Preparations are underway in the United States and the nations of Europe to celebrate Christmas first and foremost as a tribute to materialism. These increasingly agnostic and secular societies have chosen to ignore the existence of God and have instead placed more and more trust in man. The consequence of this misguided reliance and the reality of God's outstretched helping hand is embodied in the story of a young boy from the streets of a nameless city in an unknown country.
World War II has ended, and somewhere in central Europe, a solitary figure, his clothes in tatters, carefully walks around the piles of rubble and broken glass on the streets of a once-bustling city now lying in ruins. The few still-upright walls, their windows and doors blown out, appear as skeletons framed against the blue sky. No one knows this boy's age, his name, or to whom he was born. After the death of a woman he had lived -- perhaps a relation, but perhaps not -- he was on his own.
His daytime hours were spent in the never-ending pursuit of surviving for another day. The search for food was his constant companion: sometimes he begged from the locals or foreign soldiers stationed nearby, and sometimes he rummaged through the garbage cans outside military mess halls.
At night, the least destroyed of the nearby buildings with a remnant of a roof overhead served as shelter from the elements. But no one could escape the constant stench of death and destruction in the air.
As the sun rose on a day which promised to be like so many before it, the boy was making his usual morning rounds when he heard a woman's desperate screams. Running to the scene, he saw a soldier tearing at the clothing of a teenage girl. Instinctively, he picked up some ever-present broken bricks and began throwing them at the assailant. After a few bricks found their mark, the man released the girl, allowing her to escape. He then turned, pistol in hand, to confront his tormentor. Scrambling to run away, the boy heard a loud noise and felt a sharp pain in his side. After falling forward from the impact of the bullet, he got up and ran some distance before passing out.
When the boy awoke, he was in a military hospital, being treated for a gunshot wound and malnutrition. For the first time he could remember, he slept in a bed and was fed three meals a day. After recuperating, he was placed on a train and taken on a long journey to an orphanage near Bremen, Germany.
Some time thereafter, this befuddled boy was taken to the harbor. He stood dumbstruck, staring up at the enormous black hull of a ship destined for the United States. Walking alone up the gangplank, he had no luggage, passport, or papers -- just a yellow tag pinned to his coat.
The winter voyage was excruciating. The ocean was in a constant state of turmoil, and seasickness plagued nearly everyone on board. Finally, on the seventh day, as dawn broke, the young boy stood at the ship's railing and watched as the welcoming image of the Statue of Liberty slowly emerged from the mist, framed majestically by the skyline of New York in the distance, the peaks of its skyscrapers reflecting the morning sun.
As the boy met the German-American foster parents who had agreed to take him in, he knew not what the future would bring in this strange land that spoke a different language from the ones he knew -- a mixture of German and Polish. Embarking on yet another trip, and at last given a first name, he went to live on a farm near a quiet, quasi-southern town in Maryland.
Subject to constant beatings and never-ending work on the farm, the boy often ran away to find solace in the woods surrounding the fields. His only friends were the animals on the farm and in the forest. He would, at times, go to an adjacent farm in the quest for food. Concerned, the neighbor reported to the police what was happening on the adjoining property. After an investigation, the child protection agencies removed the boy from the abusive environment.
Once he had recovered from another bout of malnutrition, the young boy was placed in a home with other orphans. There he was an outcast, as he could not communicate with or relate to the other occupants. Despair began to set in. Unbeknown to the boy, he was slated to be sent to an orphanage somewhere in New York State, as he was unadoptable due to a lack of papers. He could not be placed in foster care, as he had yet to be "housebroken."
During the Christmas season, a kindly man dressed in a black suit came to see the boy. He was the pastor of the local Catholic parish. The priest took the boy to the rectory for lunch, and then next door to the church building. The child had never been in a church before. The small and intimate space was decorated for Christmas. It was the most astounding sight the boy had ever seen. The lights, the colors, the atmosphere spoke to him of something he had never experienced: peace and tranquility. But what caught his attention was a group of statues and a spotlight shining on a baby in a manger.
The frail boy, the inner spirit that had seen him through so much now depleted, stood before the statues. He gazed at the serene face of the woman dressed in a blue robe looking lovingly at the baby. Was this the image of a mother? A mother he had never known? Staring into the eyes of the infant in the manger, the boy felt a presence, as if an unseen hand was touching the very core of his being. With a tear rolling down his cheek, the boy whispered, "Hilf mir" (help me).
The time came for the boy to return to the shelter and await his fate. At the door of the church, he turned and looked one last time at the nativity scene. A glow seemed to surround the statues, and he was overwhelmed with a sense of hope and optimism.
At midnight mass on Christmas Day, the priest related the story of a young war-orphan brought to the United States, his hardship and misfortune while in this country and his lack of any identity making it nearly impossible for him to be adopted. He asked, as the boy had never experienced Christmas, if anyone who spoke German could take the child for a few days during the Christmas season before he left for an orphanage.
During the offertory, with the Ave Maria being sung in the background, a woman in the congregation felt an invisible hand on her shoulder and heard a voice tell her she must adopt the young boy. Turning to her husband, she said, "We have to adopt the boy the monsignor was talking about." The woman's husband replied that they could not -- they did not speak his language, they could not afford to raise a child, and they could never shoulder the expense of pursuing an adoption even if it was possible. She emphatically stated that "God has told me to. We must, and we will."
After mass, the woman went to see the priest. When their eyes met, and before she said a word, he announced to her, "You are here about adopting the boy." He told her that during the Ave Maria, he too heard the message, and that they would make certain that God's request would happen.
The adoption process was long and drawn out, involving the courts and the federal government, but the woman, her husband, and the priest, who paid the legal bills, persevered. Meanwhile, the boy stayed at the homes of various families that had offered to help. Around Easter of that year, he went to live with his future parents. A birth certificate was created, and in October, the adoption became final.
At last, the young boy from the streets of a war-torn city somewhere in central Europe, whose odyssey had taken him through so many trials and tribulations, had a name, a home, and a country he could call his own.
For the rest of his life, this boy would continue to fight with the demons of his youth. He won some battles, but he lost many others. Nonetheless, he knew and relied upon the fact that God was there when life was at its best and worst.
Today, many in the United States and Europe, in their pursuit of lives of relative ease, have turned their backs on God. This deliberate denial coupled with disdain toward the basic rules of human behavior as espoused by Judeo-Christian teachings justifies the pursuit of unfettered personal and physical satisfaction with no guidelines whatsoever.
The moral fiber of a country, and the religious basis upon which the United States and European nations developed, has been replaced by a misguided faith in people. Although mankind has accomplished great things, the human race has always been overwhelmingly susceptible to its base nature. The historical consequence of repudiating established moral and ethical guidelines is a society inevitably devoid of humility, honor, and integrity.
Within that society, the governing class inexorably develops an unrestrained craving for power and self-aggrandizement which ultimately manifests itself in the subjugation of the populace -- either by force or by the exploitation of greed and envy coupled with control of the means of individual livelihood. The major casualties of this evolutionary process is the fundamental doctrine of respect for the uniqueness of all men and the recognition of the inalienable, God-given rights of life and liberty.
Over the past century, the nations of Europe, by tolerating the ascendancy of man's ignoble nature, suffered the near-total destruction of a continent and the loss of countless millions of lives in two wars and the emergence of communism.
On its present course, the United States will also encounter an abyss of its own making. Societal upheaval will assuredly happen, culminating in the destruction of the culture and the ascendancy of those whose only interest is to make all subservient to their power and obedient to their ruthless ideology.
In order to avoid the catastrophe looming over the horizon and to weather the tumult inherent in a requisite change of direction, the nation's leadership and citizenry must acknowledge that throughout history, the key to peace and prosperity lies in a relationship with God and in striving to live by established moral and ethical guidelines.
During the Christmas season many years ago, I stood in front of a nativity scene in a small Catholic church, unaware of God's existence. In my most desperate hour of need, he reached out to me. My life experience bears witness not only to the devastation and failure wrought by the base aspect of human nature, but also to the fact that God is there for each of us...if we choose to accept his helping hand.