Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent

This marks the beginning of the Church's Liturgical year. Advent is the time of anticipation leading up to Christmas. Through four Sundays we prepare ourselves for the joy of Christ's birth but we also look forward to his triumphal return at the end of time. Advent is a time of waiting. Though not as stark as Lent (which precedes Easter), Advent is meant to be a time of pious reflection. It is not the joyous celebration, as in the joy that defines the Christmas season, but it prepares us for that joy.

Ironically, the popular cultural has adopted the pre-Christmas time as the actual celebration of Christmas - decorations go up, parties are held, gifts exchanged, and the climax is reached on December 25. For most of America, Advent has been erased from our Christian calendar. Most of my neighbors put up their decorations during Advent and then promptly remove them on December 26. Not only does this rob us of the benefit of an Advent spent in spiritual growth, but it also cheapens Christmas. The birth of our Savior becomes nothing more than a commercial orgy that ends when the last gift is unwrapped.

It is often said that we should "keep Christ in Christmas." Perhaps we should also keep Christmas out of Advent.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The New Assault on Thanksgiving

Christmas has been under attack from radical secularists for years. Easter has been reduced to a mythical bunny delivering hardboiled eggs and chocolate. Now one more holiday has been targeted for de-Christianization. In the war on all things godly, I do believe I witnessed the opening shot against Thanksgiving one afternoon as I watched a children’s cartoon with my then three-year-old son.

The story took place in late fall. The characters were eating a holiday meal which included turkey, dressing, and all the fixings, complete with pumpkin pie. It was a time of family gatherings, the retelling of old stories, and passing on long-held traditions. Everyone brought his or her own dish and shared in a common meal. It made a lovely Thanksgiving special…only they were not celebrating Thanksgiving. It was called “Fall Feast,” and it consisted of all the usual trappings of the traditional American holiday, but under a different name.

It should come as no surprise that Thanksgiving has been blacklisted by the political correctness police. After all, the person to whom we “give thanks” is God – the number one guy on the radical left’s Most Wanted List. The left knows that the popular history of Thanksgiving is thoroughly God-centered. Pilgrims and Indians celebrated the abundant fall harvest with a common meal, giving thanks to Divine Providence for their food and newfound friends, and asking God to bless them through the long winter ahead. God was the focus of the Pilgrims’ celebration and of their lives, as He was also their reason for coming to the New World in the first place. The word “pilgrim” denotes one who is on a religious journey.

Sharing a common meal as a way of giving thanks to God is an integral part of many religious faiths, especially the Judeo-Christian tradition which shapes our own cultural understanding of God. Every year observant Jews celebrate the Passover meal thanking God for delivering their ancestors out of bondage in Egypt. Christians adapted the Passover ceremony to reflect what Jesus did at His Last Supper. Christians give “thanks” to God for delivering humanity from the bondage of sin. These Jewish and Christian meals put the faithful in contact with God. And the ritualized form of these shared meals creates a visible link between all those who share the faith around the world and throughout history.

Historically Christians have given a specific name to their ceremonial meal, a name that aptly describes a key element of its purpose. Most Christians in the first few centuries A.D. were Greek-speaking converts to the new religion. Greek was the language regularly used by the early Church. And in Greek the ritual bread-breaking ceremony was often called eucharistia. From this we derive the term Eucharist which is still used today by many Christian denominations to describe the action and the object of their Sunday celebration. The Greek word eucharistia means “thanksgiving.”

Now, the Christian worship service and the American celebration of Thanksgiving are not directly linked in any tangible way. I do not mean to suggest that Thanksgiving is in any way equal to a Christian Sunday service. Our November holiday does not rise to that level of worship and is at best a pale reflection of the Communion meal or any religious feast. But the word “thanksgiving” carries with it a wealth of religious meaning that should not be lost on any Christian (or any member of any faith). To give “thanks” to something greater than ourselves implies that there exists a Being to receive that thanks and bless us in return. And our celebration of Thanksgiving should retain that vital element. Without God, there is no one to receive the "thanks" we "give."

The secular atheists realize all of this, which is why they see the word “thanksgiving” as such a threat to their agenda. A happy “Fall Feast” can be had without any mention of God and without the religious implications of the word Thanksgiving. So before this annual tradition becomes just another “Happy Holiday,” take time this year to be with those who matter most, get out the best china, roast the bird, and remember to give thanks in whatever way your faith guides you.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Solemnity of Christ the King

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. This is the final Sunday in the Liturgical Year. Next week begins Advent.
The Church has established this feast day with an eschatological outlook, that is, with a view to the end of time. As it falls at the end of the Church’s liturgical year, it points toward the end of time itself, and celebrates Christ’s final triumph as King of kings and Lord of lords, when all things will be brought into submission, and He will reign for all eternity.
This feast caps off the entire liturgical cycle and prepares us to enter the new year, which begins with the First Sunday of Advent. The Feast of Christ the King is given the title “Solemnity,” which is the highest rank for a feast celebrated by the Church.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to tradition, Mary's parents presented her at the Temple to be consecrated to God as a virgin. She then lived at the Temple until the time of her betrothal to Joseph, who promised to honor her commitment to virginity. This event is not recorded in the four canonical gospels but is found in apocryphal texts. While the Presentation itself may not be authentic historically, its celebration, which dates back to the early centuries of the Church, reminds us of Mary's special place of honor in God's plan for our Redemption. She was called from the moment of her conception to be the Mother of God, and today's feast is one way the Church reminds us of this important role she fulfilled. It also reminds us that we too are called to commit ourselves to doing God's work in whatever capacity that might be. We too are called to present ourselves to God as his loyal servants.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Christ-centered Church, Part I of V

Many Christian churches describe themselves as “Bible-based.” Their structure, their organization, and their method of worship are all woven together from various biblical passages to form their own brand of “ecclesiology” (their theological doctrine of the church). These churches are “biblio-centric” – that is, “centered on the Bible.” Using the Bible as their starting point, they have constructed Christianity as they believe it is found in the pages of Scripture.

There is, of course, no end to the types of Christian churches this method yields, and no two churches look exactly alike. There exists a multitude of differences in how these ecclesial groups function, which doctrines they believe are essential for salvation, and how specific Scriptural passages ought to be applied. Biblio-centrism offers us a plethora of competing churches with no sure way to distinguish which one is practicing authentic Christianity. They simply begin with the Bible and derive from it their own idea of “church,” whatever that might be.

Obviously it is commendable when Christians wish to imitate the early Church. It is wise to seek our roots in ancient Christianity, to be grounded in the historic foundations of the faith. And it is certainly correct to use Scripture as a guide to govern doctrine and maintain sound teaching. But is the Bible the true “starting point” for the formation of the Christian Church? Did God give us first the Bible and from the Bible springs forth the Church? Is this the true order of things? Should the Church be biblio-centric?

I would propose instead that the Church ought to be “Christo-centric” – centered on Christ. God gave us Jesus Christ and from Christ springs forth the Church. Those who call for a “Bible-based” Christianity should instead seek a “Christ-based” Church. This does not mean that the Bible must be rejected. Far from it! The Bible is the primary source for Jesus’ own words about the Church (in the Gospel), and an excellent record of how those words were applied in the early Church. The Bible must be a key in any search for Christian Truth. It is after all the very Word of God, His revelation to mankind.

But as “the Word of God made flesh,” Jesus is the truest revelation of God to humanity. It is in Jesus that we must search for the Church, for it is in Jesus that God searches for us. We must not seek a “Bible-based” Church; to find the true Church of Christ we must find the Church that has its origins in Jesus Himself.