Photo: Doug Hunter
1st Philosophy – Evansville
The Friday before we left for Christmas break I received three Christmas cards in the mail. In the weeks after Thanksgiving, I received many cards, most from strangers and school children in my diocese with holiday greetings. Offering encouragement, praise and thanks, each is a testament to the love of our one, holy, and Catholic apostolic church. But on that day, there were only three. As I opened each card, I saw the unfolding mystery that is the connectedness of Christ in the lives of the faithful, and the beautiful power of the Presence of God in my own life. The first card I opened was hand-made and crayon-colored. It was onedimensional, a green circle with four straight lines proceeding from it. One of the lines had a yellow ball on the end. The lines were cream colored, except for one that was maroon. Being clueless, I showed it to several guys in the hall before it was identified as an advent wreath. Silly me, of course it is an advent wreath. Opening it I saw proclaimed in large one-inch tall block letters, “MERRY CHRISTMAS JOHN!” the obvious work of a first-grader. There was no indication of who sent this miniature masterpiece. Wow! How humbling is that?
The second card I opened had the image of a beautiful stained-glass window. Joseph and Mary gaze lovingly down at the Christ child sitting on Mary’s lap. Beautiful pastel shades of translucent glass, the sunlight streaming through, reflecting the love of family. A glance at the back showed the window was in the Old Cathedral, the oldest church of my diocese. Inside lay the Christmas wishes of my great Bishop. Wow! How humbling is that?
I opened the third card and saw a magnificent angel, soaring below the Star of David and above Bethlehem, blowing a trumpet. Beneath her was Isaiah 9:6, “For a child is born unto us…these will be his royal titles, wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”. Inside the card lay the simple message, “I hope you are doing well, I wish you a blessed and joy-filled Christmas, I would love to hear from you again, warmest regards, David”. Wow! How humbling is that?
I have never met David face-to-face. We have been pen pals shorter than a year, at the request of Sister Rita Claire of the Daughters of Providence. David is my age and had he graduated from High School, he would have been in my class. He is a convert with a great zeal for Christ. His personal lay ministry involves counseling young men to their new situation, acknowledging personal culpability, accepting their path, and allowing Christ’s healing presence into their heart. This is no small job for the faint of heart. Wow! How humbling is that?
All the cards reminded me of Christ’s love for me, but the last card was the most humbling. Soon thereafter, I prayed with Christ exposed in the Blessed Sacrament and wrote a long letter to David explaining some of the changes in my life since we shared letters last summer. Shortly thereafter, I received a second card bearing a beautiful picture of Christ the High Priest. The sentiments were again simple, thankfulness for sharing, gratefulness for direction from the Almighty, laughter at our common method for nighttime noise reduction, and acknowledgement of our roles in our respective institutions.
With three glorious cards you may ask why David’s was the most humbling. Well, David sits on death row along with 3000 plus Americans. In 2012 forty-three men were executed. Their ages ranged from 34 to 63 years old. Two of the forty-three volunteered to die, while forty-one desired life, even life behind bars. Since 1976 America has executed 1200 men and women. Catholic Social Teaching teaches us that life and the dignity of the individual is sacred from conception to natural death. Blessed John Paul II repeatedly asked all the governments of the world for a moratorium on the death penalty. Last September as we approached the Year of Faith the USCCB issued a beautiful prayer calling for an end to the death penalty:
Merciful Father, we ask your blessing on all we do to build a culture of life. Hear our prayers for those impacted by the death penalty. We pray for all people, that their lives and dignity as children of a loving God may be respected and protected in all stages and circumstances. We pray for victims of violence and their families, that they may experience our love and support and find comfort in your compassion and in the promise of eternal life. We pray for those on death row, that their lives may be spared, that the innocent may be freed and that the guilty may come to acknowledge their faults and seek reconciliation with you. We pray for the families of those who are facing execution, that they may be comforted by your love and compassion. We pray for civic leaders, that they may commit themselves to respecting every human life and ending the use of the death penalty in our land. Compassionate Father, give us wisdom and hearts filled with your love. Guide us as we work to end the use of the death penalty and to build a society that truly chooses life in all situations. We ask this Father through your Son Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.