One Thousand Paper Cranes

There are many versions of this story but the message is always the same. “When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I could not change my nation, I began to focus on my town. I could not change my town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.
Now as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family and I could have made an impact on the town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.”

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world”, wrote Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl who died of typhus in a German concentration camp. “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

Here is the story of a man who did something. But with an interesting twist. Changing the world for him meant more than this visible world. His vision included heaven.

When he was in Alexandria, Abba Serapion one day met a poor person who was shivering with cold. Abba said to himself, “how is it possible that I, a monk, and have a tunic on me while this poor man who is Jesus Christ is dying of cold? If I leave him to die, at the last Judgment I shall be denounced of murder!” So “as a valiant athlete” he took off his garment and gave it to the poor man. He sat down with his small Gospel that he always carried with him, underneath his arm. A guard passed by and when he saw him naked, asked him, “Abba, who stripped you?” The monk showed him the Gospel and answered him, “This stripped me!”

As he was going back to his cell in the desert, he met a man who had just been apprehended and was going to be put in jail because he failed to pay his debts for lack of money. So Serapion sold his precious Gospel and paid the debt for that man. He arrived in his cell completely naked.

When the disciple saw him naked, all stupefied, he asked him, “Abba, where is your tunic?” The old man answered, “Son, I sent it where there was a need of it.” The disciple then asked him, “Where is the Gospel?” Abba answered, “Truly I tell you, son, today I sold that that every day was telling me, ‘Go, sell what you have and give it to the poor’. I gave away everything so that I will have more confidence when I appear before him on Judgment Day!”

“I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”


(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.