Christmas

Video Clip Worth Watching: Ralph Kramden’s Christmas Speech

I loved watching re-runs of The Honeymooners when I was a kid.  I appreciated the fact that they were more broke than my family and, like my parents, they met that circumstance with good humor.  In the classic episode above Ralph sold his prized bowling ball to buy a Christmas present for his beloved wife Alice.

 

The late comedian Jackie Gleason, when asked his religion, would always say “Bad Catholic”.  He was once asked by a Paulist priest to appear on his  television program and talk about religion which he did, stating to the priest that Catholicism was strong enough to withstand an advocate even as bad as he was.

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One Solitary Life

All the armies that have ever marched All the navies that have ever sailed All the parliaments that have ever sat All the kings that ever reigned put together Have not affected the life of mankind on earth As powerfully as that one solitary life

From One Solitary Life

I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.

H. G. Wells

O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem

Exsultet, Easter Vigil

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A Proclamation

 

The twenty-fifth day of December.

In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;

the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;

the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;

the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;

the one thousand and thirty-second year from David’s being anointed king;

in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;

in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;

the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;

the whole world being at peace,

in the sixth age of the world,

Jesus Christ the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,

desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,

being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception,

was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary, being made flesh. Continue reading

Good Lives On

Chris and Family

      [27] She hath looked well to the paths of her house, and hath not eaten her bread idle. [28] Her children rose up, and called her blessed: her husband, and he praised her. [29] Many daughters have gathered together riches: thou hast surpassed them all.

Proverbs 31:  27-29

 

The two daughters, Christina and Courtney Bissey, of my secretary, Chris Bissey, who died on August 28 of this year, and who I eulogized in a post which may be read here, just stopped off at my house, wished us a Merry Christmas, and dropped off cookies and other baked goods as a Christmas present.  Chris was famous locally for her Christmas baking of cookies for friends and families, and her daughters are keeping up the tradition.  The good that we do in this life often survives us.  A good message to recall on Christmas eve.

Christmas at Bastogne

In 1944 at Christmas the American and German armies were slugging it out in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the War.

Patton’s Third Army rammed its way through to relieve the Americans desperately fighting to defeat the attacking German forces.  The weather was atrocious and Allied air power was useless.  Patton had a prayer written for good weather.  Patton prayed the prayer, along with an extemporaneous one he prayed for good weather on December 23, 1944.  The skies cleared after Patton prayed, and Allied air power was unleashed on the attacking Germans.

During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101rst Airborne Division made a heroic stand at Bastogne from December 20-27 which helped turn the tide of the battle.  On December 25, a packed midnight mass was held in Bastogne, with Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded the 101rst troops at Bastogne, in attendance.  Afterwards the General listened to German POWS singing Silent Night, and wished them a Merry Christmas.

General McAuliffe issued a memorable Christmas message to his troops: Continue reading

Santa Roosevelt

Santa Roosevelt

Death had to take him in his sleep, for if he was awake there’d have been a fight.

Thomas R. Marshall, Vice President of the United States, on hearing of the death of Theodore Roosevelt

One of his worst enemies once said about Theodore Roosevelt that a man would have to hate him a lot not to like him a little.  It was hard not to admire Roosevelt for his courage, his enthusiasm and his obvious good will.  That last aspect of his character is illustrated by the fact that for many years he would go to Cove School at Oyster Bay dressed as Santa Claus, talk to the kids, and give them presents he had purchased out of his own pocket.  When he did it in 1898, after achieving renown leading his Rough Riders in Cuba, the little boys at the school mobbed their Santa hero!  Continue reading

Washington Refuses to be Beaten

 

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Each year, as Christmas is approaching, I think of a Christmas long ago in 1776.  The year in which we declared our independence from Great Britain was a year of military disaster for the United States.  Washington and his troops had been beaten time after time, and as the end of the year approached the Revolution seemed to be dying.  The British controlled New York, the largest city in the colonies and the major port.  New Jersey had been conquered.  The Continental Congress was in flight from Philadelphia, in expectation that the British would next move on that city.  Washington’s army had been reduced to around 5,000 ill-clad and ill-fed poorly trained troops, vastly outnumbered by their British adversaries and their Hessian mercenaries, all well-trained, well equipped, well clad and well fed.  Most of the enlistments of Washington’s troops would be up by the end of the year, and few of them seemed likely to re-enlist.  Defeat seemed all but inevitable to all but Washington.  In this hour of doom, he rallied his troops and launched the Trenton-Princeton campaign, which restored the morale of his Army, liberated much of New Jersey, and put new heart into American patriots everywhere.  Washington had worked a military miracle.

The feat is all the more impressive, in that privately Washington was well-aware of the odds against him, and feared that defeat was probably likely.  We see that in two letters he wrote on December 10 and 17, 1776, to his nephew Lund Washington, who ran Mount Vernon in his absence:

Dear Lund:

    * * * * *

    I wish to Heaven it was in my power to give you a more favorable account of our situation than it is. Our numbers, quite inadequate to the task of opposing that part of the army under the command of General Howe, being reduced by sickness desertion, and political deaths (on or before the first instant, and having no assistance from the militia), were obliged to retire before the enemy, who were perfectly well informed of our situation, till we came to this place, where I have no idea of being able to make a stand, as my numbers, till joined by the Philadelphia militia, did not exceed three thousand men fit for duty. Now we may be about five thousand to oppose Howe’s whole army, that part of it excepted which sailed under the command of Gen. Clinton. I tremble for Philadelphia. Nothing, in my opinion, but Gen. Lee’s speedy arrival, who has been long expected, though still at a distance (with about three thousand men), can save it. We have brought over and destroyed all the boats we could lay our hands on upon the Jersey shore for many miles above and below this place; but it is next to impossible to guard a shore for sixty miles, with less than half the enemy’s numbers; when by force or strategem they may suddenly attempt a passage in many different places. At present they are encamped or quartered along the other shore above and below us (rather this place, for we are obliged to keep a face towards them) for fifteen miles. *** Continue reading

Video Clip Worth Watching: Battle of the Bulge Sermon

A film clip from Battleground (1949), a rousing tribute to the heroic stand of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne at Christmas 1944, which helped turn the tide of the Battle of the Bulge. Seventy-one years ago on December 16, 1944 the Germans launched their last desperate offensive to turn defeat into victory.   The sermon helps explain to the men why they are there, and why the sacrifices they were being called upon to make were important and necessary.

We should always be mindful of the men and women in our military who are far from their families today,  destined to celebrate Christmas often in dangerous situations.  May God bless them and keep them, and may we always remember the sacrifices they make for us.

Francis Pharcellus Church, the Little Girl and Santa Claus

Francis Pharcellus Church was a newspaper man to his marrow.  As a young man he had covered the Civil War for the New York Times and with his brother William he founded the Army and Navy Journal which dedicated itself to reporting news about the military forces of the United States, along with historical pieces on US military history, and opinion pieces about innovations or reforms in the military.  It is still being published today.

After the War he served as lead editorial writer on his brother’s newspapers the New York Sun.  He died in 1906 at 67, leaving behind no children.  Although he lived a full life, he would be all but forgotten today except for one incident.

In 1897 Virginia O’Hanlon was upset.  She was eight years old and some of her friends had been telling her that there was no Santa Claus.  Her father, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, suggested that she write to the Sun and see what that newspaper had to say.  Virginia followed her advice and duly wrote the letter.  Mr. Church wrote the reply to the letter which appeared on September 21, 1897 in the New York Sun.

DEAR EDITOR:

I am 8 years old.   Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.   Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’   Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.

115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

 

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

 

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

 

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

 

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood. Continue reading

Festivals of Light

 

 

Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival.

Josephus

I have always thought it fitting that Christmas and Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, are so close together usually on the calendar.  This year Hanukkah began on December 6 and will end on December 14.  Approximately 160 years before the Coming of Christ, the Jews revolted against the Seleucid Empire.  This was one of the most important struggles in all of human history.    It determined that the Jews would remain a people set apart, worshiping Yahweh, and not become, like so many peoples before and since, a lost people, blended into larger populations, their god forgotten.  It was this revolt, led by Mattathias, his name meaning “gift of Yahweh”, and his sons, known collectively as the Maccabees, that is told in First and Second Maccabees.  The revolt was successful, but ultimately, through civil wars and the overpowering military might of Rome, the Jews again fell under foreign domination, and Jesus was born into a world ruled by Rome.  However, the revolt established that the Jews would remain a separate people, worshiping their God and safeguarding their faith.  This was an essential element in setting the stage for the coming of Christ. Continue reading

Christmas Star

Christmas Star

Artist Herbert Morton Stoops had served in World War I in France in the field artillery.  In 1944 he painted the above immortal picture that conveys powerfully the meaning of Christmas to a soldier far from home.

The Plot to Overthrow Christmas

 

How wonderfully daffy the golden age of Radio tended to be.  A broadcast on December 19, 1944 of the show This Is My Best:  Norman Corwin’s comedic poem The Plot to Overthrow Christmas, a hilarious look at a plot by Hell to stop Christmas, with Orson Welles starring as Nero.  Amazing the entertainment heights that could be reached without car chases, explosions, profanity, bathroom jokes and sex.

Christmas 1944: Battle of the Bulge

In 1944, seventy years ago, at Christmas the American and German armies were fighting it out in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the War.

Patton’s Third Army fought its way through to relieve the Americans desperately fighting to defeat the attacking German forces.  The weather was atrocious and Allied air power was useless.  Patton had a prayer written for good weather.  Patton prayed the prayer, the scene from the movie Patton depicting this may be viewed below.

 

The skies cleared after Patton prayed the weather prayer, and a personal prayer he said on December 23, 1944, and Allied air power was unleashed on the attacking Germans.

During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101rst Airborne Division made a heroic stand at Bastogne from December 20-27 which helped turn the tide of the battle.  On December 25, a packed midnight mass was held in Bastogne, with Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded the 101rst troops at Bastogne, in attendance.  Afterwards the General listened to German POWS singing Silent Night, and wished them a Merry Christmas.

General McAuliffe issued a memorable Christmas message to his troops: Continue reading

Bishop Sheen on the True Meaning of Christmas

 

First broadcast in 1956, Bishop Sheen puts his own unique spin on the eternal mystery of Christmas, God becoming Man, Creator becoming Created.  It is interesting how philosophical and complicated Sheen’s presentation is.  Recall that his show was broadcast on commercial tv and enjoyed very good ratings.  Ah for a time when mass entertainment sought to ennoble rather than to debase!   Life Is Worth Living was the name of his show, a name worth remembering.  Many Catholics today almost seem to enjoy wallowing in despair.  Bishop Sheen would never have been in their number.

 

Union Christmas Dinner

Published on December 31, 1864, and drawn by Thomas Nast,  the above picture has Lincoln inviting the starving Confederate states to join the Christmas dinner of the Union States.  The print brings  to mind the phrase that  Lincoln would make immortal in his Second Inaugural in a few short months:  “With malice towards none, with charity for all”.  Not a bad sentiment to recall at Christmas time, or any time.

Patton on Prayer

 

 

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.”

 

The famous “weather prayer” of General Patton was written by a Catholic Chaplain, Colonel James H. O’Neill, Chief Chaplain of the Third Army.   Here is his article on the incident written in 1950.

The incident of the now famous Patton Prayer commenced with a telephone call to the Third Army Chaplain on the morning of December 8, 1944, when the Third Army Headquarters were located in the Caserne Molifor in Nancy, France: “This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.” My reply was that I know where to look for such a prayer, that I would locate, and report within the hour. As I hung up the telephone receiver, about eleven in the morning, I looked out on the steadily falling rain, “immoderate” I would call it — the same rain that had plagued Patton’s Army throughout the Moselle and Saar Campaigns from September until now, December 8. The few prayer books at hand contained no formal prayer on weather that might prove acceptable to the Army Commander. Keeping his immediate objective in mind, I typed an original and an improved copy on a 5″ x 3″ filing card:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.

I pondered the question, What use would General Patton make of the prayer? Surely not for private devotion. If he intended it for circulation to chaplains or others, with Christmas not far removed, it might he proper to type the Army Commander’s Christmas Greetings on the reverse side. This would please the recipient, and anything that pleased the men I knew would please him:

To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I Wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day. G.S. Patton, Jr, Lieutenant General, Commanding, Third United States Army.

This done, I donned my heavy trench coat, crossed the quadrangle of the old French military barracks, and reported to General Patton. He read the prayer copy, returned it to me with a very casual directive, “Have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.” The size of the order amazed me; this was certainly doing something about the weather in a big way. But I said nothing but the usual, “Very well, Sir!” Recovering, I invited his attention to the reverse side containing the Christmas Greeting, with his name and rank typed. “Very good,” he said, with a smile of approval. “If the General would sign the card, it would add a personal touch that I am sure the men would like.” He took his place at his desk, signed the card, returned it to me and then Said: “Chaplain, sit down for a moment; I want to talk to you about this business of prayer.” He rubbed his face in his hands, was silent for a moment, then rose and walked over to the high window, and stood there with his back toward me as he looked out on the falling rain. As usual, he was dressed stunningly, and his six-foot-two powerfully built physique made an unforgettable silhouette against the great window. The General Patton I saw there was the Army Commander to whom the welfare of the men under him was a matter of Personal responsibility . Even in the heat of combat he could take time out to direct new methods to prevent trench feet, to see to it that dry socks went forward daily with the rations to troops on the line, to kneel in the mud administering morphine and caring for a wounded soldier until the ambulance Came. What was coming now?

“Chaplain, how much praying is being done in the Third Army?” was his question. I parried: “Does the General mean by chaplains, or by the men?” “By everybody,” he replied. To this I countered: “I am afraid to admit it, but I do not believe that much praying is going on. When there Is fighting, everyone prays, but now with this constant rain — when things are quiet, dangerously quiet, men just sit and wait for things to happen. Prayer out here is difficult. Both chaplains and men are removed from a special building with a steeple. Prayer to most of them is a formal, ritualized affair, involving special posture and a liturgical setting. I do not believe that much praying is being done.” Continue reading

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