Here we are at the end of our journey through the seven cardinal virtues with a personal and historical illustration of what is considered to be the most important, ‘love’.
My late father spent 5 years of his life as a prisoner of war in World War 2. Detained in a small camp attached to a market garden outside the city of Gdansk in Poland, he witnessed the best and the worst of human behaviour during his incarceration.
In his book, ‘We’ve been a Long Time Coming Boys’ he described an incident which touches the heart because it illustrates real love. From a chapter in the book entitled ‘Guards’, the incident concerns a character the prisoners had nicknamed ‘Big Jim’ who was one of the German guards.
“I think his finest hour or his worst nightmare took place one Sunday afternoon. We were not working that day and I noticed two smartly dressed schoolgirls go through the gherkin beds, pick one of the miniature cucumbers, and finding it pretty bitter, throw it away. Presently, Farmer Burdin came down the same path on his usual tour of inspection. He saw the remains of the gherkin and hared off back to report the matter to Big Jim.
Now Big Jim had a particular hatred of a little Russian boy who had been taken prisoner with his mother and sent to join us at the market garden camp. The little lad’s name was Lonya, at least that’s how it sounded. He was the bane of the guard’s life as he was an expert work dodger. Jim decided that Lonya was the culprit and would pay the price for the crime.
Presently we saw the guard appear, dragging the Russian boy by the scruff of the neck (Lonya was only about nine years old). Big Jim was shouting that he had caught the thief and would teach the little fellow a lesson. Lonya, it was clear would have none of it, and said so vehemently and repeatedly-in Russian.
Deciding that he would have the last word on the matter, the guard picked up a heavy tree branch and beat the lad so fiercely that he broke the cudgel over the boy’s back. Lonya was now screaming.
Suddenly, round the building in full flight, came the figure of a woman. She ran straight to the scene. The guard saw her, dropped the boy a shouted, “Halt!” Ignoring the command, the woman kept on towards him. “Halt!” came the shout again and to enforce his words, Big Jim drew his pistol. Like a tigress, the woman sprang at him. His gun flew through the air, and before he could retrieve it from the grass, woman and boy had gone.
I’ve often described that incident to youth groups and asked them to guess who the woman was. Without hesitation, I always got the answer, “His mum of course”. Who else! Then I would go on to apply the lesson.
This mother risked her life for her boy because she loved him. After all, he was “her boy”, and no doubt he would love her in return for her heroic deed that Sunday afternoon. Here was just a faint picture of the love which led Jesus to die for you and me on a Roman cross. Ought we not to love him in return?”