How did Jesus live the Commandments in his life? How are his 21st-century followers called to live them? Throughout 2007, Every Day Catholic will feature a series of cover articles on the 10 Commandments by award-winning writer Kathy Coffey. 

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We Are Made for Joy
 
By Kathy Coffey

“Thou shalt be joyful.”

Groans might greet this hypothetical 12th commandment. Where are we supposed to cram “be joyful” on an already overloaded “to do” list? Does it go before or after the litany of chores, bills, family obligations, commitments to church, school and work, pressure to return phone calls and e-mails? All we want is to make it through the time crunch of the day or week, then collapse in exhaustion.

How sad. How true. The current, stressed state of affairs points clearly towards the need for a joyous “12th commandment.”

The rationale for the “12th” is this: If we were made for eternal joy, we should get started now. Because God made us for the everlasting bliss of gazing into God’s eyes, we are more than cogs in a work machine, toting up hours that feed the corporate profit but fail to satisfy our souls. If grim drudgery consumes much of our time, we should fill our other hours with deep nurture rather than televised fluff.

The acid test is always: How do we want to be remembered? Imagine the voices of grandchildren saying, “She trudged dutifully, year after year, to all her commitments, but we didn’t see her much.” “He always seemed dour, but by gum, he got his work done.”

Or imagine their voices lightening as they recall, “She was so much fun! When we cooked her special chili [substitute a favorite pie or sauce] we laughed, sang, told stories.” “I’ll always remember his pride in his garden, how he’d grin at the first tomatoes, or how happily he took me canoeing.”

Those positive attitudes aren’t Pollyanna-esque, but choices as hard to honor as any of the Ten Commandments. Let’s face it: The daily news is often depressing. A sample of headlines: “Thirty Killed in Iraq.” “Couple Starves Child to Death.” “Head Start Funding Cut.” “Wedding Bombed in Afghanistan.” “Suicide Bomber Explodes Café in Jerusalem.” A daily diet of media hardly sends us rushing for the tambourines. That’s why we need God’s strength, God’s energy to remain faithful, confident and hopeful.

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Joy in the Real World

A classic example of one who honored the difficult “12th commandment” comes from prison. There, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “Yes, we are in chains, deprived of liberty, but in our sorrow we are restored to joy, without which we cannot live….We underground men, we will sing in the entrails of the earth a tragic hymn to the God of joy!”

If convicts could sing praise from the “entrails of the earth,” what about us? We have rich faith, multiple blessings, creature comforts and a wealth most of the world envies. Yet our distracted days and frowning faces give little praise to the “God of joy.”

Pursuit of Joy

Before we all start a serious, conscientious pursuit of joy, a few qualifications: It cannot be sought; it comes as gift. It’s not the canned laughter of TV comedy, but more spontaneous, deeper, more lasting. It springs from the conviction that “the Kingdom of God is near,” right here and now. It’s like the laughter of Lazarus, emerging from the tomb and squinting in sunlight. Joy is the appropriate response when we know ourselves saved, rescued despite stupid failures, happy not in our achievements but in God’s fidelity.

The child snoozing in the loving parent’s lap may be an overdone image, but it shows our contentment in God’s presence, where we are at all times. Joy spills from security, knowing every need will be met, not necessarily the way we foresaw but in God’s good time and pleasure. The gestures of dance convey the same joy through our bodies: arms flung wide, feet moving in rhythm, ears filled with music, worries set aside. As long as the special song lasts, the moment is everything.

Contrast that with our postures when weighed down by negativity. Then we carry ourselves as though we’re doing exactly what the angels at Jesus’ tomb questioned: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The living Jesus won’t be found in boredom and inertia, but in what brings beauty and restores grace. And if he is risen, so are we. Despite frequent, oppressive suffering, we were made for joy. That commandment may not have been carved on a stone tablet, but we can write it on our hearts

Kathy Coffey, the mother of four, is an editor at Living the Good News in Denver, Colorado. She has won numerous writing awards. Her newest book is The Art of Faith (Twenty-Third Publications, 2007).

Next: The Christian Consumer—An Oxymoron?

Questions for Reflection:

•Who are some of the joyful voices in your life?

• If joy cannot be sought, what can you do to be more aware of the gift of joy in your life?

 


FAMILY CORNER
Joy to the World
By Jeanne Hunt

In these days of Advent and Christmas, our homes are filled with joy. Or so we say. In truth, families are hard-pressed to sustain authentic joy in the midst of the pressure to create a perfect day. Christmas is no longer the holy day it was created to be.We have superimposed on the feast some worldly requirements designed to make it an occasion of perfect beauty and joy beyond all telling.

Fred Rogers, the children’s mentor of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, said that in a world where life is full of disappointments, Christmas has been preserved as the one day when every wish is fulfilled; when family members are expected to be kind and generous; when children receive gifts in abundance. Every soufflé is perfection, and everyone is overjoyed to be together. The reality, of course, is far different. The gifts are not the fulfillment of our wishes. The children are irritable from lack of sleep, the soufflé falls and we still fight with our brother-in-law at the Christmas table.

So what are we to do to bring joy to our world at Christmas and throughout the year? Parents need to help children understand that the message the media offers—that happiness can be purchased and material objects will bring joy—is false. It is the time spent together sharing stories, eating a festive meal, listening to one another, that breeds joy. Long after all the packages have been opened and forgotten, we will still remember the laughter of Great-Uncle Harry, the sweet smile of the tiny ones looking at the decorations, the silent walk down a snowy street with that brother we rarely see.

To discover the joy of this (or any) season, put aside the commercial remedy for sadness and take a good dose of family with no expectations for a perfect day.

For Family Response:

Make a family wish list for the holiday season that asks for things money cannot buy. Hang the list on the refrigerator and add to it during the Advent season.

 


Media Watch
Arctic Tale
By Frank Frost

The Christmas season traditionally invites us to romanticize snowy weather. It’s also a time to think of what gifts we bring each other in the spirit of the Christ Child. Not a bad time to watch a documentary about family life in the arctic cold—more specifically about the family lives of polar bears and walruses. For these animals, the cold of winter is not just a romantic season but a matter of life and death.

Arctic Tale begins with the warm, fuzzy image of a newborn polar bear poking her nose through a hole in the snow. The bear is named Nanu, although her twin brother is left unnamed, foreshadowing the less-than- happy end he is destined for. The documentary follows Nanu through the critical years of her upbringing and the challenges she faces in common with other animals in this demanding climate. In parallel, we meet a newborn walrus (named Seela by the filmmakers) and her twin, who are on the opposite end of the food chain from polar bears.

A third character in the story is an impersonal force known as global warming, which is changing the rules by which these arctic animals have always lived. Superb cinematography by husband-and-wife filmmakers Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson makes for a stunning film visually. With excellent editing, the anthropomorphically told story seamlessly combines this footage to help us identify with these animals facing daily crises in their struggle to live.We watch cute bear cubs tumble and slide in the snow and ice, and walrus pups play carefree in the water.

These are not exactly nuclear families as we know them, however. Both families are fatherless. The mother polar bear must not only teach her children the ways of the hunt, but also protect them from harm. Seela, the baby walrus, is raised by her mother and an “auntie” not only to find food but also to develop defensive skills against predators like the polar bear.

Our identification with the “humanness” of Nanu and Seela and their mothers helps us fear for them as the changing climate modifies age-old patterns of survival. Premature and excessive ice melting has made food extremely scarce. Nanu’s brother starves to death. Nanu’s mother is forced to separate from Nanu before she is fully independent so that they both might have a chance to survive. The disappearance of the ice forces walruses to swim to a distant barren island in the search for food, which in turn forces Nanu to swim almost beyond her endurance in pursuit of her prey.

The narration, written in a folksy idiom for Queen Latifah, brings attention to the character of the narrator for reasons that are not very clear. The film tries to lighten the story with humorous montages to the songs “Celebrate” and “We Are Family” and references to walruses passing gas.

Nevertheless, it is an appealing film with a worthy message.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

 


SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Nicholas (d. 350)

Children of all ages can easily identify St. Nicholas— the man with the twinkling eyes, the smiling face and the ample body in the pillowed red suit.What he actually looked like is another matter, as are the many stories about him. In any case, his popularity prevails.

Probably born in southwestern Turkey, Nicholas became bishop of Myra in the fourth century. He was known as a man of charity with special love for the poor; a man devoted to serving the people, particularly children and families; a man committed to justice, prayer and fasting.

A well-known legend about him concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marriageable age. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate occasions so all the daughters could be married.

This legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saint’s feast. In English-speaking countries, St. Nicholas became, by a twist of the tongue, Santa Claus.

Though St. Nicholas is associated with warmth and generosity and special affection for children, he lived during a dark period of history. In the third century the Church suffered great persecution at the hands of the Roman emperors. Nicholas was imprisoned and tortured, but survived. Decades later he attended the Council of Nicaea, where he voted with others to condemn the powerful heresy of Arianism, which denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Nicholas died and was probably buried at Myra; his remains were later moved to Bari. It has been said that he is one of the saints most depicted by Christian artists. His feast day is December 6.

Deacon Bill Dickson

Talk about typecasting! Bill Dickson was born to play St. Nicholas—or Santa Claus—or both. Not only because of his height, his beard and, he offers, “a potbelly too.” And not just because he was ordained a permanent deacon (1980) on the feast of St. Nicholas.

Bill, a father, grandfather and great-grandfather, was spotted as perfect Santa Claus material years ago while at the local YMCA in Nashville. A fellow swimmer asked if he could play Santa at a day-care center for needy children. He didn’t need persuading.

But Deacon Dickson is no stereotypical department store Santa. He may resemble one in his costume, but for him it’s a serious ministry. His appearances—most often before youngsters—always begin with a prayer in which he invites the children to join him in thanking God for the blessings in their lives and in finding ways to “help boys and girls all over the world.”

Then, still dressed as Santa, he tells them the story of a holy man named Nicholas who was known for his generosity.Well aware that he is speaking to children of many religious backgrounds or none at all, Deacon Dickson gently and simply introduces youngsters to a man who “had qualities we all should have.” As Deacon Dickson told Every Day Catholic, “I’m trying, in Santa Claus form, to bring back St. Nicholas.”

His ministry also involves visiting homes for seniors and making house calls for the sick. His favorite annual visit is to the preemie ward at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for poignant family photos.

Deacon Dickson and his beard are ready for the busy season. And again this year, God willing, he will be “a channel of God’s grace.”



 
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