Catholics can learn something from the Hebrew Bible’s insistence on purity.
The phrase “99 and 44/100 percent pure” means only two things to most people. Either it’s the formula for Ivory soap or the measure of Ronnie Milsap’s love in a country song written by Eddie Rabbitt. Willy Wonka fans may recall that Gene Wilder used this sequence of numbers ironically—99, 44, 100—as the combination to the door of his chocolate factory. Whichever association you make with that percentage, it may be as much purity as we hope to see in an imperfect world like ours.
Scripture is meant to be held, examined closely, and even dog-eared.
In a stroke of luck, I once found a cookbook that I had been planning to purchase—Beard on Bread (Knopf)—in a box labeled “free” along the curb. The best part of finding a used copy of this classic on bread baking? I was privy to the insights and recommendations of the book’s previous owner, who had scribbled throughout the margins. My favorite annotation was a note beside the second of two consecutive banana bread recipes: “This one’s better.”
Animals steal the scene in the biblical drama.
I don’t have a pet. This puts me at odds with the 65 percent of U.S. citizens who choose to share their homes with animals. Forty-four percent of us coexist with dogs and 35 percent with cats. Freshwater fish are the most kept pet by volume, since people tend to keep them by the tank-full. Bird ownership is one-fifth the size of cat partnerships.
Not having “my” animal doesn’t deny me the pleasure of creatures in their natural habitats, going about their existence independent from mine. It would be hard to live on planet Earth and be entirely animal-free.
New insights into the story of the Good Samaritan from behind bars.
I pulled out a bright green Naugahyde chair from the pile in the sparse room and started down the checklist in my mind. Let’s see. . . . The two bathrooms were unlocked, one for the men, one for me. I had dragged the heavy oak podium across the room to place it near the table that would soon serve as an altar. The consecrated hosts were safe in a pyx in my black leather burse. I’d set up five chairs in a row in front of me and put missals on the seats. Everything was in place.
This Christmas, find the truth of the Christmas mystery in popular holiday tales.
When the jaw of the 6-year-old girl slipped and her mouth opened ever so slightly, the storyteller knew he had her. She was no longer merely hearing a story; she was living in the world of the story. When the tale was over, she and her classmates laughed and applauded.
It turns out that scripture doesn’t say a lot about the nativity figures we take for granted.
Growing up, my siblings and I would take turns arranging the figures in my parents’ large crèche. I liked to display the three magi walking in a procession up to the manger, showing them on their journey following the star to Bethlehem.
My siblings were more about cramming the three wise men, shepherds, angel, and various farm animals into a tight circle around the manger, all ooh-ing and aah-ing at baby Jesus. I put my foot down one year, though, when my brother tried to add a toy elephant to the crowd. The scripture, after all, says nothing about pachyderms.
’Tis the season for contemplation.
Heavens! December! This means the Christmas countdown has been on for weeks or months, depending on which calendar you’re using. In Retail Time, of course, seasonal decorations have been on display since—oh, Halloween or so. However, if you observe the more traditional, liturgical sense of time, Advent began very conveniently this year on the first of the month.
How we name something shapes how we understand it.
Names matter. St. John Paul II clearly writes in Dies Domini (On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy) that Sabbath (the seventh day of the week) and Sunday (the first day of the week) are different. Sunday fulfills the Sabbath. Naming Sunday as “the Christian Sabbath”—or worse, “the Sabbath,” which eliminates Judeo-Christian differences—neglects the true importance of the day.
For a new Thanksgiving tradition, take inspiration from ancient Israel.
Academy Award winners get a lot of ribbing for their acceptance speeches. You know: those ramblings that go on and on until the orchestra sounds a warning bar of here-comes-the-hooked-cane-to-yank-you-offstage theme music.
When it comes to keeping the faith, words matter.
My cousin’s an evangelical Protestant. Recently he told me the rousing story of how he came to Christ. After a neglected childhood and perilous young adulthood, he stumbled into a prayer service and encountered the Christian story in a way that felt powerful and irrefutable. “I accepted the work that was done on the cross of Calvary,” he concluded reverently.