At the end of our lives, what will matter? Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church St. John of the Cross tells us, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” But what is love?
When Christians talk about love, we’re not just talking about the thrill of an infatuation or the warm affection between spouses. “Love, first and foremost, demands commitment and sacrifice,” my parish priest reminded us on Sunday. God so loved the world . . . that what? He gave his only Son, knowing the man would be crucified for our sins, not His. God is that committed to us. God’s love never leaves us. And so we must pour out that love to others. It is a struggle to love my neighbors with the kind of effusive love God has for us.
One of the most stunning places I see this kind of love is with missionaries. Why would people, for example, forsake their home country and their families to tend to AIDS orphans in Phnom Penh? The picture here is of those children, who are cared for by Maryknoll Sisters, including Sister Mary Little. She says: “There is something about these people that makes me not ever want to leave them. There is a text in the bible where God says, ‘You are engraved on the palm of my hand.’ Well, I feel the Khmer people are engraved on the palm of my hand, in my heart actually, and I can’t imagine being any place else.”
But most of us are not called to the religious life and don’t work as missionaries. We have to walk the path of life God has set out for us, loving each person we encounter—in our families, in our neighborhoods, on a clogged freeway, or at the deli counter. As Christians, this is not optional. Sunday’s Gospel reading told us of Jesus’ Last Supper, when he gave his apostles 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.”
Loving as God loves us means loving our enemies, the people who have disappointed and betrayed us. It means understand that all the people we will ever encounter during our time on earth are redeemable and deeply loved by God. The Holy Eucharist, in particular, helps us to live out the memory of Christ on earth.We partake of Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity. He becomes part of us. If we reflect on His sacrifice, we are compelled to act as Christ does. God, through His Church, helps to love as He does, and thus to follow the most difficult and radical of the ancient commandments.