“His body is withering away, not only from cold and hunger, but also of excess alcohol…Wine is his faithful companion, and cirrhosis of the liver and other sicknesses slowly consumes his body.”
A TRUE CHRISTMAS STORY BY JURGEN WETZEL
…AND HE RENEWS HIS FIRM RESOLUTION NOT TO DRINK
Paul is seated on the cold stones of the Church of St James in a small village of Bavaria (Germany). As always he is there to beg alms. Before Mass begins, he opens the doors of the church to the faithful entering and gives them a friendly smile, thus showing a mouth practically with no teeth.
He is fifty years old and is one of those homeless beggars struggling to survive. His body is withering away, not only from cold and hunger, but also because of excess alcohol. He seems much older than he is. If only he had the determination to fight against this vice, he continuously thought…and he renews his firm resolution not to drink.
With nightfall, though, comes the memory of his family lost in a tragic accident, his resistance fades away, and he again consoles himself with the bottle. The alcohol lessens the emptiness of his soul, at least for a short period of time. Wine is his faithful companion, and cirrhosis of the liver and other sicknesses slowly consume his body. The colour of his face does not bode well for his health. Paul became an integral part of the stairs of the Church in the eyes of those living in the neighbourhood, just as if he were a statue, and this is how they treated him. Most paid no attention to him, and those that did asked themselves how long he would last.
The parish priest and his pastoral aide still worry about him, but more does especially Sister Petra, a young missionary who visits him every day. He enjoys visits of the nun who always brings him something to eat. However, even this young religious is unable to take Paul off the street. He does not want to enter the presbytery even just to eat or wash himself.
Each night when darkness fell and no one could see him, Paul slipped into the empty and dark church and sat in the first bench right in front of the Tabernacle. There he would remain in silence, almost without moving, for about one hour. He would then get up, shuffle down the centre aisle and leave by the main door, disappearing into the dark night. To where? Nobody knows. The next day, however, he would be there sitting on the stairs in front of the main doors of the church.
So the days passed. Once Sister Petra asked him, “Paul, I see you entering the church every evening. What do you do there so late? Do you by chance pray?”
“No, I do not pray,” Paul answered. “How could I pray? I have not prayed since I was a child and went to religion classes. I have forgotten all the prayers. I do not remember any of them. So what do I do in the church? It is simple. I go to the Tabernacle where Jesus is alone in His small house and I say to Him: ‘Jesus, it is I, Paul. I have come to visit you.’ There I stay a while so at least someone keeps Him company.”
ONE DAY, HE WASN’T THERE ANY MORE
On Christmas morning, the spot on the stairs that Paul had occupied for years was empty. Worried, Sister Petra looked for him and finally found him in the hospital near the church. In the early morning hours some passers-by had found him unconscious on a bridge and called an ambulance. Paul was now on a sick bed.
HE WAS DYING
When the missionary saw him, she was shocked. Paul was full of tubes and his breathing was weak. His face had the pallor of the dying.
“Are you his relative?” The voice of the doctor awoke Sister Petra from her thoughts.
“No, but I will take care of him,” she answered spontaneously.
“Unfortunately there is not much that can be done; he is dying.” Shaking his head, the doctor left the room.
Sister Petra sat next to Paul, took his hand, and prayed for a long time. Then, very sad, she made her way back to the presbytery.
The next day she returned to the hospital, braced for the bad news that Paul had died.
“Oh, what has happened?” She cannot believe her eyes. Paul is sitting in bed and has shaven. With lively open eyes he is happy at seeing the nun. An expression of ineffable joy shines over his radiant face. Sister Petra thinks to herself, “Is this really the man that was fighting for his life yesterday?”
“Paul, this is incredible. You are practically resurrected. You are unrecognisable. What happened?”
“It happened not long after you left yesterday evening. I was not feeling well at all. However, all of a sudden, I saw someone next to my bed. He was beautiful, indescribably splendourous…You can have no idea! He smiled at me and said, “Paul, it is I, Jesus. I have come to visit you.'”
From that moment Paul never touched a drop of alcohol again. Sister Petra arranged for him to have a room in the presbytery and employment as a gardener. His life was transformed entirely from that Christmas on. Paul found new friends in the parish and, whenever he could, he helped Sister Petra with her duties. One thing, though, always remained the same: when night fell, Paul would slip into the church, sit before the Tabernacle and say, “Jesus, it is I, Paul. I have come to visit you.”
– fr. ‘Woechentliche Depesche christlicher Nachrichten’, RU 50/2010; in TFP Viewpoint, December 2012. Contact TFP Viewpoint at: The Editor, TFP Viewpoint, 24/2 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3DQ; email: firstname.lastname@example.org