Monthly Archives: December 2013

Shrek the Sheep


This has been floating around the Internet. I saw it on Facebook. I’m sorry, I don’t know who originally wrote it but it’s a beautiful reflection,


This is Shrek the sheep. He became famous several years ago when he was found after hiding out in caves for six years. Of course, during this time his fleece grew without anyone there to shorn (shave) it. When he was finally found and shaved, his fleece weighed an amazing sixty pounds. Most sheep have a fleece weighing just under ten pounds, with the exception usually reaching fifteen pounds, maximum. For six years, Shrek carried six times the regular weight of his fleece. Simply because he was away from his shepherd.

This reminds me of John 10 when Jesus compares Himself to a shepherd, and His followers are His sheep. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I think Shrek is much like a person who knows Jesus Christ but has wandered. If we avoid Christ’s constant refining of our character, we’re going to accumulate extra weight in this world—a weight we don’t have to bear.

When Shrek was found, a professional sheep shearer took care of Shrek’s fleece in twenty-eight minutes. Shrek’s sixty pound fleece was finally removed. All it took was coming home to his shepherd.

I believe Christ can lift the burdens we carry, if only we stop hiding. He can shave off our ‘fleece’—that is, our self-imposed burdens brought about by wandering from our Good Shepherd.

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30


This reflection on Shrek reminds me of the beginning of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried: The_Things_They_Carried

“The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellant, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment certificates, C rations, and to or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 15 and 20 pounds, depending upon a man’s habits or rate of metabolism.

…What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty. As a first lieutenant and platoon leader, Jimmy Cross carried a compass, maps, code books, binoculars, and a .45-caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds fully loaded. He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men.

As an RTO, Mitchell Sanders carried the PRC-25 radio, a killer, 26 pounds with its battery.

As a medic, Rat Kiley carried a canvas satchel filled with morphine and plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape and comic books and all the things a medic must carry, including M&M’s for especially bad wounds, for a total weight of nearly 20 pounds.

As a big man, therefore a machine gunner, Henry Dobbins carried the M-60, which weight 23 pounds unloaded, but which was almost always loaded. In addition, Dobbins carried between 10 and 15 pounds of ammunition draped in belts across his chest and shoulders.

As PFCs or Spec 4s, most of them were common grunts and carried the standard M-16 gas-operated assault rifle. The weapon weighed 7.5 pounds unloaded, 8.2 pounds with its full 20-round magazine. Depending on numerous factors, such as topography and psychology, the riflemen carried anywhere from 12 to 20 magazines, usually in cloth bandoliers, adding on another 8.4 pounds at minimum, 14 pounds at maximum. When it was available, they also carried M-16 maintenance gear– rods and steel brushes and swabs and tubes of LSA oil — all of which weighed about a pound. Among the grunts, some carried the M-79 grenade launcher, 5.9 pounds unloaded, a reasonably light weapon except for the ammunition, which was heavy. A single round weighted 10 ounces. The typical load was 25 rounds.

…In addition to the three standard weapons — the M-60, the M-16, and M-79– they carried whatever presented itself, or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive.”


“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30


Syrian President sends letter to Pope

The Guardian reported on Sunday:

“…according to Sana, Syria’s state-run news agency, the message set out the Assad regime’s position ahead of next month’s peace conference in Geneva, saying it was willing to take part in the talks but that countries supporting rebel groups would have to stop.

‘The message also highlighted that stopping terrorism requires having the countries which are involved in supporting the armed terrorist groups stop providing any sort of military, logistic or training support, noting that this support was provided by some of Syria’s neighbours and other known countries in the Middle East and abroad,’ Sana reported.

…The 77-year-old Argentinian pope has pleaded for peace in Syria repeatedly in recent months, most prominently in September, when he sent Vladimir Putin – in his capacity as host leader of the G20 summit in St Petersburg – a letter implicitly expressing his strong opposition to the airstrikes that were being considered by the Obama administration.

On Christmas Day, he reiterated his call for an end to a conflict which the United Nations estimates has caused the deaths of more than 100,000 people.”




Militarism Invades Christmas

I went to the Catholic church across town tonight, and this is what I saw. There is the tabernacle in the middle. On the left, a banner quoting Matthew 2:2. On the right, three people employed by the U.S. military, one from each branch, looking very prayerful, an American flag flying above them, and above that a cross in the sky (which eerily resembles the “cross of light” that Constantine saw, according to some legends of the Battle of Milvian Bridge).

Altar at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Athens, GA, Christmas 2013

Altar at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Athens, GA, Christmas 2013

Visually, what is the most prominent symbol in this display? The American flag, of course. The baby in the manger is upstaged by the reverent looking woman in fatigues and her comrades-in-arms. The cross is like a faint wisp of cloud compared to Old Glory!

Does this strike anyone else as out of place, offensive, and inappropriate, not to mention totally creepy? I am going to write to the priests and find out why this was placed on the altar at Christmas. Here is a better look…

Altar of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Athens, GA, 2013

Altar of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Athens, GA, 2013

Barf. Is Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Veterans Day not enough? Must we be subjected to military worship in church on Christmas, too? What is the purpose? What has this to do with the birth of Christ? More importantly, what kind of message is this sending, and does that message reinforce or contradict what Pope Francis had to say in his Christmas message?

“True peace  – we know this well – is not a balance of  opposing forces…Peace calls for daily commitment, but making peace is an art…Looking at the Child in the manger, Child of peace, our thoughts  turn to those children who are the most vulnerable victims of warsWars shatter and hurt so  many lives!Prince of Peace, in every place turn hearts aside from violence and  inspire them to lay down arms and undertake the path of dialogue….Heal  the wounds of the beloved country of Iraq, once more struck by frequent acts of  violence…. Look upon the many children who are kidnapped, wounded and killed in armed  conflicts, and all those who are robbed of their childhood and forced to become  soldiers.God is peace: let  us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families,  in our cities and nations, in the whole world.”

Is it not a contradiction to see this in church and then hear this from a Bishop:

WASHINGTON—Pope Francis’ first message for World Day of Peace offers a profound challenge to all people to see each other’s humanity and pursue dialogue and peace over war and conflict, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, welcomed the release of “Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace,” December 12.

“Pope Francis offers a message both simple and profound: when we fail to recognize other people as our brothers and sisters, we destroy each other and ourselves,” Bishop Pates said. “This challenges everyone from governments and corporations to individuals and families in the course of our daily lives.”

In God’s family, where all are sons and daughters of the same Father,” Pope Francis wrote, “there are no ‘disposable lives.’” The pope drew on the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis to illustrate that “we have an inherent calling to fraternity, but also the tragic capacity to betray that calling.”

The pope listed war, globalization, threats to religious freedom, human trafficking, economic disparity and abuses of the financial system as examples of fraternity breaking down and leading to violence against people.

“In disagreements, which are an unavoidable part of life, we should always remember that we are brothers and sisters, and therefore teach others and teach ourselves not to consider our neighbor as an enemy or as an adversary to be eliminated,” the pope wrote. “Give up the way of arms and go out to meet the other in dialogue, pardon and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust, and hope around you!”

There is just no way around this: The military represents “the way of arms” that Pope Francis is blatantly saying must be “given up.” If individual Catholics want to join the military and fight the U.S. government’s wars, that’s their business, but let’s keep militarism away from the Mass and out of our churches, especially at Christmas! It should not be implied that “the troops,” in spite of their chosen vocations of war making, let alone because of their chosen vocations of war-making, have somehow been elected to sit at the right hand of God. Enough, enough, enough.

Never forget: “With the Holy See and bishops from the Middle East and around the world, we fear that resort to war, under present circumstances and in light of current public information, would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force.” — United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 2002

St. Anysia, Dec. 30


Saint Anysia (284-304) was a martyr of Greece who took vows of chastity, poverty, and prayer. She was a wealthy woman of Salonika, in Thessaly, who used her personal funds to aid the poor.The legend of her martyrdom states that a Roman soldier apprehended her as she was on her way to services. Discovering she was a Christian, he beat her, and intended to drag her to a pagan temple to sacrifice to Roman gods. When he tore off her veil (a reminder of her vow of chastity), she spit in his face, and he murdered her.

St. Thomas Becket, Dec. 29

This blog, this site, are not libertarian. One does not have to be a libertarian to oppose militarism. However, libertarians’ appreciation of the State as that which has a monopoly on the use of force (violence) leads them to be extremely wary of the dangers posed when too much power is XJF359022placed, unopposed and unrestrained, in the hands of the State. Thus, Saint Thomas Becket is often mentioned in discussions of libertarianism and Catholicism, because as the Archbishop of Canterbury, he died defending the ancient rights of the Church against an aggressive state.

Becket was martyred on Dec. 29, 1170. Within four years he had been made a saint. A contemporary monk said that after being  named archbishop by King Henry II, “Thomas Becket put off the secular man and put on Jesus Christ.” His feast day is December 29.

From Libertarianism: A Primer:

“The independence of the Western Church, which came to be known as Roman Catholic, meant that throughout Europe there were two powerful institutions contending for power. Neither State nor Church particularly liked the situation, but their divided power gave breathing space for individuals and civil society to develop. Popes and emperors frequently denounced each other’s character, contributing to a delegitimization of both. Again, this conflict between Church and State was virtually unique in the world, explaining why the principles of freedom were discovered first in the West.

In the 4th century the emperor Theodosius ordered the bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, to hand over his cathedral to the empire. Ambrose rebuked the emperor, saying, ‘It is not lawful for us to deliver it up nor for your majesty to receive it. By no law can you violate the house of a private man. Do you think that the house of God may be taken away? It is asserted that all things are lawful to the emperor, that all things are his. But do not burden your conscience with the thought that you have any right as emperor over sacred things. Exalt not yourself, but if you would reign the longer be subject to God. It is written, God’s to God and Caesar’s to Caesar.’ The emperor was forced to come to Ambrose’s church and beg forgiveness for his wrongdoing.

Centuries later a similar conflict took place in England. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket, defended the church’s rights against Henry II’s usurpations. Henry wished aloud that he could be rid of “this meddlesome priest,” whereupon four knights rode off to murder Becket. Within four years Becket had been made a saint, and Henry had been forced to walk barefoot through the snow to Becket’s church as penance for his crime and to back down from his demands on the church.

Because the struggle between Church and State prevented any absolute power from arising, there was space for autonomous institutions to develop. Because the Church lacked absolute power, dissident religious views were able to ferment. Markets and associations, oath-bound relationships, guilds, universities, and chartered cities all contributed to the development of pluralism and civil society.”

Becket is also mentioned in Ryan McMaken’s rebuttal of Mark Shea’s response to Ryan McMaken’s article on Catholics and Libertarians. (Do you follow ?)

“And finally, I need to address Shea’s incomplete conception of what the state even is. Shea quotes me declaring the state has done more to destroy human solidarity than any other institution. This supposedly illustrates my great extremism and naivete.

Shea claims that the Church does not ‘oppose’ the state. Well, it might not right now, but historically it has. And understanding this rests on an understanding of the nature of a state. Particularly observant readers will note that early in my original article, I use Max Weber’s definition of the state as an organization with a monopoly on the means of coercion. I even linked to a definition. I did this for a reason, since many Catholics, including, apparently, Mr. Shea, lack a historical understanding of the state and its origins. The state is a specific type of polity, and is not synonymous with civil government. ‘Civil government’ by the way, is the preferred term used by Aquinas and Bellarmine, not ‘state.’ (I see that the latest catechism, a non-infallible document, erroneously treats all civil governments as ‘states.’) The Church has indeed historically opposed the state because states have claimed, up until today, that the Church is subject to the monopoly on force held by the state. Any coercive power that the Church does exercise, such as control of its property, its tribunals, and more, exists only at the pleasure of the state and is subject to state control.

Historically, the Church denied that this was legitimate and denied that states could regulate or interfere in Church affairs in any way. St. Thomas Becket died making this very point. The traditional position of the Church is that the Church stands outside of civil authority and has autonomous control over sacramental affairs such as marriage, (St. Thomas More died making this point) [See my article on marriage] and also had a separate legal system for members of the clergy. Church lands were also inviolate by states, according to the Church. This is a big reason the German princes were so gung ho on Luther’s ideas. They could finally seize all that off-limits Church property.

Of course, if a state actually agreed to this claim made by the Church, it would cease being a state since it would be abandoning its claim to a monopoly on coercion and sharing power with the Church. The state would then just be a civil government. This situation, by the way, is what actually existed for centuries from late antiquity to the late middle ages. Historian Ralph Raico, for example, has noted that this tension between Church and civil authorities, which prevented the rise of the state for centuries, was a great contribution to the West in that a major by-product of this situation was a much larger amount of freedom for common people than was the case in most of the world.

History, incidentally, is filled with non-state governments from basic tribal systems, to feudal arrangements based on personal oaths, to complex and advanced tribal systems such as ancient Israel prior to the monarchy.

Libertarians are not opposed to civil government. Law and government is necessary for human life. Humans naturally submit to government of all types. The question is whether or not a state, which is rested on the exercise of monopolized violence, is a legitimate institution. Historically, the Church has said no, and libertarians still say no.”

Letter to All the Clergy of England, by Thomas Becket:

“<Thomas, by the grace of God humble minister of the church> of Canterbury, to his reverend brothers, all the bishops, by God’s grace, of the province of Canterbury,—if, indeed, they all wrote me,—greeting and a will to do what as yet they do not.

. . . One thing I say to you, to speak out, saving your peace. For a long time I have been silent, waiting if perchance the Lord would inspire you to pluck up your strength again; if perchance one, at least, of you all would arise and take his stand as a wall to defend the house of Israel, would put on at least the appearance of entering the battle against those who never cease daily to attack the army of the Lord. I have waited; not one has arisen. I have endured; not one has taken a stand. I have been silent; not one has spoken. I have dissimulated; not one has fought even in appearance….

May God lift the veil from your hearts that you may know what you ought to do. Let any man of you say who knows if ever since my promotion I have taken from anyone of you his ox or his ass or his money, if I have judged anyone’s cause unjustly, if out of anyone’s loss I have won gain for myself, and I will return it fourfold. If I have done nothing to offend you, why leave me alone to defend the cause of God? . . .

Let us then, all together, make haste to act so that God’s wrath descend not on us as on negligent and idle shepherds, that we be not counted dumb dogs, too feeble to bark, that passersby speak not scorn of us…. In truth, if you hear me, be assured that God will be with you and with us all, in all our ways, to uphold peace and defend the liberty of the Church. If you will not hear, let God be judge between me and you and from your hands demand account for the confusion of the Church…. But this hope I have stored in my breast, that he is not alone who has the Lord with him. If he fall, he shall not be destroyed for the Lord himself upholds him with his hand . . .

My lord knows with what intent he chose to have us exalted. Let his purpose reply to him and we will reply to him, as our office requires of us, that by God’s mercy we are more faithful in our severity than are those who flatter him with lies. For better are the blows of a friend than the false kisses of an enemy. By implication you charge us with ingratitude. We believe that no criminal act brings with it disgrace unless it comes from the soul. So if a man unintentionally commits murder, although he is called a murderer and is one, still he does not bear the guilt of murder. So we say that even if by right of lordship we owe our lord king service, if we are bound by the law of kings to show him reverence, if we have upheld him as lord, if we have treated him as our own son with fatherly affection, and if then in council, to our grief, he has not listened to us and we, as our office compels us, are severe in our censure of him, we believe we are doing more for him and with him than against him, and more deserve gratitude from him than a charge of ingratitude or punishment….

You remind us of the danger to the Roman Church, of loss of temporal possessions.

There is danger indeed to us and ours, without mentioning the danger to souls. You imply a threat of the lord king’s withdrawal (which God forbid!) from fealty and devotion to the Roman Church. God forbid, I say, that our lord king’s fealty and devotion should ever for some temporal advantage or disadvantage swerve from fealty and devotion to the Roman Church. Such conduct, which would be wicked and reprehensible m a private man, would be far more so in a prince, who draws many along with him and after him…. Do you in your discretion look to it that the words of your mouths do not infect some other man or men, to the loss and damnation of their souls, like the golden cup, called the cup of Babylon, which is smeared within and without with poison, but from which one may drink and not fear the poison because he sees the gold. Even such may be the effect of your conduct on the people….

In the midst of tribulation and bloodshed the Church from of old has increased and multiplied. It is the way the Church to win her victories when men are persecuting her, to arrive at under standing when men are refuting her, to gain strength when men are forsaking her. Do not, my brothers, weep for her but for yourselves who are making by your acts and words a name, and not a great one, for yourselves in everyone’s mouth, who are calling down on yourselves the hatred of God and of the world, preparing a snare for the innocent, and fashioning new and ingenious reasons for overthrowing the liberty of the Church. By God’s mercy, brothers, you are laboring in vain, for the Church, although often shaken, will stand in the courage and steadfastness on which she was steadfastly founded, until the Son of perdition arises. As for him, we do not believe he will arise in the West, unless the order of events and the sequence of history is wrongfully altered.

But if your concern is for the temporal things, we should fear more a danger to the soul than to them. For the Scripture says: “What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Hence the peril to us and to ours we utterly scorn. He is not to be feared who kills the body, but He who kills both body and soul….

Pray for us that our faith fail not in tribulation and that we may safely say with the Apostle that neither death nor life nor angels nor any creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which has subjected us to affliction until He come Who will come, and will do with us according to his mercy, and will lead us into the land of promise, the land flowing with milk and honey….”

There was a great film made in 1964 with Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton:




The Pope’s Christmas Message


Wednesday, 25 December 2013


Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours (Lk 2:14)

Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the whole world, Greetings and Happy Christmas!

I take up the song of the angels who appeared to the shepherds in  Bethlehem on the night when Jesus was born.  It is a song which unites heaven  and earth, giving praise and glory to heaven, and the promise of peace to earth  and all its people.

I ask everyone to share in this song: it is a song for every man or  woman who keeps watch through the night, who hopes for a better world, who cares  for others while humbly seeking to do his or her duty.

Glory to God!

Above all else, this is what Christmas bids us to do: give glory to  God, for he is good, he is faithful, he is merciful. Today I voice my hope that  everyone will come to know the true face of God, the Father who has given us  Jesus.  My hope is that everyone will feel God’s closeness, live in his  presence, love him and adore him.

May each of us give glory to God above all by our lives, by lives spent  for love of him and of all our brothers and sisters.

Peace to mankind

True peace  – we know this well – is not  a balance of  opposing forces.  It is not a lovely “façade” which conceals conflicts and  divisions.  Peace calls for daily commitment, but making peace is an art,  starting from God’s gift, from the grace which he has given us in Jesus Christ.

Looking at the Child in the manger, Child of peace, our thoughts  turn to those children who are the most vulnerable victims of wars, but we think  too of the elderly, to battered women, to the sick… Wars shatter and hurt so  many lives!

Too many lives have been shattered in recent times by the conflict in  Syria, fueling hatred and vengeance.  Let us continue to ask the Lord to spare  the beloved Syrian people further suffering, and to enable the parties in  conflict to put an end to all violence and guarantee access to humanitarian aid.  We have seen how powerful prayer is!  And I am happy today too, that the  followers of different religious confessions are joining us in our prayer for  peace in Syria.  Let us never lose the courage of prayer!  The courage to say:  Lord, grant your peace to Syria and to the whole world. And I also invite  non-believers to desire peace with that yearning that makes the heart grow: all  united, either by prayer or by desire.  But all of us, for peace.

Grant peace, dear Child, to the Central African Republic,  often forgotten and overlooked.  Yet you, Lord, forget no one!  And you also  want to bring peace to that land, torn apart by a spiral of violence and  poverty, where so many people are homeless, lacking water, food and the bare  necessities of life.  Foster social harmony in South Sudan, where current  tensions have already caused too many victims and are threatening  peaceful coexistence in that young state.

Prince of Peace, in every place turn hearts aside from violence and  inspire them to lay down arms and undertake the path of dialogue.  Look upon  Nigeria, rent by constant attacks which do not spare the innocent and  defenseless.  Bless the land where you chose to come into the world, and grant a  favourable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.  Heal  the wounds of the beloved country of Iraq, once more struck by frequent acts of  violence.

Lord of life, protect all who are persecuted for your name.  Grant hope  and consolation to the displaced and refugees, especially in the Horn of Africa  and in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Grant that  migrants in search of a dignified life may find acceptance and assistance.  May  tragedies like those we have witnessed this year, with so many deaths at  Lampedusa, never occur again!

Child of Bethlehem, touch the hearts of all those engaged in human  trafficking, that they may realize the gravity of this crime against humanity.  Look upon the many children who are kidnapped, wounded and killed in armed  conflicts, and all those who are robbed of their childhood and forced to become  soldiers.

Lord of heaven and earth, look upon our planet, frequently exploited by  human greed and rapacity.  Help and protect all the victims of natural  disasters, especially the beloved people of the Philippines, gravely affected by  the recent typhoon.

Dear brothers and sisters, today, in this world, in this humanity, is  born the Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.  Let us pause before the Child of  Bethlehem.  Let us allow our hearts to be touched, let us not fear this. Let  us not fear that our hearts be moved.  We need this! Let us allow ourselves  to be warmed by the tenderness of God; we need his caress.  God’s caresses do  not harm us.  They give us peace and strength.  We need his caresses.  God is full of love: to him be praise and glory forever!  God is peace: let  us ask him to help us to be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families,  in our cities and nations, in the whole world.  Let us allow ourselves to be  moved by God’s goodness.

St. John the Evangelist, Dec. 27

December 27 is the feast day of St. John the Evangelist.

John 1: 29: “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God…”

Shrine of the Lamb at Knock, Ireland

Shrine of the Lamb at Knock, Ireland

On August 21, 1879, at the rear of St. John the Baptist Church in Knock, Ireland, four figures appeared: Mary, Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, and the fourth figure was a lamb, standing on an altar, surrounded by angels. Today, the Shrine of the Lamb at Knock is Ireland’s national shrine.

Behold the Lamb is a professionally recorded retreat given by Emmanuel Charles McCarthy at the Shrine of the Lamb in Knock, Ireland. Click on the link and scroll down to find the audio files. There are a total of 16 lectures. Behold the Lamb is considered to be the most comprehensive and spiritually profound proclamation of Jesus’ Gospel message of Nonviolent Love. In Behold the Lamb, Fr. McCarthy takes as his central theme the Lamb of God and focuses on this biblical symbol and reality as the true icon and transcendental model for encountering God as revealed by Jesus, and for understanding and following the Way of God as taught by Jesus.

This is a homily given by Fr. McCarthy at the close of a 40-day fast given at the Shrine of the Lamb in Knock, Ireland, on August 9, 1988.

The Infant Saint John Playing with a Lamb, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1670-1680, Oil on canvas, 61 x 44 cm, The National Gallery of Ireland.

The Infant Saint John Playing with a Lamb, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1670-1680, Oil on canvas, 61 x 44 cm, The National Gallery of Ireland.


Christmas: Peace on Earth

Every year I feel a bit sad, as I recall what Christmas used to feel like as a child, remembering the anticipation, the excitement. I loved rituals that led up to the big day: putting our shoes out for St. Nicholas, marking off days on the Advent calendar, decorating the house. Twinkling lights and carolers. Snow that glittered in the moonlight. I could feel the angels all around me. Christmas meant warmth, comfort, and home: It meant peace. To feel peace was a little taste of heaven. Now sometimes it seems like the most Christmas has to offer is a little bit nostalgia.

Once upon a time, Christmas meant presents. There were two times a year when we got presents in my house: birthdays and Christmas. If you wanted something in July, you’d have to put in on your Christmas list. So making the list was real serious business, kind of like an examination of conscience before confession. If I left something off the list, I would have to wait for my birthday, which wasn’t until May, which would be horrible, because May would be forever away and might as well have been never.

In the mid-eighties, I asked for the Ewok Village every Christmas for about five years. It was my Red Ryder BB Gun but I wasn’t Ralphie: It never appeared under the tree. I eventually stopped asking for it. (Either I got the hint it was too expensive or I outgrew Star Wars.) Then, when I was in my mid-twenties, my mother discovered eBay. I awoke one Christmas to find the Ewok Village waiting for me under the tree — in the original box and everything — it was awesome! (And who are we kidding? One does not outgrow Star Wars. One only turns into a bitter fan who wants to see George Lucas drawn and quartered in a public square. I fully admit I’ll never get over those prequels. Never!)

Aside from my mother’s presents, the gift-giving at our house isn’t what it used to be.

Click here to continue reading at