Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Passion and the Child Jesus...

This morning at vigils, I read the account of the martyrdom of St. Joseph Cho Yun-Ho, a Korean martyr from 1866. He died, after great torture, following his father St. Peter Cho Hwa-So, beaten to death in front of his mother on this date, December 23, 1866.

Immediately after Christmas we celebrate the feast of the blessed Stephen, martyr. On the 28th we celebrate the massacre of the Holy Innocents.

Never be surprised at suffering and death amidst the wonderful celebrations of Christmas, the Divine Child, carrying His cross in this painting, indicates the way that leads to eternal life.

Pray the Divine Infant Jesu will succour those condemned to death in these days celebrating His sacred Nativity...especially those who will be murdered or commit suicide, and our men and women involved in combat or defense...ah! And most especially our dear brothers and sisters and children in the military!

Pray the Infant Jesus to manifest Himself to these - He simply must do it if we ask Him. (The little Jesus is always most obedient and in His humility, He does what He is asked to do. Have great confidence in the Infant Jesus!)

I wish...

Pictured, St. Nicholas rescues sailors in a storm.
I wish I could be like St. Nicholas, and fly to those in need, providing for their wants, obtaining grace in abundance.
The levitation and flights of St. Nicholas, and his secret distribution of alms, became the source for the legend of Santa Claus flying through the air, distributing gifts by dropping them down chimneys and the like.
I wish I could do that - there are so many people I would love to do that for - far too many to count. One has to be a saint to bilocate and levitate and fly, and to work such miracles.
I have to remember I am not Santa.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Just one more shopping day...

At least where I work - being a Catholic company, we are not open on Sunday. Traditionally, December 23 is the busiest day in our Store all year - even when we are open on Christmas eve. (Warning - if you shop with us - we close at 5PM sharp - and I lock the doors 10 minutes early.)
For me, after tomorrow, the madness is over. We've had a pretty good year, and a good season. Yet I'll be interested to get the stats on how retail did overall this year. I have to admit, we are just about even with last year - but it just hasn't been as busy as in previous years.
I think people are maxed out on credit and I think quite a few are having trouble with balloon mortgage rates, while some may be defaulting on their home loans.
Whatever, I'm glad the rush will soon be over. Sadly, by Monday evening - Christmas day - most people will consider it over entirely. Television will not have any Christmas after that day. Few seem to realize the Christmas season just gets started on Christmas. If Christians were not so secularized, they would do the gift thing on January 6th, Epiphany, and save themselves a bundle by shopping the sales after Christmas day...sadly, many modern Christians share the common belief that Christmas is over after the gifts are opened and the turkey is devoured...annoyed, if they are Catholic, that they have to attend Mass on New Years day, the feast of the Mother of God.


This is a detail of a life-size,wood carved sculpture of the Holy Family our Church Goods Store had been commissioned to create by Fr. Paul Sirba when he was pastor of Maternity of Mary in St. Paul Minnesota. The statue is in place in their new chapel, which is still under construction.
The image was carved and polychromed in Italy by Moroder Studios.
The photo does not do the statue justice, it must be experienced.
What a Christmas gift for the parish, huh?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Ecstasy of Christmas...

The mystery of the Bambino Jesu.
Pictured, "St Francis receiving the stigmata", El Greco
I looked everywhere for a painting of St. John of the Cross dancing in ecstasy with the Infant Jesus - I could find nothing. Perhaps I should paint something - I did so once and sold it without documenting it, therefore it is lost forever.
At Christmas I often meditate upon the birth of Christ in company with St. Francis of Assisi and St. John of the Cross...both saints who easily became enraptured with the Divine Infant in the arms of the Immaculate Virgin Mother. This painting of Francis somehow conveys to me the mystical grace of such an ecstatic meeting with the Bambino.
Today there remains the charming custom to wait until Christmas eve to place the Bambino in the manger, this is good for liturgical situations, or families who wish to bring the mystery of the night alive for their children - yet I never wait, in fact I always have the Bambino displayed in a little nicho, or shrine, all year - at Christmas he comes out in a special display.
Reflecting on the spirituality of John and Francis, I find it interesting that modern taste deems Francis light of heart, all sort of warm and fuzzy, while John is considered dark, and forbidding, too ascetic and severe for ordinary taste. That is silly. Francis may have been more severe than John in many respects. Nonetheless, both were balanced, spiritual men, passionately in love with the Divine Infant Jesus.
By the way, St. Francis did not invent the creche, he popularized it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas - A Marian Feast

I once read where the celebration of the Nativity was largely a Marian feast in the early centuries.
In fact, Candlemas, once known simply as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, was also understood to be primarily a Marian feast, albeit, never losing the focus upon Our Lord's presentation in the temple.
After the Second Vatican Council, the emphasis was changed and the feast was designated as "The Presentation of the Lord". The reform dictated that every liturgical celebration be Christological in focus, as if it hadn't been before? In retrospect, some of the reforms emanating from the Council seem an attempt to take away from devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
Most likely to satisfy the 'separated brethren' of the protestant reform, as if the Catholic Church had previously exaggerated devotion to the Blessed Virgin. How strange, since the Orthodox esteem and honor Our Lady far more eloquently and devoutly than anyone else, except for the Latin rite - up until Vatican II.
I wish someone more learned than I would discuss this subject - if they have not done so already, say Don Marco, or Fr. Zuhlsdorf, yet maybe Athanasius should do it.
I've always been disappointed that some of the feasts of Our Lady have been downgraded - or suppressed, while others have had the focused changed. On December 18 there once was a commemoration of "The Parturition of the Blessed Virgin Mary" a feast in anticipation of the Nativity, now obviously supressed.
At least the Church continues to refer to the Marian character of Advent - perhaps only the Hispanics really understand it, with the devotion of Posadas.

Christmas Spirit...

The very best! A painting by Wm. Holbrook Beard, "Santa Claus". It is the best depiction of Santa I've ever seen, and coincides perfectly with my image of him.
I was 'infected' by the Christmas Spirit today. I gave in! I even sent out some cards. I went on a buying rampage as well.
I love buying the unexpected for the unsuspecting.
I was so outdone however, by a poor old lady who came into our Store. She wanted to explain that a gift certificate for $150- that she had won at one of those parish deals - she in turn likewise donated her 'gift' to the Church wherein she had won it. She continued to explain how she supplemented the re-gift with a blank check to add on any extra expenditure, should they need it. She was so humble about the matter and wanted to tell the manager because she was afraid we may question the transaction when it occurs. It wasn't easy, for the poor woman was embarrassed to have to confide all of this to me in the first place.
There are many little saints among us, in our parishes, and neighborhoods...very simple, little souls. These are the ones the Lord approves of, the humble and afflicted. I had the feeling I had met the poor widow from the Gospel, "who gave all she had" in the Temple coffers.
What did our Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta say? "Give until it hurts." Or something like that. "O! Sweet cautery!" as my John of the Cross would exclaim.
I love Christmas!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Invisible people...

The poor...

I had to pass through the downtown area in Minneapolis today to deliver a late order to a retired priest - he had ordered some imprinted cards and the order had been delayed. He lives in a nice apartment building not far from a very poor neighborhood.
I refer to the entire vicinity as 'downtown' in the sense that anything below Lake St. really is downtown to me. Although most people think downtown is the business/shopping district.
I must say I was impressed with the urban renewal that I saw. Much of the area is becoming more gentrified, although there are pockets of slum, for lack of a better word - around the Franklin Ave areas. I admit I picked up the downtown thing when I worked in Edina, affected as I was by the affluent suburbans who feared going into Minneapolis. I was never afraid of the seedy parts of the city, but I never ever go downtown any longer for anything. Hence it was like visiting another city for me.
It was a profitable excursion for me today, I must say. I was startled to see more than a couple of homeless people with large shopping carts full of stuff, these same people dressed in layers of coats and pants, with scarves and hats. I assume some of the homeless I saw were mentally ill, but not every one of them. (I think we often convince ourselves that we must have a reason why people are homeless; they're nuts, they're druggies, they're trash...we have to somehow label it - while dismissing, in a sense, their humanity. I expect we more or less objectify them at best - we 'give' to them - their 'plight', without acknowledging their person, as we would acknowledge one another of a more privileged class.)
Pictured: A homeless 'shelter'.

I was ashamed of myself, living in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, going to a nice Church, being with well dressed friends, eating nice food, taking warm showers...all the insulation I need to distract me from the poverty of the city. (See, I need to make the poor anonymous by referring to "the poverty of the city".)
I delivered the cards to Father, who hadn't shaved in days, wearing his dirty t-shirt and shorts, in his stocking feet. He lives all alone in an apartment - in a part of town I still don't like, near Uptown. When I was young and hip, I thought it a cool place to live and hang out - now I hate it - no matter how many upscale condos they build. I realized this priest was invisible to most people now as well. I think he was touched that I brought over his order. (I wasn't however, I just did what I felt he deserved after our screw up.)
Maybe because I have been reading Dickens, but my experiences today made an impression upon me. I realize how blind I have become to the needs of others, to the invisible people. They are only invisible because I've chosen not to acknowledge them. I may see them in my day to day experiences, nevertheless I never see them in their context. I recognize their poverty, but do not even attempt to imagine their living conditions. I can give money to help them, or a kind smile, but I move on in a hurry to get back to the comfort of my home, forgetting all about them. The irony is, I insist that I am always aware of them...nevertheless they remain poor and miserable while I am comfortable and doing everything I can not to be miserable. In essence, we are no different from these poor, except maybe the fact that they remain invisible.
Who are the invisible anyway?
Mentally ill people are always invisible, so are people who work but cannot afford health insurance. We can't worry about them because the State or some charity will take care of them. After all, that's why we donate to charity and pay taxes to the State. We convince ourselves we cannot let ourselves worry so much about them, while keeping them in our 'general intercessions', yet maintaining our own comfortable lives, snug and smug because we give alms and pray for them. We do our 'duty'.
Immigrants are more or less invisible - they have to be if they are illegal. We may meet them at a fast food drive up window, or witness them in a kitchen on our way to the restroom in a better restaurant. We don't think about them however. Just as we don't think about a nursing assistant in a nursing home, or a janitor in an office building. There is quite a long list of invisible people.
For instance, the elderly are invisible. Who pays attention to old people? Unless they are a person of status or means.
Prostitutes are invisible - except to the people who exploit them. (I noticed them today as well.)
Anyone in a poor neighborhood, especially kids - they are invisible too.
Alcoholics and drug addicts are invisible - in fact - the only ones who notice them are those who show them the door - or the police when they are called.
Yeah, just about all the poor, they are pretty invisible - they never ever experience what it is like to be respected by another human being. I think it's safe to assume few even know what the meaning of dignity is, and if they do, they rarely are treated with such.
Christmas is the time we give our alms, whether it be food, clothing or money, and we feel so good about it - all warm and fuzzy. We find ourselves then free to enjoy our festive gatherings and luxuries, while the poor fade from our consciousness, into invisibility once again.
God bless the liberal Churches, such as St. Joan of Arc, or St. Stephen's and that saintly Mary Jo Copeland, and all of their volunteers, who never let the poor out of their sight- who serve them throughout the year, and not just at Christmas.
[For an enlightening post on prostitutes, please go to Adoro Te Devote and read her post on "The Patron Saint of Prostitutes" - she helps us see them from an unique perspective.]

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Carol - Part III

The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come!

"The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.

It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.

'I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?' said Scrooge.

The Spirit answered not, but pointed onward with its hand.

'You are about to show me shadows of the things that have not happened, but will happen in the time before us,' Scrooge pursued. 'Is that so, Spirit?'

The upper portion of the garment was contracted for an instant in its folds, as if the Spirit had inclined its head. That was the only answer he received.

Although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it. The Spirit pauses a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time to recover.

But Scrooge was all the worse for this. It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the dusky shroud, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.

'Ghost of the Future!' he exclaimed, 'I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?'

It gave him no reply. The hand was pointed straight before them.

'Lead on!' said Scrooge. 'Lead on! The night is waning fast, and it is precious time to me, I know. Lead on, Spirit!'" - Dickens, A Christmas Carol.
(I could see who it was - it was Billy Crystal dressed up (see picture) at the 1998 Oscars! I so wasn't scared!)
Since the Spirit doesn't talk - I'll quickly relate what transpired...
So I could hear all of this canned laughter coming from an auditorium. Someone was giving a speech or something - and he was reading from my writings - yes - even this blog!
"And here," the speaker dryly reads, "he states that he doesn't believe in Global Warming and he goes on to poke fun at The NCCB!" (Roars of canned laughter.)
Someone from the press shouts out, "He claimed he knew who would be the next Archbishop!"
(More Canned laughter - in stereo this time.)
"Then this guy, with his tattered old Polo shirts and corduroys, claims to be the arbiter of taste and fashion!" (Rolls of canned laughter in surround sound.) The speaker then presents a photo of an old, fat, balding man with a W.C. Fields nose, up on the screen behind him - the studio looked like Oprah's set at Harpo - it was really, really nice.
"Here he is ladies and gentleman, Mr Terry Nelson!" (Real laughter this time!)
OMIGOSH! It was me! They were making fun of my writing and blogging and, and, the way I look and dress.
"How does it feel, Mr. Nelson?" said the phantom - looking straight into my face with that horrid Billy Crystal drag visage! Then he pointed that horrible hand, it wasn't bony, as in the story, it was a chubby, well manicured hand with a huge diamond pinkie ring. (Billy is getting to look kinda Jewish. I hate pinkie rings!)
There we were, in front of a gallery, gone out of business because they had an exhibition of my art. The gallery owner was using my paintings to heat his loft upstairs - burning them in his fireplace - throwing vodka on them to make them explode in delightful multi-colored flares!
"How could I be so stupid as to show these paintings? They are all so derivative, mediocre, and just plain stupid!" The gallery owner told his wife - who looked remarkably like Roseanne Barr - still quite fat even after surgery.
Re-runs of Hollywood Squares was on the TV his wife was watching, while casually munching on nachos, and Jim J. Bullock was doing an impression of me - he even used my name. Was the entire world mocking me? Couldn't I stop it?
The Spectre of death pointed to a morgue wherein doctors were examining a body, which looked a lot like Harrison Ford to me. I heard the one pathologist, who bore an unmistakable resemblance to George Clooney, state emphatically, "OMIGOSH! I guess he wasn't a hypochondriac after all! Look at this kidney damage, and the cancerous stomach - what is this prostate - it looks like a rotten orange! Oh my gosh! These lungs are are like tar pits."
"Look at the heart, it's all whithered like a rotten old shoe, hard as a rock!" Proclaimed another pathologist - he was definitely Dr. Drake Ramore! (Joey from "Friends" for the pop-culture impaired.)
"The brain is as small as a peanut!" Declared the nurse - who so was Nurse Diesel from "High Anxiety". (Sorry - I'm casting this as I write.)
"All righty then!" I said to the Ghost, "I am so out of here."
And the Spectre laid his chubby little hand on my shoulder, the diamond in his pinkie illuminating a headstone in a cemetery. I had to move forward, discovering it was just a resin headstone, patinated to look like stone. (How cheap and tacky is that?)
I collapsed in laughter when I read the inscription, "Terry Nelson - 1978-2007: He was No Damn Good" (That's what my mom and dad always told me, I thought that was sweet.) Beneath was a quote, "See, I told you I was sick!" With one of those dreadful smiley faces.
I looked at Billy Crystal in disbelief, recalling the Dickens story wherein Scrooge uttered these lines:
'Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,' said Scrooge. 'But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!' - A Christmas Carol
And finally I awakened to white noise on my TV, within my darkened chamber, the wind howling outside, the shutters banging. The clock radio suddenly burst forth with Burl Ives', "Holly Jolly Christmas" - I covered my head with the pillow and wished I was dead. This next week, the last before Christmas, is just going to be a bitch if you're in retail! Kching!
Happy Holidays to all! God bless us everyone! Remember, life is just one big sitcom!

First try...

At pictures of my Christmas!

I don't know how to take pictures with my new camera - everything gets so washed out - the ornaments don't show up on the tree - green goes black...etc.

Judge Judy's voice keeps resonating in my ear, "You're an idiot!"
I'll redo them and hopefully they will come off better - more as it looks in person.
The tree looks bare, when it's really loaded.
While the Virgen of the Apocalypse, with the Bambino is way too hot.
The mantle looks rather bare, while the painting, a copy I painted of N.C. Wyeth's "Old St. Nick", photographs so stark and small, whereas, in the room, the painting appears larger and more dominant.
And of course, you can hardly see the Teddy Bears - they are going to be so upset about that!

Blessed Angela of Foligno

Franciscan tertiary and penitent.
One of the best things about the article in the Catholic Spirit regarding blogs and sins against the 8th Commandment, was the fact that they mentioned Blessed Angela of Foligno.
The book, "Saints Behaving Badly" may have been their source for details of her life. The writer, Thomas Craughwell does an excellent job presenting various saints who were sinners - these are my favorite kinds of saints. It gives us all hope, knowing that "Saints are sinners who keep trying."
Before Craughwell's book, and the focus in the Spirit's piece concerning Angela as a gossip, I had never heard of that before as being one of her chief faults. Although in reading her book, "The Divine Consolations" I do recall a moment she relates how after a certain homily she was highly critical of a priest, for which the Holy Spirit chastised her for that sin of the tongue. (I cannot find the passage at present however.)
That anecdote always stayed with me though - and I know I have sinned in like manner over the years. However Angela's life of sin, prior to her conversion involved much more than gossip. She was very vain, self indulgent, and of course a sensualist, or hedonist. There was a mysterious sin she could not bring herself to confess, while continuing to receive the sacraments. Most speculate she had an affair, while I wonder, having grown up in an Italian neighborhood, which had a local 'strega' or witch who performed abortions, maybe Bl. Angela had committed a sin related to that? (After all, she had a few children already - who subsequently died, along with her husband and mother, one after another in quick succession. That was during her conversion process that the Lord took her family away.) We will never know, since she and her confessor, as well as the Holy Spirit has never revealed to us what the sin was. Rightly so, since it is none of our business.
Regardless, Angela considered her sins so grave she did "penance as long and as hard as life itself". She lived in poverty after having given away her great wealth, performing her penance publicly whenever she could, until her confessor inclined her to greater discretion. She also was elevated to great mysticism and devotion - hence the only book we have of her, "The Divine Consolations of the Blessed Angela of Foligno". What we know of her life is more or less contained in this volume. I esteem it next to the works of St. John and St. Teresa, and have read and re-read it for a couple of decades now. I have three volumes of the same book, one in Italian, and two different versions in English. I'll have to go back and find where her chief fault was gossiping.
Thanks to the Catholic Spirit for calling attention to both the Blessed Angela, and the vice of gossip and detraction. The article will certainly help me to be a better man and writer - I hope.