Old Testament for New Year’s

Our first Scripture reading for the New Year is from the book of Numbers, one of the first five books of the Old Testament. Numbers recounts the journey of the Israelites from Mt. Sinai to the Promised Land.

Reading from the book of Numbers on New Year’s gives us a special insight. The spiritual meaning of the Book of Numbers helps us to understand the passage of time.

The pilgrimage which the Israelites made through the desert forms an image of the pilgrimage of the Church on earth, the image of our pilgrim life. And, as of today, the Lord has added another year to our pilgrimage.

As the Israelites made their way through the desert, they pitched their camp at various places along the way. They erected their camp according to God’s precise instructions. But of course they never settled down permanently in the desert. They were on their way to the Promised Land.

Likewise, the Church worships God according to His precise instructions in buildings built of wood, brick, and stone here on earth. But we have no lasting city here. We long for the courts of the eternal temple in the heavenly Jerusalem.

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Holy Family & Gnomon Vaticano

The Lord delivers many graces on a Christmas Sunday.

But, alas, we do lose Holy Family Sunday in such years. If you yearn for a Holy Family sermon from the archive, you may click a link…

Fr. M.D.W. Holy Family homily 2008 and 2009.

…Speaking of talks from December ’08:

Did you know that the Vatican obelisk in St. Peter’s Square functions as the gnomon of an annual sundial?

At noon, the shadow of the obelisk falls on a granite meridian. Discs mark points along the stone line. The shadow falls on the disc farthest from the obelisk on the winter solstice; it falls on a disc near the base on the summer solstice. Discs in between mark the points at which the sun enters the various signs of the zodiac.

Worth Writing Down Artfully

Lacquered Japanese Calligraphy Box at the Walters

On Monday, December 29, 2008, the Hoyas played Hasheem Thabeet & Co.–the UConn Huskies–in Hartford. Georgetown stepped on the court as 6 1/2-point underdogs and stepped off the winners by 11 points.

Christmas-week glory indeed.

But 2008 cannot hold a candle to what took place in Louisville, Ky., yesterday evening.

The Hoyas went on to take a nosedive in January 2009. It won’t happen again. This season will unfold differently. Nothing can bond a team together like a stadium-clearing brawl in inland China.

I wish I owned my own 19th-century suzuri bako, so that I could calligraphize the moment:

Hoyas Stun Cardinals to End Louisville’s 20-Game Home-Court Winning Streak and Inaugurate the J.T. III Salad Days!!

New Bridge

Rock Creek drains the land on which I was raised. An asphalt trail skirts the creek the whole way from the Watergate to far-flung Montgomery County, Md.

Like many such trails, the Rock Creek trail occasionally meets with impediments–namely huge, heavily-trafficked roads. This can require dismounting and crossing at a light.

The brand new bridge over the six lanes of Veirs Mill Road flies like a great buttress in the lower sky. The pedestrian/bicyclist now reigns supreme, on a higher plane, where he once had to defer to the roaring cars.

(The creek flows under a nearby road-bridge, as it has for decades.)

Praise you, Lord, and Mont. Co. Parks and Rec.!

Christmas Gift for Homo Religiosus

God made us in a particular way. He endowed us with some agonizingly exquisite qualities, the qualities that make us who we are. We human persons make the rest of the animal kingdom, the rest of the material universe, look…kind of, well, limited.

Four things about us human beings:

1. We long to know the unknowable infinite power behind everything we see.

2. We eagerly desire uprightness and justice; we desperately want things to be right.

3. We feel impelled to live in a worthy, beautiful way, difficult as it may be to do so.

4. We want the friendship, not just of each other, but of God Himself.

For more than two centuries now, ideologues of a certain stripe have been sounding the death knell of the “primitive superstition” known as religion. But we human beings incorrigibly persist. It appears that we cannot be reformed. We will seek God one way or another. We will not abandon our ancient four-pronged religious quest: to know, to please, to imitate, and to befriend the great Other.

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The Baptist’s Song

As we approach Christmas, we pray in the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer about St. John the Baptist.

Perhaps you have noticed a small but notable change in the translation. The old Sacramentary had it that John the Baptist was “Christ’s herald.”

True enough; beautiful enough. But now, with the new translation, we pray that St. John “sang of Christ’s coming.”

The Christ appeared on earth, and the holy prophet sang. Locusts in his belly, camel hair around his waist, the Jordan River rushing by, and the desert wind blowing: he sang.

Can we not imagine that the Baptist sang with everything Johnnie Cash, Roy Orbison, Placido Domingo, Ray Charles, and Eddie Vedder all have to offer in their voices—rolled into one masculine melody on the wind?

The coming of Christ moves those who recognize Him to break out into song. Could be a Tallis Scholars song, or a Pogues song, a hymn, a chant, a warble. Joy and love sing.

Many beauties of the earth touch the undying, simple perfection of heaven—but to sing does so in a uniquely immediate way.

God rest ye merry. Baby Jesus comes tomorrow night. It will be time to sing.

Tigers at Verizon Center; Say No to Frank Gehry

…The Georgetown Hoyas’ overtime win over the Memphis Tigers on December 14, 2008, stands as one of the most gratifying experiences of my little life.

Yesterday’s game had different “trajectories.” Three years ago, the Hoyas upset a team that had been in the Final Four the preceding spring. Yesterday, the Hoyas stepped onto the court as 4-point favorites, having beat the Tigers once already this season.

But, dear reader, it was a sweet 11-point win nonetheless!

…Click HERE for yet another example of the emperors with no clothes running the contemporary architecture business.

We southwest Virginians have our piece to say about the proposed Dwight Eisenhower Memorial, as designed by Frank Gehry. Gehry’s protege Randall Stout designed the crashed metal eagle whose carcass litters downtown Roanoke.

Should the pleasant L’Enfant-plan park formed by the intersection of Independence and Maryland Avenues, Southwest, Washington, be boxed in by 80-foot pylons and stainless-steel curtains, as Gehry’s design proposes? Should puppies be jailed in wire-mesh cages for life?

Should the exploits of the great general and two-term president be “feminized,” as Kennicott suggests Gehry’s design succeeds in doing? Should we have a “masculinized” Jackie O. Memorial?

How about a good old, fashioned statue of Ike, and call it a day?

Southwest Washington lost most of its charm two generations ago. But that’s no excuse for turning it into a showplace for architectural preposterousness.

Good Company Evangelizes

Mary set out in those days and traveled. (Luke 1:39)

We read about our Lady’s holy Visitation of St. Elizabeth during this season of much visitation. We wish safe journeys to everyone about to set out in haste.

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leapt in her womb.”

Of course, at this moment, supernatural grace operated, and St. John had his first interaction with Christ–womb-to-womb, so to speak.

But grace, as we know, builds on nature. Can we not imagine that the sound of the Blessed Virgin’s voice simply brought joy to the ears of her friends? That a visit from our Lady meant the pleasure of good company?

Does the sound of my voice bring joy to the people I visit? If not, is it because I nag or criticize? Is it because I never make the effort to contribute in a thoughtful manner to a decent conversation? Is it because all I ever talk about is myself?

The Blessed Mother brought Christ with her when she came to visit Elizabeth and Zechariah. She brought her love, her friendship, her affectionate care. She brought unassuming peace, patient devotion to the truth, ready attentiveness, and—I think we can imagine—a sweet sense of humor. How could she have gotten through everything she had to get through without one?

Being good company makes a pretty respectable witness to Christ. We might not be able to convince everyone to go to Mass with us. But if we are good company, we’ve got a shot at it.

In One of the Woods…

…that I frequent, the trail winds past a clearing. (Sorry. Bad cellphone photo:)

A family cemetery with a dozen graves. The oldest stone was chiseled in 1911. Three infants were buried here in the 1920’s. They trucked a paterfamilias up here as recently as 1982.

Sun setting behind the Blue Ridge. The moist, cold sod carpeted with fallen leaves. Our chop-fallen forebears’ bones mouldering just beneath my bended knees, pullulating with worms warmed by the deeper soil…Can’t think of a more pleasant pastime for a winter’s eve.

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
These rebel powers that thee array;
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? is this thy body’s end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

(William Shakespeare, Sonnet 146)

Rambo Virgin Mary (non-superficial Christmas)

We began Advent with two goals. 1) Try to get these new Mass responses right. 2) Prepare to celebrate a non-superficial Christmas.

A superficial Christmas practically ends before it begins. A superficial Christmas feels like work, not a holiday. A superficial Christmas costs too much money. A superficial Christmas leaves a person angry at one relative or another, out of sorts, and five pounds heavier.

How can we have a non-superficial Christmas?

Well, one “person” knows how to do it. Namely, the Church. But our Mother the Church does not take credit for inventing the proper way to celebrate Christmas. The Church learned how to do it from the true master of the non-superficial Christmas. Namely, the Virgin Mary.

“Hail, Mary!” The archangel Gabriel saluted the unique woman, indeed a new Eve. Hail, Mary. Hail, favored one.

This woman lived and breathed nothing but the will of God. No one has ever been more perfectly aware of the fundamental fact of life: I am the work of the Creator’s hands. The Blessed Mother studied this fact with every gaze of her eyes, with every sound she heard, everything she tasted, felt.

At the moment the angel arrived to greet her, Mary’s soul rested in perfect stillness. She liked to read. She didn’t watch t.v.

“What does this mean, that a glorious angel would visit me, go down on one knee before me, make such a proposal to me? Let me inquire, let me seek the truth…”

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