Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
God truly does work in mysterious ways, and I, personally, do not believe that every miracle is evident as such. Many miracles are subtle in nature, often affected through human means, and may be difficult to detect.
My darling, beloved and beautiful wife chose to go to church with me at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament as a favor to me. It was not something that she particularly wanted to do, but she was interested to see the recently restored cathedral, and so we packed up and went. At the cathedral they celebrate an odd sort of Mass – kind of a transitionary version bridging the Tridentine and the modern vernacular Masses. They sing the Mass and they have lots of incense, but it is all in English. Her feeling was that there was too much rite and ritual for her taste and not enough homily. I explained that this was the Christmas celebration at the cathedral, and it was quite different from the weekly Sunday a celebration at Saint John's in Folsom.
I did not ask her to go again, but, the following Sunday, last Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Family, she asked if we could go again. We packed my darling daughter up and off to church we went. And, lo and behold, the modern style mass spoke to them – they loved it! Now, I am the first to admit, I like old things. The High Tridentine Mass speaks to me in a way that modern celebrations cannot. For those not raised in the Church, and for those who do not have a profound affinity for the past, the Tridentine Mass may be a bit intimidating. Beautiful, but intimidating, much like a thousand year old French cathedral might be. Much of the point of the second Vatican Council was to make the church more accessible, and, whilst those like my sainted mother and I may not agree, it seems to have done its job for others.
Our priest, Fr. Ignatius Haran, gave a wonderful sermon on the sacred nature of the family, and lent our little family a sense of significance. It was wonderful. Moreso was the fact that both Jennifer and Megen are going to attend adult catechism classes starting in January, and I may go along for moral support.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
For Christmas my beloved mother-in-law, who is invariably excessive when it comes to Yuletide, gave my wife and me a cruise to Hawai'i in February of 2010. This cruise will be over our eighth wedding anniversary, so whatever I do on for that one will seem eight times as romantic. Honestly, I cannot wait. I am more than a little nervous, as I would like to have spending money for the cruise, and right now I am wondering where the next mortgage check will come from, but I am hoping nonetheless. Hoping and cultivating my freelance clientele.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
by Clement Clarke Moore
’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap;
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and Saint Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Saint Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
The story of my immediate family is a complex and convoluted one of which I will spare you the details in this sitting. I will mention, however, that my dear and sainted mother was a Catholic. She was born in 1914, entered the convent around 1930 and got a dispensation from Rome in 1954 when she entered private life for the first time. By November of that year she had met and married my dear father who was baptized as an Episcopalian at birth but, upon the early death of his father, his mother dragged him through a circus of assorted faiths. The Masonic Lodge brought him back to his Episcopalian roots, though not passionately – he treated the lodge as his church. When they married, however, he signed an agreement that all progeny would be raised in the Roman Catholic Church, so I was raised such.
By the time I was born in 1963, however, the Second Vatican Council was in full stride, and by the time I was aware of my faith, the Mass was celebrated in the vernacular, round churches were being built, the alter was turned around so that the Mass was delivered to the onlookers, rather than the priest and onlookers all respectfully facing the Eucharist. These were some of the changes made to the church, and they were cosmetic, made to make the Mass more accessible to parishioners. Despite the fact that the changes were not fundamental to the church, they were sufficient to cause my dear mother, a devout Catholic, to drift away rather quickly. Despite this fact, religion was present in my household. My parents, my father in particular, took his contract with the Church quite seriously, and I was made acutely aware of my Catholicism. I was taught the catechism, he said prayers with me nightly, and he taught me how to say a really good Act of Contrition. I have received the Host a few times in my life, though not often enough for my comfort. Sadly, I was raised to be uncomfortable in the post Vatican II Church.
Before my dad passed on, on Saint Nicholas Day 2000, he asked that I go to church. Not a lot of explanation, but he asked. You see, despite the fact that the mentally retarded "M.D." that was secured by the evil, stupid and morbidly obese court appointed conservator, Carolyn Young of Carolyn Young Fiduciary Services in Sacramento, California, declared my father to be suffering from advanced stage Alzheimer's Disease, I was able to carry on a fully lucid two hour conversation with him two days before he died. Despite the fact that I do try hard to be a forgiving Christian gentleman, I harbor a good deal of wrath towards that particular sub-human and her vile minions.
Pardon my digression. The short version is that Dad asked me to go to church, and I have not done so very well. At his gravesite, however, Father Francis Lawlor of St. Rose's in Sacramento spoke. Father Lawlor is an ancient Irish priest who, as it happens, sings the high Mass in Latin every Sunday. He celebrated midnight Mass on Christmas Eve of 2000 in memory of my dad. Since then I have remained a stalwart non-church-goer, I am sorry to say. A good friend of mine, however, not only is a good Catholic and Christian gentleman, but he is willing to track down traditional Masses for the two of us to attend, which is something I appreciate deeply. We are going on this coming Sunday. On Christmas Eve I hope to take my dear wife to midnight Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, which should be a stunning experience. She is passionately a non-church person, but I think that she will enjoy that.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
When I was a boy, in our family, Saint Nicholas Day was the cause for celebration. It was the earliest day that my parents would allow the "Christmas Season" to be recognized in our house. The tree went up in the living room and decorations were lavished about the house and we would exchange gifts. The gifts were small and of inconsequential value, usually Christmas ornaments with some sort of a Saint Nicholas theme, but they were ornately wrapped and given with great ceremony and festivity.
Eight years ago my father passed away on Saint Nicholas day. That was the saddest day of my life, so far, but there was some compensation in the fact that he died on that day. You see, my dad was as much the embodiment of Saint Nicholas as I can imagine in our day and age. He was a combination of the historical saint in his goodness and generosity and of Father Christmas in his delightful spirit and the fact that small children seemed oddly attracted to him. I remember being in a department store in my late teens, and my dad was waiting for me patiently. Once I got back to him, he had a couple of small children with him – they had gotten separated from their parents, and they naturally gravitated to my dad.
Since he passed on, I have taken Saint Nicholas as his patron, and I attend mass on his feast day. So today, Saturday, December 06, 2008, I attended early morning mass at Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California only to find that there was no mention of Saint Nicholas. I suspect and fear that this may be because his image has become such a cheesy icon of commerce and it has lost its true meaning of love and selfless generosity. We are surrounded by the garish images of Santa Claus, and have lost track of Saint Nicholas along the way.
Perhaps Dickens was correct, and we have to keep the spirit of the season with us in our hearts. I had hoped that there would be vestiges of it in the church as well, but it is not, so in our hearts it must be. I have a dear friend who reminds me of what I like the best about my fellow humans. She reminds me peripherally of my dad, though she would not understand that reference. In honor of St. Nick, my dad and of the Christmas season, I will give her an ornament today. She will find this odd and faintly out of place, but that is alright. It will be my symbolic passage of a tradition on to another generation.
O most good father Nicholas, pastor and teacher of all who in faith call upon thy protection an warm prayer, make haste to deliver Christ's flock from the wolves that attack it; and guard every Christian land, and keep it by thy holy prayers from worldly unrest, upheaval, the assault of enemies and civil strife; from famine, flood, fire, the axe and sudden mortality. And as thou didst take pity on the three men who were imprisoned, and didst deliver them from royal anger and death by the sword, so have mercy also on us, who are in the darkness of sins of mind, word and deed, and deliver us from the wrath of God and eternal punishment, so that, by thine intercession and help, and by His mercy and grace, Christ our God may grant us to lead a quiet life without sin in this age and deliver us in the next from standing at the left side, but rather grant us to be at His right hand with all the Saints.