A yearly story: creches and controversy

Early last week I received a call from a man in Wilkes Barre, Pa., who was very upset when he looked out from his office across to the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn and saw that for the first time in years there was no Nativity scene or menorah display.

Turns out, according to The Citizens Voice, the local newspaper, the displays were taken down Dec. 16 after several weeks of county officials attempting to work with the American Civil Liberties Union, which said the display was not allowed under the Constitution. People protested —  despite 27-degree weather and a 14-degree windchill. There was more negotiating, the paper reported, and the display was put back Dec. 22 with some additions — Santa Claus, candy canes and a Kwanzaa greeting.

According to a recent statement from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, “the courts have made it clear that the display of religious symbols in a municipal building, or on a courthouse lawn, must be accompanied by secular symbols.” But it added that in a public forum like a park or a place where musicians and artists gather at various times during the year, “the government cannot prohibit the display of privately funded religious symbols, even if they are not accompanied by secular ones.”

The league pays to put up a life-size creche for two weeks in Central Park. Behind it is what is described as the world’s largest menorah. 

According to a 2008 Rasmussen poll, 74 percent of  American adults think religious displays should be allowed on public property. Only 17 percent disagree. And those who are afraid that the nation as a whole has lost the true meaning of Christmas might be heartened to know the same poll showed that 64 percent of Americans celebrated Christmas last year as a religious holiday honoring the birth of Christ.

Coping with Christmas blues

Although few seem to mention it, not everyone experiences Christmas joy during the holiday season.

A story in The Compass, diocesan newspaper in Green Bay, Wis., highlights how the Christmas season can be a difficult time for those who have recently, or even not so recently, experienced the death of someone close to them. 

During a seminar on coping with grief during Christmas a Catholic cemetery administrator noted that the holidays are “filled with reminders of loved ones gone before us.” He stressed the importance of taking time to grieve. 

“Do not attempt to block or ignore it, as this is not healthy for you or others around you who are suffering as well,” he said.

Year for Priests: What we learn from video games

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

When I was a child my parents bought an Atari video-game console for my brother and I.  As it was situated in the living room, it was not long before the whole family began to hold Pac-Man and Pong tournaments on Saturday evenings.

Obviously, a lot has changed in the world of video gaming.  The simple square, dot-matrix type graphics have been replaced with scenes so advanced, one might have difficulty distinguishing the game from actual television.  You only need to go to any entertainment store to know that video games have integrated themselves into the fabric of our society — more than many of us may realize.

Recently, I commented to a few teachers that I am often amazed at how easily the boys in my class fold under pressure.  These young men, who are fearless on the court and field, seem to lose their fight in the classroom at the first hint of failure or setback.  After quickly agreeing with my assessment, one teacher said that the students learn this mentality from video games.  Now, I am always hesitant when such claims are made, but when I asked my students, they could not disagree with the connection and it led to a fruitful discussion.

In a video game, when the scenario is not going as you planned, you simply restart the level, which, my students agreed, happens frequently.  In fact, they admitted to restarting more often than continuing.  When things are really difficult, they get the codes from somebody else rather than wrestling with the problem.  After our discussion, many students saw similar behaviors in the “real” aspects of their life — academics and personal relationships most especially.

I have held that conversation in the back of my mind for a few months now, and as we enter into a new year and bask in the joy of Christmas I believe we can learn something about the spiritual life from video games.

If we learn anything from the Scriptures, it is that the spiritual life does not have a restart button; rather, we are to learn from our successes and failures.  While we are forgiven, we must not forget the lessons learned from our past, and when things get tough, we must work with what God has given us, rather than passively wait for a better scenario.

Over the course of my young ministry, I have met many people who have given up on God because they were not given the scenario they desired.  In their mind, belief in God should offer answers to life’s most difficult circumstances; when it does not, the reason to believe in or even pray to God diminishes.  However I have found that, while there are not always answers in the spiritual life, there is always meaning — and it usually occurs after we want to hit “restart.”  Too often, we are all too ready to erase the pain, the false starts, and the errors, but we do not advance very far without them.  Rather, we are to reconcile and learn, forgive and move forward.

As we all begin a new year, let us not be too eager to hit the restart button, as we often receive the greatest blessings in our lives by learning to persevere through the challenges in the great game of life.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

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