Stuck in Washington DC over Christmas due to his self-imposed government shutdown, President Trump spent Christmas eve somewhere he isn’t often seen — in a church.
The president, joined by first lady Melania Trump, joined the Christmas Eve services at Washington National Cathedral, according to an account in The Washington Post, and listened to a sermon by Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, the leader of one of Washington’s most liberal Episcopal congregations, that focused on the story of Christmas.
It must have been disconcerting to the congregants to hear the Bishop’s message of responsible government power, people’s capacity for cruelty, and the plight of refugees shunned in “their greatest hour of need” while worshiping next to the man who needed to absorb those messages the most.
However, given that the Bishop only learned that the Trumps would be attending the 10 PM services shortly before they began, she assured The Post that she had not tailored her sermon specifically for the president, having written her homily well in advance of the holiday mass.
Bishop Budde and Cathedral Dean Randy Hollerith greeted the Trumps before the services, as is the usual custom, and described the president’s participation in the liturgy as more engaged than his last visit to the cathedral during the funeral of President George H. W. Bush when Trump didn’t bother to join the mourners during the reading of the Apostle’s Creed.
“President Trump went out of his way to participate,” Bishop Budde noted. “He sang, prayed, greeted people. As we walked by [in the procession,] he was very present. I think that was lovely to see. In the midst of all we are struggling with right now, policy and practices aside, it’s Christmas, and the first family is always welcome.”
Budde’s sermon was entitled “For Love’s Sake” and focused on how people can connect with the divine “through the extra kindnesses, forgiveness, generosity, grace and peace” that they give others during the holiday season.
Her message extended the historical narrative of the birth of Christ with parallels to contemporary events that Trump would be hard-pressed to not notice.
“You only have to read the first sentence of the story to know that there are deep social implications to it, should we place ourselves in this story. It begins with an emperor who could move people about at will. And so two people forced to obey the emperor’s edict set out on a long journey on the last month of the young woman’s pregnancy. And they were denied a place of comfort in her greatest hour of need,” Budde’s sermon said.
“And it wouldn’t be long before they would be forced to flee again, this time to find refuge from violence in another country. It’s right there. It’s in the text. It’s in the story.”
“And those who passed it on to us wanted us to know Jesus is no stranger to struggle or sorrow or the whims of human cruelty. They wanted us to know, as they did, both the gift and the responsibility of tending to light shining in darkness. We are the ones now to keep the light shining; we are the ones to keep the hope alive. The message of love credible — and that is no small task,” the bishop continued.
“And some years are easier than others. In the hardest of years, it becomes all the more important.”
“And so I leave you now with the words of Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest who gave his life in the German resistance of World War II: ‘Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.’ That we do this matters more than we can ever know,” she concluded.
Exactly how Trump reacted to the Bishop’s message of love may never be known, but judging from the comments the president made in his harangue with the press this morning, Bishop Budde’s eloquent words went in one ear and out the other without any significant absorption into Trump’s moral psyche, if he indeed possesses one.
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Original reporting by Michelle Boorstein at The Washington Post.