From the G. K. Chesterton: the Spirit of Christmas
If we study the very real atmosphere of rejoicing and of riotous charity in "The Christmas Carol" we shall find that all the three marks I have mentioned are unmistakably visible. The Christmas Carol is a happy story first, because it describes an abrupt and dramatic change; it is not only the story of a conversion, but of a sudden conversion; as as the conversion of a man at a Salvation Army meeting. Popular religious is quite right in insisting on the fact of a crisis in most things.
It is true that the man at the Salvation Army meeting would probably be converted from the punch bowl; whereas Scrooge was converted to it. That only means that Scrooge and Dickens represented a higher and more historic Christianity. But in both cases happiness is rightly valued because it follow dramatically upon unhappiness; happiness is valued because it is 'salvation' something saved from the wreck.
Again, "The Christmas Carol' owes much of its hilarity to our second source - the fact of its being a tale of winter and of a very wintry winter. The is much about comfort in the story; yet the comfort is never enervating: it is saving from that by a tingle of something bitter and bracing in the weather.
Lastly, the story exemplifies through throughout the power of the third principle - the kinship between gaiety and the grotesque. Everyone is happy because nobody is dignified. We have a feeling that somehow Scrooge looked even uglier when he was kind than he had looked when he was cruel. The turkey that Scrooge bought was so fat, says Dickens, that it could never have stood upright. That top-heavy and monstrous bird is a good symbol of the top-heavy happiness of the stories."
Well, as promised, I have put together a few suggested names for groups of Dominicans, friars, bloggers, PCs, Macs, laity, clergy, charisms, Christmas ornaments, and angels. Obviously, these are things or people that I work with, live with, and are on my mind these days with the Nativity of Our Lord on the horizon.
But first, here are suggested names for groups that were provided by readers of this blog...
A pride of Dominicans An expository of Dominicans A pack of Dominicans
A phalanx of friars A frenzy of friars A bucket of friars (extra crispy) A family of friars A fraternity of friars
A blather of bloggers
A crash of PCs A passel of PCs
A smirk of Macs
A scallop of laity A largesse of laity An oppression of laity A laxity of laity A latency of laity A fertility of laity (trying to accommodate varying ecclesiologies)
a cocktail of charisms (uniquely combined gifts of the “spirits”) a combustion of charisms
a collar of clergy a cataclysm of clergy
an anthem of angels
a memoir of Christmas ornaments
And now, here are my suggestions, some of which have definitions provided for the suggestions, which I hope will help you understand why they are so appropriate, in my humble opinion.
a motley of Dominicans (motley: consisting of people or things that are very different from one another and do not seem to belong together)
a congregation of laity (duh!)
a mess of friars
a gratuity of charisms
a stereotypy of bloggers (stereotypy: a pattern of persistent, fixed and repeated speech that is apparently meaningless and is characteristic of some mental conditions)
a plenitude of PCs
a dearth of Macs
a frock of clergy (my favorite!)
a pindance of angels
a gaud of Christmas ornaments
And one for good measure... a flimsy of apologists (flimsy: unconvincing and difficult to believe)
CANTON, OH (MW Communications) - On Friday November 21-Saturday November 22, 2008, Holy Assumption Orthodox Church (OCA), hosted 50 participants for a "Called & Gifted" Workshop here. The workshop was presented by Sherry Anne Weddell, the co-director of the Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado Springs, CO and Fr Gregory Jensen, the priest-in-charge at Holy Assumption. The central theme of the workshop is that by virtue of our baptism, each of us is an essential part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All of us, whether lay or ordained, are not only called by Christ to proclaim the Gospel, but we are given unique gifts (charism) that that makes our apostolic and evangelistic call both possible and fruitful.
We are not, in other words, simply passive consumers of religious good, but have been sent out (Gk: apostolos, "someone sent out", e.g. with a message or as a delegate) by Christ to announce (GK: euangelion, or "good news") the Gospel or the Good News. The charisms/gifts we receive at baptism are what make it possible for us to do this. These charism, Sherry stressed, are not given to me for me alone, but for you, for your salvation.
Christians are called and gifted by Christ to be men and women for others--and this is true whether we are laypeople, monastics, clergy or hierarchs—we are all of us called to live for others.
Seeing ourselves this way means being willing to see the Church in a new way. The Church is not an end in itself. As Metropolitan JONAH said in Pittsburgh at the All-American Council, what happens at Liturgy is important, but is only about "5%" of what it means to be a Christian. The rest of our Christian life is about how we treat others. This is a very challenging notion for all of us.
As part of the workshop a very simple self-scored paper and pencil test was given to the participants as a place to begin his or her own prayerful discernment of his/her personal vocation. While such a test can't replace the insight that comes from our spiritual fathers, it does have great practical value in helping us understand the different gifts God may have given us.
Grounding our vocation not in a mere conformity to an external standard but to the prompting of grace in our hearts and confirmed by the Church is something both perfectly compatible with Holy Tradition and often sadly lacking in our work with people in the parish and the seminaries. St Anthony the Great says somewhere that if I would know God I must first know myself. The "Called & Gifted" Workshop is I think a valuable aid in helping Orthodox Christians fulfill the saint's advice to us.
I thought I would mark the last week of Advent with excerpts from my much cherished collection of G.K. Chesterton Christmas essays and poems.
As Maisie Ward wrote:
"Some men, it may be, are best moved to reform by hate, but Chesterton was best moved by love and nowhere does that love shine more clearly than in all he wrote about Christmas.
Here's a most appropriate one for a Wednesday in Advent.
"There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes, as I am doing in this article It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next the great day is.
Up to a certain specific instant you are feeling ordinary and sad; for it is only Wednesday. At the next moment your heart leaps up and your soul and body dance together like lovers; for in one burst and blaze it has become Thursday. I am assuming (of course) that you are a worshipper of Thor, and that you celebrate his day once a week, possibly with human sacrifice. If, on the other hand, you are a modern Christian Englishman, you hail (of course) with the same explosion of gaity the appearance of the English Sunday.
And all the old wholesome customs in connection with Christmas were to the effect that one should not touch o see or know or speak of something before the actual coming of Christmas Day. Thus, for instance, children were never given their presents until the actualy coming of the appointed hour. The presents were kept tied up in brown-paper parcels, out of which an arm of a doll or the leg of a donkey sometimes accidently stuck.
I wish this principle were adopted in respect of modern Christmas ceremonies and publications. Expecially it ought to be observed in connection with what are called the Christmas numbers of magazines. The editors of the magazines bring out their Christmas numbers so long before the time that the reader is more likely to be still lamenting for the turkey of last year than to have seriously settled down to a solid anticipation of the turkey which is to come.
Christmas numbers of magazines ought to be tied up in brown paper and kept for Christmas Day. On consideration, I should favour the editors being tied up in brown paper. Whether the arm or leg of an editor should ever be allowed to protrude I leave to individual choice."
Over at Christianity Today they have a series of paintings, photos and other artwork for each day of Advent, along with a passage from Scripture and a snip from various sermons and books. It's worth a quick look each morning as you settle in to your day; a bit of thoughtfulness and beauty to help offset the relentless drumbeats of consumerism outside our doors.
Fr J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., a friar of the Province of St Joseph (Eastern U.S.A.) and undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, recently gave the Father Carl J. Peter Lecture at the Pontifical North American College. His lecture, Clearing Away the Barriers: Preaching to Young People Today, will no doubt be of interest to the readers of Intentional Disciples.
The full-text is available at the Eastern Province vocations blog here.
In the book, "Exaltation of Larks” by James Lipton, the author offers a collection of words that group like items. Among them: a gaggle of geese, flaps of nuns, a peep of chickens, a peel of vacationers, a twaddle of public speakers, a grope of groupies, a hive of allergists, a void of urologists, a wheeze of joggers and a lie of golfers.
Which got me thinking...what words would describe the following groups, do you think?
a _________________ of Dominicans
a _________________ of laity
a _________________ of friars
a _________________ of charisms
a _________________ of bloggers
a _________________ of PCs
a _________________ of Macs
a _________________ of clergy
a _________________ of angels
a _________________ of Christmas ornaments
You don't need to offer suggestions for all of them if you don't want.
This is a clever piece, and clearly directed towards the megachurch crowd. There'd be some differences if the question were "What if Starbucks was run like a Catholic parish?" Here are my own speculations:
1. There wouldn't be a menu board; the presumption would be you know what to order. 2. It's likely no one would talk to you. 3. There might be lots of talk about filters, references to arcane gadgets for making coffee, and speculation about the chemical properties of coffee among the baristas 4. The place would be fairly crowded with people doing all kinds of socializing - with each other, not you (see #2 above). 5. Only a handful of people would be drinking coffee, and they'd be treated as slightly odd. 6. 48% of the folks there would doubt coffee was potable.
This reminds me of an experience Sherry and I had. We had given a workshop at a parish, went to the Saturday vigil Mass, and heard during the announcements that there'd be a pancake breakfast in the morning hosted by the Knights of Columbus. We decided to return the next day for a cheap meal before flying out of town.
When we arrived, there were large signs in front of the church advertising the breakfast. They just didn't tell you where to go. We stopped several parishioners to ask, and received directions that went something like this.
"O.K., you see that gap between the church and the school? Go over there and in the doorway in the corner of the addition connecting the two buildings, you'll find a door. Go through the door, turn left, go down the hall, turn right and open the second door on your right. Go down the steps there, and turn left at the landing at the bottom. Don't go to the right, or you'll end up lost. Go through two sets of double doors, and you'll be in the parish hall."
None of the doors, hallways, or stairwells had any signs indicating, "Pancake breakfast this-a-way." By the time we got to the first set of double doors we could smell the pancakes, so we knew we were on the right trail.
"Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good Saint Dunstan* had but nipped the Evil Spirit's nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose." - Charles Dickens, The Christmas Carol.
It is quickly moving beyond cold tonight. An "Artic front": -8F in Leadville and below zero in Pueblo which is odd since they are nearly 2,000 feet lower than we are. The Denver International Airport set a record low this evening of - 15 F.
Meanwhile, I'm cosily ensconced in the Rocky Mountain Riviera: CS is a balmy .1 F. Scrap that. In the time it took to write this post, the temperature here has fallen to - .3 F.
This sort of weather is extremely dangerous. Pray that the homeless all find shelter tonight. I'm sure that all emergency shelters will be open tonight throughout the Rocky Mountain region, the great plains and upper mid-west.
Another sign of the situation: It snowed in New Orleans yesterday. The earliest snowfall ever recorded in the Crescent City.
*St. Dunstan was Archbishop and confessor, and one of the greatest saints of the Anglo-Saxon Church. Against the old church of St. Mary he built a little cell only five feet long and two and a half feet deep, where he studied and worked at his handicrafts and played on has harp. Here the devil is said (in a late eleventh legend) to have tempted him and to have been seized by the face with the saint's tongs.
Update: It seems to have dropped 7 degrees in the last few minutes and is now -17 F in Leadville with a wind chill of -37 F. Y'all in Leadville - stay indoors!
I was in Eugene, OR, to preside and preach at the funeral of my dear friend, Patricia Mees Armstrong, who died just before Thanksgiving after a long struggle with cancer. I chose as the Gospel the beginning of the Gospel of John, which seemed to fit her so well, since she loved both the Word and words. With all my travels and preaching, I haven't had time to blog, so I thought I'd post my homily for Pat's funeral, along with the Gospel that was read.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What 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. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth." John 1:1-5, 14
Patricia Mees Armstrong was a woman of few words. You don’t believe me? Just listen to her poem, When One's Soul is Green.
Before they came to see me from across the pond & then some, they packed up my memories from the sands of a coast I once walked from green gaps I had hiked. They stored my songs in their throats to unpack, tune after tune, no tin whistle or bodhrán, my tears for chorus.
One brought me soil from her Wicklow garden, another knowing smiles from pubs where tourists never go & prayers from a wee church that once befriended my knees.
Into a small green unbreakable jar, they let me breathe Irish air, enough to last my lifetime.
See! A woman of few words. Her poetry’s often spare, bare bones; Mere verbal sketches, allusions, hints of memories you could have had if you weren’t so attached to a life of safe respectability. Her poems are scattered morsels of Pat. But if you had read all her words but never met her - well, you know it’s not the same. Words can be misunderstood, misinterpreted; or we can mistakenly skim along the surface, and think we’re completely immersed.
If you’d read all her works and then met her for the first time, you would have had to say, “ah, yes… yes… you’re something like what I imagined – but in other ways… well, I just never could have known…” And even when you knew her, words couldn’t quite describe her as well as images could. Her long-time friend, Bob Welch, created “Mrs. H,” - an imaginary muse who was a thinly veiled Pat – who was described as “equal parts Maude, Mother Teresa, Emily Dickinson and Rod Serling.” This literary Mrs. H described herself at their introduction, and it might as well have been Pat herself; "Who am I? I'm the roar of a McKenzie River rapid, the whistle of a Florence wind. I'm 14 Country Fair parking passes on the bumper of a '69 Volkswagen.”
Pat was like a certain unnamed woman in the New Testament, who sought to touch Jesus for healing. You see, Pat suffered almost all her life from a hemorrhage that began at age 10, if not before. A hemorrhage of words, that turned her inside out; a flow not of blood but of ink; never clotting. She didn’t want the words to dry up, but sought healing of childhood wounds through which so many of those words flowed.
If you know her poetry and short stories, you know Pat is Birch and Siobhan; Pat is, in some ways, her poetry – her flesh become words.
I must apologize - a funeral homily is not a eulogy (eulogy, meaning, good word, or speaking well). Rather, a funeral homily should be about a Good Word – the Word made flesh. The Word that was in the beginning, and was with God and was – and is – God. This Word remained hidden, even to the Hebrews whom God fashioned from the offspring of Abraham, and called out of slavery in Egypt, and formed into a people in the wasteland of Sinai. Their scriptures are sacred words extracted from divine threads of triumph, mercy, and loving kindness - and human threads of disaster, ego and desertion – all carefully woven into divinely inspired poetry, laments, praise, wisdom, laws and prophetic hopes. Written by time-bound mortals, they are the self-disclosure of our Creator in much the same way Pat’s poetry revealed her.
But words about God are easily misunderstood, misinterpreted; too often we content ourselves with skimming across their surface, twisting them to our advantage, rather than allowing them the sharpness meant to separate flesh from bone. And so the Word became flesh; and came to his own, and his own did not know him. “Ah, yes… yes… there’s something familiar, but in other ways not at all what we expected – or wanted.”
God’s self-expression, God’s eternal Word and beloved Son, became flesh to reveal the heart of God more completely. In Jesus, every story, parable, command, reveals our Father who speaks the Word in eternity. Jesus tells us God is like a good shepherd seeking the lost sheep, a shameless Semitic paterfamilias who sprints to embrace and welcome home a reprobate son. He withholds nothing from us: “I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (Jn 15:15) Not only does Jesus tell us what His Father is like, he shows us His Father, in a way we can comprehend. He claims, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9) Actions speak louder than words, and the New Testament reveals in Jesus the God who heals, forgives, drives out our demons, and unveils our hypocrisy. Jesus, the Word made flesh, is love made flesh, goodness made flesh, truth made flesh.
But love, goodness and truth have no lasting home in a disobedient and fallen world. In the end, we had to silence the Word. From the cross comes his last and only wish, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” In his humanity, Jesus does what none of us can do. He is obedient to His Father – even though the consequence of that love is the cross. He is a single eternal word –a ‘yes’ that overcomes each and every ‘no’ we utter. His Father attributes that obedience to each one of us – even though we cannot deserve it. This is the heart of mercy. We are made adopted sons and daughters of the Father, and brothers and sisters of Jesus and each other. The love for humanity Jesus demonstrates is also Our Father’s love for us. And validating all that Jesus said and did, the Father raises him from the dead – the firstfruits of the resurrection we may share because of our adoption.
Jesus is the Redeemer for whom poor Job longed; the New Adam whose cross is the tree of life denied the first Adam; his broken body, the fruit of that tree which Pat ate. St. Paul, so well-versed in the Hebrew scriptures, saw the ramifications of all this. Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? It is Christ (Jesus) who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Apparently, nothing, in St. Paul’s mind.
Thus we believe that Pat is – or will be - in heaven, inseparable from Christ’s love. Not because she was good at words; certainly not because she was good, but because of her trust in Christ’s death for her and each of us. Now, Pat did good things – she was an inspiring teacher, an indefatigable encourager, a trusted confidante, a mother with high expectations and a passionately grateful spouse. But hers was a borrowed goodness – as is all human goodness, thanks be to God. You see, Jesus invites each of us to be a disciple – one who learns from a Master. And in Jesus’ culture, one didn’t learn simply by listening to the Master’s words and by observing what he does, but also through imitation. According to the Gospels, after spending some months or more with Jesus, he sends his disciples to “do what he does,” to teach, to proclaim the Good News, to expel demons and cure the sick. The good any of us manage is his good, done through the Holy Spirit bestowed on us by the resurrected Christ – we are not good on our own. When it comes to love and goodness, we're all plagiarists.
The genuine love, that is truly for the good of the other, is His love.
And this is a great gift. It means that when we meet him, as we all surely will when our life’s cord is cut, we can hope to meet not a stranger, but an intimate. Because our love, our goodness comes from him, we will recognize him as the one who has always loved us – and often through others. I believe, Rich, that when Pat met the Lord, she gasped for joy, because she discovered that your love that was poured out upon her was his. And the love from her sons was his. And our devotion, admiration, patience, love, and delight in her presence was his. She knew Jesus in this life, so perhaps she wasn’t so surprised, after all, to discover that she already knew Him as he is.
And I believe that when the Lord met her, he saw a family resemblance; flesh knows its own. God, too, is a poet. I can imagine him touching her face, healing her deep wounds that only he knew. In that touch, the flow of words stopped, because words were no longer sufficient. Words are never adequate to express a love so broad, so deep that neither the present, nor the future, nothing as trivial as life, or death, can overcome.