National Catholic Reporter

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Praying for New Orleans, one block at a time


NEW ORLEANS -- Millie Campbell slipped the transmission into reverse and backed her blue Chevrolet away from her spotless brick home. "Oh God," she said, "we thank you for the blood of Jesus."

Then the 76-year-old cranked the wheel straight, put the car into drive, and headed slowly up Frenchmen Street, one hand on the wheel, the other turned upward toward the heavens.

The 'schoolboys' have no real authority



In the very early years of the 20th century, my dad attended primary school in a one-room country grade school on the plains of central Kansas. Conditions were still very rustic on the frontier in those days. They had just the basics. There were no phones, no electric lights and no indoor plumbing. The roads were of dirt, and the law was miles away. One teacher taught all eight grades and had to be a fairly tough and self-sufficient individual.

The instinct to worship



About “early holiday decorations and shopping,” it seems, little more can helpfully be said. But what can be said about the “Christmas story” will always be inexhaustible. Even, for example, about demigods and demagogues before whom, unaccountably, human beings have so long been inclined to bow their knees.

In the ancient Near East, kings represented the gods -- and were reverenced accordingly. Israel’s monotheism provided a sharp critique not only of polytheism but of all ruler-worship. But after Julius Caesar, deification of the Roman emperor became common (probably of course taken most seriously among the less educated classes). Augustus was certainly regarded as a god, and on the denarius that Peter found in the fish and showed to Jesus there would have been the inscription “Son of the Divine Augustus.” In the Greek-speaking but multiethnic East, ruler worship was even more common.

Nor was the practice simply ancient. Think of the way Nazi crowds idolized Hitler (and how neo-Nazi terrorists are active today).

Despite different beliefs, we are one family



For many years, Maryknoll Fr. Bob McCahill has been sending an annual letter to NCR and other friends at Christmastime, chronicling his experience living among the people of Bangladesh since 1975. Following is an edited version of his 2011 letter.

Dear Friends,

Skinny, awkward 6-year-old Bareek was brought to me by his skinny, worried mother. A doctor has diagnosed the boy’s cerebral palsy. I pledged to arrange a two-week course of physiotherapy so that mother could learn to help her son. On that very day, Haroon and I were hauling earth in baskets to lay as a foundation for my new house. Bareek decided to help us. In his family’s cooking shed he found a high-sided rice plate. Working alongside the men, Bareek filled his plate repeatedly, carried it 15 meters in his jerky gait, and emptied it wherever Haroon and I emptied our basketfuls. Neighbors who observed his voluntary efforts thought, pound for pound, Bareek was the most admirable of all the earth haulers.

A Christmas gift worth gold



Aaron is a nephew and my godson. This year he made his confirmation. On Thanksgiving day, he asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I didn’t respond immediately. “I have to give this some thought,” I said.

The next day I phoned his home, and spoke to my sister, his mom, and told her, “Aaron asked me yesterday what I wanted from him for Christmas. Tell him, I’ve thought about it, and all I want from him is time we can spend together.”

Answering spiritual hunger


We don’t know all that much about the Magi. Mentioned briefly in Matthew’s Gospel, we’re only told they’re “from the east,” and are looking for the newborn Jesus to pay him homage with gifts.

Yet what we do know about these men is crucial. They are the first to ask where the “king of the Jews” can be found. With that question, they are the first to announce God’s human presence on Earth. They are the first evangelizers.



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