Father François Beyrouti, Ph.D./D.Th
On top of some churches in Europe there is a rooster with a compass underneath it. The origins of the use of the rooster and compass go back to sometime between 590 and 604, when Pope Gregory I noted how the rooster is a good symbol on Churches because it reminds us that Saint Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. This further developed in the ninth century when Pope Nicholas requested that all churches put a rooster on the top of their steeples.
Since Churches were usually at the center of village and city life, there was also a practical element of having a rooster and a compass on top of Church buildings. The rooster moved and was used to determine the direction of the wind while the compass showed direction that never changed. The rooster moved depending on which way the wind was blowing while the compass remained constant despite the day or the temperature.
When we look at our lives as Catholic Christians we need to ask ourselves whether we are like the rooster that changes direction with every wind and passing fad or are we like the compass that despite the weather, despite the location, and despite the time of day are always facing the right direction.
This imagery of the rooster becomes particularly important for us as we prepare for Christmas. We always combine a period of fasting prior to major feast days. The traditional Christmas fast started on November 15, but we can also start today. The Church term for Christmas is “The Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Our liturgical year therefore combines periods of fasting and feasting to remind us to prepare ourselves for special holy days in the year.
The word “Christmas” simply means the “Christ mass.” It is very odd that many Catholics prepare for Christmas by decorating their homes, getting a nice tree, buying gifts for everyone, but forget to prepare every day for the coming of Jesus Some even forget to come to Church on Christmas. We should never forget that Christ is the reason for this season.
Amidst the extra busy-ness that this time of year throws at us, this is a perfect time to think of whether we are more like the rooster or the compass. With all the emphasis on buying and eating are we like the rooster on top of a building that blows in every direction or are we like the compass that clearly sees the importance of the coming of Christ into the world and into our lives?
When we read the Gospels carefully we always see that Jesus was very purposeful and clear in His life mission. He did not follow the wind but was like the consistent focus of a compass. In today’s Gospel we see how focused Jesus was on teaching and healing. He was teaching in the synagogue on a Sabbath and no work was allowed to be done on that day. He then healed a woman who had been sick for 18 years despite knowing that he was going to be criticized for doing a miracle on a day when no work was supposed to be done. He saw the sick woman and immediately focused with the precision of a compass and was not intimidated to turn away and spin like a rooster because of what people may say about Him.
The entire life of Jesus was like a compass and never not like a rooster. He knew what He needed to do and remained focused throughout his life. Jesus’ life should always be a model for us. He calls each one of us to be his disciples today and to have that same focus that He had. If we are like the rooster that blows in every direction, we will end up denying Jesus more than the three times Peter denied him.
Let’s look at this in some more practical ways. Fasting forces us to be conscious of the decisions we make so that we don’t spin around with every wind that hits us. We need to be conscious every day that we are making our life decisions for Christ and with Christ. We can ask ourselves a simple question: “Is what we are doing influenced by the life of Christ or by what others will think about us?” If we are influenced by Christ then we are like the compass that has a clear direction, but if we are more influenced by changing opinions then we are like the rooster that changes direction with every passing hour.
We need to always make our faith practical for it to be real. We do this when we are specific about the things in our life that are drawing us closer to a life of faith in Jesus and the things in our life that need to be set aside. For example, I love music. I love the sounds, I love to listen to how instruments are used, I love poetic lyrics, I love the different kinds of voices, and so many other elements of music. Unfortunately, I am also aware that many popular songs contain lyrics that are inconsistent with my desire to dedicate my mind, my words, my thoughts, to Christ. While listening to a song on the radio I often think “I don’t agree with what these lyrics are saying.”
The choice I make in situations as these will determine if my faith is real or not. What I do when I listen or watch something inappropriate will determine if my faith is like a compass that is clearly directed towards Christ or whether my faith is so shallow to allow me to be influenced by what is on the radio or on TV.
Saint Paul tells us: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). We keep our compass focused on Christ by committing ourselves to live by whatever is true, honorable, and just, not whatever is trendy, new, and entertaining.
Roosters and compasses were put on top of Churches to remind us that if the wind blows us in every direction we are denying the power of Christ in our life, however when we have a clear and consistent direction in our life, we are as stable as the compass.
As we get closer to the celebration of the birth of Christ there is no better time to check whether the wind is blowing us in every direction or whether our direction is towards our savior, the child who is about to be born in Bethlehem.