Sunday, December 31, 2017

Well Said: Christmas

From my quote journal.
Fail not to call to mind, in the course of the twenty-fifth of this month, that the Divinest Heart that ever walked the earth was born on that day; and then smile and enjoy yourselves for the rest of it; for mirth is also of Heaven's making.
Leigh Hunt

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

El Greco, The Holy Family
via Wikipedia
Between Joseph and Mary there existed a holy affection, a spirit of service, and a mutual desire for each others' happiness. This is Jesus' family: sacred, holy, exemplary, a model of human virtues, ready to carry out God's will exactly. A Christian home must be an imitation of the house of Nazareth; a place where there is plenty of room for God so that He can be right at the centre of the love that members of the family have for one another.

In Conversation with God: Advent and Christmastide
This feast day falls on the first Sunday after Christmas. When a Sunday does not occur between December 25 and January 1, this feast is celebrated on December 30. (The Church — they understand schedule conflicts!)

I have a special fondness for this feast, engendered largely because of my fervent prayers to the Holy Family in a very trying time, after which Tom and I were given a miraculous sign. Life in the Holy Family is one of my favorite subjects of contemplation, whether when formally in prayer or in little flashes as our family goes through the weeks and years with good and bad times alike.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Well Said: Christmas

From my quote journal.
Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Weekend Joke: Boudreaux and Thibodaux

One day Boudreaux and Thibodaux were watching TV. A good commercial about a movie came on and it said, "Coming To A Theatre Near You."

Boudreaux looked at Thibodaux and said, "Thib, how they know where we live?

Friday, December 29, 2017

Bright: So an orc, an elf, and a cop walk into a bar ...


In an alternate present-day where magical creatures live among us, two L.A. cops become embroiled in a prophesied turf battle.
So an orc, an elf, and a cop walk into a bar ... hey, this thing practically writes itself. And it didn't inflict half the pain on me that a recent viewing of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation did. I guess I'm more suited to watching mediocre action better than broad comedy.

We saw this Netflix movie had 29% of critics liking it while getting an 88% audience score. So we got curious. Which set would we agree with?

After all, it's got Will Smith and Joel Edgerton. What could go wrong? Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I asked that question.

It had all the elements it needed to be good but what it lacked was focus on whether to be a cop story with elements of fantasy or a fantasy story with elements of real world cops. That lack of focus made it a mess, especially in the middle. So we are on the critics' side for this one.

It was interesting to me, personally, to see that Will Smith has finally crossed the line to where he looked like the older experienced cop because he looked definitely middle aged in a lot of shots. Not a bad look, just a new one to me.

We've got our fingers crossed for the TV version after the guys have retired ... they're running a detective agency, The cute elf is the secretary, and the Magic Case Feds feed them cases to solve. I'd watch that.

Lagniappe: Christmas

A little something seasonal from my quote journal
The best sitting room at Manor Farm was a good, long, dark-paneled room with a high chimney-piece, and a capacious chimney, up which you could have driven one of the new patent cabs, wheels and all. At the upper end of the room, seated in a shady bower of holly and evergreens, were the two best fiddlers, and the only harp, in all Muggleton. In all sorts of recesses, and on all kinds of brackets, stood massive old silver candlesticks with four branches each. The carpet was up, the candles burnt bright, the fire blazed and crackled on the hearth, and merry voices and light-hearted laughter range through the room.
Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

Fifth Day of Christmas: Optional Memorial of St. Thomas Becket


The Church celebrates the optional memorial of St. Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr. He was born in London and after studying in Paris, he first became chancellor to the king and then in 1162 was chosen Archbishop of Canterbury. He went from being "a patron of play-actors and a follower of hounds" to being a "shepherd of souls." He absorbed himself in the duties of his new office, defending the rights of the Church against Henry II. This prompted the king to exile him to France for six years. After returning to his homeland he endured many trials and was murdered by agents of the king.
See also this entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Best of 2017 - Movies

In 10 words or less, my top picks from the movies we watched last year. As always, the movies may be old, but my viewing was brand new in 2017.


Night Train to Munich (1940)

Witty dialogue, spy suspense, and Rex Harrison as a hero. (My review here.)

The Cat People (1942)

Inherited evil, film artistry, simmering sexual tension — and cats! (My review here.)

Queen of Katwe (2016)

Family film with unusual subtlety, nuance, definite sense of place. (My review here.)

Arrival (2016)

Quietly absorbing and spectacular. (Discussed at A Good Story is Hard to Find.)

Train to Busan (2016, Korea)

Fathers, families, and more thoughtful than the average zombie movie. (My review here.)

The Founder (2016)

Leaves you pondering innovation and what "to invent" something means. (My review here.)

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

George Lazenby + Diana Rigg + director (style, wonderful shots, timing) = wonderful. 

Lion (2016)

Well told tale of Indian street urchin — blew me away. (My review here.)

Colossal (2016)

Gloria and the monster. Impossible to describe without spoiling. (My review here.)

The Women's Balcony (2016, Israel)

Witty, good humored, intelligent look at men, women, and faith. (My review here.)

Fourth Day of Christmas: Massacre of the Holy Innocents


Duccio di Buoninsegna. Maesta (front, predella): The Massacre of the Innocents
via Wikipedia.
Nor must we forget that our greatest happiness and our most authentic good are not always those which we dream of and long for. It is difficult for us to see things in their true perspective: we can only take in a very small part of complete reality. We only see the tiny piece of reality that is here, in front of us. We are inclined to feel that earthly existence is the only real one and often consider our time on earth to be the period in which all our longings for perfect happiness ought to be fulfilled.

There is anguish for us, twenty centuries later, in thinking of the slain babies and their parents. for the babies the agony was soon over; in the next world they would come to know whom they had died to save and for all eternity would have that glory. For the parents, the pain would have lasted longer; but at death they too must have found that there was a special sense in which God was in their debt, as he had never been indebted to any. They and their children were the only ones who ever agonized in order to save God's life ... (F. J. Sheed, To Know Christ Jesus)
In Conversation with God: Advent and Christmastide
We forget that the first martyrs were the most innocent of all, victims of someone in a blind rage at being thwarted and fearful of being displaced. Read more about the Holy Innocents here.

Lagniappe: Christmas

A little something seasonal from my quote journal.
It is, indeed, the season of regenerated feeling--the season for kindling, not merely the fire of hospitality in the hall, but the genial flame of charity in the heart.
Washington Irving, Old Christmas

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Well Said: Christmas

From my quote journal ... Merry Christmas!
I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.

Taylor Caldwell

Best of 2017 - Books

In 10 words or less, my top picks from the books I read last year. You may find old books here but if they're on this list, then they were new to me!



The Green Jacket
by Jennette Lee
An unusual and winning female detective in 1917 ... and knitting! (My review here.)


How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization
by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
A terrific book, highly readable. I definitely recommend it.


Spook Street
by Mick Herron
Spy story with intricate plots, gritty settings, humor, and treachery. (My review here.)


Made in India: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen
by Meera Sodha
Global Indian food which works in an American kitchen — delicious!


Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card
Engaging, easy read with beautiful ending — melancholy but hopeful.  


Terry Pratchett Books Read in Order
New favorites: The Watch series,  Interesting Times, and The Truth.


Leviathan Wakes
by James S. A. Corey
Suspenseful space opera/noir mystery with riveting cliffhangers throughout.
(My full review here. Discussed on A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.)

Ivanhoe
 by Sir Walter Scott
Inventive plot twists, laugh-out-loud humor, and Rebecca. Recommended! (My review here.)


Black Bottle Man
by Craig Russell
A good deal-with-the-devil tale and historical fiction. (My full review is here.)

Third Day of Christmas: St. John the Evangelist

In his extreme old age he continued to visit the churches of Asia. St. Jerome relates that when age and weakness grew upon him so that he was no longer able to preach to the people, he would be carried to the assembly of the faithful by his disciples, with great difficulty; and every time said to his flock only these words: "My dear children, love one another."
This makes me think of John Paul II in his last years. Read more about St. John here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Second Day of Christmas: St. Stephen, The First Martyr


We have only just celebrated the birth of our Lord and already the liturgy presents us with the feast of the first person to give his life for this Baby who has been born. Yesterday we wrapped Christ in swaddling clothes; today, he clothes Stephen with the garment of immortality. Yesterday, a narrow manger cradled the baby Christ; today, the infinite heaven has received Stephen in triumph. (St. Fulgentius, Sermon 3)

The Church wants to make us realize that the Cross is always very close to Jesus and his followers. As he struggles for perfect righteousness - sanctity - in this world, the Christian will meet perfect situations and attacks by the enemies of God. Our Lord has warned us: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you ... Remember the word that I said to you; a servant is not greater than his master: If they persecuted me they will persecute you. (John 15:18-20) Since the very beginning of the Church this prophecy has been fulfilled. And in our days too, if we really follow Our Lord, we are going to suffer difficulties and persecutions in one way or another and of different kinds. Every age is an age of martyrdom, St. Augustine tells us. Don't say that Christians are not suffering persecution; the Apostle's words are always true ...: All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim 3:12) All, he says, with no one being excluded or exempted. If you want to test the truth of this saying, you have only to begin to lead a pious life and you will see what good reason he had for saying this. (St. Augustine, Sermon 6, 2)
In Conversation with God: Advent and Christmastide

Well Said: Noel by J. R. R. Tolkien

Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.

The lord of snows upreared his head;
His mantle long and pale
Upon the bitter blast was spread
And hung o’er hill and dale.
The world was blind, the boughs were bent,
All ways and paths were wild:
Then the veil of cloud apart was rent,
And here was born a Child.

The ancient dome of heaven sheer
Was pricked with distant light;
A star came shining white and clear
Alone above the night.
In the dale of dark in that hour of birth
One voice on a sudden sang:
Then all the bells in Heaven and Earth
Together at midnight rang.

Mary sang in this world below:
They heard her song arise
O’er mist and over mountain snow
To the walls of Paradise,
And the tongue of many bells was stirred
in Heaven’s towers to ring
When the voice of mortal maid was heard,
That was mother of Heaven’s King.

Glad is the world and fair this night
With stars about its head,
And the hall is filled with laughter and light,
And fires are burning red.
The bells of Paradise now ring
With bells of Christendom,
And Gloria, Gloria we will sing
That God on earth is come.
The Nativity, 1858, Arthur Hughes
This poem was published in the 1936 Annual of Our Lady’s School, Abingdon, Tolkien’s “Noel” was unknown and unrecorded until scholars Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull discovered it while searching for another poem in June 2013. Links and more info are here.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Well Said: Glorious Mess

From my quote journal.
One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don't clean it up too quickly.
Andy Rooney
And we never do.

Welcome Lord Jesus Into Our Midst

Adoration of the Shepherds
BRONZINO, Agnolo
1535-40, Adoration of the Shepherds
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful,
from David’s throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
by judgment and justice,
both now and forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!

Isaiah 9:1-6
Thanks be to God!

May He bless you richly and may we recognize the blessings He sends us.
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve Lagniappe

A little something seasonal from my quote journal.
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
Dr. Seuss 

Christmas Eve: Considering the Incarnation

Looking through old Christmas posts, I came across this bulletin insert from a few years ago. I found it good to reread and you may also so I present it again here.
Considering the Truth of the Incarnation

No worldly mind would ever have suspected that He Who could make the sun warm the earth would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm Him with their breath; that He Who, in the language of Scriptures, could stop the turning about of Arcturus would have His birthplace dictated by an imperial census; that He, Who clothed the fields with grass, would Himself be naked; that He, from Whose hands came planets and worlds, would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle; that the feet which trod the everlasting hills would one day be too weak to walk; that the Eternal Word would be dumb; that Omnipotence would be wrapped in swaddling clothes; that Salvation would lie in a manger; that the bird which built the nest would be hatched therein—no one would have ever suspected that God coming to this earth would ever be so helpless. And that is precisely why so many miss Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it. ...

No man can love anything unless he can get his arms around it, and the cosmos is too big and too bulky. But once God became a Babe and was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, men could say, “This is Emmanuel, this is God with us.” By His reaching down to frail human nature and lifting it up to the incomparable prerogative of union with Himself, human nature became dignified. So real was this union that all of His acts and words, all of His agonies and tears, all of His thoughts and reasonings, resolves and emotions, while being properly human, were at the same time the acts and words, agonies and tears, thought and reasonings, resolves and emotions of the Eternal Son of God.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ
-------------------------------------------------------
PMRMaeyaert, Sint-Walburgakerk, Oudenaarde, Belgium
via Wikipedia, Creative Commons License 3.0
In our meditations upon the Incarnation we encounter many familiar images. This is natural and to be expected. It is automatic to think sentimentally and comfortably about the little babe, the adoring parents, singing angels, startled shepherds, and Magi with gifts, while traditional carols echo in our ears.

However, as Fulton Sheen reminds us, the reality of the Incarnation is not comfortable at all. It is God breaking into human time and nature and history to effect a miracle so outrageous that no one would have thought it up in their wildest dreams. The Second Person of the Trinity willingly takes on our limited human nature, purely for love of us. Shocking? Yes. Amazing? Yes. But comfortable? No.

This also is a good reminder that it is very easy to read into Scripture what we would like to see. Pulling the truth out of Scripture, also called exegesis, is considerably more difficult. That truth may prove quite a bit more surprising than we expect. God does have a habit of showing us truth in surprising ways.

To think of the Christ child at Christmas is natural. Undeniably those are the images of the season. However, the meaning of this baby for us and for all mankind is far from a sentimental picture. Jesus comes to us as a baby so we will learn something of his real nature and of the beginning of the path that he will tread and that we must follow.

Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898), The Nativity
Pope Benedict XVI helps us to consider further the layers of meaning in the Incarnation. In a Christmas homily* he said:
God’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. … God’s sign is simplicity. … God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. … He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. ...

In our meditations upon the Incarnation we encounter many familiar images. This is natural and to be expected. However, let us not settle for comfort. Let us dig deeper and discover the true nature of the Lord, he who is Love incarnate, who came to show that love for you and for me.
-------------------------------------------------------
* Read online Pope Benedict XVI’s entire homily from Midnight Mass 2006, Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

More Christmas Punny Stuff

Last weekend I ran some Christmas jokes. Here's a second set which made me laugh just as much.

What nationality is Santa Claus?

He's North Polish!


Why does Santa Claus insist that all the elves wash their clothes in Tide?

Because at the North Pole, it's too cold to wash them OUT tide.


What did the reindeer say before launching into his comedy routine?

This will sleigh you!


Good King Wenceslas phoned Domino's for a pizza.

The salesgirl asked him: "Do you want your usual? Deep pan, crisp and even?"

And with that Irish you a Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Little Way of Terry Pratchett

An oldie (2015) but a goodie from Leah Libresco Sargeant. Via Will Duquette.
“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”

“It’s a lot more complicated than that—”

“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they are getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”

“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes—”

“But they starts with thinking about people as things …”
Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum
Reading that as an atheist, it was the first time I’d seen a definition of sin that didn’t sound like, as Francis Spufford describes our modern use of the word in Unapologetic, a kind of “enjoyable naughtiness” that seemed mostly to do with sex or very expensive chocolates.

But the kind of sin that Granny talks about isn’t an indulgence in something harmless, luxurious and secret. And it’s not the world-shaking evil of a monster or a murderer. It’s a seemingly small rejection of creation and the particular place our fellow people have in it. It’s not always choosing hatred; it can be putting aside love for indifference.
Leah Libresco Sargeant, The Little Way of Terry Pratchett
I have long loved Granny Weatherwax for all the reasons Leah Libresco Sargeant mentions in her piece, which you should go read. In fact, I included that quote in Happy Catholic for it's solid truth.

It is interesting seeing how influential Terry Pratchett's insistence on human worth can be. Certainly it is one of the reasons I loved his stories. He doggedly and continually defends the value of each human. And the clear-sightedness of what sin really is. Whether he called it sin or not.

Worth a Thousand Words: Ghost of Christmas Present

The Ghost of Christmas Present
from the original edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 1843

The Greatest Journey, part 6

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

Ending our examination of chapter five of  Go to Joseph, Father Gilsdorf leads us to consider Joseph when he first sees Jesus.
Guido Reni, St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus
In the depth of the night, Mary gives birth. The purest eyes on earth, undimmed by sin, look with maternal ecstasy into the eternal depths of the little eyes of her Divine Son, Who is also the Son of God, eyes now looking outward with infinite love into the world He created in the beginning.

Then Joseph approaches. His chaste fatherly eyes gaze in rapture on the face of the Christ Child. As a sure guide of the journey to Bethlehem, that "House of Bread," he has accomplished his first task. Soon there would be more journeys of pilgrimage and exile: the Presentation of the Infant, the coming of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, and years later, the finding of his Boy in the Temple. How can we not give to this Christmas procession the title of "The Greatest Journey?" And Joseph led the way.

What a powerful lesson to youth of all times. If we hold the more common modern view of the age of the Holy Couple, does it not become irresistibly appealing to the good young people living among us? Will they not perhaps be astonished and thrilled to discover how God entrusted the salvation of the world into the care of a very young man and woman? Will they not open their hearts to the call and challenge of God to undertake great missions that He has in store for them in the Church?
That is the end of chapter five but hopefully you can see why I found this little book so good. Tom and I are reading it together, a bit at a time, after dinner each evening.

An Advent Reflection on the Child Who Made His Mother

Of every other child that is born into the world, friends can say that it resembles his mother. This was the first instance in time that anyone could say that the mother resembled the Child. This is the beautiful paradox of the Child Who made His mother; the mother, too was only a child. It was also the first time in the history of this world that anyone could ever think of heaven as being anywhere else than "somewhere up there"; when the Child was in her arms, Mary now looked down to Heaven ...
Life of Christ by Fulton J. Sheen

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Santa's Workshop

Santa's workshop from the Silly Symphonies short of that name.

The Greatest Journey, part 5

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, Father Gilsdorf considers the need for shelter, Jesus' impending birth, and the closed doors. An interesting theory is in the footnote so do not skip it.
Saint Joseph Seeks a Lodging in Bethlehem, James Tissot
Then, as the afternoon shadows lengthened into evening, Joseph began his search for a proper place for Mary, whose hour had come. Some scholars have suggested reading "the inn was no place for them," rather than "there was no place for them in the inn."(Luke 2:7)v The need was admittedly not just for any shelter, but for privacy and propriety. Yet the traditional meditation is forever valid: The heartsick Joseph on the first Christmas Eve knocking on doors and hearts was repeatedly rejected; Mary waiting prayerfully, quietly abandoned to God's providence, astride that blessed noble donkey; the Child within her abut to be born. "He came to His own, and His own received Him not." (John 1:11) People closed their doors in the face of the Creator, Savior, and Judge of the universe. It was a prophetic forecast of so many rejections in all the generations yet to come.

The Advent application good Christians have always drawn was to listen for Joseph's knocking and his plea to open the doors of our homes and hearts for Mary and her Child. "To those who did receive Him, He gave them power to become children of God."(John 1:12)

We move now in spirit to the refuge, probably a combination cave/stable used by shepherds like those still seen in the area, a place to shelter themselves and their flocks. We see Joseph busily and artfully preparing the place of delivery and the manger/crib for the Infant.

At this point we return to our opening reflections--Joseph the patriarch of the new and everlasting covenant, guardian and custodian of the Bread from heaven. God has appointed him "Lord of His house and prince of all His possessions." (CF Ps 105:21)

v Some scholars go beyond this. they say that the word commonly translated as 'inn"--katalyma--is actually best understood as a room set apart, a private room. The same word is used in Luke 22;11 ("And you shall say to the goodman of the house, 'The master says to you: Where is the guest chamber [or guest room] where I may eat the pasch with My disciples.'"). The theory here is that such a room was needed for childbirth, since, due to the blood loss associated with delivering a baby, a woman was ritually unclean for 40-80 days after a birth (depending on whether she bore a boy or a girl). furthermore, anyone who came in contact with a childbearing mother was also ritually unclean. Since Bethlehem was Joseph's town, and since he likely would have had relatives there, and since those relatives would have likely been inundated with other relatives like Joseph, the house would have been quite full. According to this theory, anyone in it would have risked ritual contamination by Mary's delivery. As a result, Mary and Joseph actively sought a less intrusive place (such as the stable attached to the house) and had the baby Jesus there. Again, this is only a theory, but it is an interesting one.
In part 6 Jesus is born.

Advent Reflection: My Lover - Here He Comes

Hark! my lover–here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Here he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattices.
My lover speaks; he says to me,
"Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one,
and come!
"For see, the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of pruning the vines has come,
and the song of the dove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance.
Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one,
and come!

"O my dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the secret recesses of the cliff,
Let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
and you are lovely."

Song of Songs, 2:8-14
I can't tell you how this grabbed my attention this morning, coming as it does in the third week of Advent. This is Jesus joyfully bounding toward us as his incarnation becomes reality. This is his love for each of us as he comes to bring us salvation. What a lovely and evocative image.

Listen Up: Christmas Past podcast

Christmas Past tells the stories behind your favorite holiday traditions. Each episode is 10-15 minutes long, and features interviews with experts, archival audio, and Christmas memories from listeners.
I discovered Christmas Past a couple of weeks ago and have been thoroughly enjoying them. Brian Earl has a soothing, friendly voice and gives a thorough history of topics ranging from Santa (of course) to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to Eggnog to Wrapping Paper.

There are still a few days left until Christmas so I wanted to give you a chance to hear them. (iTunes link, website link)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Collecting the Tree

Father and son with their dog collecting a tree in the forest, painting by Franz Krüger (1797–1857)

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. I love Father Gilsdorf's idea that Mary and Joseph might have planned little side trips on the way to Bethlehem. That's just the way that Tom and I do our trips, so it makes the whole thing suddenly come alive for me. And it gives me a glimpse of Mary and Joseph as a married couple, which is also a lovely "coming alive" moment.
Saint Joseph, José de Ribera (1591–1652)
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 travel 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.

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

Thank you Joanna R.!


This book was indeed a long-shot when I put it on my Amazon wish list. But I really am a sucker for illustrated manuscripts and I liked the author's conceit of treating each section almost as an interview with the manuscript itself. It is costly and somewhat obscure and so mostly there as a reminder for when I could afford a splurge.

So you can imagine my surprise when I opened an Amazon box this morning, wondering what gifts I'd forgotten would need wrapping. I thought I'd gotten everything in.

This lovely book was there with an even lovelier note from Joanna. Thank you so much — this is going to provide hours of enjoyment!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg

Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg
By Roland Berger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

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.
Saint Joseph, James Tissot
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.

An Advent Story

Brandywine Books posted this true story several years ago. I came across it in my archives and liked it so much that I am reposting it now. Just a little something to remind us of why we are standing at that window, waiting for the light ...
When Marvin was a young teenager (around the 1930s or early ‘40s, I imagine), he asked his father if he could go with the other kids to some entertainment event (he didn’t say what kind). His father said it wouldn’t be appropriate and told him no. Marvin said he was going anyway, and headed out.

“If you go out without my approval,” his father told him as he reached the door, “this house will be locked when you get home, and you’ll have to sleep somewhere else.”

Marvin refused to back down. He left. He enjoyed the event.

That, he said, was the short part of the night.

When he got home he found the house dark, the doors locked. Even that window in the basement that the kids could sometimes work loose was locked tight.

Marvin stood in the dark, thinking about his options. It wasn’t winter, but it was fall and the night was getting cold.

He remembered a sort of loft in the chicken coop which his brother and he had appropriated as a “secret place.” It had a sort of a mattress and a ratty quilt.

He went into the chicken coop and climbed up. The “mattress” was there, but the quilt was gone.

Lacking other options, he lay down on the mattress and curled up in a fetal position. The cold wind blew in through the cracks. The coop stank of chicken droppings. There was no way to sleep. He lay there in the darkness hugging himself, shivering. The hours passed slowly. He wondered if he could make it through the night.

Then, at last, he heard a door open. He heard a creaking sound as someone climbed the board ladder to the loft. Someone put a pillow under his head, lay down and held him close, and pulled a quilt over both of them.

In the darkness, he heard his father say, “Marvin, when I said that if you disobeyed me you’d have to find another place to sleep tonight, I didn’t say that I would sleep inside.

And so that pastor taught his son the true meaning of the Incarnation.

Wish I’d had a dad like that.

Wait. I do.

Monday, December 18, 2017

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.
Mosaic of the enrollment for taxation before Governor Quirinius
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: Miracle on 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street. Valentine Davies.
via Books and Art

A Thought for Advent

There will be those who say: "that is exactly why I don't go to Communion more often, because I realize my love is cold ..." If you are cold, do you think it sensible to move away from the fire? Precisely because you feel your heart frozen you should go "more frequently" to Holy Communion, provided you feel a sincere desire to love Jesus Christ. "Go to Holy Communion," says St. Bonaventure, "even when you feel lukewarm, leaving everything in God's hands. The more my sickness debilitates me, the more urgently do I need a doctor."
St. Alphonsus Liguori, The practice of love for Jesus, 2
Quoted in In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez
Daily Meditations Vol. 1: Advent and Christmastide

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas Jokes for the Weekend (and beyond)

Repeating this because these made me laugh ... again!

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 15, 2017

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: 1907 Christmas Card

A 1907 Christmas card with Santa and some of his reindeer

Advent Meditation: Prayer While Shopping During Advent

Something to keep in mind when battling the crowds, looking for that hard-to-find toy, or viewing with astonishment that person who snapped up the parking place you'd clearly been waiting for.
Prayer While Shopping During Advent
(source)

Dear God, as I look through my gift shopping list,
I hold up to you each person listed on it.
Slowly, one by one,
I ask that the fire of your abundant love burn within each of them.
I pray that the gift I find for each person
will bring joy into that life.

But, help me to keep a balance this season, Lord.
Let me keep my buying in perspective,
not to spend more than I need to or can afford.
Let me not give in to the pressures of this world
and not equate love with money spent.
Let me always remember the many, many people
who have so much less in material things.
Help me to buy wisely,
so that my choices will not burden those in other countries
who are so deeply affected by this country's economy.

And finally, loving God,
help me to find time in the frantic moments of each day
to become centered on you.
Walking through a store,
riding on the bus,
hurrying down a street:
let each of these times be moments
when I can remember your incredible love for me
and rejoice in it.

Amen.

“Lead us not into temptation”: Digging deeper into the Our Father (Lord's Prayer)

On a morning walk, my husband said that Pope Francis had mentioned maybe a retranslation of the Our Father was needed because the phrase "lead us not into temptation" sounded as if God would actively tempt us.

Anyone who's pondered the Our Father is familiar with this little puzzle.

My first reaction was "no way, Jose!" Then I recalled that coincidentally (or perhaps providentially!) I'd just that very morning read about that specific line in Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life. (Yes, I read my own devotional. It was, after all, compiled for me first!)

I realized that if I needed three quotes to show the complexity of the Greek verb in the original, then perhaps a retranslation might not be a bad thing.

See what you think.
Lead Us Not Into Temptation ...

It is difficult to translate the Greek verb used by a single English word: the Greek means both “do not allow us to enter into temptation” and “do not let us yield to temptation.”*
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2846

We are helped a further step along when we recall the words of the Gospel: “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). Temptation comes from the devil, but part of Jesus’ messianic task is to withstand the great temptations that have led man away from God and continue to do so.
Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth:
From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration

“Lead us not into temptation” often means among other things, “Deny me those gratifying invitations, those highly interesting contacts, that participation in the brilliant movements of our age, which I so often, at such risk, desire.”
C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

++++

I never could understand this. I couldn’t reconcile God as “all good” with someone who would “lead me into temptation.”

Pope Benedict XVI (Ratzinger) led me to read the Book of Job where temptation is allowed on a massive scale. Those examples have helped mightily with my own trust in God when temptations arise, especially the temptations that I am not equipped to handle.

+++

Prayer: My hope is in you, dear Father.

* Cf. Mt 26:41.

There's more where that came from. Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life is about growing closer to Jesus and sometimes (as it turns out) helping figure out how I feel about the latest news from the Vatican! It makes a great Christmas gift!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Which Literary Villain Uttered Each of the Following Quotes?

"My revenge has just begun! I spread it over centuries and time is on my side."

How devious and devilish are you? Test your knowlegde of all things evil by identifying which villains spoke the literary quotes below. Be sure to read carefully—these literary villains are tricky!
I'm clearly not devilish enough. I only got 1 right and that was by a blind guess!

Take the quiz at Writer's Digest.

Worth a Thousand Words: A Touch of Winter

A Touch of Winter, by our favorite - Remo Savisaar

Well Said: When we attempt to avoid suffering, we drift into emptiness

We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi (In Hope We Were Saved)
This is a truth I know but that I forget. And then I have to be reminded when I run into that wall because I'm trying to avoid it. No one can live their lives and avoid suffering. The Catholic teachings and Christ's reality and example are what give my life (in good times and bad) full meaning.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: The Yard and Wash House

Carl Larsson, The Yard and Wash House, 1885
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: Cities crumble and people go on

"... Sentimental speeches like this ... at Balkh, of all places?"

Her words were forceful and they made me stop. I looked at the undulating graveyard of the great city and saw, in my imagination, the rise and fall of Balkh - Balkh of the Flying Pennants it had been called, as if the city were proud to advertise its accomplishments, temporary though they proved to be - and I sensed some of the meaning behind my mission. I said, "I don't accept your view of Balkh. Cities crumble and civilizations vanish, but people go on. And damn it all, they eat and make love and go to war and die according to certain hopeful rules. I accept those rules."
James A. Michener, Caravans

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Well Said: What you do not need and what you do need

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.
Thomas Merton
Yes, perfectly put and a good reminder. Via Scott Danielson.

Worth a Thousand Words: In Sunrise Colors

In Sunrise Colors by Remo Savisaar

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

This my annual post about Our Lady of Guadalupe. I usually am not especially interested in one visitation of Mary more than another, but there is something about Our Lady of Guadalupe that captures my attention. It is all the concrete symbolism that can be seen. Be sure to check out all the links. There is some fantastic information in those places.


MEMORIAL
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego on Tepayac hill near Mexico City on the 9th of December 1531 to ask for the construction of a church there in her honour. After the miraculous cure of his uncle, Bernardo, this Indian peasant brought to his Bishop some roses that he received from Our Lady as a sign of her request. As the flowers fell from his cloak to the ground before the astonished Prelate, the image of the blessed virgin, which is venerated in the Basilica of Guadalupe to this day, was miraculously impressed on the simple garment before their eyes.
In Conversation With God Vol 7: Feast Days, July-December
What has always fascinated me is the symbolism of the image that was on the cloak. TSO has said:
One of the interesting things about the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is its teaching potential. Though she looks glorified, with stars and rays of sun coming from her as was predicted in Rev. 12, she is no goddess. Her hands are folded in supplication, her posture indicating that she is interceding for us at the throne of the God.
There is so much in that image that speaks to Catholic hearts through symbolism.

However, there is much more to Our Lady of Guadalupe's image than that. As with all good Catholic images there is abundant symbolism that was specifically designed to speak to the hearts of the people to whom she brought her message ... the Aztecs. I remember when our priest put out a flyer about this and I was just knocked out at how meaningful every single thing in the image is. I really like this explanation.
The miraculous image produced on the apron or tilma of Blessed Juan Diego is rich in symbolism. The aureole or luminous light surrounding the Lady is reminiscent of the "woman clothed with the sun" of Rev. 12:1. The light is also a sign of the power of God who has sanctified and blessed the one who appears. The rays of the sun would also be recognized by the native people as a symbol of their highest god, Huitzilopochtli. Thus, the lady comes forth hiding but not extinguishing the power of the sun. She is now going to announce the God who is greater than their sun god.

The Lady is standing upon the moon. Again, the symbolism is that of the woman of Rev. 12:1 who has the "moon under her feet". The moon for the Meso-Americans was the god of the night. By standing on the moon, she shows that she is more powerful than the god of darkness. However, in Christian iconography the crescent moon under the Madonna's feet is usually a symbol of her perpetual virginity, and sometimes it can refer to her Immaculate Conception or Assumption.

The eyes of Our lady of Guadalupe are looking down with humility and compassion. This was a sign to the native people that she was not a god since in their iconography the gods stare straight ahead with their eyes wide open. We can only imagine how tenderly her eyes looked upon Blessed Juan Diego when she said: " Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief -- Am I not here who am your Mother?"

The angel supporting the Lady testifies to her royalty. To the Meso-American Indians only kings, queens and other dignitaries would be carried on the shoulders of someone. The angel is transporting the Lady to the people as a sign that a new age has come.

The mantle of the Lady is blue-green or turquoise. To the native people, this was the color of the gods and of royalty. It was also the color of the natural forces of life and fecundity. In Christian art, blue is symbolic of eternity and immortality. In Judaism, it was the color of the robe of the high priest. The limbus or gold border of her mantle is another sign of nobility.

The stars on the Lady's mantle shows that she comes from heaven. She comes as the Queen of Heaven but with the eyes of a humble and loving mother. The stars also are a sign of the supernatural character of the image. The research of Fr. Mario Rojas Sanchez and Dr. Juan Homero Hernandez Illescas of Mexico (published in 1983) shows that the stars on the Lady's mantle in the image are exactly as the stars of the winter solstice appeared before dawn on the morning of December 12, 1531.

The color of the Madonna's dress is rose or pale-red. Some have interpreted this as the color of dawn symbolizing the beginning of a new era. Others point to the red as a sign of martyrdom for the faith and divine love.

The gold-encircled cross brooch under the neck of the Lady's robe is a symbol of sanctity.

The girdle or bow around her waist is a sign of her virginity, but it also has several other meanings. The bow appears as a four-petaled flower. To the native Indians this was the nahui ollin, the flower of the sun, a symbol of plenitude. The cross-shaped flower was also connected with the cross-sticks which produce fire. For them, this was the symbol of fecundity and new life. The high position of the bow and the slight swelling of the abdomen show that the Lady is "with child". According to Dr. Carlos Fernandez Del Castillo, a leading Mexican obstetrician, the Lady appears almost ready to give birth with the infant head down resting vertically. This would further solidify her identification with the woman of Rev. 12 who is about to give birth.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother and Patroness of the Unborn,
1999 Office of Respect Life – Diocese of Austin
Read about this apparition of Our Lady in more depth at Catholic Culture.

Here is yet another point about the symbolism in an article by Bishop Olmsted, which is sadly no longer available online from The Catholic Sun where it first appeared. I have never seen the symbolism mentioned anywhere else.
Nine heart-shaped flower blossoms decorate the tunic worn by Our Lady of Guadalupe, surrounding her hands, which are gently folded in prayer. This artistic technique told the Native peoples that the Virgin Mary was holding hearts in her maternal hands, protecting them from harm. This image mesmerized them as they gazed with awe and wonder at the sight. It filled them with new hope at a time when they teetered on the edge of despair. Why?

Hearts, they had thought, were what you offered to the gods in order to restore harmony in the world. In their own practice of human sacrifice, hearts were torn out of victims, usually enemies captured in battle, and then offered as a peace offering. But that effort to win peace with their “gods” had failed to save them from defeat by the Conquistadors. Worse, after the conquest, they no longer knew how to pray or even to whom to pray.

But then, Our Lady of Guadalupe came to them, gently holding their hearts in her hands. Harmony, they realized, was again possible! Her hands held their hearts just above the divine Child in her womb, the One whose Sacred Heart conquers violence and restores peace to the world.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Read about the structure in a wonderful post at Mexico Bob

The Curt Jester has had some myth-busters about this apparition, which he hastens to assure us he does regard as a miraculous event. However, it is a good reminder that it is just too tempting sometimes to make a miraculous thing even better by embellishing ... tch, tch, tch.

Be sure also to check out this fantastic book Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love. It is chock full of good information about more symbolism and how Our Lady of Guadalupe relates to our lives today.