Have Yourself a Jarring Little Christmas

Ebenezer Scrooge was impervious to change. With a crusty visage spotted with age, the cantankerous Scrooge spat at charity, scowled at children, and scoffed at any goodwill within arm’s reach. “If I could work my will,” Scrooge fumed, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!” Scrooge, according to his creator Charles Dickens, “was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone . . . a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” Little could engender kindness and wonder in this unforgiving miser—little except for time with ghosts over the witching hours of Christmas Eve. Before Christmas Day would dawn, the fortress that is Scrooge would be leveled. He would find himself cowering at a graveside before a black-robed spectre. “Assure me that I yet may change…

The Immaculate Conception: It’s Complicated

For many today, the Immaculate Conception is more than a puzzle. The teaching that the mother of Jesus was preserved free from sin from her conception is, well, a source of irritation. As someone who was embedded in evangelical Christianity for fifty years, I get it. Among the objections, three come to the fore, while others are more subtle. First, it is assumed by many that the teaching is not biblical. True enough that the Bible doesn’t express it in these words. At the same time, neither does the Bible articulate the doctrine of the Trinity or original sin, among other revered doctrines, in those exact words or phrases. And yet we trust the wisdom of the Church as it developed doctrines that have their roots in Scripture. The root Scripture of the Immaculate Conception? When the angel Gabriel announced that Mary was “full…

We Are an Advent People

“They have landed. It’s official. The Germans have confirmed it.” Twenty-one-year-old Jacques Moalic stared blankly at the grinning prisoner who met him at the iron gate of Buchenwald concentration camp. Exhausted from another day of slave labor, Moalic had to process this news and follow up with other prisoners. “Keep calm, cool, careful,” they whispered, “The S.S. will become nervous.” The day? June 6, 1944—a date better known as D-Day. With the Allied forces landing on the beaches of France and forming yet another front in the grueling war against the Nazis, a glimmer of hope pierced the blackest hell of the camp. “We’ll be home by Christmas,” many exulted.  Five weeks later, writing in her diary from the secret annex in Amsterdam, fifteen-year-old Anne Frank confessed,  It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because…

“Trash to Treasure”: The Work of Christ

Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all. ―Emily Dickinson Today, in the first reading from Mass, the verb “will” is repeated seventeen times. I recommend you take a few moments now and read it with new awareness. In this sacred Advent season, God continues to invite us to cast ourselves into his absolute future and set anchor there. In God’s future, nothing handed over by us to him is ever wasted. I find that thought profoundly hopeful. When I lived in Maryland in the late 1980s, I went with some friends to Baltimore to sightsee. While we were walking in what I think was the central business district, I…

“Get Back”: A Narrative Rehab Shows Beauty Amid Brokenness 

In the middle of the twentieth century, there was a thing called shared popular culture. If it was on TV or the radio, everybody knew about it. And among all the figures who defined popular culture, none were ever better known in the English-speaking world than John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—the Beatles. In under a decade, the Beatles produced twenty-seven #1 hits on the UK and US charts, and their influence impacted not only pop music but the whole idea of celebrity, resonating to the present day. In a March 1966 interview with Maureen Cleave, just before the overworked Beatles stopped touring to work exclusively in the recording studio, John Lennon uttered the shocking but entirely true statement that the group had become “more popular than Jesus.” By the start of 1969, despite being rich…

St. Francis Xavier and Our Waning Zeal for Souls

There are some passages from Scripture and the writings of the saints that are wonderfully arresting, even scary. They hit us hard, shock us out of distractions, and leave us, in the words of Pope Francis, “unsettled by the living and effective word of the risen Lord.” One such text is a letter from St. Francis Xavier, whose feast day we celebrate today. Writing to his friend St. Ignatius of Loyola from the mission fields of India, Francis reports on his exhaustive efforts to evangelize the people and of his diligent teaching of the basics of the faith. He also admits, in sadness, that many are not becoming Christians, and he is unambiguously clear about the reason why: “There is nobody to make them Christians.” For St. Francis Xavier, this problem was not just about a lack of Church personnel but…

When Jesus Called My Sons, I Wanted to Know What For

The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.” Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. – (Matt 20: 20-22) You want to know why I did that? Why I went up to Jesus and dared to ask him to take care of my boys and keep them close to him, close to his authority, so they could share it? Because they were good boys, my John and my James—cheerful, obedient—they’d do anything for Jesus and I figured he needed to see that, and to honor it with some justice. And, if…

Giver of Wisdom and Wonder: 5 Lessons from Peter Kreeft

Editor’s Note: The piece below is adapted from Wisdom and Wonder: How Peter Kreeft Shaped the Next Generation of Catholics, a new book published by Ignatius Press. The book was conceived and edited by Brandon Vogt, Word on Fire’s Senior Publishing Director, and features chapters by several Word on Fire Institute Fellows and writers, including Matt Nelson, Matt Becklo, Bobby and Jackie Angel, Fr. Blake Britton, Rachel Bulman, Pat Flynn, and Fredric Heidemann. Peter Kreeft’s witty and whimsical prose has led many people to describe him as the “next Chesterton.” I agree with them. There’s no living writer whose…

Advent Is Not Christmas, but Christ’s Arrival Is at Its Center

The first foundational principle of the Word on Fire movement is “unwavering Christocentrism”: that is, to have our Lord Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, of everything that we do. As St. Paul said to the Colossians, “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him” (Col. 2:7). Jesus Christ is Lord, which means he’s Lord of every aspect of our lives. That includes every part of our selves: body, mind, and soul. Every relationship: marriages, family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, people we interact with online. Every activity: finances, entertainment, leisure activities. Our whole life: from beginning to end. And the more completely and wholeheartedly we acknowledge Christ as Lord in each and every part of our lives, the more fully we will be conformed to his image—which means…