During the Second World War while the Nazis occupied Rome, there was an Irish Monsignor by the name of Hugh O’Flerity who worked in the Vatican’s Diplomatic Corp. He spent most his time and talents smuggling thousands of Jews and Allied prisoners out of the Nazi occupied territories of Italy. He became the object of Nazi hatred – especially the hatred of the Commandant of the occupation forces who desperately tried to capture him. The priest was seen all over Rome assisting and hiding allied prisoners and Jews in convents, monasteries, churches and safe houses.

There were a number of attempts made on his life and he was warned not to leave Vatican City for any reason. To confine him to imprisonment in the Vatican, a white line was painted across the entrance to St. Peter’s Square to mark the deviation from Rome and Vatican City – it remains today. If O’Flarity stepped across that line – he would be shot. He was watched and guarded as he walked in St. Peter’s Square to taunt the occupying forces. Regardless of the threat on his life, he devised a plan to get out of Vatican territory.

He would disguise himself as a street-cleaner, a beiger – selling trinkets, a Nazi Major, and even a nun in habit; and he would walk right past the German guards posted at St. Peter’s Square. On many occasions, he risked his own life to assist his Jewish brothers and sisters and allied soldiers as he moved through the city of Rome in his disguises gathering refugees, hiding them, and arranging for their escape to freedom in Switzerland.

He was often recognized in the streets of Rome, but he always managed to get back safely to his quarters in the Vatican. Despite their efforts, the Nazis never succeeded in capturing him.

As the Allied forced drew closer to Rome near the end of the War, the Nazi Commandant demanded a midnight meeting with Msgr. O’Flerty at the Roman Coliseum. The Commandant stated that he knew O’Flerity had been smuggling allied soldiers and Jews out of Rome, and he demanded that O’Flerty practice his charity one last time – he wanted his wife and two children smuggled from Rome and transported safely to Switzerland before the Allied Forces entered Rome. 

O’Flerity turned and walked out of the coliseum as the commandant screamed obscenities at him. When the Allied Forces entered Rome, the Commandant was put on trial for war crimes. At his trial, he was asked how he got his wife and children out of Rome into Switzerland: he then knew that his family had been rescued by Msgr. O’Flerity. After the war, the Commandant was imprisoned in “Regina Coeli Prison” in Rome for his war crimes and his only visitor once a month – was Monsignor O’Flerty who finally converted his former enemy and baptized him into the Faith of the Roman Catholic Church. 

 Msgr. O’Flerity was a man who didn’t sit on the side-lines: He saw a need and he did something about it. Once in a meeting with the Holy Father, Pius XII thanked him for his work and reminded him of the great danger that he and the Church was in. His reply was: “I must continue. The time is now, and I am here.”

While none of us are called to show our love for our enemies to such a degree, we still find ourselves in situations where our love is tried and tested. In view of today’s Gospel, we are called upon to examine how well we love our neighbors and do good for those who hate us. Jesus does not merely suggest that we love one another, He commands it! 

So often, Mother Theresa of Calcutta would say: “The greatest poverty in the world is a lack of love…so many people feel unloved.” St. Maximilian Kolbe gave-up his life in the Concentration Camp of Auschwitz so that another man with a family could live; that is a sacrifice of love!

We are called by reason of our Baptism to fulfill the command of Jesus to love one another. This means more than simply loving those people we like, being friends with those who agree with us. To truly “love one another” – as Jesus demands in today’s Gospel – we must deny ourselves at times in the interest of someone else. We must set aside our own desires and do what we see best for someone else.

Jesus’ command of love is not easy to fulfill but He never promised it would be; rather He said: “Pick up your cross and follow Me”! He demonstrated that that when He was crucified for our salvation. That same kind of self-sacrificing love is what He demands of each one of us in the Gospel today. “Love one another,” He Said, “as I love you.”

It used to be said in the early days of the Christianity, “See how these Christians love one another.”

Not “tolerate” one another.
not “get along with” one another.
not “ignore” one another.
not “be envious” of one another.
not “gossip” about one another
but rather, “See how these Christians love one another.”

These same words should be said of us.