Saturday, December 31, 2005
Friday, December 30, 2005
Via Amy Welborn, an exchange between an irate Catholic and Garrison Keillor, the oily host of A Prairie Home Companion, and one of the main reasons for anyone to be embarrassed to be from Minnesota. Keillor is, and for years has been, a...well, I can't really say what he is, other than that it rhymes with "thick." There are plenty of people I don't like (and I say this with no sense of pride), but with Keilor I go beyond simply not liking him to actively disliking him. Because he's supposed to have this down-home, wry sense of humor, he's been able to get away with some extremely vicious, truly nasty attacks on people over the years. He's as bad as Bill Maher and some other lefty "comedians" who, for one reason or another, have a much worse rep than Keillor.
There's quite a bit of controversy in Amy's combox as to whether or not Keillor is actually funny. I personally think using the words "Keillor" and "funny" in the same sentence is kind of like "Kennedy" and "ethics" (or "military" and "intelligence," if you prefer). But I'm not about to trade insults with anyone who thinks he is funny, except perhaps to suggest that they're guilty of extremely bad taste. :)
In the end, as I mentioned in my own comment, it's probably not worth arguing about. I do think it's worth pointing out to people what kind of person Keillor really is, but aside from that it's just a waste of time. As Malcolm Muggeridge once suggested in regards to Monty Python, taking his arguments seriously implies that he should be taken seriously, and nothing could be further from the truth.
By the way, if it comes down to the Pope vs. Keillor, I'm taking B16 with the points.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
It's times like this when I wish I had the talent of an artist, the ability to paint a picture with images rather than words, for the image I have in mind is difficult to express with the printed word. What I see is an image of the Nativity, Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and angels hovering around the Baby, with the shadow of the Cross hanging over them all.
As Fr. Tiffany said in his homily this morning, we have entered into a period of feasts and readings that cause us to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas - that is, the price we pay for being a follower of Christ. It's a road that we set out on from the moment of His birth; a continuation, if you will, of the journey made by the Magi. December 26, the day after our joyous celebration of His birth, we honored the death of the first martyr, St. Stephen. December 27 was the commemoration of St. John, who spent his last few years in a virtual prison because of his beliefs.
Yesterday was the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, who died in place of the Christ Child. Any analysis of the Holy Innocents seems inevitably to lead us to the question of the sancity of life, for we are reminded that while the Herod who ordered Jesus' death has long since died, there are many Herods who have taken his place - the judges who allow abortion, the doctors who kill terminally (and not-so-terminally) ill patients, the scientists who experiment with cloning and embryonic stem cells, those with the incessant urge to attach a kind of value and utility to the life of a human being, and the continued effort to devalue the dignity of man (Fr. Tiffany mentioned that it was said to be safer to be Herod's dog than his relative).
Today we honored the martyr Thomas Becket, but the focus was on the Gospel: the canticle of Simeon, and Simeon's prophesy that "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:34-35) It is a prophesy not only of what awaits Christ, but also that which lies in store for Mary.
"A sword will pierce through your own soul also." She may have pondered those words and kept them in her heart, but it could not have surprised her, for from the moment of the Annunciation she knew that her life would never be the same. She was familiar enough with Jewish history to know that to those whom God grants great favors, He often also allows great hardships. She couldn't have been unaware of God's warning to the serpent that "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15)*
It may seem strange, in the midst of this joyous season of Christmas, to be reflecting already on the Cross; but in fact it was all laid out for us, long beforehand. Christ's Way of the Cross starts with the Nativity, but in fact it begins much earlier; with the Incarnation, the Annunciation, the very beginning of time (for in the beginning, as John says in the first chapter of his Gospel, was the Word). It is one reason why I so strongly resist the suggestion that Christmas is "not such a big deal"; it is in fact a crucial element in the story of our salvation - the road that leads from the Annunciation through the Nativity to Good Friday and finally Easter Sunday.
And so, after the hustle and bustle of Christmas Day and our preparations for it, perhaps we can take advantage of the relative peace and quiet that follows to reflect on this. The image of the Cross mixes easily with the architecture of the manger, and its shadow lies before us, pointing us to the path Christ is to take, the path we must all take if we are to be followers of Him. It is a destiny we can no more deny than did He.
*N.B.: The early Church fathers have always read this, from the Latin, as "she shall bruise (or crush) your head. Others have understood it to refer to the "seed" of the woman. In either case, it is clear that Mary is seen as playing a major role in the ultimate defeat of Satan.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
We're back from our brief Christmas break, and just in time to give you the wrap-up of Christmas week programming for 1964 as seen in the pages of TV Guide. I've really enjoyed doing this summary; in going through these old publications you dutifully note what you read, but sharing them with others somehow brings them more alive for yourself.
Friday, December 25, 1964 started with Kukla, Fran and Ollie celebrating Christmas for the entire two hours of the Today show. Captain Kangaroo read "Christmas Is a Time of Giving." The morning rerun of the Andy Griffith show was Christmas-oriented, as was those on The Real McCoys and Father Knows Best. At 10:30 Channel 11 ran The Joyful Hour, with Pat O'Brien and his family introducing a dramatization of the Nativity. (This show can still be seen at Christmastime on EWTN, by the way.)
At 11:30 a.m., NBC presented a live church service from the National Cathedrial in Washington, D.C. This program of lessons and carols was a tradition on NBC for many years, before going into syndication. I wonder if it's still on TV anywhere today? Opposite this were Ernie Ford's Christmas show on his daily half-hour program on ABC, and a film feature on "Christmas Around the World" on Channel 11.
Daytime interview programs are nothing new - the actress Lois Leppart had one on ABC in the mid-60s, and on this day she told the Christmas story. Even the program that followed it, Day in Court, concluded it's week-long story "hours before Christmas." At 2:00 p.m. ABC showed the North-South Shrine college football all-star game from Miami, a game that isn't played anymore but back then was a staple of Christmas day. The Bachelor Father rerun opposite it on Channel 11 was (you guessed it) holiday-themed.
At 3:30 Channel 4 presented a half hour of Christmas music by the Gustavus Adolphus College Choir, and they followed up at 4:00 with the kids show Axel and His Dog presented its annual Christmas show. And at 4:30 they finished the block with the Blackpool Tower Circus from England.
There wasn't much on in the evening, and what there was was mostly on the educational channel, 2 (what a difference from now!) - at 8:30 p.m. Channel 2 had Christmas in Tyrol, a repeat of a Christmas concert from the previous year, hosted by Fr. Richard Schuler, now our pastor emeritus at St. Agnes. Channel 5 had their annual telecast of a Christmas skating show from the Minneapolis Ice Center. At 9:00 Channel 2 was back with holiday music from the University of Minnesota Men's Glee Club, at 10 they presented a medieval play on the journeys of the shepards and the Wise Men, and at 10:30 they showed a repeat of Monday's music show with the St. Olaf choir. Finally, at 10:30 Channel 4 had a movie called The Old Testament, and I'm not sure whether this qualifies as Christmas programming or not!
And so Christmas week came to an end. What kind of conclusions can we draw about what they saw on TV back in 1964?
- I think you'd have to say there was more Christmas programming on than there is now, even taking into consideration the fact that there were only five TV stations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area back then, none of which ran for 24 hours.
- Most of the programs had religious themes, or at least religious segments in the program.
- There has been a dramatic decrease in the amount of local programming shown by local stations.
- There were a lot more music programs on, many of them by local music groups. I wonder if there are as many local singing groups around now?
- Nobody was afraid to use the word "Christmas."
Yes, times have changed, haven't they? This was fun for us - hope you enjoyed this trip back into the past as well!
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Et incarnatus est
de Spiritu Sancto
ex Maria Virgine,
et homo factus est.
By the power of the Holy Spirit
He was born of the Virgin Mary
And became man.
It was said that the rebellion of Satan and the other fallen angels was over this idea that God would lower Himself to become man. Satan refused to bow before a mere man, and the die was cast.
There are those who hate God for precisely this reason, for becoming man. For in doing so, He endowed man with a unique dignity at odds with our culture of death. It's much harder to kill the unborn child, the aged, the ill, if you think that in looking at them you might be seeing the face of God.
It was no bargain for Jesus, either. Often in classical Masses, the Et incarnatus est section of the Credo is a somber, deliberate movement, a far cry from the joyous nature of much of the rest of the music. The Et incarnatus est of Bach's B minor Mass is a perfect example of what music critic Robert R. Reilly once called "the Creed from Jesus' point of view."
After all, He was born to die. Many of those whom He came to save denied Him. He was betrayed and rejected by His own disciples, and underwent an agonizing death on the Cross, taking on the weight of all the sins of man - not only those already committed, but those that would be committed throughout the history of time. And while undergoing His Passion, He carried the knowledge that even after His Resurrection, people would continue to reject Him, and crime and injustice would be committed in His name. It's hard to imagine much joy in knowing, as He did, what life had in store for Him.
And yet He did it, willingly. "Before He was given up to death, a death He freely accepted," in the words of the Eucharastic Prayer. And so it is that at midnight tonight we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the Eternal God and Son of the Eternal Father Who, seeking to sanctify mankind to Himself, was born and died for our sins and for our salvation.
He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. For this we will be forever grateful. Come, let us be joyful and adore this Babe in the manger, let us look upon Him with some measure of the love which He, even before the moment of His birth, had for us.
Certainly this is a reason to celebrate. And let us do so! We'll be back to the blog on Monday with more Christmas coverage; until then, from us to all of you, our wishes for a blessed and very Merry Christmas!
Christmas Eve was a day of great excitement in our household - or rather, I should call it "the day before Christmas." Being a great stickler for detail, as most children are, I insisted that "Christmas Eve" didn't start until that night. That was when the family came over for dinner, when we had our tree, when I would watch some of the church services on TV. That was Christmas Eve, and until then it was merely the day before Christmas.
I was reminded of that last night as we were watching The Bishop's Wife with Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven (and not that awful remake The Preacher's Wife, which misses the boat entirely). In it, the daughter mentions that "Christmas Eve will be here soon." And indeed it will, but for the next few hours it's still the day before Christmas.
The Bishop's Wife wasn't on TV on Thursday, December 24, 1964, but there were plenty of other Christmas programs to watch, according to TV Guide. (See our previous posts on Christmas week programming for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday). During the first hour of NBC's Today show, Hugh Downs reports on how GIs in Europe will be spending Christmas. On Captain Kangaroo, the Captain reads "The Night Before Christmas," as illustrated by Grandma Moses. A rerun of Father Knows Best on ABC at 11 am shows that Robert Young has concerns that the family has made Christmas too commercial and plans an old-fashioned Yule. (Once again showing that there's nothing new under the sun.)
At 12:20 Channel 5's Dialing for Dollars presented another local singing group, The Crosier choristers, with several Christmas songs. Channel 11's "Matinee Movie" at 1pm is Alice in Wonderland (the non-animated version), presented for all the children who've been out of school the entire week. At 4:00, Channel 4's Around the Town has the Lutheran Brotherhood choir singing "holiday" music. Seeing as how Lutheran Brotherhood was a fraternal insurance organization for Lutherans, I'm betting at least some of those songs were religious ones..
At 6:00 Channel 2 continued their Christmas music programs with a half hour from the Holy Childhood Boys Choir, and here I'll interject a personal note. Holy Childhood, which is where we'll be attending Midnight Mass tonight, has always had a reputation for an outstanding music program (one of their first music directors was the famed liturgical composer Richard Proulx). In the pre-Vatican II days their music was supplied exclusively by a choir of men and boys; after Vatican II, girls from the K-8 school and women were added. To this day the music program in the school remains one of the best around, and it's a parish that takes religious and liturgical music very seriously. (We'll report on the Midnight Mass early next week.)
Prime time is a mixed bag, as the networks are assuming that many families are getting together, and probably not watching much TV. The Flintstones (ABC, 6:30) has a Christmas episode (never could figure that out, how cavemen living BC would celebrate Christmas. Who knew?). At 7:30 Channel 2 has more Christmas music, "Carols from Around the world" by the College of St. Theresa, and they continue at 8:00 with A Child's Christmas in Utah and at 8:30 with a concert by the Monk's Choir of St. John's University. Dr. Kildare's Christmas show (7:30, NBC) deals with a alcoholic brought into the ER on Christmas Eve. George, the nominal patriarch of the house governed by Shirley Booth's maid Hazel (8:30, NBC), takes a page from Robert Young's playbook, deciding that Christmas is too commercial. At 9:00 on CBS, the legal drama The Defenders doesn't have a Christmas show per se, but during the run of this very ernest show, they always presented a comedy at Christmas, and this is no exception. (On the same page is an ad stating that "The Publisher And Staff Of TV GUIDE Magazine Extend Best Wishers To You And Your Family For A Happy Holiday Season.")
At 10:30 CBS presents The Sounds of Christmas, hosted by Baroness Maria Von Trapp (that's right, the Von Trapp from The Sound of Music) coming from the Von Trapp family lodge in stowe, Vermont (and presented by the National Council of Catholic Men). A musical Christmas Card is NBC's show, featuring Sammy Davis Jr. and the Norman Luboff Choir.
At 11:00 (midnight on the East Coast) the church services start. On CBS it's a Protestant service (all the religious affiliations of these church services are carefully noted) from St. Luke's Lutheran Church in New York. What's really interesting about TV Guide listings at this point in history is that they can carry so much detail, because compared to our time there is so little programming on. For this service all the music to be performed is listed - "The Shepherd's Carol," "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent," "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," and "What You Gonna Call Yo' Pretty Little Baby?" The pastor of the service is Albert L. Neibacher.
Prior to its annual coverage of the Papal Mass at the Vatican, NBC had traditionally covered the Midnight mass at St. Patrick's in New York. This year the Pontifical Solemn High Mass is celebrated by Bishop John Maguire, with a taped message from Cardinal Spellman. I find the listing for this Mass particularly interesting, and quite sad in a way, for in the description is one of those wonderful and terrible lines which carries so much history, and which - unknown at the time - portents much heartbreak, misery and turmoil:
"The new liturgy will be used, with some of the Mass sung in English, some in Latin."
It's not the Novus Ordo - yet - but it's the Tridentine in the vernacular, and things will never be the same again.
At midnight ABC presents taped coverage of the Solemn Pontifical Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, celebrated by Bishop Sheen with music by the Marist College Choir. The independent Channel 11 has Amos 'n' Andy, with Andy taking his goddaughter Christmas shopping. And Channel 4 brings this wonderful day to an end with the Mora High School Choir singing traditional Christmas songs and carols (and I'll bet those carols are gone from their playlist now), and at 12:30 a.m. a repeat of the Great Lakes Choir's concert from Sunday.
And so the stations sign off for the night (except for Channel 5, whose late movie The House of the Seven Gables will run until 2:30 a.m.). People will be returning from midnight church services, driving through the darkened streets, walking on snow-covered sidewalks. Children will sleep restlessly, wondering if that squeaking floorboard means Santa's downstairs. All is calm, all is bright.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Terry Teachout recently returned to blogging after a brief but significant stay in the hospital, and we’re all grateful for his continuing recovery. There are few writers around who have a better knack of finding the right things to say (or write) at the right time, whether it be words from their own pen, or those that have been written by others.
In recounting his illness and the feelings that followed once he found himself on the road to recovery, Terry offered an extensive excerpt from Edwin O'Connor's moving novel The Edge of Sadness, in an attempt to explain things. The excerpt struck a chord with me, for reasons that hopefully will become apparent shortly. But first a word of explanation, to set the scene as it were:
I've written extensively about the "War on Christmas," but I've also alluded to those who’ve suggested that we give up trying to “put Christ in Christmas” and withdraw from the secular recognition altogether, celebrating Christmas in our own, quieter way. Others, lamenting the commercialization of Christmas, ask why Christians should object to phrases such as “Happy Holidays,” suggesting that it serves to “aid and abet” the increasing materialistic approach to Christmas. Still others stress the nature of Advent as a time of waiting and preparation, and suggest that any celebration prior to the actual commemoration of Christmas Day may be inappropriate, or should at least be muted.
Now, I can understand (to varying degrees) the points they make, and I can sympathize (to varying degrees) with their conclusions. How people celebrate (or don't celebrate) Christmas is none of my business, I suppose - but for me, the above suggestions don't work. And the words Terry Teachout quoted from O'Connor's novel provide the best explanation I can offer. In the excerpt, the speaker is a middle-aged Boston priest:
I believe with all my heart in the mercy and providence of God, and I believe in a future unimaginably brighter and better than anything I have known here—and
yet of course the whole difficulty is that I have known and have loved “here.” Very much. So that when the time comes for me to go, I know that I will go with full confidence in God—but I also know that I will go with sadness. And I think for no reason other than that…well, I have been alive. An old priest who was dying, one of the saintliest men I have ever known, one of those who had greatest reason to expect God’s favor, many years ago surprised me by telling me, with a little smile, that now that he was going, he wanted desperately to stay.
“A single memory can do it,” he said.
And I suppose he was right. The memory of an instant—of a smile, of leaf smoke on a sharp fall day, of a golden streak across a rain-washed morning, of a small boy seated alone on the seashore, solemnly building his medieval moated castles—just this one, single, final flash of memory can be enough to make us want to stay forever….
Maybe it's because I'm naive, maybe my experiences have been are unique, but it's my belief that the secular side of Christmas is based mostly on memory. I’ve mentioned in the past that Christmas has always been a special time in my life. As far back as I can remember, our family has done Christmas up big-time. As such, my memories of Christmas are quite precious to me. Yes, Christmas is many things to me – glorious decorations, brilliant lights, beautiful trees, and colorful wrapping paper. It’s the eighth floor auditorium at Dayton’s, and the lights and wreaths that used to adorn every business on Lake Street. It’s Bing Crosby and "White Christmas," Nat King Cole and "The Christmas Song"; it’s Bob Hope, Andy Williams, and Mitch Miller. It’s Rudolph and Frosty and the Grinch, and Linus explaining what Christmas is all about. It’s A Christmas Story and Holiday Inn and We’re No Angels, A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott, and with Mr. Magoo. It's the simple pleasure of watching frantic last-minute shoppers on Christmas Eve - sure, some of them are just looking to fill up blank spots under the tree, but some of them are searching for just the right thing, a gift to provide pleasure unimagined to the unsuspecting recipient. It's these things, and so much more.
But it’s also reading the story of the Nativity before dinner on Christmas Eve, it's going to Midnight Mass when it’s –20 outside and singing "Joy to the World," it’s watching John Paul II open the door to the Great Jubilee in 2000, it’s taping EWTN and WGN’s broadcasts of the Mass to watch the next day. It's listening to Handel's "Messiah" on the radio Christmas morning, and reading about the gifts of the Wise Men before opening our own presents. Christmas is many things, but without the birth of Christ it’s nothing. To contend, however, that this is all that matters, this and nothing else - I think that sells short one of the most precious of God's gifts to us: the gift of life. And memory is our reflection on our life so far, what the past means, and where our memories can take us in the future.
Now, there's no denying the excesses of Christmastime: putting "Christ" back in "Christmas" is just part of it. We can all party a little less and purchase a little less and give a little more. We must concentrate on the poverty of Christ and the challenge of being a Christian, as well as the joy of the birth of the Savior. We should never forget that for Jesus, the Way of the Cross began on Christmas. Perhaps if we're better about it in December, it will carry over to other months and we can improve things a bit, here and there.
Materialism is wrong at Christmastime - as it is at all times. A secular attachment to life is as wrong on July 25 as it is on December 25. The problems that most people have with Christmas are problems that exist all year round, and to try to correct them for one month while ignoring them the rest of the year is foolishness, not seeing the forest for the trees. But whether we admit it or not, our lives are full of memories. Our memories are, in fact, a large part of what it means to be alive. And in daring to hold these sweet Christmas memories to our heart, to cherish them in a way that makes us appreciate the gift of life, to celebrate the secular side of Christmas as well as the sacred - well, I just can't believe that a God Who became man, a Savior Who accepted the physical pains of His own death so that when it came time for us to face the pains of ours we would know that He understood, would look too harshly on us for our celebrations.
We must keep our eyes on the prize - but it doesn't mean we can't enjoy the scenery during our journey.
It's Wednesday, December 23, 1964 in the pages of TV Guide, as we continue our review of Christmas-week programming from 31 years ago. On Captain Kangaroo (8:00 a.m., CBS) the Captain and Mr. Green Jeans demonstrated how to make Christmas cards, and Mr. Moose presented a bit on "The Most Beautiful Tree of All." Channel 4's "Around the Town" was back that afternoon with the Columbia Heights High School choir, which was apparently quite popular on TV that year.
Prime time featured some specials, but belonged mostly to holiday-themed epidodes of regular series. At 6:30 the educational station, Channel 2, prsented a half hour of music by the Madrigal Singers of the College of St. Catherine and the College of St. Thomas. CBS had a Christmas concert from England by the well-known singer Jo Stafford, along with The Westminster Abbey Choir, the George Mitchell Singers, The Corona Stage School Children's Chorus, and the Lionel Blair Dancers. ABC featured the Ozzie and Harriet Christmas episode (first telecast in 1956) in which "Ozzie's plans for a quiet, relaxed Christmas go awry."
At 7:30, Channel 2 continues their Christmas music with a concert by the College of St. Benedict choir. ABC's rock-and-roll show Shindig didn't have a Christmas show per se, but the Beach Boys were singing "Little St. Nick," and Adam Faith did "Santa's Back in Town." At 8:00 The Dick Van Dyke Show presented the Christmas edition of the "Alan Brady Show," the program for which Rob, Sally and Buddy wrote. And at 9:00 the regular edition of Danny Kaye's program included a "Christmas Fantasy" by Danny and dancer Gwen Verdon.
It's all building up to a climax - Christmas Eve is coming soon, and with it more special programs.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
It's the title of a terrific piece by Deroy Murdoch at NRO today. He's no right-wing Bible-thumper; in fact, he's a non-believer. But he says "the idea that Christmas is offensive offends me."
People debate the reality of the "war on Christmas," but for me it boils down to these paragraph:
The Orwellian impulse to hammer Christmas into the generic "Holiday" is
mainly a project of far-Left, militant secularists as well as corporate marketers whose courage can be measured in thimbles. Fearful that "Merry Christmas" might make someone "uncomfortable," they instead antagonize the 95 percent of Americans who celebrate Christmas, according to a Fox News poll.
Americans who busy themselves bleaching Christmas into "Holiday" are the same folks who otherwise preach tolerance and celebrate diversity. Well, how about tolerating those of us, Christians and otherwise, who advance diversity by observing Christmas, just as other Americans mark Hanukkah and assorted occasions this season? "Holiday" does not recognize these separate practices; it swirls them in a conformist blender. The meaningless puree that emerges satisfies no one. Christmas is a cultural expression as well as a religious one. It should be preserved as such.
That's it in a nutshell. I think what really riles those of us who see this as a "war" is the feeling that we're not really fighting the secularists, who at least know what they believe. It's the sense that the real opponent out there is someone who has no beliefs whatsoever, who wants to go through life attracting as little attention as possible. In short, what we miss is the old-fashioned value of courage.
It takes courage to be a follower of Jesus. It takes courage to be counter-cultural, to stand up for what a Christian knows to be right. At best, it leaves you open to riducule and ostracism; at worst, martyrdom. And while nobody's suggesting that capitulation to "Happy Holidays" is an outward act of denial, it reeks of something else: cowardice. What we see it those who so readily give away a culture's traditions in the name of inoffensive diversity is an unwillingness to stand up for a larger belief system. It is the insecurity that one finds in those who, when they state anything that approaches an actual truth, hasten to add that it's only their own "personal" belief. Well, if you're that timid in expressing your beliefs, you don't have to worry about trying to convert anyone else.
Some wonder just how important Christmas really is; the radical secularists know how important it is, and that's why they fight it. The corporate marketers know how important it is, for in the message of poverty that Jesus preaches, they see a direct threat to the rampant materialism that they preach. So they rename it something more bland, in hopes that we might not be distracted from our spending. In each case, it's the opposition of these groups that justifies the importance we attach to Christmas. It really does mean something; otherwise they wouldn't give it the time of day.
For me, and surely others, "Silent Night," Saint Nick, and Christmas cards (not "Holiday" cards), conjure up fond memories of drinking egg nog with relatives at grandma's house, wrapping gifts with my mom and cousins, waking up at dawn to see what Santa Claus brought me and my sisters, and assembling train sets and Hot Wheels race tracks with Daddy. By laundering Christmas right out of December, the "Holiday" Police condemn these formative experiences as evil. Shame on them.
The Catholic Church, the body most responsible for rescuing Christmas from the Puritans, recognized that the sacred and secular could exist side-by-side, as long as the sacred was always understood, preached, and lived. For me, I will always celebrate the secular, even as I worship the sacred. Today's new Puritans, those who would prefer that you worship the individual, the sensual, the commercial, the here-and-now - they would have you do neither.
And that we cannot allow.
Continuing our look back at 1964 Christmas week programming as seen in the pages of TV Guide, we're up to Tuesday, December 22.
One of the things you don't see too often any more is the local variety show (and when you do see it, it often takes the guise of a news program). Here in the Twin Cities, we had a program called "Dialing for Dollars" that combined elements of the game show with local news and entertainment. On Tuesday's edition, shown at 12:20 p.m., the Columbia Heights senior High School Choir sang Christmas music. Channel 4 had its own local show, "Around the Town," airing at 4:00 p.m. and featuring the choir from Investors Diversified. (Remember when companies used to have their own employee choirs? It still happens, I guess, although not as often as it used to.)
Channel 4 also had local programming at 7:00 that evening, preempting the Joey Bishop Show. "The Sounds of Christmas" presented the Senior Choir, Holiday Singers, and children from Mt. Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis (a very big church; for Christmas Eve they have eight services, every hour on the hour). A nice program of Christmas music, including "White Christmas," "Jingle Bells," "Winter Wonderland," and (lest we forget it's a church choir) "O Holy Night," and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." The pastor of the church, Dr. Reuben K. Youngdahl, read the Christmas story from the Bible. This in particular seems to be the kind of program that it's very hard to imagine appearing on television nowadays.
At 7:30 CBS presented Red Skelton's annual Christmas show, with special guest Greer Garson. An elementary school choir from Los Angeles gave their version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and I ask myself how many public schools would even have a sacred song like that in their repritorie? The sitcom Petticoat Junction was on at 8:00, with the townfolk doing their traditional Christmas caroling.
At 9:00 NBC presented one of their prestige music shows, The Bell Telephone Hour. Host of this live program was Maureen O'Hara, who read the story of the Nativity (which back then was acknowledged as an integral part of Christmas), the Columbus Boychoir, and singers Howard Keel, Phyllis Curtin and Martha Wright, along with the Bell Telephone Orchestra. The Bell Telephone Hour was a prime example of a program that used to be common on TV but as completely disappeared from the airwaves - a show that combined classical music (one of their most famous broadcasts was a 1960 production of the operetta The Mikado featuring Groucho Marx) with popular entertainment. As one critic said of The Mikado, "It is indicative of how far we've come [or fallen] that such a program would be considered high-brow entertainment were it presented today."
And if you couldn't get enough of the luminious Maureen O'Hara (and, let's face it, who could?), she was back at 10:00 on Channel 11 in Miracle on 34th Street with John Payne, Edmund Gwenn (in his Oscar-winning role) and the very young Natalie Wood. This original version remains one of my favorite movies of all time. It's a heartwarming holiday story that's also a sly satire on commercialism, Freudian psychiatry, Dr. Spock-type child rearing and other modern fads; and any attempt to understand or remake this picture as a simple Christmas fable without considering these elements (as well as the sharp, crackerjack writing) loses much in the translation. Watch this movie, and see if it doesn't make you want to go out and shop at Macy's (which only goes to show how far that store has fallen).
It's getting closer to Christmas, but there's still much to see and hear. Stay tuned for tomorrow.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
This week we've been doing a retrospective of Christmas-week TV programming as described in the December 19-25, 1964 issue of TV Guide. Each day we're looking back at what was on TV that same day in 1964.
We're up to Monday, December 21, and the focus will be on prime-time shows (although on the game show You Don't Say, all the contensants for the week are children). First up is the 6:00 presentation of the famed St. Olaf College Choir on the educational station, Channel 2. The choir sings a half-hour of motets from the 16th and 17th centuries, and selections from Bach.
NBC dominated the Christmas prime-time schedule that day. At 6:30, NBC showed an encore presentation of the Tennessee Ernie Ford special The Story of Christmas. It was last year that I first heard of this program (from the Christmas 1963 issue of TV Guide), and I was stunned to find out that the show, which was highly honored at the time, was actually available on DVD. As befits one of Ernie Ford's shows, there was a high religious content to the program - "What Child Is This?", "Gesu Bambino," "Virgin Slumber Song" and "Joy to the World," along with a stunning animated depiction of the Nativity. Critics of the time predicted it would become a perennial classic; I'm not sure why it didn't.
Following The Story of Christmas, NBC presented a Project 20 documentary, "The Coming of Christ." Narriated by Alexander Scourby (who, if you've never heard him speak, had a wonderfully sonorous voice), the program used masperpieces of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance to illustrate the Old and New Testament stories relating the birth of the Christ.
It wouldn't be Christmas without Andy Williams, and at 8:00 NBC wrapped up their block with Andy's Christmas show. Family was always a big part of Andy's show, and this was no exception - the Williams brothers (Andy, Don, Dick and Bob) along with sister Jane teamed up for seasonal standards like "White Christmas," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," and "Jingle Bells." The Osmond Brothers chimed in with "Silver Bells," among others. From the description in TV Guide, the show doesn't appear to have the religious dimension of the Ernie Ford program, but you could always depend on Andy Williams to do Christmas up right.
Over at ABC, 8:30 brought Bing Crosby's Christmas show. But if you were expecting one of Bing's family gatherings (for which he became famous), you'd be mistaken - this was a time when Bing had his own sitcom, The Bing Crosby Show, in which he portrayed retired entertainer Bing Collins (clever, huh?). Therefore, this episode presents Bing with his TV family - Beverly Garland as his wife, along with kids, neighbors and co-workers. They all get together and do a Christmas show. The series only lasted one season, but this episode marked Bing's one and only Christmas show for 1964.
Finally, CBS got in the act in an unusual way - a documentary at 9:00 entitled "Chrismas in Appalachia," in which Charles Kuralt focused on the bleak holiday for residents of poverty-stricken southern Appalachia.
And so Monday, December 21 wrapped up. I might have expected some local stations to be running Christmas-themed movies in the late-night spot. (Holiday Inn or Going My Way, for example.) However, interestingly enough, Channel 9 does offer the original King Kong at 10:30, with Fay Wray (Naomi Watts, anyone?), Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot. I wonder if thirty years from now they'll be showing this year's version on December 21's late show?
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Yesterday we began looking at the December 19-25, 1964 issue of TV Guide to find out what used to be on TV during Christmas week. Were things really that different back then, or has Christmas always existed more prominently in our memories than it did in reality?
December 20, 1964 was a Sunday, so you might expect a greater emphasis on religious programming. And in fact, at 9 am CBS presented the Christmas oratorio L'Enfance du Christ by Hector Berlioz, featuring members of the Metropolitan Opera. The topic of the 10:30 a.m. religious program called This Is the Life was "Child of Bethlehem." At noon, Channel 5 (at the time the local NBC affiliate) presented a program called "I Believe," which featured Christmas songs by the Concordia College Choir, allong with a message on "The True Meaning of Christmas."
Back in 1964, pro football didn't dominate the airwaves quite as much as it does now (helped by the blackout rule, which prevented a team's home games from being broadcast in the immediate area), so there was a little more variety on network programming than there is now. This can be seen most prominently with the 3pm NBC Opera presentation of Gian-Carlo Menotti's beloved classic Amahl and the Night Visitors, making it's 14th annual appearance during the Christmas season. This program, which on December 24, 1951 was the premiere presentation of the Hallmark Hall of Fame, was a staple of Christmas programming well into the 60s. But if opera was a little too high-brow for you, the CBS affiliate Channel 4 presented the Great Lakes and U.S. Navy Choirs in a half hour of the "Songs of Christmas."
Prime time programming continued the Christmas theme. At 6:30 Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color presented a holiday treat for the kids, Alice in Wonderland. NBC followed this at 7:30 with the Naval Cadet Choir (for those of you who didn't get enough of Midshipmen singing Christmas songs). And while it wasn't Christmas-themed, CBS did run an encore presentation of "An Evening with Fred Astaire" at 8:00 (Christmas has always been a good excuse for big-budget variety specials). The independent station, Channel 11, capped off the night with Bishop Fulton Sheen's Christmas program at 9:30.
And so Sunday, December 20, 1964 came to a close. You might figure that if you weren't in the Christmas mood yet, you never would be. But wait until you see what Monday has to offer...
Happy Catholic kicks things off with the controversy over the USCCB's rating of Brokeback Mountain and wonders why they're doing movie reviews at all. Considering the quality of the review (and the content of the movie), I have to ask myself the same question.
la nouvelle theologie relates a recent evening of ecumenical reflection on the Psalms - the book Jesus most often quoted from - including commentary from Luigi Giussani's book The Psalms. There is so much more to the Psalms than many of us - or me, at least - realize...
Crusader of Justice ponders what it means to "pray without ceasing" and not surprisingly finds the answer in St. Augustine, who says "Whatever else you may be doing, if you but fix your desire on God's Sabbath rest, your prayer will be ceaseless."
HMS Blog reflects on Sunday's readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, particularly the theme of Jesus as the heir of David who will build God’s house. It's a very nice linking of the Old Testament and Gospel readings, showing how the OT is fulfilled in the New.
Herb Ely tells the story of Washington Redskins player Antonio Brown and the difference made by his high school coach and teacher, Tolbert Bain. Herb cites this as a prime example of the Spirituality of Work, and speculates on the role of faith in Brown's life.
Been Christmas shopping yet? Did the clerks in the store wish you "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays"? Or did they wish you anything? Ramblings of a GOP Soccer Mom (that's Christine) says this year she'd even settle for "Season's Greetings", and wonders just what role the stores should play in all this.
Jay picks up on this theme at Living Catholicism, and asks what this movement towards “Holiday” over “Christmas” tells us about a country that is 85% Christian? I particularly appreciated the line, "Tolerance is not charitable if it compromises the Truth."
We sometimes forget that at its most basic level, the Christmas story is one of a mother and her child. On the Other Foot observes it's the one time of the year when Protestants put aside their fears and join Catholics in more traditional worship.
Speaking of giving birth, as we await the birth of the Savior, Kicking Over My Traces looks at the issue of in vitro fertilization and asks if we're overlooking something in the rush to a scientific solution of a heartbreaking problem.
The answer to that could come from A Penitent Blogger, who points out how desire for "things" can lead us astray, and reminds us that seeking happiness and fulfillment apart from God eventually leads us to emptiness and frustration.
It is another type of desire - the desire to find meaning in life - that propels many of us to search for the truth. Deo Omnis Gloria looks at those who seek meaning through America's latest obsession, the occult. Why are so many moving to the occult, and what we should do?
One of the most interesting site names we've run across is TMH's Bacon Bits (mmm, bacon!). In this post, he urges us not to focus on the enemies of Christ during Advent, but instead to reflect on the pure joy of the significance of Christmas.
And your humble hosts look at Catholics who not only urge us to abandon Christmas to the secularists, they suggest that Christmas isn't really that big a deal anyway. Are we talking about the same holiday?
Thanks again for your terrific submissions, and to each and every one of you a blessed final week of Advent. And enjoy Christmas, no matter what anyone else tells you!
Monday, December 19, 2005
King Kong opened this week to generally excellent reviews and a big box-office weekend. In this very funny NRO piece, Andrew Stuttaford takes a look at the checkered past of the giant ape and his leading ladies, from Fay Wray to Jessica Lange, with a few Japanese rip-offs thrown in for good measure. Stuttaford wonders how the new Ann Darrow, Naomi Watts, will do; having previously seen her acting, er . . . form, I'm confident she'll, uh, fill out the role just fine. . .
Hey Badda-Blogger, you're a movie buff; what do you think? Get me out of this one!
Over the past few years we've become more and more aware of the secular war on Christmas - the determination first to remove any religious connotation from the holiday, and now to eliminate even the mention of the word "Christmas," lest it offend any ACLU-refined sensibilities.
There's something of a revisionist school of thought, which I've pointed out before, reminding us that the accusations of commercialization and secularization of Christmas are nothing new. In the classic Miracle on 34th Street, made in 1947, we hear Kris Kringle complaining about the commercialization of Christmas. As Karal Ann Marling points out in her excellent Merry Christmas! Celebrating America's Greatest Holiday, as early as 1952 Dayton's department store received complaints that their Christmas window displays contained no reference (such as a Nativity scene) to the religious nature of the day. (To which Dayton's pointed out that there was a "sharp distinction between the religious side and the festive side of Christmas." Dayton's, however, covered the windows on Sundays (as indeed the store was closed Sundays) and did not advertise in the Sunday papers.)
Lest we fall into the trap of thinking there never was a "Golden Age" of Christmas however, I think it's helpful to look at that great arbitrator of popular culture, TV Guide. For the rest of this week I'd like to share some of the Christmas programming that we would have seen this very week - December 19-25, 1964. Were things really that much different 41 years ago? Was there, in fact, any religious content to the Christmas shows back then?
That year, Decembetr 19 fell on a Saturday. College bowl games were considered part of the holiday landscape, and there were two played that day - the Liberty Bowl, pitting Utah and West Virginia (the game was played at Convention Hall in Atlantic City, home of the Miss America pageant - it was "the first network telecast of an indoor football game"), and the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, featuring Mississippi and Tulsa.
During the kids programming that morning, Dennis the Menace's Mr. Wilson "thinks Dennis should have a real Christmas tree [as opposed to an artificial one, I'd suspect] and sets off to the woods to chop one down." In a program called Forrest Rangers, "Mr. MacLeod wants to buy himself a watch for Christmas - but he doesn't have enough money." Does he ever get the watch? I guess we'll never know.
Moving to prime time, at 7:30 that night, Gilligan's Island had a Christmas theme - the castaways spend Christmas Eve reminiscing about how they came to be shipwrecked. On a frontier drama called Kentucky Jones starring Dennis Weaver, "Ike's first Christmas in America is sure to be a memorable one." Up against these two shows was Lawrence Welk's annual Christmas program; the hour of holiday music included "Ave Maria," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "The Bells of St. Mary's," "O Holy Night" and "White Christmas." Finally, speaking of which, NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies presents the classic White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, at 8:00.
Not impressed? It is a slow start to Christmas week perhaps, but keep in mind a couple of things - first, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, you've only got three television networks, plus PBS (which at this time was known as "Educational Television"), and an independent station. Second, remember that the main purpose of many Christmas shows (then as well as now) was to prime the shopping pump, and to give kids ideas of what to ask mom and dad for. With only a week to go before the big day, much of that has already been accomplished - cartoons like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had already been aired earlier that month.
But the week gets better - I promise! And each day the rest of this week we'll take a look at what you might have seen had you been watching that week in 1964.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
I meant to write about this yesterday, before the computer gremlins rendered our internet connection null and void, but I think there's still some worth in it today.
In his homily yesterday, Fr. Pavlik concentrated on the first reading by Isaiah. This is a particularly effective passage, with its repeated rhetorical emphasis ("I am the Lord and there is no other") and the foreshadowing of Christ's "Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened" message (Matt. 11-28) when the Lord says, "Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other."
This was the focus of Fr. Pavlik's homily. The words serve at once as both reassurance and warning. For only through the Lord can we find true happiness, true peace, true life. Not from our jobs. Not from our friends or family. Not from sex or money or material goods. Those are but false gods, whispering sweet nothings in our ears, promising us the world. No, only Jesus can give us the peace and joy that we hunger for; and we will remain like children in the wilderness until we find Him.
"Turn to me and be saved," our Lord promises us, and it is a promise we can depend on. It was because of this that He created the world, it was because of this that He became man, it was because of this that He died on the Cross for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day. "Turn to me and be saved," He says, and in those words we feel the love and care He has for us. In those words is the source of our hope and our salvation. And why shouldn't we take comfort from them?
After all, He is God, and there is no other.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Get Religion has been particularly good lately, and here is their continuing coverage of the Megachurch abandonment of Christmas Day services. (You'll recall I alluded to this in my piece about the New Oxford Review yesterday.)
I find this to be quite an interesting story, as well as the fact that it just won't go away. It seems to really be striking a chord in people, that there's just something wrong about a church being closed on Christmas Day - especially when it happens to fall on Sunday. I recall talking with a friend once who was a lapsed Catholic (since returned), who had even strayed away from Christianity for a time (not seriously, however) who still went to Midnight Mass on Christmas. It just felt right to be in church on Christmas.
One must resist the temptation to stick it to these evangelicals - after all, there are a lot of "twice-yearly" Catholics out there, and before we chide others too much, we really ought to spend a little more time in church ourselves. But as Amy, tmatt and others have pointed out, this really says tons about how the modern megachurch is being marketed as a commodity, and how many (notice I didn't say all) of these churches fail to realize the importance of the communal aspects of religion. And what does it say about how they view Christmas, or Christianity for that matter? Even if these people don't intend to send this message, they have to be more aware of what their actions tell others. As Amy writes,
What the conversation reveals is the poverty of the non-liturgical Christian traditions in this regard, and our own poverty, when we who are the heirs and guardians of 2000 years of reflection and tradition, turn our backs on the rich theological and spiritual feast that's ours, and start thinking, like the rest of the world, about what we have to squeeze in, so that the religious part of Christmas is taken care of, and the real celebrations can begin.
But then, if it's only about having a personal relationship with Jesus, you really don't need organized religion at all, do you?
Of course, when Jesus founded His Church, He might have disagreed on that point.
Another example of corporate irresponsibility - Walgreens fires four pharmacists for refusing to go against their religious beliefs and dispense the morning-after pill. I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but this is another example of what I talked about last week - the moral responsibility a company has to recognize the inherent dignity of their employees and of the work they do. And it's not as if other companies haven't made this kind of accommodation for their pharmacists (allowing them to refuse to fill a particular prescription that violates their moral beliefs, and instead having another pharmacist do it) because they have.
Apparently Walgreens believes in choice when it comes to birth, but not when it comes to an employee's right to choose their conscience. Perhaps they should remember that consumers have a choice as well.
(HT: Clayton at The Weight of Glory)
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace. Amen.
Please keep the family in your prayers.
I'm not sure if this a criticism or a curiosity, although I suspect it'll become clearer to me as I go on.
The most recent issue of the New Oxford Review (I like to think that I can digest a number of different viewpoints, whether I agree with them or not) has an article about the continuing secularization of Christmas and the date's subsequent loss of identity. Yours truly, along with many others, has been fighting for some time to reclaim Christmas as a date of religious significance - even if only by acknowledging the date by name.
NOR has another idea though - abandon the day altogether. Give it to the secularists and let them continue it as the pagan holiday it has become. After all, Christmas "isn't anywhere near the pinnacle of the liturgical year." The author (and I'm sorry for not linking, but they don't have a link to this article available on their website, not even for their print subscribers, unless you buy an additional web subscription) quotes #1171 of the CCC that Christmas is just one of the "various aspects of the one Paschal mystery," part of "a cycle of feasts surrounding the incarnation" that includes the Annunciation and Epiphany. NOR continues that for Catholics, it's all about Easter, the "Feast of feasts" (true) - after all, "isn't 'our future resurrection' what it's all about?"
Well, yes - but Bishop Sheen used to say that you couldn't get to Easter Sunday without going through Good Friday, and the same holds true for Christmas. Without the Incarnation, which culminates in the Nativity, you can't have Easter, either. And I might point out that Christmas is a Holy Day of Obligation, unlike the Annunciation, (Epiphany, by virtue of being celebrated on Sunday, is a de facto HDO), so obviously the Church must put some stock in it. And it's also true that it was the Puritans who put the kibosh on celebrating Christmas - the Church deserves a teeny bit of credit for restoring the lustre to the day, don't you think?
Now, this isn't to downgrade the Annunciation, Ephipany, or any other day on the liturgical calendar, for that matter. Yes, we should (and many of us do) recognize the supreme importance of Easter, but you shouldn't have to do it by taking a pound of flesh out of Christmas. This isn't a zero-sum game (although NOR seems to think most things are). And for the life of me, I don't see anything wrong with celebrating Christmas. I'm not about to take take NOR's advice and leave Christmas to the heathens - which, the author adds, "given its proper place, [is] not such a devastating loss." I wonder, does he really mean that? Does he? We might as well get rid of worship to the Child Jesus then, since the Nativity isn't such a big deal. (But were I to seriously suggest that, I'd be guilty of the same disjointed logic that NOR applies.)
NOR doesn't usually give up so easily, which makes me wonder if they're not being deliberately provocative. If so, it's one more reason to discredit the publication, since they're obviously not interested in serious dialogue, but only in being contrarian. As anyone who's read this blog must know, we take Christmas - the religious part of it - very seriously. While we engage in celebration of the entire month, we never lose sight of what it's all about. And yes, we could all stand to remove ourselves a bit (more that a bit, in truth) from the commercialism, the excess materialism, and the banal substitution of "Happy Holidays" in order to avoid the shame of mentioning the word "Christmas." But we must remember that the fall of Satan occurred, many believe, because of his refusal to follow a God Who would humble Himself by becoming man. That humility, which lead to our salvation, began with the Annunciation, manifested itself in the Nativity, and came to its fruition in the Passion and Resurrection. Why not just keep all these days holy, including Christmas? And if you don't want to do that, I hope you don't object that some of us would like to try. (Perhaps the editors of NOR would rather follow this model instead.)
Elsewhere in this issue, there's an ad promoting "Christmas Gift Rates" for NOR. "Give a gift that lasts," the text says. What a great idea. But just why is it that we're giving gifts, again? I forget. Is this "Christmas" some kind of a big deal or something? Perhaps the editors of NOR could write something explaining it to us - after they sharpen their crayon, that is.
Friday, December 9, 2005
There's been a fair amount of chatter on the blogs this week about Wal-Mart (Rich Lowry here; Professor Bainbridge here and here; Amy Welborn here, and that just scratches the surface). No question the big W continues to be a favorite whipping boy out there; an acquaintance of mine forwarded an email he'd received from MoveOn promoting the documentary Wal-Mart: the High Cost of Low Prices. What's interesting about the whole thing is how some on the extreme left and extreme right seem to find a common ground in opposing Wal-Mart.
I've no time for Wal-Mart myself; I think its success is in many ways symptomatic of all that is wrong with modern Corporate America. Amy hits it on the head with her comment:
But there is a price for everything, and the price of a Wal-Mart culture is great, not just on local businesses, but on product manufacture and marketing, period. The control that Wal-Mart exerts in this area is great and has a wide impact, and, among other things, may lower the price on many goods, but because what Wal-Mart offers is wide but not deep, it impacts what manufacturers determine what is worth their time to produce and market.
I would add that in determining the worth of a product, one also determines the worth of the worker producing that product. The many criticisms against Wal-Mart in this regard go to the heart of the matter, which is the obligation that a corporation has to the community and the culture in which it does business.
Many conservatives are uncomfortable talking about the moral responsibilities of corporations. For them, it boils down to a fear of government intervention, which is certainly a reasonable concern. However, as my conservative friend Hadleyblogger Gary (a man who never saw a government regulation he liked) has said, the government often gets invoolved because corporations refuse to regulate themselves. Fr. Pavlik, in answering the question why the Church has so many "rules and regulations," points out that it's a part of human nature to push the envelope as far as possible. We always want to know where the line is, so we can walk right up to it.
Corporations do have a moral responsibility to society, but it's a responsibility that doesn't come from government fiat. It comes from the well-developed conscience of its leaders, the men and women responsible for making the decisions and determining the course which the company will take. A corporate leadership with a poorly-formed conscience, or none at all, will take that corporation into areas of evil: exploitation of employees, disregard for cultural standards, support of programs (such as abortion and homosexual marriage) that lead to a degredation of society. For them, the only responsibility they have is to make a buck for the shareholders.
In fact, someone (perhaps it was Friedman, I'm not sure) once said that the only responsibility a corporation had was to make a profit for the shareholder. And while I don't disagree that is is one of a corporation's responsibilities, it is not the only one, nor is it the primary one. Were that the case, we could hardly argue with the pornographer, the drug dealer, the company that manufactures weapons for terrorists; after all, if they're making a profit, they're only doing their job.
I would suggest that there are three major moral obligations that a corporation has, and that making a profit for the shareholders is the third. The first two are to produce a product that adds something good and useful to society (and I'm not judging gunmakers here, for example; you can't and shouldn't hold an industry responsible for the way in which some people use their product. I'm talking more about things like the porn industry) and to treat their employees in a humane manner that acknowledges their dignity and the dignity of the work they do. Only when these first two obligations are met should the corporation turn to the question of profit. If a corporation can't produce a useful product for a profit, or if they can't afford to treat their employees in a humane way, and if they are unwilling or unable to operate at a deficit, then perhaps they should revisit their business model, or their purpose of existing in the first place.
Isaiah is always a good read during Advent, and in looking at the consequences of their actions Corporate America might do well to heed the prophet's words in chapter 10, 1-4:
Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,
and the writers who keep writing oppression,
to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my poeple of their right,
that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
in the storm which will come from afar?
To whom will you flee for help,
and where will you leave your wealth?
Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners
or fall among the slain.
For all this his anger is not turned away
and his hand is stretched out still.
I've related in the past the story of someone who defended his company's policies favoring abortion and homosexual rights by offering that it was all true, but they'd given a lot of money to charity as well. I don't think his words would pass muster with Isaiah, nor would the actions of Corporate America.
When I was in politics you'd see a lot of candidates running on the slogan "Put People Ahead of Profits." We recognized that for what it was, an old liberal chestnut. I didn't think much of it then as a political motto, and I don't think much of it now. Because it doesn't belong in the halls of Congress - it belongs in the boardrooms, and in the hearts of directors, managers and supervisors.
Thursday, December 8, 2005
Get Religion continues its outstanding coverage of the Christmas wars with this piece about the White House and their "non-Christmas" Christmas cards. Ah, that the most powerful man in America, the leader of the free world, might shiver at the thought of the J-word.
Now I know some of you may be asking why I bring this up? Surely as a former politician I must understand the need to tread the middle ground lest anyone be offended. In the long run isn’t this just a tempest in a teapot, when there are so many other things about which we should be more concerned? Surely we must know where Bush personally stands.
True, although you notice how in that last sentence we come perilously close to that infamous phrase "personally opposed," as in, "I’m personally opposed to abortion, but…" (I’m personally all in favor of Christmas, you know, but…") Even so, with all the cultural outrages going on over Christmas I probably would have been inclined to let this one slide were it not for another post that appeared on Get Religion. This one quotes a "blunt editorial," of all things, in the Cincinnati Enquirer "defending public officials who take the controversial step of calling a Christmas tree a 'Christmas tree' in this troubled age:
Let’s be clear. Christmas is a holiday for Christians, when believers celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. Calling it what is, is not meant to slight those who don’t believe as Christians do.
Karen Dabdoub, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was right when she told the Enquirer: "Who are we fooling? The Jews don’t put up a tree for Hanukah; the Muslims don’t put up a tree for Ramadan. It doesn’t take away from my celebration of my holiday for other people to celebrate their holiday. I don’t want anybody’s holidays to be watered-down. I think they’re all wonderful."
Wow – I didn’t know there were still editorial boards that wrote such articles nowadays. It’s certainly not the kind of thing we’d read in the hometown Strib.
And I think this is the point of the matter. Christmas is what it is. It says so right on the calendar under December 25, or in the federal statute that declares Christmas to be a federal holiday. At the risk of sounding as if I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth (considering how much I’ve complained about the secularization of Christmas), the fact is you don’t have to be a Christian to acknowledge that December 25 is Christmas. And if you’re wishing someone a Merry Christmas, you’re wishing them well. It’s hardly meant as some kind of a slur.
Dabdoub has it exactly right with her comments. You don’t have to believe in the ACLU/Corporate America definition of "diversity" to appreciate the concept of what Tmatt, in his post, calls "civic tolerance."
But then, if we’re afraid to acknowledge Christmas as something special, if we treat it as unworthy of respect, then why should anyone else?
It's fascinating how important dates sometimes blur over time and repetition. For instance, yesterday afternoon I casually mentioned to a co-worker that it was Pearl Harbor Day, and he replied that was the first time he had either seen or heard mention of it all day.
A couple of days ago, December 6, was (I'm pretty sure) the anniversary of my mother's death. Little did I realize at the time that two days later, December 8, would be one of the great feast days of my adopted mother, Mary. Being a lackluster Protestant I didn't have much knowledge of Mary, other than that she was Jesus' mother. I didn't have the bias against her that some non-Catholics have. (As I've mentioned before, I probably wasn't a very good Protestant, since I had virtually no trouble accepting the teachings of the Catholic Church.)
Mary became a figure of great interest to me at that point in my life. Seeing as how I didn't have a mother of my own, it would seem natural that I would gravitate toward her. And I was taken with the concept of introducing someone that important to my own theological way of thought, which had in the past been confined to God and Jesus, and perhaps a vague understanding of the Holy Spirit. Since I wanted to be a good Catholic, I immediately took up the idea of offering prayers to her and asking for her intercession.
Some people have had very intimate, mystical encounters with Mary, even seeing visions of her. I can't say that this has ever happened to me. My strongest connections to her, in fact, came during and just after that period of time when I was taking instruction in the faith. I remember her early intercessions came very much in the form of those that a mother might be expected to make; nothing earth-shattering, just a slight interference in the normal activities of my day that was, I could see, for my own benefit (the spiritual equivalent of making sure I had my coat buttoned and my hat on).
There were only perhaps three times I can recall that I ever had what could even be remotely considered a mystical experience with Mary. The first two occasions were quite similar, times when I found myself driving in unfamiliar areas, lost and frightened. (Having been involved in accidents before, I have an innate fear of not being in control while behind the wheel. Being lost does not, to me, constitute being in control.) Nearly at my wit's end, and in desperate danger of missing my appointments (at the very least), I called out to Mary, aloud, for help in finding where I was. Each time, almost magically, I noticed freeway signs pointing me in the proper direction - signs that I had been looking for but, I would swear, I had not been able to see. Perhaps concidence, perhaps not.
The third and (to this point) final time that I can recall was a number of years ago, while I was riding the bus home from work. I was feeling low about something (with that job it could have been anything), and had a pretty poor view of myself. (Now that I think about it, it might not have had anything to do with work; it could have been some typically boneheaded thing I'd said or done during the day. At any rate, suffice it to say that I was down on myself, and looking for some evidence of my worth.) Again, perhaps I was simply forming the words in my own mind, or perhaps I was truly open to what happened. What did happen was that I distinctly heard words - not out loud, in the sense that they might have come from the person sitting next to me on the bus, or that they were being broadcast on the radio. They were not out loud, but I heard them nonetheless, and I was equally sure that they were being said with a feminine voice, from Mary. The message was simple: "You know, He loves you very much." And that was that.
Was it a life-changing experience? I can't say that it was. I wasn't suddenly awash in light, or floating on a peaceful sea. But it did make me feel better, reassured that I had some worth to someone. Again, maybe I imagined the whole thing, created the words out of my own subconscious because I needed to hear them. Or maybe not.
I haven't had any real encounters with Mary since then, and for that I take full responsibility. I've grown somewhat lax in my devotionals over the last few years, for which I've offered the typical excuse that things have been "too busy," and that I'd change my ways "as soon as things quiet down a bit." I don't mean to suggest that I've blown off my obligations, just that I don't dive into them with the fervor that I once did. And because of that I've grown comfortable with Mary and the saints, comfortable in the same way that you do when you're in a relationship and you start to take the other person for granted. To be sure, you'll have a harder time driving away Mary than you would a friend or spouse in the same situation; but you find the day-to-day interactions to be less than they once were.
The fact that I take her for granted, however, does indicate in a strange way the value I still place on her, for I know that she is always there, to be called on for help. And that reminds me of one last encounter with Mary, that took place much more recently - perhaps in the last four years or so. I was, again, riding on the bus, worried about a friend who was facing a potential threat from some situation or other (the details aren't important now), and I prayed to Mary that she would take my friend to her and help that friend through this particular situation. At that moment, I did feel a peace come over me, a certainty that things with this friend were going to be all right. Typically, beng the worrier that I am, I soon began to fret that I'd imagined the whole thing - but I hadn't. As soon as I got to work, I got news that my friend had faced the situation in question, and that everything had turned out all right. In fact, it had probably occurred right around the time I received the peaceful reassurance.
With that, I received another reassurance - one that I carry with me to this day. It is that Mary does not ignore me, does not let me fade into the background, even though I may treat her that way at times. Like her Divine Son, she is always there for us whenever we need her. She stands ready and willing to look over her family, and to offer her prayers and intercessions to her Son. Often as I stand in the line for confession, preparing for my turn in the box, I call on her for help in making a good confession; and as I look around, seeing her image in statues or icons, I know that she will be there, helping me along, rooting for me, giving me the mother's assurance that everything will be all right. I pray to her often, for my mother and other deceased friends and loved ones, and for a growth in my own faith and devotion, to her and her Son.
The first time I ever attended Mass on this day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (I wasn't even a Catholic yet, although I was in the process), the priest asked how many really understood what this day was all about. Because of its proximity to Christmas, and because many don't really understand the true nature of Mary, a lot of people think the Immaculate Conception has to do with Jesus. (It doesn't help that the readings tend to focus on the Annunciation, either - but that's the best we have to go on.) Well, the priest continued, that's not what this is all about. He proceeded to explain what the Immaculate Conception really was, and I carried the understanding to this day. And it's appropriate that it should come during this very joyous time of year, for it is an occasion that adds to our joy. Even as we anticipate the birth of our Savior, we also can anticipate the birth of the vessel who brought Him to us.
So this is indeed a day for us to celebrate, with all the hope and anticipation that the season brings. We should know that Mary remains an active participant in our lives, a dear mother to us all, one who loves us in spite of the pain our sins have inflicted and continue to inflict on her Son. (One might say that we are creatures that only a mother could love - and a Son whom she brought up likewise.) For my part, I want to thank Mary for all that she has done for me, and to let her know that, however imperfectly, she remains an essential part of my faith. That my love for her may continue to grow and mature over the years, I most humbly pray.
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
Truth be told, I just haven't found that much interesting to write about lately. Everyone goes through stretches like this, and between being busy at work and basically being lazy at home, I haven't been terribly motivated to come up with something that might catch my (and your) interest. This may change later tonight, or sometime next week - who knows?
In the meantime, here's another story from last year I'd like to share with you. It's Badda-Blogger's special piece for us on the secret life of Frosty the Snowman. Despite my laziness, the reason I'm repeating it now is that we didn't have as many readers last year as we do now, and I think Badda's analysis deserves more visibility than it got last year.
It starts like this...
I’d always enjoyed the cartoon in something of a nostalgic way, as part of the memories of Christmases past. At that, I thought the plot was kind of thin. I mean, a kid thinking they can take a train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve? Without bringing any money? And then there’s the phony magician, the talking rabbit, and – well, you get the picture. You didn’t watch Frosty for the drama, you simply basked in its warm sepia glow.
But then Peter asked me if I’d ever noticed how the story of Frosty was an allegory for the life of Christ.
“What?” I think I said.
“Sure,” he replied, and proceeded to document the ways:
To read the rest, go here.
Monday, December 5, 2005
Get Religion, in its continuing coverage of the nation's annual Christmas Wars, includes the dispute over Target Corporation's ongoing refusal to allow the Salvation Army to ring bells outside their stores. For those of you who missed it, the Target vs. Salvation Army issue was one of the first big stories we covered in the inaugural month of this blog.
Read here for my story on why Catholics might want to think twice about supporting the Salvation Army (hint: it has to do with abortion).
On the other hand, read here for why Target doesn't deserve any credit, either.
We might as well figure these posts are going to become an annual Christmas event, just like the showings of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Thursday, December 1, 2005
This interview with one of my favorite satrists, Christopher Buckley, in which he talks about how it feels to finish a novel, why (unlike the novelist Georges Simenon) he can't write a novel in 8.5 days, who his writing role models are, and more. We got to meet him in person once, at a reading and book signing when Little Green Men came out, and he seemed every bit as charming and dry as his father, Bill, and I'd count him as among my writing role models.
Sometimes you get the impression that an author leaves everything on the written page. His stories may be fascinating and full of life, the words jumping off the page; but in real life he's as dull as leftover dishwater, and you wonder how he could be capabile of such sparkling wit in his books. Such is not the case with Buckley, who's as engaging when he's being interviewed (or speaking in public) as he is through his written words. Buckley's not just an interesting writer; he's an interesting guy. And they're not always the same thing.
Check out the interview, and then (if you haven't already done so) one of his books. I don't think you'll be sorry.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Yesterday's Gospel (Matthew 8:5-11) contained one of my favorite scenes in the NT, the story of the Centurian asking Jesus to heal his servant.
I've often jokingly said that I must not have been a very good Protestant, because I found it so easy to convert to Catholicism. In all likelihood, it was probably because I'd let my faith go so slack over the years that everything seemed new again when I started studying to enter the Church. One of the biggest revelations in those early years would come when I heard a particularly familiar verse - whether from the Mass or popular conversation - coming from one of the readings, and I could hear it in its entirety rather than just a sound bite. (Can you tell I wasn't reading the Bible as much as I should have in those days?)
And so it was here. It must have been around 1998 or so, and I remember watching the daily Mass on EWTN before heading to work, Deacon Bill reading the Gospel. And as the passage unfolded it suddenly dawned on me what I was hearing, and that it was providing the context for the "Lord, I am not worthy" that we recite as the priest displays the Host after the Agnus Dei. It's always fun hearing something familiar in an unexpected context; here it was even better, because I was actually learning something. That moment following the Agnus Dei - the priest saying "This is the Lamb of God," followed by our response - had already become one of my favorite moments in the Mass, and this solidified it for me.
Nowadays at the Latin Mass we attend at St. Agnes, I use the literal words in my interior translation: "Behold the Lamb of God," "I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof." And when I do, I often think back to the passage we heard yesterday; the humility of the Centurian, his understanding of authority and his willingness to put himself under the authority of this Jesus; and Christ's response, the joy He must have experienced as He healed the servant. We are moved by the story, and encouraged; for none of us is worthy of the salvation that God freely offers us. In presenting our petitions we keep in mind our unworthiness, but we also remember His mercy, which endures forever; we are reminded also of the need for persistence, of coming to Him again and again.
I only hope that I can be as humble when I approach Jesus with my prayers, for surely I am at least as unworthy as the Centurian; and that my testimony, however imperfect, may be as pleasing to Him.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
A short act of Thanksgiving, from the Canon of the Tridentine Mass:
What return shall I make to the Lord for all He has given me? I will take the chalice of salvation, and I will call upon the Name of the Lord. Praising will I call upon the Lord and I shall be saved from my enemies. (Psalm 116:12-13)
And a Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you out there.
In any event, the battle is near; and so we offer to you the following, our five suggestions for fighting back against those who want to rid the world of "Merry Christmas." (P.S.: these really work!)
- First of all, be of good cheer. Nothing drives the secularists crazy like a cheerful Christian. While they're looking for a frothing-at-the-mouth, hard-line knuckle-dragging fundamentalists, their systems often have to reboot when confronted with something else. Show to them that when we say Merry Christmas, we mean it!
- When someone wishes you "Happy Holidays," smile and reply, "and a Merry Christmas to you, too!" You'd be surprised at how many times people smile back and wish you a Merry Christmas as well. As The Curt Jester points out, a lot of these people are under orders; that doesn't mean that they agree with them. Wishing them Merry Christmas gives them permission to be themselves. And as for those who scowl at you, - humbug!
- Send a message to the marketplace by buying cards that actually say "Merry Christmas." If you've got that really, really great card that does say "Happy Holidays," be sure and write Merry Christmas on the inside.
- Make the celebration last. One shopping mall boasted that their Christmas (whoops, I mean holiday) decorations would be down by New Year's Eve. That's ridiculous! Remember that Christmas lasts until Ephphany, twelve days later (hence The Twelve Days of Christmas). Of course New Year's is part of the holiday season - if not, just what other holidays are they talking about?
- Finally, but most important, remember what Christmas is all about. In our home we tend to celebrate both the secular and the religious Christmas; we put our tree up the first weekend in December and play Christmas music all month long. We enjoy the decorations and the specials and the cartoons, we brave the crowds in the malls as we do our shopping (and people-watching), we invite our friends over for parties and go to their houses. In other words, we enjoy all the trappings of the modern secular Christmas. However, we also have our Creche and our Advent wreath, we attend Midnight Mass, we read Luke's rendition of the Nativity before eating Christmas Eve dinner and the story of the gifts of the Magi before opening our own presents on Christmas morning. If we are to convince others that Christmas is not just another "holiday," we need to believe it in our own hearts first.
Five simple suggestions. They work for us; we think they'll work for you too. Don't be afraid to try just one; the more you wish others a Merry Christmas, the more you'll believe it yourself. And remember what it means.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Two closely related subjects I've frequently on written are the need for all of us to behave as role models, and the decline in civility in our public discourse. The two subjects might seem unrelated, but in reality I think it's pretty hard to keep the two seperate. After all, part of being a role model involves the way we believe in public. As Christ reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount, "by their fruits you will know them." (Matthew 7:20).
Fr. Tiffany spoke on this subject in the St. Olaf bulletin over the weekend, which I picked up online today. He makes the direct link between these "marketed heroes" and the often oafish behavior they demonstrate:
All of us need heroes and heroines to whom we can look and in whose company we can travel. Unfortunately, many of the men and women who come to us as "marketed models” for young people, as well as adults, need not be authentically moral and selfless. If they have a particular talent or skill or body profile, and as long as they can entertain us and distract us from our boredom, then they need not be honorable people as long as they give us what we pay for. In some instances we give places of dubious honor to those whose “glory” is to be especially claimed by being as crude, vulgar, outrageous and shameful in speech and behavior as they can possibly be. Kids’ bedrooms, college dorms, promotional fliers are plastered with “bigger than life” posters. Booze and sex sell and they are often linked to each other to amuse and sell product. Declaring one’s loyalty to a brand of beer (literally) spills over into caps and shirts and jackets that bear the name of a favorite beverage.
An unfortunate byproduct of this is the tendency to overlook the boorish behavior of those who agree with you, or to somehow otherwise excuse it. We give a free pass to a lot of politically incorrect speech simply because it fights a common enemy, political correctness (the "South Park conservatives," for example). You know - "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Maybe we ignore it, maybe we chuckle (somewhat uncomfortably, if you notice; perhaps we're hoping if we laugh about it enough it might actually become funny). In the same vein, we turn a blind eye to the "antics" of our favorite athletes (but only if they deliver on the field; winning gives birth to one happy family, but losing creates many orphans). Fact is, it's not only what we say or do, it's how we do it, because in the how we often reveal just who it is we are.
It continues to puzzle why otherwise sensible people fall into this trap. As Fr. Tiffany says,
Why would people choose to clothe themselves with the garments of “marketed heroes,” desiring to emulate them, be identified with them, and spend themselves and their resources chasing an identity that has nothing to do with concerns that really matter. What is wrong with the white garment with which they were clothed at their baptism giving them their greatest dignity, having been made a part of the new creation in the image of Jesus Christ.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: we are all role models, and the way we behave in public does make a difference. As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Great athletes often say that they play every game, even the most meaningless, as if someone in the stands might be seeing them for the very first time. We believe, or we want to believe, that our behavior primarily affects us; but in fact our behavior ripples out in concentric circles, covering a wide area of people and events. As we are all members of the Body of Christ, our words and deeds can, in mysterious ways, have an impact on the entire Church.
Now, speaking from personal experience, I can vouch to many occasions when I've made a bad first impression. Sometimes it was because of social ineptitude or ignorance, other times from haughty arrogance, and on occasion it was due to simple misunderstanding. I've been profoundly fortunate to have had a number of opportunities for a second chance; hopefully I've made good on most of them. Who knows how many times I never got the second chance?
The point is that we have to always keep this in mind. People hearing us, seeing us, reading us for the first time, are bound to draw certain conclusions based on the impression we make. What kind of impression do we want that to be? An arrogant, crude, vulgar loudmouth? A hypocritical, so-called Christian? A conceited know-it-all? We have certain obligations; we must make sure we live up to them. But we don't have to do it all by ourselves.
Fr. Tiffany's final words refer to the saints; they can apply equally to us all, for we all have the potential to become saints:
Saints provide us with a community of men and women who have been tested, proven, and awarded the crown of life. There is nothing “phony” about them; they
are not pretentious; they are not full of themselves; they are not for show. They are full of amazing grace; they are real; they are for God and for us; they are now eternally grateful. They have chosen to give themselves “to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous, or worthy of praise.” (Phil. 4:8)
Some people may think that "being yourself, warts and all" is the anthesis of phoniness. But in truth it has as much to do with reality as South Park has to true conservatism, or Playboy to chastity. As I said in an earlier post, let us not cheapen God's gifts to us, or use them in ways other than in which they were intended. We can only be honest with ourselves and with others if we accept the garment given us by our Lord, if we live up to the ideals He preached, and if we become that which He created us to be.
Remember, by your acts they shall know you.