'...everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.'
When I was in South America, I met an American woman doctor – a gynaecologist - who also worked in the Amazon for many years. And gradually, after about a year, when she had got to know me, she told me her story. She had first come to the Amazon ten years previously just for a few weeks and fallen in love with the country – the land and the people. And also she had realised how much her skills as a gynaecologist were needed and appreciated. So, after a long discussion with her husband, they both decided to come and give two years to working in the Amazon. They decided that this was the most time they could responsibly afford to take away from earning good money in America. And so they came with their two children – an 8 year-old girl and a 4-year old boy who had a minor problem with his spleen. They both found valuable work to do and they were very happy to feel that they were really working to make people better rather than just to make money. Then, near the end of their 2 years, their 4-year old son suddenly became ill. They brought him to the hospital. The doctors found he had a chest infection, but it didn’t seem too bad, so they gave him some antibiotics to make it better. But it got worse. The doctors realised that his minor problem in the spleen had made him vulnerable to a particular, very rare, infection. It was preventing his immune system from fighting the infection properly. Suddenly, he needed urgent intensive specialist treatment that was not available in the Amazon. So they chartered a plane specially to fly him out to Trinidad.
He died in the plane on the way.
She says that after that she cried every day for two years. And she deeply and bitterly regretted her decision to come to South America, believing that if she had stayed in the United States, her son would have had a better chance. She will never know if it would have made the difference, but she will always know that it might.
But then, she says, after about 2 years of grief, there started coming to her mind the images – different images – not the images of her nightmares – of the plane, of her son’s face as he died – of all the bad memories – but images of some of the people she had helped in the Amazon – faces of the people whose lives she had saved, or whose sufferings she had relieved. And she began to remember how many, many of those there had been. It did not make it all right – she knows that nothing will ever do that - but it gave her some comfort. And about another two years after that, she began to realise that God was asking her to go back.
As you can imagine, it was not an easy decision. But the moment of decision was when she and her husband prayed over this passage: “God loved the World so much that He gave His only Son.” Having also lost her only Son, she now knew what those few words really mean.
And so she went back.
She and her husband are still there.
It is the finest example I have ever seen of someone taking these words of Christ and putting them into action in her own life.
Let us pray that we too may be given the grace to take the words of Christ and put them into action in our own lives.
Let us profess our Faith in the Love of God, who loved the World – that much.
Paul O'Reilly SJ