Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tidings of comfort and joy

Fight all false opinions, but let your weapons be patience, sweetness and love.
-John Cantius

Today, the 23rd of December,* is the day of the feast of Saint John of Canty, aka John Cantius, or, as those of his native Poland know him, Jan Kanty. Not many know or care about him -- not even most Catholics I know could tell you about John Cantius. I only learned of him recently, when I started perusing a book of saints I had purchased at auction. But he became somewhat dear to me, as it is said that he led a life of humble dedication, to both knowledge and faith. Beyond his learning, though, he was known as a man of humor and generosity. As described by one source, “There may be many who hold that the position of a teacher at a university, who is apt to be enamoured of his own learning, is scarcely suited to the practice of Christian perfection. John of Cantius has dispelled this illusion, and has proved that the example of a holy life lends authority to a master's teaching far more than would self sufficiency.”

It seems apt to put his feast day two days in advance of Christmas, the day everybody else is giving and receiving, the day, now, which has become a bone of contention for much of the intellectual elite. But the intellectual elite miss a few finer points, when they strive to instruct the rest of us on reality as they see it. Celebration is never about rational thought. It doesn’t require a belief in a deity to have a reason to dance about and share fine food and drink with the ones we love. Celebration -- be it for the birth of the Son of God or the discovery of a new planet circling a distant sun -- is purely emotional, and purely necessary for the human spirit. And the freedom to celebrate in our own independent fashions, therefore, must be protected wherever we stand.

Jan Kanty’s homeland is now free to celebrate both Christmas and Jan Kanty’s feast day, or not, as they see fit -- a choice they could never have had under Communist rule. They have embraced modern, western capitalism, and have also embraced the older faith. The same is now coming true in Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other places on this globe. We have begun to learn again that successful, capitalistic professionalism and devout faith are not incompatible. The wealthier a person, city, or state becomes, the less he has to worry about finding food and shelter, and the more opportunities will arise to start thinking about moral issues, about human kindness, about generosity of spirit.

In this country, we, like John Cantius, have at our fingertips a wealth of knowledge and more than sufficient food, shelter, and other necessities. Like John Cantius, we have a willingness -- an eagerness --to share them all with those who have less. And, so it is that I come to you, hat in hand. As the English nursery song goes,
Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please to put a penny in an old man’s hat
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do
If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God Bless You.

In this most prosperous of lands, our own fellow countrymen have had some difficulties, this past year. Many of them will continue for many more years to struggle to return their lives to normalcy. Remember them today, tomorrow, and again next summer and autumn. Share your greatest wealth -- that of human kindness -- throughout the year, and you will find it returned to you a hundredfold.

I ask of all who read this, then, that you receive my wholehearted wishes for the most joyous of Christmases, and, in return, that you share it with others. Some of us may have very little, but most, given the chance, show and share an abundance of love and good cheer. More than any thing else, that is the gift of Christmas. If you have plenty of goods, and have made donations to any of the local, national, or world charities, so much the better. Don’t let it stop there, and please don’t let your generosity stop once Christmas is past. For every gift you give humbly and willingly, know that someone is genuinely, humbly thankful. In sharing, may you joyfully celebrate your own life , and may you, then -- and always -- receive all the blessings of this season.

Merry Christmas to all!

*I write my column to be run on Fridays, in the Daily Review Atlas (whose editors very kindly print it weekly, at no cost to me).

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