Tuesday, November 20, 2012


When Advent arrives this year, in a very few days from now, we do the world and ourselves a disservice by letting it pass virtually unnoticed.  In the United States this is always the danger, unsurprising in a country that once many years ago banned the celebration of the great feast that immediately follows Advent (and a case where history just might be beginning to repeat itself with a terrible vengeance) and only eventually relented on the grounds that the nation's economy would benefit.  In a country that thrives on the crassest of commercialism there is a continual din in our ears telling us to buy and buy and buy.  The sad spectacle need not be catalogued here.  It is ubiquitous.  This poisoning has even spread to many other countries.

But we need not let Advent go unnoticed.  We can, indeed must, ignore the malls, the radio stations playing their horrible holiday ditties, the whole sorry lot.  Advent is a time for preparation for Christmastide.  But with all that is being flung at us now (and has been flinging at us since September) we must prepare not yet for Christmas but instead for Advent first.

We speak of New Year's resolutions.  Let us suggest that what we should write down now is Advent resolutions.  We at The Eye Witness wish to offer several possible resolutions we all might make to our spiritual profit.

The Church once wisely taught us that Advent is a time for fast and abstinence.  Much shorter than the 40 days of Lent - this year Advent is only about three weeks long - surely we can begin our joyous expectations of the coming of the Christ Child by a little penance during this holy time.  Our souls need this.  Fasting, paradoxically, is true nourishment.  It must be first on our list.

And there is more.

Surely we can strongly re-think our gift giving, can we not?  Dear parents of growing little ones, give them less, not more.  Prevent them if at all possible from seeing the tv adverts.  They really do not need the latest Chinese-made garbage that will last only a few weeks before being thrown out.  Those of you who are financially secure must try the hardest to slim down the gift lists.  Those who are the working poor, and the non-working poor can find it easier to limit the presents under the tree.  But the financially well-off should take pains to lower spending.  And for the love of God and the health of their minds eschew completely any electronic gadgets.  Think of how many wasted hours are spent staring at computer screens, cell phones and tvs.  (Think, too, about the honeybee population which is dwindling at a terrifying rate, some of which can be directly attributed to the use of cell phones.  Talking uselessly on a cell phone wont compensate for the collapse of food production should this bee problem grow any worse.)  Is it too late to try to interest them in literature - not "Harry Potter" but genuine literature?  At least introduce them to someone like Conan Doyle, for in the writings of this man their minds will be fascinated by his story-telling expertise.  Does that young lad of yours like dinosaurs?  Give him "The Lost World" by Doyle, and you will be giving him the best time of his reading life.  Does that wide-eyed daughter of yours love stories?  Giver her "Kristin Lavrensdatter" or "Little Women".  She will always thank you for that.  Of course give them some kind of amusing gift if needs must, but make it something of quality.  Believe it or not it is still possible to find simple, hand-crafted items made in Europe (even, astoundingly, in the US) if you seek them out.  Use your imagination to select fun items for them that will stimulate their imaginations and their creative impulses.

Give wine and food instead of the latest superfluous junk.  Think of permanence, not in passing fancies.  Don't ever look at the coming Christmas Season as an economic stimulator, a tawdry exercise in mere money grubbing.  We are talking about something loftier than that.

Seek out a quiet Church and spend a few moments with the Blessed Sacrament.  Find a good, solid Confessor and go to him to receive the Sacrament of Penance.

Yes, we all love Bing Crosby and his famous Christmas songs.  They can be listened to in moderation.  Yet it is far better to introduce yourselves to the music of our Christian ancestors.  Many classical radio stations have gone now so it will be necessary for you to buy recordings of this music of the Ages of Faith.  Let your mind and heart sing with the medieval musicians and get recordings of these works.  This music is haunting and beautiful and it cements our connections with our Catholic past.  (Not all modern music is to be disparaged, of course.  If something written relatively recently has quality by all means let it fill you with the joy of the Season.  Indeed one of the most beautiful modern Christmas-related  tunes we have ever heard was written by, of all people, Harpo Marx!  Lyrics are here: http://www.harpbycathy.com/guardianangels.htm)

It is good to be done with the cheap and the shoddy, whether it be with what we buy or what we read and hear or the hours we spend.  Find times of quiet during the day or evening.  Find a few moments for the Joyful Mysteries.

Select your Advent wreath and introduce into your home the old custom of Advent wreath prayers before meals, where the youngest, the oldest, the mother and lastly the father have their special duties during each week of the holy time.

Wait until we are far along in the preparatory cycle before we purchase our Christmas trees.  Let us put them up closer to Christmas, and keep them up during the entire Holy Nativity Season if possible.  In some areas we have to duck as we walk by houses on December 26th to protect ourselves from being injured by trees being flung out the front door.  Such people understand nothing of what this time of year means.

Let us then use Advent to cleanse our sensibilities so that our thoughts and efforts are directed at preparing the straw that will make comfortable the manger which will hold the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God.  Do not allow the money-changers to keep your mind misdirected away from the great preparatory days of Advent.  Advent should not be wasted.  Let us live this Advent as if it were our last

If we make a good Advent, we keep a good Christmas.

From the great Robert Shaw:   http://youtu.be/VZkcimYymBA


Carmen said...

We light our Christmas lights beginning the morning of the first Sunday of Advent and they stay lit until sundown on Epiphany. I love wishing Merry Christmas long after December 25th just as a reminder not just to others but also to myself that it is still Christmas.

In our house all Christmas cards we receive that have nativity scenes, the Holy Family, wise men, etc on the branches of our Christmas tree. The card must have at least an angel or Scriptural quote to qualify for that honor. Photo cards, cards with string lights dangling from moose antlers and cards with mice wearing Santa hats don't go atop the fireplace, they go into the fireplace.

Thank you for the time you put into this article and for all the wonderful thoughts you gave. You have inspired me to look for some Christmas harpsichord music and beautiful Gregorian chant. Bing might croon to me while the cookies bake but I'll be taking Bach with the cognac.

Aged parent said...

An utterly delightful comment, Carmen, which is very much appreciated.

Musically, there is so much richness in our Christmas tradition that one doesn't really know where to begin to start recommending. A medievalist/monarchist at heart I find myself more and more attracted to the pre-Renaissance compositions that graced the Ages of Faith in such lands as England and France, and there are wonderful new recordings of this stuff popping up all the time sung by dedicated singers anxious to bring us the authentic sound of our ancestors. The music of the troubadours and of that whole area are a balm to my sad soul.

Your house sounds like a very happy one during the Christmas feast. Thank you again for writing.

Carmen said...

For this time of year my fondness is for the Baroque. Chamber music. Bach.

I would love to hear something pre-Renaissance that you might suggest to me. Maybe it could be found on youtube and I could hear it.

If I were more acquainted with you I would not permit that you have a sad soul. Regardless of the evils of these days, for us it is a time to "look up, and lift up our heads". I will add prayers for your intentions to my daily rosary.

I will return later to see if you have any troubadour music for me. I'm hoping that you do.

Aged parent said...


Here are a few troubadour pieces that might be of interest:



(This second piece consists of two selections)

And some rather ancient Christmas music:


But that only scratches the surface. There is a CD of ancient Christmas Carols by Andrew Parrott conducting the Taverner Consort that is excellent. Their rendition of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" alone is worth the price of the CD. More of this stuff is being recorded it seems every year.

In my way I tried to raise my children with an appreciation of fine music. We did try to teach beauty in the arts in our family.

I am convinced that one way the Church can recover itself is by returning to its ancient music - and of course the ancient Liturgy which inspired such music, from the time of Christ onwards.

Your kind offer of prayers is something I wont turn down. Thank you.

With every good wish for Advent...

aged parent

Carmen said...

Now that is not at all what I expected! Quite nice! I am grinning from ear to ear!


Carmen said...

What musical riches will you share with us this year, dear Aged Parent? I have thought of this posting of yours several times in the last few days and am delighted to have found it again!

Hoping that your soul is not so sad this year as it was last year...


Aged parent said...

Dear Carmen:

How kind of you to remember this post from a year ago, and how kind of you to comment once again.

Funnily enough I was beginning to prepare to "change gears" and put the troubling news on the back burner for awhile in preparation for the great feast days that are coming. It occurred to me that I might simply re-post this piece again and leave it at that but I have been at the same time trying to think of a few unknown musical efforts I might like to share and write something new. We'll see.

But many thanks again for your wonderful comment.


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