Friday, December 28, 2012

Joyous Customs Surrounding the Nativity

(ACNS) - It goes without saying that the Nativity of Our Lord is a joyous occasion and a time of great celebration. Part of this celebration includes three important feast days that follow immediately after Christmas Day. These are the Feast of Saint Stephen the Deacon and Protomartyr on the 26th, the Feast of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist on the 27th, and the Feast of the Holy Innocents on the 28th.

St. Stephen was the first martyr. He was both a martyr in will and in fact, being both willing to die if necessary for the Faith and actually doing so. He was stoned to death while Saul, the later Blessed Paul the Apostle who was then a great persecutor of Christians, looked on approvingly. The popular Christmas Carol "Good King Wenceslas" tells the story of a Bohemian ruler who braved the winter weather to carry food and supplies to a poor peasant on this day. This act to charity reminds us of the duty of Stephen in life as a Roman Deacon to tend to the needs of the poor. It is also no surprise that this feast day is of great importance to the Patriarchal See of St. Stephen, for it is its Patronal Feast. By custom, the Patriarch vests for solemn mass as far as the dalmatic, the garment of a Deacon, and then, standing before the altar, sings "Stephanus autem plenus gratia et fortitudine faciebat prodigia et signa magna in populo." (And Stephen full of grace and power worked great signs and miracles among the people.) The choir responds with "Thanks be to God," for there is indeed great thanks both for Blessed Stephen's ministry and his celestial patronage of the Patriarchal See.

On the Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, we celebrate the life and ministry of the only Apostle who was not martyred. The enemies of the faith tried to kill him, but without success. When they gave him wine that had been poisoned, he blessed the wine, drank it, and was not harmed. It is for this reason that we have a special blessing for wine this day and toast to the love of St. John. There are also recipes for mulling the wine before the toast.

The last of these three special feasts is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. These babes were murdered by Herod, who was jealous of Jesus and wanted Him dead. The infants died for our Lord, though they did not know this reason they were dying. In some countries, this day is somewhat like an April Fool's day in America and is full of pranks. Other customs include letting the youngest child of the family decide what to do that day, the meals, the entertainment, and so forth. The traditional Christmas carol "Coventry Carol" deals with the Holy Innocents.

The celebration of Christmas is not simply on one day. Even some of the popular Christmas carols we sing or hear played on the radio point to other days within the Christmas season. The three days following the Feast of the Nativity are of special importance and fittingly come with special customs to enjoy, celebrate, and learn from them.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Patriarchal Address on the Feast of the Nativity 2012

To the Bishops, Regular Clergy, and Faithful of the Anglican Rite Roman Catholic Church, greetings and Apostolic Blessings on this joyous Feast of the Nativity of our Lord in the two hundred and twelfth year of the Incarnation. This Christmas finds our Patriarchate growing in numbers and faith amidst the ever-present strife of the fallen world. We are pleased by the blessing of both new vocations and those who are discerning clerical and religious vocations. These new vocations will be the voice of evangelism in the coming years. Effective evangelism remains of utmost importance at this crucial time in the world's history. We must not be discourged from this mission, even if the godly admonitions of the Church from time to time fall on deaf ears.

As we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ more than two thousand years ago, we reflect of the magnitude and the scope of His holy mission. It is a mission that all Christians are called upon to continue. It is a mission that was met by great opposition in the time of Christ. And, it is a mission that continued to be met with great imposition after the Ascension of Christ, as the blood of the martyrs will certainly attest. Yet we must not shrink in the face of danger. We must be bold in our evangelism today just as Christ and the Blessed Saints.

The evangelism of today must indeed stand in the face of great opposition. It must stand against increasing secularism promoted by world government, commerce, and the media. Today the world continues to be plagued by the curse of abortion. The United States alone murders over a million unborn children each year. Secular society has bred a culture that does not respect the fundamental right of each human being to life. Yet, each and every other right enjoyed by human beings has as its necessary pre-condition the existence of life. The discussion of other rights cannot begin, therefore, until the right to life has been acknowledged.

The fundamental building block of all society is the family, and this, too, is being threatened. The family is built upon marriage, and a marriage is by definition between one man and one woman. Marriage is the acknowledgement of the natural differences between men and women and the beautiful complementary nature of those differences. It is an acceptance of how almighty God has made each of us individually. It is a humble submission to the way that we were made. The secularists, however, are pushing forward with their agenda of redefining what marriage is. Quite a few countries, including the United States, have legalized homosexual marriage in whole or in part. By making men and women essentially interchangeable in a marriage, we arrogantly laugh in the face of God and refuse to acknowledge how He made us. Rather than accepting our God-given nature, society today chooses to define its own nature. The work of our evangelists today is perhaps at the most daunting level it has ever been since the days of the Early Church.

Life in secular society dismisses the order of nature and turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to God. Secular society ignores its Creator and the rules of nature laid down by the Creator. Yet, the rocks, the trees, and the heavens all inevitaly follow the rules of God without question or exception. What would happen if the earth had a mind of its own and chose to stop obeying the laws of physics that keep it in an orbit around the sun that is conducive to life? Man is the only creation of God that has free will and the potential for comprehension. The secularization in society is a conscious choice to ignore God's natural laws and substitute our own. With gay marriage, we have a venerable and ancient institution thousands of years old that has been turned on its head. It is as if the earth no longer orbits the sun, but instead it is the other way around. The beauty of God's creation in man and woman is cast aside as society imposes its own definition that ignores nature.

Yes, the evangelists of today have a difficult task ahead of them. Their work is made all the more difficult by the vast number of liberals within our educational institutions that profess secularism and modernism. The media also widely pushes this anti-Christian and liberal agenda. The mission of the Christian people is only possible through the grace of God and the constant intercession of the Blessed Virgin, who sees her children in the world and lovinly prays for their conversion. So much did God want the world to turn to Him willingly and attain eternal salvation that He gave His only-begotten Son, whose birth we celebrate today. So much did the Blessed Virgin Mary love us all that she willingly submitted to God and stood at the foot of the Cross as Christ hung there dying for the sins of the world. It is those who profess secularism, liberalism, and modernism today who would have been shouting for our Lord to be crucified. They do not stand for the rights and freedom of all people. They have no sympathy for the suffering of our Lord. Rather, it is Christ on the Cross who stands for freedom, truth, and the rights of all mankind. It is the Blessed Virgin who stood by the Cross to the very end in sympathy with our Lord, her own Immaculate Heart pierced, herself crucified inside, who represents freedom and the rights of all. It is the Blessed Apostles and Saints, and the blood of the martyrs that stood firm as champions of the rights and freedom of all. The liberals present a false freedom that is attractive, but like a Venus flytrap, leads ultimately to one's own demise and the demise of society.

This Christmas season let us resolve to love our fellow man and stand up for the truth of Christ. Let us all pray for the current clergy and an increase in vocations, for there is yet much work to be done. Let us pray for the conversion of those who have turned from Christ. Let us indeed pray that the world will abandon secularism and embrace the love and beauty of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in whom alone lies true freedom.

And now may the blessing of Almighty God, the Father +, the Son +, and the Holy + Ghost be upon you and remain with you always. R. Amen.