Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

With the blessings of a teacher’s schedule, I have the opportunity to spend some extended time visiting family this Christmas, so the next post on this blog will not be until January 1.  May you have a very blessed end to your Advent and a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Santa Controversy

The Santa Controversy
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“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  These famous words are part of a poetic response to a young girl’s innocent question.  To us they seem mere sentimentality, but I wonder if there is real wisdom there for parents dealing with the “Santa Controversy.”

What I refer to is the challenge many Catholic parents face regarding how to handle Santa during the Christmas season.  I’ve heard arguments on both sides of the debate recently.  On one side are people who say the traditions regarding Santa help open children to wonder at things that go beyond what they can see.  It is also a proper use of myth to direct children to ultimate Truths, when Santa is subordinated to and directed toward the birth of Jesus.

On the other side are those who would say that by going along with the popular culture’s version of Santa, we are lying to children.  If we tell them to believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny, and later they learn that these things are not real, will that not undermine what we have taught them about God?  (Though I would say that if parents’ teachings about Santa can in any way be compared to their teachings about Christ, their spiritual life probably needs a bit of a jump start.)
I have heard many good points on both sides of the issue, and though I have a few thoughts to add to the discussion, I can not pretend to have any more of the answer to the dilemma than anyone else.

In our home, we do hang stockings for Santa, but we do not promote the culture’s understanding of him as a jolly fat man who lives in the North Pole with flying reindeer and a workforce of elves.  (Though given the exposure our children get from the prevailing culture, I know that they may hold some of those assumptions, but we have not taught them.)

We celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas on December 6, and our children know that he was a fourth century bishop who was imprisoned for his faith, later released, and was known for his charity to the poor and to children, especially at Christmas.

We teach the historical truths about St. Nicholas, and emphasize his love for Our Lord and desire to serve Him and His people.  (There is a nice animated video we use: Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa.)  We do not emphasize Santa during the season beyond that, and we try to participate in activities that direct attention on the Nativity.

Why, then, do we hang the stockings, and why do we not directly dispel the parts of the customary tale that are not true?  Are we not participating in the deception of our children?

It’s true that I like the wonder our children display at seeing their stockings, which always include at least one major religious item in them.  Long after they stop believing those stockings are filled by a fat man in a red suit (unless I invest in some red pajamas), I suspect we will continue the tradition.

I intend to explain to my children that the gifts they receive from “Santa” are from him, as a representative of the Communion of Saints who celebrate with them the birth of the Lord.  St. Nicholas was a generous man, devoted to Christ, who loved Christmas.  It is in his honor that we have filled their stockings all these years as a reminder that the people of God, and the worship of God, are not confined to this world.

This is not the “right way” to handle the Santa Controversy, but it is our way.  I pray that it helps our children in their love of God.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  He is alive, in the presence of God, and he gifts you this Christmas and always with his prayers, that one day he may celebrate Christmas with you, in Heaven.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Common Core vs. Classical Education

Common Core vs. Classical Education

As a teacher in a school that is adopting the Common Core standards, I was introduced to them rather early and with a decidedly positive bent.  I have also, in preparation for opening (God willing) a classical academy, been learning as much as I can about classical education, not having been educated according to that method myself as a child.

          I am not an expert on either Common Core or classical education, although I expect I could discuss them both with reasonable knowledge and intelligence.  There is plenty to say about them, but what I want to contrast in this article are certain key philosophies underlying both, at least as I understand them.

          Anyone who has been paying attention to the Common Core controversy has heard the complaint that, among other things, Common Core steers away from literary texts, and toward non-fiction, technical texts.  Another complaint has been the supposed lowered expectations for math in the higher grades.

          These things are products of a basic philosophy of education that the Common Core standards put into practice.  It sees education almost exclusively as a means for economic achievement.  The purpose of education, the philosophy says, is to create citizens with the ability to contribute to the economy and provide for themselves financially as adults.

          Therefore, Shakespeare and trigonometry, for most people, are superfluous.  “Why does a truck driver need to know Shakespeare?” I’ve heard it said.  College is the time to specialize.  Those interested in literature will explore it then.  Those who pursue a career with higher level mathematics can master trigonometry; the rest of us need not be bothered with it.

          To be fair, these opinions are not universal among educators, even those promoting the Common Core.  And many districts may choose to go beyond the standards.  Certainly Catholic dioceses will have more freedom to decide how to implement the standards, if they do.

          The philosophy, however, is in stark contrast to that exemplified by classical education.  To a classical educator, education is about much more than economic achievement; it is about human formation.  He believes that there is a certain education that is fitting for all people, necessary for responsible citizenship, and worthy of a child of God.

          The liberal arts, as taught in classical education, should create well-rounded students. A comprehensive education is necessary for all students, regardless of their future profession.  A classical educator would answer the question, “Why does a truck driver need to know Shakespeare?” with, “It may not benefit truck driving to know Shakespeare, but it benefits human persons.” 

          A career is what we do.  But everyone deserves the opportunity to be an educated person.  This is the philosophy behind classical education.  (The addition of Catholicism to classical education completes the program.)

          This is not to say that modern “Common Core” educators are not interested in their students being truly educated people.  But the system in which they are operating, in my opinion, does not encourage it.  Parents have many things to consider when it comes to the education of their children, and the philosophy behind that education is one of the fundamentals.  All parents would do well to learn about the Common Core, inquire as to how their district or their diocese will be implementing it, and prayerfully consider supporting a return to the classical approach to education.


Note:  Though I do not support the Common Core standards, I recognize that Catholic dioceses, with more freedom than public schools, may use what they find profitable from the standards, discard what they find objectionable, and supplement with other beneficial materials.  This post is meant as a reflection, perhaps even a challenge to parents and educators alike, but not as a criticism of any diocese or school district.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Link - Advent Marian Feasts

Link – Advent Marian Feasts

This week, the second week of Advent, we celebrate both the feast of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe.  At the link below, Archbishop Raymond Burke gives a reflection on this special time.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Three Comings of Christ

The Three Comings of Christ

We often speak of three “Comings of Christ” into this world: His coming in history; His coming in mystery; and His coming in majesty.  This holy season of Advent is about all three.

Most obviously it is about Christ’s coming in history.  This refers to the historical fact that 2,000 years ago a Baby was born in Bethlehem, and that Baby was God.  (Actually, His coming really occurred nine months earlier at the Annunciation.)  During this season it is good to meditate on the fact that the world had been waiting for many thousands of years, since the fall of Adam and Eve, for the promised Redeemer.  During this three-to-four weeks of Advent, it is important to reflect on the importance of that event.

God became Man.  Why?  There are many reasons, but primarily, to die.  Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “Every man in history, save one, was born to live.  One was born to die.”  Jesus Christ, the God-Man, was born so that He could die for the sake of our salvation, and build an eternal covenant, opening the gates of Heaven for all eternity to all who would choose to enter.

He became so weak that He depended on His own creatures even to eat.  He was vulnerable to their wrath and scorn.  And He was first made known to all but a few on that first blessed Christmas.

It is no coincidence that the readings for the first week of Advent focus on the end of the world.  Advent should also remind us of Christ’s Second Coming, His coming in majesty.  Christ will come again.  We know that.  And when He does, it will not be hidden, as a vulnerable infant in a stable in some no-name town.  He will come riding the clouds with His angels, to separate the sheep from the goats (Mt. 25: 31-46).  John the Baptist hints at this in the Gospel for the second week of Advent.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord, we should also reflect on His Second Coming.  We should be getting ready.  That is one key to the Christian life to begin with – always being ready for Christ.  It should come as no surprise that while the world considers Advent the shopping season, the Church considers it a penitential season.

Finally, this Advent should lead us to deeper contemplation of Christ’s coming in mystery, specifically in the Eucharist.  Jesus told His Apostles, “I will be with you always, even to the consummation of the world” (Mt. 28:20).  This promise has been most beautifully kept in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  In the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has been with us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in every age, from the time of the Apostles to the present day, and He will continue to be, until the end of time.

I’d like to share a meditation I had recently.  This is no supernatural vision, simply a meditation.  I was praying the third Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, the Nativity, and in my imagination I approached the manger.  Mary was sitting there holding the Infant Jesus, and she handed Him to me.  I stood caressing the tender, precious, fragile God of the universe for a few moments and reached out to hand Him back to Our Lady.  She kept still, however, and said, “Take Him with you.”  At that the Infant transfigured into the Eucharist and took rest, shining brightly in my heart.

It was a very profitable meditation and reminded me that the wonder we have over the Baby in the manger should be present at every Eucharist.  He has come to stay.  Eucharistic Adoration would be a very appropriate preparation for Christmas this Advent.

So as we plunge ahead with our shopping, cooking and decorating this season, let us not forget what it is truly about.  And may we help others to remember as well.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Link - The Immaculate Conception

Link – The Immaculate Conception

Due to the Second Sunday of Advent falling on December 8 this year, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is being celebrated today, December 9.  At the following link, Tim Staples gives some profitable reflections on the dogma and, as is his style, plenty of apologetics.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What is a Jesse Tree?

What is a Jesse Tree?
Image from

As mentioned earlier this week, people all over are buying, erecting and decorating Christmas trees.  But many Christians are also creating Jesse trees for Advent.  What is a Jesse tree?  Why is it so appropriate for Advent?

“Jesse” refers to the father of King David, a key figure in the human genealogy of Jesus.  For each day of Advent, people add one ornament to their Jesse tree, with a symbol that represents a key figure or event in the Old Testament.

The Jesse tree is an appropriate Advent activity because the season consists of approximately four weeks of waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  The Jesse tree reminds us that God’s people had been waiting for thousands of years for the birth of the Savior.  During that time, though, they were not ignored.  God worked through the history of His people to prepare them for their Messiah.

As each ornament is added to the Jesse tree, there is a corresponding Scripture reading from the Old Testament and usually a meditation highlighting how the Old Testament event or person was a preparation or prefiguration of Christ.

The Jesse tree is a great tradition to help children and adults alike see how God has worked in the history of Israel, and recognize the continuity of the Old Testament with the New.  We can’t really understand the depth and meaning of the Old Testament without relating it to the revelation given to us through the Incarnation of Christ.

There are numerous variations of the Jesse tree.  The link below gives one example of ornaments and related Scripture.  A simple Internet search can produce other ideas and accompanying meditations.  Catholic stores or companies often have Jesse tree kits for purchase as well.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Link - The Advent Wreath

Link - The Advent Wreath

Yesterday I posted an article about the history of the Christmas tree.  At the link below, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur explores the history and meaning of the Advent wreath.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

St. Boniface and the Christmas Tree

       St. Boniface and the Christmas Tree

          Millions of people have begun flocking to stores to buy their Christmas trees.  It's a nice tradition of the holiday season, but many have stripped it of its religious significance and many more have no idea where the tradition came from.

          I've known people who refuse to have a Christmas tree because they claim it is a pagan tradition.  While it is true that paganism does play some part in the history of the Christmas tree, it is a thoroughly Christian custom.

          We can trace the Christmas tree to St. Boniface in the eighth century.  Boniface was an English Benedictine missionary sent to evangelize the pagan tribes of Germany.

          The pagans of southern Germany used trees in their worship and in a famous, historically documented story Boniface used this to bring about their conversion.  At the time of Christmas in the year AD 723, Boniface saw that a young man was to be sacrificed under Odin's oak.  Boniface responded by taking an axe to the sacred tree. Not only was Boniface not struck dead, legend has it that at his first blow, a miraculous wind blew the tree over.  The people recognized the power of the true God and mass conversions began.

          Boniface took the customs of the local people surrounding tress and “baptized” them.  It was customary for people to bring trees into their homes around the time of the winter solstice, so Boniface decided this custom could be transformed into one that honored the true God.

          At Christmas, the people brought in evergreen trees, symbolizing peace and life, and pointing toward Heaven, and decorated them to honor the birth of the Lord.

          The rest, as they say, is history.  The tradition spread to England and eventually to the United States and the Christian West.  So this year as we trim our trees, may they point our eyes Heavenward, and may we use these beautiful gifts of nature to be offerings to the true God, the Baby born among nature's beasts in a stable so many years ago.