Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category.

Handel’s “Messiah”

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Christmas 2015

According to the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus was born in a barn, there being no room for him and his parents in the inn at Bethlehem. His way of living forsook the acquisition of wealth and worldly goods. His message celebrated and elevated the poor, and he was quick to warn of the danger of materialism: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Two thousand years later, observe the Christmas celebration in our modern, capitalist culture: a shocking emphasis on gifts, material exchange and consumption. Christians believe that it is imperative to know Jesus and that to know him we have to live like him. It is very difficult to argue that the civic rituals of modern Christmas reflect Jesus’s way of living.

Christmas comes once a year, but it highlights a larger question: Does capitalism, and the consumerism it enables, have adverse effects on the moral character of individuals and society? Is modern capitalism incompatible with Christian living?

Here again, it is easy to argue that it is hard to live a deeply Christian life in a market economy. And not just because of the culture of consumption.
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But the story changes if gifts are given and received in the service of love, in commemoration of what Christians believe to be the most important gift our creator ever gave us. If gifts are not elevated above their proper station, then they are perfectly compatible with celebrating the arrival of our redeemer — with hope realized, the waiting ended, the child in a manger, the star overhead.

Has capitalism devoured Christmas?

Rather than buy ourselves and our young adult children gifts this Christmas, we decided to walk the walk. You know. That walk where you stop indulging yourself with increasingly frivolous items and actually reach out to help others not as fortunate.

We bought several Walmart gift cards with funds we would have used to buy our gifts for one another and our kids. Then our daughter and daughter-in-law (who is pregnant with twins, our 10th and 11th grandchildren, so yes, we have more than enough blessings in our life), Mr. Wilkinson and I went to our local Walmart yesterday, a beautiful Sunday morning. Not quite knowing how to do what we wanted to do, just praying we’d get it right and not embarrass anyone or get arrested. Our girls decided on an approach, took the gift cards, and my husband and I stood at a distance, ready to help if needed.

The girls walked along and watched the check-out lines, and when they felt a tug at their kind hearts, they went up to people ready to check out and asked,

“May I buy your groceries?”

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The initial responses were ones of shock and disbelief. No one was rude, or dismissive. They just wanted to know why. The girls answered that they were part of a family who decided this was the way they wanted to celebrate Christmas. Then a few asked if they were with a church or an organization. No, the girls said, we are just a regular family and this is our gift to you! No strings attached! From us!

Then the miracles came.

Walmart is a Holy Land

Christmas 2015

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Silence, and I Wonder as I Wander

An excellent method of preserving interior silence is to keep exterior silence. . . even in the world, each one of us can make his own solitude, a boundary beyond which nothing can force its way unperceived. It is not noise in itself that is the difficulty, but noise that is pointless; it is not every conversation, but useless conversations; not all kinds of occupation, but aimless occupations. In point of fact, everything that does not serve some good purpose is harmful. It is foolish, nay, more, it is a betrayal to devote to a useless objective powers that can be given to what is essential. There are two ways of separating ourselves from almighty God, quite different from one another but both disastrous, although for different reasons: mortal sin and voluntary distractions—mortal sin, which objectively breaks off our union with God, and voluntary distractions, which subjectively interrupt or hinder our union from being as close as it ought to be. We should speak only when it is preferable not to keep silence. The Gospel does not say merely that we shall have to give an account of every evil word, but of every idle thought.

St. Alphonsus Liguori

I Wonder as I Wander, by John Jacob Niles

1. I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

2. When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

3. If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King.

In other words, Christ could have had anything, but what he chose was to be born as a man, and in choosing this, he chose to die. The “wonder” of the song is discerned in the startling revelation that the reason for the Lord’s decision to be “born for to die” was because of us. He did this all for us- not because he had to, but because we needed him to do it, an act of generosity that is made even more mysterious by the fact that there was nothing all that special about us that would have made us deserving of such generosity. Being high and mighty is really an illusion. We all are, as the song says, “poor ordinary people.”
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The best of Christmas carols, which express not only the mystery of Christ’s holy birth, but also the total event of the Incarnation, are remarkably devoid of the sentimentality that has become synonymous with so many songs associated with the Christmas season. In respect to their theology, these carols are often extensions of the kinds of insights that one comes across in the Fathers of the Church who were able to correlate the events of Christ’s nativity to the Paschal Mystery; the wood of the stable foreshadows the wood of the cross and the swaddling clothes represent his burial shroud. We do not arrive at the scene of Christ’s birth and discover an event that can be abstracted from the rest of his revelation- what is presented to us in Bethlehem mysteriously contains within itself the events of Golgotha.

The Crib and the Cross

Christmas 2015

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In the Bleak Midwinter

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Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche at the Met

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Hallelujah Christmas

Hallelujah Christmas, by Cloverton

I’ve heard about this baby boy
Who’s come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
With every breath I’m singing Hallelujah
Hallelujah

A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for You were coming soon
There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay
God’s only Son was born, oh Hallelujah
Hallelujah

The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You
It was just as the angels said
You’ll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, Hallelujah
Hallelujah

A star shown bright up in the east
To Bethlehem, the wisemen three
Came many miles and journeyed long for You
And to the place at which You were
Their frankincense and gold and myrrh
They gave to You and cried out Hallelujah
Hallelujah

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah

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Do Not Despair

The Chimes tells the story of Trotty Veck, a street porter who scrapes together a poor-but-honest living delivering messages through the streets of London. Trotty is a small-business owner who “loved to earn his money. He delighted to believe … that he was worth his salt. With a … message or small parcel in hand, his courage, always high, rose higher.” On New Year’s Eve, Trotty is driven to despair by the evils of the world. That night, the ringing of the chimes in the church tower awakens him. Drawn to their sound, he finds himself called to account for his despair by the bells and their goblin attendants. They show him visions of a future that awaits if he gives in to his despair, and in the morning, he wakes to find himself at home, surrounded by family and good will.

The bells and the goblins accuse Trotty of falling into three specific errors in his moments of despair. First, he is guilty of dreaming of a romanticized past at the cost of neglecting the opportunity to improve the present. Second, he is guilty of assuming that the plans of the poor are of no importance to anyone. Third, he is guilty of a misanthropy that condemns humanity as evil and not worth saving.

I couldn’t help wondering, while reading The Chimes, whether Trotty’s errors were meant to replicate the errors often committed by readers of A Christmas Carol.
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Depriving the poor of their choices and invading their lives with paternalistic plans for improvement that destroy the fragile plans they have built themselves is no way to aid them.
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When we talk about A Christmas Carol, we fail to give Scrooge credit for transforming. We “abandon him as vile” and “turn our back upon the fallen.” The Chimes won’t let us do that. It is not enough to urge Scrooge to be good to others. We have to remember to be good to Scrooge. Otherwise, we haven’t learned a thing.

As a work of art, The Chimes will never replace A Christmas Carol. It’s simply not as memorable. But as a moral lesson, it is a fine corrective to some of the ways in which our dreams of the past, our desires to help in the present, and our fears about the future of humanity can lead us astray.

A Tale of Two Stories: It is not enough to urge Scrooge to be good to others, by Sarah Skwire

The Chimes (Wikipedia)

Despair

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Gaudete Sunday

Gaudete Carol

Gaudete Sunday

First, collect experiences, not things.
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Second, steer clear of excessive usefulness.
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And finally, get to the center of the wheel.
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But as the Catholic theologian Robert Barron writes, the early church answered this existential puzzle by placing Jesus at the center of the wheel. Worldly things occupy the wheel’s rim. These objects of attachment spin ceaselessly and mercilessly. Fixed at the center was the focal point of faith, the lodestar for transcending health, wealth, power, pleasure and fame — for moving beyond mortal abundance. The least practical thing in life was thus the most important and enduring.
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The frustration and emptiness so many people feel at this time of year is not an objection to the abundance per se, nor should it be. It is a healthy hunger for nonattachment. This season, don’t rail against the crowds of shoppers on Fifth Avenue or become some sort of anti-gift misanthrope. Celebrate the bounty that has pulled millions out of poverty worldwide. But then, ponder the three practices above. Move beyond attachment by collecting experiences, avoid excessive usefulness, and get to the center of your wheel. It might just turn out to be a happy holiday after all.

Abundance Without Attachment, by Arthur Brooks

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“A Light in the Darkness” Sunday, December 7, 2014, 7pm

“A Light in the Darkness” — an Ignatian meditation on Advent and Christmas, with the Ignatian Schola

Sunday, December 7, 2014, 7pm
Church of St. Francis Xavier
46 W 16th St, New York, NY

“Comfort, Comfort, O My People” by The Ignatian Schola

“Comfort, comfort O my people;
speak of peace!” Now says our God.
“Comfort those who sit in darkness
mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load.
Seek unto Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them!
Tell of all the sins I cover,
and that warfare now is over.”

Hark the voice of one who’s crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all to full repentance,
since the Kingdom now is here.
O, that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way.
Let the valleys rise to meet Him
and the hills bow down to greet Him.

O make straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain.
Let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits His holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
now o’er earth is shed abroad,
and the flesh shall see the token
that His word is never broken.

Ignatian Schola YouTube

Merry Christmas!

Met Christmas Tree

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, King’s College

“Do not be afraid!”
Pope Francis, Christmas 2013

Christmas Tree and Crèche at The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Bonus video:

Christmas 2013

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