December 2006 - Volume 11, Issue 5

Santa's Air Force

By Rev. Ray Petrucci

Photo of a C-54 airplaneChildren – hundreds of them – were gathered near a runway in West Berlin. Their active eyes scanned the horizon in search of airplanes. Albeit not an unusual pastime for children, these were not average children. These eager-eyed innocents were the children of war. The hot war had ended, but a cold one had begun. The Russians had established a blockade of the city of Berlin and the Berliners were terrified that they might be abandoned by the Americans. The American response was called the Berlin Airlift. From June of 1948 until September of 1949, there were 277,000 flights delivering 2 million tons of goods for the desperate people of Berlin. This heroic action on behalf of former enemies saved the lives of the citizens of Berlin and broke the blockade. It was one particular plane, however, that piqued the children's interest; the one piloted by Gail Halvorsen. As his C-54 approached the airport, he would dip the wings of the big aircraft as a signal to the children that it was his plane that was approaching. Cheers filled the air and a sea of waving hands acknowledged their recognition. As the plane flew over the area where the children were amassed, there appeared a multitude of little parachutes bearing small boxes of candy that descended toward the excited children. Rushing to and fro in pursuit of these sweet treasures, the children were experiencing a time joy and happiness after so many years of fear and loss. Halvorsen said that he wanted to give these children some hope in their lives and the knowledge that there were others who cared about them. The concern of this American flyer made the world a little less fearful for the children of Berlin.

Once, when I visited a monastery around Christmas,
I passed a monk walking outside the church. "Merry Christmas," I said.
"May Christ be born in you," he replied.

– Sue Monk Kidd

The compassion of this Military Santa goes to the core of the message of Christmas: that the love of God is made visible through human activity. So often, we pray for God to intercede in human events. If only God would manipulate the course of certain circumstances as they occur, life would be so much better. While I dare not restrict the mind of God, in its wisdom and power, to affect supernatural happenings, I have noted the natural influence of God on human will and conscience to be extremely impressive. The desire to serve God in the normal activities and choices of an average day can produce wondrous impressions on others. In spite of the greatly increased amount of action and general busyness these days, people at Christmas tend to extend a more sensitive front to their fellow man. Common courtesies are more common. A feeling that people are more alive to one another becomes apparent. It may be that God looks for a person to exhibit a spiritual openness so that those highest of human virtues may have sway. The freedom of the human will, as we know, can be coaxed in one direction or another, resulting in a person experiencing the heights or depths of one's decisions. Understanding the internal forces that motivate our actions may elude us, but we are aware of their presence and of their considerable power. Yet, on a conscious level, we can set the tone of our attitude toward becoming the person we wish to be and of acting in a way that we deem to be satisfactory. We can set out each day to be a person of good will. In a manner of speaking, we can follow the intention expressed at the end of every Mass we attend; that we go out to love and serve the Lord. The mission is to convince ourselves how incredibly pleasurable that pursuit will be.

Photo of Gail HalvorsenWe all are thankful for instances of kindness, compassion, or forgiveness others may show us. I must believe that the reverse is true also. Christianity is a faith that places the need of the other constantly before the adherent. If the life of the bishop and saint named Nicholas can persuade the minds of people to acts of generosity toward family and friends, how much more can the will of the Almighty move people to greatness. Hoping such for the world this Christmas could be judged futile and na´ve. The political, social, and economic pressures are too complex and do not lend themselves to the path of virtue. The best one could hope for would be that national and global interests might coincide in certain areas. I would acquiesce to this rather pessimistic outlook except for the fact that I have seen better done and on a wide scale. Every age produces prophets whose voices call humanity to higher moral ground. People throughout the world are looking for lives that can be lived in peace and justice. Faith and love still are the prime movers in life. As long as these factors remain vigorous, God yet may see the world he envisioned.

As the prayerful monk said to the woman, "May Christ be born in you." And may Christ be borne by you in the thoughts, words, and deeds of each day that you are given. I offer to you my prayers and best wishes for a blessed and merry Christmas.

Photo of a red bow and ribbon