All posts tagged: Christmas

The Sham Practice of Christmas

As one of the great festivals of Christianity approaches, the malls are decked with holly, sales, and “Santa Baby.” Human beings are wired for festivity but could most of us even define what a festival truly is? And does our commercialized bastardization of Christmas still qualify as one? When I picked up 20th century German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper’s In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, I realized this seemingly familiar idea of festival was more elusive than I expected. Did I not know what festivity was? Apparently not. The short treatise begins with a quote from St. John Chrysostom: “Ubi caritas gaudet, ibi est festivas” or “where love rejoices, there is festivity.” Like “love,” a word that we often use and yet may struggle to define, festivity is an idea we have trouble getting to the heart of. In addition to Pieper, I would like to recruit a well-known guide for us in our search for the meaning of festivity: the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching covetous old sinner” turned grateful philanthropist, …

The Advent Corrective to Locke’s Lonely Liberalism

The Nativity is astonishing. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was born of a woman. The King of the Universe entered the world as a fragile infant, a bundle of needs who was utterly dependent on his mother. What a terrifying fact. The vulnerability of Our Savior’s gestation and early life is enough to take your breath away. The Advent and Christmas seasons are an invitation for us to examine our own dependence on relationships of love, a dependence that is constitutive of our lives. In reflecting on the method through which Christ came into the world, we can enter more deeply into this aspect of our creation in his image and likeness. 1. John Locke and Charles Taylor on the Human Person The logic of Advent and Christmas runs counter to our modern notion of the individual, the main foundation upon which the liberal order rests. This notion can largely be traced back to the thought of John Locke, whose theory of personhood advances a robust autonomy and individualism. Locke grounds this theory …

The Virgin Mary, Birth, and Philosophy

Everything begins with the question that Nicodemus asks Jesus: “how can a man enter anew into the womb of his mother and be born?” (John 3:4). It is an excellent question, if not the best question that could be asked. For Nicodemus is not one who fails to understand the “birth from above,” but rather he understands perfectly that one cannot understand the “birth from above” without relating it to the “birth from below.” It is in coming back and describing the significance of “being born from the womb of his mother” (by means of paths “from below”) that one will be able to decipher what it means “to be reborn by water and spirit” (by means of paths “from above”). It is not a question of thinking that Christ’s response is an opposition—“that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6)—but rather thinking of it as an analogy: just as that which is born of flesh is flesh, so that which is born …

Epiphany: It’s Foolish to Pretend It’s Easy to Remember the Poor

As so often happens when I look Christ in the eye, at first I didn’t realize it. In fact, I was rather disgruntled. My twelve year-old brother had enrolled our family in the local Salvation Army Christmas Assistance Program, wherein we would bring gifts to a family on the other side of town. Although it is a lovely program and I was glad to see my brother take initiative, serious doubts vexed me. What difference does it make if we meet this family once; wouldn’t it be better if we established a long term relationship with them? Wasn’t it offensive that we were condescending from our comfortable economic position to gawk at their poverty; wouldn’t it be better if we accompanied them in their poverty by voluntarily sharing in it? Finally, weren’t we aiding and abetting the commercialization of Christmas, teaching this family our own exhausting materialism; wouldn’t it be better if we gave spiritual gifts rather than material ones? When we arrived in South Omaha to deliver the gifts, I brought my questions and …

Now We Must Dismantle the Tree

  Well, so that is that.  Now we must dismantle the tree, Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes— Some have got broken—and carrying them up to the attic. So begins the somewhat bleak conclusion of W. H. Auden’s For the Time Being. Written in 1944, in the thick of what surely must have been difficult series Christmases for war-torn Europe and its American ally, Auden’s Christmas oratorio concludes the story of Christ’s birth with a final statement on the dissatisfaction of the Christmas season. Auden treats on our own failure to live into the vision of love witnessed at the feast, on our desire to distract ourselves from the present moment with tribulation or joy. But, here we are, after the Christmas season ends, with ordinary time, a upsetting juxtaposition with the rich liveliness of the season of the feast. Auden’s portrait of the harsh contrast between the Christmas season and “the time being,” conflicts sharply with most American Christians’ (author included) preferred pictures of the Christmas season, wrapped in the glow of …

The Church Life Journal “Carols of Christmas” Spotify Playlist

For my money, there is no better time for music than Christmastime. Whether sung by a choir of off-key, adorable preschoolers, or performed by a group of professionals, the carols of Christmas constitute some of the most beautiful, most profound music that has ever been written, all for the sake of helping us celebrate the moment when God definitively stepped in to human history with the birth of Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son, the Word-made-flesh. And so, as with our Advent playlist, once again I’ve turned to Spotify to assemble a playlist for the Christmas season. Even more so here than with the Advent playlist, I quickly discovered that it is impossible to include everything. The first version of this playlist was almost 6 hours long. It could have been longer. But after a great deal of thought and an even greater deal of exploring new-to-me recordings, I’ve whittled it down to a scant 47 songs, or 2 hours and 32 minutes worth of music. Again, as with the Advent list, this is a sampling which I …

Am I the Mother of Christ?

A famous reading in the Advent Liturgy of the Hours from Isaac of Stella, Cistercian abbot and contemporary of Bernard of Clairvaux, makes the claim that, among other things, the Christian believer can, like Mary, be a mother of Christ. Beyond the breviary, this has actually become a kind of spiritual commonplace. Every believer can conceive Christ through his or her faith, in a way analogous to Mary. Speaking for myself, I have never known what to make of this comparison. It seems to rest on the double meaning of the word “conceive:” one can conceive in one’s mind, and one can conceive in the womb. But, methinks, these are really, really different realities despite the double entendre. For that reason, perhaps, the comparison has always seemed inert to me, leaving me utterly unmoved. What actually does move me is the wondrous virginal conception of the Word of God in the womb of Mary, the great Mother of God, something so much more stupendous and altogether more marvelous than the metaphorical version of my conception …

Catholic Conversations: What’s your favorite Christmas Carol?

Welcome back to Catholic Conversations, where we engage a varied group of Catholic voices around one question about Catholic life and practice.  What is your favorite Christmas carol? Most Reverend Daniel E. Flores, S.T.D. Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas Do You Hear What I Hear? Said the night wind to the little lamb. It starts simply, the whisper of grace rising through nature. The simplicity of his coming finds welcome in the poor and lowly: Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy, do you hear what I hear? From the lowly the sound is amplified to reach the mighty king: Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king, do you know what I know? It’s a hearing, then a knowing. It’s a challenge: In your palace warm, mighty king, do you know what I know? A Child, a Child shivers in the cold. . .  And it is hope. The heart can be receptive, rich and poor, lowly and powerful: Said the king to the people everywhere, listen to what I say. Pray for …

The Circumcision of Jesus and the Mother of God

A little over four years ago, I was in a hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, awaiting the discharge of my newborn son. At birth, he had trouble breathing (a skill he would learn with ease in a day or two), and thus spent nearly five days surrounded by the whirl of hospital machinery intended to monitor his every breath, a group of top-notch nurses embodying caritas, and the overwhelming love of his ‘newborn’ parents. My son had not yet known the possibility of pain. Until his circumcision. He was taken from his hospital room for the brief procedure. Upon his arrival back, he cried and cried and cried. We were instructed to put ointment on the place of his recently removed foreskin (otherwise, the skin would stick to the diaper and cause a fresh wound). For weeks, every time I changed his diaper, I encountered a color red as blood—a wound that did not quickly disappear. I think of this moment in encountering the Gospel for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. The Gospel speaks about …

The Feast of the Holy Family: Not Just a Model

Those of us suspicious of the pious platitudes that too often make their home in Catholic homiletic practice know that the feast of the Holy Family is a “code-red” day for such platitudes. We families assemble in our parishes and are exhorted that we should conform our domestic life according to the peaceful, loving relationships of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The image of the Holy Family that we receive is one pictured on holy cards where perfect beauty and order and attention are mutually given by Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (I suppose there were no smartphones to distract attention . . . otherwise Christ would have been found wandering around Jerusalem playing Pokémon GO instead of in the Temple). Those of us with toddlers normally do not hear this point of homiletic insight (ironically) because our children want to take up their vocation as amateur arsonists by playing with the candles placed before the statue of the Blessed Mother or to take a swim in the baptismal font. But for those of us able to attend to the preaching this …