Seeking the True Joy of Christmas

The manger was all Saint Joseph and Our Lady had to offer the Child Jesus. Thus, the evening was filled with unfathomable joys, but also had its sufferings.

The state of world events is so uncertain that it is impossible to know the conditions in which we will celebrate Christmas or what the New Year will bring. This is a Christmas in which Americans are filled with uncertainty, trials and insecurity.

One could rightly ask: “Is it proper to have these concerns during Christmastime? Shouldn’t we have only consolations, joys and satisfactions during this season?”

To answer this question, we should consider the first Christmas night. Saint Joseph and, above all, Our Lady were filled with inexpressible joy in the grotto in Bethlehem.

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However, before the Child Jesus was born, they suffered affliction. They had spent the night seeking a dignified place for Our Lord’s birth. Saint Joseph was humiliated seeing that his spouse would have to deliver the Christ Child in a stable where animals ate. While there could not have been a more stupendous event that evening, neither could there have been humbler surroundings.

The manger was all Saint Joseph and Our Lady had to offer the Child Jesus. Thus, the evening was filled with unfathomable joys, but also had its sufferings.

Although the Christ Child knew that Providence had dictated the conditions of His birth, it is possible that Our Lady and Saint Joseph did not know. They could have been filled with doubts concerning the reasons for their poor surroundings, perhaps even attributing them to a wrongdoing of their own. Though faultless, Saint Joseph, who was most responsible for providing for the Holy Family, probably asked Our Lord’s pardon for the lowly accommodations he had furnished for His delivery.

Nevertheless, the evening’s joys overcame all its sadnesses to such an extent, that the latter were completely forgotten.

We should celebrate Christmas in the same manner, though we be concerned with the crisis in the Church and breakdown of society and aware of our insufficiency to face these calamities.

Realizing that we are chosen to follow Our Lady throughout these troubling times should fill us with joy and overcome the sadness we endure for our personal failings and the godlessness that surrounds us.

At the feet of the newborn Christ Child, we should thank Him for having called us to this struggle and these times. We should realize that we are only capable of resisting through His Redemption for which His birth was a necessary condition. We ought to express this gratitude through the intercession of Our Lady, the Universal Mediatrix, and Saint Joseph.

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We should ask Saint Joseph, Our Lady and the Christ Child for a soul continually mindful of Our Lady’s words at Fatima: “Finally, my Immaculate Heart will triumph!” Thus, we will be able to overcome all sadness and advance joyfully in the fight, seeking heroism and even sacrifice.

Thus, the TFP prays that Our Lady grant you this indomitable joy for Christmas and bring you ever closer to her and her Divine Son!
_________________________________________________________________________

The preceding article is taken from a Christmas greeting of Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira to The American TFP in 1980. It has been translated and adapted for publication without his revision. — Ed.

Why We Stop for Christmas

“God manifested Himself to us in a marvelous manner.”

It is Christmas time, and the world stops for a brief moment. It does not stop long because there are too many important things to be done to waste on festive and unproductive folly. It can only be a short pause on Christmas day before the world must almost immediately return to the frenetic intemperance of the daily hustle and bustle. But this quick respite is enough to give a most necessary and calm reprieve of sanity, peace and order to our burdened souls.

Of course, the world does not stop willingly. It even tries to secure some advantage from this unnecessary break by making frantic attempts to commercialize and secularize the feast. Despite it all, the peace of Christmas somehow prevails.

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Stopping for Christmas challenges the modern world. To those enmeshed in our secular society, the birth of the Christ Child interrupts their lives with moral considerations that they would prefer not to consider. To practical atheists, Christmas is a curiosity that provokes painful memories of innocence long lost. Shallow Christians find the feast to be a sentimental time for some vague joy that they prefer not to make more profound. All these are somehow threatened by the date; yet all are forced, willing and unwilling, to stop to observe it.

However, faithful Christians everywhere are not threatened but strengthened by Christmas. We stop because Christmas reminds us that we are called to live in the presence of an Almighty God of infinite grandeur and majesty. This fact provokes in us a sense of wonder at the immense gulf between the Creator and His creatures.

Seeing our wonder and our desire to understand Him, God manifested Himself to us in a marvelous manner. He incites in us great aspirations or dreams for a better world to come. He bridged the gulf by presenting to us that which Catholic thinker Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira called the “most striking, indisputable, and audacious dream imaginable.”

That dream was the fact that the Word was made Flesh and dwelt amongst us. On Christmas night, we hear the antiphon that proclaims this daring reality: Puer natus est nobis, Et filius datus est nobis, “For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us.”(Is. 9:6)

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On that ineffable night when our Savior was born to Mary Ever Virgin, an immense impossibility became possible: the God-Man was born and revealed Himself to us. On that holy and silent night, one can sense the sweetness and perfection that emanated from the Divine Infant in the manger in Bethlehem. He who seemed so inaccessible suddenly became accessible to all, kings and shepherds. He who appears so weak became powerful enough to stop the whole world for centuries to come.

To honor the grandeur of that sublime moment, we must stop not just once but every year to marvel at this fact that only increases our wonder at this good God that gave to us His only Begotten Son.



However, there is yet a greater reason for us to stop and marvel. The Birth of Christ also signaled the coming of a Redeemer who, for love of us, would reestablish the link broken by our first parents. In that marvelous and joyful Birth, we find foreshadowed the sorrows of His Passion. We stop and adore He who was born so that we might be redeemed, saved and united with Him for all eternity.

Finally, we stop because Christmas means much more than just our personal salvation. Christ made possible a civilization we call Christian. From the poverty of the manger in Bethlehem, an immensely rich channel of grace was opened for us. From Heaven descended torrents of blessings, which paved the way for the most audacious dreams and the immense possibilities of a world centered on the sublime principles, virtues and teachings of the Gospel. In Christendom, it became possible to practice the Commandments and evangelical counsels, inside an order that the pagan world then judged (and today’s neo-pagan nightmare still judges) impossible.

That is why everyone stops for Christmas. The powerful image of the Christ Child still has the capacity of capturing the modern imagination if only for a brief moment, amidst a world of sin and distractions. During the blessed season, the grace of God still reaches out and draws all men of good will toward Him despite so much rejection.

Others stop for the wrong reasons. Sadly, some atheists or rationalists stop merely to smirk at such considerations. They do not realize that, by limiting themselves to their sterile musings, they embrace the narrow vision of a soulless and pragmatic world, bereft of wonder.

But for those of us who celebrate a Merry Christmas (and not unhappy holidays), we stop at this time every year to recreate a marvelous wonder world visibly expressed by decorated trees, Nativity scenes and joyous caroling that reflect this joyful reality of Christ’s coming. More importantly, we gather inside our souls the peace of the Christ Child that calls us to return to order by realigning ourselves to live in function of a world created by God, turned toward God, and where God shows Himself actively intervening out of love for us.

The Parol: A Filipino Catholic Tradition and Vocation

Decorations, lights and fanfare typify the festive celebration of Christmas in the Philippines, even as early as September. On the streets, one can see groups of children and adults alike going from house to house singing Filipino (and even English) Christmas Carols.

At each successive stop, it is not uncommon for carolers to receive gifts. Sometimes it is money or food; other times, wholesome advice to be a good example:

“Obey and honor your parents… and live the spirit of Christmas all 365 days of the year!”

Photo Credits: Maurice Joseph M. Almadrones

Christmas lights covering houses serve as more than decoration: they also illuminate the way in the dark, cold Philippine nights, guiding the pious churchgoers to the Simbang Gabi (“Night Mass” in Tagalog) or the “Misa de Aguinaldo.”

This is a set of nine day Novena Masses at dawn. The faithful resolutely wake up in the wee hours of the night to present small sacrifices and prayers to Our Lord. Usually celebrated before dawn, it is a Spanish tradition, originally honoring the Blessed Virgin’s Expectation of the Messiah. Food was customarily offered to the needy after the Masses; hence the word aguinaldo meaning “gift” in Spanish. i.

Perhaps the most memorable scene of all is the long procession of the parol, which floods the streets with bright colors, and reminds those present of the coming of the Savior to earth.

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A distinctly Filipino tradition

Star shaped Parol made of Capiz shells © Eugene Alvin Villar, 2007

The parol has a rich history that spans centuries of development and perfection.

Prior to the concept of the Christmas tree in the Philippines, the parol (“lantern” in
Spanish) announced the arrival of Our Lord’s Nativity.

Filipino Christmas would not be the same without this humble yet radiant display outside of houses and in the streets, presented from people from all walks of society.

Its roots come from the concept of the Mexican piñata which came to the Philippines when Spain gave the Catholic Faith to the country in the 16th century.ii.

The parol had a two-fold purpose.

It first served the practical purpose of giving light so that the faithful could make their way to the Simbang Gabi.

More importantly, it was a devotional offering to the Child Jesus, the Light of the world. After the Novena Mass, the parol was proudly hung outside the window of the faithful.iii.

Over time, the construction of the parols began to undergo a change. The first lanterns had a humble beginning, created from the local material available to the Filipinos: bamboo sticks, crepe or Japanese rice paper; these were lighted with simple candles or coconut oil lamps.

New variations started to appear with the incentive of the Spanish priests. Refined material, like transparent shells, slowly took the place of paper. This brought with it many advantages. The shells could be dyed into a variety of colors, and the shape of the lamp could be tailored to resemble the Star of the East. With each successive year, the size of the stars started to increase. Soon, friendly competitions were encouraged on a local basis to create the most beautiful parol to the Divine Child.

The result: churches began an annual display of new designs and better craftsmanship, distinct to the various localities. This can still be seen in regions like Pampanga, where the Lubenas Festival is held every year.iv The festival was originally created to showcase the parols in procession from different barrios, or neighborhoods, and were brought to the parish church on the Night of Christmas Eve led by the barrio patrons.

As the lanterns grew bigger and became more intricate, the local people contributed to the creation of the parols of their specific barrios.v.

Thus the harmonious cooperation between the local people and the patrons of the barrios can be seen in the humble parol, initiating a Catholic tradition that spans centuries in the Philippines.

Each parol was characteristic of its respective barrio. Each was unique. Yet all were united under the hearth of Christmas, whose traditions blossomed from the rich and vibrant garden of the Catholic Church.

The Parol: A living tradition

A Filipino parol  vendor’s stall © Keith Bacongco, 2007

A Christian tradition is of incomparable value; it sets a guideline for us to navigate through the present. Indeed, in the words of Prof. Plinîo Correa de Oliveira, the renowned Brazilian Catholic activist,vi true tradition should not be the denial of yesterday, but rather its harmonious continuation. For true progress is not to break, but rather continuity, reaching out to the heights of the past and present.vii

The parol is not some archaic, irrelevant artifact dug out from the coffers of time, offered as a remote antique. On the contrary, it continues as an animating and living custom to the Filipino, effectively preserving the spirit of the first Christmas.

It is at once a perfect gift to the Lord of lords and an innocent and tender reflection of the Wisdom of the Incarnate Word amid the corrosive moral decadence of the modern world. Being an authentic tradition, the parol links each new generation to the Catholic heritage of the Philippines.

The Star in The East: A Prophet Rejoiced


The Christmas parol is not merely a beautiful aspect of the holiday, but reflects the very important role the Philippines have as a Christian nation.

The Philippines is like the Star of the East that beckoned the Wise Men to the King of kings. The country shines as a guide to bring those in darkness out of the chains of the pagan world to the radiant light of the Faith brought by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This was certainly the sentiment of Pope Pius XII, who praised the island as “the herald of the Gospel between two oceans.”viii.

This praise is not without merit, even in our own days. The inhabitants continue to oppose abortion, homosexual unions and euthanasia, and defend the rights of the Catholic Church in civil society. Most notably, the Philippines remain the only country to this day where divorce has not yet been legalized.ix

After more than 400 years of Roman Catholic tradition, the Filipinos unite to form the 3rd largest Roman Catholic nation in the world, and largest Roman Catholic Nation in Asia, effectively serving as a paladin of light and truth to the corrupt world surrounding them.

A Prophet Rejected…

However, we should not put down our guard.

Like all the prophets of old, the Star of the East was also neglected. Impious men unscrupulously rejected and pushed aside the sign as if it never existed. This is not unlike the modern “learned” men in our times, whose goal is to discredit the existence of God.

Not that the light of the Eastern Star was lacking in brilliance. Rather, the stubborn eyes of men refused to discern its importance. Thus was the condition of mankind at that time, and so is contemporary man.

And yet, such blindness need not only apply to outside nations. Could those in the Philippines be unaware of the influence they posses and the duties attached to it?

I turn now to my fellow inhabitants.

We Filipinos must ask ourselves: are we loyal to our vocation to guide the gentiles?

I cannot simply point to those neo-pagan atheists who swamp the earth with their indifference.

Regrettably, I must refer also to those of us who knew Christ, but have descended down to a depth much lower than that in which we found ourselves before the faith; those who have implicitly rejected Him and His Church by going about life as if He does not exist.

How could those that are the light be so immune to the brilliance they posses?

The surge of immorality cannot be ignored. We need only to look at the unthinkable promulgation of the Reproductive Health Bill a few years ago, and promoting “women’s rights.”

It is true that the ground we stand on is comparatively firm when we look at other countries. Nevertheless, there continues to be a greater diluting of family values and of Catholic doctrine in society.

This comes from an increase of impure and immoral practices, some of which have received “legal” sanction. With this, Filipinos must be reminded of the authentic spirit that should animate our traditions and our families.

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Implore Mary: The Star of the Sea

We should certainly not despair, nor hide our light under a bushel (Matt. 5 : 15) out of shame; at the same time, we need to correct our conduct if we are to steer others to the right harbor.

Like the rest of the world, we are surrounded on all sides by raging tempests and uncertainties. These impede our sight and landing on that safe destination, Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the midst of all of this, there is serious danger that we will lose sight of the light of the day that guided us.

It is in such dark circumstances that we must turn to the guiding Star of the Sea: the Blessed Virgin.

“As the splendor of the Sun exceeds that of all the stars united,” says St Basil Selecuia , so the Mother of God “eclipses all the stars in heaven, that is all the blessed, men and angels united.”

We should pray to our Mother to intercede for us. We should have confidence in her maternal concern for us.

Above all, we should honor her by imitating her life and virtues. In this way, we will remove the blinding log from our eyes, and be able to see and communicate the salutatory light to those around us.

Then, led by the Star of the Sea, we will continue to shine as the Star of the East. Like the parol, our light will beam brightly between the two oceans, bringing men to the fold of the unfathomable mystery of the Divine Infant’s Majesty. May the glory of His triumph over the enemies of Holy Mother Church hasten the arrival of His kingdom on Earth.

_____________________________________________________________

i. Where did Simbang Gabi come from?

ii. The History of Parol Christmas Lanterns

iii. IBID

iv. Giant Lantern Festival

v.IBID

vi.Plinîo Correa de Oliveira- His Early Years

vii.TFP- Tradition

viii.Radio Message  of His Holiness Pius XII to the Marian Congress of the Philippines, December 5, 1954

ix. The Last Country in the world where Divorce is Illegal

Learning about Christmas: Marvelous Stories and Reflections

See below the marvelous stories and reflections for Christmas.

Silent Night: The Origin of the Song

The Little Drummer Boy

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In Search of Christmas

IN SEARCH OF CHRISTMAS

Seeking the True Joy of Christmas


A Lesson in Innocence

A Christmas Meditation

The Christmas of a Chouan

The Story of the Christmas Tree

The Twelve Days of Christmas

What Does Saint Thomas Say About Immigration?

A Christmas Reflection

The First Christmas Crib

 

The Parol: A Filipino Catholic Tradition and Vocation

                May the stories here prepare you and your loved ones for the arrival of Our Lord Jesus Christ,  the Prince of Peace.

Merry Christmas!

The Christmas of a Chouan

From 1793 to 1800, the region of Fougères, in Northeast France, was the scene of the epic struggle of the Chouans. The Chouans were peasants who rose up against the French Revolution in defence of the Monarchy and the Church.

One winter’s night in 1795, a column of soldiers of the revolutionary Republic was making its way along a path skirting a forest. Their steps were heavy. They were bored, and they were tired from the enormous weight of the rucksacks and muskets they carried on their backs.

They trudged along, leading a peasant prisoner who had tried to ambush them. The peasant had fired his musket at the sergeant, but the bullet passed through the man’s hat, ricocheted off a tree, and broke a pipe that another soldier was smoking.

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The furious soldiers immediately set out in hot pursuit of the fleeing sniper. Hunted down and cornered against a cliff, the peasant had been captured and disarmed.

Now he was following the soldiers, hands tied, with an forlorn look. His small, clear eyes watched the hedges along the path, as well as the windy paths that ran off in either direction. Two soldiers wrapped the ends of the ropes tying his wrists around their arms.

At the crossroads of Servilliers, the sergeant called a halt. The men, worn out, stacked their weapons and threw their rucksacks on the grass. They proceeded to gather up dry branches and leaves from which they made a bonfire in the middle of the clearing.

At the same time, two of them tied the peasant to a tree with the rope that bound his wrists.

The Chouan watched everything that was going on very keenly. He did not tremble, nor did he say a word, but anguish could be seen on his features. He knew that death was at hand.

His anxiety did not go unnoticed to one of the Blues, as the soldiers of the Revolution were known. This man had been detailed to keep a close eye on the prisoner. He was a slender adolescent, with a mocking and cutting tongue. He made fun of his prisoner, saying in a sharp Parisian accent:

“Don’t be afraid, flower! You won’t die just yet; you still have six hours to live…”

His comments were interrupted by a loud gruff voice from across the clearing.

“Tie him up well, Pete! We can’t let him fly away!”

“Don’t worry Sergeant Torquatus, we need to take him in one piece to the general!”

Then the lad went back to his mocking: “You know, you dog, don’t think you are going to be treated like those nobles. The Republic is not rich and there is a shortage of guillotines. But don’t worry, you will get your share of lead bullets: six to your head and six to your body. So that is something for you to think about until tomorrow morning. It will keep you entertained!”

The peasant stood as if not hearing, an impenetrable look settled over his face.

Having said this, Private Pete went and sat by his companions by the fire. Taking a piece of coarse bread from his rucksack, he began to eat it tranquilly. Having finished eating, Pete started to clean his musket. He chose a bullet and, holding it delicately in his hands, said to the peasant who was following his every movement:
“See this, my child? This one is for you!” And he put the bullet in the chamber

Everyone started to laugh, each trying to outdo the other in the macabre game of tormenting the unfortunate prisoner.

“I have an equally good dose for you!” one shouted.

“You are going to be like a sieve,” another joked.

“I will be last: one for each ear!” guffawed Sergeant Torquatus.

And then, in a sudden fit of rage, he came up to him. “Oh! You wretched Chouan, I would like to kill a thousand of you with one shot!…”

The peasant was silent and calm under this barrage of threats. He seemed to be listening to a faraway sound that the shouts and laughter of the soldiers made it difficult to hear.

Suddenly he dropped his head and concentrated. From the depths of the forest one could hear the sound of a bell ringing in the night. It sounded high and clear as it came on the breeze. Then the wind shifted into the north, and immediately another bell, deeper in tone, began to sound. Soon another joined in – this time more melancholic – coming from another direction.

The Blues had fallen silent with surprise and apprehension. They too strained to hear.

“What is this?” asked the sergeant. “Why are the bells ringing?… Is this a signal?… The bandits must be sounding the alarm!”

Then they all started shouting together, some at the prisoner, some at each other. Many reached for their weapons.

The peasant raised his head, and gazing at them serenely he said: “It is Christmas.”

“It’s what?” replied the sergeant.

“Christmas. They are ringing the bells for Midnight Mass.”

The soldiers felt foolish, and began to curse, then grumble, then fall silent as they took their places once more around the fire.

For a while no one spoke. Christmas… Midnight Mass… They had not heard these words for a long while.

It stirred vague memories of happier times, of long-forgotten tenderness, of peace.

With heads hung low, they heard those bells that spoke a forgotten language. Sergeant Torquatus put his pipe down, crossed his arms and closed his eyes as one savouring a symphony. Then, ashamed at this sign of weakness, he turned to the prisoner and asked in a severe tone:

“Are you from this area?”

“I am from Coglès, not too far from here.”

The sergeant became interested. “So there are priests in your town?”

“The Blues have not taken everything; they have not crossed the Couesnon river. So on that side one still lives in freedom. Can’t you hear? It is the bell of Parigué that is ringing now. That other smaller one is from the castle of the Lord of Bois-Guy. And that one further off is the bell of Montours. If the wind were right we could even hear the big bell of Landéans.”

One of the soldiers called Gil had been silent while the others had been threatening the Chouan. He now listened attentively and seemed to be moved. The others, after a momentary feeling of tenderness, had already closed their hearts.

At that moment, from every point of the compass, the tolling of faraway village bells could be heard. It was a sweet melody that rose louder or softer depending on the wind.

Gil hung his head and listened. He thought of things forgotten long ago. He saw the church of his native village resplendent with lighted candles, the manger with its big stones covered in moss where little red and blue lamps shone. He heard, in his memory, the joyful Christmas hymns that had been sung for generations. They were innocent hymns, as old as France, speaking of shepherds, flutes, stars, and children; of peace, pardon, and of hope… He felt his heart melt in the good warmth of these gentle images he had for so long forgotten.

The bells continued to toll from afar. Torquatus ordered everyone to sleep and put Gil on the first watch. It took no time at all to set up an improvised camp, and the Blues, exhausted by the day’s toils and wishing to forget the sound of those bells that had brought them so many memories from their happy childhoods, snored away stretched out on their sleeping mats.

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The fire still crackled, but less so. Only Gil and the Chouan were awake. The Blue then went over to where the Chouan was tied up.

“Do you know,” the soldier said, “where I come from we used to make a huge manger in the church and we would place the Infant Jesus there surrounded by Our Lady and St. Joseph.”

And then he suddenly said: “Do you want to go free?”

“What about you? They will tear you to pieces.”

“I will go with you. I am fed up with this rag of a war. Anyway, I was enlisted without a choice. My family is Catholic. At home, from my earliest days they taught me to respect the King.”

“Then come with me,” the Chouan answered. “Be faithful once again. I will take you to a priest so you can go to Confession. Together we will fight for Our Lord Jesus Christ and the king.”

The Blue said no more, but took his knife from his pouch and sliced the ropes that bound the prisoner. It was not long before both had slipped away into the blackness of the night.

One could no longer hear the bells in the wind, but they continued to ring in the hearts of the two men. It was Christmas!

END

The First Christmas Crib

The beautiful custom of setting up mangers to commemorate the birth of the Infant Jesus was started by St. Francis of Assisi.

It was the year 1223. St. Francis went to Rome to obtain from Pope Honorius III authorisation to celebrate Christmas in a totally new way. St. Francis chose a forest in the vicinity of the village of Grecio, in the region of Umbria, not too far from Rome, where a good friend of his lived, the noble Giovanni Velita.

About 15 days before Christmas, St. Francis said to him: ‘If you want to celebrate the feast of the Divine birth in Grecio make haste to prepare what I indicate to you.

‘So that we can properly remember the circumstances in which the Divine Child was born and all the inconveniences he endured as he lay in the manger on straw between an ox and a ass, I would like to re-create this in a palpable way, as if I had seen it with my own eyes.’

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Many religious and the residents of Grecio and the surrounding area were all invited for this special commemoration. Just before midnight, the Franciscan friars went in procession to the spot chanting the antiphons of Advent. They were accompanied by the villagers who carried flaming torches.

The wind blew strongly and the light of the torches projected their flickering shadows on the dense forest. However, in the clearance where the crib had been setup, there reigned an ambience of sacrality and peace; Only the cold was a nuisance.

When the village bell of Grecio began to toll midnight, a priest began to celebrate Mass. The altar had been placed in front of the crib with the ox and ass on either side. A beautiful full-size statue of the Child Jesus rested on the straw.

As is well known, St. Francis never wanted to be ordained a priest out of humility. Because of this, as deacon, it was his duty to solemnly sing the Gospel of that Christmas mass.

After the reading of the Gospel, all waited attentively to hear the sermon that St. Francis himself gave on the grandeurs and mercies of the Saviour of the human race, who that night was made flesh and dwelt among us.

St. Francis spoke words with a supernatural sweetness about the poverty in which the God-man was born and about the insignificant city of Bethlehem. It is difficult to imagine the fiery love that the sweet, clear, and sonorous voice of St. Francis produced in the hearts of those privileged to hear him.

At the end of his sermon, St. Francis bent over to kiss the statue of the Divine Child. At this moment a miracle took place that only he and Giovanni Velita saw. The statue became alive. It was as if it had been woken from a profound sleep with St. Francis’s kiss, and then the Child Jesus smiled at St. Francis.

At the consecration, when the bread and wine truly become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, St. Francis was able to contemplate the Messiah in two ways: in the form of the Holy Eucharist and laying in the manger.

At the end of the solemn midnight mass, and after having incensed the manger, the friars returned to Grecio and the villagers to their homes. Everyone was full of supernatural joy.

The veracity of this event can be certified by the sanctity of the one who experienced it, as well as by the miracles that happened afterwards. The straw from the manger was carefully kept by the people and was an efficacious remedy to miraculously cure sick animals and an antidote against many other diseases.

This devout and hitherto unknown institution of the manger was enthusiastically received by the faithful. St. Clare of Assisi, disciple of the saint, established it in her convents. Every year she setup the manger herself.

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The Franciscan friars also spread this custom far and wide. Whether composed of figurines artistically carved from clay, porcelain, or wood, the crib became the very symbol of Christmas.

From the majestic cathedral to the simplest rural chapel, from the palace or mansion to the humblest abode, the Catholics of the whole world, since that time, have had the pious custom of setting up a manger. In this way they repeat the custom that Providence inspired from the seraphic St. Francis of Assisi in the remote year of 1223.

END

The Twelve Days of Christmas

We have all heard the song, The 12 Days of Christmas, a delightful but apparently nonsensical rhyme set to music.

However, it is a good deal more than just a repetitious melody with pretty phrases and a list of strange gifts.

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St. Thomas More parts with his daughter, Margaret, to be executed for being faithful to the Pope and the Catholic Church.

From the year 1558 to 1829 Catholics in England were prohibited by law from the practice of their Faith. The religion was officially illegal until Parliament finally enacted the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829. Until then it was a crime to be a Catholic and to be faithful to the pope.

The 12 Days of Christmas’ was written as one of the ‘catechetical songs’ to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith. It was a memory aid, when to be caught with anything Popish would not only get you imprisoned, but possibly hanged, shortened by a head, or even subjected to the awful ordeal of being hanged, drawn and quartered.

 

The 12 days refers to the period between Christmas Day and the Feast of the Epiphany, traditionally celebrated on the 6th of January

The twelve days refers to the period between Christmas Day and the Feast of the Epiphany, which is traditionally celebrated on the 6th of January.

 

The gifts referred to in the song are in fact coded references to the teachings of the Catholic faith. The ‘true love’ mentioned is God himself. The ‘me’ who receives the presents refers to every baptised person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 

 


 

In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings.

The pear tree represents the cross.

 

The other symbols are as follows:

 

Two turtle doves refers to the old and new testament. For centuries the Jews offered doves to God. The two doves remind us of the sacrifice Our Lady and St. Joseph offered in the temple at Jerusalem on behalf of Our Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three French hens refers to the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. These hens were very expensive during the 16th century and only the rich could buy them. They symbolised the three presents offered by the magi to Our Lord:
– gold, the most precious of metals;
– incense, used in solemn religious ceremonies;
– and myrrh, an exquisite spice.

 

 

Four calling birds refers to the four gospels. The gospels contain the life of Our Lord and His teachings. Just like birds singing in a clear and loud voice, the four evangelists spread the good news of the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ throughout the world.

Five golden rings refers to the five first books of the old testament, called the pentateuch, which gives the history of man’s fall from grace. The Jews considered these books more valuable than gold. It also reminded people of the five decades of the holy rosary.

 

Six geese a-laying refers to the six days of creation. They also remind us how the Word of God gave life to the earth.

 

 

 

 

Seven swans a-swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and the seven sacraments. With the sacraments and the gifts, the faithful can sustain themselves in times of persecution.

Just as cygnets change from ugly ducklings to become beautiful swans, so also does the grace of God transform us from mere creatures into children of God.

 

 

 

Eight maids a-milking refers to the eight beatitudes preached by Our Lord in the sermon on the mount. The beatitudes, just like milk, feed and nourish the faithful.

 

 

 

 

 

Nine ladies dancing refers to the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness and temperance. In the same way that ladies dance joyfully, so also can Christians rejoice with a life transformed by the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

Ten lords a-leaping refers to the ten commandments of the law of God. The lords were men of authority to govern and discipline the people.

 

 

 

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Eleven pipers piping refers to the eleven apostles who remained faithful to Our Lord after the infamous treason of Judas. As children follow the piper joyfully, the disciples accompanied Jesus. They also called others to follow Him, and they play an eternal song: the message of salvation and life after death.

 

 

 

Twelve drummers drumming refers to the twelve articles of the creed. In the same way that drummers play sonorously so others can accompany the rhythm of the music, the creed reveals the faith of those who are Christians.

 

 

END

A Christmas Reflection

We gather to celebrate the beautiful feast of Christmas, a lovable tradition, established and handed down to us through the centuries. As the year comes to a close, we look back to find that last year ended in similar circumstances: generalized chaos and confusion as risks increase. Presently our situation is similar to last year’s with an even greater potential for confusion and even greater risk, while a general atmosphere of apprehension spreads over the whole country.

 

Peace in Truth is found in the Holy Roman Catholic Church

Yet, at this Yuletide, we recall the angelic chant to the shepherds on that rustic and poetic first Christmas Eve as the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to men of good will”.

Yes, peace is tranquility, but not just any tranquility.

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that “peace is the tranquility of order”. Where there is order there is real peace. Where there is an absence of order there is no peace. What exists is a veiled disorder, an artificial order, but no real peace.

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Peace exists, rather, in churches where Catholic doctrine is professed in its integrity; where people all love, understand and feel the same way because they are imbued with the Divine Holy Ghost, who is eminently a Spirit of Peace.

In temporal society we find this peace in a very few places, namely at such gatherings as these, where men live who indeed strive to give glory to God in the highest and, therefore, peace on earth reigns among these men of good will.

But you who are a supporter of Return to Order are also an agent of peace. You savor this peace, you appreciate this peace, you take it to your families, and thus bring them the law of Christ, the Faith of Christ, the order of Christ and the Reign of Christ. As you take into your families the doctrine of His Holy Catholic Church and live by its sweet rule and yoke, you have true peace.

This is the peace that our Lord Jesus Christ wanted to bring to the world and which He expressed in these magnificent words: Pacem relinquo vobis, pacem meam do vobis, “I give you My peace, I leave you My peace.” Which means, He gave them His peace, which is the tranquility of order, leaving this gift to men, to the world, at the time that He was about to leave earth to ascend to heaven.

Great and small gather around the manger

So, let us approach that heavenly crib of Jesus Christ, the King of Peace, the descendant of a regal dynasty from which also descended Mary Most Holy and Saint Joseph, who, nevertheless, now kneels in the capacity of a humble carpenter before the Savior just born of his wife, the Virgin Mother.

And before great potentates draw near the crib with precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, God wished for humble shepherds to approach and be received with tender love. Even the ox and the donkey were invited to warm Baby Jesus with their breath.

We must be soldiers of peace and soldiers of order

All this is peace; all this is order. We should be soldiers of peace and soldiers of order, fighting in an orderly manner as true soldiers of Christ in the Reign of Christ.

But aren’t these terms, peace and fight, contradictory? Isn’t peace concomitant with non-aggression? So how can we be “soldiers of peace”? Likewise, how can we call ourselves “soldiers of order” in case of war, when war is such a huge mess?

Nevertheless, peace is present when one fights against disorder through order. This must be well understood. Peace, the peace of Christ in the Reign of Christ exists when men are in order. But this peace does not exist only in non-combat. There is peace also when one fights for order against disorder.
There was also a great battle in heaven between Saint Michael the Archangel and the angels of fidelity and obedience against the angels of infidelity and disobedience. It was so great a battle that Scriptures describes it for us as a great battle was fought in heaven.

So, even at this moment peace did not cease to reign in heaven, because the good were on the side of God fighting to expel from the heavenly mansion the devils who, as agents of disorder, had become unworthy of it.

If there was a war in heaven, it was a war of health against disease, a war of life against death, a war of good against rebellious evil. This battle, by the very fact that it was a battle between what should exist against what should not exist, in itself is order.

In the contemporary world we are precious agents of peace in the measure that we fight against evil angels and those who are dedicated to spreading evil, the agents of war.

So also in the contemporary world we are precious agents of peace in the measure that we fight the evil angels and their minions in their multifaceted attack on faith, morality and good customs.

In the contemporary world we are precious agents of peace in the measure that we fight the evil angels and their minions in their multifaceted attack on faith, morality and good customs

The peace that we desire for the coming year is the peace of order against the agents of disorder. Only then will we have the peace of order in the tranquility of order. So, let us be agents of order in the coming year, not only because we refuse to engage in useless battles, but also because we do choose to engage in the good fight of which Saint Paul speaks when he said of himself as he lay dying: “Lord, I fought the good fight, now give me the reward of Thy glory.” If we do this in the coming year as we have done this year, we can end the year with peace and hope.

In this generation of thieves and adulterers let us be souls on fire, souls burning with love and strong warriors engendered by Faith. We were not born only to rejoice, or mainly to be happy. We were born, above all, to fight; we were born, above all, to serve the Holy Catholic Church.

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Then whatever the furor of evil throughout the world, whatever their threats, we are agents of peace, we are children of Mary, and we are fighters of good order. Thus, by the grace of Mary we may say like Saint Paul and the end of next year: Lord, throughout this year we fought the good fight. Give us now during this year the reward of Thy glory.

________________________________________
Adapted from a message of Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira to TFP Supporters on Dec. 18, 1992 at a Christmas gathering- Plinio Correa de Oliveira :Thomas Aquinas on Christmas

A Christmas meditation

The Emperor Augustus then reigned over the East and the West. The nations that had been so proud of their independence, such as Italy, Spain, Africa, Greece, Egypt, Gaul (what is today France), Great Britain and Asia Minor, now transformed into mere provinces of the Roman empire, were subject to the laws of their conqueror.

Now at that time the great emperor took a fancy to find out the exact extent of his dominions and the number of his subjects. Consequently, he issued an imperial edict prescribing the taking of a general census of all the peoples.

Judea was included in that edict, for Herod’s kingdom, being only a simple fief revocable at the will of the emperor, was dependent on the governor of Syria.

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Orders were issued to the heads of families, to the women and children, to inscribe on the public registers their names, age, family, tribe, their goods and possessions and whatever else was required to make out the list of the taxes to be levied. Moreover, each one was to be inscribed, not at his place of residence, but at the place where his family originally came from, because in such places were preserved the genealogical documents legalising, in hereditary order, the right to property and inheritance.

This latter prescription obliged Joseph and Mary, who were both of the tribe of Juda and of the family of David, to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the birthplace of David, their ancestor.

Whilst on the way to the mountains of Judah, Mary, who was about to become a mother, admired how God Himself led her to the place where the Messiah was to be born, and how an imperial edict set in motion all the nations in the world, in order that a prophecy, made seven centuries previously, by a seer of Israel, should now be fulfilled.

The two travellers arrived at Bethlehem exhausted with fatigue after their journey of sixty-six miles. The evening sun was then shedding its last rays on the city of David, which was seated as a queen on the summit of a hill amid smiling hillocks planted with vines and olive trees.

It was really Bethlehem, the house of bread, the town of abundant harvests; Ephrata, the fertile, the country of fat pastures. It was in those solitary valleys that young David pastured his flock, when the prophet Samuel sent for him in order to anoint him king of Israel.

When treading on that blessed soil, the holy travellers conjured up the pious souvenirs of their nation, or rather of their ancestry. From the houses of the town, from the surrounding mountains and valleys, they seemed to hear voices speaking of their ancestors, and especially of the great king whose descendants they were.

But at that time who was acquainted with the Virgin of Nazareth, with Joseph, the carpenter?

On entering Bethlehem, they felt as if lost among the great number of strangers that had come there from every part of the kingdom, to be inscribed in the census. In vain did they knock at every door to find shelter for the night. No one would receive them.

The Bethlehemites, having already to lodge their many friends and kinsmen, refused to admit those strangers who seemed so poor and wretched. Joseph and Mary then directed their steps to the public inn, where the caravans usually had their quarters, but they found it so full of travellers and beasts of burden that there was no more room for them.

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Being repulsed everywhere, these two holy persons left the town by the Hebron gate. They had scarcely gone a few steps, when they beheld near them a dark cave hewn out of a hillside. The Spirit of God inspired them to enter it. Having gone in, they found that it was a stable, which served as a shelter for the shepherds and their flocks. It contained a manger and a little straw. The daughter of David, after her long and wearisome journey, sat down in it on a block of stone to take a little rest.

Soon the noise in the city ceased altogether, and a solemn silence watched over its sleeping inhabitants. Mary was alone watching in the abandoned grotto, and pouring out her heart to the Almighty, when, at about midnight, the Incarnate Word miraculously left the womb of His Mother, and like a dazzling ray of the sun, He appeared to her astonished and enraptured gaze.

A Christmas meditation by the holy crib.

She adored Him, took Him up in her arms, wrapped Him up in poor swaddling bands and pressed Him to her heart. Then seeing the crib or manger, from which the cattle were wont to feed, she laid Him in it on a little straw.

And from that stable which sheltered Him, from that crib which served Him as a cradle, from that straw on which He lay, and which pained His tender body, the Infant Redeemer offered to the divine Majesty His very first sufferings and humiliations. Kneeling near Him, their eyes bathed in tears, Mary and Joseph united themselves to His sacrifice.

END

The Story of the Christmas Tree

In the seventh century a monk from Crediton, Devonshire, went to Germany to teach the word of God. His name was St. Boniface. He did many good works there and spent much time in Thuringia, a region later to become the centre of the Christmas decoration industry.

Tradition has it that St. Boniface used the triangular shape of the fir tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The converted people began to revere the fir tree as God’s tree, as they had previously revered the oak.

By the twelfth century it was being hung, upside-down, from ceilings at Christmas time in Central Europe, as a symbol of Christianity and was referred to as the ‘Tree of Christ’.

The first decorated tree was at Riga in Latvia in 1510, while the first Christmas tree came to England with the Georgian Kings from Germany.

At this time, also, German merchants living in England decorated their homes with a Christmas tree. The British public were not fond of the German Monarchy, so did not copy the fashions in vogue at Court, which is why the Christmas tree did not become established in Britain at that time.

In 1846, the popular Royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were featured in the Illustrated London News. They were standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Unlike the previous Royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at Court immediately became fashionable. The English Christmas tree had arrived!

On the more profound meaning of the ‘Tree of Christ’, the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira explains:

‘Each feast of the liturgical calendar brings an effusion of special graces with it. Whether men want or not, grace knocks at the door of their souls in a more sublime, meeker, more insistent way during the Christmas season.’

The Christmas tree, with its beautiful decorations, lights, and star or angel on top, helps to elevate the soul above the materialistic aspects of modern day Christmas. The tip of the tree points to a marvellous world that is Heaven.

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To show how the introduction of the custom of the Christmas tree was a gradual process and how it favours the elevation of the ambience, we will tell the story of a Catholic family in Austria as written by P. Rosegger in his book Peasant Life in Styria.

‘It had long been a great desire of mine to put into practice something I had heard was done in other towns to celebrate Christmas. One should put a small fir tree on the table, affix candles to its branches and place presents for the children underneath, explaining that it had been the Child Jesus who had left them there.

‘So I had the idea to setup a “Tree of Christ” for my little brother, Nickerl. But I needed to do this secretly (part of the procedure) and before my mother entered the kitchen to prepare breakfast.

‘As soon as there was enough light, I went out into the cold. I hid my gaze from those working around the house and when I returned from the forest with a small fir top, I ran to the barn where the horse carts were kept to hide it there.

‘It was soon night. The servants were still busy with the stables and in the bedrooms, where, according to the custom of Christmas Eve, they washed their heads and put on festive clothes. My mother was in the kitchen preparing her typical Christmas sweets. And my Father was with little Nickerl going around the property blessing it with incense, praying all the while. It was necessary to expel the evil spirits and attract angelic blessings to the house.

‘Thus while everyone was busy with their tasks, I prepared the “Tree of Christ” in the main room. I took my tree from its hiding place and put it on the table. I then cut ten or twelve candles from the wax block and placed them on the branches. Underneath I put some sweetbread.

‘I heard some slow and gentle steps on the floor above. I knew it was my father and my little brother who were there blessing the loft. They would soon be coming to the main room. I lit the little candles and hid behind the stove. The door opened and they entered with the incensor and then stopped….

‘“What is this? My father asked in a low but prolonged voice.”

‘The little Nickerl looked on dumbfounded. In his big, round eyes were reflected the lights of the “Tree of Christ” like little stars.

‘My father advanced slowly to the kitchen door and called in a low voice:

‘“Wife, Wife, Come and see this.”

‘And when she came, he asked:

‘“Did you do this?”

‘“Mary and Joseph!” my mother exclaimed, “What did you put on the table?”

‘The servants soon arrived and were very impressed with the unexpected surprise. So one of them suggested:

‘“Maybe it is a ‘Tree of Christ’! Could it be that the angels brought this little tree from Heaven?”

‘They all contemplated and marvelled at the tree. And the smoke of the incense filled the whole room and formed a delicate veil that rested on the illuminated tree.

‘My mother looked around the room for me:

‘“Where is Peter?”

‘I thought it was the moment to come out of my hiding place. I took Nickerl’s cold hands, who was still dumbfounded and continued rooted to the spot, and took him close to the table. He almost resisted. But I told him in a very solemn tone:

‘“Do not fear my little brother! Look: the dear Child Jesus brought you a ‘Tree of Christ’. It is yours!”

‘And the young boy was overjoyed and folded his hands like he did when he went to church.’

As we mentioned earlier, the top of a Christmas tree points towards a marvellous world, the world of Heaven. In this light, let us consider an enchanting tale about a Christmas tree. The story elevates one’s spirit to a higher plane, thus satisfying our desire for that which is marvelous.

Pious legend recounts that when the shepherds went to adore the Divine Infant, they decided to take Him fruits and flowers from the area. After this harvest, the plants congratulated themselves on being able to offer something to their newly-born Creator: one had given its dates; another its nuts, and so on.

From the fir tree, however, the shepherds had taken nothing because its needle-like leaves and sharp cones were not presentable gifts.

The fir tree recognised its unworthiness, and not feeling worthy to participate in the conversation, prayed in silence: ‘My newly-born God, what can I offer You? I offer you my poor and unworthy existence. This I gladly give You in gratitude for You having created me in Your wisdom and goodness.’

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God was pleased with the humility of the fir tree, and, as a reward, ordered a multitude of little stars to come down from heaven to adorn it. The stars were of many colours: gold, silver, red, blue, etc. When a group of shepherds passed by, they not only took the fruits of the other plants, but they also took the whole fir tree, as such a marvel had never before been seen. Thus the fir tree ended up by decorating the grotto of Bethlehem, being placed very close to the Child Jesus, Our Lady, and St. Joseph!

END