In March, 1998, we celebrated the Mass of Resurrection for Lily McNicholas, a friend from where I formally lived. Only then did I discover the heroic things Lily had done as a nurse in the British Army in World War II. It happened in the English Channel when an enemy submarine torpedoed a Dutch hospital ship that Lily was serving on.
As the ship began to sink, Lily gave up her seat in her life boat to an immobile soldier. No need to ask why. She did it without hesitation. As the ship began its final plunge, Lily slid down the broad side into the water. Not able to swim, she depended on her life jacket for survival. In the midst of all this havoc, Lily came upon a one legged soldier struggling to keep stable in the water. Again, without hesitation, she grabbed hold of him to keep him from drowning. After many hours, a rescue ship picked them out of the water with Lily’s hair bleached white from the salt water. For her heroic act above the call of duty, the King of England bestowed the Order of the Empire Medal on Lily McNicholas.
One word in the dictionary describes Lily’s state of mind. She had the gift of maturity, the ability to live in some-one else’s world. In the Gospel, Jesus saw a fig tree not bearing fruit over a period of time. It had not matured! The Master said, “Cut it down!” I must mature, that is, grow up to be unselfish and conscious of the needs of others before my own. Only then will I bear fruit! Young Lily McNicholas was willing to die that others might live.
Some nights, as I look over the happenings of my day, I am sad when I see how completely I was taken up with my own concerns, comforts and with little thought for the needs of others. How immature on my part! Is not a sin a sign of immaturity? In sin, I choose my own selfish needs and turn from God. At Lily’s Funeral Mass 17 years ago, I resolved to forget my own fears and anxieties and think of others. To this day, I still think of her when my thoughts drift from the needs of others.
Fr. George Mc Kenna
Over the years of my life, one stage play, a musical, The Man of La Mancha, has inspired me to a deeper appreciation of Our Lord’s love for us. Its setting lies in the Middle Ages. In the story, a gallant knight, in his travels, meets a woman of low reputation, one rejected and scorned by her townsfolk. No one is encouraging her to rise from her sad state in life.
The poet knight however, sees virtue and goodness in her true nature. He affirms the woman with unconditional love. This love says, “You are good! Christ loves you! You are precious to Him! He doesn’t care about your past! Believe in His undying love for you!” At first, she rebels against his efforts, but gradually she begins to take his words to heart and throws off her old ways of living.
No one has ever spoken to her in this manner. A new life begins for the once despairing woman. In time, the Christian knight gives her a name, Dulcinea, meaning, “Sweetness”. He keeps reminding her of her beauty and loveliness. On his deathbed, he calls her to his bedside and reminds her again of her name, Dulcinea, and sings the famous song, “To Dream the Impossible Dream.” To fight unbeatable foe, to reach for the unreachable star, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to dream, the impossible dream.
This was his final encouragement to her to help her persevere in goodness. In my thinking, The Man of La Mancha stands as a parable of the love that Christ, the Lord of Divine Mercy, has for all of us. Dulcinea comes across as a Resurrection person rising from death to a new life of goodness. In disbelief, many cannot accept the unconditional love Christ has for us.
They ask, “You mean the Lord has the same love for all, no matter what our past track record has been?” Yes, He has the same respect for saints and sinners and all in between. All share equally in His Love. Believe this wholeheartedly! This Jesus can bring to life habits of goodness we thought long dead. Objections fill the air . . . “I haven’t prayed in years. My love for God has died out, only ashes remain. My heart lies like stone within me, with love for no one there. I can’t see God’s Presence in this violent world.”
Believe it or not, the Lord’s Love for us has never stopped. But He needs our cooperation to make this love effective in our lives. In the story above, Dulcinea changed when she opened her heart to the unconditional Love coming from Christ. May we all do the same.
Fr. George Mc Kenna