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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Yes and No

You'd be amazed at the people who argue with me. You would think my get up would make them think twice about whether or not I know what I'm talking about.

On the other hand...I am wrong once in a while. But at least I'm not making it up as I go along.

There are the simple everyday type of arguments, like the other day when I asked Sister St. Aloysius where she stored the Christmas lights when she put them away last year. She maintains that I put them away. I didn't. She took them down and that's the last I saw of them. Ever. This from the woman who couldn't tell the difference between the worm farm and the bee hive nee compost bin. I have to stop and think about these types of things because there is no doubt that Sister St. Aloysius is smarter than I. She has the Mensa certificate proving that fact.

Then there are the arguments I get sucked into, like the Ladies of the Parish who insist that I cast the deciding vote on whatever they are deciding, though I've just strolled by the door and got yanked into the meeting. I've told them until I'm blue in the face that they should not serve ham sandwiches at the Friday card clatches, even though we can eat meat on Friday now, it would be a good example for them to serve finger food or macaroni and cheese. They suspect, I think, that I am trying to get them to make macaroni and cheese so I can have some.

They are correct. I love macaroni and cheese to the point where I should eat meat on Fridays because I so prefer the macaroni and cheese. It would also set a good example.

This question from a reader jarred my memory of one of the most frustrating arguments I've ever had....
Anonymous said...

If Christmas is December 25th, how could Mary have conceived (immaculately or otherwise) in early December? Shouldn't this day be in March?

....over and over and over again. The last time was with a lady who teaches RCIA classes, and she walked away shaking her head as though poor old sister had finally lost it.

We don't celebrate the conception of Jesus at all. We do have the feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel came to tell Mary that she was going to conceive Jesus. That IS in March, by the by.

The Immaculate Conception refers to the fact that Mary had two parents just like the rest of us with no divine intervention in her conception save this: she did not have the stain of Original Sin on her soul when she was conceived like the rest of us.

It might help if you think of it as a time line leading to what we call the Virgin Birth, also known as Christmas Day.

Joachim and Anne are married.____________________They have a baby the same way everyone else does except the baby has not Original Sin on her soul (Immaculate Conception).__________The baby plays with her dolls___________lives at the Temple________________gets out of the Temple______________gets married to Joseph______________Gabriel comes_________________trip to Bethlehem_____________________Virgin Birth.

Note there are quite a few years between these events.

While we're on the subject, it's unlikely that Jesus was born in December. The shepherds were in the fields with their flocks. That's a springtime thing. Also, it would be silly to hold a census in the dead of winter.

The church picked December for two reasons. Be careful to remember this because if you get into an argument with somebody about Christmas originally being a pagan feast day type of thing and the Church grabbing it for themselves and you are arguing that the Church never did that you are going to be on the paying side of dinner for two.

The first reason really was to grab the pagan holiday for themselves. That way, when they changed it over to Christmas nobody would be mad. No body likes to lose a holiday. That's why we have all these holidays now days on Mondays, to grab the whole weekend. What was I talking about? Oh yes...the Church grabbed up the Winter Solstice and all it's trimmings and then switched it all into Christmas.

A brilliant move. The second reason: We celebrate the birth of Christ, the Light of the World, right when the days are the very shortest and then start growing long again. The Church just does not miss a trick to be symbolic. The Church Fathers are as smart as Sister St. Aloysius.

How do we know this, by the way, about the Immaculate Conception? Who told us? Mary herself did. That's how she introduced herself to Bernadette at Lourdes. When Bernadette asked the lady her name, Mary's response was "I am the Immaculate Conception." That's pretty straight forward.

That's not to say that's how we found out that Mary is the Immaculate Conception. We knew all along, since Gabriel mentioned that she was 'full of grace'. She couldn't be full of grace and have Original Sin. St. John the Baptist wasn't around to baptize anyone just yet. The Church, smarter than Sister St. Aloysius, has always maintained that Mary was free from sin.

So it's all pretty easy to understand except for one thing: God had to make Mary free from Original sin ahead of time. But Mary had free will. She could have said 'no thank you' to the whole thing and just danced away, free from Original sin to boot. But God knew she would say yes. But she could have said no. God could have bet a dinner on it. But she could have said no.

Don't worry about it. It's a "Sacred Mystery". That's Catholic for "let it go."


CSS said...

Dear Sister Mary Martha,

I feel strange correcting a nun on the most popular story in the Bible, but then again I'm not sure you are a nun. Anyways, Mary was engaged (betrothed) to Joseph, not married before receiving news of conception. However stronger engagement rules were those days, it was still not a marriage...

Maggie said...

Your last line, It's a "Scared Mustery". That's Catholic for "let it go." makes me feel much better when I think about certain doctrines of the Church such as Transsubstantiation. I argu with myself becasue I just cannot wrap my ligical brain around it. I tell myself that this is the definition of faith. I believe even though I cannot see. I close my eyes just like the Girl in a "Miracle on 34th Street" and say "I believe" over and over. Now I can call it a Scared Mystery.

Kevin - "pax tecum" said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Betrothal was much more akin to being married than just being engaged as we understand it today. When Joseph found out Mary was with child he planned on "divorcing" her quietly. He couldn't just "break up" with her he had to actually divorce her, so in a sense yes they were already "married" when Mary conceived our Lord --at least much closer to how we would understand it today.

Sister, I can very much relate to your tales of Immaculate Conception misunderstandings - I hear it all the time. I blogged about it because I wanted to be sure it was properly understood (http://family-centered.com/life/?p=715).

BTW, my husband and I are the RCIA directors for our parish. ;-)

Sarah - Kala said...

Rightly said, Michele. Thanks for clearing the "marriage" up for the readers. If readers care to, they should read up on Jewish customs, especially that of marriage, to get a better understanding of what it all means. I know my trip through Jewish customs helped the Bible come alive for me. It does enrich understanding.

God bless you in your RCIA directing.

Bless you, Sister.

Anonymous said...

I could be wrong, but I thought another reason for choosing December 25 for Christmas was: An ancient belief held that all the prophets had "perfect" lives - their conception and death fall on the same day of the year. Jesus was the greatest prophet. He died at Easter. Count forward 9 months...


Anonymous said...

Easter changes its date every year.

Anonymous said...

Easter runs by the sign of the moon. Always plant your potatoes on Good Friday, that is the correct sign of the moon for potatoe planting.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said..."Easter runs by the sign of the moon. Always plant your potatoes on Good Friday, that is the correct sign of the moon for potatoe planting."

And this relates to celebrating the birth of our Lord. . .how??

Nine months before Christmas is March 25th - the Feast of the Annunciation.

Tonda said...

Wish I could see your face sister as you read through comments left. I'd bet you are shaking your head most of the time. Wondering how we manage. I think many put to much emphasis on issues that really do not matter. Like a date... it does not matter other than it is one the Church Fathers chose, for what ever reason, for us to celebrate a great event or to honor a Saint of God. As you said, 'they are smart', and I trust their leadership and counsel.
I wonder if God is shaking his head as well?

Ellen said...

I applaud your attempts to get the ladies to serve mac & cheese. Your use of the "meatless Friday example card" is worthy of an Oscar.

I have been directed to your blog by our favorite posting priest, Fr. Daren. Your insight into our world of Catholicism is refreshing.

It is a shame that my good friend Sister Rosemary passed away recently. She would have loved reading your blog. She, too, had a similar outlook on the world - that humor could be injected into our faith with out being irreverant. Unfortunately, she was called home at the (nun) young age of just 69. Tomorrow would have been her 70th birthday.

Anonymous said...

I believe that as for the dates..does the Church define the celebrations or do the celebrations define the Church? Not sure I believe in coincidence. Christmas always falls close to or in alignment with Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, and isn't that an appropriate time for the Light of the World to be born? And isn't Chanukah also the "rededication of the temple"? And as for the replacement of pagan holidays, that is also appropriate for Jesus' mission to be the Way and the Truth. I am more inclined to believe that maybe timing is more important than whether the shepherds were out with their flocks in winter or not. I'm not saying that the Church Fathers didn't have that as their motive, just suggesting it may have been Divine Inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Easter is different every year because the date is chosen by the full moon that follows the vernal equinox. I don't know why we use this system other than it's been done since A.D. 325.
I was replying to the "Easter changes it's date every year" comment that preceeded mine not relating it to the birth of Christ.
The part about the potatoes is well known by experienced gardeners and farmers but could be useful information to new gardeners. With people 'going green' these days I just threw it out there, FYI.

Lisa, ofs said...

Christian Student Scientist: As others have said earlier, our Redeemer came into the world through a married couple: Mary wasn't an "unwed mother" at the moment of the Incarnation, nor was she merely "engaged" to Joseph -- she was truly and legally married to him; a wife. Jesus was conceived, as is proper, within the bond of Holy Matrimony, not outside it. (Also, think about it: Why would God, the Creator of Matrimony, break His own rules by having His Only Son conceived outside of marriage?)

Because I'm lazy and don't feel like retyping everything here, see my blog post on the subject -- I've got several sources and quotes that describe the Jewish marriage customs of Joseph and Mary's time. :-)

PraiseDivineMercy said...

It's my understanding that Mary and Joseph were dedicated to each other as husband and wife but that this often happened years before a couple would start living together and consummate their bond.

JennA said...

Got this from a friend...thought it was appropriate after your last few posts:


Dear Children,

It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season. Maybe you've forgotten that I wasn't actually born during this time of the year and that it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate My birthday on what was actually a time of pagan
festival. Although I do appreciate being remembered anytime.

How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Now, having said that let Me go on. If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and
what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15: 1 - 8.

If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list.
Choose something from it:

1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally.
They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of writing George complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up. It will be nice hearing from you again.

4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

5. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference.

7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families

8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary-- especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name.

9. Here's a good one. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Salvation Army or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.

10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.

Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you
love and remember: I LOVE YOU, JESUS

CSS said...

Dear Lisa,sfo: Thank you for taking time to respond. After reading your post I think I see where the difference in opinions comes from. You thought I meant by 'engagement' the light-hearted agreement that it is nowadays. I didn't. In fact, I said 'betrothed'. To me, the difference between betrothal and marriage is whether the couple is having sex or not. You seem to say that they are essentially the same. The Bible, however, does make a whole big deal by saying that Joseph and Mary were betrothed before the Gabriel's announcement and married later on. I suspect the terms are not quite the same.

As long as we are quoting Bible, the occasional 'husband', 'wife' and 'divorce' do throw some people off into thinking that Joseph and Mary were actually married (in the Jewish sense of the word). But they could, and I believe they do, also reflect the seriousness of the betrothal: once two people are betrothed, they are bound forever just as husband and wife, yet they still might get divorced. After the marriage, i.e. consummation of marriage, divorce (according to Jesus) is no longer an option. But I digress.

I do wonder how you explain Mary's words "How shall this be, since I have no husband?"? To me that's pretty clear indication of where things are between Mary and Joseph.

Nowadays a pure meaning of engagement is to commit to each other, just as in marriage, but with no sexual relationship. So I was correcting precisely that: Mary and Joseph were not married, i.e. not having sex. Were they commited to each other before God, much stronger than many of us married people are? Yes, absolutely. Married? No.

P.S. I can see how some equate 'conceived before marriage' and 'illegitimate' and it could be offensive but simply not applicable to Jesus. Conceiving before marriage points to woman's (and man's) sinful behavior, but Jesus was conceived immaculately and Mary was never married to God so the logic does not apply...

The Dangerous Mezzo said...

Thank you -- that's sorted out the Immaculate Conception for me quite nicely ... :)

Bless you, Sister.

Anonymous said...

Christian Student said:
"P.S. I can see how some equate 'conceived before marriage' and 'illegitimate' and it could be offensive but simply not applicable to Jesus. Conceiving before marriage points to woman's (and man's) sinful behavior, but Jesus was conceived immaculately and Mary was never married to God so the logic does not apply..."

I would just like to point out that the notion of an illegitimate child is purely a legal definition--not a religious one. And again, the immaculate conception refers to Mary's conception, NOT THAT OF Jesus!

La Bibliotecaria Laura said...

That is how I answer the hard questions my kids ask me--"It's a sacred Mystery" until I have enough time to read up my Catechism and get the answer straight.

I have a somewhat lighter question: What is a good Christmas gift for a Monk and a Priest?

I have two very good friends that live far from me, one a Cistercian Monk and another a Norbertine Father; I usually write them letters, but would also like to include a token gift. I usually send Holy Cards, but am not sure what to do this year... any suggestions?

Thank you,
La Bibliotecaria Laura

RadioPie said...

Think of it like how in the US (I'm from Canada) there is Washington's birthday, and then Washington's birthday observed. (I think it's Washington that you do that with...) They moved the date of the celebration to right before the weekend (or right after...I forget) so that it's easier to celebrate.

Tonda said...

Christian Student Scientist said...
The Bible, however, does make a whole big deal by saying that Joseph and Mary were betrothed before the Gabriel's announcement and married later on.

She is right. Even in Matthew 1:18-24 it mentions that fact. Verse 20 the Angel Gabriel tells Joseph not to be afraid to go ahead with the marriage.

Christian Student Scientist also said...
P.S. I can see how some equate 'conceived before marriage' and 'illegitimate' and it could be offensive but simply not applicable to Jesus. Conceiving before marriage points to woman's (and man's) sinful behavior, but Jesus was conceived immaculately and Mary was never married to God so the logic does not apply...

MAB said...

Sister, I have to admit that after 16 years of Catholic education (in the 70's and 80's) I was not clear on the Immaculate Conception either.

What has helped me is to remember the Annunciation (March 25) is 9 months before Christmas; and the Immaculate Conception (December 8) is 9 months before the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin (September 8).

Heather said...

I remember reading last year (at Mark Shea's blog) about the dating of Christmas. He stated it goes back to the Jewish tradition that the date of one's death is the same as either one's birth or conception.
Since they knew when Jesus died (more people were paying attention at this point than at His birth), they just counted back nine months and voilĂ , December.
Which is pretty much what Sarah 8:29 said. :)

Anonymous said...

Jenna- that is fabulous!!!! I'm going to try to find it in printable form on google and send it out as my Christmas card this year!!

Beki - TheRustedChain said...

Hmmm, interesting debate which I shall stay out of. :) But it's enjoyable reading for sure!

Thank you Sister!

T with Honey said...

"She couldn't be full of grace and have Original Sin."
I guess that means the rest of us are only half-full of grace. Unless you're a pessimist. ;)

Lisa, ofs said...

Christian Student Scientist: The quotes you cite from the Bible as supporting Mary and Joseph only being betrothed and not married prior to the Annunciation are a result of POOR TRANSLATIONS, not historical reality.

It is a MISTRANSLATION when you read Mary say, "I'm not married". A more accurate translation is, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" (NAB) or "How shall this be done, because I know not man?" (Douay-Rheims); you also find this in many other translations. Also, the angel commands Joseph to take Mary into his home to complete the final stage of marriage; it is again a mistranslation when you read versions that tell him to "not be afraid to marry" her.

The fact that Joseph and Mary were married, not betrothed prior to the Annunciation has absolutely, positively nothing to do with opinions or religious differences. It is simply a case of the historical reality of Jewish marriage customs at the time, which is clearly documented by a variety of sources; I've only shared just a few examples in my blog post.

And 'cause I don't wanna clog up the comments here, I just posted some more on my blog, some of which specifically address the translation issue. :-D

Anonymous said...

Good Friday is a Holy Day! We do not work and we certainly would never "dig in the ground" on the day that Jesus died and was buried! Plant your potatoes on another day.

Anonymous said...

Selecting a date for Christmas based on the date of Easter isn't necessarily impossible just because the date for Easter changes. The old Jewish calendar was a lunar calendar and Easter follows either that or a similar lunar calendar. Christmas has been set as a particular day in the Gregorian solar calendar. Remember that sometimes Easter comes very early in the Gregorian calendar. My 3rd child was born the day after Easter - March 28, 2005.


Anonymous said...

"I've told them until I'm blue in the face that they should not serve ham sandwiches at the Friday card clatches, even though we can eat meat on Friday now"

Sister, as you know but perhaps should say, we "can eat meat on Friday now" only if we substitute a penitential practice for the previously required act of abstention.
Fridays are still penitential.