Saturday, December 29, 2007

Merry Christmas!

After having to look at the dog-headed picture for over a week, I thought I owed you. Merry Christmas!

HT: Chad, whose wife, btw, is having their second baby - perhaps even as I type. Congratulations, Chad!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tonight We Drive

We're heading out to Michigan tonight. We'll be driving through the night and so we covet your prayers. In the meantime, I have much to do around the house. I figure schooling today will be light as we prepare for the trip, pack, clean, nap, etc.

Last night I received a special dispensation from my wife to travel up the road to the library by myself. I found three audio books for the trip: (1) The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, (2) Whiteout by Ken Follett, and (3) Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns. All told it is nearly 28 hours of listening pleasure (I hope). Although, I will only need to fill up 24 of those hours. If you know anything of any of the stories, please let me know. I have good recommendations on Kite Runner and Lewis & Clark so the only one I'm nervous about is the Follett book. (Though if you've read Kite Runner and there's plenty of "new vocabulary" for the kids, let me know. They should be sleeping during the trip, but I don't want anything explicit on the speakers. Well, not too explicit.) Also, if you have any recommendations for driving music, I'd appreciate it. I just thought about the soundtrack to Rain Man this morning, which has some great driving music on it. But if you have anything else, or if you want to set up a nice driving mix for me on iTunes, just let me know before dark tonight.

Blessings to you and yours on this most excellent feast day approaching. Merry Christmas to all and to all a prayer-vigil-for-weary-travelers kind of night! Pray for us, St Christopher.

Christ is born!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I sat in my car waiting for my girls to finish their Faith Formation classes. In the parking lot the Knights of Columbus were selling Christmas trees.

A man and his three kids drove up to pick up their trees. Two for them. One for Grandma. The daughter was the oldest at about 12, the younger boys, perhaps 10 and 8. And as I watched them flit from tree to tree, like hummingbirds, it struck me what joy children bring into our world. And I wondered if, without them, how long we would exchange gifts or put up trees or tell stories. (All of which certainly deserves qualification, but for now, I'm leaving it there.) The children were wide-eyed and their chatter was constant. "Daddy! Daddy!" they cried. "Look at this tree! Wouldn't this one be perfect downstairs!"

Daddy, daddy.

Not long afterward, we lit our Advent wreath - the first in our home. We turned off all the lights and ate by the flame of a single candle intent on imparting hope to us. The children, mine this time, were wide-eyed and their chatter was constant. They asked questions (Having just seen Fiddler on the Roof for the first time, one of them asked, "Are we Jewish, now?") and told stories. "Daddy! Daddy!" - they clamored for my ear.

And, as I treasured the experience in my heart, I realized that this night, though perhaps not specifically December 2, 2007, this night would be remembered. Advent would be part of who they are, who they become. Just as I, even as a confirmed Protestant, would always find Midnight Mass and Christmas inseparable events. Just as this ring on my finger bears witness to memory, to union, to life.

Our personhood is birthed in memory. We give our children memories, cherished traditions, so that their faith is rooted not in the ephemerality of Idea, but in the permanence, the concreteness, of water and flame, of fir and crèche, of ashes and fish. So that when the tempter comes to them, they can go to the Jordan and see the rocks in its midst. So they can arise and journey to Bethel and know that there is a ladder there. So that a candle will give hope, and a cross, peace.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is There a Santa Claus?

With the season nearly upon us, I wanted to share that famous New York Sun article written by Francis P. Church, September 21, 1897.

"Is There a Santa Claus?"

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

"Dear Editor--I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, 'If you see it in The Sun, it's so.' Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?"

Virginia O'Hanlon, 115 West Ninety-fifth Street

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Apparently, I do not know if it is true, the article is reprinted in the Times annually. So I hope I'm not breaking too many copyright laws by reprinting it here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Significance of Place

A friend, in his comments on my last post, asked about Catholicism's view of place. I thought it would make an excellent short post (since I only have a little time) all by itself.

Place is important to our faith. Sometimes crucial. While we can, of course, worship in any place in spirit and truth, our faith is not merely spiritual. Our faith is incarnational. God has become man. Therefore what is physical and tangible is important, and ought not to be shrugged off. On the contrary, as all of us know, there is something highly attractional to places where we deem something important has happened. It is why we have memorials. And we all, as humans, have these places (and they can be of personal or communal importance). It is also an understanding that we have a connection, that there is communion, between us and them - a real communion that place, often, broadens the sense of.

Pilgrimages are made to such places because we want to be a part of this larger thing, this community of faith, we want to experience it for ourselves. And, as well, often times many are healed by God even still in such places, though the event took place hundreds of years before. (These are the same reasons why the Church values relics as well.)

This incarnational view of the faith is not something that only Catholics or Orthodox recognize. The vast majority of Protestants do as well. Most Protestants consciously understand memorial and place and the importance of the concrete. But some deny it to elevate the spiritual. And to me, the longer I am Catholic, this simply seems gnostic faith rather than Christian. Of course, even these celebrate Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, and Easter. Even these would jump at a chance to visit the Holy Lands. Even these kiss their wives.

We venerate these places because God has, in the past, touched them in a special way. There is significance in that. To honor the place or the relic is to honor God and to recognize his working, his real presence, in the world.

More, I hope, on this subject later. Until then, I would highly recommend Fr Stephen Freeman's (an Orthodox priest living in Knoxville) series on One-Storied Faith.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Ave Maria

Hail Mary, thou blessed among women, generations shall rise up to greet,
After ages of wrangles and dogma, I come with a prayer to thy feet.
Where Gabriel's red plumes were a wind in the lanes of thy lilies at eve,
We love, who have done with the churches, we worship, who may not believe.
Shall I reck that the chiefs we revolt with, stern elders with scoff and with frown,
Have scourged from thine altar the kneelers, and reft from thy forehead the crown?
For God's light for the world has burnt through it, the thought whereof thou wert the sign,
As a sign, for all faiths are as symbols, as human, and man is divine.
We know that men prayed to their image and crowned their own passions as powers,
We know that their gods were their shadows, nor are 'shamed of this queen that was ours:
We know as the people the priest is, as the men are the goddess shall be,
And all harlots were worshipped in Cyprus, all maidens and mothers in thee.

Who shall murmur of dreams or be sour when the tale of thy triumph is told,
When thy star rose a sun and a meteor o'er empires and cities of old?
When against the dim altars of passion, the garlands of queens god-embraced,
Come the peace of a poor Jewish maid in the lily-like pride of the chaste,
Came weak, without swords of the flesh, without splendours of lyres or of pen,
As a naked appeal to things pure in the hearts of the children of men;
And e'en as she walked as one dreaming, sweet, pale as the evening star,
The spell of the wanton was snapped, and the revel of gods rolled afar,
And she brightened the glens that were gloomy, and softened the tribes that were wild,
Till the world grew a worshipping choir round the shapes of a mother and child.

(G.K. Chesterton, The Debater, Feb. 1893)

These are the first two of five stanzas. HT: The Magnificat

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Giving Up Giving Up

My giving up on this blog is officially over. It's become a habit, writing here. I write. It's what I do. It's how I breathe. It's how I think. And though it's not the only place I write, it has become a kind place for me. Certainly, this is not the proper setting for every exhalation.

I may, someday, buy an old manual typewriter and pound out my thoughts exhaustively, compiling reams of strange ideas about stranger things for my great-grandchildren to someday stumble upon and subsequently use to heat their homes. But until then, here I am.

That being said, rather sheepishly, my writing this month may certainly still be scarce regardless of my resolution to continue forward. I have some articles due at the end of this week, and then the next week will be spent in preparations for the holidays and finishing school with the girls.

Again, I thank you for your prayers. It's been a sorrowful time for our family, and a break was certainly needed from some of the things with which I normally busy myself. But the sun also rises, doesn't it. We are doing reasonably well. I haven't, as of yet, written through my grief. I probably will soon. I probably must.

"For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Is 11,8).