Note: Vicente "Ben" Blaz was a student at the University of Notre Dame when he originally wrote this letter Dec. 7, 1950.
Six years ago this month, Guam celebrated her first Christmas following liberation. We didn't have much with which to celebrate, then, for we emerged from the war penniless. We had lost everything we had -- our clothes were ragged from wear, our homes destroyed. But in spite of all this, our first post-war celebration was something memorable.
I remember distinctly the night before Christmas, when we had dinner in what was left of our shattered home. I remember also who our guests were-- four young soldiers who didn't look any older than college freshmen. Right after we finished dinner, the four men got together and sang Irving Berlin's immortal "White Christmas." As they sang, I noticed the solemnity in their voices and in their faces. I could tell what they were thinking about. I could tell that the song was reminding them of home, mother, dad.
It reminded them of these things because Christmas time, more than any other time, makes us want to be with our loved ones. Christmas seems to be just the time when every member of the family should be home. For some reason, it seems like just the day for a small family reunion.
What is it about Christmas that makes us feel this way? Why is Christmas the only day of the year that gets us into the spirit of going all out in an effort to buy nothing but the best for the ones we love? When did all this idea of giving of presents start?
The answer to this question is very simple. It started when God gave the world the greatest gift mankind ever had -- His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
Previous to this, God had given man two gifts -- sanctifying grace and the preternatural gifts. He gave us sanctifying grace because He wanted us to have a share in His divine life. He gave us the preternatural gifts because He never wanted us to get injured, to get sick, to die. Because there were gifts, God wanted man to do something to merit them. But Adam sinned and he lost these gifts for all mankind. Because these were gifts and Adam had no right to them, God didn't have to restore them. Adam offended God and reparation was due.
But how could man ever make reparations when he could not talk to God, since he had lost his share of the diving life? He could not talk to God any more. It was above the nature of a man to share the divine life. In time, God decided to give the human race a chance to make reparations and thereby regain the gifts He had taken away from us. It was here that God gave us His son, Jesus Christ. It was His present to the world and through Him (Jesus Christ) we can know God, we can love God, we can honor God.
This is the story behind the custom of giving presents. We give presents to show our love and appreciation to someone. God gave us His Son because He loved us and wanted us to share His heavenly happiness. But what have we given in return for the Redeemer? What have we done to show our appreciation for the babe in the manger? Not much and, in most instances, nothing at all.
Christmas seems to have lost its true meaning for most of us. We have turned this great holy day into nothing but an excuse to go on a mad spending spree. We have commercialized Christmas to such an extent that many of us have forgotten just what happened on Christmas Day 2,000 years ago. We have turned our thoughts away from spiritual values into the material things of the earth -- seeking lavish entertainment and exciting pleasures.
We have virtually killed the spiritual significance of this great day so as to cause a customer shopping on Michigan Street in South Bend last year when he saw a missal offered for a Christmas present to say: "Those Catholics would put religion into anything -- even Christmas." He was so used to seeing cocker spaniels and evergreen trees on his Christmas cards that the sight of a missal shocked him!
Yes, gentlemen, we slander this great day. Go walking up and down Chicago's famous State Street sometime and see for yourself what they have adorning their famous shopping district. Atop lamp posts you'll see giant reproductions of "Little Bo Peep Who Lost Her Sheep." The idea of the Redeemer doesn't even enter into the picture.
Where I come from, it is not uncommon to see a little Bethlehem in the living rooms of most of our homes. In these little Bethlehems, we have miniature reproductions of the manger, of our Lord, of the three kings and everything we could imagine that would give us a picture of the place where our Lord was born. Nine days before Christmas, we start a novena and each night until Christmas Eve, we gather around the little Bethlehems and sing Christmas songs and say prayers in preparation for the coming of the Redeemer. Friends and neighbors come to sing and pray with us one night, then we go to another house another night, etc. This, to my mind, is the best way one can celebrate Christmas. We have Christmas trees, too, but they are of little significance to us as compared to our miniature Bethlehems.
This year, Christmas will be celebrated during the worst crisis the United States has ever been in. As a matter of fact, this is the worst period in history the whole world has ever faced. We are no longer fighting just for peace, but for our very survival as well. We are not just fighting a fanatical nation that is oppressing our allies; we are fighting the worst enemy of mankind -- atheistic communism. It is time we junk our individualistic attitude of what-won't-affect-me-as-an-individual-won't-bother-me and join with other Christians in our fight to save Christianity.
We're Christians because we believe in Christ. We believe in Him because He is the Son of God and He taught us well. The 25th of this month is His birthday. Let us go ahead and buy presents for our family and friends, but let us not forget that we owe a present to the Babe in the manger. We cannot give Him material things, but we can give Him the best we have to offer -- ourselves.
This is what Christmas means to me.
Vicente "Ben" Blaz is a retired Marine Corps general and a former Guam delegate to Congress.