Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Glimpses of Greatness


Greatness is too often defined by an unusual act of courage or a life of extraordinary merit or virtue. But glimpses of greatness can be seen all around us, and especially in those who genuinely care for others.

Father Albert Braun was such a man. After his ordination, he requested to live amongst some of the poorest of the world’s poor. He was sent to the Mescalero Apache reservation in south central New Mexico (USA). Father Braun learned to love the Apache. And as he lived with them, he learned from them and they learned from him. They became family.

He stayed many years on the reservation but left it twice to serve as a chaplain during both World Wars. He almost died in World War II when his Allied forces tried to defend the Philippine Islands from attack. Many of his comrades died during the fighting and Father Braun risked his own life to comfort the wounded and give the dying Last Rites. He was forced to march with no food and little water. Along the way, many more of the men died. And in the prisoner of war camps, more lives yet were lost to disease, cruel physical treatment and malnutrition.

Father Braun had learned much from the Apache about surviving off the land. When he went out on work detail, he found fruit and edible vegetables that he smuggled back into the camp to help supplement the men’s diets. Once he acquired the vaccine for diphtheria that he also secreted into camp, but it wasn’t enough. They drew lots to determine who would get the medicine. Though afflicted himself, he gave his portion to a young soldier. Before long, he suffered simultaneously from diphtheria, malaria, dysentery and beriberi.

He barely survived the war. Later, he asked to be returned to New Mexico to live once again with the Apache. When he knew that his own death was near, Father Braun requested to be buried on the reservation, surrounded by his Apache “family.”

Today, at the church of St. Joseph, one can see portraits of the Apache’s greatest chiefs and warriors. There is a portrait of Geronimo, one of Cochise, a picture of Victorio and a portrait of Father Albert Braun, who came to live among them as a true friend.

Father Braun showed a certain greatness, not by any one heroic deed, but by the sum total of a life of caring. I believe we can catch glimpses of greatness in the lives of anybody who genuinely cares.

-- Steve Goodier

Image by Jorge ElĂ­as

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