Monday, December 20, 2010

The Catholic Imagination

I'd rather say "Catholic Weltanschauung," because any reason to say Weltanschauung is a good reason to say it; but in this context "imagination" works well and doesn't cramp the Anglophone epiglottis, y'know?

Lately the Catholic Imagination/ Catholic Worldview has bubbled up in reference to Catechesis. In my class I want to spark the kids' imaginations (what catechist doesn't), such that they don't just get the knowledge, but the worldview as well. Readers my age may remember John Houseman's signal line in the movie The Paper Chase: "You come in here with a skull full of mush leave thinking like a lawyer." My kids are not in law school, but analogously I want them to learn to think like Catholics. I joke sometimes that converts have all the fun, and one of those fun things I see converts experience is the excitement of acquiring a Catholic imagination. And even though the kids grow up in the faith, they should enjoy that process as well. But all that begs the question: what is a Catholic Imagination?

For a concise answer, look to a book written a decade ago, The Catholic Imagination by Fr. Andrew Greeley (yeah, yeah, I know). In the front of the book there's an introductory quote by the endearing and stupendously imaginative non-Catholic, William Blake: "Imagination is a representation of what eternally exists, really and unchangeably." This is followed by a short Introduction which I give my blessing to, for what it's worth. I don't think there's a better short description out there.

And having re-read those six pages, I recall that in 1964 Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said the following about something that was neither Catholic or Imaginative: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it."

I know it when I see it, too. Here are a couple of examples I have on my mind these days, which show the CI in action:

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo (thanks, Prodigal Daughter); and this poem by Pavel Chichikov, which he wrote just last week:

A poem for Advent

October’s lighted lamps are fallen
God’s lamp of trees is empty
November’s wick pinched black and cold

Look now in the monstrance of the Virgin’s womb
Where the sinless child is burning
Even through her sinless skin

She carries forth this inner lamp
Through day and night increasingly
Unceasingly for us to see Him

It is a gift to give a Gift
Returned that makes three kings
Prepare their winter journey

Light for gold, incense for a grace
Love for adoration
Life amassed from death

So on the cold skull-strewn plateau
They see the light, the beacon
Of a cradled Child

Lost within a night they find a lamp
Glowing in a bed of straw
That will not burn it

And they who touch Him
Touch the feet of fire
That will consume itself alone

Mothers know within that which they carry—
His alone to give and take
And to the Spirit marry

Now both of these examples are clearly pitched at adults; so how is this relevant to 6th grade? Well, if you look around the Sistine Chapel, you'll find the image of St. Batholomew I used in my recent Keys & Eyeballs post ("by the way, this painting of St. Bart and his skin is in the Sistine Chapel in Rome; if you ever go there, be sure to find him"); and I intend in a future class to read at least the first 3 verses of the poem, which liken Mary's womb to a monstrance, and Jesus to a burning lamp. 12-year-old brains will snarf those images right up. 

P.S Greeley's book can be had used for about $7 including shipping.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


We do not have games or crafts or movies or parties of any kind in Wednesday Sunday School. All classtime is...classtime. Whatta concept. These children will be graduating from highschool in 6 more years; babydays are slap out the window. But during the Christmas class the kids can eat snacks and drink pop; that's called an unparty. I lose about 10 minutes of productive time to unparty inefficiency, but even Scrooge let Bob Cratchit take the afternoon off on Christmas Day. And most of the class material is Christmas-related, and they are good kids, and well...I'm weak.

"Hey, it's almost Christmas; what season is it? Winter? Not yet. Fall? No, I mean what Church season? Advent. Yes, which means Arrival. I was thinking this week about the first Advent, when Mary was waddling around [I do so] with a huge stomach, saying, "Joseph, I am so ready to have this baby." I always considered Advent being a time of expectation, like "O come, O come, Em-ma-a-an-u-el," but never really thought about Mary being tired of waiting and wanting to get it done. That's how my wife and daughter-in-law are; I think all mothers have their own personal Advent season every time they are pregnant.

Y'all remember last class we were talking about Mary, and the Immaculate Conception came up? Yes. It's related to Baby Jesus and Christmas. Which reminds me I didn't see any of you at Mass last Wednesday, but I know you young'uns can't drive yourselves to church. Anyway, let's think about the Immaculate Conception a bit. Who was immaculately conceived? Jesus! Well, yes, he was. Let me ask it this way: who is honored by the feast of the Immaculate Conception? Mary. Yes. It's not about when Jesus was conceived without sin, but about...when Mary was conceived without sin.  Yes. It's about Mary growing in her momma, not Jesus growing in Mary. OK, let's review some [on the board goes the Ark of the Covenant & pregnant Mary to the right]: here's the Ark of the Old Covenant and ...the Ark of the New Covenant.  Yes. The old Ark contains God's stuff; the New Ark contains...God!  Yes. What's more precious and holy: God's stuff, or God Himself? God Himself. Yes. Now let's look at the Old Ark for a second. It wasn't just some old box the Israelites kept pots in. It was made of expensive wood and the inside was lined with gold. It was the finest, purest, most precious container they could make. And how did they move the Ark around? They carried it on poles. Yes, so they wouldn't touch it. Why would they not want to touch the Ark? Cause it was important? Yeah, sort of. People felt unworthy to touch the Ark because of their sins; the Ark was set apart from sinful things. Y'all know the nuns we have in our parish? Yes. Well, suppose some young man thought one of them was cute, and asked her to go on a date, go out dancing. That'd be weird! Yes, why...she's not married. Nuns don't do that after they're nuns! Right, they are set apart, like the Ark. They're reserved for God by their own choice. And Mary freely chose to be set apart, too, and be the Mother of God.

Now, the Ark never contained anything but the jar of manna, Aaron's staff, and the Commandments. Can you imagine if the Ark was empty, and I came along and wanted to store my shoes in it? That'd be wrong! Suppose they were brand-new shoes? No! Suppose they were golden shoes?! Why not? Cause it's for God's stuff, not regular stuff. Right. The Ark is permanently set apart for God's stuff. Now here's Mary, the...New Ark!  Yes. What's in her? Jesus. Yes, who is...God. Yes. Now we know that God is more valuable than his Stuff. And we know how much respect the Israelites had for the Ark. So how much respect might we have for Mary? More! Yes, way more. Now was that stuff in the Ark perfect? Perfect? Yeah...would you expect anyone to worship the pot of manna? I don't think so. Me neither...even if it's God's Stuff it's still just stuff. Was the stuff in Mary perfect? It wasn't stuff, it was Jesus! Right, who is perfect. So do we worship what was in the New Ark? Yes. So which Ark should get more respect? The New one!  Yes.

Now tell me, are we born in sin? Yes. Why? Cause Adam and Eve sinned! Yes, we inherit that original sin from our parents...what's it called? Umm...Original Sin? Yes. I thought I'd trick you on that, y'all're too smart. Do our parents create us? Yes? Yes, with God's help. We inherit sin though our parents because we're made from them. Tell me, who was Jesus' Father? God the Father? Yes. Does he have a body?. No. Is God a sinner? Well, isn't God perfect? Yes, just checking. And Jesus' mom? Mary! Who had...a...body'n'soul!  Yes. So if she was sinful...Jesus would get it from her?  Yes.

OK what's this? [I pull up my shirt enough to see my belly-button] Ha, that's your belly-button! Uh-huh...what's it for? Nothing. Well, what was it for before I was born? It was the thing....the umbilical cord!  Yes, like so. [I draw a fetal Jesus and connect him to Mary's tummy with an umbilical cord] Let's imagine I'm baby Jesus. Do I breathe while I'm in Mary? No. Do I eat? No. Drink? No. Right. Everything I get comes from Mary. We are as close to being one thing as you can get. Mary breathes, eats, & drinks for both of us, and she shares all that with me while I'm growing inside her, just like all mothers do. Now imagine perfect baby Jesus so completely joined to his could that work if she were a sinner like me? That'd be weird. Yes; we're made of a...body'n'soul!  Yes, so if our souls are messed up by sin...our bodies are too. Yes. And if Mary's soul was stained by sin...her body was too. Yes. And she would not have been a very good Ark for Jesus. Imagine I'm a good Israelite back when they were making that beautiful Ark. I come up with a nice box. I say, hey y'all don't need to make a special box, my new washing machine came in this one, it's very sturdy. They didn't have washing machines! Pretend they did! What would they say? They'd say no! Right, a regular container won't do for holding something special. And remember, Jesus floating in Mary's tummy was much closer to her than the jar of manna was to the Old Ark, just sitting there for centuries. If Mary was sinful, body'n'soul, how would Jesus get oxygen and nutrition from her without also getting sin? He couldn't. Right. That's why the Church teaches that Mary was conceived in her mom without sin, and never sinned, so she'd be a good Ark for God to live in for 9 months. And look, one last thing. [I put a dot on Mary's tummy] This is Mary's egg, the one that's going to become Jesus. If she's a sinner, body'n'soul, then...the egg has sin in it? Yes, it's part of her body. So how are you gonna get that sin out before Jesus is conceived? Well, God could do it. Yes, but what's better: to take a sinful egg and clean it off before Jesus' conception, or just have it always have been clean from the get-go? From the get-go! Right. So those are the two main ways I think about Mary being sinless from the first moment she existed in her momma: Mary's sinless tummy for God to grow in, and a sinless bit of her to make Jesus from.

Now, we know Mary's the New Ark. But There's Something Else About y'all get that? Get what? Never mind. [I draw a sad Eve beside Mary] Who is this sad woman? She's in the Bible. Elizabeth? Ooh, good guess, but no. Mary? No...she's maybe the saddest woman in the whole universe...look, she's wearing some kind of animal skin...Eve! Yes, it's Eve. Eve feels terrible because when the devil tempted her with the apple, she could've said no, right? Yes! 'Cause she will!  Yes. But she said yeah, sure, ok I guess; ate the apple and then got her dimwit husband to have a bite, too. So now we're all miserable living in a sinful world. Anyway, I saw a terrific picture a couple of days ago... I need a Mary! No, I used you last week! You daughter, get up here. And an Eve, yes, c'mon. Y'all face each other. OK, Mary you are way pregnant...put your left hand in your hoodie pocket, poke it out so we can see that baby...good. Now Eve, you look sad because...I ate the apple. Yes, and wouldn't you love to be able to fix that? Yes. Now Mary, take Eve's hand...and put it on your tummy so Eve can feel your! Yes. Class, would this make Eve feel better, to know Jesus is going to be born? Yes. Why? 'Cause Jesus will fix our sins? Umm, sort of; Jesus will undo the damage of that first sin in the Garden. Eve, are you feeling better? Yes. OK, remember Mary is the New Ark; we also call her...? No guesses. Who's this? Eve. What Testament is she in? The Old Testament. Yes, and Mary is in..theNewTestamentMaryistheNewEve!  Mega-genius, yes! Mary is called the New Eve. Eve, what bad thing did you freely agree to do? Eat the apple! Yes; and Mary, what good thing did you freely agree to do? Have Jesus? Yes. Mary & Eve, sit down. Through Eve we got a mess; through Mary...the mess got fixed! Yes. Trick question: could Mary have chosen not to have Jesus? No, she had to. Why? So He could die and all. So Mary didn't have any free will? God forced her? No, but if she said no then Jesus wouldn't have been born. Right. That's scary to imagine. But God did leave it up to Mary, just like he left it up to Eve. This shows how much God loves us: he leaves us free to make incredibly important choices that don't just affect us, but the whole world, the whole universe, even."

Readers, here is the image the girls portrayed:

It's a good handout the kids can take home. And here is the winsome backstory: The Anchoress

this class will continue in the next post

Monday, December 13, 2010

Braver Newer World

Poor Aldous Huxley's fiction becomes ever more quaint when compared to the latest postmodern reality:

"Mike Aki and his husband, a Massachusetts couple...planned on having two children. But their two surrogate mothers in India each became pregnant with twins.

At 12 weeks into the pregnancies, Mr. Aki and his husband decided to abort two of the fetuses, one from each woman. It was a very painful call to make, Mr. Aki says. "You start thinking to yourself, 'Oh, my god, am I killing this child?'"

He didn't think of his decision as an abortion, but as a "reduction," he says. "You're reducing the pregnancies to make sure you have a greater chance of healthy children," Mr. Aki says. "If you're going to bring a child into this world, you have an obligation to take care of that child to the best of your abilities."

Today, Mr. Aki and his husband have two 21-month-old daughters. The girls share the same genetic mother. Each man is the genetic father of one of the girls. Next week, Mr. Aki and his husband will officially adopt each other's genetic daughter."

Assembling the Global Baby - 


"He didn't think of his decision as an abortion, but as a "reduction"...

Nazis could only aspire to such artfully-confected euphemisms.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Keys & Eyeballs

This article has been linked to Sunday Snippets and Amazing Catechists

This is based on an unplanned part of last week's class, a  digression that I decided to post separately. Some of the saints and all the pictures are from prior years' classes, e.g. I had no pictures this time, but drew instead. I may bring the images next week to recap.

"Let's talk about the New Testament a bit in general. For the next few weeks we'll be discussing Jesus' life. What books in the New Testament are about Jesus? The Gospels! Yes, how many are there? Four? Yes, who wrote them? Peter? Good guess, he wrote some Epistles, but no Gospels. Paul? Nope, Paul's an Epistle-writer, too. Lucas? Yes, what's his name in English? Luke! Yes. That's one...any more? Y'all know this, MatthewMarkLuke&John. Oh yeah. Yeah, so say it! MatthewMarkLuke&John!  Yes. The four evangelists [on the board]. Remember the Greek word evangelousios means "good news" or "good message;" why are these 4 saints called evangelists? 'Cause they wrote the good news? Yes, the Gospel at first was just preached out loud, but as the apostles got old and began to die, the evangelists wrote the "good message" down. And watch the magic finger again [I erase evangelist down to angel]...remind me, angel  (ἄγγελος) means...messenger! Yes, good.

Hey, here's a fun way to remember the four evangelists: [on the board] A-L-B-E, 'albee'. That stands for Angel, Lion, Bull, & Eagle. Those symbols match up with MatthewMarkLuke&John like so [on the board]:

A   L  B  E
M  M  L  J

 So Matthew's symbol is an...angel! Yes, and John? Umm...eeeEagle! Yes, and so on. Remember, before there were printing presses very few people could read, so they learned a lot about the Bible by looking at statues and stained-glass images. And if people couldn't read, how would they know if an old man in a picture was Matthew? No guesses? Look at this picture of Matthew & tell me how you know who he is:

He's with an angel! That's right! And what's he doing? Writing! Yes, writing what? The Gospels! Well, not all of them, just the Gospel according to...Matthew! That's it! Now if there were no angel, what would you still know about this saint? He's a Gospel-writer? Yes, genius at work! So St. Matthew has two symbols; we call these symbols attributes. His two attributes are...the angel, yes, and...the feather? Yes, the pen. The Latin word for feather is [write] p-e-n-n-a, penna. Why do we call a pen a pen? 'Cause it used to be a feather?  Yes. The pen and the Bible make one attribute.

Is this saint an evangelist?

Yes, he's writing in the book. Yes, he's writing his Gospel in the Bible. Which evangelist is he? No he sitting on a fish? Ha, a lion! Yes. That doesn't look like a lion. Sure it does, but remember most people never saw a real lion, there were no zoos for centuries. And no photographs from Africa. So the artist may have had to guess a little. Plus, he made the lion look like the evangelist. So, which saint has the lion as his attribute? Umm...Mark! Yes! If you look closely you can see his name written in Greek, MARKOC, but remember, most people couldn't read that. Hey, what's that hand coming out of the cloud? God's hand? Yes, that cloud's like a Shekhinah, showing God's presence. The painting shows us that Mark is looking to God for inspiration, so that he writes what God wants him to write. That's why we say the Bible is inspired by God.

Who can tell me about Venice? Huh? C'mon, new topic, tell me about Venice. It's in Italy? Yes, why is it special? They have boats instead of cars. Yes. The symbol for Venice is a lion; can you guess who the patron saint of Venice is? Umm...St. Mark? Yes, genius! And the cathedral there is called the Cathedral of...St. Mark! Yes! If you go there, you'll see [draw & talk] a big column like this, what's this on the top? A lion? Yes, the Lion of St. Mark. He's all over the place in Venice. Usually he is holding a book, like so:

Is that the Venice phonebook? Ha, it's the Bible! Yes, probably open to the Gospel of John? Ummm...wouldn't it be Mark's Gospel? Yes; just checking.

I think y'all understand the evangelists pretty well now. Here are a couple of martyr saints. The story is that St. Lucy had her eyes gouged out, so they are her attributes:

Ewww, gross they're on that plate! Yes. Not the usual is it? By the way, that palm she holds is an attribute for martyrs. Here's another martyr, St. Bartholomew:

St. Bartholomew's story is that he was skinned alive. He's holding his skin, and the knife he was skinned with see? Ewww, gross! Yes, well, even today Christians are being martyred in Africa, the Middle East, India, some people still hate Christians enough to kill them. Why doesn't he have a palm if he's a martyr? I don't know...the palms don't show up in all the martyr pictures.

Two more saints and that's it. Statues of them are in front of St. Peter's in Rome. One of them might be...he's in front of...St. Peter's...oh, St. Peter? Of course, what a gimme! What's his attribute? No guesses? Jesus gave it to him...still no guesses? Well, I'm not telling. Y'all pay attention during the rest of the year and tell me when Jesus gives Peter his attribute. Who's the other saint? Uh-uh, I'm not telling that tonight, either.

Hey, that was diverting, but we have stuff we're supposed to be covering so let's get back on topic. Remember when you see images of saints, pay attention to the details.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Miraculous Mothers

Y'all remember from last week we almost finished with the prophets; the next book that we're going to look at is the last book of the Old Testament. It's called Malachi; but the prophet's name...Malachi!...isn't Malachi! Ha! I tricked you! No fair! Yes fair, you jumped the gun! Malachi is the Hebrew word for "messenger." Why would a prophet call himself  "messenger"? 'Cause he brings God's messages. Yes. We don't know his you think it might have been Herman? No! Oh.

In Malachi's day, the Judeans were slacking off in keeping the covenant: divorcing their wives; marrying pagan women; and offering stolen, blind, lame, sick or otherwise second-rate animals to God. Instead of acting like Abel, and offering the best...they acted like Cain! Yes, giving God, oh, whatever was on sale. Junk animals. And the priests at the Temple go along with this slackness; they don't care either.

Malachi the messenger scolds them: "I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept any sacrifices from your hand." Oh, dear. As usual God isn't fooled. But if God's children don't want to do the right thing, there are other people who do: "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and everywhere incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering." Now, what is the only place God accepts sacrifices? It's a building...oh the temple! Yes, in...Jerusalem! Yes. But Malachi prophesies that God will accept offerings and incense everywhere among the nations, and not just a good offering, but a pure offering. How are they gonna manage to do that? We'll see.

Y'all may remember that Isaiah said that God was coming, and that the people should prepare the way of the LORD. God now has more to say on that subject. Through Malachi, God tells the Levite priests: "Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple..." So not only is the LORD coming to his temple, but a messenger will come before him to prepare the way. "But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire...he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the LORD." Uh-oh...what's the word for purifying gold by burning away its impurities? Purging! Yes, which..hurts! Yes! So when the LORD comes, it probably won't be pleasant for those with, umm, impurities. And God tells us who the messenger will be: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes." Remind me, did Elijah die? No, he went to heaven in a chariot. Yes...we'll have to see how this prophecy works out.

That was the last line of the last book of the Old Testament.

Somebody tell me what an iceberg is. It's a big piece of ice that floats in the ocean. Yes, is most of it above the water, or below? Below. Yes. Most of the ice is below the water, and holds up the ice that sticks out. The Bible's like that: the Old Testament is bigger, and holds up the New, which is easier to see. Now that we've learned about the big part, we can move on to the smaller part that sits on top.

So tell me, the New Testament is about...Jesus! Yes, mostly. So I suppose we should start with, oh, the apostles? No, Jesus comes first. So we should start with Jesus? Yes. But Malachi said a messenger would come before the LORD; so let's start with the messenger. I'll be reading from Luke's gospel.

About a year before Jesus was born, there was a priest named Zechariah who had a wife named Elizabeth. Priests could get married? Yes, but remember they were priests in Moses' Covenant, not New Covenant priests like we have now. Was Jesus married? No. Right. New Covenant priests imitate Jesus: they don't get married. Now, Zechariah and Elizabeth were old...and...sad...they didn't have any children!  Yes! Like who? Abraham and Sarah!  Yes, and like Samson's parents, and Samuel's parents, and so on. Well, one day Zechariah was offering incense in the Temple Holy Space, like we do at Mass around the altar, "And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense"...guess who? Gabriel? Yes! "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news." What good news? That his wife would have a baby! Yes! "your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John...he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink..." That's like Samson and Samuel, who also weren't supposed to cut their hair or get married, or have any alcohol. They were "separated ones", you know this [on the board] N-a-z-i-r Nazirites! Yes. "...and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to prepare a people fit for the Lord." And who did Malachi say God would send as his messenger? Uhh...Elijah? Yes. So Zechariah understood that his son would do important things for God, just like Samuel, Samson, and Elijah did, and prepare the way for the Lord in some way. And of course Elizabeth got pregnant just as Gabriel had said.

How long does a baby grow before it can be born? Nine months! Yes. In Luke's Gospel, which I'm reading from, it says, "And in the sixth month," that's when Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant with John [I draw & talk] here she is, she's happy...and here's John upside down in her tummy...

...another woman gets visited by...Gabriel. Yes. "...the angel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named...Bethlehem! no, try again...Jerusalem! Babylon!, no, NO! Stop guessing like monkeys and think: where did Jesus grow up? umm, Nazareth? Yes, "to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was...Mary."  Yes, y'all know all this already. What's this mean: "of the house of David"...that Joseph lives in David's house? He's part of David's family. Yes. Joseph and Mary are descendants of King David. Remember the Jesse Tree...who's at the bottom? Jesse. And next is his son...David, then his son...Solomon, yes. And at the top is...Jesus! yes, and under Jesus is his mother...Mary! Yes. Here's a famous stained-glass Jesse Tree in Chartres Cathedral in France:

The kings run up the middle from Jesse to Mary, and the prophets are on the sides.

Back to Mary. Luke writes: "And the angel came in unto her" that's me, I'm Gabriel. [I see a girl daydreaming in the back] I have huge rainbow-colored wings and my face shines like the sun. [I walk back to the daydreamer, get down on one knee, throw my hands out toward her and proclaim] "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women!" Where have y'all heard that before? In the Hail Mary! Yes, the prayer quotes Gabriel. And how does our volunteer Mary feel about this? She thinks it's weird!  Ha! I bet! Genuflecting and saying "hail" is not how you'd greet a girl, but a queen, someone who was superior to you. Luke says, "But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. [And I say to my volunteer] "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." Wow...Gabriel sounds like Isaiah, when he prophesied, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Now Mary was a good Jewish girl, and she probably knew that prophecy, and recognized Gabriel was quoting from it. How do you feel about having a baby, Mary? I don't know! Right! Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" That's a good, practical question, isn't it, Mary. "And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."

Y'all tell me, if it's a hot summer day, and a cloud overshadows you, how do you feel? Good! Why? 'Cause I'm in the shade. Yes, the cloud protects you from the hot sun, and it protects only who's under it. Y'all remember the God Box that the Israelites carried on the poles with the angels on top [I draw and talk], what's it called? The Ark! Yes, the Ark of the Covenant. When they wandered in the desert, a cloud would overshadow the Ark in the Meeting Tent; [draw & talk] we call it the Glory Cloud. The Hebrew word is Shekhinah, which is not the name of a hip-hop star as far as I's the cloud. You don't have to remember that; I just like to say Shekhinah.

In the Bible, Hebrew says "cover" for "overshadow," so when the Shekhinah overshadowed the Ark, it covered it, sort of like the way Elijah covered Elisha with his cloak to show Elisha was chosen and protected. So when Gabriel tells Mary, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you," he's reminding her of how the cloud overshadowed the Ark. So here's Mary [draw & talk], that dot is's the Holy Spirit.

OK tell me: here's the Ark with the God stuff in it, overshadowed by the...Shekhinah!, yes, the Glory Cloud. Over here we have Mary overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. What's she got in her? Jesus? Yes, Mary's got not just God's stuff in her, but God Himself. She's got more God in her than the Ark does. Now if the God Box is the Ark of the Old Covenant, what might we call Mary? Umm...the Ark of the New Covenant? Yes, genius! Mary's the New Ark.

Then Gabriel said, "And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son (that sounds like Isaiah, too)...For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word." Y'all may remember this Latin phrase: [on the board] 'Fiat lux' from OK, what's 'light' in Spanish? Luz! Yes, and luz comes from the Latin word lux, so lux means...light. Yes. And in Genesis the creation line about light is...let there be light! Yes, so 'fiat lux' means...let there be light! Yes, more like 'let light be done.' In Latin Bibles when Mary says 'let it be done to me' she says, 'Fiat mihi.' [on the board] She uses the same word 'fiat' that God spoke to create light and everything else. Why's that? 'Cause Jesus is like light? Yes, sort of. Sometimes we call Jesus the 'Light of the World.' When Mary says 'fiat' like God did, it reminds me that what she's agreed to, having this baby, will be as significant as God making light, creating the world.

What's this whole story called, when Gabriel announces to Mary she'll be having a miracle baby? The Immaculate Conception? No, that's when Mary was conceived. Think: an announcement...the Annunciation! Yes. What a gimme that was.

Let's remember all those women we've learned about from Sarah and Hannah right up to Elizabeth. Their babies were miraculous in that they were all too old to conceive. And now Mary is also going to have a miracle baby, not because she's too old, but because...she's too young? Well, sort of. She isn't married yet. But she stands at the head of a long line of miraculous mothers, and her baby is the most miraculous of all.

Now Mary's baby is Jesus who's going to grow in her, live in her for 9 months. Baby John has a 6-month head start on Baby Jesus, and Mary decides to visit her cousin Elizabeth. This visit is called...the...Visitation? Yes. John's getting to be a load, and Jesus is just a dot, so Elizabeth can't get around like young Mary, who can help her out. Luke says, "When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."  Have y'all ever looked at a pregnant woman's stomach and seen the baby moving inside? Eww, gross. That's not gross, it's great! You can see the baby poking its elbows and knees out, it's very cool. People put videos on YouTube of babies kicking their moms from the inside. I bet y'all were all momma-kickers before y'all were born. Your moms know just what Elizabeth felt when John jumped around in her. Then Elizabeth said to Mary, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!" Where've you heard that? In the Hail Mary! That's right. The prayer first quotes Gabriel, now it quotes Elizabeth. "And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Now who is Elizabeth's Lord? God? Yes, and so Mary is the mother of...God? Yes, that's why we say "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us." But some people say Mary wasn't God's mom, that she was only the mother of Jesus' human parts. But you can't divide Jesus into pieces: Mary is the mother of Jesus' whole person even though that person was God, who created her. We can't understand it: it's...a...mystery! Yes!

About 3 months after Mary visited her older cousin, Elizabeth had her baby, John...[draw] he's swaddled, see? When she and Zechariah took him to the Temple to be circumcised, Zechariah made a little prophecy about John. What's circumcise? It was a ritual for baby boys before there was Baptism. Well, what happened? Ask your parents. Zechariah said, "you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins... And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel." We'll see how John fulfilled this prophecy in a couple of weeks, this is a good stopping point.

See you back here in two weeks! Are we going to have a Christmas party? You mean during classtime? No indeed, but let's all bring fun stuff to eat, we'll have an un-party. And of course I'll see y'all at Mass next Wednesday for the Immaculate Conception. Come tell me hello afterwards and I'll say nice things about you to your parents.

At the top: The Annunciation (1898) by the American artist Henry Owassa Tanner.