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A very merry and blessed Christmas to one and all!

What a marvelous, joyous, and wonderful season begins today on this feast of the Nativity of the Lord.  How fortunate we are if we know anything of the meaning and power of this holy day.

The name Christmas–assuming it is used at all and not displaced by the vague and generic “holidays”–has largely been stripped of that meaning and power.  What our society commonly refers to as “Christmas” has become a season which now begins even before Halloween and mostly involves spending money and decorating things.  Many people in our society will be giving one last Christmas hurrah tomorrow with bargain-hunting in the stores; many others will be eagerly taking down the decorations, having begun to grow tired of them after a couple of months.  At best, Christmas is a sentimental time, a holiday for children and family and feasting.

But today is the Nativity of the Lord.  Think on that name for a moment: the Nativity of the Lord!

Today is when God was born into human history, human nature, human experience.  He who created us and the entire universe from nothing, He who exists beyond all time and space in what we call Eternity, He who is revered by all the choirs of holy angels–it is His nativity on earth that we celebrate!  He did not come down in all His great glory, attended by legions of the Heavenly Host.  He did not appear as a mighty super-man.  If He had, we certainly would not refer to this day as His nativity.  No, He was born as creatures are born: as an infant.  Small, helpless, thoroughly dependent on others for survival.

Never had such a thing ever happened or even been dreamed of before.  Nor shall such a thing ever happen again in time and space.  It was a singular event, the Nativity of the Lord.  That alone should earn our respect and our amazement.  But like a drop of water impacting a still body of water, His Nativity changed everything–changes everything–and forever will change everything!  The mingling of the material and the divine, of history and eternity, of the finite and the infinite could not fail to change everything.  The birth of God in the world gave new birth to everything.  It elevated humanity and all creation to a previously unimagined dignity, while revealing in the almighty God a profound and previously unimagined humility.

Modern man may imagine that after more than two millennia, he is no longer affected by nor subject to that event.  He rationalizes away the holy season of Christmas as nothing more than a modern-day Saturnalia or Yuletide.  And so it has become!  While that is not entirely a bad thing, that isn’t the depth or breadth or truth of it.  While many modern men will be content to leave it at that and rush off toward the next big festival, the Christian can never be content with such a thing.

Instead, let us allow ourselves to dive deeply into the tremendous wonder of this holy season and be carried, transported, and transformed by it.  Let us appreciate and give thanks for the incredible thing our Lord did for us in His Nativity.  And let us not do so only today, but for the entire Christmas season: the Twelve Days of Christmas, the Epiphany, and up until the Baptism of the Lord–to my knowledge, this is what Catholics observe as the Christmas season.  While the rest of the world gets back to business as usual, let us persevere in the joy and wonder of Christ’s birth.

We are entering the second week of Advent. I am trying to quiet down, avoid getting caught up in the hustle-bustle commercialism with which the rest of the world “celebrates” this season, and focus on the real meaning of this season, awaiting with eager anticipation the coming of our King–not only His coming on the first Christmas, but also His coming in the future, at the end of time.  Thus, Advent is a season of joy and wonder, and also a season of penitence as we prepare our souls for that day and avail ourselves of His grace.

There are some truly beautiful hymns in Advent (as there are for every season).  Here, from Michael Martin’s wonderful site, Thesaurus Precum Latinarum, we have this 7th century hymn (with a 19th century translation):

CONDITOR alme siderum,
aeterna lux credentium,
Christe, redemptor omnium,
exaudi preces supplicum.
CREATOR of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
and hear Thy servants when they call.
Qui condolens interitu
mortis perire saeculum,
salvasti mundum languidum,
donans reis remedium,
Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
should doom to death a universe,
hast found the medicine, full of grace,
to save and heal a ruined race.
Vergente mundi vespere,
uti sponsus de thalamo,
egressus honestissima
Virginis matris clausula.
Thou camest, the Bridegroom of the Bride,
as drew the world to evening tide,
proceeding from a virgin shrine,
the spotless Victim all divine.
Cuius forti potentiae
genu curvantur omnia;
caelestia, terrestria
nutu fatentur subdita.
At whose dread Name, majestic now,
all knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
and things celestial Thee shall own,
and things terrestrial Lord alone.
Te, Sancte, fide quaesumus,
venture iudex saeculi,
conserva nos in tempore
hostis a telo perfidi.
O Thou whose coming is with dread,
to judge and doom the quick and dead,
preserve us, while we dwell below,
from every insult of the foe.
Sit, Christe, rex piissime,
tibi Patrique gloria
cum Spiritu Paraclito,
in sempiterna saecula. Amen.
To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One,
laud, honor, might, and glory be
from age to age eternally. Amen.
Thesaurus Precum Latinarum

I hope everybody has a blessed, peaceful, and fruitful Advent!

I just love waking up each day and saying, “Ah… it’s still Easter!” And there’s still about 6 weeks to go!

The secular world and its festive trappings are already gone, of course.  They’re always gone by the time we get through our penitential seasons and into the celebratory seasons.  Not that they really matter, but it can be a little distracting.  It can be all too easy to follow secular ways.  To regard these holy weeks as just ordinary weeks, and Easter as just one Sunday.

Do you have special ways of extending the celebration of Easter through the entire season?  Christmas is pretty easy… I keep my tree and creche out for the entire season.  But Easter doesn’t have the same material reminders that Christmas does.  Or does it?

I think that Catholics should make a point to celebrate all season long, even if it’s just in the privacy of our own homes.  It’s a way we can assert our identity and live our faith.

I’m just not sure how to go about it.  Are there any venerable traditions I can pick up?  If not, I guess I shall have to make my own.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to switch gears when liturgical seasons change.  Here are a few good resources I’ve found on the Web, from some of my Dominican brethren.  First, from our good brethren Across the Pond:

godzdogz-lenten-retreat

And Father Philip Powell, OP has some really nice, evocative posts over at Hanc Aquam:

Thanking the Devil

The Devil Preaches on Lent

As you can see, Father Powell gives us a… very different perspective on Lent.  Which is really good at making us pay closer attention and keeping us from complacency.

He also gives us this beautiful Lenten Prayer that he himself wrote:

Merciful and loving God, you give us* this Lenten desert for our purification, for our chance to become your faithful friends.

Because we are wearied by our sins and exhausted by the weight of our guilt, the devil seeks to tempt us further away from you.

Let us hear his false promises with your ears and see his counterfeit prizes through your eyes. With your Word in our mouths, we reject his poisonous gifts and run to you for our salvation.

With our every thought and deed, you give us the grace to turn temptation into witness, to make an enemy of the devil, and grow in your love.

Lord, grant us hearts bound in obedience to your Word and freed in your love. And even though we may suffer for a little while, we know our purpose is fulfilled when we offer you thanks and praise for the gift of your Son.

Purged of sin and guilt by your desert, we walk to his death on the cross; we watch for his resurrection from the tomb; and we await his coming again in glory!

In his holy name we pray. Amen.

(written by Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP)

__________________________________________________________________

*Change the plural pronouns to singular for a more personal prayer.

Father Dominic Holtz, OP is a fine homilist for all seasons, including Lent.  You can read his daily homilies at The Specious Pedestrian. I found today’s especially moving and edifying, as it casts a new light on the act of abstaining from meat.

Alan Phipps at Ad Altare Dei and the dear sisters at Moniales OP point out the Church Fathers Lenten Reading Plan.

New College altar, Lent

The great season of penitence is upon us.  Pope Benedict is showing us the way to enter deeply into it.

You can read his Lenten Message here.  It places special emphasis on fasting (emphases mine):

Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a “therapy” to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God. In the Apostolic Constitution Pænitemini of 1966, the Servant of God Paul VI saw the need to present fasting within the call of every Christian to “no longer live for himself, but for Him who loves him and gave himself for him, he will also have to live for his brethren” (cf. Ch. I). Lent could be a propitious time to present again the norms contained in the Apostolic Constitution, so that the authentic and perennial significance of this long held practice may be rediscovered, and thus assist us to mortify our egoism and open our heart to love of God and neighbor, the first and greatest Commandment of the new Law and compendium of the entire Gospel (cf. Mt 22, 34-40).

The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord. Saint Augustine, who knew all too well his own negative impulses, defining them as “twisted and tangled knottiness” (Confessions, II, 10.18), writes: “I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness” (Sermo 400, 3, 3: PL 40, 708). Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.

It also summarizes a variety of ways by which to enter into Lent:

May every family and Christian community use well this time of Lent, therefore, in order to cast aside all that distracts the spirit and grow in whatever nourishes the soul, moving it to love of God and neighbor. I am thinking especially of a greater commitment to prayer, lectio divina, recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and active participation in the Eucharist, especially the Holy Sunday Mass. With this interior disposition, let us enter the penitential spirit of Lent.

I’m going to try to fast every Friday this Lent… maybe more often, if I can.  This year it will not be so much about giving something up as going the extra mile, out of love of God and humanity.  Of course, fasting by definition is giving something up… but you can think of it as a positive action.  Saying “no” to something is also saying “yes” to something else.  I’m going to BE POSITIVE this Lent!

This past Sunday, Pope Benedict also gave an exhortation to rediscover the Sacrament of Penance:

The sins we commit distance us from God, and, if they are not humbly confessed, trusting in the divine mercy, they will finally bring about the death of the soul. This miracle thus has powerful symbolic value. Jesus, as Isaiah prophesied, is the servant of the Lord who “bore our infirmities, / endured our sufferings” (Isaiah 53:4). In his passion he will become like a leper, made impure by our sins, separated from God: He will do all this for love, with the aim of obtaining reconciliation, forgiveness and salvation for us.

In the Sacrament of Penance Christ crucified and risen, through his ministers, purifies us with his infinite mercy, restores us to communion with the heavenly Father and our brothers, and makes a gift of his love, joy and peace to us.

The Sacrament of Penance is a gift of divine love, joy, and peace.  How can anybody not want that?  Lent is a great time to get back to this Sacrament, the Sacrament that ensures we receive all the bountiful graces of all the other Sacraments.  I don’t think I could carry on without going to Confession at least once a month.  What can I say?  I can’t stand not being in a state of grace.  I’m not boasting.  Believe me, I’m as surprised as anyone.

You can do it.  It will be over so quickly and you’ll be so much better off that you won’t understand what kept you from it.  Go to Confession.  Remember that the only person in this entire universe who gains anything by your not going is the devil.

Related post:

Trouble going to Confession?  Two simple suggestions.

(Photo by Flickr user Lawrence OP)

Blog Pictures | acobox.com I always think it’s such a shame that after preparing for Christmas for weeks and even months in advance (some folks scarcely wait for Halloween to pass!), people seem eager to dispense with it as soon as the presents are open and the dinner is digested.  As if 25 December were the 12th day of Christmas and not the 1st.  I just don’t get it.

I still have my Christmas tree and creche proudly displayed, and am cheerfully embracing Christmas at least until the Epiphany.  Last year, I think I left everything up until the Presentation of the Lord on 2 February.  I think I will do the same again. 

That may sound a bit like going overboard, but I just love the Christ Child so much… I guess that, by my maternal instinct, I just want to “hold on” to His childhood for as long as I can.  I mean, by the time February is over, Lent will have begun, and Christmas will seem quite far away.  I always find that a bit jarring, but it does effectively hammer home the point that Christ came to us as a little babe solely for the purpose of eventually suffering and dying for us. 

The red poinsettia, while vibrant and festive in its hue also reminds me of this truth: the tiny little cluster at the center of the poinsettia, surrounded by the huge bright red leaves, reminds me of the little baby in the manger, Whose birth is just the beginning of a life that will end blood-red… at least for a time.  I do love poinsettias, and maybe I’m just odd, but I never see a red poinsettia without feeling a little twinge of sorrow.  Just as I can’t see the Christ Child without also seeing Christ Crucified. 

Also, in late January–sort of going along with this theme–we observe the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  This January will mark the 36th anniversary.  I think it is appropriate to hold the Christ Child in our hearts at that time, along with His mother’s great “Yes” to His life.

In any case, I see no need to put this beautiful and wondrous season to rest so quickly, or to turn the infant Jesus out of mind and heart as if He were anything but the tremendous joy and wonder that He is.

I hope everybody had an excellent Thanksgiving!  I had a wonderful stay with my parents… got to see some snow… was very spoiled… and have returned well-rested and very well-fed!  My parents are doing well, and we still appreciate everybody’s prayers!

Advent at St. Mary of the Assumption Church, Northampton, Mass., by Flickr user pcorreiaWe are almost through the first week of Advent–hard to believe!  I went to Confession this evening to get me off to a good start, to focus my eyes on the eastern horizon, to fortify me for the wait in the wintry darkness before the breaking of the  divine dawn from on high.

It can be a real challenge to hold this sacred vigil amid all the hustle and bustle and commercialism and secularization of this holy season.  I do enjoy choosing gifts for loved ones and writing Christmas cards.  But it is very important not to just rush through or overlook Advent.

Advent is one of those mysteries of eternity we find throughout our Church year; it is a season in which past, present, and future converge.   In Advent, we look to the past–to the Incarnation of Lord Jesus.  We also look to the future–to the Lord’s second coming.  And we examine the present: what do these comings of the Lord mean to me, and how am I living my life in light of them?

Tomorrow is First Friday–I’ll be joining other Catholic bloggers in praying and fasting for an end to abortion.  It also gives me a chance to spend time with my Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  Being in His presence still makes me feel like I’m made of jello.

Saturday, I’ll start writing Christmas cards.  If anybody would like one, please send me your name and address!  :)

May this Advent be a holy, peaceful, fruitful time for you and bring you closer to our Lord Jesus!

(photo by Flickr user pcorreia)

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