Poll: Majority of Americans like ‘Merry Christmas’ as holiday greeting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWASHINGTON (CNS) — A new Marist poll shows that a majority of Americans — by 20 percentage points — say they like the greeting “Merry Christmas” rather than the generic “Happy Holidays” this time of year. In addition, a strong majority also associates the meaning of the holiday with Jesus’ birth.

The poll was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.

Almost six in 10 — 57 percent — say they prefer “Merry Christmas,” while fewer than four in 10 — 37 percent — prefer “Happy Holidays.”

“Celebrating Christmas is a reminder that Christ came into the world out of love for us and to teach us to love one another,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in statement Dec. 22, the day the poll results were released.

The poll also found that nearly eight in 10 Americans — 79 percent — strongly or very strongly identify the birth of Jesus with the meaning of Christmas.

And almost two-thirds of Americans — 63 percent — think the meaning of Christmas is strongly or very strongly linked with attending church services.

The Marist Poll organization conducted the survey of 1,005 adults from Dec. 1-9. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the continental United States were interviewed on either landline or mobile phones using live interviewers. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Dec. 25, 2016

"From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace." -- John 1:16

“From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace.” — John 1:16

Dec. 25, The Nativity of the Lord

      Cycle A,B,C. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 52:7-10

      Psalm 98:1-6

      2) Hebrews 1:1-6

      Gospel: John 1:1-18 or John 1:1-5, 9-14

 

By Deacon Mike Ellerbrock
Catholic News Service

Why does Christmas bring out the best in us? Powerful enough to induce a 24-hour cease-fire with music among combatants in World War I, the image of an innocent infant in a barnyard manger offering peace and hope to a broken world causes hearts to pause and consider the possibility.

Beginning at home, could we be so moved as to rewrite the rules of life?

Who was this special child born to a virgin? If he was indeed the long-awaited Messiah (“Anointed One”) revealed by angels, a star and a dove, what was his mission?

When the guns of war fell quiet that silent night along a 460-mile front in Belgium and France, Allied and German troops spontaneously broke into a volley of Christmas carols. Reverberating voices displaced the deafening roar of artillery fire. For a glorious moment, peace reigned instead of terror.

World War I altered history by unleashing dramatic advancements in the technology of warfare that killed 17 million and wounded another 20 million in only four years. Evil was raw. The human toll and utter devastation of the land drove many survivors into deep pessimism about the human condition.

Two young British soldiers who experienced that war in the brutal, filthy trenches — J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis — later bonded into lifelong friends. Despite the devastation of World War I, Tolkien held onto his Catholic faith, and he played a large role in Lewis converting from atheism to Christianity.

Leaping the existential abyss, Tolkien and Lewis chose Christ and his Gospel message. Soul mates and literary colleagues, they inspired each other for decades to put their faith in print to explore the essential goodness of humanity redeemed by God’s grace. Using mythology to spark the Christian imagination of generations, their legacy includes “The Hobbit,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Screwtape Letters.”

Similarly, John’s Gospel invites us into the Holy Family’s sacred home “full of grace and truth” where light dispels darkness and believers become children of God. Giving is receiving. Unmerited gifts call forth our best instincts. Salvation arrives in a lowly infant under our care and trust. Goodwill and joy beckon all nations. Alleluia!

QUESTION:

How does the Incarnation bring us “grace in place of grace”?

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Dec. 18, 2016

"For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her." -- Matthew 1:20

“For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” — Matthew 1:20

 

Dec. 11, Fourth Sunday of Advent

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 7:10-14

      Psalm 24:1-6

      2) Romans 1:1-7

      Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24

 

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

On more than one occasion, I’ve heard the Holy Spirit described as the “forgotten” member of the Trinity — and I can understand why. As a cradle Catholic, I think the only time I heard anyone preach or teach about the Holy Spirit was on Pentecost Sunday and at my confirmation, although in every sign of the cross the Holy Spirit is certainly mentioned. But in today’s readings, the Spirit of God is front and center.

Reminiscent of the Genesis account of creation and the Spirit “sweeping over the waters,” today’s responsorial psalm describes the earth and its fullness as being “founded … upon the seas.” In the great tradition of the prophets of Israel, Isaiah prophesies in the power of the Spirit that a “virgin shall conceive, and bear a son.”

But most striking is the role of the Holy Spirit in the pivotal event of human history: the incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of Mary. Twice, Matthew’s Gospel states that this happened “through the Holy Spirit,” and this claim is borne out in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and also professed in the Nicene Creed.

We’re not talking about some anonymous, shadowy “force” that is the stuff of science fiction. In fact, Scripture describes a divine being so intensely personal that Mary has been identified as the “spouse” of the Holy Spirit in an ongoing, eternal relationship. In other words, it is the unique union of Mary and the Holy Spirit that made Jesus’ incarnation and birth possible — not only as a past historical event but continually and eternally (wrap your mind around that one!).

When we’re not overwhelmed with holiday hype, we Catholics tend to think of Advent as simply a religious preparation for Christmas, a one-time occurrence until Dec. 25 rolls around again. In truth, Advent is an anticipatory celebration of the unceasing entry of Emmanuel, “God … with us,” into our hearts and lives. It’s the Holy Spirit that accomplishes this, and when it occurs — if we’re awake and alert — it’s unforgettable.

QUESTIONS:

What is your relationship with the Holy Spirit? How does Mary’s title, “Spouse of the Holy Spirit,” give you new insight about the mother of Jesus?

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Dec. 11, 2016

"Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord." -- James 5:7

“Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” — James 5:7

 

Dec. 11, Third Sunday of Advent

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10

      Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10

      2) James 5:7-10

      Gospel) Matthew 11:2-11

 

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

While I was studying for my degree in theology, a professor told us: “The secret to joy is waiting.” I had never considered waiting as criteria for joy. I had always thought of joy as something experienced in the moment at some event or in a person or thing. But as he expounded on this concept, I was reminded of my grandmother and finally understood the connection between joy and waiting.

There were four children in my family for 12 years and then Matthew came along. I was 15 when this happened. Growing up, I was not blessed to live in the same city as my grandmother so anytime we got to see her was a big deal. When Matthew was born, we found out that Grandma was coming to stay with us for a few months to help around the house. The excitement and anticipation was overwhelming for all of us.

You see, Grandma coming meant homemade bread, cookies, jam and on and on. I am sure my mother was excited for other reasons, but to a 15-year-old, food was pretty important. Not only did Grandma make homemade bread, but she always “accidentally” made too much dough and would use the leftovers for cinnamon rolls.

As this expectancy swirled in my mind, the days, hours and minutes of waiting for Grandma to come seemed merciless. But finally she arrived and oh, the joy that filled my heart (and stomach).

This week’s readings tell of the preeminent experience of waiting and joy. In Isaiah we hear the prophecy about the good things that will occur when the Messiah comes. The Letter of James exhorts us to have patience, and the Gospel reveals that Jesus is the long awaited fulfillment of the prophecy.

The Israelites had waited centuries for the promised Messiah and he came. Now, we, the pilgrim church, await the second coming of Jesus. We are in the days between the promise and the fulfillment, but even as we wait, we encounter moments of joy as we each experience small morsels of the coming of Jesus daily in our hearts.

Yes, the secret to joy is waiting, but there is joy, too, in the anticipation.

QUESTIONS:

How have you experienced joy from a time of waiting? What is something you currently are waiting to come to pass? How do you share this waiting with the Lord?

‘A day which will live in infamy’

Even 75 years later, the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Dec. 7, 1941, continues to rivet the attention of Americans because it is “such a powerful event,” a priest-historian told Catholic News Service in an interview in advance of tomorrow’s anniversary of the attack.

“Before that, we were debating whether to get involved with World War II or not. We were basically a neutral country, trying not to get engaged in it. It (the attack) changed the tenor, and the president’s resolve,” Father Daniel Mode said in a telephone interview from the Pentagon, where he where he works for the chief of chaplains. “It brought our country together to fight a common threat.”

A ship is seen sinking during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. (CNS photo/Pearl Harbor Museum)

A ship is seen sinking during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. (CNS photo/Pearl Harbor Museum)

In a video interview with CNS, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services reflects on the “incredible heroism” that day by members of the military that day, including Father Aloysius Schmitt, a chaplain aboard the USS Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor.

The priest pushed a dozen men out a narrow porthole to safety during the attack at the cost of his own life as the ship was sinking. He was the first U.S. chaplain to die in World War II. It was only recently that his remains had been positively identified and returned to his home Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, for burial.

The Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Honolulu, in its Dec. 1 issue recalled some of the paper’s coverage of the time. ” The Herald’s 1941 war edition, published four days after the bombing, expressed the faith and patriotism of island Catholics.

These reflections on the Pearl Harbor attack and the more than 2,000 American lives lost prompted us at CNS to look back into our own news archives:

NOTABLE REVIVAL OF FAITH ACCOMPANIES OUTBREAK OF WAR

(Special Correspondence, N.C.W.C. News Service)

Honolulu, Dec. 29 — With war come to Hawaii; with Catholics carrying on in the way that has marked their loyalty in every national emergency; with priests, religious and members of the laity giving edifying examples of their courage, a notable revival of the faith has also come to these islands.

Confessions have been heard in record number and the Communion rails have welcomed many a strange face. Catholic churches were packed more than ever the Sunday following the air raid at Pearl Harbor.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Dec. 4, 2016

"Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips." -- Isaiah 11:5

“Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” — Isaiah 11:5

Dec. 4, Second Sunday of Advent

      Cycle A. Readings:

      1) Isaiah 11:1-10

      Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17

      2) Romans 15:4-9

      Gospel: Matthew 3:1-12

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

“Going to church” in the Protestant American South holds a certain amusing lore through which I fondly recall the small Louisiana congregation of my girlhood, although at the time I was embarrassed by some of its quirky traditions at worship services.

One was the singing of a favorite hymn, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus,” in which congregants would eagerly remain on the edge of their seats during the organ’s introductory notes then suddenly (with great rustling of arms, legs and hymnals) rise up as one and belt out, “Stand up! Stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross!”

Another was “Roll Call Sunday,” when the preacher called the roll of church members and each family would stand and be counted as their name was called. That annual service unfailingly opened with an enthusiastic (by the pastor, at least) rendition of “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder (I’ll Be There).”

The Scriptures for this Second Sunday of Advent refer to a similar call to accountability at the coming of Christ. But they emphasize a deeper requirement of faithfulness than symbolic acts of loyalty. Isaiah notes, “Not by appearance shall he judge.”

I would never question the true committed faith of the people of my childhood church. After all, they are the ones who first introduced me to Jesus. Today’s Gospel points out what they knew and modeled for me: Producing “good fruit” is the telling proof of one’s relationship and commitment to Jesus. (I’m just glad there wasn’t a hymn about every tree not bearing good fruit being thrown into the fire.)

Jesus came to us in his day, and comes to us now, to re-create the peaceful world the Father intended. Isaiah declares the promise of Christ bearing the gifts of the Spirit — wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge and awe before God — gifts he offers us to serve God’s purposes well.

His overriding purposes are justice and peace brought about through compassion.

As we prepare the way of the Lord this Advent, let us rely on the gifts of Jesus’ Spirit to move beyond the mere appearances of faith. Let us commit to intentional acts of justice and love that will produce the good fruit Christ seeks.

QUESTIONS:

What works of justice and compassion will you commit to this Advent? What particular gifts of the Spirit do you need in your efforts to produce “good fruit” for the Lord?

Remembering Florence Henderson

The year was 1994, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

I had been in Anaheim, California, covering the National Catholic Educational Association’s annual convention for CNS. Since I was so close to Hollywood, management thought I could stay some extra days to snag interviews with some emerging stars like Nick Turturro, then on “NYPD Blue,” David Hyde Pierce of “Fraser,” Jay Leno, who was settling in comfortably on “The Tonight Show,” and a pre-“Everybody Loves Raymond” Ray Romano. I also got to interview some more established types, like Robert Wise, who directed “The Sound of Music,” and everybody’s favorite blended-family mom, Florence Henderson, ex of “The Brady Bunch.”

Florence Henderson (1934-2016). (CNS photo/Fred Prouser, Reuters) See story to come.

Florence Henderson (1934-2016). (CNS photo/Fred Prouser, Reuters)

For the Henderson interview, I got to meet her on a Monday evening at a restaurant near her home in Santa Monica, California, where she was a member of St. Monica Parish. We talked about her life and career, with the conversation invariably rebounding back to “The Brady Bunch.” The series still has a home in the 500-channel universe; Me-TV plays four episodes in a row every Sunday, calling it a “Brady Brunch.”

It’s not a surprise, since despite her ample acting and singing skills  — she was the original Maria on Broadway in “The Sound of Music” — Henderson helped make the Bradys a family that the ratings just couldn’t kill.

Even after the original sitcom was canceled after five seasons, “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour” soon followed, as did “The Brady Girls Get Married,” “The Brady Brides,” “A Very Brady Christmas,” “The Bradys,” and playing Grandma Brady in “The Brady Bunch Movie” in 1995. She even did a turn as Carol Brady in a 1987 episode of “The Love Boat.”

The unmistakable impression I got once the interview was over was how unfailingly polite Henderson had been. Not that at her age — which is my age now — she needed to go traipsing out of her house to do interviews on her free time. But she did, and she was a great interview subject.

Henderson talked about how she chose her confirmation name of Gemma after a Benedictine sister who taught her in grade school, and with whom she still corresponded 50 years later. She also spoke of doing a fundraiser for Ursuline-run Brescia College in Kentucky, not far from her Indiana birthplace. She even talked about prayer, which isn’t the typical subject actors talk about. Henderson said it keeps entertainers “from having a distorted image of who they are,” and opens them up to new people when the go from city to city. “And those are what I call moments of grace,” she told me. “I’m a great believer in the Holy Spirit, in grace.”

While visiting New York City over the Columbus Day holiday this year, we turned on the TV in the hotel room to find something suitable to watch. Lo and behold, the Disney Channel was showing one of my daughter’s favorite programs, “K.C. Undercover” starring Zendaya as a high-school-age secret agent. And in this episode, she infiltrated a senior citizens’ home as a grumpy grandpa, only to be sidetracked by Henderson as an attention-starved granny.

There is no doubt Florence Henderson lived a rich, grace-filled life.