Growing Apologist

Becoming a Defender of Truth

Christmas Just Keeps Going

Growing up in a non-denominational Christian household (the first eight or nine years of my life, we attended an LDS church, but eventually stopped going to church all together), we always decorated for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving and then un-decorated on December 26.

Christmas was a one day event. And my world view was that all Christians celebrated Christmas this way, even the stores and public places. It wasn’t until the first Christmas that I celebrated with the BF’s family that I realized that some Christians—specifically Catholics—celebrate Christmas as a season, not a day. I remember being amazed and awed, like I was encountering an alien culture, and thrilled that Christmas was only beginning. I was not Catholic at the time, although attending mass every weekend and participating in RCIA (Rite for Catholic Initiation for Adults), but I was thinking that Catholics had it right. It made perfect sense to me.

Even though I had a wonderful RCIA class (and instructor ;)) and I have been Catholic for three years, it always seemed like Christmas lasted for months after Christmas day. Having this blog, writing posts on a regular basis and performing the research for those posts has taught me a lot of things about the Church that I had not consciously learned previously. I am amazed and awed again—thrilled actually—at the traditions of the Church. You may roll your eyes at me and say, dude, Pam, we have already covered this and now you are just repeating yourself, but bear with me as I re-cap the Advent and Christmas season.

Advent, meaning ‘the coming of Christ’, begun directly after Thanksgiving and lasted exactly 40 days until December 25. During this time, we celebrated the feast day of St. Nicholas (Dec. 6), Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Dec. 8), and Optional Memorial of St. John of Kanty (Dec. 19). The scripture readings in mass covered looking forward the second coming of the Lord; the ministry and preaching of John the Baptist, who came to “Prepare the Way of the Lord”; the joy of Christians as the coming of Jesus looms closer; the events that immediately preceded the birth of Jesus. We discussed the meaning of Advent and how to celebrate it, namely preparing our hearts and homes for the first and second comings of Christ.

 

For over a month, we Christians participated in rigorous preparation, full of prayer, meditations, reflections, decorating, gift wrapping, baking, cooking, chanting ‘Come Christ, Come’—sometimes with joy and sometimes with groaning impatience. Hopefully, we all made time to attend the sacrament of confession or lifted our eyes to the heavens with forgiveness in our hearts, turned our thoughts inwards and thought about how we could follow Christ more closely, reflected on forgiving those who have harmed us, sought forgiveness for those we have harmed, and thanked the Lord for all he has done for us. Of course, we should be doing these things regularly, but Advent is a season to focus most intently on cultivating these habits.

It seems to me like a wonderful way to start the New Year. First, to actively humble ourselves, repent and seek penance. Then to celebrate Jesus’ birth with great joy, acknowledging the day that our savior came into the world to bestow grace and forgiveness in our souls. Now, the celebrations continue—it isn’t just one day of celebrations after forty days of repentance—but twelve days, forty days, a lifetime of joy at the miracle that the Lord performed for us.

This is what awes me—the seasons of the Church that rise and falls with the life of Christ, the tools and resources that the Church provides in order to cultivate the saint in all of us; the attitudes that the Church sets—humbled repentance followed by wonderful joy and merriment; the reminders that yes! we are sinners and yes! we are saved. We are saved, not by our will, our actions or our power, but by God’s. There is not a single thing that we can do to be worthy of the grace that the Lord gifted to us. Yet, we cannot sit on our hands and tell God to do it all. We are called to be active children of God, to repent, prepare, celebrate and share. And oh my do we celebrate.

Christmas isn’t over yet (it’s really never over). Its traditional end is on the Baptism of the Lord around January 8, but more commonly ended on the Epiphany of the Lord on January 6.

So my friends: Merry Christmas.

Additional Reading:

What is the Catholic Liturgical year?

The Liturgical Year: Congregation for Divine Worship

Resources for Liturgy and Prayer for the Seasons of Advent and Christmas

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Christmas: Pagan or Christian?

Christianity sprung from the roots of the Jewish people and the gentiles some years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first ‘Church’ was

Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the S...
Announcement of Christ’s Birth to the Shepherds

not really a church in the way that we think of it today, but a collection of people who believed in Jesus and looked to the disciples for leadership. Just as any organization instituted in modern times, this collection of people had to develop the mission, goals, traditions, celebrations, teachings and so forth of the early church and organize it in a meaningful way. After all, if it were empty and disorganized, it would have been stale and died like a diseased flower.

These were the people who first believed in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the people who established the beginnings of the first Christian church. During this time, it was not only the Jews who formed this first church. The gentiles were also converted. Just as a good friend explained to me once, a gentile is another word for non-Jew or even pagan.

It is only logical that the people establishing this new religion would not abandon everything familiar to them when they chose to follow Christ. It is from these roots that the people established the traditions and symbolism of Christianity. But why are people so surprised and outright disgusted when presented with the history of various Christian traditions, celebrations and symbols? We should rejoice in the rich history and culture of our religion, not deny its existence. After all, everything has a beginning.

I believe that realizing and accepting this is a step in the correct direction to help those outside the faith to understand that it is not ignorant people who follow religion blindly, but wonderful, smart, analytical people. People who have taken to the time to think through their beliefs and are prepared to defend the faith to the skeptics.

It is on this basis that I present a brief history of Christmas day and the Christmas tree. However, don’t take my word for it. Click on my references and search for answers so that you can know for yourself as well. Take possession of your faith.

Christmas Day

World Calendar

A World Calendar

It was not until around the year 273 AD that Christ’s birthday was pinned to the calendar to be celebrated on December 25. In fact, there was much argument as to whether Christ’s birthday should be celebrated at all because celebration of the gods’ birthdays was a pagan practice. The actual day of Christ’s birth was unknown—it had never been recorded. The early Christians were left to debate on the date that his birth should be celebrated. The favored dates were January 2, April 18, April 19, April 20, May 20, May 28, March 21, March 25, November 17, and November 20. December 25 hosted two other pagan festivals, one for the Roman god Saternalia, “Unconquered Sun”, and another for the birthday of the Iranian god Mithras, “Sun of Righteousness”. It was fitting that the birth of the one true “Unconquered Sun” and “Sun of Righteousness” was celebrated instead of the pagan gods.

Reference

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2000/dec08.html

Additional Reading:

http://www.bib-arch.org/e-features/christmas.asp

http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/25th.shtml

Christmas Tree

candlelit Christmas tree

Tree Lit with Candles

Along with morphing the birthday of the pagan sun gods into the birthday of the true God, some of the pagan traditions were absorbed into Christianity, such as the Christmas tree. Plants and trees that remained green all year had been the symbol of life because winter could not conquer them. The early church and pagans believed that these plants had special powers to keep away evil entities and sickness. Many different pagan religions used the evergreen plants in worship of their gods. In particular, the Romans decorated a tree with lit candles for their god Saternalia, “Unconquered Sun”. The decorating of the Christmas tree as it is today was not until the 16th century in Germany (legend credits Martin Luther) and nearly four centuries passed before America caught onto the idea. The symbolism of the Christmas tree is much the same as the way the Romans used it except with a Christian twist—a reminder of the miracle of the birth of the true Unconquered Son.

Reference

http://thehistoryofchristmas.com/trivia/trees.htm

http://www.mysticlightpress.com/index.php?page_id=123

Additional Reading:

http://www.orlutheran.com/html/chrtree.html

http://www.historyofchristmas.net/

What do you think? When we celebrate Christmas on December 25 or decorate a Christmas tree, are we celebrating pagan traditions?

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Busy? 9 Ideas on Celebrating Advent

Advent

This is my favorite time of the year. I love all of the decorations, the music, the parties and the preparation. While it is my favorite, many times I find myself dreading it. There is just so much that gets done in such a short time, and it leaves little room for other things. Unfortunately, often times those said other things happen to be Advent celebrations. I know that this is the time to be slowing down and renewing myself in the joys of Christ. Yet instead of doing that, I cram as many Christmas parties, dinners, shopping, and baking in the four weeks leading up to Christmas that any mention of making time for reflecting on Jesus makes me want to scream.

In an effort to save the ears of those around me (and around you for that matter), I have put together this list of nine simple ways to fit Christ into that busy Advent schedule.

Arrive Ten Minutes Earlier to Church

Just ten minutes earlier, that’s all it takes. Arrive to church a little early and spend a little time on your knees. Or if it takes an act in congress to get the family out the door on time much less early, stay ten minutes later to tell Jesus happy birthday.

Incorporate Inspiring Bible Verses in the Outgoing Christmas Cards

The Christmas cards need to be written anyways, why not add a bible verse to it? This will not only give you a little time to ponder the great miracles of God, but will help the person receiving the card to consider Jesus as well.

Send an Extra Christmas Card to Encourage a Missionary

And while you are writing those Christmas cards to all your love ones, drop in one more to thank a missionary for their work for God. It takes a special kind of person to spread the works of God in a foreign land, and as the body of Christ it is good for us to encourage one another to continue in the footsteps of Jesus.

Have Dinner by Candle Light

Jesus is the light of the world. Simply turn off the dining room lights and eat by candle light in commemoration of Jesus. The change in the atmosphere will naturally draw your mind and heart to Jesus.

Spend Three Minutes a Day to Read Scripture from here

I don’t know about you, but I check my email three million times a day. Take a moment before you close the web browser to read a little scripture organized to inspire you this Advent. Click here for the site.

Take the Scenic Route drive to Admire Christmas Lights

Use the drive home to slow yourself down for a little bit by taking a short detour through a neighborhood to admire the beauty in Christmas lights. Let it remind you of the beauty that God created.

Say a Prayer for Every Gift Wrapped

It doesn’t have to be a rosary or a very long complicated prayer. A quick, ‘Lord be with this person this Advent’ and ‘Thank you for your Love Jesus’ should be sufficient to pull your heart to the Father.

Decide to Let Go of One Event

This is the hardest thing to do, especially if you are a Type A personality like me, but the reality is maybe you and I just need to say no to one Christmas party, dinner, or shopping spree and stay home to give God a little more time.

Give God a Gift

I don’t mean a physical gift, but a gift of the spirit such as something that you have been struggling with. An example could be praying for someone you don’t like, forgiving a person for upsetting you, or not getting angry for that person cutting into the checkout line in front of you.

Conclusion

Advent should not be a burden, but a great joy—a season to examine our lives and to prepare for the coming of Christ. However, too often we lose the focus of Advent and get caught up in all of the social and commercial trappings of Christmas. At this point, Advent seems to take the back burner instead of being foremost in our hearts. With these nine simple ways, we can turn that around just by adjusting our inner focus and mindset.

How have you been incorporating Advent into your life this season? Do you have any additional ideas to add to this list? Help spread the joy of the season and comment below.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas postcard date unknown, circa 1900.

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The Meaning of Advent

Lëtzebuergesch: Adventskranz um drëtten Advent...

In the Catholic mass, Advent has been our focus ever since November 27th.  We have had bible readings and homilies, the churches are decked in with purple, and there’s a call to repentance and to “prepare a way for the Lord”.  But what does Advent really mean?

Here is a list outlining the different meanings of Advent.

  1. Dictionary.com defines advent as: “a coming into place, view, or being; arrival; the coming of Christ into the world; the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas, observed in commemoration of the coming of Christ into the world; Second Coming”. [1]
  2. Most obviously it is the season of preparation for the anniversary of Christ’s birthday. We consider the annunciation by the angel Gabriel to Mary; Mary’s acceptance of the Lord’s will; the Holy Spirit preparing her womb to be immaculate to receive Christ; the birth of Jesus. [2]
  3. It is also the season of rigorous preparation for the Second Coming of Christ into the world. For this, we consider John the Baptist and his cry to make straight a path for the Lord; the Prophet Isaiah’s encouragement for all to be vigilant in prayer and to recognize the signs of the coming of Christ. [3] We should always be preparing for the Second Coming of Christ for we do not know the day or the hour of his coming; however, this is the season to renew the effort and refresh ourselves in the mysteries of our God.
  4. Lastly, it is the season of preparation for the “third” coming of Christ, namely the descent of the Holy Spirit and the dwelling of the Lord in our own flesh. [2]  Upon baptism (and confirmation for the Catholics), the Holy Spirit enters into us and lives with us.  Advent is the time of the year when we should slow down and consider our lives, how we have been living it with the Holy Spirit, and how we can do better.

When I read this list, my heart almost sunk to my stomach.  There is so much that we do during this season—Christmas shopping, parties, decorating, baking, big meals, and so forth—and yet according to the Church, this is a very important season of spiritual growth.  Advent is already half over.  If you are like me, the list above is daunting to add on top of everything else.

We must remember that we are still in the season, and there is still time to focus on what really matters.  Even if we just take a few minutes a day to read a little scripture, to say a quick prayer, or to listen to Advent music or lectures in the car.  It does not take much to re-focus our lives this season.  My next posts will cover the list above and easy ways to incorporate the meaning of Advent in our lives.

Remember:  Advent may be officially celebrated during these four weeks, but it really should be celebrated every day of our lives.  [3]

References

[1] Definition of Advent, Dictionary.com 
[2] See Advent’s Meaning Through Mary, Pope Benedict XVI, Catholic Culture 
[3] Our Whole Life Should Be An ‘Advent’, Pope John Paul II, Catholic Culture 

Additional Reading

Advent: The Divine Silence Broken by Bellaverita blog
Advent – Luke 1:47-55 Mary’s Magnificent Response by Praying the Lectionary blog
Devotions for Advent Week 3 Tuesday Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13 Matthew 11:1-6 by Broad Meadow blog
Considering Eternity by Mark Mathia blog

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Good Ol’ St. Nick

A reflection on how myths can be used to reveal the love of God.

There are many different kinds of myths.  Often times when we hear the word ‘myth’ we think of some story that had been believed to be truth at sometime, but not any longer and cannot be verified scientifically or historically.  Perhaps we think of other types of stories that are created not to explain any truth but to explain away an issue (“I swear, Aunt Pam, it was a really BIG ghost that stole that cookie”). Then there is the definition of a ‘myth’ from the Catholic perspective, one that I have been struggling to grasp.  It is a definition much like the first, but with a few subtle differences.  The first is that the myth is not “a story believed to be truth” but a story given to us through divine revelation from God.  The second is that the truth behind the story still stands to this day and is verifiable through the Church teachings, the bible, and history.  Vague, I know.

Let’s approach it this way:  Santa Claus is a well known myth.  But what kind of myth is it?  Let’s think about it.  Santa Claus is some overweight, jolly, white bearded man who is full of great charity and love for all.  He has this list, as we all know, and he checks it twice for children who have behaved enough to receive a gift from him.  Then in the middle of the night, like a thief, he flies around the world and sneaks gifts into the homes of those children on his list.  One can get lost in some of the ludicrous ideas in this myth—such as the reindeer, traveling to every child in one night, the use of elves to produce the gifts.  Such a character surely could not exist.

Enter St. Nickolas.  No, not the Santa Claus St. Nick, but a man who once lived a full life in God around the year 345.  He was the Bishop of Myra and known for his charity.  The legend goes that St. Nickolas heard of a man, who in suffering great poverty, felt forced to put his three maiden daughters out onto the street for prostitution.  Out of charity and love, St. Nickolas threw three bags of gold through the window of the man’s house in the middle of the night, rescuing the girls from a life of sin.  We can see how the myth of Santa Claus was created from this legend.

I would propose that there is more to the myth than just a story of some ancient man, but reveals an even greater truth about the Creator.  This is the truth of God’s great charity and love for all, how he steals through the night bearing gifts for those of his children whose names are found in the Book of Life.  Our joy in giving others Christmas gifts, of surprising our children with presents sneaked under the Christmas tree in the middle of the night, is a small reflection of God’s great joy in giving us the greatest gift there ever was and is: his Love in the form of Christ.

Happy St. Nickolas day and Merry Christmas.

Additional Reading

Catholic Culture

Catholic Pages Directory

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Come Christ, Come

There were many reasons that I left Christianity in high school and followed other, less justifiable paths of religion.  While not a main reason, a significant reason was the history of the origins of Christian holidays, traditions and symbols and the lack of knowledge among Christians of this topic.  Much of the holidays and traditions had been absorbed from pagan religions.  I remember pointing to this fact and saying that all Christians are blind if they celebrate these holidays but deny the history of them.  I had felt like it was just one more justification of the falsehood of Christianity and that I was going back to the source of it all, back to the pagan religions.

It was really I who was blind and too proud to admit it.  I didn’t delve any further into the issue, learning just enough to feel correct, but not enough to actually prove that I was.  Perhaps my heart already knew I was being silly and feared that if I looked any further than the surface, I would be humbled.  Now that I know the truth about the holidays—yes the holidays came from pagan culture, but only because the people fell from God and it was easier for the people to accept God by absorbing their culture rather than annihilating it—and about Jesus, I believe that it is our duty to know the history as well as meaning of the traditions we celebrate.  We never know when or where we will need to witness to someone who was much like I was, disappointed with Christians and their inability to defend their faith.

Sometime I will come back to the subject of Saints and finish that series; however, with the onset of Advent, I am going to move on to another series of posts:

  • This first week of December, I will discuss the Solemn Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.  A mouth full and very much Catholic, this celebration is really all about the preparation of Mary to bear the Savior of the world.  With Mary, we too are preparing for the world to bear the coming of Christ.
  • The second week, I will dive into what Advent is, how the Church celebrates Advent, and some suggestions on how all Christians no matter the domination could prepare themselves to accept Christ.
  • The third week is the week of Christmas in which I will present the early history of Christmas and the Christmas tree.
  • As the month of December ends, I will close this series with a post that summarizes the Feast of the Holy Innocents (a remembrance on Dec. 28 by the Church of all of the babies sacrificed by Herod in his attempt to kill Christ) and the Feast of the Holy Family (a celebration on Dec. 30 of the role model that the Holy Family is for all families).
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