Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Jokes for the Weekend (and beyond)

I wound up on one of those email threads where people kept capping each others' Christmas jokes. It was so much fun that I'm sharing them here. Plus a few more that I couldn't resist from other places.
I love hollandaise sauce. It caused a lot of cavities. My dentist told me I would need a plate made of chrome if I wanted to continue my hollandaise habit. I said, “Really?” He said. “Oh yes. There’s no plate like chrome for the Hollandaise.”

What do you call a bunch of grandmasters of chess bragging about their games in a hotel lobby? Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer!

Why does Santa have 3 gardens?
So he can ho-ho-ho.

What do snowmen eat for breakfast?
Snowflakes.

There was once a great czar in Russia named Rudolph the Red. He stood looking out the windows of is palace one day while his wife, the Czarina Katerina, sat nearby knitting. He turned to her and said, "Look my dear, it has begun to rain!" Without even looking up from her knitting she replied, "It's too cold to rain. It must be sleeting." The Czar shook his head and said, "I am the Czar of all the Russias, and Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear!"

Why do mummies like Christmas so much?
Because of all the wrapping!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Decorated Alley

Decorated Alley
by Remo Savisaar
Be sure to click through the link and look at this in full size. Simply superb.

Well Said: It was great fun writing a book...

It was great fun writing a book. One lived with it. It became a companion. It built an impalpable crystal sphere around one of interests and ideas. In a sense one felt like a goldfish in a bowl; but in this case the goldfish made his own bowl. This came along everywhere with me. It never got knocked about in travelling, and there was never a moment when agreeable occupation was lacking. Either the glass had to be polished, or the structure extended or contracted, or the walls required strengthening. I have noticed in my life deep resemblances between many different kinds of things. Writing a book is not unlike building a house or planning a battle or painting a picture. The technique is different, the materials are different, but the principle is the same. The foundations have to be laid, the data assembled, and the premises must bear the weight of their conclusions. Ornaments or refinements may then be added. The whole when finished is only the successful presentation of a theme.
Winston Churchill, via The Art of Manliness
I love his description of writing the book. And also that he is using the skills which he uses for every thing else ... just differently. That is how life works but we don't often pull back from the details often enough to notice.

Father James Martin - Finding God in All Thing at On Being

Look who Kara Tippett's latest On Being guest is — Father James Martin. I've enjoyed many of his books although I don't always agree with him about points in current Catholic events. Regardless I was very interested to see him turn up on this podcast.
Before Pope Francis, James Martin was perhaps the best-loved Jesuit in American life. He’s followed the calling of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, to “find God in all things” — and in 21st-century forms. To delve into Fr. Martin's way of being in the world is to discover the "spiritual exercises" St. Ignatius designed to be accessible to everyone more than six centuries ago. Also his thoughts on the "un-taming" Christmas.
Listen here or pick it up on iTunes. Thanks to Scott Danielson for the heads up on this!

"He thought he was being called. I thought he was being brainwashed"

A fascinating snippet of a sister's insight over what priesthood can do for the right man at Humans of New York.

Julie and Scott learn what the world would be like if their podcast never existed.


We decided to keep doing it, anyway. Our discussion of It's a Wonderful Life is at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Pour yourself a cup of eggnog and join us!

The Greatest Journey: Part 4

I love to reread this each year, journeying through Advent, so I'm reposting it.

Continuing our examination of chapter five of  Go to Joseph we continue with Mary and Joseph on their trip to Bethlehem. So did anyone else ever imagine that they might have taken little side trips along the way? Yeah, me neither. As always Father Gilsdorf has some intriguing food for thought.
We may conjecture further about the last miles as they approached their destination. Would Mary and Joseph have chosen to bypass Ein Kerem, which was directly on their path? It was situated two miles north of Jerusalem. Can we suppose that, had they stopped there, the place where Mary had so recently aided her cousin in her own recent pregnancy, that there would have been a grand reception? Can we permit ourselves to picture the possibility of a reunion of the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth with Mary and Joseph, with little John sleeping in their midst? If this happened -- and again Scripture doesn't mention it -- Mary and Joseph would have had a day or so of rest and comfort in the generous company of Zechariah and Elizabeth. They also would have had the chance to replenish their supplies.

Despite the silence of the Gospel account, we will dare add one more rather plausible conjecture, Jerusalem lay directly on the path to Bethlehem. Would Mary and Joseph have failed to enter the Holy City? If so, would they not have paid a visit to the Temple? What a fulfillment that would have been it! The Holy of Holies had been vacant for centuries. The Ark of the Covenant vanished when the Temple was destroyed at the time of the deportation in 587 BC.

But dare we imagine that Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant, enters the new Temple? Within her womb resides the Shekinah of the Tabernacle.iv God's only begotten Son fills the Temple with a real incarnate divine Presence. He was in His Father's house.

One might construct another scenario. Perhaps a departure from Ein Kerem in the early morning, a visit to the Temple later in the morning after a two mile walk, about noon, and a final dealine to be met -- five miles of rather desolate ravel slightly southwest to Bethlehem!
And thou, Bethlehem, of the land of Judah, art by no means least among the princes of Judah; for from thee shall come forth a leader who shall rule My people Israel. (Mic 5:2 as cited in Matt 2:6)
iv The Shekinah--or Sh'cheenah--was the dwelling or the very Presence of God.
In part 5 Mary and Joseph arrive at Bethlehem.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Santa and The Print Collector

Santa and The Print Collector
by Santa Classics
We all remember Santa Classics don't we? Ed Wheeler, an artist and photographer, shows Santa entering into great artistic masterpieces. Somehow he pulls this off both with humor and reverence for the originals.

Well Said: Grab Aholt of God

This life is much too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, "Scientific humanism." That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore, I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and infinite delight; i.e., God. In fact, I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don't see why anyone should settle for anything less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and wouldn't let go until God identified himself and blessed him.
Walker Percy, Questions They Never Asked Me
That made me giggle. The part about Jacob left me thoughtful though. We ourselves must show determination in the quest to know God.

The Greatest Journey, part 3

I love to reread this each year, journeying through Advent, so I'm reposting it.

Continuing our examination of chapter five of Go to Joseph we now see Mary and Joseph set out on the trip to Bethlehem. Father Gilsdorf mentions things I never thought about in connection to this journey, such as how Joseph's skills may have come in handy or the concept of Mary as a living monstrance. Truly this is giving me something to contemplate as we grow closer to Christmas.
Then the day came for departure on the journey south to Bethlehem. Each day of this procession, Mary, like a living monstrance, rode astride the donkey, with Joseph walking along side holding the reins. Each night, he would have needed to have found shelter. Perhaps they stayed in roadside inns? The homes of friends and relatives? But surely, most often, the carpenter had to improvise, cutting and assembling branches to construct a lean-to. Nights in any desert are usually chilled, anyway, but given the time frame, this was also the traditional season of the cold winter rains.

On all sides were threats and terrors. Wild animals still ranged the wooded hilly areas.iii Other predators, equally cunning and merciless, were the notorious robber bands who scouted the trail for pilgrims to plunder. The courage, skills, and resourcefulness of Joseph are given wordless witness by the fact that this newly married couple not only made the journey but made it safely (undoubtedly with the protection of many angels).

In the daytime, there was the tedium of ascending hills and traversing valleys. As any woman who has endure the extreme discomfort of a late term will attest, this would have caused Mary extreme discomfort. This suffering must have struck a pained, compassionate response in her loving spouse. Bystanders probably observed them quickly and shrugged. Just a young man and his young, pregnant wife and nothing more. Who would have dreamed that before their eyes had just passed their Messiah, the Annointed longed for from the ages? Even less could they discern that the Messiah was truly "Emmanuel, God with us," the very Son of God. Scripture foretold that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son, and this was that very virgin!

Try as we might, the prayers and conversation of Mary and Joseph inevitably escape our powers of imagination. What did they share? How much did Joseph advance in holiness during this Advent?

iii Keep in mind that before the Romans denuded the Middle East and northern Africa of them for gladiatorial games, these areas were home to lions and bears.
In part 4 the journey continues.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In which we race for silver skates, play with trolls, and put our finger in the dike.

Chapter 2 of Heidi's Alp by Christina Hardyment is up at Forgotten Classics.

The Greatest Journey, part 2

I love to reread this each year, journeying through Advent, so I'm reposting it.

Continuing our examination of chapter five of Go to Joseph we now begin to take examine preparation for the trip to Bethlehem. Of course, that is of no immediate interest for contemplation if we do not also consider the spiritual side as well, which is thoughtfully brought up here. I especially like the link to Israel's history and Jesus' heritage which is brought up in the footnote. That was both a surprise and good food for thought for me personally in terms of considering Jesus' journeys. As a detail-oriented planner by nature, the idea of Joseph's pains to consider everything needed on a practical basis appeals to me also and makes me relate to him personally.
The route of the journey was probably the same as that taken in the Visitation, which Luke tells us was through the hill country known as the shephelah, a geographical backbone down the center is Israel.ii The other routes were safe and more level, but this was the more direct route, and significantly, it was trodden by the feet of countless pious pilgrims going up to Jerusalem for the great Temple feasts. This distance to Jerusalem was about 85 miles. Joesph, however, was going five miles further south to Bethlehem to register in his ancestral home as required by the imperial census.

We can be sure that Joseph set a prudent daily pace out of respect for Mary's condition that added one more penitential aspect to this pilgrimage. Perhaps, then, about two weeks were required. These very weeks would correspond to our final phase of Advent. The earlier weeks were the period of prayerful preparation.

We can meditate on these preparations with a great spiritual gain. As an expectant mother, Mary prepared the customary necessities for her Child. We hear only of the swaddling clothes, but she doubtless had many other items to gather or to make with her own hands.

The spiritual preparations, however, would have been the most sublime experiences. Every expectant mother lives in constant awareness of the new life stirring in her womb. She must make sacrifices big and small and perform other acts of self-denial, all for the advantage of her child. She does so with great joy, and --if she is a believer--she will give thanks and pray for the life within.

But Mary heightens these maternal experiences in correspondence with her exalted holiness and her knowledge of the mystery of Who this Child of hers is. For her, the first Advent was filled with love, self-giving, peace, joy, and a constant inward contemplation. Hers was not only hope, but literally expectation, longing to behold the face of this Child, hers and God's. We recall the salutation of Gabriel, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee" ... is within thee!

In his own way, Joseph shared in this loving preparation. He, too, must have meditated on and adored the Child in Mary's womb. Enlightened now by heavenly revelation, he knew that his young wife was "blessed among women" and that "the fruit of her womb" was blessed, the Holy One of God. As a man with a mission to be the Redeemer's protector and provider, he labored arduously to assemble provisions for the journey. He would have carefully planned ahead to meet every need and to attempt to estimate the daily schedule, to plot the possible night-shelters.

ii This is also the route that King David took with the Ark of the Covenant in 2 Sam 6:2-16.
Next we will discuss the journey itself.

Worth a Thousand Words: Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates

Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates. Mary Mapes Dodge. Illustrated by George Wharton Edwards.
via Books and Art
I've been reading the second chapter of Heidi's Alp for Forgotten Classics. They're in Holland and following Hans Brinker's trail. Having read so much about that story, I just couldn't resist this when I saw it pop up.

Another Advent Reflection

Seek his face Who ever dwells in real and bodily presence in his Church. Do at least as much as the disciples did. They had but little faith; they feared; they had no great confidence or peace, but at least they did not keep away from Christ ... Do not keep from him, but, when you are in trouble, come to him day by day, asking him earnestly and perseveringly for those favors which he alone can give ...
J. H. Newman, Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, 1848
Quoted in In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez
Daily Meditations Vol. 1: Advent and Christmastide

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The War on Christmas is over. Jesus won.

I couldn't resist stealing that from The Washington Post. Talk about grabbing your attention.

It's a perfect way to sum up the new Pew Research Center survey about Americans and Christmas.
That's the implication of a new Pew Research Center survey that finds nearly three-quarters of Americans -- 73 percent -- believe that Jesus was literally born to a virgin. This is especially surprising when you consider that only one third of Americans say that the Bible is the word of God and should be understood literally.

[...]

Another sign that the War on Christmas is over: 72 percent of Americans say nativity scenes should be allowed on government property. 44 percent say nativity scenes should be allowed even if symbols from other religious faiths are prohibited. Only one in five Americans say nativity scenes shouldn't be allowed on government property at all.
In other words, the squeaky wheel was getting all the media coverage while the rest of us were quietly celebrating Christmas because we believe in it.

Read the whole story and find links to the survey results here.

The Greatest Journey, part 1

I love to reread this each year, journeying through Advent, so I'm reposting it.

I just finished reading Chapter Five of Go to Joseph (reviewed here), which examines Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem. This seems the perfect section to share with y'all especially since this is Advent. I will do this as a series, as is my wont. I think you'll see what a really remarkable little book this is from this chapter. This first section is rather long as I couldn't find a good breaking point until after the discussion of the timing for Mary and Joseph's journey.
Chapter Five
The Greatest Journey
Meister der Kahriye-Cami-Kirche in Istanbul
And Joseph went from Galilee out of the town of Nazareth into Judea to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem--because he was of the house and family of David--to register, together with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child."

The Bible is laced with special journeys. Think how our father in faith Abraham journeyed from Ur along the arc of the Fertile Crescent to what we now call Israel.1 Even more pivotal was the Exodus, where Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, a journey that is a type of our Christian redemption and is consistently echoed in the Gospels.

Then there was the Jews' joyous return from their Babylonian captivity, made possible by the tolerance decree of the conquering Persian Emperor Cyrus (559 BC-529 BC). There are others on a smaller scale that are also significant in a religious and symbolic sense.

We have already mentioned the virtuous mission of the pregnant Mary when she rose up in haste to visit and assist her cousin Elizabeth in Ein Kerem.

But of all these travels, only one deserves to be called the greatest, the holiest, and the loveliest of all: The journey to Bethlehem. Perhaps we should call it a procession.

Earlier we mentioned the chronology proposed by Fr. Gaechter. He conjectures--from reasons of suitability--that Joseph prudently made this journey to Bethlehem very soon after his formal marriage to Mary. The motive, he believes, was to spare Mary from the questions of the inquisitive Nazarenes once her pregnancy became visible. We later learn that the people of this village were capable of angry rejection of Jesus--"Is this not the carpenter's son?"

Another argument to favor the theory of an early arrival (rather than their arriving just before Jesus' birth) is that in the final weeks of gestation, Mary would have traveled the long rugged way with great discomfort and danger.

While this early date sounds logical and prudent, it would place the journey several months before the birth of Jesus. In this scenario, Joseph took Mary directly to Bethlehem, where he was able to obtain temporary housing and make advance preparations by his labor.

Once Mary reached her term and the birth was imminent, Joseph sought more suitable shelter and privacy. He failed to find shelter in private homes. The inn itself was no place for them in the sense that privacy and decorum were impossible, so he found refuge for them in the stable of the inn.

This is possible. It does not contradict the Gospel account nor does it fail to recognize the zeal, love, and prudence of Joseph. Nonetheless, it all remains mere conjecture.

Other less drastic solutions to the obvious problems could be offered. Perhaps Joseph owned or established temporary quarters elsewhere in the north. The acclaimed Fr. Rene Laurentin calls Fr. Gaechter's work "the most daring and painstaking reconstruction," yet his conclusion is as follows:
As interesting and penetrating as the many observations of Gaechter may be, the reconstruction belongs in the realm of science-fiction. The author boldly reconstructs the events: Mary, betrothed in October 9 BC, went to Bethlehem immediately after her marriage with Joseph, five months before the birth of Jesus, which Gaechter located in March 7 BC.
Some readers may not be aware that the first Christmas did occur some years before 1 AD. We only mark Christ's birth in that year because of miscalculations by the monk Dionysius Exiguus (c. 470-c. 544), who was entrusted with revision of the calendar.

Complex as all these considerations may be, pondering all this seems very helpful even in our booklet of meditations since it often highlights the overlooked problems and decisions Joseph had to face.

Nevertheless, we will be on safer footing to follow the simpler, traditional interpretation suggested by the inspired biblical data that has nourished pious reflection throughout the centuries.

1 According to The Columbia Encyclopedia (Sixth Edition, Columbia University Press), the Fertile Crescent is a "well watered and fertile area [that] arcs across the northern part of the Syrian desert. It is flanked on the west by the Mediterranean and on the east by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and includes all or parts of Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq."
Next we will discuss preparation for the journey.

Worth a Thousand Words: Lady in Yellow Dress

Max Kurzwell, Lady in Yellow Dress, 1899
via Arts Everyday Living
The look on this lady's face is interesting. Is she disgusted? Tired? Sad? Bored? Self satisfied?

I liked this for that gorgeous yellow dress. But the look on her face is what I keep pondering.

Yet Another Advent Thought

What a joy to be able to say at the end of our days: I have always tried to seek and to follow God's Will in everything! The successes we have had will not gladden us half so much, nor will the failures and the sufferings we have undergone matter in the slightest. What will matter to us, and matter a lot, is whether we have loved God's Will in preference to our own and made its implementation active in our lives, whether the Will showed itself, as it does at times, in a more general way, or, on other occasions, in a more immediate and very specific form. Always perceptible, it will be seen clearly enough if we do not become blind to that light of the soul we call conscience.
In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez
Daily Meditations Vol. 1: Advent and Christmastide

Monday, December 15, 2014

An Advent Reflection: Confessionals

Those confessionals scattered about the world where men declare their sins don't speak of the severity of God. Rather do they speak of his mercy. And all those who approach the confessional, sometimes after many years weighed down with mortal sins, in the moment of getting rid of this intolerable burden, find at last a longed-for relief. they find joy and tranquility of conscience which, outside Confession, they will never be able to find anywhere.
John Paul II, Homily, 16 March 1980
Quoted in In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez
Daily Meditations Vol. 1: Advent and Christmastide
My parish has confession scheduled every day this week. I need it.

And yet, looking over the extensive schedule I don't see anything that doesn't inconvenience me somehow, that doesn't seem to be too much trouble.

That's gratitude for you. I'll be absolved, find tranquility, and it just isn't convenient enough for me.

Hey, I told you I need it. That's just proof positive.

Worth a Thousand Words: A Cotton Office in New Orleans

A Cotton Office in New Orleans, Edgar Degas, 1873
via Wikipedia
Delayed during a trip to New Orleans, Degas decided to paint to pass the time. Circumstances led to this being one of his first sales to a museum. I've featured this painting before but I love it, and the story, every time I come across it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014