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 December 15, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
The first clue of a divine master plan was revealed by John when he wrote his first line: “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) John knew that no human person, except perhaps a mentally challenged under-achiever, would have thought of God’s redemptive plan in this way. Given a chance to interrupt the course of human events by inserting a divine element we would have called on our most potent forces to display our maximum power and awe, as we like to call it.
The divine plan was problematical from the start. A dusty little insignificant village, an innocent teenage girl, a faithful caretaker, a few angels on assignment and a few nomad shepherds who happened to be nearby to announce the start of the good news.
In the shadow of that divine plan the Question Boxer herewith shoves all paperwork aside and declares a time out. Here’s everything you wanted to know about Christmas but were afraid to ask.
Q. At what age is it okay to tell children the truth about Santa? Some middle-aged people still watch for him every year.
A. Saints be praised, my child. Have you no faith? Unless you change your ways you deserve a lump of coal in your stocking – if you have a stocking.
Here’s a 4th century Catholic bishop wearing a baggy red suit trimmed in white fur zipping through the night sky in a sled pulled by eight reindeer and shouting Ho Ho Ho a lot while looking for chimneys to jump into. What’s not to believe?
A few years ago a psychiatrist advised parents that “Any child who believes in Santa has had his ability to think permanently damaged.” He has not been heard from since. Santa has ways of dealing with nutty troublemakers.
Q. Again this year some organizations such as – well, you know – are opposed to Christmas crèches on courthouse lawns. How did that start?
A. Anti-Christmas Grinches in Massachusetts colony tried to stamp out the Christmas spirit but true believers had speakeasy celebrations behind closed doors. Large cities had riots in the streets. The Lord High Mayor in London had his windows broken and a few bones, too. People get testy when they’re denied the Christmas spirit.
Q. Did people with the Christmas spirit always eat and drink a lot?
A. Sure. That carol about 12 days of Christmas isn’t just about partridges in pear trees. King Henry III (d. 1589) opened Westminster Hall to feed 10,000 revelers with 125 different dishes of goose, venison, turkey, boar and rabbit. No one counted the drinks.
Q. What’s all this talk about kissing under the mistletoe? Is it okay?
A. It’s highly recommended. When mistletoe is in short supply folks have been known to hang sprigs of broccoli. It works too, if they have been hanging around the punch bowl.
Q. Can we be sure Jesus was born on Dec. 25 in year 1 AD?
A. Nobody kept birth records. The best we can do is somewhere between 4 and 7 AD courtesy of Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis the Short) who was long on piety but short on math when he wanted to balance overlapping calendars of B.C., A.D., A.U.C. and B.C.E.
Q. Did angels really sing “Adeste Fideles” that night?
A. Neither words nor music were available for cherubim and seraphim. Legend says St. Bonaventure (d. 1278) wrote the poem but either John Francis Wade, an English musician, or Marcus Fonseca, music director to the king of Portugal, wrote the words and music in 1751. Bing Crosby’s version was much later.
Q. What about those three Magi, the wise men? Who were they? Where did they come from and where did they go?
A. We suppose there were three Magi because they offered three gifts. Some Eastern traditions say there were 12 from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s more than a year on camelback. Marco Polo (d. 1324), traveling the Silk Road to the Orient, says in his journal that he passed through some villages where the natives claimed to be hometowns of the Magi. Maybe so.
John does not give their names. Mysterious men from the Orient making a one-stop visit should remain mysterious. Mother Mary would have known their names when she thanked them for their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but she didn’t tell Matthew or Luke, in whom she confided many other details.
Legend says they were Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. An older story calls them Hormizdah of Persia, Yazdegerd of Saba and Perozadh of Sheba. Still another legend says they were Hor, Basanater and Karsudan.
Q. Astronomers disagree about the star mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel. What’s 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. That’s what always happens when we approach the perimeter of God. Our best science doesn’t amount to a broken shoelace.
The Christmas spirit can be contagious if you aren’t careful. We are that little girl who told her best friend her version of the scene in the stable and then she said “And you know what? He was God!” And she snuggled her head in a pillow and giggled with delight.
In the words of Tiny Tim: God bless us, every one.