The Lifesaver (2018)
Fr. Martin Fuchs´s sermon on 2nd December 2018, Prague, Czechia
The First Sunday of Advent
Father Konrad Kümmel in one of his books “On God’s hand“ described the following true story:
When Father Bruno was four years old, he fell into a creek very close to his parents´ house. A man, who happened to walk down the way, saw the little boy and jumped into the water to save the boy’s life.
He took the totally wet boy to his parents. Both, his father and his mother, did not realize that the boy had disappeared. With many thanks, the mother invited the lifesaver to stay with them for a few days. But he refused. Since the parents were poor, the mother took the miraculous medal from the boy´s neck and put it around the rescuer’s neck saying: “Carry this medal and pray one Hail Mary every day and add the prayer: ´O Mary! conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!´ We cannot give you a more precious gift than this. You will receive the blessing from Heaven, especially at the hour of your death.“ After the lunch, the stranger left the house without telling his name.
Later on, Father Bruno thought a lot about this accident and why God saved him from drowning. Again and again he wanted to know his lifesaver. He was also persuaded that God had given him a special mission. He had entered a monastery and when he became a priest, he asked his superior to send him to Africa.
But there he got sick. He had to leave the mission and was sent to the port cities: to Cape Town, Williamstown, Port Elizabeth and other places.
One morning, when he visited the city hospital, he found an old man who was badly suffering. His health was apparently exhausted by hardships and a disorderly life and could not be restored. Father Bruno greeted him very kindly in English but the patient replied with an English cursive word and then added in German that the man in the black cassock should leave him alone.
“You are a compatriot of mine!“, said Father Bruno with joy ignoring the rude reception. “Oh, how glad I am!“
The old man was surprised and asked: “Are you also from Germany?“ – “Yes“, the religious replied and then a conversation began. But the patient asked for not talking of religion and faith. “Otherwise“, he added “I start cursing so that you will certainly go on and leave me alone.“
With compassion, the priest looked at the old, depraved sinner. Despite of all, he did not give up the hope of saving his soul. He decided to pray for him and he consoled himself with the fact that he still had time because the old man would have to stay longer in the hospital.
The days afterwards Father Bruno had to think again and again of Hell in which the old man would come soon.
But then, he was suddenly called to the sick man who suffered from a faintness attack. He did everything to make him receive the Holy Sacraments; it was in vain. The attack passed. The patient became calmer. Father Bruno warned him to make the necessary steps otherwise he would certainly go to Hell.
The old man replied: “I do not believe in Hell.“ – “So you do not want to believe,“ the religious said in astonishment, “what Christ has solemnly taught, what the Catholic Church and the Holy Scripture teaches, what all Christians believe, that there is a condemnation?“
“Oh, I would believe in Hell“, the old man replied, “but I don’t believe that Hell lasts forever.“ “Do you think that the Lord is following your faith?“ – “I only claim that Hell is not eternal“, the old man answered. “But then, it is not Hell, it is just purgatory“, said the priest, “please think of it again!“ So it went back and forth, until Father Bruno left the room.
During the following days, Father Bruno was stuck by a true terror that he himself might go to Hell. He had generally fulfilled his duties but his whole life seemed to be an empty dream. Shaken to the core, he asked God for mercy and compassion for so many lost hours. He wanted to enter a stricter order to make penance.
But then, we see him back at the bedside of the old man. He asked him again what he would think of Hell. “Leave me alone!“, he replied. “If I am condemned to Hell, I would like to rest here.“ – “Who says that you should be condemned? It only happens if it is your decision; but if you convert, God gives you special graces, otherwise he could have called you years ago.“ – “It is too late to convert“, laughed the patient with scary sparkling eyes.
Then Father Bruno came to him, took gently and quietly his right arm and spoke in a soft voice: “Dear brother! No, it is not too late, it is still the eleventh hour. The Savior, the Son of God, shed His Blood also for you. For your immortal soul he suffered and died on the cross.” The old man listened attentively to the words of the priest.
“Father“, he said, “you are very friendly to me and I don’t want to swear anymore. But I don‘t think that I could be saved. What you have said about Christ is far too high and too much for me. Perhaps you have a special sign by which you can prove that Christ has really shed His Blood for me.“
Father Bruno answered: “May Our Lord forgive your terrible obstinacy! The Lord taught it! If you don’t believe, it will happen to you as it happened to the rich man in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man, who was in Hell, wanted a special sign for his brothers. But he got the answer: ´They have Moses and the prophets; if they hear not them, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead.´“ (Luke 16:30-31)
As he spoke, his eyes fell over the desperate sick man to the picture of the Immaculate Conception hanging on the wall. Then he noticed a little string with a medal around the patient’s neck. Father Bruno recognized at first glance that it was a miraculous medal which the old unbeliever wore.
Trembling with joyful excitement, he took the medal to his hands and asked the patient: “Tell me how did you come to his medal? Do you know what it means?“ – “I have had it for a long time; it belongs to me and I don’t give it to anyone; it is a keepsake“, the old man replied. – “Certainly from your mother“, said Father Bruno, “is she still alive?“ – “No, not from my mother, but from another one from the Bas-Rhin, “was the equanimous answer, “her little boy fell into the creek. I happened to see him and I took him out. The woman thanked me very much and did not last until she had taken this medal from the little boy’s neck and given it to me. It was a dear, good woman, and so I have taken the medal as a reward. She insisted that I wear it for all my life…and to do something every day what I don’t want to talk about now.“
At this moment, the priest put his arms around the old man and exclaimed: “O Lord be praised for a thousand times! Now, I tell you what you don’t want to talk about. The name of the village where you saved the little boy is…. And it is four hours from the city…away, and it is now exactly 32 years ago when this accident happened. It was in the afternoon. The creek is situated near a garden. You crossed the garden and in front of the house there was a sign of a baker hanging on the wall.
The man and the woman wanted you to stay with them, but you refused. The woman who gave you the medal wanted you to pray one Hail Mary every day and the little prayer ´O Mary! conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!´ - Have you kept the promise?“
“Why not?“, was the answer. “I promised it to the dear lady and I have kept it. But how can you know that?“ – “Because the woman was my own mother and because the child you saved was me!“ exclaimed the Father.
He could hardly believe it and repeatedly looked at the religious. But now Father Bruno told him that he had had no peace, until he had been sent from his monastery to Cape Town and other port cities, to this very hospital where his life saver was.
“So, I had to follow you from home to this place to save your soul as you once saved my physical life. God has worked such an obvious miracle for you only because you prayed at least one Hail Mary every day. Is this not a sufficient sign and proof for you to have full hope to believe firmly that the Saviour shed His Blood for you, suffered for you and have given you full satisfaction? Will you continue to resist the call of his grace?“
“No, oh no, the Lord may forgive me, poor sinner; I want to do what you want!“ was the patient’s answer. And he placed his life confession confidently in the priestly heart of the one whom he had once saved, and he received the Holy Communion with great devotion. It was the highest time! He died shortly afterwards. Father Bruno, however, lived on and the longer he lived, the more severe and penitent he was.
This story looks like a fairy-tale, but it is a true story! May we have confidence in the Immaculate Conception! May we carry the miraculous medal and pray one Hail Mary with the invocation: "O Mary! conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!" Amen.