The season of Advent has arrived. But nothing kicks the legs out from under our observance of Advent like premature Christmas songs. Advent, as I’m sure you know, is the season leading up to Christmas, designed to focus us on the hope and expectation of Christ’s arrival, his advent in the world. It does this by reminding us that the world was in darkness before Christ. And it also uses that remembrance to bolster our desire to see him come again in glory at his second and final advent to dispel for good all lingering darkness. The spirit of Advent, then, is of watchfulness and waiting. Because of this, Christmas songs are inappropriate to the spirit of the Advent season. They don’t jive; they’re incongruous. Continue reading →
Today, I feel like going for a hike. Getting out in nature, being surrounded by hills, trees, creeks. This is an improvement from yesterday when I felt like being surrounded by nothing at all. Literally wanting to be removed from everything, surrounded only by void. The hike gets me away from people and buildings and highways and chatter, but there’s still the hard, spiky reality of a world all around me to reckon with. For someone like me, who occasionally feels like I’m having an out of body experience in my own body, aware of the utter strangeness of my existence in a world whose own existence is equally strange, and how weird it is that I can contemplate my own conscious perspective within that world, the periodic desire to be separated out from that world, to retreat to some neutral space that isn’t me and isn’t the world, is to be expected. Continue reading →
Depiction of the Good Samaritan at Chartres Cathedral
Saint Ambrose on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:23-27):
“This is a simple account of a reality. And if we meditate deeply upon it, it will confirm for us certain wondrous mysteries. For Jericho is a figure of this world, to which Adam, cast forth from Paradise, the heavenly Jerusalem, because of sin, descended; that is, he descended from the things of eternal life to the things of this lower world: he who through, not change of place but change of will, had brought exile upon his posterity. Continue reading →
There can be no “Best Banana Pudding”. That’s the conclusion I reached last time in Part 1. The nature of banana pudding was determined to correspond to no ultimate rightness or wrongness. So if I like this pudding and you don’t, both of our perspectives are important and justified to those who matter the most — ourselves. Neither of us can be wrong.
Maybe it’s this easy, frictionless neutrality that has encouraged our age to extend the banana pudding principle to all manner of things. Maybe there’s no universal reality to ethics or virtue or beauty or humanity or religion. Continue reading →
All over the world people have argued about whose grandmother makes the best such-and-such sweets. In Greece it’s whose Yia-yia makes the best baklava. In Russia it’s whose Babushka whips up the best pastila. In the American South, it might just be whose Meemaw makes the best banana pudding. The trouble with these friendly arguments, of course, is that there can never really be an objective winner. Every dutiful grandson or granddaughter will, if not for sheer loyalty then at least for mere conditioning, always prefer their own grandmother’s culinary concoction. This preference will be swayed by a number of factors –the memories and sentiments it conjures, the familiarity principle– but the preference will be anything but objective. Continue reading →
How can we know things? It’s an important question which isn’t as easy or obvious to answer as you might first think. In fact, it’s such a tough question that there’s an entire branch of philosophy dedicated to answering it called epistemology. But it’s not just a question for the specialists with their thought experiments and fancy terms; it should be a question that we all think about regularly. Why? Because the way we operate in this world, the choices we make, and much of our identity is wrapped up in what we believe, what we know or think we know, and why we think we can or should believe it. Continue reading →
Every event in the universe is causally linked to an event before it, right? And every one of those events are linked to prior events. These chains of events all converge and are set in motion by the initial event of the beginning of the cosmos. But what caused that event?
This is the infinite regress problem. The chain of causality in this cosmos of ours begs the question of its ultimate beginning. If our universe is cyclical, expanding in a big bang and then collapsing on itself only to then expand again, what started the cycle in the first place? Continue reading →
In the carol “Good King Wenceslas“, we sing that the good king went out to serve a peasant gathering firewood “on the feast of Stephen”. The feast of Stephen is the day after Christmas in the Western calendar [two days after Christmas on the Eastern calendar] and celebrates St. Stephen, the first martyr for Christ. In Acts, chapters 6 and 7, we read that Stephen was chosen to be a special servant of the Church in Jerusalem because he was full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. It was in the context of his role as a servant that he was enabled to do miracles among the people, and this drew attention to him both among those open to the Truth of Christ and among those opposed to it. The enemies of the Church soon had Stephen arraigned before a hostile court that threw him out of the city and put to death by stoning. Continue reading →
I was listening to the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” today, as recorded by Emmylou Harris. There’s something about the way she sings it that perfectly preserves that sweet simplicity that I feel like it ought to have. There’s a great little story about the writing of the carol. A certain Mr. Philip Brooks, an Episcopal priest from the 19th century who was rector of a church in Philadelphia, wrote the words as a poem after visiting Bethlehem on a trip to the Holy Land. He asked his church organist, a Mr. Lewis Redner, to compose a tune for it. Mr. Redner recounts the story like this: Continue reading →
The annual cycle of seasons — of solstices and equinoxes, of agricultural death and rebirth, of the changing raiment of the trees, and of the migrations of animals — is an inescapable feature of existing on the planet Earth. Even at the equator where the Earth’s tilt makes astronomical changes like solar solstices or changing constellations not as noticeable, there are still yearly cycles of rainy and dry seasons brought about by shifting global weather patterns. From the dawn of humanity to the present, it’s safe to say that all human life is profoundly shaped by the repeating time-scale of the Year. Continue reading →
Christ delivering Adam, Eve, and other righteous souls in prison (1 Pet. 3:19, 4:6).
The most famous sermon ever preached in Christian history has to be the one given by St. Peter to the multitude on Pentecost, as recorded in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The second most famous sermon, however, must be one given three hundred years later by St. John Chrysostom on Pascha (Easter) morning at the great midnight vigil. But St. John’s sermon has the distinction of enjoying an ongoing career as a living homily still preached every Easter in hundreds, probably thousands, of churches across the world at their midnight vigils. The words of the homily are timeless and universal, and they magnificently describe the truth of Easter: Continue reading →
In the first century, only a few years after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, a certain man who had been living in Palestine began traveling around the Mediterranean preaching about Jesus Christ to the pagan Gentiles. I’m not talking about St. Paul, although he did travel with St. Paul. He also traveled with and assisted St. Andrew on his journeys, and is even numbered among the 70 (72) disciples sent out by Jesus in Luke 10. He knew St. Paul probably through the apostle Barnabas, his brother. And it was while traveling with Paul and Barnabas that the apostle Paul ordained him as a bishop and sent him further West than Paul could then go. This man, a brown skinned, Jewish Cypriot, hailing from Palestine, traveled more than 2,000 miles Westward toward Spain, and then northward into Britannia. Continue reading →
The paths of subatomic particles are traced after colliding two larger particles together.
Yesterday I crossed a decade boundary. I left my twenties behind and became a tricenarian. The age number itself –30– is almost a misnomer for the reality: I am beginning my 31st year and have started my 4th decade outside the womb. (Because on your first birthday you’ve actually just finished one year since birth and are starting your second year, your second birthday is the start of your third year, and so on). This either confuses or disturbs many people, so I’ll settle on the normal social custom of simply saying, “I turned 30.” Continue reading →
Imagine for a moment that you can fly. You’re able to simply lift yourself off the ground by desiring to do so. Now imagine that you’re also able to leave earth’s atmosphere and move through space like Superman, soaring over continents and oceans, and returning to the planet in Sydney, Australia. You stop in for a quick play at the opera house, grab some fried gator tail, and lift off again heading west over the ocean toward home. You punch through the sound barrier and arrive back at home just after dark, stealthily descending so as not to be seen by any neighbors and keeping your super powers a secret. Continue reading →
There has fallen on earth for a token A god too great for the sky. He has burst out of all things and broken The bounds of eternity: Into time and the terminal land He has strayed like a thief or a lover, For the wine of the world brims over, Its splendour is spilt on the sand. Continue reading →
Christ the King, holding a globe to signify his dominion.
O King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makest of two one, come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O Rex Gentium is the sixth of the O Antiphons sung with the Magnificat at Vespers in the days preceding Christmas Eve. Addressing Christ by the title “King of the Gentiles”, or “King of the Nations”, this prayer has deep political and anthropological implications. Continue reading →
O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Sun of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!
O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
The fifth of the O Antiphons sung in the days leading up to Christmas Eve is O Oriens. The Latin oriens can be translated many different ways — sunrise, dawn of the east, morning star, radiant dawn — but I prefer dayspring. There’s a brightness to that word, and a freshness. As with a spring of water, you get the sense of a cool, thirst-quenching refreshment, but you simultaneously have images of fiery rays of golden-white light. It’s a good, evocative, poetic word, and a noble title. Continue reading →
Christ trampling the gates of hades with all their locks and keys and setting the prisoners (Adam and Eve) free from darkness.
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
The fourth of the O Antiphons, O Clavis David, addresses Christ by another title that comes from the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 22, a scene is described in which a new ruler replaces an old, and this is accomplished by the Lord, who says of this new ruler that “… I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Isa 22:22-23). Continue reading →
Christ pictured as the fruit of the Tree of Jesse, with his ancestors represented below him and Jesse out of frame at the bottom. Fresco, cathedral at Limburg.
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry.
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
On December 19, five nights before Christmas Eve, the third of the great O Antiphons, Radix Jesse, is traditionally sung at the Magnificat during Vespers in the Western tradition of the Church. This antiphon is slightly more enigmatic than the the first two, but only until you’re familiar with the Scripture quotations from which it is almost entirely composed. Continue reading →