Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Christ-Mass: Day 7 (St Sylvester)

“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven swans a-swimming ...”

Allowing for corruptions evolving the text as described earlier, the "seven swans a-swimming" completes the first seven days being represented by birds, in honor of the seven sacraments. The song is just more than half over, and we can already see that someone obviously put a great deal of thought into it.

What do birds and sacraments have in common? We may never know, but we already know this much ...

Today is the Feast of Saint Sylvester, who was Pope from January 31, 314, until his death on this day in 335. He was the first bishop of Rome to refer to himself as "Pope," or more specifically, "Father (Papa)." His reign would have occurred during that of Emperor Constantine (see image above right), as well as the First Council of Nicea in 325, which composed the Nicene Creed proclaimed at Mass on Sunday. (Sylvester did not attend this council, but sent a delegation.) He is also one of the ten longest-reigning popes in history.

In present-day Germany, this day of New Year's Eve is known as "Silvester." Other countries know the day better by the saints name as well (such as "la Saint-Sylvestre" in France).
 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christ-Mass: Day 6 (Die Infra Octavam/St Egwin of Evesham)

“On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six geese a-laying ...”

Geese were among the first birds to be domesticated. As our ancestors made the transformation from hunting and gathering to settling and farming, they found they could keep a supply of them penned up, and with sufficient breeding, to supply eggs and meat for a period of time. Thus did geese emerge as a common barnyard fowl in England.

Closer to the present, Katy Sirls is an English professor at Dixie College in St George, Utah, where she teaches English classes at Dixie College. After completing her Master of Fine Arts degree in writing, with an emphasis on fiction, she published one of her academic essays.

After several months overseas, Stacia is ecstatic to return home for Christmas. It’s been too long since she’s seen her boyfriend, Luke and she longs to be in his arms again. She even has a seductive and sexy “present” planned for their first night together.

With arrangements to celebrate the holidays with Luke’s family, Stacia soon discovers her plans are going to be quite difficult to carry out. Her first night back is spent getting to know his beloved pet geese. It seems as though their night of passion will have to wait—until, that is, she discovers Luke has plans of his own.

Stacia soon finds herself following the mysterious trail of presents Luke has left her: Christmas-wrapped goose eggs, each one with a clue that will lead her to the next ... and, ultimately, to a night she’ll never forget!

Today in the universal Roman calendar, neither the traditional nor reformed commemorate a saint, and it appears only as a weekday of the Christmas season; in the case of the traditional, "The Sixth Day Within Octave of the Nativity of Our Lord" ("De Sexta Die Infra Octavam Nativitatis Domini"). However, the oldest of religious orders -- the Benedictine, Carmelite, Dominican, Franciscan, to name a few -- have their own calendars of saints particular to themselves. In addition, many countries have local celebrations on their calendars, lesser-known saints with a popular local cult of devotion.

Today, the Benedictines remember Saint Egwin of Evesham, the late 7th and early 8th century bishop of Worchester. Born of noble blood to a royal family of the English midlands, he joined the Order of Saint Benedict, and was eventually made bishop. He was known for his protection of the widowed and orphaned, which made him very popular. He was also known for his strict enforcement of the Church's justice, and of her discipline, especially (wait for it!) priestly celibacy, which made him, well, not so popular. A canonical case was made against him, for which he traveled all the way to Rome to appeal, and win.

After seeing a vision of the Blessed Mother, and at her request, he founded Evesham Abbey, one of the great Benedictine houses of the British Isles. He died in 717, and was buried at the Abbey, after which many miracles were attributed to him. (The church in England and Wales commemorates him on January 11, the date of the transfer of his relics.)

Depicted here is the bell tower of the abbey, which is all that remains following the suppression of monasteries during the Reformation.

And so it goes.

(UPDATE: Meanwhile, over at Patheos, Kathy Schiffer says she's never heard of him.)
 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christ-Mass: Day 5 (St Thomas of Canterbury)

“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five gold rings ...”

The fifth day's gift of gold rings (or "golden rings" in some versions) refers not to gold jewelry, but to a characteristic of the ring-necked pheasant. This becomes significant later. Day after tomorrow. You'll have to wait for that.

But you don't have to wait for today's feast, which in the western Church is that of St Thomas à Becket, also known as Thomas of Canterbury, named for where he was Archbishop at the time of his death. Born around 1162, he became the confidant and High Chancellor of King Henry II of England. Then the King got the idea for Thomas, already an archdeacon, to be consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England. This did not have the effect for which the King had hoped. Eventually, Thomas was embroiled in conflict with Henry over the rights and privileges of the Church, and was assassinated by the King's followers in Canterbury Cathedral, on this day in 1170. He was canonized less than four years later by Pope Alexander III.

This story became the subject of a stage play, and eventually the great 1964 film, Becket, starring Richard Burton as Thomas Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry. It won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, and received eleven other nominations, including Best Actor (Burton and O'Toole).

Following an extensive restoration process, the original 1964 film was made available in limited theatrical re-release in 2007. It is currently available on DVD. More information is available at the website: becketthemovie.com.

And the celebration of the Nativity continues.

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It is a little-known fact that today, the Western church also celebrates the feast of an Old Testament figure, none other than King David. In the West, we rarely address Old Testament people as "Saint So-and-so," although it is quite common in the East. ("Saint Elias," for example, is a popular name for Eastern Catholic and Orthodox parishes, otherwise rendered as "Elijah.") As to "Saint David," Shawn Tribe of New Liturgical Movement provides commentary.
 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Childermas Reconsidered: Turning Sixty

“You’re beginning something pretty important, and it will be forever.”

On this day in 1954, actor Denzel Washington, professional wrestler Lanny Poffo, and magazine editor and morning news anchor Gayle King, were born -- as was yours truly. Shortly after seven in the morning, at Saint Ann's Infant and Maternity Home on Cleveland's east side, I came into the world. About two weeks later, already settled into the second floor of a modest duplex apartment, I received my first letter.

Saint Susanna Rectory
500 Reading Road
Mason, Ohio

January 8, 1955

Master David Lawrence Alexander
875 Helmsdale Road
Cleveland, Ohio

Dear Davie,

Before this letter arrives, you will have been welcomed many times. I wish to add my voice to the chorus of welcome however.

You're beginning something pretty important, and it will be forever. You've got a big job to do, and that is to save your immortal soul that the Good God has given you. Dad and mother will help you in that, and will consider it their most important duty and privilege, which of course, it is.

But God will likely expect more then usual from you. You see, you have very good stuff in you, and that makes His investment pretty heavy and serious. So you'll have to do more than most others because of your rich endowment.

But despite the fact that you mommie and pop are pretty high class folks, even they have their shortcomings. Take dad for instance. Somehow or other, dads have a way of wishing their sons were big guys before they are. And so they treat them kinda rough some times. If he gets to throwing you up in the air and catching you, just to make you rough, you better explain to him that you do not approve. The first way to do that is to cry real loud. Sometimes that does the trick; but not always. Then you have to use stronger measures. For instance, sometime when he has a nice clean shirt on, and he gets a bit rough, just throw up on that nice clean shirt. That, Davie, will do it! If even that doesn't cure him, I guess you'll have to write me for further suggestions.

And now, Davie, if there is any time that I can help you to straighten out either dad or mom, just drop me a line, and I'll be glad to do what I can for you. And be sure to give them my best regards, and congratulations too on your safe arrival.

Faithfully yours,

[Father] Charles J Murphy

Sixty is the new forty.

Parade magazine recently broke the big news of a generation, that life really begins, not at forty, but at the age that everybody with an unpublished thought claims only seems like forty. Or something. We examine it more closely as we read the signs of The Times. For example, there's the one in New York ...

Yes, my generation, born between 1946 and 1964, has physical concerns: Friends are dying, joints are aching, and memories are failing. There are financial issues, with forced retirement and unemployment, children needing money and possibly a bed, and dependent parents. But for many of us, it is a psychological quandary that is causing the most unpleasantness: looking around and suddenly being the oldest.

Every generation gets old, but for those who were told we’d be forever young, it just seems more painful …

... which comes off as only so much self-indulgence. One is more inclined to identify with the voice of a similar name in London.

And please, can we stop this “60 is the new 40” thing? No one is saying 20 is the new 10. And who wants to be 40 anyway? An insipid, insecure age.

They're right.

I remember turning forty. I had been divorced two years earlier, and was only then getting used to the solitary life on my own terms again. I wouldn't return to that era even if it did buy me another twenty years on this earth below. The office environment had become thoroughly dysfunctional, my supervising official was an alcoholic and a sadist who made my life absolutely miserable, and who fooled everyone with a title (rather easily, I'm sorry to say) into thinking nothing was amiss. They would learn differently only five years later, and my view of management was forever changed (the details of which will find a proud place in my memoirs, or my retirement luncheon, whichever comes first).

I remember turning fifty. Sal and I were sitting in an Irish bar in Cincinnati. We were in town for her to meet my family. My life, for the first time in what seemed like … well, ever, was more or less where I wanted it to be. And where I was, was a helluva long way from forty.

I remember turning sixty. Or at least I will. But how, exactly?

It is when reading the New York Times piece, that part of you wants to say, oh, cry me a river already! And then you remember that you're actually talking to yourself. Yes, "my generation, born between 1946 and 1964," really didn't want to end up like our parents; old, in the sense of being "old-fashioned," confined to the rocking chair and decrying "these kids today." But you really can't help it, because "these kids today" really are a pain in the ass. You see it in the workplace. Not only do they not show much respect to their elders, but they really don't see the point of it. They are younger, brighter, prettier, more enlightened, and in many cases, they outrank you. What more could you ask of a generation?

At the place where I work, I am older than most of the people I see in the office, in the hallways, in meetings. The exceptions are almost all of Senior Executive rank, which I try not to think about, since over the years, people who couldn't organize a sock drawer have assured me that I have no future in management (and looking at them, I can see why). I have a son who's older than one political appointee or another, any one of whom could very well feel obliged to explain to me how the world works. It doesn't actually happen to me personally, but I know it happens to others. Alas, many of the Enlightened Ones will be replaced in two years, by those who appear even younger, but who are not, because I got older.

To reach sixty is to know that your own mortality is just around the corner. People get heart attacks at this age. Even the annual issue of Esquire magazine, the one devoted to maturing through the decades of life, concedes that after your fifties, "you're on your own." For me, going back to "the Latin Mass" was a sign of getting on in years, when after seeing "folk Masses" consisting mostly of aging adolescents trying to hang on to the unattainable, one is even less tolerant of anything with the appearance of novelty. Who wants to remember, or be remembered for, the things that pass like leaves in the wind?

Finally, and as can be discerned from the above, to reach sixty is to no longer care so much what others think of you, secure in the knowledge that, even if you had to, the die that is you has been pretty well cast by this point, and the world is going to have to live with it, if only for a little while longer.

The above being said, one can enter the later passages of life gracefully. Witness a certain Phyllis Tucker-Saunders of Newark, New York, for whom time will not slow her down. And there are so many others, who can look in the mirror and say, well, at least I still have my health. I can say that as well, up to a point. I have a herniated disc that got a good dose of Cortizone back in 2011, and there is the occasional flare-up of arthritis in my knees. I cannot walk for great distances without a cane, and even a minor back injury prevents me from being able to stand on a moving bus. So I have a cane with me, and I have to sit down.

And I'll still take to the hills around Mount Rainier when I tour the northwest. It's harder now than a decade ago. Still ...

On the other hand, people keep telling me (and without any prompting) that I really don't look sixty. Sal assures me of the same thing -- with my hat on.

The Road Not Taken -- Yet

It is the point in life when the light at the end of the tunnel that is retirement looms ever larger. They tell you to start planning for the inevitable, and so I shall. The soonest I would ever retire from the government is the end of 2020, when I will have just turned sixty-six. But even then, I imagine I will continue working for several more years.

And why wouldn't I?

When I was in college studying graphic design, I wanted to pursue an academic minor in multimedia. But even though I learned to use simple video equipment, and made a couple of animation films, what I really wanted to do with my life hadn't been invented yet. In the coming year, I will return to my studies in web design and development. I also found the sort of curriculum that is suited for my needs, not to mention my budget. Between that and a growing aptitude in video production, and I can finally say I have reached that goal of forty years ago, the marriage of art and technology. My next few years in my evolving profession could very well be my finest. I was always a late bloomer anyway.

video

And so it was, that after the Latin Mass today, for which I was the Master of Ceremonies, the sacristan dragged me to the rectory basement to help her bring my present upstairs. I tried really hard to act surprised by what I found as a turned the corner, really I did.

And so it goes, turning yet another corner, on to the next decade.
 

Christ-Mass: Day 4 (Childermas)

“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds ...”

Actually, they would have been referred to as "colly birds," meaning a form of blackbird. This is one of a number of lines that had become corrupted over the centuries. But enough about the song. Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the infant males in Bethlehem under the age of two years, that King Herod had put to death, in the hopes of doing away with the newborn King, which he saw as a threat to his power (Matthew 2:16-18).

In this 1611 painting by Guido Reni, we see the depiction of that which fulfilled the prophecy: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15) Some historians have debated whether the tale actually occurred, as the ancient historian Josephus fails to mention it, but biblical scholars tend to acknowledge its authenticity, and while an ancient tradition has placed the death toll at fourteen thousand (most likely an allusion to the many atrocities committed by Herod, including the killing of his own son), given that the "little town of Bethlehem" had a population of only about one thousand at the time, the estimated number of victims has been more realistically placed at around twenty.

In Spanish-speaking countries (including, uh, Spain), as well as former colonies such as the Philippines, this is traditionally a day given to playing practical jokes, much like April Fools' Day elsewhere. The pranks are known as "inocentadas" and either the pranksters or their victims are referred to as "inocentes."

I suppose it depends on which ones you ask.

(NOTE: Due to the feast occurring this year on a Sunday, it is supplanted in both forms of the Roman rite; in the traditional liturgy by the "Sunday Within the Octave of the Nativity" and remembered with a "dual commemoration, and in the reformed liturgy as the "Solemnity of the Holy Family," which occurs in the traditional form two weeks later. Don't ask me why.)

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It is also a day of remembrance for yours truly, as an entry scheduled for later today will attest. Stay tuned ...
 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christ-Mass: Day 3 (St John)

“On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three French hens ...”

“The disciple whom Jesus loved” (“ο μαθητης ον ηγαπα ο Ιησους”) was, for a time, banished under Emperor Domition to the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. This was before returning to Ephesus to remain for the rest of his days. John was the only one of the Twelve to die a natural death, as tradition says he lived to be nearly one hundred years old, yet it was not for want of his enemies trying. Upon an attempt to kill John by poisoning his wine, the evil substance miraculously took the form of a serpent, as it dissipated from his cup.

Here he is in a circa 1610 painting by El Greco with a look that says:

“Dude, seriously? This is the best you can do?”

Today, families can celebrate the Feast of Saint John by drinking to the health of each other, following a German tradition known as Johannissegen. Fisheaters has a recipe for mulled wine that is customary to the occasion. Before the evening meal begins, the head of the house recites the blessing over the wine, as recorded in the Rituale Romanum:

Lord Jesus Christ, Thou didst call Thyself the vine and Thy holy Apostles the branches; and out of all those who love Thee, Thou didst desire to make a good vineyard. Bless this wine and pour into it the might of Thy benediction so that every one who drinks or takes of it, may through the intercession of Thy beloved disciple, the holy Apostle and Evangelist John, be freed from every disease or attack of illness and obtain health of body and soul. Who livest and reignest forever. (Amen.)

He then lifts his glass toward the next person (or touches the rim of his glass to theirs), saying, “I drink you the love of Saint John.” The receiver says in response, “I thank you for the love of Saint John.” The second person turns to the third, and the process is repeated all around the table. That's the long form. The short form is where all present clink their glasses together saying, “Drink the love of Saint John.” This is especially handy for young children who cannot wait to chow down.

To each his own.
 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christ-Mass: Day 2 (St Stephen/Boxing Day)

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

Last week, the President of the United States, in effect, declared "Boxing Day" as a paid holiday for federal employees, and gave them the day off. That may seem like a waste of taxpayer dollars, until you consider that most of them would have put in for annual leave anyway, and would still have gotten paid, and in some major cities with a large presence of government agencies, it offsets the rush-hour traffic, so more stores can be busier with after-Christmas sales.

So you see, everybody wins.

I love to show this video of the á capella group Straight No Chaser singing their own unique version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Today still feels a little like Christmas, only more stores are open, bustling continued consumer spending in spite of everything. I know, some people may think that's a concession to the over-commercialization of the holiday, but as we mentioned before, it's better than pretending it's anything other than Christmas -- like some folks we know.

Today is “Boxing Day” in Canada, the UK, and other nations of the present and former British Empire. Traditionally, Christmas Day was when the master of the house would give presents to his family. On the following day, he would arrange for leftovers from his great feast to be given to his domestic staff, in boxes that they could take home. Eventually, it became customary to box other gifts as well.

This is a music video of a recent song by Blink 182 entitled, you guessed it, “Boxing Day” -- or, to be exact, the "official music cover video" by another band, Razor Notes. To hear them tell it, “This time it's not a pop punk version, it's more like the original Blink's ‘Boxing Day’ their first song released as an Indipendent [sic] band.”

Whatever works, huh, guys?

Meanwhile, the Irish celebrate this as a national holiday, too, only as Saint Stephen's Day, honoring one of the seven deacons appointed in the Book of Acts, to assist the apostles in their ministry. He was stoned to death by the Jews -- no, not all of the Jews, just some of them, and all of those guys were Jews, alright already??? -- and so is known in the Churches of the East as the "Protomartyr," as he was the first recorded to die for the Faith. And let's not forget that "Good King Welceslas" of Bohemia went out on the feast of Stephen, when the snow lay on ground, yada yada yada ...

And so it goes.
 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christ-Mass: Day 1 (Nativity)

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.”

The period known as Christmastide begins with the Feast of the Nativity itself; specifically, with the evening of this first day, through the morning of the Feast of the Epiphany. And so the first day of Christmas is December 25-26, and the season ends with Twelfth Night on January 5-6.

By tomorrow, you will stop hearing Christmas music on some radio stations, but around Chez Alexandre, whether here or on the road, as well as here at man with black hat, the Christmas season is just beginning. Most of us are familiar with the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and the significance of the symbolism therein. But for those who are not...

Twelve Drummers Drumming refers to the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

Eleven Pipers Piping refers to the eleven faithful apostles

Ten Lords A-leaping refers to the ten commandments

Nine Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Eight Maids A-milking refers to the eight beatitudes

Seven Swans A-swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and/or the seven sacraments

Six Geese A-laying refers to the six days of creation

Five Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.

Four Calling Birds refers to the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists.

Three French Hens refers to Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues.

Two Turtle Doves refers to the Old and New Testaments.

One Partridge in a Pear Tree refers to Christ on Earth being crucified upon a tree.

True Love refers to God, who sent his only son to us.

[NOTA BENE: The use of this song as a "secret catechism" for children, employed by Catholics persecuted in post-Reformation England, is a matter of some conjecture, as pointed out in this article from Snopes.com. But what the hell do those bunch of heathens know?]

Now then (and this should be a treat for those of you new to us), we present the continuation of a venerable man with black hat tradition.

Since 1984, the cumulative costs of the aforementioned items have been used as a tongue-in-cheek economic indicator. This custom began with and is maintained by PNC Bank. Two pricing charts are created, referred to as the "Christmas Price Index" and "The True Cost of Christmas." The former is an index of the current costs of one set of each of the gifts given by the True Love to the singer of the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The latter is the cumulative cost of all the gifts with the repetitions listed in the song. The people mentioned in the song are hired, not purchased.

The project is the brainchild of Jim Dunigan, managing executive of investments with PNC Wealth Management. Each year he gives us the lowdown on last year's CPI, including a brief history, the impact of the economy on this year's results, and how the PNC CPI can be used in the classroom. The original 1984 cost was $12,623.10. The total costs of all goods and services for the 2014 Christmas Price Index is $27,673.21 (up 1.0 percent from $27,393.17 last year, compared to being up 7.7 percent from 2012 to 2013, so things are looking up, people).

Learn the details, including which items went up, down, or stayed the same in cost, by visiting pncchristmaspriceindex.com to see the whole dog-and-pony show for yourself, including a special fairy tale about each set of gifts (or you can read this piece in Business Insider).

And on that promising note, don't you have anything better to do on a day like this? Your friends as well as your "friends" are waiting on Facebook and Pinterest.

Go forth and spread joy!

(This year we introduce a unique set of animations to illustrate the Twelve Days of Christmas, courtesy of the Christian Resource Institute, under the authorship of Dennis Bratcher, and which are used here without permission or shame.)
 

Gaudete!

(We present an excerpt of a 1992 performance by the British folk-rock ensemble Steeleye Span, for the hour we have awaited is upon us.)

Gaudete, Gaudete,
    Rejoice, Rejoice,
Christus est natus
    Christ is born
Ex Maria Virgine,
    of the Virgin Mary,
Gaudete!
    Rejoice!

The hour of grace which we seek is here.
    We offer with devotion our songs of gladness.

Gaudete ...

God is made man, a thing of wonder.
    The world is renewed by Christ's reign.

Gaudete ...

Light has arisen. Salvation is come,
    Bursting the gates of death.

Gaudete ...

Our congregation lustily rejoices now,
    Giving blessing to God, our Saviour and King.

Gaudete ...
 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The reason for the Season is not the season of Reason ... and there’s a reason!

I suppose life is simpler when you're young, because the world itself is simpler. My dad used to say as much when I was little. Was the world really so complicated when I was young and he was older? I guess it depends on which one of us you asked in 1964.

When I was growing up in Ohio, the town where I lived would put up decorations along the main drag, like every other town. They all said "Seasons Greetings." Not "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." It wouldn't have occurred to me that Christmas was being downplayed. Not in a town settled in 1787 by Methodists, who still pretty much ran the place nearly two centuries later, and not in a town where Santa Claus rode a fire truck through the streets of town on the Sunday before Christmas, handing out bags of treats to all the children.

Indeed, what other "season" could it have been? Alas, times have changed, or at least we think they have. In a nation where people are free to worship as they choose, an increasing number come to our shores who choose to worship as non-Christians.

The latest onslaught for this year takes at least two forms. There is the obligatory "ATHEIST BILLBOARD," this time in Nashville, Tennessee. According to the Christian Science Monitor, a little girl is depicted as telling Santa that all she wants for Christmas is not to have to go to church because she "no longer believes in fairy tales." She couldn't ask for a doll, or a puppy, or whatever the latest gimmick is for which people will kill one another in the stores to get the last one -- could she now?

And then there's the scene at a Walmart in Klamath Falls, Oregon, the obligatory "THERE'S NO REASON FOR THIS IT'S JUST OUR POLICY," where teenage schoolchildren spontaneously gather near the front of the store to sing "The Carol of the Bells," and are told by the manager to leave. They depart in short order, only to appear a short time later at another store.

Are the feelings of non-Christians genuinely hurt by Christmas? Is anyone really left out at least in the northern and western hemispheres, when every European-based culture, from time immemorial, even before Christianity, celebrated the passing of the darkest night of the year, and the welcoming of the coming light?

This is lost on the atheists, as they call attention to throwing their money away on something that has changed, and will change, nothing. Even the idiots running the Walmart in Klamath Falls, Oregon, cannot ignore the obvious. Contrary to the insistence of those who make an idol of "reason" while being unreasonable, they cannot escape THE reason.

The season is not the season of Reason, and there is a reason.

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While the actual birth date of Christ remains a matter of debate among scholars and historians alike, the season itself, from time immemorial, and among people who had yet to hear the Gospel, has been associated with the passing from darkness to light, inasmuch as there was celebration at or near the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Over two millennia, Mother Church has taken that which was good in itself from many cultures, and has elevated such customs to convey the message of Christ. And so we have Christmas trees out of Germany, decorated with lights and ornaments, and lighted star-shaped lanterns in the Ukraine, carried on poles to light the way for singing carols.

As Christmas celebrates the coming of the Prince of Peace, so peace has often reigned on this occasion in the midst of war. An example from modern history would be the Christmas Truce of 1914, a century ago tonight, when British and German soldiers, on the night before Christmas, declared a spontaneous truce and met one another in No Man's Land, singing carols, exchanging coffee and cigarettes, sharing family photos, and even playing a game of soccer. It was not the only such occasion (as the accompanying video clip tells of a replay the following year), and commanders from both sides made attempts to prevent it. And yet, there were men from both sides who befriended one another, even after "the war to end all wars."

The Faith upon which the Incarnation is built, and the Church founded by Him to spread that message, have always been under siege, and the blood of Her martyrs has been the seed-bed of an ever-growing harvest. Witness the occurrence in November of 2010, at a shopping mall food court in Ontario, in Excruciatingly-Politically-Correct Canada. This wouldn't happen for Eid-ah-Adha, the Islamic "festival of sacrifice," or for Ras as-Sana al-Hijreya, the Islamic New Year. No one will pull a stunt like this for a fabricated (and, unbeknownst to many, anti-Christian) holiday like Kwanzaa. And as this is written, NORAD is not monitoring the skies for Hanukkah Harry. (Sorry, Harry.)

The threat to Christmas has been greatly exaggerated, O ye of little faith!

To be Christian, or more specifically, to be Catholic, is to believe that our Savior, the God-Made-Man, took the form of a slave, triumphed over Death, and sits at the right hand of God the Father. He, and He alone, is King. At the end of the day, at the end of Time itself, every nation shall yield, every knee shall bend, and every tongue shall proclaim, that Jesus Christ is LORD! All the billboards in the world to the contrary, all the bellyaching on cable news channels, all the machinations of public school paper hangers -- none of their futile gestures will change that. Christus vincit! Christus regnat!! Christus imperat!!!

And so, with this final tribute, preparations begin in earnest, to celebrate the "Christ-Mass" at the Church of Saint John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia, where yours truly is First Master of Ceremonies for a Traditional Solemn High Mass at the stroke of twelve. “Gaudete! Christus est natus ex Maria Virginae!” “Rejoice! Christ is born of Mary the Virgin.”

Now, quit your damn bellyaching and crack open that eggnog already!

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Once again we feature our tribute to Alphabet Photography of Niagara Falls, Ontario, for thumbing their noses at the Human Rights Commission and orchestrating a "hate crime" disguised as a flash mob, eh? Our usual thanks once again to Robert Cooper and Chorus Niagara, The Welland Seaway Mall, and Fagan Media Group.
 

Novena for Christ-Mass: The Vigil

It is the morn
Of Christmas
   Eve,
Scrambled eggs
   I cook.

Advent's
   Sunday,
Fourth and last
Most fasting
   now forsook.

The birds outside
Are singing carols
Pitched soprano-high.

Above the frost
Below the blue,
Their midnight moment nigh.

Then beasts will speak
In whispers low,
When Emmanuel did come,

How they could talk
And pray an hour ...
While man was struck quite dumb.

- Hilary “Long-Skirts” Flannery

+    +    +

Mary is now with child, awaiting birth, and Joseph is full of expectancy as he enters the city of his own family. He searched for a place for the birth of him to whom heaven and earth belonged. Could it be that the Creator would not find room in his own creation? Certainly, thought Joseph, there would be room in the village inn. There was room for the rich; there was room for those who were clothed in soft garments; there was room for everyone who had a tip to give to the innkeeper.

But when finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last word of time, the saddest line of all will be: "There was no room in the inn." No room in the inn, but there was room in the stable. The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world's moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there's no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is a place for outcasts, the ignored and the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born in an inn; a stable would certainly be the last place in the world where one would look for him.

The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God made man is invited to enter into his own world through a back door.

- Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979)

+    +    +

Octavo Kalendas Januarii
   The Eighth of the Calends of January


Anno a creatione mundi,
   The year from the creation of the world,
quando in principio Deus creavit caelum et terram,
   when in the beginning God created heaven and earth,
quinquies millesimo centesimo nonagesimo nono;
   five thousand one hundred and ninety-nine:
a diluvio vero,
   from the deluge,
anno bis millesimo nongentesimo quinquagesimo septimo;
   the year two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven:
a nativitate Abrahae,
   from the birth of Abraham,
anno bis millesimo quintodecimo;
   the year two thousand and fifteen:
a Moyse et egressu populi Israel de Aegypto,
   from Moses and the going out of the people of Israel from Egypt,
anno millesimo quingentesimo decimo;
   the year one thousand five hundred and ten:
ab unctione David in regem,
   from David's being anointed King,
anno millesimo trigesimo secundo;
   the year one thousand and thirty-two:
Hebdomada sexagesima quinta,
   in the sixty-fifth week
juxta Danielis prophetiam;
   according to the prophecy of Daniel:
Olympiade centesima nonagesima quarta;
   in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad:
ab urbe Roma condita,
   from the building of the city of Rome,
anno septingentesimo quinquagesimo secundo;
   the year seven hundred and fifty-two:
anno Imperii Octaviani Augusti quadragesimo secundo;
   in the forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus:
toto Orbe in pace composito,
   the whole world being in peace:
sexta mundi aetate,
   in the sixth age of the world:
Jesus Christus,
   Jesus Christ,
aeternus Deus aeternique Patris Filius,
   the eternal God, and Son of the eternal Father,
mundum volens adventu suo piissimo consecrare,
   wishing to consecrate this world by his most merciful coming,
de Spiritu Sancto conceptus,
   being conceived of the Holy Ghost,
novemque post conceptionem decursis mensibus,
   and nine months since his conception having passed,
in Bethlehem Judae nascitur ex Maria Virgine
   in Bethlehem of Juda is born of the Virgin Mary,
factus homo:
   being made man:
NATIVITAS DOMINI NOSTRI JESU CHRISTI
   THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
SECUNDUM CARNEM!
   ACCORDING TO THE FLESH!

- The Proclamation of Christmas, from the Roman Mass
 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Emmanuel

Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
    O come, o come, Emmanuel,
Captivum solve Israel!
    And ransom captive Israel,
Qui gemit in exsilio,
    That mourns in lonely exile here,
Privatus Dei Filio.
    Until the Son of God appear.


Isaiah had prophesied, “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” (7:14). “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”

“O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.”

+    +    +

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.


+    +    +

Z

(Won't be long now ...)
 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Rex Gentium

Veni, Veni, Rex gentium,
    O come, Desire of nations, bind,
veni, Redemptor omnium,
    In one the hearts of all mankind;
Ut salvas tuos famulos
    Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
Peccati sibi conscios.
    And be Thyself our King of peace.


Isaiah had prophesied, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (9:5), and “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (2:4)

“O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”

+    +    +

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.


+    +    +

Z
 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Rorate Caeli

Today's Entrance Antiphon (Introit) for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is also a popular hymn for the entire season, and is especially used as an antiphon during Vespers. It is also known as "The Advent Prose" or by its first words in English: "Drop down ye heavens from above."

If you had the good sense to finish your Christmas shopping early, as we did here at Chez Alexandre, consider joining in the singing of this hymn as you contemplate the readings for the Mass of the Day. You can find the mp3 audio file, and the score for Gregorian chant, by clicking here.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above,
    Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum,
and let the clouds rain the Just One.
    Aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem.

Be not angry, O Lord, and remember no longer our iniquity:
    Ne irascáris Dómine, ne ultra memíneris iniquitátis:
behold the city of thy sanctuary is become a desert,
    ecce cívitas Sáncti fácta est desérta:
Sion is made a desert.
    Síon desérta fácta est:
Jerusalem is desolate,
    Jerúsalem desoláta est:
the house of our holiness and of thy glory,
    dómus sanctificatiónis túæ et glóriæ túæ,
where our fathers praised thee.
    ubi laudavérunt te pátres nóstri.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above,
    Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum,
and let the clouds rain the Just One.
    Aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem.

We have sinned, and we are become as one unclean,
and we have all fallen as a leaf;
and our iniquities, like the wind,
have taken us away
thou hast hid thy face from us,
and hast crushed us by the hand of our iniquity.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above,
    Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum,
and let the clouds rain the Just One.
    Aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem.

See, O Lord, the affliction of thy people,
and send him whom thou hast promised to send.
Send forth the Lamb, the ruler of the earth,
from the rock of the desert
to the mount of the daughter of Sion,
that he himself may take off the yoke of our captivity.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above,
    Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum,
and let the clouds rain the Just One.
    Aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem.

Be comforted, be comforted, my people;
thy salvation shall speedily come
why wilt thou waste away in sadness?
why bath sorrow seized thee?
I will save thee; fear not: for I am the Lord thy God,
the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above,
    Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum,
and let the clouds rain the Just One.
    Aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem.
 

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Oriens

Veni, Veni, O Oriens!
    O come, Thou Dayspring,
        come and cheer,
Solare nos adveniens,
    Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Noctis depelle nebulas,
    Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
Dirasque noctis tenebras.
    And death's dark shadows put to flight.


Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1).

“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”

+    +    +

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.


+    +    +

Z
 

Advent IV: Love

Reading
1 Corinthians 4:1-2


Brethren: Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God. Here now it is required among the dispensers that a man be found faithful. R. Thanks be to God.

V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto Thee.
V. Let us pray ...

Prayer

O Lord, we beseech Thee, stir up Thy power, and come, and with great might succor us: that by the help of Thy grace that which is hindered by our sins may be hastened by Thy merciful forgiveness: Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end.

R. Amen.
 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Clavis David

Veni, Clavis Davidica,
    O come, thou Key of David, come,
Regna reclude caelica,
    And open wide our heavenly home;
Fac iter tutum superum,
    Make safe the way that leads on high,
Et claude vias inferum.
    And close the path to misery.


Isaiah had prophesied, “I will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (22:22), and “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.” (9:6).

“O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.”

+    +    +

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.


+    +    +

Z
 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Radix Jesse

Veni, O Jesse virgula,
    O come, thou Rod of Jesse's stem,
Ex hostis tuos ungula,
    From every foe deliver them.
De specu tuos tartari
    That trust thy mighty power to save,
Educ et antro barathri.
    And give them vict'ry o'er the grave.


Isaiah had prophesied, “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (11:1), and “On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (11:10). Remember also that Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:1).

“O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

+    +    +

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.


+    +    +

Z
 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Adonai

Veni, Veni Adonai!
    O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Qui populo in Sinai
    Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
Legem dedisti vertice,
    In ancient times didst give the law
In Majestate gloriae.
    In cloud and majesty, and awe.


Isaiah had prophesied, “But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” (11:4-5); and “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us.” (33:22).

“O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”

+    +    +

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.


+    +    +

Z
 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Novena for Christ-Mass: O Sapientia

Veni, O Sapientia,
    O come, O Wisdom from on high,
Quae hic disponis omnia,
    who orders all things mightily,
Veni, viam prudentiae
    to us the path of knowledge show,
Ut doceas et gloriae.
    and teach us in her ways to go.


Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

+    +    +

Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
    Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.


+    +    +

(Commentary for this series of the “O Antiphons” is authored by Father William Saunders, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, with copyright 2003 from the Arlington Catholic Herald. Prints in the upper right-hand corner are the work of artist and printmaker Martha Kelly of Memphis, Tennessee. The works of both are used in this series without permission or shame.)

Z <-- This is the link to one of a series of commentaries on the O Antiphons, by Father John Zuhlsdorf. They will appear at the end of every installment in this series.
 

Advent Reflection 3: Mary



Mary, you're covered in roses,
    you're covered in ashes
    you're covered in rain
You're covered in babies,
    you're covered in slashes
You're covered in wilderness,
    you're covered in stains
You cast aside the sheet,
    you cast aside the shroud
Of another man,
    who served the world proud
You greet another son,
    you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay,
Mary

Jesus says Mother
    I couldn't stay another day longer
Flys right by me
    and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin' his praises
    in a blaze of glory
Mary, stays behind
    and starts cleaning up the place

Mary, she moves behind me
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Everytime the snow drifts,
    everytime the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts,
    she's always there

Jesus says Mother
    I couldn't stay another day longer
Flys right by me
    and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin' his praises
    in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind
    and starts cleaning up the place

Mary, you're covered in roses,
    you're covered in ruin
    you're covered in secrets
You're covered in treetops,
    you're covered in birds
Who can sing a million songs
    without any words
You cast aside the sheets,
    you cast aside the shroud
Of another man,
    who served the world proud
You greet another son,
    you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay

Mary, Mary, Mary

(A song by Patty Griffin, from her 1998 A&M album, Flaming Red.)
 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Keeping the “Ch” in “Chanukkah” 2014

Today at sundown marks the beginning of the Jewish Festival of Lights, known as Chanukkah (Hanukkah, or חנוכה), which commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, following the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BC. It is observed for eight nights, as a reminder of the miracle of one night's supply of oil for the lamps lasting for eight, until a fresh supply could be obtained.

Around the turn of this century, our director of communications was a devout Jewish woman, who invited all the staff to her house in the country for a holiday celebration. A highlight of the affair was her presentation with her grandchildren, as she told them of the story of Chanukkah. As the rest of us Gentiles watched, she would lead the children in the Hebrew chant for the occasion: “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Chanukkah...” While others stood around watching in varying degrees of perplexity, I found myself singing with the children ... well, maybe sort of following along.

I turned to my son: "Does this sound familiar, like what you hear in the Divine Liturgy?" He nodded, as I continued. "This is where we get the Byzantine chant, and the Gregorian chant. It came to us from the Jews." He totally got it.

A comedian named Adam Sandler first introduced this holiday classic on NBC's Saturday Night Live. The song gives a list of famous celebrities from various walks of life who are Jewish: “Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah / It's so much funukkah, to celebrate Hanukkah / Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights / Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!”

There's more where that came from.

This is an original work by Matisyahu. “Miracle” is produced by Dr Luke protégé Kool Kojak (Flo Rida, Katy Perry, Ke$ha), and is drenched in a joyful spirit, with chiming synths, bouncing beats, and an irresistible chorus. And ice skating.

There are so many Christmas songs out there. I wanted to give the Jewish kids something to be proud of. We've got Adam Sandler's song, which is hilarious, but I wanted to try to get across some of the depth and spirituality inherent in the holiday in a fun, celebratory song. My boy Kojak was in town so at the last minute we went into the studio in the spirit of miracles and underdogs and this is what we came up with. Happy Hannukah!

Matisyahu can be found on Facebook, and followed on Twitter. The song can also be downloaded from iTunes.

Finally, on a serious note, Charlie Harare explains the origins of Chanukkah, and its meaning in daily life from a Jewish point of view, which is only reasonable as this is a Jewish holiday. This begs the question ...

What is there for a Catholic in this message, and why do I share it every year at this time?

As Judaism is a sign of the Old Covenant, and Christ brought it to fulfillment in the New Covenant, to be a Catholic is to be, in effect, a fulfilled Jew. We therefore cannot rule out the possibility of something to be learned here, for that which we believe as Catholics, is built upon no less than the story that is told here. Judaism is not a false religion; it is an unfulfilled religion. It was -- indeed, it IS -- fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. If you as a Catholic don't get that after watching this video, I can't explain it to you.

However you slice it, “It's beginning to look a lot like...”
 

Novena for Christ-Mass: Prelude

In a nation where eighty percent of the population is Catholic, Christmas starts early. It has to. After all, you cannot have a feast like Christmas without it being preceded by a novena. That's when you get up to attend Mass just before dawn for nine days before the big day. In the Philippines, it is known as “Simbang Gabi” which is Tagalog for “evening Mass.” It is also known as “Misa de Gallo” which is Spanish for “Rooster’s Mass.”

So why is this series of Masses held in the morning and not the evening, as is customary with Masses for a Christmas novena? The answer can be traced to the early colonial days, when the people would be exhausted from working in the fields all day for their Spanish taskmasters. The priests and friars who tended to their spiritual needed, availed themselves of the people's desire to start the day early, ahead of the tropical heat, and moved the customary Mass and devotion to the early morning, before dawn. It must be with a sense of irony that the Archdiocese of Manila saw fit in recent years, to introduce liturgical norms for the novena, in the form of celebrating Simbang Gabi in the evenings, for those office professionals who can more easily attend at that time.

The popular decoration for Christmas in the Philippines is the “parol” (pronounced “pah-ROLL” with a rolling "r", from the Spanish word for lantern, "farol"), which is as common there as the Christmas tree is here in the States. This star-shaped motif is a cross between a Chinese lantern and the Mexican piñata. It is lit from within; traditionally with candlelights mounted inside, but in the last century with electric lights. They are typically two to three feet wide, but if you go to such renowned events as the Fiesta at San Fernando, Pampanga (north of Metro Manila), there is a huge parade to celebrate the beginning -- no, not of Christmas, but of the novena!

Traditional parols are made with bamboo sticks and rice paper. If you go to the site known as “MyParol.com” you can learn to make one, or even order a kit. Better yet, if you can't wait for delivery, simply read the instructions and find what you need at an arts and crafts store. You could have it done next weekend.

Closer to home, at Chez Alexandre, we have a very colorful parol gracing the front door, one that Sal brought back from the Philippines. It is of the modern variety, made with wire and a type of seashell known as capiz, and illuminated with elaborate flashing lights. The rest of the decorations will follow, but we had to start out on the right foot -- or, should we say, in the right light?

Now, back to that novena thing.

We here at man with black hat have an annual tradition of honoring the “O Antiphons” the seven chants which introduce the Vesperal Canticle -- the “Magnificat” -- in the Divine Office. Most people hear paraphrases of them all at once in the hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel," but they were originally chanted one verse a day, ending with the day before the that of the Vigil. Over time, our annual feature has evolved into its present form, as a comprehensive aid to daily devotion. For just five minutes of viewing during a quiet time in the day, one may contemplate the coming of the God-made-man. The video clips for this unique series are provided by the YouTube channel of francisxcc entitled “The Splendor of Truth.”

video

As an added bonus, we will provide links for each Antiphon, to Father John Zuhlsdorf's famous commentaries on the same, the link for which will be indicated by the letter “Z” at the bottom of each entry.

They will be set up to publish at nine in the morning, eastern USA time, beginning tomorrow. Stay tuned ...

[NOTA BENE: Regarding a reference in the first video, a "barangay" is a municipality within a city; roughly corresponding to "barrio" in Spanish, or "berg" in German" or "borough" in English. New York City, for example, is divided into five boroughs -- Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. Same concept, just sayin' ...]
 

Monday, December 15, 2014

My Year of Living Dangerously

The year of Our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty (1980) may be remembered as the most critical in my life. I made decisions that would, more than any other, determine its direction forever, and so I choose this occasion to elaborate.

My So-Called Life

In the summer of 1978, I graduated a short time earlier from the University of Cincinnati, with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Graphic Design. Being raised in a "Procter and Gamble family," it only seemed to make sense that I would seek out a company, large or small, to hire me for life. That didn't quite happen. Early in my interviews, I was asked to work for a small advertising agency -- as a free-lancer. The thought of going into business for myself had not occurred to me until the moment they asked. I said yes, and for two and a half years, it made all the difference.

My academic training was excellent. Unfortunately, the ability of my instructors to transfer such knowledge to real life left something to be desired. This was despite an internship program that essentially allowed me to graduate with eighteen months of real job experience. But there I was, working in Cincinnati by day, and living with my parents in the eastern outskirts of the city at night. There wasn't much promise there for a young designer in the late 1970s. "Mother Procter" was queen of the industry, and set the pace not only for the big agencies and creative houses, but for the bottom-feeders consisting of cigar-chomping geezers whose creative acumen was reduced to cranking out one piece of overdecorated future landfill after another. They'd look at my work. "Very nice, but can you spec type?" I'd go to agencies for ad work. "This stuff is too creative. Have you tried looking for studio work?" Then I'd interview at studios. "Most of this stuff is straight advertising. Have you gone to the agencies?" Most guys were amicable, some were very instructive, a few were simply jerks with bad polyester suits and even worse comb-overs. Most of them were not as aware of the industry's big picture as they thought they were.

That big picture wasn't looking too good in the late 1970s. The recession of the last "hope and change" guy, Jimmy Carter, was wreaking havoc. They left behind the riff-raff that constituted my interviews, contrasted with the occasional pompadours with Italian suits and the usual pretensions, who thought they were doing a podunk town like Cincinnati a favor by hanging their shingle there. Between clowns to the left of me, and posers to the right, I was stuck in the middle with no place to go. A few of my colleagues were disgusted with the local scene at the offset, and headed to New York or Chicago.

I couldn't blame them. Cincinnati was home to a number of two-year trade schools devoted to "commercial art" or related fields. Without the burden of academic and liberal arts requirements, these storefront diploma mills pumped out graduates equipped to do the low-end production work, without pushing the envelope in terms of design. "Scaling new heights of mediocrity" was what one art director called it. Their work didn't break new ground, but it was the bread and butter work for smaller and less aggressive markets like ours. A portfolio of purely creative innovation might wow them in the Big Apple, but it didn't cut much ice in the Queen City.

And yet, provincial though it was, Cincinnati was about as "big city" as I could handle, or so I thought.

Mama's Boy Is In The House

Early that year, I hooked up with a commercial studio run by one of the city's most respected illustrators. A former agency director of a firm eventually bought out by Young and Rubicam, he later presided over a family affair. His wife kept the books, his older son used the studio as his apartment (the cause of occasional awkward moments when female visitors spent the night there), and his younger son came in around mid-afternoon. Waiting for Junior was work that I could have been doing, as opposed to sitting around half the time. I was paid by the hour.

The rest of my life wasn't setting the world on fire either. Looking back, it was easy to see why. I was twenty-five and still living with my parents. The older of my two sisters had already married and had a son. My younger brother left home during sophomore year of college, and wasn't coming back. I was also dating this girl whose horizons were even shorter than mine. I'm not sure how we ever connected, really, unless you count either boredom or low expectations as an excuse. Not only that, but in addition to three months of dating her, it took me two months to dump her. After all, I was her ticket out of living with her parents. This mistake alone would have been reason enough to get outa Dodge City.

As dismal as things seemed, my life outside the office was coming on its own. Cincinnati was home to an emerging roots music scene. I was becoming known as a musician, organizer, somebody who was good to have around to get events going. The bluegrass people, the Celtic people, the contra dance and international folk dance crowds, they all knew me.

But when you added it all up, I seemed to be at a standstill. Back in February, my professor who headed my department back at UC convinced me to send a slide portfolio of my work to something the Government called "The Federal Design Registry." I had just started working for the Mom-and-Pop studio, but I figured, what could it hurt?

The Other Shoe

Then in September, three things happened within about a week that heralded an impending change of life. First, a cousin of mine suffering from severe depression hung himself on the tree in his yard. Second, I finally got rid of the crazy girlfriend. But the third thing was what did it. A few weeks after the boss said I was doing a great job, his younger son graduated from the rinky-dink trade school, and the place wasn't big enough for both of us. Cincinnati is a small town when it comes to who's doing well or not-so-well. The Big Guy couldn't afford the bad rep to hit the streets, so he told me he was cutting me loose because I was doing a NOT-so-great job. His son's predicament was a mere coincidence. Lying through his teeth wasn't anything personal; it was business.

The worst thing was that the old-timers I knew and spoke to saw nothing unusual in this. I began to lose some respect for my chosen profession. I had heard of guys being "black-balled" so some studio hack could save face, but never thought of myself as much of a threat.

I free-lanced for a couple of months, but hardly enough to live on. Then I got a letter from Washington, an "inquiry of availability," they called it. I had just landed a contract with Procter and Gamble, the kind of work that the aforementioned bottom-feeders (including the one I had just left) would have killed for. In the three or four weeks I was there, I had a blast. The prospect of following my father's footsteps -- well, sort of -- was a great rush. I was sorry I hadn't gotten in there sooner. But however long they would have kept me under contract, it wasn't a sure thing.

Meanwhile, I was being interviewed on the phone, by an art director who was well respected in Washington. He worked for some agency whose name I had never heard. He was impressed with my work, and after listening to his own resume, that was good enough for me -- to tell him I'd think about it over the weekend.

The Epiphany

You know those times when, out of the blue, you suddenly realize your destiny has been hitting you in the backside? I'm not sure how it happened, only that it did. No, I take that back; I'm sure. A few years earlier, I had my palm read. It was just for fun, mind you, at a time when kids try just about anything once. When I remembered the "prophecy" that I would, in a quest for inner peace, move to a city near a large body of water, and meet a man who would change my entire life, it all started to make sense.

Pretty lame pretense for a life-altering decision, but let's face it, it didn't take much.

Mom didn't take it well at all. How would I ever survive without screwing things up royally? This was the conventional wisdom in our house, one that didn't always apply to my younger siblings. I answered it with a question: what the hell else was I going to do? That crazy ex-girlfriend had just visited me, and she wanted me back. Fortunately, I had the perfect excuse. In a sense, she represented everything I had to escape -- a life spent "scaling new heights of mediocrity."

My folks had already suggested I take a job at the post office, and do design work on the side. Had I followed that advice, I'd be a postal worker today. So much for five years of college.

It all added up. Either I get the hell out now, or spend the rest of my life wishing I had.

So, on Thursday, the 11th of December, I loaded everything I could fit into a newly-purchased 1980 Honda Civic, and headed up Interstate 71, toward the rest of my life in what was politely known as "the Nation's capital." That life as a Federal Employee began on the 15th of December. It was a Monday, just like today. Thirty-four years ago, and everything that has happened since -- the good, the bad, the ugly -- can be traced to that one decision.

Afterwords

How has it changed me? In some ways more than others.

Back home I'm still known as "Dave." Here in DC, even my closest friends know me as "David." It took me at least twenty years just to feel at home here in the so-called "Nation's capital." I managed to lose some speech patterns, though. I pronounce "neither" as "NYE-thur" instead of "NEE-thur." Same goes for "either." When someone says something I didn't hear, I say "come again?" instead of "please?" (because the Germans who settled around that part of Ohio would say "Bitte?" in the same situation). Then again, the gals my uncles married are still called my "ants" instead of my "ahhnts." I could probably go back to Ohio right now and fit right in. I have yet to decide if I want to. The musings of Tom Wolfe notwithstanding, you really CAN go back home again. Just don't expect things to stay where they were when you left.

Although I still refer to women as "gals."

(FIRST IMAGE: The author, in a May 1978 publicity photo, with his late-1960s vintage Gibson J-160E.)