Thursday, November 30, 2006

St. Andrew's Cross

St. Andrew was crucified on 30 November, a.d. 60.

Tradition has it that it was because of Andrew's preaching that the wife of a wicked Roman proconsul became a Christian, which so enraged that official that he ordered Andrew's crucifixion upon a cross made in the form of an X. To this day that type of cross is known as St. Andrew's Cross. St. Andrew himself is remembered as one who heard of the Christ, believed on Him, and then willingly followed His bidding. Now the bidding of Christ is often hard, leading to persecution and even death. But what is Christian martyrdom? Behold St. Andrew=s Cross: the X shape is also the shape of the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter in Christos, that is, Christ. St. Andrew was martyred on that blessed letter! To follow Christ is to be united with Him; so also, surely the most blessed expression of that union is the experience of His holy wounds. Recall the words of Christ in the vision of Saul who had been persecuting the Church: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me, Me? Therefore let all who suffer for His sake rejoice and be exceedingly glad. This is the highest of honors.

--Taken from Every Day Will I Bless Thee: Meditations for the Daily Office by Burnell F. Eckardt Jr. (Sussex, WI: Concordia Catechetical Academy, 1998), s.v. St. Andrew's Day. To order a copy of this book in time for Christmas, go to, click on CCA Store bar, and download the online catalog. The cost is $21.00.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Fanatics are Always Dangerous

Regardless of what religion's in view, when people get the notion that they have a direct hotline to God, there's bound to be trouble.

The Mormon guy on trial--what's his name, Jeffs?, leader of a fundamentalist Mormon sect--is accused of forcing an underage girl to marry an older man over her objections. One tack of defense he is purportedly arguing is that God told this to him. Hopefully the Utah jury will follow its recent course of impatience with these wierdos.

But let's take on the argument for a moment. OK, so Jeffs heard directly from God that he's supposed to force this girl to marry. I guess his lawyers are going to spin this into a barely more palatable notion of religious freedom.

And what will the prosecution say? Of course, they will simply refer to the letter of the law, and thus no doubt win the case. You can't do things like that around here, fella, no matter who told you to do them.

You know, there's something refreshing about the rule of law. It's a curb to fanatics of all stripes. And it's a warning to everyone. In society we are governed by what is written. In the faith, too, we are, and must be, governed by what is written.

So don't come and tell me that God told you this or that. Don't even tell me He gave you a sign to help you decide this or that. Good grief, that's why you have a brain. Think! Make your decisions carefully, but don't rely on some ethereal "sign" from God. Trust only in His Word, which is a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path. And if His Word doesn't tell you specifically what to do in a certain situation, beyond giving you the moral direction of His law, then don't go looking for some bedewed fleece. You can do that if you're a prophet, OK? Otherwise, how different are you than Mr. Jeffs? It's only a matter of degree, I say, which is a rather flimsy difference. So, you say that God gave you a sign to help you decide what job to take? Did He really? And how do you know? By what sense did you receive this revelation? And if the sense by which you received it is no different than the sense by which Mr. Jeffs received his, then how are you different? And what would stop you from doing something really crazy, even contrary to God's Word? After all, if God is speaking directly to you, well then, shouldn't it trump what you get out of a book, no matter how holy it is? So what happens when you are told directly that you ought to give in to some sort of immorality? The Bible says no, but God says yes! Ah! Go with God, then, right? And wind up in jail, I say, the sooner, the better. Because you can't do things like that around here, fella, no matter who told you to do them.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

But Advent and Lent Are Not the Same Thing

Yes, there are certainly similarities between the two great penitential seasons of the year: the emphasis is on the need for contrtition, and there really should be no weddings scheduled. And, depending on your tradition, some other things are off limits too. Like certain foods. An Advent fast is urged just as a Lenten fast is urged. There are venerable traditions which would agree, and a particular Advent fast is a long-standing custom in some places.

It seems to me, though, that fasting ought at least to be enjoined a bit more seriously during Lent than during Advent; the former is, after all, is even called Die Fasten in German.

The seasons have significant differences, too, which, I would submit, can give us some direction as to how they are to be handled respectively. Lent is a season which tends to grow darker as it moves on, until the darkest time, the Triduum Sacram, is reached. Then, suddenly, at the Great Vigil, Easter arrives and all is instantly brightened. Advent, by contrast, tends to grow lighter from week to week, as is most prominently seen in the lighting of successive Advent candles each week. Advent is a season of penitential hope and expectation, while Lent is a season of penitential sorrow as the Day of Christ's passion approaches.

Inasmuch as Advent has this 'brightening' character to it, it seems prudent to me to allow that certain customs need not be quite as stringently applied as in the case of Lent. OK, so for example, neither season ought to celebrate a wedding, but I for one don't mind if people want to have a Christmas party during Advent. Our choir has one, for that matter.

If it makes you liturgically uncomfortable to sing Christmas carols at parties or in the marketplace before Christmas, I recommend remembering that this isn't church. The Advent hymns can and should still be the standard fare for Holy Mass and any other worship settings; but I'm fine with carolling outside of Mass. After all, it's the only time of year you can actually hear some great hymns about Jesus in the marketplace at all. They want to pipe in Hark, the Herald for shoppers during December? Hey, fine with me! I'll take it any time. That goes for creche scenes and holiday lights, too. I love 'em all! Holiday shopping season have too much tinsel, you say? Nay, I say, bring it on. Don't want to see too much of the Babe in swaddling clothes? Well, I do, and that image is as meaningful to me as the crucifix. Both are saying, Pure Gift from Heaven. Now what can be wrong with that message?

So, at our church, we, um, gradually decorate during December. This is a bit parochial, perhaps (well, come to think of it, maybe not), but we put up a little more each week. The tree goes up some time in the middle of the month. We hold off on the gazillion poinsettias until Christmas Eve, and also the white paraments, and, yes, the Chrsitmas carols. Nevertheless prior to Christmas Eve there's a hint of a difference in liturgical appearance from week to week, consistent with the lighting of another candle each week.

So just try to think of those Christmas parties as times to rehearse the carols meant for Christmas itself. OK? How's that? We're just practicing, see? It's all good!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

End Times

There is significant evidence from the first millenium of the life of the Church that there was originally a seven week season of Advent, at least in some locales. The evidence comes out of the period when the church year was in its development stages. Remants of this can still be seen in the current church year pericopal systems, both the Historic and the Three-Year. Themes for the last three Sundays of the church year are eschatological in nature, that is, they deal with the Day of Judgment and the End of all things. So too, this theme is -- or ought to be -- prominent in Advent, particularly for the Second Sunday in Advent.

Some current pericopal emphases tend to deemphasize this eschatological theme, which is understandable, given the refusal of many churches these days even to acknowledge the teaching of a return of Christ in glory, to say nothing of emphasizing it.

This trend is most notably apparent in places where churches cave in to the demands of some that Christmas preparations provide for the singing of Christmas carols during the Sundays in Advent. One could reason that these demands are better than societal demands for a wholesale removal of Christmas, in favor of nondescript celebrations for the winter solstice or kwanzaa or the latest fad. Better perhaps, but not good enough.

Let Advent be Advent. And let the churches remember the high importance of the eschatological theme for the season. Advent is a time of preparation, to be sure; but what better form of preparation is there for the coming of Christ than penitential hearts? The preparations of the season ought primarily to be penitential preparations for His return.

His coming in grace will be all the more welcomed when the need for it becomes evident to us by the preaching of repentance. Hence also the emphasis of John the Baptist for the latter weeks of Advent. And the liturgical color ought to be purple, the color of penitence, rather than blue, which of late has been called the color of hope or expectation. Actually, blue is supposed to be the Marian color, isn't it?

If we wish to celebrate Christmas aright, it must be as gift for the undeserving; and therefore let us be penitent during these days leading thereto.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Basketball Hero

OK, so your humble columnist was never very good at basketball. I used to be the guy they picked last, one of the scrawny kids they’d put in at the end when the game was out of hand. My basketball shorts were a little too big.

But now let me tell you ‘bout my youngest son. I haven’t even talked to him yet myself, but this is what I heard from his brother Joey.

Today, at an away game (I don’t even know who they were playing, because we don’t go to away games), the Kewanee Steamers pulled off a miraculous come-from-behind win, in the manner of the stuff that legends are made of, courtesy of one fabulous Michael Gabriel Eckardt.

As one of the shortest members of the junior high school team, Michael’s only claim to fame is that he is pretty good at making three-point baskets, which is just what the team needed in order to pull off a stunning victory.

Down by six points with 25 seconds left to play, they got the ball to Michael, and he put in a three, “nuthin’ but net.” Then his team stole the ball just a few seconds later, and managed to get it to Michael a second time, who obliged them with a second three point basket to tie the game. The other team still had a few seconds left on the clock, and drew a foul as they brought the ball down court. One free throw went in, and the heroic effort seemed to be for naught, because now, down by one, they had to inbound from the baseline with only 2.5 seconds left in the game. On a wing and a prayer, the inbound pass was heaved nearly full-court to this day’s best outside shooter in the world. Michael spun around at the free throw line and got off a shot at the buzzer.



Proud papa.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Our Dog is an Awesome Dog

It just came to me the other day, as I was scratching behind Reggie's ears and he was being his usual doggy self. A little goofy, to be sure, but then so is the original. I'm not sure how the music goes, but you can find it anywhere on the web, if you want to sing this one. If you do, I'm worried about you. If you know the music already, then I'm really worried about you. . . .

When he rolls up his bones
He ain't just putting on the schmooz
There's thunder in his footsteps
And cuteness in his schnoz

The Lord wasn't joking
When He made this mix retriever
It wasn't for no reason
That that we found this lab

His two ears are very soft
And so you better be believing that
Our dog is an awesome dog

Our dog is an awesome dog
He runs on earth below
In summer, fall, and snow
Our dog is an awesome dog

Our dog is an awesome dog (Our dog is an awesome dog)
He runs on earth below (he runs)
In summer, fall, and snow (in summer and fall)
Our dog is an awesome dog

Our dog is an awesome dog
Our dog is an awesome dog


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Too busy to blog this week, but see . . .

I read Fr. Petersen's blog about staying in the LCMS, which I find refreshing and well worth the read. I recommend it to you: click here and see in particular his "Why I abide in the LCMS (and you should too)"