I hope everyone is preparing for Christmas …
To understand Christmas Traditions, it’s good to know how we got to where we are. The greatest of the Christmas Traditions is the evergreen tree. The Christmas tree traces its roots to the tree of paradise that was featured in the medieval mystery (miracle) plays. A tree was adorned with fruit to represent what our first parents were forbidden to eat. The fruit has since evolved into the colorful balls that are used to decorate the modern Christmas trees.
The handmade paper chrismons that adorn some tree traditions, with their images from Sacred Scripture (a Butterfly, Cross, Noah’s ark, the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the Star of David, etc) also evoke the Tree of Jesse, the pictorial representation of the genealogy of Jesus as it is found in the Gospels according to Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38). The genealogy found in Matthew is the first part of the Gospel that is proclaimed in the Vigil Mass for Christmas.
Christmas trees are meant to be illumined after the prayer of blessing on Christmas Eve. Yes, the tree is not supposed to be lit until Christmas Eve…and stay on until we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus (6 weeks after Christmas). The lights signify Christ, “the True Light, which enlightens everyone, [and] Who [is] coming into the world” (Jn. 1:9). As we recognize the longest night (Winter Solstice) in our world, we know the light of the world increases. The trees “arrayed in splendor remind us of the life-giving cross of Christ” (Book of Blessings), the “tree of life and light” by which the Lord Jesus Christ “rescued us from the darkness of sin.”
Our Christmas trees then call to mind the reason why we needed a Savior (our fall from grace, no thanks to the fruit of one tree) and the manner by which He has saved us (His death on a cross that had been made from the wood of another tree). Though the world seems to be in darkness and dead, the evergreen trees naturally give color (hope) in our life. They are a fitting backdrop to the scene of our Lord’s birth, evoking not only the dark past of our sinfulness but also the dazzling future that His death and resurrection has in store.
Father Kevin’s Reflection – November 22, 2015 – Giving Thanks to Almighty God…Who gives us the Family
We, as a nation, formally celebrated it for the past 152 years…ever since our 16th President…Abraham Lincoln declared the 4th Thursday in November to be a National Holiday. But, the idea of taking a special day to express our gratitude to God for all His blessings actually came from the very First President of the United States…George Washington.
Consider what this remarkable man wrote 217 years ago regarding November 26th, 1798:
“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His Will, to be grateful for His benefits, and to humbly implore His protection and favor; ( I ) recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them the opportunity peacefully to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
(Wow! A President who had no problem acknowledging God as Almighty and declaring our relationship to Him as one of humility and gratitude.) President Washington went on:
“Therefore, I do recommend and assign (next) Thursday of November (26th) to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be, that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country, for the signal and manifold mercies and favorable interpositions of His Providence in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union and plenty which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been able to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.”
Freedom of religion! We’ve had it from the very beginning of our country…may God help us to retain it. As we gather together this week to celebrate Thanksgiving Day with our families and friends, let’s remember President Washington’s invitation to include prayers of thanksgiving the very day he asked us to give thanks to God. And hopefully, this would include the greatest most powerful Prayer in the world…the Mass (which will be offered at 7PM, in Hoven on Wednesday and 8:00AM in Bowdle, Thursday Morning). Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
The leaders of other congregations will often go by the title of: minister, elder, parson, pastor, priest, chaplain, officiate, etc. However, the Catholic and the various Orthodox Christian Churches have traditionally referred to their priest as: “father”.
The title of “father” comes more evident and understandable when the parish sees itself as a reflection of this world…as well as…the Kingdom of God being established here on earth. This is why; when Jesus was trying to express a way to understand God…He looked at His experience as a human being and chooses the family unit as a model of the heavenly reality. (When you think about it, St. Joseph must have been a singularly amazing man. As the hymn so rightfully testifies: “…and Joseph’s love made ‘father’ to be…for Christ… God’s Name.”
What is the quality of “father” which makes a priest tremble as he hears the same title calling him to attention…and to serve?
I remember one of the most difficult religion classes I taught was on the Trinity. A few weeks before this particular class – one of my students was hospitalized because of a beating she received from her drunken father. Since each of us has one (and only one) father…God taught me a lesson on understanding a Good Father … and that of a false representation of a man who fathers a child. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit…a loving God — fell on deafened ears that year.
What are the qualities of a father…beyond the physical aspects? Well, similar to the character Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof): he is the one who, as provider and protector, must take in the specific (detailed) facts as well as be the one who looks from a distant place to look back…and prays. He must take it all in and digest every morsel. And, in the end…as a good and prudent father…must be ALONE and take all the hits, all the blame, all the criticism, all the responsibility when making the final decisions on matters of his family. So, no, I really am not your pastor…we have only one pastor: Bishop Paul Swain – Successor of the Apostle. (He gives me his authority in his parishes). I am Father Kevin Doyle, a priest of God. (You who are good fathers, yourselves, understand my office…my duties.) And, God planned from the beginning of time to have me be your priest to serve these parishes as His representative.
When a decision has to be made, I must take in the specific (detailed) facts as well as be the one who looks from a distance…and prays (all the time). Seeing in the past, present and future…I am the one who takes all the hits, all the blame, all the criticism, all the responsibility when making the final decisions on matters of his family. And, a family can have only one father. At this moment in time, let me be Father Kevin and everyone else be the children of God. (Trust God put me here for a reason.) Have faith as a Catholic…mean what you say when saying: Father Kevin. I will, like St. Joseph, protect His greatest treasure until death do us part…or the Second Coming (or the bishop moves me).
The recent visit of Pope Francis to the United States was one of great inspiration and hope. The full impact of his words and symbolic actions will take time to be fully appreciated. Among the powerful moments were the interreligious prayer service at Ground Zero in New York and his visits with the students, the homeless, the incarcerated, and the families from over 100 countries who gathered for the World Meeting of Families.
I was privileged to represent you at six events which the Pope addressed. They included a prayer service with the bishops of the United States, a humbling fraternal gathering, at which the Holy Father noted that he wished to be more than a name but a presence in all parishes and dioceses throughout our country, specifically mentioning those on the plains and the prairie.
The second was at the Mass for the canonization of now Saint Junipero Serra. It was a remembrance of the missionaries who have risked their lives to share Jesus Christ with others. The Pope issued a clarion call for us all to be such missionaries of Christ beginning in our local communities now threatened by evil and relativism.
At the gracious invitation of Rep. Kristi Noem I was present in the House Chamber for the Holy Father’s address to a Joint Session of Congress. The environment was electric and the presence of the Vicar of Christ at the center was deeply moving. It was a unifying moment in a chamber that sees little unity. Let us pray that our political leaders will take to heart his call to seek the common good above narrow interests.
Another was at Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the Pope called on us as a nation to go back to the roots of our founders who declared that ours is a nation endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This was followed by a festival for families, at which the challenges and beauty of family life were on display, clearly touching the Holy Father personally.
Especially meaningful to me was the gathering of bishops from around the world, many of whom live in danger and in poverty, yet are courageously resilient with trust in Christ and his Church. The Holy Father asked us to reflect on our priorities. He suggested that our job description is first to be leaders of prayer and secondly to preach the teachings of Christ. He added, if there is any time left we could attend to other matters.
Finally was the huge outdoor Mass with some 900,000 people at the close of the World Meeting on Families. Awesome was the joy, laughter and public expression of faith of so many, especially young people, who had to endure tedious security checks. One of the beautiful moments was when asked to remain silent and reflect on the Pope’s homily quiet ruled the streets. We might encourage such quiet reflection at the Masses we attend.
To read the entire article, click HERE.
What was most interesting? The Catholic in the group said: “We don’t do that.”
We don’t? Since when? To surprise some out there, Catholics ARE REQUIRED to tithe. (Just as we are required to give up something on every Friday of the year…like meat. But, that is for a reflection later.)
The tithing tradition is first found being established by God in the Old Testament. Why? He did it for two reasons:
- so that we keep God the #1 priority in our lives; and,
- so we support His Church and the needy financially.
Tithing refers to giving one-tenth of our income to God in gratitude for His daily blessings (represented in the 21st century in the income we earn in order to live). How do we give money to God? We give the tithe to the Church…which is the visible household of God on earth. Giving 1/10 of our pay to the Church is a constant reminder of our dependence on God and a way to show our gratitude for being able to work and provide for our families. Moreover, it’s the way we help sustain the physical operation of the local Church and provide help to those in need of food, clothing, shelter, medicine and other assistance. (Recently, this theory has been put into reality in the Diocese of Sioux Falls through what is called: the Bishop Dudley House (located in the downtown area of Sioux Falls).
Now, the difference between the Catholic Church and those of other faiths is…the Catholic understanding of: “Give the tithe to the Church”
Many dioceses encourage the individual soul to pick and choose worthy charities to support; as well as, support the physical operation of the local and universal Church. So, practically speaking, one should currently give 5% of your tithe to the worthy Christian charities of your choice and 5% of your income to the Parish (which is then distributed to the Diocese and Rome). Now, if none goes to a chosen charity…then all 10% is to be given to the Church
One aspect that is disturbing among many Catholics…an attitude of worthiness. You know what I mean: “All they are going to do is waste it…that is why I don’t tithe.” To answer this: “It is a good thing God doesn’t judge by the same standard. Think of the trust He has in us when He gives each of us 100% of our blessings.” As God has trusted and invested in us, we need to trust and invest (in faith) in God’s guiding Hand. Surrendering ourselves to God (with our money especially) is faith in action. Attempting to control God is truly fruitless.