This line from the famous prayer by St. Francis has permeated my thoughts for years. Upon it rest many decisions I have made throughout my life. Whether these decisions followed the prayer of St. Francis or stood in stark contrast to it, these few words have nestled their way into the inner walls of my heart and mind and have served as a standard to which I have gauged my actions and inactions over my life. I may not be able to remember the names of people I meet but I certainly will always remember these eight words.
In a world in upheaval from the Middle East to Korea and throughout the world it becomes increasingly difficult to profess the call of sowing love where there is hatred. Often times the reasoning of, “well once this war is over then there will be love” or “yeah I can love everyone but them because they did such and such, ” uproot the seeds of love that may have been sowed and the process must begin afresh once more.
I recently had the privilege of meeting with more than 25 survivors of Auschwitz. We had breakfast together. I asked them, “After what you went through at the hands of the Nazis, how do you react when you hear someone with a German accent?” One of the men answered, “I was just a boy when they put me, along with my family, into a cattle car in a city in France and started us on the long journey to Auschwitz. We had no water and we had no food, but each night the train would stop and sit still for hours. Time and time again, after hours had passed, there would be German people who would sneak out of the forest, come up to the sides of the cattle cars and push in between the slats of the car small containers of water and bits of food. Their generosity kept me alive. What they did was done at great risk. So—whenever I hear someone with a German accent, I say to myself, ‘Could that be the child or the grandchild of one of those who dared to help me in my time of need?’ Then I smile at them inevitably.”
Every time I recall this story I become increasingly more convicted. Of all experiences from which hatred could develop in an understandable way, Auschwitz has to be at the top of the list. Yet you could see that this man did not hate his German brothers and sisters. He chose to see the potential valor in each German citizen rather than the potential hatred. Such a credible witness encourages me to seek to sow love in every situation rather than hatred. After such a story none of my common excuses comes close to justifying hatred.