As Sal walked toward St. Anselm’s, he pondered Titus’ question. What was the true spirit of Christmas: gift-giving or gift-getting, watching the kids shred the paper, the birth of a special baby two millennia ago, or … what the hell, family? If it was supposed to be family, there was no reason to celebrate Christmas since some drunken idiot had taken his family just over four years ago. And if God lets that happen to the sweetest, most innocent people on earth, to hell with it. Not my idea of God.
(If you haven’t read Part I, you may want to read it.)
Damn, it was cold! He should have looked at the weather forecast before going out. How did Titus and the other one (Mark, Mary, Mar-something) do it, just wearing those robes on a night like this? ‘Course they didn’t really have to walk or anything. They were angels, with wings, and they just appeared wherever they wanted to show up. He had never really seen them fly outside, so maybe they never really got cold.
Christ, he’d only been in the bar for what, a couple of hours, so he couldn’t be drunk or imagining angels. Titus was the leader of the two, and this was the fourth Christmas Eve Sal had seen him. Nice enough guy but the wings were a dead giveaway that he wasn’t from around here. Now he had a trainee, and he came right to the point this year. He wanted to know the true meaning of Christmas. From a mortal perspective.
How the hell should I know the true meaning of Christmas! You’re the one with wings!
Turns out that Titus is some kind of Christmas Angel for Sal since Laurie, Sal Jr., and Melissa were stolen from him those four Christmases ago. Titus keeps showing up on Christmas Eve in some sort of effort to convince him that it’s all okay, or something like that. Good luck with that.
This year the winged-one just sort of disappeared the way he appeared, but he left a medallion with a message. Said he’d meet me at St. Anselm’s for the Midnight Mass.
Since Sal had nothing better to do (actually, he lost four coin tosses to himself in the decision-making process), here he was outside St. Anselm’s. It was a beautiful church, and the choir was ringing out in Christmas melodies that not even Sal could forget. Not that he wanted to, because a couple of months before that final Christmas, Laurie had dragged him into the choir too. She had a beautiful alto voice, and he turned out to be a bass, but they had fun together.
But now …
He stood watching the open door and listening to the choir. As the indecision lingered, he finally decided and turned for home.
“Sal!” The voice rang out, sharp and clear. He knew that if he turned back to the church, a man-like thing with wings and a robe would take hold of his heart and wind him in this time.
So he turned and walked toward the sound of what now seemed like a heavenly choir as Titus and Mar-something escorted him right up to the door.
“I used to know quite a few people in there,” Sal said. “Laurie would have the whole choir over for dinner before this mass on Christmas Eve.”
“They Haven’t Forgotten You, Sal. You’ll See.”
Titus was speaking. “My job was to get you here, Sal. Just follow the usher down the aisle. And I’m truly happy for you and for what you’re about to experience. Goodbye, Sal, and Merry Christmas!”
And with that, he was gone in that same puff of light and feathers as before at the bar. Mara, however, remained and went through a different transformation. He grew smaller until he was the size and had the features of a roughly ten-year-old girl, The white robe became a black choir robe and the wings shrunk from about seven feet tall to about twelve inches and folded neatly against her back, turning black in the process.
She, formerly the angel called Mara, also had a handful of programs in hand and giving one to Sal said, “Follow me please, Sal.”
Mara turned and led the way down the center aisle of the church. At this point, Sal would believe almost anything but still followed with a sense of awe and wonderment.
He vaguely heard the congregation respond to Fr. Edward with, “And with your Spirit”, but his eyes roamed from side to side as they passed down the aisle and came to a stop about four rows from the front. Heads had turned and smiles greeted them all the way and somehow he had managed to return the favor.
Mara turned and motioned Sal to take the aisle seat on the left and handed him a program. As he did so, he saw Maria Antonucci sitting there. Laurie and Maria had been besties and she was now beaming up at him as if not a day had gone by since he had lost his family.
His hand went to his mouth in a vain effort to hide his emotion and he nearly collapsed into his seat. Maria took his left hand and raised it to her cheek then kissed it. Flustered, he kissed hers back, then looked to the altar area. There, behind the altar, was the 26-member choir silently applauding him with Jim Antonucci, Maria’s husband, grinning from ear to ear. Sal couldn’t help but laugh and wave back.
“Like any birthday, Christmas should be celebrated by family and friends with a party.”
Suddenly, Sal shifted to Fr. Edward as he heard those words coming from the priest’s mouth. They were the same words he had heard from Titus’ lips earlier this evening at the bar. Fr. Edward continued,
“Our Heavenly Father, sent his only begotten son down from Heaven to join us in our sorrows, our joys, and to lead us back to Heaven. He gave Him a Family to support Him, and to love Him, and to set the example for how families should act. That’s what I call a sacrifice.”
As Sal sat in silence, letting these words wash over him and filling him with the strongest sense of peace, he heard a soft voice in his right ear. It was Mara, sitting on the back of the pew.
“They can’t see me Sal, but how are you?”
With tears rolling softly down his cheeks, Sal murmured, “I’m good, I think. I’d forgotten what this was like.”
“Good,” said Mara. The angel paused and then “So, what’s the true meaning of Christmas then, from a mortal perspective?”
“From a mortal perspective?” Sal thought. “God … loves … us. He loves us so much that He came down from Heaven to become one of us.” Haltingly, Sal continued. “I guess that’s cause for celebration, … for family and friend reunions, to reflect and celebrate the Love of God. I’m pretty sure that’s what Laurie thought.”
“Mmm. That’s really deep, especially for a mortal.” said Mara. “Sounds like it’s time for me to go.”
“Where are you going?”
“Home. Mission accomplished?”
“Mission accomplished,” Sal whispered. “Thanks and congrats on your promotion. You earned it.”
Mara leaned in and kissed Sal softly on his right cheek. “Thanks and Laurie says to tell you she loves you. Always and Forever. Bye, for now.”
With that, the spot that used to contain Mara was the same poof, but fewer feathers this time and instantly the choir burst into “Hallelujah Chorus.”
Sal, overcome and spent, looked up and somewhere near the altar thought he saw the face of the statue of Mary … wink and smile.