Catholic Exchange: What Will We Give Jesus for His Birthday?

We are now in the final days of Advent. These last days are a good time to fully prepare ourselves for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas. If we have not taken the time to enter into prayerful quiet, now is a good time to do so. If we do not enter into the preparation of Advent, there is a good chance we will miss the true joy of Christmas, because we will not have taken the time to prepare our hearts fully for the coming of Our Savior. A couple of weeks ago, my parish priest asked us a question in order to help us prepare for Christmas. He asked, “What are we going to give Jesus for His birthday?” Ever since Father spoke these words, they have been on my mind. What am I going to give Jesus for His birthday?

Whose birthday is it anyway?

To be honest, it is such a simple question, that it is often lost on us; this includes me. Often, we end up making this one of the busiest and most material times of the year. As parents, my husband and I have tried to cut back on the material and busy sides of Advent and Christmas. We spent one too many Christmases with family and friends watching kids tear into far too many gifts only to cast them aside. The desire for more, more, more was all over their faces. More of what, exactly? Things that can never in principle make them truly happy? We realized early on that we cannot hope to teach our daughter holiness if Christmas is seen as an accumulation of large quantities of stuff. We cut back to three gifts from us, which represent the gifts of the Magi. All other gifts are from grandparents and other family. Even then, it has been difficult to maintain temperance in this regard because my husband and I are rather counter-cultural in this approach.

Our reason for this refocus is because it is very easy in our culture to focus on the material aspects of Christmas. We are inundated with the idea that buying the “perfect” gift will achieve happiness for our loved ones or ourselves. Advertising campaigns have even switched to telling us that we “deserve to buy ourselves the perfect gift this Christmas.” We hear this on the radio, see it on TV, and we are bombarded whenever we walk into a store this time of year. I notice a tendency in my own daughter to want stuff and lots of it. Of course, hours or days later she will cast aside this item she had to have since it has served its temporary purpose. I have been asking God how to temperately celebrate His birth in a manner that is a balance between merriment, cheer, self-emptying love, virtuous living, and a focus on Him. Then came Father’s question to all of us, to me.

In the Latin Rite, we can easily forget that Advent is a penitential season. It is not as strict as Lent and often the penitential aspects are not mentioned, but for all intents and purposes, Advent is penitential. We are told to prepare for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas and in the Parousia. If Christ came again in the Second Coming at this very moment, would we be prepared? We are called to constantly prepare our hearts for His coming. This is a call to grow in holiness, to deepen our prayer lives, frequent the sacraments, and to consider those areas where vice rules over virtue. The Catholic understanding is not that we have to be merely “good people”. That idea comes from the post-modern heresy of moral therapeutic deism. We are called to be saints, not “good people”. In Lent, we consider something to give up to grow in holiness to prepare for the great mysteries of Holy Week. In that same vein: What is it we are going to give Our Lord and Savior at Christmas?

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Catholic Exchange: Advent-Our Hope is Not in This World

In many of our cultures the Christmas season is in full swing. It is the version of Christmas when we are told to buy more things and to accumulate as many material possessions as we can for ourselves and others. This is an understandable mentality in wealthier nations, only because we have been inundated with this message since childhood. Pay close attention to advertisements and commercials this time of year and throughout the year. Buying item X will bring you happiness, joy, comfort, or pleasure. You need this car, dress, computer, shoes, TV, and the list is endless. We are also told that we need an endless supply of fast food and junk food to provide for our immediate gratification as we spend hundreds or thousands on a credit card while shopping for Christmas. How often do you feel the need for a cheeseburger after a Hardee’s commercial? I know I have in the past and still do depending on the food being advertised. What are we preparing for exactly? It is supposed be the upcoming celebration of Our Lord’s Birth; or these days, the winter solstice?

If I could sum up this time of year in one word it would be: busy. The second word would be: noisy. There is an endless array of distractions, colors, dazzling displays, and blaring Christmas music telling us this is the “most wonderful time of the year”, and yet, everyone seems harried, hurried, unpleasant, and overwhelmed. We absolutely mustbuy a gift for Aunt Jean twice removed on our mother’s side. There must be a mountain of presents under the tree by December 24th and we absolutely have to attend every single soiree we are invited to, even if it means little to no silence or preparation for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas or in the Second Coming.

Where did all of these imperatives come from? In all of this busyness, are we truly ready to receive Christ into our hearts more fully at Christmas? Can we be ready in this craziness? Are we ready if Our Lord decided to come tomorrow in Glory to usher in the end of time and the new earth and Heaven? Whose birthday are we getting ready for at this point in time? Does a mountain of gifts point to Christ or our own desires? He was born in a stable, after all. My point here is not to denigrate the giving side of the upcoming (no it is not Christmas, yet) Christmas season. It is to help us consider if there is another way and whether or not we truly believe our hope dwells outside of this world.

Our neighbors are overwhelmed and overburdened. They are enslaved by the notion that buying one more item or one more gift will fulfill them. The problem is, that far too many of us Catholics are also enslaved by this aspect of our culture. This is a battle all of us wage as we fight our desire for lower goods over our ultimate good: God. Do our lives reflect our Catholic Faith and this Advent season, or do we look the same as our frenzied neighbors?

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Catholic Exchange: A Brief Introduction to the Catholic Position on Evolution

There is a great misperception in the culture that Catholicism is anti-science. Many college students confront this error when they encounter reductionism, rationalism, and materialism through their professors. These students do not know how to respond–and far too often–dismiss Catholicism outright because they don’t realize answers to their questions exist within the Church’s 2000-year history. One of greatest causes of confusion is the topic of evolution.

The reason for this confusion is two-fold. First, many Catholics do not realize the Church’s position on evolution and may not even look for answers before accepting the materialist position. Second, the abandonment of philosophy as the joining discipline between science and theology has destroyed much of the dialogue that has taken place between these two fields over the centuries. An example is the bridge created throughSt. Thomas Aquinas’ first-cause argument. The first-cause argument grounds scientific inquiry in the first-cause, who is God. Without this argument, science quickly devolves into materialism, and ceases to look out beyond itself.

The divorce from philosophy creates an environment where both theology and the natural sciences overstep their bounds. This is most evidenced by the rationalist-materialist declaration that there is no God, while the biblical literalist tells us the world is only 6000 years old, even though God-given reason tells us otherwise, on both accounts. Answers to the complexities of life are reduced to either a material level or turned into a faith-based system devoid of reason. The Catholic approach is not an either/or, it is a both/and system. We say yes to scientific discovery, yes to Aquinas and Aristotle, and yes to the Book of Genesis. That’s far more yeses than we are given from either the scientism camp or the creationism camp. I only have the space to provide a brief overview of the Church’s view of evolution, but I will return to the philosophy problem at a later date.

Today I will briefly outline the Church’s historical position on evolution through a series of documents and talks given by Popes in the last 66 years. First, it is important to understand that the Church makes no official pronouncements on matters of science. That is not within her authority. She promulgates teachings of faith as given to us through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. She cannot overstep her boundaries and make judgments on matters of science. The only time she formally responds to scientific matters is when theological or spiritual issues are involved. Popes and theologians discuss scientific discoveries, but the Church has no official position on any scientific theory. Which leads us to the Church’s first discussion of evolution.

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Our Improper Use of the Word Love

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There is a phenomenon that is largely prevalent in my generation and the generations younger than me.  It is the overuse and incorrect use of the word love.  I think that mass advertising has had a huge impact on this trend.  Have you ever stopped to really listen to the garbage coming out of your speakers?  Have you ever been appalled by an ad on the radio or TV?  You’re not alone.  Last Christmas, the ads were so bad that I finally started shutting off the radio.  We are constantly told that we will “love” products and services.  Think about it.  McDonald’s has a slogan that says “I’m Lovin’ It”.

 
The problem is that this has slipped into my consciousness and vocabulary.  I will tell people that I “love” pumpkin spice lattes, or a particular show, or song.  But do I really “love” these things?  Am I professing my deep devotion to inanimate objects.  Do I will their good?  Do I want what is best for that pumpkin cake donut from Dunkin’ Donuts?  No.  I want to enjoy that donut.  It’s light fluffy pumpkin infused with spices sweetness makes my taste buds do a happy dance, but I am not going to give my life for that donut.
 
The issue is that words matter.  How we express ourselves comes from what we believe about the world around us.  It also shows us how much the world has been absorbed by our psyches.  In telling someone that I “love” some food or product, I am saying that I have in fact taken in our materialist culture.  I do equate love to food.  I have crossed into the land of gluttony and idolatry.
 
The overuse of the word “love” also points to a culture that has truly lost the definition of that word.  In saying that I love some inanimate object, I am saying that “love” is purely how something makes me feel.  Pumpkin spice lattes make me feel warm, happy, and snuggly.  That’s similar to how I feel about my husband, right?  Wrong!  It also shows why people are discarded as easily as things.  They are objects for my mere enjoyment and amusement; that is the new definition of love.
 
The first time I realized the error I was making in my speech as a couple winters ago.  Our parish priest had come over for dinner for the first time.  He was there to bless our rental home.  I had made cous cous and proceeded to tell him that I “loved” it.  He said that he “liked” it to.  That really struck me.  Not just as a generational difference, he is 12 years older than me.  It stuck out to me because it revealed an error that I had stated.  I enjoy cous cous.  It is mighty tasty, but I am not in love with cous cous.
 
I have had to catch myself numerous times since then.  There is a reason that languages all have different verbs for “to love”, “to enjoy”, and “to like”.  They are different in profound ways.  I can enjoy a walk in the woods, but I don’t love it.  I can like a chocolate cake, but once again I do not love it.  I am not going to give up my life for that cake if need be. 
 
Our society has lost a true grasp on what love truly means.  The Cross is what love means.  A total self-emptying for the good of another.  St. Thomas Aquinas defined love, “as willing the good of the other, as other”.  It means wanting another’s good even if that means we ourselves must give something up.  It means wanting what is best for a person, even if it is unpopular.
 
As the Christmas season rolls out here in the next few weeks, pay attention to the ads you hear on the radio or see on TV.  You will begin to see a trend where jewelry, electronics, clothes, food, etc. are all portrayed as things to love, things to fulfill you.  Thankfully, I am fully in the season of Advent and do not begin celebrating Christmas until Gaudete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent. My family and I then celebrate Christmas throughout January, as it is celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church.  That means that I am largely ignoring ads and superficial Christmas songs about “Santa Baby”.
 
Do you struggle with the improper use of “love” like I do.  I would hazard a guess that if you are under 35, you have used the verb in the wrong manner at least once or twice.  Think about it the next time it comes out of your mouth.  Do you really love what is front of you, or is just a gift to enjoy for a moment?