When I was a young girl, my Mom used to take my siblings and me to visit an older lady named Alice. My Mom knew Alice from church; both of them attended the same mass, and one day, after mass, Alice approached my Mom and asked for her help. Alice explained that she had no family and she asked my mom to help her run her errands. We would accompany my Mom as she drove Alice to the bank, the grocery store, McDonalds, or wherever her errands took her and always ended the day in her small apartment sitting in her antique arm chairs surrounded by the piles magazines, mail, and coupons that she meticulously saved. We always ate together and it was always grilled cheese and tomato soup because as she said, “It was a meal that would stick to your bones.” She called me her “little ballerina” and would stand from her second floor window and wave to us as we drove away each week.
As Alice grew older, and after she took a couple of falls, my Mom got more involved in her care. Finally, after one particularly bad fall, my Mom helped her move out of her apartment and into a nursing home. My Mom, now her power of attorney, ensured that Alice received the best care possible, and continued to frequently visit her despite the busyness in her own life from raising the seven of us kids including my handicapped brother. When Alice passed away, I remember going to the funeral and being the only ones there that day. Surprised, I learned that though Alice still had family; they were not on good terms.
In today’s gospel Jesus commands: “Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay one’s life down for one’s friend.” The commandment begs the questions: What does it mean to love as Jesus loved us? What does it mean to lay one’s life down for a friend?
When we look at Jesus’ life and witness the profound, radical love and service he gave to those he encountered, especially the poor and vulnerable, we may find our souls overwhelmed and humbled by the power of His love. We may feel unworthy or unable to love, to lay down our lives in the same profound way that Jesus did or maybe we feel scared of crossing the safe walls we put up or the boundaries we create if we dare reach out to the marginalized.
As I read today’s gospel, I thought of the weight of this commandment to love as Jesus loves and I began to think of all the people in my life that dare to love selflessly and fearlessly as Jesus did. I was no longer a little ballerina when Alice died, and I often wonder, what would have happened to Alice had my Mom not agreed to help her. I have this image in my mind of little old Alice in her long gray coat and matching beret, approaching my Mom and asking for help. The thought of the courage and love that my Mom had to say yes to Alice, practically a stranger to us at the time, inspires me as I think of the infinite opportunities that surround us each day to say yes to Jesus who disguises Himself in the vulnerable in our midst. So even if only for today, let us have the courage to listen to God’s call, to say yes to love, and to experience the profound transformation that comes when we lay down our lives for a friend.
St. Vincent de Paul Society – Milwaukee, Meal Programs Manager
2009-2010 Passionist Volunteer International in Honduras