Contemplating Christmas, at the end of the semester

I thought to myself, “Such things happen. What happened to the shepherds on the night of the Nativity is a lot like the apparition of the Angel of Peace to children at Fatima."

Welcome to article 14 of a weekly series on the formation journey of Br. Josh, MIC, a second-year seminarian at the Marian House of Studies in Steubenville, Ohio. It is the continuation of Br. Josh's previous column, "Novice Notes." Watch for a new column every Friday.

By Br. Josh, MIC 

I walked into Christ the King Chapel on Franciscan University’s campus a few minutes before 7:00 p.m. to listen to some Christmas carols as part of an extra-credit assignment for Logic class. I settled myself onto a back pew and soon the concert began.

Three choirs were contributing their work: the Schola Cantorum Franciscana, the Women’s Schola, and the Christ the King Chapel Choir. A few men and women appeared to be part of more than one choir, and I noticed them hurriedly adjust their positions between pieces to join the choir that was singing next.

The music was heavily themed to draw the mind and heart toward the holy significance of Christmas. It conveyed a sense of beauty, solemnity, and mystery. Between pieces, various students read scripture passages to the assembled faculty, students and family members. 

Magnificent Magnificat
Some of the scriptures were prophecies of the Messiah’s coming, while others told the Nativity story. The scripture passages and music pieces together drew my mind toward meditation.

A few days before, as the seminarians and novices at our Marian House of Studies sang the Virgin Mary’s Magnificat, I found myself thinking, “I’d love to hear a woman singing this.” All of our deep male voices just couldn’t convey the woman’s heart that made this song.

Quickly, I found myself getting my wish. One talented woman sang the Magnificat beautifully while the rest of her schola gently wove their own voices in, providing harmony. 

I thought to myself, “What would it be like to hear Mary leading the song while the angels provide such a harmonious interplay, in Heaven?”

God as Being
My first semester at Franciscan University was coming to a close. All semester, various professors taught me about the Greek philosophers who came to appreciate God as Being. All material things depend on other things to exist, but infinite regress makes no sense. Therefore, a First Cause must exist which is immaterial and necessary being, being that exists by nature rather than because of any external cause. 

One professor mentioned that St. Thomas Aquinas loved how the Book of Exodus includes a self-identification by God which precisely expresses His reality as Being. God told Moses, “I Am Who Am,” an utterance expressing His nature as Being itself. This saying comes without any philosophical or theological explanation of it.

The logical reasoning identifying God’s nature as Being, the Cosmological Arguments for His existence and various key attributes, pre-date Christianity, originating in Ancient Greece.

Most Bible scholars agree that the Book of Exodus was written long before Plato published the concept of God as Being. The fact that Greeks independently got to this concept by means of logical reasoning, whereas Jews received a striking expression of it by supernatural encounter, delights me.

Angel of Peace
I found myself pondering this and the radicalism of God’s becoming flesh, infinite goodness limiting itself to the form of human goodness, as the concert progressed. 

When a choir member read about the angel’s announcement of the Nativity to the shepherds, I thought immediately of the miraculous apparitions of Our Lady and the “Angel of Peace” at Fatima in Portugal in the early 20th century. The reality of the apparitions and subsequent Miracle of the Sun witnessed by tens of thousands of people are very well-documented and supported by evidence.

I thought to myself, “Such things happen. What happened to the shepherds on the night of the Nativity is a lot like the apparition of the Angel of Peace to children at Fatima. 

“But, such a cluster of super-miracles is unprecedented in human history, starting with the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception. She was the first woman made sinless (since Eve), and then we have the Incarnation, God becoming flesh, followed by the incredible events of the Paschal Mystery and the evidence of Jesus’ Resurrection. Then, the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Some of these events are very well-supported by objective evidence and others have to be taken on faith.

“But historically, this cluster of mystical super-events changed the world . . . Christianity emerged and transformed world history.”

I took a history minor in college, so I’m familiar with the changes to politics, culture, and morality that swept the globe through Christianity. 

The choirs’ blend of music and scripture brought many thoughts to my mind, some gently touching the roots of my faith and others bringing to mind knowledge that seminary gave me. It was a beautiful way to contemplate Christmas. 

Next: "The Ultimate Christmas Gift."
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