‘Silent Night’: more than a carol at our house

Matt and Mindy Dalton

As our evening as a family comes to a close, look at all of the technology that distracts us from just “being” together as a family. Mindy is searching for a pair of boots online, while Matt is on the other laptop replying to a few more emails. The kids have finished their homework, and Levi, the youngest, is playing Kinect Sports (because this is at least keeping him active, is our excuse) and the older kids are listening to their favorite country music songs on the iPad.

The noise and faces glued to screens brings this realization: we need to quit all technology by a certain time of night and just be together. Mindy asks everyone to turn off the technology, gather in the living room and “just talk.”

Puzzled looks on their faces, some rolling of the eyes. Levi, the youngest, swings a light saber, imitating the sounds it used to make before the batteries stopped working. How about one minute of silence? That doesn’t sound like too long, but with a 4-year-old still wound up, a minute seems like 10!

A sense of peace starts to permeate our living room and all of us together quiet down. Levi settles in Mindy’s lap and makes the sign of the cross to begin our prayer time together.

Do we take the time to encounter one another?

Advent is upon us, and most children have a Christmas wish list that more than likely includes technology. Technology in and of itself is not bad, but it’s become such a norm for our children and us adults, that we can’t detach ourselves from it. Constantly connected to our job, picking up our phone to Google the latest score of the football game, looking up the name of an actress that comes up during our dinner discussion, or checking our friends’ latest tweets distracts us from encountering one another. We think we are free. Rather, we are imprisoned by our technology, and we are unable to say no to it, to put it down and turn it off.

Free to do what? Free to love as God has called us to love. Truly encountering another person is giving others our full attention; not just simply hearing the other, but listening to them with intention. Being genuinely interested in who they are, where they are coming from and what is going on in their life.

May we encounter one another as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Our Lord. That is the ultimate encounter, where the King of the Universe, the Creator of All, comes in the form of a precious innocent baby and longs for us to pay attention to him above any and all other things.

Our challenge to all families, including our own, is to put down the technology; collect it prior to dinner and have the kids turn in their phones by 8 p.m. each night. Join us in turning it completely off from the last Sunday of Advent through Dec. 27. Day one and two may be difficult, but I’m guessing that an overwhelming sense of peace and unity will come about by just simply being together as a family.

We have been made a promise by Jesus Christ that wherever two or three are gathered in his name there he is, God in our mist. In the still, quiet and uninterrupted silence of our family, may we find peace listening for the voice of that little babe in the manger.

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.