Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Frying pan and fire
Well, I never did make it back here last night--mainly because after Mass we had to practice for next Sunday because our usual Thursday practice has been preempted by a penance service--which is a good thing, don't get me wrong, but we got home rather late last night.
Today, of course, is the actual Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is a major feast day in the Catholic Church, and has been celebrated (though not under the title Immaculate Conception) for many centuries, even before the doctrine was infallibly defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. Most of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics celebrate this feast day as a holy day of obligation, and it is a public holiday in more than twenty countries. For Catholics in the United States this feast is--or ought to be--especially important, since it is under the title of the Immaculate Conception that our nation honors the Blessed Virgin as our patroness.
So, naturally, today's Google logo celebrates--the birthday of the creator of the Popeye cartoon.
Okay, I've written about Google's strange logos before, and I'm not going to go back there today. But the logo prompted me to reflect on the difficulty of living a Catholic life in a secular nation; for most people, today is a Tuesday in the month before Christmas, just another workday/shopping day/school day. In those Catholic nations where today is a holiday, how much easier is it for families to gather to celebrate Our Lady's feast and treat today with the same dignity and respect with which we try to treat Sunday! But here in America, it's getting harder and harder to keep Sunday as a day set apart, let alone a Tuesday in the second week of December. Either we or our spouses or both of us have to go to work; our children have to go to school, Mass is "fit in" somewhere in the schedule between last evening and tonight, if we are lucky enough to have understanding employers and healthy children (not always a given, this time of year), and recognizing the special character of the day becomes something we have to work harder to maintain, instead of the recognition of this character flowing quite naturally from some public acknowledgment of the feast.
Over time, a feast like this one can become, in a secular nation, disconnected from any idea of celebration. The Mass obligation becomes a duty, then a burden, then ignored; the idea that there ought to be a special character for days like these becomes something quaint and outmoded, not something natural and expected. Instead of honoring our Mother with prayer and feasting, we slide toward doing the minimum on our way to doing nothing at all. I myself am guilty of this attitude; I failed to plan today as a day off from school, and because we started so late this year and I'm feeling the pressure of needing to accomplish a certain amount of work before we begin our Christmas holiday I didn't even really consider doing so--which I now regret, because nothing would have said "Feast Day" more to my children than a day free from their schoolwork.
As bad as all of this is, though, it might be worse. Instead of the frying pan of minimal celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we could find ourselves in the fire of having more of our holy days turned into secular parties which have nothing to do with the religious feast. Such has been the fate of St. Patrick's Day, St. Valentine's Day, and even, more and more, Christmas. The fact that this could even have been discussed is an illustration of how eager some cultural forces are to turn what we call Christmas into a kind of bland Winter Fest sort of thing, a holiday where we put up trees and lights and decorations and buy each other lots and lots of expensive economically-stimulating gifts--for no reason at all.
The only thing worse than having December 8th's significance ignored by our secular American society would be to have the Feast of the Immaculate Conception turned into another mushy-meaningless day to a) get drunk, b) buy gifts, or c) both. It may be hard to keep today as a day of celebration amidst a culture that ignores our faith (when it isn't being hostile to it), but it most definitely beats the alternative.