Daily Archives: December 26, 2007
The oldest in the Shepherd’s Heart program is a Vietnam-era veteran in his early 60s; the youngest, an Iraq war veteran in his early 20s. Plans are to add two beds for women on the second floor of the converted Crawford Roberts church, Wurschmidt said.
“As a pastor, and as a chaplain, part of my job is to look at the whole picture — to love them with God’s love and, especially the veterans, to love them because of what many of them have done for our country. It’s unbelievable what some of these guys have done for our country,” Wurschmidt said.
The remnants of their duty — brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, among them — can be devastating. Families collapse. Many veterans turn to alcohol or drugs, and the isolation of the street beckons.
“They’ve caused pain for their loved ones. They don’t want to do that again, so they isolate themselves,” Wurschmidt said.
He began walking those streets soon after his family’s move to Pittsburgh 14 years ago. As he did in Denver, where he lived before, Wurschmidt went looking for homeless enclaves.
“I was blown away by the number of Vietnam veterans on the streets,” he said.
The boldest meditation on the meaning of Jesus comes in the tale of the Grand Inquisitor in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” in which Jesus is interrogated by the Grand Inquisitor. The crime of Jesus consists precisely in the affection that so many otherwise ignoble humans have for him.
How dare Jesus inspire such widespread trust?
A relatively small number “of the great and the strong,” the Inquisitor argues, can carry the burden of freedom, “while the millions, numerous as the sands of the sea, who are weak but love Thee” cannot bear freedom’s weight.
Only an elite minority is worthy to manage the world. The rest, taken up with narrow concerns for bread and money, and consoled by miracles and mysteries, must live for subservience. The masses are to blindly meet their meager needs, while bowing before the authority of those few who are capable of higher aspirations.
The crime of Jesus was to say no to this. Dostoevsky sees in him an invitation addressed to every person, to regard himself or herself as capable of overcoming the limits of birth, circumstance, class, culture, and even time. That the Grand Inquisitor, an official in the movement that claims Jesus as founder, regards this invitation as an offense is Dostoevsky’s way of pointing to the transcendent significance of Jesus, beyond Christian belief.
Monsignor Bill Parent of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Waldorf aims his sermon at the “Santa Clauses,” as churches call them — those who come to church only at Christmastime.
“The goal in whatever you’re preaching is to inspire,” Parent said, “and explicitly to invite people who have been away or aren’t coming regularly to be a more regular part of the parish community.”
At Harvest Life Changers, a nondenominational church in Woodbridge, the Rev. Lyle Dukes focused yesterday’s sermon on linking the Christmas story to the everyday difficulties faced by his parishioners, such as the mounting number of home foreclosures as well as the frustration of high gas prices and lost jobs.
“We’re in some challenging times,” he told 1,500 worshipers. “But Christ was born in challenging times. . . . In spite of all this crazy stuff going on, he was born alive and well.”
Church member Lori Douglas pronounced the sermon “awesome.”
“So many of us today are going through challenging times,” Douglas said. But Jesus “made it through, and it’s a lesson on how we can make it through.”
On Christmas Eve in the cathedral church in El Salvador, the late Archbishop Oscar Romero preached these words:
No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God””for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit, there can be no abundance of God.
If any of you hearing this Christmas message finds yourself on the downside of life, I want you to know that you are not alone because God himself stands with you””and chose to become poor in human form in the mystery of the Incarnation. And for those of you listening who lack no material comfort, but you are spiritually poor; that is, you are empty of the divine love and generosity that incarnated Jesus, then help is on the way. Jesus has come to be incarnate in you also. For Christmas is not for those who have everything, and want everything; the power of Christmas is its power to lift up those who have nothing.
In fact, the greatest gift that you can possibly receive this day is the gift of you”¦the real you, the one whom God has come to save and to make whole again. You are the gift! For your life is invaluable, and in Christ you can do anything””even change the world. This is the greatest gift of Christmas!
Washington went on to express his gratitude for the support of “my countrymen” and the “army in general.” This reference to his soldiers ignited feelings so intense, he had to grip the speech with both hands to keep it steady. He continued: “I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God and those who have the superintendence of them [Congress] to his holy keeping.”
For a long moment, Washington could not say another word. Tears streamed down his cheeks. The words touched a vein of religious faith in his inmost soul, born of battlefield experiences that had convinced him of the existence of a caring God who had protected him and his country again and again during the war. Without this faith he might never have been able to endure the frustrations and rage he had experienced in the previous eight months.
Washington then drew from his coat a parchment copy of his appointment as commander in chief. “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of action and bidding farewell to this august body under whom I have long acted, I here offer my commission and take leave of all the employments of public life.” Stepping forward, he handed the document to Mifflin.
This was — is — the most important moment in American history.
The man who could have dispersed this feckless Congress and obtained for himself and his soldiers rewards worthy of their courage was renouncing absolute power. By this visible, incontrovertible act, Washington did more to affirm America’s government of the people than a thousand declarations by legislatures and treatises by philosophers.
Thomas Jefferson, author of the greatest of these declarations, witnessed this drama as a delegate from Virginia. Intuitively, he understood its historic dimension. “The moderation. . . . of a single character,” he later wrote, “probably prevented this revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.”
Thousands of Iraqi Christians made their way to church through checkpoints and streets lined with blast walls, many drawing hope from a lull in violence to celebrate Christmas Mass in numbers unthinkable a year ago.
Death is never far in Iraq””two separate suicide bombings north of Baghdad killed at least 35 people and wounded scores more. But the number of attacks has fallen dramatically in the past few months””the U.S. military says by 60 percent since June.
“We did not celebrate last year, but this year we have security and we feel better,” said Rasha Ghaban, one of many women at the small Church of the Holy Family in Karradah, a mainly Shiite district in downtown Baghdad where many Christians live. “We hope our future will be better, God willing.”
Sickness relieved is a beautiful thing. A heart attack treated takes the elephant off the chest and leaves a smile. A child made well, a broken bone splinted, a wound closed, a tooth numbed, an abscess opened are among the reasons that physicians, at least at first, decide to walk among the sick.
However, we poor doctors, with our paltry degrees and bags of tricks, can only do a little. We merely treat the symptoms. He treated the disease. He brought an end to it all with his birth, death and resurrection. No more sin, no more death. He offered every patient the cure, free of charge, with no need for insurance or cash.
How it must feel to be him! Not to cure the broken bones, but to offer healing to the broken hearts. Not to excise the tumor, but to remove the guilt. Not to bypass the heart, but to replace it with a new one.
At Christmas, we celebrate the child. How blessed we are that he walked among us, knew our every disease, then grew up to become the only physician qualified to heal us.
To travel anywhere in Asia from mid-November on is to understand that Christmas has reverted to its Roman origins before Christianity ”“ a festival of lights to brighten the darkest days of the year. Christmas trees, angels, Santa Clauses, reindeer, sleighs, garlands, bells and assorted other Christmas paraphernalia festoon streets, shops and hotels from Kyoto to Phnom Penh, creating a blaze of colored lights.
They say it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but there are some who might feel otherwise.
It’s impossible to pick them out of a crowd. They’re shopping at the mall, stopping by neighborhood Christmas parties with their kids, decorating their homes in red, white and blue lights.
But while most of us spend Christmas with our friends and families, they are separated from theirs by oceans, entire continents.
Traci Adams of Mount Pleasant is one of those people. Her husband, Capt. Taylor Adams, is a maintenance officer in the Air Force Reserve, and he left more than a month ago for Iraq. Now she spends her days being both parents, and trying to explain why Daddy isn’t home for Christmas.
It’ll break your heart to hear his 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Sage, point at the sky and yell, “Airplane!”
Traci Adams decorated for Christmas and put up the tree with her kids, but finally decided to visit her parents for the holidays.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of being here on Christmas morning,” she said, of the family home. “I thought it would seem weird without him here.”
This time of year, the families of military personnel get an extra reminder of the sacrifices of war. For them, family visits might mean little more than a phone call or, if they’re lucky, a Web chat that allows them the miracle of seeing their loved one. It is something, but not nearly enough to replace the traditions lost by their absence.
Let’s apply the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world ”” but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.
Christmas is so familiar that we sometimes wonder whether anything fresh and true can be said about it.
But there is a way to explore its meaning that may seem new to us today, yet is in fact quite traditional, dating back to the Middle Ages and the ancient Fathers of the Church.
Modern interpreters often argue about whether a given Scripture passage should be interpreted literally or symbolically. Medieval writers would question the “either/or” approach. They thought a passage could have as many as four “right” interpretations, one literal and three symbolic.
These were: (1) the historical or literal, which is the primary sense on which the others all depend; (2) the prophetic sense when an Old Testament event foreshadows its New Testament fulfillment; (3) the moral or spiritual sense, when events and characters in a story correspond to elements in our own lives; and (4) the eschatological sense, when a scene on earth foreshadows something of heavenly glory.
This symbolism is legitimate because it doesn’t detract from the historical, literal sense, but builds on and expands it. It’s based on the theologically sound premise that history too symbolizes, or points beyond itself, for God wrote three books, not just one: nature and history as well as Scripture. The story of history is composed not only of “events,” but of words, signs and symbols. This is unfamiliar to us only because we have lost a sense of depth and exchanged it for a flat, one-dimensional, “bottom-line” mentality in which everything means only one thing.
Let’s try to recapture the riches of this lost worldview by applying the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world ”” but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.