From the archives: It's not what we know about the Wise Men that makes them so intriguing. It’s who they become in our imaginations.
In the mid-1960s a Roman Catholic cardinal and a priest who was a scripture scholar found themselves seated at the same table at a dinner party. The cardinal immediately put forth his grievance. “You know, Father, there are some scripture scholars these days who are saying we don’t know how many Magi there were.”
“I’m not one of them,” replied the scholar.
“I’m glad to hear that . . .” The cardinal did not have a chance to finish,
“There were six.” The scholar opened the palm of his hand and shrugged his shoulders in a “what can I tell you” gesture.
Claretian Father Richard Todd’s nativity collection invites us to see the God who is with us, among us, and for us.
The first biography of St. Francis of Assisi, written by fellow friar Thomas of Celano, recounts an event in the Italian town of Greccio in 1223 that continues to influence the material culture of our Christmas festivities. According to Thomas, Francis wished to “enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem: to see as much as possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he rested on hay.” Francis described his idea to a friend, a nobleman named John.
It’s not a trick question.
It sounds like a trick question akin to “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” Of course Jesus’ birth is Christmas Day. But did the Incarnate Word arrive on December 25? I’d say there’s a 1-in-365 chance.
Families aren’t perfect—but neither is Christmas.
My father hates Christmas. We have a picture of him lying on my parents’ couch, wrapped up in a blanket, wearing both a Santa hat and a look of utter mournfulness.
For most of my childhood and young adulthood, this was something to tease him about. How could you hate Christmas? What part of gift giving and receiving, good food, and family is not to like? How could anyone not like the music, the celebration, the candles, and the hushed holiness of the Midnight Mass?
Last year, though, I started to understand where my dad was coming from.
Christmas happens in the here and now, among those for whom there is no room at the inn.
“Do you think Christmas really happened that way?” I asked my friend Brian one cold winter evening at the Catholic Worker farm as we gathered wood for a Christmas Eve bonfire.
Baby Jesus isn’t just a cuddly cute bundle of life.
Advent is a wonderful season because it’s all about waiting for a baby. Who doesn’t love babies? Religion is sweet when it concerns a tiny bundle of life we can hold in our arms and upon whom the very hope of the world depends. More people would sign up for church membership if it were all as lovely and cuddly and charming as this.
But be forewarned: The baby is a thief.
From the archives: Take time this year to observe Advent among the worry, hurry, and frantic activity of the holidays.
In the middle of June, on a bright, hot, green, snow-is-the-furthest-thing-from-my-mind day, my middle daughter looked across the breakfast table and asked, “Mommy, when is it going to be Advent?”
She was quite serious; Easter and Pentecost seemed a long time away. Surely it was about time Advent rolled around again. Or at least so she hoped. She was, to say the least, disappointed when I explained she had an entire summer and fall to wait before Advent peered over the horizon.
The nativity isn't all about gifts for cute baby Jesus. It's a story about good prevailing over evil—an evil that looks very familiar to our modern situation.
There’s a commercial that I see everywhere lately. A little girl and her dad are working on a volcano for her science fair. But something goes wrong and at the last minute the volcano doesn’t explode (as a fellow procrastinator, I feel her pain). Her dad’s solution: a $1,000 flat screen television! She can just show the judges what a volcano looks like! And then, successful science fair experience behind them, the family curls up together to watch a movie. Apparently expensive tvs are good at bringing families together as well as facilitating academic success.
Family drama bringing you down? Our survival guide to fairly happy holidays recommends decking the halls, not your brother.
We’ve all seen the Hallmark version: the loving, happy, laughing family gathered around the Christmas tree.
Then there’s real life.
Father John Cusick, director of young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago, remembers the relative who, every year, tried to goad him into a political argument during Christmas dinner. One year he took the bait and the conversation got heated. Later he went home, took a deep breath, and thought: “What a way to ruin a holiday.”
As we celebrate the birth of Christ, remember that he was born Jesus the migrant, Jesus the refugee.
An old Irish custom—at least my mother told me it was Irish and old—was to put an extra potato in the pot for supper for “the people on the road.” In the 19th century as landlords put tenants off their plots, families were forced to be migrants—internally or overseas. Remembering Matthew 25, the poor Irish would be prepared to welcome the stranger and fed the hungry—if only with a potato. I once mentioned this in a sermon and, as I greeted people after Mass, a Canadian told of a similar practice in Quebec.
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