Letters to a Young Catholic

It took me nearly two months to get through this book. Not because I was bored, but quite the opposite—there’s a lot to digest, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The chapters are like “letters,” as if Weigel is really writing to the reader (i.e., me). In a way, that makes you pay attention to it more. When he takes you on a virtual journey through a basilica, you mentally turn left when he points to something in that direction. When you go down a set of stairs, you feel the mustiness of a crypt. It’s almost personalized, and it works.

“Young” Catholic doesn’t necessarily mean in age, though that’s the typical audience. It’s also beneficial to those new to the faith (again, me) or returning. This book was actually gifted to me by a non-Catholic for my Confirmation. I imagine they just went into a bookstore and picked up the most Catholic-looking book they could find. I don’t think they knew how relevant it was. Each letter contains an explanation of something in the faith that may be new to the newbies, from the definition of an icon to the story behind Our Lady of Guadalupe. But even the most basic of information is presented in an informative, factual way that’s not degrading. You don’t feel silly for not knowing. You’re young, after all.

Each letter begins with a place—a cathedral, a town, or a seemingly ordinary countryside—and explains its religious significance. It then delves into a related matter of faith. It goes from the Sistine Chapel to a bar in England to Auschwitz. It discusses heavenly Good and the worst evils. It’s not just factual, but also a challenge to live the faith.

A couple letters get very political, which I rarely understand, so those parts went over my head. I got what he was doing by the end of it, but missed a lot of the explanation in the middle. But the faith-based letters, and the especially the ones in locations I’d visited before, loudly resound. I quite liked visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and St. Peter’s Basilica again, even if only in memory.

Christmas Tunes

My Advent season has been severely lacking in Christmas music. Between not driving to work (and therefore no radio), and having finished Christmas shopping a month ago, there are few opportunities to catch some little ditty in passing. So I have to take it upon myself. Here are some of my favorite Christmas songs, to listen to later when I’m (finally) wrapping gifts!

I didn’t care much about Little Drummer Boy when I was a kid, but then listened to the lyrics when I got older. And cried. This poor little boy can only offer what he has—virtually nothing, compared to the lavish gifts of others—but… Jesus loves it.
There are many modern renditions of this one, but the original is best.

The entirety of Josh Groban’s Christmas album is on holiday rotation, but this one is a particular favorite.

As a long-standing fan of Greensleeves, adding Jesus lyrics makes it doubly good. Also, Bing is great.

And now, for something completely different!

I once saw the TSO live, which was one of the coolest concerts I’ve ever attended. Also, I’ve been known to play this on repeat while driving down the highway.

It’s not Christmas until A Charlie Brown Christmas is on TV. (Even if I own the DVD and can watch it whenever I want. And don’t have cable, anyway.)

Merry Advent!

Advent Spirit

I’ve been unusually contemplative lately, if you can tell from my last few posts. I’ve been doing a sort of mental/spiritual cleanse. A lot of gunk has been building up, and I’ve slowly been picking it apart. We’re talking years of fears, heartache, and rejection. Trying to do good for myself and for others, and often not knowing the difference.

Advent has become a time of reflection for me. It’s not like Lent, which is more penance and abstinence. During Advent, we’re preparing for the coming of Christ. It’s like frantically cleaning the house before company arrives, down to scrubbing the bathroom grout with a toothbrush (as if they’d notice). Except the house is your life, and the company is literally God.

Similar to your home, it’s embarrassing to face how messy it’s gotten. During RCIA, life was going great. I had a direction, and a good one. But while I was okay in faith, everything else was a negligent mess. I was on-track with God, so I blindly jumped into various situation I thought were “right.” But they weren’t. I couldn’t tell that I was swimming in muck, because I’d dumped in glitter so it looked fine and sparkly. It wasn’t until I pulled myself out, and starting picking off the tar, that I realized what had happened. (Glittery muck is the weirdest mental image, but it’s the most accurate metaphor I’ve got.)

Then Advent rolled around. I was inundated with reminders of Christ’s coming and of Mary’s obedience. I was halted by every nativity scene I passed. I always understood why He came to Earth, but this time, it was personal. He came not as an obligation, but because He wanted to. Human beings have mucked up everything—and I’d certainly mucked up my own everything—and God came to clean up the mess. (Spiritual glitter, if you will.)

Earlier this week, I sat in a mostly-empty church for some midday quiet. I was feeling generally sorry for myself, fretting over all that muck. Nothing around me changed, and there was no audible voice, but a little nagging calm started to bloom. I could feel the Spirit whisper, It’s okay.

“But Jesus,” I silently whined, “don’t you know I—”

Shhh. Of course He knows.

I’d been writing a completely different post for this week, but it was starting to get me down. I’ve messed up a lot the past few years. I made some questionable career choices, and was too trusting with untrustworthy people. But I’ve dwelled on these mishaps enough. This Advent reflection isn’t for crying over the mess, but for cleaning it up. Get out that spiritual toothbrush and get the house ready. These weeks before Christmas—the time of Mary’s anticipation in pregnancy—is a kind of forgiveness. God knows I’ve messed up; He knows the details more than I do. But He’s coming anyway.

I just have to be patient. I’m patient enough with other people, but rarely with myself. Cleaning up takes time. I’ve hauled out a lot of mental gunk, but there’s still a ways to go. But Jesus is coming. Advent really is a new year, not just liturgically—it’s a rebirth. A chance for forgiveness. And maybe it’s finally time to tidy up the house.