Editor’s Note: Below is a letter I wrote to my unborn daughter Lucia Faustina who we buried on 12/19/2017.
Today, I stood aside a grave of another unborn child. I will never be able to hold you in my arms, or gaze joyfully at your face, or comfort you when you cry. It is not natural for a father to bury his child. This is truly a surreal and somber experience. Hope is the only thing getting me through this day–this week. The virtue of hope will be key to helping me through the next several months as I grapple with the loss of my sweet daughter.
Your name means “light”. Lucia I pray for strength to live out my vocation as a husband and father to your amazing mother and siblings. I guarantee that your brothers and sister would adore you. I am also confident that you are looking over us in communion with Jeremiah, St. Lucy, the Blessed Virgin and all the other saints in Heaven.
Please send our Heavenly Father my supplications for daily pardon and peace. I am reeling from losing you, but I understand that hope can never be lost if I cling to God’s Providence. May the light of God radiate upon your family as you provided light to your mother and I even though it was for what seemed a fleeting moment.
Your siblings and your mother deeply miss you. We hope to be united with your after our pilgrim journey in this life is completed.
With great love and gratitude,
Saint Lucy Pray for Us
Whose beautiful name signifies ‘LIGHT’
by the light of faith which God bestowed upon you
increase and preserve His light in my soul
so that I may avoid evil,
Be zealous in the performance of good works
and abhor nothing so much as the blindness and
the darkness of evil and sin.
Obtain for me, by your intercession with God
Perfect vision for my bodily eyes
and the grace to use them for God’s greater honor and glory
and it is that time of year that we prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. Christmas is on its way. Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolves. Advent helps prepare us for having the hap-hap-happiest Christmas we could have. I’m hoping that this article will help you smile, as smiling’s my favorite.
Catholics and other Christians liturgically celebrate the holiday December 25th. The rest of the world celebrates Christmas anytime around Thanksgiving up until Christmas. This is what I like to call secular Christmas as opposed to liturgical Christmas. Does society know it’s not Christmas? It’s the only time during the whole year you actually hear secular society mention Jesus in song on the radio and in stores. As Bart Simpson reminds us…
‘Christmas is the one time of year when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ.’
During Advent or Secular Christmas as Mary and Joseph are getting ready to travel to Bethlehem and the three kings of orient are journeying to the same place from the east as God places the Christmas Star in a far away part of the universe, other people in our time and place are preparing for the grand celebration of yuletide festivities by singing Christmas Carols loud for all to hear which is the best way to spread Holiday Cheer, and by going Christmas Shopping to support people who have to work in retail, and by watching Christmas movies and TV Shows.
Christmas movies help us get in the mood and spirit of Christmas by capturing our imaginations with grand stories of holiday merriment and wonder. And if you watch and take it all in and tie it to your faith, then it can happen, then the miracle can happen to you! So let’s get ready to Deck those Halls and Step into Advent as God gets ready to send us his Hallmark Christmas Movie wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manager.
As God is getting ready to honor Mary’s fiat, by developing a combo of man and God without mixing the two together in Mary’s womb and bringing Joy to the World, certain individuals who are lovingly creepy but smiley and nice are getting ready to combine two different holidays of giving. Say for example Halloween and Christmas. ‘What’s This?’ you may ask.
Preparing for Christmas can be Scary
As I said above, the holy family is preparing for their trip to Bethlehem and will later plan their trip to Egypt. Families are usually preparing their kid’s Christmas Vacations, but COVID has brought a halt to the usual kid’s vacation plans. Still some people are
still busy getting stuff ready for that grand Christmas dinner
getting ready to buy that surprise swimming pool for the family
planning on kidnapping your scrooge-like boss who didn’t give you that Christmas bonus for the pool you are planning on buying
preparing to do battle with obnoxious relatives and rouge squirrels
getting ready for perhaps a surprise visit from the SWAT squad after the kidnapping of your boss
planning a hike out to the forest to find that Christmas tree
This is best exemplified in the film ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.’
As we get ready for grand celebration of Christ’s birth, angels from realms of glory are getting ready to earn their wings by helping humans on earth. Sometimes they are allowed to grant grand interdimensional visits to another reality.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” when Christ is Present
As the three kings of orient are trying not to get lost, a bunch of Catholic priests are trying not to get lost while Christmas shopping in a department store during the shopping season. It’s easy to wind up lost in the lingerie section, which would be embarrassing for the priests.
Find holiday humor in the Father Ted Christmas episode “A Christmassy Ted”
As we get ready to prepare a fitting place for Christ in our heart, the King Herods of the world are planning chaos and destructive acts to disrupt the arrival of Christian love and peace. This is especially true of men who are greedy and want to use the occasion of Christmas to terrorize and steal. But as the shepherds guarded the Christ child, so did a NY city cop help protect and save Christmas partygoers trapped in a building seized by terrorist thieves. And up at the North Pole a Majors TV legend helped fend of terrorists trying to steal Santa’s workshop of toys.
Those of us who know DIE HARD is a Christmas movie are so over the argument. We just go about our lives and drink eggnog and watch DIE HARD in December, and we don’t give a rip who has Objections. -Deacon Steven D. Greydanus
These are really Christmas movies!
The innkeeper was planning for the census rush and was not as prepared when the couple which included a pregnant woman came to his inn and wanted in a room. As the innkeeper helped to set up the stable suitable for an incarnated God to come as a baby, in other places, children geniuses set up their homes to thwart less lethal thieves from breaking into their home and stealing their earthly goods. The traps and devices are designed only to hurt and maim but not utterly destroy with death.
How to Spend Your Christmas “Home Alone”
As the wise-men were planning their trip back and forth across the middle east they were eventually contemplating how to deal with nasty king Herod. Small towns were also busy planning for Christmas and would eventually contemplate what to do with vicious nasty little monsters who have infected their town like Tribbles.
Beware the Grim Gift of “Gremlins”
As God was getting ready to give his Son to the world, Santa was also busy getting ready, by loading up his sleigh and finishing the last batch of toys to put into it for the Christmas eve dash around the world in his sleigh, The Little Saint Nick. The master toymaker made sure he included in his sack…
a Buzz Saw Louie,
a Turbo Man Action Figure,
a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle,
water pistol that shoots jelly with a gift certificate to the Jelly of the Month Club
an Oscar Mayer Weiner Whistle
a moose mug
bunny outfit and
· A woman’s leg lamp
Besides getting ready to go around the world, Santa is also planning on going to court, after an altercation with someone at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. He now has to prove he is the real Santa. But he can’t use Christmas magic in front of others.
Seriousness of The Santa Clause
As all this is going on, Santa’s number one fan travels to New York to spread Christmas cheer.. Santa’s little Buddy was hoping to go to Pine Tree, Vermont to put on a Christmas show and experience a White Christmas, but off to NY he goes. He was willing to make the sacrifice of giving up his dentistry practice to do this task.
It was tough traveling such a distance from the North Pole. This honoree elf had to get by the dreadful Cotton Headed Ninny Muggin Snow Miser who whips up storms every time Santa tries to leave the north pole. Santa is also prepping his special magical train to pick up various children for a special visit to the north pole.
This is exemplified in the films Elf and The Polar Express and several others mentioned above, hidden in XMas easter eggs.
As Herod gets ready to take the life of the newborn king of the Jews, a misunderstood loner was getting ready to steal Christmas away from the annoying citizens of the town near where he lived. He eventually had a change of heart that grew in size, unlike Herod who had his heart grow to stone.
Grow Your Cold Heart with “How the Christmas Stole Christmas”
As the angels get ready to sing to the shepherds and announce the arrival of a savior, 3 ghosts get ready to visit grumpy, pessimistic and miserable people who once loved Christmas but have grown cold in their love for the holiday and other people.
This is best exemplified in any version of ‘A Christmas Carol’. One of my favorites of recent years is Scoooged in which Bill Murray prepares his network for the airing of A Christmas Carol LIVE on Christmas Eve.
As secular society gets ready to tell all these wonderful stories of Christmas, a group of school children gets ready to re-enact the true story of Christmas in one of the few mainstream stories to actually give the real meaning of Christmas.
A Secular Christmas Story: “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
And as we reflect on the words of Linus as he explains to Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas, we can get into the spirit of getting ready for the coming of the Lord by watching movies and relating them to the spiritual realities of our Catholic life.
Remembering the first Christmas is best exemplified in the film ‘The Nativity Story’ and ‘The Star’
Mary did you Know… your life would one day be in a movie?
Living in the 4th century A.D., St. Ambrose was bishop of Milan during a tumultuous era of Church history. His road to ordination was an interesting journey. The sudden death of the current bishop of Milan in 374 A.D. left the bishop’s seat open amid the climate of the Arian heresy. Ambrose, an unbaptized believe in Christ and charismatic figure, appealed to all sides of the Arian debate.
Baptized as a Christian in his mid-thirties, Ambrose soon after received the Sacrament of Holy Orders and shepherded the peoples of Milan of the reminder of his life. Today I wish to highlight 3 reasons why I believe St. Ambrose is still relevant to Christians in the 21st century.
“You catch more flies with Honey than you do with vinegar”
There exists a legend within the hagiography of Ambrose which tells of a bizarre encounter with bees. As an infant, it is purported that several bees hovered over the head of the saint as an infant. The bees left Ambrose unharmed with honey atop his head. His parents interpreted this an a divine sign and foretelling of his ability to eloquently speak and unite differing factions. For this reason, Ambrose became known as the patron saint of beekeepers and bees.
According to Mike Aquilina in The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, “He was unanimously elected bishop, winning the votes of both Arians and the Catholics…an intellectual, he could move the movers and shakers of Latin culture. It was he who finally persuaded the stubborn Augustine to proceed to Baptism [I will expand in this later on!] “ (p. 166). Sweetness and kindness of speech is equally important to proclaiming truth. Ambrose found a balance between charity and truth. As result he was an effective teacher and administrator of the Catholic Church.
Model of the Episcopate
Along with Ambrose’s ability to teach truth in a charitable manner, he remained steadfast as a guardian of the teaching of the Catholic Church—one of the most important functions of a bishop! Because of his sweetness of speech, Ambrose built up enough rapport with the secular leaders of his time that when the time came to stand his ground his words packed clout.
Ambrose graciously, but sternly, declined Emperor Valentinian’s invitation to a Church Council that bishop believed the secular leader had no authority convening. The sainted bishop stated,
And how, O Emperor, are we to settle a matter on which you have already declared your judgment, and have even promulgated laws, so that it is not open to anyone to judge otherwise?…if anything has to be discussed I have learned to discuss it in Church, as those before he did. If a conference is to be held concerning the faith, there ought to be a gathering of bishops, as was done under Constantine, the prince of august memory, who did not promulgate any laws beforehand, but left the decision to the bishops…
Master of the Master
According to R. Thornton in St. Ambrose: His Life, Times, and Teaching, St. Ambrose had a significant impact on arguably the most influential theologian in the history of the Catholic Church—St. Augustine of Hippo.
In fact, Augustine talks of Ambrose’s influence in Confessions Book VI Chapters 1-8. “The bishop of Milan was at least the guide of the guide of the theology of the West,” stated Thornton (St. Ambrose: His Life, Times, and Teaching p. 125). To put it in modern lingo, St. Ambrose was the Qui-Gon Jinn to Augustine’s Obi-Wan Kenobi!!
In the age of social media, our world needs holy men and women to demonstrate truth in a charitable way. Proclaiming truth without kindness will never convert unbelievers’ hearts. St. Ambrose is a reminder and role model for our society that charitable dialogue is possible.
For me personally, I need daily reminders to wed truth with charity. Remembering St. Ambrose’s life provides me with a guide on how to interact peacefully in a secular world. The sainted bishop’s ability to network with a myriad of people is another example of how he is still applicable to our society of marketing, social media, and age of internet. The next time I notice an buzzing bee on a summer’s day I will be reminded of the sweetness of truth exemplified by Ambrose!
Editor’s Note: Matthew Chicoine interviewed John Kraemer via phone call on December 3, 2020. Some of the questions have been rearranged and edited to provide the best reader experience without losing any of the integrity of the answers given.
How the Lego Project got started?
My first project begin in 2003 and featured at Christ the Good Shepherd Church. It wasn’t until I started displaying my churches during the Christmas season (in year 4) that the Project took off.-
How do you pick the specific Catholic Church to build each year?
It has been a church of my own design. I wanted to combine the elements of modern church while keeping to tradition. I try to show the happy medium between the modern and traditional.
I try to keep things as accurate as I can. I will blend some real world elements. For examples, I have included items from Rugged Rosary (Crucifixes and Statue of Mary).
What is your favorite Lego display?
The Christmas display is one of my favorite and most important displays.
I build the displays in mid-February. It takes around a couple months for about 2-5 hours a day. I usually take a break after Easter. I usually tear down the Church at the end of the year. I sometimes save the tabernacle and ambo for later use.
How do you find inspiration with creating the Lego Churches?
Until I sit down with the bricks, I’m not quite sure where the story takes me.
I’m always looking, studying, getting ideas for what’s around me. How are things set up? Placement is everything for me. I review my previous projects all the time.
Did you play with Legos a lot as a kid?
Yes, while my friends were building spaceships I found myself constructing buildings. Eventually it developed into me making churches.
How does your work inspire others?
One priest was building a Vatican City and he was looking at my work to get an idea.
The Project is a prayer because it is also a reflection of where we’ve been and where we should be. My thoughts for this Christmas is an end to the pandemic.
Tell me a bit about your devotion to Blessed Solanus Casey.
The qualities that attracted him to me was his learning difficulties. His faithfulness and obedience. I learned about him as he was from Detroit and my parents grew up in Detroit. Grandma grew up across the street from the monastery. One of her wishes before he died was to see Blessed Solanus canonized.
Why is the Mass is important to you?
When we participate in the Mass we are part of something else. No matter what storms or challenges we face when we make the Mass our priority he say Jesus is our savior.
John Kraemer is a Catholic out of Saginaw, Michigan and has been building his annual “Lego Church Project” for over twenty years. With a focus on disability awareness.
It was a joy interviewing John and his work about the Lego Church Project. To learn more about his ministry follow his Facebook page at The Lego Church Project
G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.” I certainly think that he would have (and hopefully you will) chuckle at the following joke: What do you call Santa when he has no money? Saint ‘Nickel-less’. Get it? Nicholas?
If you enjoy wordplay, you’re welcome! However, if you find such repartee revolting, I apologize, and implore you to still read on.
Ironically, Nicholas came from a wealthy family (more about that later). Some believed his family riches provided means for him able to make generous visits through the night delivering anonymous gifts to the less unfortunate in his city.
Below are six common (or maybe not so common!) facts about the Catholic saint later popularized and associated with Santa Claus. Regardless of whether you heard of these facts before or not, they are still epic!
Santa Clout punched the heretic
Nicholas had such a fervor for the faith that he slugged the heretic priest Arius in the face as he was leading Christians astray by denying the divinity of Christ.
Hearing things like this about saints also gives hope that Heaven is possible even those with quick and short-fused tempers.
He participated in the Council of Nicaea
Nicholas was among the bishops who attended the 1st Ecumenical Council at the city of Nicaea in the early 4th century.
The significance of this council includes the formal declaration of the faith in the Nicene Creed—a profession uttered every Sunday Mass!
Imprisoned for his Catholic faith
Similar to his contemporary, Saint Athanasius, Nicholas also was jailed for his persistence in pursuing and evangelizing the truth of the Gospel.
This should not be of great surprise since Nicholas lived in the most tumultuous times in Catholic Church history. Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 312 A.D. But the Diocletian persecution of the turn of the century in 303 A.D. led to Nicholas being among numbers of Christians sent to prison for refusing to renounce Jesus Christ.
His tenacity for refusing to commit apostasy even in the face of persecution is legendary. Nicholas’s faith and strength is on par with Saints Peter, Paul, Athanasius, and other bold proclaimers of the Good News!
The manna of Nicholas
A legend began in Myra that every year on the feast day of Nicholas, the bones of the saint secrete a hyaline watery substance.
Known as the “Manna of Nicholas,” this substance is believed to have healing effects. If you want to find out more information about this interesting relic, check out this site.
He had philanthropic parents
The generosity of the bishop of Myra is well documented. However what you may not have known is that his parents’ generosity strongly influenced him.
According to Lumen Gentium, “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state.”
Nicholas’ parents both perished as a result of an epidemic. But the morals, character, and faith they instilled in him at a young age served him for the rest of his life.
A panoply of patronages
The final of the six epic facts about Nicholas relates to his ability to appeal to a variety of individuals. Along with being known as the patron saint bringing joy to child, Old Saint Nick also helps the following groups: merchants, haberdashers, longshoremen, brewers, pawnbrokers, judges, and archers.
Nicholas exhibited true love of God and neighbor through his anonymous gift-giving, especially to impoverished children. The bishop of Myra exuded holiness in all facets of his life.
Together with his ability to give, and give generously, Nicholas withstood persecution and staunchly defended the divinity of Christ against the assault of Arianism.
Some may call him magical, but the true charm of Nicholas came from his profound love of Jesus.
Let us all model Nicholas this Advent and Christmas seasons mirroring the love of God for others to see!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 19, 2019.
I recently read that the average American person hits their snooze button about three times a morning. Unfortunately, on some days, my rate is almost double! Well, I wanted today’s topic to include an example that nearly everyone can relate to— the desire for more sleep. What is more, the snooze button is a metaphor for my spiritual life, at least as of late.
Procrastination is a condition that all humans suffer from at some point in our lives. Some suffer from this more than others. One might say, “Now hold on for a sec Matt! A little procrastination is not bad— I mean we should not work too hard in this life, right?!” Procrastination is most definitely less heinous than murder or terrorism. However, I maintain that the devil’s clandestine ploy against God’s faithful often takes ordinary disguises.
Laziness Leads to Lukewarmness
Lately, I have been lukewarm in my faith life. I mean I still uphold the basic tenets of the Catholic faith: going to Sunday Mass, occasional confession throughout the year, and a weekly reading of the Bible. But I still have a deep aching in my soul for more. What is my problem? For one I failed to follow through at times in my spiritual life. I tried to wake up for 6:45 A.M. daily Mass, but I hit my snooze button several times on my phone and overslept.
A New Testament passage that appeals to my current situation is the Agony in the Garden scene. Here Peter, James, and John suffer from sleepiness as well. Instead of having a cellular phone alarm to jolt them back to consciousness they are awakened by the Word of God— Jesus.
According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had to provide the sounding alarm for his apostles to wake up not once, but rather three times! The same amount as the average American hits the snooze button. We really have not progressed too far in 2000 years on that subject. Humans constantly let God down by procrastinating and failing to follow through on promises to Him. In Luke 22:40, Jesus warns his closest friends, “Pray that you may not undergo the test”.
No Rest for the Wicked
What this means is that Satan is never going to take a break from trying to sever our relationship with God. The great tempter is rarely overt in his attempts to lead us astray. The closer we get to God, the more sneaky and creative the devil needs to be in attempting to achieve his goals. Who knows what types of graces I may have received during the 6:45 AM Mass. Unfortunately, my chance for today is past. Alas, I must try again tomorrow.
My hope for those reading this post, especially if you are a marginal Catholic that is hesitant to trust the Church or simply stuck in a lazy period of your spiritual life, to please look for people in your life that you can turn to help keep you accountable. Ask a parent, spouse, neighbor, best friend, child, or co-worker to come to Mass with you. For me the only time I succeeded in waking up on time (AT 6 AM!) was when I went to a Catholic men’s faith-sharing group.
The best way to fight Satan’s secret weapons (the snooze button in this case) is actually through clarity. Publicly the Catholic Church is always clear that the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession are the best ways to ward off the devil’s temptations. And make you war against the elusive evil one public. Ask people to help and pray for you. I certainly will. And I hope you pray for me as well!
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Thank you for reading and hope you have a blessed day!