I was seated in my easy chair dozing just after dinner on Christmas Eve when the thought entered my mind. Of all the times it had never occurred to me to ask him. I resolved that at the next opportunity I would do so.
Since we have been companions for many years, the opportunities to talk together have been innumerable. I must say that over the years I have availed myself of these quite regularly. Most of our conversation pieces have been about routine matters. He is and has been most concerned about my safety, health, physical and spiritual well-being in general. Several of these chats in particular I recall very well.
Many years ago I chided him on his lack of vigilance in my regard. On that occasion, I was lifted off a fire hydrant on our street, over which I was draped, and taken to a nearby hospital with a broken arm. He argued that his vigilance had been circumvented and rendered useless by an extra long crotch in the overalls that I was wearing. In attempting to jump the hydrant, while playing a game of follow-the-leader, the crotch of my new overalls caught on the top of the hydrant. My arms swung wildly over the far side, the elbows of my right arm giving way upon contact with the hard surface of the hydrant. Even to this day I believe he chuckles a little when he recalls the spectacle of an 11-year-old impaled on a fire hydrant.
I have tangible proof he was at my side several years later when I was taken sick in the terrible post-war epidemic of flu. He kept a constant vigil beside my brother Willie, who cried at my bedside all through the crisis of my sickness. Though I didn't see him, I knew he was there. I was in a coma most of the time but I recovered. I have always been most grateful to him and my brother for their solicitude.
It would be difficult to repay him for all the help he gave with the realization of my vocation. There were some difficulties and obstacles to be overcome at the time I announced my intention of entering religion. The objections, mountainous and insurmountable, vanished as soon as he entered the picture. For all his help, I am eternally grateful to him.
But, here he is now. I'll put the question to him immediately. He'll wonder too, I suppose, that I never thought to ask him before this. "I have a belated question for you," I said as I returned his greeting with a wave of my arm.
"And just what is it?" he asked in his usual jubilant tone.
"On that first Christmas night, 2,000 years ago, were you with the angels that appeared on the hillside of Bethlehem and sang 'Glory to God' to the delight and consternation of the shepherds?" I asked.
"Surely," he said "I was one of the legion of angels that filled the hills of Bethlehem with joyous singing on that first great night."
Then he detailed for me the many happenings of that holy night. He told me how the angels accompanied Mary and Joseph from inn door to inn door. How they had to restrain themselves from appearing to the human eye when the gruff innkeepers refused to give them lodging. Had not God the Father ordained otherwise, the angels would have appeared sooner and forced the innkeepers to admit Mary and Joseph. It was difficult for them, he said, to hold back rejoicing and singing until the time determined by the Father. It was shocking to see the indifference and callousness of men.
His radiance and brilliance seemed to increase and sparkle when he began to tell how they appeared on the hillside of Bethlehem to the simple shepherds. All of us, he said, burst the stillness of the quiet night with our exulting song of praise. The shepherds were startled and fearful at first. When they realized the import of our message, they hurried over the hills to the stable at Bethlehem. Some delayed but a minute to pick up a gift of food, clothing or linen. As husbands hurried in quick pursuit of the angels, housewives hastily wrapped bread, dainties and warm coverings and prized cloths into portable bundles.
My Guardian Angel told how he turned and saw a small boy hurrying after the rushing crowd. The lad's short legs were not equal to the strides of his elders. He fell repeatedly and was crying bitterly lest he be left behind. My angel swooped down, took hold of the lad by the collar and placed him in the front rank near the crib of Our Savior. The angel described the amazement of the child's mother when she beheld him at the crib before all others. The excitement kept her from asking him how he ever got there at all. My angel is of the opinion that this little lad grew up to be the Zacheus we read of the New Testament, the man of low stature who climbed a tree to see Our Savior passing by. He wasn't too sure of this, however.
"Yes! what is it?" I asked as I woke, startled by some strange noise.
"Brother Superior," said Brother John, who had just entered my room, "the brothers and boys are all in the chapel ready for Midnight Mass."
"I must have dozed and slept," I answered, "tell the brothers, boys and the good angels I'll be there for Midnight Mass immediately."
BROTHER C. PATRICK GARDNER, FSC, teaches at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute.