Miracle on the River Kwai
During the Second World War Dr. Ernest Gordon, later Chaplain of Princeton University, was a prisoner of war in Thailand. In his book, Through the Valley of the Kwai, he reflects on the difference between two Christmas seasons he spent in prison.
During the Christmas season of 1942 there were thousands of American soldiers in that prison who robbed the sick among them, mistreated one another, and did not care whether the other prisoners lived or died. During the following year, a healthy American soldier began giving his food to a sick buddy to help him get well. In time the sick prisoner recovered, but the buddy who had given him food died of malnutrition.
The story of the man who sacrificed his life to save a buddy made the rounds of the camp. Some of the prisoners remarked that he was a lot like Christ. Some of the soldiers began to recall passages from the Bible they had learned years earlier under far different circumstances. One of the passages stated,
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Some who were Christians took heart and began to witness to other men. The prisoners began to ask about Christ and to meet for Bible study. When they began to know Christ as Lord the entire atmosphere in the camp changed from despair and desperation to hope and compassion.
When Christmas of 1943 arrived, Dr. Gordon said, 2000 prisoners assembled for worship. They sang carols and someone read the story of the birth of Jesus from a Gospel account. Much more was different. In spite of their hunger, prisoners who were well shared food with the sick to help them gain strength faster. They cared for one another. They agreed that the difference came about because of faith in Christ and people who lived his love in the midst of unloving circumstances. The choices they made were for righteousness and not evil.
Laying down one’s life for friends
In 1941, the German Army began to round up Jewish people in Lithuania. Thousands of Jews were murdered. But one German soldier objected to their murder. He was Sergeant Anton Schmid. Through his assistance, the lives of at least 250 Jews were spared. He managed to hide them, find food, and supply them with forged papers. Schmid himself was arrested in early 1942 for saving these lives. He was tried and executed in 1942.
It took Germany almost sixty years to honor the memory of this man, Schmid. Said Germany’s Defense Minister in 2000, saluting him,
“Too many bowed to the threats and temptations of the dictator Hitler, and too few found the strength to resist. But Sergeant Anton Schmid did resist.”
This is the central of theme of today’s Gospel. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The hero Schmid went beyond what even Jesus encouraged. He laid down his life for strangers. (Fr. James Gilhooley). Fr. Bobby Jose.
The Centurion Card
A few years ago American Express quietly introduced its most exclusive new card (with an annual fee of $5,000/year). The Centurion Card is absolutely black, and is actually made out of titanium – the hardest known naturally occurring metal. In fact, when one of these titanium Centurion Cards expires, the member has to send it back to American Express for recycling. The titanium can’t be cut up or shredded. Besides, titanium is too valuable to be thrown away.
Jesus introduces and invokes a whole new mindset, heartset, and soulset, into the universe. Jesus established The Titanium Rule. Anyone figure out what it is? Here’s a hint: you find it in his understatement in this morning’s text, “It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher.” The Titanium Rule does not focus on “doing;” it focuses on “being” and on “loving.” Jesus commands his followers, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
The Whisper Test
Mary Ann Bird wrote a short story entitled “The Whisper Test.” It is a true story from her own life. “I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I must look to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth and garbled speech. “When schoolmates would ask, ‘What happened to your lip?’ I’d tell them I’d fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me. There was, however, a teacher in the second grade that we all adored — Mrs. Leonard by name. She was short, round, happy — a sparkling lady. Annually, we would have a hearing test. I was virtually deaf in one of my ears. But when I had taken the test in past years, I discovered that if I did not press my hand as tightly upon my ears as I was instructed to do, I could pass the test. Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn. I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something and we would have to repeat it back … things like, ‘The sky is blue’ or ‘Do you have new shoes?’ I waited there for those words. But God put into her mouth seven words which changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said, in her whisper, ‘I wish you were my little girl.’”
“Don’t bug me! Hug me!”
One man who believes this strongly went around giving hugs to all sorts of people. Challenged to come to a home for the disabled, he hugged people, who were terminally ill, severely retarded or quadriplegic. Finally he came to the last person, Leonard, who was wearing a big white bib, on which he was drooling. Overcoming his initial reluctance, the man took a deep breath, leaned down and gave Leonard a hug. All of a sudden Leonard began to squeal, “Eeehh! Eeeehh!” Some of the other patients in the room began to clang things together. The man turned to the staff- physicians, nurses and orderlies for some sort of explanation, only to find every one of them was crying. To his enquiry, “What’s going on?” the head nurse said, “This is the first time in twenty-three years we have ever seen Leonard smile.”
In the Gospel we are once again reminded of the outgoing nature of God, because of which He continues to love us and share His spirit with all peoples. (Harold Buetow, God Still Speaks: Listen! Quoted by Fr. Botelho).
The Oxford Encyclopedia English Dictionary defines symbiosis as “a mutually interactive relationship between two living things, usually to the advantage of both.” The created universe is rife with fascinating examples of symbiotic relationships.
- For instance, the rhinoceros has very poor eyesight. But its tough hide is infested with ticks which are a delicacy to a certain small bird which rides on its back, feasting on the insects and alerting the rhino to danger.
- Similarly, both the ratel, or honey badger, and the honey-guide bird are fond of honey, which they hunt together. With its keen eyes, the little bird easily finds the beehive and the ratel’s powerful claws tear it open, making the honey available to both.
- Among sea creatures, the pinna, a blind slug or snail is threatened by many predators, the worst of which is the cuttle-fish. No sooner does the pinna dare to open its bivalve shell than the cuttle-fish rushes in and devours it. Happily, the keen-eyed crab-fish is a constant companion of the pinna. Both live together in the pinna’s shell. When the pinna is hungry, it opens its valves and sends out its roommate to secure food. If an enemy is near, the crab-fish dashes back to its blind protector who quickly closes the valves once its symbiont is inside. If food can be secured without danger, the crab-fish returns to the shell, makes a gentle noise at its opening, is admitted by the pinna and the two share the feast together.
God has created human beings to be symbionts for one another. The relationship to which God calls us in Christ is to be characterized by a mutuality in which each and all of us can grow and thrive. When he lived in human flesh and walked among us, Jesus explained that such a relationship is possible for those who love God and keep the commandments. As today’s second reading and Gospel are read, believers are once again reminded of Jesus’ teaching, that we, who are beloved of God, are to love one another, freely, fully. Jesus proved the depths of his love and that of God for humanity by laying down his life so that we might live. (Patricia Datchuck Sánchez).
God’s love in action
When Fr. Damien arrived in Molokai to assemble a prefabricated Church for the lepers, he spent the first few weeks sleeping out under the trees, because he was unable to cope with the stench in the hovels of the lepers. He certainly wouldn’t dare preach to them about God’s love for them, because, as they saw it, that would be offensive. But slowly he opened his heart to the grace of God which enabled him to see the suffering Jesus in them. In no time, he was washing them, bandaging them, and burying them. He came to love them, and, through him, they came to believe that God loved them.
He smoked a pipe to counteract the stench, but he soon was passing the pipe around for others to have a smoke. He ate food with them from a common bowl, out of which they scooped the food with hands that had no fingers. He caught the disease himself, and he was happy to be able to live and to die for them.
St. Damien followed Jesus’ commandment of love given in today’s Gospel: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Carrying a burden alone
Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the great humanitarian, theologian, musician, and physician was eighty-five years old when I visited his jungle hospital at Lambarene, on the banks of the Ogowe River. One event stands out in a special way. It was eleven in the morning. The equatorial sun was beating down mercilessly, and we were walking up a hill with Dr. Schweitzer. Suddenly he left us and strode across the slope of the hill to a place where an African woman was struggling upward with a huge armload of wood for the cook fires. I watched with both admiration and concern as the eighty-five-year-old man took the entire load of wood and carried it on up the hill for the relieved woman. When we all reached the top of the hill, one of the members of our group asked Dr. Schweitzer why he did things like that, implying that in that heat and at his age he should not. Albert Schweitzer, looking right at all of us and, pointing to the woman, said simply, “No one should ever have to carry a burden like that alone.”
Dr. Albert Schweitzer not only believed but practiced Jesus’ great commandment of love given in today’s Gospel: “Love others as I have loved you.” [Andrew Davidson, quoted by Fr. Botelho)].
“Terminal hospital” in London
There is a special hospital in London for those whom other hospitals consider a lost cause. It is a hospital for those who are diagnosed as “terminal.” Most people would consider such a hospital to be a very sad place, but it is not. Actually, it is a hospital filled with hope and a lot of life. The emphasis in this London hospital is on life and not on death. The truth is that several of the patients have seen remissions in the disease process instead of death. A great deal of the credit is given to the way the facility is run.
The basic philosophy is different from most other hospitals. In this program the patients are expected to give themselves away in service to the other patients. Each patient is given another patient for whom to care. So, for example, a person who is unable to walk might be given the task of reading to another who is blind. The blind person would then push the wheelchair of the one who could not walk but who gives directions on where to push the chair. Is this not the new commandment to which Jesus referred? He calls us to be disciples who love one another. We are the ones who are healed and strengthened when we learn how to give and how to love. [Bruce Larson, Passionate People (Dallas: Word Publishers), p. 203.].
Beauty and the Beast
G. K. Chesterton once said that the really great lesson of the story of “Beauty and the Beast” is that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. A person must be loved before that person can be lovable. Some of the most unlovely people I have known got that way because they thought that nobody loved them. The fact of the matter is that unless, and until, we feel ourselves loved, we cannot love. That’s not only a principle of theology but of psychology and sociology as well. Just as abused children grow up to abuse their children, loved children grow up to love their children. Loved persons are able to love. Unloved persons are not.
Christianity says something startling. It says that God loves and accepts us “just as we are.” Therefore, we can love and accept ourselves and, in so doing, love and accept others. That is what Jesus commands us to do in today’s Gospel by challenging us to love others as he has loved us.
Transformation of a surgeon with Tourette’s Syndrome
Some years back, neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote a fascinating vignette of an intriguing neurological difficulty. As some of you know, Tourette’s Syndrome is a bizarre physiological disorder that causes victims to have any number of physical and verbal tics. Some Tourettic people have constant facial twitches, others find themselves uncontrollably uttering verbal whoops, beeps, and sometimes also raunchy swear words.
One man with Tourette’s whom Dr. Sacks knew was given to deep, lunging bows toward the ground, a few verbal shouts, and also an obsessive-compulsive type adjusting and readjusting of his glasses. The kicker is that the man is a skilled surgeon! Somehow and for some unknown reason, when he dons mask and gown and enters the operating room, all of his tics disappear for the duration of the surgery. He loses himself in that role and he does so totally. When the surgery is finished, he returns to his odd quirks of glasses adjustment, shouts, and bows.
Sacks did not make any spiritual comments on this, of course, yet I find this doctor a very intriguing example of what it can mean to “lose yourself” in a role. There really can be a great transformation of your life when you are focused on just one thing focused to the point that bad traits disappear even as the performing of normal tasks becomes all the more meaningful and remarkable. Something like that is our Christian goal as we travel with Jesus. Our desire is to love one another – to love the whole world finally, I suppose – as Jesus loved us. To do that, we need an infusion of a kind of love that does not arise naturally from the context of the world as we know it. So as we lose ourselves in Jesus and in being his disciples, we find even our ordinary day-to-day activities infused with deep meaning as a love from another place fills our hearts.
Where technology fails
Some time ago, there was an article in the Los Angeles Times about Howard Maxwell and his four-year-old daughter, Melinda. As children often do, Melinda developed a fixation on the story of “The Three Little Pigs.”
Every time her father came around, Melinda wanted him to read it to her. Well, for adults, a little “Three Little Pigs” goes a long way. The father, being both modern and inventive, got a tape recorder, recorded the story, and taught Melinda how to turn it on. He thought that had solved his problem. But it lasted less than a day.
Soon Melinda came to her father, holding out “The Three Little Pigs” and asking him to read. Somewhat impatiently, the father said, “Melinda, you have the tape recorder, and you know how to turn it on!” The little girl looked up at her father with her big eyes and said, plaintively, “Yes, daddy, but I can’t sit on its lap!”
Of course, what she really wanted was love. That is what we all want, and we never outgrow our need for it. To be valued, to be cared about, to be loved with a love without strings, a love that will always be there for us; I tell you, that is a foundation for our families that is strong enough to build upon!
“Hand me your papers”
French writer Henri Barbusse (1874-1935), tells of a conversation overheard in a trench full of wounded men during the First World War. One of the men, who knew he only had minutes to live says to one of the other men, “Listen, Dominic, you’ve led a very bad life. Everywhere you are wanted by the police. But there are no convictions against me. My name is clear, so, here, take my wallet, take my papers, my identity, take my good name, my life, and quickly, hand me your papers that I may carry all your crimes away with me in death.”
The Good News is that through Jesus, God makes a similar offer. Something wonderful happens to us when we are baptized. When we are baptized, we identify ourselves with Jesus. We publicly declare our intention to strive to be like Jesus and follow God’s will for our lives. When we are baptized, our lives are changed. We see things differently now. We see other people differently. Baptism enables and empowers us to do the things that Jesus wants us to do here and now. We are able to identify with Jesus because we have been baptized into His death and live with His Life. And we are able to love as he loved. Such identification is life-changing. That kind of identification shapes what we believe and claims us.
“The happiest day of my life.”
You have heard a bride say it. You have heard a new mother in the maternity ward say it. You have heard a graduating senior say it: “This is the happiest day of my life!” Some days are like that; they’re special. There are great days in all of our lives.
I wonder what was your most wondrous moment? For me such days are filled with extraordinary hope and joy. For me it was the birth of my daughter because it was shared with my wife and family. [state yours]. Life involves many happy affairs – the birth of a child, the gatherings of Christmas, a summer vacation. It is often said that to love and be loved is the greatest happiness in the world. For most of us, then, the most significant movement of hope and joy is our wedding day. It’s the day we celebrate before God and all our friends the love in our life. Marriage vows are the most profound vows one can make. No other vows are more tender; no other vows are more sacred. No other pledge will so radically shape and claim an individual. The two become one. A home is born. A haven for family is founded. Your place to be is created. But, alas, in too many marriages and in so many lives the wine fails.
“God, I ain’t got nothin’ against nobody.”
Anthony Campolo tells about a mountaineer from West Virginia who fell in love with the beautiful daughter of the town preacher. The gruff, tough man one evening looked deeply into the eyes of the preacher’s daughter and said, “I love you.” It took more courage for him to say those simple words than he had ever had to muster for anything else he had ever done. Minutes passed in silence and then the preacher’s daughter said, “I love you, too.” The tough mountaineer said nothing except, “Good night.” Then he went home, got ready for bed and prayed, “God, I ain’t got nothin’ against nobody.”
Many of us know that feeling. To love and to be loved, what joy that simple emotion brings into our lives! Then to realize that the very nature of God is Love is almost more than you or I can comprehend. No wonder, Jesus’ greatest commandment for his followers is “Love one another as I have loved you.”
“Dad couldn’t remember which one of us was adopted.”
One time a Sunday school superintendent was registering two new sisters in Sunday School. When she asked them how old they were one replied, “We’re both seven. My birthday is April 8th and my sister’s is April 20th.” That superintendent replied, “That’s impossible girls.” The other sister then spoke up and said, “No it’s true. One of us is adopted.” “Oh,” the superintendent said. “Which one?” The two sisters looked at each other, and one said, “We asked Dad that question a while ago, but he just looked at us and said that he loved us both equally, so much so that he couldn’t remember which one of us was adopted.” (from God’s Little Lessons on Life for Women, Honor Books).
That is a wonderful analogy for the love of God. God loves us all, equally. We are loved, not because we have earned God’s love or deserve it, but because of God’s grace.
Zacchaeus the tax collector
In later years, he rose early every morning and left his house. His wife, curious, followed him one morning. At the town well he filled a bucket, and he walked until he came to a sycamore tree. There, setting down the bucket, he began to clean away the stones, the branches, and the rubbish from around the base of the tree. Having done that, he poured water on the roots and stood there in silence, gently caressing the trunk with both of his hands. When his amazed wife came out of hiding and asked what he was doing, Zacchaeus replied simply, “This is where I found Christ.”
I can just imagine that for the rest of their lives, that woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ robe that day on the street and the daughter of Jairus who was raised up in that room in her home, continually brought people back to those sacred spots and said, “This is where I found Christ! This is where Christ loved me into life!” Do you have a sacred spot like that? This is the Good News of our Christian Faith, isn’t it? Love has the power to heal, to reconcile, and to redeem.
“He is very fond of me.”
Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest, who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, saw an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest said to the man, “You must be very close to God.” The peasant looked up from his prayers, thought a moment, and then stated with a broad smile, “Yes, He’s very fond of me.” Manning has a slogan to introduce himself to others: “I am the one Jesus loves.” He has borrowed this meaningful phrase from the Gospel where Jesus’ closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, is identified as “the one Jesus loved.” Manning says, “If John were to be asked, ‘What is your primary identity in life?’ he would not reply, ‘I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,’ but rather, ‘I am the one Jesus loves.’”
Today’s Gospel and the second reading remind us that our primary identity in life as Christians should be “the one Jesus loves,” precisely because we keep his commandment, “Love one another as I love you.”
“Because you are precious in my sight, I love you.”
Harold Hughes was a United States Senator and a former Governor of Iowa. God drastically changed his life. He was a hopeless alcoholic, wallowing in his own vomit, and so despairing that he was ready to take his own life away. He was uncontrollably addicted to alcohol. He reached a point where his wife and children left him and he lost his job. One day he ended up drunk, sitting in his bathtub with the barrel of a gun in his mouth and his finger on the trigger. Then he fortunately cried out to God. Immediately, he felt a spreading sense of peace within that delivered him from the crises of the moment. Through much struggle and pain, God led him along until he was at last free from the grip of alcohol. He eventually became the governor of his state and a United States senator.
We may be unwanted by people; we may be rejected and shunned by people but: we are wanted by God; we are worthy, we are precious in the eyes of the Lord. Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said, “Because you are precious in my sight, I love you (43:4)” After Mother Theresa received the Noble Prize, someone asked her, “How can we solve the world’s problems.” She replied, “Go home and love one another.” The thing that is destroying the world today is: hatred and intolerance. It is only love, which can save the world from destruction. And love shall be the only thing that is eternal. [John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho.]
True love in dangerous
Rita was dying of a disease from which her nine-year old brother, Richard, had just recovered. The surgeon said to Richard. “Only a transfusion of your blood will save your sister. Are you ready to give her your blood?” Richard was terrified but finally said, “OK, Doctor!” After the transfusion, Richard asked quietly, “Doctor, when will I die?” It was only then that the doctor understood Richard’s fear: he thought that by giving his blood he would die for Rita. Is our love a ready-to-die love?”
Little Richard was ready to die for Rita. And many mothers daily sacrifice so much so that their children might live fully. But what about our larger family, the world? We have a glowing example of a ready-to-die love in Indian social activist Medha Patkar, who sacrificed a flourishing legal career in Mumbai to work for the rights of tribals. She was accused of ‘Attempted suicide’ since her fast against the height of the Narmada Dam was seen as potentially dangerous to the powers that be. True love is dangerous! [Francis Gonsalves in Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).]
I loved those boys!
A college professor had his sociology class go into the Baltimore slums to get case histories of 200 young boys. They were asked to write an evaluation of each boy’s future. In every case the students wrote “He does not have a chance.” Twenty-five years later another sociology professor came across the earlier study. He had his students follow up on the project to see what had happened to these boys. With the exception of twenty boys who had moved away or died, the students learned that 176 of the remaining 180 had achieved more than ordinary success as lawyers, doctors and businessmen. The astounded professor decided to pursue the matter further. Fortunately, all the men were in the area, and he was able to ask each, “How do you account for your success?” In each case the reply came with feeling, “There was a teacher.” The teacher was still alive, so he sought her out and asked the old but still alert lady what magic formula she had used. Her eyes sparkled and her lips broke into a gentle smile. “It is really simple,” she said. “I loved those boys.”
In today’s Gospel we read Jesus’ great commandment: I command you, love one another. (Harold Buetow in God Still Speaks: Listen! Quoted by Fr. Botelho).
101 Ways to Say I Love You
Here are some of them: Watch the sunset together; Cook for each other; Hold hands; Buy gifts for each other; Hugs are the universal medicine; say ‘I love you’ and mean it; Give random gifts of flowers/roses/candy, etc; Tell her that she’s the only woman you ever want, don’t lie; spend every second possible together; look into each other’s eyes; Put love notes in their pockets when they are not looking; Buy her a ring; sing to each other; Read to each other; PDA (Public Display of Affection); Take her to a dinner and do the dinner for two deal; Dance together; Tell each other your most sacred secrets or fears; Go to Church/worship together; Learn from each other and don’t make the same mistake twice; Everyone deserves a second chance; Describe the joy you feel just to be with her; make sacrifices for each other; Dedicate songs to them on the radio; always remember to say, ‘sweet dreams.’
Anecdotes on this page compiled by Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.