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In light of our recent election, you have got to watch this stunning New York Times piece on the level of electoral corruption in Russia. It is breath-taking. As is the very tough, amazing woman at the heart of the story, who is running for a regional office in Siberia. She faces down threatening male party operatives with a steely resolve but the results at several local polling places are mysteriously delayed and then it is announced that the ruling party wins with 80% of the vote.
One of the many ironies is that her party, "Just Russia", was created as a "fake" opposition party by the Russian government in 2006 to make the electoral process look better. But she and other Russian activists decided to use it to show that there was some real opposition to Putin in the provinces.
Like me, she is left weeping by the electoral process but for such a different reason. As I wrote on November 4, right after returning from voting:
Once upon a time I lived in Swansea, the old Welsh mining town and harbor where Dylan Thomas grew up. It was about Swansea that Thomas quipped: "This town has more layers than an onion and everyone of them can move you to tears."
I thought of Thomas' comment because I just returned from voting where I had a Mr.-Smith-Goes-to-Washington-Jimmy-Stewart moment.
I returned strangely moved. Maybe it was the sheer dim, shabby, thread-bareness of it all. Maybe it was the dusty church hall, the battered tables, or the elderly volunteers with their lists and stickers. Or the cheap red paper signs reminding potential last minute campaigners (there were none) that they must stand 100 yards from the door to the polling place.
I think that what finally brought tears to my eyes was the earnest little woman who carefully stood where she could not see how I had voted and yet where she could direct me to the woman who would process my ballot and who also carefully did not look at what I had or had not marked on the simple cardboard sheet I was turning in.
For all they knew, I was voting against their candidates. For all they knew, I was delivering a blow to their most cherished civic ideals. And yet they devoted themselves to ensuring that I exercised my right to do so in complete freedom and anonymity. In thousands of precincts around America - in blue, red, and purple states - tens of thousands of other volunteers were enabling millions of my fellow citizens to do the same today.
All the frantic noise, the vast sums of money, the sturm and drang of the election had come down to this quiet, sober moment. Presided over by a humble, self-forgetful army of civic servants whose names most of us will never know.
I just had to say “thank-you for your service" to the woman who took my ballot. If it wouldn’t have disturbed the hush of the moment, I would have tried to thank all the volunteers present. We owe them. We owe all who ensure that year after year, our experience of voting is dim and threadbare and ordinary instead of violent or marred by corruption.
In the context of human history, that qualifies as a major achievement. God bless all who make it possible.
Maggie Guiterrez (a Making Disciples alum) writes in the PCNEA Evangelization e-newsletter:
This Advent we are inviting our parishioners to put a sign of their faith in public, among their neighbors.
The campaign asks to put a yard sign in their homes, like the ones political candidates use during their campaigns. The sign shows the profile of the three Magi following the star to the stable in Bethlehem and the slogan "Find the perfect gift," which is the direction of a new webpage dedicated to exalt Jesus as the perfect gift of God to us. The web page has a video message from Cardinal Wuerl and other reflections to help people find the true meaning of Christmas, including an invitation find the nearest church to celebrate Christmas.
"In October 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared on three occasions to Adele Brise, a young Belgian immigrant. Brise stated that a lady dressed in dazzling white appeared to her and claimed to be the "Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners."
The Lady asked Brise to pray for sinners, as well as to gather the children and teach them what they should know for salvation. The Blessed Virgin followed the commands with these words of assurance to Adele Brise, "Go and fear nothing, I will help you."
Since 1859, countless faithful have made the pilgrimage to Champion, Wisconsin to offer prayers of thanksgiving and petition to Jesus and to ask for intercession from Our Lady of Good Help.
After receiving the apparitions, Adele Brise immediately began to fulfill the obligations the Blessed Virgin entrusted to her. She gathered local children and taught them how to pray, make the sign of the cross, and to give love, thanks, and praise to the Lord.
As part of her commitment to the Blessed Virgin, Brise set up a Catholic school and began a community of Third Order Franciscan women. Eventually, a school and convent were built on the grounds to further the mission entrusted to Brise.
Many prayers have been answered and healings and conversation recorded at the Shrine.
When "the Peshtigo fire of 1871 engulfed the surrounding area, the entire five acres of land consecrated to the Blessed Virgin remained unscathed. It is believed that the land was spared after Brise organized a prayer vigil that circled the area".
On this Sunday of Advent, I must share this magical version of Down in Yon Forest by Kemper Crabb, whose 1982 album, the Vigil is a cult classic among certain Christians of all traditions. From his PBS special of a couple years ago. The You Tube video has a few rough spots but it's still very fine.
Advent purists should avert their ears. The rest of you might want to listen cause the CD and DVD is available on Amazon and might make a great present for the music lovers in your life.
I've been working on a post for days on the history of the three basic kinds of Christianity:
Historic Eastern (Orthodoxy) which dominated the first Christian millenium,
Historic Western or Latin (Catholicism) which dominated the second Christian millenium; and
Reformation Christianity (Protestantism and all its many offshoots) which emerged in the middle of the 2nd millenium and is poised to become the largest form of Christianity in the course of this century.
I've done all kinds of number crunching and just needed to create the graphs showing the critical turning points but I'm working on a big project for January this morning so I haven't been able to finish the post yet .
In the meantime, here is an amazing 90 second depiction of the spread of the religions of the world which powerfully depicts how geographically constrained Christianity (as a whole) was until the Catholic expansion of the 16th century and then the beginning of the Protestant missionary movement in the 19th century.
Yesterday, November 30, was the 30th anniversary of Dorothy Day's death. Someday it may be her feast day so this seems like a wonderful time to share this amazing photograph taken in 1979: Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa in conversation and holding hands. (Hat/tip: dot.commonweal)
Just the thought of being in the presence of those two living saints together sends chills down my spine. Of course, now they have been reunited in heaven.
"This is written amid fields of snow within a few days of Christmas. And when I last saw snow it was within a few miles of Bethlehem.
The coincidence will serve as a symbol of something I have noticed all my life, thought it is not very easy to sum up. It is generally the romantic thing to that turns out to be the real thing, under the extreme test of realism. It is the skeptical and even rational legend that turns out to be entirely legendary.
Everything I have been taught or told led me to regard snow in Bethlehem as a paradox, like snow in Egypt. Every rumour of realism, every indirect form of rationalism, every scientific opinion taken on authority and at third hand, had let me to regard the country where Christ was born solely as a sort of semi-tropical place with nothing but palm-trees and parasols.
It was only when I actually looked at it that it looked exactly like a Christmas card."
Illustrated London News, 1920 (about Chesterton's December, 1919 trip to the Holy Land)
And just for a little local flavor, watch this short video of Palestinian Christians singing and dancing outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on Christmas Day.
A poem by Jessica Powers (Carmelite Sr. Miriam of the Holy Spirit). based upon Isaiah 58:12 (Douay)
And the places that have been desolate for ages shall be built in thee: thou shalt raise up the foundation of generation and generation: and thou shalt be called the repairer of the fences, turning the paths into rest.
I am alone in the dark, and I am thinking
what darkness would be mine if I could see
the ruin I wrought in every place I wandered
and if I could not be
aware of One who follows after me.
Whom do I love, O God, when I love Thee?
The great Undoer who has torn apart
the wall I built against a human heart,
the Mender who has sewn together the hedges
through which I broke when I went seeking ill,
the Love who follows and forgives me still.
Fumbler and fool that I am, with things around me
of fragile make like souls, how I am blessed
to hear behind me footsteps of a Savior!
I sing to the east; I sing to the west;
God is my repairer of fences, turning my paths into rest.
In so many of our ecclesial debates, we don't consider the wider global dynamics that profoundly affect how human beings understand their lives, the world they live in, and the existence of a God. Basics like life and death, dire poverty or a comfortable life that profoundly effect people's openness to the faith, what they consciously feel in need of and what they ask of God and of the Church.
Jane Austen died at age 41 of bovine tuberculosis, a very rare disease in the UK today because almost all milk is pasturized. Today we would regard such as death as tragically young but 41 was the average life expectancy in England in 1817. An England that possessed the highest life expectancy in the world at that point in time. If Jane had married, there was a significant likelihood that she would not have lived into her 40's at all. Three of Austen's sisters-in-law died in childbirth and they were affluent, healthy, well cared for women.
Take less than 5 minutes to watch this fascinating visual depiction of the staggering changes in life expectancy and wealth that human beings have experienced in the 200 years since Jane Austen published her first novel: Sense & Sensibility.
How has these changes affected what we hear when the Gospel is proclaimed? How has it influenced the development of doctrine, for instance? How has the Church's teaching in the area of human dignity, social justice, life issues, family life, education, the mission of the laity been affected? To what extent has the development of the Church teaching contributed to some of these changes?
How different does God and the Christian faith look to us because we live in 2010 instead of 1810?