Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Chesterton Advent Calendar, Part VII

After today, I'm off until January 3.

Thus, I won't have a lunch break until January 3.

Thus, I won't be blogging until at least January 3.

So, I'll have to include not only today's installment of the Chesterton Advent Calendar (explanation here) but also those for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as well.

23 December

Fortunately, however, being happy is not so important as having a jolly time. Philosophers are happy; saints have a jolly time. The important thing in life is not to keep a steady system of pleasure and composure (which can be done quite well by hardening one's heart or thickening one's head), but to keep alive in oneself the immortal power of astonishment and laughter, and a kind of young reverence. This is why religion always insists on special days like Christmas, while philosophy always tends to despise them. Religion is interested not in whether a man is happy, but whether he is still alive, whether he can still react in a normal way to new things, whether he blinks in a blinding light or laughs when he is tickled. That is the best of Christmas, that it is a startling and disturbing happiness; it is an uncomfortable comfort. The Christmas customs destroy the human habits. And while customs are generally unselfish, habits are nearly always selfish. The object of the religious festival is, as I have said, to find out if a happy man is still alive. A man can smile when he is dead. Composure, resignation, and the most exquisite goo dmanners are, so to speak, the strong points of corpses. There is only one way in which you can test his real vitality, and that is by a special festival. Explode cracker in his ear, and see if he jumps. Prick him with holly, and see if he feels it. If not, he is dead, or, as he would put it, is "living the higher life." —Illustrated London News, 1908

24 December

Almighty God to all mankind on Christmas Day said He:
"I rent you from the old red hills and, rending made you free.
There was charter, there was challenge; in a blast of breath I gave;
You can be all things other; you cannot be a slave.
You shall be tired and tolerant of fancies as they fade,
But if men doubt the Charter, ye shall call on the Crusade –
Trumpet and torch and catapult, cannon and bow and blade,
Because it was My challenge to all the things I made." —A Christmas Song for Three Guilds

25 December

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down —A Christmas Carol

Season's greetings! Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Chesterton Advent Calendar, Part VI

Explanation here.

22 December

Religion has had to provide that longest and strangest telescope - the telescope through which we could see the star upon which we dwelt. For the mind and eyes of the average man this world is as lost as Eden and as sunken as Atlantis. —The Defendant

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Chesterton Advent Calendar, Part V

Explanation here.

21 December

Christ commanded us to have love for all men, but even if we had equal love for all men, to speak of having the same love for all men is merely bewildering nonsense. If we love a man at all, the impression he produces on us must be vitally different to the impression produced by another man whom we love. To speak of having the same kind of regard for both is about as sensible as asking a man whether he prefers chrysanthemums or billiards. Christ did not love humanity; He never said He loved humanity: He loved men. Neither He nor anyone else can love humanity; it is like loving a gigantic centipede. —Twelve Types

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Chesterton Advent Calendar, Part IV

Explanation here.

20 December

Meanwhile, it remains true that I shall eat a great deal of turkey this Christmas; and it is not in the least true (as the vegetarians say) that I shall do it because I do not realise what I am doing, or because I do what I know is wrong, or that I do it with shame or doubt or a fundamental unrest of conscience. In one sense I know quite well what I am doing; in another sense I know quite well that I know not what I do. Scrooge and the Cratchits and I are, as I have said, all in one boat; the turkey and I are, to say the most of it, ships that pass in the night, and greet each other in passing. I wish him well; but it is really practically impossible to discover whether I treat him well. I can avoid, and I do avoid with horror, all special and artificial tormenting of him, sticking pins in him for fun or sticking knives in him for scientific investigation. But whether by feeding him slowly and killing him quickly for the needs of my brethren, I have improved in his own solemn eyes his own strange and separate destiny, whether I have made him in the sight of God a slave or a martyr, or one whom the gods love and who die young—that is far more removed from my possibilities of knowledge than the most abstruse intricacies of mysticism or theology. A turkey is more occult and awful than all the angels and archangels. In so far as God has partly revealed to us an angelic world, he has partly told us what an angel means. But God has never told us what a turkey means. And if you go and stare at a live turkey for an hour or two, you will find by the end of it that the enigma has rather increased than diminished. —All Things Considered

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Chesterton Advent Calendar, Part III

Explanation here.

17 December

Damn it, I sometimes think the only English thing left in England is cherry brandy. —The Quick One

18 December

When, in "[A] Christmas Carol," Scrooge refers to the surplus population, the Spirit tells him, very justly, not to speak till he knows what the surplus is and where it is. The implication is severe but sound. When a group of superciliously benevolent economists look down into the abyss for the surplus population, assuredly there is only one answer that should be given to them; and that is to say, "If there is a surplus, you are a surplus." And if anyone were ever cut off, they would be. —Charles Dickens

19 December

The writer writes these words before Christmas; some readers will read them after Christmas: an awful thought. For I always dimly and dumbly think of life after Christmas as of life after death. I hasten to add that I believe that both will occur. I also add that, as becomes any healthy man, I fear death, but do not fear Christmas—no, not even if it result in death. But I do unconsciously count them both as the end of something and all days beyond them as comparatively vague and visionary. Whenever the year is ending I feel that the world is ending, and I desire to make a good end. I think the best end ever made by mortal man—better than Nelson shot through his stars or Douglas hurling the heart of Bruce—was the death of Faber, who confessed and received all the sacraments of his Church, and on being told he had an hour to live, said: "Then I can hear the last number of 'Pickwick,'" and died hearing it. —Illustrated London News, 11 January, 1913

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Chesterton Advent Calendar, Part II

Explanation here.

16 December

Comfort, especially this vision of Christmas comfort, is the reverse of a gross or material thing. It is far more poetical, properly speaking, than the Garden of Epicurus. It is far more artistic than the Palace of Art. It is more artistic because it is based upon a contrast, a contrast between the fire and wine within the house and the winter and the roaring rains without. It is far more poetical, because there is in it a note of defence, almost of war; a note of being besieged by the snow and hail; of making merry in the belly of a fort. —Charles Dickens

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Chesterton Advent Calendar

Yesterday I mentioned two friends of mine, the late Frank and Ann Petta, whom I knew through the Chicago Area G. K. Chesterton Society.

Every year in the mailing advertising the group's annual Christmas Party, Frank would always send along "A Chesterton Advent Calendar", a sheet containing excerpts from Chesterton's writings — one for each of the ten days leading up to Christmas, and for Christmas Day itself. Some of the quotations are directly related to Christmas; others not so much.

Why, you may ask, didn't he include a Chesterton quotation for each day of Advent?

Beats me. That's just the kind of sui generis fellow Frank was.

For the next few days, I'll be including these quotations herein.

15 December

Here am I, Father Christmas; well you know it,
Though critics say it fades, my Christmas Tree,
Yet was it Dickens who became my poet
And who the Dickens may the critics be? —The Turkey and the Turk

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Catherine Doherty, Servant of God

Today is the 25th anniversary of the death of Catherine Doherty:

Servant of God Catherine Doherty (August 15, 1896–December 14, 1985) was a social activist and foundress of the Madonna House Apostolate. A pioneer of social justice and a renowned national speaker, Catherine was also a prolific writer of hundreds of articles, best-selling author of dozens of books, and a dedicated wife and mother. Her cause for canonization as a saint is under consideration by the Catholic Church.

An amazing life story, hers.

Born in Russia, she and her family were nearly killed during the Russian Revolution. A website dedicated to her cause for canonization explains its impact on her:

The Revolution marked Catherine for life. She saw it as the tragic consequence of a Christian society’s failure to incarnate its faith. All her life she cried out against the hypocrisy of those who professed to follow Christ, while failing to serve him in others.

After fleeing Russia, Catherine went first to England, and then to Canada. In the early 1930s, she founded Friendship House in Toronto, the major goals of which were service to the poor and working for interracial justice.

As the movement spread, new Friendship Houses opened in Canada (in Ottawa and Hamilton), and others in the US: in New York (Harlem), Chicago, Washington DC, Portland, OR, and Shreveport, LA.

A couple friends of ours, the late Frank and Ann Petta — whom I met through the Chicago Area G.K. Chesterton Society — lived at the Chicago Friendship House during its early years, and knew Catherine personally. They often talked about how logical of a step it was for them to go from being active in the struggle for interracial justice and the civil rights movement to being involved in the pro-life movement.

Although I never had the privilege of meeting Catherine Doherty myself, I suppose having friends who personally knew her is the next best thing.

We owe her a debt of gratitude for all that she did to spread the love of Jesus Christ to others.

  • A list of Catherine Doherty's writings and talks is available here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What Have I Done Lately?

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Lucy, patron saint of — among others — the blind.

While looking at the calendar a few days ago and taking note of this feast day, I was prompted to recall an encounter I had ten years ago.

After graduating college, I got a job teaching Religion at Good Counsel High School, a girls’ school on the Northwest Side of Chicago run by the Felicians Sisters.

After one of the teacher in-services at the beginning of the school year, Sister Mary Justilla Podgorski, who ran the attendance office, invited me to visit the Felicians’ Chicago Province Motherhouse (where she lived) next door to the school, where she introduced me to many of the other sisters in her community.

One of the sisters I met that day — whose name, I regret, escapes me — had been blind for ten years. After Sister Justilla and I talked to her for a few minutes (and listened to her play a song on her electric piano), we moved on. Sister Justilla then whispered to me that this sister offers up all of her suffering related to her blindness for those addicted to pornography.

I remember thinking at that moment that I felt like The Great Slacker of the World.

I’ve just met a saintly woman who hasn’t been able to see for ten years, and all this time she’s been offering up to God all of the pain, frustration, and suffering her blindness has caused her on behalf of porn addicts. And what have I done lately?

Penance and mortification are key aspects to a healthy spiritual life. And so it’s important for us to consider from time to time, especially during this penitential season of Advent: What have I offered up lately for my family? My friends? My co-workers? The guy down the street who’s out of work? The woman on the Hooters billboard I saw on the way to work this morning?


What have I done lately?

[Cross-posted at Catholic Dads]

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Without Stain"

In honor of today's solemnity, it never hurts to remind ourselves what Holy Mother Church teaches (and what she does not teach) about the Immaculate Conception:

It’s important to understand what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is and what it is not. Some people think the term refers to Christ’s conception in Mary’s womb without the intervention of a human father; but that is the Virgin Birth. Others think the Immaculate Conception means Mary was conceived "by the power of the Holy Spirit," in the way Jesus was, but that, too, is incorrect. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, whose conception was brought about the normal way, was conceived without original sin or its stain—that’s what "immaculate" means: without stain.

It's interesting to note that the Church places greater importance on this day, when she commemorates the conception of Mary in the womb of St. Anne, than on the day she commemorates Mary's birth — celebrated, appropriately enough, nine months from today, on September 8.

In honor of the celebration of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception, I've included below what is, in my opinion, the most cogent paragraph ever written on Marian devotion.

It's from The Everlasting Man, my favorite work of G. K. Chesterton.

Given that we're in the midst of Advent, it's also rather timely:

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.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Joe and Ann Scheidler's Home Vandalized

In the early morning hours yesterday, the home of Joe and Ann Scheidler (my bosses) was vandalized. Asphalt chunks were thrown through two of their windows, and a strange note was attached to one of them.

You can read Ann Scheidler's account of the vandalism to their home on the Pro-Life Action League's site.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This Is Why Black Friday Shopping Holds Exactly No Interest for Me

9 Shocking Examples of Black Friday Violence

Here's video of one:

Not only do I find the prospect of getting up insanely early to buy Stuff Made in China not very appealing, but I also prefer, whenever possible, to minimize the likelihood that I'll get trampled, or stabbed, or something.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Campion, the Seditious Jesuit"

"In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England -- the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter."

Thus spake St. Edmund Campion upon being sentenced to death as a traitor.

He was hanged, drawn, and quartered on this day in 1581.

Apropos of this, I can't help but call to mind a quip by Oscar Wilde (whose death — and, far more importantly, deathbed conversion to Catholicism — 110 years ago) was commemorated yesterday.

The Catholic Church, Wilde remarked, is "for saints and sinners alone — for respectable people, the Anglican Church will do."

St. Edmund Campion, ora pro nobis.