“Sages, leave your contemplation;
brighter visions beam afar.”

“Pure insight and logic, whatever they might do ideally, are not the only things that produce our creeds.”  William James, The Will to Believe

“Sages, leave your contemplation…” is the beginning of the third verse of “Angels, from the Realms of Glory”, the entrance hymn at Mass today (Epiphany) at our church.   Although there are beautiful, impressive versions of the alternate version of this hymn (sung to the melody of “Angels we have heard on high,” with the beautiful descending Gloria as the refrain–see here and here), our music director (and I) prefer the original Regent Square version, as below:

“Sages, leave your contemplation” hit me hard.  It’s the message I’ve been trying to communicate in my blog posts–that there’s more to the world than science and logic reveal, even though these intellectual tools can enhance our appreciation of God’s Creation.

The opening quote from William James’ essay, “The Will to Believe,” also gives the same message.  Since I have expounded on this in more detail in a blog post, “Why do we believe?” , I won’t repeat those arguments, but just say “even though truth is conveyed on the two wings of faith and reason–to use Pope St. John Paul II’s apt figure of speech–the essential wing is faith.”

 

 

3

St. Augustine Day by Day:
“It is Christ’s Birthday”

Here is another “St. Augustine Day by Day” for Christmas:

“Rejoice you who are just.  It is the birthday of Him Who justifies.  Rejoice you who are weak and sick.  It is the birthday of Him Who makes people well.  Rejoice you who are in captivity. It is the birthday of the Redeemer.  Rejoice you who are slaves. It is the birthday of the Master.

Rejoice you who are free. It is the birthday of Him Who makes us free.  Rejoice all you Christians. It is Christ’s birthday.”–St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 184, 2

And again,

“Let us devoutly celebrate this day. For just as the first ones to share our faith adored Christ lying in the manger, let us adore him reigning in heaven.”–St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 203, 3

And a Happy and Blessed Christmas to you all.

 

 

3

A Warning From Charles Dickens

No doubt you’ve heard of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I have the book and have watched different movie versions all my life, but only in recent years have I noticed a tie-in to Faith and Reason in a short, but important part of the story.

Therefore…at this festive season of the year it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for Catholic Faith & Reason, which suffers greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of basic Church teaching; hundreds of thousands are in want of common sense, so please enjoy this excerpt from my book, Faith with Good Reason, appropriate for the season…

In the famous tale of A Christmas Carol we are given a ghostly warning about “our business”. Mankind is our business, the common welfare, charity, mercy, forbearance and more1.  Another ghost exclaims, “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom…”2

We are to help “the girl”, but our doom seems to stem ultimately from “the boy”. Why? Because what we know directs what we do. If God is Truth, then Truth should direct the will. If love is an act of the will, then to love or judge something, we need to know it. The primacy of the intellect is important in order to love and judge properly. In the end, you will not love a God you do not know—and you will not serve a God you do not love.

Our will reaches for what our understanding has seen. If we are ignorant of what is true, how will we direct our will? What will be our criterion for judging? Scripture gives us a subtle warning on the topic. “My people are ruined for lack of knowledge!” (Hosea 4:6). If we chose to ignore “the boy”, then doom will engulf us all, because it all starts with ideas, and ideas have consequences. “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”3 In the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Mathew we hear, “For I was hungry and you gave me food”. This is certainly about physical food, but also about the spiritual work of mercy to feed the intellect. One can think of “Truth” as a kind of health food for the mind. The seeds of God’s image and likeness are in every person, so we have a natural hunger for truth/knowledge. Stop and contemplate “hunger” for a moment. What happens to people if they are hungry enough, for long enough? They’ll eventually eat something; they’ll eventually eat somewhere, but will it be good food or will it be garbage? Will they care where the food comes from as long as it gives some satisfaction? If we lazily accept anything that gives gratification we risk defaulting to our animalistic sensibilities and have the habit of replacing God with other masters since it seems to save us so much trouble.

We all like to think of ourselves as independent thinkers, but people are like sheep and everyone eventually sits at the feet of a master. Who will feed your intellect about the Good, the Beautiful, the True? Will you sit at the feet of Jesus through His Church or will it be some politician or political party, a celebrity or talk show host, a television evangelist, your favorite college professor, or will it simply be the always “infallible” majority? Who is your master? Whoever it is, be prepared to give an account for what you believe and what you say. “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak” (Mt 12:36).

Beware the boy most of all…

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5).

– Bible verse from the New American Standard Version

 

  1. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, (New York: Barnes & Nobal Books, 2003), p. 28.
  2. Dickens, A Christmas Carol, p. 84.
  3. Charles A. Fowler, Biblical Truths for Men (Innovo Publishing, LLC, 2014), p. 115.

Top photo by John Leech – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=448357

2

Mary Christmas!

 

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:37)

With those words from Mary, the first Christmas was “on.” From that moment, God’s plan went into glorious effect for the celebration, nine months later, of His Son’s birthday. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

No Mary, No Christmas

Mary’s “Yes” was incarnated in the Baby Jesus, in the flesh, conceived within her before she was even aware He was there. Her “Yes” is the reason for the Reason for the season. Mary’s “Yes” was a yes for all of us, for all time.

Mary’s choice was to have the Baby Jesus.  God did not force her to be the Theotokos, the God-bearer.  Mary freely decided to bear and give birth to the Son of God. She freely chose not to abort Him, to kill Him in her womb, or to kill Him once He was born; although infanticide was almost as common in the ancient world as it is today. Because her “Yes” meant the possibility of eternal life for all of us, to say Mary was prolife is the understatement of all time.

What if Mary had said “No,” or “No!” ?

This is difficult to ponder. Would there have been no salvation of all mankind? Would there have been no Christmas?  Did God have a second choice in mind, a runner up? Had someone already turned God down? Was there a No. 2, an understudy in the wings? We do know that God knew Mary would say “Yes,” although His foreknowledge did not prevent her from freely agreeing to bear and birth this holy Child.

If Mary had said  “No,” if there was no Christ Child, no Christmas, then, to plagiarize from a famous source and apply it to this hypothetical:

“The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”  (Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus;  F. Church , 1897)

Part of our joy at Christmas is our joyful awe and thanks to Mary. Her “Yes” was yes for all God’s children. It meant, as the angel of the Lord told Joseph in a dream, that – because Mary agreed to mama this Child,  named “Jesus,”  –  we would all be saved  from our sins.  (Mt 1:21).

Mary Does Not Name Her Own Son 

Mary and Joseph are both told by the angel of God what the Child’s name will be. (Mary: Lk 1:31 ; Joseph: Mt 1:21).  Mary, the mother, and Joseph, the ostensible head of the family whose job it usually was, do not get to name Jesus; but they both, without grumbling, accept that God will name this Baby.

In Holy Scripture, naming someone is an act of power, and a name is a thing of power. Again and again, beginning in Genesis, naming is a major theme, including God naming things, God naming human beings, men and women naming things and offspring,  and God re-naming men and women.

The first book of Samuel makes it clear that a person is what a name says. (1Sam 25:25).  For the Jewish people a name was much more than a label, or a tag for distinguishing between persons. A name was the equivalent to the person himself or herself. A person’s name was his or her very person, identity,  worth, character, reputation, authority, will,  ownership, and power. 

In Hebrew, the name God gives His Son – Jesus – literally means “Yahweh helps” or “Yahweh saves.”  God is naming His Son God.

God’s naming His son Jesus is God’s announcement  – His, “Yes, that’s My Boy, chip off the old [very old] block” – gift of this Son. The Bible does not mention God handing out cigars. Such naming is referred to in Isaiah:

“Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.” (Is 43:1).

By naming His Son Jesus, God makes available to all of us the power of that name, the power of His Son.  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:13)Bottom of Form

Why Would God Let Mary Birth His Son?

Why would God send His own Son to us? Why, after the Fall of Adam, does God want His divine Son to become man?  Man, that creature of God as Francis Thompson tells us in his poem, The Hound Of Heaven, “of all God’s clotted clay, the dingiest clot.” St. John says: “Et verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis.” (Jn 1:14). It is easy to think of reasons God would not want to “pitch His tent with us” (literal translation of “habitavit”) and let His Son live on earth as a man; and  reasons for His not having wanted to redeem us.

Still, God saw something in us, in each of us. To paraphrase some lines from Thompson’s poem,  whom would love ignoble me and you enough to come here and shiver in the cold  in Bethlehem so we did not burn in the eternal heat of hell? To be convinced of “how little worthy of any love though art” when we sin, all one need do is look in a mirror. I  think about all the times I have been to confession, and all my sins, since that day so long ago at St. Paul’s Parish in San Antonio, going in to talk to the very priest who had baptized me six years earlier, the preist who had married my Mom and Dad, and  even then and since being fully aware of my ignobility. Why would God want to redeem me? or any of us? Why would He want to ransom us from this ignobility and make us celestial nobles, His heirs, heavenly aristocrats, His princess, His prince?

The besutiful answer is in a poem, Love Came Down At Christmas,  by Christina Rosetti:

“Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, Love Divine,

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and Angels gave the sign.”

Know Mary, Know Christmas

This embodied Christmas Love began with Mary’s love of God. But for that love, there may have been no Christmas.

So, what is there to learn from Mary’s not only talking the Christmas talk – “Yes. I’ll have this Baby” – but also her walking the Christmas walk ?  It’s about ninety miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem,  and it would seem much longer if you were about to deliver a child . (The scope of this writing is way too limited to enter into the discussion of whether or not she rode on a donkey. The ensuing intense theological debate will not be discussed here).

Mary’s “Yes” is startling evidence of her humility, obedience, generosity, trust, and love, love not only for God, but for all of us. Gabriel tells Mary her Son will be named “Jesus.” Mary knows what that name means in Hebrew, and she knows that God the Father Himself has given her Son this name.

As the angel proclaims to the shepherds, “a savior has been born for you.” (Lk 2:11).   Mary says “Yes, I will have this Baby for everyone.”

Merry Mary CHRISTmas!