I wrote last week about watching the NJROTC awards/change of command ceremony recently, and inevitably began reminiscing about my own college ROTC days back in the early 80’s. That was, of course, soon after the Vietnam War, and feelings toward the military were much less warm than they are today. It was very similar to the situation with police these days: the actions of a relatively few bad apples get imputed to all even though the vast majority serve with selflessness and honor.
Back in that post-Vietnam time—even as now—there were some adamantly opposed to any military whatever, decrying violence of any form. But I often wondered, especially of mothers: if someone were hurting your child, would you simply say, “Well, I can’t defend him/her; I deplore violence of ANY sort.” Yeah … right, mama bear. That has not been my experience when a mother’s child is threatened. More likely you’d rip the culprit’s arms off.
That is the visceral, rabidly-intense, rationality-despising protective instinct of a mother for her children: holding nothing back, even to the sacrifice of her own life if necessary. A similar lack of reason is why subduing a violent mentally-disturbed person can be so dangerous: a rational person, even subconsciously, considers legal consequences, harm to self, etc., but an irrational person holds nothing back.
The above speak of negative situations, but what happens when “holding nothing back” seeks into the more positive realm of faith and charity? We are by nature and in our survival instincts intently focused on self-interest most of all; that’s why Jesus’ admonition to “Love your neighbor as yourself” can be so challenging. When speaking think of “holding nothing back” in a charitable loving sense, many people’s thoughts go to Mother Teresa, who sacrificed a comfortable European life to live and work with the poorest of the poor in India.
Of course, the Christian model and exemplar of “holding nothing back” is Jesus, who proclaimed that He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many…” (Mark 10:45) and “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13) and then proceeded to do that very thing.
One of our deacons gave the homily (sermon) this weekend at our Catholic Masses and told a marvelous story which serendipitously touched upon this same theme of holding nothing back. He had been a member of a group of advisers in Prague for the drafting of the new Czech Republic’s constitution just after the fall of the Berlin wall. While there, he sought a particular famous church, and after determined searching, finally found it. Within he found a small group of worshippers which he said radiated joy and holiness. Later he spoke of the encounter with an interpreter, who replied abashedly: “Everyone knows about them. We don’t like speaking about them; it hurts our hearts.”
Why, pray tell? Interest piqued, the deacon continued his questioning. The interpreter eventually admitted that the small group were the few who, while under the thumb of the repressive Communist dictatorship, refused to give up the public acknowledgement and practice of their Christian faith … thereafter suffering blacklisting, starvation and even torture. The interpreter confessed that it was out of shame that no one spoke of them … of those courageous and steadfast souls who stayed faithful regardless of persecution. They, of all the city, were known for “holding nothing back” for Christ and their fidelity to God.
Most of us will never have to endure such trials; not many of us will be world famous … but neither are these necessarily required. Certainly we can recognize our own limitations. But … that does not excuse us from pursuing a life well spent and living up to our full potential, which likely relatively few of us really try to do. We need not all be Einstein or Mother Teresa, but certainly we should utilize the gifts given us as best we can, especially in working for the common good of all.
As we approach graduation season and so many of our young people will soon be off to either new schools or new careers, we older folks long to give them advice … to encourage them to live up to that potential which resides in each, so that they need not experience some of the regrets I hear spoken by the elderly and the dying “I wish I had done this or that and not have shrunk from the challenges involved.” Rather, young ones, remember the SAS motto: “Who dares wins!”
Yet, it is not only the young who can pursue excellence; all can do so … starting this very moment—excellence in our work, excellence in our charity, excellence in our faith. To my brothers and sisters in Christ especially: we are called to do this! And so, as Paul exhorts us: “…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31), making his words our own … as apparently did our Prague brethren: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) And so: “…let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth…” (1 John 3:18-19) … like the saints—the “great cloud of witnesses”—who themselves have entered by the narrow gate and traveled the hard road before us … holding nothing back.