I don’t post much on the so-called “War on Christmas”, not because I don’t think it exists – but that its existence is to be expected. In this toxic culture.
If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. John 15:18
I totally expect that the culture will do everything it can to hijack Christmas so as to not admit that we needed a savior from our sin. Though it is not only the secular culture that does this but also the Judases within. Via Mark Steyn.
One sympathizes, up to a point. As America degenerates from a land of laws to a land of legalisms, much of life is devoted to forestalling litigation. What’s less understandable is the faintheartedness of explicitly Christian institutions. Last year I chanced to see the email exchanges between college administrators over the choice of that season’s Christmas card. I will spare their blushes, and identify the academy only as a Catholic college in New England. The thread began by asking the distribution list for “thoughts” on the proposed design. No baby, no manger, no star over Bethlehem, but a line drawing of a dove. Underneath the image was the following:
“What is Christmas?
It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future.
It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal,
and that every path may lead to peace.
Agnes M Pharo.”
The Agnes M Pharo? A writer of such eminence that even the otherwise open-to-all-comers Wikipedia has no entry for her. Still, as a purveyor of vacuous pap to America’s credentialed class for all-purpose cultural cringe, she’s hard to beat. One unfortunate soul on the distribution list wandered deplorably off message and enquired whether the text “is problematic because the answer to the question ‘What is Christmas?’ from a Catholic perspective is that it is the celebration of the birth of Christ.” Her colleague patiently responded that, not to worry, all this religious-type meaning was covered by the word “blessings.” No need to use any insufficiently inclusive language about births of Saviors and whatnot; we all get the cut of Agnes’ jib from the artfully amorphous “blessings.”
When an explicitly Catholic institution thinks that the meaning of Christmas is “tenderness for the past, vapid generalities for the present, evasive abstractions for the future,” it’s pretty much over.
Than there is the Auckland Anglican Church which seems to specialize in Christmas shock billboards year after year. This time it is one with the Blessed Virgin Mary looking upset at the results of a pregnancy test kit. I guess no “My soul rejoices” for them as they have turned the Annunciation into a renunciation.
Protesters upset about the billboard have now vandalized the poster by ripping off the portion with the birth control kit on it. Though I think they miss the point because the part that is blasphemous is not the birth control kit, but the showing of Mary in shock with her hand covering her face in disbelief. I use the word blasphemous in the way Fr. Hardon in part defines it:
Serious contemptuous ridicule of the saints, sacred objects, or of persons consecrated to God is also blasphemous because God is indirectly attacked.
While we are on the subject of Christians and Mary I saw a funny takedown of the song “Mary, Did You Know” as a dialogue between Mary and the prosecution. Here is a small example:
The ProsecutionDid you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?MaryYes, I did. The Lord told our prophets, “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: be strong, fear not! Here is your God, He comes with vindication; With divine recompense He comes to save you.” (Is 35:4)The ProsecutionDid you know that your baby boy has come to make you new… that this child that you’ve delivered will soon deliver you?MaryYes I did. The angel Gabriel greeted me saying, “Hail, full of grace (kecharitomene – Lk 1:28),” so I knew I’d already been delivered, actually. I then told my cousin Elizabeth that, “My spirit rejoices in God, my savior.” (Lk 1:47)
This song does not annoy me as much as it once did as it is mainly a series of rhetorical questions. In fact much of the song could have been improved by a chorus of Mary saying “Yes”. Though of course some of the questions posed would have been of specific historical events that had yet to come. The problems with the lyrics are some ambivalences as to how Mary was saved and the implied ignorance of the Blessed Virgin. As a pop song it is fine if you make the necessary theological distinctions, as music for the liturgy that is another story. I once heard it at Midnight Mass from a Protestant singer the Church had hired. Considering the treasury of sacred music for Christmas, picking this rather banal song was a serious mistake.
The rhetorical questions don’t really imply that Mary didn’t know the answers. Sure, on a literal level they are directed to Mary; but I think the listener isn’t so much meant to linger on the state of Mary’s knowledge so much as be drawn toward contemplation of the mystery of Incarnation. It reminds me of the list of rhetorical questions in Pink Floyd’s “Mother”. The “mother” character isn’t really the point of the song, we’re not meant to think about who the mother is or what she will think or how she will answer; she’s just a rhetorical device.
The song moves the listener away from the iconic scene of the Mother and child in the stable and toward the rest of the Gospel story. In a post-Christian culture where most people never move beyond the Christmas card picture to think about Who that little baby is, this song tries to get them to do that.
I don’t think the song needs rebuttal because it isn’t really making the claims you say it’s making about Mary. The one detail that I agree is off is the line about “the child you’ve delivered would soon deliver you” and yet I can forgive the bad theology. First, because it’s a pop song and not a hymn. Second, because the focus of the line is a play on the word “deliver” not on the “soon”. And last but not least, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross did happen in time, a specific moment that fell after the moment of Mary’s conception, obviously. The grace of that act saved Mary outside of time. I think it is well within the bounds of poetic license to juxtapose the moments and is a bit tendentious to impose rigorous theological language and categories upon a song.
She states very well why I don’t hate the song with a passion any more (unless sung at Mass).
As for what Mary knew “Mary kept in mind all these things as she pondered them in her heart.” and I desire to know at the level she did.