Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI for the month of December, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:
- Migrants. That migrants throughout the world may be welcomed with generosity and authentic love, especially by Christian communities.
- Christ, light for all humanity. That Christ may reveal himself to all humanity with the light that shines forth from Bethlehem and is reflected in the face of his Church
Of course, the beginning of December marks the beginning of Advent, the beautiful four-week season of preparation for Christmas. Check out this link for a list of some time-honored Catholic traditions for Advent and Christmas. Maybe you would like to make one or more these part of your own celebration of this holy season!
Thanksgiving has been an annual tradition in the United States since 1863, when President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” This is yet another case-in-point that our forefathers never envisioned, let alone desired, that our country would ever fail to give homage to the Lord. Here is the text of President Lincoln’s proclamation:
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.
“In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.
“Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.
Following are the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI for the month of November, courtesy of the Apostleship of Prayer:
- Ministers of the Gospel. That bishops, priests, and all ministers of the Gospel may bear the courageous witness of fidelity to the crucified and risen Lord.
- Pilgrim Church. That the pilgrim Church on earth may shine as a light to the nations.
The month of November is dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. The Church commemorates all her faithful children who have departed from this life, but have not yet attained the joys of heaven. The Church has always taught us to pray for those who have gone before us into eternity. Even in the Old Testament prayers and alms were offered for the souls of the dead, as it was considered the “holy and pious” thing to do (2 Mac. 12:45) We know that a defiled soul cannot enter into heaven.
November is a rich month liturgically. It marks the end of ordinary time and the beginning of Advent. It begins today with the solemnity of All Saints followed by All Souls’ Day. The remainder of the month contains the feast days of many popular saints as well as the great feast of Christ the King. The Church in the United States also sees the secular holiday of Thanksgiving as a time for all of us to thank God for the rich blessings he has bestowed upon us.
In addition to my post earlier this week on ghosts, I would like to recommend the following resources on Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day:
- Tract on the Communion of Saints that was published in my book Faith Facts.
- Another Faith Fact published by Catholics United for the Faith on the origins of Halloween.
- Pat Madrid’s outstanding article “Any Friend of God is a Friend of Mine.”
- Fr. William Saunders’ article at the Catholic Education Resource Center entitled, “All Saints and All Souls.”
- Dr. Peter Kreeft’s article on angels, with links to other resources.
When Jesus appeared in the resurrected body, he was mistaken for a ghost and even said that ghosts don’t have flesh and bones (Lk. 24:39). The prophet Samuel prophesied from the grave (Sir. 46:20). Also, in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31), it’s implied that the dead can communicate with the living in verse 25. And even stranger is the possible separation of the spirit from the living body or bilocation in the story of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian in Acts 8:39: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again . . .”
Accordingly, the Church believes that ghosts, or spirits, do exist. There are times when spirits appear to our benefit, but we are warned against attempting to contact spirits. We should be extremely cautious and guarded simply because Satan could be attempting to deceive us.
But what are they?
“Ghost” is another word for “spirit” (it comes from the German word Geist, which means “spirit”). There are three kinds of spirits: (1) the human spirit which combined with a human body make up a human being; (2) a spirit that that has no body, such as that of an angel or devil; and (3) the infinite Spirit—God–of whom the Third Person is the Holy Spirit or “Holy Ghost.”
When someone asks whether ghosts exist, he usually has in mind the first kind, a human spirit, but apart from one’s body. Hence Servant of God John Hardon defined “ghost” as a disembodied spirit. Christianity believes that God may, and sometimes does, permit a departed soul to appear in some visible form to people on earth. Allowing for legend and illusion, there is enough authentic evidence, for example in the lives of the saints, to indicate that such apparitions occur. Their purpose may be to teach or warn, or request some favor of the living (Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980, p. 229).
The last sentence of Fr. Hardon’s definition implicitly gives the Church’s teaching on ghosts. Appearances of ghosts are understood with regard to our salvation. Ghosts can come to us for good, but we must not attempt to conjure or control spirits. The Church teaches that “spiritism”–seeking recourse or power from ghosts–is contrary to the virtue of religion (i.e., the Commandment “You shall have no other gods before Me”):
“All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future…
“All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others–even if this were for the sake of restoring their health–are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2116-17, original emphasis).
“Ghosts are the spirits, or souls, of human beings whose bodies have died. They may hover around the earth “haunting” material places, usually houses. There seem to be four possible reasons for this:
1. They don’t yet realize they are dead.
2. They were so attached to their material places or possessions that they can’t detach themselves from them and leave.
3. They are working out some purification, penance, or purgatory, some remedial education or ‘reform school.’
4. They are consoling their loved ones who have been bereaved.
“Angels, in contrast, did not have human bodies in the first place and never will. Ghosts once had human bodies and will receive new resurrection bodies in heaven if they go there.”
Apparently, according to Dr. Kreeft, C.S. Lewis once claimed to have seen a ghost of his wife.
On the one hand, I have several misgivings about this relatively new holiday. After all, in his private life MLK was reportedly no saint, and surely the civil rights movement is bigger than any one individual–even one as formidable as Dr. King. And this at a time when we’re downsizing holidays, when even Lincoln and Washington no longer have their own holidays but rather get lumped together into Presidents’ Day.
Maybe instead of a new holiday we could have added a civil rights dimension to our Independence Day celebration, as finally all races in our land are “free at last.”
I guess I’m also a little frustrated about society’s encroachment on religious holy days. Sundays in our culture have become more of a sequel to Saturday than a day set aside for worship, family, and rest from one’s labors. I’m concerned about days of extraordinary religious significance, such as Good Friday, becoming more “ordinary,” and Holy Days of Obligation becoming such a lost cause that many Church leaders feel compelled to move them to Sundays, presumably because at least then there’s a better chance of getting people to show up for Mass.
I realize that’s a lot to put on MLK Day. But then there’s also the political agendas that are unmistakably linked to the celebration. In that regard, the day is quite PC. Just an hour ago, for example, I heard ESPN link the holiday to the “gay” rights movement. While most national holidays bring everyone together, MLK Day strikes some discordant notes, despite the worthy goal of celebrating the achievements of Dr. King.
Despite all that, since MLK Day is here to stay for the foreseeable future, I have chosen to enjoy the holiday, for four reasons:
(1) Hello! It’s a holiday! Who wants to look a gift day off in the mouth? While it’s not a Sunday, it’s still a fitting day for worship, rest, and relationship-building within the family. So this can be a really great day if we use it well.
(2) Okay, MLK was not a saint, but neither were most of our Founding Fathers, yet we rightly revere them for their role in the formation of our country. MLK did some courageous things that have had a lasting impact on our culture. The day gives us a chance to consider this impact and to see how much farther we need to travel to overcome racial divisions.
(3) Even as we celebrate MLK Monday, we still must not lose sight of the holiday par excellence: Sunday, the Lord’s Day. MLK Day is all day, not just 45 min. or an hour. So, too, our Sunday observance should be all day. How often do we forget that keeping the Lord’s Day holy goes beyond simply “getting to Mass,” important as that is? For more on that subject, click here. MLK Day and all secular holidays can teach us how to “rest” in the deepest sense, which could carry over into the way we look at Sundays and other holy days.
(4) Despite my sons’ African-American roots, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how little racism I’ve encountered. Sure, there’s the occasional ignorant comment, but for the most part–thanks in large part to MLK–my boys aren’t subjected to the bigotry that existed even in my youth. This day gives me, and all of us, a chance to reflect on the greater spiritual reality that nobody has to sit at the back of the bus, that nobody is a second-class citizen in the eyes of God. As St. Paul wrote: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).
So let’s stay on message and “MLK” the holiday for all it’s worth!
An earlier version of this article appeared at Catholic Hour, the blog of My Catholic Faith Delivered.
As we prepare for the sublime feast of the Nativity of Our Lord during these weeks of Advent, we can’t help but notice the trappings of our secular culture that continually impose themselves on the “holiday season.” Meanwhile, more overtly religious expressions, such as créches or Nativity scenes (or should we call them “holiday scenes”?), are systematically excluded from the public square.
As the father of six and a grandfather of one, the 800-pound gorilla in my living room–or, should I say, the jolly 300-pound man in the chimney–is Santa Claus. Through the years, how have I explained this peculiar man in the red suit to Brenda, Mary Kate, Virginia, Abigail, Samuel, Raymond, and Alex, not to mention my godchildren, nephews, and nieces? Why does he always show up this time of year?
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. His real name is St. Nicholas, and the universal Church celebrates his feast today. He was a fourth-century priest, abbot, and eventually Bishop of Myra, Lycia (modern Turkey). There is no doubt that he existed, and that he was universally recognized as a holy and generous Church leader who suffered for the faith.
Two episodes from St. Nicholas’ life form the basis of the folklore concerning Santa Claus. Continue reading
The reason we celebrate Christmas at all should be obvious: The birth of Christ in the “fullness of time” of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the most significant event in human history. Despite secularist efforts to change how we reckon time, even our calendar is divided by what occurred “Before Christ” and after Christ, “in the year of the Lord.”
But why December 25th? And when did the Church work this into her own liturgical calendar? After all, the Bible is far from clear on the point.
The conventional explanation is that December 25th was chosen by the Church as a means of “baptizing” the pagan worship in ancient Rome and thereby evangelize the culture. It is true that on December 25, 274 A.D. the Roman emperor Aurelian declared the sun god the principal patron of the empire. This gave rise to the feast of Sol Invictus, or the Birth of the Unconquered Sun. The date falls on the Winter Solstice, which of course would be fitting to celebrate the birth of the sun.
And so the common view is the Church adopted this date for the feast day of the birth of Jesus in the fourth century. Christians of all generations have understood Christ to be the “light of the world,” the “Sun of Justice,” and “morning star,” so selecting this date would be in essence a counterpoint to paganism. If that in fact were the case, that doesn’t render Christmas a “pagan feast.” But rather than pursue that line of discussion, the more interesting question to me is whether in fact this is really how it all came about. Continue reading
All the same, since it’s not only a cultural phenomenon but even more importantly the eve of All Saints Day (“Halloween,” after all, is an abbreviation of “All Hallows’ Eve”), we can’t simply ignore it. I recommend this tract on Halloween for those who want to know more about the history of this day.
As for me, I’ve always been a little low-key about Halloween because it’s the birthday of a dear brother of mine who died when I was a teenager. Further, “trick or treating” was never an issue when my family lived in Steubenville, as we usually had multiple “All Saints Day” events to choose from that were both fun and reflective of the religious roots of the holiday.
Now for the past four years we have lived in a good community here in Kansas, but not a Catholic enclave like Steubenville, so we’ve been figuring out anew what to do about Halloween. We decided early on to participate in the neighborhood festivities, but we do what we can to ”re-baptize” the holiday.
For one thing, my kids still dress up as religious figures. So far we have had a priest, a Franciscan, St. Raymond of Penyafort, Moses, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, among others, with a couple other saints still in the making. The idea is that the kids need to be ready to explain who they are to others, which isn’t far removed from evangelizing their peers.
I will again dutifully give out treats (yes, that makes me a sugar daddy, I suppose!). One year I gave out second treats to those who could recite from memory a Scripture verse or answer a basic question about the Christian faith. Another year I gave out holy cards along with the candy. I’d like to try something new this year to keep things fresh, so I’d be interested in hearing our readers’ ideas and traditional practices when it comes to Halloween.