It might have something to do with the guns









One piece of this puzzle is the national rate of firearm-related murders, which is charted above. The United States has by far the highest per capita rate of all developed countries. According to data compiled by the United Nations, the United States has four times as many gun-related homicides per capita as do Turkey and Switzerland, which are tied for third. The U.S. gun murder rate is about 20 times the average for all other countries on this chart. That means that Americans are 20 times as likely to be killed by a gun than is someone from another developed country.

The above chart measures data for the nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes all Western countries plus Turkey, Israel, Chile, Japan, and South Korea. I did not include Mexico, which has about triple the U.S. rate due in large part to the ongoing drug war.

The Virgin Mary and the Nature of Freedom

In one of his Advent homilies, Bernard of Clairvaux offers a stirring presentation of the drama of this moment. After the error of our first parents, the whole world was shrouded in darkness, under the dominion of death. Now God seeks to enter the world anew. He knocks at Mary’s door. He needs human freedom. The only way he can redeem man, who was created free, is by means of a free “yes” to his will. In creating freedom, he made himself in a certain sense dependent upon man. His power is tied to the unenforceable “yes” of a human being. So Bernard portrays heaven and earth as it were holding its breath at this moment of the question addressed to Mary. Will she say yes? She hesitates  …   will her humility hold her back? Just this once— Bernard tells her— do not be humble but daring! Give us your “yes”! This is the crucial moment when, from her lips, from her heart, the answer comes: “Let it be to me according to your word.” It is the moment of free, humble yet magnanimous obedience in which the loftiest choice of human freedom is made.

Mary becomes a mother through her “yes.” The Church Fathers sometimes expressed this by saying that Mary conceived through her ear— that is to say: through her hearing. Through her obedience, the Word entered into her and became fruitful in her. In this connection, the Fathers developed the idea of God’s birth in us through faith and baptism, in which the Lógos comes to us ever anew, making us God’s children. For example, we may recall the words of Saint Irenaeus: “How shall man pass into God, unless God has first passed into man? How was mankind to escape this birth into death, unless he were born again through faith, by that new birth from the Virgin, the sign of salvation that is God’s wonderful and unmistakable gift?” (Adv. Haer. IV 33,4; cf. H. Rahner, Our Lady and the Church, p. 60).

I consider it important to focus also on the final sentence of Luke’s annunciation narrative: “And the angel departed from her” (Lk 1: 38). The great hour of Mary’s encounter with God’s messenger— in which her whole life is changed— comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with the task that truly surpasses all human capacity. There are no angels standing round her. She must continue along the path that leads through many dark moments— from Joseph’s dismay at her pregnancy to the moment when Jesus is said to be out of his mind (cf. Mk 3: 21; Jn 10: 20), right up to the night of the Cross. How often in these situations must Mary have returned inwardly to the hour when God’s angel had spoken to her, pondering afresh the greeting: “Rejoice, full of grace!” and the consoling words: “Do not be afraid!” The angel departs; her mission remains, and with it matures her inner closeness to God, a closeness that in her heart she is able to see and touch.

-Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives

Mary’s Witness

To begin with, in reaction to the angel’s greeting she  [Mary] is troubled and pensive. Her reaction is different from Zechariah’s. Of him it is said that he was troubled and “fear fell upon him” (Lk 1: 12). In Mary’s case the first word is the same (she was troubled), but what follows is not fear but an interior reflection on the angel’s greeting. She ponders (dialogues within herself) over what the greeting of God’s messenger could mean. So one salient feature of the image of the mother of Jesus is already present here, and we will encounter it again in two similar situations in the Gospel: her inner engagement with the word (cf. Lk 2: 19, 51). She does not remain locked in her initial troubled state at the proximity of God in his angel, but she seeks to understand.

So Mary appears as a fearless woman, one who remains composed even in the presence of something utterly unprecedented. At the same time she stands before us as a woman of great interiority, who holds heart and mind in harmony and seeks to understand the context, the overall significance of God’s message. In this way, she becomes an image of the Church as she considers the word of God, tries to understand it in its entirety and guards in her memory the things that have been given to her.

-Pope Benedict XVI , Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.

The Freedom Of An Armed Society

In the midst of the massive volume of discourse after the Newtown tragedy, I recently found this gem: The Freedom of an Armed Society. The author is questioning the mantra that the NRA recites: “An armed society is a polite society.” But if liberal democracy is preserved by free, open and frank speech, do guns encourage or discourage such speech? When you see someone attend a political rally where the President is speaking carrying an unconcealed firearm, are you more or less likely to engage them?

Far from preserving civil society, an increasingly armed citizenry will likely erode it:

As Michel Foucault pointed out in his detailed study of the mechanisms of power, nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism. In fact, he explains, political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than “individualization,” since it is far easier to manipulate a collection of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community. Guns undermine just that — community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.

Why St. Nicholas was really a beast!

Yeah sure, Ole’ St Nick…

...was born in the 3rd century in Asia Minor. He used his entire inheritance to help the poor, sick, and children in need. He gave in secret, expecting nothing in return. He attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Greatly loved for his faith, compassion and care, he is venerated in both East and West.

But at the Council of Nicea he slapped Arius in the face. He couldn’t handle Arius’s endless heretical prattling, so he slapped him. Yes, he slapped him. Boom! The St. Nicholas Center provides the subsequent relevant details of the sordid tale:

The bishops were shocked. It was unbelievable that a bishop would lose control and be so hotheaded in such a solemn assembly. They brought Nicholas to Constantine. Constantine said even though it was illegal for anyone to strike another in his presence, in this case, the bishops themselves must determine the punishment.

The bishops stripped Nicholas of his bishop’s garments, chained him, and threw him into jail. That would keep Nicholas away from the meeting. When the Council ended a final decision would be made about his future.

Nicholas was ashamed and prayed for forgiveness, though he did not waver in his belief. During the night, Jesus and Mary his Mother, appeared,* asking, “Why are you in jail?” “Because of my love for you,” Nicholas replied. Jesus then gave the Book of the Gospels to Nicholas. Mary gave him an omophorion, so Nicholas would again be dressed as a bishop. Now at peace, Nicholas studied the Scriptures for the rest of the night.

When the jailer came in the morning, he found the chains loose on the floor and Nicholas dressed in bishop’s robes, quietly reading the Scriptures. When Constantine was told of this, the emperor asked that Nicholas be freed. Nicholas was then fully reinstated as the Bishop of Myra.

The Council of Nicaea agreed with Nicholas’ views, deciding the question against Arius. The work of the Council produced the Nicene Creed which to this day many Christians repeat weekly when they stand to say what they believe.

They don’t make saints like that anymore…