Troops of the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade leave their landing craft to go ashore at Bernières-sur-mer, Normandy, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Photo by Gilbert Alexander Milne/Canada Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada

Francis Campbell: Rising to the challenge of giving until it hurts

  • November 19, 2021

Give until it hurts.

That famous phrase was uttered by Mother Teresa of Calcutta at a national prayer breakfast in Washington 50 years ago.

“I must be willing to give whatever it takes to do good to others,” Mother Teresa said. “This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me, and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.”

That’s a tall order, but we have been provided ample examples recently of giving until it hurts.

Last week, many Canadians returned to local cenotaphs to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice during wartime.

Having interviewed several Second World War survivors for Remembrance Day articles over the years, the common character threads that shone through included humility, modesty and self-effacement.

Two years ago, Fred Turnbull, a leading seaman living in Bedford, N.S., spoke of guiding landing craft with three dozen fully equipped troops from ship to beach to join in overseas battles, including the D-Day Allied invasion at Normandy.

“The sight of our boys being blown up and the thousands of other sights I saw wouldn’t leave my mind,” Turnbull said.

At Normandy, he said the landing craft crew had to weave through a minefield to reach the beach.

“I was ready at any moment to be blown sky high,” he said.

Downplaying their wartime heroics as something anyone would do, many of the returning veterans suffered years of guilt because they eventually shipped back to Canada while so many of their friends and comrades fell on the battlefields of Europe.

Two years ago, Second World War battles still raged intermittently in the uncluttered mind of then 98-year-old veteran Havelyn Chiasson in Dartmouth, N.S.

“I wake up at night dreaming about it, I still do,” Chiasson said of wartime events.

“You wake up and you are in with a group of people and they say, ‘Here comes Have but he looks so old.’ They are all young people. You see them as young, you see them as they were then.”

Many of the young faces he saw in his dreams never had the opportunity to age.

The hardest part about combat, he said, was being forced to leave the dead and wounded behind.

“We often say, those of us who have been there, the worst shock was that you and I have been together for five years, the whole battalion. We were just like brothers. And, all of a sudden, here was somebody dropped next to you and he was wounded quite badly and you would like to help him out but you couldn’t.

“You had to go on. That wasn’t your job.”

The Gospel story on the Sunday before Remembrance Day recounted the tale of the widow’s offering, two small copper coins donated to the treasury while many rich people put in large sums. Jesus told His disciples that the poor widow had contributed more than any of the wealthy givers.

“For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on,” Jesus said.

Our pastor, Fr. Mike, explained the widow’s substantial offering like this:

As children of God, we are called to make our lives a living sacrifice to the Father who sent His son to die for our salvation. God is more concerned with the state of our hearts when we give than with the amount that we offer as a sacrifice, Fr. Mike said. Being careful not to judge others on their motives and practices in giving, we should instead remember that God knows when our hearts are in the right place.

Those in desperate straits probably do not concern themselves much with the giver’s motivations. The starving residents of The Netherlands would not have tempered their euphoria in being liberated by Canadian soldiers in the waning days of the Second World War by wondering about the motives of their liberators.

So the motivation test comes down to the giver. Why do we give? Dispensing with or donating what we don’t need to make ourselves feel better doesn’t make the grade in the motivation test.

Giving until it hurts might seem a rarity, but anything less falls short of the standards set by our selfless war veterans, the widow in the Bible story, Mother Teresa and Jesus.

(Campbell is a reporter with the Halifax Chronicle Herald.)

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