December 25, 2015
Today is the 10th anniversary of Mark Woods’ article, The Best Christmas Ever.
I do tend to be nostalgic, but this does not seem like the best Christmas ever. It does not even feel like one of the top ten. Today I will be working as a counselor at a rehabilitation hospital. Many there have addictions and brain health issues. They have no idea how much I love them. Some are angry. Some are homeless. Some are far away from home like the people I served in a war zone. I will ask them, “How is this the best Christmas ever?” I expect the patients to look at me as if I was the crazy one.
My homily I gave for Christmas in Fallujah 2004 is still haunting and challenging me. It really was a terrible Christmas on the outside… the wrappings. Not only was I thrown into a crazy and horrendous war, but also I was in the middle of the worst and most devastating battle as a complaining and whining priest chaplain. I hate that I whine!
My homily was rather simple. If this is not the best Christmas ever, something is wrong. Every Christmas builds on the previous Christmas. When we realize we are loved unconditionally by anyone… nothing else is desired or needed. The birthday of Jesus in which we celebrate today reminds us of the man who forgave the people who were crucifying him. He loved us even when we didn’t have the guts to stand at the foot of his Cross. He loved us beyond the grave. Jesus was clear; “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you… Love one another.” (John 15:13-17)
The key to my book, Tear in the Desert, is that God wanted me to tell the men and women I served with that I loved them. When an Army soldier came to me, I balked. God literally asked me, “You do love him, don’t you?” With everything in my being, I loved this man whom I just met. He suffered an unexploded rocket to his abdomen. As I helped bring him into that operating room, I was confused and angry about this damn war. I had already witnessed 27 deaths and hundreds of physical casualties, not counting thousands of hidden brain and heart injuries. Yes, I loved him. That was the problem.
If I told this man that I loved him, and I don’t say things I don’t mean, it would destroy me. It would destroy me because I loved him as if he were my very own son. As a Catholic priest, the hardest choice for me was not to get married or have children of my own. So here I was with this dying man before me who calls me Father. I was like Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.
I have been told and witnessed that there is no greater pain in this world than to witness the death of one’s child who is loved no matter how old or wayward they may be. I wasn’t just being asked by God to tell this soldier I loved him. I was being asked to accept this child as my son.
I was very vulnerable.
I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t even attempt to minister the sacraments. I was numb. The surgeon was screaming at me to set up the light. I figured I helped get the man on the operating table and stretch out his arms like Jesus on the cross. They were the lifesaving surgeons. I was a token chaplain. When he told me I was standing on the huge light, I snapped out of it… at least superficially. I felt I could throw my prayers out like a 3-point swish and get the hell out of there.
But as I approached the table, the altar of healing hope, to do my professional duties, the two surgeons simply said to me, “Padre, it is up to you. We can’t do anything further.” And then they walked out of the room.
I was stunned. I thought, “How can you give up hope. God is working through you.”
Edward, my foster son, was dying at that very moment. I had sung to him as I caressed his red hair and bludgeoned body. As I sang, O Holy Night, a tear escaped his left eye at the words, a weary world rejoices. Edward spoke to me through that tear. I assured him I would let his family know of his love for them. A sword was piercing my heart.
And then God gently asked me to tell Edward that I loved him.
“O Jesus, I can’t tell him that.”
“You must Ron Moses. You do love him, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. You know I do. But if I tell him I love him, and then he dies, I will be toast. I won’t be able to function through my own grief. What about these other service men and women I love? They need this padre to be strong.”
“Trust me Ron. I love you. You can do it.”
There was my beloved son dying. I loved him. I had trouble letting him go. I have asked so many people to tell their loved ones that it is okay to die peacefully and that they will be okay. This time it was God, my Father, urging and ministering to me to love my son into heaven.
So, in a most terrifying and holy space, I leaned over and breathed these words and sealed them with a kiss on his forehead.
“I love you Edward. Go with Love.”
Flash of light. With the eyes of my soul, I saw his soul embraced by love.
Today is the best Christmas ever… because I remember and feel the embrace and kiss of Edward, my beloved son… still.