Twice a month the staff of St. Gregory the Great Church send out a spiritual reflection to all parishioners for whom we have an e-mail address. What follows are the most recent of these reflections. If you would like to have your name added to our e-mail reflection list, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will add your name to our listing.
SPIRITUAL REFLECTION – AMY ALZNAUER – JANUARY 3
For the past few weeks a contradictory, little ritual has been conducted all across the country. In homes with young children, parents have been racing about trying preserve the story of Santa Claus, buying stocking stuffers, staying up late, tiptoeing around, avoiding saying anything that would give it away. While at the same time, in other homes with older children, parents have been facing the inevitable question, “Does Santa Claus really exist?” Most feel obligated to grit their teeth and destroy the very fairy tale they had so carefully tended.
Over the past ten years since I am raising two children myself, I’ve thought about this quandary quite a bit. And it always leads me back to Tolkien and an essay he once wrote, On Fairy Stories. At first the essay appears to be about classic fairy tales, the Brothers Grimm, Edmund Spenser, but eventually you realize Tolkien is leading up to the Christian story itself.
He writes, “The [Christian] story begins and ends in joy … There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true … To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.”
Of course, one would never claim that the story of Santa Claus ranks among the greatest stories ever told and yet for better or worse it is forever linked to the story of the birth of Christ. And we see repeated again and again (perhaps we have a memory of it ourselves) that it is precisely with sadness and wrath that children respond to the rejection of Santa Claus.
And I can’t help but feel that their reaction is justified. It’s how we all feel when we come to the end of a great tale and the author has the gall to tell us it was all merely a dream. It’s not that we believed in some sense that the tale was real – as my daughter puts it, that you could pinch it and it would scream – but that we wanted the author to love their story as much as we did, to hope in some sense that it could be true, to believe as Tolkien did that all good tales eventually come true, though possibly in different forms than we had imagined.
In the Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle Beatrix Potter provides a beautiful counter to this form of literary betrayal. The story is about Lucie, a little girl who loses her pinafore and handkerchiefs. When she goes in search them she stumbles upon a door in the mountain that opens on a crackling hearth and an odd little washerwoman who is carefully ironing what Lucie had lost. Near the end of the story, when Lucie heads home she turns once more and sees that, “Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle was nothing but a hedgehog!”
But thankfully Potter doesn’t end the story there. Instead she offers several arguments for why Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle was in fact real, concluding with, “And besides – I have seen that door into the back of the hill called Cat Bells – and besides I am very well acquainted with dear Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle!” We respond with relief. Potter was like us. She, too, hoped that when she finally opened that hidden door, she would find not dirt and rock, but a warm hearth and a loving figure presenting her with all she had lost.
So instead of ending the Santa Claus story with “it was all a dream” and so committing literary betrayal (which is just a form of betrayal plain and simple), might we instead follow Potter’s lead? Might we try to convey something like this: that when we wake on Christmas morning we, too, like our children, hope to find that what had once seemed distant and wild and great has entered our homes, that emptiness has been filled, that the mystery is true. And besides, that Saint Nicholas was once a real man and is now part of the communion of saints. And besides, that we ourselves are well acquainted with dear Saint Nicholas. As we make this case, another argument against doubt is being shored up as well: And besides, Christ was once a real baby lying in what used to be an empty manger. And besides, we ourselves are well acquainted with Him.
And if your conscience is still not relieved think of this. We are the body of Christ. It is through our hands and feet that Christ acts in the world. So it is no betrayal of truth for us to conduct the rituals for Him and for his saints, who pray unceasingly for us. So fill up the stockings, wrap the presents, tiptoe around, and if someday you must confess that you helped tend the mystery, well is that so different from what we do in mass, and does it make it any less representative of our own, dearest hopes, or any less true?
SPIRITUAL REFLECTION – SISTER BARBARA QUINN – DECEMBER 19
Recently a word in one of Fr. Brian’s homilies struck me. “Prepare”, he said, quoting John the Baptist. Of course, preparing is what the season of Advent is all about. But, somehow, this time, I really heard the word, “Prepare”. And the word made me turn to the life of the Baptist himself.
I have always loved St. John the Baptist. I know he wore strange clothes and ate weird food. But, what I liked was that he knew who he was. His life world was to point out Jesus, the Messiah to the world. He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
So, I have been preparing by reflecting on the words of John who knew what life was all about. It was a simple purpose, to love Jesus.
One of the most beautiful parts of scripture to me is when Jesus heard that John had been beheaded. It says that Jesus went to a private place to mourn, for he loved John. St. John really received the love of Christ Himself.
So, what is John’s life telling us? To become more centered, more and more focused on Jesus, less and less focused on ourselves. Only by doing this will we too find our simple purpose and the love of Christ. For this reason, I’ve always loved the following description of the simplest, most centering prayer in the world:
“What a happy prayer that, which simply whispers the name of Jesus. His name is a prayer itself.”
So this Advent, prepare with me and John the Baptist by praying Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!
Sr. Barbara Quinn