And Yes! It’s Still Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Yes! It’s still Christmas—the sixth day of Christmas! There has been Christmas chatter since before Halloween if you think commercially, or since the day after Thanksgiving if you think musically on secular and pop Christian radio stations. But for me and my house (Charlotte and I), Christmas began at midnight going from December 24 to 25 with the procession of the midnight Mass. And we continue to celebrate especially during the Christmas Octave that goes from December 25 through January 1.

What a liturgical lineup the Church has given us in this Christmas season!

December 25: The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
December 26: The Feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr
December 27: The Feast of Saint John, apostle and evangelist
December 28: The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs
December 29: The Feast of Saint Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr
December 30: The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
December 31: The Feast of Saint Sylvester I, pope (314–335)
January 1: The Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

All of this came together for me as I was reading the final entries in A Year with the Church Fathers: Patristic Wisdom for Daily Living, compiled by Mike Aquilina. (If you were given any Amazon gift cards this would be a great addition to your library, especially if you’ve only dabbled in the Church Fathers.) The reading I refer to came from Day 359 and is entitled “Honoring the saints goes back to the Apostles.” It is written by Saint Basil and is taken from Letter 360.

According to the blameless Christian faith which comes to us from God, I confess and hold that I believe in one God, the Father almighty: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. I adore and worship one God, the Trinity.

I confess the incarnation of the Son in the flesh, and that St. Mary, who gave birth of him according to the flesh, was Mother of God.

I also acknowledge the holy Apostles, prophets, and martyrs, and I invoke them to pray to God, so that through them—that is, through their mediation—God who is merciful may show me favor, and a ransom may be made and given to me for my sins.

For that reason I also honor and kiss the faces of their images, since they have been handed down from the holy Apostles, and are not forbidden, but are in all our churches.—St. Basil, Letter 360, (A.D. 329–379).

St. Basil is honored as a saint by all expressions of Christianity and he is considered a doctor of the Church. He was writing his letters at the same time that the New Testament canon was being determined by the Catholic Church.

In this Christmastide, give thanks for the Incarnation, give thanks for the Apostles, prophets and martyrs and join with the historic Church and St. Basil in invoking them to pray to God for us.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

And Yes! It’s Still Christmas!

Overheard in the Office

Two coworkers were talking a few cubicles away from me and one said “If you believed in asking the saints to pray for you, which I don’t, maybe you should ask John Knox to pray, because he’s probably not too busy.” The insinuation is that Catholics are keeping their saints busy. If only it were so!

The conversation continued with chuckles and with an assurance that there is a hole in the Catholic theology of the “Communion of the Saints.” I listened and immediately wondered what I would do the next time one of my coworkers asked me to pray for them. Am I any more qualified to lift their concern in intercession to God? Just because I am on earth, how is my prayer more effective than the prayer of one who is in the very presence of God?

I know that the idea of asking the saints to pray with us and for us is foreign, even abominable to many who identify as Protestants or Evangelicals. The ironic thing is that the joke was being made by someone who should know better, but that is not the point of this article.

The point is that the Church is one, whether in heaven or on earth. The writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter 12, after giving us a run down of the faith of many Old Testament saints, that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Mary Healy in her commentary on the book of Hebrews writes: “As we run this race, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, as if filling the stands of a huge sports arena. They are the saints of the old covenant (now joined by those of the new covenant), who are rooting for us and passionately interested in the outcome of our lives.”

These are more than pictures or statues or memories in a dusty history book; they are real, living (more living than ever) saints who have won the victory and are in the very presence of God and of the Lamb in heaven. We are united not only in prayer, but also every time we celebrate the Mass which draws heaven and earth together through the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world for their sin and ours.

The book of Revelation gives us another clue to this amazing ministry the saints have in heaven. In chapter 5, verse 8, John writes: “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

Now of course the unfounded argument or accusation is that Catholics pray to the saints, somehow elevating them to a divine status reserved only to Jesus. This, of course, is not true. What is true is seeing the saints as any other member of the Body of Christ whose main role is to continue to be part of that Body and care for one another. So when you ask me to pray for you, you are not divinizing me, but asking me to fulfill my God-given role of ministering to you as part of the Body of Christ. When I ask St. Francis de Sales to pray for me, I am not divinizing him, but asking him to intercede on my behalf.

One of the great gifts that my Catholic faith has given me is recognizing that death does not separate us. We are in the Church Militant; the saints are in the Church Triumphant; but it is one Church and Jesus Christ is our Head. Another benefit of the gift is knowing I have earthly and heavenly intercessors pulling for me rooting for me and passionately interested in the outcome of my life.

 

Overheard in the Office

Keep It Local

One of the bloggers I follow faithfully is Fr. Dwight Longenecker, parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Yesterday I read his blog called “The Sex Abuse Crisis: Get Real.” It’s worth reading. I want to make reference to his final point that applies to my blogging as the crisis in the Church deepens and sides are taken.

“I’m not saying, ‘Well now that we’ve all had a big family shouting match, let’s just go home and get on with life as it has always been now and forever Amen.’ I’m not advocating passivity. If your vocation and calling is to keep pushing for reform in the church and holding bishops, cardinals and the pope accountable please go for it, and may God bless you in battle.

However, if that is not your calling, roll up your sleeves, get on your knees and do what you can with what you have where you are.”

Reality is always local. Get real.

There are many people who already have a “dog in the fight” and can and will do a much better job at bringing attention to the present state of things. Before I go any further, let me share with you some of those whom I follow that help keep me informed and aware of how I should pray.

So for the time being I am going to take Fr. Dwight’s advice. Why? Because I don’t think reform is possible? Not at all! What I do know is that for now I will leave the public fight to those who are better equipped to handle it. For now, I will roll up my sleeves, get on my knees, and do what I can with what I have where I am.

I will continue to blog, but I will try to focus, as much as I can on what you and I are called to do where we are. No doubt one of the most important things we can do is pray.

I leave you today with a beautiful and powerful prayer from John-Paul and Annie Deddens of Pray More Novenas:

Prayer for Honesty, Purity and Forthrightness in the Lives of the Clergy

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Father in Heaven, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
Holy Spirit, comfort us, give us clarity, and bring light to this darkness and evil.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

  • St. Charles Lwanga and St. Monica, pray for the abused, the survivors and for justice.
  • St. Peter, pray for the Church, that it may be rebuilt, healed, and made holy.
  • St. Catherine of Siena, pray for reform and restoration of the clergy.
  • St. John Vianney, pray for the holiness of priests and bishops.
  • St. Benedict, pray that this evil be cast out of the Church.
  • St. Anthony, pray for us to find the way forward.
  • St. Paul, pray for the bishops that they may be fearless in confronting other bishops.
  • St. Augustine, pray for true repentance and transparency.
  • St. Dymphna, pray for consolation for the heartache, depression and anxiety this evil has caused.
  • Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Let’s pray for our Church and for each other! Amen.

Keep It Local