By Fr. Bill Kneemiller
Here in Afghanistan, there’s always the unexpected, and such was the case in late April when my mom passed away after a long bout with heart disease.
I want to thank the parishioners and others in the Davenport Diocese for prayers and kind letters. One thing I have learned from funerals is that the passing of a loved one has meaning for family and friends. They are changed in some way because the loved one who has died lives on through them.
On my trip back to the United States I was surprised to run into two Catholic military contract workers. The one from Iraq is a Chaldean-rite Catholic, and the one from Lebanon is a Maronite Catholic. I’ve read that in Lebanon, around the year 1900, more than 70 percent of the population was Catholic. These days, it’s only about half that percentage. Still, the influence of the fifth century St. Maron (or Maroun) and his renown for healings and miracles are still remembered in Lebanon today.
Conversation with a first-grader
Back home in the states, a few days after the funeral, I had an intriguing conversation with my nephew, first-grader Dylan Ohlms from St. Charles, Mo. At a family luncheon, he mentioned to me that his folks had just bought the DVD “Avatar.” I just happened to see this movie on the plane. I mentioned to Dylan that although the film has spectacular special effects, he should be aware of the pagan themes in the movie.
Since Dylan is only 8 years old, I spelled out p-a-g-a-n, remembering Mr. Rogers’ guide to introducing new words. The first thing Dylan said was “Oh, are they the bad guys?” So I added that “pagan” means to place nature above God who created nature. Dylan thought for a little bit and said, “Is that why they had trees for their churches?” “Exactly” I said, and I think that little Dylan captured this better than the movie reviews.
On the overseas flight I was also able to see the movie “Temple Grandin,” which so impressed me I think it is a movie that every junior high and senior high school student should watch. At first glance of the review of this, you might ask: “What’s interesting about a movie about an autistic woman who designs cattle-holding pens?” This movie captures an autistic person’s perception of the world, and how she overcomes obstacles at every step of her career.
This film helped me to understand something I’ve heard about persons with special needs. It’s a phrase that goes: “Someone with MS (or some other special need) must learn to embrace MS.” It’s not an easy thing to embrace MS, or autism, and I can understand this in the sense that Christ encourages us to take up and carry our cross.
We can only trust — as St Paul states — that in our weakness we find our strength. In Paul’s letters he states that for the sake of Christ he delighted in weaknesses, even in difficulties, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Cor 12:10.
(Fr. Kneemiller is a priest of the Diocese of Davenport who is serving as a chaplain in the Army Reserves in Afghanistan.)