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At Christmastime, Remember Our Service Members

December 19, 2017 Featured Today No Comments

By JOANNE SADLER BUTLER

What was Christmas like for an Army scout in Iraq a dozen years ago? The short answer: nothing. I’m sorry if this shocks you, but a scout’s focus must be completely on alert to his surroundings, or he will die.
If thoughts of missing Christmas and family intrude, the scout might not hear that (literally) critical tiny rustle around the corner, and seconds later he’s finished.
How do I know this? I have a friend, Ryan, a cradle Catholic, who was an Army scout in Iraq and awarded a Purple Heart. He suffered many wounds; was in and out of hospitals for years, but had the discipline to acquire a BS degree in business from Texas State University.
He’s still undergoing treatment — he’s developed encephalitis (water on the brain) due to concussions he suffered in Iraq.
Ryan’s not a bitter man. He does many charitable works when his health permits (he’s really a Catholic to the core). His faith hasn’t left him, but he’s unsure where he fits in regarding the Church. Sadly, he admitted Christmas in Iraq gave him “no joy whatsoever.”
Let’s step back for a moment. In the Navy and the Air Force, there are Christmas services on a base or a ship. The people with desk jobs have decorations in their offices. The same goes for Army or Marine service members who aren’t deployed in a combat zone.
Further, the concept of a “combat zone” has changed. Chaplains, such as Servant of God Fr. Emil Kapaun, would say Mass from the back of a jeep at the edge of combat zone. Today, combat zones are less fixed, shifting constantly, with scouts like Ryan being driven or crawling to them.
What can we do for our fellow Catholics, who are combatants in places where they live by their wits? Where there are no Fr. Kapauns?
Today, many parish bulletins list names of parishioners in the military and request prayers for them. That’s all to the good.
However, the Ryans in the military need more from us. They need letters, not only of encouragement, but to remind them they remain members of the Body of Christ through the Catholic Church.
Readers know how important the Incarnation was to our redemption. God became Man — an unthinkable concept when gods were capricious dictators over mankind.
The Incarnation led to Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary. The Romans weren’t nailing a spirit to the wood (how could they?); it was a body — one that was born at Christmas. Through the crucifixion, through the Blood of the cross, we were redeemed.
The Catholics who most need reminding of this are the Ryans in our parishes. Yes, on Christmas Day, they may be fighting for their survival and cannot afford to let other thoughts intrude on their concentration.
When these soldiers return to camp, however, a letter is very welcome and treasured. They can read them while their minds decompress from the stress of combat.
Ryan told me he received letters regularly from his cousin and they meant a great deal to him; it was a reminder of how he wasn’t forgotten back home.
As members of the Church, we can pray for our combatants. We can ask God to bless them with the capacity to hold true to their faith. At this time of joy can pray that our combatants will be able to overcome the stress and ugliness of their situation and share in the hope promised through the Incarnation of Christ Jesus.
We also must act. A random Christmas gift of candy is not enough. We need to make lasting connections.
Ideally, parishioners should adopt a service member, with priority to those in combat zones. Through continuous correspondence, parishioners can help their fellow Catholics keep their faith — to remind them of how Christmas is not about gift-giving, but is a step in the path of how Jesus suffered for our salvation.
It’s the least we can do, considering Fr. Kapaun’s example. No matter how awful the conditions, he remained with his men, following them into a North Korean POW camp, where he died in 1951.
We can’t go to Afghanistan or other combat zones, but we can connect with our brothers and sisters in arms and help them hold fast to their faith.
Lastly, Ryan wants our readers to know that prayers and letters are much appreciated. Plus, deodorant and packets of wet wipes make excellent gifts at all times!
A blessed Christmas to all!

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