During the time when I was stationed with the U.S. Army in Germany (now many, many years ago), I loved taking long walks in the hillsides of North-central Germany, on days that I was off duty. This was not during wartime. The area around the place I served was light hills, mostly farm country, and there were trails alongside the wheat fields. On clear days, one heard lots of birds singing, the air was clean, and it was just great to be enjoying mother nature.
Born in the Netherlands, we West-Europeans are walkers, we tend to walk rather than ride by preference. Fairly often, and still in those days of the early 1960's, there were roadside crucifixes and/or statues to be found, and thus I never felt lonely walking by myself through the fields. Jesus is always with us.
Another time, another place. In 1996, I was in religious life (OFM) and we were making a retreat at the Cistercian monastery in central Kentucky, Gethsemani Abbey. The retreat director suggested we take a morning walk into the fields. Only problem was, it had snowed and it was about 0-5 degrees outside. But nevertheless, after having been couped up I strong felt like walking and so I set out around 9 AM in a parka with boots (normally we wore sandals). I remember being very cold, but not freezing. I felt very alone and began to pray, an Our Father, then more. And as I began to pray, I began to warm up, and I felt I was no longer alone. Of course Jesus is along, for the ride, the walk, or wherever our feet take us. To those who love Him, he is always with us.
When you find yourself in these circumstances, feeling His Presence so near, do talk to Him. He listens to us. This is not my imagination talking. It is fact! But if you desire to hear Him, you must listen too. He talks to us quietly, but distinctly. Or, sometimes, he guides our thoughts to certain themes and we know that it is Jesus talking to us. Never make fun of your reactions during these special moments. Just enjoy His presence and His love when it happens.
Another example. A few years ago, I was driving slowly into the entrance of my mobile-home park, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement on top of a chain link fence. As I turned the corner, I realized it was a hawk, most likely a Sharp-shinned Hawk. I love hawks and owls and have studied them all, when I was still banding birds for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service years ago. Anyway, as there was no other traffic, I stopped the car and sat looking at this beautiful bird. I heard a soft voice ... He said, "I did it just for you." Thank you, Jesus!
A friend of mine tells a story of a beggar in a midwestern city, who enters a restaurant. Because he is sloppily dressed and not particularly clean, the manager tells him to leave. My friend feels bad about it, and follows the man outside. But he is nowhere in sight. My friend concludes it was Jesus. It's very possible.
That same friend tells another story. He is trying to cross a busy street, but forgets to look both ways before running to cross. Too late, he realizes a truck is coming and he can't stop in time. Moments later, he finds himself sitting on the sidewalk on the other side of the street, not a scratch on him. Praise God - could only have been a miracle. I am sure it was.
There are many "close calls" in our lives, and I hope that when these happen, we sit down and thank the Lord! I remember once when I was cycling in Holland to get to school. I was about 12-13, I think. The street was one with embedded trolley tracks, the bane of bicycle riders. I managed to get my front tire stuck in one of the rails, and I fell headlong onto the street. My head fell very close to the wheels of a horse-drawn cart. It was almost all over. But yet, it was not yet my time.
When I was slightly less than three years old, in fact in August of 1942, my mother (of Jewish origin, a convert to Catholicism) in the Netherlands, and I, were both arrested by the Nazi regime and sent to a concentration camp. Since I was so young, I can barely recall that time, and that is perhaps a blessing, but I did not escape the nightmares I had almost my entire young life, before we immigrated to USA in 1954. There is some confusion with dates how long we were there, but the fact is that we were let go a week or two later, since the Nazis (in those days) released former Jews who were married to Catholic men. This, incidentally, was stopped about a day or two after our release. After that, no one was let go, and most found their way to the gas chambers of one of the deathcamps. The camp, mother and I were in, was at Amersfoort, the Netherlands - not a deathcamp but still a camp where many died from beatings and such. Now, some 70 years later, after having read about and studied what happened during this awful period in history, I realize how blessed I have been to come out of that adventure alive. I thank our Lord daily for having saved me and my mother. We lost more than half of her sisters, brothers and her mother to premature death in the camps. It was a very bad time. It took a long time to forgive, but I shall never forget!
Yes, Jesus was in the camps, too. He was there to hug the victims, and to suffer with us. Without Him, I would not be writing this opus today. Praise God! Some people blame God that he permitted this amount of suffering. I feel He held me in His arms to make all this easier to bear and for that I am very grateful.
Thank God most of my readers, especially Americans, have never experienced this great cataclysm in their lives. Thank God that He has spared you these tough times. He was your Companion along your Way, too.
God bless you!
Fred Schaeffer, OFS
April 24, 2012