second Christmas

On the Second Day of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, two turtle doves

The pair of birds were meant to symbolize the Old and New Testaments.

The Church is good to her children. She wisely instructs us in the way of Faith – not the happiness of a commercial Christmas, but the joy of the Faith – no matter our circumstances.

Yesterday, we celebrated. We sang and laughed. Gifts were exchanged. Families spent the day together, celebrating the Biggest Birthday Of All, where we received the Best Gift. But the Church very wisely reminds us today that this gift is not a toy, not a plaything, but a true gift. Like all true gifts, it requires something from us.

The Church today celebrates St. Stephen, the first martyr for the faith. His story is recounted in Acts 6. Stephen, a man widely recognized for his faith, was a gifted evangelist. Many were moved to conversion after hearing him speak. And some were moved to evil.

Just like Christ, Stephen was brought up on false charges and the Sanhedrin sentenced him to death – the first Christian martyr.

Party yesterday, death today. That, as they say, escalated quickly. The Church wants to remind us, her children, that even in the midst of the celebration of Christmas, we must know that our Faith will cost us.

Perhaps it will cost us in that we live our family life very differently than others. Maybe we will be ridiculed at work for our beliefs. We will be mocked on social media. Even our family members will question or make fun of us. And yes, many of us (as these past months have taught us) will lose our lives for the Faith.

On this second day of Christmas, with the joy of the birth of Christ still very fresh in our minds and hearts, pull out your Bible and read Acts 6. Our wonderful, rich, deep and true Faith comes at a price. St. Stephen, pray for us.

[From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him…including the fact that he was born to die for us.” There are, however, the traditional “12 Days of Christmas,” captured in the song of the same title. Some claim the song was meant as catechism of a sort, written and sung for nearly 300 years of British persecution of Catholics. We will be using both the song and the Church’s liturgical calendar to celebrate the Christmas season. We hope you enjoy.]


Advent: On Fire For God


Today’s readings begin with fire: the prophet Elijah appears in a swirl of flames, and his very words are fire. Typically, we think of fire as being destructive: the recent fires that damaged or destroyed over 1700 buildings in Gatlinburg, TN are a shocking example of fire’s ability to destroy. Yet the fire surrounding Elijah seems not to be destructive. It allows Elijah the power to open and close the gates of Heaven! It is a whirlwind of fire that carries the prophet from sight, into the Heavens.

There is another time when fire appears in Scripture in a similar way: when the Holy Spirit descends upon Mary and the Apostles in the Upper Room. Tongues of fire settle upon them, allowing them to speak in languages they did not know, in order to preach the truth of Jesus Christ boldly and convincingly to the Jews gathered for Pentecost.

Yes, fire is destructive. It frightens us, and it should. Even now, with technology, state-of-the-art equipment and trained professionals, fire can wipe out both the natural and man-made with terrifying speed. But fire can also be used to create: photographer Rich Reid marvels at how fire has restored a forest:

After months of planning and executing this assignment, ecstatic is the only way to describe seeing a lush green forest on the last images on each card. This couldn’t be the same forest I left a few months ago? Not only was I amused with the prolific regrowth but also amazed my cameras survived this adventure …

Special thanks to Chuck Martin and Erick Brown from The Nature Conservancy and their fire crew for keeping me safe and providing this incredible opportunity to document fire in a positive way.

Fire can be positive. How? Because God makes it so. Elijah is able to use fire “to shut up the heavens” because of God’s power, not his own. Elijah ascends to Heaven in a chariot of fire because God allows it.

Just as our own words can be destructive (think of gossip or slander), our words can also bring forth life. When we speak life, when we speak of Christ, of God’s tender mercy in our lives, our words (just like Elijah’s) become a means of growth and grace. When we are on fire for God, our words can help sculpt lush new growth. We cannot play with fire, but when we pray with fire, God allows great things to happen.

Today’s blogger is Elise Hilton, who regularly writes the“Living the Good News” blog for Diocesan Trinity Publications. Hilton is a writer, speaker and former educator, who now serves in the Marketing & Communications Department for Diocesan Trinity Publications. She is also an avid reader, mom of five and passionate about music.


Pentecost: Receiving The Gifts Of The Holy Spirit

And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Acts 2:2-4

One of Jesus’ last Earthly promises was to send the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and send it He did. A driving wind, tongues of fire, the sudden ability to proclaim the Good News in languages unspoken before: what a vivid image. What an incredible experience for the Apostles and for Mary, the Mother of God.

One might imagine that, following Jesus’ Ascension, the Apostles would be concerned about how they would continue the work at hand without Jesus. Yes, Peter had been appointed chief among them, but he was no Jesus. It was hard enough to get people to listen to the Good News when Jesus was the one teaching; what could the Apostles accomplish?

Of course, they had no way of knowing what Jesus meant when He promised to send the Holy Spirit. They had no idea that the power of Heaven would be unleashed and they would be filled with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear and awe of the Lord (the gifts of the Holy Spirit.)

These gifts are not reserved for the Apostles and Mary, nor for any other select group. The gifts of the Spirit are poured out upon any Catholic who has been baptized and confirmed. And yet, the whole thing still seems quite … odd, mysterious, almost unreal. It’s hard to think of ourselves as wise, or courageous, or filled with knowledge. What does this mean for you and me?

The great Christian writer C. S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, put it this way:

This third Person is called, in technical language, the Holy Ghost or the ’spirit’ of God. Do not be worried or surprised if you find it (or Him) rather vaguer or more shadowy in your mind than the other two. I think there is a reason why that must be so. In the Christian life you are not usually looking at Him. He is always acting through you. If you think of the Father as something ‘out there,’ in front of you, and of the Son as someone standing at your side, helping you to pray, trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third Person as something inside you, or behind you. Perhaps some people might find it easier to begin with the third Person and work backwards. God is love, and that love works through men-especially through the whole community of Christians. But this spirit of love is, from all eternity, a love going on between the Father and the Son.

And now, what does it all matter? It matters more than anything else in the world. The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.

We must believe that Pentecost was not a one time-only event, a bit of history like the Battle of Gettysburg or the signing of the Magna Carta. Pentecost, as Lewis points out, is here and now. It is personal for each of us. It is eternal love, given to us all; we choose to participate in it (or sadly, not.) These gifts of the Spirit, like any gift, must be opened, embraced and used. They are the eternal gifts of love from the One who loves perfectly, eternally; all we must do is celebrate these gifts.


The Ascension Of The Lord: Signpost Of Faith

Today marks the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. In many U.S. dioceses, the celebration of the Ascension is moved to the Seventh Sunday of Easter, but today marks the traditional celebration. Forty days after the Resurrection, the Lord gathers His Apostles for one last bit of instruction: that He will send the Holy Spirit so that they can witness on behalf of Christ “to the ends of the earth.”

Then, as we are told in the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus is lifted up and vanishes from their sight in a cloud. Despite all the miracles that the Apostles had seen Christ perform, what must they have thought? How incredible! What could this possibly mean?

Monsignor Romano Guardini, a German priest born in Italy in 1885, has some thoughts on this. While Guardini is well-known in some circles, he still seems to be in the background in many places. This is too bad, as he had a profound impact on the spiritual formation of Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Guardini’s book, The Lord, is truly a classic of theological writings.

Guardini said this about today’s Solemnity:

Perhaps we will experience that the Ascension was not simply a unique occurrence in the life of Jesus, but rather above all, the manner in which He is given to us: as one vanishing into heaven, into the Unconditional which is God. However, if that is the case, then these bare sketches are most precious: They are sign-posts pointing us to the ‘stepping beyond’ of faith; and insofar as they go beyond our vision, in fact, precisely because they go beyond our vision, they teach us to worship.

What Guardini seems to be saying here is that in Christ’s last bodily act on Earth, He creates a situation where faith must be relied upon. He is now “beyond our vision” – returning to His Father. With that, we (along with the Apostles) must rely on faith. St. Paul would later write, Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

The Ascension is a reminder to us that we have a Heavenly home, one prepared for us by the Lord Himself. Today, of all days, we should acknowledge our longing to follow Christ, here and into eternity.