TSD 35: Jeudi Gras

Happy Fat Thursday before Advent!

Thanksgiving greetings from Richmond, Virginia. We’ve been eating well. Come to think of it, Thanksgiving kind of works as a pre-penitential-season feast.

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Apple cider, 14th-century fruit, chocolate pecan.

My work buddy today. He’s feeling under the weather so we’re skipping the family trip to Jamestown. (This newsletter is not sponsored by Lenovo.)

These Seven Days…

…in the Ordinary Form

It is the First Sunday of Advent. The readings are Isaiah 2:1-5, Romans 13:11-14, and Matthew 24:37-44.

Advent is a time of preparation both celebratory and eschatological—for remembering the first coming of Christ and anticipating the second. The Gospel today very much focuses on the latter:

Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

St. Augustine reminds us that as much as this reading refers to the end of time, it also refers to the end of our lives:

He said this Watch, not to those only who heard Him speak at the time, but to those who came after them, and to us, and to all who shall be after us, until His second coming, for it touches all in a manner. That day comes to each one of us, when it comes to him to go out of the world, such as he shall be judged, and therefore ought every Christian to watch that the Lord’s coming may not find him unprepared; and he will be unprepared for the day of His coming, whom the last day of his life shall find unprepared.

…in the Extraordinary Form

It is the First Sunday in Advent. The Epistle is Romans 13:11-14 (look familiar?) and the Gospel is Luke 21:25-33.

The Gospel is similarly themed to the Ordinary Form selection:

And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves; Men withering away for fear, and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. For the powers of heaven shall be moved; And then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with great power and majesty. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.

And it is in Romans here, in both forms, that we see how we are to prepare ourselves for Jesus:

The night is passed, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy.

In the Haydock commentary, Fr. Calmet writes on this selection from Romans:

St. Paul is here addressing himself to Gentile converts. Before your conversion, you were in the darkness of infidelity: this time is past; now is the day, when the gospel has dissipated the darkness of idolatry, ignorance, and sin. Let us lay aside the works of darkness, by flying from sin, which hates the light, and seeks always to conceal itself; and let us put on the armor of light….


The gradual this week, from Psalm 23/24, accentuates our reliance on the Lord in living uprightly in preparation for His return:

Universi, qui te exspectant, non confundentur, Domine. // Vias tuas, Domine, notas fac mihi: et semitas tuas edoce me.

All they, that wait on Thee, shall not be confounded, O Lord. // Show, O Lord, Thy ways to me: and teach me Thy paths.

…in both forms of the Roman Rite

Tuesday, December 3, is the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, “considered the greatest missionary since the time of the Apostles.” A principal founder of the Society of Jesus, Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta lived only 46 years, but in that time he spread to Faith to an extraordinary range of cultures and places: He restored flagging Christian communities in India, introduced Christ to Japan, ministered in Portuguese islands of modern-day Indonesia, and (legendarily) was the first apostle to the Philippines.

He died off the coast of China, which he was attempting to penetrate even while being consistently hampered by Portuguese authorities. This is a theme what ran throughout Francis’s ministry: “Many were the difficulties and hardships which Xavier had to encounter at this time [in southeast India], sometimes on account of the cruel persecutions which some of the petty kings of the country carried on against the neophytes, and again because the Portuguese soldiers, far from seconding the work of the saint, retarded it by their bad example and vicious habits.” It is in Goa, India, that Francis Xavier’s body still resides, though his right forearm was removed and placed in the Jesuit mother church in Rome.

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A 17th century portrait of Francis Xavier that is displayed in the Kobe City Museum, recognizing the saint’s contribution to Japanese history.


Friday, December 6, is the Feast of St. Nicholas. Nicholas’s fame and the traditions that have grown up around him far outstrip what we actually know about him. The Catholic Encyclopedia demonstrates typical humility: “there is scarcely anything historically certain about him except that he was Bishop of Myra in the fourth century.” These days, speculation about Nicholas’s conduct at the Council of Nicaea is almost as popular as the gift-giving (at least in my weird online circles). It’s not even certain that Nicholas attended the council at all, since some lists of participants include him and others don’t. One interpretation of the data is that “Nicholas did attend the Council of Nicaea, but, at an early date, someone decided to remove his name from the list, apparently deciding that it was better if no one remembered he had been there.” This would track with the story that, if he actually did slap an Arian heretic, he was seriously rebuked for having done so.

As for the gift-giving, Nicholas is said to have distributed his parents’ wealth to the poor after their death. In one particularly evocative legend, he heard of a pious man who had lost all his money and would not be able to afford dowries for his daughters. Young women in this situation would be unable to marry and often forced in prostitution. And so on three consecutive nights, Nicholas secretly tossed bags of gold coins into the man’s home.

Another Nicholas legend is that as Bishop of Myra he physically intervened to save three innocent men from execution. This depiction is by the Russian artist Ilya Repin, 1888.


Saturday, December 7, is the Feast of St. Ambrose. I’m going to make this one short, because Ambrose is one of my favorite saints (we named that little guy above after him) and I could go on and on. A few quick snippets: He was a civil governor in Milan when, on account of his natural virtue, he was acclaimed bishop by the people (he wasn’t even baptized at the time); he resisted on several occasions (including once barricading himself and the faithful the cathedral) imperial demands that he hand over churches to the Arians; he formed and baptized St. Augustine; and he barred the Christian emperor Theodosius from the cathedral until he confessed and did penance for the massacre he committed at Thessalonica. He is one of the most impressive ecclesiastical figures in history, and, I’d argue, deserves more notoriety than he currently receives.

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One of my favorite depictions of a saint: Saint Ambrose barring Theodosius from Milan Cathedral (1619-1620) by Anthony van Dyck. The scene is probably exaggerated: Ambrose communicated with the Emperor by letter and may never have confronted him in person. In one of those letters the bishop wrote: “When a priest does not talk to a sinner, then the sinner will die in his sin, and the priest will be guilty because he failed to correct him.”

Ambrose is also credited with writing several hymns, including the Deus Creator Omnium (above), and, traditionally, the Te Deum.


Those Seven Days…

This has been one of my most popular tweets ever. Also the pie was pretty good.


“Culture of efficiency, performance, and success”: The translations of the Holy Father’s tweets don’t always come through just so, but I love that description.


Got a kick (get it?) out of this.


When he’s good, he’s good.


Very excited to have an essay in this issue on friendship as the essential substrate for Christian community.

Tip Jar

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I think I’ve used this one before, but it’s the best, so…

Tip here

As for me…

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Yours truly speaking at the Aquinas Institute of Cincinnati. The talk was called “The Catholic Family in a Secular Society,” and I focused on the importance of integrity—that is, living an integrated Catholic life, with Christ and with one another—to the witness of our families to the world around us. I also got in a few Bengals jabs... For more information on my speaking, or to make an inquiry, check out my website.

Feedback, &c.

Did I miss something important? Get something wrong? Do you have ideas for how to improve These Seven Days? Drop me a line at tsd.brandonmcg@gmail.com. This is a work in progress, and your feedback will help to make it the best it can be.

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