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An Advent Story: A Man Who Loved Christ to Tears
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After a long pause, John told me about a terrible fire-fight he'd experienced in the war. He didn't describe any of the details. There was no talk of blood or bombs or bullets or shredded bodies. When he had finished his heart-wrenching story, he had done much more for me than I could do for him.
GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online) -- One of my duties as a deacon and member of the Catholic clergy is to act as a custodian of the Eucharist. I bring the Eucharist--the body of the glorified and risen Lord sacramentally present under the sign of bread--to people who cannot attend Holy Mass. This entails going to places like the local VA hospital, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers and visiting Catholics there. It's one of the most difficult aspects of my ministry because you never know who you'll meet.
It's a toss-up. Some people are pleased to see me, others look at me as if I'm the "whore of Babylon." It's not unusual to find family members present who glare at me with that "Who invited you?" look. At other times, I'm warmly received. As I said, it's a toss-up.
I remember one gentleman in particular who was a World War II vet. Let's call him "John." I walked into this room in the VA hospital and, as usual, introduced myself. I told John I was visiting Catholics in the hospital and that I greatly appreciated his service to our nation. I asked him where his parish was and where he was from--it used to be that people identified their home with their parish. One was the same as the other. Their parish was where they lived, gathered as a family, met their boyfriends and girlfriends and got married, it was where they learned and lived the faith. It was where they got to know the priest and the priest knew everybody. It was where they celebrated life and death. That's not the case anymore, sadly. Things have changed.
John and I talked briefly for three or four minutes and then, suddenly, his eyes began to tear up. I sat down.
After a long pause, John told me about a terrible fire-fight he'd experienced in the war. He didn't describe any of the details. There was no talk of blood or bombs or bullets or shredded bodies. No names were mentioned. Even though the unspoken part of that story surely included those details. He, like all the other's I've met, never talk about those things. It's forbidden territory. They're shocking, dark secrets better left alone, never to be resurrected.
After painfully choking out a sparse few words, he managed to cough up: "All my friends died there. They're all dead." He looked down at the floor and fixed his eyes on a tile halfway between us. After another minute of silence, he looked up and said, "The Lord saved me, and I don't know why."My eyes teared up. I didn't attempt to say anything. Couldn't say anything.
A few head shakes and throat clearings later, John repeated, "Jesus saved me, and I don't know why."
I knew what needed to be said. I had the answer--it was obvious. But I couldn't say anything. I'm sure most people have found themselves in that same kind of situation. You know what to say, you know you have to say it, but you can't. Pushing the words out is like pushing over an oak tree. It took what seemed a lengthy time before I felt I could force the words past my constricted throat.
John waited patiently. Most soldiers who've seen what he's seen are like that. They're men of few words, uninterested in small talk. They understand that more can be said without saying anything, and more can be discovered in the silence between words.
"I know why, John."
He looked at me with a piercing gaze. "The Lord saved you because he knew how much you would love him. Right now. Here. Today."
That was all I could get out. We didn't say anything else. I never saw John again. But I'll never forget him. He did more for me that day than I could ever do for him. I don't know if John has told that story to anyone else, but I guarantee that, if he has, they've been evangelized by it in a powerful, life-changing way.
After hearing his story, if a person was really listening, he'll never be the same again.
Isn't it beautiful? In the midst of the human experience, with all its pain and suffering and trail and surprise and unpredictability and insecurity, love breaks through. Even within the context of a terrifying, bloody battle to the death among enemies who might otherwise be friends, fighting for reasons that are often ultimately directed at the same end and for the same cause, love breaks through. If you love the right Person, Divine Love breaks through.
That's what Advent is about. Opening a space for Divine Love to break through, take over, directing your thoughts and mind and heart and life. You see, in the end, love is all that matters. You might lose everything here--everyone you love, all your friends, your home and family. But, in the end, Divine Love fulfills. It breaks through. Jesus Christ restores, recreates, and makes all things new. It's a fact of life for those who live their life for his cause.
There's a new time coming, a new way of life is on the horizon. God's plan of love cannot be thwarted, undone or halted. Divine Love will break through. All things will be restored in Christ and offered to God the Father:
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea. (Is 11:6-9)
Advent is a sacred season in which you are invited to open your heart to Christ, that the beauty, goodness, and truth of Divine Love will break through in your life. It's a time of transformation, it's a time of hope. The most important thing to remember is that you're loved by Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created. You know this because he died for you while you were yet separated from him by sin. The most pressing question, one of life and death, is:
Do you love him?
Will you admit your need for Jesus, as a sinner in desperate need of God? Will you one day proclaim, as did John, "The Lord saved me, and I don't know why."
Will you love Christ to tears?
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. Visit him also at joyintruth.com and Facebook. Watch for his videos on Youtube and his podcasts available on iTunes and Google Play. Access them by searching "Joy In Truth."
Joy In Truth seeks to evangelize the world with the saving principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the belief of the Catholic Church.
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