The Christmas gifts all have been opened and, once again, I didn’t find one of these under my tree. It's a vampire hunter's kit. Not that I ever expect to encounter, or even believe in vampires, per se, but... cool, no?
It comes complete with crucifixes (one silver and one wooden), a prayer book, a mallet and silver-tipped stakes, a pistol with silver bullets (engraved with a cross), a rosary, blessed candles, holy incense, a mirror, and individual vials of holy water, chrism, brimstone, and holy soil.
Again, I don't subscribe to the folklores and legends of undead beings who arise from their graves at night to suck people's blood, but I do believe in the forces of darkness and evil. I also believe that our Catholic faith equips us with our own weapons of spiritual warfare and compels each of us to strive to overcome the forces of evil.
Shortly before Christmas a vicar from an Anglican church in Iraq gave a harrowing account of four Christian children who were beheaded by ISIS in Iraq because they refused to convert to Islam. From his interview with Orthodox Christian Network:
The vicar of the city’s St George's Church… said ISIS had killed “huge numbers” of believers in Jesus. “Islamic State turned up and said to the children, ‘you say the words that you will follow Mohammad,”’ he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
“The children, all under 15, four of them, said ‘no, we love Yesua (the Iraqi name for Jesus), we have always loved Yesua; we have always followed Yesua; Yesua has always been with us.’ “They [ISIS] said, ‘Say the words.’ They [the children] said, ‘No, we can't.’”
“They chopped all their heads off. How do you respond to that? You just cry.”
We hear stories like this in other parts of the world and we feel helpless, but the truth is that we all are given a mission in the battle against evil. It starts by us choosing to be on the right side. We stay in a state of grace, receiving life through the Sacraments and prayer, and live our lives in purity and truth. Enlisted and trained in God's army, we go forth, always receiving new orders and calls, and we really do make a difference.
Every year, on December 28, the Church marks the Feast of the Holy Innocents. We commemorate the children slayed by Herod after the birth of Jesus (Matt. 2:16-18). The feast falls on a Sunday this year so it will be suppressed, but still we remember the innocents, we fight for them, and we pray that, in even the little things that we do, we always may be counted among them.
Here is a video experiment from the people at IKEA. What do the children really want for Christmas?
Maybe we all should write such a Christmas letter.
God's best Christmas blessings to all of you.
Many people, when they read a book, like to underline or highlight sentences or passages that touch them or are meaningful to them. I do that often too. Then I like to go back to the book, sometimes months or years later, and re-read the highlighted passages. It’s like re-living a spiritual experience.
Sometimes too I will pick up a used book and look at passages that somebody else has highlighted – maybe even a long time ago. I feel like I have been given a window into somebody’s soul. It’s interesting to ponder, as I read through some anonymous person’s highlighted passages, what they might have experienced or loved or feared or wondered at.
Thanks to modern technology, we now have a way to glimpse into our broader society’s collective soul. People at Amazon.com have been monitoring and keeping track of book passages that have been highlighted by their Kindle readers. Earlier this year, Amazon revealed which passages were highlighted most by readers of their e-books.
Millions of passages from millions of books were highlighted. Topping the list of the most highlighted e-book passage of all time was a quote from Catching Fire, the second book in best-selling The Hunger Games series. Highlighted by 17,784 readers was the sentence, “Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” This was highlighted almost twice as often as the second most highlighted passage.
It’s a simple sentence – not especially insightful or memorable, not poetic. One can’t help but wonder what it triggered in the hearts of so many people. It is a sentence that speaks of need and helplessness. It speaks of mystery and points to forces and a power beyond us.
It’s a sentence that speaks to us about Christmas. All of those readers who highlighted that passage likely were feeling, whether they realized it or not, the most important thing any spirit can feel – the need for a Savior. The more we reflect on it the more we will see. We all are painfully aware that we need to be changed, healed, fulfilled, helped, and lifted out of the darkness – but we cannot do it ourselves. We’re not equipped to deal with this.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Thank you, good people of Nativity, for all you do to keep me and others pointed to Jesus. What is true Christmas spirit? It’s knowing that He is lifting you out of the darkness in a way that you could never do yourself.
I pray that for all of you Christmas is a highlight that you can re-live over and over. Peace!
Gaudete! We prepare now for the third Sunday of Advent. We light the rose-colored candle. I put on the rose-colored vestment.
Whenever I go to a home improvement store I like to spend a little time in the paint department. Because I am an English major I like the descriptive words they use to describe paint colors.
You will notice that, according to color experts like Sherwin-Williams, the vestment I will have on this weekend is not "pink sea shell" or "little piggy" or "powder-puff" or "creamy peach" or "flamingo's dream" or even "tickled pink." The color with which I will be adorned this day can most accurately be described as "Imperial Rose." That suits me better, don't you think?
Gaudete Sunday is important because it helps to drive out the inner-Eeyore in each one of us. Eeyore is that old grey stuffed donkey from the Winnie the Pooh series who is pessimistic, cynical, and almost seems to enjoy being gloomy. It might alarm us, if there were some way to chart the movements of our spirit, to recognize how often we are like that.
How often, throughout our day, could we be described as being brooding, peevish, defeatist, easily irritated by unimportant things, or otherwise behave in a way that betrays a belief that evil and hardships outweigh the good?
For my Advent spiritual reading I have been making my way through a book called Despondency: The Spiritual Teaching of Evagrius Ponticus on Acedia by Gabriel Bunge. Evagrius of Pontus was a fourth-century monk who warned of the dangers of despondency and acedia (sloth or listlessness) and taught how it can be overcome.
Essentially, Evagrius defined despondency as hating everything that is available to us and disordinately desiring what we don't have. How often does that describe our fallen spirits!
From this despondent discontent develops despair and giving-up and then an inner "slackness." Evagrius says, "Just as a sick person can carry no burden" so too will the despondent person never undertake with care the good work of God. Instead the person will distract himself or merely try to entertain himself – “but the evil is not remedied by this, only postponed... and despondency returns and requires yet stronger doses."
Gaudete Sunday says, "Look alive Eeyores! Despair not. Don’t let your spirit fall into that stagnant slumber. Keep praying. It does bear fruit. Be people of hope. Rouse yourself from your slackness and distractions. See the glory. Know the joy. Set your spirit right. The Rose is blooming. Christ comes and your redemption is at hand!"
Lively hope and blessed Gaudete Sunday to you all.
One of our parishioners told me about a place in south Minneapolis called Orfield Laboratories. Orfield Labs is an acoustic and sound-design research facility. Located within the lab is an anechoic chamber – a room that is reported to hold the Guinness record for being the quietest room in the world.
"Anechoic" means "no echo." The room is designed to absorb sound. A typical quiet room in which you sleep at night would measure at around +30 decibels of sound. This chamber has been measured at -9 decibels.
This room is quiet. How quiet is it?
This room is so quiet that many people who spend time there find it very unnerving and cannot bear to spend more than a few minutes in the chamber. Some people even have reported having hallucinations or have had other psychosis-like experiences while within the room. The room is so quiet that people claim to have heard the blood flowing through their organs or air passing through their lungs.
I emailed the lab a couple of weeks ago requesting to visit. I told them that I am a Catholic priest and would like to spend some time in prayer in the chamber -- as a form of spiritual research. I am still hoping but have yet to hear back from them.
Whether I ever get to visit or not, the chamber simply confirms what our Catholic spiritual tradition has long since recognized. Spending time alone in quiet for many of us can be very uncomfortable. Take note of all of the noise with which we continually surround ourselves. How long can an average person spend alone in silence without feeling the urge to push a button or to flip a switch in order to placate our addiction to noise?
I read an article by a man who needed a little "spiritual medicine." So he decided to visit a monastery in Alaska. The impact of immersing himself in silence was for him "incredibly powerful." Yet, he claims, "It wasn't 'peaceful,' as some might expect. Rather, being on the Holy Mountain stung like a mustard plaster, acting as a healing poultice drawing out toxins. When it was time to leave, I felt as though I had been through an existential wringer."
Advent is the season of silence – but it's a silence that seeks to unsettle us before it can soothe us. It's not always easy, when we go to sacred silence, to listen to some of the toxins that rise up from the depth of our spirit, but we have to be still. Let the silence draw them out – and into the light of Christ.
Christmas must wait. Let Advent do its quiet healing work first. True peace to you all.
Fr. Zehren's Blog
Fr. Dennis Zehren is the pastor of Nativity of Mary Parish and School. Fr. Zehren has been at Nativity since June 2012. Pray that he may be a faithful servant leading us higher up and deeper into the life and love of our Triune God.