Morris West, in his novel, “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” tell how one night shortly after his coronation the newly crowned pope went for a walk and found himself in one of the poorer sections of the city of Rome. Dressed in a simple cassock, no one recognized him.
Halfway down one of the side streets a door opened and a man coming out bumped into the pope. As the man muttered an apology he caught sight of the cassock and said, “Father, there is a man dying in there, maybe you can help him.”
“Who are you?” the pope asked. “A doctor,” the man replied, “They never call us until it is too late,” and he disappeared into the night. Entering the house the new pope found a man near death. He was all-alone except for a young woman, a nurse who was caring for him.
The pope tried to talk to the man, but there was no response. “It is no use, Father, the girl said, “He is too near death to hear what you are saying.” The pope pronounced the absolution and then knelt down beside the bed in prayer. Soon the man was dead and the nurse spoke to the pope, “We should go, Father; neither of us will be welcome here, now.” The Pontiff responded, “I would like to help the family.”
The nurse was very resolute, “We should go.” Then she added, in what was for me the most powerful and meaningful lines in the book, “They can cope with death. Its only living that defeats them.”
After all these years, I still recall those haunting words. It’s true; it is living that defeats us. In the heat of battle, cowards have been known to go to their death unafraid. Dying is easy; it is living life that is hard. But the Christ who died for us ever calls us to live for him.
And living defeats us, I think, because we lack a commanding loyalty? As someone has aptly said, “Until we find something worth dying for, we have nothing for which to live.”
The Apostle Paul, after years and years of frustration, found such a commanding loyalty in Jesus Christ. Listen to his words: “The love of Christ controls me.” And because of that loyalty and devotion, he was able to say, “When I think of Christ and all he means to me, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I can cope with anything!”
It can be so for all followers of the Master. In the words of the writer of Hebrews, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
Rev. Nichols is Minister Emeritus of First Christian Church, Temple, where he was senior minister for 23 years before retiring. He writes a religious column for several newspapers.