This Saturday Night in DC: Advent Stations

If you were at the Catholic Information Center last night for the Christmas Poetry Party, then you know that I took a bit of a risk of never being invited back to speak there in pointing out the Dominican friars in attendance, and asking the audience to talk to them later about a very special event which they are organizing in DC this Saturday. What can I say? I am a well-known groupie of the Dogs of the Lord (Domini Canes).

If you were not there, but you do happen to be in the DC area this weekend, then I hope you’ll join me at historic St. Dominic’s Church, just a couple of blocks from The National Mall, this Saturday December 13th at 7pm for the service of Advent Stations. It is being organized by the Dominican student brothers from the Dominican House of Studies here in Washington. It promises to be a highly memorable event, and hopefully one that will become an annual must-attend, like the very popular Vigil of All Saints and Tenebrae services held at Dominican House every year.

There will be 6 stations around the church, each with a different preacher preaching at the station itself. The six topics will be:

- The Fall of Adam and Eve (Gen 3)
– Noah and the Great Flood (Gen 6)
– Abraham and the Sacrifice of His Son (Gen 22)
– Moses and the Burning Bush (Exod 3)
– Ezekiel and the Vision of the Temple (Ezek 43)
– David’s Psalm of Kingship (Ps. 110)

The 7th station will have no preaching, but instead will feature the chanted words of the Prologue from St. John’s Gospel (Jn 1:1-14). There will also be music sung between each station, including hymns, chants, and polyphony. I also have it on good authority that there will be 600 candles employed in the darkened church during the service which, in such a magnificent building accompanied by beautiful music, should be quite atmospheric. And there will even be a relic of Bethlehem itself: a true piece of the crib in which the Infant Jesus was placed when He was born.

For further information, please be sure to check out the Facebook invite, or these articles from Kathryn Lopez in National Review Online and also over at Chant Cafe. Catholic or not, you are most welcome! Hope to see you there!

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St. Dominic’s in Washington, DC

 

Joy to the World: Scott Hahn and the Substance of Christmas

[I’m honored to be part of the blog tour for Dr. Scott Hahn’s latest offering, “Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does)”, published by Image Books. Be sure to check out the other reviewers’ thoughts as well.]

In the first chapter of Joy to the World, well-known Catholic apologist and scholar Dr. Scott Hahn presents us with a scene of family life which many of us will find familiar. Tired and worn out as a result of being dragged from church to church, Hahn’s daughter has had just about enough for her 12-year-old sense of patience. Yet when she is given the chance to be of service to someone else, in a way which she did not expect, and which involves a precious baby, everything changes. Of course, in the book, this is taking place not in some American suburb, but in Bethlehem; just as the light clicks on for those of us who are familiar with the Nativity story, so too does the light click on for Dr. Hahn as he and his daughter pause in their Holy Land pilgrimage.

With that very effective hook, Dr. Hahn takes the reader on a journey through thousands of years of salvation history. In “Joy to the World” we meet many characters, whether they are ancient Hebrew Patriarch, Judean client-king, or mysterious Persian magus. Here, Hahn successfully manages to balance between penning a popular reflection on the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus, and a scholarly work with concepts and references which reveal connections hitherto unknown to those outside of serious Biblical studies.

Take for example a section in the book in which Dr. Hahn points out three possible interpretations as to why St. Joseph, as described in St. Matthew’s Gospel, decided to quietly divorce the Virgin Mary. There is the theory which I suspect many of us probably adhere to, which is that being a just man, he didn’t want to see his young bethrothed stoned to death, and so acted out of pity. Another is that he was so perplexed by the situation given what he knew of Mary, that he didn’t want to be a part of it. And then there is the theory that when St. Joseph realized Whose Child the Virgin Mary would be bearing, he did not consider himself worthy to take on the role of caring for the Messiah.  The reader can decide for himself which theory he believes, but explorations like this fill “Joy to the World” and make it an extremely interesting survey of some of the fascinating areas which scholars delve into in trying to understand the Nativity.

Dr. Hahn similarly takes an entire chapter to lay out the political situation in Judea at the time of the birth of Christ. As one might expect, he explains how King Herod the Great came to the throne, and the horrors that the monarch got up to in order to preserve his place. Yet Hahn also weaves in the threads of prophecy regarding Herod’s lineage, as well as other, false Messiahs that popped up before and after Jesus, and the sense even in Rome at the time that something was about to happen to the ancient world, changing it forever.

By no means is this relatively short book an attempt to completely catalogue all of Biblical scholarship concerning the Birth of Jesus.  Rather, it is a companion for meditation, and a resource for further study, thanks to the selection of endnote materials which give the reader the opportunity to further explore some of the ideas covered by Dr. Hahn in the book.  As such, I can see it making a wonderful gift for someone who is interested in getting deeper into the study of their faith, or even for someone who isn’t quite sure what the Catholic Church teaches regarding the nature and origin of Jesus.

And indeed the idea of “family” is something which Dr. Hahn returns to again and again, not only exploring the dynamics of the relationships between Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, but also using this model as a way to, by extension, explore the nature of our relationship with God.  As His adopted sons and daughters, we are part of His family as well, if we choose to accept his invitation.

For me the takeaway from this book is something more than simply interesting factoids about the Birth of Jesus, and more in the realm of  “substance”. The familiar persons from the Nativity can often seem to be little more than bits of chalkware plaster that we take out of a box from the cupboard and unwrap from their newspaper shrouds, where they lay hidden for most of the year. They present various poses to us, but at times they can seem to be little more than figures in a pantomime, if we do not consider the risks they took, and the changes they underwent, often in defiance of the conventions of their times, to bear witness to the Gospel.

What Dr. Hahn gives us are not pretty, glossy cardboard cutouts, but real individuals, insofar as we can know what we do about them. The shepherds smell; they are not welcome in their community, thanks to the dirty jobs they have to do. The magi are not simply fortune tellers or astrologers, they are actually feared by the Roman Empire because of the huge societal influence they hold over the people of the Near East. Even the angels are not just ethereal figures with tresses of Breck-girl hair, they are powerful beings who help shape the course of human history as they do God’s Will.

There are many books available for spiritual reading on the subject of the Birth of Christ. Adding this one to your list this Advent and Christmas will bring a renewed sense of the truly astonishing premise of the Incarnation: that God would humble himself to be born as a human being, into an existing human family, at a particular time and place in history. No wonder, then, that ever since that birth, we have reckoned our days from it.

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>A New England Advent Poem

>This past Sunday evening some Catholic friends and I attended the Advent Service of Lessons and Carols at Christ Church Episcopal here in the village. Of the three Episcopalian churches in Georgetown, Christ Church is the closest to the so-called “smells and bells” type Anglicans, though not quite there. That being said, their Advent service is always a musical treat because of their great choir, and the combination of both their voices and the lovely, Gothic Revival church, remind me of similar concerts I attended when I lived in London.

One of the pieces performed by the choir, and which was very beautiful, was an American composition I had never heard of before. It is based on an anonymous poem published in New England in the 18th century. Certainly it gives one the chance for both reflection on the Scriptures and on one’s relationship to Christ, and as a poem certainly stands alone for that purpose. In addition, by re-printing it here this morning it also allows me the chance to finish my packing, as I am heading home to the country this morning…

JESUS CHRIST THE APPLE TREE

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

- Author Unknown.
From a hymn collection gathered by
Joshua Smith of New Hampshire, 1784.