Jesus was There

I attended mass on Christmas Eve.

There may have been liturgical abuses, were, in fact, according to several articles I’ve read this week by prominent Catholics.

These people evidently bring a spreadsheet to mass so they can tally all the disrupting liturgical abuses they find there. I don’t know how they have time to worship during all the liturgical-abuse minding they must do. I would imagine that a priest, on seeing one of these folks enter his church, must feel the same anxiety that a young bride feels when her mother-in-law comes to call.

It would be difficult to get on the right side of parishioners like these. One of the sadnesses of these articles is that they find such a ready audience among people who evidently go to mass to carp rather than to pray.

Let my tell you what I found at my church on Christmas Eve.

I saw a church that was packed to overflowing with people of every description. There was the rail-thin gay man who almost certainly is suffering with HIV, the odd-looking transexual whose bulging forearms belie the surgeon’s work, the families with screaming babies, the elderly ladies who sat behind me and gabbled their way through the mass, the deaf man who sat next to me and watched intently but never spoke, the young man with gang insignia on his arms, the young police officer who was injured in the line of duty and was never supposed to walk again but who walked, albeit slowly, into church that night. There were pillars of the community and illegal immigrants, packed into the pews together. Last, but not least, there was me and mine.

We (shudder) held hands during the our father, (gasp) applauded the folks who’d spent hours decorating the church and (can you believe this) got up after mass and talked to one another on our way out of the sanctuary.

It was enough to make a liturgical abuse cop foam at the mouth and fall over in a dead faint.

But do you know who else was there?

Jesus was there.

He was there in the eucharist. He was there in the tired, screaming babies, the gabbling ladies, the odd-looking transsexual, the deaf man who couldn’t hear the mass but felt it anyway, the sad, tired HIV sufferer, the miraculously walking police officer and all the chitter-chattering celebrants as they exited to the Narthex. He was there in the priest whose lunch I once interrupted with a call when my mother was ill, and who came immediately to the hospital.

He was there when we held hands during the Our Father, during the applause and the Christmas carols. He was there in the faith and trust of people who don’t give a care about liturgical abuses but who left their homes on a blustery Christmas Eve to go be together before the Lord because they know He is real, He is present and when they enter that sanctuary, He is there.

These are people who have followed Jesus across the rocky landscapes of their rocky lives. They’ve walked with Him through death, life and everything in between. Some of them had walked right over drug addiction, sexual disorders, terrible injuries, loneliness and fear to be there with Him. We are all riddled with sins, failings, weaknesses and shame. That is our condition. And that is why when we walk into a Catholic Church, we are not searching for liturgical abuses and laundry lists of petty crimes and misdemeanors to assure ourselves of our righteousness. We know that our righteousness resides behind that altar, in the tabernacle, because He is there.

I went to mass Christmas Eve. I didn’t go in search of liturgical perfection. I also didn’t go in search of abuses that I could call out and feel self-righteous about. I went because Jesus is there, and He alone has the words that lead to eternal life. I went to be with my Lord.

And I found Him. Because He was there.

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Illegal Immigrants, Puppet Kings, Mass Murder and Peace Wrapped in Thorns

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents.

It commemorates the terrible slaughter of little boys under two years of age by King Herod. Herod was trying to kill the newborn King of the Jews, the Messiah, because he mistakenly thought that this baby king would one day try to overtake his throne.

Herod was a puppet king, put in place by the Romans to hold things together in what was a little corner of their empire. But even though Israel was small, it held an important place along the trade routes linking Egypt and Rome. Egypt at that time was the breadbasket of the world.

So, uprisings and troubles in this area could not be ignored. They had to be put down.

Much of the history of the New Testament, including the eventual crucifixion of Our Lord, turns on this fact.

Herod was a placeholder. His purpose in the Roman scheme of things was to keep the order in that tiny kingdom of his. He was charged with keeping things calm, collecting taxes and making sure that the trade routes stayed open. If he needed to kill people to accomplish this, he was free to do so.

Herod sat on a wobbly throne. He was subject to the Romans above and threatened by the religious zealots and restless populace below. Since he had Jewish inclinations of his own, he understood the power of the prophesied Messiah on the popular imagination. People were waiting for a warrior king who would free Israel and restore it to glory. Tales of the Maccabean revolts still resonated. It all seemed possible to a puppet king.

When three men from the East dropped by, asking directions to the new born king, that gave what was probably Herod’s always-ready paranoia a new target. Somewhere out there in the little town of Bethlehem his future nemesis was growing up.

After the men who were searching for the baby failed to return to Herod and tell him where this child was, Herod moved to a simpler, more expedient method of eliminating the risk. He ordered the murder of every baby boy under the age of two.

Jesus was wholly human as well as wholly God. Like us, he was born to die. But not then. His time was years in the future. So, God sent an angel to Jesus’ step-father in a dream to tell him to take Mary and the baby Jesus away from there.

I’ve always found it significant that the angel did not come to Mary. Joseph was the protector of that little family. The angel came to him.

And, like good fathers everywhere, he accepted the responsibility of taking care of his family.

Joseph took his wife and baby into exile in Egypt where they stayed for what sounds like a few years. The little boy Jesus and His mother and father learned what it means to be strangers in a strange land. They were refugees, illegal immigrants, alone in a land that did not share their heritage or their faith.

This is a sad tale, a hard beginning to the life that would change the world forever. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus were a family facing hardship, hard times, and a struggle for survival just like families have always faced these things: Together.

“My peace I give you,” Jesus would later say. “Peace of Christ,” we say to one another. “The peace that passes all understanding,” Paul described it to us.

Peace.

But like everything thing else about this story, this peace comes wrapped in a crown of thorns.

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Message to Starbucks from a reader

Public Catholic reader Peg Demetris, who blogs at Peg Pondering Again, responded to one of the posts I put up this morning with a much better idea of her own.

Starbucks is asking their employees for write “Come together” on cups they give their customers in the Washington, DC area. This is in reference to the deadlock over the fiscal cliff between President Obama and Congress. Peg thought of the idea of pro life people writing “Stop Funding Abortion” on paper cups and taking them to Starbucks to leave on the counter.

I was not aware of this, but Peg says that Starbucks donates money to Planned Parenthood.

Here, in it’s entirety, is Peg’s post about this from her blog, Peg Pondering Again. Reprinted with permission.

Holy Innocents Pledge


An article came out today Starbucks to Politicians: Come Together in which Starbucks will be writing “Come Together” on all cups of coffee sold on Thursday and Friday. According to Starbucks, the words are intended as a message to lawmakers about the damage being caused by the divisive negotiations over the “fiscal cliff.”

Taking into account Starbucks is a financial contributor to Planned Parenthood, I propose we all stop drinking their coffee and send a message ourselves. Tomorrow is the Massacre of the Innocents. Rather then buy a cup, place a cup of water, representing the tears of all who regret their abortions on their counter, with the words “STOP FUNDING ABORTION”. Just an idea that came quickly from our Lord today, after reading the articles on Facebook. Glory to God.

O God, whom the Holy Innocents confessed and proclaimed on this day, not by speaking but by dying, grant, we pray, that the faith in your which we confess with our lips may also speak through our manner of life. Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever, and ever. Amen

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

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How Beautiful

is the Body of Christ

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The Soldier and the Christmas Card

Two battle-weary Leathernecks of the 26th Marine Regiment take a break in the rain during Operation Bold Mariner in Vietnam in 1969. It was in these conditions a year later that a young man named Jack would receive a Christmas card from a Southern Baptist church. Photo courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Photo Terms of Use

COLEMAN, Ga. (BP) — It was a Christmas season that the 18-year-old Marine would rather not experience. Slogging through the mud in the drizzling, never-ending rain was beginning to wear on the enlisted man’s spirit.

Sleeping on the ground without a bath for months with a stubbly beard growing from not shaving in the winter cold was not his idea of a holiday. He had fond recent memories of Christmas in Greenville, S.C., still fresh from his boyhood days. His grandmother’s Christmas ham and visits with family and friends are what he missed the most.

There would be none of that this year. In fact, he was grateful just to be alive.

What made it worse was being part of a squadron chosen to provide security for the annual USO Christmas program. It just didn’t seem fair.

While thousands enjoyed plenty of Christmas cheer and entertainment, he and his buddies silently guarded a nearly 12-mile arc around Da Nang in South Vietnam.

Their mission was crucial to the enjoyment of fellow soldiers. Several thousand troops enjoying a holiday celebration would be an easy target for North Vietnamese troops slipping through the jungles.

For the teenage soldier, this day was just another in a string of cold, overcast winter days. The day is a memory now. A story he tells. For this telling, he prefers to be known only by his first name, Jack

“We were angry, hungry, wet and scared most of the time,” he said. “Our job was to stay alert and patrol to keep the enemy from infiltrating the area and disrupting the show. Needless to say, we weren’t very happy.”

Jack said he and his fellow soldiers spent most of their time “griping, as young Marines are prone to do, about our bad luck. It had rained for what seemed like weeks and was constantly low overcast.”

Dark and gray and miserable. Not an ideal Christmas. Certainly not when it was going to be his first Christmas away from home. (Read more here.)

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The Greatest Gift …

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Hark the Herald Angels Sing

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Hail Mary

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Merry Merry Christmas to Every Child on Earth

Vienna, Austria, Dec 21, 2012 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- An Austria-based singing group of children and teens has made a music video wishing a merry Christmas to the world as part of their mission to tell stories of faith through music.

The group KISI – God’s Singing Kids has released the video “We sing merry, merry Christmas.” It shows the children and teens singing in cheerful settings and styles inspired by the classic movie “The Sound of Music.”

They play in the snow, bake Christmas treats and place a baby doll in a manger while wishing Merry Christmas “to every child on earth.”

The music group has over 400 members from five countries who use their music to evangelize. They practice singing and dancing after school and perform on weekends. (Read more here.)

Watch their Christmas video below.

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Christmas in Dullsville and Testosterone Explosions in My Kitchen

I never told you what happened Thanksgiving.

I gave you the run-up on our family holiday, but I never circled back around and told you how it all went down. Because I was (still am) out of action because of Gimpy the Foot, my husband and sons gallantly decided that they would cook Thanksgiving dinner.

Gimpy the Foot.

 

And they tried. Oh, how they tried. I could see part of the action from my recliner in the living room. It reminded me of the first time I tried to put one of these things together as a newlywed. Only they didn’t have a Fannie Farmer cookbook to cheer them on.

About 3 on that Thanksgiving afternoon, I heard my husband’s voice, coming from the kitchen. “I can’t do this.” he said. “There’s too much to get done all at once.”

He sounded sad. Lost. Defeated. Beaten to the tile floor by the mashed potatoes, dressing, ham, turkey and deviled eggs vying for his attention.  The chaos of our sons, bouncing around the kitchen like St Bernards as they tried to “help” only made things worse.

I have to admit, I got a bit of … what is it? … pleasure, I suppose is the word. I got a bit of pleasure out of this. It was one of those, see? It’s not so easy! moments.

After 30 years of cooking these big dinners for my extended family all alone, (my sister has multiple sclerosis, my brother-in-law has various health problems, my niece is a drug addict and never shows up, my husband has matrimony-induced cooking amnesia, etc, etc) those sad, defeated words coming from the kitchen felt kinda good. They felt like … vindication.

Then, my better instincts kicked in.

I could’ve sat there and done nothing. No one would have blamed me. It was, after all, doctor’s orders. But that plaintive voice, and the growing certainty that we were headed for Spam turkey with a side order of Beanie Weanies for Thanksgiving dinner, got to me. I reached for my walker. It was clearly time for mom to set things aright.

They brought me a chair and put it next to the kitchen counter so I could stir and season while sitting down. They more or less obeyed my orders as I told them, “The turkey’s done. Take the lid off the roaster and turn the temperature up and let it brown. When it comes out, put those dishes in the oven and put the roaster on the stove to make gravy.”

It wasn’t exactly military precision, but they bustled around while I put things together and we — finally — sat down to eat.

Now, Christmas is upon us and I am still not supposed to stand. Gimpy’s moving on, so to speak. She has a spiffy new boot that looks like it was stolen off a starship trooper and I can walk for short distances unaided. What I can’t do is stand. More than about five minutes of flat standing and the Gimpster gears up the old pain alert.

The boys have invited their friends for dinner. Other friends have asked to come. I’m not sure why they want to spend Christmas here in Dullsville. I won’t let them curse. They have to say grace. And they’re probably going to end up having to cook a big part of their own dinner. All I can figure is that we have an intact family and we all like one another, something these young people don’t have. One of them said he wanted to get away from his family because he didn’t want to have to go from one house to the next.

Whatever. They’re welcome here.

I plan to put them to work. At our house, you don’t sing for your supper. You windex the glass dinner table (genuine hand-me-down, circa early matrimony) set the table with our mismatched plates (genuine Target) and our equally mismatched stainless steel ware. Then later, you help load the dishwasher.

They know that, and they still want to come. Go figure. If somebody lights a match at the wrong time, this house may blow up from excess testosterone. I expect great clouds of the stuff. Frankly, the thought of  so many young men trying to peel potatoes, make gravy and whip up deviled eggs in my little kitchen is pretty funny. I will, once again, conduct this tuneless orchestra as they labor to produce an edible meal.

I’ve also made a list of restaurants that will be open Christmas.

Just in case.

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