Celebrating the Conclusion of Christmas with Celine

Lest we degenerate into paganism, we should remember that it’s still the Christmas season!

To aide in celebrating the conclusion of this marvelous time, I invite all of us to do something our generation rarely does. The soundtrack of our times, for good or bad, would definitely not be hymns, chants, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, George Gershwin, Louis Armstrong, Elvis, The Beatles or U2. Instead, it would be mindless, throbbing background music. Have we ever just sat on a chair, a couch, or a bed and just listened to music without doing anything else? Maybe we would hear something more than just sound and reverberation.

You want to try that, you say?! Splendid! Here is an opportunity to witness “angels ascending and descending”.

Sit down and listen (and if possible, for the love of God and the gift of music He has given us – not on dinny laptop speakers) to Celine Dion sing “O Holy Night” live. Whenever I pay attention to the words she is singing and behold this daughter of God pouring out her voice and soul to her Father in praise and glory, the dome of the everyday work-world existence is pierced and I glimpse a breath of what beholds us at the end. May it be the same for you.

Merry Christmas. May the Spirit of the Child Jesus fill you in the next 5 minutes and 19 seconds and always.

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A Thrill of Hope

Gandalf_Pippin_RotK_2

“‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘is there any hope? For Frodo I mean, or at least mostly for Frodo.’”

So spoke Pippin to Gandalf on the eve of the siege of Gondor, a time when the Shadow was creeping and seemingly insurmountable darkness was bearing down on every land. What was Gandalf’s response? He hesitated in his speech and in his heart, but, peering through the distance, he saw on whose shoulders hope rested. There were great and grand structures and forces all around; might, power, strength and heft were about to be pitted against one another. Yet hope did not find its anchor there. Neither side lacked great minds, marvelous ambitions, battle-tested valor or daunting machinery. But, in the end, hope did not spring forth from those wells.

Gandalf could see that hope alone rested in the smallest, most vulnerable of characters, the hobbit who bore a great burden and bore it straight into the midst of the darkness.

Advent, Christmas, and the New Year are periods for refreshing hope – regardless of our circumstances. Because it is so often repeated, the word “hope” can sometimes sound empty. It can fall into our minds like a raindrop in a downpour, triggering no reaction from us at all. But, may this season, more than others, shock us from behind this veil of familiarity to realize that hope is not just a word or a sentiment, but a real gift from God without which life has no meaning.

We cannot live without hope – or at least not in any way really resembling sincere human life. Without hope we are imprisoned, chained and bolted to the ground saying, “There is no chance of me getting home; there is no chance of perfect, unending happiness; there is no end to evil. The problems I have are permanent. Evil will never be defeated. This is the way it is and always will be until the Sun destroys the Earth and humans are no more.”

Can we live that way? No, absolutely not. But unless our hope is perfect, we, at times, either believe these lies or (as our mainstream culture often does) we hop on the kitsch Merry-Go-Round of “Life is Fun! La-La-La” just to distract ourselves from facing these questions. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that – I want reality.

And the reality of our situation as human being is our status viatoris: the condition or state of “being on the way”. We are pilgrims. We are on a journey. There is a persistent existential “not yet” inherent in our nature as finite beings. We are making progress toward eternal happiness, towards fullness of being, but we are “not yet” there. We are creatures: created entities who can turn toward nothingness (sin), but who were made to turn towards and eventually obtain fullness of being – for “He created all things that they might be” (Wis 1:14). We are no longer what we once were, but we are “not yet” what we desire to be – what we ought to be.

That’s great, but how are we to have hope in this state? It is the same question to ask, “How are we to be more?”  How are we to obtain a greater fullness of being? We have a lack – how is it to be filled? By our own merits and efforts? The predominant voices around us think and say so, but that “solution” amounts to nothing. It is like trying to operate on your right elbow with your right hand – the right arm is the very thing that is broken!

No, we can be made whole only by He who is Wholeness itself. He who came (imaged by Frodo) as the smallest and most vulnerable of characters (a baby) and bore our greatest of burdens straight into the midst of darkness – and broke it. This is where our hope lies – in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Him – and Him alone – do we now gain access to everything for which our hearts burn with desire. So that now…

Christ is held by the hand of hope. We hold him and are held. But it is a greater good that we are held by Christ than that we hold him. For we can hold him only so long as we are held by him. (De fide, spe et caritate; Paschasius Radbertus)

This is why hope is a gift. We can have it only through grace; only through Christ “holding us”. If we accept this gift of hope, we will find “a sure and firm anchor of the soul, reaching even behind the veil, where our forerunner Jesus has entered for us” (Heb 6:19). Thus are we free to hope for the Return of the King: the time when He will come again to unite us to Himself once and for all – a thought to which these ruminations must fall silent.

So yes, Pippin, there is hope – a “thrill of hope”, as is sung in O Holy Night. Because of what characterizes this season, our journey is not pointless. Because of what God did for us 2,000 years ago, because of what He is doing for us today and because of what He will do in ages to come, we can be – we must be! – a people of hope.

Merry Christmas

nativity-scene-1What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light, 
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light. -John 1:4-8

Merry Christmas!

In this special season of family, food, and gift giving, it can be very easy to lose sight of what exactly we are celebrating. Our culture attempts to engage in the true meaning of the season by promoting ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’ but this approach is both fleeting and superficial. Unfortunately, we find many people whose hope and joy are not enhanced by the season but rather diminished by loneliness and increasing darkness. Eggnog, ham, and a new pair of socks are great, but without a focus on the true meaning of Christmas, something is necessarily missing.

The Church in her great wisdom attempts to turn our gaze to the fundamental reason for our celebration through the gospel reading from John. Through the birth of Jesus, life has entered the world and this life is the light all humanity desperately seeks. The darkness of depression, loneliness, and despair can be illuminated and conquered by Jesus. The Christmas season, which the culture fills with artificial light and life, is supposed to draw attention to the source of authentic hope, peace, and joy. The twinkling lights on the tree in Rockefeller Center which bring a certain superficial happiness can also remind us of the beauty and everlasting love we find in the manger. This awareness of Christ’s light cannot remain in the theoretical or the hypothetical since then it can be easily dismissed or ignored by an already skeptical society.

Just as John was sent by God to testify to the light, we are also called to become ‘decorations’ of Christmas to reveal the life we have found in Christ. God desires that we act as the twinkling lights on the tree or beautifully wrapped gifts, not to bring attention to ourselves, but to point to Him whose life we reflect.

i.d.916 exists to help young adults become intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. We are a community of missionary disciples; always ready and willing to promote the source of our joy and our relationship with Christ. Let’s be intentional this Christmas season. Let’s enjoy all that Christmas has to offer while remembering why we celebrate the birth of a baby in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.

And finally, let’s testify to the light, a light which darkness cannot overcome.

God bless,

Pete Burak

 

No Room at the Inn

 

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by David Macari

As I reflect on the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem, they would be nearing the city now. Joseph would be silently relieved that his wife would not undergo the danger of delivering a baby on the road−at the same time telling Mary, “See, I knew we could do it. Here we are, just a few more miles to a bed and a hot meal.” Mary is in active labor at this point. She would be feeling a mix of body wracking contractions and a very real, very human fear that delivering a child would include in the best of the circumstances of her day, let alone in a foreign land with no assistance of an elder woman to guide her through it. They’d would both be aching all over from their journey, Mary bruised extensively from riding the donkey, (she probably didn’t have a comfy padded leather saddle) and Joseph wincing with every step as his tough soles have been split by the 80 miles of walking over four days.

Then they arrive at Bethlehem, the City of David, the City of the King. It is the day of the invasion of Heaven unto Earth. It is God’s version of D-Day to break the power of evil.

No one will help them. As Joseph humbly negotiates and begs for a place for Mary to lie down, imagine the simple refusals that progress from annoyance, to anger, then to scorn; anything to get this pitiful pair away from their door. The head of the Holy Family is laughed to scorn in his time of need, a foreshadowing of what his Son would experience. I wonder how many places they went before they went to the outskirts of the city where poverty, crime and danger were likely to exist. This is where God softened the heart of a man to open a hovel to the Holy Family. Here they will take refuge in this germ infested, smelly, uncomfortable, not-idyllic-in-any-way, animal cave; rejected by the City of David.

God chose to have His Son born in filth. I strongly believe that He chose this, so that we would know that He wants to be born in our hearts−just as they ARE. My heart is still filthy. Compared to a glorified human heart, what our hearts will be in heaven, our hearts are nasty hovels. God has been looking for a landing zone for his Invasion. HERE, Lord! Be born in me! Make my hovel of a heart the dwelling place of the King of Kings. I am not ashamed to let You in. I boast of my weakness to You, Lord (2 Corinthians 12:9). Make my heart humble enough to receive Your Son.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for they, like the most humble cave in the world, will receive the Kingdom of Heaven.

Why Do We Celebrate Holidays?

images-12As we are now entering the so-called holiday season, it is worthwhile to consider what exactly we are doing.

Why, during certain days of the year, do we all neglect our normal daily routine in order to get together with the same people whom we often don’t see much, and rehearse the same activities, meals, decorations and festivities that we have done in years past? Most of the time we are all involved in one thing: work. For what purpose are we taking a break from work during these “special” days?

A man named Josef Pieper, a German Catholic, 20th century philosopher, has a few thoughts on this topic in his classic book Leisure: the Basis of Culture.

We can view the times in which we are not at work as mere “spare time” – simply the space when we are resting a bit so that we may return to work once again. In essence, this view communicates an understanding of the human person: we live in order that we may work. We work for no other purpose than to work: we do it for it’s own sake. And, whether it’s for a communist totalitarian work-state or a smothering, amped-up capitalism, this affixes man to being a mere functionary in a use-based, economic machine of production. Is that what we are? Many have thought so and many continue to do so today.

But, if we feel some rejection in our guts to that conception of man, then what are we to think of work? Surely it is good insofar as it meets the practical needs of our survival. Certainly we must admit the other side of things: we work to enable us to do something other than work. Pieper puts forward this question exactly: “What is that something other?”

It is captured in the ancient consideration of the term leisure. We postmoderns, Pieper says, “Can confidently dare to affirm” that we do not know what this concept means. Living in a production-based culture of numbers, results, constant emails, phone calls, and incessant “doing”, we now understand this time apart from work as just a time to catch our breath between sprints.

But we are made for something more than work. Pieper tries to bring it home:

The ultimate fulfillment, the absolutely meaningful activity, the most perfect expression of being alive, the deepest satisfaction and the fullest achievement in human existence must need happen in an instance of beholding, namely in the contemplating awareness of the world’s ultimate and intrinsic foundations.  (Only the Lover Sings, pg. 22)

And for those who speak blog… We are made for one thing and one thing only: to behold, to see, to know and thus to be united to the essence of all that is –God – and to meltingly rest into the affirmation that all that is, is very, very good. And so,

The point and justification of leisure are not that the functionary should function faultlessly and without a breakdown, but that the functionary should continue to be a man – and that means that he should not be wholly absorbed in the clear-cut milieu of his strictly limited function; the point is also that he should retain that faculty of grasping the world as a whole and realizing his full potentialities as an entity meant to reach Wholeness. (Leisure: the Basis of Culture, pg. 50)

Pieper also notes three conditions that are naturally inherent in leisure, and indeed must be present in order for an activity of non-work to be leisure at all: 1) a form of receptive and attentive silence that allows us to apprehend reality and “steep [ourselves] in the whole of creation” – the silence of being required to receive a gift; 2) the ability to celebrate a feast; and 3) a fundamental attitude of acceptance (“acquiescence in one’s own being” you might say) – that, in the end, all is plumb, sound and good.

And, ultimately (though I will skirt over this topic here), this kind of posture can only be possible if at its very core is divine worship. All is “plumb, sound and good” precisely – and only – because God is. Otherwise, on what firm ground can we stand and pompously declare, “all is good” when so much around us tells us it is not? If you aren’t so sure that all is good, you can’t really celebrate; because, indeed, what are you celebrating? This is one reason why our society’s practice of holidays has dwindled into excessive consumerism, mindless entertainment, loafing around and booze. We are losing our existential reason for celebrating, and, thus, our ability to truly be leisurely.

But, we do have reason to celebrate! We can look at existence itself saying, as our Heavenly Father taught us to say, “It is good – very good.” Because we wonder in amazement at the meaningfulness of life and the world, our mouths are moved to praise Him.

I find this all to be incredibly beautiful. Thanksgiving and Christmas are not times just to “not work”, it is a blessed opportunity to pull back from the normal functionary pace of life and behold all that is; a space to realize that the dichotomies of life don’t go all the way down, that in the end everything works out better than we could have imagined and that life – existence itself – is good.

Let us yield to the work of the Spirit during this next month so that these truths may transform us. Because of our very nature as human beings, we don’t live in order to work, but work in order that we might live! Let’s allow this to change the way we celebrate holidays.