

Reality is indeed all around us, but it doesn’t flash or bang or come in a cool font. Our Benevolent Father has given us a glorious gift. Sometimes, we choose to revel in the wrapping paper instead savoring in the quietude of His beatitude. And, in the silence of this creation, He is trying to speak to us. When this silence gets awkward (like in a copy room at 9:00am), I feel as if He is on the verge of saying some important thing.

Christmas: The Epic Interruption

The word ‘epic’ is over-used by holiday advertisers. The word ‘interruption’ is mostly avoided. It seems a silly thing to call a cellphone or a car ‘epic,’ just as it would be ludicrous to call a tugboat ‘titanic’ or a shovel ‘earth-shattering.’ Calling them ‘interruptions’ would be more appropriate. Who hasn’t had their enjoyment of a concert or conversation interrupted by the ringing phone, or had a pleasant afternoon destroyed by a car accident? One may argue that advertisers’ unscrupulous application of words like ‘epic’ undercuts the meaning of such words and renders them impotent. I, of course, agree, but as far as I can tell, this isn’t problem with using these words to describe the mundane. Hyperbole is a relatively innocent way of reminding us that the everyday can be transcendent. No better example is there than the case of God’s being born into a stable.

-Wait a second, didn’t you blog about the Nativity already? You mean I read through all that tom-foolery about the Incarnation on Ice only to have you shove it in my face again!

Yes, kind reader, I’m afraid I’m among that number trying to keep Christ in Christmas. As I was saying, the Christmas story is more-than-epic, or rather, it is monumental without being a monument. It is alive. Were it truly epic in the way that the ‘Iliad,’ ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’ are called epic, than it would have long since become a relic of academia collecting dust in the Ivory Tower. Obsolescence is the destiny of everything that takes upon itself the term ‘epic.’ A cellphone that claims to be ‘epic’ might very well have amazing speed and revolutionary communicative capabilities, but precisely because it desires to be this generation’s (the 4G or Fourth Generation we are told) epic event, it will be the next generation’s antique.

-Not that I’m complaining, but I thought that you were going to talk about the Christmas Story. All this cultural commentary is almost as repulsive as your apologetics.

O good reader, an excellent point. Thank you for your patience. I was hinting that the Christmas Story is a ‘transcendent epic.’ The term is strange so I will lay-out some common charactersistics of an epic.

1) Epics begin ‘in medias res,’ a good translation of which would be ‘in the middle of things’ or ‘in the thick of it.’ In short, an epic is a glorified interruption! Having already established that other epic-titled things are indeed interruptions, let’s stress that St. Luke’s gospel makes it clear that the Nativity was one too. Mary, Joseph, the Wise-men, Herod, the Chief Priests and the shepherds were all quite busy. They had their own set of expectations. It certainly wasn’t a very convenient time for God to bust-up into their world. Even the faithful characters of the gospel narrative have to be given visions and miracles to be pushed in the right direction. St. Luke’s opening lines make it clear that the world was in the midst of several other reigns-of-kings when the King of Kings arrived on the scene.

2) Epics are sweeping. There are journeys, adventures, plots, councils and heroism. In this department, the Nativity Story carries its own weight. Only the drama Christ’s death can outdo the drama of Christ’s birth. There are twists and turns that contrast well with the somewhat ponderous sermons and healings populating the rest of Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels.

3) The setting is romantic. Robes and royals. Insurrection and Incense. Exotic cities and angel’s singing. The Christmas pageant has more authentic pageantry than all other pageants put together.

-That was rather redundant.

See how tempting it is to interrupt. This brings us to a fourth point that applies only to the Nativity:

4) Most importantly of all, the Christmas Story is a real story. Therefore, it was a real interruption. It threw human history out-of-sorts. Time is measured in relation to IT. As a result nothing else that claims the adjective ‘epic’ can hold a candle to the advent wreath. Hector never really ran laps around Troy. A car’s state-of-the-art fuel injection system will never bring about the revolution in society that it can bring about in mechanics. But Jesus was indeed born. Anything that rightfully or wrongfully claims the name ‘epic’ is destined to pass that torch to something else. Jesus, however is still alive. And this Christmas is his 2010th birthday party. He is epic still.

-Now I see where you’re going with this. It’s another one of those ‘True-Meaning-of-Christmas’ bits. Well, if you think I have the time to incorporate any more pious drivel into my holiday schedule, you have another thing coming. I’m already going to make it to church on Christmas day: that should be enough for you and God.

You know, honest reader, there is more in common between our feelings than you would guess. But we were talking about the epic-ness of God, and you seem reluctant to accept the concept. I don’t blame you either. Compared to super-fast cars, movies and cellphones, what chance does a first century Jew born in a stable stand? But there is this final trait of epics:

5) Epics implant meaning. They interrupt the follow of an already-proceeding storyline and provide it with the twist necessary to render the whole event plausible. Voldemort is around before the Harry Potter books begin. The Ring exists long before Frodo is even born. Christ comes into an already doomed world to give it new life. But because His is a real story, there is no way that it can be robbed of its value.

The choice before us, you and me both kind reader, is whether or not we’re willing to celebrate the Nativity over-and-above the holiday-hijinks that are now claiming to be as epic as the Word-made-Flesh. The Reality of Christ keeps Him in Christmas. It’s whether or not we bother to invite Him into our own messy, stinky, cluttered stable that will determine whether own Christmas will be epic or anti-climatic.

We were Recommended

Christopher’s Apologies gave us a shout out on his blog. Thanks Chris for recommending the blog.