Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The Question Box
by Father I.J. Mikulski
(From the Dec. 18, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
(Editorís note: This is the issue when Father Mikulski gets to take a well-earned break as the Inland Register re-runs what has become the best-known and best-loved edition of The Question Box. Merry Christmas, everyone.)
The Christmas spirit is more contagious than the flu. Itís a jolly virus you can catch from long distance phone calls and pretty cards. At first, it makes you feel warm all over. Then you feel the urge to drive long distances or get plane tickets. In advanced stages, it makes you want to hug people and edge them towards the mistletoe so you can spread it around.
No one is immune to the Christmas spirit. Little kids are easily affected and sensible adults, who have had it many times before but still have no immune system in place, often get misty eyes and runny noses.
If you believe in miracles, you know that a little baby started all this, with stars, angels and shepherds, according to a divine master plan. If you donít believe in miracles, you know something you canít explain is happening to you and people around you. Either way, thereís a happy virus going around.
Caught in the Christmas spirit, the Question Boxer herewith dispenses from all questions, serious or frivolous, pointed or pointless, profound or shallow. Hereís Everything You Wanted To Know About Christmas But Were Afraid To Ask.
Q. What did Mary do with the gold, frankincense and myrrh she received from the Magi?
A. Is there anybody out there who would like to answer that question?
Q. Astronomers disagree about the star mentioned in Matthewís Gospel. Whatís the truth about the star of Bethlehem?
A. The real Star was found in the stable. Shepherds, those plain folks with simple faith, found the Christ Child long before the professional court-astrologers arrived.
The best guess of modern astronomers is that the night sky of September 11 in 3 B.C. was in spectacular display. Jupiter, the planet of kings, was in conjunction with Regulus, star of kingship, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo, lion of Judah, with a series of planetary motions involving nearby Mercury, Mars and Saturn. The sun was in the constellation of Virgo, the virgin. It was also the Jewish New Year. Altogether, it was a most unusual series of celestial displays.
Orbits of planets are predictable. The planetary movements of September, 3 B.C., which had been forecast 400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, happened right on schedule. The court astrologers were surely aware of those predictions.
No theologian can say it was an act of God for a specific purpose and no astronomer can say it was a mere coincidence. Thatís what always happens when we approach the perimeter of God. Our best science doesnít amount to a broken shoelace.
Q. Do you mean that Jesus might not have been born on Christmas Day, Dec. 25?
A. Probably not. We donít know the date. Any time we try to explain a divine master plan in human terms weíre stonewalled. What did we expect? Medical records?
Dec. 25 was chosen by the pope in AD 354 to replace the pagan Sun Festival, the Roman holiday celebrating the return of longer, warmer days. Weíre off by four to seven years because of calendar adjustments made in AD 525. But thatís another story.
Q. Is there really a Santa Claus?
A. Saints be praised, my son. May your sainted mother never hear you talking like that.
Itís a long story. If you think itís hard to understand planetary conjunctions try explaining how a fourth century Catholic bishop in Turkey got to be a jolly elf who wears a red suit, drives a team of reindeer and shouts Ho! Ho! a lot.
When near-sighted reformers wanted to stamp out all traces of religion at Christmas, New Amsterdam Dutch kids gave Saint Nicholas a complete personality change. Heís now part elf and part Germanic Thor with a touch of saintly good nature. If you donít believe that youíll get a lump of coal in your stocking.
Q. Did some grinches really try to stamp out Christmas?
A. You bet. In the days of Puritan prohibition, you could get 30 days in jail and four shillings fine for putting up a Christmas tree. People held speakeasy celebrations behind closed doors but homes were raided and merry makers were jailed. Schools stayed open and children who skipped school were punished.
In merry old England, a Lord High Mayor had his windows broken, and a few of his bones too, when he tried to enforce the law. People get nasty when they donít get their Christmas cheer.
All that was done to keep religion pure and undefiled, of course. The Prince of Peace had become a troublemaker.
Q. Every year we use the same piece of mistletoe in our family and it still works very well. Where did this custom start?
A. Itís another one of those pagan practices our Christian ancestors baptized into their tradition because it was too good to let go.
The kissing bough of classical legend was held sacred by the Celtic druids and Norsemen who believed it would protect their homes from evil spirits. It became a symbol of peace. Warring tribes stopped fighting long enough to hang mistletoe on a limb, lay down their weapons and embrace under it.
Young men and maidens noticed this and began to use the same bough to kiss and make up, even though they hadnít been fighting. You donít have to be Celtic to do this. Fair maidens have been known to carry sprigs of mistletoe in their purses for emergency use with great success. Do you have an extra sprig?
Christmas is a childrenís feast. Big shots become little shots, important people become insignificant, as we approach the crib. We must stoop down, the stoop of humility, because thatís the only way we can get close enough to see whatís happening.
Paraphrasing the words of Tiny Tim, ďGod bless you, every one.Ē
(Father Mikulski welcomes your comments and questions. Write to him at 7718 Westwood Dr., Oscoda, Mich. 48750.)