Friday, August 14, 2015

Exodus, Chapter 1, Verse 21
And because the midwives feared God, God built up families for them.

God’s mercy is just like the drops of water which grooves stones to make gorges and canyons; small acts of mercy have a similar effect on the hearts of sinners making them into monoliths of strength.
Last week in our study of John McCain’s book “Character is Destiny”[1] John highlighted the life of Maximilian Kolbe as an example of a person who best portraits the characteristic of compassion and it just so happens that today is his feast day. Compassion is an act of mercy that we direct toward others. Father Kolbe’s act of compassion to offer his life in exchange for the life of a man with a family mirrors the divine mercy of our savior. Yet, our Lord asks us to even show mercy to our enemy’s. This takes great Faith and thus leads to an understanding heart. McCain showed us the compassion of a prisoner of war in the last chapter of his book and in this installment McCain shows us the model of Faith via the Christian Guard at Hua Lo Prison where McCain was a prisoner of war. John says that this guard was an enemy who best helped him to understand the power of my faith.
Hate is a condition of warfare familiar to every combat veteran. There are many noble qualities exhibited by soldiers in war. Love, compassion, courage, self-sacrifice have been expressed in the highest degree on all the battlefields of all the wars in history. But hatred, on both sides of a war, is ever present as well. You come to hate your enemies, and not in the abstract because you believe they serve some hateful purpose, but in reality, and individually. You hate them because they have harmed or killed comrades you have loved. You hate them because they are trying to kill you. This is war’s great tragedy, that no matter how just or necessary your cause, a part of you must become less human to serve it on a battlefield. It is a rare and magnificent soldier who can fight without hating any of his enemies. For those of us held as prisoners of war, we needed more than hate to survive. We needed faith. Faith, first and foremost, in one another. We had faith that no matter how bad things got we could rely on the support and encouragement of our comrades to help us get through it. Lastly, almost all of us had faith in God, even if when we arrived in prison we lacked a close affiliation with an organized religion. But in prison you needed to believe in a God whose love for you was ever present. And you needed to believe in God to maintain, through all the horrors of war, a sense of moral responsibility to struggle to remain a human being.
On one particular night as I sat tied up on a stool cursing, and straining against the painfully tightened ropes, the door suddenly opened and a young gun guard I had occasionally seen wandering around the camp entered the room. He motioned to me to remain silent by placing his finger to his lips, and then, without smiling or even looking me in the eyes, proceeded to loosen the ropes that bound me. His kind action completed, he left without uttering a word to me. As dawn approached, he returned to tighten the ropes before he finished his watch and another guard might have discovered what he had done. In the months that followed, I occasionally saw my Good Samaritan when I was moved from one part of the prison to another. He never allowed himself a glance in my direction; much less spoke to me, until one Christmas morning, when I was briefly allowed out of my cell to stand alone in the outdoors and look up at the clear, blue sky. As I was looking at the heavens, I became aware of him as he walked near me and then, for a moment, stood very close to me. He did not speak or smile or look at me. He just stared at the ground in front of us, and then, very casually, he used his foot to draw a cross in the dirt. We both stood looking at his work for a minute until he rubbed it out and walked away. For just that moment I forgot all my hatred for my enemies, and all the hatred most of them felt for me. I forgot about the torture, and the interrogators who persecuted my friends and me. I forgot about the war, and the terrible things that war does to you. I was just one Christian venerating the cross with a fellow Christian on a Christmas morning. I saw him again occasionally. But he never looked at me or attempted to speak to me. We never worshiped together again. But I have never forgotten him or the kindness he showed me as a testament to the faith we shared. That experience helped to form my lasting appreciation for my own religious faith, and it took the faith of an enemy to reveal it to me, the faith that unites and never divides, the faith that bridges unbridgeable divisions in humanity, the faith that we are all, sinners and saints alike, children of God. I became a better man, a stronger man, a more faithful man, who, for at least a moment, could love his enemies.

[1] McCain, John and Salter, Mark. (2005) Character is destiny. Random House, New York

Here is a film on three saints from Poland that helped build up families.


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