Thursday, December 11, 2014

(149) SECULARISM: The Grinch that Stole Advent and Christmas---- Let's Take Them Back and Put Christ into Christmas


             Every year more and more of Christmas is taken over by the Grinch.  That is Secularism, which intends to keep God out of the public square, out of the community, out of the public school regardless of community values, and out of private business.  They give lip service to “religious freedom” but keep your faith within the walls of your church and the privacy of your home.  The secularists will not concede any right for Christians and their clergy to speak out on moral issues that are not “politically correct” even within the confines of the church building under the umbrella of so called “anti-bigotry laws”…….opposition to the homosexual lifestyle as immoral even though those with same sex attraction are most welcome in the Church; opposition to same sex marriage; forcing Christian institutions, businesses, and individuals to provide health insurance that include abortifacients, contraceptives, and abortion itself by government fiat and fines. 

Overrun by Secularism. In our culture today, originally very Judeo-Christian, but now very secularized, prayer in the schools is supposedly against the Constitution; manger scenes on public property are “illegal”, even saying “Merry Christmas” is becoming taboo.  The net result of this secularization: Christ is taken out of Christmas, which was a celebration of the Savior’s birth since the 4th Century……the reason for the season.  There is nothing in the Constitution about the so called “separation of Church and State”.  Thomas Jefferson first used the term to protect the churches from government encroachment and prevent an official religion.  But today secularism and its collection of Godless beliefs is slowly becoming the de facto official religion.

        Secularists are starting to throw “Solstice Parties” just before Christmas.  It was originally a pagan feast in the Roman Empire that celebrated the return of the sun as the days start to get longer again after December 21.  Since no one is sure of the date of Christ’s birth, the Church substituted Christmas for the feast in the 4th Century to overcome the debauchery of the week long celebration. Now they're bringing it back.

I have told my students in Catholic Poland:  “Over the centuries, the Polish people have successfully resisted and overcome radical Islam, Nazism, Communism, and other threats, but the greatest threat of them all is Secularism” because it is materialistic and atheistic in its essence.  It’s more than indifference to faith; its intent is to ultimately eliminate religious belief.  Under the influence of the very secular European Union and material prosperity, the Church is slipping in Poland and was stronger under Communism.  Secularism is a grave threat here too and we are oblivious to it because it is so gradual that we cannot see our religious freedom eroding.
The commercialization of Christmas encroaches upon Advent.  Sixty years ago the Christmas shopping season started after Thanksgiving, originally set aside to thank God for our blessings, but now just another holiday, “Turkey Day” thinking that the very religious Pilgrims only thanked the Indians.  Now the Christmas season starts after Halloween; forget about Advent.  It supposedly starts with “Black Friday” where stores try to insure a profitable year (in the black) by offering great bargains to attract people while supplies last.  People flock to the stores minutes after midnight so as not to be left out.  We bought our “Black Friday Special” recliner at Big Lots on Thanksgiving Day.  Then the commercial internet sites get into it on “Cyber Monday”. It’s all about buying “things”.  Christmas has been diluted to the point of losing its real meaning.

          Why do we give gifts in the first place?  Let’s remember that God gave us His only begotten Son to teach us how to live, save us from our sins, and open the gates of Heaven for us if we only follow Him and accept His teachings.  We give gifts to our loved ones and to charity to celebrate God’s great gift to us. Let’s give gifts that educate our children and strengthen their faith; let’s give of our time, talent, and treasure to the Church, to charities, and to the poor because we are doing it unto Christ……the Giving Tree, food pantries, soup kitchens, the K of C Coats for Kids campaign, etc.

It’s OK to say MERRY CHRISTMAS!  Better yet is to wish people a “Beautiful and Blessed Christmas”.  Saying “Happy Holidays” is a surrender to secularism and so is sending a Christmas card with no relation to the birth of the Christ child, who is the reason for the season.  Let’s send Christmas cards with a genuinely Christmas theme, not simply sleighs, reindeer, penguins, and snowmen.  That is also a profession of faith.  Sending Christmas greetings and good wishes is really a small communication of love, remembering, and caring.  Let’s look at it that way and not simply as a required chore.
Perhaps we could make a concession to Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim friends and say “happy holidays” to them as we invite them to celebrate with us in our Country which was founded as a Christian country and still is.  Share with them the reason for the season with an ecumenical spirit of respectful interfaith dialogue and ask them to share their religious customs with us.  If we should live in India, Japan, or Saudia Arabia they certainly would expect us to respect their culture and not be “offended” by manifestations of their faith in public places.
Why do we have all those lights and decorations?  Why do we decorate our homes and our city park so beautifully with lights?  Let’s do it in honor of Christ, the light of the world.  May your light shine as well.  Let’s add on in our front yards a manger scene which explicitly demonstrates the reason for the season.  Including the shepherds demonstrate that God sent the Christ child to the Jews and to the poor which He and His Church have a special love for.
Why have a Christmas tree (not “holiday tree”) with a star on top?   It is an evergreen tree, denoting life eternal which God offers to us.  We decorate it to celebrate God’s gift of His Son and eternal life.  Be sure to put a star on top to remind the world of the Magi who followed the star to pay homage to the new born king.  Let us not forget that God gave this message to the astrologers from probably present day Iran to demonstrate that He also sent His son to the gentiles and the affluent.

Why do we party and visit each other?  It is to celebrate this great event in history, God becoming one of us.  Because God is love, we party for amicable fellowship together with our family, our friends, our colleagues at work without going into excess.  Visiting friends and relatives, especially the sick and the elderly, are great gestures of love.  Caroling by our Yacht Club in nursing homes is very significant.  In bringing Communion to the sick and the elderly, especially in the nursing homes, I have found that they treasure visits and feel very lonely without them.

Why other customs?  Let’s look at Santa Claus from the Dutch for St. Nicholas, the candy cane as his crozier and that of Christ, the Good Shepherd (red for sacrifice & white for purity), and the stocking in which He would put gold coins for the dowry of a poor girl.  For more detail as on the holly and the Poinsettia, see my blog #52.

Mary with child and Joseph on the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem, 90 miles and four days on foot as seen on the map below as they prepare for the coming of the Savior during their Advent.  This shows how tough St. Joseph was.  How many of us can walk for 22 ½ miles over hill and dale in one day and then with aching muscles repeat it for three more days?  

Preparing our Hearts for Christmas During Advent. To get the most out of Christmas with all of its joy, its magic, its graces, its blessings, and spiritual growth, preparation is a must.  That’s what Advent is all about.  When Adam and Eve were evicted from Paradise, God promised a Redeemer, a Messiah, who would restore what they lost to those that believe in Him and follow His teachings.  The Jews waited 4000 years; we relive that wait in joyful anticipation with each week symbolizing a wait of a thousand years.  You can buy an Advent Wreath in the Parish Hall after Mass for your dinner table and light an additional candle each Sunday.  Let’s prepare for Christmas with more prayer, spiritual reading as bible study, watching excellent Advent programs on EWTN cable and satellite or, Mass attendance in addition to Sunday, and by all means, a good Christmas bath for our souls…….Confession.  Then we put up the Christmas tree a day or two before Christmas and celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, keeping the tree up until after the feast of the Epiphany (the Magi) on January 6.

The most important of all is Christ and the Christmas Spirit. It consists of peace and love for all.......forgiveness, reconciliation with our enemies and adversaries often within our own extended families, charity, generosity, and joy that only Christ can give. May everything that we do in relation to Christmas be directed toward developing the Christmas spirit. Then our Christmas will indeed be happy, merry, and joyful.

Let’s look at Christmas the way the angels announced the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds.  “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to men of good will”.  Let’s use Christmas and its customs and everything we do in the new year be all for the greater glory of God (Ad majorem Dei gloriam”).  That’s what Christmas is all about…….gratitude and celebration for God’s great gift to us, His Son.  Let’s bring the true, the good, and the beautiful into Advent and Christmas…….not simply decorating, partying, and buying more stuff.  Join the Knights of Columbus campaign to put Christ into Christmas……..and Advent too.  Let us not forget that the first six letters of Christmas are the most important.

Let us close with a link to a flash mob of students of Thomas Aquinas College, a great books school in Santa Paula California.  For the second consecutive year they pulled it off in a large mall outside of near Los Angeles.  Click on

Monday, December 1, 2014

(148) The Future of the Ohio Valley Symphony: the Next 25 Years and Beyond


A Christmas Concert of the Ohio Valley Symphony
        After celebrating the 25th Anniversary Concert of the Ohio Valley Symphony Orchestra in October, we are looking forward with anticipation to the joyful and heavenly sounds of Christmas at the Ariel Theatre (really pronounced AR-ee-L) at 8 pm on Saturday December 6, the feast day of the original St. Nicholas (Sante Klaas in Dutch), who died on that date in Myra-Turkey in 343 A.D.  The Christmas Concert of The Ohio Valley Symphony is their most popular concert of the year as it blends the popular with the sacred.  

Now would be a good time to look into the future of the Ohio Valley Symphony which the people of Gallia, Meigs, Mason, and even Jackson County can claim as their own although many come from further out to enjoy it.

   To insure the long term survival and prosperity of the Ohio Valley Symphony long after the original founders have passed on, a taste for classical music must be cultivated and nurtured in the population, especially with the youth.  The role of the music teacher is crucial……whether it’s one on one piano lessons or music appreciation at the elementary, secondary, and college level.  After the founders pass on, then what? 

   Too many people right now are oblivious to this fabulous opportunity under their noses or consider the Symphony to be “nerdy”.  A big help is the annual outdoor symphony at the Gallipolis River Recreation Festival every year; however this year the grant money dried up and we had only fireworks.  Another big help is the special discount to students, but that must be publicized.  It’s only $10, very competitive with the price of a movie at the local cinema and it’s live!  Similar performances would cost $25 - $68 in Columbus and much more in the bigger cities.  As an added bonus, the Assistant Conductor of the Ohio Valley Symphony, Tom Consolo, conducts a half hour Pre-Concert Chat at 7:15 before each performance, helping those who attend to understand the musical compositions and the objectives of the composer.

    Would it be feasible to obtain private or state funds to sponsor the symphony to appear each year at one of the local high schools?  Rotating it among Point Pleasant, Gallia Academy, River Valley, and South Gallia with Gallipolis Christian High Schools on a four year cycle would give every kid in the two sister counties at least one opportunity in their lives to experience a symphony.  Maestro Ray Fowler, the Conductor of the Ohio Valley Symphony, is good at explaining the meaning of each musical selection as the great Maestro Leonard Bernstein did in conducting “Young People’s Concerts on CBS from 1958-1972 and Public Television with his New York Philharmonic.  Cultivating a natural hunger for the true, the good, and the beautiful will enrich the lives of our youth and keep them out of trouble.

Maestro Ray Fowler, the Conductor of the Ohio Valley Symphony

      A more practical and less costly possibility is to have an annual Symphonic Music Festival for Youth with different schools of the four county area attending at the Ariel each year.  According to Lora Snow, the Executive Director of the Ariel Centre, the Symphony could give four performances through the day to a total of 1800 kids (450 per performance).  This perhaps once in a lifetime educational experience for many would entail only a few dollars on the part of the school boards to bus the kids plus perhaps a small fee from each family to cover what the grant does not.  They already pay a $90 fee per year for each sport that a Gallia Academy High School student plays.  If there is a will, there is a way for the local school boards to make it happen.  Maestro Fowler would explain the music at their level and what the conductor does.

Lora Snow, Executive Director of the Ariel Centre
      Parents have a great opportunity at no cost at all to bring their children to sit in on all or part of the Friday evening (7 – 10 pm) and Saturday afternoon 1 - 4 pm) rehearsals before the Saturday evening performance of the Ohio Valley Symphony.

   How many small towns of the size of Gallipolis, Point Pleasant, Pomeroy, or Jackson can boast of having their own symphony orchestra with world class musicians?  The Ohio Valley Symphony really belongs to all us in the four county area.  What a privilege!  Thank you all who have contributed to the Ohio Valley Symphony during those 25 years whether as a musician, promoter, sponsor, or spectator.  Patronizing the symphony with your presence at the five concerts per season is a big help to insure its survival and viability.  The price of a ticket only covers part of the cost.  All of you have enriched our lives and our community and have helped to attract doctors and other professionals to live in Mason, Meigs, and Gallia Counties.  More detailed information is available for the many cultural opportunities the Ariel provides and ticket information at or

   Gallia County really has the potential of becoming a regional center for the arts.   We have in place the Ariel – Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre in the very center of downtown Gallipolis and the French Art Colony only a few blocks away within easy walking distance.  On top of that we have the School of Fine Arts with a faculty of nationally known scholars in music, theater, and art at the University of Rio Grande about 10 miles away.  In fact, the academic background of the new President of the University of Rio Grande, Dr. Michelle Johnston is music.  If each entity would work together, complement each other, specialize in what it does best, cooperate, pool resources, and promote each other’s functions, this vision can indeed be achieved.  Coordination would avoid conflicts of events on the same date.  The fine arts would not only survive in our region, but prosper with state wide and someday even national prominence as the people of the surrounding communities are enriched with the true, the good, and the beautiful.