Pilgrim Queen December, 2016 Pilgrimage
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The Elf on the Shelf

Thank goodness there was no elf on the shelf when I was raising my children.  I couldn’t have handled the pressure.  It was hard enough finding a place to stash the presents until I could wrap them.  Apparently I was never successful at this.  My son recently informed me that he discovered my top secret they’ll-never-find-it hiding place every year.  Except the one year that I didn’t bother to try hiding things and left them sitting in a shopping bag on the floor in the middle of my bedroom.  That year they searched all over the house, in the attic, in the basement and in the trunk of my car and never found the stash.  
I suppose I am rather bah-humbugish about Santa and his elves.  I’m the same way with the tooth fairy and Easter bunny.  Once I started to take my relationship with Jesus seriously I couldn’t become overly enthused with the make believe.  Why focus on fantasy when the reality is so awesome?  
What could be more awesome than the amazing truth?  Jesus became human.  He left paradise to embrace poverty.  He died for me so that I could live.  Forever.  With Him.  Because He loves me.  What could be better than this? 

Santa vs. Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas, the man behind the Santa image, was much more than a jolly gift bearer.  Although it is difficult to separate fact from embellishment, there are some details supported by historical records.  Nicholas was born to wealthy parents, but orphaned at a young age.  Obeying Jesus’ commandment to support the poor, he used his entire inheritance to assist the needy, sick and suffering.  He was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man.  He became known for his generosity to the needy, his love for children and his concern for sailors.
Saint Nicholas lived during times of intense persecution.  Roman Emperor Diocletian imprisoned so many bishops, priests and deacons that there was no room for the real criminals.  Nicholas was imprisoned and exiled for his faith, but never martyred.  He lived to a ripe old age and died peacefully on December 6, AD 343.  
Many stories have been told about Saint Nicholas, and these stories have been embellished to create the legend of Santa Claus.  The Saint Nicholas Center, Discovering the Truth about Santa Claus, offers the following comparison:
Santa Claus belongs to childhood;
St. Nicholas models for all of life.
Santa Claus, as we know him, developed to boost Christmas sales—the commercial Christmas message;
St. Nicholas told the story of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all—the hope-filled Christmas message.
Santa Claus encourages consumption;
St. Nicholas encourages compassion.
Santa Claus appears each year to be seen and heard for a short time;
St. Nicholas is part of the communion of saints, surrounding us always with prayer and example.
Santa Claus flies through the air—from the North Pole;
St. Nicholas walked the earth—caring for those in need.
Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem;
St. Nicholas, for all, points to the Babe of Bethlehem.
Santa Claus isn't bad;
St. Nicholas is just better.
J. Rosenthal & C. Myers
Everyday Examples: Awesome Realities

The Eucharist
The Rosary
The Immaculate Conception
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
Marian Moments - The Tilma of Guadalpue

When it comes to Marian apparitions, you can’t get much more awesome than the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  On December 12 in 1531 Mary appeared to Juan Diego at Tepeyac Hill in Mexico.  She picked some miraculous, out-of-season flowers which were growing on the side of the hill.  She arranged them in his tilma, or cloak, and told him to show them to his Bishop as a sign of Her presence.  When Juan arrived before his Bishop and opened the tilma, the flowers were gone.  In their place was an image of Our Lady.
People argue that the image is a fraud, yet it has qualities that are humanly impossible to replicate.  Experts in infrared photography studied the tilma in the late 1970’s and determined that there were no brush strokes.  It’s as if the image were slapped onto the surface all at once.  The differences in coloration and texture that cause Our Lady’s skin to look different up close and far away are impossible to recreate.  They happen in nature, for example in the coloring of birds’ feathers, but are not possible for humans to accomplish.
Skeptics argue that the tilma is just a painting, but it has survived all attempts to replicate it.  In every attempt to replicate the image, the duplicates have deteriorated while the original has endured.  The tilma is made primarily of cactus fibers.  As its owner Juan Diego was poor, the material was of poor quality.  It was rough and coarse.  It should have deteriorated within Juan Diego’s lifetime, yet it’s still the canvas for Our Lady’s image.

Our Lady’s tilma has startlingly human-like qualities.  In 1979 Florida biophysicist Phillip Callahan discovered that the tilma maintains a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the same as that of a living person.  When Carlos Fernandez Del Castillo, a Mexican gynecologist, examined the tilma, he concluded that the dimensions of Our Lady’s body in the image were that of an expectant mother due quite soon.  Jose Aste Tonsmann, a Peruvian ophthalmologist, studied the eyes at 2,500 times magnification.  He was able to identify as many as 13 individuals in both eyes at different proportions, just as the human eye would reflect an image.
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