Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry Christmas from Dr. Thursday

Celebrating Christmas - and the Year-Boundary

Today, the Third day of Christmas, is also the feast of St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist. It was amazing this morning at Holy Mass to hear the gospel, which is about as far from shepherds, Magi, and the infant in the manger as one might find: "Early in the morning of the first the day of the week... Peter ran to the tomb, but the Disciple-Whom-Jesus-Loved ran faster... he saw, and believed." (see John 20; my paraphrase) I wish to say something, but I shall first preface it with a Chesterton quote to attempt to indicate something about my tone here:
"I'm very fond of strong Protestants," said Father Brown. "I came to you because I was sure you would tell the truth."
[GKC, "The Chief Mourner of Marne" in The Secret Of Father Brown
It is unfortunate that we who love Jesus should find a division here, but it is a real division, and needs to be acknowledged - if we ever hope to abolish it (cf. GKC on fences in The Thing CW3:157) - and this will require all interested Christians to tell the truth. Which I shall here strive to do, with God's help. Read more.

The simple thing is that at Christmas, as on every other day of the year, Catholics are always bringing the stark reality of the Cross into bold uncompromising view - by the simple celebration of Holy Mass, the centerpiece of which begins "On the day before He suffered, He took bread..." It is not simply doing what St. Paul restricts himself to do "I determined when I was with you I would speak of nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." [see 1Cor2:2] This may be "absurdity to Greeks and stumbling block for Jews" [1Cor1:23] - and something forbidden by tradition for some others. But it happens to be what Jesus told the Apostles to do "Do this in remembrance of Me." and "Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." [Lk 22:19, Mt 28:20]

But I know I am saying this very poorly. Really it is not my intention to "argue" (in any sense) nor to ride rough-shod over other religions. It is rather my attempt to observe the curious truth that GKC pointed out and which we examined in our previous studies:
Herod had his place, therefore, in the miracle play of Bethlehem because he is the menace to the Church Militant and shows it from the first as under persecution and fighting for its life. For those who think this a discord, it is a discord that sounds simultaneously with the Christmas bells. For those who think the idea of the Crusade is one that spoils the idea of the Cross, we can only say that for them the idea of the Cross is spoiled; the idea of the Cross is spoiled quite literally in the Cradle.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:314]
Let me try again - and again I preface it with my respect for those who differ from me in their heritage: A Catholic (by virtue of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - which is why we call it Christ-MASS) is forced to approach the Christmas Cradle full of the awareness that this Baby was born in order to DIE:
...the life of Jesus went as swift and straight as a thunderbolt. It was above all things dramatic; it did above all things consist in doing something that had to be done. It emphatically would not have been done if Jesus had walked about the world for ever doing nothing except tell the truth. And even the external movement of it must not be described as a wandering in the sense of forgetting that it was a journey. This is where it was a fulfilment of the myths rather than of the philosophies; it is a journey with a goal and an object, like Jason going to find the Golden Fleece, or Hercules the golden apples of the Hesperides. The gold that he was seeking was death. The primary thing that he was going to do was to die. [see Mt 16:21, Lk 12:49-50] He was going to do other things equally definite and objective; we might almost say equally external and material. But from first to last the most definite fact is that he is going to die.
[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:339]
Hence, Christmas is celebrated with His own death in stark view - we celebrate the Birth first and foremost by the ritual commemoration of the Death. This is not an argument for a "better" or a "worse" method. It is a comment on a strange reality.

Because, as most all Christians know, God's "secret plan" [cf. Rom 16:25-6] was for God to become Man in order to die - and by dying, destroy death. St Paul lectured on this: "Know you not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in his death? For we are buried together with him by baptism into death: that, as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection." [Romans 6:3-5] And it's even in that carol: "Mild He lays His glory by, born that Man no more may die." Let all Christians here find an even greater cause to rejoice at Christmas - and paraphrase St. Paul: if Christ be not born, our faith is in vain.

But let us recall, as GKC recalls very strongly in his preface to our reference text, that the consideration of Jesus Christ the Everlasting Man is not intended to pick at conflicts between various forms of Christians, but to reveal the stark division between Christianity and "the world" of pagans. You can see CW2:141 for details, but let me (just for a change) quote something else, because I have some more to say, and this will lead us into the topic:
There is nothing really wrong with the whole modern world except that it does not fit in with Christmas. The modern world will have to fit in with Christmas or die. Those who will not rejoice in the end of the year must be condemned to lament it. We must accept the New Year as a new fact; we must be born again. No kind of culture or literary experience can save him who entirely refuses this cold bath of winter ecstasy. No poetry can be appreciated by him who cannot appreciate the mottoes in the crackers. No log-rolling can rescue him who will not roll the Yule log. Christmas is like death and child-birth - a test of our simple virtue; and there is no other such test left in this land to-day.
[GKC ILN Jan 9 1909 CW28:251]
Yes - death, division, Christmas - and rebirth and the New Year - which just happens to also be the Octave-day of Christmas, and the day on which Jesus was given His most holy name. [see Luke 2:21, cf. Lev 12:3-8]

Over on her own blogg, our esteemed bloggmistress Nancy Brown points out two important facts:

1. "...we keep on celebrating..."

This is important. This year, even areas which transfer Epiphany to Sunday shall celebrate Epiphany on January 6. Therefore, we shall have a precise Twelve Days of Christmas. Perhaps we can call it "Extraordinary" time, hee hee.

2. "...the thing that's brought us all together, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, is the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago..."

This is even more important. No one - whether Christian or not, whether recognizing Christ as historical or not, whether celebrating birthdays or not - indeed, no one, regardless of religious or philosophical inclination, can escape this simple fact of calendar. The very years are numbered and fixed upon Christmas. (NOT on Easter, as curious as that is. Though perhaps another time we shall consider the possibility that Good Friday fell on March 25...)

Yes, fixed upon Christmas. Perhaps we could call that milestone, or marking point in time, a "virtual" or (more properly) a reference Christmas, somewhat like the reference circles like the Equator, or the Greenwich Meridian, or (even more exotic) like the Aries Point when the Sun crosses the celestial equator and begins Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Few people live ON the equator, and those who do cannot really see it. And yet it is still there. People buy and sell two-by-fours, even though those are not the precise dimensions of that piece of lumber.

In the same way few at that time actually knew of Christ's birth (despite the efforts, as we saw last week, of the Heavenly Host, and some talkative shepherds!) Then, somehow along the way, the year-count got just slightly garbled early on, and it seems certain that Jesus was actually born a few years B.C. (Before Christ!) But that birth was a known date, and one which was "not all that long ago". It wasn't some long-past half-myth, like "the year of the Founding of the City" (A.U.C.) for the ancient Romans. It was a known moment in time. It has been ignored, has been forgotten, and even now is being denied. And yet for all of us, regardless of belief, the very Earth Time itself is measured based on this singular reference mark: the Birth of Jesus in the Cave of Bethlehem.

If there was any doubt of this, there would have been some radical change arising from the fears voiced as if by the whiney tone of the Cold One (algor is Latin for cold), back in the late 1990s. Yes, back then, Total Doom for the technical world was forecast when the cosmic odometer rolled over as 23:59:59 on December 31, 1999 became 00:00:00 on January 1, 2000. Some of us techies had some good laughs reading about how vacuum cleaners, and toasters would malfunction, and door hinges would no longer rotate, and glue and nails would lose their grip, and so on. Ah, it was funny.

Of course, as you may already know, the Total Doom was warded off. I had a whole bulb of garlic on my computer, and by the MAGIC of the INTERNET, the goodness of garlic seeped out, and so the comet Y2K, also called Eetook, was kept away from us. If you need more information, or are worried about another form of imminent disaster, see here for all the details. Recipes are not included.

So, whether you eat garlic or sit it on your computers, I do hope you will continue to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas properly. We get the authentic 12 this year - take advantage of it! Keep celebrating!

The next Thursday we shall meet (God willing) will be in 2008. So let us conclude with another remark from Uncle Gilbert:
Civilisation is simply that self-command by which man can revert to the normal. Anarchy is not uproar; uproar is all right in its place. Anarchy is not plunging; anarchy is not being able to stop. It is not anarchy in a house if people sit up all night on New Year's Eve. It is anarchy in a house if this makes them sit up later and later every night afterwards. It is not anarchy in the State if men under extreme misgovernment drag down their existing rulers, and substitute other rulers and obey them. It is anarchy in a State if people come to think that all things, small and great, may, in varying degrees, be so resisted; that whenever the postal service annoys me, I may break the rules of the post-office. Civilisation does permit outbreak; it does not permit anarchy...
[GKC ILN Nov 23 1912 CW29:394]
Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

--Dr. Thursday

PS. Here is an amazing, and timely poem which I posted back in my own blogging days. It is one of my favourites.

Another PS. It is well-known that our current time is labelled A.D., standing for Anno Domini, Latin for "Year of the Lord". And we English speakers write "B.C." the initials of "Before Christ" meaning the other side of the time axis. But I wondered how - say - Aquinas, or a Papal encyclical - would refer to "B.C." Do you know? After some exploration I found out. The Latin for "Before Christ" is Ante Christum, hence the abbreviation is "A.C." If you know of a good joke - or even better, a good mystery - connected with this, please let me know.

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