Discovering a Season

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I get so excited that I start listening
to my Christmas music at the beginning of November, much to the surprise and chagrin
of some of my loved ones. This year, I’ve been asking myself what I’ve been getting
excited about. Is it the celebration of Christ’s birth? I wish I could say so, but
the truth is that I’ve been enamored with the secular trappings of the season. Decorating
the Christmas tree, baking cookies, singing catchy tunes, visiting relatives, watching
classic movies, giving and receiving gifts (sadly, mostly the latter), playing in
the snow (in those few lucky winters), and other generally faith-free activities
have been Christmas’ raison d’etre for me.

Realizing this has not been a pleasant experience for me. At first, I was merely
depressed at the commercialization of the holiday, and my contributions to it, as
I’ve mentioned in a previous post.
As I dealt with what I felt Christmas shouldn’t be, it occurred to me that I had
only a vague idea of what it should be. We’ve all heard “Jesus is the reason
for the season” so many times that it’s become cliche. It’s a bit preachy,
but it’s based on a solid principle. Or is it? There’s an assumption built into
that phrase that the whole season, from early December to New Year’s Eve is Christmas.
Most of the popular carols bear witness to this assumption. I only recently realized
how wrong this is, at least for those of Christian faith. It finally dawned on me
that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” refers to dates after December

Sure, I’ve heard of Advent before. I’ve been a Christian (or nearly so) my whole
life. It’s the season that leads up to Christmas. That’s about as deep as my understanding
of it was until this Sunday. I remember my family having an Advent calendar when
I was a kid. A cute little mouse with a Santa hat was moved each day across a background
of snow, holly, and other popular symbols. It only really served to enhance the
excitement of anticipating the opening of presents on Christmas morning. It was
another warm fuzzy to be experienced during the holly-jolly, peace on earth, good
will to all, consume until it hurts season. It never dawned on me that the season
wasn’t just a pre-game show before the big game of gift-giving and partying.

As I sat in the choir loft on Sunday, listening to the readings and the homily and
reflecting on the songs we sang, I was struck by a feeling of deja vu. I felt like
I was at a mass during Lent. How could that be? Was I misunderstanding Lent or Advent?

What is Lent? I’ve always felt that I had a pretty darn good handle on that. It’s
a time of penance as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s salvific act, the Paschal
Mystery. It starts with Ash Wednesday, commonly the most heavily attended mass all
year, despite not being a holy day of obligation. We receive ashes on our foreheads
as a reminder of our mortality. For the next 40 days we fast and/or abstain from
meat as acts of mortification. We are to die to this world. We purify ourselves
in anticipation of the eternal sacrifice we cannot offer for ourselves, the redemption
secured by Christ. Then we rejoice as we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. He was
born again into everlasting life and by doing so He obtained the same for us, if
we follow Him faithfully.

If you’re wondering why I’ve gone to the trouble of describing Lent, a season several
months away, imagine how I felt as these thoughts came to me during the mass for
the second Sunday of Advent. In the gospel reading for all three liturgical cycles,
we hear of John baptizing people in the Jordan River. What for? Repentance. He was
preparing people for the spiritual rebirth that Christ would bring. He lived an
ascetic life. He renounced worldliness and practiced mortification to purify himself
and called people to repent. Sound familiar? It should.

This came as a bit of a shock to me. Advent is to Lent and Christmas is to Easter.
Advent should be a time of contemplation and penance. Celebration should be reserved
for the end of the season. There’s plenty of time to celebrate during the days from
Christmas Day until Epiphany.

This alone gave me a lot to think about, but then I found out there’s more. We’re
not just ritually recalling the world “in sin and error pining”, as the
song says, in hope and longing for a savior, any more than Lent is only about recalling
events leading to the crucifixion and resurrection. During Lent, we should anticipate
our own death and resurrection. During Advent, we should recall that in baptism
we die to sin and are reborn into the Mystical Body of Christ. Both holidays remind
us that Christ will come again. Christmas and Easter are intimately linked.

This relationship was further impressed on me as I participated in my goddaughter’s
baptism later that day. As we renewed our baptismal vows, I thought of the practice
of blessing ourselves with holy water as we enter a church. We do so to remind ourselves
of our baptismal vows and to prepare ourselves for the theophany of Christ’s presence
in the Eucharist. Likewise, we fast prior to receiving that presence into our bodies.
What a blessing God has given us through the Church! Every mass is an echo advent
and lent consummated with an echo of Christmas and Easter.

So what does this all mean for my celebration of Christmas? It means I’m not waiting
for the new civil year to make resolutions. Advent marks the start of a new liturgical

I’m going to be more selective about what music I listen to and what decorations
I put up before Christmas. My wife and I are slowly adding ornaments to our tree
and adding appropriate figures to our manger scene as the season progresses. I’m
going to try to pray more and read more Scripture (which I should be doing anyway).
I’m going to try to shut out as much of the Sparkle Season, Saturnalia, Yule, or
whatever you want to call the greedy, superficial, and debauched celebrations our
culture tries to push on me. When I have children, hopefully my wife and I will
be able to raise them to respect that there is “a time for every affair under
heaven”, including time for penance and reflection. Celebration has its time
and purposes. Gift-giving, if not done selfishly, need not be purged from Christmas.
After all, God gave us the greatest gift of all in the person of His only begotten
Son, Jesus Christ. My presents, if I can afford any, will be charitable donations,
made by hand, or purchased to fill a need. I’ll sincerely try to avoid frivolities,
for myself and for others. My hope is that opening gifts will be ever more special
for my family than it ever was in my childhood. Ever notice how doing without something
for a time makes you more appreciative for it? Imagine how special Christmas morning
will be after Christmas’ Lent.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

10 thoughts on “Discovering a Season

  1. Steve N

    You contribute such nice thoughts, Steve. Are you sure you don’t want to guest blog from time to time?

    Huh? I did respond via personal email, no? Wherein, I said: “Hey big boy! I’ve been thinking of you…” DOH!!! Not that one. I mean wherein I said that I’d like to, I just need to think of something to say…. Well I’m thinkin’ I’m thinkin’


  2. Jerry Nora

    I started to keep the entire 12 days of Christmas in mind a few years ago. I remember that the end of Dec. 25 was such a bummer–sort of a “that was it?” response as the last of the uncles filter out. 24 hours did not seem adequate to contain Christmas. But behold! The Church came to the same conclusion many years ago, and I was happy to observe the Christmas Octave (the week proceeding Christmas) and the twelve days up till the Epiphany. Good stuff.

    My wife and I have found out about an awesome Franciscan shrine near my parents’ place (I’ve known of it for some time, but I was vague on its liturgical offerings till recently) that has 24/7 adoration and daily Mass and also daily Matins, Sext, and Vespers. Pretty frickin’ cool, huh? My parents’ parish does have daily Mass, but it tends to be quite early. The shrine has Mass at noon. My dad is interested in going, and I’ll try to invite a friend who has been getting bogged down spirituallly, it seems. Good stuff!

  3. Steve N

    In keeping with this theme, my Bro-in-Law Smedley blogged recent post in keeping with your Green Chri$sma$ post. To the former post I added some thots on the general subject of poverty and our habit (as Christians, and as Americans) of ignoring it. So I’ll not repeat them here…

    But last Sunday (the 1st Sunday of the month) was Communion in our Church (as Evangelicals, we don’t have it every service I’m sorry to say)–the only Communion observed by us during the Advent season. During the homily (we call it a “sermon”), I formed a few thougts that would like to share:

    In a world at war, then as now, Jesus was born the Prince of Peace. What peace? Peace through his blood–blood that brought God and man together, Jew and Gentile together, man and woman together, father and child, black and white, heck, even Catholic and Protestant. And this blood spilled and this body broken we celebrate and proclaim thru this sacrament.

    In this season where we celebrate the birth of a Savior, we glimpse the beginning, the 1st step, of the kenosis–the “emptying” of Christ outlined in Philippians 2. Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but emptied himself and took on the form of a man, the form of a servant, a servant obedient unto death, obedient even unto death on a cross.

    So you wanna see peace? Look beyond the baby in the manger. Look to the grown man. See the finished work–hands that formed the universe, surrendered to iron nails–the very element that, in its ionic form, makes blood (and wine??) red. There is your peace. Here, at this table, is your peace.


  4. Steve N

    Oh! And on the subject of lent, is it true that meat is universally given up? Are other things also given up in addition or instead of meat (red or otherwise).

    We (my family) have kept the principle of lent for the past couple years and have found doing so a profound spiritual blessing. Alas this practice has not yet “caught on” in our Evangelical congregation, but we’re working on it… We give up one or two things as a whole family and then individuals can give up other things. This leads to interesting dinner-table discussions because the children love to suggest giving up broccoli or some other thing they hate.

    Last year we gave up broadcast TV (except on Sundays) for lent and it led to a new awakening in song-writing for me–haven’t done much since tho’.

    Do you guys give up other stuff too? This seems to me to be an excellent way to practice a whole host of spiritual disciplines.


  5. Jerry Nora

    Steve, meat (aside from fish or shellfish) is given up on the Fridays of Lent. People should make other ascetical practices for the season as a whole, but that is up to the individual or the family.

  6. Jerry Nora

    Wine’s red due to flavenoids, which are complex organic compounds that at least in some forms have anti-oxidant properties. Wine, to my knowledge, does not have any significant iron content. Guinness, on the other hand, does…

  7. Pingback: The Sin of Nice @ Ales Rarus

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