Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Incarnation: On Ice!

Christmas is, after all, still a month away, but a recent excursion to the ice rink got me thinking about that central mystery of the Advent and Christmas season: the Incarnation.

First, this flippant thought passed through my head: Network TV is about to roll out its yearly set of ‘holiday specials,’ with their strange and slightly humorous promise to definitively reveal “the true meaning of Christmas.” What if some television producer staged the Christmas story on ice? Byran Boitano would be a back-flipping St. Joseph, Christi Yamaguchi would play the cross-ethnic Virgin Mary. The fiat could be represented by a dramatic duet dance between her and the angel Gabriel, Evan Lysacek. The shepherds could do an all-out group musical number, featuring Arabic/MC Hammer poofy-pants, fireworks and little kids dressed as sheep. Tara Lipinseki would deliver the angelic message of the Savior’s birth. The wise men could appear throughout as the comic relief, slipping and sliding all over the ice, spilling their gold, frankincense and myrhh, and speaking in strange foreign accents alá Cirque du Soliel. NBC’s Bob Costas could commentate, interspersing figure skating trivia amidst Scripture (“Now Elizabeth is greeting Mary and, together, they will re-enact her Magnificat. This is the first time these two have skated together since the Salt Lake City Olympics in ‘98, when Christi made that nasty fall during her warm up set. I was talking with her coach about that fall earlier today, and he recalled that…”)

There have been worse ideas for a Christmas special. In fact, most of them have already been produced. All joking aside, however, I did find a deeper reflection while gliding over the mirror of ice on Sunday. The Christian owners of this skating rink interposed Praise and Worship with the usual pop-songs. A couple of times, a song about Emmanuel came on and I got a weird vision of God ice skating with us. What would He have made of it? As the Logos, Creator of this strange dynamic where ice melting forms thin water strips that maintain their surface tension long enough to induce sliding, would he have reveled in explaining such physics? As the Healer of Soul and Body, would he touched the bruises of all those slipping and falling down, bearing their ills and getting them back on the ice. As the ‘Lord of the Dance’ (that’s for you, Branson Hipp), would He glide to the center of the rink and pull off the perfect triple-lutz. To be honest, I think he would have just skated the laps like everyone else, racing his family and friends. One could draw on some chessy metaphors about Jesus going round and round in circles like the rest of us, or about Him gliding over the ice the way the Spirit glided across the water in the Beginning. We could talk about Him slipping and falling flat on the cold reality He had created. God puts up with such cheesiness, just as He puts up with Christmas specials, figure skating, Olympic commentators and silly blog writers, and the Incarnation is the biggest proof of that. In a certain sense, His walking on water, in all its miraculous splendor and unexpected glory, has sanctified even the trivial practice of skating on ice. There is indeed a certain grace to skating, but there is also a great deal of giddiness, a giddiness Christ does not disapprove of. Perhaps “The Incarnation: On Ice!” is a stupid idea for a Christmas special (in fact, I have no doubt that it is), but God risked such stupidity in becoming human. Even though TV producers, ice skaters and bloggers sometimes have not a clue, He certainly must have known what He was doing when He became one of us. So let’s not be so hard on our own silliness. God seems to…let it slide.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Remain Faithful Till Death

A Reflection on today's Readings
Revelation 14:14-19, Psalm 96:10, 11-12, 13, Luke 21:5-11
Over these past few weeks, we have been hearing about the end times.  Today, we hear about a sickle cutting the vine, and Jesus speaking about events that will precede the last days.  We could concern ourselves with trying to predict when that will be.  We could even find ourselves asking the same questions that were asked of Jesus, "When will this be?" or "What sign will occur?"
The heart of the matter, though, is in the Alleluia verse, "Remain faithful till death, and I will give you the crown of life."  Futile wars, fought by our friends and family, in far away places, can occur.  Mass distrust of public officials can rattle our land.  Floods can knock down our houses.  A famine of the truth can cause the population to be feeding off of lies.  The plague of terrorism can cause fear in the hearts of our countrymen.  All this will pass away, just like the stones of magnificent temple fell down.  Despite all of this, our primary therein lies our crown of life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Worship, the Life or Death of Culture

"Cult, liturgy in the proper sense, is part of this worship, but so too is life according to the will of God; such a life is an indispensable part of true worship ... Ultimately, it is the very life of man, man himself as living righteously, that is the true worship of God, but life only becomes real life when it receives its form from looking toward God.  Cult exists in order to communicate this vision and to give life in such a way that glory is given to God."

Here I quote Joseph Ratzinger from his book The Spirit of the Liturgy.  I was struck, first of all, by the paragraph's likeness to the beginning of Pieper's essay "Leisure: the Basis of Culture."  Cult, worship, is an inalienable part of culture.  It shapes, forms, and helps define culture.  A culture without worship is not a culture at all, and a culture whose worship is misdirected is a culture that is misdirected.  Take for instance the Old Testament pagans, the Babylonians.  In history's eyes, the Babylonians were a great culture and civilization in the ancient Middle East.  They advanced in technology, in social construction, in legal construction, in physical construction of one of the eight wonders of the world.  Who did they worship, many gods, false gods, gods of small power and deceptively small influence.  We no longer have Babylonians today.  Their worship, which indeed was central to their culture, was their downfall.

The history of Israel gives the same picture.  When the Israelites began worshipping idols, their culture, built around the tabernacle, and later the temple, began to crumble.  Idol worship eventually led to exile and the destruction of the central place of worship, the temple in Jerusalem.  Culture was restored although irreparably damaged by previous idol worship.  The temple was rebuilt, but the ark of the covenant, the seat of God, was not present.  In the time of Jesus, a new form of worship had emerged.  No longer were people in the area worshipping false gods; they were worshipping men as gods.  Worship began to turn inwards on oneself.  The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector seems to illustrate this.  In the Pharisee's "worship" of God he really is proclaiming himself, worshipping his own works and his moral distance from the tax collector.  One could say this turning inward started with Descartes and indeed, he did nothing but advance humanism, but worship of man reared its ugly head way before the misguided mathematician.

Worship, then, is of the utmost importance.  It is the hinges of culture.  Proper worship to He who alone deserves worship will transform any culture.  This is why liturgy is so important.  This is why Fr. Z's statement, "Save the liturgy, save the world," finally makes sense to me.  It is through authentic divine worship that culture is transformed.  The culture of life stems from the "Way, the Truth, and the Life" who is sacrificed, in an unbloody manner, on the altar and whom receive at each mass.  When we actively participate in this sacrifice, our hearts are transformed.  They take on new looks and have new things written on them.  They become more and more like the Sacred Heart of Jesus, wounded, burning with love, pouring forth in self-sacrifice.  Culture is transformed from the inside out by the vessels of the living God.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Verbum Domini

Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI presented the church with a new Apostolic Exhortation on the Scriptures aptly named, Verbum Domini.  Its significance has been somewhat understated, but it will have lasting impact on the world of the Church.  Although I have not read the whole document, a few things have hit me.  

The concept of the Word of God, the Logos, in the prologue of St. John's gospel (to which he in passing acknowledges as the author of the gospel of John), seems to be the guiding light of understanding, relating to, reading, studying, and worshiping with Scripture.  The Scripture, the Word of God, is intimately connected with the Logos, the eternal word spoken by the Father.  "The Christian faith is not a 'religion of the book': Christianity is the 'religion of the word of God.'"  Reading Scripture, we encounter Christ.  It becomes immediately apparent St. Jerome's oft-quoted statement, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."  

The Holy Father said, "With the Synod Fathers I express my heartfelt hope for the flowering of 'a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faith-filled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with Jesus.'"

He is attempting to foster a deeper encounter with Christ in each person of his flock.  Listen should we?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nightcrawler and Catholicism

I have always been a fan of the X-Man Nightcrawler.  He had a most enviable ability, teleportation.  He also had a most unenviable appearance.  Nonetheless, the wisdom of Marvel and its writers put him in a monastery where he learned what true love and mercy is.  I post here an episode from the X-Men cartoon series of the 90's that features mercy, forgiveness, repentance, and the existence of God.  It is one of the more favorable portrayals of Catholicism in the media.  Nightcrawler shows much in virtue and self-understanding.