I had never seen living alligators until I visited Florida. What a sight! My friends told me that sometimes they even crawl in the backyard of the homes!
Well, some years ago, a little boy in Florida decided to go for a swim in the small pond just behind his house. He dived in the water, not realizing that an alligator was there also! The boy did not see it but his father did. In utter fear, he ran toward the water, yelling to his son as loudly as he could.
Hearing his voice, the little boy quickly made a u-turn to swim back, but it was too late. Just as he reached the dock, the alligator got hold of him. The father grabbed his little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs. There began an incredible tug-of-war between the two. The alligator obviously was much stronger than the father, but the father was much too passionate to let go. Providentially, someone happened to drive by, heard the screams, raced from his truck, took aim and shot the alligator.
Remarkably, after weeks and weeks in hospital, the little boy survived. His legs were extremely scarred by the vicious attack of the animal. And on his arms were deep scratches where his father’s fingernails had dug into his flesh in his effort to hang on to the son he loved.
The newspaper reporter who interviewed the boy after the trauma asked if he would show him the scars. The boy lifted his pant legs.
And then, with obvious pride, he said to the reporter, “But look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms, too. I have them because my dad wouldn’t let go.”
We too have scars, emotional scars of a painful past, some of them of our own making. Many times we foolishly waded ourselves into dangerous situations, not thinking of what may lay ahead. The swimming hole of life is filled with peril – and we forget that the enemy is waiting to attack. A number of these scars are nasty.
But we have other scars also! Scars caused by a God who refuses to let go. In the midst of the struggles, He is there holding desperately on to us. How many tugs-of-war He had to sustain in our favor… What a zealous Father we have!
Christianity goes even further! It proclaims a truth that even though perhaps we have become blasé about it, it sounds extremely irreverent to many religions. God is not only a Father who, standing on the side of the lake, tries desperately to pull us out of the clutches of the evil one. He even jumped into the water. He became man.
At the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass, celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica this year, Pope Benedict narrated a story of Tolstoy to the cardinals, bishops and priests present in Rome. [Leo Tolstoy, a Russian, is one of the world’s greatest novelists.]
There was once a severe ruler who asked his councilors to show him God so that he could see him. “The wise men did not know how to do this. So a shepherd, who was just returning from the fields, offered to take the place of the priests and the wise men.”
The shepherd explained plainly that our human eyes do not suffice to see God. The sun blinds the human eye. But he offered to show the king how God acts. To do this, we must exchange clothing, said the shepherd to the king.
“Hesitantly, but urged by curiosity, the king consented, giving his regal clothing to the shepherd and dressed himself in the simple clothing of the poor man.”
“And then came the answer,” the Pope concluded. “This is what God does. In fact, the Son of God – true God from true God – left his divine splendor … took on the condition of servant and became a man.”
“God took on what was ours, so that we could receive what is his, becoming similar to God… Christ wore our clothing: the pain and joy of being a man, thirst, hunger, tiredness, the hopes and delusions, the fear of death, all our anguishes until death.”
We have a Father who holds on to us from the water’s edge and a Brother who exchanges his affluent clothes for our filthy outfit. We even have a Spirit who … but that is another story. We are blessed!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.