Thursday, December 29, 2005

"Urbi et Orbi", Christmas 2005

"Wake up, O man! For your sake God became man."
- Saint Augustine, Sermo, 185.

Sunrise from atop Haleakala ("house of the sun"), the 10,023 ft tall dormant volcano on the island of Maui, December 28th, 2005.

Some words from Pope Benedict's "Urbi et Orbi" message ("to the City [of Rome] and to the World") on Christmas Day...
Last night we heard once more the Angel’s message to the shepherds, and we experienced anew the atmosphere of that holy Night, Bethlehem Night, when the Son of God became man, was born in a lowly stable and dwelt among us. On this solemn day, the Angel’s proclamation rings out once again, inviting us, the men and women of the third millennium, to welcome the Saviour. May the people of today’s world not hesitate to let him enter their homes, their cities, their nations, everywhere on earth! In the millennium just past, and especially in the last centuries, immense progress was made in the areas of technology and science. Today we can dispose of vast material resources. But the men and women in our technological age risk becoming victims of their own intellectual and technical achievements, ending up in spiritual barrenness and emptiness of heart. That is why it is so important for us to open our minds and hearts to the Birth of Christ, this event of salvation which can give new hope to the life of each human being....

At Christmas, the Almighty becomes a child and asks for our help and protection. His way of showing that he is God challenges our way of being human. By knocking at our door, he challenges us and our freedom; he calls us to examine how we understand and live our lives. The modern age is often seen as an awakening of reason from its slumbers, humanity’s enlightenment after an age of darkness. Yet without the light of Christ, the light of reason is not sufficient to enlighten humanity and the world. For this reason, the words of the Christmas Gospel: "the true Light that enlightens every man was coming into this world" (Jn 1:9) resound now more than ever as a proclamation of salvation. "It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear" (Gaudium et Spes, 22)...

Men and women of today, humanity come of age yet often still so frail in mind and will, let the Child of Bethlehem take you by the hand! Do not fear; put your trust in him! The life-giving power of his light is an incentive for building a new world order based on just ethical and economic relationships. May his love guide every people on earth and strengthen their common consciousness of being a "family" called to foster relationships of trust and mutual support. A united humanity will be able to confront the many troubling problems of the present time: from the menace of terrorism to the humiliating poverty in which millions of human beings live, from the proliferation of weapons to the pandemics and the environmental destruction which threatens the future of our planet...

At Christmas we contemplate God made man, divine glory hidden beneath the poverty of a Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger; the Creator of the Universe reduced to the helplessness of an infant. Once we accept this paradox, we discover the Truth that sets us free and the Love that transforms our lives. On Bethlehem Night, the Redeemer becomes one of us, our companion along the precarious paths of history. Let us take the hand which he stretches out to us: it is a hand which seeks to take nothing from us, but only to give...

With the shepherds let us enter the stable of Bethlehem beneath the loving gaze of Mary, the silent witness of his miraculous birth. May she help us to experience the happiness of Christmas, may she teach us how to treasure in our hearts the mystery of God who for our sake became man; and may she help us to bear witness in our world to his truth, his love and his peace.
Here's the Pope's Christmas Urbi et Orbi in its entirety. God bless!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Mela Kalikimaka!!!

Well folks, come Thursday afternoon I should be enjoying the warm weather of Hawaii with my family on vacation. We'll be staying on the islands of Oahu and Maui until the 31st. While there, amongst other things, we plan to go snorkeling, check out volcanoes, and even participate in a luau on Christmas day! By the way, in case you were wondering, the forecast for Christmas weekend there is mostly sunny to sunny, with highs in the upper 70s every day. I'll try to take plenty of good pictures for your future viewing.

On our return home though, we'll be making a 3-day detour in California to visit family in the Napa Valley region. From there we'll also be travelling south a little ways to celebrating New Year's Eve with them in San Francisco, beginning the night with a nice dinner out on the town, followed by some Cirque du Soleil entertainment, and then a trip down to the bay for a fireworks celebration to bring us into 2006. I'm especially excited for that night with all the family on the West coast, but the whole trip should be blast!

Thank you all for your conversations on this blog and elsewhere. May you have a blessed time these next couple of weeks with family and friends. I'll be back sometime soon in the new year.

And just so I don't leave anybody out this holiday season...

[Photo courtesy of the Glenn Beck Program]

And on a more spiritual note...

Perhaps more than ever this Advent season, my thoughts have been on the Blessed Virgin Mary, her role in relation to Christ, and our relation to her and Christ. If I had time, I'd try to share what's come from those reflections, but since I'm rushing to pack and get other things done before I leave, you'll have to settle for two Chesterton quotes worth pondering.

The first is a passage from the chapter "The God in the Cave" in Chesterton's great work, The Everlasting Man:
If the world wanted what is called a non-controversial aspect of Christianity, it would probably select Christmas. Yet it is obviously bound up with what is supposed to be a controversial aspect (I could never at any stage of my opinions imagine why); the respect paid to the Blessed Virgin. When I was a boy a more Puritan generation objected to a statue upon my parish church representing the Virgin and Child. After much controversy, they compromised by taking away the Child. One would think that this was even more corrupted with Mariolatry, unless the mother was counted less dangerous when deprived of a sort of weapon. But the practical difficulty is also a parable. You cannot chip away the statue of a mother from all round that of a newborn child. You cannot suspend the new-born child in mid-air; indeed you cannot really have a statue of a newborn child at all. Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a newborn child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother. You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother, you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother. If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other idea follows as it is followed in history. We must either leave Christ out of Christmas, or Christmas out of Christ, or we must admit, if only as we admit it in an old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross.
The second has less to do with Mary specifically, and more with the Christmas story in general. It's quite possibly my favorite poem by Chesterton (alongside Lepanto):

The House of Christmas
by Gilbert Keith Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost---how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wife's tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Underground History of American Education - Discussion #2

Is modern education in a dismal situation? You tell me. Here are just a few of Gatto's words...
By 1940, the literacy figure for all states stood at 96 percent for whites, 80 percent for blacks. Notice that for all the disadvantages blacks labored under, four of five were nevertheless literate. Six decades later, at the end of the twentieth century, the National Adult Literacy Survey and the National Assessment of Educational Progress say 40 percent of blacks and 17 percent of whites can’t read at all. Put another way, black illiteracy doubled, white illiteracy quadrupled. Before you think of anything else in regard to these numbers, think of this: we spend three to four times as much real money on schooling as we did sixty years ago, but sixty years ago virtually everyone, black or white, could read...

In 1882, fifth graders read these authors in their Appleton School Reader: William Shakespeare, Henry Thoreau, George Washington, Sir Walter Scott, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Bunyan, Daniel Webster, Samuel Johnson, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others like them. In 1995, a student teacher of fifth graders in Minneapolis wrote to the local newspaper, "I was told children are not to be expected to spell the following words correctly: back, big, call, came, can, day, did, dog, down, get, good, have, he, home, if, in, is, it, like, little, man, morning, mother, my, night, off, out, over, people, play, ran, said, saw, she, some, soon, their, them, there, time, two, too, up, us, very, water, we, went, where, when, will, would, etc. Is this nuts?"...

Do you think class size, teacher compensation, and school revenue have much to do with education quality? If so, the conclusion is inescapable that we are living in a golden age. From 1955 to 1991 the U.S. pupil/teacher ratio dropped 40 percent, the average salary of teachers rose 50 percent (in real terms) and the annual expense per pupil, inflation adjusted, soared 350 percent. What other hypothesis, then, might fit the strange data I’m about to present?

Forget the 10 percent drop in SAT and Achievement Test scores the press beats to death with regularity; how do you explain the 37 percent decline since 1972 in students who score above 600 on the SAT? This is an absolute decline, not a relative one. It is not affected by an increase in unsuitable minds taking the test or by an increase in the numbers. The absolute body count of smart students is down drastically with a test not more difficult than yesterday’s but considerably less so.

What should be made of a 50 percent decline among the most rarefied group of test-takers, those who score above 750? In 1972, there were 2,817 American students who reached this pinnacle; only 1,438 did in 1994—when kids took a much easier test. Can a 50 percent decline occur in twenty-two years without signaling that some massive leveling in the public school mind is underway?...
And he goes on and on with the facts, looking at everything from grade schools to high schools to colleges. Feel free to read the rest of what he says in chapter 3, "Eyeless in Gaza". They're pretty depressing facts though.

Eventually, I might get around to sharing some of Gatto's follow-up thoughts on just what the problems are, where they come from, and how we might solve them. For now though, I think this pathetic statistics are worth ruminating on.

By the way, I still can't get over what fifth graders were reading in the 1800s (see paragraph 2 in above quotation)—AMAZING!

Television anyone?

Okay, I'm not completely anti-TV, but this is still a pretty interesting site nonetheless...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Into the wardrobe we go...

For those excited about the new Narnia movie, you might enjoy this article from the Telegraph:

'I was sure that children would not want to be told that this old lady was Lucy'

It's the first ever interview with the girl (now "this old lady," Jill Freud) who was the inspiration for Lucy, the first of the fictional Pevensie children to enter the magical wardrobe in Lewis' now famous fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. In the interview, she tells some interesting stories of the time she spent in C.S. Lewis' home as a refugee from London during WWII, as well as how she ended up marrying a grandson of Sigmund Freud!

Personally, it's gotten me all the more excited for the new movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Unfortunately, I probably won't be seeing it until Thursday, December 15th. Too much schoolwork to do before then.

But after I watch LWW, I also plan to see King Kong ASAP this upcoming weekend in Perrysburg, for anyone that's in town and interested.

Plus, I'm somewhat interested in Munich as well. What a movie season this is turning out to be!

p.s. Discussion #2 of the Gatto book is coming later on this week, for those that are still interested. Additionally, Meggers posted on the book at her blog a week or so ago, if anyone wants to check it out.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Next question: What ever happened to Advent? Heck, do people even remember what "Advent" is?

Do all non-Catholics reading this realize that traditionally Christmas season begins on December 25th, whereas the weeks leading up to Christmas day are known as the season of Advent? That is, Advent, a season of repentance, reflection back upon life, sin, and death, perhaps a little fasting, remembrance of God and thanksgiving, and a looking forward to the coming of Christ, both in the memorial celebration of his birth on Christmas day and in the Second Coming and Last Judgment. [Note: no mention of gift giving during Advent season.] Ring a bell? Sound like the period after Thanksgiving until Christmas that you know?

Honestly, I was wondering when Advent disappeared off the charts. Well, here's the answer...

How Christians Stole Christmas, Part II

In short...
"World War II changed the understanding of Advent and Christmas. As war swept the world, buying habits had to change. Because it took six weeks to transport anything by ship over the ocean, Americans were told to buy their Christmas gifts for their sons overseas by Thanksgiving, or their sons would not receive those gifts by February 2.

"The Christmas buying season had been December 25th through February 2nd, with the most intense gift-giving happening during the twelve days of Christmas. But during the war, it extended from Thanksgiving to February 2nd. American Protestants, that is, American businesses, liked the extra income generated by the much longer and earlier selling season."
Interesting stuff. So Kellmeyer does explain how Advent disappeared--it was replaced by the new "Christmas" season. Yet, if it's really the marketing/commercializing businessmen (just Protestant?) instigating this, why does the original Christmas season shorten? Shouldn't we have a "Christmas" season still lasting until February 2nd? That part doesn't make sense to me.

I have other questions too, but that's it for now.

Update: Steve Kellmeyer's Answer to my Question...
"They moved the entire selling season so that it runs from mid-October (Halloween is now the second biggest sales holiday of the year) through Dec 24. They've got roughly 70 consecutive days - 10 weeks - in which they drive people into the stores. Better yet, there are three distinct pushes: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in that interval.

"Compare that to Dec 25 through Feb 2 - only 38 days, and only one major push, the twelve days of Christmas.

"...this all correlates to the end of the tax season (December 31), so it also empties out their shelves right before they get taxed on inventory. It's perfectly placed, from an economic perspective."
Pretty good (and fast)!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Just what does "Christmas" mean after all?

Christians often lament about Christ being taken out of Christmas in our ever more commercialized consumerist culture, but I think Catholics equally have every right to express sorrow and concern (especially to our Protestant brothers and sisters) over the fact that so many have taken the Mass out of Christmas. Christmas is "Christ's Mass" after all.

Steve Kellmeyer has an interesting short article on the history of holy days being downplayed to eventually become holidays: "How the Christians Stole Christmas".

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us," not just 2,000 years ago, but every time the bread and wine are consecrated at a Mass. Whether you believe such an incredible idea or not, it is the truth taught to us by the Christian faith whose tradition has also given us the word "Christmas."

[Note: Kellmeyer doesn't go into many details, but he does give a good general overview. However, I'm honestly not sure about the points he raises concerning the church-state separation issue.]