My mother had wonderful parents -- a Protestant mom and a Catholic dad. Their three daughters were raised Protestant (my mom, the middle child, converted to Catholicism as an adult).
Sadly, my mom's father died when I was seven years old, in December 1974. I don't remember much about Grandpa Thomas, as we lived in different states, but all the memories I have of him are good ones. He was a loving, gentle man.
Once I came fully into my Catholic Faith, I felt a new closeness to my late grandpa. I began to appreciate that he was not just any old Catholic, but a Catholic after my own heart. He helped physically build the current St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Medina, Ohio; he was a devotee of Archbishop Fulton Sheen; he delighted in great spiritual books (some of which I now possess from his library); and he wrote a local newspaper column which often touched on issues of faith. He was also a lover of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, a faithful Mass-goer and a frequent daily communicant until his untimely death from cancer at age 55.
Grandpa's Catholic identity was not of any real interest to me until 21 years after his death. Now, I think of him as a kindred spirit: Both of us writers, both of us with newspaper columns, both of us desiring to grow ever deeper in the Catholic Faith we love. I have no doubt that his prayers from Heaven were instrumental in bringing me back to the fullness of the Church. I truly love the man I hardly knew, and I cannot wait to meet him again one day.
In his honor, I reprint this column that he wrote for the Medina County Gazette in 1972, 38 Decembers ago:
[The name of his column]
Christmas: Thrilling or Monotonous?
"I hate Christmas," the fellow grumbled. "Same old story. Shopping, parties, drinking, and those old songs in the department stores."
Well, one must concede it's the same old story. The tale of a young girl giving birth in a cave-stable in Palestine some two thousand years ago. Then, there was the star, the shepherds and the wise men. That's about all.
And yet the excitement of that monotony, seemingly a contradiction in terms, has endured for those two thousand years, undiminished in its dramatic impact and its spiritual influence. And millions of us experience the spine-tingling sense of inner joy as we listen to the joyful strains of the angelic message of the arrival of the Messiah.
What great story ever lost anything in the re-telling?
What reader ever gets tired of the re-telling of the Dickens' tale of Sydney Carton dying on the scaffold for his friend, Charles Darnay? "Tis a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done...."
What lover has not thrilled at Romeo's "It is the East, and Juliet is the sun"? Or lamented with with Hamlet's "taking up arms against the sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep..."?
Does not the dream of a bright, vibrant "Camelot" continue to thrill and inspire? Do not the exploits of Hannibal, Napoleon and the courage of Joan of Arc still excite the imagination, in spite of 1,000 re-tellings?
Tell the children the tale of Cinderella or the Wizard of Oz, and not a tot will complain, "Oh, I've heard that before; tell me another story."
Even God is repetitious, with his constant re-creating of the rose, the tree, the green grass, the rain, the gentle breezes of spring and the other endless beauties and surprises of nature.
So, why the surprise or downgrading of the most profound, and the most simple tale of all ages?
Even without its spiritual implications to billions of Christians throughout two millennia of the world's history, the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph would still stir the soul of anyone with a jot of emotion, sensitivity or tenderness.
Just imagine a chilly Palestinian night, with one bright star, overshadowing all others. And three wise men trudging from the East, and crude, unlettered shepherds descending the hills on which their docile sheep grazed and dozed.
And what did they find in that rough-hewn stable but a peasant Jewish girl who had just given birth to a squirming baby boy?
A few animals breathing mists of warmth into the make-shift crib; a harried Joseph stroking up a glimmering fire at the mouth of the cave; a few passers-by, on their way to the Inn which rejected immortality and exchanged it for wine and ribaldry and the barrenness of frivolity on that first Christmas night.
The same old story? Certainly. Just as it will be 1,000 years hence. The most exciting, poignant and profound tale ever told.
Merry Christmas, Grandpa! You are loved and missed!