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The Truce On Christmas

December 21, 2017 Featured Today No Comments

By SHAUN KENNEY

December is always a magical month for children. For myself, I can’t help but grin just a bit as my Protestant friends discover a new love for statues of the Blessed Mother as they set up their manger scenes. I’ll take what I can get.
Yet for all the decorations and presents, pageants and pomp, the Christmas season effectively denudes itself into just one day — and of that day, a mere 12 hours of torn wrapping paper, dry turkey, and watching the Dallas Cowboys play someone else. As a dutiful Washington Redskins fan with no hope of seeing a playoff? That’s an easy place to put my schadenfreude.
Of course, I happen to be one of those Catholics who gets on my high horse and insists that we should have all 12 days of Christmas off. Christmas is a season after all. Every holy day of obligation should see us drop work at noon and not come back into the office — period. Work should cease on Holy Thursday and for three days we should be in reflection, leisure, and prayer.
So if you can picture your humble writer stuffing his face with dry turkey pounding the table about the way the world ought to be? My thirties are merely a prelude to my sixties, when I can really enjoy saying what’s on my mind!
Most of my extended family is Protestant, and being good Southern boys, my cousins are an admixture of Catholics and Baptists with varying degrees of commitment. Our grandparents, perhaps, take such identities far more seriously than our parents ever did. As for us, if a word could be used to describe the grandchildren? If a group of crows is a murder, owls a parliament, hyenas a cackle, and lions a pride? A group of Millennials might best be termed as a confusion.
Admittedly, I straddle this fence between Generation X and this confusion of Millennials, with just enough cynicism to place me among my peers and better than average tech consumption to identify me with my younger brothers and sisters.
Thus out of this confusion emerges children of our own in a generation yet unnamed. Generation Z, perhaps? MAGAnniels? I made that one up; checks can be sent to the address below!
Perhaps you’ve seen this yourself? Among the teenagers and single-digit kids running amok, you typically find one of two types. Most are pacified by a small box the size of an index card with flashing lights in the same way Cheerios used to be scattered on a church pew, where few know their colors and if you asked them their favorite book at the moment, you’d get a skewed nose or an absent stare. . . .
The other fraction? Will respond with Thucydides, Plutarch, or some other mightily impressive tome. Languages? Latin or French while their peers are barely learning English. Some might even talk about actually what they learned in religious education classes — heavens forbid!
Effectively, in the confusion of this generation, two generations will emerge and their identities at least in the Western canon will be instantly verifiable with one simple question: Did you attend Christmas Mass this morning, or not?
“Yes, and it was boring,” will sound like music compared to “No, but I got an iPhone X!” The latter will still be in the confusion. The former? Will be bored.
Josef Pieper used to write that in boredom was the basis for leisure, and in that was the source of culture. I’d prefer to think that the boredom — or the ability to be bored — is a virtue that we have largely forgotten over the last 20 years. Quite simply, we never grow comfortable with ourselves, and in so being we find any sort of distraction or aphrodisiac to distract us from ourselves. Fidget spinners used to be called cigarettes, after all.
Pope Francis often talks about acedia or sloth being the great sin of the postmodern age, the basic inability to be still and wait with God. True, we postmoderns have a good many more distractions than the fifth-century monks who wrote about “the noontime devil” ever did.
Yet this noontime devil often affects those of us who are in the middle age of life. We muse on what must be fixed, that the grass was greener on the other side, that the generations of the past had something and the future is going to the dogs. We stuff our faces with dry turkey and pound the table. . . .
So perhaps this Christmas, there is a generational acedia that we must work on, both in ourselves and in our culture. For the Catholic ascetic Carlo Carretto, the most difficult thing a Catholic could do is rest with the Lord — to be silent with Him, just as the night was silent at the arrival of Jesus Christ in a manger two thousand years ago. To be silent and await the verbum Dei — the Divine Logos that is Jesus Christ — requires a great deal of hope and a total rejection of despair.
In fact, one might even say it requires courage.
Of course, St. Thomas Aquinas argued that such a sin as acedia was not only rooted in a certain form of laziness, but it was also a strike against charity as well. Consider that most of the world seems to be starving for charity in contrast to the layabouts we seem to have today. Yet Carretto doesn’t seem to raise acedia to such a degree. Rather, Carretto argues that those facing the sin of acedia are actually struggling against their own pride — it is quite literally the devil’s last ditch before holiness, and for most it is a lifelong battle.
This is why our political acedia will find no hope in the secular religions of the present (or any) age. When President Donald Trump famously promised that the “War on Christmas” would come to an end under his administration, one had no reason to doubt his sincerity in the slightest — merely his tools. In some respects, the frontlines have stabilized as the enemy has shifted to a more asymmetrical approach.
But has the War on Christmas truly ended? Will it ever end? Not until the Second Coming, my friends. ’Tis a truce, not a victory. Make the best of it where you can.
Shaking a fork full of turkey at the world is a lot of fun, believe me. Certainly we have no idea where we are going, and the handbasket appears to be full. Yet this Christmas, if charity and example are any teacher, the only thing that will cut through the confusion of my generation might be a certain dose of silence to oppose the noise and chatter — just waiting for the Word, is all.
With that, I wish you all a very Blessed Christmas season from the entire Kenney household to your own, as you will all certainly be in my prayers wherever you may be.

+ + +

Of course, I am succeeding (but not replacing) the inestimable Mr. James K. Fitzpatrick for the First Teachers column. Please feel free to send any correspondence for First Teachers to Shaun Kenney, c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Rd., Kents Store, VA 23084 — or if it is easier, simply send me an e-mail with First Teachers in the subject line to: svk2cr@virginia.edu

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