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Tag Archive: Christmas

Some Concluding, Year-End Musings on 2012

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2012 (11:59 pm), by John W Gillis


Logos: Logos Bible Research scored huge in my estimation this year. I had struggled to be productive with earlier versions of their software, but version 4, released just about 3 years ago, represented a dramatic improvement in usability and performance, and I started drifting toward it then – especially since they were also beginning to release quality Catholic resources (e.g. works by Aquinas). Then, this Spring, they put together a series of terrific Catholic base packages, all of which included an outstanding edition of the CatechismCatechism of the Catholic Church. Logos version 5, released a couple months ago, adds some nice capabilities to an already terrific product, and has also been published in a separately-branded Catholic product line called Verbum.

Like the standard Logos 5 offerings, the base packages seem disproportionally weighted toward the upper end of the price range, but the entry-level Catholic package, The Catechism of the Catholic Church Collection (in the $50 range), is simply the best set of resources available at anywhere near that price for Catholics looking for a digital study platform. Check it out. It lacks an NAB, but that can be surmounted – and the versions it contains, the RSVCE and Douay, are better versions, anyway. Besides the CCC, it includes the Roman Catechism, the conciliar documents from both Vatican Councils as well as Trent, the essential dogmatic reference works of Denzinger and Ott, and the (daily) Catholic Lectionary. It is an outstanding value, and the resources work together brilliantly. I’m really impressed.

WORDsearch: Continuing the Bible Study Software theme… After rushing WS10 out the door last Christmas week, Lifeway finally got the product to the right spot with a series of version 10.5-enumerated updates released to WS10 owners beginning in June of this year. With a (Greek only) morphological search tool, user-created book types, a History window, and a sermon management tool, WS finally filled some long-standing functionality gaps. But for me, it’s too little, too late. I’ve been a loyal WS user since 1992 – my first (DOS) version of WS came with the NAB, NJB, NRSV, and a Strong’s-tagged KJV, plus TSK; it was Bible Study bliss. No application has served me better over the past 20 years, but it’s time to move on. This program simply cannot compete with the heavyweights. New owner Lifeway (i.e. the Southern Baptist Convention) has had a year and a half to demonstrate a commitment to improved professionalism with the product, and it has not materialized. The only changes I’ve sensed are an increased interest in chasing the latest cultural fads (you can now tweet your Bible Study results from within the program, if that’s your thing), and a decreased likelihood that the platform will be seeing anything like the excellent Catholic resources that are showing up steadily from Logos. On the increasingly rare occasions that I’ve opened the app to work with it recently, it has usually been crashing. Forget it. Thanks for everything; it was great while it lasted.

New English Translation of the Roman Missal: It’s been just over a year now since the introduction of the new translations of many of the prayers in the Liturgy of the Mass. Although they can be awkward and clumsy at times, and although I still haven’t memorized the new versions of the Gloria or the Creed, I think they are overall a big improvement, and are working quite well, with the exception of the Sanctus. I get the Isaiah basis for the change, and consider it an important corrective, but of the half-dozen or so churches where I worship with some regularity, there is not a single congregation that proclaims it smoothly. There’s even one where the priest himself still says “God of power and might” – probably because of the difficulty of getting his people to use a common cadence in proclaiming the new version. It needs attention.

On Obama’s Reelection: I have to admit, I was stunned by the election results. I was quite confident the country would reject Obama, after having four years to see for themselves what you get when you vote for someone based on the color of his skin – as so many people have openly (even gleefully) admitted to doing during the messianic frenzy of 2008. Mitt Romney was admittedly not the easiest guy to get behind, but he offered a genuine chance to correct some of mistakes that have been made, get the economy growing again, and bridge some of the rancor that has afflicted US politics since the Nixon years, but which has reached utterly dysfunctional levels now under this most divisive and partisan of chief executives.

Romney’s loss was disheartening. Partly, that’s because the “kill Romney” character assassination campaign strategy worked for the Democrats, despite the fact that Mitt Romney might just be the most decent guy to have ever run for that office – he’d certainly have to be a serious candidate in any such ranking. That is not a good omen for the future state of presidential politics in this country. But it’s disheartening also partly because of the sheer political force displayed in it by the progressive movement. The Democrats didn’t just convince too many potential Romney supporters to stay home, they wielded a large voting bloc that was willing to support the progressive agenda in plain daylight, not just as a kneejerk reaction to Bush burnout.

It could very well be that we’ve reached – or at least come close to – a tipping point as a culture, where a majority of citizens are willing to vote themselves “other people’s money” from the public till, and to delegate to the state the responsibilities of human freedom, from citizenship to family to personal health and well-being. If this is so, then we have reached the end of the usefulness of the great democratic experiment, and are descending into tyranny – one that will surely tout the infamous conceit of manifesting the will of “the people”. I wouldn’t expect it to end any better than its leftist forerunners have.

On perhaps a bright note, this debacle has produced in me a certain loss of faith in both the American people and in the political process – faith that was in reality misplaced to begin with. It has caused me to lose a good deal of interest in politics – or more accurately, in current events – which should serve both to free up time for less ephemeral concerns, and to orient my priorities more meaningfully.

On the Vapidity of the American “Opinion” Bureaucracies: Related to the collapsing opposition to leftist thinking in America is the success on the part of the progressive movement to establish a fifth column focused on the formation of opinion and the control of knowledge for political ends. I refer, of course, to the thorough progressive domination of the agenda-setting and opinion-defining institutions of education (both mandatory K-12and university-level) and mass media. As it is abundantly clear to me that the greatest threat to America as a place of “liberty and justice for all” comes from a combination of the “news” media and the educational institutions, I’m all in here with Pat Caddell, in his rant from this past autumn:

On Gun Control Hysteria: On this, the Feast of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, it seems appropriate to complain that I was deeply distressed by the (media-driven) national meltdown of propriety and circumspection following the dreadful grade-school massacre in Newtown CT a few weeks ago. The notion that so many people were ready and willing to exploit the situation for dubious political purposes before the bodies of the dead children were even cold is chilling. Perhaps especially galling is the site of notoriously pro-abortion politicians crying crocodile tears over the carnage while intoning that “we must get serious” and “something must be done” to “protect the children”. Would it be impolitic to point out that during that very day, well in excess of 3,000 children were murdered in this country using devices – and furthermore, in the performance of acts! – that were not only perfectly legal, but which boast the unbending political protection of the very hypocrites who wailed the most loudly into the megaphones of self-righteous convenience on that sorry day? I hope those of us who retain some semblance of intelligence will be permitted a healthy degree of skepticism at the proposal that the repetition of such senseless bloodshed might be avoided by limiting the capacities of ammunition clips available to law-abiding citizens, causing mass murderers (of the gun-toting type, not the forceps wielding sort) to have to either buy their clips on the black market, or stop to reload a few times in the middle of mowing down a screaming group of defenseless women and children.

On Christmas: I’ve disliked the holiday we call Christmas at least since I was a young father without two spare nickels to rub together. As I’ve gotten older, my financial wherewithal has (predictably) improved significantly, and my Catholic faith has taken root and flourished into a principal self-understanding, but I don’t like the holiday any more. I refer to the holiday celebrated a few days ago that marked the close of the “Christmas Season”, a largely secular and irreligious period of consumer indulgence that began some time around Thanksgiving.

There is another day, a Christian Holy Day, also celebrated a few days ago, at the conclusion of the Advent season, and which marks the beginning of a Christian Christmas season, which has several permutations, being in the first place an Octave that concludes on January 1st, the Feast of Mary, Mother of God; in the second place a traditional period of gaiety extending twelve days, until the eve of the Feast of Epiphany (January 6th, though this can get moved to a Sunday), and thirdly as a liturgical season extending through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, on the Sunday following Epiphany. This Holy Day and season celebrates the most remarkable thing that ever happened: the Incarnation of God in human flesh – in the flesh of a baby borne of a woman.

I’ve never been able to figure out how to celebrate the Holy Day amidst all the silly hoopla of the holiday, and I need to figure it out before I find myself thrown in to deep depression some one of these years.

God Did Not Make Us to Remain Within the Limits of Nature

Posted: Sunday, January 2, 2011 (11:58 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for January 2nd, 2011:

Henri De Lubac, writing on the nature of the Church, in The Splendor of the Church, p. 237 in the 1999 Ignatius edition:

God did not make us “to remain within the limits of nature” or for the fulfilling of a solitary destiny; on the contrary, he made us to be brought together into the heart of the life of the Trinity. Christ offered himself in sacrifice so that we might be one in that unity of the divine Persons (Jn 17:19-23). That is to be the “recapitulation”, “regeneration”, and “consummation” of all things, and anything outside that which exerts a pull over us is a thing of deception (Jn 17:23; 1Cor 15:28). But there is a place where this gathering  together of all things in the Trinity begins in this world; “a family of God”, a mysterious extension of the Trinity in time, which not only prepares us for this life of union and gives us a sure guarantee of it (Eph 2:19; 1Tim 3:15; 1Pet 4:17), but also makes us participate in it already.

As the new year begins in the waning of the Christmas season, it is good to recall just what the Incarnation was willed by God to effect: the “consummation” of all things in the very life of God. And it is equally important to recall that it is through the agency of the Church that this transformation – this “theosis,” or divinization of created man – is willed by God to be effected in history. Let that mind-boggling truth be a daily reflection for the new year…

Oh, That You Would Rend the Heavens and Come Down!

Posted: Sunday, November 30, 2008 (11:41 pm), by John W Gillis


I had the curious privilege this weekend of proclaiming the liturgical reading for the last Mass of the year on Saturday, as well as the readings for the first Mass of the new liturgical year today. I’m sure that’s not particularly unusual, but given as I only read about three days a month, it was a bit curious to draw these exact two assignments.

In reflecting on them both, it struck me how similar they are – in that even the triumphant scene from Revelation of the vision of the tree of life in the Saturday reading is imbued with such a strong sense of expectant waiting: “Behold, I am coming soon” (Rev 22:7). The confidence of this vision, as well as that of the opening of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that serves as today’s second reading, put us on guard against an overly fatalistic reading of the Isaiah passage from this morning’s liturgy:

1st Sunday in Advent, Year B

16b You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever. 17 Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. 16b Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, 2 While you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, 3 such as they had not heard of from of old. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him. 4 Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; 5 all of us have become like unclean men, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; We have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. 6 There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; For you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt. 7 Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, 6 as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus (Christ). 9 God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

33 Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. 35 Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. 36 May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’ “

Yet, for all the confident hope expressed by the end-of-year readings – as well as in paul’s greeting to the Corinthians – both the Isaiah reading and today’s Gospel commend a certain sobriety. “Watch!” Jesus implores us; don’t be lulled into complacency by the times and seasons.

The reason to be on guard against such complacency is made clear by Isaiah. Things had gone badly – very badly – for Isaiah’s people, and he ached for God to “rend the heavens and come down” to rescue His people, as He had done through Moses in ages past. But Isaiah also knew that only a people truly open to God could receive His “awesome deeds,” and he knew that a contrite and penitent spirit alone could be open to God.

The thought that really jumps out at me is “There is no one who calls upon your name.” As I embark upon another Advent, I simultaneously and necessarily also embark upon another one of what used to be called the “Christmas Season,” but is now, mercifully – and more accurately – called the Holiday Season.

Like many Christians, I’ve struggled for years to reconcile the public practice of “Christmas” with my faith. That the American cultural “Holiday” stands in stark contrast to its ostensible origins in the Christian Nativity story and celebration really needs no proof. The commandeering of “Christmas” for the purpose of a societal bacchanalia of materialism is plainly contrary to the humble character of Our Lord’s first coming.

Somewhere along the way, Jesus Christ morphed into Santa Claus – himself a caricature of the ancient Catholic Bishop of Myra, Saint Nicholas, a man renowned for his love for and generosity toward poor women, whom he would anonymously provide dowries for in order to save them from lives of prostitution. Yet, in the transformation, the “bringer of gifts” became one who indulged the rich while overlooking the poor, despite the celebratory thanksgiving song sung by His mother – prayed in unison every evening by the Church in her liturgy for her thousands of years:

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty (Luke 1:52-53).

There was a time, I will admit – coincidental to a time when I was poor myself – that I was pretty well convinced that the “Santa Claus” entity was no less than an expression of the anti-Christ. I had many reasons, at the time, for my opinion, having identified a host of ways that “Santa Claus” or “the Spirit of Christmas” not only failed to adequately express the truths revealed in the Incarnation, but operated from fundamentally opposing and contrary notions of the good, and contributed to the growing problem of unbelief by distorting children’s openness to supernatural, revelatory truth. I have no interest in rehashing those arguments here, but merely want to suggest that many things can become clear to a man about the purpose and nature of institutions when he is too poor to get in the door. Christ truly came to blow such doors asunder.

And as “the Season” kicks off again, amidst reports of store clerks being stampeded to death by astonishingly graceless “holiday” bargain hunters, the ancient words of Isaiah haunt me:

There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; For you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt. Isaiah 64:7 (NAB)

As a society that once had at least some sort of claim on God’s heritage, it strikes me that we are every bit in exile as were the Babylonian captives Isaiah ached to see restored to their place as the tribes of God’s heritage. What would seem more impolite than to actually call upon His Name? Rend the heavens, indeed, Lord. Maranatha! Lord, come quickly!

Shop ‘Till You Get Dropped

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2008 (11:10 pm), by John W Gillis


The “holiday” feeding frenzy is off to an inauspicious start today. The day began, in Nassau County, New York, with a 34 year-old WalMart employee being trampled to death by a mob of early-morning deal seekers who broke down the doors of the building in an earnest attempt to score the very first discounted gizmos.

Not to be outdone by the east coasters, a pair of men in a California Toys “R” Us store gunned each other down after their female companions entered into fisticuffs (in front of their children). The corporate offices of Toys “R” Us, however, issued a statement saying that “it would be inaccurate to associate the events of today with Black Friday.”

Black Friday? I know I’m a bit out of the loop when it comes to these things, but exactly how and when did this day come to be called Black Friday? It’s bad enough that it’s been known as the beginning of “Christmas Season,” even though Advent Season doesn’t even start for another few days – let alone the real Christmas Season, which starts late in December. Of course, nowadays, nobody with any manners would refer to “Christmas Season” for fear of being labeled a religious intolerant. That’s just as well, because “Black Friday” and the rest of the associated seasonal lunacy (murders aside) has absolutely nothing to do with the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, which is, ostensibly, where this whole disgrace began.

No doubt, we will soon enough be assaulted by the annual appeals to “keep Christ in Christmas.” I’m not sure that’s exactly the right solution, though. At this point, that sounds to me too much like syncretism. I think the Church needs to find a way to disassociate itself from the annual orgy of materialism, allow the hostile secularists to extirpate all references to Christ from the public occasion, and offer, instead, a very different vision of the season – one rooted in the reflective and preparatory spirituality of Advent.