Saved by Christmas
In the United States and the nations of Europe preparations are underway to celebrate Christmas as first and foremost a tribute to materialism. These increasingly agnostic and secular societies are not only willfully choosing to ignore the existence of God but they are rejecting the moral and behavioral guidelines established by Judeo-Christian teachings. They are, as a substitute, placing more and more trust in mankind. The ultimate consequence for a society that chooses 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 small, frail, solitary figure, his clothes in tatters, gingerly 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 with--perhaps a relation, but perhaps not--he was on his own.
Along with other abandoned children, his daytime hours were spent in the never-ending pursuit of surviving for another day. The search for food was their constant companion. Oftentimes they begged from the locals or foreign soldiers stationed nearby, or, as a last resort, they rummaged through the garbage cans outside of military mess halls.
At night, the least destroyed of the nearby buildings with a remnant of a roof overhead served as a shelter from the elements. But no one could escape from 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 teenaged girl pinned against a wall as a soldier was tearing at her clothing. 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 the bullet entering his back as if hit by someone swinging a baseball bat followed immediately by an excruciating burning sensation as he fell to the ground. 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 across a storm tossed ocean was excruciating and sea sickness plagued nearly everyone on board. Finally, on a cold and foggy morning, the young boy stood at the ship’s railing as it slowly made its way through New York’s Upper Bay. The sun began to break through the mist just as the ship passed by the welcoming image of the Statue of Liberty, bathing it in an iridescent glow. As his gaze turned toward Manhattan Island in the distance, this newest immigrant to America was transfixed by the skyscrapers glistening in the early morning sun and he was overwhelmed by a sense of wonder and apprehension.
When the boy met the German-American foster parents that 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 and a life not far different what he had left behind.
Subject to constant beatings and never-ending work, 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, in times of desperation, go to an adjacent farm in the quest for food. Concerned, the neighbor reported to the authorities what was happening on the adjoining property. After a brief 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 foster home with other orphans. There he was an outcast, as he could not communicate with or relate to the other occupants. Unbeknown to him, he was slated to be sent to an orphanage somewhere in New York State as he was unadoptable due to a lack of identity papers.
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 him to the rectory for lunch, and then next door to a place he had never been -- a church. 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 a baby in a makeshift crib. Was this the image of a mother? A mother he had never known? Staring into the eyes of the infant in the manger, he felt a presence, as if an unseen hand was touching the very core of his being. As a tear rolled 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.
In his homily 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 papers 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 day during the Christmas season before he left for an orphanage.
During the Offertory, as the strains of the Ave Maria filled the church, a woman in the congregation felt an invisible hand on her shoulder and heard a voice tell her she must adopt the young boy. Without hesitation she turned to her husband and said “We have to adopt the boy the Monsignor was talking about.” Startled, he replied they could not, they did not speak his language, they could not afford the cost to raise a child, and they could never shoulder the expense of pursuing an adoption if it was even possible. Unwilling to accept his response, she emphatically stated “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 relayed to her that during the Ave Maria, he too heard God’s message, and together they would make certain his request would be fulfilled.
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 and in due course overcame all obstacles. 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 wage a never-ending battle with the demons of his youth-- losing more often than winning. 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 has eventuated in the all-consuming pursuit of unfettered personal and physical satisfaction.
The moral fiber of a country, and the religious basis upon which the United States and European nations developed, is being replaced by a misguided faith in man and his institutions. Although mankind has accomplished great things, the human race has always been overwhelmingly susceptible to its base nature. It is the succumbing to this base nature that has been the downfall of civilizations since the dawn of man.
The modern historic consequence of repudiating established moral and ethical guidelines is a society or culture that is inevitably devoid of humility, honor, decency and respect for the dignity of human life. In Europe today less than half of the populace believes in God’s existence and fewer than 25% attend at least one religious services in a course of a year meanwhile nearly 40% believe that there are no moral absolutes. One of the visible manifestations of this self-absorption is a catastrophically negative birth rate-- the end-product of over one hundred and fifteen million abortions since 1970.
By tolerating the ascendancy of man’s ignoble nature and abandoning long established moral principles the nations of Europe have suffered, over the past century, the near-total destruction of a continent and the loss of nearly one hundred million lives in two wars and the emergence of communism. Nonetheless, these same nations have chosen, yet again, to go down this same path and are now beginning to reap the whirlwind of societal turmoil thus becoming susceptible to violent overthrow by internal or external forces seeking supremacy and subjugation.
Over the past 40 years the citizenry of the United States has been increasingly emulating their counterparts in Europe, thus American society is also rapidly descending into chaos and uncertainty. If not reversed, then a societal upheaval will assuredly happen eventuating in the destruction of the culture and a potentially violent internal conflict resulting in the fragmentation of the country.
In order to avoid the potential catastrophe looming over the horizon and to weather the tumult inherent in a requisite change of direction, the American people must acknowledge that throughout modern history, the key to peace and prosperity lies in a relationship with God and, more importantly, 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 to not only the devastation as wrought by the base aspect of human nature, but that God is there for each of us, individually and as a society-- if we choose to ask for and accept his helping hand.