This was posted amid fields and high mountains and great alpine valleys covered with snow in Leadville, Colorado. Few things are more stunning or awe-inspiring than a great alpine valley surrounded by towering mountains in mid-winter.
But this was written by G. K. Chesterton from my treasured "The Spirit of Christmas"
This was 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, although it is not very easy to sum up. It is generally the romantic thing 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 had been taught or told let 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 led me to regard the country where Christ was born solely as a semi-tropical place with nothing but palm tree and parasols.
It was only when I actually looked at it that it looked exactly like a Christmas card.
There fared a mother drive forth Out of an inn to roam; In the place where she was homeless All men are at home. The crazy stable close at hand, With shaking timber and shifting sand, Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand Than the square stones of Rome.
For men are homesick in their homes, And strangers under the sun, And they lay their heads in a foreign land Whenever the day is done. Here we have battle and blazing eyes, And chance and honour and high surprise, But our homes are under miraculous skies Where the yule tale was begun.
A Child in a foul stable, Where the beasts feed and foam; Only where He was homeless Are you and I at home; We have hands that fashion and heads that know, But our hearts we lost - how long ago@ In a place no chart nor ship can show Under the sky's dome.
This world is wild as a old wive's tale, And strange the plain things are, The earth is enough and the air is enough For our wonder and our war; But our rest is as fare as the fire-drack swings And our peace is put in impossible things Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings "Round an incredible star.
To an open house in the evening Home shall men come, To an older place than Eden And a taller town than Rome. To the end of the way of the wandering star, To the things that cannot be and that are,k To the place where God was homeless And all men are at home.
My pastor reported to us at Mass this morning that several very remarkable - apparently miraculous - healings have occurred in our congregation in the past few days. Without identifying anyone involved, he reported that someone with 4th stage cancer had the disease suddenly vanish and another man, who was expected to die at any moment of heart disease, suddenly got better and walked out of the hospital with his family to celebrate Christmas at home.
Dickens didn't have a corner on dramatic Christmas turn-arounds. Sometimes we get a glimpse of the great river of redeeming grace flowing through this world - often through the prayers, penance, self-offering, charisms, vocations, and sacrifice of millions of ordinary people around the world - who offer themselves to God to be used as instruments of his amazing love for others.
I know that this is a very tough time of year for many of us. Our struggles, suffering, loneliness or personal and spiritual darkness seems to be in vivid contrast to the endless jolliness that our culture insists upon. And I suspect that most of us will go through at least one experience of sadness or darkness at Christmas in our earthly lives.
But how many of us have also experienced great blessing, healing, renewal, restoration, or forgiveness at Christmas? Those moments are just as real as our sad times and more real - because they point to - are the first fruits of - our ultimate destiny in Christ, that for which God created us, became man for us, died for us, rose and ascended for us.
As John Henry Newman wrote:
God intends, unless I interfere with his plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness He looks upon me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do , what I can best be What is my greatest happiness and he means to give it to me.
Sometimes in life, we progress toward that happiness like Frodo and Sam trudging, obediently in darkness through the darkness, and sometimes we are refreshed with stays in Rivendell or Lothlorien. But all the while, a relentless work of redemption is taking place in us, through us, around us, for us - and sometimes we are given glimpses of the joy and endless life in Love that lies before us.
Anyone else have a hopeful Advent or Christmas story to share?
I'll be spending a bit of my Christmas time off on the spine of North America, in historic Leadville, Colorado at 10,200 feet high. I have blogged before about Leadville in the summer and in the spring but I've never been there in the dead of winter before. Snow. Lots of snow. And very, very cold. I will never be able to complain that I don't know what a true white Christmas is like again.
Since Leadville was the quintessential silver mining town, it has quite a past and lots of characters. Here is Oscar Wild's inimitable impression of the city at its silver boom height:
From Salt Lake City one travels over great plains of Colorado and up the Rocky Mountains, on the top of which is Leadville, the richest city in the world. . . They are miners—men working in metals, so I lectured them on the Ethics of Art. I read them passages from the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini and they seemed much delighted. I was reproved by my hearers for not having brought him with me. I explained that he had been dead for some little time which elicited the enquiry ‘Who shot him?’
They afterwards took me to a dancing saloon where I saw the only rational method of art criticism I have ever come across. Over the piano was printed a notice: ‘Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best.’
BBC correspondent David Willey said it had been no secret in Rome that Mr Blair had been taking instruction from a Catholic priest as a prelude to conversion.
He added that the Pope was informed of Mr Blair's intentions prior to his visit to the Vatican in June 2007, shortly before he left office.
Mr Blair's ex-spokesman, Alastair Campbell, once famously told reporters "We don't do God". But reacting to news of Mr Blair's conversion, Mr Campbell said: "I can't say it surprises me at all. His faith does matter an awful lot to him.
"It's something I suspect he probably felt he couldn't do when he was prime minister and he's done it now."
It was the day AFTER Christmas at a church in San Francisco . The pastor of the church was looking at the manger scene, when he noticed that the baby Jesus figure was missing from the cradle. He immediately turned and went outside and saw a little boy with a red wagon walking down the street. And in the wagon, was the figure of the infant Jesus.
So the priest walked up to the boy and said, "Son, where did you get that little baby Jesus that's in your wagon?"
The little boy replied, "I got him from the church."
"And why did you take him?"asked the cleric.
The little boy replied, "Well, about a week before Christmas, I prayed to the little Lord Jesus. I told him if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas, I would give him a ride around the block in it."
Often in our prayers of thanksgiving, we offer to God our gratitude for the gift of faith. During this Christmas season, many of us might refer to our faith as "the greatest gift of all."
While faith is a gift from God, it is often modeled for us by others. My parents never missed Mass, unless they were sick. I remember driving for an hour with them to church one Sunday when we were vacationing in Arkansas (Catholic churches weren't all that common). My mom would pray often before starting the car.
I prayed fervently at times when she was driving.
I'll never forget getting up one night to get a drink of water when I was about seven years old and glimpsing my dad on his knees at the foot of my parents' bed as he said his night time prayers.
I knew my parents were people of faith not only from their prayer, but from the way they lived.
But I have a question for you, dear readers.
How would you describe your faith? What does this great gift look like in your life? What are its characteristics and qualities? How does it impact your daily life? How would you describe the faith you hope your children have? If you aren't quite living your faith as you'd like, what is your goal? Describe how you'd like your faith to be.
One caveat: if you use the phrase, "practicing Catholic" or "active Catholic," please describe what you mean by that.
I promise to share my own response to those questions in a few days.
Clara, the Institute's Australian lay Co-Director (with Fr. Anthony Walsh, OP), e-mailed me this evening to tell us that the Institute's proposal to offer a 90 minute introduction to the Called & Gifted discernment process at World Youth Day 2008 has been approved. We don't know the specifics yet - like when or where or exactly how it will be configured but it is still exciting.
Thanks be to God, who continues to open new doors and kudos to Clara who wrote the proposal and will lead the team!
The Roman Colosseum was lit up with gold light tonight to celebrate New Jersey's decision to abolish the death penalty and to celebrate a United Nations vote to establish a moratorium on the death penalty. The lay movement, The Community of Sant'Egidio, is one of the prime movers behind this gesture.
The Colosseum, a site of executions and gladiator contests during the Roman Empire, has emerged as a symbol in organized campaigns against capital punishment. It has received the golden treatment -- its regular lighting is white -- about 20 times since 1999.
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