Sunday, November 28, 2004

We wait in joyful hope

No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. 1:Cor 2:9

It's Advent. We wait and prepare for what we know will happen. God is made man. God Himself, the very knitter of our lives, the First Mover, the ultimate, the Lord of everything that has ever been made -- this God chooses to become one of us.

We take it for granted. We've known about the Christmas narrative all our lives, many of us, so it takes on a misty feeling of inevitability. But -- stay with me here -- there is no earthly reason why God should have chosen to do this. He created us, loved us, yes. But when your creation screws up royally, you are well within your rights and certainly within your power to trash it and start again. Our story could have ended right there.

But no. No. There's more.

And that's what we celebrate. We wait for the quiet holy day when a peasant girl and her fiance are visited by the miracle of miracles in a damp, musty stable. It's glorious enough and tender enough that it should make us gasp or weep. God didn't have to do it. But He did.

So we wait in joyful hope for the coming of the Savior, knowing that our lives have never been the same again.

Let's go to the Sh-Boom Mass?

Among my guilty pleasures are the PBS specials that feature old doo-wop groups, or the one that's been running all this weekend, called "Magic Moments," of the 1950's pop groups, like the Crew Cuts, and singers like Patti Page and Pat Boone. I can watch those shows over and over and over.

I even get a little teary when some group that hasn't performed together for thirty years get out on the stage, white-haired, a little paunchy, and belt out their hit song, their voices holding up better than you'd ever expect. The audience is the right age, and they're totally swept up, crying, singing along, laughing.

I don't always remember the songs first-hand. No matter: the sound takes me back to being little, listening to the aqua plastic radio in the kitchen, listening to my parents put Trini Lopez and Four Freshmen records on the hi-fi when they entertained, and I thought they were the most stylish people in the world. It makes me feel safe, young, in a place I know very well.

I have a great yearning to go to a Latin Mass, either Tridentine or Novus Ordo. The Chicago area is full of them, some with very superior music and young families crowding the pews. One notable one is St. John Cantius Church.

I'd like to make sure before I head for any of them, mantilla in hand, old missal in my purse, that I'm not going to hear the liturgical equivalent of Doo-Wop. I want to go to worship God in a way that the Church has spent centuries perfecting.

But I think that a little of it is to take me back to my First Communion, when the Mass was still in Latin, the priest had his back to us, and we weren't even up to the Latin "dialogue Mass" (the one in which we said "Et cum spiritu tuo" about a thousand times...). Nothing wrong with nostalgia, except that I'd better do a little studying before I go, so that I don't sit and cry for times past, when my folks had brown hair and I had the majority of my grandparents and all I wanted in life was a pony.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Season of Awkward Graces

The day before Thanksgiving, I was trolling around the blogworld looking for a grace that would be "less Catholic," since some of the family members that would be pulling up to my table have sadly become Unitarians. And Unitarians of the "greatest power in the universe is human reason" kind. They barely condescend to acknowledge the presence of a God, except perhaps as a catch-all term for stuff that our brains haven't understood yet, or a term used by weak-minded people.

One of them is a cradle Catholic, but they look at those of us who make the Sign of the Cross as though we were laying food offerings before an idol. How quaint, their faces say. Their children don't have a clue (I feel sorriest for them).

So I thought that, being the hostess, I was entitled to control the grace and picked one that mentioned God, as Heavenly Father, but no Jesus Christ and no sacramentals. I seized the opportunity and thanked God for the trials and gifts He sent me this year, and passed the thanksgiving on around the table, then said the short grace and then watched them eat.

This is the season of the Awkward Grace, for those of us (I imagine everybody here) who has family and friends that are somewhere between lapsed and pagan. I would have enjoyed a prayer, a song or a psalm, but they would have left others resentful or confused. So a combination of cowardliness and reticence took me down the short rhymed thanks to God route.

This is different than those of you who are Catholic and have family/friends who are anti-Catholic but are still fervent believers in Christ. I kind of envy you right now.

Who said that they marvelled at atheists when they felt thankful for a beautiful day; to whom do they direct their thanks?

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Forgotten treasure

I don't consider myself possessed of enough intellectual or literary talent to be entitled to a favorite poet. It's as if a Fuzzy Logic Panini Press were found in the kitchen of a 'Grilled Cheese on Wonder Bread' Cook.

Despite that compelling argument, I do indeed have a favorite poet, and his name is Richard Wilbur. Years ago, a friend wrote his doctoral dissertation on Wilbur's work; in my earnest desire to keep up with my friend's intellectual power, I discovered a treasure. In a recent post, TSO reminded me of Wilbur's work, and I got that little prickle of delight that accompanies the memory of something really, really good.

In honor of the approach of Advent, here's my very favorite Wilbur poem.

A Christmas Hymn
"And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.
And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the very stones would immediately cry out." ---St. Luke XIX, 39-40

A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.

This child through David's city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave his kingdom come.

Yet he shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God's blood upon the spearhead,
God's love refused again.

But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

So, what's your problem?

Although contemporary thinkers have any number of theories about what humanity's basic problem is, Jesus had it nailed. Our main problem in life is that we're going to die. We sin, and then we get what we deserve.

I had a Microeconomics professor who gave us the economist's view of the process of life. "You're born, you produce, you consume, you die." From a spiritual perspective, it looks a little different: "You're born, you sin, Jesus steps in, you repent, you die, God raises you to His right hand."

Fr. David Hudgins at The Great Commandment delivered a great little homily a couple of weeks ago based on the Book of Maccabees. From Fr. Hudgins:
This word, resurrection is sort of overplayed for us in English. It almost sounds like resuscitation. I like the Greek expression for resurrection much better. Anastasis necron. Literally it means “the standing up again of a corpse.” This is obviously a tremendously literal, pictorial expression. The standing up again of a corpse. That is precisely what we profess in our creed.What came down from that cross on Good Friday was a corpse. What was then laid in the tomb was a corpse. But on the third day, He rose. His risen body was transformed, glorified. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, paved the way for you and for me, to rise from the grave transformed, spiritualized. This is our hope. This is our faith. This is why we’re here on Sunday morning, resurrection day. God’s love was so great, that He sent His Son to take sin and death onto Himself, so that we might live, so that sin and death would not have the last laugh.

That last deserves to be repeated. Sin and death do not have the last laugh. When you look in the back of the Book, Jesus wins.



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"There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know."

Pres. Barack Obama, Feb 5, 2009