I Have an iPhone…Guess I’m Going to Hell

From Gizmodo on How Pope Benedict will light a Christmas “Tree” display.

Benedict XVI will activate the illumination from his apartments in the Vatican Apostolic Palace. He will touch the screen of a Sony “Tablet” with an “Android” operating system which, via the Internet, will transmit the command to switch on the electric current to the tree.

Will this alleged “Android” “Tablet” be a Sony S? It doesn’t matter. The heavens have parted, and the choice is clear: The Pope Chooses Android. If you are one of the world’s billion-plus Catholics, take note!

The “tree” is actually a 2,132-foot-high lighting display on a Mount Ingino above the Italian town of Gubbio.

So the Pope has a Sony Android Device. I wonder if soon my iPhone will be banned from the Pews?

Actually I’m impressed that the Vatican used technology at all. Especially since they still announce a new pope by literally sending smoke signals.

A Child is Born to Us

For those of you who have children, I can only imagine the joy you had at the birth of your own child. Here was this little baby, a fragile life, given to you to care for. Joy and fear grasped many in this moment of newness of life. World’s get turned upside down as parents now live not just for themselves but now also for their child.

Mary had the extra burden of not merely having a child surrounded by the simple joys and fears that many parents grasp. She was an unwed mother in a culture that gave the right to her betrothed to stone her for being pregnant. It’s an interesting phenomena that we hear nothing of how the stoning of the unwed mothers of that time never took into account the life within their womb. Jesus indeed was placed in a precarious vessel. The Theotokos, the Greek word for “God-bearer”, Mary, is essentially a criminal. Someone who rightfully could be put to death and nobody would have blinked about it.

Herod even tried to stop this birth by murdering the first born of everyone in the town. These Holy Innocents as we have come to know them were victims of the lunacy of a fearful dictator too afraid to lose the power than he had to the one who would be King.

And yet, God comes to us anyway.

God comes to us despite everyone’s attempts to make it not so. A horror of a cultural convention makes way for Joseph’s gentle mercy and his comforting dream. Another dream, warning Joseph of Herod’s dastardly plan, gives God an escape plan, where others were caught in the crosshairs.

God comes, and more importantly, God stays, despite everyone’s best efforts not to make it so.

How often do I want to run away from God? Aren’t there problems in the world that I just don’t bother with? Don’t I have issues that I sweep under the rug? Aren’t there people that I avoid so I don’t have reconcile with them?

The truth of Christmas is that God doesn’t idly stand by and not reconcile with a world that many times simply forgets about God. God comes, but more importantly, God stays.

God stays and takes on our own human condition. God has dirty diapers and spit up. God lives in poverty. God faces rejection and betrayal and even mockery. And finally God takes on not just our life but also our death. God stays through all of that, even when others run away.

Who are we called to stay with? Who do we not spend enough time with? Who don’t we bother to reach out to? Who has become out of sight and out of mind in the world that we all too conveniently forget all about?

Who do we leave up to God to remember?

Tonight we recall the genesis of God’s redeeming love. The love that came to us through a simple woman who would not avoid God’s invitation despite the inconvenience that it brought to her and her betrothed. The love that came through a man who found his fiancée pregnant and showed mercy and a father’s protection for a child who was not his own. The love that came despite the hunger for power and the bigotry of the self-righteous.

That love still came despite our sin, that self-concern that we all try to abandon during this great season of Christmas, when we put others first and forget about ourselves.

God’s love doesn’t stop at His coming. God stays, God continues to love long after the manger’s wood gets dismantled. God stays and that wood that bore him in birth will hold him also in death.

We sing those familiar words, “O come let us adore him” but perhaps on this night, when we have come to celebrate the child given to us, we are called to stay a bit longer. We are called to stay for the season and the child grow and serve others. If we stay we see the miracles of the sick being cured and hungry being fed. If we stay we suffer the fear and disappointment of the disciples and the cross.

If we stay, we understand all that God has done for us.

God comes. God stays. And it changed everything.

We have come tonight and we have seen the coming of the Lord. Do we dare stay and let ourselves be changed? Do we stay with this child and grow in faith to reach those he dared to touch?

Or will we just avoid God? Who comes over and over again–not merely at Christmas but each day, each opportunity, each choice we have to be Christ for another.

God does not avoid us. May the birth of Christ open your hearts so that your life might be given to others.

And may those lives, continue to change everything.

Merry Christmas

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Although It’s Been Said…Many Times, Many Ways…


Nothing was quite like this Christmas break…

Actually it wasn’t quite Christmas break, I was a college freshman and they were fighting.

My college roommate, Joe and his then-girlfriend Lori parted ways at the Christmas break in anger. It was over something stupid to be sure, but both were convinced of their rightness and of the other’s stupid, pig-headed ways.

Joe and I had made plans to stay on campus at Fordham until they threw us out. Our families both lived close by and with free time giving way to finals, we hadn’t spent much time together and wanted to celebrate a bit of Christmas cheer together.

Actually, I was just avoiding my parents. After my first taste of freedom I wasn’t much looking forward to returning home to live by my parent’s rules once again. I loved my mom and dad and my parents had done much to sacrifice to send me to college, but admittedly, I was enjoying college and the sheer joy of being independent.

Joe for his part was also avoiding things. The horror of Pan AM Flight 103 crossed the newswires just a few hours before this. And Joe knew that the crash would make Joe’s father, a flight engineer for Pan AM, not much fun to be around. Besides, the girlfriend who he had just pissed off was also near his home and he wanted no part of her.

The clock ticked while we sat and watched episodes of Cheers interrupted by news reports about the Pan Am crash.

Hearing about the loss of life and how several of the students on the flight were college students from Syracuse, a school I nearly attended, hit us hard. Life was indeed precarious and it was Christmas, how would these families ever celebrate the holidays with any kind of joy again?

“What kind of God allows this to happen on his own birthday?” I quipped. Joe just shook his head as if he didn’t know, or didn’t have any easy answers. “If I were God,” I said arrogantly, “I’d have a major party on my birthday for everyone that would put Super Bowl extravaganzas to shame!” Joe laughed, a bit nervously. We needed to laugh a bit.

The flight made him realize how stupid his fight with Lori was and I, too realized that in my family, Christmas was going to be wonderful. We were lucky to have such joy in our lives. Heck, we were lucky to BE alive.

“I gotta go tell her…NOW” Joe yelled.

“What?”

Joe said, “I gotta get on the subway to go to Brooklyn and tell her I’m sorry.”

“Joe,” I protested, “it’s 11:30 at night. You ain’t getting on the subway alone at his late hour in the Bronx!”

So stupidly, I agreed to go with him.

What happened from there was a crazy whirlwind of activity that you just knew wasn’t going to end well.

Somehow we took three trains to Brooklyn, and after nearly 2 hours or so, we showed up at Lori’s house to find it (duh) completely dark. Not wishing to wake up her entire family, Joe decided to throw rocks at her bedroom window.

Nothing.

A light on in the bathroom. I wacked it with another pebble. Being a high school baseball player still came in handy.

“You break that window and I’ll break your nose!” Joe yelled.

Again no response.

After this disappointment, we walked to Joe’s other friend’s houses hoping to find a place to crash, but we only found unlighted houses. Joe became discouraged and angry.

“Well what do you want? It’s 3 in the morning!” I yelled. “Joe, look, it’s cold and I’m tired. My dad’s coming at 8 in the morning to pick me up. Let’s just go back to Fordham at this point.”

So off to the subway for the long 2 hour journey back to the Bronx. And it was there that we met him.

He was drunk. He was smelly. He was smoking on the subway and sloshing out of a brown paper bag!

He didn’t ask us for money. He wasn’t aggressive or angry. He pretended not to hear the conductor who told him to put out his cigarette. He sang in a way that only a drunk could sing. Bad and loudly.

But mostly, he was tired and he wanted us to know that.

“Guys,” he said slurring his words, “I like you guys. I AM TIRED! So I’s gonna sing you a TIRED song. Just for you.”

He then proceeded to sing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” A song about being home and the beauty of a home at Christmas. Every note was somehow magically on key. Until…

“And so I’m offering this simple phrase…
to kids from one to ninety-NINE”

We both cracked up, but the old man could sing, drunk and all. He flew in for a big jazz-like finish. We applauded and our offer of a tip was refused. He said:

“Look…They can take away my house. They can take away my kids. They can even come and take away this ol’ bottle. But they can’t ever take away one thing from me….”

“They can’t take away what’s up here in this old coconut or here in my heart. They can’t take away my talent.”

I just about melted.

“That’s three things!” the subway conductor roared, “and put that cigarette out!”

Scrooge.

As we exited and said good-bye, he only asked for a prayer and to remember his song. And so I have, twenty-one years later, remembering the details as if it were yesterday.

It was indeed a secular song, but one that has taken on new spiritual meaning for me since that night. It reminds me of the many Christmases that people spend alone, on the streets, without family, perhaps not in their right mind. For some at the holiday time of year they are lonely after the death of a husband or wife, or like that year when parents mourned the loss of their child who died in a plane crash over Scotland because of the madness of terrorism. It reminds me now that the world still is, and always has been, a broken place, and that it still needs a savior.

And it also reminds me that our savior was born in a similar lonely place, to two people of little wealth, surrounded by smelly filthy animals and the keepers of sheep. The angels sang of a king that night, and I think perhaps my friend on the subway sang just as sweetly. For we remember that we really don’t need the lavish gifts and parties, the latest computer or phone, or even a good book to read. All nice things to be sure…but what we really need is God. And God realizes that we miss his presence so easily in our human imperfection. So God decides to fix that problem by becoming one of us, by entering our world as Emmanuel, “God with us.” The king of kings has the throne of a feeding trough, with itchy hay and cows mooing into his ear.

God lurks in our lives each and every day, sometimes in the strangest places. And quite often, we miss seeing his presence. This Christmas, may you hear the soft sweet song of Jesus singing to you, even in secular verse, to welcome you home into his embrace on the day of his birth. May you be able to recognize Jesus, even in the strangest places when you hear his voice singing to you.

And although it’s been said, many times, many ways….

Merry Christmas….to you.

Yes Fordham, There is a Santa Claus


A retroactive Hat Tip to my classmates Joe Squillace and Tracy Crimmins from Fordham University where this story originated at Christmas 1991.

Joe and Tracy were students at Fordham and spent a good deal of their time doing what some would say was a thankless job: Running the Community Service Organization’s “Give A Child a Christmas” campaign. They would gather hundreds of toys by asking the college students to simply go out and buy a toy for children who lived in the poorer section of the Bronx.

The job of organizing and preparing for the huge Christmas party was gargantuan. But Joe and Tracy in the midst of their studies and activities would somehow spend lots of sleepless nights getting all the gifts together and they’d even plan the party that would bring much joy to a bunch of children who were often jaded and skeptical that Santa could ever exist.

Occasionally there would be glimmers that would make it all worthwhile. Like the time when someone donated a huge teddy bear to the campaign. It was one of those huge bears that you win for throwing 150 balls into the clown’s mouth in a row at the fair. They kept that bear unwrapped in the back room thinking it was too “off the charts” in comparison with the other gifts. But when one little girl came forward and said: “There ain’t no Santa Claus and I ain’t even gonna get what I asked for at this stupid-ass party,” Joe sprang into action. “Well what do you want?” he asked. She simply said, “A teddy bear, not that it matters.” Poised in the closet almost magically behind her was the giant bear. And just as magically, Joe, dressed in Santa’s big red suit, asked his compatriot elves to open the door. There stood her bear. Just as she had asked. She hugged that bear longer than I ever had seen anyone hug anything. Pure magic.

But the next story takes the Christmas Fruitcake…

At the end of that very same party, when all of the other students had put in a long hard day’s work, Joe and Tracy gathered up the remaining toys and lugged them all to the subway to bring them down to another children’s home so that they could distribute them to other needy children in the area.

On the subway, after their long journey, Joe and Tracy were enjoying a scenic ride on the elevated #4 train back to Fordham. They spied a little girl of about 5 or 6 years old sitting across from them. A child of the Bronx, she rode the subway with her mother, back home this day. “She had big beautiful eyes,” Tracy told me. “The kind you can’t ignore!” They made pleasant conversation with her.

Tracy: “So are you ready for Santa Claus to come?”
Little Girl: “Nope! Santa doesn’t come to my house.”
Joe: “What? C’mon! What do you mean?”
Little girl (with mom looking nervous): “Well…my mommy told me that the South Bronx is too far from the North Pole for Santa to come all that way. So Santa doesn’t come to our house because it’s just too far, even for flying reindeer!”

Joe and Tracy knowingly looked at the child’s mother and played along.

Joe: “Oh I see. That’s too bad, huh?”
Little Girl: “Nah, it’s OK. I already got my gift from Santa anyway.”
Joe: “Now wait a minute! What do you mean? Santa doesn’t come until Christmas Eve, everyone knows that!”
Little Girl (giggles and says): “I told you silly, the South Bronx is too far! So what Santa does is he gets a bunch of his helpers together at this place called Fordham and every year he makes sure that the gifts get there EARLY. So we get our Christmas a bit earlier than everyone else! We go every year for my gift there.”

At this juncture Joe and Tracy were desperately trying not to openly cry.

Joe asked her one last question:

“Did you get what you want?”

“I ALWAYS get exactly what I ask Santa for!”

And in unison, as they walked out of the subway car, Joe and Tracy responded tearfully together:

“So do I.”

As we await the magical season of giving, may we be reminded that God, sometimes might not give us what we want, but always gives us exactly what we need. In fact God holds nothing back from us and gives us his very self.

May we be able to recognize that gift this Christmas and may we be able to give that same gift of love to others.

Merry Christmas.

Addendum: A bunch of my classmates just informed me that Virginia O’Hanlon (yes, THAT Virginia) is also a Fordham graduate. They granted her a doctoral degree sometime after 1912. Surprise, surprise!

Is Your Christmas Tree Up Yet?


The Pope loves Christmas Trees…thus sayeth Zenit

The Christmas tree — with its journey from a dark forest to the brilliance of decorative lights — represents every Christian, called to share the message that the Light of the world has become man.

This was a comparison made by Benedict XVI today when he addressed a delegation from Belgium, which provided the Christmas tree for St. Peter’s Square this year.

“In the forest,” the Holy Father said, “the trees are close together and each one of them contributes to making the forest a shadowy, sometimes dark, place.”

“But here,” he continued, “chosen from among this multitude, the majestic tree that you offered us is today lit up and covered with brilliant decorations that are like so many marvelous fruits.”

“Leaving aside its dark garments for a brilliant explosion, it has been transfigured, becoming a beacon of light that is not its own, but rather gives testimony to the true Light that comes to this world,” the Pope suggested.

A lovely reflection and very true. We have a dog and don’t like the smell of Chihuahua urine…so we get a small plant-like Christmas tree that we put our favorite ornaments on each year. I’m also afraid he’ll pull down a larger tree. Sigh, the things I do for this dog! But the tree, small though it might be brings me much joy–just like the dog does for that matter. I’m off to get it today in fact.

What do you do for your Christmas tree? What Christmas tree traditions do you have?

Advent: Waiting in Hope

Which kinda makes me want to do something like this…

Even Charlie Brown’s admonition at the close calls me into greater introspection of my own experience of waiting. Am I waiting hopefully or am I just haphazardly flailing my arms and doing nobody any good? What is this experience calling me into?

Joyfully waiting is not easy or even fluid. It can be messy and frightening but we live in hope and that should at least bring us some joy, enough joy to make us want to dance.

I think the kid in the back doing the jump rope dance was way ahead of his time.