Welcoming the Prince of Peace into our Hearts

For 30 years now, readers have shared their personal Christmas memories and poems with the OSV Newsweekly family. This year, we received more than 80 entries, many of which made us laugh, brought tears to our eyes and touched our hearts. Unfortunately, we can publish only a small percentage of stories, but we hope the ones we have chosen mean as much to you as they did to us.

May God bless you and your family this Christmas season.

CHRISTMAS PAST

Gift of warmth

The year I turned 7, my family moved into an old house that was a true diamond in the rough. Money was tight as my parents worked hard to grow a business and what money we did have went to securing and heating that old house. The old house always felt cold and drafty, and that year I wanted nothing more than to be warm.

slippers
OSV file photo

As Christmas approached, I dashed off a letter to Santa asking for a warm robe and slippers, because, as I explained to Santa, the house is too cold. Christmas morning I tore the wrapping from a single package beneath the Christmas tree. To my delight, I found a robe and slippers and quickly put them on.

Years later, I was reminiscing with my mom about holidays past and she mentioned the year that I asked Santa for that robe and slippers. I remembered the warmth I felt as I slipped on the robe but what I didn’t remember, and what my parents kept from me, was just how much of a hardship buying that Christmas’ gifts was. I treasured the robe and slippers and wore them until they were threadbare and the memory of the gift has stayed all these years.

Looking back, I realize my parents gave us a lasting gift that year — Christmas is more than a consumer race to accumulate the most gifts. Because really, most gifts are forgotten soon after opening. Christmas is about warmth, caring, love and, of course, the Nativity. A gift that warms the heart — and the feet — will be remembered for years to come.

Dominic Scappaticci, Ferndale, Mich.

Christmas in Las Palmas

Pastores a Belen, vamos con alegria ...” (“Let’s go to Bethlehem with joy”) we sang as a procession of at least 50 campesinos made their way along the narrow country road. As a young teacher volunteer in this mountain village near central Puerto Rico, my heart was opened to new vistas by day and bedazzeled by the sight of the star-studded night sky.

The Capuchin Padre led the throng, and he would stand by the door of a home to proclaim part of Luke’s Gospel account. The first reading evoked the image of Joseph going with a pregnant Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The mother in that campesino home had recently given birth to twins. When Padre finished the reading he reached and took the male babe and lifted him above the glow of candle light so all could gaze on the tiny babe. Then the babe was handed back to his mother, and Padre and elder shepherd Antonio led us on to the next casita.

There was the proclamation about the shepherds and an angel announcing “a Savior has been born!” I gazed at old Dona Elvira, who I recalled visiting weeks earlier. That day, she quickly grabbed a chicken and twisted its neck, then handed it to her son to butcher so she could prepare dinner for the “guest.” In this midnight moment, I was gazing on an “angel” who gave generously of her food and who now was being fed with the Word of God.

We went on to the chapel, where, inside, the “pastores alegria” echoed off the walls. It was a Christmas unlike the winter wonderlands of my childhood years. The humble simplicity and warmth of community experienced among the campesinos of Las Palmas was mystical magnificence. I continue to ponder in my heart the “alegrias” of that night, which evokes deep joy in me as I recall one of my most memorable Christmases.

Rose Stegman, Pittsburgh, Pa.

A Christmas love note

My husband, Mike, passed away on Labor Day 2010. He loved Christmas and always “made it special” for the family. Since his death, our family has had a tradition on Christmas night of hiking through the snow to the orchard, where Mike and I had completed our own little grotto with a statue of Mary. We would carry lit candles, process to the grotto, say some prayers and sing some Christmas carols.

This past Christmas, as we were leaving to return to the house, my oldest grandson took my candle and placed it in the snow near the statue of Mary. That was Tuesday evening. By Friday night, the family had all left. I went to the window that faces out toward the grotto to close the blinds. I noticed a glow in the snow next to the Madonna. I was excited and bewildered. I put on the boots, jacket and mittens and grabbed my camera and headed down the hill toward the “light.” The candle was still burning under a thin layer of snow since it had snowed all day that Friday. I was thrilled to the point of tears.

We are all agreed that God let us have a little Christmas “love note” from Mike.

Praise him!

Judy Ryan, Aitkins, Minn.

Miracle in July

In December 1941, the war the Philippines — then a colony of the United States — had been anticipating arrived in Manila.

It signaled the non-arrival of Christmas 1941 for my three sisters and me, ages 6 and younger. In previous years, our family would have been gathered in love, peace and joy. But today was Christmas Day and there was no Christmas in sight.

Miraculous Medal
OSV file photo

About 6 a.m. while my sisters and I slept on in the dark, I awoke to find my father, who had just arrived traveling with troops newly mobilized, giving my mother instructions on what to do while he was away.

“Why are you here, Papa?” I asked sleepily. “Where were you last night?”

Gently he explained, “I’m going to war.” My father was an officer in the Philippine Army.

I didn’t know what he meant, and don’t know why I did what I did, but as if instinctively, I took the Miraculous Medal that was lying on my nightstand and gave it to my dear Papa. He took it and put it in his wallet. “Now, go back to sleep,” he said and was gone.

We had no contact with him after that Christmas Day, as he fought with the U.S.-Philippine forces in Bataan and then participated in the Bataan Death March. Then on an early morning in July 1942, with the enemy having released their prisoners from their concentration camp, my father came home. He was was so thin I didn’t quickly recognize him. But when he showed me the Miraculous Medal he held in his open hand, I knew!

Somewhat belatedly, we were going to have Christmas — in July!

Zena Clymer, Issaquah, Wash.

Christmas rebirth

Fresh out of prison, I knew I had to make a change. I had drifted from my faith, but I began to attend Mass because I didn’t want to end up back behind bars. From the moment I walked into church, I was treated with kindness and love, and they included me in the Rosary and other church activities. These wonderful people became my friends. They all knew about my past and they loved me anyway.

Christ is about love, and I was experiencing it big time. Christmas Eve we all attended Mass, and it was at this time I reflected on the love of God who had brought me into this moment. Christmas was a bad day in prison. I was always sad and really didn’t see the point. I was so lost.

This Christmas, though, was special. I learned that change and redemption are possible and with Christ it is inevitable. I was transformed. I had become a winter butterfly fresh from the cocoon. I was there celebrating the birth of not only Christ but of myself. If it weren’t for some truly beautiful souls, I don’t know if I would have changed at all. Definitely the hand of God was at work. But here I was smiling in my pew letting my prayers rise like incense to God. All I know is that the love that created the infant Christ was present in me. I was transformed by the seemingly helpless Baby Jesus. What can be more precious than that?

Cassie Smith, Marshall, Mich.

Unto us, a son is given

Everyone who could leave the hospital had gone home for the holidays, so it was relatively quiet in the wards. You might say peace filled the air, for this was Christmas Eve 1965.

Down syndrome
Shutterstock

As I sat back in the rocking chair, my discomfort of an eight-and-a-half-month pregnancy seemed to take on a rhythmic movement. It wasn’t long before I knew my hour had come. This was to be lucky No. 7. We were hoping for a girl this time because our last two were boys. How foolish it seems now to put a priority on the sex of a child!

It was after midnight. A first examination brought a quick call to Dr. Berman. I would move fast. It wasn’t long before the good doctor was telling me I had a little boy, 4 pounds, 6 ounces. He was placed in an incubator to keep warm.

God had chosen us to be the parents of a special child who was to bring love and humility into the world. He was diagnosed as having Down syndrome. Johnny has brought us smiles and tears just as all the other members of the family have, but he has enriched our lives spiritually and bonded us together as a family unit.

Evelyn E. Brattoli, Elyria, Ohio

Healing love of Christ

I’ll admit my memory of the holiday season last year is virtually non-existent. My husband of 15 years had just passed away after having endured a brutal two-year battle with hereditary stomach cancer. By all expectations, my four children and I should have had an excruciatingly difficult Christmas. But we didn’t, and the memory of it has yet to leave me.

There was no lightning bolt moment, but I remember as Christmas Day wore on, I kept feeling a sense of joy. It was a feeling I hadn’t had in a long, long time. Then the feeling of hope and peace began to fill my shattered heart. I felt so different! I looked around at my children, and I could tell that they were feeling something, too. They were laughing and smiling and having a wonderful time. There was no longer that sense of profound sadness that had lingered over each one of us. A weight was starting to be lifted off.

The sheer quantity of love that God has for each one of us is staggering. As Christians, we feel this love most profoundly as we celebrate Christ’s birth. God took the joy of his Son’s birth and began to permanently heal five wounded hearts that day. The peace, hope and love that were given to us have stayed with all of us, in varying degrees, throughout this entire first year without my husband. The gift of joy has helped us to endure grief and pain and sadness. I can’t remember receiving any greater gift than this.

Amy Incorvati, Stow, Ohio

My new heart

I wish I could say that this is the story of a medical miracle in which someone’s generosity gave me a second chance at life, but it is not. I offer only a simple story of how God’s generosity and mercy changed my heart.

In November 2009, I was working night shift as a hospitalist in Dayton, Ohio. What began as an idealistic calling to heal had become a life of stress and cynicism. I sat frazzled in the emergency department on the worst night of work ever. It was 4 a.m., the hour where caffeine becomes ineffective and the accumulated days of inadequate sleep make one short-fused. Behind four admissions, I prepared to see an elderly man with dementia brought in for “confusion.” I huffed toward Bed 11 muttering, “Why did they bother bringing him in?”

I pulled back the curtain to find a lonely, emaciated human, curled in the fetal position, wearing only a Depends. My anger boiled as I tried to get him to speak, but he could not.

Suddenly, pity overwhelmed me. Then, I saw myself lying there helpless, years in the future, while some uncaring doctor yanked back my covers, and knowing nothing about me, considered me useless. In the midst of this horrifying vision, I heard God say, “This is my child.”

I gently covered him and returned to my computer. Something had changed in me, but I didn’t know what. I felt only shame and the pain of hitting rock bottom.

Advent soon arrived, but I barely noticed. Yet, somehow, I felt an urge to attend our parish reconciliation service, something I had not done in 15 years. I confessed all my coldness, selfishness and ugliness. The priest asked if I prayed, and I confessed that, too. He gently suggested that I start, and I did.

Then, right after Christmas, God sent me an invitation. I noticed an announcement in the bulletin for a mothers’ Bible study. It was on a day I could go, and kids were welcome. Without an excuse to say no, I told God yes. My life has never been the same.

Elissa Whittenburg, M.D.Lebanon, Ohio

The Christmas fire

It was 1941. We had just gotten home from Midnight Mass and were getting ready for bed when Aunt Betty looked out the window and saw a huge fire burning in the valley. Immediately Dad and Uncle Clarence left to help. By the time they got there the fire had burned the home nearly to the ground. They stood with the family who had escaped without injury, as the fire completed its consuming task. Making sure they had a place to spend the rest of the night, Dad asked them to visit us in the morning.

The family came to our home after we had opened our presents: coloring books, a small rubber ball, a crate of citrus fruit with each piece wrapped in a red or green crepe-type paper, and a box of chocolate covered candies. Fruit and candy were special treats since we rarely got either.

The family (parents and two children) stayed a short time, never taking off their coats and clinging closely together as if afraid of losing each other also. We insisted that they share our gifts. We gave them coloring books, fruit and the chocolate candy. Mom also gave them eggs and some things she had canned the past summer. They left grateful for the warmth of friendship.

Ann and I, then 7 and 8, always considered this as our best Christmas ever. I still see that box of chocolates passing from our hands to theirs, not because we didn’t want to give it up but because we saw it as the most valuable thing we could give them. And looking back, it was. We learned the joy of giving.

Mary Lou Kopp, High Ridge, Mo.

Safe with Jesus

In 2000, my husband and I traveled from our home in Alaska to spend Christmas in Florida with my parents. As we were putting up the decorations, I asked Mom if I could put up the Nativity scene and she said OK. I was emptying the box of the figures and the stable and I found Mary, Joseph and assorted other figures and animals. But I couldn’t find Baby Jesus. I went through all the tissue papers again, but he wasn’t there. I asked Mom where Jesus was. After thinking a bit, she said that the previous year when Dad put the Nativity set away he forgot to put Jesus in the box and so had put him in a “safe place.” When Dad returned from an errand, we asked him where the “safe place” was and he gave us a funny look and said, “Let’s look!” After searching a while we just could not find Baby Jesus. We started thinking of alternatives for the manger — like cutting out a Baby Jesus from a Christmas card!

I asked Dad if he had checked the desk in his room and he said he would never put Jesus in the desk. So . . . we started decorating the Christmas tree.

A bit later Dad walked into the room and sheepishly said that he did check the desk. Lo and behold, there was Baby Jesus! Christmas was saved and we all had a good chuckle.

Not long after, my Dad passed away and I know he is no longer searching for Baby Jesus because Dad is with him.

Merry Christmas!

Patricia A. Scheel, Prineville, Ore.

Sleigh ride to Mass

I’ll never forget my first Midnight Mass. I was a little girl of 10 in 1928. The roads were drifted. It was a cold clear, below-zero Wisconsin winter. It was three miles to St. Joseph Church.

This year, our neighbor came to our rescue. Mr. Beyel had a large, two-runner sleigh and a strong team of horses. He planned to take his family to Midnight Mass, and we were invited.

They furnished buffalo robes, and we had horse blankets. He put about 2 feet of straw on the bottom of the sleigh. Heated bricks kept our feet warm.

When we were all snug and ready to go, I looked up at the stars and moon. They never looked so bright!

Mr. Beyel stood up all the way to guide his horses. When he said “giddapp,” we could hear the horse hoofs clomp, clomp in the snow. The runners squeaked as the sleigh slid over the drifts. It rocked me to sleep.

Every church had a horse barn to shelter the parishioner’s horses. When they were tied up and fed, we crawled out and brushed the straw off our clothes.

“Merry Christmas” was heard all the way to the church door. The heat from wood-burning stoves never felt so good!

I didn’t know what to expect from a Midnight Mass. The church bells rang loud and clear at midnight. We could hear the men’s choir sing Christmas carols. The church was full. With the flickering candlelight, we could see a beautiful Nativity scene with red vigil lights nearby.

Mass began, and we were happy to be in this holy place on Jesus’ birthday.

Now that I am 95 years old, this Midnight Mass is still my best Christmas memory.

Olive Miller, Cazenovia, Wis.

 

Christmas in Uniform

The Christmas altar

Christmas 1944, I was in the U.S. Army, stationed on Saipan defending B-29 bombers as the war in the Pacific raged on.

On Dec. 24, as the sun poked up over the Pacific Ocean, I was awakened by the Catholic chaplain, who explained that I was going to build an altar for Midnight Mass with then-Archbishop Francis Spellman of New York, who was military vicar. We positioned a long flatbed trailer against the jungle background at the foot of Mount Tapochau. Wooden crates that previously held grenades, 20mm shells and other small arms were nailed together for the altar and seating for the archbishop and choir on the flatbed.

The chaplain returned later in the day with candles and linens for the altar and the future cardinal arrived shortly before midnight and we commemorated the birth of Christ on that humble altar. The choir members were native Chamorros, original inhabitants on Saipan.

This angelic choir singing the Latin responses of the Mass and Christmas carols in English, including “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night” was the most beautiful experience I have ever had in my 91 years of life.

I had the privilege of being one of three altar servers for that Midnight Mass. Twenty-three years later, I was on a business trip for the State of Maine in New York City when we heard the news that Cardinal Spellman had died. My wife Irene and I waited patiently from 7 p.m. to 2:39 a.m. in the never-ending line of the faithful to pay our respects to this beloved American Catholic leader for whom I had built an altar 7,000 miles from home so that thousands of home sick military service men could celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ.

Clarence F. McKay Sr., Gardiner, Maine

Peace amid the pines

In early December 1956, our chaplain, Father Molner, related at Mass that Cardinal Francis Spellman would be coming for a visit to our base at Fort Richardson, Alaska, and would be saying the Christmas Eve Mass. Father Molner asked for suggestions as to where to celebrate the Mass. We came up with the plan to have the Mass at midnight about a mile from base in an area with many pine trees with the mountains in the background.

Two weeks before Christmas Father Molner approved our plan. We got word to all Catholic soldiers to meet near the PX and be ready to march to the area for the Mass. It turned out that most of the Catholics and many non-Catholics arrived. It was an awesome sight, each soldier carried a lighted candle through the newly fallen snow, with Cardinal Spellman and Father Molner in the lead.

Earlier in the day an altar was set up and a generator was in place to supply the necessary lighting. The pine trees near the altar were decorated with colored lights.

I was especially joyful and thankful that I was asked to be one of the servers for this special Mass. Silent night and the Christmas hymns were most beautiful with the choir of hundreds of soldiers. At the end of the Mass, Cardinal Spellman and Father Molner led us back to the base. That Christmas was most meaningful to me and one that I always remember.

Alvin Hutfles, Larned, Kan.

Vietnam encounter

In 1969, I was in the Army stationed in South Vietnam. I was there on a 12-month tour that began that January. Nearing the end of the tour in December, a couple of buddies and I were invited to the village of a Vietnamese woman and her sister. They performed tasks on the small base such as filling sand bags and other chores for monetary compensation.

The women were Roman Catholic and spoke fluent Vietnamese, French and English. One of the sisters had told me they and their family originally resided in North Vietnam. When communists took over the North, Catholics were persecuted and had difficulty practicing their faith. To escape this persecution, the family came down to the south. There, they were able to freely practice the Catholic faith.

On Christmas Day 1969, we drove our Jeep to the village. As chickens, pigs, cats and dogs ran around the small hamlet, we interacted with the villagers, including many children. The sisters were festooned in bright yellow and white Ao Dais, a traditional Vietnamese dress. We were invited inside their humble thatched roofed home. They introduced us to their parents and others. In a corner of the home was a crèche scene, just as I would expect to see back home in the States. I still have a picture of the two sisters standing next to the crèche.

This visit to their home and discussions with them drove home the fact that the Catholic Church is universal, not limited to my parish back home in Buffalo, N.Y. Also, that we in the United States are fortunate to have freedom of religion. In 1975 the communists took over the south. I often wonder how the family is doing, and if they are able to practice our Catholic faith without persecution.

Frank A. Saladyga, LMSW, Kenmore, N.Y.

 

Christmas Poetry

Monks at Prayer

A thousand tiny stars peep out
And stay, their fear a-flight,
The moon, so often bold, stands still
Enraptured by this sight ...
For here and there upon the earth
In chapels through the night,
A thousand monks in garments coarse
Prayers for the world recite ...
A thousand hands and hearts are raised
Before the Throne of Light:
No wonder heaven is silent, still
Enraptured by this sight.

Sister Angela Pikus, Danville, Pa.

God Has Come to Earth

Rejoice! Rejoice!
God has come to earth.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
God has shown his face!
In the tiny Babe of Bethlehem.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
God has come to earth.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
God has shown his face.
Million Cherubim.
Million Seraphim.
Sing the praise of God
Our Lord and King.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
God has come to earth.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
God has shown his face.

Rev. Augustine J. Moore, Ph.D. Orange Beach, Ala.

Presents

Let me be present
To family and friends
Coming together
Our loneliness ends.
Let me be present
To those who are ill
To the lonely and sad
A void I can fill.
Let me be present
To those who annoy me
Seeing You in them
Is finding the key.
Let me be present
In many small ways
Smiles and kind gestures
Can change people’s days.
Let me be present
To the poor and downtrodden
Giving them hope
They won’t be forgotten.
Let me be present
And not as a stranger
With the gift of myself
To the Babe in the Manger.

Maureen Theresa Krepol, Media, Pa.

Our Holy Mother

Archangel Gabriel did appear,
With blessed word from God above.
To ask you bear him as your son
And raise him, with a mother’s love.
Pure of heart and strong of faith
You chose to honor God’s request.
The “Son of God” you would conceive,
And, for all time, your name be blest.
With child, you and Joseph journeyed
To assist in childbirth and rejoice.
John leapt with joy, in your cousin’s womb,
When he heard the sound of your sweet voice.
Upon your arrival, in Bethlehem,
You could not find room at the Inns.
In a manger, you gave birth to Jesus,
Who would be salvation for our sins.

Thomas Muraszewski, Milwaukee, Wis.

Christians Make Haste

Mary make haste,
Elizabeth to see.
Jesus is coming,
For you and for me.
Joseph make haste,
A “father” to be.
Jesus is born,
Love is for thee.
Shepherds make haste,
Your savior is born.
Jesus is here,
No more shall you mourn.
Christians make haste,
Your Lord here did dwell.
Jesus is risen,
God with us, Emmanuel!

Mike Cloughesy, Newberg, Ore.

Christmas Eve Prayers

Oh, my Lord, the Savior!
I’ve been here, kneeling for a long time
In front of the Holy Altar,
Watching your appearance from very far,
In the sphere brilliant with radiant light.
I’ve found your way very clearly,
Leading to the future of glory.
It’s not only ornamented with colorful flowers,
But also plenty of dangers and difficulties.
I’ve firmly decided to follow
Your direction to a glorious peaceful life
With no human grief and sorrow,
Poverty, enviousness, wars and crimes.
How hard and dangerous is the way!
It’s made me anxious nights and days.
Don’t let me walk on it alone!
With all my heart, silently I pray:
Grant me, my Lord, the Savior!
More faith, patience and ability,
Some more courage and spiritual stability,
That’ll encourage my heart always eager.
All the people on this globe need to be happy.
Oh, my Lord ! Through your miracle and grace,
The transformation to a wonderful new life
Has risen beyond the distant range of mountains
With a dawn full of brilliant sunlight,
Covering the poetic, immense green-grassed plains.

Phan Duc Minh,San Diego, Calif.

A Christmas Lullaby

The old wolf saw the shining star
That twinkled in the sky,
He followed in its silver trail
That led him by and by.
To a poor and rustic stable
Beyond the town’s far rim,
Where something stirred his proud wild heart
And seemed to beckon him.
But when he came up near the crib
Where sweet Lord Jesus lay,
The shepherds turned on him in fear
And chased him far away.
Out on the hill beyond the town
Alone and filled with grief,
He wailed a loud and mournful song
To find his soul’s relief.
The dear Lord Jesus heard the song
For not once did he cry,
He drifted off in sleep to hear
The wild wolf’s Lullaby.
The old wolf knew deep in his heart
The child was heaven’s King,
And to this day throughout the world
You still can hear him sing.

Kate Watkins Furman, Malvern, Pa.