Friday Five (+2 for Christmas!) – Volume 75

Friday Five_notepad2

This will be the final Friday Five of the year. In the spirit of the season I added two additional items at the end. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

— 1 —

This Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete (Gow-DAY-tay) is Latin for “rejoice”, and this Sunday is represented by the lone pink candle on the Advent wreath that sets among the three purple candles. Jimmy Akin explains 11 things to know about Gaudete Sunday here, and Kate O’Hare has more on the subject here.

From Kate’s article:

Advent and its counterpart, Lent, are seasons of penitence. On the Advent wreath, the three purple candles mark the preparation Christians undergo while awaiting the arrival of Christ on Earth.

But, unlike dour Lent, Advent is usually a happy season, full of food, parties, shopping, music and lights. In the retail world, Christmas begins right after Halloween and then kicks into overdrive on the day after Thanksgiving. Many people mirror this, barely putting away the leftover turkey before putting up every Christmas decoration they own.

While this calendar is fine for secular society, it has nothing to do with the Child at the heart of the season. He won’t be here until Christmas Eve, and all the earlybird sales in the world won’t speed that up.

Exactly. And to drive home this point O’Hare quotes a little later in her article

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow
Stood puzzling and puzzling, ‘How could it be so?
‘It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
‘It came without packages boxes or bags!’
And he puzzled three hours, ‘till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hasn’t before!
‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.
‘Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!’”

— 2 —

Lest you think this post is about to devolve into a War on Christmas!™ via an extreme defense of Advent, guess again. I admit that I am not fond of hearing Christmas tunes on November 1 (though few of the ditties contain any inkling of Christ in them). And the bombardment of heartwarming-true-meaning-of-Christmas movies on ABC Family? Blech. Or the hyperbole that is Bill O’Reilly and his maniacal rantings about the War on Christmas!™ that he’s hyped every year at this time once he discovered he could make money by being a self-proclaimed Culture Warrior™. That being said I have had to find a careful balance between the liturgical celebration of Advent and Christmas or else I find myself getting questions from my wife like this one from last weekend: “Oh, you’re taking the Trans-Siberian Orchestra CD into your car to listen to on your way to work? So it’s ok to play Christmas music now?”

Touché Mrs. W.

Ok. So I get a little grouchy about the hullabaloo before December 25. But in my defense I’ve never been Lisa, as depicted in the Radio Free Babylon comic strip “Coffee With Jesus”:

coffeewithjesus_happyholidays

Click to enlarge

In an article that made me laugh out loud Catholic humorist and author John Zmirak described just the sort of person I could become if I did not have my wife to keep me balanced with regards to “Santaclaustide”. Because I do tend to feel ornery this time of year:

We can tell us ourselves we’re being “apostolic” and countercultural (when in fact we’re just feeling ornery) and check off a partial indulgence each time we refuse to indulge someone. Here’s a short list of ways that we misanthropes, cave-trolls, loners, and pessimists can make Santaclaustide more pleasant for ourselves, and instructive to others:

– Refuse to decorate before December 24—or better yet, leave your scary Halloween stuff up all through Advent. Then keep your Christmas lights glowing till February 2, reminding everyone who asks that “Groundhog Day is an Americanist travesty of Candlemas.”

– When people say, “Happy Holidays,” respond by saying, “Happy Generic Meaningless Winterfest!” Then explain how the war on Christmas is part of a systematic attack by secularists on all of civil society—culminating in the HHS mandate. Nod solemnly as they back away.

– When someone says “Merry Christmas” even five minutes before sunset on Dec. 24, remind them that “Advent is a season of penance, fasting and prayer, to remind us of the hopeless misery of the human condition that Christ came to rectify—for those who accept Him. But the path is straight, and narrow, and few do travel it.” Then smile and say “But hey, Merry Christmas!”

– If you must play host to the family, insist on making this Christmas more authentic. No ham, no turkey, no stuffing—just Middle Eastern foods like roasted goat. No “secularized” Christmas carols, either: just Melkite and Maronite hymns, or (as a concession) a Gregorian chant CD of the Christmas Mass, played over and over again. Pop in a DVD of The Passion of the Christ, reminding the wee ones, “This is the reason for the season.” Then go smoke your cigar on the porch.

Actually I kind of like that last one. The cigar part I mean. Not the roasted goat.

— 3 —

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. Above all, trust the slow work of God. –Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Trust the slow work of God. Six simple words so easily dismissed by the world because of three of them.

Trust. Slow. God.

I’ve outlined a book on the subject of trust that is sitting in a file drawer at home. I’ve yet to write it but hope to before I die. The genesis of the idea is one I believe to have come from God and I can remember the precise moment it appeared in my mind and where I was standing in my home when I received it.

We don’t trust anything or anyone anymore.

And slow? The world has abandoned the concept of slow long before drive-thru windows at McDonald’s and internet search engines. We’ve been racing faster and faster to points unknown from time immemorial. And you’re asking me to trust something slow?

God? And it’s from God? The flying spaghetti monster in the sky? The Great Sky Angel? I’m supposed to trust in that? And he’s slow?

Short answer? Yes.

— 4 —

We are called to be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) as we journey forth amidst the wolves. To me it appears we are so intent upon being serpents and closing ourselves off to humanity that we neglect the latter part of what Christ told us. We’re afraid to be seen as innocent, gentle doves. But there is a balance that must be struck.

What follows is just one example, but one I’ve personally witnessed again and again in person and through the internet. It began when a friend of mine on Facebook wrote that Federal Express had delivered three packages meant for her family worth several hundred dollars to the wrong address. Her husband had driven to the house where the packages were incorrectly dropped off and put a note in the door with their name and phone number in an effort to claim what was rightly theirs. The efforts by FedEx to reclaim the packages seemed to be fruitless and she was wondering what to do next. What followed was a rush to judgment by those who I’m sure like to believe themselves to be more tolerant.

“People suck.”

“I’d call already … some people are just pieces of shit literally.”

“That just sucks. … I swear people think they are getting a Christmas present.”

“People are jerks. Call the cops! It is time to stop the nonsense that is going on in this world of ours.”

This last individual doubled down: “This just shows how dishonest people have become. They really don’t care. It came to their house so it must be mine. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t pay for it. They are entitled to it.”

A few minutes later my friend reported that the people had just drove to her house and delivered the packages. This didn’t abate the cynic who had said it was time to call the cops however. She continued “I think they just realized that it was only a matter of time before you phoned the police. They figured they better keep that from happening.”

To be fair there were also several who defended the people who delivered the packages back to the rightful owner, but most of them came forward after things were made right.

It’s hard to maintain that sense of balance. To be innocent as well as wise. But there are times when it seems to me that many have given up on both and instead joined the pack of wolves.

In the third century Diogenes was quoted as saying “Bury me on my face because in a little while everything will be turned upside down.” There are times when it certainly appears that Diogenes was prescient. It is then that I struggle to remember the words of St. Paul: And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. (Galations 6:9)

Don’t lose heart friends.

— 5 —

I can think of no greater example of seeing the light through the darkness than the one set by the parents of Emilie Parker.

I first watched this video after coming home from a Christmas gathering we had with fellow baseball parents and good friends of ours. My little girl, a blond who is six…who is comfortable getting dirty as well as likes being fancy…who fills the house with her singing from the morning when she is getting dressed to the moments just before she falls asleep in bed…and who already shames me with her ability to give selflessly to others, was asleep when I came home to watch this video. After watching it I went into her room, kneeled next to her bed, and gently kissed her forehead several times. I did this in gratitude for the gift I was given in her, and for the gifts she has given me through her. And I prayed for the grace given to the Parker family to see the light through the darkness.

— 6 —

candleinthedarkSo we can focus on the light or the darkness. It’s our choice. Those who are knee-jerk cynics spread their darkness at the speed of light in the comboxes of this world. I’ve said it before: I choose the light. A good friend and I were talking about this just the other day while discussing articles we see pervading the internet and the headlines of the day. But he noted that he is also seeing, albeit them few and far between, a slight increase in people posting to Facebook and other forums what we would deem articles about the light.

Perhaps it’s due to the holidays, but I’ve noticed them too. John and I mused aloud about an exercise where we found one feel-good or positive story per day and posted that to our Facebook feeds. I like the idea but at this point in the year I have committed to too many other projects. Still, it’s worth looking into.

One of the most beautiful yet difficult things to explain to people about being a Catholic is that you come to view the world through a Catholic prism. How to explain that worldview? I’m working on it and it’s too big for this segment of a Friday Five post. But there is light in everything, and being Catholic is recognizing them when and where they occur and seeing them through the lens of the greatest light, Jesus Christ. The word Catholic does mean “universal” after all. That’s about as inclusive as it gets.

Heather King touched on something Walker Percy once said that touches on the theme I’m struggling to convey:

Someone once asked the novelist Walker Percy why he was Catholic. He replied, “What else is there?” That’s the way I’ve come to feel as well. You can subscribe to Jungian thought with its archetypes, symbols, and dreams: all utterly valid and part of the light; you can detach from your thoughts through meditation: part of the light; you can experience the healing power of nature: part of the light; you can see and rightfully rail against the ways that we sometimes appropriate “religion” and ideas and belief systems to our own ends, and worse, try to impose [those ends] on others: part of the light; you can unearth the ways your childhood has shaped and wounded you: part of the light. But you will never get to the truth, and become your most authentic self, without seeing your own incredible propensity for darkness and sin; without acknowledging the ways that you have hurt, or are capable of hurting, others. “The operation of the church is entirely set up for the sinner,” wrote Flannery O’Connor, “which creates much misunderstanding among the smug.”

The Church is set up for sinners, and the parable of the Prodigal Son, to me, is the central emblem of the way in which we are loved. We are loved in our dereliction and degradation; we are forgiven almost before we’ve asked for it; the place at the banquet table is laid and has been laid all along.

— 7 —

Let’s close what may be my final post of the year on this note. Last weekend my wife and I took our two youngest children to see Disney’s Frozen at the movie theater. It was better than I’d expected and in fact would go to see it again if not for the high cost of movie tickets and concessions (plus I’m taking the boys to see the second Hobbit movie over Christmas break). The movie was shaping up to be a typical Disney movie involving “true love” but in an unexpected turn became something more. It involved sacrificial love and in fact was a reflection of the Light itself found in the gospels.

One of my favorite singers and actresses, Idina Menzel, played the part of Elsa, the older sister. As I was watching her sing this song below I thought to myself that she should win an Oscar for this performance. She already has a Tony award for her work on Broadway in Wicked. Yesterday she and this song were nominated for a Golden Globe.

I think it’s Oscar-worthy. How about you?

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