Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Last night in the wee hours as I lay awake, Sean began to cry. Before I could attend to him, a quiet voice beside me hushed him. Michael's soothing,"ssshhh, you're OK," made his little world peaceful again. And it made me fall in love with my husband all over again. **sigh** it is the little things that make life grand.

I have had an earache for a few days now. I decided I needed to go to get it checked. My regular physician had nothing available and neither did his associates. So I dragged myself to a doc in the box. I knew I would have a long wait. But I did not expect the recommendations of the doctor. A younger man walked in. He did not even have the courtesy to introduce himself or shake my hand. He asked about my ear pain and any related symptoms. He then looked in my ears and briefly at my throat. After pressing on my sinus cavity and lymph nodes he proceeded to tell me that he needed blood work and an x-ray of my head to properly diagnose a sinus infection. First, all I came in to find out was if I had an ear infection. Second, he had already confirmed there was not one, only pressure behind my eardrum, probably from a sinus infection since I do have a post nasal drip. This is plausible because I am highly susceptible to sinus issues. I promptly told him I would not be having an x-ray nor blood work taken. He was quite taken aback that I would not go through with his orders. I asked what else could be done. He said I could have a cortisone shot and treat it like a cold. Then he promptly walked out without any further explanation. The nurse came in with the shot to the hip and a script for a decongestant that was never discussed by the doctor to me. I feel sorry for those people who do not have a family practitioner and those like me who couldn't get an appointment. These so called doctors need to learn bedside manner, courtesy and that the blanket effect is not always welcome or needed.

Christmas Eve is here. It caught up to me fast. I did not make half the posts about Advent that I had desired. My children are all excited. We will make cookies today, go to an evening Mass (I can't wait till they appreciate the midnight Mass), have a late feast and prepare for Santa. It is so wonderful to see them excited about visiting their cousins for a week and having dinner with the grandparents. They have been pretending with the manger scene. That reminds me that I have to make Jesus a birthday cake today.

So here is a bit on the Twelve Days of Christmas that few actually know. It is not as the Disney Channel proclaims, the twelve days leading up to Christmas. It begins on Christmas day and lasts into the new year.

This (Christmas) season lasts from Vespers of 24 December to 13 January (the Octave of the Epiphany) inclusive. As it's the celebration of Christ's Incarnation, the mood is of humble, grateful, joyous celebratration. The Feast of Christmas lasts 12 days ("The Twelve Days of Christmas"). The season lasts 19 days in terms of liturgical calculations. But Christmas as a spiritual season doesn't end truly until Candlemas on 2 February.

This, not Advent, is the true Christmas Season. As most people in secular or Protestantized countries are putting away "Christmas-y" things, and as shopping malls stop blaring "Here Comes Santa Claus," Catholics are just getting started. The cleaning and baking during penitential Advent pays off now, and the feasting and caroling begin!

The entire Christmas Cycle is a crescendo of Christ's manifesting Himself as God and King -- to the shepherds, to the Magi, at His Baptism, to Simeon and the prophetess, Anna (Luke 2). The days from the Feast of the Nativity to the Epiphany are known as "The Twelve Days of Christmas," with Christmas itself being the first day, and Twelfthnight -- 5 January -- being the last of the twelve days. Christmastide liturgically ends on 13 January, the Octave of the Epiphany and the Baptism of Christ (at which time the season of Time After Epiphany begins). But Christmas doesn't end spiritually -- i.e., the celebration of the events of Christ's life as a child don't end, and the great Christmas Cycle doesn't end -- until Candlemas on 2 February and the beginning of the Season of Septuagesima.

In this way, just as From Ash Wednesday on, we commemorate Christ in the desert for forty days, and just as after Easter we celebrate for forty days until the Ascension, after Christmas we celebrate the Child Jesus for forty days -- all through the season of Time After Epiphany -- until Candlemas. The schema of those Christ Child celebrations looks like this:


Christ is born
Feast of the Holy Innocents
Herod slaughters the baby boys in order to kill the Christ Child
The Circumcision (the Octave of Christmas)

Jesus follows the Law
Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus

After He is circumcised, He is named and becomes a part of the Holy Family
Twelfth Night

The Twelve Days of Christmas as a Feast come to an end
Feast of the Epiphany

Jesus reveals His divinity to the three Magi, and during His Baptism, and at the wedding at Cana Baptism of Our Lord/Octave of the Epiphany
Christmas liturgically ends with the Octave of the Epiphany.
Feast of the Holy Family

Jesus condescends to be subject to His parents
Feast of the Purification (Candlemas)

40 days after giving birth, Mary goes to the Temple to be purified and to "redeem" Jesus per the Old Testament Law of the firstborn. Christmas truly ends as a Season with Candlemas and the beginning of Septuagesima.

May all my readers and their families be blessed this last night of Advent as we prepare for the celebration of our Saviour's birth.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. (Isaiah 11:6)

The old joke about this passage is that the leopard might light down with the kid, but the kid won’t get much sleep. We chuckle at this because Isaiah gives us an image that goes against all our experience and expectations. Take note: the kingdom of God will not be how we expect it! Assumptions about natural friends and enemies are not true in the kingdom of God. What is the modern, urban equivalent of Isaiah’s pastoral image of lamb and wolf? Black and white folks breaking bread and worshipping together? A teenage delinquent and an older person sharing a cup of coffee? "The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb…"

Advent Action
Send a card to a friend or loved one who lost a family member during this year. Let them know you are praying from them and thinking of them this Christmas.

Lord, help me welcome You once again and make room for You in my daily life, that You may make Your home in my heart.

I haven't put up our large tree as of yet. We wanted to go to a tree farm to cut down one with the kids. The rainy weather detered us from getting one this past weekend with my parents. It has been a tradition with them since I was very small to cut down a tree. Sometimes it would be one from a farm, others a cedar from our land. Last year we bought a small artificial prelit tree because we were in a temporary apartment during December. The kids and I had lots of fun making a paper chain and dough ornaments for it. Now it sits on our hearth. The kids really enjoy looking at the lights. Pondering upon the tree I had to dig into the tradition behind it.

An interesting tradition, part history, part legend and very popular in Germany, claims that the Christmas tree dates back to the eighth century. This legend is based on a historical figure, St Boniface, and even a historical event, the destruction of Odin's oak. St Boniface (675-754) was the English Bishop Winfrid who went to Germany in the eighth century, to Hesse to be precise, to preach the Christian faith as a missionary from the Church of Rome. After a period of apparently successful Gospel preaching, Boniface went to Rome to confer with Pope Gregory II (715-731). After a long absence, he returned to Geismar, Germany, for Christmas 723, and felt personally offended on discovering that the Germans had reverted to their former idolatry of pagan divinities and were preparing to celebrate the winter solstice by sacrificing a young man under Odin's sacred oak tree. Fired by holy anger, as was Moses by the golden calf, Bishop Boniface took up an axe and dared to cut down the oak. This courageous, historically documented act meant the triumph of Christianity in Germany over the pagan divinities.

All this is historically documented. The rest belongs to the legend which tells how, at the first blow of the axe, a strong gust of wind instantly brought down 1he tree. The astounded Germans fearfully recognized the hand of God in this event and humbly asked Boniface how they should celebrate Christmas. The Bishop, the legend continues, pointed to a small fir tree that had miraculously remained upright and intact beside the debris and broken branches of the fallen oak. Boniface was familiar with the popular custom of taking an evergreen plant into the house in winter and asked everyone to take home a fir tree. This tree signifies peace, and as an evergreen it also symbolizes immortality; with its top pointing upwards, it additionally indicates heaven, the dwelling place of God.

A tradition among some families is to bless the tree before it is lit, preferably on Christmas eve as it is the beginning of the Christmas celebration.

Blessing of a Christmas Tree
Dear God, two thousand years ago, you brought your son,
Jesus into this world to teach us the power of love and sacrifice. As we raise this tree, we remember his birth and the meaning of his life for us. Bless this tree as a symbol of our celebration of Jesus' birth and our gratitude for his sacrifice. May the joy this tree brings and the gifts we place under it remind us of the many gifts you have given us. We ask your blessings upon our loved ones, this day and always. Amen.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Today is the feast day of the Blessed John of Vercelli (c. 1205-1283).

John was born near Vercelli in northwest Italy in the early 13th century. Little is known of his early life. He entered the Dominican Order in the 1240s and served in various leadership capacities over the years. Elected sixth master general of the Dominicans in 1264, he served for almost two decades.

Known for his tireless energy and his commitment to simplicity, John made personal visits—typically on foot—to almost all the Dominican houses, urging his fellow friars to strictly observe the rules and constitutions of the Order.

He was tapped by two popes for special tasks. Pope Gregory X enlisted the help of John and his fellow Dominicans in helping to pacify the States of Italy that were quarreling with one another. John was also called upon to draw up a framework for the Second Council of Lyons in 1274. It was at that council that he met Jerome of Ascoli (the man who would later become Pope Nicholas IV), then serving as minister general of the Franciscans. Some time later the two men were sent by Rome to mediate a dispute involving King Philip III of France. Once again, John was able to draw on his negotiating and peacemaking skills.

Following the Second Council of Lyons, Pope Gregory selected John to spread devotion to the name of Jesus. John took the task to heart, requiring that every Dominican church contain an altar of the Holy Name; groups were also formed to combat blasphemy and profanity.

Toward the end of his life John was offered the role of patriarch of Jerusalem, but declined. He remained Dominican master general until his death.

The need for peacemakers is certainly as keen today as in the 10th century! As followers of Jesus, John’s role falls to us. Each of us can do something to ease the tensions in our families, in the workplace, among people of different races and creeds.

Week 1: Monday
Many peoples shall come and say: "Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths." For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:3)

Christ is the ultimate center of meaning in the universe. It is through Christ that all people will be led to the Father. How can we hope to achieve a world in which all will seek the path of God? Only when men and women are working to achieve the unity that Christ’s redemption promises us.

Advent Action
Perform an act of kindness for someone you do not know.

Lord, help me be at home with You, that I may listen to Your word and walk in Your way.

Manger/ Nativity Scene

The tradition of having a nativity scene or "crèche" was made popular by St. Francis of Assisi. It is a reproduction of the cave in Bethlehem with Mary, Joseph, the infant Jesus in a manger, shepherds, angels, and animals. Each night during Advent, children are encouraged to place in the manger one piece of straw for each good deed done that day by a family member. This Advent tradition combines the spirit of conversion and the coming of Jesus. There is a blessing ceremony provided by the Church in the Book of Blessings for the crèche.