The Light that came into the world

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, that period where Christians the world over begin building up their enthusiasm towards the celebration of Jesus’ birthday at Christmas. It also marks the beginning of an official new year in the western Christian Church.

The name derives from the Latin word ‘adventus’, which means ‘coming’, and so during Advent we are anticipating the coming of the Lord. During Advent the Catholic Church expects that we will prepare ourselves “worthily” for Christ’s coming by making our souls “fitting abodes for our Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace”.

 It is a period of preparation for all Christians. We are to take this time to prepare our bodies and souls for Christ’s arrival.

For Catholics, this is an outstanding time to get back to the Sacrament of Penance. We should all set time aside to find out when our particular Church will be holding Penance services, and take the opportunity to cleanse ourselves of the sins that keep us from a fuller relationship with the Lord.

In some cases these sins and our inability or unwillingness to confront them are keeping us from the Church itself. Advent is the most appropriate time to set aside our egos and recognize that we are part of something bigger in the Church community.

The period of Advent last for approximately four weeks, and one of the traditions in the Catholic Church to mark the progression through this period is the Advent wreath.

At some unknown point in the Middle Ages, the Christians adopted an existing tradition of the Germanic peoples who lit candles within a wreath during the winter months as a sign of hope for warmer brighter days of spring to come.

For Christians, Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, chasing away the darkness of sin and radiating life and the love of God to all mankind. The wreath is made out of various evergreens, celebrating the continuous life.

The evergreens can be broken down further in symbolism: laurel signifying victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly, and yew signifying immortality; and cedar signifying strength and healing. The prickly leaves of holly also remind us of Christ’s crown of thorns.

The wreath is round, symbolizing the eternity of God with no beginning and no end. Pine cones and nuts in the wreath symbolize life and resurrection. The wreath as a whole signifies our immortal soul promised everlasting life through Christ. The four candles in the wreath represent the four weeks of Advent, and each also represents a millennium in a 4,000 year period from the time of Adam and Eve up until the birth of our Saviour.

Three of the candles are purple in color, and one candle is rose colored. The purple candles signify prayer, penance, and sacrifices of good works that we undertake during Advent. The rose candle is not saved for the end, but is lit on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, representing that we are halfway through the period and are coming quickly towards the birth of Christ. One candle is lit each week as we celebrate a progressive expectant buildup towards this most joyfully wondrous time of the Christian year.

At home, we should light the candles on Sunday after saying a prayer before dinner. Traditionally the father will say the prayer this first Sunday, and the youngest child will light the first purple candle. On the 2nd Sunday, the father will say the prayer and the eldest child will light two purple candles. On the 3rd Sunday after the father says the prayer, the mother will light two purple and the rose candle. Finally on the 4th Sunday, the father will light all of the candles after praying.

The entirety of Advent and the tradition of the wreath are simply to strengthen our homes and our families in remembering the true meaning of Christmas. With all of the shopping, presents, music, food, and other secular distractions, we always need to remember that there is only one ‘reason for the season’.

While Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, Scrooge and other characters are fun and well worth adding to the joy of a child’s season, we always must remember to put the ultimate focus on why we celebrate to begin with. God is coming to live among us. He will be born to us in his Son, Jesus Christ, who will be born and live and ultimately die so that we may live in eternity.

There is no greater event in the history of mankind than the birth of Christ, for the saving sacrifice of His death and resurrection would not be possible without His joyful birth. Here in Advent, we look forward to the birth of Christ, the light that came into the world.

Decking the Halls

It’s that time of year again. Time to transform the Veasey Ranch from the fall decor to the Christmas decorations. This is not an easy transformation, and it is most definitely not a one day project.

First step is the putting away of the fall stuff. Various candles, artificial flowers, window displays, yard displays, nick-knacks, and more need to be gathered up, packed up, and put away.

Next comes the cleanup. A little dusting, wiping, window cleaning and, worst of all, gutter cleaning. Yuck. I have not moved into the 21st century as yet. The Veasey Ranch has not advanced to those ‘protected’ or ‘covered’ type gutters. Ours are still exposed, and we are surrounded on all sides by massive trees that dump innumerable leaves onto the yard and into the gutters.

Step one in this particular project is to get the right weather day. I will not do this on a wet, rainy day or on a day that is too cold. I am either a wimp, or a procrastinator looking for an excuse, or both. Unfortunately, today is a nearly perfect weather day, so step one is complete.

Second step involved walking across the street and borrowing my neighbor Nick Zecca’s huge ladder. He has one of those enormous extension things that is a bear to maneuver, but that enables me to safely reach the gutters at their highest points. So I trek across and bum the ladder.

And now the fun part, alighting the ladder and getting my hands dirty, pulling all those leaves and muck out of the gutters. It takes about ten moves of the ladder all around the house, and so twice that many trips up and down, over a period of about an hour or so.

Once the gutters are cleaned out, there comes the blowing of the leaves. The old leaf blower comes out, the leaves get blown into manageable piles, and then the concrete walks and patio get a little hosing down for their own cleanup.

Finally, fall has been shoved aside and tucked away, and the actual putting up of the Christmas decorations can begin in earnest. We have our traditional display of bright white ‘icicle’ lights that string across the top of the front of the house.

This requires yet another climbing of Nick’s giant ladder, this time actually moving on to the roof of the house. It is my semi-annual trip to the highest points of my house, the second coming when I take down these lights in early January.

This year will require a prior step: purchasing new lights. We noticed last year that the old ones were getting, well, old. Strings were not lighting, or were flickering. Time to put out a little cash for some newbies. The lights will be strung across the roof, and then the lawn comes.

We have a couple of deer and a Christmas tree that match the white lights, but the tree may need replacing this year as well. A couple of Christmas bears add a splash of lighted color thanks to a red candy cane they hold.

Of course all of this is linked by a number of extension chords that I have to sort out each year. No matter how well I put this stuff away, it always seems that there is a lot of sorting and untangling to be done every year.

All that is just to get the outside done, so now the operation moves to the inside. Debbie usually does the front window while this outside operation is happening, so now comes the breaking out of the various boxes and large plastic storage bins. These contain the inside decorations: candles, nick-knacks, flowers, manger scene, tree ornaments, lights, and much more that will be spread throughout the house to give the inside that seasonal feel.

The whole thing has been done in a day before, starting early and working until night. Usually it is a two day operation.

But the finale has still not arrived. That comes with the arrival of the Christmas Tree, which will probably be next weekend. Once we decide where to get the tree, go get it, transport it home, and put it up, then comes the actual placing of the lights, ornaments, garland, and tree top. This is usually an evening operation.

Finally, the house is pretty much done. I say pretty much because there is ongoing decoration at the Veasey Ranch. We always display any Christmas cards that we receive from family and friends in a little display that surrounds our kitchen entry and breakfast bar area. Cards are added all season as they arrive, and that has already begun.

Yup, it’s not even December yet, Thanksgiving was just two days ago, and yet we already have received two Christmas cards. In fact, a couple of our neighbors already have their lawns and windows decorated, having gotten out there on Black Friday.

The good thing about all this decorating is that it is for a ‘season’, and not just for one day, so once everything is up it stays up for a month. We won’t be undecorating the Veasey Ranch until the first weekend after New Year’s Day, so we get to enjoy it for awhile.

Ah well, I guess that I have spread out this description of the process of decking the halls here at the Ranch long enough. Time to actually get to work. Ho ho ho. Mistletoe. Christmas cards. Lights and trees. Clark Griswald and Ralphie Parker. Wreaths and bows. Frosty and Rudolph and Scrooge. Presents and egg nog. Reindeer and Santa. Wise men and Jesus’ birth.

Christmastime is here. Deck the halls!

Indecent exposure

You are never going to hear me advocate forced censorship or book burning. I never have, never will.

I leave true censorship to the ultra-liberals who want to support things like the deceptively named and unfair “Fairness Doctrine”, a blatant attempt by liberal ideologues to shut down or drastically reduce conservative talk radio.

True conservatives would never go down that road. We believe in a free exchange of ideas, as long as it is done with responsibility. Liberals just want to shut up the opposition.

The debate on the radio issue will be covered here another day. Today it just sets the stage for discussing what is appropriate for our kids to see, and where, when, and how they should be exposed to certain language, images, and ideas.

I truly believe that each of these decisions not only should be made within the sanctity of each home, but also surrender to the fact that this will be the case no matter what type of restrictive legislation anyone attempts to place on media.

If you are a practicing Christian who home schools their child, there are certain things that you are going to teach that child, and certain things that you are going to severely restrict.

Just the same, if you are an ethnic or racial minority, there is TV programming and music that you are going to expose your child to that teaches them an appreciation of their culture. Sometimes that will be to the neglect of teaching them responsibility to and affection for their wider American culture.

If you are an Aryan white supremacist, you are going to expose your kids to other ideas, and not only restrict them from multi-cultural experiences, but teach that these are somehow inherently evil.

As parents, we hold a great deal of sway over our children’s education, no matter what they see and learn at school.

If a boy goes to a Catholic school and learns all sorts of good lessons during the day, then comes home at night to a father who drinks excessively and slaps his wife around in front of the kiddies, do you think that days teachings will outweigh those learned at home at night?

Just the same, if a girl goes to school where she is taught in a completely secular environment all day, but goes home to a family with strong Christian values, teachings, and practices, she is far less likely to be influenced by secularism.

What we expose our kids to at home is extremely important. The television shows and movies that we allow them to watch, the music that we allow them to listen to, the video games that we allow them to play. Every bit of this media input that we allow them to experience will influence the people that they will become.

We can write it off ourselves to “it’s just entertainment” or “it’s just fantasy”, but kids don’t know the difference in their developing minds and psyches. No matter how smart we may be kidding ourselves into believing that our children have become in this “modern” age, that is still a truth.

Today’s media is light years ahead of anything that we grew up experiencing. The production values and artistic representations are realistic to the extreme, and beyond in some cases. But it is not only important what we allow the kids to experience, but also what we allow them to find us experiencing.

We can tell them all day long that watching or reading or listening to something is not good for them, but when they later find us enjoying those same items, what lesson will they be learning? Do as I say, not as I do – the gift that just keeps on giving. They will learn hypocrisy, and they will learn to reduce their own standards.

We all understand that what is appropriate for a fully grown, matured adult to watch or listen to is not the same for a 6-year old, which is similarly different from a 16-year old.

Adults are capable of discerning good and evil, and are even capable of learning from complex story lines that include things such as sexuality and violence when set against a greater lesson in the story line.

In exposing ourselves to these more adult-themed inputs, we must always be aware that they are indeed fantasies. There is indeed a more important lesson to be learned, so that we are not simply experiencing entertainment, but learning those greater lessons.

Today’s parents must not only care about what they expose themselves to, but more than at any time in history must be actively involved in the input that kids are receiving from media, at school, and among their friends, and need to be an aggressive filter.

The process of learning good and bad, and then ultimately the difference between good and true evil, is a delicate one. When we advance from teaching the kids about what is ‘bad’ and then ultimately what ‘evil’ is, we need to be discerning, taking into account their full development as individuals based on age, intellect, and maturity level.

The same goes in teaching them the basic biological differences between the sexes, moving on to having ‘the Talk’ about expressing their individual sexuality, and ultimately to guiding as best you can their practices during adolescence. Parents are far too often guilty of indecent exposure with their kids.

I can’t say that, looking back, I was a paragon of the virtues that I now believe whole-heartedly and express here. Sometimes it takes difficult lessons learned to advance forward. But once you learn a lesson and understand truth, it is irresponsible not to pass those lessons along.

As the group Crosby, Stills and Nash once sang, we have to “Teach the Children Well”, not just simply teach them. God bless all parents as they perform that most important role of their lives.

Happy Thanksgiving

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With everything going on in the world that makes life difficult for us, there remain so many gifts from God for which I am personally thankful on this Thanksgiving Day when we set specific time aside for such reflections.

I am thankful first of all for God Himself and the relationship that He has inspired in me with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and for the blessings of inspiration bestowed on me by the continuous presence of the Holy Spirit.

I am thankful for a tremendously loving, forgiving, understanding, and growing family:

My wonderful wife who provides me love and caring every day and night as the best partner and friend that I could ever want. My daughters who provide me with affection, challenges, and inspiration as they continue to grow and mature in their own lives. My grandchildren who provide me with pure joy, encouragement, and hope for the future.

My dad and brother and their families who provide me with that long term familial base, that loving bond that stretches across time and distance. My further extended family, my wife’s family, my co-workers and friends who make life full and its experiences deep, and provide me with perspective.

I am thankful this year for the Philadelphia Phillies and the gift of their World Series title that was so utterly thrilling and enjoyable.

I am thankful for our brave police officers and firefighters who help protect and secure our families and neighborhoods and nation every day. I am thankful for the American troops and all those who fight for freedom around the world in any way that they do so, be it physically or spiritually or ideologically.

For all these people and the relationships that they provide, for all the gifts that the Lord has given me, including the gift of being able to express myself at this website and in other forums, I am forever thankful.

Thank you God, and thank you all. May He bless you all today on Thanksgiving Day and throughout the holy Christmas season.

Islamism Series: Mumbai

Radical Islam has once again reared its ugly head, this time in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, the financial and entertainment capital of the largest Democracy on the face of the earth in India.

This attack marks yet another major strike by Islamic forces against the free world in their efforts to spread the rule of Islam around the globe – which is their ultimate goal.

Their aim in attacks such as this is not only to kill, injure, and generally terrorize those in the free world, but it is much larger.

Their aim in Mumbai was the same as in New York, in Madrid, in London, in Paris. It is nothing less than creating enough fear and damage, both physical and psychological, to effect political and societal changes in those nations that will make it easier and easier over time to effectuate the ultimate control of these nations by Islam.

Their ultimate goal is to unite the world in a new Caliphate, the rule by Muslims of every nation under Islamic Sharia law.

They will play governments such as those in Pakistan and India, Russia and the United States, China and Tibet off against one another anywhere that they can to use existing differences to undermine these governments.

As is evident from the elections here in the United States earlier this month, normal everyday people simply cannot stomach fighting a lengthy war of civilizations. That is exactly what the Jihadist forces are counting on: their victory in the long term over more physically and financially powerful forces by demoralizing the citizens of those non-Islamic nations.

They will fight, deceive, and by any means necessary spread their Jihad slowly but surely. Meanwhile, many Western news and political sources will look only at the distraction of ethnic and national differences and disputes. They will be distracted by smaller terror groups and individual ideological leaders, and will miss the bigger, more important picture.

Radical Islam has declared war on the West, and any nation or government that is not Islamic. The attacks in Mumbai, like those in the U.S. and other places around the world, are not isolated. They are another front opened in the global Jihad, just one more battle to them in a larger war.

It bears being mentioned once again that if we fail to fight them fully and defeat them utterly, this will be a battle that our grandchildren’s granchildren will be fighting. Since we appear to be unwilling to do the heavy lifting, there will be many, many more attacks like those in Mumbai.

Over time there will be many more governments turning sympathetic towards Islam, and many more Americans eventually paying the price here on our home soil. More to come in the days to come on the developing Mumbai situation and its relation to the big picture.