The women's group to which I belong distributed Merry Christmas buttons after Mass last weekend and they went like hotcakes. 500 buttons were gone before the first third of the congregation left the sanctuary after the 9:30 am Mass. A number asked me for several more to take home to family members who weren't able to attend Mass because of the snow.
The societal pressure to turn the traditional "Christmas season" into a "winter holiday" is clearly a hot spot with many here. Even though in Colorado Springs, the community climate is largely pro-Christmas. Anyone else seeing pro "Merry Christmas" buttons or paraphernalia being distributed in your parish?
(I've seen floats in the city's Christmas parade in the past that featured live hard core fundamentalist preaching. I wondered at the time if that didn't really cross the line even in this town where religion is famously visible in the public square. The same behavior would have sparked a riot in Seattle.)
This Advent, a national theatre production of This Beautiful City, written about Colorado Springs is playing here. It portrays CS as the "unofficial capitol of the evangelical movement" (which it is not - it is one center among several in the nation - but somehow we have become the media's poster child.)
Local reviews of the play indicate that it isn't just a slam against all things Christian but much more complex and playful than that and that it skewers anti-Christian liberalism as well. Some local evangelical leaders have attended and say that it was salutory to hear how evangelicals are perceived by outsiders.
Two years ago, on December 9, 2007, the nation heard of a terrible double tragedy in our area: a gunman had shot and killed some young missionaries in training and then opened fire on worshippers at our local mega mega-church, New Life. I blogged about the story here and here.
In the New Life parking lot, David and Marie Works and their four children were getting into their minivan after the service. The gunman shot and killed two of their teen-aged daughters, Stephanie and Rachel, and critically wounded David.
Two years later, the Works have forgiven their daughters' killer and befriended his parents who were invited to Laurie Works' wedding in August. "We are committed to being lifelong friends with them" says David Works.
Ronald Murray, father of the gunman was interviewed on a February Focus on the Family spot. He said that the relationship between the two families "shows the love of God to bring and reconcile people together."
Davie Works put simply in a way that takes my breathe away. They aren't looking for anything but friendship from the Murrays. "They don't owe us anything."
Your son kills my daughters. But you don't owe us anything. The sort of forgiveness that hits me in the gut, that touches all the inner aches of old wounds, that makes me just stop and exhale for a moment.
This town may be a media by-word but it is also a town where the Christian faith is lived. In remarkable ways.
And you thought that the recession, Advent, Christmas gifts, and winter weather was all you had on your plate.
Hah! You've forgotten Talk With A Fake British Accent Day. Coming your way on December 17 courtesy of Facebook and The Telegraph. (Blogger won't accept the article's url so just visit the Telegraph website and search for "fake British Accent".)
There's a gathering in New York but a memorably bad English accent is a thing of the spirit that transcends time and place. Even people with real British accents are welcome to participate. Follow in the footsteps of such immortal manglers of the Queens English as Austin Powers or Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.
Or Mark Shea. Whose fake English accents have amused his family and friends for years.
Give your family and friends a truly memorable Advent gift this year. Aspire to greatness. How bad can you be?
Arab by birth, Arab-speaking, and a high ranking administrator for an Umayyad caliph, Yu?ann? Al Demashqi, or St. John of Damascus as we know him, lived in a time and place that most western Christians find almost unthinkable.
It was the fact that St. John did not live under Byzantine Christian rule, but under Muslim rule, that made it possible for him to defend the use of icons so clearly and eloquently during the great Iconoclast struggles of the 8th century. St. John is considered to be the last of the Fathers of the Church and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1883. His hymns are still sung in Eastern monasteries today.
Meditate on this famous passage from St. John's On Holy Images:
"Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see.
I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honouring that matter which works my salvation.
I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God's body is God by union, it is immutable. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is quickened by, a logical and reasoning soul.
I honour all matter besides, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was not the thrice happy and thrice blessed wood of the Cross matter? Was not the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Sepulchre, the source of our resurrection: was it not matter? Is not the most holy book of the Gospels matter? Is not the blessed table matter which gives us the Bread of Life? Are not the gold and silver matter, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either do away with the veneration and worship due to all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the worship of images, honouring God and His friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit."
Today is St. Francis Xavier's feastday and there is no better way to celebrate than to spend some time in St. Francis Xavier's World via this wonderful website sponsored by the Government of Navarre, Spain - Xavier's birthplace. Follow his travels around the world, see pictures of the places and people he knew. The website is designed for students and would make a wonderful resources for home schooling parents or CCD teachers.
Or read one of his letters. Xavier wrote 190 letters of which 108 have come down to us. During his lifetime his missionary letters were the talk of Catholic Europe. They were read by Pope Paul III and the cardinals of the Curia in Rome as well as the ordinary citizens of Portugal who had the letters read to them in their churches and, of course, by his brother Jesuits.
Here are some of the most fascinating excerpts from a letter Xavier wrote from India to the Society of Jesus in Rome in 1543.
"As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing: often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms. The fruit that is reaped by the baptism of infants, as well as by the instruction of children and others, is quite incredible. . .
For my part I desired to satisfy all, both the sick who came to me themselves, and those who came to beg on the part of others, lest if I did not, their confidence in, and zeal for, our holy religion should relax, and I thought it wrong not to do what I could in answer to their prayers.
But the thing grew to such a pitch that it was impossible for me myself to satisfy all, and at the same time to avoid their quarrelling among themselves, every one striving to be the first to get me to his own house; so I hit on a way of serving all at once.
As I could not go myself, I sent round children whom I could trust in my place. They went to the sick persons, assembled their families and neighbours, recited the Creed with them, and encouraged the sufferers to conceive a certain and well-founded confidence of their restoration. Then after all this, they recited the prayers of the Church. To make my tale short, God was moved by the faith and piety of these children and of the others, and restored to a great number of sick persons health both of body and soul. How good He was to them! He made the very disease of their bodies the occasion of calling them to salvation, and drew them to the Christian faith almost by force!
I have also charged these children to teach the rudiments of Christian doctrine to the ignorant in private houses, in the streets, and the crossways. As soon as I see that this has been well started in one village, I go on to another and give the same instructions and the same commission to the children, and so I go through in order the whole number of their villages. When I have done this and am going away, I leave in each place a copy of the Christian doctrine, and tell all those who know how to write to copy it out, and all the others are to learn it by heart and to recite it from memory every day.
Every feast day I bid them meet in one place and sing all together the elements of the faith. For this purpose I have appointed in each of the thirty Christian villages men of intelligence and character who are to preside over these meetings, and the Governor, Don Martin Alfonso, who is so full of love for our Society and of zeal for religion, has been good enough at our request to allot a yearly revenue of 4000 gold farlams for the salary of these catechists. He has an immense friendship for ours, and desires with all his heart that some of them should be sent hither, for which he is always asking in his letters to the King . . .
There is now in these parts a very large number of persons who have only one reason for not becoming Christian, and that is that there is no one to make them Christians. It often comes into my mind to go round all the Universities of Europe, and especially that of Paris, crying out everywhere like a madman, and saying to all the learned men there whose learning is so much greater than their charity, "Ah! what a multitude of souls is through your fault shut out of heaven and falling into hell!"
Would to God that these men who labor so much in gaining knowledge would give as much thought to the account they must one day give to God of the use they have made of their learning and of the talents entrusted to them! . . ."
Here is a picture of his body - famously incorrupt, if dry and brown- and brought out every 10 years for the faithful to venerate.
Xavier died alone on an island a few miles away from the next new country he was trying to reach: China.
His body was covered with quick lime to assist decomposition and then shipped back to Goa in India. When the casket was opened in India, his body was found to be utterly fresh and life-like.
One of the really amusing tales comes from 120 years later when the Calvinist Holland controlled Goa. A Dutch sea captain opened Xavier's casket in the middle of the night to see whatever was left of this famous man. He and his small group of conspirators were stunned to find Xavier's skin still fresh and rosy and his hair still curling. Understandably, the Calvinist sea captain converted on the spot.
The best description we have of Francis Xavier's appearance is the one written 120 years after his death - by one of the men who carefully examined his body in the middle of the night.
From Cambodia comes the story of a level of deprivation that is hard to comprehend and one priest who is seeking to address it. (via Indian Catholic).
"Maryknoll Father Charles Dittmeier was the sole representative from Cambodia at the Nov. 19-21 conference on ministry to Catholic deaf people at the Vatican, conducted by the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care.
The American priest is director of the Maryknoll Deaf Development Program in Cambodia and has previously worked with Catholic deaf people in the United States, India and Hong Kong.
He recently wrote this commentary on Church ministry to deaf people in Cambodia:
The Church's ministry to the deaf in Cambodia faces significant challenges. For deaf Cambodians, there is no "God" and no "heaven," as we know them. Cambodian Sign Language has no signs for "God," "heaven" and related concepts.
Cambodia does not even have a Catholic deaf community.
To my knowledge, of the 20,000 Catholics in the country there is not one Catholic deaf person. So Church ministry to deaf people here means ministry to deaf people who are not Catholics and who have no vocabulary for God and Christian concepts.
In this situation, the Cambodian Church can evangelize by our work in the name of the Gospel. This is supported by the Nov. 19-21 conference in Rome on ministry to Catholic deaf people.
One of the recommendations of the Vatican conference was to encourage the Church to help remove all obstacles to the integration of deaf people into society so that they can be trained, find work, develop and use their talents, and contribute to the good of society.
The Maryknoll Deaf Development Program in Cambodia (DDP) tries to do this. It works with deaf people 16 years of age and older who have no language whatsoever -- signed, spoken or written -- and who have never been to school.
Many don't even understand what it means to be deaf.
The DDP teachers note that every time we receive a new group of students, there is some strange dynamic in the classroom in the first week or two. They couldn't figure it out. Then it dawned on them that the new students did not realize that all the other students in the classroom were deaf also. They had never met another deaf person. Throughout their lives they had only been with hearing people."
No language whatever. No word for God. Not knowing that you are not the only person in the world who is deaf. Not knowing what deafness is.
Impossible to imagine. A level of depravation that just takes your breath away. God bless Fr. Dittmeier and all who work with him.
If you can read this, give thanks today for the incredible grace of language. For all who made it possible for you to read this. Give thanks that you can give thanks. That you have the power to give thanks to God.
And pray for the deaf of Cambodia - and elsewhere - who have been deprived of such a basic part of being human.
The only hand-written manuscript of Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol is now available online in its entirety, courtesy of the Morgan Library and the New York Times.
Scribbles, strike-throughs and all. See what changes you can decipher from the manuscript and then join in the online conversation. If you are like me, and know most of the Carol's cadences by heart (Oh, but he was a squeezing, grasping, wrenching, grasping, covetous old sinner. . . Secretive and self-contained and solitary as an oyster.) it is thrilling to see how Dickens' story evolved and the changes that he made with his own hands.
There is something breath-takingly magical - at least for me - to stand before and read the original manuscript of a great, well-beloved work of literature. You can see Jane Austin's juvenile "History of the World" or the original pages of Alice in Wonderland online via the British Library. I've stood in reverent awe before them both in London but now I can visit online and never leave home.
The British Library is such a storehouse of treasures. One of which is the original autograph of George Frederich Handel's Messiah. Here is the link to the great "Amen" at the end.
What's that brilliant yellow orb in that brilliant blue sky? And at the unnatural hour of 7 am?
There's nothing like a sunny December morning in Colorado to tell you you aren't in Alaska any more.
Anchorage is very beautiful - but at this time of year, it's beauty of another kind - the sober grandeur of snow topped fir and spruce and the mountains are hidden most of the time. Daylight - when it get around to showing up about 9:40 am - comes in shades of grey.
So the literally in-your-face quality of Colorado winter sunshine is kinda stunning. And dazzling.
Makes you want to sing and dance - like Joni Mitchell's classic Chelsea Morning. Here's a blast from the past - if you can handle the truly groovy decor. Does every generation look as goofy to the ones that follow? Someday, people will stumble across snippets of our blogs and roll their eyes. So 00's!