Many people are fond of quoting the opening lines of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The emphasis tends to fall on the second half, especially when speaking of our own day. A pessimism pervades even our progressive era. For Christians, this pessimism can slide into despair. “Things fall apart,” wrote Yeats, and the contemporary Christian can easily commiserate. The culture secularizes, children abandon the faith, scandals and division rock the Church.
Where do we go? Where do we turn? Should we run for the hills, shrink away from society? What does the Christian do in such a world as ours, in such a time as ours? What he has always done: cling to Christ and proclaim Christ. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68). “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20). He promised to be with us; how can we doubt His word? He commanded us; how can we flee from His commission?
The Christian is commissioned to be an instrument of salvation, to save souls. Our mission is like that of Desmond Doss, as portrayed in the film Hacksaw Ridge. A medic in World War II, Doss served in the bloody battle of Okinawa. Doss’ regiment was sent to dislodge the Japanese from one of their strongest positions. The assault did not go well. Bullets, explosions, smoke, fire, cries of wounded men. Chaos. Everything fell apart. The Americans retreated and abandoned the ridge. Except for Doss. All day and night Doss ran and crawled, dodged bullets and saved lives. Doss found one wounded man after another and lowered them down the edge of the ridge to safety. Worn out, hands bleeding, face covered in filth, Doss kept whispering a simple prayer, “Lord, just let me get one more.” Please, Lord, one more. And back into the hell of war he went. All told, Doss lowered 75 wounded men, including several Japanese to safety.
Desmond Doss’ prayer and example provide a vivid analogy for our spiritual mission to the world. Our friends and neighbors bear the spiritual wounds of sin. Like Doss, we are called to respond with a zealous desire for their good, especially for the salvation of their souls. This is the zeal that filled the fiery heart of St. Catherine. God told Catherine that the soul in grace “loves every person with the same love she sees herself loved with…because she sees that I love them even more than she does, she also loves them unspeakably much.” Unspeakable love. The fire of this unspeakable love sparks forth in zeal for the salvation of souls. And it breaks forth continually in the prayer, “Lord, just let me get one more.” Lord save this soul too! And this one!
This prayer and zeal for the salvation of souls is not cramped, not limited to one group. It is not just our children or siblings or friends that we must pray for, but also our neighbors, our enemies, the annoying kids across the street, the drug addict downtown, and the rude cashier. Our hearts must expand. We can see what this looks like in the life of St. Dominic. His earliest biography said that “everyone was enfolded in the wide embrace of his charity, and since he loved everyone, everyone loved him.” A love that embraces all, that is solicitous for the good of all, that loves with same love God bestows on it: that is the love of the Christian. That love is the response of the Christian whether it is the best of times or the worst of times.
Image: John Warwick Brooke, Stretcher bearers Passchendaele.