august 2009

Do you know the context of this sentence in the Gospel? It is in St. John's account of the Last Supper, when Jesus is about to wash the feet of his disciples and is preparing for the Passion. During the last moments that Jesus spent with “his own,” he revealed the love he had always had for them in the highest and most explicit way.

“He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.”

The words “to the end” mean to the end of his life, to his very last breath. But there is also the idea of perfection. That is, he loved them completely, totally, with the greatest intensity, to the highest degree.
When Jesus would go on to his glory, the disciples would remain in the world. They would feel alone; they would have many trials to face. It is precisely in view of those moments that Jesus wanted to make them feel sure of his love.

“He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.”

In this phrase, can’t you sense Jesus’ entire lifestyle, his way of loving? He washed the feet of his disciples. His love made him stoop to this lowly service, which in those days was done only by slaves. After having his extraordinary words, his miracles, and all the other things he did, Jesus was now preparing for the tragedy of Calvary, in which he would give his very life for “his own” and for all people. He knew of their great need, the greatest need that people can have: the need to be liberated from sin, which means freed from death, and regain the possibility of entering the kingdom of heaven. Only he could give them the peace and joy of everlasting life.
And so Jesus gave himself up to death, crying out in his abandonment by the Father, until he was able at the very end to say, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30), that is, everything is completed.

“He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.”

In these words we see both the tenacious love of a God and the tender affection of a brother. We Christians, since Christ is in us, can also love like this.
Now I am not proposing, however, that you imitate Jesus by actually dying for others as he did when his hour came. Nor do I put before you models like Father Kolbe, who died for a fellow prisoner, or Father Damien, who contracted leprosy from his lepers and died with them and for them.
It may be that in the course of your lifetime you will never be asked to give your physical life for your neighbors. But what God certainly does ask of you is that you love them “to the end,” to the point where you too can say, “It is finished.”

This is what an eleven-year-old Italian girl named Lisa did. She saw that her classmate and friend Georgina was extremely sad. She tried to comfort her, but it did no good. So she decided to find out what made her friend so sad. She learned that Georgina's father had died, and that her mother had left her alone with her grandmother and had gone to live with another man. As soon as she became aware of the tragedy, Lisa decided to do something about it.
Even though Lisa was only a little girl, she asked Georgina if she could talk to her mother, but Georgina begged her to go with her first to visit her father's grave. With great love Lisa went with her. There she overheard Georgina sobbing and imploring her father to take her with him.
Lisa felt heartbroken. The ruins of a little church were nearby, and the two girls went in. The only things left inside the church were a small tabernacle and a crucifix. Lisa said, “Look, in this world everything is going to be destroyed; only the crucifix and the Eucharist will always be with us.” Georgina dried her tears and replied,

“Yes, you’re right!” Then with tender love, Lisa took Georgina by the hand and accompanied her to her mother.
When they got there Lisa boldly addressed the mother with these words: “I know this is none of my business, but I must tell you that you left your daughter without the mother's love that she desperately needs. I must tell you also that you will never have peace until you repent and take your child back to live with you.”
The following day Lisa met Georgina in school and again tried to cheer her up. But something new happened that day: a car came to pick Georgina up after school. In it was her mother. From that day on, the car has kept coming regularly, because Georgina now lives with her mother, who no longer has any relationship with the man she was living with.

Looking at the small, yet great thing Lisa did, we can now say, “It is finished.” She did everything well, “to the end,” and she achieved what she set out to do.
Think about it. How many times have you started to take an interest in someone who needed help and then abandoned them, using all kinds of excuses to silence your conscience? How many things have you started with enthusiasm and then not followed through because of difficulties that you felt were beyond your strength?
The lesson Jesus is giving you today is this:

“He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.”

Love to the very end. And if one day God should literally ask you for your life, you will not hesitate. You will be like the martyrs who went to their deaths singing. And your reward shall be the greatest glory, because Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).


Chiara Lubich

You can find a complete version of Chiara’s commentary in Words to Live By (New City Press, 1980).


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