Family Matters


The Eternal Christmas

by Pete Vere


In anticipation of Christmas this year, Our Lord blessed my wife and I with a new life of our own. This past Wednesday, as the President signed the ban on partial-birth abortion into law, my wife and I welcomed a second child into our marriage. Our baby daughter ventured forth from her mother’s womb at seven pounds and nine ounces. Mom is recovering well and the baby is healthy.

We were blessed throughout the pregnancy with a wonderful pro-life physician. A doctor who understands the dignity of human life is truly a treasure. Amidst the various difficulties of pregnancy and labor, he brought us a comfort second only to that offered by Our Lord. We knew he would welcome our daughter into the world with gentle hands and great reverence for her dignity as a human person.

And with the two girls safely snuggled next to their mother, my thoughts turn back to the past year. 2003 was quite grueling in terms of the culture war. The pace with which the culture of death assaulted the traditional family and undermined our Judeo-Christian mores was relentless. When the battle in the trenches becomes this intense, one often forgets the many blessings bestowed by the Culture of Life. Fortunately, the year always ends with Christmas. And the birth of Our Savior brings our attention back to celebrating the Culture of Life.

One of my favorite activities each year is the Christmas party organized by our local Alhambra caravan. The Order of Alhambra, for those who have never come across it, is a hundred-year old Catholic family organization dedicated to serving the needs of the mentally and cognitively challenged. These are God’s special children. They possess a simplicity of spirit that truly reflects the humility of Our Lord’s incarnation. Our family always finds Christmas with God’s special children uplifting to our spirits.

My first Christmas with our special brothers and sisters in Christ took place when I was a child. My Polish grandmother taught arts and crafts at the local Catholic school for the mentally and cognitively challenged. After my father and my aunt left the family nest, my grandfather continued to put in a hard day’s work at the steel mill. Thus God’s special children provided my elderly grandmother with fun and companionship throughout the lonely afternoon hours.

My siblings and I often visited our grandparents during the Christmas holidays. Each year, my grandfather would pick a day, come home early, and treat us to lunch at the local hamburger joint and ice-cream parlor. From here we all knew the routine. Tomorrow grandma’s students would be coming over for a Christmas party.

First we visited the town’s department store. While my grandfather snapped pictures of us with Santa Claus, grandma carefully chose a gift for each of her students. With this out of the way, we set off across the street to the supermarket and replenished my grandmother’s baking supplies. Afterward, we stopped at the bakery to pick up fresh rolls. By this time, boredom had often set into my siblings and I. Yet we still had the butcher’s shop to visit.

Thus the bickering began. Sensing our restlessness, Grandpa would begin entertaining us with all the qualities and virtues of good Italian sausage. Although she shared my grandfather’s love of the Catholic faith, Grandma could never bring herself to trust a sausage unless it was Polish. Of course their Bavarian butcher had his own strange ideas about German sausages, but we had yet to arrive at his shop.

"For centuries," my grandfather boasted, "the noble Italian sausage fed the Church’s princes."

"Our current Pope is Polish," grandma shot back. "And he’s certainly as sharp as they come."

This was a serious challenge. After mulling it over for a minute or two, grandpa replied: "Well of course he’s sharp. Why would he move to Italy if not for our sausages? So what does that tell you?"

"It tells me the Holy Father had to teach you Italians how to cook a decent sausage," Grandma smugly answered as my siblings and I erupted into much giggling from the back seat. Just as an aside, while I always preferred my grandfather’s Italian sausages, I nevertheless voted for my grandmother. She knew how to bake Polish Christmas pastries whereas grandpa had to purchase his Italian cookies from the store.

That evening, we either helped Grandma bake pastries and wrap gifts or helped Grandpa decorate the tree. The following morning, as my grandfather cooked the sausages – some Italian and some Polish – Grandma finished decorating the house. She then set the large oak table in the dining room. Along with the knives and forks, Grandma would place a small porcelain creche scene in the middle of the table so that Jesus would be the center of conversation. Then the minutes passed slowly as my siblings and I stood by the living room window, keeping our eyes peeled for the big van from Grandma’s school. As it pulled into the driveway around noon-time, we ran to tell Grandma and the party began.

Grandma’s special students truly appreciated our hospitality. Regardless of whether the sausages were Italian or Polish, they always complimented my grandfather on how delicious they tasted. Grandma’s pastries also received many compliments. Then my grandfather disappeared for a nap as we moved to the living room. Within minutes Santa Claus appeared and bore gifts for each of Grandma’s students. The joy on their faces told us how greatly our special brothers and sisters in Christ appreciated their gifts. Afterward, we all danced and sang Christmas carols, Santa wished everyone a Merry Christmas, and Grandpa emerged from his nap to read us the nativity story.

I once asked my grandfather why he gave God’s special children presents when they gave him and my grandmother nothing in return. "Look at their smiles and listen to their laughter," he replied. "These are the gifts God put them on this earth to share." Admittedly his response suspicious to me as a young boy. Now that Sonya and I have children of our own, however, we better understand and appreciate the gifts of children’s laughter, delight on their faces and unconditional love in their hugs. Whereas our own children will soon grow up, leave home and either pursue a religious vocation or begin families of their own, our special brothers and sisters in Christ forever retain the hearts of children.

Thus twenty years later, through the work of the International Order of Alhambra, I still enjoy spending Christmas with God’s special children. The faces have changed – I no longer recognize any as my grandmother’s students. The music to which we dance has changed as well. Santa now bears a striking resemblance to our Grand Commander rather than to my grandfather. And you will not find any sausages as our caravan serves hamburgers and hotdogs. Yet the smiles on their faces, the laughter from their lips, and the twinkle of the eyes remain the same. As we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, may God forever bless His special children.

Pete Vere
The Catholic Legate
December 12, 2006

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Originally published in 2004.