DPPL 105: The Spirit of Advent

STA altar at night smallWrapping up our discussion of Advent, we consider the acknowledgement that consumerism has invaded December.

105. Popular piety, because of its intuitive understanding of the Christian mystery, can contribute effectively to the conservation of many of the values of Advent, which are not infrequently threatened by the commercialization of Christmas and consumer superficiality.

Remember those values we discussed several days ago: waiting, conversion, and joyful hope. (Cf. DPPL 96) These are reiterated here, and include the concern for the needy. One aspect of secular culture which we must admit is in alignment is the spirit of generous giving found in many quarters. Charity is a start, but justice is a necessary grounding, as we read:

Popular piety perceives that it is impossible to celebrate the Lord’s birth except in an atmosphere of sobriety and joyous simplicity and of concern for the poor and marginalized. The expectation of the Lord’s birth makes us sensitive to the value of life and the duties to respect and defend it from conception. Popular piety intuitively understands that it is not possible coherently to celebrate the birth of him “who saves his people from their sins” without some effort to overcome sin in one’s own life, while waiting vigilantly for Him who will return at the end of time.

Why justice? Because the Christian life is about more than concrete events. The example of the incarnation suggests that Christ came not to intervene in particular lives at one moment in history. His coming among us suggests a total change in how human beings live–from his own example, and that impulse to make things right.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

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The Synod Fathers Speak 8: Charity

window from inside

At weddings, my pastor often preaches of the ideal of the married couple expressing their love in an ever-wider circle: the children they will welcome into the world, and ultimately, the poor who will come knocking at their door and who need an expression of hope and love. The synod bishops picked it up here:

Another expression of fraternal communion is charity, giving, nearness to those who are last, marginalized, poor, lonely, sick, strangers, and families in crisis, aware of the Lord’s word, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). It is a gift of goods, of fellowship, of love and mercy, and also a witness to the truth, to light, and to the meaning of life.

The so-called “short” document from the recent synod is online is here, in English.

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DPPL 104: The Crib

STA altar at night smallSaint Francis often gets credit for the crib or crèche, presumably inclusive of the cast of supporting characters. This is an element of popular piety that reaches well beyond Catholicism.

104. As is well known, in addition to the representations of the crib found in churches since antiquity, the custom of building cribs in the home was widely promoted from the thirteenth century, influenced undoubtedly by St. Francis of Assisi’s crib in Greccio. Their preparation, in which children play a significant role, is an occasion for the members of the family to come into contact with the mystery of Christmas, as they gather for a moment of prayer or to read the biblical accounts of the Lord’s birth.

Here’s a question for you readers: does this scene belong in church? I heard of a “dramatization” in another parish near mine in which the figurine of the infant Jesus arrived in the crib via “zipline” from the choir loft. Perhaps that is not sufficiently serene for the event if commemorates.

Another question: what do you make of the “living” Nativity scenes? Do these have a place.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

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What Does It Mean To Be A Christian?

Our friend Max returns with a series of questions. Those, plus my responses, seemed to merit a separate post.

What does it mean to be ‘Christian’?
Being nice? Being a generally forgiving person?
Handling people with care and love despite the way they treat you? Being compassionate?

Being a Christian means living as the gamut of Christian phases. We start as seekers. And to a degree, good Christians maintain that mode of seeking all through their life. We are curious, we explore, we are dissatisfied with things as they are and look for answers to difficult questions.

We continue as believers. What that means should be obvious, but on the whole that we accept Christ and a relationship with him.

We eventually come to being disciples: that is, we live our lives in imitation of Christ.

Max’s questions are peripheral. The good qualities he posts are not the ends, or even the means to the end. In particular circumstances, being forgiving, loving, and compassionate are qualities of a Christian. But I don’t think they define a Christian, especially since non-Christians can also express these.

Does it matter that Jesus EXPLICITLY says his commands matter?

Jesus says a lot of things matter. In the Gospels, he says them in a particular context. Sometimes he addresses a person. Sometimes he speaks to his disciples. Sometimes to the crowd. Sometimes to his enemies.

For a person being rejected, “shake the dust” might be more important than “love your neighbor.” Especially if the disciple has mastered somewhat love for neighbor, but remains a doormat for her or his opponents.

Are people ‘saved’ for doing these things? or is there no salvation if you do not believe?

As an ex-Christian, Max knows the answer to this. People are not saved for doing anything. They are saved by Christ’s doing. Good behavior, including the imitation of Christ, might be evidence of salvation. But it is not a sure thing, to consider this evidence.

How do you construct a Jesus without using the text to prove who Jesus is – and who he isn’t?

Because a disciple’s relationship with Jesus goes beyond the text.

And how do you protect yourself from the charge that you are being solipsistic?

I don’t. I have no interest in defending myself at all. I attempt to live a Christian life as a disciple as best I can. That’s all I have to offer. If people don’t like it, or me, they can find another Christian disciple (or blog) or try an alternative to Christianity.

If a person’s personal Jesus tells him he should Kill Homosexuals, how do you argue against that understanding of Jesus when you have refused to use the text as a proof?

I argue–persuade would be my choice of term–through life’s example and personal witness.

Are you just very comfortable with the unknown? Letting God settle these matters?

Largely, yes.

Then why not be comfortable with the unknown in other ways, as in….maybe there is no god?

Because I haven’t found that to be true.

I cannot understand how you get to create for yourself a Jesus of your own who does not live on the pages of the Bible. And I don’t understand …

I’m not a biblical fundamentalist.

And this gets directly to your statement.. you said, “I don’t see anything Christian in those philosophies”

For goodness sake, why not?

Because they fly in the face of the law of love and self-sacrifice. The example of Jesus, at its core, is the Paschal Mystery.

If you have granted yourself permission to accept a Jesus of your own, unconnected to biblical text, why are you saying other philosophies are not “Christian” when those preachers are only doing the exact same thing YOU are doing? they are only making up a Jesus they like instead of adhering to the one described in the text.

I cannot fathom how you can claim them to be wrong? What are they doing different from you?

Well, I can claim a lot of positions are wrong for a few reasons. One, I believe them to be in conflict with basic Christian principles, especially the greatest commandment. Max should realize that Jesus himself set priorities.

Maybe the reason that most resonates with me today is that I like being contrary. I say a lot of things critical of other Christians’ views, including bishops. Even my friends. I say and write a lot of things that are audacious, even disrespectful. But my good mood is not dependent on people agreeing with me. Or being persuaded.

Max has told me he was a Christian for many years, and now he is not. I hope he switches back, but I don’t see it as my responsibility to lasso him up and hog-tie him to belief. He can visit and comment however much he likes here. I’m not sure I will be as satisfying a foil as he hopes.

Other comments?

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The Synod Fathers Speak 7: The Domestic Church

window from inside

That term, domestic church, is thrown about quite a bit. What does that mean? A house in which a biological family prays? A subunit of the parish? A privilege of marriage, but what about baptism?

This journey is sometimes a mountainous trek with hardships and falls. God is always there to accompany us. The family experiences his presence in affection and dialogue between husband and wife, parents and children, sisters and brothers. They embrace him in family prayer and listening to the Word of God—a small, daily oasis of the spirit. They discover him every day as they educate their children in the faith and in the beauty of a life lived according to the Gospel, a life of holiness. Grandparents also share in this task with great affection and dedication. The family is thus an authentic domestic Church that expands to become the family of families which is the ecclesial community. Christian spouses are called to become teachers of faith and of love for young couples as well.

This is another lovely passage, especially introducing family life as a pilgrimage of cooperation and community. Are families places where the Word is shared as part of the plan of prayer? The presumption of the universal call to holiness: we certainly wouldn’t have read that a century ago except in connection with breeding priests and religious.

That last sentence is well-considered: marriage can be an action of apprenticeship and mentoring.

The so-called “short” document is online is here, in English. Meanwhile, comments?

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Music From Jordi Savall

Basílica_de_SantiagoReaders here know of my love of early music. This concert was broadcast on a French tv network and brings about fifty minutes of delightful ensemble work from one of my favorite musicians, Jordi Savall.

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The Synod Fathers Speak 6: Generativity

window from inside

We continue with the so-called “short” document from the synod. It is online is here, in English.

In today’s paragraph, the bishops get it, and don’t buy in totally to the meme of Catholic laity as breeding stock:

This love spreads through fertility and generativity, which involves not only the procreation of children but also the gift of divine life in baptism, their catechesis, and their education. It includes the capacity to offer life, affection, and values—an experience possible even for those who have not been able to bear children. Families who live this light-filled adventure become a sign for all, especially for young people.

This is right. Generativity is the key. Generativity covers many aspects of marriage–not just the visibly obvious experience of producing children, but also of the sacrifice of one’s life, the giving of affection, and the passing on of values. This is what makes marriage sacramental: that we imitate Christ by self-giving, that our efforts spread the mission of the Son, and that our loves strives to cast an ever-wider net into the world. This net is cast whether or not we produce children for our aristocratic overlords.

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