Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Saints are the people who kept on trying...

Have you ever been so busy that you’ve not had time even for a drink of water, so that, by the end of the day, you’ve been quite dehydrated, but haven’t realised, and by the time you wake up in the early hours of the morning, you’ve had a splitting headache, so bad that it feels as though your skull is going to explode? If you’re anything like me, you’ll put up with the headache for a couple of hours, trying to work out its cause. Occasionally you might even wonder if the pain could be symptomatic of something really serious, perhaps even a brain tumour? In desperation you have that long drink of water that you don’t really think you need…. and the headache goes.

Very early the other morning I had such a headache. As often happens in these situations, my thoughts turned to St. Maximilian Kolbe, who is someone I admire greatly, but for reasons that might not occur to many people. You see, it seems to me that he perhaps took on more than he realised when he offered to take the place of a fellow prisoner. It sounds bad enough to agree to be starved to death on someone else’s behalf. However, if I’ve read things properly, he had nothing to drink and so must have been incredibly dehydrated by the time the guards entered the bunker in order to finish him off. I can’t begin to imagine the headache he must have had. To me, the bigger act of heroism was not offering to die, but putting up with the headache that must have worsened by the hour. It feels bad enough overnight, but after several days, he must have gone through agony every time he moved. I honestly don’t know how he did it.

The other thought that occurs to me concerns his actual dying. The guards entered the bunker and gave Kolbe and anybody else who happened to still be alive, an injection of carbolic acid. I don’t know how quickly that kills, but it sounds unbelievably painful.

Whenever I stroll past the Coliseum, I wonder what it would have been like for the early Christians as they confronted a lion or two. I’m not sure that I’d have been like Ignatius of Antioch, encouraging the animals to “grind him like wheat”!

Neither am I convinced I’d be happy to be boiled in oil. I made that decision when the hot water in the shower was rather too much for me to bear. Yet St. John was apparently thrown into boiling oil not far from here, at Porta Latina. He was unscathed according to the legend, but he still willingly faced a very hot bath!

When I was in my teens, I saw life in shades of black and white. There were very few grey areas. I was horrified when a friend of mine said that he didn’t think he’d have the courage to be a martyr. I disagreed with him entirely. In fact I rather fancied the idea! Oh the ignorance of youth! These days I admit that I don’t know if I’d have the courage, but hope that I would should the situation arise.

Someone defined a saint as ‘the person who kept on trying when everybody else gave up’. I can cope with that. It puts sanctity within my grasp. I somehow suspect you might think likewise.

God bless,
Sr. Janet