Friday, December 7

This evening, we meandered down to a Protestant church down the street to their outdoor nativity type of pageant called "Walk to Bethlehem". It was kind of goofy, but in a quite endearing kind of way.

You arrive, and you are guided by a Roman centurion to your first stop, which is a nail-maker. Now, I'm thinking they wanted to make some kind of connection between this and the nails of the crucifixion, but if they did, it didn't quite come off, but that's okay. Once enough people gathered around the nail-maker working the metal in his fire, you'd be grouped in a tribe, given a fake gold coin and led on to Bethlehem to pay your taxes. (which didn't make sence, because not all the tribes would have gone to Bethlehem to pay taxes, but again...that's okay.)

Your group (we were Zebulon) was then led past various tableaux - Joseph working wood, the Annunciation, the shepherds (with a couple of real sheep), Mary and Joseph getting ready to set forth (with a real donkey! Joseph (ours) couldn't keep his eyes off that particularly strange creature), and then the nativity itself. After the outdoor part, you went to the church basement to pay your taxes to the emperor - an old guy dressed in purple with olive leaves around his head - and browse around their various stalls of Middle eastern food and handiwork, then upstairs to the church where they had dozens of nativity sets on display.

As I said, it was kind of awkward at times, and all the Mary's in the various tableaux looked to be about 45, but it was rather charming. My absolute favorite part happened when you were walking along the path from the shepherds to the nativity. A wire was strung up alongside the sidewalk, about ten feet up, and hooked on the wire was a big star, which moved along with your were following the star! Get it? I liked it.

The Lord of the Rings hasn't even opened yet, and now we're being given news of a new Inklings film to which to count down: a big screen version of the Chronicles of Narnia. Read about it here.
Aside from the occasions that an article of mine appears online with a link to this site, there are two times of the year that I regularly see spikes in page views: Late April and May, and then late November and December. After studying my page stats, I've figured out why: students are writing papers on David Lodge. I'm sure that's it. My page on Lodge has more total hits than any other page on the site besides the main one, and the numbers rise dramatically at the end of semesters. At this point, I think the page is coming up on either the first or second page of a Google hit for David Lodge, and is the first to come up if you enter "David Lodge" and "Catholic". So...all you students...welcome. And get some sleep!
Some rich people live behind us. It's a doctor, his wife, and two children, one of whom is at college now. Thank goodness, because that older child - a son - likes to have big parties when he's around, parties which don't seem to get rolling until about 3am.

They also have a couple of dogs. Two lively little beagles. There's no actual physical fence that separates our properties, but one of those inground electrical fences that keeps the dogs in bounds via sensors on their collars that shock them when they cross.

One of the dogs is content with the arrangement and never tries to escape, but the other regularly does. You can tell this has happened when you hear the animal yelping. It's happening right now. The dog is racing around in our back yard, sniffing and yelping in mild pain. Soon he'll come around the front and then make his way to our next-door neighbor's, yipping and hopping all the while.

Is he stupid or brave? I can't decide. Is he simply so dense that he doesn't even respond to Pavlovian tricks? Doesn't he understand the connection between the pain and the boundary? Or does he just not care? Is his freedom worth the price of a little pain?

What keeps us within our boundaries, properly trained and docile? Are we smart or are we simply cowards?

Feast of St. Ambrose

A quite fascinating story and a brilliant saint. St. Ambrose was not even a Christian when the people of Milan acclaimed him as their new bishop. He was a catechumen, to be sure, and probably had been enrolled as such for a while - that was not uncommon in those days, since many, especially those in ruling classes, did not want to make the serious sacrifices that Christianity entailed back then until they were sure they didn't have any more time to enjoy what was being sacrificed.

But Ambrose had done such a smashing job as the procurator of Milan, especially in opposition to Arian heretics, that when the old bishop died, the people of the city called for him to be bishop. He initially declined, of course, but then assented, concluding that God must be making His will known through the people's voice. He received the sacraments of initiation and ordination within the space of a week and then went on to become a great bishop, instrumental in battling the Arian heresy and, of course, in the conversion of Augustine. One of the passages I remember, I think from The Confessions about Ambrose describes a scene in which Augustine spied Ambrose reading a book. He was very impressed. Why? Because Ambrose was reading this book silently - it was still the practice in this late Roman culture to move one's lips and read aloud, even when reading alone.

The story of Ambrose is instructive on countless levels. It reminds us that the history of the church is rich and varied, and that not everything has always been the way it is - the process of the selection of bishops, in this case. Secondly, I think it's a good corrective to those in the church obsessed with process, organization and committees. This net sweeps up a lot of people, no matter where they fall ideologically - the "conservatives" who get hyped up about rubric and canon law as well as the "liberals" who think of their commissions, committees and sacramental preparation programs as the equivalent, not only of Canon Law, but of the Ten Commandments, as well. Memo to All: You can't make a box big enough for me. Signed, God.

More on St. Ambrose


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