Sunday, December 18, 2011

Merry Christmass

It amuses me that many people wish others a Merry Christmas without any awareness of what that greeting means.

The Spanish-speaking peoples say, "Feliz Navidad," which means "Happy Nativity." The Italians say much the same thing in their "Buon Natale." The French duplicate it in "Joyeux Noel." All three refer to the birth of Christ.

The Germans wish you "Frőhliche Weihnachten," which is roughly rendered, "Happy Consecrated (i.e., Holy) Night."

I like the sound of the Hawaiian greeting, "Mele Kalikimaka," borrowed directly from the English "Merry Christmas," but pronounced quite differently because there is no "r" or "s" in Hawaiian.

And that brings us back to the greeting English-speaking people use. It comes from the old English word crīstesmæsse, which means "Christ's Mass."

The celebration of Jesus' birth used to be called "the Christ Mass," and from that expression came our "Merry Christmas."

It is true that we do not know the date or even  the year of Jesus' birth. We conclude from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

St. Francis of Assisi, however, helped the Middle Ages think more of Jesus' birth when he put together a Christmas creche, the forerunner of the crib sets we see every year in our churches, in our homes, and sometimes in public places.

I hear that Members of the House of Representatives have been told that they may not say "Merry Christmas" anymore in their official mail if they wish to use the franking privilege, that is, if they want to get their postage paid at tax payer's expense.

And every year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is controversy about whether retailers
will allow their clerks and cashiers to wish customers "Merry Christmas."

I suspect that in a few years there will be a push to give December 25 a new name.

We know that "Season's Greetings" is already a common euphemsism. Maybe the PCP (the Politically Correct Police) will being on enough pressure to designate December 25 as "Greetings Day" or "Peace On Earth Day" or "Winter's Holiday" (although that last one won't work in the southern hemisphere).

Well, whatever they try to foist off on us, it will still be for Christians the feast of the birth of Jesus Christ.

And even if the PCP are successful in coining a new name for it, many of us English-speaking Catholics will cling to our traditional "Merry Christmas!"

That greeting will make us smile because on that holy day we gather at Mass to celebrate the Incarnation --our faith conviction that God took on human nature and pitched his tent among us.

It will still be Jesus' birthday no matter what the PCP call it. And we will still celebrate a Merry Christ Mass.

And I happily wish you a Merry Christ Mass too!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Prevenient Grace

Prevenient grace?

At Mass on December 8, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Prayer over the Offerings used the term "prevenient grace" to describe God's intervention to keep Mary "untouched by any stain of sin."

Prior to our use of the new Roman English translation we prayed, "You kept her free from sin from the first moment of her life."

The expression "prevenient grace" does not fall trippingly off the tongue. The Council of Trent used the Latin "a Dei per dominum Christum Iesum praeveniente gratia" (rendered  "a predisposing grace of God through Jesus Christ" in the English translation I use of Trent, session 6, chapter 5.)

The theology behind Trent's "prevenient or predisposing grace" is the Catholic Church's conviction that "actual justification in adults takes its origin from a predisposing grace of God through Jesus Christ ...with no existing merits on their side" (ibid). Thus, those who had turned from God by sins are disposed by God's grace to turn back and become justified by freely assenting to that grace.

The term "prevenient grace" is probably more familiar among Calvinists and Methodists, who disagree with one another about the fine points of the concept. Calvinists hold that God's will alone brings salvation, rejecting the Wesleyan Methodist' belief that people must respond to the grace. Calvinists say that grace is either common or special,  and  special grace is given only to the elect and is irresistible. Wesleyans insist that prevenient grace can be accepted or rejected.

Further, Calvinists reject what they call "universal enablement," the idea that God offers salvation and justification to everybody.

The predominant use of the term "prevenient grace" in Protestant circles differs somewhat from the Catholic use of the term regarding Mary's Immaculate Conception.

The Catholic theology of the special prerogative given to Mary (to be "conceived without sin") does indeed imply a prevenient grace. This particular prevenient grace was given uniquely to Mary, given before and in anticipation of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I never dreamed the new Roman English translation of Mass prayers would lead to such a maze of theologizing.

I hope to be better prepared next December 8th to enunciate that peculiar phrase, but I suspect I will still be wishing I could say, "You kept her free from sin from the first moment of her life." That seems to me easier to say and understand, and for me a lot  more joyful and prayerful.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time there was a CEO who was painfully aware that his business was failing, but he was afraid to confront the reasons for the failure head-on.

Fear seemed to be prevalent throughout the company. The board was afraid of the CEO,  the CEO  was afraid of the board, and the management teams were afraid of both. Some individual site managers were afraid too; many were frustrated, disconsolate, or angry.

Customers were perplexed by the company's poor showing. It had a great product, the public need was as strong as ever, but consumption was down.

Recognizing that some top level response was needed, the CEO and the board issued a series of memos. The memos did not address the issues actually responsible for the decline. Instead they cited employees for failing to follow the policy handbook or they reiterated policies that had proved ineffective for decades.

One memo insisted that employees in their official business capacity should use a style of language which was awkward and in some cases simply odd.

Many managers, employees, and even some customers tried to understand and implement the company directives. Some responded half-heartedly. Some walked away.

The owner of the business showed remarkable restraint. He waited patiently for the fear to dissipate, for the board to review its mission, for the customers to return. He never gave up, but sometimes the customers and the site managers, the supervisors and the management team members wondered, "Where is he?  When will he step in and do something about the business he so deeply loves?"