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Spirituality

The 'schoolboys' have no real authority

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VIEWPOINT

In the very early years of the 20th century, my dad attended primary school in a one-room country grade school on the plains of central Kansas. Conditions were still very rustic on the frontier in those days. They had just the basics. There were no phones, no electric lights and no indoor plumbing. The roads were of dirt, and the law was miles away. One teacher taught all eight grades and had to be a fairly tough and self-sufficient individual.

The instinct to worship

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Christmas

About “early holiday decorations and shopping,” it seems, little more can helpfully be said. But what can be said about the “Christmas story” will always be inexhaustible. Even, for example, about demigods and demagogues before whom, unaccountably, human beings have so long been inclined to bow their knees.

In the ancient Near East, kings represented the gods -- and were reverenced accordingly. Israel’s monotheism provided a sharp critique not only of polytheism but of all ruler-worship. But after Julius Caesar, deification of the Roman emperor became common (probably of course taken most seriously among the less educated classes). Augustus was certainly regarded as a god, and on the denarius that Peter found in the fish and showed to Jesus there would have been the inscription “Son of the Divine Augustus.” In the Greek-speaking but multiethnic East, ruler worship was even more common.

Nor was the practice simply ancient. Think of the way Nazi crowds idolized Hitler (and how neo-Nazi terrorists are active today).

Despite different beliefs, we are one family

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Christmas

For many years, Maryknoll Fr. Bob McCahill has been sending an annual letter to NCR and other friends at Christmastime, chronicling his experience living among the people of Bangladesh since 1975. Following is an edited version of his 2011 letter.

Dear Friends,

Skinny, awkward 6-year-old Bareek was brought to me by his skinny, worried mother. A doctor has diagnosed the boy’s cerebral palsy. I pledged to arrange a two-week course of physiotherapy so that mother could learn to help her son. On that very day, Haroon and I were hauling earth in baskets to lay as a foundation for my new house. Bareek decided to help us. In his family’s cooking shed he found a high-sided rice plate. Working alongside the men, Bareek filled his plate repeatedly, carried it 15 meters in his jerky gait, and emptied it wherever Haroon and I emptied our basketfuls. Neighbors who observed his voluntary efforts thought, pound for pound, Bareek was the most admirable of all the earth haulers.

A Christmas gift worth gold

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Christmas

Aaron is a nephew and my godson. This year he made his confirmation. On Thanksgiving day, he asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I didn’t respond immediately. “I have to give this some thought,” I said.

The next day I phoned his home, and spoke to my sister, his mom, and told her, “Aaron asked me yesterday what I wanted from him for Christmas. Tell him, I’ve thought about it, and all I want from him is time we can spend together.”

Answering spiritual hunger

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We don’t know all that much about the Magi. Mentioned briefly in Matthew’s Gospel, we’re only told they’re “from the east,” and are looking for the newborn Jesus to pay him homage with gifts.

Yet what we do know about these men is crucial. They are the first to ask where the “king of the Jews” can be found. With that question, they are the first to announce God’s human presence on Earth. They are the first evangelizers.

Pope: Prayer shouldn't be all about requests

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VATICAN CITY -- Prayer should not center just on asking God to fulfill one's hopes and desires, but must include praise, thanks and trust in God's plan which may not match one's own, Pope Benedict XVI said.

The way Jesus prayed to his Father "teaches us that in our own prayers, we must always trust in the Father's will and strive to see all things in light of his mysterious plan of love," he said during his weekly general audience Dec. 14.

In his catechesis to nearly 6,000 people in the Vatican audience hall, Pope Benedict continued a series of talks on Christian prayer.

Everyone should seek to understand that when asking something of God in prayer, "we mustn't expect the immediate fulfillment of what we are asking for, of our will, but rather trust in the will of the Father," the pope said.

Requests, praise and thanks must be included in every prayer. "even when it seems to us that God is not living up to our real expectations," he said.

Prayer is a dialogue with God and entails "abandoning oneself to God's love," he said.

Campaign aims to bring Catholics back to church

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ATLANTA -- A new advertising campaign aims to bring Catholics back to church with ads airing on major television networks Dec. 16-Jan. 8.

The campaign, sponsored by the Atlanta-based organization Catholics Come Home, aims to reach 250 million television viewers in more than 10,000 U.S. cities.

Tom Peterson, the organization's founder, said the campaign's "inspiring messages" are an invitation to Catholic neighbors, relatives, and co-workers to come "to the largest family reunion in modern history."

The ads -- airing in prime time on broadcast and cable channels -- focus on the richness and history of the Catholic Church and highlight Catholic traditions of prayer, education and help for the poor.

"If you've been away, come home to your parish, and visit Catholicscomehome.org today" is part of the ad's message scheduled to air more than 400 times starting before Christmas and going through the feast of the Epiphany.

Since they began their media campaigns in 2008, Catholics Come Home officials say Mass attendance has increased 10 percent in the markets where the ads have shown and 300,000 people have come back to the church.

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September 12-25, 2014

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