Come, Lord Jesus!

December 21, 2011

It is almost 2012, and the world will soon be ending.  At least, according to the Mayans and a fundamentalist preacher in California, it will.  Even though the Church’s readings in November, the end of the liturgical year, and Advent, the beginning, point toward the Second Coming, I have, I admit, not been overly concerned.

But then I had an unusual conversation a few weeks ago with a priest who was passing through town, one of those delightful Jesuits one meets who could be described as “a little crazy, in a good way.”  On the surface, this good priest appears a tad unkempt, but you can tell from the way he prays the Mass—and he is praying, not performing—that the man has real spiritual depth.

While visiting our community, this man talked about his time, many years ago, working on the Rosebud Reservation, where I am now stationed.  He talked about working with prisoners and people in one of the reservation’s most depressed communities and then said, almost out of nowhere, “It was here that I realized that prisoners and the really destitute have an intuitive understanding of the apocalypse—the good news of the apocalypse.”  And then his voice rose slightly and he gave his little-crazy-in-a-good-way laugh and added, “Because it is good news.”

I realized I had never thought of the apocalypse as good news before, but I should have.  The Bible itself ends with an urgent prayer for the Lord’s swift return:  Come, Lord Jesus!  (Rev 22:20).  We pray for the end of this world every day in the words of the Our Father, Thy Kingdom come.

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Gifts of Gold

January 3, 2011

I’ve been thinking about presents.  After all, it’s Epiphany week, and in my house Epiphany always meant a visit from the Befana.

The Befana, for those who don’t know, is a legendary old woman who brings gifts to Italian (and Italian-American) children on the feast of the Epiphany, a sort of Signora Santa Claus.  According to legend, the Befana was a particularly fussy housekeeper who lived along the route taken by the three kings on their journey to worship the baby Jesus.  When the Magi stopped at the Befana’s house, they offered to let her tag along and visit the newborn Messiah, but she claimed to have too much housework to do and declined.  Only after the Magi had left town did the Befana regret her decision and hurry to catch up… but by then it was too late, and the wise men were out of sight.  Since that first Epiphany she has been leaving presents for the children of every home she visits in the hope that one of them will turn out to be the Christ child.

I’ve also been thinking about presents because of an exhibit I recently visited at Chicago’s Field Museum.  The exhibit was about gold.  Of all the commodities Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar came bringing, the only one which seems to have held up in market value is gold.  I’m afraid I wouldn’t know what to do if I found a box of myrrh under the tree, but gold would be nice, especially in today’s economy.

Gold, I learned at the Field Museum, has many unique properties.  It does not tarnish or rust.  It is found in small quantities throughout the world, on every habitable continent.  And, of course, it shines brilliantly.  There are other qualities too—gold is a great conductor of electricity and can be pounded into sheets mere microns thick—but these first three made me think about how appropriate it is that gold should show up time and again in religious rites.

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“Secular Christmas”: A Critique of the Critique

December 10, 2009

The lights are twinkling, the Salvation Army bells are ringing, and Christians are up in arms against the supposed secular “war” on Christmas: it’s definitely Advent.  And when I see the ploys of an aggressive secularism (see exhibit A, above) that would remove any mention of the name of Christ from Christmas, I’m liable to join their outcry: “Holiday” trees just don’t seem right.

But alongside this—let’s call it—“aggressive secularism,” there is another secularism at play at in our culture.  This second secularism is one that practically no longer believes in the reality of God.  It does not actively work to remove God or Christian symbols from the public square, but does so rather by apathy. Read the rest of this entry »