Jesus once told us, His followers, that the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole heart, soul and mind. And the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Today, as He prepares His Church for the time when He will no longer be visible among us, He raises the bar even further. We are no longer to simply love one another as we love ourselves, Jesus instructs us to love one another as He has loved us.
We need only to look at the cross to see how Jesus loved us. Love is not simply hearts and flowers and good feelings. True, deep, radiant love, is sacrificial in nature. We may not all be called to give up our physical life for another but we are all called to sacrifice for each other.
Cardinal Basil Hume of London once told a story about a Nazi concentration camp during World War Two.
The list of undesirables, according the to the Third Reich, was long. It included not only Jews, but Catholics, Gays, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma Gypsies, the disabled, blacks, and every citizen of Poland. All were subject to arrest and execution, usually by being sentenced to the gas chamber.
At one camp the line for the gas chamber was very long. The faces of the people waiting to enter the chamber showed a range of emotions. Some were in shock. Some were in denial. Some were filled with anger at what was happening and some were filled with fear at what was about to happen. And some were crying.
In that line was a little gypsy girl, holding a doll in her hand, and she was crying. As the line moved along it passed a gauntlet of Nazi guards. One guard saw the little girl crying and it touched something in his heart. In some dim corner of his soul he remembered this truth, this commandment, “love one another as I have loved you.”
But what could he do? He was only one man. He couldn't fight against a camp of soldiers armed with machine guns, much less the entire Nazi war machine. As he watched the little girl, sobbing, clutching her doll, he knew there was only one thing he could do. He walked over to her, took her hand, and together they walked into the gas chamber, and together they died.
This is what Christ did for us on the cross. He laid down his life for us. His death and resurrection destroyed the power of death. That's the way Jesus loves us. And that's the way we are called to love each other.
“The mark by which all men will know you for my disciples will be the love you bear one another.” John 13:35
All of the gifts we have received from God, all of our talents, abilities and blessings, are given to us that we may put them at the service of our brothers and sisters. This is what it means to sacrifice our lives for one another and to love as Jesus has loved us.
That is not to say it is easy, far from it. We may dismiss this commandment thinking that it is only for those who are already saints. But that simply isn't the case. It is the path that will lead us all to sanctity. We may think the commandment is unrealistic, that it just isn't possible to be so self-sacrificing, but if that were the case, Jesus would not have given us the command.
We need to stop being lukewarm Christians. We need to make a decision. We need to decide that following Christ, striving to live as He would have us live, is to be our highest priority. God can help us, guide us, and teach us how, but there is one thing He cannot do. He cannot choose this path for us, we can only do that for ourselves.
We must listen to the Holy Spirit, guided by grace, and ask ourselves; do we live for ourselves or do we live for others? Do we sacrifice not only for friends and family but for our community, the Church, as well? This is what it means to be Christian. Sacrificial love can convince the world of the rightness of our faith. It is the proof of all teachings, dogmas, and moral precepts of the Christian Church.
Let us resolve to begin every day with a commitment to love one another as Christ has loved us.