31 December 2017

Mom said I could help.

JMJ
The Readings for the Holy Family, Sunday within the 8va of Christmas:
Puer autem crescebat, et confortabatur plenus sapientia: et gratia Dei erat in illo.

The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Once again we find this scary concept that God is growing up.

This is the God that loves us.
That came to be one of us:
Not just with us
One of us.

How can God empty himself so deeply, so fully?

This is a divine mystery.

Yet it stands not alone: for God the Father emptied himself fully in the Son, and the Son created all of life, pouring himself out on the Universe.

And when we rejected his love,
He poured himself out yet more
Becoming infinitely small.
The smallest life humanly known
A cell.
Fully human, fully divine, fully alive.
The Conception of Divinity
The Immaculate Virgin as Ark of the Covenant
Then two cells.
Four
Eight,
Millions and millions
And Jesus.
Born of his Mother,
Held in Joseph's arms.

And we ourselves can know this outpouring best
can mirror this emptying
By doing it.
The Letter to Diognetus says, "And if you love Him, you will be an imitator of His kindness. And do not wonder that a man may become an imitator of God. He can, if he is willing. For it is not by ruling over his neighbours, or by seeking to hold the supremacy over those that are weaker, or by being rich, and showing violence towards those that are inferior, that happiness is found; nor can any one by these things become an imitator of God. But these things do not at all constitute His majesty. On the contrary he who takes upon himself the burden of his neighbour; he who, in whatsoever respect he may be superior, is ready to benefit another who is deficient; he who, whatsoever things he has received from God, by distributing these to the needy, becomes a god to those who receive [his benefits]: he is an imitator of God. Then thou shalt see, while still on earth, that God in the heavens rules over [the universe].
This is only possible, though,
In God's family: the Church
And today, we celebrate the beginning of that family
In Nazareth.

All is sacrifice, 
All is emptying out
And all is Joy.

God grows up.
What is this mystery?

What is the miracle that is sung at Christmas?

That God wets the bed.

That Joseph had to get out of bed in the wee hours (no pun intended, maybe)
To change bedding
To sing the child to sleep
To wonder about waiting for sleep to find him again
Wondering what had happened.

And Mary nursing the child
Life flowing from her breast
to Life himself.

And baby poo stinks.

And the first summer when there were birds
and the child - who made them -
Saw them finally as his eyes
learned to see
other things than Mom's face
and Not the Mommy

And there was a thing
hidden in the room
that only babies can see
in the dark
and it is scary
and did Joseph have to keep a light?

Or were the stars enough?

Go and help your father.
Me? Really?
This was the first time I'd been asked to help
This was important.

What are you doing here?
Mom said I should help.
Oh. Get down here and help then...

The image ends there.... but God has done so.

And loves us the more for it
And we him.

Merry Christmas

30 December 2017

I want that. No. Wait.

JMJ

The Readings for the 6th Day in the 8va of Christmas:
Et mundus transit, et concupiscentia ejus
And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof

I'm late in posting I know. Actually I wasn't going to make a post today, then I didn't make one yesterday either. But when these readings came up at Mass this morning, I was like wait... there's something there, in the phrase "the world passeth away".  

We think of "passing away" like ""yes, the world will end".  Yet for all that we might want to see the Apostles waiting for the world to end next week, it's throw away lines like this one that make me feel they were on to something seriously important and timely. The Greek word used for "passing" παράγω parago, is the same word used to describe Jesus passing by the tax collector's station or the crowd blowing past blind Bartimaeus. This is the word that Paul would have used to describe a car passing him on the freeway into Thessaloniki. 

And I thought of my favourite Latin Motto: stat crux dum volvitur orbis, the cross stands still while the world turns. 

The wold is just whizzing by, is it not? Perhaps more now than every before. And Christ on the Cross is the only still point in all of eternity.

The world is passing with his lusts. 

All the things that we want today, that we didn't even know existed yesterday, that we will have forgotten tomorrow like toys on Christmas that are forgotten by the new year, this world passes by. I've enjoyed, over the last three decades, watching fashion pass from the gay world in to the straight world, be that shoe styles, popped collars, goatees, whatever. If it's too gay this year, it will be all Joe the Plumber next year. But the gays will have moved on to a new thing. Tech is this way as well. What we didn't even imagine as possible last month is all the rage now. And then tomorrow something new will come along. 

The world just passes by.

And the cross is the center of stillness.

So, yes, the world will end at some point. But that's not why Paul wants us to not be attached to it. This present-tense verb is ongoing. The world and all its lust whizzes along. We get torn away, tossed about on winds of doctrine. 

We are still in the center: if we cling to the cross.


28 December 2017

A Bible Study with Godwin's Law

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Holy Innocents:
Si dixerimus quoniam societatem habemus cum eo, et in tenebris ambulamus, mentimur, et veritatem non facimus.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.

I'm reading (or listening to, rather) Archbishop Chaput's Strangers in a Strange Land and I'll do a full review when I'm done, but tonight, just before writing this...  there's a portion of the book where the Author discusses M. Scott Peck's The People of the Lie. Without getting too deep into the chapter, Peck's point (or, rather, my take on Chaput's take on Peck's point) is that as we become used to telling lies, and lies to cover lies, and lies to justify lies, and lies to get by, and lies to get ahead, and lies to just get through the day, we become inured to this constant stream of lies. All parts of our culture are based on it and we cave in. We lose touch with the concept of truth, with reality, we just keep going deeper into lies.

The Holy Innocents are the result of a culture of lies.

Herod was known for his tantrums, his extravagances, and his insanity. It's said that when he died he left orders to have pious elders killed so that people would at least seem to be in mourning for him.

Why did no one say stop when he gave the order to slaughter the babies of Bethlehem? Everyone was too tied up in their power games, in keeping clear of the king's sword, in staying out of prison, that they decided - long before the Bethlehem orders came through - to just go along with it all. Sooner or later he'd be gone and one could live one's life in peace. Right. Even the Magi got caught at first, giving out too many bits of info because they thought Herod was a pious Jew. Yes, killing the babies was bad, but Herod didn't hold all the swords alone.

Why did no one stop Hitler? This question was Reagan's bogeyman. Reagan imagined a nation of "Good Germans" who were only misled by the Madman. But everyone wasn't misled: the Madman was elected, freely, three times before he became a dictator. People knew what they were doing. Yes, killing Gypsies, Gays, Jews, Communists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics, and women who slept with any of these... all bad. But Hitler had more than a little help. 

The icon above gets used as a symbol for the problem of Abortion in our country, and in the west in general. But abortion is only the capital sin, right? It's not the root. A lot ot little sins lead up to it: unrestrained sexual passion, attempting to justify some or another form of illicit sexual activity, selfishness, greed, laziness, lust. What about institutionalized poverty, people saying you should get an abortion, what about experts, family members, and even counselors pushing the mother this way? Why ever ignore all that and focus on the thing at the end of this chain? Yes, killing the baby is bad, but the bad started a long time before.

Peck says our biggest lie that we tell to ourselves, over and over, is "I'm doing the right thing here" even when we know it's a lie. I've wrestled with this from the time I was 12 and Mom told me to pretend to be 10 so I could get an half-priced ticket on an airline. It's right to oney Mom, right? I wrestled with it working in retail when people would walk up to me and, to my face, tell a lie and ask for money back. One lady called from LA and said her friends all got free service on our site and she wanted it too. I said we don't have free service. And she said, "Are you calling my friends liars? They are sitting here with me." And I said, "Yes". She hung up. We are an amazing people.

We have a liar for a president - although he's not the first, he certainly is very blatant about it.  We have politicians who lie and we insist that "my side" is telling the truth but the other side is always lying. We have Catholics and Orthodox who can't tolerate a bad thing being said about their right wing politics so they brand everyone else as sexual and political deviants - including their own religious leaders. We have gobbledygook spouted as gospel truth by clergy and professional websites.

We have a culture of lies. When we lie, it may not hurt, it may not bother anyone: but our soul dies a little. Teacher says every time I tell a lie a baby dies. And, quite possibly, Rachel will weep at the end for our actions too.

27 December 2017

The Golden Apples of the Sun...

JMJ
The Readings for St John's Day:
Quod fuit ab initio, quod audivimus, quod vidimus oculis nostris, quod perspeximus, et manus nostræ contrectaverunt de verbo vitæ: annuntiamus vobis.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life: we declare unto you.

John's talking in Code here about Jesus. Jesus is the Word of Life that John has seen, heard, and touched. Our faith is based on empirical evidence. John, sitting at home with the Theotokos ("Son, behold your mother...") would have known so much more. from his own experience than so many others. And he never stopped teaching and proclaiming. He never stopped declaring unto anyone that would listen. Tradition says he was the last one left alive (and so started as the youngest of all of them). And that he taught St Ignatius of Antioch and St Polycarp of Smyrna. 

At which point should someone who made it all up just fess up? I'm sure if the last living apostle had said, "There was no resurrection" that would have been the end of all these shenanigans. If you die for something, certainly you must think it worth dying for. But if you grow old, wither, and just fade away, it must be a great mystery indeed: if it is worth living for.

This is called the White Martyrdom: to die for a faith well lived, to end one's life in the arms of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, peacefully falling asleep, wandering far in visionquest from where were were born, maybe, but each day coming so much closer to home.

We - you and I both - can be in our life this most beloved disciple of the Lord.  John's Martyrdom of the daily grind is available for all of us. We can know Jesus, touch him with our hands, see him with our eyes, hear his teaching, take care of his mother, and in the end, just quietly die.

The action of the Mass is a door through which we are instantly transported to heaven if we only have the eyes and heart to see. We may never have visions of the Lamb of God moving quietly through the Lampstands if we only attend Liturgical Dancing masses, the Novus Ordo has the right visuals when done properly. The Divine Liturgy of the East is close (if you could see behind the iconstasis), and so also the Extraordinary Form, the Latin Mass. 

Jesus is in our midst. He was born a child and reigns as King. You don't have to "imagine" it. You don't need to "pretend". It's real. John - and his entire generation - gave their life for the truth of it. Then so did Ignatius and Polycarp, and much of their generation. And after them thousands of others. It's here for you and for me, for all of us to enter. There is someone calling our name from among the Lampstands, calling us to follow.

All you have to do is see Jesus once and like Wandering Aengus, you will be drawn forward forever until you can fall in love for all of eternity.

Come, see him, hear him, touch him, love him. Care for his mother and grow old and die to know the Truth.

You will know the Truth and He will set you free.




26 December 2017

Pass me a stone...

JMJ
The Readings for St Stephen's Day:


Cavete autem ab hominibus. Tradent enim vos in conciliis, et in synagogis suis flagellabunt vos:  et ad præsides, et ad reges ducemini propter me in testimonium illis, et gentibus.
Beware of men. For they will deliver you up in councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. And you shall be brought before governors, and before kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.

This week, to celebrate Christmas, we have the feasts of a whole bunch of martyrs:

  • 26 Dec - St Stephen, who was killed by nonbelievers for his faith.
  • 27 Dec - St John, who wasn't killed but was imprisoned and harassed by nonbelievers for his faith all his adult life.
  • 28 Dec - The Holy Innocents who were slain by nonbelievers for being born too close to Jesus.
  • 29 Dec - St Thomas Becket who was slain by supposed believers for his defense of the Church.
There's a progression here. The Church's calendar has always been about teaching - which is why the feasts from 26-28 do not change. (The feast on the 29th came later and is of a lower rank but it expands the pattern.)

  • St Stephen, an adult, was slain for confessing his faith in public.
  • St John, an adult, confessed his faith, but was only a social outcast - they hoped he'd cave in.
  • The Holy Innocents had no faith, but the Church counts them as her first harvest of Martyrs because they were slain for Jesus.
  • St Thomas was slain by other folks claiming to be Christian because he was willing to stand up to the political powers which they supported.

Here's the progression:

The faith annoys people in the world and, for a few hundred years, Christians got killed. It was not a solid killing spree though: sometimes Christians were just the freaky folks that normal people had to put up with. Julian the Apostate cemented the pattern that has held forever: Stalin was still doing it last century and Castro was doing it even in this Century. You kill some, oppress the rest - people give up after awhile. Much easier to buy bread when you don't have to worry about the religion of the baker. In some places the killing gets so great that even the faithless get caught up in the mess. The various wars in various parts of the world that are fought over "religion" end up killing people in the name of religion that might otherwise be faith-neutral. ISIS has slain people who were not Christian who have been named Martyrs by the Copts. Today if you are public about your faith you have to say "yes, but not that kind of Christian" so often. People who pray in public can be mistaken for Muslims by some or for Trumpists by others. How ironic, that? There may be no killing, but there is social ostracization. People of faith can be forced to bake cakes for the Queen of Heaven (see Jeremiah 7:18), but professional musicians and sports teams can break contracts in states with laws they don't like - and be cheered on.

Yet, I fear the Becket phase is coming.

In the Becket Phase, people who claim to be Christians - but are really only politicians - will kill off the faithful. People who are one sort of Christian will easily hate others and will turn them in. Here, many might expect the liberal all inclusive sort to say "Yes, but not that kind of Christian..." as they point with baseball bats of political correctness at people in Pro-life Marches or those opposed to making up new rules for marriage, sex, or human identity. I don't find that impossible, but I think in this country, at this time, we're more likely to see people who support racism in the name of their politicised faith turn against people who support justice in the name of Catholicism, if the former continues to evolve into the law of the land, the latter (including many bishops) will become targets.

In the Stephen Phase, we would have to journey to the Middle East as evangelists to be killed - or, we could sit tight in our protected churches and wait for someone to come find us. Statistically, though, the second case will fit better into the Becket phase described above. We're more likely to be shot by a conservative in this country than by a Muslim.

So there we are. I don't have much happiness to share in these feasts of martyrs other than we're all supposed to be martyrs and it helps if there are those out there who want to help us along the path.

25 December 2017

Who would not love thee loving us so dearly?

JMJ

The Readings for Christmas Day:


Et Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis.
And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
Καὶ ὁ Λόγος σὰρξ  ἐγένετο, καὶἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν 

There is no Christianity at all without the literal truth of this verse. Without this verse, Jesus is a nutcase whose political theories are as dangerous to human flourishing as any other nutcase's: as helpful as Dianetics and as useful as the Sunday funnies.  Love your enemies is codependant codswallop. Turn the other cheek is passive aggressive shenanigans. Those who claim to follow the "good teacher" without this verse have to ignore all the times he claims to be God, or else they have to admit he was delusional. If Jesus is not God in the flesh, a living human being, none of this makes sense and rather than sit through another Mass I should advocate for year round baseball: the mystical meanings of baseball are self-evident to anyone with half an eye open and we can use red balls in the snow.

In Catholicism, Bishop Barron says the Incarnation is the thing: it is what makes Catholicism Catholicism. It is what makes Christianity Christianity. This one verse is worth a million and more meditations. Barron says:
The Incarnation is one of the richest and most complex ideas ever proposed to the mind, and hence it demands the space and time of the church in order fully to disclose itself. This is why, in order to grasp it fully, we have to read the Gospels, the Epistles of Paul, the Confessions of Saint Augustine, the Summa theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, The Divine Comedy of Dante, Saint John of the Cross’s Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Story of a Soul of Thérèse of Lisieux, among many other master texts. But we also have to look and listen. We must consult the Cathedral of Chartres, the Sainte-Chapelle, the Arena Chapel, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Grünewald’s Crucifixion in the Isenheim Altarpiece, the soaring melodies of Gregorian chant, the Masses of Mozart, and the motets of Palestrina. Catholicism is a matter of the body and the senses as much as it is a matter of the mind and the soul, precisely because the Word became flesh.
 There's so much here, that right now I only have time for one thing.

Babies.

We know a lot about babies now that we did not know in ages past. The most common error we make is assuming a baby (or any child) is just a little adult. This is not the case no matter how many times you hear a parent talking to their child about politics on the bus. They might as well be talking to their cat.

Why?

Their brains are not developed.  I don't mean that they don't know enough and so have to be taught more. I mean physically, literally, undeveloped. The toddler, the newborn, hasn't the synapses developed yet to do things. Yes, it is possible to jump start them, and yes it is possible to, essentially, send them to the mental gym to train their brains to be computer-like math whizzes, but when was the last time you met a computer like math whizz with social skills? Human development comes in stages, in a slow and steady progression, you might say evolution, that needs to be left alone to do it's thing in each individual.

So, if the Word became flesh, a newborn, a foetus before, that, a toddler after, what did he give up? God from all eternity, never separated from the throne of the Father, never not in full communion with the Father and the Spirit, but still: a newborn with Jelly for a brain. When the Word that is always spoken in the heart of the Father opens his mouth it is wordless cries that come out.

What is this?

I do not know.

How can God become a Baby? I do not know. What is God experiencing in that baby? I do not know.

It is all out of Love. God, seemingly, giving up his very Godness. But only an Almighty being could do this and still remain the Almighty.

This is the cost of of the incarnation: when the word of God becomes man, what does he give up to gain all of us?


24 December 2017

Ite ad Ioseph

JMJ

The Readings for Sunday 4 Advent (Year 2):
Vade, et loquere ad servum meum David: Hæc dicit Dominus: Numquid tu ædificabis mihi domum ad habitandum? Quare non ædificastis mihi domum cedrinam?
Go, and say to my servant David: Thus saith the Lord: Shalt thou build me a house to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt even to this day: but have walked in a tabernacle, and in a tent. In all the places that I have gone through with all the children of Israel, did ever I speak a word to any one of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?

What God did not give to David, he gave to David's son: for Joseph built a house for God. I was wrestling with these readings, with the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Christmas Eve Sermon, if you will. Then the painting at the head of this post was shared in a Catholic Men's Group to which I belong. It's on the cover of an Advent and Christmas book by the late Henri Nouwen. Right now I can't find anything else about this image: is it just a random artist's cover design? If so... wow.

And Joseph worked every day to keep God clothed and fed, to keep the family together. Was he a carpenter in Egypt? Or did he find the Egyptians hard on immigrants? Did Joseph struggle with fear and surprise at all the responsibility he had? Did he know that, leaving that day for Bethlehem, he would not be back for five or six or ten years? When he got to Bethlehem did he set up a shop and do odd jobs?

Regardless of his age (some would say 50, others 20), Joseph was part of an arranged marriage, be that between himself and Mary's parents (at 50) or between his parents and hers (when he was a boy). Leave all idea of romance out of this story. The Holy Family was put together - in God's full providence - following the cultural desires and needs of their own families. Mary's parents needed a married daughter so they could be provided for in their old age. Church tradition says they were already very elderly, so they wouldn't have had time to wait for a boy to grow up. Joseph married into a set of needs that he was expected to meet.

Did Joseph know what he was getting into (before the Angel showed up in a dream, anyway)? Did Joseph know this was God's Mother? The tradition of Mary as a mystical child would say she was very odd and everyone knew it. But did Joachim and Anna sit down and say, "Here's what we knew..." Did they know?

God's grace is enough.

One way to look at Joseph is to imagine a great saint who knew all this stuff and squared his shoulders and said, "OK, God. Hit me: I'm ready." We want to imagine that, I think, because we want Joseph to be something more. We want Mary and Joseph to be more than they are just so we can imagine the story making any sense at all. But God doesn't work like that.

Joseph's namesake and ancestor, who also had dreams, was not only a member of a wandering tribe in the waistlines of the fertile crescent, he was also annoying as all get out. He was a teenager who offended his parents and brethren (despite their love for him) so much that his brothers sold him into slavery. And in slavery, even there, he nearly got raped by his owner, and thrown into prison for not playing along.

God uses broken things.

The idea that Joseph was a widower, looking for someone to manage the house and cook and clean makes sense. He would get a wife, yes, but he would also get Anna and her famous stews, Joachim's business sense, and the kids of his first wife would get "step grandparents". His household would be enlarged and his bed warmed. And there would be many good things, right?

But then it all fell apart and here she was with child.

But this was different. And even though his friends noticed and everyone could count and everyone wondered who the father was... he said, No, I will do this. And then that night in Bethlehem. And all that followed. What God did not give to David, he gave to David's son: for Joseph built a house for God.

God's grace is enough, but Joseph still has to say yes - over and over and over. God didn't pick any man for this Job. He picked Joseph. Joseph who would die in 15 or 20 years, but who would defend this little family, this first Church. Joseph who would provide and care, defend, lead and build up. Joseph who would teach Jesus how to be a man in a world where men raped and pillaged to get strong. Joseph who would show Jesus how to pray and meet his obligations as a pious Jew. Joseph who would show Jesus how to saw, hammer, measure, and build. Joseph who would be "Daddy" for all time to this Man who was God.

God did not pick just any man.

But Joseph. Fear does not mean that one backs down. Fear is an offer to back down. Courage, the strength of heart needed to say yes, God gives. But it must be a gift accepted. It must be a gift used. Joseph accepted it over and over as we all must, and used God's grace to protect this little family, this holy household. And when, in stunned silence, he watch first the poor, and then the very wealthy, come and do homage to his child, Daddy manned up and took care of everything with God's grace.

Joseph.

Jesus learned about being a man in this world from this man. God picked this man to teach him.

In later years, Joseph died. And Jesus and Mary and the rest of the household mourned. Then in the Resurrection when Jesus harrowed Hell and opened wide Paradise, there was one man, right? There was one man would have been greeted with a hug, and that word, "Daddy". And how could he not have been so greeted?

What God did not give to David, he gave to David's son: for Joseph built a house for God. And who now still cares for this little family, this Church. Who still builds a house for God if we but let him build it in our hearts.

Go to Joseph. He will help. He will build up. He will protect. He will watch and guard. It's his job and he says yes.

23 December 2017

A Child's Christmas in Wurtsboro


IT BEGINS when, prompted by the Wurtsboro Village council and "borrowing" a truck from his employer, the electric company, my grandfather puts up the village lights. Driving slowly through town in a cherry picker, Grandpa puts up the aged white candles, the green wreaths, the red lighted garlands. Snow has fallen. Trees have been placed on stands in living rooms and decorated. Houses have been lighted. I take a trip into the evergreen forest in Wilsey Valley to bring back a huge bag of greenery. Lights and boughs spiral around my parents' house and drape off the stairs.

In mad anticipation my mother cooks, my grandmother cooks, my great grandmother cooks. Aunt Linda cooks. Aunt Marie cooks. Aunt Karen cooks. Families visit from hither and yon, and friends make more attempts to be friendlier than normal.

Timmy, the paper boy, spends longer in his daily stops. During his last monthly trip to punch our card and get things taken care of, he actually comes inside for a sip of hot cocoa and maybe yes, thank you, some cookies. In a few days he'll find a box of them along with a ten dollar bill and maybe some gloves in the paper box as he drops off our copy of the Times-Herald record. At the post office Mom spends far too much time chatting with Mr Olcott, the postmaster, and a trip to Jerry Gaubard's tiny Grocery Store can begin to take hours. The Greenwalds have decorated their drug store. The band stand in the village park is filled with pine and lights. The Canal Towne Emporium positively reeks - well out into the street - with scented candles, potpourri and cinnamon. The Old Valley, filled even in the feria times with Black Forest coo-coo clocks, covered steins and hand-carved picture frames is now decked out in Germanic Yuletide finery: nutcrackers and candle-lighted pyramids. Uncle Jimmy has tiny wreaths on the tables in the dinner.

The Emma C Chase Elementary School has their Christmas pageant: a chorus and a few holiday songs, maybe a poetry reading, then one hora danced to tzena-tzena as we explain the Festival of Lights. The Monticello Central Middle School has its Christmas Concert: a two part choir and a band. The Monticello Central High School has its Christmas Concert: a four part choir, a stage band and an orchestra plus a show-stopping all-out choral and orchestral finale. And now School has closed for Christmas Break. After weeks of build-up the day arrives.

Late in the day on Christmas Eve the menfolk vanish off to the firehouse. The women vanish off to the Methodist Church. The kids, hyper-excited, over-extended, exhausted, try to get a nap in: maybe if I sleep now, Santa will come now. But there is to be no such luck for no one is allowed to nap for too long on Christmas Eve.

At 6:30 PM everyone is off - in layers of coats and scarves and hats and gloves - to the firehouse for the village carol sing. The fire trucks have been moved outside, and we all stand around inside the Garage, the largest enclosed space in the village. We are a village of 900 souls gathered around an upright piano that is tuned once a year for this very event. Even in such a small town this is the only time when some of us will see each other. Old friends, not having seen each other since last Christmas Eve, greet each other with warm hugs. Children return from college and stand happily with their parents. Older children return with their own spouses, their own children. Forming huge continents floating in the sea of fellow villagers, they stand with their parents and grandparents, as now my own father stands with his wife and kids, next to his father and mother, his grandparents and six generations total - my sister having her own grandchildren now. My grandmother and my Aunt Marie, wife of the Fire Chief, serve doughnuts and coffee. My great grandmother smiles as her husband, the former chief, is greeted with honour by all.

The Dutch Reformed Pastor, the Rev Wing, invokes. Sally or Michael plays the piano and the familiar carols roll out of books that have not been reprinted since the 1970s - and are collected every year for re-use. They were donated by the local bank and they open, too easily, to a centerfold containing A Visit from St Nicholas. The community singing is interrupted twice by soloists: Aunt Betty sings O Holy Night. Nelson Hall sings, White Christmas. There is an irony in a scion of the only black family in town singing White Christmas. But no one seemed to notice - or at least talk about it.

The Methodist pastor, the Rev. Pinto, blesses. Then, spurred on by Uncle John, the Fire Chief, we begin to sing Jingle Bells. We sing loud and lustily - the younger children blasting it out. There is a sound from outside: the tocsin of bells and the claxon of horns and finally the scream of the sirens sliding up the doppler scale as a fire truck comes down the street from beyond the red light at the corner. We sing louder now as the garage doors roll up in joyous welcome and the kids stream out - herded to safety by parents and uniformed firemen. Santa Claus has come to us on our own candy apple red and white truck. When the kids draw near Santa usually greets them all by name - for he is their own uncle, or their neighbor or even my Dad or Grandpa or Uncle Tommy, seated on the side of the truck handing out small boxes of hard candies and cookies.

After a brief trip home to remove some layers and to add finer clothing, all depart again to their houses of worship. Aunt Marie and Mrs Semonite have decorated the Methodist Church. They have polished and dusted until, even in the pre-candle darkness, the wood shines and the brass cross seems to reflect the lights beyond. Pastor Pinto is in rare form this Christmas eve, as his three rural congregations come together in this one building to sing and pray. There is the Nativity Play, kids wearing too many towels and the latest baby born playing the starring role. And then candles are handed out and lit. The quiet, expectant darkness seems to take a musical quality. We sing now in awed reverence, Silent Night. And we walk into the cold to discover that it has begun to snow.

In the busy evening, somehow, Mom and Grandma have conspired to get some after-church coffee and snacks ready. The family rests a bit for a chat, gathered in Grandma's den around the woodstove. Kids get sleepy. Adults get conspiratorial. WALL radio, 1340AM begins to broadcast reports every quarter of an hour about where Santa's Sleigh has been spotted. WPIX begins its annual telecast of The Yule Log, the first ever virtual fireplace.

Children pass out. Parents hide them in cars, asleep next to presents that were also hidden with the neighbours or in some relative's garage. For the child it is only a short ride through the dream-filled snowy night until Christmas Morning. For the parents it may be a longer passage, a bit of a delay next to the tree assembling a bike or a stereo. For the older children it may be a bit of a pain, programming a new betamax for Mom or stumbling around in the dark wishing to be, again, a child who believed in Santa.

And then this Christmas day dawns - the snow has stopped during the night, but there, on the porch, and on the greenery wrapped around the pillars, there is just enough snow to look beautiful. The lights, ablaze even in the quiet sunlight of Christmas Morning, seem to shine out. The family gathers in the living room for presents. And then moves into the kitchen for a snack.

Turkey is stuffed, potatoes are peeled, yams are candied. In other houses of sundry relatives, slaw is made, salads are tossed, pies are baked. Sausage and cheese balls are laid out, on platters with beef stick and hot mustard. Olives are toothpicked and cheese is sliced near crackers. Candied fruit is dipped and the chocolates are powdered. Nuts are laid out in wooden baskets with pliers and picks. Wines and beers, sodas and sweet tea, mulled cider and hot cocoa cover the table. Guests arrived and the prepared foods are merged and arranged into a Christmas Feast. Grace is said, eggnog is whipped and chilled, turkey sliced, bellies stuffed, children served on card tables and 65 plates - the good china and then some - are all laid to rest in the dishwasher as 6 generations and sundry partake of the holiday table.

After dinner, children play Show and Tell with their holiday loot as Grandpa and I retire to the den and the roaring fire. We lock the doors behind us for a heart-to-heart over too much eggnog in the growing heat. Children pound on the door and we laugh. Mom comes and forces us to liberate ourselves for socialising. Aunt Sally and Uncle Ray depart, Grandma and Grandpa too, and so with relative after relative until only Mom is left in the too-hot kitchen, and Dad patrolling the darkened house for cups and plates. Or else lighting a fire in the barrel outside, a massive offering of wrapping paper and ribbons and shredded tissue and boxes.

Phone calls are made. My cousins Faith and Roger, our friends Steven, Marc and Jody, Michael and Michelle arrive and converge in the dining room again for some late night desserts - coffee and plum pudding or mincemeat pie - and a long night of gaming and reliving high school, of smoking and staving off the winter chill with fond memories made and shared.

Merry Christmas, we whisper in the darkness, saying our goodbyes softly so as not to wake my parents. Merry Christmas and much love.


In our small town of Wurtsboro, NY, the rituals of Christmas rarely changed when I was growing up, only the participants. Only in such a place could a writer compile a perfect Christmas Memory. In parts of this story I'm 11, in other parts 25 or 53... but the pattern was always the same. A lot of these folks have passed now; the old Firehouse, too. But the dance is always there in my mind, and I'm standing in the Firehouse waiting for Santa on the truck. I always hated the hard candy in the boxes tho...

Christmas in Purgatory

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday 3 Advent (Year 2):
Et quis poterit cogitare diem adventus ejus, et quis stabit ad videndum eum? ipse enim quasi ignis conflans.

And who shall be able to think of the day of his coming? and who shall stand to see him? for he is like a refining fire.

Happy Christmas: we're doomed, here in the wealthy, bullying west. We're doomed. But I hope it is to our salvation. How can that be? Yesterday's post didn't rant about our personal doom: but rather about the doom of this unhealthy culture of consume and die in which we are engulfed. We are so busy building it up because we can that we never even stop to ask if we should. (We shouldn't. God's got a way out. Through him:

  • The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. - Exodus 13:21
  • and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. - Numbers 14:14
  • who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go. - Deuteronomy 1:33
  • Then He led them with the cloud by day And all the night with a light of fire. - Psalm 78:14
  • then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. - Isaiah 4:5
  • At the morning watch, the LORD looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. - Exodus 14:24
  • It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. - Genesis 15:17
  • "I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. - Daniel 7:9
  • "Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form--only a voice. - Deuteronomy 4:12
  • "So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, - Deuteronomy 4:15
  • "Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? - Deuteronomy 4:33
  • "The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire, - Deuteronomy 5:4
  • "You said, 'Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives. - Deuteronomy 5:24
  • "He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me. - Deuteronomy 10:4
  • "Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. - Deuteronomy 4:36
  • 'For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? - Deuteronomy 5:26
  • Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. - Exodus 19:18
  • And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. - Exodus 24:17
  • For behold, the LORD will come in fire And His chariots like the whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire. - Isaiah 66:15
  • May our God come and not keep silence; Fire devours before Him, And it is very tempestuous around Him. - Psalm 50:3
  • "From the brightness before Him Coals of fire were kindled. - 2 Samuel 22:13
  • From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, Hailstones and coals of fire. - Psalm 18:12

God's way out is passing us through his refining fire. This is the very meaning of Purgatory: the refining fire of God's love, making us pure. Will it hurt, mostly. But we will be blessed to know the pangs of love.

And when there is something here, that is not for our salvation, be it drugs, sex, politics, a relationship, television, whatever; it will take fire to burn it out of us. We are doomed: we, the collective, cultural matrix we've built up. Each of us, inside it, are the icons of God, but you can't tell me the world we have made is that at all. We are doomed.

If we die with this wrapped around us, God love will still take care of it. 

But if we pass through the Jihad (Syrian Catholic), the Ascesis (Greek Catholic), the Podvig (Slavic Byzantine Catholic), the holy Struggle of purification here, while we're alive: we can offer it all up to God and, maybe, prevent others from falling into the same traps, the same pains, the same struggles as we. 

There is one last reference: too those who have rising beyond the fire:

And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. - Revelation 15:2

For those who, by grace, make it through... and grace is only more fire... there is glory.

22 December 2017

Why We're Doomed

JMJ

The Readings for Friday 3 Advent (Year 2):
Fecit potentiam in brachio suo;
Dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede,
   et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis,
   et divites dimisit inanes.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
   and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
   and the rich he has sent away empty.

Christianity was a revolution in Roman society because it taught the poor that they could care for themselves by sharing what little they had.

From the beginning, though, the Rich, also welcomed at God's table, had trouble. So much of their lives had been spent acquiring stuff and holding on to stuff, that it was hard to shift gears. Ananias and Sapphira sold some property - which means they had it to sell in the first place. But they couldn't bring themselves to give the money to the Church.

The Corinthians couldn't bring themselves to even share meals with the poor and the slaves who were limited in their time to come and go. Paul yelled at them and changed their communion rites.

The wealthy church in Rome was so decadent that Benedict left.

Francis...

This list goes on.

One thing about 21st Century Capitalism: everyone is the poorest. Nearly no one in America has any conception of anyone under them in the pecking order. All of us, though, know someone higher up. We are quite willing to mark ourselves are "one of the 99%" or whatever you want to call it, but we're all pretty equal down here. It's them folks, up there, that you have to watch out for.

I learned this while protesting my oppression. I'm in a class of people who tend to have higher income, more college degrees, better homes, and more disposable income than many Americans. But, you know, I'm oppressed. And I never figured out why the children of slaves couldn't see that.

We're all equal down here. It's those folks up there you have to worry about.

What I've discovered over the years is that everyone needs someone to hate and, recently, it's been the rich. So: it can't be me. Don't hate me! I live in a basement apartment with one place to sit and and I sleep on the floor. OK, I pay more for my basement than my parents have ever paid in monthly mortgage payments, Rogue Ales are my house wines, and I get new stuff whenever I want. But I'm one of you.

We're all equal down here. It's those folks up there you have to worry about.

And then one day I realized I was those folks up there. Most of the world doesn't care who I voted for in the recent election. Most of the world sees major personal differences between our various presidents, but most of the world sees no economic or policy differences. Yes this one is brash, that one is colored different, that one over there seems quite and stupid. But we've never changed our north star: economic hegemony over the entire world so that we can have all the stuff.

We're way up there.

Until recently that was clear.

The thing about the pecking order is, though, the higher up you get the harder you have to peck to keep the masses under you.

And so, it's only logical, that someone would eventually start pulling the rug out from under the feet of the middle class, even the upper middle class.

The proud are being scattered now in our conceit.
Rich people, turning against rich people, to fight it out over tax refunds and exemptions.

We are doomed.

We're getting what we deserved. For while we were fighting with each other about "abortion rights" and saying we were "being oppressed" by cake bakers, we were just killing off the living in other parts of the world in order to have cheap plastic junk at WalMart.

When the poor are "lifted up" it won't be any of us reading these pages. The Meek and the Lowly are not writing these words, nor are the hungry using their smart phones to read it.

We are doomed.

Not my president, we say. Even as we call him all the names he calls us. Even as we refuse to put forward candidates who will work Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with God. I'm with Her we say in self-righteous indignation, as neither she (nor her husband) ever did anything to fix the problems of the poor in this country or in others. Mostly in others, really. For every trade agreement only made it worse, feeding the pockets of the rich, and allowing some of us to pretend we were rich because we got more stuff.  And all the while dumping on the poor; the real poor. And now that the poor are running around the world in terror from the horror we (or our proxies) have built in their countries, we build walls to keep them out.

We are doomed.

All the while we deploy our cheapest political tricks: divide and conquer. Your women should be free like ours. Your political minorities are way more oppressed than ours.  We can fix it. Regime change, Neoliberalism, cheap electronics, it doesn't matter.

We are doomed.

We are doomed because one day (again) the God we claim to believe in will do what he always does: casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. Filling the hungry with good things he's going to send the rich (that's us) away empty. Starving. Lost. Dead.

Maybe that will save us. So, come quickly, Lord. And stir up the crap again.