Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent, and time for me to get going on printing my Christmas cards and start sending them out early for a change. So here is this year’s card, complete with cover graphic and message inside. The graphic is a Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Sign, with the description and explanation below.

I’m sending this early to all here at Coming Home to help keep this blessed and holy season in perspective. Here’s to an Advent of fruitful spiritual introspection followed by a Christmas filled with the love of those most dear to us.

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

~Sigrid Undset

The Hex Sign

Double Trinity Tulips

The stylized tulip with its three petals is a dominate feature in Pennsylvania Dutch folk art. It is referred to as the Trinity Tulip and it symbolizes the Trinity as well as faith, hope and charity. The heart in this sign (as well as other Pennsylvania German folk art) is not the heart of sentimental “Victorian” valentines. Rather, it is religious in its representation of the heart of God, the source of all love and hope for a future life. The colors in this heart are used to give them additional meaning. Red symbolizes strong emotion and blue is used to indicate strength, especially spiritual strength. The white background symbolizes purity and the solid black circle represents unity in Christ.

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I only started reading blogs last January when I stumbled out of my cave and discovered the twenty-first century. I happened on Beliefnet.com, which led me to Jill Stanek, who along with Bethany and Carla are responsible for this blog coming to life. On Beliefnet, I became a fan of Rod Dreher who writes “Crunchy Con”, which is actually shutting down this weekend and reopening as “Rod Dreher” on Beliefnet.

On Rod’s site a commenter by the name of Erin Manning has also guest posted for Rod. Erin is as unapologetically Catholic as I am (refreshing), and ardently pro-life. I’ve linked her blog And Sometimes Tea in the blogroll. She, along with the others there, whom I’ll be referencing as well in the coming days, is a must read.

In the process of getting my blog up and running, I missed this gem that Erin guest-posted on Rod’s site on December 27. It’s extremely sobering food for thought when we get caught up in the War on Christmas vitriol later this year. I plan to forward this to all of my friends.

Here’s Erin:

Merry Christmas! Rod is graciously allowing me to join him and co-blog this week. This will be my last chance to put my opinions on this side of the comment boxes, so I’m grateful for the opportunity–as I have been for every time that Rod has let me participate here.

I don’t know how many of you had a chance to see this piece by Terry Mattingly of the Get Religion blog on Hank Stuever’s book, Tinsel, which Rod reviewed a while ago here. When I read Rod’s review, I wanted to read the book, and Terry’s piece on it has increased that desire–it sounds like a fascinating look at the paradox that is the modern American Christmas as experienced by the three Frisco, Texas families whom Steuver followed closely.

The Get Religion blog post highlights something I’ve been thinking about, not only about Christmas, but about the struggle to live as a serious Christian in modern America. Terry Mattingly writes:

“Stuever and I talked for more than two hours and it seemed like 20 minutes. I am, of course, a prodigal Texan who gets sweaty palms in shopping malls and, frankly, Stuever was much more patient and kind than I would have been trying to write about the material that he covered. He takes the people totally serious, even while lacing his work with large does of sarcasm and even cynicism when he deals with the culture in which they live.

“I would have jumped straight to anger, which would have sent me to my priest for confession over and over and over.”

We Christians are often–and I include myself in this, most definitely–suckers for the “us against them” narratives that are told in our culture. From our focus on stories of atheist Christmas displays to others featuring artful outrage over some (admittedly tasteless) ornaments on a tree at the White House to still other War on Christmas themes that crop up in the news at this time of year, we tend to fall for the idea that the greatest threat to Christian life is something outside of us, some threat that will make it much, much harder than it is now for us to live openly as Christians in America.

To be fair, there are aspects of modern American life that conflict with a serious pursuit of Christianity. Not all perceived threats to religious liberty are the products of fevered imaginations and conspiracy theories; it’s important to pay attention to the prevailing cultural winds. Large, heavily centralized governments are often not friends of Christianity, or of any other serious faith which sometimes puts citizens at odds with the values and principles of the State.

But as a book like Tinsel, or even our own experiences of Christmas in America, can remind us, the strongest enemies to a serious attempt to live as a follower of Christ are not the ones on the outside. They are the enemies within–they are the faces that look back at us from the mirror, as we put on our Christmas finery with little thought to the lives of the wretchedly poor people who probably made our festive clothing for pennies an hour half a world away. They are the weary sins that plague us, the hardness of our hearts, our ability to sing words of joyful good news while focusing all our mental energies on criticism of the decor chosen to adorn the sanctuary; they are the paradox of Christmas that has nothing to do with what other people are doing, and everything to do with our own thoughts and deeds.

What kind of War on Christmas is being fought, when within a family a pitched battle may rage over the burning question: white lights on the tree, or colored ones? What kind of War on Christmas is being fought when we find ourselves in debt, yet again, because we succumbed to the siren-song of materialism, and bought and paid for a false vision of piles of gifts under the Christmas tree? What kind of War on Christmas is being fought when people gather with relatives to coo and simper at each other, all the while looking forward to the delicious pleasure of rhetorically shredding each other on the way home? What kind of War on Christmas is being fought, whose generals are pride, envy, avarice, anger, lust, gluttony, and sloth?

That War on Christmas has been fought since the first Christmas, since the Light shone into the uncomprehending darkness, since Herod commanded the Magi to return to him with news of the Child, all the while plotting to kill Him. The darkness that lies buried in the hearts of men rises up each time our fallen natures get the better of us–which they do, when we are more furious over some perceived slight to Christianity miles away from us than over the injustice of hopeless poverty in our own town; which they do, each time we become so buried in the bustle and glitter each December that we forget to lay it all aside and ponder, for a handful of moments, the gift of the Incarnation, the astounding and astonishing reality that to save us from our sorry selves God Himself became Man, and dwelt among us.

And that, alas, is a War on Christmas that cannot be brushed aside as “us against them,” as something some wicked someone out there is doing to the shiningly innocent group of faithful Christians among whom we, perhaps presumptuously, count ourselves. That shining innocence is like the glitter of artificial lights on intrinsically dull tinsel, and we are too often the authors of our own wickedness to spend such an inordinate amount of time zeroing in with a microscope on the specks in the eyes of those who have not yet been granted a gift of faith.

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LifeNews reports, Obama Admin Forces Americans to Pay for More Embryonic Stem Cell Research: “National Institutes of Health chief Francis Collins approved taxpayer funding of 27 more lines of embryonic stem cells.”

Having overturned the Bush administration’s restrictions, we are headed in the wrong direction morally, but also scientifically. Embryonic stem cell research has consistently yielded tumors in lab animals, whereas adult stem cell research has led to hundreds of therapeutic applications in humans.

To be certain, Collins has set limits by funding an additional 27 lines of cells. Prudent caution? Consider this quote from former Chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass, M.D., in Human Cloning and Human Dignity, The Report of the President’s Council on Bioethics:

“We should not be self-deceived about our ability to set limits on the exploitation of nascent life. What disturbs us today we quickly or eventually get used to; yesterday’s repugnance gives way to tomorrow’s endorsement. A society that already tolerates the destruction of fetuses in the second and third trimesters will hardly be horrified by embryo and fetus farming (including in animal wombs), if this should turn out to be helpful in the cure of dreaded diseases.

“We realize, of course, that many proponents of cloning-for-biomedical-research will recommend regulations designed to prevent just such abuses (that is, the expansion of research to later-stage cloned embryos and fetuses). Refusing to erect a red light to stop research cloning, they will propose various yellow lights intended to assure ourselves that we are proceeding with caution, limits, or tears. Paradoxically, however, the effect might actually be to encourage us to continue proceeding with new (or more hazardous) avenues of research; for, believing that we are being cautious, we have a good conscience about what we do, and we are unable to imagine ourselves as people who could take a morally disastrous next step. We are neither wise enough nor good enough to live without clear limits.”

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“Today we can dispose of vast material resources. But the men and women in our technological age risk becoming victims of their own intellectual and technical achievements, ending up in spiritual barrenness and emptiness of heart. That is why it is so important for us to open our minds and hearts to the Birth of Christ, this event of salvation which can give new hope to the life of each human being…

“The modern age is often seen as an awakening of reason from its slumbers, humanity’s enlightenment after an age of darkness. Yet without the light of Christ, the light of reason is not sufficient to enlighten humanity and the world…

“At Christmas we contemplate God made man, divine glory hidden beneath the poverty of a Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger; the Creator of the Universe reduced to the helplessness of an infant. Once we accept this paradox, we discover the Truth that sets us free and the Love that transforms our lives. On Bethlehem Night, the Redeemer becomes one of us, our companion along the precarious paths of history. Let us take the hand which he stretches out to us: it is a hand which seeks to take nothing from us, but only to give.

Pope Benedict XVI
Christmas 2005

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My nine-year-old, Elizabeth has had an other-worldly devotion to the Nativity since age two. It’s grace. To see it in action is to leave no doubt. Beth also loves Santa and all of the magic associated with being the target of another’s coming with gifts. Gradually, we are folding the Santa narrative into an understanding of what that first coming was all about. Hopefully, one day, the excitement and expectation over Santa will translate into an understanding of the reading from Augustine below this post. For now, Santa’s on his way!

Merry Christmas!

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Todays Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings

From a sermon by Saint Augustine

Truth has arisen from the earth and justice has looked down from heaven

Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened ‘to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

He has become our justice, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: Let him who glories glory in the Lord.
Truth, then, has arisen from the earth: Christ who said, I am the Truth, was born of the Virgin. And justice looked down from heaven: because believing in this new-born child, man is justified not by himself but by God.

Truth has arisen from the earth: because the Word was made flesh. And justice looked down from heaven: because every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.

Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.
Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God: for justice and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ: for Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory. He does not say: “of our glory,” but of God’s glory: for justice has not come out of us but has looked down from heaven. Therefore he who glories, let him glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.

For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men of good will.
For how could there be peace on earth unless Truth has arisen from the earth, that is, unless Christ were born of our flesh? And he is our peace who made the two into one: that we might be men of good will, sweetly linked by the bond of unity.

Let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head. For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become son of God?

Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace.

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Madonna of the Streets

Madonna of the Streets

The Madonna of the Streets. Mary poor and destitute with her infant Jesus. It’s a lovely image. It’s also misleading. What did Mary do with gifts of the Magi; Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh? They must have been lavished in some quantity after so long a journey.

Perhaps Joseph used a part of that wealth to bribe safe passage through Herod’s slaughter of the Innocents, meant to kill Jesus. No doubt some was used to finance the passage to Egypt. More still to sustain them in a foreign land for a few years until it was safe to return home.

Mary and Joseph were not left impoverished, destitute. For that to happen, God would have had to break his promise, that all things are possible with Him.

It’s worth remembering as we work at crisis pregnancy centers, fundraise for them, support them with our gifts. The same for longer term shelters, such as Chris Bell and Father Groeschel’s Good Counsel Homes, and Covenant House, where I briefly worked with Chris before he set out to found Good Counsel Home.

I like the image of the Madonna of the Streets, her peaceful, faith-filled countenance. I’ve come to appreciate, all the more, the Magi who show up daily to fulfill God’s promise to countless other Madonnas of the Streets, enriching their lives and the lives of their babies beyond all measure.

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Bouguereau, Song of the Angels

From the Liturgy of the Hours, Christmas Day, Office of Readings

A sermon of Pope St Leo the Great

Christian, remember your dignity

Dearly beloved, today our Saviour is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.

No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.

And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh.

Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom.

Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.

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From today’s Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings

St. Ambrose: The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The angel Gabriel had announced the news of something that was as yet hidden and so, to buttress the Virgin Mary’s faith by means of a real example, he told her also that an old and sterile woman had conceived, showing that everything that God willed was possible to God.

When Mary heard this she did not disbelieve the prophecy, she was not uncertain of the message, she did not doubt the example: but happy because of the promise that had been given, eager to fulfil her duty as a cousin, hurried by her joy, she went up into the hill country.

Where could she hurry to except to the hills, filled with God as she was? The grace of the Holy Spirit does not admit of delays. And Mary’s arrival and the presence of her Son quickly show their effects: As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting her child leapt in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

See the careful distinction in the choice of words. Elizabeth was the first to hear the voice but her son John was the first to feel the effects of grace. She heard as one hears in the natural course of things; he leapt because of the mystery that was there. She sensed the coming of Mary, he the coming of the Lord — the woman knew the woman, the child knew the child. The women speak of grace while inside them grace works on their babies. And by a double miracle the women prophesy under the inspiration of their unborn children.

The infant leapt and the mother was filled with the Spirit. The mother was not filled before her son: her son was filled with the Holy Spirit and in turn filled his mother. John leapt and so did Mary’s spirit. John leapt and filled Elizabeth with the Spirit; but we know that Mary was not filled but her spirit rejoiced. For the Incomprehensible was working incomprehensibly within his mother. Elizabeth had been filled with the Spirit after she conceived, but Mary before, at the moment the angel had come. “Blessed are you,” said Elizabeth, “who believed”.

You too, my people, are blessed, you who have heard and who believe. Every soul that believes — that soul both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognises his works.

Let the soul of Mary be in each one of you, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of you, to rejoice in God. According to the flesh only one woman can be the mother of Christ but in the world of faith Christ is the fruit of all of us. For every soul can receive the Word of God if only it is pure and preserves itself in chastity and modesty.

The soul that has been able to reach this state proclaims the greatness of the Lord just as Mary did and rejoices in God its saviour just like her.

The Lord’s greatness is proclaimed, as you have read elsewhere, where it says Join me in magnifying the Lord. This does not mean that anything can be added to the Lord’s greatness by human words, but that he is magnified in us. Christ is the image of God and so any good or religious act that a soul performs magnifies that image of God in that soul, the God in whose likeness the soul itself was made. And thus the soul itself has some share in his greatness and is ennobled.

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From today’s Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings

A Sermon of Saint Bernard

You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

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Advent Meditation

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”
— Sigrid Undset

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