Many years ago in Dublin, Ireland, two women were spending the afternoon together shopping at their favorite clothing store. They had grown up together in the same neighborhood and were life-long friends. As they left the store with their bundles, they began to cross a busy street in order to get to the parking lot where they had left their car.
One of the ladies was distracted with her bundles and could not see a rapidly approaching car. The other woman, noticing the dilemma, pushed her friend forward and took the entire impact of the oncoming car. She was killed instantly.
This woman was the mother of a Catholic priest. I am sure that the woman was able to make this heroic sacrifice of her life because the pattern of her life had always been characterized by the qualities of a true mother and a true friend. I am sure that the priest was just as able to answer the call of God to love unconditionally because his mother taught him how to do so.
"I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13: 34-35). These words from this Sunday's gospel passage synthesize the whole meaning of the Paschal Mystery: Jesus died for us because of his unconditional love for all of us, and we are called to live this new life of unconditional love.
Anyone who wants to live true Christianity is called to live selflessly. Does a true mother complain when she must waken in the middle of the night to care for her sick child? What father who really loves his family will complain about the daily sacrifices that he must make to support them? Will a Catholic priest, enamored of his priestly calling, not be filled with a profound joy as he gives himself untiringly to his parish family?
Selfishness will prevent us from giving of ourselves unconditionally. If we live selfish lives, we will not experience the profound joy of Christianity. True Christians are always laughing because they are men and women who are completely selfless. Despite the many challenges and sufferings of daily existence, a life of selfless love energizes the true Christian in such way that they are able to soar above every challenge.
This donation of our lives manifests itself in many concrete ways throughout the day. Simple little acts like saying hello to someone and being of good cheer, helping out in the kitchen during meal times, assisting a needy school friend with homework, helping an elderly neighbor with chores, and volunteering time in the parish are just a few of the numerous ways that the true disciple of Jesus can love in a very practical manner.
Married love and celibate love can only be understood within the dimension of total donation of self. Mother Teresa gave the modern world a visible example of total donation. Everyone has been moved by her selflessness. She would always say, "Love, until it hurts". Here we find in her simple words the antidote for the crisis facing modern society
Daily, total giving of the self is not an easy enterprise. The tendencies of fallen human nature pull us into ourselves. This is why we need a daily encounter with the God of unconditional love hidden in the tabernacle of every Catholic Church.
Whether through daily Mass or a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, it is Jesus who will give us all of the graces that we need to love just as He loves you and me. But, in order to truly love we must first die to ourselves. Total and complete detachment from ourselves is essential.
During the height of the Vietnam War, a second lieutenant led his small company on a patrol through the jungle. As they were making their way through the dense tangle of trees and vines, he suddenly noticed that a sniper had dropped a grenade in the middle of his men. Without hesitation the second lieutenant pounced on the grenade and saved his company by sacrificing his own life. Shortly after this incident, President Nixon awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously, presenting it to his mother.
Perhaps we will never be in a situation to sacrifice our lives as heroically as this soldier did. However, it is quite possible that he was able to make the supreme sacrifice of himself because his entire life was made up of many heroic moments of self-giving. This pattern thus established made it easy for him to give of himself without hesitation.
"I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13: 34-35).