Archive for December, 2017

Today we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man, our Savior, the Word-made-flesh. It is a mystery that cannot be explained; one can only stand before it in awe or denial. It is the great provocation only surpassed by His death. This day points us to our salvation and everlasting rest, the satisfaction of our heart residing in the Prince of Peace.


It is, therefore, “the most wonderful time of the year” and “the hap-happiest season of all.” And yet one may say…


Please pardon my irreverence, especially on one of the most holy days of the year. Does this not, however, express what many people feel? Does it not express what many Catholics would not in actuality be able to answer? It’s been a while since I’ve read any news articles or statistics on this, but the “holiday” season also has a reputation for being the loneliest time of year, for being the saddest time of year. So where’s the beef?

In antiphon 3 of morning prayer this day, we proclaim, “A little child is born for us today; little and yet called the mighty God, alleluia.” For the lonely and those weighed by bleak suffocating sorrow, I can see this not meaning a whole heck of a lot. Where is their comfort and joy?

sad christmas

Christ is born! Glorify Him! But today we do not simply celebrate His historical birth 2,000 years ago. The mystery is made present. Today and every day He desires to be born in our hearts. That when He comes again, it is not just we meeting Him, but also He in us meeting Himself. If today I remember that our salvation is born, I must also remember that I am a co-worker with Him in salvation. Today I do not simply remember that God is incarnate, but that He is mystically incarnated in me. So where’s the beef of this Christmas Good News? He is in me. The Light entered the darkness. If the Light is in us are we not also called to do the same?


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Every year in December, St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in downtown Indianapolis has the Christkindl Village. There are games for kids, vendors, and of course German food and beer. The beer is provided by a local brewery around the corner and has the parishioners of St. John name their winter ale. This year it is St. John the Evangelager.

Alan Rickman - eye roll

Last night while enjoying food and beer with friends at the Christkindl Village, we had an interruption, a divine interruption. We heard caroling which was the sign that the Eucharistic procession had come to us. It really was an interruption. One moment you’re talking about Star Wars and the next you’re on your knees, adoring our Lord, and joining in the caroling. There is no transition; it is immediate; it is an interruption. It was interesting to see the sudden change among everyone there. Some went to their knees and some stood. There were many who remained sitting – these being non-Catholics who had no idea what was going on. Whether you knew what was happening or not, there was a common reaction: silence. Conversation ceased, phones were not a distraction. For all who were there – Catholics and non-Catholics alike – the space and time had changed. Hearts were quieted. When it was over and we had returned to the ordinary, conversation and life ensued but not quite the same as before.

While Jesus Christ has won the victory, we are still the pilgrim Church on earth. Peace and joy are mixed with sorrow and grief – Blessed are those who mourn! The coming of our Lord in the Eucharist and the peace that followed lifted my heart, yet it also brought my mind to a fresh awareness of the poverty in which we now find ourselves. The Church, in the United States at least, has become whitewashed. (Church Life Journal has a great article on this issue and its remedy in the season of Advent). In truth, we Catholics no longer see the divine; we simply see the world at work in its natural processes. We have desacramentalized the world and given ourselves to a secular materialist worldview. When natural disasters strike, rains do not come, or the fruit of our works, whatever that work may be, do not yield any sort of abundance, we attribute it to mere natural processes and say that life sucks and that life is hard. Hardship, work, obstacles, and disasters have been bled of meaning. And with these blessing, abundance, and leisure have as well. If God is not in the one, He is not in the other. The divine interruption of a Eucharistic procession reminds us that God is present in natural interruptions. The Lord God of hosts is not a clockmaker who simply walks away leaving his work to do as it does. No! He is the divine Lover who bounds from heaven to earth. He does this in His Incarnation, His theophonies, His revelation in the Apostles, prophets, and writings, and He does this in nature. That natural things work by natural processes does not change one iota that God is in them and can direct them as He wills when He wills. As the prophet Haggai says to the Jews returned from their Exile:

So much attempted, so little attained; store you brought into your houses withered at my breath; would you know the reason for it? Says the Lord of hosts. Because to your own houses you run helter-skelter, and my temple in ruins! That is why the skies are forbidden to rain on you, earth to afford its bounty; ban of barrenness lies on plain and hill, wheat and wine and oil and all the earth yields, man and beast and all they toil to win. (Hag 1:9-11)

“Helter-skelter” – is this not our lives? Do we not run helter-skelter with all our various duties, work, obligations, making sure that all our things are in order? Today we are worse than what Haggai speaks of; not only is the Lord’s house in ruins, but our own houses are too for we are too busy trying to put the cries of modern life and work in order. May not our “earthly undertakings hinder us”. (See my previous post).

In answer to that prayer the high school student (not to speak of the high school teacher!) receives a snow day. A divine interruption, to stop, to be still and know that He is God. A day to reorient ourselves, to not be hindered by our earthly undertakings, but to enjoy true leisure and meet our Lord at His coming. But the demon of secular materialism rears its ugly damnable head. In a desacramentalized world we do not see the snow day as a divine interruption. It is viewed as an obstacle of nature to meeting the state mandated required number of days of instruction. That “lost” day, that interruption of work will need to be made up. Now we have a new freedom – a freedom to work! – thanks to technology which eliminates pesky divine interruptions of snow days. Now there are e-learning days on which teachers can post assignments online, students can still have their hours of work, and another mandated day of instruction can be checked off the list. Such a concept is deeply anti-Catholic and completely contrary to a sacramental understanding of the world. In this Advent season let us remember that more often than not it is in the ordinary, the natural, and the mundane through which we are given a divine interruption, not in the extraordinary and miraculous. Let us embrace God in what He gives us, and in a sacramental view of the world see and act upon all things as signs of Him, the divine Lover bounding to us from heaven.

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A prefatory note: One may rightly wonder, why now? After six years of a new corrected translation of the Roman Missal isn’t a post like this beating a dead horse? Life just isn’t that simple. Sometimes you realize how wonderful a thing is and it brings you joy; sometimes you realize how much the negligent absence of that thing influenced you and your joy has been mixed with a good dose of pissed. The fact is that the old people of the Church robbed my generation and the succeeding one of much, then in pastoral solicitude scratch their heads at our wanting what was kept from us while telling us we don’t know what we’re talking about and diagnosing us with some sort of neurosis. Bitter? It’s obvious I am, but also hopeful and grateful. So let’s dig in to the season of Advent, its prayers, the translation of those prayers, the effect of translations, and the gratitude that wells in my heart (for it truly does) that we now have this translation, which for all its imperfections is unarguably better than the one of… old? 

Advent night

There’s something about Advent. I am only just realizing this year that it may be my favorite liturgical season. It has such a different feel after the many months of Ordinary Time; the change is striking and immediate. The prayers, the antiphons, and petitions have a different sensation to them. I am convinced that the 2011 ICEL has had a significant impact on coming to this realization for me. The prayers of Advent – now correctly translated – have a richness lost in the 1973 ICEL. For instance, the Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Advent in the previous translation reads:

God of power and mercy,
open our hearts in welcome.
Remove the things that hinder us
from receiving Christ with joy,
so that we may share his wisdom
and become one with him
when he comes in glory,…

The translation we currently have (2011 ICEL) which is a more accurate translation of both the letter and spirit of the Latin reads:

Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company.

The words “set out in haste to meet your Son” first caught my attention. They continue the petition found in the Collect for the 1st Sunday of Advent which asks God to grant us “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ.” There is a strong persistent impulse in Advent of going forth to meet our Lord, the Love of our heart. In this season we say with the prophet Elijah, “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of hosts.” We are awaiting the advent of the Lord, but we need not wait until He comes again to meet Him. We can meet Him today, now; we can make haste running forth to meet Him. This is not passive, but virile.

Zeal for the Lord does not consist only in running forth to meet Him, but also of what we meet Him with: “righteous deeds” as the Collect for the 1st Sunday of Advent tells us (again, 2011 ICEL). In this past Sunday’s Collect this is expressed through a contrast of undertakings, and this was the second aspect of the prayer that caught my attention. We pray that “no earthly undertaking hinder” us. An earthly undertaking is not necessarily bad. There are a great many earthly undertakings that are important, urgent, beneficial, and done for the glory of God. However, they must be properly ordered. What Martha was doing was important, but Mary chose the better part. During this time of year preparation for Christmas means gift buying, decoration buying, decorating, guests coming over, traveling, larger gatherings with more mouths to feed, in short, a long list of things that put financial strain on most people and add stress to an even greater number of people. In such a condition are we really making haste to meet God’s Son? For my own part, this season also marks the end of the semester and a mountain of grading. Does this valuable earthly undertaking pull me away from running to meet our Lord? Today I ask God in this Collect that the duties of my job may be properly ordered and not be a hinderance to my meeting Jesus Christ.

To rightly order our earthly undertakings and for them not to become a hindrance requires zeal. Our zealousness provides the drive and stamina to turn to the Lord and keep our gaze fixed on Him. This brings us to the second undertaking: “our learning of heavenly wisdom.” It is this undertaking which “gain[s] us admittance to His company,” an undertaking by which we may become His co-heirs. The learning of heavenly wisdom requires first and foremost dedicated prayer, both liturgical and personal. It requires detachment from the world and attachment to divine things. This prayer draws our attention to the necessity of ascesis. (Church Life Journal has a magnificent article on Advent being a time of asceticism and another good article on the positive meaning of asceticism).

All of this comes from the 2011 ICEL. Does the former 1973 ICEL do this? There is no learning of heavenly wisdom. Rather we “share his wisdom.” The difference is subtle, but important. Today we learn so that we may be admitted into His company. The learning is anticipatory to final communion. In the former translation, His wisdom was shared with us a result of that communion “when he comes in glory.” Look at the way the sentences are structured in the two above prayers. The second is clearly preparatory while the first is promise. The former translation also limits our awareness of what hinders us. In the current translation we ask that our earthly undertakings, our earthly work may not hinder us. But in the former, we ask God to “remove the things that hinder us.” This gives a decidedly negative understanding. We ask God to remove our sins, to “lead us not into temptation,” and to remove obstacles. We do not ask Him to remove our earthly undertakings. If you’re asking for that, find a new job! Or a new life for that matter, an earthly undertaking can be maintenance on the house, responsibilities to your spouse and children, school, and other such things. The positive meaning of our various works and the true orientation of all things in life is lost in the 1973 ICEL.

More problematic and that for which I am sore is the lack of a sense of imperative toward the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The prayer of the Church directly affects our understanding of the mysteries of our faith and our response. Advent comes from Latin for “a coming, approach, arrival”. Yes, Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas, the first arrival of our Lord, but the thrust of the season is preparation for His Second Coming.  We do not merely wait for Him though! If you go by the 1973 translations you may very well thing that is what we do. Do good and wait for Him to come. But no, this is not what the Church says to us. She says that we must “resolve to run forth to meet” Him (1st Sunday, 2011 ICEL), not just give an “eager welcome” (1st Sunday, 1973 ICEL). She says we must “set out in haste to meet” our Lord at His coming (2nd Sunday, 2011 ICEL), not merely receive (2nd Sunday, 1973 ICEL, see above). There is an urgency here. We want Him to return. Most people are terrified of the prospect of His returning or give it no mind at all. But Christians should want Him to come, and it should not be a coming that they fear if they “run forth… with righteous deeds,” are not hindered by “earthly undertakings”, and pursue “learning of heavenly wisdom.” I only fear the coming of the One I love if I have not been faithful to Him.

I was raised, “catechized”, formed, studied theology, and began teaching the faith with the 1973 ICEL. My attitude about the Second Coming? Don’t think about it; don’t give it any mind. It’s impossible to know when He will come again so don’t give any thought to it. If we seek Him, live in Him, etc. then we have nothing to worry about when He comes. Live your day for today. It sounds like good advice except that is is not consistent with what the Church exhorts us to. Do not merely live for today and be ready when He arrives. No, live for His arrival anticipated this day. Each day we should run forth to Him, each day we should make haste, and each day we should do so with righteous deeds – the multiplication of our fruits and talents. The first attitude is passive, does not give much thought to our Lord, and is even a little works-centered in that everything is cool as long as I’m doing good. What the Church exhorts us to in the Collects of Advent (current translation) is not passive, very much orients our minds to Jesus Christ, and puts our righteous works in proper order.

Starry night

The picture above reminds me of mystery. There is so much I do not know, so much that is impossible for me to know, to experience, to delight in. God the Creator knows them all and delights in it all. From Him comes the mystery of creation and from Him comes the greater mystery of redemption. The Creator, Redeemer, God Incomprehensible and Ineffable is the One who comes to us, the great Lover coming to His beloved. What wonder and magnificence is in this. It is only in Him that I can know and delight in all that my heart desires and more. Why would I simply make sure my house is in order and wait to receive Him (however joyous and eager that reception may be) when He comes again? Thank you, Lord God, for these prayers which express and embolden my heart , and direct my mind to You and Your coming.

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