Gifts of the Magi-The gold is Christ’s wisdom that radiates through us, and the frankincense is prayers and adoration that offer to God, through Christ, to Christ. Then the myrrh is our own…our death to self, anointing ourself, our death to self and our daily sufferings that we unite with Christ. -Charles
Charles Johnston is a father and husband in Phoenix, Arizona. His conversion journey has taken years, as he felt God pulling him toward His Church but he resisted until he couldn’t take it anymore. He gave in and fell in love with His Church. He blogs for ‘Now that I’m catholic.wordpress.com’. In this episode, I talk to Charles, about the Apostle Peter, his ministry and transformation from a fisherman to fisher of men.
In this episode, I talk to Charles about the mystery of the Magi and St. Nicholas before Christmas. He talks about:
-Who were the Magi?
-What can we learn from the Magi and St. Nicholas?
-What do their gifts represent?
-How we can put Christ back into Christmas?
For our listeners who’d prefer to read, here’s the transcript :
Charles: The Magi, you know, they only appear one time in Scripture. You know, it’s only a…It’s really a short mention too. It’s in the second chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, and the word, “Magi,” really…It only appears one time in the whole Bible. Just one time. So there’s, you know, a couple different schools of thought of where it comes from. A lot of people seem to think that’s astrologers from, like, Persia and the Persian area, or that it was meaning like a Zoroastrian, which is still around, Zoroastrianism. Previously cast of the Zoroastrians were called Magists. You know? So they became Magi. That’s actually where we get the English word, “magic.”
Charles: And so that’s where they kind of come from. They come from the east, and they told Herod when they arrived in Jerusalem that they came from the east, and they seen the star that rose in the east, and they asked for the king of the Jews. So that kind of gives us a hint that they’re not Jews, because the Jews were in the Diaspora. You know, they were off in Babylon and Persia. So they were there, and there were some left behind when they come back to Israel. So there’s some people that said, “Well, maybe they were Jews that kind of knew of the Messiah coming, and they come back.”
But when they come to Jerusalem, they ask for the king of the Jews. That’s a really interesting phrase because you only hear it from the Magi, the Magi, or from when Pontius Pilate had it nailed up on Jesus’ cross. That’s the only two times. Any other time they refer to Jesus, the Jews themselves would refer to Jesus as the King of Israel. You know? So it very…That’s kind of an indicator that they aren’t Jews from…that were left over from Babylon from the time that, you know, they were carried out in exile. So we know they’re gentiles, and they come saying that they…, “We’ve seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Charles: So that begs the question of: How did they know about the king of the Jews to begin with? And I found it very interesting that I was…I recently read, by Benedict the 16th, “Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.” It was actually just a few weeks…Just a couple weeks ago, I finished it. One of the interesting things he talked about was Belum from the Old Testament, Balaam, in Numbers 22 through 24. He was a prophet. He was Balaam, the son of Beor. This king of Moab brought him in to curse the Jews as the Jews were coming through, as the Israelites were coming through the area, trying to make it to the Promised Land with Moses. He brought them in to curse them, and he wouldn’t curse them. He kept saying, “Well, God told them to say it. Blessings upon Israel,” two or three times, until finally he kind of had enough of it. You know? He told them, “Curse them,” a third time, and the donkey spoke and told him, “Don’t do it,” because Balaam was being kind of rebellious against it.
But Balaam gave a prophecy, and it’s in Numbers 24:17, and it says, “I see him, but not now. I behold him, but not near. A star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel, until across the forehead of Moab.” And was interesting is…In 19…I want to say ’67. They found a stone tablet inscription close to Damascus, or it might have been in Jordan, and it was about the prophet, this prophet that lived there in Babylon, the son of Beor. So beyond, way beyond Israel, he was a known prophet of the Mesopotamian region. So that prophecy that he gave of the star rising out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel, that was probably known in the eastern reaches, like the Persian kind of area, because he was a known prophet. I thought that was kind of interesting. So that’s how they followed that star to Jerusalem. And from there, they made it to Bethlehem.
Pamela: They have been identified as saints. What…
Charles: I don’t know. In the eastern…In some of the eastern churches, they’ve been canonized. You know? But in the Roman Catholic Church, I don’t think they’ve been officially canonized, but they…It’s been kind of by popular acclamation. You know? Like Saint Dismus or Ditmus, you know, the good deed on the cross. There’s kind of like a popular, you know, acclimation. They’ve been kind of regarded as saints because they were the first to come and worship Christ. You know, the traditional names that we know them as is, you know, Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.
Charles: So that’s the three names. But really, I mean, in the text itself is really…It’s only like five sentences about them, and it doesn’t mention their names at all. So we really don’t know. But yeah, the thing…Another thing that I really find interesting too is they come to Jerusalem because, you know, the king of the Jews is gonna be born. Where is the capital of the Jews? It’s Jerusalem.
Charles: So they come to Jerusalem, and they ask around, you know, “Where do we find this newborn king?” So Herod goes to his scribes and, like, kind of the religious authorities and asks them, “Where is this king supposed to be born?” They come back and say, “Bethlehem.” So he tells them, “Bethlehem.” He sends them on their way, but he tells them to tell him when they find him, so that he can come to worship him, but he really is looking to kill him.
But the thing that really…The thing that gets me is the people closest to this, these gentile wisemen from far off in the east come traveling a long distance to find the Messiah. Here they were, the scribes, and they knew that it was supposed to be in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is only about 15 or 20 miles from Jerusalem, and they wouldn’t travel that 15 or 20 miles to see for themselves. They would just…They ignored it. You know? That’s kind of…The people closest to it just let it pass them by.
Charles: Just like later on, Jesus would say, “If you knew the time of your visitation was at hand,” when he was coming into Jerusalem, he said, “Oh, Jerusalem. If you knew the time of your visitation was at hand, how I weep for you,” because they were letting their moment just completely pass them by, and they probably didn’t even realize it.
Pamela: Were there only three people? Because I keep reading in different places that there were more than three of them that traveled, but it was just three who gave…
Charles: Yeah, we don’t…Yeah, we don’t…We don’t know. Traditionally it’s been said to be three because of the three gifts. So you’d assume that if you’re coming to meet the king, the king of the Jews who you also know was the Messiah, you know, if you’re coming to meet him, you’d bring a gift.
Charles: So if there’s only three gifts, there’s only three people, but I mean there could have been wagons full of gold, wagons full of frankincense, wagons full of myrrh. You know, we don’t…That might have just been the three categories of gifts, and there was tons of it. I don’t know.
Charles: We really…It really doesn’t say. You know? Traditionally it was only three wise men. They’ve even been upgraded to “king” sometimes, depending on who you talk to, because of the gold and stuff. But you know, as far as we know, it was three of them, as far as we can guess, you know, infer from what we read in the text.
Pamela: So what about Saint Nicholas as well? What is the background of him becoming so popular around Christmastime? I mean the Magi celebrate their feast on the 6th of January. Saint Nicholas celebrates his feast on the 6th of December. So what’s so special about his background?
Charles: He was of Greek origin. He lived in a time of real bad persecution for the church. It was right around the time of the…I think his parents died when he was young. He was born around 280, and he died in the mid-4th Century. So that last 10, 20 years of the 3rd Century, the 280s, 290s, they were some really bad times for the church. His parents died at an early age. I don’t know if they were martyred or not. I really couldn’t find any information on that, but he was raised by his uncle who was a bishop also, and his name was Nicholas too. He was raised by him, and he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land as a young man, and then he come back to Mirna, where he was a bishop, well, where he became a bishop later on, and he was a great fighter for Orthodox too, you know, for the right interpretation of what was the word of God at the time that they knew, because they didn’t have a fully developed canon yet.
Charles: For what they understood were the church passed down through sacred tradition of especially Christology. You know, he was a very big defender of Christology. At the time, there was this heresy raging called the Arian Heresy that denied the divinity of Christ, and Saint Nicholas actually went to the Council of Nicaea, that we say the Nicene Creed every Sunday at mass. He was one of the bishops that signed onto the Nicene Creed to, you know…Jesus Christ was the only begotten son of God, eternally begotten of the father, God from God, light from light, all that wording to defend that Christ isn’t a creative creature. Christ is, you know, consubstantial with the father. It kind of got heated back and forth, and he ended up punching Arias in the face, legend says. There’s that side of Saint Nicholas too. There’s the jolly, giving-kids-presents side, and then there’s the punching-heretics-in-the-face side. So I kind of like the balance there. You know?
Pamela: So Saint Nicholas was actually a person who came from a very wealthy family. Right? I mean isn’t it said that his…He disposed of all of his wealth and decided to become a priest.
Charles: Yeah, after being…He inherited a substantial amount of money from when his parents died, when he was young, like I said, and he never really was…It seemed like from everything I’ve read about Saint Nicholas, he wasn’t really attached to wealth. You know, he used wealth to fund his trip. He used his substantial wealth, because going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land…Even though he only lived not that far away in, you know, southern Turkey, kind of western Anatolia, even though he didn’t live that far away, it was still…A regular person…Back then, there wasn’t middle class, like we think of nowadays. It was poor, and there was wealthy. So a regular person couldn’t really make that kind of a trip. So he used his wealth to further certain things, but he wasn’t really attached to it. You know? He owned stuff instead of stuff owning him. That’s really a good way to look at things, is not to let your material possessions own you.
You know, he took, and he used what God had given him, and he went on a pilgrimage, and he put it towards good things. Then after he became a priest, he must have still had…Because the stories of him…There was a few different stories of young women…It was either young women couldn’t afford a dowry, or there was young women being sold into prostitution. Depends on the story. You know? But he would put gold coins, little bags of gold coins through their window, into their shoes, so that they could afford a dowry. Because if you couldn’t afford a dowry, you couldn’t marry. And if you couldn’t marry, then if you didn’t become a prostitute, it was assumed you were a prostitute. So it was kind of a lose/lose/lose for a single woman back then. You know? He used his whatever wealth he had left after he became a priest to, you know, to help other people.
Pamela: But what does it mean when you have these rich priests from…these rich gentiles traveling 12 months to come and see a babe in a manger…What does it mean that Saint Nicholas just, you know, gives away all of his wealth and decides to forsake everything for a savior? What does it mean for people like us?
Charles: Well, it really shows you where their priorities are. I mean imagine if you had enough wealth to travel from the east, in a caravan…Like, you had to cross the desert in a caravan. You brought all this gold and frankincense and myrrh and stuff, and you arrive in Bethlehem. It says that they went into the house. So it’s a little time after Jesus. It’s not like the night, because we picture the night Jesus was born. The shepherds are there. The Magi is there. Everyone’s all there at the same time. But Herod had all the babies, two years old and younger, killed.
Pamela: Killed. Yes.
Charles: During the Slaughter of the Innocents. So Jesus might have been two years old at the time. We don’t really know? But he went into the house. So still, Bethlehem is still kind of a back-order town, and it’s where David was from. So that’s kind of its claim to fame, but it wasn’t a city, by any means. It was a cave. Like, they had caves. It was a very hilly area. There’s caves. If you ever go to Bethlehem, they have where Jesus was born. There’s a cave underneath the Church of Nativity. Then the shepherds field…There’s a cave next to the field. Then there’s a place called The White Grotto, where Mary supposedly nursed the baby Jesus in this grotto, and it’s a cave. So there’s a lot of caves.
So these men came from the east, and they traveled, and they kneel down and worship this child. You know? So just the humility just in that, to think that these rich men came, brought these gifts, and bowed down and worshiped him. So I mean they knew where their priorities were. They had their priorities straight. They knew, even though they were from earthly designs, you know, from earthly…Through earthly eyes, you see them. They’re the king of the world. You know what I mean? Like, they’re on top of the world. But really, this child in this crib here, he is the king of the universe, and they recognize that. That’s, you know, to their credit that they recognize that when the scribes and pharisees in Jerusalem didn’t recognize it, didn’t even make the trip to Bethlehem.
You know, the same with Saint Nicholas. He was willing to give it all up to become a priest and then to become a bishop. Through that, he fought for orthodoxy, like I said, at the Council of Nicaea. So it all kind of…If you follow God’s will, your path will take you where God wills you to go. So that’s…He was meant to be there, to stand up strongly for the orthodoxy of the proper Christology. That’s…We have him to thank for this day. It’s 325…What is that? 1700 years ago? To this day, we’re still saying every Sunday, you know, “Begotten not made.” You know?
Pamela: The gifts that were given to the baby Jesus…I know this because there are several paintings which suggest that Jesus was not a baby, but not even an infant. He was probably much older.
Pamela: Yeah. Because they keep referring to him as sitting on his mother’s lap. So he’s a much bigger child. But what is the significance of the gifts that…You know, what is the significance of the gold and the myrrh and the frankincense that was given to him?
Charles: Right. Well, the gold is obvious. I mean we know what gold is. Gold has been currency for the, you know…since the beginning of time. But frankincense and myrrh is kind of lost on us modern culture, especially…We don’t really know what…Frankincense is like an incense that is used. It was used to…In Isaiah, actually, there was…Gentiles brought frankincense and gold to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God. So the gold is an offering. It’s a monetary tribute, obviously, but the frankincense is like an incense, like burning incense. Usually, in the Old Testament especially, incense signified prayers going up to heaven. So the priest would burn incense on the altar, and it would go up to heaven. Even in Revelation, when John’s seeing the vision of heaven, he sees the incense, these bowls of incense being offered as prayers of the saints.
So incense has…Even today, you know, if you go to mass or a funeral…I know my mother has…She has kind of an aversion to incense. It gives her bad, like, asthma. But at my grandfather’s funeral, she asked a priest, “Can we go…Can we cut out the incense?” He said, “No, it’s part of the funerary rite. I have to do the incense because it represents the prayers of the people rising with his soul to heaven.” It’s got a lot of symbolism to it. So even today, incense still has symbolism. Frankincense is a big ingredient in incense. Myrrh was a…I read that myrrh was like a sap from a certain kind of tree in the Middle East, and it kind of hardened, and it was used in anointing oil. It was used to anoint. John actually…It says in John, towards the end of John, you know, when they’re burying Jesus after he gets took down from the cross, that they anointed his body with myrrh. So it was an anointment.
You know, it was…Saint Irenaeus, he said that the three gifts represent…The gold represents royalty because that’s like the tribute you give a king. Frankincense represents the divinity of Christ. Then the myrrh represents the humanity and the burial. So I thought that was a really good way to look at it.
Pamela: Yeah. It’s a really nice one when he says it’s to represent king, God, and suffering redeemer, as well as virtue, prayer, and suffering. I mean that was very deep. I mean I did not ever think of…You know, for me, they were just…
Pamela: Just gifts.
Charles: To me, it was just gifts. Yeah. Hey. What do you got around the house? I’m gonna bring some gold. I’m gonna bring some frankincense. Yeah, to me, it never really did have meaning, but every single word in the Bible has meaning. You know? Really if you dig deep into it…The Catechism tells us that every line in the Bible has four senses, in the moral sense, the allegorical sense, the spiritual sense, and the literal sense. So literally they gave him three gifts, and then the allegorical sense is the royalty, divinity, and humanity. Then Saint Gregory the Great said that the moral of it is…The gold is Christ’s wisdom that radiates through us, and the frankincense is prayers and adoration that offer to God, through Christ, to Christ. Then the myrrh is our own…our death to self, anointing ourself, our death to self and our daily sufferings that we unite with Christ. So that’s another good way of looking at it too. But yeah, I mean, that’s the beauty of really digging into scripture, is there’s so much there. Even just one sentence about frankincense, gold, and myrrh has so much depth to it.
Pamela: In fact, I haven’t really thought about the story about the three kings at all. I mean..I hadn’t thought about it. I didn’t know so much existed about them, and there was so much to read about what they did, because there were just a few lines there.
Charles: Right. Yeah, just…Yeah, I think it’s literally like five verses, six verses. It isn’t…It’s hardly any. They make a short appearance, and they disappear. They didn’t even go back through Jerusalem on their way home because God appeared to them in a dream and told them, “Hey. That guy, Herod, he ain’t a good guy. Don’t go back through Jerusalem.” Because I love in the first…In the very first line in the second chapter…Is it the…No, it’s third, the third line that says, “When Herod…King Herod he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him,” because Herod was such a bloodthirsty man. He had already killed two or three…By this point, he had already killed two or three of his own sons.
So then the people here hold on there’s a king of the Jews, and it’s not Herod or his sons. So they all went into panic, basically, you know, the whole city, because they thought this is gonna be a bloodbath, and it ended up being a bloodbath, but not in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem. If you go to Bethlehem, right outside the Church of Nativity, they have this kind of reliquary, and it’s bones. It looks like children’s bones. It’s a memorial to the hundreds or thousands of children that were slaughtered in Bethlehem. I don’t know if it’s their actual bones or not. It really didn’t have a plaque explaining it very much. But it was really moving when you see it because, you know, you read about things and things that happen thousands of years ago, and you’re kind of disconnected by time and space from it. But that was a real event. Those were real children. Those were real parents. It’s really sad when you think about it.
Pamela: And it also proves that men can really be brutal. I mean when it comes to greed and when it comes to power, we can really be blinded by certain things. We’d do anything to keep that.
Charles: Yeah, anything to hold onto that power, and he ended up dying. Herod didn’t last much longer after Jesus was born because they go off to Egypt. It doesn’t say how long they were there, but they were off in Egypt, and then they were back. It doesn’t say exactly, but when Jesus was 12, so less than 10 years, but a lot of scholars say that Herod died. They say Jesus was born maybe 3, 4 B.C. The calendar was kind of off when they developed the calendar later on. But 3, 4 B.C. was when Jesus was born, and then Herod died in 1 or 2 B.C. So it was only a couple years later that Herod died, according to history. So I mean all that killing his sons and killing all the children in Bethlehem, and it done him no good. In the end, we all have to…It says in Hebrews, “The point of a man to die once and then judgement.” I wouldn’t like to be Herod on judgement day.
Pamela: The Magi were actually warned in a dream, right, about not going back.
Charles: Yeah, about, “Don’t go back.” Yeah, dreams play a big role too in Matthew. If you notice, in Matthew, it doesn’t have the enunciation like Luke does. Because when you read Luke, the infancy narratives in Luke, the first couple chapters, it’s obvious that the Virgin Mary is his source for what he’s writing. You know? Because he says a few different times, “And then she pondered these things in her heart.” You know? So it’s kind of…He was probably sitting down with Mary afterwards and writing down. He was using her as a source. But Matthew doesn’t have any of that, or Matthew does have Joseph being told in a dream that Jesus is, you know, is born of God. Don’t worry about taking Mary into your home. This baby is gonna be the savior, and call him Emmanuel. Then the Magi have a dream. Don’t go back through Jerusalem. Then Joseph has another dream to go to Egypt. And when he’s in Egypt, he has a dream to come back from Egypt. Then coming back from Egypt, he has a dream. Don’t stop in Bethlehem because there’s a new ruler that’s more bloodthirsty than the other one. Go to Galilee because it was relatively more free in Galilee. You’re gonna have an easier time up there. So he went up there.
But it’s…If you think about it too, Matthew was written toward the Jewish audience, and dreams played a big part, you know, especially in the Old Testament. Joseph with the dreams, and Abraham had dreams and all these different things. So it really…Matthew really plays up the whole dream aspect of it, you know, God appearing through dreams.
Pamela: Since we’re talking about giving gifts from the Magi, from Saint Nicholas, what are some of the ideas that you have about putting Christ back into Christmas? Not just for kids and adults too, because we somehow have lost…We’ve lost this tradition of Christmas. It’s now X-mas. It’s now Gift-mas. It’s now everything but, you know, Christ aspect.
Charles: Festivus. Yeah.
Pamela: How do we reverse this trend in a family kind of way?
Charles: Right. I think that the best way to put Christ back into Christmas is to put Christ back into your daily life, 365, to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, because it isn’t just…Christianity isn’t just a religion of the book. You know? We’re not just a religion of reading a bunch of words or going and saying certain prayers or doing certain tasks or chores or offering sacrifices, like we’re all pagans, just go offer a couple goats, and you’re fine. Ours is a religion of encounter.
You know, Pope Benedict the 16 said that religion…Christianity centers on a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Without that…I know myself, personally, I converted to Catholicism in my heart, like, 10 years ago, but it took a while to get through the whole actual getting through the conversion process. But when I first started RCIA, it was purely an intellectual thing for me. I believed. I believed what they said, and I believed in the doctrines of the church. Okay. I’m on board. But it wasn’t…It was through the RCIA process and through the constant praying and the prayers as groups and the prayers with other priests and the prayers as a community, and then I started praying daily and daily increasing, but I really had a personal encounter with Jesus.
It’s not just an intellectual pursuit, the way that, like, I know Thomas Jefferson, you know, or I know Abraham Lincoln, or I know these people from history. I know them through their, you know, through what I’ve read about them. I know Jesus because I’ve encountered him, and I think that’s a number one thing, is you have to have an encounter with Jesus Christ. You have to put him to the center of your life, all year long, and then doing it for Christmas comes easy because, you know, it’s just another one of the 365 days.
But you know, because I heard a priest say…My priest say last year when I…Father Robert. He said that, you know…Everyone was here for Christmas. They had 10 masses at my church and a tent outside for the overflow. He said, “Just so you know, there’s 52 Sundays in the year, and we’re open for all other…We’re still here. So come on back.” So that’s a thing too. Invite someone to come with you to Christmas mass. It’s pretty easy to get people to come to Christmas and Easter. That’s the easy one. But then invite them on Epiphany. Invite them on Christ the King. Invite them on these different feast days and holidays that we celebrate, but kind of the bigger and more festive, not just everyday Sunday. You should be going to church every Sunday anyway, but if you really put Christ at the center of your life, you’ll want to go to church every Sunday. It isn’t an obligation. It’s an opportunity. I think that’s where it really has to be, is we have to really focus more on Jesus Christ.
Another thing too, like, if you have kids, a nice thing that I like to do…Because, you know, we all have the Advent calendars with the chocolate in it and stuff like that for the kids. It really…Advent completely loses its meaning in the modern world. It just becomes the countdown to Christmas.
Charles: Really the countdown to Christmas starts on Halloween. I remember going into a store on All Saints Day, November 1st, and they had Christmas stuff up. I said, “What happened?” When do they start? Fourth of July is over, and Halloween decorations go up. Then Halloween is over, and Christmas decorate…It’s like we live in a constant holiday.
Charles: You know, the Advent season has completely…I think if we really kind of bring back Advent and really celebrate that because…You know, there’s the dual aspect of Advent. There’s the growing anticipation of the Messiah coming that Israel waited for. That’s why a lot of the reasons are for Isaiah for the first reading. You know, kind of the Messiah is coming. Then the Gospel reading usually is like John the Baptist preparing away in the wilderness or things like that.
Then also, the other aspect of it is Christ will come again. You know? We forget that sometimes. Our evangelical brethren don’t forget that. They remind us. They remind us every day. But you know, especially more liturgical Christians, Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, we can kind of forget that Christ is returning. Yeah, that’s the long-term goal here, is the return of the Christ.
Even, you know, when the priest says the “Our Father,” he says, “We wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ,” and then the memorial acclimation during the Eucharistic Prayer is, “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” I think if we bring back Advent and really celebrate Advent the way it’s supposed to be, four weeks of joyful anticipation of the coming of the Messiah, the memorial of it, the coming of the Messiah in Bethlehem, 2100 year…2000 years ago, and also the anticipation of the imminent return of Christ, because catechism tells us that since Ascension Thursday, 50 days or whatever it was, 10 days after Pentecost, since Ascension Thursday, the return of Christ has been imminent, and it still is. So I mean Jesus could come back tomorrow. It could be 1000 years from now, but he will return because he’s good to his word.
Charles: So I think if we bring back Advent and make it not just about opening a little cardboard calendar and getting a piece of chocolate, and make it more about the actual, “This is why we’re doing this.” Then I like to take and read the…I know we like the Advent wreath on the, you know, every Sunday of Advent and whenever we get together as a family on nighttime, and read a little bit from Isaiah, you know, like, from the Book of Consolation, Isaiah. That’s when Isaiah was telling them, you know, “You’re gonna be took off into captivity in Babylon, but don’t worry. Here’s why.” The why was the Messiah. I’ll read like a couple verses from each one of them or read John the Baptist saying, “Prepare away in the wilderness,” or even Jesus when he got up to Nazareth, and he said, “This has been fulfilled in your hearing today,” you know, when he read that from the school of Isaiah.
I like to read a lot of Isaiah during Advent and just a little bit every night with the kids, and it really kind of…It makes it less of a countdown and more of just kind of a, you know…They’re focused on, “It isn’t about, you know, in 21 days that we get to open our presents. In 19 days…” More, it’s, “In 20 days, Jesus is coming.” So that’s…I think it really…It centers the mind more on what Christmas really is all about. I mean Christians say it all the time too. When Christmas is all about Jesus, and he’s the reason for the season, all these catchy little catchphrases, but then we fall into the commercialism of just buying tons of gifts and not really thinking about the actual literal reason for the season.
Pamela: And there’s a…I don’t know when the…When Advent begins, the readings all change to be more watchful, more alert. The time is coming. The sense of urgency is far more than you would have at Easter or any other time.
Charles: Oh, yeah.
Charles: Especially the last few Sundays leading up to Advent. The readings are…Because that’s the end of the liturgical year, because the first Sunday of Advent is the first…you know, the happy new year for the liturgical calendar. So them last few Sundays really about the last thing, you know…It’s virgins being left outside with lambs. It’s the talents, the parable of the talents. There’s all these different parables that Jesus told because the end is coming. Even last Sunday, the second reading was from the second Peter.
Charles: Yeah. Remember? It was, “No, these people that say Jesus isn’t coming back, don’t listen to them because he’s coming back.”
Charles: Yeah, because it was a heresy spreading around that Peter was writing about, saying that they didn’t have…Don’t worry about it. Jesus isn’t returning. He was saying, “No, things have happened.” They were saying that nothing ever happens. God doesn’t ever judge people. The world is gonna go on, continuing on like it always had. He reminded them of the flood. He reminded them of Sodom and Gomorrah. There’s been judgements in the past, and this present age will come to an end at some point in time. We don’t know the day or the time. But when it does, watch and be ready.
Pamela: One of the aspects of being ready is the sacrament of reconciliation. For some reason, a lot of Catholics do that only twice a year, but then…
Charles: Right. I don’t know why either. It’s such a gift. I dreaded it when I was converting because I was baptized at three-weeks-old in a Presbyterian church in New Jersey. So I was baptized at three-weeks-old. I converted. I was 30. I was 31 or 32 at the time. So that’s a span of 30 years. Now I have to go in and…First off, I have to make a list because I can’t remember all this. Sit and thinking back, “Oh, yeah. I done this. I done that,” making a list. Now I have to go in and tell the priest all this.
When I went in, I dreaded it too. This really was holding me back. I can’t do this. I can’t do. I went in to Father Marino. I had this list in front of me, an actual list, like a Santa Claus list, and I read them all off. He looked and said, “Okay. That it?” I said, “Yeah, that’s it.” He said, “Okay. For your penance…” I can’t remember what it was.
Charles: Say an Act of Contrition. All right. Then he prayed the Prayer of Absolution over me. It was like a weight was lifted off me. When he said, “Is that it,” I couldn’t believe it. Like, I thought he was gonna punch me when I was done. But it really is…I don’t know why people don’t utilize it more often. It’s such a gift to hear, you know, “Through the ministry of the church, I grant you peace and pardon.” I just love that, the whole Prayer of Absolution. God sent his son into the world for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church, I grant you peace and pardon. I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. It’s just like the second I hear it, it’s phew. It’s like I feel like a feather.
Pamela: Yeah. You feel good about it, and that’s the thing….So we should be able to give away that mercy freely to other people, since we’ve received it at no cost. We still struggle on both aspects, receiving that gift for free and giving it freely to other people as well.
Charles: Yeah. Yeah, that’s true. Everyone walking out of confession has a spring in their step.The second they get in the parking lot, if someone cuts them off, they don’t…Yeah. I get that. That’s a hard one. Forgiveness is a hard one because you get it so…You get it for free, and you have to give it away, and it…Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Right? “Lord’s Prayer.” Yeah, it’s a tough one. I guess that’s just human nature. That is…The struggle is real.No, I said the struggle is real with that one, forgiving others as we have been forgiven. Because how have we been forgiven? Totally, freely, without cost.
Charles: You know? So that’s what Jesus said. Forgive others as you have been forgiven. He didn’t forgive us with a running tally. There’s no tab that we have to pay.
Charles: There’s no…We don’t have to say 10,000 Hail Marys. You’ve been forgiven. Like, it’s free. So then we have to forgive others in that same manner, and that’s so difficult sometimes..
Charles: But it has to be done.
Pamela: Yeah, it has to be done. The sacrament of reconciliation, if you can get it done in December, you can actually start incorporating it through, you know, making it a habit regularly, because three months later, it’s gonna be learned. Then three months later, you can always do it again. So you can start this Advent and make it a part of your spiritual regimen.
Charles: Yeah, I try…For the last few years, I’ve tried to go at least…I tried to go weekly, but it’s just hard because a lot of churches only have it for like an hour on Saturday and an hour on Wednesday.
Charles: So it’s difficult. If you can get your…In America, they have Newman Centers by college campuses, like a Catholic center, and usually a Newman Center has like seven-days-a-week-confession. College students need a lot of confession. But if you can get that Newman Center close by…I was in New Mexico. There was one close by. But in Arizona, the closest one to me is like 20 miles away. So it’s kind of difficult. But I try to go every couple weeks. You know, I found out that John Paul the Second would go almost daily. It doesn’t just have to be mortal sins. You can confess menial sins. You know? But the act of contrition at the beginning of mass absolves you of your menial sins, and so does receiving the eucharist. But you can go if you’re struggling with something, like anger issues or greed or lust or envy or whatever. If you’re struggling with that, you can go and talk to the priest. They usually give pretty good advice too.
I was told a couple years ago…It might have been last year. I went in, and I confessed that I lost my temper with my children again. They were bickering back and forth, my eight-year-old and six-year-old, fighting in the backseat, and I just yelled like, “Stop it.” I felt bad because everyone went dead-quiet in the car. So I said…Anyway, it wasn’t a mortal sin. It was just…I said, “I struggle with…” It’s just, you know, anger issues. People cut you off in traffic. Stuff like that.
Charles: The priest told me, “The struggle against sin is difficult, but it’s worth it. Always fight against the temptations. Always fight against the urges. Always kick against them. Don’t give in to them, because the struggle is worth it, and you can overcome with Jesus.” I thought that was just great advice, no matter what you’re going through. I mean if you’re an alcoholic, or if you got, like I said, a gambling problem, whatever, struggle against it. Don’t just give in to it. Don’t just say, “Oh, that’s who I am.” Fight it.
“The struggle against sin is difficult, but it’s worth it. Always fight against the temptations. Always fight against the urges. Always kick against them. Don’t give in to them, because the struggle is worth it, and you can overcome with Jesus.”
Pamela: That’s fantastic.
Charles: With the sacrament of reconciliation and receiving the Eucharist too, that strengthens you too. If you do that, and you fight against it with the grace that God gives you, you can overcome it. You don’t overcome it. Jesus overcomes it. But you have to pitch in. You have to get your…Roll up your sleeves in the trenches.
Pamela: Apart from him, you can do nothing.
Charles: Correct. With him, you can do anything.
Pamela: Anything. Yeah.
Pamela: Since you…You spoke about adding prayer. Can you just give a few tips on how small things that people can do, gradually, to increase prayer time? Like…
Charles: Right. Someone…I can’t remember whether it was on Facebook or something. Someone said, “If you had…” This is right when I first started RCIA. I first seen this. If you had today…Just the only things you had today was the things you thanked God for yesterday, would you be rich or poor? You know? I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t have anything. I didn’t thank God for the clothes on my back yesterday.” So I would just be standing out in a field with nothing.
But so I started being more thankful and really thinking about it. I can’t remember. There was a priest that came by to teach one of the classes at RCIA. He taught…He said the nuns taught him when he was young. I guess it was a common thing back in the day, but I had never heard it before. It was ACTS, A-C-T-S. It was adoration. This is like when you’re entering a prayer. Pray. Take 10 minutes in the morning and do this.
Charles: A. Adoration. So just, you know, adore God and spend a few moments praising God. Then C was contrition. So just for whatever you’ve done, you know, ask for forgiveness for any kind of sins or any kind of failings you’ve had. Then T was thanksgiving. So just thank God for whatever you have, everything you have, just the pillow you slept on, the blankets you have, the clothes on your back, the sun shining. Then S was supplication. So then ask God for whatever it is you need. I thought it was a good ordering because, you know, the adoration comes first before anything. God is God, and just the fact that he is God is deserving of our worship. Then the contrition, then the thanksgiving. Then at the end is the supplication. A lot of times, people start off prayer with, “Dear God, I need.”
Charles: Right? It starts out with the supplication. I mean if you have pressing, urgent need, that’s fine. But if that’s your daily prayer life, and you’re just asking God for things like he’s a genie that you can just rub the lamp and get whatever you want, you’re doing it wrong. So just take 10 minutes and go through that A-C-T-S, ACTS, adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication. I had never heard of it before at all. It was like a light bulb went off in my head when he said it. I said, “This is terrific. You should write a book on this.” He was like, “Yeah, someone already did write the book.” I think it was Teresa of Avila basing it on or something. You know? I said, “This is terrific.” So I’ve incorporated that every day since then.
Just when you wake up in the morning, before you check your emails and before whatever, say five minutes…Pray for five minutes. Have a few minutes with God. It’s worth it.
Pamela: And that’s the reason with the three wise men as well, because one of the reasons I read somewhere was they were mentioned in Matthew was because of the fact that they adored the Christ.
Pamela: We have lost that meaning of adoration. We don’t do adoration anymore. But one of the things that was said, they were mentioned because of the significance of their adoration of the savior. So.
Charles: In Matthew’s Gospel…In Luke’s Gospel, we have the shepherds coming in and kneeling before him. You know?
Charles: In Matthew’s Gospel, we have the wise men, and they’re the first to recognize him because they went to Herod, and they said, “King of the Jews.” So they knew he was a messiah. So they were the first to recognize him as that, and they bowed down and worshiped him. So they didn’t just bring this gold and frankincense and myrrh for an earthly king. You don’t worship an earthly king. They said they bowed down. Like, they prostrated themselves before him and worshiped him. That’s pretty good, like I said, that these successful men would come and bow down to that baby.
Pamela: Yeah, yeah, and I think that also points…It makes you think. I mean, what is the quality of your own worship then?
Pamela: What is the quality of my own time that I worship? What am I doing? I mean am I really worshiping? So I guess they teach you a lot of worship and adoration, which we don’t think about so much in today’s prayer time, if we make the time to even pray that much. Yeah.
Charles: Yeah, I mean it’s really the highest form of worship for Catholic especially is the mass. And how often do people go to mass and just kind of stand, sit, stand, sit, kneel, stand, sit? Then they’re just kind of punching in like a time card, like someone at a job that they hate.
Charles: You know, just showing up. Time to make the donuts. Like, remember the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial. They’re not really there for it. You know?
Pamela: Not worshiping. Yeah.
Charles: Right. Not really, because they’re not worshiping with their heart, because Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that you have to worship in spirit and in truth. So you have to worship with your…Your heart has to be in it to really be worshiping God. If you’re just there and just going through the motions, you’re not worshiping God. You’re just showing up on Sunday, which, I mean, don’t stop showing up on Sunday. Keep doing it. Yeah, and eventually, you know, it’ll break through. There was people in my RCIA class that was an older couple, and he’d gone to church with his wife for 50 years, and now he was deciding to convert. I said, “Why are you deciding to convert?” He said, “Because it finally got through to me.” You know? He was a 70-year-old man.
So it does…It can break through. So keep doing it, but give it some thought while you’re doing it. Don’t just show up. Don’t just punch in your time card. Come in and actually…You know, your…An amazing thing, especially…The mass is heaven on Earth.
Charles: We’re pulling back the veil, and this is heavenly worship we’re witnessing, and we’re taking part in. It said the representation of Christ on Calgary. So it really is. It’s an amazing, mystical experience when you really think about it. But if you don’t think about it, it’s just a guy in a weird purple robe up there during Advent, and he’s up at the altar, and he’s talking about something you don’t really understand because you never read the Bible. Then he talks for five minutes, and then we kneel back down again. Then we say an “Our Father,” and kneel again, take communion, and go home. Watch a football game. So if that’s all you’re putting into it, that’s all you’re gonna get out of it.
Pamela: And that’s the thing. We don’t contemplate on what we’re really doing, and there’s so much meaning in…I’ve been reading some…I think it was “The Cloud of Anoint,” and there’s so much to contemplate with prayer that I didn’t know existed, and it meant just staying still because there was this work that explains that Jesus told Mary she’d chosen the best of what they were doing, and Martha….
Charles: Just sitting there. Jesus speak. Right. Yeah.
Pamela: Yeah, and he never says she chose the better. He says she chose the best, which means sitting at the feet of the savior is the best thing that you can do, instead of getting busy with all the other activities and all that other stuff, and I never really knew that because I didn’t even know that such form of prayer existed.
Charles: Yeah, that’s why adoration is really…Like, adoration chapels are popping up all over in America.
Pamela: All over.
Charles: Yeah. I read a story about in Juarez, Mexico, you know, with the drug cartels and the wars and everything going on down there, it was really bad, and they opened an adoration chapel, 24-hour adoration.
Charles: The bishop of Juarez credits that because in Juarez…The drug war is still going on in Mexico, but Juarez isn’t nearly as bad as it was before, and he credits the adoration chapel.
Pamela: I can testify to this because in Kuwait, we had a single cathedral that was just there for the last 20 years. The moment we had a…I think it was a charismatic preacher who came in and said, “We need 24 hours’ adoration.” We started that, and we have five churches in Kuwait right now.
Pamela: That was in three years of having 24 hours’ adoration. It just changed the way things were. The church changed.
Charles: Yeah, when I first became Catholic too, it was a weird thing. Like, we’re just gonna go sit in this room. Everyone be quiet. You know? But it’s grown on me a lot, and I have friends in Texas that just opened an adoration chapel at their parish, and they really say it’s bearing good fruit there too.
Charles: Yeah. So I’d like to see that more here. Where I live, currently, there’s…My parish, they’ve increased the adoration times. Now there’s an adoration chapel, and it’s not 24 hours, but it’s…I think it’s like 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., seven days a week.
Pamela: Wow. That’s good. Yeah. That’s good.
Charles: Yeah. So it’s not 24 hours yet, but it’s getting there. The priests that we have in our congregation now…It’s a new religious order from Africa, Apostle of Jesus. And the pastor, he really is focused on eucharist, and he actually renovated the inside of the church because it was built in the ’80s. So they had the tabernacle off to the side and stuff. He moved it back behind the altar and refurbished behind the altar. It’s more like a high, like a traditional high altar now. So we have adoration in the main church on Wednesdays and then the chapel, six days a week, and then the other one is on Sundays. But no, it’s growing. It’s good too because the more vibrant parishes around the world have adoration. I think it really energizes the people of the parish.
Charles: The whole diocese, really. The diocese really focuses on adoration. Because what are you doing? You’re adoring God for who he is. God. You’re not…You’re just being in the presence…Just like you said, like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus.
Charles: Like I said, it was a very strange thing to me when I first became Catholic, but there’s so many different prayer traditions. You don’t even have to be Catholic to take advantage of a lot of them, really, because they’re ancient. You know? There’ve been 2000 years of Christianity, and we have the longest history. But, you know, you can be a Lutheran or a Presbyterian and do contemplative prayer, meditative prayer, pray the Rosary or the Chapel of Divine Mercy or the Chapel of Saint Michael, all these different prayer traditions that we have. You don’t have to do all of them. You don’t have to do any of them, really. You can pick your own one, but find one that works for you. You know, that’s important. That’s…There’s so many different…Because there’s so many different flavors out there.
Charles: Some people…I can’t do the whole meditative prayer and contemplative prayer. It doesn’t…My mind is racing too much, but I can do lectio divina. You know, like, reading the Bible and reading this one line of scripture and just really meditating on one line. Same priest that told me the ACTS acronym, he told me…He taught us how to do lectio divino but a little bit different. He said, “Read it the first time, just like you would. Read it the second time, as if you’re kind of like a bird’s eye view of watching it in the sky. Then the third time, read it, and pick out a person in the story. Like, Jesus called on the disciples. You’re just a fisherman standing next to Saint Andrew. When he calls him, what would you think if you seen that happen? Like you’re there in the story.” It really changes the way you read things, especially the Gospels, and you just kind of meditate on them. I can do that, all day long, because it’s more of a doing thing. I can’t really do the sit-and-be-quiet thing. That’s harder for me. But yeah, there’s so many different…You just pick and choose what you want. Just it’s like a smorgasbord of prayer offerings. It’s really a wonderful selection.
Merry Christmas Everyone! Have a blessed Christmas season!