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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Incarnation and Christ's Life

I felt this passage was appropriate for the Christmas season
"We felt a respect for the poor and destitute as those nearest to God, as those chosen by Christ for His compassion. Christ lived among men. The great mystery of the Incarnation, which meant that God became man that man might become God, was a joy that made us want to kiss the earth in worship, because His feet once trod that same earth. It was a mystery that we as Catholics accepted, but there were also the facts of Christ's life, that He was born in a stable, that He did not come to be a temporal King, that He worked with His hands, spent the first years of His life in exile, and the rest of His early manhood in a crude carpenter shop in Nazareth. He fulfilled His religious duties in the synagogue and the temple. He trod the roads in His public life and the first men He called were, fishermen, small owners of boats and nets. He was familiar with the migrant worker and the proletariat, and some of His parables dealt with them. He spoke of the living wage, not equal pay for equal work, in the parable of those who came at the first and the eleventh hour.
He died between two thieves because He would not be made an earthly King. He lived in an occupied country for thirty years without starting an underground movement or trying to get out from under a foreign power. His teaching transcended all the wisdom of the scribes and pharisees, and taught us the most effective means of living in this world while preparing for the next. And He directed His sublime words to the poorest of the poor, to the people who thronged the towns and followed after John the Baptist, who hung around, sick and poverty-stricken at the doors of rich men.
He had set us an example and the poor and destitute were the ones we wished to reach."
The Long Loneliness, pgs 204-205

"Ritual, how could we do without it!"

Merry Christmas! I hope your day was full of fun, food and family. For the first year ever, we kept Christmas at home with no extended family-and it was perfect. We have more family to visit this weekend so while my children are distracted by their new toys I will try to get a few short posts up.
I've made slow progress through 'The Long Loneliness' but I would like to pass along those passages which have struck me. Perhaps, you will choose to read this book yourself-maybe make it a new year's resolution.
"Ritual, how could we do without it! Though it may seem to be gibberish and irreverence, though the Mass is offered up in such haste that the sacred sentence, "hoc est corpus meus" was abbreviated into "hocus-pocus" by the bitter protester and has come down into our language meaning trickery, nevertheless there is a sureness and a conviction there. And just as a husband may embrace his wife causally as he leaves for work in the morning, and kiss her absentmindedly in his comings and goings, still that kiss on occasion turns to rapture, a burning fire of tenderness and love. And with this to stay her she demands the "ritual" of affection shown. The little alter boy kissing the cruet of water as he hands it to the priest is performing a rite. We have too little ritual in our lives."
'The Long Loneliness' pgs 199-200

How Day loved the Mass. Even before she converted she probably attend daily Mass more than most Catholics today. But that is not surprising when you see the lack of traditional ritual most churches employ during their services. Yes, I have seen Latin Masses done poorly, and they are just as uninspiring as the emasculated Novus Ordos with all their hand holding and pop music. Day saw the importance of a strong spiritual life in her work. She was firmly rooted in the traditional teachings of the Church, even when she saw the shortcomings of the Church's representatives on Earth. The "spirit of Vatican II" is not the spirit in which she worked. This isn't going to be some anti-Vatican II post, however, it is only when Catholics adopt the traditional views Day and Maurin possessed, can they truly understand what is being asked of them in the Worker Movement and can they truly give their all. A watered down spirituality does not help those working with the poor. Finding a good parish, with a strong priest, regular confessions and Masses (new or old) celebrated with traditional music, reverence and piety is the surest way to strengthen your soul for the work of the Lord. A weak faith leaves one open to temptation and pride that can cause one's focus to shift from the work God calls us to do, to the work we want to do for our own glory. Let us go about our work with the same ritual, reverence and awe as the priest at the tabernacle.
O Lord, we beseech Thee graciously to accept this oblation of our service and that of Thy whole household. Order our days in Thy peace, and command that we be rescued from eternal damnation and numbered in the flock of Thine elect. Through Christ our Lord. Amen

Thursday, December 21, 2006

How the Grinch could do us all a favor

I finished up all my gift shopping yesterday and although I still have a few crafty gifts to finish up, I've managed to not spaz about presents this year. But I must confess, my house is a mess, I still have Christmas cards to mail and no, I didn't make Christmas cookies today. Plus, the baby keeps pulling the glass ornaments off the tree and then laughs at me when I try to correct her. So I might have been a bit of a Grinch today. In that vain, I picked up 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' by Dr. Seus (the actual book, not one of the movies) and read it to my children in an effort to show them I wasn't really in that bad a mood. Something about the story struck me (being the deep thinker that I am);
"He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling:"How could it be so?
"It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps..means a little bit more.!"

Do we get this? If we all woke up on Christmas morning and everything Christmas-related in our house was gone, would we celebrate Christmas or would we worry about how we were going to get out presents back? Would we visit with our neighbors and sing or would we cry and wring our hands over all the money we lost and how our whole holiday season was ruined? Even as we try to focus on Advent and avoid the secular 'Holiday Season' how much of our time is focused on gift giving? I know when I even suggest to family or friends not to by me a gift, they get upset, like I'm ruining the season for them. Do we derive our joy from giving gifts or from receiving our Savior? Perhaps in another year or two (or maybe when the kids are out of the house) we'll try a gift less Christmas, where the only present we anticipate is the presence of Christ in the manager.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Points to ponder

A hodge podge post as Christmas rapidly approaches. I must admit though, I'm much less stressed this year than before. It's finally sinking in that Christmas STARTS on the 25th. So if my cards arrive on the 27th, they're still Christmas cards, even if all my family members have already thrown out their trees. If the gifts I'm mailing to the Midwest are late, they're still Christmas presents even if my nieces don't know what the Octave of Christmas or Epiphany is. We'll be watching Christmas movies and reading Dickens into January because we know it doesn't have to all get crammed into the next 7 days.
If you've been splurging at 'Holiday' parties throughout Advent, you have a final chance to redeem yourself for Christmas. This Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are Ember Days. We'll be baking Christmas cookies on Thursday.
And finally, be sure to check out this recent post on Lamb and Dragon. Nate makes some good points. I've been thinking about civil disobedience quite a bit as I read 'The Long Loneliness.' While I respect Day's work across the board, from the picket line to the byline, I question the actions of some in the name of peace; for example:
"During a plow shares action four years ago, Gilbert, Hudson and Platte cut through a chain-link fence at the silo containing a Minuteman III missile and used baby bottles to dispense their own blood in the shape of a cross on the silo.."

I will ponder this and do a longer post...eventually.
Happy belated Gaudete Sunday.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Can we not be better than Communists?

"Voluntary poverty means a good deal of discomfort in these houses of ours. Many of the houses throughout the country are without central heating and have to be warmed by stoves in winter. There are back-yard toilets for some even now. The first Philadelphia house had to use water drawn from one spigot at the end of an alley,which served half a dozen other houses. It was lit with oil lamps. It was cold and damp and so unbelievably poverty-stricken that little children coming to see who were the young people meeting there exclaimed that this could not be a Catholic place; it was too poor. We must be Communists. They were well acquainted with the Communist point of view since they were Puerto Rican and Spanish and Mexican and this was at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
How hard a thing it is to hear such criticisms made. voluntary poverty was only found among the Communists; the Negro and white man on the masthead of our paper suggested communism; the very word "worker" made people distrust us at first. We were not taking the position of the great mass of Catholics, who were quite content with the present in this world. They were quite willing to give to the poor but they did not feel called upon to work for the things of this life for others which they themselves esteemed so lightly. Our insistence on worker-ownership, on the right of private property, on the need to de-proletarize the worker, all points which had been emphasized by the Popes in their social encyclicals, made many Catholics think we were Communists in disguise, wolves in sheep's clothing."
Dorothy Day, 'The Long Loneliness', page 187-188, 1952

Friday, December 15, 2006

Meeting Modest Needs Part 2

As mentioned in an earlier post, helping people overcome a sudden disastrous financial drain can often keep those families from dropping into poverty. Modest Needs is a charity doing just that. However I would like to touch on the next step; what can be done to keep these people from repeating this cycle. Handouts can only do so much. People want to believe if they can just get through this one event, they will be fine, or they'll make the necessary chances to their life style later and never be in trouble again. The fact of the matter is that as long as we embrace the values of our materialist, wealth driven society we will continue to live outside our means; on the brink of disaster. Once we scale back our houses, cars, clothes and gadgets we'll see we don't need as much as we thought to survive, and with that knowledge comes freedom. The options become endless. We can work fewer hours, save more money, pay off your mortgage or car, take a different job, start up our own business or maybe even quit entirely. An illness or unexpected breakdown doesn't cause panic. It just means you dip into the emergency fund and cut expenses. We need to foster self reliance so when the primary breadwinner is laid up, a family lives out of its own pantry, not the shelter's. Yes, it requires planning and giving up things society will tell you, you can't live without, but security is true prosperity. A full freezer and root cellar is prosperity, not two leased cars in the garage. As Christians, we should be happier with less anyway so it's really a win, win. To review, step one is helping people in need, step two is keeping people from becoming needy. We never turn our backs on those who continue to struggle but when they're willing and able, we give them hope, encouragement and an education. Check out The Tightwad Gazette, Your Money Or Your Life, Backwoods Home Magazine and The Simple Living Guide for ideas. Don't forget Path to Freedom. These resources drastically changed the way I thought about money and making a living. When we remove the desire for designer clothes, trendy gadgets and McMansions, we take away what drives so many people out of the home and away from their families. We can find joy is living with less, and ultimately security from whatever financial pitfalls may come our way.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Meeting Modest Needs Part 1

Although it's been in my bookmarks folder for months, I only recently had the opportunity to study the Modest Needs website. Created in 2002, Modest Needs provides small grants to people struck with sudden financial hardship. These small grants, averaging $350, often keep families from dropping off the deep end into financial ruin. Many families in America, for better or worse, live paycheck to paycheck with no real savings. The layoff or extended illness of the primary breadwinner spells disaster for most. Money is stretched so thin that the breakdown of the family car or failure of the furnace means deciding between groceries or mechanics. It comes down to finding charity or turning to the state. Most people don't want the government's assistance, they just need help this one time to keep their heads above water. I've been there. The Lord answered our prayers and kept the creditors at bay. Today, we carry no debt and are saving for a house. We were lucky to find help among family, however others are not as fortunate. You can donate to Modest Needs and then help decide where the money should go by ranking applicants. The magic word is 'grant.' There is no interest or loan to be repaid here. People backed into a corner so often turn to usury, saying later on they'll have money to pay it all back. But soon, they're robbing Peter to pay Paul. This is a worthy charity I'll hope you'll examine. I believe there are Nobel Prize laureates who could learn a thing or two here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

North Korea needs a makeover!

So, the other night I watched PrimeTime with Diane Sawyer as she documented her 12 days in North Korea. It is a country closed off from the world with its entire population under the control of one man, Kim Jong-il and his father, Kim Il-sung's, legacy. In North Korea, no one dares to breathe without the proper paper work. And although the students Sawyer interviewed boasted of being able to go into Korean hospitals and be cured for free, getting food is not always so easy. Sawyer commented that North Korea relies heavily on China and Russia for aide in feeding its people. People may not be dying in the hospitals, but they're dying from hunger. Now, if widespread famine, secret political prisons, nuclear weapons and dilapidated public housing were not bad enough Sawyer has the journalistic chops to bring us the real story; the hard truth about North Koreans. Brace yourselves
They can't have cell phones. They don't take an interest in U.S. fashion. A teenage girl in North Korea only has a small closet the size of a dorm refrigerator. North Korean three year olds were forced to follow the direction of a teacher and learned a song to perform-which they did perfectly. (To which Sawyer remarks, "Can you imagine American three year olds doing this?") Their college students want to study in their free time. They don't want to dye their hair blond. They dance traditional dances instead of dancing "to their own beat." They don't have the opportunity to eat lots of Western style junk foods like their South Korean neighbors. They don't smile at foreigners. No one has pets. And they've never heard of Google!
Need I continue? Yes, North Korean is a country in trouble. The people are not treated as images of God, but cogs in a machine. They are used by the state for its own means, for the benefit of a few and given very little. However, to imply that these people are deprived because they don't drool over an issue of People magazine is obtuse. The West cannot help a country by passing along materialism and the views and morals of American youth. In a way, it seemed to me that Sawyer was calling many of the people in North Korea, uncool and backward. For example, if North Korea was a kid at your middle school, she would always have gotten picked on for not having a cell phone, bringing a packed lunch, wearing the same ugly clothes her Mommy picked out for her and not being able to tell you what part of Spear's body was all over the web. North Korea would totally need a makeover!
This is just poor journalism. It makes the viewers feel sorry for the North Koreans' not because they live under a horrible socialist government but because they can't have an IPod, or designer jeans or cable TV. Surprise! No one needs those things! The difference is the North Koreans don't have the choice. North Koreans' could be very happy without all the magazines, movies and fast food but they need the freedom to choose. Freedom and capitalism are two different things. Frankly, the North Koreans would be better off with just the freedom. Would it still be so terrible if their youth chose to participate in traditional waltzes after liberation, or do we expect all free people to bump and grind?
Let us pray for the people of North Korea. May a peaceful solution be reached.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Strenuous Life

I'm still trying to get over this bug but I wanted to pass along a passage I read today. I'm finally reading Day's autobiography, "The Long Loneliness." On page 118 she quotes William James.
"Poverty is indeed the strenuous life,-without brass bands or uniforms or hysteric popular applause or lies or circumlocutions; and when one sees the way in which wealth-getting enters as an ideal into the very bone and marrow of our generation, one wonders whether the revival of the belief that poverty is a worthy religious vocation may not be the transformation of military courage, and the spiritual reform which our time stands most in need of.
Among us English-speaking people especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sun. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient realization of poverty could have meant; the liberation form material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life an any moment irresponsibly,-the more athletic trim, in short, the fighting shape."

Our society embraces wealth, even most Christians believe financial prosperity is a gift from God. Though, I can't recall any scripture passages in which Christ tells his followers they will receive rewards on earth and in heaven. And I don't recall Jesus, the King of Kings, wearing royal robes or preaching from a throne while the disciples fed him grapes. What I do recall is Jesus saying it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. I still remember how confusing this passage seemed to me as a child. My Methodist Sunday school teachers could never explain it to my satisfaction. I was surrounded by people (and family) who sought and rewarded wealth. Were they all going to hell? I was taught, as many still are, that good church going people who put something in the collection basket each week are on the path to heaven. Rich people don't have to actually become poor! What will be the eternal consequences of such beliefs? Embracing poverty is hard, as is dispelling any preconceived notions about the poor. I hope I can squeeze my way through the needle into heaven, and along the way maybe make some of those old Methodists around me question what they learned in Sunday school.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

With all the strength I can muster...

I've got an awful cold brewing and I'm in need of some Vitamin C, so in honor of Saint Nicholas Day (and to keep things short so I can go to bed early) I give you the blessing of the Clementines;

Loving God,
you ask us to show kindness and care to everyone.
Thank you for good Saint Nicholas
who shows us how to give gifts and care to others,
especially children. Bless these oranges
that they may remind us of Saint Nicholas' gifts to people in need.
Help us to love and care, like Saint Nicholas, for those who need help
and children everywhere.

From The Saint Nicholas Center Website. A great resource! This has become an instant hit with the kids. Happy St. Nick Day! More in depth posting tomorrow.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Where does your job fall?

"Love of brother means voluntary poverty, stripping one’s self, putting off the old man, denying one’s self, etc. It also means nonparticipation in those comforts and luxuries which have been manufactured by the exploitation of others. While our brothers suffer, we must compassionate them, suffer with them. While our brothers suffer from lack of necessities, we will refuse to enjoy comforts. These resolutions, no matter how hard they are to live up to, no matter how often we fail and have to begin over again, are part of the vision and the long-range view which Peter Maurin has been trying to give us these past years. These ideas are expressed in the writings of Eric Gill. And we must keep this vision in mind, recognize the truth of it, the necessity for it, even though we do not, cannot, live up to it. Like perfection. We are ordered to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, and we aim at it, in our intention, though in our execution we may fall short of the mark over and over. St. Paul says, it is by little and by little that we proceed.

If these jobs do not contribute to the common good, we pray God for the grace to give them up. Have they to do with shelter, food, clothing? Have they to do with the works of mercy? Father Tompkins of Nova Scotia says that everyone should be able to place his job in the category of the works of mercy.

This would exclude jobs in advertising, which only increases people’s useless desires. In insurance companies and banks, which are known to exploit the poor of this country and of others. Banks and insurance companies have taken over land and built huge collective farms, ranches, plantations, of 30,000, 100,000 acres, and have dispossessed the poor man. Loan and finance companies have further defrauded him. Movies [and] radio have further enslaved him. So that he has no time nor thought to give to his life, either of soul or body. Whatever has contributed to his misery and degradation may be considered a bad job and not to be worked at.

If we examine our conscience in this way, we would soon be driven into manual labor, into humble work, and so would become more like our Lord and our Blessed Mother."

On Pilgrimage, December By Dorothy Day , pp. 166 - 175

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Preparing to Receive the Lord

Today in Mass, Father talked about the importance of penance or confession during the Advent season. He referenced this wonderful piece that can be found on the awesome website Fish Eaters.

"Catholic apologist Jacob Michael wrote something very interesting about how secular America sees "Christmas" as beginning after Thanksgiving and ending on 25 December, and then makes "New Years Resolutions" at the beginning of the secular year:

...what Christians do (or should be doing!) during Advent and leading up to Christmas is a foreshadowing of what they will do during the days of their lives that lead up to the Second Coming; what non-Christians refuse to do during Advent, and put off until after Christmas, is precisely a foreshadowing of what they will experience at the Second Coming.

We Christians are to prepare for the Coming of Christ before He actually comes -- and that Coming is symbolized and recalled at Christmas. Non-Christians miss this season of preparation, and then scramble for six days after the 25th to make their resolutions. By then, however, it's too late -- Christmas has come and gone, Our Lord has already made His visitation to the earth, and He has found them unprepared. This is precisely what will take place at the Second Coming, when those who have put off for their entire lives the necessary preparations will suddenly be scrambling to put their affairs in order. Unfortunately, by then it will have been too late, and there will be no time for repentance. The Second Coming will be less forgiving than the Incarnation. There will be no four-week warning period before the Second Coming, like we get during Advent. There will be no six-day period of grace after the Second Coming during which to make resolutions and self-examination, like the secular world does from Dec. 26 until Jan. 1. "

Makes you rethink your resolutions doesn't it? Penance is a vital part of Advent preparation and ultimately our final judgment. Reconciliation is not just an Easter duty.
When I converted to Catholicism I wholeheartedly embraced confession. The sense of joy and relief at having my slate wiped clean is indescribable to someone who has never had the words of absolution spoke to them. But yet so many people avoid confession or do not do a through examination of conscience before stepping into the confessional. The sacrament is seen as a hassle or intrusion. In the beginning of 'The Long Loneliness' Dorothy Day describes the long lines outside the confessional EVERY Saturday. Can you imagine? Now you're lucky if your parish offers confession for more than 15 minutes before Sat. mass. Some only do confession on an appointment basis. My husband attends daily mass at the cathedral in our diocese and even after a letter of complaint to the rector, priests seldom show up for confession before daily mass even though it is expressly advertised in the bulletin. However, it is up to us to create more demand so the supply is there. Priests cannot ignore a line at their door.
Even if you're not carrying mortal sin, the grace received helps us conquer those little venial sins that keep popping up in our daily lives. And if you think you're sinless, that's an even better reason to look up in your missal a proper examination of conscience and spend some time in the box with Father. People like JPII and Blessed Mother Teresa went to confession every week. If they have stuff to confess I know I sure do.
Let us all use this Advent season to return to confession so that we may be made worthy to receive the Lord in the Eucharist, at Christmas and at the end of times.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Regard for the Soil

I've added a new link to the left hand side hope ya'll check out. It's for the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. I'm still exploring the website but much of what they preach seems to fit with the agrarian lifestyle Maurin and Day encouraged and attempted with the many Worker Farms.
Agriculture is increasingly becoming an oligopoly of the land with a few large factory farms controlling the production and price of food, whether it be plant or animal. Food travels further from producer to consumer and a larger amounts of our foods are imported. Local shoppers purchase their food from a grocery store, which ships in everything from across the globe at super savings. Small farmers can't compete with the prices and have no market in the community.
At the heart of the Personalist and Distributist movements is the idea of keeping it local. Farmers grow for their families and sell the surplus to those in the local community who cannot raise corn, cattle, grain, etc. While those who run factory farms may care about the consumer, their very existence denotes an effort to keep prices low. In the process, animals are not raised the way God intended, plants are manipulated and ultimately the soil is depleted.
The CRLC website has all sorts of info on the "Ethics of Eatings" and our duty as Catholics to preserve sustainable agriculture and the family farm. Check it out and think about what you're eating.

Regard For The Soil

1. Andrew Nelson Lytle says:
The escape from industrialism
is not in socialism
or in sovietism.

2. The answer lies
in a return to a society
where agriculture is practised
by most of the people.

3. It is in fact impossible
for any culture
to be sound and healthy
without a proper regard
for the soil,
no matter
how many urban dwellers
think that their food
comes from groceries
and delicatessens
or their milk from tin cans.

4. This ignorance
does not release them
from a final dependence
upon the farm.

Peter Maurin, Easy Essay