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Labor Day

From Today’s Liturgy:

Ecclesiasticus 38:27-32a

So it is with every artisan and master artisan
who labors by night as well as by day;
those who cut the signets of seals,
each is diligent in making a great variety;
they set their heart on painting a lifelike image,
and they are careful to finish their work.
So it is with the smith, sitting by the anvil,
intent on his iron-work;
the breath of the fire melts his flesh,
and he struggles with the heat of the furnace;
the sound of the hammer deafens his ears,
and his eyes are on the pattern of the object.
He sets his heart on finishing his handiwork,
and he is careful to complete its decoration.

So it is with the potter sitting at his work
and turning the wheel with his feet;
he is always deeply concerned over his products,
and he produces them in quantity.
He molds the clay with his arm
and makes it pliable with his feet;
he sets his heart to finish the glazing,
and he takes care in firing the kiln.
All these rely on their hands,
and all are skillful in their own work.
Without them no city can be inhabited,
and wherever they live, they will not go hungry.

Ora et Labora. Pray and work. Recognize the value of the people who are employees, union members, workers of all kinds, imbue them with human value against a world that reduces them to service. The value of work is not in the numbers, but we should make sure that when we pay, we pay a fair value, something that recognizes the dignity of another person at their craft.

That’s all I have today.

Another Christian Scandal

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Christianity is Scandalous, and this week almost more than any other in the entire year. The media loves publishing news on scandals, on faithlessness, on how the historical jesus was a magician, or a prophet, or just some guy.

Yet, the perverse and intolerable scandal is not in these soundbytes and snippets of misinformation. The real scandal is that flesh and blood matter. The true scandal is that Christians believe in reincarnation, but into themselves more fully alive.

The Christian message of hope that we shall all be raised as we are, with bodies, with life flowing in every action, that’s the real scandal to a world drunk with gnosticism. That God crucified stands in the gap and gives us his life, as we finally and fully offer Him the possibility of death, this is what’s scandalous.

So we turn to the Church Fathers, to see historically where the Resurrection became so entrenched with this business of bodies and a resurrection.

St. Irenaeus, a Church Father from about 100 years after St. John the Apostle offers us some insight. From the earliest Christianity, life has always mattered, what we do here and now has been irreducibly important, that’s the real scandal.

That this creation is made to receive God, to be filled with Him, to be overflowing in His love and light, that’s the scandalous message that the God of the Hebrews makes known to the entire world in His act of suffering.

If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers in his body.

There can be no blood without veins, flesh and the rest of the human substance and this the Word of God actually became: it was with his own blood that he redeemed us.

As the Apostle says: In him, through his blood, we have been redeemed, our sins have been forgiven.

We are his members and we are nourished by creatures, which is his gift to us, for it is he who causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall.

He declared that the chalice, which comes from his creation, was his blood, and he makes it the nourishment of our blood.

He affirmed that the bread, which comes from his creation, was his body, and he makes it the nourishment of our body.

When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the word of God, the eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow.

How then can it be said that flesh belonging to the Lord’s own body and nourished by his body and blood is incapable of receiving God’s gift of eternal life?

Saint Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. He is not speaking of some spiritual and incorporeal kind of man, for spirits do not have flesh and bones.

He is speaking of a real human body composed of flesh, sinews and bones nourished by the chalice of Christ’s blood and receiving growth from the bread which is his body.

The slip of a vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays only to be raised up again and multiplied by the Spirit of God who sustains all things.

The Wisdom of God places these things at the service of man and when they receive God’s word they become the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ.

In the same way our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father.

Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature in immortality and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility, for God’s power is shown most perfectly in weakness.

-Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century AD – c. 202): Adversus Haereses 5,2, 2-3: SC 153 30-38) (from the Office of Readings for Thursday of the Third week of Easter)

It is my conclusion that the most scandalous thing about Christianity is not the news hype, or the surface things that people draw attention to, but the deeper core. The Christianity calls all people to take responsibility for their actions, for reality, and to recognize that God enters history as a character within history is the real scandal. That God enters into history as man, and entrenches Himself with us, to redeem us, the make us as He is. That’s what should be causing headlines.

Giving up Facebook and Brussels Sprouts

Welcome back to The Practical Catholic. It’s time for a Lenten reflection blog post.

After his Baptism Jesus was driven out into the wilderness, to be tempted. He was there for 40 days.

As I near the end of my journey from Evangelical to Catholic, and near my dawn as a fully fledged Jesus-eating, bible-reading, spirituall mature, confession-saying Roman Catholic, I wanted to celebrate Lent properly. In talking with Kassie, the Secret Vatican Spy, I was inspired to take a rounded approach that focused on the pursuit of virtue.

I want to spend the 40 days of Lent focusing on the way of Jesus, the one anointed to deliver us from Sin.

The God that Jesus hearkened us to hear is a loving God, but His love desires that we should be everything He intends for Creation. Namely, God desires that we would become Christ.

Jesus is what God’s picture of our redemption looks like. From the dawn of time until now, we have seen a fallen world, a world in bondage. However, the Christ, given to us, is how God calls us to live.

That we as a culture take on the task of “giving up” sometimes tangential things, or do not use Lent as a time of offering ourselves in pursuit of virtue is sad. We have so much more to offer God, and in turn-ourselves, when we make Lent about seeking righteousness.

Lent is not a time for navel-gazing self-hatred. It’s not a time to give up things just for the fun of it. It is a time to call to mind our sins. But it is also a time to call to mind our ability to enjoin ourselves to Christ. This season, make it about Jesus, and following in the master’s footsteps.

I’d encourage all of you as I am encouraging myself, to take up the task of looking at the temptation narrative and asking the question: Where am I tempted? In what ways can I help myself avoid temptation and be delivered from evil?

That’s what’s at the heart of Lent, not just a shallow repentance that places some odds and ends along with a prison shank at the altar. Lent is about walking with Jesus, and that makes all the difference. Whether I do decide to give up brussels sprouts or not, what matters is walking with Jesus on the road less traveled.

Papa Ratzi on Baptism and Lent

Here’s a brief pre-Lenten reflection with quotes from Pope Benedict XVI’s reflections on Lent.

The Apostle to the Gentiles, in the Letter to the Philippians, expresses the meaning of the transformation that takes place through participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, pointing to its goal: that “I may come to know him and the power of his resurrection, and partake of his sufferings by being molded to the pattern of his death, striving towards the goal of resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3: 10-11). Hence, Baptism is not a rite from the past, but the encounter with Christ, which informs the entire existence of the baptized, imparting divine life and calling for sincere conversion; initiated and supported by Grace, it permits the baptized to reach the adult stature of Christ.

Baptism for Pope Benedict is the act of encountering Christ. It is a religious rite, but it is a lifestyle, it informs the way we live today it speaks through our lives and into God’s future for us. Baptism infills us with the grace to pursue Christ as we should and to take our places in Him, for Him and through Him.

In fact, the Church has always associated the Easter Vigil with the celebration of Baptism: this Sacrament realizes the great mystery in which man dies to sin, is made a sharer in the new life of the Risen Christ and receives the same Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead (cf. Rm 8: 11). This free gift must always be rekindled in each one of us, and Lent offers us a path like that of the catechumenate, which, for the Christians of the early Church, just as for catechumens today, is an irreplaceable school of faith and Christian life. Truly, they live their Baptism as an act that shapes their entire existence.

We renew our baptismal promises pretty often at my parish, when we have baptisms and such, and yet…how can we forget the compelling power of the waters cleansed by the life of Christ so that we might become as He is? Lent is the pilgrim’s path for all the Church. We remember we are visitors, not aligned with any government, save the Vatican, and not aligned with the systems of power and the darkness of the world.

Lent is a time that offers candidates like me a chance to come deeper into the faith, and offers other Catholics the path to be disciples. Lent is ultimately a season for discipleship. Discipleship, as Bonhoeffer taught, and as the Church has taught for millennia, is costly.

This coming Sunday, our gospel will be a trial for us, as we will see the temptation of Our Lord. But we should do as this past Sunday encouraged us and take the Gospel and the Law to heart, so that we might have them as a sign. Then, we can have a proper meditation, so that when temptation comes, we too may answer in some form, “Man does not live on bread alone.”

St. Syncletica

Imitate the Publican and you will not be condemned with the Pharisee. Choose the meekness of Moses and you will find your heart which is a rock changed into a spring of water. -St. Syncletica (Sayings of the Desert Fathers)

As we prepare for Lent, I was glad to come across this quote, which reminds us that we should be imitators of meekness, humility and God-fearing behavior. When we follow in the path of Moses, our hearts which often are as stone are rejuvenated into the rivers of living water, as John’s gospel tells us.

As the icon shows us, it is all so that we may be receptacles of the Divine flame within ourselves. If we so will, we could become all flame.

Enjoy your Lenten preparations, I know I am preparing my heart for the 40 days to come and all the endless joy that repentance and Easter bring.

To My Brethren

Let us lift a glass and toast our King,
whose praises all the world shall sing
a minuscule and infant Lord
Humility to be Adored

To my brethren then I propose a toast
To Him Who fills the Sacred Host
God with us, enfleshed, enthroned
The Son of Mary whom all are shown

We celebrate this infant well
remembering the gates of hell
the ravages left upon this earth,
fall apart before this fortuitous birth

Then my brethren let us rejoice
and cry aloud with single voice
Glory to God in the Height of heaven,
and on earth, peace for all men

He makes his residence among us by His Spirit
and kings still tremble when he’s near to us
in cloud and fire and manna He dwells and is swift
Epiclesis, Pentecost and Host; He gives gifts

Danger my brothers, for kings of the earth
He cleanses the waters and gives a new birth
interior life is but part of the plan
soon all the nations shall know His command

Let Justice flow, like many waters, he says
For He knows our pains and hears the cries from our beds
Soon we shall see the right that he brings,
if only we open our eyes to the King

Teacher and Preacher, Lamb who returns
we pray for thy table and those who would spurn
the gift of thy presence, the righteousness, a light from above
that You might have mercy and fill them with love

Turn from your quarrels and ponder with glee,
The One who is given for you and for me
Born unto us from Virgin Mother’s womb
calling us too, to enter His tomb

To pass through those waters of death to new life
To help his kingdom do away with our strife
To become one body, all sharing His bread
to eat at His table, one Family, One Head

Brothers and Sisters, let us draw near
and worship the God who beckons us here
that in our exalting we might be the ones
who through the Holiest Spirit make present the Son

Merry…Christmas Wars?

Welcome back to The Practical Catholic. I don’t exactly know why I’ve taken to welcoming you that way at every post, but I have, so enjoy. if it annoys you, leave a comment/complaint. Anyways, let’s get to it. Today’s post is a highlight, and also, just some really cool readings from the office of readings. I found them at Divinum Officinum, which offers bother Latin and English parallel versions of the breviary.

This is a readings for the upcoming Christmas celebrations to be read on Christmas day which I found particularly moving. Also, I just wanted to showcase a really awesome online breviary to help other Practical Catholics pray the liturgy of the hours and participate in the divine office.

From the Sermons of Pope St Leo (the Great)
1st for Christmas.
Dearly beloved brethren, Unto us is born this day a Saviour, Luke ii. 11. Let us rejoice. It would be unlawful to be sad today, for today is Life’s Birthday the Birthday of that Life, Which, for us dying creatures, taketh away the sting of death, and bringeth the bright promise of the eternal gladness hereafter. It would be unlawful for any man to refuse to partake in our rejoicing. All men have an equal share in the great cause of our joy, for, since our Lord, Who is the destroyer of sin and of death, findeth that all are bound under the condemnation, He is come to make all free. Rejoice, O thou that art holy, thou drawest nearer to thy crown! Rejoice, O thou that art sinful, thy Saviour offereth thee pardon! Rejoice also, O thou Gentile, God calleth thee to life! For the Son of God, when the fulness of the time was come, which had been fixed by the unsearchable counsel of God, took upon Him the nature of man, that He might reconcile that nature to Him Who made it, and so the devil, the inventor of death, is met and beaten in that very flesh which hath been the field of his victory.

I just want to say, if Christmas sermons sounded like this instead of upholding nationalist atrocities like the All American Christmas Tree in which as Stephen Colbert says, “appears as if Jesus, and George Washington teamed up and declared an independence from taste,” then people might not try so determinedly to get rid of “merry Christmas” from common vocabulary. If Christmas sermons were directed at spiritual formation and not just more nativity scenes, things might be different. I think the best thing we can remember about Christmas is that commodification and commercialization is not limited to people saying “happy holidays,” and it’s idiotic to assume that only people who want to be PC about things are the ones “spoiling Christmas.” My point is this: People who are as emphatic about it being CHRIST-mas to the point of crucifying a Christmas tree as a marketing gimmick are just as bad as those they vilify. Christmas is about Jesus.

Merry Christmas

I’m just not a gung-ho enthusiast about keeping Christmas throughout the society we live in. This post will show you my struggles to understand why people are so emphatically for, or against Christmas. Sometimes I wonder what people would do if like Latin, some of these Christian phrases that became common in society suddenly dropped out all at once, would they leave because Christmas was simply uncool and/or unheard of?

Think about it.

We’ve already lost the “mass” part of the Christ-mass, since most of the people fighting Christmas wars are Protestants anyways. If someone wishes me a merry Christmas or is obviously Christian, I wish them one, if not, I don’t say happy holidays, I just say “have a nice day” or might still say “Merry Christmas”. What’s wrong with “Have a nice day?” or “Merry Christmas;” are we really in a society that thrives on the survival of the whiniest? Most people don’t care what you say, they just say it back. The point of all that was, seriously people, liberate yourselves from all the stupid ideas of what Christmas might mean to you, and come back to the gospel. A friend of mine wrote about the Annoying Ghosts of Christmas Present and I thought it was worth sharing.

I’m not ashamed to wish someone merry Christmas, but it doesn’t offend me if someone says “happy holidays” unless they’re at Church, where the only holiday is really Christmas. But Christians need to get over the retailers and other major businesses opting to make Christ irrelevant to their sales. Does it really serve the gospel if I make it known that I am a Christian and I celebrate Christmas and will tell you so as a closing greeting on my way out of your store?

The dropping of “merry Christmas” only makes one thing clear, we can see a it more clearly where Christ is being opposed because society is opening up about it. We should remember our position as pilgrims, aliens and foreigners, except in the Church. Stop trying to whitewash society with paint from the Kingdom.

Yes you have ridiculous atrocities of Christmas marketing that only further aggravate the insanity. No, making sure you can wish everyone a merry christmas or call it a Christmas parade will not solve the real issue. The real issue is a breakdown of the idea of tolerance and respect in free-society. But that’s my opinion. Moving along.

The Christmas Wars

Seriously; isn’t it ironic to anyone but me that we have “Christmas wars” and counterpunches? You know being that it’s the one time per year we celebrate the birth of the one we claim is the “Prince of Peace” and all?

Isn’t a “war” even a “culture war” in the name of peace or society almost always a moronic idea? I mean, seriously. Sometimes, society is going down the tubes and you need to make reparations and fight a culture war I guess, but I don’t think that “merry Christmas” is my kind of war. Abortion, sure. Charity for the homeless, for the abused and the overlooked? Always. Care for widows and orphans? That’s true religion. Those are wars worth fighting.

Fighting so that some distressed, disheveled wal-mart greeter wishes you a merry Christmas is absurd. Trying to get selfish corporations to ally with”JEEZUS” or “family values” so we can all feel better about massive amounts of shopping is ridiculous. Fortunately, we’re gettng the rude wake up call that all is not right in society and the gospel is not concurrent with any world culture except its own. Fighting a christmas war so we can call it Christmas is not illogical, because other religions are gaining currency to get equal footing, I just wonder if it’s the best approach to turn this into a war.

The Other Side of the Christmas Wars

I’m not trying to be a grinch, I love Christmas, despite my ba-humbugging. I love Jesus, I adore Our Infant Lord, and all that He has brought to us. I dislike that people want to prevent my celebration of my faith, I find it troubling, insensitive and wrong that my faith has to be stifled in favor of eastern religions, patriotism or a general cultural agnosticism.

Let’s look at the other side of this Christmas war thing. Some atheists have decided that this could be fun. To be fair, some people have thought that Christmas parades nation-wide need to be rebranded “holiday parades.” Some have thought it best to exclude either santa and nativity scenes or just nativity scenes in schools, or parades, or musicals. It’s absude and I offer a simple piece of advice: Stop it. Stop being snot-nosed brats. It’s a holiday. It has religious tones, but seriously, religion is part of what it means to live in the public square in free-society. Why should it be otherwise?

To be fair, no one wants Christmas admitted as a justification for gifting, as much as a sense of “Hey, other religions are allowed to celebrate openly, we even tolerate “pride parade” as a society, so why not Christmas?” Think about it. We can support a guy in butt-less chaps or shirtless in skimpy underwear for freedom, or liberty or self expression, (insert american liberty jargon here) but want to cover up any mention of a virgin, her child and a star. That simply makes no sense. From a purely objective standpoint, there’s no danger of a baby and his mommy in the public square in December, stop freaking out.

The Breakdown of Tolerance

It is absurd that some people respect the integrity of Ramadan, or Kwanzaa, but piss on Christmas. Is it right? No.

Stop it. Stop being such whiny litigious brats, and grow up. Are we seriously stuck in a society where tolerance means no one can be happy because a single person might become unhappy that someone had a good time?

What happened to the idea of tolerance being “Well, everyone does more or less what they want, and we respect the differences”? Tolerance in the American spirit is broken. It is ow used as a synonym for acceptance rather than what it should mean, which is allowed, but not necessarily supported. What happened to the days when America was about melting pots and a conglomeration of cultures? Nowadays our biggest export in this country is homogenization, the ability to turn everything into the same dull grey-matter that we surround ourselves with as a culture. Worldwide we’re selling secularization, MTV and Kentucky fried chicken, but it all lends itself to a synonymous breakdown of values, of worldview, and of culture. America’s tolerance machine is a bust, and we’re not gonna learn the easy way, it seems.

There are people looking to keep especially Christian religious acts out of pubic discourse, to which I say “Stop it.” We live in a pluralistic society that regards many faiths, so let them all have their claims, and if someone wants to call it a Christmas musical, so be it. If they don’t want to, whatever. Christmas is for the Church first, and secondly for the world. If we uphold it rightly as Christians, will we need a strong cultural Christmas in society? Probably not. But that’s going to hinge on Christian attitudes towards saving Christmas from Christians and giving it a robust dogmatic and traditional feel from within the cultural history of Christian thought and action.

Christmas in Perspective

I look at the above reading from Pope Leo, and then I look at the Christmas wars, and it tells me, “So what?” Someone wants to rename it a holiday parade? So what? Is this a Christian nation? No. Let people have their stupid “holiday parades,” and if you want a proper Christmas parade, go through the channels, and make one. So long as cities won’t prevent the expression of religion in parade form, we should all be fine.

The Savior offers pardon, and more importantly, redemption. Christmas is about the birth of an all new sense of time that does not hinge on making the world more Christian on the surface, but of making Christians and letting them infiltrate and leaven the world piercing through the deepest depths to cause the entire thing to ascend to God. Christmas is about Jesus, not “Christmas,” in the general sense. It’s about this little infant who is God’s gift to us, who has been gifted flesh, so that He can finally inherit us.

He comes bearing gifts, in that, He is God Himself as gift to us. He offers us Himself, his flesh, his sufferings, his entire life, he offers us tears shed and moments staring at stars, he offers us birth and being held against a mother’s breast. He offers all this, to conquer death and the works of the devil, who sought to destroy us through fleshly physicality which was prone to death but has been made alive to God in Christ.

The Spirit of Christmas

This is the Spirit of Christmas, humility, hope, and faith. Good will and benevolence and charity are all essential to the season also. I don’t fight Christmas wars because honestly, I find them pointless. I love Christmas, I expect the Church to, and to uphold Christmas, for the Church.

Behold, unto us a Child is born, to us a Son is given. Just as God gifted Him creation, through His flesh, He gifts us back to the Father until the consummation when we are God’s gift to God, and our very existence is a full manifestation of that reality. God has entrusted us with far more than a parade, though by no means less than that. I am no detractor of Christmas pageants, parades, or floats, or caroling. God has given us a precious gift, and we would do well to learn to cherish Him in our midst, even when society makes it difficult.

What society does, or major retailers is the least of my concerns. I know I will hit some chords with some people, and not make some Christians very happy with this. Christmas is about Jesus. Parties and pageants express this, and they are well and good, but the Christmas wars are about so much more than merry Christmas. These wars are about the soul of a Church, not the soul of a nation.

Merry Christmas becoming a problem is a symptom, not the root of the problem. If you disagree, I would love to hear your thoughts.

But seriously, Merry Christmas. Now, get over it.

Gregory of Nyssa on Spiritual Warfare

Welcome back to The Practical Catholic, today we look at one of my favorite saints, Gregory of Nyssa, and His interpretation of Spiritual warfare.

When we lay bare the hidden meaning of history, scripture is seen to teach that the birth which distresses the tyrant is the beginning of the virtuous life. I am speaking of the kind of birth in which free will serves as the midwife, delivering the child amid great pain. For no one causes grief to his antagonist unless he exhibits in himself those marks which give proof of his victory over the other. — The Life of Moses

This work of Gregory of Nyssa has formidably shaped the entire mystical Tradition, and also gives Christians both present and future a way of understanding the mystical and spiritual senses of scripture in action. This work also reflects how the Early Church reflected critically on the lives of the Old Testament figures as models for the Christian life, not out of a sense of obligation or haphazard grabbing for historical tradition, but out of a deep sense of understanding the reality of mystical continuity between Judaism and Christianity.

In this work Gregory uses Moses as a commentary on the Christian’s journey in the world using the life of Moses as an allegory for the process of the Christian life. He talks about how we can spiritually imitate the birth of Moses by imitating the virtues which he draws as spiritual realities from the life of Moses.

Understanding Gregory

Gregory says that scripture shows us that the birth of virtue aggravates “the tyrant,” by which he means that the scriptures teach that virtue itself is spiritual warfare. As a former pentecostal I was exposed to the idea that spiritual warfare was something that we engage in, something that we do through targeting spirits and ideas “in the heavenly places.” Gregory offers us a very different idea, one connected to Judaism, Christianity, and virtue as the font of Christian action.

Virtue, Free Will and Spiritual Warfare

What I was taught about “spiritual warfare” had nothing to do with virtuous living, it had nothing to do with simply being a Christian. However, Gregory would have us contemplate that it is not simply the external acts of prayer or speaking in tongues that aggravate “the tyrant” but the entire virtuous life.

Gregory says that free will is the thing that brings along and delivers virtue to us amid persecution and great pain. It is an act of the will to become more virtuous, even from earliest days, the Church has affirmed that will plays an important part in the birth and continuation of virtue. Actions have everything to do with virtue. I understand that grace also plays an important role and Gregory addresses this in other parts of the work, but it is essential to retain the idea that will is formidable in the conquest over evil.

Advent Reflections with Gregory of Nyssa

I think the essential conclusion that Gregory draws is important “…No one causes grief to his antagonist unless he exhibits in himself those marks which give proof of his victory over the other.” Isn’t that the entire story of Advent? This Moses, like Jesus after Him, escapes from the tyrant who seeks His life. He brings frustration to the tyrants of the world by virtue of his existence, He causes the systems of the world grief because He is their end. Where tyrants use violence and coercion to perpetuate their power, the birth of virtue spells their demise.

Jesus spells the end of the powers of the world, as Moses before Him because the very God who supports Him is the God whose activity in history culminates in His final redemption through death and resurrection. His very existence frustrates the tyrant, and makes evil fret.

Gregory is saying that the birth of virtue inaugurates personal persecution.

But think about this:

Where other powers kill, this one seeks to conquer death through submission to it. Where other powers coerce to perpetuate themselves, this tiny infant grows in knowledge and stature, and initiates God’s justice in such a way that none before Him have done.

Personal Application

On a personal level, we can learn from this that the birth of the tiny infant within us is the very same power which frustrates all tyrants. The powers of honor, truth, justice, peace and friendship are how we as a people bring God’s illumination to the world and overthrow the game of thrones that the world would have us play.

Scripture has taught us to frustrate the tyrant with good works, to overthrow the bonds of the oppressor by climbing onto the cross and extending ourselves with Christ in behalf of the world. Spiritual warfare is simply letting Christ shine in us, so let us be expressions of the most dangerous child, the One who offers us war through peace, justice through his suffering, and life through his death. The birth of virtue might incite the Herods and Pharaohs of the world, but it also means their destruction through the power of the cross and the saving waters of baptism.

Let us remember the birth of Moses, who offers us an example of faithful discipleship, let us remember Jesus who offers us a coming kingdom. Let us call on Him, ever faithfully, Come Lord Jesus! Maranatha.

The Government Shall Rest on His Shoulders

In the beginning, God says, “Let there be light!” -Genesis 1:3

Advent this year has been a time of awaiting the final redemption. Hope has been the central core of my reflections, and I have been looking both at the present and to the future for inspiration.

Christ is with us, every one of us, by the power of the Spirit that hovered over the waters. Advent is a time to prepafe for our memorial of the Lord’s birth, but also a time to Rejoice. This coming Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, or Rejoice Sunday. Taken from Phillipians 4:4-5 We remember that “The Lord is at hand.”

The prospect of God-with-us seems so close at hand, we’re in December, Christmas is nearly upon us, and so with the rest of the waiting world we must use this time to shake the dust. Advent is a time of preparation, but it is also a time of awakening. There is good out there, waiting, coming to us and through us.

“Salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” -Romans 13:11 and with St. Paul we must all wake up, and welcome the light that God has ordained for us. The light of His Son that eternally is begotten by the Father and comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord is at hand. This little babe, wrapped in cloth and cooing in his mothers arms, this little one, it is He who shall judge the nations with an iron rod. It is He who shall put away darkness, it is He who bears us up into the very life of God through our theosis. It is He who sends forth the Spirit to renew the face of the earth.

“Behold, I am making all things new.” -Revelation 21:5

In the beginning, there was darkness, in the end, the is the Son who is our light and our temple. It is He who shall be for us the Throne of God, His flesh shall be our salvation. His wounds shall save us from our sins. This little king which comes, it is He who is God’s answer to the cry of the poor and the oppressed.

Those who think they must teach justice, and do so apart from Christ forsake the very answer. God has heard the cry of the lowly and brought down kings and magistrates from their thrones through this child, this king, this rejected one. It is well with us, God is coming to us, He brings peace and salvation.

The child in the cow trough “meek and lowly of heart” overthrows the brute force of Caesar through enthroning Himself in our suffering. It is our glory to behold the child, who by nature of His very existence, breathing and curled against His mother’s breast spells the end of empires.

It is this little child who “has filled the hungry with good things.” -Luke Ch. 1 Magnificat. He has helped His servant Israel, and has scattered the proud. His mercy is for those who fear Him, for those who welcome His coming. The dawn from on high has broken, it is our job in this season to welcome such a coming. As the day breaks we must take care to perceive whether we lie shrouded in shadows or are opening our eyes.

Our empire is not fashioned on the blood of victims and the oppression of the poor, no, our kingdom is not built with stone or flesh or gold, it is not ruthless nor cunning, no, this empire is built upon the hardened prudence of a people who reject the peace of Caesar. This empire is fashioned in the wild hope, tempered like steel, with souls of iron this hope endures. It is the hope of glory, that this little child, this tiny Jesus shall really and truly have been and continue to be God’s answer to the cry of the lowly. The government will be upon HIS shoulders, and His kingdom shall have no end.

We are two years past the world’s hope that Barack Obama should change the world. Things remain as they were, enduringly tedious, and the machinations of empires go out far and wide, maintaining the status quo. Yet this little child, offers us a challenge to all of that.

It is time for a different kind of world, a different kind of empire. This is not just a titillating fantasy to help us cope with the dark reality we find ourselves in. It is the only solution to that dark reality. In the beginning, God said “Let there be light,” and there was. So too Advent and Christmas offer us this light. The story that the gospels tell show us God putting into effect His justice, His Order, into the chaos we have made.

The government is not on our shoulders and that is part of the good news of the gospel. Good men, bad men, women and children cannot force the salvation of the world. This is good news. They can, try as they might, bring things before us, but they cannot change business as usual. Yet a baby hiding in a cow trough turned the world upside down and continues to do so.

We are the kingdom-bringers, we are the advent people, we are the people who are saved in hope. Our hope has tempered our souls and invites us to stop. It invites us, not to substitute Barack Obama with Jesus, but to change the dream altogether. Only through careful, deep and thoughtful devotion to the one who calls us to Love our God, and then our neighbors shall we learn the way of peace.

Fall silent, and contemplate that God has put Himself on our side forever through this little jewish boy. O come, that we may Go up to the House of the Lord, let us adore Him, so that when the world is moved by speeches of change and hope that turn out to be empty, we shall have a higher purpose in mind. So that when the world is imperiled with doubts and anxieties we shall rush once more into the breach, knowing that the Government rests upon His shoulder, and not ours.

Let us know that, despite the machinations of men, He shall rule the nations with an iron rod, and that the judgment He brings shall give us peace. In the power of His Spirit, we go forth into the world with a simple thought, “The baby in the cow trough is the hope, He is the Change.”

Nothing else will do, be it governments and empires or money or power, none shall bring real and lasting change. Let us face this dark chaos with a simple awareness that just as God once brought order to primordial chaos with light, so too He does with us, in each heart that confesses and each life that lives the statement “Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Each of us is an advent of the Lord, it is through our lives that God continues to speak the first words ever uttered in the sacred scriptures, “Let there be Light.”

On Advent:

I love every opportunity we have to expect the Lord.

This season, we can especially remember hope, and the coming of the Lord in our midst once again.

I am especially prompted to remember that in some special way, every person, every interaction that happens among us has the opportunity to be a small advent, a small manifestation of the Spirit of the Lord, and thus of His Kingdom and the Person of Christ.

I wanna keep this post short, so I will close quoting Pope Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi:

Man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God, God who has loved us and who continues to love us “to the end,” until all “is accomplished”.

God has loved us, it is what we see in His ultimate unity to us in Christ. He “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53) and will continue to do so. Every life, everyone, is an opportunity to manifest the kingdom to, and to develop and grow and nurture the manifestation of the Kingdom in us.

Our true hope is this small child who shall come again in glory, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and who rose again in glory. Our true hope is not the idea of God, but the person of Christ who has invited us into God, and will hold fast to us, even though we walk away. He has anchored his entire identity to our own, and staked the very essence of God on His current and future redemption of the Creation. His Spirit once hovered over the waters and continues to brood over us, working in all things, that He might become the everything in everything

The Glorious End of Ordinary Time

Ordinary Time.

Glorious Ordinary Time.

Gloriously coming to an end.

Am I the only one who feels that maybe we should have another season somewhere in the middle of that huge chunk of the year we call Ordinary time?

I mean, forgive me my contention, but sometimes it gets really old hearing “973,458,814th Sunday of Ordinary Time.” What I am saying is, we share in a Gospel that has so many stories, so many Christological things we could make another season with, maybe the tranfiguration. I don’t know.

I also think Easter should be a week-long celebration after Holy Week. We could call it the Feast of New Creation or something. The Resurrection and Ascension deserve a bigger shout-out in the Liturgical year. I dunno. I am using crazy-talk. Forgive me.

Nevertheless, despite my pretentious future liturgical developments, I am super-excited about Advent.

Advent is like having two months of Christmas. It’s a wonderful time of year to be a Christian, everything seems to take on a tone of excited and joyous preparation. The music this morning was wonderful, the organ was fantastic, the choir was invigorated, the whole Church was alive with anticipation of Our Lord.

Advent is a time of year where we can just love life, and appreciate Christ, His Incarnation, His humility and His coming to be with us. God with us, is the season we are celebrating, and it is wonderful to be starting a new Liturgical year, as well as coming into the Church all at once.

Pope Benedict XVI said of advent in 2007 “Advent, is the propitious time to reawaken in our hearts the expectation of him Who is, Who was and Who is coming.”

Advent is a time of reawakening, and with the advantageous release of Verbum Domini, I feel it is a time for us as Catholics to reawaken a dedication to expectation. An expectation of Hope, through the Word of God to Whom we offer thanks and praise in this season. God is with us, remains with us, and ever shall remain with us. It is a time to reawaken our expectation, our hope in Christ and especially through His Church.

As the trees come to life before another long dormition, we can feel the whole world expecting something. We look in Advent back to the words of the prophets who expected and longed to see. Especially the words of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 7.

Further, we look to the early proclamation of the Church, and the apostolic preaching. We look to the Fathers, the Tradition, and the Gospels, especially those words of Luke’s Gospel in the Second Chapter. “For unto us a child is born…”

Pope John Paul II said on December 18th 2002 said (emphasis, mine):

The liturgy of Advent…helps us to understand fully the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, it is necessary to understand that the whole of our life must be an ‘advent,’ a vigilant awaiting of the final coming of Christ.

To predispose our mind to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, one day will come to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize him as present in the events of daily life. Therefore, Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come, and who comes continuously.” training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come, and who comes continuously.

I have this same sentiment, and just like it’s sister, Lent, Advent is a season of preparation for and expectation of the Lord.

4 things strike me about Advent:

1) Just like Pentecost, this is a time of focus on the Spirit, as well as Christ. It is Christ who bestows the Spirit, but the Spirit who brought the conception of Our Lord to us.

2) This is a time for gratitude and happiness as well as communal celebration. This is a happy time, but also a reflective time. In 2005 Pope Benedict XVI offered through a speech that it is a time to let ourselves be infected by the silence of St. Joseph, the contemplative silence that makes room for holiness.

3) It is a time to let the fires of gratitude fuel our appreciation for God’s coming to us.

4) It is a time to recenter our lives around Christ, The word of God, and the proclamation of the Church. It is a time for happiness, for thought, and for the whole creation to groan in eager anticipation, waiting for Christ, proclaiming His Death, until he parts the clouds, and comes in glory to judge the living and the dead.

Happy Advent everyone. And if you have suggestions for a season that can chop up that huge chunk of ordinary time, let me know.

All The Saints

Ephesians 2.19:

…So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God…

I grew up an orphan.

I do not mean that I grew up without a physical family, I have a loving mother and father and one brother, who is absolutely one of the most charitable and humble humans I have ever known. What I mean is, spiritually, our Christianity was impoverished. We had a local family, a local church, but no role models. Over and over again in the new testament In Romans and Corinthians Paul calls the people of his churches “Called to be saints” now whatever your theory of salvation, that’s not the issue I want to talk about today.

Today, I want to talk about the big family, and what it means to all of us on a totally practical level.

The Saints in John’s vision of the Revelation are attended with the central question “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I often joke with my girlfriend that I am accidentally postmodern. I grew up as a first-generation American, and my extended family has little contact with me. I grew up with few if any family traditions and given my Father’s fundamentalist past, holidays were always a bit circumspect, yes, even Christmas. I say that to say, I grew up in a world without a sense of history. I mean, I’m sure Derrida loves the way I continually am able to defer culture and tradition, or at least he did. I grew up in world where history was a trinket, something in a book.

My family accidentally raised us in the eternal present. Our history goes back as far as my grandparents and then things get murky, and our future was always the optimistic outlook inspired by my father’s belief in capitalism. Not a bad culture, just incomplete. Our Brazilian heritage was largely a tool, used for talking in public without being observed. Until I was in my late teens I don’t know that there was anything specifically Brasilian about me.

I grew up without history, in a church that did the same (whenever we attended church that is) and in a culture whose history belittled ancients in favor of moderns, whose sense of history was always the revisioning lens of the tragic and ignorant past. I saw other churches, with the murals of saints on their walls as a child and wondered with fear, and a bit of confused longing. Stained glass always made me comfortable as a child, but growing up nominally pentecostal only made for pictures of the holy spirit, or red and white and gold glass.

Our heroes of faith were sometimes bible characters, sometimes contemporary preachers. But we had no sense of the Church between Pentecost and Jack Hayford. There wasn’t even an Azusa in our common language, we had no clue what was what.

This obviously made it a bit difficult for me to come to terms with what the Catholic Church calls The Saints. The people who did it. The ones who loved God, who served him well, and whose lives have had profound effects on all of us as well. With the advent of the printing press and the otherwise extensive preservation of literature brought about through Scholasticism, we have a whole family we can commune with.

I think that’s one thing I love about being Catholic: I am never alone. I am part of a family history.

There’s an entire family of faith, brother Lawrence, or Saint Francis, Sister Pierre from my local parish, or Our Pope Benedict, Athanasius, Irenaeus, Clement of Rome, Maximus the Confessor, and so many others. Today is the day we could in vernacular call: Family day. It’s the one day we celebrate the entire family of faith. We see a few pictures of this in the bible. Every time someone calls God the god of Abraham Isaac and Jacob are they saying they have no relation to Him? Of course not! There is just a sense of historical continuity. They understand themselves within a larger picture. So too when St. John pens his apocalypse, he paints two pictures one of the church militant (Rev. 7:2-8), and the other of the Church triumphant (Rev. 7:9-17).

He gives us snapshots, and the whole history of the psalms and Israel does the same thing. At passover devout Jews still say “This is the night when the Lord delivered us from Egypt.” This is not because they think that they are literally passing through red seas or trying to avoid personal relationship with Jesus through their memory as a community. It is because they are trying to let that history shape their awareness of where they come from.

To be Christian means having a large family, the family of the saints.

Being Catholic means having a huge family history and many brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers in the faith. It means looking back at history and seeing how God never left the church, he never stopped caring, he didn’t come back at Azusa as if he had been absent, he was always here. He was always in the Catholic Church. Both through the Eucharist, and through the saints and their lives we see the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. Christ’s action in the lives of the saints transformed them from Church militant to Church Triumphant. The Eucharist too shows us the pattern that God intends for history like this bread and wine, like Christ we shall all be changed.

The saints are often estranged by our culture, even in personal devotion, because they like the jewish fathers and the prophets before them are dangerous, and strange and holy. They too are motivated by a righteous cause and they are snapshots of what the continued action of God in the world means to us. Just like growing up as a first generation American stripped me of a sense of history, so too Protestantism stripped me of history, but Catholicism brought it back.

Being Catholic has given me a family, and a huge stash of family stories. I can talk about my brother Francis who used to preach to animals, and my Sister Catherine who was such an erratic figure she claimed to be married to baby Jesus. I can talk about my Cousin Athanasius who once single-handedly, it seems, saved Christianity. I can talk about my father and spiritual director, Pope John Paul II and how he once started a peaceful revolution and brought down oppressive communism without ever raising a weapon.

These are the stories worth telling. These are family stories too.

Let’s raise a glass of hot cocoa to all the saints, who have become an illumination and a guide, with their testimonies, let us call them blessed, and smile lovingly at the assembly of faith, the true family, which we have all been gifted with.

It’s the holiday season, and since I have moved away from my blood family, it is good to remember my entire family. The great host whom I am always in the presence of, those whom joined to Jesus, are present to me in every communion physically and spiritually are always available and interceding for the Church in the midst of the struggle to the End. I may have grown up without history, but that doesn’t mean I have to stay that way. I may have been a child once, with no traditions and no cousins, but today I choose to remember my favorite “family stories” over coffee with my girlfriend, and we can laugh at the ones we know, and share new ones with each other.