Repost: Discovering a Season

[The following a revised version of a previously published post. – Funky]

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. Last year, I asked 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 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 25!

Sure, I’d heard of Advent before. I’ve been a Christian (or nearly so) my whole life, after all. It’s the season that leads up to Christmas. That’s about as deep as my understanding of it was until last December 5th. 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 had 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 that 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 something? How could r Advent be like Lent?

What is Lent? I’ve always felt that I had a pretty darn good handle on that. It’s a time for 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.

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 of 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 year.

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 as I can of the Sparkle Season, Saturnalia, Yule, or whatever you want to call the greedy, superficial, and debauched celebrations our culture tries to push on us. 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.

3 thoughts on “Repost: Discovering a Season

  1. stuff

    Praise the Lord!!
    We are so glad to have you with us!! For the past several years our family has been getting stronger and stronger in our boycott of celebrating Christmas before Christmas. We have always done the traditional Advent wreath practice and have a wonderful book of Advent meditations by Fr. Groeschel that we read after dinner every night by the light of our candles. We also learn an Advent song every year (so far we’ve done “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” and “Prepare the Way of the Lord”). This year we are going to try to make our house a little church by hanging purple ribbons in each room and we hope to use the old barn wood to build a stable and manger in the yard. There is a wealth of Advent specific practices for families with children that emphasize this as a season of watchful waiting and sober preparation not just of the birth of Christ, but also of the day He comes in Glory as judge. Now that our oldest is 4, he gets excited about Advent itself, separate from Christmas, and when the actual Christmas season comes, he enjoys every last day of it and is not itchimg to tear down a tree that has been in the house for a month and a half (incidentally, in my parents’ day, families wouldn’t get a tree until Christmas Eve – sometimes parents would even wait until the kids were in bed to cut it, bring it in and decorate it so that Christmas morning was really something absolutely magical and sacred).
    If you need ideas or resources, we are more than happy to help you out!

    Veni, Veni Emmanuel!

  2. Jerry Nora

    Good post and response, Stuff. I’ve been working on reforming my appreciation of Advent for one or two years now, so it’s interesting to see how people are practicing it themselves.

  3. stuff

    The Jesse Tree is a great Advent practice, too, and can be combined with the Christmas tree tradition for those who like getting a tree earlier in the season.

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