When I was a child, the magi’s story captured my imagination. I remember my parents drawing out the Christmas season through the Feast of the Epiphany. Presents stayed under the tree, decorations stayed up, the Christ candle at the center of the Advent wreath was lit, and even Christmas music echoed in the halls of our home all the way through January 5. Without fail on the day after Christmas, the wise men would begin their journey from the far east (sofa table) traveling a little each night while we slept as they made their way to Bethlehem (next to the fireplace).
My adult imagination was sparked in a whole new way as I read how the early Church fathers interpreted the magi story in light of Old Testament prophecy:
Justin cites Isaiah 8:4, where the prophet predicts that “before the child knows how to call ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoils of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria.” For Justin, the magi were priests of an eastern cult and practitioners of magic and astrology. The wealth of Damascus and spoils of Samaria represented the sorcery and idol-worship that the pagan magi gave up when they worshiped Jesus. The magi’s visit to the crib was thus their moment of conversion and the renunciation of their misguided, idolatrous practices.*
According to Origen, after the star appeared to the magi, they noticed that their magic spells faltered and their power was sapped. Consulting their books, they discovered the prophecy of the oracle-reader Balaam, who saw a rising star “com[ing] out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:17) that indicated the advent of a great ruler of Israel. The magi thus conjectured that this ruler had entered the world. So, the magi traveled to Judea to find this ruler, and based on their reading of Balaam’s prophecy, the appearance of the comet and their loss of strength, they determined that he must be superior to any ordinary human—that his nature must be both human and divine.*
Irenaeus of Lyons
According to Irenaeus, the magi offered Jesus myrrh (used for anointing corpses) to indicate that he was to die and be buried for the sake of mortal humans, gold because he was a king of an eternal kingdom, and frankincense (burnt on altars as divine offerings) because he was a god. As the first visitors to recognize who this newborn child was, and what his birth would mean to the whole world, the witness of the magi was not insignificant to these controversies. Their three gifts seemed to demonstrate their understanding of the three distinct persons who shared a single “nature” within the Trinity.*
The wise men did not simply seek Him, they were the first to recognize Jesus as messiah.
As the Magi strove to find the newborn king, may the Feast of the Epiphany find us not only seeking out Christ each day of our life, but actually recognizing Him as Priest, Prophet, King, and Messiah.
As the Magi renounced their magical idolatrous practices in the infant face of God incarnate, may we renounce whatever worldly idols have thickened the veil between us and Christ.
As the Magi blessed the Holy Family with their humility and homage, may our families be blessed humility and may we keep the adoration of Christ at the center of everything we do this year.
I want to be clear about something: I love Christmas. Everything to do with Christmas. I don’t care that the stores put out Christmas decorations in October because just seeing those aisles start to fill with twinkling lights, sparkling ornaments, and scented pine cones reminds me that my favorite time of year is approaching. I listen to Christmas music as soon as Thanksgiving is over because – hey, it takes me more than 4 weeks to prepare for the joy of the Incarnation, okay?
I need you to understand how much I love Christmas because then you can understand what a problem I’ve had this year.
Deep down this year, my heart just hasn’t been in it. Christmas has felt more like a to-do list than a celebration – a mental exercise requiring so much effort.
“The language of the Lord is the language of love and tenderness, of whispers and extreme simplicity…Usually, Christmas seems like a very noisy feast, but we can use a bit of silence to hear these words of love, closeness and tenderness.” – Pope Francis
Reflecting on that quote, I realized that my Christmas needs more softness and tenderness, more heart and less head, more ‘being’ and less ‘doing.’
Yesterday, snow covered roads meant my normally half hour commute home from work took an hour and a half. I had Christmas music on in the car and noticed lyrics to a one carol I had never noticed before:
Raise, raise the son on high
The virgin sings her lullaby
Joy, joy for Christ is born
The babe, the son of Mary
The First Christmas was a pretty noisy feast. Travel, crowds, gifts, visitors, animals, death threats, angels, dreams, songs, shepherds, even a drum set!
Yet, in the midst of it, there is a moment – just a moment – when all is calm. Mary and Joseph look lovingly over the sweet soft head of the newborn child. She sings a lullaby showering the soft baby skin in kisses. He gazes in adoration and awe at the gift and responsibility in front of him.
The night is silent, and before the choirs of angels, visiting shepherds, adoring Magi, and flight to Egypt, there is just the Holy Family hearing in the depths of their souls “the language of the Lord…the language of love and tenderness, of whispers and extreme simplicity.”
What Child is this? This, this is Christ the King. The King of Kings salvation brings. This is the God of the Universe who condescends in the greatest act of humility to be bound by human form. This is the Incarnation. The moment when God’s very Word – the same Word that, booming across the chaos, speaks creation into being – becomes tenderness, gentleness, and simplicity.
While the truth and holiness of God always remains intact, the marvelous ‘condescension’ of eternal wisdom is clearly shown, “that we may learn the gentle kindness of God, which words cannot express, and how far He has gone in adapting His language with thoughtful concern for our weak human nature.” (Dei Verbum, 13)
What Child is this? This is the Child who wants to be born again into our hearts this Christmas. My prayer for all of us is that we can find a moment of silence. Between the travels and visitors, the gifts and the music, let us all find a moment when all is calm and our hearts are bright with the love and tenderness of God’s great condescension.
What Child is this? This is Christ the Lord who desires to be born into the softest area of your heart this Christmas. May you find a moment of silence to ponder this mystery, holding all these things in your heart rather than your head. May your loving heart enthrone him.
I like Christmas Jesus best…
It’s that day. THE DAY when we make our obligatory list of “Things I’m Thankful For” and prepare to present it in front of family and friends around the Thanksgiving table. We all know how the list goes: air, family, friends, health, job, home, football, pumpkin pie (in whatever order is preferable to you), etc., etc. All great things to be thankful for and generally worth mentioning.
I’ve been meditating on the “what are you thankful for question” a bit more this year, though, because I feel like saying, “Duh” when all those general gifts are mentioned. OF COURSE I’m thankful for my family and children, the blessings we have in the form of good health and a job and home and all the extraneous things that make my life what it is. I try to daily live my life as a woman who is aware of my many, many blessings and who regularly tells God “thank you” for them.
But, why? Why do I try to live in this mindset (or, really, HEARTset)? What is it that I am truly the most thankful for that allows me to be a person of thanksgiving, of praise, with a grateful heart?
Read the rest of this entry
My kids have now reached the age at which we start having music fights in the car. Our travel playlist has become quite eclectic. For example, tonight we spent an hour in the car and our selections included:
- This summer’s VBS theme song (Stand Strong)
- Bon Jovi
- Billy Joel
- One Direction
- The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Theme Song
- Matt Maher
- Elton John
- Hakuna Matata
- Kenny Chesney
- Sidewalk Prophets, and
- What Does the Fox Say
One particular song that hit our playlist tonight was Billy Joel’s Summer, Highland Falls. The lyrics of this song are so moving and beautiful that when I was studying poetry in college, I wrote Billy Joel a letter thanking him for the way he was able to evoke such emotion by pairing beautiful imagery with haunting melodies.
“It was by music that the ancient kings gave elegant expression to their joy. By their armies and axes they gave the same to their anger.” – Confucius
Just to give you a brief example:
We are forced to recognize our inhumanity
Our reason co-exists with our insanity
And though we choose between reality and madness,
it’s either sadness or euphoria.
You can listen to the whole song here:
I suppose it’s no wonder that I started thinking about lyrics considering that tonight’s playlist moved us from Billy Joel’s poetic genius immediately into One Direction’s Best Song Ever.
The refrain to that song?
I think it went oh, oh, oh / I think it went yeah, yeah, yeah / I think it goes oh
To say that One Direction is no poetic genius is putting it mildly.
To be fair, I must admit that I sang the “oh, oh, oh” and “yeah, yeah, yeah” with just as much gusto as I did Summer, Highland Falls – and with significantly more dancing. By the time we got to What Does the Fox Say, I had hopped down from my mental soapbox and forgotten all about my concern for modern song lyrics. It could be that I was just too busy trying to make my kids laugh by imitating the CGI fox dance moves at the end of the song without sacrificing my driving.
“Music takes us out of the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are, and for what, whence, and whereto.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Then, I got home and found this gem on my Facebook feed:
I listened to these classic actors, with their rich voices, reciting such banal…well…crap… and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Hearing One Direction (and Miley, and that idiotic Chinese Food song) in that context brought the point slamming home again.
“Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart.” – Shinichi Suzuki
The songs whose lyrics are recited in that video (along with a thousand other modern pop and rock songs) make me want to laugh, dance, sing along, and bop my head. But while that makes those songs entertainment, I don’t know that it makes them music in the idealist sense.
“[Music is] the exaltation of the mind derived from things eternal bursting forth in sound.” -St. Thomas Aquinas
Truly good music has been a soundtrack of my life. From the heart swell that begins with the opening bars to “Over the Rainbow” to the short story revealed in Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” to the mind bending insanity of “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the tears that well up each time I hear the “Ave Maria” – in its purest and most ideal form, music evokes emotion.
I can’t say I get much emotion out of
“You a stupid hoe / You a / You a stupid hoe / (stupid, stupid)”
unless you count dismissive condescension as an emotion? (That was Nicki Minaj, btw.)
Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents. – Ludwig van Beethoven
Maybe (probably) I’m over thinking it – and I’m still going to sing along with “What Does the Fox Say” – but every time I do, I’m going to imagine Morgan Freeman…
I’m also going to try to be a little more deliberate about including some truly great music in the car’s playlist.
I don’t know when I started to realize that no matter how many and how often I made “plans” I made for my life, it would almost never go the way I envisioned it. When I look back, I can see how different things that happened in my life were dots that were going to connect me to another dot in a way that I hadn’t envisioned and never would’ve thought of.
The first place I can really remember it happening and changing the course of my “plans” was in high school. After two years of playing on the volleyball team (one of those years as varsity), I was unexpectedly cut altogether. I was devastated and had all my high school plans and dreams seemingly crushed.
But, that event led me to a new dot – going from running track in the spring to running track in the winter, too. Though I never really wanted to pursue track in college or try to make the Olympic team or anything like that, I ultimately had a much more successful career as a runner than I probably ever would’ve had as a volleyball player.
God knew what He was doing. Imagine that.
When I review my life thus far, I can now clearly see how things like that happened constantly, changing the course of my life and taking me in a new and better direction. Sometimes they were things I had no control over (like getting cut from a team), but often they were choices offered that I hadn’t considered, I ended up choosing, and that made all the difference. Read the rest of this entry
The last thing I want to do is get dragged into the Miley Cyrus / Robin Thicke VMA fiasco. There is plenty of intelligent commentary on Miley’s fall from grace, Robin’s equal blame, and our society’s return to a post-modern prudity. But the intelligent commentary is, unfortunately, in the minority. For the most part, the Internet responded as the Internet does these days – in 140 characters and memes.
I want you to know that I tried, really truly tried (as in – spent far too many hours Googling every variation of “Miley Cyrus VMA meme” I could think of) to find a few of those memes that I could post here that would be funny but that wouldn’t subject you to gratuitous sex or tempt you to objectify these people more than they have objectified themselves.
I couldn’t find one. Not. A. Single. One.
All of them were offensive, some of them were funny, and a few even gave me hope that we’re not as depraved a society as people think we are.
But there was one in particular that made me, well, sad.
I understand that both Miley and Robin chose to act in a way that indicates they’d prefer to simply chew up, spit out, and take a big ol’ crap on their human dignity. That makes me sad for them. This meme makes me sad for us. Just because they chose to act that way does not give the rest of us permission to forget that the individuals involved in this circus (Miley, her parents, her friends, her fiance, Robin, his parents, his friends, his wife, etc) are people with dignity and worth.
Whereas the memes using still shots of the performance are, for the most part, a commentary on reality (the performance happened, and that’s what it looked like), this one is not at all based on reality – it’s based on our discomfort.
Billy Ray Cyrus has not indicated that because his daughter made what he believes to be a terrible mistake, he wishes she had never been born. Say what you will about his parenting failures, he has never indicated that Miley only exists to make him look good or feel good. In fact, throughout Miley’s fall from cute Disney star to…whatever the heck she was Sunday night, Billy Ray has indicated that she is first and foremost his daughter.
We, however, as a society have indicated that Miley (and others like her) exist only insofar as they can provide entertainment for us, make us feel good about ourselves, or give us fodder for our sexual fantasies. This meme indicates that we’re done with Miley. She embarrassed us because even we can’t believe that we have created a society where anyone would consider that performance acceptable. She made us question our societal insistence that sexualizing women is the way to women’s liberty, that pornography is harmless, and that sexual morality is old fashioned. Because she embarrassed us and convicted us, we think it would be better if she hadn’t been born.
After the VMAs Billy Ray Cyrus didn’t say “I should have pulled out.” He said,
“She’s still my little girl, and I’m still her dad regardless how this circus we call show business plays out. I love her unconditionally and that will never change.”
This is an unconditional love that truly honors Miley’s dignity and worth at a time when we all most need to be reminded of it. It’s a love that refuses to objectify her or try to profit from her.
It’s also a love that does not condone the behavior. Billy Ray sits on the Parents Television Council with its mission to ‘protect children from graphic and gratuitous programming and to restore responsibility to the entertainment industry.’ The same Council who issued a harsh statement condemning the performance.
It’s not all that different from the love another Father has for His daughter Miley, for His children killed in the chemical weapons attack in Syria, for His son who walked into a Georgia elementary school with an assault rifle, for each one of us.
I seem to remember Jesus telling a story a lot like this one. The father in that story didn’t say “I should have pulled out” either.
And the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation…
Shoot, looks like I let myself get dragged in after all…
Although it is not mentioned in Scripture, the Assumption of Mary has been a solidly held belief of our faith since apostolic times, and has been officially celebrated by the Catholic Church since 6th century AD.
The Assumption of Mary was declared a dogma of the Catholic Church by Pope Pius XII in 1950: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.” (Munificentissimus Deus)
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a holy day of obligation for Catholics – meaning you need to get to Mass today!
A few reflections to help you enter more fully into today’s feast:
From Pope Francis’ Assumption Homily:
“At the end of its Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council left us a very beautiful meditation on Mary Most Holy. Let me just recall the words referring to the mystery we celebrate today: “the immaculate Virgin preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things” (no. 59). Then towards the end, there is: “the Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and the beginning of the church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise, she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come” (no. 68). In the light of this most beautiful image of our Mother, we are able to see the message of the biblical readings that we have just heard. We can focus on three key words: struggle, resurrection, hope.
From St. Josemaria Escriva:
“Joy overtakes both angels and men. Why is it that we feel today this intimate delight, with our heart brimming over, with our soul full of peace? Because we are celebrating the glorification of our mother, and it is only natural that we her children rejoice in a special way upon seeing how the most Blessed Trinity honors her.”
From St. Bernard of Clairvaux:
“And with regard to ourselves, how deservedly do we keep the feast of the Assumption with all solemnity. What reasons for rejoicing, what motives for exultation have we on this most beautiful day! The presence of Mary illumines the entire world so that even the holy city above has now a more dazzling splendor from the light of this virginal Lamp. With good reason thanksgiving and the voice of praise resound today throughout the courts of Heaven…let us not complain for here we do not have a lasting city, but we seek one that is to come, the same which the blessed Mary entered today.”
From Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB:
We celebrate three great moments of Mary’s life knowing that they represent all of our lives…God was present and moving in Mary’s life from the earliest moments. God’s grace is greater than sin; it overpowers sin and death. Through her Immaculate Conception, Mary was called for a special mission.
The second moment of Mary’s life is the Incarnation. Through the virginal birth of Jesus we are reminded that God moves powerfully in our lives too. Our response to that movement must be one of recognition, gratitude, humility, openness and welcome. Through the Incarnation, Mary was gifted with the Word made Flesh.
The Church celebrates Mary’s final journey into the fullness of God’s Kingdom with the dogma of the Assumption promulgated by Pius XII in 1950. As with her beginnings, so too, with the end of her life, God fulfilled in her all of the promises that he has given to us. We, too, shall be raised up into heaven as she was. In Mary we have an image of humanity and divinity at home. God is indeed comfortable in our presence and we in God’s. Through her Assumption, Mary was chosen to have a special place of honor in the Godhead.”
Share this feast with your children:
- Women for Faith & Family has some suggested activities including placing flowers around a statue of Mary in your home or church.
- Catholic Mom has an idea for an art project reminiscent of a pop up book.
- Catholic Culture suggests having a tea party in honor of the Assumption.
- Take them to Mass!
- Pray the Glorious mysteries and focus specifically on the Mystery of the Assumption.