A MARY CHRISTMAS GIFT
By J. Vincent Martin
It seems like somebody always has a scientific explanation for every miraculous occurrence these days. But I feel sorry for those poor souls who can't see beyond science. For when it comes to life, I'm afraid they have only part of the answer. Sadder still, where eternity is concerned, their faith in science alone, denies their very own being.
Now, my family wasn't rich in the money sense of the word. But my father did manage to pass on to me, a very precious family heirloom. I guess I was about six years old at the time he made the presentation, It was just a few words wisdom offered out of love.
He simply told me one day, "Whenever you're in real trouble, son, and there's no way out. Pray to the Blessed Mother. She'll never let you down."
No true r words were ever spoken, she never let me down. But it would be many years before I got around to asking why.
I guess the first time I really used the gift was when I was thirteen years old. At the time, I was no angel, to say the least.
Two months earlier, my juvenile delinquent friends and I had managed to steal ten cases of beer from the back yard of a local delicatessen. Afterwards, we decided to go to the beach to consume the evidence. It didn't work out quite the way we planned though. I ended up getting driven home drunk in a police car at four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon.
The timing of the event couldn't have been worst. There wasn't a neighbor on my conservative middle class block who wasn't present at the spectacle of my escorted arrival home. Of course, I wasn't too happy about it. But I could just imagine how the old man must have felt. He certainly didn't do anything to deserve that humiliation.
Now, one might think that after such an episode, a kid would learn. Unfortunately, it takes some kids a little longer then others. In fact, two months later I was right back where I shouldn't be.
This time me and my friends had stolen twenty cases of beer from a distributor adjacent to the Long Island Railroad tracks. Unwisely, we decided to drink our ill gotten gains in patch of dense brush adjacent to the tracks.
After we had each consumed many cans of beer, Brooklyn's gendarmes made a sudden appearance on the scene. There were blue suits on foot heading towards us from every direction.
Most of my buddies got up and tried to make a run for it. But we were surrounded. Luckily, my friend Mattie held me back. "Quick, follow me, he said." We got up and ran the ten feet over to the tracks. Then he told me to lay down between the rails and keep my head down. I did, but it wasn't long before three cops started walking down the tracks towards us.
We were just laying there in plain sight and there was no way they could miss seeing us. I wasn't worried about myself, but I didn't want to hurt the old man again. So I knew there was nothing left to do but pray, and I did.
I asked the Holy Mother to save me from my impending doom. "I know I'm wrong and deserve what I get, I prayed. But my old man doesn't deserve to go through this again. Please don't let them see me." Just then, one of the cops reached down and yanked Mattie to his feet by the back of his shirt collar. He was about three feet in front of me, so I stuck my face into gravel and prayed again, "Please!"
When I raised my head, I suddenly felt a warm glow, as though time had stood still. There were two black shiny shoes pointing at me, about two feet in front of my face. Then from the corner of my eyes I quickly glimpsed two sets of blue pants legs on either side of me. There was a long deafening silence until one of the cops spoke.
"Well, it looks like we got all of them." Then I heard the crunch of their footsteps in the gravel fading into the distance. I just laid there for about five minutes and watched as the officers departed with Mattie and my friends in tow. I waited a few more minutes to make sure they were gone. Then I stood up, raised my eyes to heaven, said thank you and walked off on my merry way.
Now, there was no natural way those cops could have missed seeing me. Of course, some fool might attribute "my luck" to the position of the sun, or perhaps find some other silly scientific explanation. But even then, I knew better then that. It was simply a matter of God answering the prayers of a sinner, at the beckoning of a caring and loving mother.
After that event, I didn't change very much. Somehow though, I did managed not get into that kind of trouble again. But I'm afraid that wasn't due to my spiritual revival. I guess I had just gotten better at avoiding being caught. So I didn't have the need to call upon the Blessed Mother for quite awhile after that. However, I did manage to stop by church every once in a while and remembered to say thanks.
Eventually, I decided to leave my juvenile delinquent days behind. So at seventeen, I joined the army.
Now the army is a really good place to find an urgent need divine intervention. However, by this time, I could handle just about any crisis that came up by myself. Well, just about any crisis.
Then one day I found myself sitting in a jeep outside of a hotel in downtown Santo Domingo. It was sunny Sunday morning, and me and my buddy Daily were waiting for a public relations officer and a photographer from Life Magazine. I was the driver and Daily was riding shotgun.
It was a really peaceful day, and for the most part, the war torn streets were empty. Of course, I had no idea of where we going. So when our passengers arrived I just followed the directions of the PR officer sitting next to me.
After about fifteen minutes into our journey, the officer told me to make right turn and head down the street towards the river. When we approached the end of the last block, a young buck sergeant ran out of an alleyway to greet us. He was holding an M-16 in his hand and waving his arm in panic, "Turn in here, damn it, he yelled. Turn in here!"
I made the turn down the blind alleyway, but it still seemed pretty peaceful to me. Then the young sergeant approached our jeep with a query, "Are you nuts or something? We've been taking fire on that street all morning. You guys are damn lucky you didn't get your heads blown off." Without having heard a shot though, it seemed like much ado over nothing to us. So my passengers departed for the roof of the building to take pictures, leaving me and Daily with the jeep. After we had a couple of butts, and few rounds of chatter with the sergeant and his men, our passengers rejoined us in the alleyway. They just hopped in the jeep and said, "Okay, let's get out of here and head back to the hotel."
Now, I had been in the army long enough to know that it's a good idea to listen to line sergeants. So when the guy said, "Look, as soon as you make that turn, stick your head down, floor it, and don't stop until you hit the main drag," I took him at his word.
The sergeant was right okay, as soon as I made the turn, there was a burst of sub machine fire headed in my direction. For some strange reason, I could tell those bullets were coming from an old Thompson. Worse yet, I knew the shooter was close, very close. In fact, I could feel the escaping muzzle gas and sound waves of the discharges hitting my back. I also knew from my training that if you heard the gunshots before the crack of the passing bullets, the shooter was too close to miss.
Suddenly, time stood still again as I pressed my face into the steering wheel. I could actually see those bullets hitting me in the back. I could also see the old my man getting the bad news and a flag. But strangely, the bullets seemed to hang in the air as I started to pray.
"Holy Mother, I'm just a dumb kid, and there's a lot of life I haven't seen yet. If you could just ask God to give me a year or two more, there's a lot good things I'd like to do."
I didn't hear a voice reply, but I didn't have too, to know my prayer was answered. An instant later, time returned and I heard the crack of those bullets pass overhead.
Now, I'm sure someone has another scientific explanation for this "piece of luck" too. Maybe one might say it was the sun again.
Now, I can probably accept that explanation as part of the answer. For you see, I know what had occurred back in Fatima at Our Lady's request.
I ended up in a few more life threatening situations before I finally left the army. But I didn't have the need to call on her at those times. You see after that day in Santo Domingo, I knew she was already there, watching over me.
Well anyway, I did get to do some of those good things. In fact, I also got more than a year or two to enjoy doing them. Of course, in all honesty, I probably did a few bad things too. But one of the good things I did, was to get married and have two wonderful children. That's when I found out, that being a husband and a father is the time when you really need the Holy Mother's help.
There was the time when my wife suffered an asthma attack at home and lost respiration and pulse. I had desperately tried CPR, and it wasn't working. In fact, after a while a neighbor who had come to our aid just walked away shaking her head in sorrow. Once more, I asked for the Holy Mother's help and got it. Miraculously, after my tenth try, God returned my wonderful wife to me, just before the ambulance arrived.
There was also the time when my six year old daughter's two fingers were severed in a bank door accident. A week later, when the micro-surgeon God had sent, examined her reattached fingers, he smiled at me and said, "You must have a friend upstairs. I really didn't think they were going take."
There were many, many more intercessions in my life, including my walking away without a scratch from two separate automobiles, crushed by tractor trailers. Or the time when my wife's hearing was restored by Dr. Reems, another micro-surgeon sent by God at the Holy Mother's request.
Now of course, I've always believed in God as the almighty father and creator of all things. Not only do I believe in God, but through Jesus and The Holy Mother's intercessions, I've also learned that God truly loves us. Yes, even a fool like me.
It did take me a long time though to finally figure it all out. Like that incident of me hurting my innocent father through my own selfish stupidity, or shall we say sins. Then, thanks to my family and the church, even in my earliest stupidity, I had always loved Jesus.
Yes, somehow, I always knew in my heart that they were right. He did suffer and give up his mortal earthly life to save our immortal souls.
Now that's not a debt that can be repaid. So all I could ever do was love him and ask for his Father's forgiveness. At the same time of course, I also learned to love and respect Mary, his Holy Mother.
Now naturally, I had always wished that there was some way I could repay the Blessed Mother for the love and care she had shown to me and my family. If only there was something I could do for her, I thought.
Then one day I found out there was something she had asked all of us to do. Of course, it was a simple and selfless request. She had asked that we all pray to God on her behalf to free the people of eastern Europe, and bring the evil empire of communism to an end.
Now that wasn't a hard thing for me to do. You see, over the years I've always had a deep admiration for the Polish people in particular. I guess that was due to their courageous defiance of their evil masters on her behalf. In fact, I still remember seeing films of their street processions in honor of the Blessed Mother. Of course, those events were absolutely forbidden by their atheistic conquerors. But these brave people had the guts to take it to streets and lay it all the line for her. So Our Lady's request wasn't hard for me at all.
I guess it was around 1985, when I first heard of the blue army. So I quickly joined their ranks by praying each day as she had requested.
My prayer was just a simple one. "God, I'm praying to you at the request of the Holy Mother for the enslaved people of eastern Europe. These poor people are good people, faithful to you, and devoted to the Holy Mother of your son Jesus. Please free them from the bondage of your enemies."
I guess the miraculous events that followed speak for themselves. Of course, there are those who say that this evil invulnerable empire fell solely due to economic reasons. However, if you believe that to be the whole story, then you must also believe that it was the high moral standards of those who had already murdered millions innocent people, that prevented them from using their massive army in another slaughter to keep their empire in tact. So once again, I'm sad to say, that only those of us who had prayed know the whole story.
Now as I said earlier, it was a long time before I ever asked Our Lady why she never let me down. I always thought this old Irish folk tale seemed explained it. The story went something like this:
When Pat passed on, he found himself standing before Saint Peter, at Heavens Gate. There, on Saint Peter's desk were two stacks of books. One stack stood very tall, the other about half in size. Saint Peter just looked at him and said, "Pat, I was just reviewing your life. I'm sad to say that due to the drink, this big stack is all the bad things you've done on earth. I'm afraid this small stack is the good things." Pat was seriously worried, as Saint Peter pondered in deep thought. Then the stately saint frond upon him, and said, "You were very devoted to the Holy Mother, I see. However, I'm afraid that with all these other things, I just can't let you in, Pat."
Sadly, Pat turned and started to walk away. Then suddenly, there was tug on the sleeve of his coat. When he looked down, there was a beautiful little boy looking up at him. The child just took his hand and smiled, "Come around to the back door with me, Mister. My mother said to let you in."
Yes, for a long while, that little story seemed to have answered that question. But a day did come when I finally asked the Blessed Mother herself. It on Christmas Day, December 25, 1999.
Now, I had always tried to be a good father and I hope that most of the time I was successful. But I guess like with all parents, there comes a time when you can't drag the kids to church any longer. Heck, it happened to my old man when I hit my late teens and early twenties. I guess that at that age and with all the skepticism hurled at the church, it becomes pretty easy to take a hiatus.
However, where my daughters were concerned, this was the most fearful time in my life. For I knew regardless of any faults, the church kept you close to God. So all I could to do was to make an occasional Sunday phone call and ask, "Hey, I just came back from church. You know what? God was asking about you. What do you want me to tell him next time?" I guess aside from that, all I could do was pray and hope that I have given my kids enough over the years that they could find their own way back.
Yes, it was a very scary time alright. For I knew that if you can't place your beloved children in God's hands, there is nothing left but an eternity of tears for all. Of course, once more the Holy Mother answered my prayers.
That Christmas my youngest daughter, Denise, invited us over to her house for dinner. Now, I had recently heard rumors to the effect that Denise had been going to Mass on Sundays again. But at that obstinate age, I was almost afraid to ask for fear of alienating her. Of course, my oldest daughter, Jennifer, who always thought herself far wiser then her father, I dared not think of asking for fear of upsetting the apple cart. So I was quite pleasantly surprised when my wife informed me that first we'd be going to Mass with grandma and kids.
That day the church was packed of course, and I ended up standing right next to Jennifer in the back.
When the Mass was ended, naturally, I summoned my courage and asked, "So what brings you here, kid?" Jennifer just smiled at me and said, "I guess the Blessed Mother brought me back, Daddy. Me and Denise go to Mass every Sunday now."
I was startled and totally bedazzled by her reply. So after all of those years, I finally asked the Holy Mother. "Why is it that you never let me down?"
This time I actually heard her answer. "Because you love me and my child, she said, I will always love you and yours."
At that very instant, a pretty young woman with a baby in her arms walked right in front of me. I had never seen her before, but she suddenly turned and smiled at me.
Then with a warm beautiful glow upon her face, she whispered, "Hey, Mister. Merry Christmas!"