Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Decaf - Handmotions in Heaven (Sacred? Movement)

I can't help but think of our so-called Sacred Movement group (i.e. Liturgical Dancers by any other name!) at my parish.

Pax et bonum

So wonderfully wrong (Chesterton humor)

(With a nod to Mark Shea.)

Pax et bonum

Santa and Faith

I picked on an otherwise nice book about Santa Claus because it hinted at but failed to deliver on the true meaning of Christmas - which is the coming of Jesus into the world to bring salvation for us all.

To be fair, when wearing the red suit is it not appropriate in the vast majority of circumstances to display openly that faith dimension. But that doesn't mean it can't be there present within the wearer of the suit.

When I work at the mall, I always say a prayer before I go out. I pray that I might have patience and wisdom, and even endurance (try sitting for six hours in a hard chair while wearing padding, a suit, and hat even when the temperature around the throne is quite warm!) Sometimes I recite a poem I wrote a few years back:

A Mall Santa's Prayer

As I hold each precious child
let me treat each one
with the love and care I'd show
Your most holy Son.

When visiting with the children - and some adults - I will sometimes mentally pray for them. I rarely mention faith in any way out loud. But there are times when someone will ask for deeply personal things - that someone will be cured, or will come back safely home from a war situation, that dad and mom will reunite, and so on. I usually say something along that lines of "I feel sad. That's something beyond the power of Santa. But I will pray for you." So far, no complaints.

There are circumstances when I can be more open, such as at church events or parties run by groups like the Knights of Columbus. There I openly bring up the birth of Jesus. I'll often lead the kids in singing "Happy Birthday" for baby Jesus.

Again, it depends on the circumstances how open I am about faith. But the true spiritual meaning of Christmas is always present in my heart and mind. And if I ever wrote a book about being Santa, you can be sure there'd be mention of Jesus and that first Christmas.

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Santa book misses true meaning of Christmas

One of my Christmas gifts was copy of the new book Being Santa Claus: What I Learned About the True Meaning of Christmas by Sal Lizard (with Jonathan Lane).

I enjoyed the book. Many of the stories about the children, the questions and interactions with a variety of people, the joy of being one of Santa's helpers, all rang true as I thought back over my own eight seasons in the red suit. I got a few chuckles, and I liked some of his ways of addressing various problems and issues that arise as one portrays the big guy.

I appreciated Lizard's honesty as he talked about mistakes he made and lessons he learned. And I was touched by his poignant stories of dealing with families in distress, and especially sick children. I could easily see myself crying at times as he did. I know I've been moved almost to tears even in just the mall setting at some of the visitors' stories and by requests made by children and their families.

But I do have some major quibbles about the book.

It starts with the title. The book is supposedly about discovering the true meaning of Christmas, but the true meaning is not in the book. Jesus, His Birth that we celebrate Christmas Day, the fact that Santa is based on a Catholic saint, are all missing. He talks about Christmas the feel-good holiday and Santa the mythical iconic figure who helps people feel warm and fuzzy. Maybe he should have called it What I Learned about the True Meaning of a Secular Christmas.

The only mention of Jesus in the book is in a chapter called "The Reason for the Season." In that chapter he deals with the shift toward a more politically correct celebration  - "Happy Holiday's" rather than "Merry Christmas." He talks about the war on Christmas - but he fails to address the underlying attack on Christianity. He is distressed by what is happening to Christmas, and rightly so. He does find an answer to his distress when a woman asks him to bring in a gift at the beginning of the Christmas Eve service at her church and leave it on the altar. As he walked up to the altar, he said, he "looked up to see the statue of a blessed man on a cross above me." "Blessed man"????! He couldn't say "Jesus," the Son of God whose birth is what the day marks, whose birth and sacrifice on that cross are the real reasons for the season?

At the end of the chapter he says, "Whether you're Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or anything else, the essential element is faith. Faith in families, faith that we can create peace on earth, faith in love. To me, whatever we believe in and cherish is what we want to make Christmas about. The true meaning of the holiday can ever get lost if we keep that spirit of Christmas alive in our hearts." Sounds nice. But it fails to mention the true meaning of Christmas - which is not Santa Claus, or just smiling and being nice to each other. Christmas is a Christian celebration, not an interreligious one. If you don't believe Jesus is the Son of God born into this world to save us, then how can you celebrate the true meaning of the Christmas? That is the "faith" that really underlies Christmas. Maybe he believes that, but he failed to include it in the book.

Amusing book. Good read, especially for all those who are involved in being Santa's helpers. It does celebrate the joy and concern for others that fills the season. If they had just left the title at Being Santa Claus it would have been fine. But the subtitle promises more than it delivers. It misses the mark if you're looking for the deeper spiritual meaning of Christmas.

Pax et bonum

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Clerihew

At Nicaea, St. Nicholas
slapped a naughty Arius.
Since then he's found a list does fine
to help keep those who stray in line.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Liturgical Nice and Naughty Lists

My parish has engaged is some questionable liturgical practices over the years. (But then, so has my diocese.) Some have been corrected, some linger. And the pastor tends to get testy if you bring them up.

One of the practices involves penance services. The parish schedules just limited individual confession times most of the year, and has held mass general absolution services several times a year. I remember talking to one woman who gleefully admitted she had not been to individual confession in years - just the services - even though she had some serious sins. Something's been getting lost.

Our Apostolic Administrator declared not long ago that general absolution services are no longer allowed.


My parish scheduled a pre-Christmas penance service. I wondered if the pastor would try to find some way to fudge the rules. I wasn't able to go (mall duty), but my wife did.

And ... for the first time in all the years we've been at the parish, they had priests available - five of them! - for individual confessions.

Wonderful. Liturgical Nice list.

The other event of note was announced last week. Our retired bishop - as in the Pope suddenly accepted his retirement months earlier than is the norm apparently sending a message about some of the bishop's questionable actions - would be coming to the parish today for a Mass. The choir director asked us all if we could switch from the 9 a.m. Mass to the 11 a.m. Mass to sing when he would be there. I couldn't - my mall schedule is set up based on the normal schedule, and I'm to be on the throne today at noon.

I was sad that I wouldn't get a chance to sing and play at Mass today. Plus, I would have liked to see the bishop. I always liked him as a person.

So we went to Mass last night. I noticed in the bulletin that the parish was going to have its liturgical dancers at the bishop's Mass. I have refused to play and sing at Masses with the dancers, so it turns out I wouldn't have been at his Mass anyway. The bulletin also noted the dancers would at the Christmas Family Mass - an other Mass I was going to miss because of mall duty (I always work Christmas Eve as the last "helper").

Liturgical dancing is one of those questionable practices that has pranced into the diocese (and our parish) under the retired bishop. Liturgical naughty list.

At least we don't have the gay activist dancer "performing" the way the retired bishop always had at the cathedral!

Pax et bonum

Friday, December 21, 2012

Santa's Helper Vignettes

Two women got in line. I recognized one from previous years - a woman with developmental disabilities who had visited me before. The other looked like she was either a fellow resident, or a counselor who had spent too much time as a "hippie."

When they finally got to me - a long line - I greeted the woman I knew asking how she was this year. The other then sat and made an unusual request: For Christmas she wanted to be be assured that she would be reincarnated.

I joked that that was not up to me. She persisted, then asked if I believed in reincarnation. I said that theological matters were not what I was about. She persisted. I said I leave such things to the "Boss," pointing up to the sky. But I added I would keep her in my prayers. She nodded and seemed satisfied.

Still not sure if she was a resident or staff.


At the end of my shift a security guard was escorting me to the changing room (security has the key to the room). We passed by people waiting in a line.

"Victoria's Secret is having a special opening tonight," the guard said with a smile. "Will you be sticking around?"

"No," I replied. "Remember, I'm a bishop."

He chuckled.


A boy with a smirk and a naughty look in his eye sat down.

"Are you the real Santa Claus?" he asked with a knowing smile.

I gave him my standard response.

"Are you the real you?"

Hesitantly, he answered, "Ye-e-s."

"Well, I'm the real me."

He looked at my beard closely.

"You have a real beard."

"Yes. You can pull it if you like."

"Your glasses look real."

I took them off and held them so he could look through them. "They're real."

He looked at them for a moment. Then he looked a me. And then he warily told me what he wanted for Christmas.


Two brothers sat down, one on each knee. I asked what they wanted for Christmas. One started to tell me something when the other blurted, "That's what I want," and made a fist in his brother's face. Brother did no look pleased.

"Oh, that could get you on the naughty list."

They settled down and finished telling me what they wanted. Then, on a hunch, I said,"Now I'd like you to do something. Between now and Christmas, I'd like you two to work at being really nice to each other. No fighting. Is that a deal?"

They do looked at each other uneasily, then at me and one mumbled, "yes," and the other mumbled, "I'll try."

I help up my hand for a high five.

"Then it's a deal," I said firmly.

They gave me high fives.

I looked at their mother.

She mouthed, "Thank you."

Pax et bonum

Friday, December 14, 2012

Steve Martin - Atheists Don't Have No Songs

A thought for Atheists at this holy time of the year. Merry, um, well, whatever.

Pax et bonum

Monday, December 10, 2012

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Light one (real) candle

Yesterday as part of a staff retreat a group of us said a Scriptural version of the Luminous Mysteries. We were in one of the Middle School classrooms where there is a statue of Mary in front of a screen full of those battery-powered flickering votive candles. We turned off the classroom lights, closed the shades, and turned on the votive candles.

It was lovely, and wonderful to pray with some fellow teachers.

But as lovely as it was, I was thinking of real candles.

So many places have gone to these battery-powered candles. They probably save money and are safer, but they lack the beauty of real candles.

The scent. The flickering light. The flame. The smoke. There's an earthy and primitive and sacred feel to all that - a link to centuries of prayer and devotion.

Technology is wonderful. And the prayers were said were real and heart-felt.

But sometimes I feel as if we are losing a part of that devotional link.

I think later I'll light a candle.

A real one.

Pax et bonum

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pope addresses abuse of "sensus fidelium"

From Catholic World News:

Regarding the sensus fidelium, which is frequently invoked to justify calls for change in controversial Church teachings, the Pope reminded his audience that the term refers to “a kind of supernatural instinct” among the faithful. He underlined the importance of this sense, quoting the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium: “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief.” 
However, the Pope said, the sensus fidelium presumes a deep attachment to the faith, and cannot be reduced to a matter of prevailing public opinion. He continued:

And it is unthinkable to mention it in order to challenge the teachings of the magisterium, this because the sensus fidei can not grow authentically in the believer except to the extent in which he or she fully participates in the life of the Church, and this requires a responsible adherence to her magisterium.
I've seen too many people misuse the idea of sensus fidelium to justify their actions - I have been guilty myself. I'm glad to see the Pope Benedict address this issue.

Pax et bonum

Saint Nicholas humor

(A nod to Mark Shea for making me aware of this.)

Pax et bonum

Holy Child of light

Holy Child of light
illuminating with hope hearts
in these darkest days

Pax et bonum

Ho Ho Hmmmm

I arrived for my Thursday evening shift as Santa's helper. The helper with the shift before mine came in to the changing room for the changeover, and we chatted briefly.

He's a recent retiree with a longer beard than mine, and long hair to boot. He mentioned he had 31 paying gigs as a helper lined up!


In addition to my shifts at the mall, I have only two other appearances this year - at a Veterans center, and at a Knights of Columbus party - both voluntary.

Maybe in another decade when I can retire I'll be able to let my hair and beard grow and line up a comparable number of paying appearances.

I'll do freebies, too. Not the best businessman, but in line with the season!

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Take Five" from Dave Brubeck, who went home today

I loved his jazz. When I was on radio doing jazz programming I regularly included Brubeck pieces. And he was a convert. Rest in peace.

Pax et bonum

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Twinkies, good... '''

"Twinkies, good. Two and a Half Men, bad."

(In light of recent headlines.)

Pax et bonum