All posts tagged: Advent

The Hidden Life and History of St. Joseph

Some years ago I got an icon of the Holy Family done by an elderly Coptic nun (German by birth) who lives in a convent near the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It depicts the flight into Egypt. St. Joseph stands in the center with the child Jesus on his shoulders with Mary at his right and a serving girl at the left. While looking at that icon recently I began to think of St. Joseph. The Eastern Church has a long tradition of honoring St. Joseph in the liturgy but it was only from the early sixteenth-century that he was so honored in the Roman Rite. In fact, it was only in 1847 that Pope Pius IX extended the Solemnity of St. Joseph as a feast for the universal Church. It was St. John XXIII who inserted his name into the Canon of the Mass on the eve of the Second Vatican Council. That belated recognition of the spouse of the Virgin Mary, known in the Gospel as a just man (vir Justus) is …

The Sex Life of Joseph and Mary

I wonder if any of you have ever seen the film, “Bambi Meets Godzilla?” If so, you know that it opens, as most movies do, with a long series of credits, naming everyone who purportedly had anything to do with the film, including Bambi’s hairstylist, as we see Bambi dreamily walking through a spring meadow. When the credits are over, a huge, fashionably monstrous leg with a clawed foot steps massively and carelessly into the set while the music simultaneously thunders one single chord. It happens so fast, we do not even see Bambi disappear; end of movie. Perhaps, in like manner, the title of this paper might lead one to believe that after a few preliminary observations and teasers, the monstrous foot of tradition will ensure that the glimmers of seemingly humane and enlightened sympathy for Mary and especially for poor Joseph, her “most chaste spouse,” will be stamped out as decisively as Bambi was stamped out by Godzilla. Joseph and Mary did not have sex. In fact, this paper does begin from the …

Welcoming Stranger Things Without Baptizing Them Too

SPOILER ALERT: This post gives away some plot twists in Stranger Things Seasons 1 and 2. In the past year, many writers in the Catholic blogosphere have commented on the theological richness of Stranger Things. One writer recently went so far as to claim that it is “the most Catholic show on television,” which may be a bit of a stretch. Yes, Eleven is a Christ figure, but I doubt The Duffer Brothers gave her the nickname “El” as a nod to the Hebrew word for God, though, admittedly, stranger things have happened. Sorry. Got that pun out of my system. Moving on. Yes, Eleven refuses to use her powers when asked to kill a cat (an act which this same writer compares to Christ’s refusal to turn stones to bread during his temptation in the desert), but moments later, she kills two guards who threaten her, an utterly un-Christlike action. While I can appreciate and in fact hope to demonstrate here that Stranger Things is a series with deeply Catholic sensibilities, the examples above …

The Last Judgment is the Real Reason for Advent

At the beginning of this past week, I asked my students in all three sections of my Theology 100 course, “What is the reason for Advent?” Those who responded said that Advent prepares us for a joyful remembrance of Christmas. Not one of my 104 students connected Advent with the Second Coming of Christ. When told of the relationship between the Last Judgment and Advent, one student asked why then do we put the season of Advent before Christmas? As if she was asking, “Why do we put a penitential season before a joyful season?” That question was a perfect segue into our class discussion on Father Alfred Delp, a German Jesuit who was executed for high treason on February 2, 1945, for being a member of an anti-Nazi resistance group. While awaiting execution, Delp wrote a few meditations on Advent, on its profound message of hope for Christians during difficult times. He approached the season as a time not only to remember Christ’s birth but also to awaken in us the responsibility to participate …

Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Apocalypse

The Church’s liturgical year celebrates on August 15th the Woman of the Apocalypse, “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”[1] The feast is better known in Catholic talk as the Assumption, and the first liturgical reading in the celebration of the Mass contains the above-quoted description of the Woman of the Apocalypse. The feast of the Assumption is hardly the only feast in the panoply of Marian celebrations on the Church’s liturgical calendar. It is rarely, however, associated[2] with the optional Marian memorial celebrated December 12th, Our Lady of Guadalupe, though it should be, because both feasts are emblematic of the same thing: apocalypse. The message and story of Guadalupe is apocalyptic, since it reveals God’s will for God’s Church at a particular place in history, Tepeyac, through the Virgin Mary at Guadalupe, clothed and enfleshed in the beauty of the native peoples, and through God’s own servant St. Juan Diego, a Christian who nonetheless responds to the “sweet music”[3] he …

The Church Life Journal “Sounds of Advent” Spotify Playlist

One of the greatest challenges of celebrating Advent is the fact that Christmas music seems to be everywhere beginning the day after Thanksgiving. It’s on the radio, in the department stores, in television commercials, you name it. As a musician, I’m often asked for Advent music recommendations, so this year, I’ve taken advantage of modern technology and curated an Advent playlist through Spotify which is by no means exhaustive, since it’s impossible to include everything. Instead, this is a sampling which I hope will inspire your own exploration of the music of this beautiful season of waiting in joyful hope. Below the playlist are “liner notes” for anyone curious about why a particular piece was included, which may be especially interesting with regard to pieces chosen for their relevance to a particular feast day. May this music create a space within your heart where Jesus may find a home on Christmas day. Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel) The Westminster Choir Christmas with the Westminster Choir “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is, without doubt, the …

The Advent Apocalypse

Our parishes are too safe. They gather together like-minded citizens whose children go to the same schools, whose parents root for the same football team and work in similar fields. We form insular communities that sing music praising not the triune God who comes to interrupt history through the power of the cross, but music reminding the Creator of the universe how lucky God is to have a people like us as his own. The Church’s liturgy in these instances functions not as a counter-polis but as a replication of social structures that reduce the reign of God to a country club. We naively sing (accompanied by an upbeat tambourine), “Send down the fire of your justice,” unaware that this fire may be for us. And we do so in the name of an evangelization that is supposed to be palatable for a generation that longs not for prophetic discourse but therapeutic memoirs. Advent is the season in which our parishes should once again become dangerous spaces. The coming of Christ that we prepare for …

Yes, Advent Is a Time of Asceticism

We all know that Advent means arrival and preparation. I would invite you to meditate with me about the prerequisites of the term and implications we hardly ever acknowledge. On November 8, the Church remembered Blessed Duns Scotus (d. 1308), one of the greatest thinkers she has ever produced. One of his key ideas was that God’s perfect intellect is mirrored in the limitless openness and receptivity of the human mind. For the Franciscan, such receptiveness was a sign of human dignity: humans receive those truths they cannot achieve by their own powers. This sounds complicated but leads to some simple conclusions: all true knowledge comes from an encounter and arises from the receptivity of our mind and heart (intellectus passibilis). If we apply Scotus’s insight to Advent, we might realize that our receptivity to the Incarnate Word is impeded by something in our lives and that perhaps we do not desire a real encounter with the real God but rather one with our self-constructed god. The root for this seems to lie at the …

Advent and the Angelus

One of the most memorable lessons you learn in the Master of Arts in theology program at the University of Notre Dame is: lex orandi, lex credendi. “The law of praying is the law of believing” This was such a novel idea for me as student years ago. For my entire life as a Catholic and then as a religion teacher, I had thought of the study of theology simply as the exploration of beliefs. Prayer and worship just seemed like something extra or something expressive of what we believed. The principle of lex orandi, lex credendi helped me gain a new appreciation of how and what we pray together in the liturgy and in Catholic devotions. As we close this season of Advent, it is worth reflecting on how much balance we placed on our preparation for Christmas in both prayer and belief. In recent years I have unfortunately found myself focusing more on Advent beliefs than Advent prayers. Working for a Catholic publisher, I’ve had many Advent books and devotionals to read during the season. …

Waiting in the Mystery of Hope

What surprises me, says God, is hope. —Charles Péguy, The Portal to the Mystery of Hope Every Advent I sit around a small prayer table with four-year-olds and contemplate the great mystery of messianic hope announced by the prophet Isaiah thousands of years ago: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” We wonder aloud what it is like to wait and long for the light. We wonder how the people of Israel felt when they heard the words of the prophet. We wonder what it is like to be in the dark and to see a great, bursting light. We wonder as we wander around the words of Scripture. Every so often the small voice of a child will chime a single word: “hope.” No lengthy explanation. No theological treatise. No empty platitudes. Small children do not feel the need to give an account of themselves. Just simple, unadorned, astonishing, little, expectant, “hope.” Hope is a strange thing, gathering in time and memory—memory of the past and, oddly, remembering into the …