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Yes, Maggie, There Is A Santa Claus – A Guest Post by Katie Andersen (updated)

Yes, Maggie, There Is a Santa Claus –  By Katie Andersen

When it comes to Santa Claus, Christmas is not easy on any parent. We go out of our way to conceal the reality from our little ones, encouraging good behavior with tactics like the “Elf on a Shelf” and half bitten cookies on a platter. It’s all fun and games until they decide to question the whole thing. As a parent of an original unbeliever, I’ve learned that the coming of the Christ and the story of Santa Claus are not necessarily opposed to one another, and that there is a catechetical lesson in the midst of it all.
“Santa is not real. He is fake. He is a decoration on the tree. Come here; I’ll show you.”

Two years ago, after asking our two-and-a-half-year-old what she’d like Santa to bring her for Christmas, Erik and I were met with this unexpected response. Maggie grasped our fingers tightly, dragged us to the Christmas tree, took a deep breath, and pointed out the silliness of our inquiry: “You see?”

We were unable to pinpoint an instance where this sort of realization could have been learned, so we simply shrugged it off to Maggie’s precocious, literal nature, and went on to enjoy taking full credit for her presents that year.

The following year, Continue reading

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An Advent Reflection

At my home parish of St. Edward the Confessor, we have a beautiful tradition of offering evening prayer on Tuesdays during Advent and Lent. I was privileged to offer the reflection last night.

It was a true gift to see people from Immaculate Conception present and I am grateful beyond measure! Thank you for your presence!

Typically the reflection is offered based on the Gospel or one of the other readings for that particular day. The spirit moved me to reflect on the Gospel, which was Luke 1:26-38. Typically the reflection gets posted at the Parish Blog of St. Edward, and I am also posting it here.

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Here at St. Edward the Confessor we have a beautiful practice during Advent and Lent – Evening Prayer on Tuesday evenings at 7 PM. While we have thought about doing this outside of the liturgical seasons mentioned, we have not done so. And there is something special about bracketing these times when we are called to a particular kind of attention.

Last night I was privileged to once again offer the reflection and I am reprinting the text of my reflection here. Please note, if you were present, I do read from the script, but I do deviate from it as well. Thus – this may be slightly different than what you heard!

Thank you to everyone who has attended evening prayer so faithfully! Thank you to everyone who has come just once! Thank you everyone – presider, helpers, music ministers and other reflectors, for another beautiful season of prayer.

Are You Ready? A Reflection on the Gospel According to Luke, 1:26-38.

The question is everywhere… I am asked it and although I say that I am not going to ask it, I do… You know, you have said it yourself – I’m pretty sure you have either asked or been asked this at least once this week…

After all, we have this nice long Advent, the one in which that last purple taper gets to burn down a bit, just like the others, thanks to the fourth Sunday being followed by 6 entire days. More time to – get ready. Whatever ready means! Continue reading

Saturday Song – Gaudete

It is Gaudete Sunday, so let us hear music to go with it!

Feast of the Immaculate Conception – A Guest Post by Sean Caron for December 8, 2011

I was driving with a Protestant friend of mine the other day, and he asked me about our parish at Immaculate Conception.

“Oh, the Immaculate Conception, hey?”, he said, ” … that is when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and she conceived Jesus.”

“No, no,” I said. “The Immaculate Conception refers to the great truth that Our Lady was conceived in her mother St. Anne’s womb without the stain of Original Sin.”

“But, doesn’t St. Paul say in the letter to the Romans that all men have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God?” (Rom 3:23).

“Right!”, I said. “And also, Our Lady herself said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.'” (Luke 1:46)

So if these bible quotes are true, and all people fall to sin and Our Blessed Lady herself talks of her Savior, how could it be that Pope Gregory XVI declared infallibly* that Our Lady was immaculately conceived?

This is a serious, serious problem – it tripped up many of the great thinkers of the Church throughout the ages, including St. Bernard of Clairvaux (founder of the Cistercian Order), St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure; Doctors of the Church all.

It fell to Blessed John Duns Scotus, OFM, to puzzle out the answer. According to Duns Scotus, the answer to the riddle is that Our Blessed Mother in fact did need redeeming as per Romans; did need a Savior, as per Luke. But, in her case, the method of redemption was different. Duns Scotus realized that Our Lady was saved prior to her Immaculate Conception.

A story I heard one time might help illustrate this. Picture yourself walking down a jungle path. Ahead of you is a bottomless pit – but it is covered with vines and leaves and is invisible. You take a step – and fall headlong into the pit, screaming “AHHHHHH!” and calling out, “Jesus, save me!”. And Our Lord does that – He reaches out, grabs your arm, and pulls you from the pit and sets you down on firm ground. You have been saved.

Now imagine our Blessed Mother on that same path. Her foot reaches out as she steps over the pit – and Our Lord pulls her back, and keeps her from falling. He has saved her.

Is there any significant way in which the saving act is any different? No! In each case Our Lord performed a saving Act that preserved the person from the depths of the pit. Except in Our Lady’s case she doesn’t fall – she doesn’t get muddy or torn up by her fall as we all do. To stretch the metaphor a little, she doesn’t experience the after-effects of the fall, which tend to lead to more mud, more scratches, more torn white garments for us – what the Church calls concupiscence.

This truth is a Doctrine of the Faith – a Truth that all Catholics are obliged to believe. And I don’t find it hard to believe at all. Could Jesus do something like that? Sure he could! All power under Heaven and Earth has been granted to Him. And, of course, He is not subject to time in the way we are. As God, there is no reason to suppose he could not have been present at His own Mother’s conception. And finally, it just makes sense. What son doesn’t love his mother? And wouldn’t do something special for her, if he could? I know I would. We can be sure, with the sureness of Holy Faith, that Jesus did.

*It’s important to note that while Ineffabilis Deus declared this doctrine officially in 1854, Catholics have been celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception since at least the 5th century, and that this truth has been known since apostolic times. So why do Popes (and Councils) write Catechisms and Professions of Faith and papal encyclicals on things Catholics have always believed? Good Question! and one I’ll write a post on later.

Feast of St. Ambrose

Church history is full of people who inspire us in so many ways. There are many lessons to be taken from how people became the saints that they are for us today. So many of the pathways were not typical!

Bishop Fulton Sheen Celebrating Eucharist

While I am not trying to be irreverent, I do like to underscore some a type of misunderstanding that is easy to have. I will often joke that Jesus did not rise from the dead, stride into a soaring Gothic cathedral, don a fiddleback chasuble and begin to celebrate a solemn High Mass in Latin. I am not saying this to be funny, but to remind myself and others that Catholic history brings context.

Which brings me to today’s saint – Saint Ambrose. Now Saint Ambrose, who after all, was responsible for the conversion of St. Augustine, would hardly fit our contemporary notions of selecting a bishop.

This was very, very early in our Catholic history – the fourth century. Ambrose was just another unbaptized catechumen – think RCIA, but not exactly! The bishop of Milan died and great strife broke out over the selection of a new bishop.  There was all kinds of violence and disagreement. In those days bishops were selected a wee bit differently than they are today as there was no real Vatican or Curia to do that work.

In any event, in a sort of “occupy the cathedral” moment, people were all fired up about why or why not a certain person should be bishop. Ambrose, our unbaptized catechumen gets up to call for calm. The “honey-tongued bishop” as he became to be known, made an impression and people called for him to be bishop… so that is what happened.

Yes, an unbaptized catechumen was suddenly baptized and confirmed (the sacraments of installation had not yet been separated at that time) and installed as bishop of Milan on this day in 374. And look what followed!

Ambrose united his See and he was a major force in fighting the heresy of Arianism, a movement which was “Christian” in nature but questioned the divinity of Jesus the person. Another important point – going back to my remarks about Jesus and the cathedral; we must remember that our faith was in real formation then and is in many ways, still in formation now. We have the Truth in Christ, but truth is revealed all the time. This is not heresy, but good theology for a pilgrim people like us.

God is so unlikely. Here we are in Advent, preparing for a virgin to give birth to God in human form. Tomorrow we celebrate our parish feast of the Immaculate Conception. Jesus was born in obscure poverty and is the King of the Universe. Unlikely is always the way God, isn’t it?

St. Ambrose won many hearts and minds, both from Arianism as well as paganism, which ran rampant at that time. I pray for his intercession in these times which may seem to insecure and ungodly in so many ways. If Ambrose could triumph in the name of Christ, so can we.

And may we be reminded to look beyond the things that divide us and find God in all the most unexpected and unlikely places.

St. Ambrose – unlikely hero for Christ! Pray for us!

Awaiting With Eager Anticipation – A Guest Post By Sean Caron

Parishioner Sean Caron offers his reaction on Advent and the New Roman Missal; this was originally posted at his personal blog, Better Angels. Thank you for sharing your work here with us today, Sean!

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On November 30, Pope Benedict XVI was presented with a special white edition of the new Roman Missal by Pierre-Marie Dumont, publisher of MAGNIFICAT magazine.

It’s here! It’s here!

Shopping season? Black Friday? Cyber Monday? Well, yes, all of those have been here and gone.

The beginning of Advent? closer …

How about the introduction of the New Roman Missal! or, if you are following the coverage in the secular media, the “Biggest, Most Stupendous Change in the History of Catholicism!”

Well, probably it is not that. Now that we all have been through it for a week, what is your reaction?

I, for one, am pretty thrilled. I think the new language is challenging, and I love the new Eucharistic prayer. For the first time in my 47 years I am hearing things in a new way, and certainly that forces me to listen more carefully, to follow along, and to ditch the “Catholic Auto-Pilot” we all fall into from time to time. Talk about “active participation”! I believe the folks in the pews last week had a much more “active participation” with the Holy Mass than they have had in years.

So why am I so excited about the new translation? Let’s cherry-pick a few things and look at them a little more closely.

First, how about a show of hands of all those who had an “And also with you” moment last week? I certainly did – first time I heard “The Lord be with you”, the Catholic Auto-Pilot kicked in and I responded, in my loud, booming voice (and much to the delight of my kids) “And also with you!”

But how about if we take a closer look at the new phrase, “And with your Spirit”. Nothing is more challenging to our Catholic Faith in the modern age than the spirit (small “s”) of materialism. For many of the people who inhabit the English-speaking world, the only things that matter are the things that can be touched, seen, and/or measured. And in this world-view, other people are just other “things” – to be used as desired until they are no longer useful. “And also with you” does nothing to elevate this world view. “Right back at ya!” might almost do as well.

But “and with your Spirit” – well, that is a whole other prayer. It acknowledges that the other *has a spirit*! No materialism allowed – you are praying for an immortal soul – a soul that will exist for all time. This prayer acknowledges that there are things beyond the immediate touch of our five senses. And that the fondest desire we can have for another is that the Lord is with their Spirit.

This leads to one last (at least for this post) observation – the acknowledgement of “invisible” things. In the old translation, we used to acknowledge God as the “maker of all things, seen and unseen.” A bad translation of the official Latin visibílium ómnium et invisibílium. Something that is unseen can later be seen – if I hide in the Sacristy, I am unseen; but if I come out, I can then be seen. As the Latin states, God is in fact the maker of all, visible and invisible. Something that is invisible is not just unseen – it is unseeable. It is not just hidden from us, to possibly be revealed later – it cannot be seen – it is invisible.

In each of these new prayers, we see a concrete reminder that the world we live in is not the only world – is not, to our true Catholic sensibilities, even the important world. The new, corrected translation makes this explicit, in the prayers we say every week.

Invitations of Advent

I just posted this over at the Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor, but I will share it here as well. Today I feel invited to by the first reading, to try to live in a new way. Of course, I’ve been at that for years now – will it ever stick?

Interestingly enough, I was sitting with some folks from here at IC and they got to witness my anger – which I feel very embarrassed about. (No – it was not a loud outburst, but I was very angry and upset.) This reminds me of the importance of how faith is lived in community. If I were in my former loner mode of life, my anger would be flamed onward by itself. That however, is another reflection for another day.)

Last night I attended “The Infancy Narratives,” offered here at St. Edward the Confessor by Peter Avvento. If you have not taken any of Peter’s classes, I highly recommend them.

Near the end of the session, Peter did an amazing job – in my estimation – of describing the oppression of the Roman occupiers, on the First Century Palestinian Jews. He spoke about this backdrop and how it formed Jesus and many people of his time. Perhaps most chilling was the description that Peter offered of the sound of marching Roman armies – stomp stomp stomp – that Jesus might have heard. Then he spoke of the same scary sound in the same scary way, about the sound of jackboots on the streets of Germany in the 30’s.

Although I was born and raised Catholic, my father was Jewish and I have many Jewish friends and relatives. My own Jewishness is part of my Catholic life. I am not suggesting that Jews should convert; I am saying that my own faith is profoundly influenced by knowing more about Judaism and Jewish life. I grew up against a backdrop of insults about Jews and the confusion that my father was Jewish; I am highly sensitive about perceived and real anti-Semitism.

After Peter said this, I was chilled and that only grew worse as two people, however innocently, offered thoughts about how the Jews of Jesus’ time were not that oppressed. They both posited that things were made bad for the Jews by the Jews. Now while there may be some truth to the latter, the former is not true at all. The Romans made sure that there was “peace” – through the power of their military presence and so much more.

So what does all of this have to do with today’s Scriptures?

Just sink into that amazing reading from Isaiah, where I had to encounter my own thoughts and actions with trepidation.

The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.

Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide,

Well – that knocked me back when I read it this morning. What did I do in return for what I perceived? I did the same thing. I did not lean into knowledge and wisdom and understanding. No I – by hearsay – judged.

Let’s make no mistake – the “bad Jew” trope is alive and well and we are well advised to be aware of it. However, how do we react? The invitation is to follow Christ. This opens up possibilities.

Jesus – the ultimate game changer. Advent – our time to prepare for such change. Kind of like our current liturgical changes, it is going to take some time. There might be resistance. You know – like the resistance to see Jews as anything other than lesser than or somehow the makers of their own misery. (And trust me, as a partially Jewish person, I can say that we are good at that, so we don’t need the extra urging…)

And to continue with Isaiah,

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. the cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down

Oh. I get it. Justice, not judgement. Not fairness, as I understand it. (Read this for some wisdom about that.)

Peter’s words were scary and fear often makes us go back to the “old” places – and for many of us, myself included, that means places of less wisdom. Fear of God, which is awe, not the fear of anxiety, is the invitation to step forth, to see and hear new things and to change.

Last night I reacted with tremendous anger and fear. This morning I find the words that will lead me, once again, to see with new eyes, hear with new ears and to renew my heart. If our encounter with Christ does not do that – well then, what are we doing here?

Let’s see if it really sinks in this time. Thank God, Jesus is very patient indeed.

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