For most Americans, Christmas is the best of seasons.
Over the centuries, the celebration of Christmas has evolved to meet the changing fashions of the American people. For most of us Christmas is a joyous time of peace, hope, love and family life.
Over the last generation Christmas seems has suffered an identity crisis.
Its celebration has declined into something more akin to a secular feast where the Prince of Peace has been replaced with a mosaic of secular hymns, colorful wrapping paper with reindeer and snowmen and tall pine trees, festooned with twinkling lights, tinsel and dangling figures of Elvis, Tinkerbell and Snoopy.
Most American Catholics have bifurcated their celebration of Christmas.
Many send religious cards and stamps to their religious friends, but just holiday greetings to those who might be offended by any mention of Christ.
They will go to a Mass, followed by a festive dinner with all the trimmings and the exchange of gifts and good cheer but never give another thought to what Christmas really means.
The Christmas season has also been dragged into the heated arena of political correctness.
Christ’s seasonal recognition is an affront to some people who have hidden behind the false rubric of separation of church and state.
To them the mere mention of Christ’s name or the appearance of His crèche on government property constitutes an establishment of religion.
In a similar fashion, Americans have been subtly conditioned to say Happy Holidays, instead of the traditional Merry Christmas.
I would not be surprised to read some day that some Christ rejecters have petitioned the courts to disallow the religious Christmas stamps I buy each year as a violation of the First Amendment.
I seriously doubt that any of these people have stopped to consider what the real meaning of Christmas is.
I recently picked up a reprint of the late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s 1955 classic, The True Meaning of Christmas.
In just a few illustrated pages Bishop Sheen captured just what so many of us have been missing from our Christmas attitude these past few generations.
Sheen points out that God did not come to teach us how to be nice people but to lead us to a spiritual perfection that could only happen when we had given our Fiat to the crucifixion of a life of sin.
Just like plants or animals are raised to a higher state when they are consumed, God sent his only Son down to earth to raise man to a participation in a much higher life— and the Word was man flesh and dwells among us (John 1:14).
It was also in God’s plan that Jesus’ Incarnation would atone for sin and allow the Holy Spirit to lead man to a higher life.
As 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 reminds us did you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
On another level, Christmas is not just another historical event, like the Battle of Waterloo or the Great Depression.
To the contrary, Christmas signaled the coming of the Lord of History that was announced hundreds of years before.
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)
Christ’s nativity intimately bound the Old and New Testaments together, presaging the new unity of God’s intimate relationship with mankind.
God’s involvement with the world was also a universal invitation for all people and for all time.
While our secular celebrations are not offensive to God, they distract us from Christmas’ true meaning.
Catholics should return to the original message and use it to overcome secular society’s desperate attempt to supplant the salvific meaning of Jesus’ birthday.
Editor’s note: A recent column in the New York Times by Russ Douthat goes a long way in underscoring my points about the lost meaning of Christmas.
Last Sunday he opined that there’s no better time to be a Christian than the first 25 days of December. But this is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled.
Their piety is overshadowed by materialist ticky-tack. Their great feast is compromised by Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism.
And the once-a-year churchgoers crowding the pews beside them are a reminder of how many Americans regard religion as just another form of midwinter entertainment, wedged in between “The Nutcracker” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
For New Years: Go See a Play! My play!
First Run Theatre is producing my A Moment of Grace on the stage at DeSmet High School in Creve Coeur in mid January of 2011. (14th, 15th, 16th (M), 21st, 22nd and 23rd (M). It is paired with a shorter play, Don’t Stop Believing by Courtney Kennedy. Anna Blair is directing both plays! Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors.
My mother had always been an active patron of the theater. She gave me tickets for my very first Broadway play for my 18th birthday.
We saw Camelot with Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet. They were just names to me then.
I have seen innumerable plays off and on Broadway ever since. I think Chorus Line is my favorite play of all time. I still have echoes of the dance cadence…5, 6, 7, 8, resounding in my head.
As a parent I found my job much easier when my children had one special activity that defined their adolescence.
While my oldest son had his tennis and his younger brother seemed more to gravitate toward baseball, though his tastes were much more catholic as was the philosophy of his high school, my daughter is another story.
As a high school junior she was a setter on the volleyball team. At barely 5’ tall that was perfectly understandable.
Before the season was completed, she was offered an opportunity to appear in a school play.
As they say the rest is history.
Michelle has been able to carry that love of the theater well into her adulthood.
I had taken her to her first Broadway play when she was just 13.
We saw Jim Dale and Glenn Close in Barnum. I think she had gotten hooked then, though she always had a bit of the theatrical in her.
I remember her first performance was an impersonation. She came into my den–she was just three years old–she dropped her jaw, puckered her lips, furrowed her brow while raising both hands in a mock victory salute…I AM NOT A CROOK!….I’M GOING TO CHINA!
After grad school she rekindled her love of acting and has been in close to 40 local plays.
Michelle has played every imaginable role, including a grieving mother, a repressed single woman, a terrorist, a battered wife, (Stella) several loose women, a handful of Jewish male and female roles, a 6’5″ black guy and as well as a pair of black nationalists, a lesbian, and most recently a fearful woman whose husband has taken out a contract on her life. (Reckless)
In 2006 she was awarded the very first Kevin Kline Award for Best Actress in a Drama.
As Kevin handed her the award, she exclaimed: Kevin Kline gave me something. It was a proud moment for our whole family.
I cannot say I was jealous of her because my one acting performance was in one of those forgettable plays they made us do in grade school.
I played a hen-pecked husband, a Mr. Gabble, who was married to a short Irish girl, who in real life became a nurse.
Did I tell you that my wife is less than 5’3”, has a nursing degree and is an O’Rourke?
But I envied all the fun she seemed to be having.
So the following year, I was sitting in my favorite restaurant in Clayton…at my favorite table, eating at my favorite restaurant, reading the New York Times and watching Fox News. Bill Clinton is not the only one who can multi-task!
I was reading an article in the paper about the Philadelphia Phillies’ anticipated 10,000th loss…no not in one season but in a lineage that stretched back to 1883 I think.
The article mentioned a 70-year old man who did a one-man show, called The Philly Fan.
I got to thinking…like the younger brother, Mike in Chorus Line, who after watching his sister perform, exclaimed, I can do that!….for the St. Louis Browns.
My knowledge of the Browns could be my gateway into Showbiz!
As Jimmy Durante used to quip—everybody wants to get into the act.
So I went home and jotted down all my ideas and a script began to evolve that over time changed into something more than a one-man show.
I had written, what some have described as a deeply poignant rendition of an older man whose whole life had been defined by loss, after loss, after…
Both his favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Browns and his wife of 29 years had been lost to him–the one to her grave and the other to Baltimore in 1953. (I feel a W. C. Fields quote coming on!)
When the play opens he is now 78 and the only thing he has left, except a few grandkids, is his memories.
And he is deeply afraid that he is starting to forget things.
The Last Memory of an Ol’ Brownie Fan was produced in October of 2009 by First Run Theatre. It went for its scheduled six performances.
I followed this one with a pair of plays after that I call my pro-life plays.
The first one was about abortion, a subject I have studied, written about and talked about for a quarter century. I always thought the toughest sell was when the life of the mother was impacted.
Taking my inspiration from Henry Morton Robinson’s wonderful book, The Cardinal, and movie of the same name, for my play, A Perfect Choice.
The father was forced to make a gut-wrenching choice that his surviving daughter could never understand.
He told the doctors to save both! They failed!
But more than that Perfect is about a reconciliation of a father and daughter on a New Year’s Eve, several years after the daughter’s mother had died in childbirth.
I truly got my inspiration for this one the previous November in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The Theater of the Word, a St. Louis Catholic production company produced it, also in October of 2009. I think only David Mamet, Neil Simon and myself had two plays playing simultaneously.
I have no recollection of my inspiration for the third play but every time I think of it, I get a warm sensation in my heart because the male character in A Moment of Grace is a pure creation that seems to have evolved from the deep recesses of my soul.
While the play is ostensibly about two people thinking about suicide independent of one another, it is more a positive commentary of how precious the gift of life is.
First Run Theatre is producing Grace on the stage at DeSmet High School in Creve Coeur in mid January of 2011. (14th, 15th, 16th (M), 21st, 22nd and 23rd (M). It is paired with a shorter play, Don’t Stop Believing by Courtney Kennedy. Anna Blair is directing both plays! Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors.
Check out the ad for all the details.
For additional information on the old Brownies, check this out:
Where would be without the stories we tell?
I don’t know about you but I would find social interaction and even intellectual discussion far more difficult.
Years ago my wife encouraged me to write down some of my stories, since she has probably heard all of them.
Like my father before me who passed down a few of his favorite jokes–like the man with the banana in his ear, I want to use my blog to pass some entertaining, maybe even a few prophetic and moral truisms for your enjoyment.
** I still get a lot of flack about my family name. I taught an accredited baseball History course at Maryville College in 1972-74. I sent my final exam to radio host par excellence, Jack Carney. He read the entire test on the air. He even had the effrontery to call up, Hall of Fame broadcaster, Jack Buck and awaken him from his beauty sleep.
** When they asked him the five bonus questions, he only could answer two of them. How many no-hitters did Sandy Koufax have (4) what was Ty Cobb’s lifetime average? (.366) Buck understandably got a little irritated and made the comment about my name. The Borscht comment— you know Russian beat soup.
** I have been hearing that silliness since the first grade. In fact, my wife and I went to the Russian Tea Room in New York, the place where they made the movie, Tootsie and I ordered some Borscht, hot I believe. Borst’s are all switch-hitters. When I told the waitress, I was eating my name, she looked at me as you would a crazy person.
Since the 1st grade!
** Actually, my name is not Russian but German. The German dictionary reveals that Borst means bristle. Well I have a dark and heavy beard. Further research uncovered that it was bristle but that peculiar to a pig. I guess I come from a long line of swine herders. The engineers at my radio station call me Willie Swine herder.
** In Dutch the name means, breast. Hmmmmm, I have been called a boob before.
** For years my wife has been telling me that her clan, the O’Rourkes, were of royal blood. In 1997 we went to Brendan O’Rourke’s castle just outside the town, Sligo in Ireland and learned that indeed he was of royal stock.
In 1588 after the Spanish Armada sank off the Irish coast, some of the survivor swept up on the Sligo shores. O’Rourke befriended them and gave them aid and comfort. One of the officers went back to Spain and wrote a book about his adventures, telling how kind Brendan had been. The book was read by Queen Elizabeth who sent her troops to Sligo, and took Brendan O’Rourke back to England in chains. They took him to London, where the Queen cut of his head on Hyde Park.
** Of course, I have to tell my wife that while her family was royalty, with the exception of humorist, P.J. O’Rourke, they have done nothing much in five hundred years. The Borsts, thanks to me, are on the way up.
** My wife also lauded over me that her family, when they died with their full senses. Their minds were sharp but their bodies gave out, usually in their ninth decades. My family lived as long but usually with diminished mental capacity. But their bodies were in great shape until the end.
** It took me six months, but I finally cam up with a proper response. Her family never used their brains and my family simply wore their minds out.
** If I ever need a brain transplant, give me that of an O’Rourke, because it would surely be unused.
**I have been on the air for over twenty years. I have the proverbial face for radio. I really don’t like television. Time is usually limited and the lights are too bright. If you have the wrong tie, suit, or hairstyle, it distracts from what you are trying to say.
** The # 13. When I was on the high school football team at Xavier in New York City, In the second of my three game career on the bench, Jim Harmon, our starting center, said I could help the team. He had forgotten to bring his cup.
His cup…we are not talking coffee cup. He’s is a fellow that would go to West Point, Vietnam as a captain, get a silver star for calling artillery on his over-run position and he forgets his cup.
Couldn’t remember his cup!
So I did the heroic thing, and I offered up my manhood protector and then went to the end of the bench and sat with my head down for the whole game, praying that the coach would not want me to make a bigger sacrifice for the unobtainable glory of the team. Really all I had to show for my football career was a staph infection I got at football camp.
** At Holy Cross, I think the staph infection came back with a vengeance in the form of an ugly sebaceous cyst that covered half the right side of my face. I was also eating two pizzas each weekend.
I went to the college infirmary and was examined by the doctor. He had a cigarette hanging from his lip, a real seedy type that could have been an extra in a World War II movie. He inserted some gauze in a small incision he made in my cheek. He wanted it to drain onto the huge bandage he put on my face.
I was elated by his treatment and immediately ran up to the hill with a couple of guys to play touch football. On the verrrrrry first play, the kick comes to me. The ball bounced once and hit me…SPLAT right in the huge bandage. I was shaken; rushed back to the infirmary where the busty nurse…I will never forget her, her blouse was like four sizes too small— man did she yell at me! The odd thing was that the cyst went completely away.
Better than surgery!
** Over the years I have had about twenty similar cysts. One of them was really infected and on the same side of my face that took the football hit years before. Before my facial surgery, I asked the doctor if he could just hit me in the face with a football. He said it was not standard medical practice. But it works!
** Good thing I married a nurse. While I was in graduate school I dislocated my left shoulder three times, separating the humerus from the—other bone. There was nothing humorous about this injury. My brother-in-law took me to the emergency room the 1st time. I was afraid they would cut off my $6 football jersey, New York Giants vintage. But the doctor slid it back in place. I found out later that because of my stupid, you ain’t Pete Rose, slide, we had lost the game. After the 3rd time, I had it fixed.
Not How I did it
** A few years later, I was playing tennis in the park with the same brother-in-law and he was killing me. I chased a forehand to my right and it had such English and spin on it that it bounced right toward my forehead. Nobody yelled fore. I maneuvered my club…I mean my racket to the point that I hit myself directly over my left or right eye.
It had to be my right because the scar over my left eye is another story. Well, of course blood, my blood starts gushing. He rushes me home, yells something to his sister and then rushes me to the same hospital that he had taken me to the last time.
** Well, we sit around for a long time, until some pretty young nurse comes out to get the process rolling. She does her paper work while I sat there in pain and starts to leave. I did not know what was going to happen next, so I yelled to her: “Will I see you again?” She clears her throat and says emphatically “NO!” I said, “I don’t mean socially. I just want to know what is going to happen next!”
As Jimmy Durante used to say I have a million of them…look for my next installment some time in the future.
On a trip to Florida last April, I went to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.
I was hoping to see his painting of the crucifixion that served as the cover of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s The Life of Christ.
The 1951 painting is entitled Christ of St. John of the Cross because it is based on a drawing of the crucifixion by a 16th century Friar of the same name.
Dali’s painting provides a unique overhead view of Jesus as He hangs on the cross.
In a culture that offers us empty crosses as trendy ornaments instead of religious symbols, it is uplifting to see such a profound and reverential depiction of the crucifixion.
I think Dali’s God’s-eye view helps us to see more clearly the importance of the cross.
While St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians, (15:17) if Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain, Bishop Sheen reminds us there could be no Easter without first a Good Friday.
As one of the many paradoxes inherent in the Gospel teachings, the cross is a sign of contradiction.
While it is an overt device of punishment and torture, it is also the instrument Jesus used to liberate the world from the chains of sin.
Jesus’ death also had to be a public execution before the salvific powers of His Resurrection could be unleashed. For Jesus to have died of natural or accidental causes would have had less meaning.
He had to suffer the sting of rejection of both the secular and religious authorities of His community for the true glory of His sacrifice to have been realized.
However its most important message of the cross is love–sacrificial love! Jesus said the world would know His disciples by the way you love each other. (John 13:35)
He defined this ultimate love in terms of His sacrifice on the cross. John (15:13) says no one has greater love than to lay down his life for another.
Jesus’ crucifixion personified this statement and served as a means to inspire His disciples to follow in His sanguinary footsteps. Catholic priests recreate His sacrifice every day in Masses on altars around the world.
The cross has another message for us today. Matthew tells us (16:24) whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself and pick up his cross.
Personal crosses come in all different sizes and weights.
Cancer victims, people in wheel chairs, married people with unfaithful spouses, troubled or dying children have very heavy crosses to carry.
For most of us the cross is usually the daily tasks of work and raising a family that must be met with the same humble resignation as the more serious crosses.
There is an even deeper message attached to the cross. One of the little regarded figures of the accounts of the crucifixion was Simon of Cyrene.
The film, The Passion of the Christ vividly portrays this giant of a man as he struggled with Christ under the tremendous weight of the cross.
Though he had been coerced into helping Jesus carry His cross, Christ’s struggle filled him with such compassion and love that he seized the moment and helped Him complete His historic journey to Calvary.
At this moment Simon became a symbol for all of us, not just to carry our own crosses, but also help others carry theirs.
This cannot be planned.
It must flow naturally from our reverence for the cross and Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor.
Author’s note: This is an article I submitted to the St. Louis Review last May. For whatever reason–I was never informed–it did not past muster with the new editor.
So I am passing it along to all of you with the hope that you will enjoy it and pass it on to those, especially Catholics , who read the Review and give them the benefit of a real thought piece.
Also while on the subject of the cross, Christopher Manion of then Wanderer had an interesting aside on the cross that would make a fitting conclusion for the above piece.
In writing about the marriage of convenience between Catholic bishops and Democrats in the late 19th century, he is calling for a divorce. He believes that they have been in bed together long enough.
He believes that in these troubled times,they have an unprecedented opportunity to restore their independence and the supremacy of the Gospel to any partisan political ideology.
They merely need to say:
We call all parties, all Catholics, all human beings to rally,not to a political agenda but to the cross!