A Nativity Story

As I write this, it’s still the Octave of Christmas where I live. I have a Christmas story to share, one that spans several generations of a family. It’s a story about a Nativity set.

My family was friends with an elderly Catholic lady who passed away a few years ago. My mother drove this lady to Mass every weekend. She had two daughters, one who remained Catholic and one who became a Jehovah’s Witness. The Jehovah’s Witnesses famously reject Christmas as a pagan invention. The JW daughter had a daughter and a son, who was my best friend in high school.

On Christmas Day this year, I attended Mass at my home parish. The priest celebrant was a native son of the parish who was visiting home. He mentioned how happy he was to see the parish’s Nativity scene again. After Mass I saw the daughter of our deceased family friend, the daughter who remained Catholic. I asked her what became of her mother’s Nativity set, which occupied half a room when set up. And I am very happy I asked. Continue reading

Advent, Hercules, and the End of the Olympian Gods

As we advance through Advent, we recall the darkness of the world before Christ arrived. While Israel clung, sometimes by a  thread, to the Law and the Prophets, most of the world dwelt in the darkness of paganism. My academic background is in the Greek and Roman classics, and you see the disordered passions and anxieties of these peoples projected onto their gods (or, if you prefer, these gods were demons inspiring disordered passions and anxieties among their worshippers).

Two of the most comprehensive instantiations of Greek myth are Hesiod’s Theogony and Homer’s Iliad. Continue reading

Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Happy feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Queen of Mexico, Empress and Patroness of the Americas! Fun fact: the treaty that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848 is known as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo because it was signed at the high altar of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, located in Villa Hidalgo (now part of Mexico City). The treaty was signed on February 2, 1848, the feast of the Purification of Our Lady (celebrated in the Novus Ordo as the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple). I assume that the tilma (miraculous image) of Our Lady was enthroned above the high altar at the time. Thus the Hispanic Southwest (California, Nevada, Utah, Texas, most of Arizona and New Mexico, half of Colorado, and parts of Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma) passed into the hands of the Americans under Our Lady’s watchful eyes.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for Mexico and the United States!

The Immaculate Conception, the Messiah, and the Golden Gate

Note: Here in the Driftless Area where I’m writing this, it’s still the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

In medieval art, the Immaculate Conception is depicted by Mary’s parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, meeting and embracing at Jerusalem’s Golden Gate. According to an apocryphal work called the Protoevangelium of James, Joachim and Anne had been barren, but an angel visited Anne to announce the birth of a child. She then met Joachim at the Golden Gate as he left the Temple after offering a sacrifice. The Golden Gate is the eastern gate of the Temple Mount, and tradition said that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem through this gate. The legend and the image link the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Golden Gate; she is the true “Gate of Heaven” through which the Messiah enters the world. Here’s a painting of the scene by Giotto:

The Golden Gate, known in Jewish sources as the Gate of Mercy, is pretty interesting in its own right. Continue reading

“Our tainted nature’s solitary boast”

Note: Here in the Driftless Area where I’m writing this, it’s still the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

In honor of today’s feast, here is William Wordsworth’s poem “The Virgin”:

“Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied.
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature’s solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven’s blue coast;
Thy image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween,
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,
As to a visible Power, in which did blend
All that was mixed and reconciled in thee
Of mother’s love with maiden purity,
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!”

The line “Thy image falls to earth” refers to Protestant iconoclasts smashing images of the Blessed Virgin.

Terrible As an Army Set in Array

“Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?” Canticles of Canticles 6:9

The United States declared war on the Empire of Japan on December 8, 1941. It was the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, the title under which the Blessed Virgin Mary is patroness of the United States. Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945 (August 14 in the United States, on the other side of the International Date Line). August 15 is the feast day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. I have read that the Catholics of Nagasaki were praying a novena in preparation for the Assumption, offering themselves as a sacrifice for the end of the war. And it seems that God accepted their sacrifice because the atomic bombing of Nagasaki (which I do not at all condone) led directly to the end of the war. Besides leading the free world during the Cold War, the Allied victory in World War II is probably America’s greatest contribution to world history. And America’s participation in the war was framed by two feast days of the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of the United States.

Jesuit Soteriology and the “Anonymous Docetist”

It seems to me that the apostolic fervor (at least at times), the moral laxism, and now the effective doctrine of universal salvation associated with the Jesuits might all have their root in a profound un-ease with the idea of anyone being lost. This un-ease in turn inspires a profound un-ease with the idea that seed is ever sown in vain–that an act of evangelization, while beneficial to evangelizer, might not bear fruit for the recipient. If you’re St. Ignatius Loyola and you’re afraid of souls in Asia being lost, you go to Asia and try to convert them. But what about people who notionally are attracted to the Gospel but just don’t want to live by its demands? Well, surely there are ways to shoehorn them in; hence the moral laxism (and Rome condemned it too, not just Pascal and the Jansenists). And what if the missions don’t succeed, at least not to the degree hoped for? Redefine victory: turns out that everyone is already an anonymous Christian! Continue reading

Happy Martinmas!

Happy Martinmas! Today is the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. St. Martin was a Roman soldier who saw a beggar by the roadside. Drawing his sword, he cut his cloak in two and gave half to the beggar. That night, Christ appeared to him wearing the other half of his cloak; the beggar was Christ. St. Martin later became a monk, a hermit, and the bishop of Tours, France.

His feast day, Nov. 11, was traditionally celebrated as something close to the American Thanksgiving, with goose in place of turkey. During the Third Republic, he became the de facto patron of France. In 1918, during World War I, many French Catholics regarded it as a divine sign when the Germans agreed to an armistice on the feast day of St. Martin, veteran and French patron. Continue reading

The Five Books of Moses and the Life of the Church

St. Augustine said that the Old Testament is the New Testament veiled, and the New Testament is the Old Testament unveiled. We can see this in the five books of Moses, also known as the Torah or Pentateuch. These books explain how the Chosen People (Israel) came into existence, how God delivered them from Egypt, and the type of worship, social organization, and doctrines/morals He willed them to have. When interpreted allegorically, these five books point to the salvation of the individual Christian as lived in the Catholic Church:

Continue reading

Evolution: Some Desiderata

If the theory of evolution is false, I wish I lived after it had been definitively proven false.*

If the theory of evolution is true,** I wish I had lived before Darwin proposed it.

*I don’t believe that the theory has been definitively proven false.

**I don’t believe that the theory has been definitively proven true.