Friday, November 27, 2015

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 107) Advent edition

The preparation for Christmas is about to begin. Traditionally, I haven’t actually done much physical preparation. I don’t decorate because I go home for the holidays, and my parents have already decorated the house by the time I get there. I don’t have Christmas lights or villages or garlands. I do have an Advent wreath (some years), but mostly, my preparation is following a daily devotional. This year, however, I’m in decorate mode. I want a tree and crafts and stockings. I want to make things.

Last night I realized that this desire is nesting. Just as a woman nests close to the birth of a child, people nest close to the coming of Christ. We want to make the house cozy and receptive. We want to busy ourselves. We want to be prepared to the huge change about to occur. 

So I normally don’t make a list of things to accomplish during penitential seasons. Partly because I don’t do much and partly because I usually fail Lent miserably. However, this year, in my nesting fever, I’m making a list and checking it twice:

1. Make a Jesse tree. This includes making each ornament for it and reading the related scripture.

2. Quotes about Advent. Find one for each day.

3. Advent wreath.

4. Support an Angel tree.

5. The annual viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Muppet Christmas Carol.

6. Write Christmas cards.

7. Abstain from meat on Fridays.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Return of the King

Christ the King Sunday is such an interesting holiday. It often gets overlooked as people are already jumping into the Thanksgiving/Christmas fray. But it’s the New Year’s Eve of the Church. It’s the end of the liturgical year. And it’s so celebratory! With the readings over the past view weeks focusing on the coming judgment, wrath, and hell, it’s important to remember that the end is not a conclusion of sorrow and punishment. We’re on the winning side. Christ is King! It’s Arthur pulling the sword times a million. The proper king is in his land. All is well! Palm Sunday in its full, cosmic zenith. It’s a day that we should hold in mind throughout Advent. As we wait for baby Jesus in Bethlehem, we wait for the Second Coming as well, the arrival of the king.

But Christ the King Sunday is overlooked, I think. We decorate the church in white, only to soften to the green to purple transition. We check off another liturgical year. I never hear it mentioned outside of this weekend. Who pays attention to Christ the King Sunday?

ISIS does.

ISIS lives in the seventh century. It wants to recreate the seizure of the Levant. Its version of Islam involves feudal tribes who take over lands, own peasants, and justify political goal under a banner of God. It claims to fight the West/Rome/the Crusaders. It’s all the same thing. As Portlandia might say, “The dream of the 1090s is alive in Syria.” One of ISIS’s goals is to bring about the final battle between Islam and Rome, the battle that triggers armageddon.

ISIS has amped up its international attacks. It’s made specific threats against various places, including St. Peter’s Basilica. It also made threats against “Feast of Christ the King celebrations (Rome/worldwide).” Why? Because the holiday is Christian. Because celebrations mean lots of people gathered in one place. Because terror strikes at the everyday rituals: business, socializing, worship. If Christ the King is liturgical New Year’s Eve, then this is the same as an ISIS threat against Times Square on December 31. There should be large celebrations on this day. It should be something that ISIS hates. ISIS wants to stop the king from taking his throne. It wants to disrupt his royal processional. But in doing so, ISIS acknowledges that there is a processional. That is something we should all pay attention to. The king is coming. Just wait.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Working on Faith

What is faith? It seems that something so primal and primary should be easy to define, but there are several definitions. The first definition in the dictionary says faith is, “confidence or trust in a person or thing.” People also like to rely on the Bible quote, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11: 1). Generally, it seems that confidence, trust, faith, and belief are all interchangeable. But I’m no closer to understanding what it is. Is it a state of being, an emotion, an action? Is it something I can choose or control?

Sola Fide is one of the big tenets of Protestantism, that faith alone can save. But is faith ever alone? It doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it is influenced, cultured, lived. James 2:14-26 says that faith without works is like a body without spirit. One doesn’t produce the other, rather, they should be so intertwined that is wrong to separate them.

The catechism says, "Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself" and that "service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation" (CCC 1814, 1816). Again, faith and belief seem interchangeable. Which takes me back to the question, can one choose to believe. Can I choose faith?

I didn’t ask to believe. And I certainly didn’t seek out the Church. God’s existence is as obvious to me as my own. It’s not a result of study and experimentation and conclusion. It just is. And to others, the nonexistence of God seems just as obvious. Or the existence of God in an entirely different manner. I didn’t choose this. And what kind of witness can I be, for I don’t know how to lead people to make a choice I didn’t make.

On the other hand, I did choose. I make a decision every day and sometimes multiple times throughout a day. I choose to say yes to God (sometimes I choose to say no). I choose to worship, to love, to work toward the goal of total reconciliation. I choose to keep praying and keep learning. I choose to bend my actions to match my cosmological beliefs. I choose to blur the line between faith and works. Faith is an action, if you believe enough.

I don’t think our actions can rid us of sin. Works cannot earn salvation. And yet, a faith without work, a faith that isn’t a verb, does nothing. We cannot earn our salvation, but we can willingly participate in our salvation by growing in virtue. The catechism also says, “The theological virtues dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have God for their origin, their motive, and their object—God known by faith, God hoped in and loved for his own sake” (CCC 1840). Faith comes from and returns to God, but it’s important to do something with it in between