In 1910, a newspaper column carried the following story: Jimmy, age 10, was a devoted brother to his sister, age 6. He nearly panicked when his sister fell off her bicycle and cut a large artery in her leg. The bleeding was profuse, and by the time a doctor arrived at the scene, the little girl was close to dying. Now, in the early 1900s blood transfusions were not yet common practice. Carrying the girl into the house, the doctor managed to clamp the cut ends of the artery, but the little girl’s heart was still failing. In desperation, the doctor turned to Jimmy and asked, “Jimmy, would you give some of your blood to help save your little sister’s life?”

Jimmy swallowed hard but after a few seconds nodded his head. So the doctor placed him on the kitchen table and began with drawing blood from one of his veins. Then he injected the blood directly into the little girl’s vein. For the next thirty minutes, the doctor and the family anxiously watched over the little girl and prayed. The doctor kept his stethoscope over her heart to note its beating. Finally, she was over the crisis. The doctor wiped the perspiration off his brow.

Only then did he notice that Jimmy was still stretched out on the kitchen table tense and trembling. “What’s the matter, Jimmy?” asked the doctor. “Wh-wh-when will I die?” replied Jimmy through clenched teeth.

The doctor realized that Jimmy misunderstood what the request for his blood really meant. Jimmy imagined that his sister was going to need all his blood, which meant that in Jimmy’s few seconds of hesitation he had actually decided to die for his sister.

The doctor had tears in his eyes as he reassured Jimmy that he had extracted only a little of his blood for his sister, and that Jimmy was not going to die. Jimmy was willing to sacrifice, even his life, so that his sister might live.

Soul Work

St. John of the Cross once said that “in the evening of life, we will be judged on love.” It’s hard to think of a more heroic act of love than the sacrifice this little boy was willing to offer for his sister; it was the very gift of himself.

Membership in the family is not bought or earned. It is given as a gift, but a gift that is easy to take for granted.

We must hold ourselves accountable for the quality of our generosity and sacrifice toward family members. Even if some family members do not appreciate what we do for them (or even at times reject it), we, nonetheless, need to offer it.

Immediate returns almost never come. Don’t expect them. Just expect, as John of the Cross said, to be judged on the quality of your love in the end.

In a quiet moment, look carefully at your family. There is a child, a spouse, a sibling who needs support today. Maybe it is time to have that long-delayed talk or give a word of encouragement, advice, or even warning, out of love for the beloved. Give it.

Strengthen family bonds through generosity and self-sacrifice. They will pay you back in the end.

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Source: Brian Cavanaugh, T.O.R., Sower’s Seeds Aplenty: Fourth Planting (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1996), 1-2. (Lightly edited.)