Friday, December 26, 2014
A Christmas Birthday Party
Today is the feast day of St. Stephen, the first martyr. We don’t really celebrate his death today, but rather his birth into new life, in heaven. But this day is special in another way also: it is the day that the man called Saul led others into committing the murder of St. Stephen, a most grievous sin. Yet this same Saul would one day be St. Paul, one of the greatest saints of the Church. Out of this great, but necessary, evil, there arose a great good --- in God’s time.
Out of the great evils in our lives there will also arise great goods, in God’s time. In times of great evil, we need great faith that this will be so.
As I entered church this morning I noticed the box on the floor. It contained a pile of elastic bracelets with WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) printed on them. Seeing them there, as I knelt in the pew I recalled the events of yesterday.
After Deb’s initial panic telling me of her mother’s stroke, she ended the phone call as she entered the hospital, promising to call me back soon. As I waited for her return call, I anticipated her asking me to come there, since she was alone, and so I printed out the route to the hospital. And as I was reading over the directions --- I swear to you --- I just thought: WWJD. Not the words, just the letters, like those printed on the bracelets. And almost immediately I knew the answer: by now Jesus would have been in His car, on the way to helping His scared child. And so I put the turkey back into the refrigerator, and was two-thirds of the way there when Deb called me back.
When I finally got home last night, after my “Christmas dinner” I didn’t feel like doing much of anything, and certainly not opening the pile of presents which lay under the Christmas tree in the living room. Oh, I didn’t feel bad, or even sad, but I didn’t feel like celebrating either. Instead I got back into the car and went to the local chapel and said my night prayers, and there thanked God for being with me this day. And I thanked Him for the friends --- and their prayers --- He sent my way also. And I felt very much at peace, like everything was as it should have been.
Deb called me later, on her way home from the hospital. Donna had died at about 6PM, peacefully. Deb and her family never did have to make that tough decision about ending life support. Donna just decided it was time to go home.
Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit
This morning, in thinking about St. Stephen’s death, new life, and the great good that eventually came out of that terrible event, it helped me cast the events of yesterday in a new light. Donna’s death, with her family around her, and her birth into new life, in some ways mimicked St. Stephen’s death, except that while he was surrounded by enemies, Donna was surrounded by friends and family. And while we now celebrate St. Stephen’s death as a feast day, Donna’s death occurred on Jesus’ birthday. And as He welcomed her, Donna’s soul became Jesus’ birthday present, one her family willingly gave to Him.
I thought about MY dinner and MY presents at home and MY Christmas celebration, and I realized that for perhaps the first time ever, I participated in a real Christmas celebration, a Christmas birthday party, that was focused not on me, but on the guest of honor. From the amazingly polite and sympathetic ICU staff to her family to the priest who administered the last rites, everyone knew Donna was dying this Christmas Day, and there was a feeling among all that this was a special Christmas Day. And so it was.
For me, this might have been the best Christmas ever, as --- WWJD --- I welcomed doing what He would have done, and I felt the whole fitness of the unfolding events, like I could actually see His plan, and everyone who played their part so well, on this day at Jesus’ birthday party.
And He was truly present.
I hope I will have more days when WWJD comes unbidden into my mind, and my life. I like being at the parties Jesus throws.
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The people at the 7-11 told me this morning how much their boss, Ron, enjoyed his “Christmas dinner” last night. They said he was just giddy talking about the double-quarter pounder and maxi fries, something he hadn’t had in years. “It was the best Christmas dinner I had in a long time. I relished every bite” he said.