A husband and wife came for counseling after 15 years of marriage. When asked what the problem was, the wife went into a passionate, painful tirade listing every problem they had ever had in the 15 years they had been married. She went on and on and on: neglect, lack of intimacy, emptiness, loneliness, feeling unloved and unlovable, an entire laundry list of un-met needs she had endured over the course of their marriage.
Finally, after allowing this to go on for a sufficient length of time, the therapist got up, walked around the desk and, after asking the wife to stand, embraced and kissed her passionately. The woman shut up and quietly sat down as though in a daze. The therapist turned to the husband and said, “This is what your wife needs at least three times a week Can you do this?” The husband thought for a moment and replied,.. “Well, I can drop her off here on Mondays and Wednesdays, but on Friday’s, I fish!
“I give you a new commandment: love one another”. I’m sure you have probably heard this question before, but it’s a question worth meditating on regularly. What if you were told that you had 24 hours to live? How would you spend those hours? Would there be some place you feel you needed to go? What would you do? Who would you do it with?
Looking at life from this perspective, it is amazing how many things that we think are necessary, how many fears that absorb our time, suddenly seem unimportant. I think most of us would clear our calendars and delete many marginal people from our appointment books. We would try to surround ourselves with the few precious people in our lives and engage in a number of relatively simple things: crying, laughing, and perhaps sharing a meal.
This can be documented by the events of 9/ll. During those terrible hours many people who were on the fatal hijacked airplane or who were isolated in the upper floors of the World Trade Center had cell phones. They used them, and we have records of those calls. The records that would break your heart. Nobody with those cell phones chose to call their financial planner. No one called the sports hotline to check on recent scores. They all called the person that meant the most to them, and they all said the same three words: “I love you.”
Now why is it that those three words are the words that everyone says in such circumstances? Those words were spoken because in the presence of death we reach out intuitively to what is most important in our lives. What is most important thing are the relationships we have with the people who we love. Somehow saying those words makes love present, makes love tangible, gives us something to hold on to as life slips away.
The words “I love you” are a sacrament, if you will. They make the spiritual present, the invisible real. In the last few moments of life the only thing that matters is our connection with others. When we face the reality of death, all we want is love.
So if this is the case, does it not make sense to take what is most important and make it the foundation of our lives? This is what Jesus does in today’s gospel. In the last hours of his life he gives his disciples a new commandment. They must love one another. In order to show them how to live out that commandment, Jesus, on the night before he died, gives us two gifts: a meal and an example. The meal is the meal of the Eucharist, the feast of love, the meal in which we celebrate God’s love for us and our love for one another. The example is Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, the work of love, the action of service to the people we care for. To be a disciple of Jesus, then, is to be someone who knows the meaning of the meal and the meaning of the example. A follower of Christ knows how important it is to celebrate love and to work for love.
How do we celebrate love? We celebrate love by always appreciating who are the key people in our lives, by not taking them for granted, by regularly using the words “I love you” as a sacramental moment, making present that which is so fundamental to our lives.
How do we work for love? By taking concrete steps to see that our relationships continue and grow, by learning how to speak the truth with the people that are connected to us, by listening to them, by saying “I’m sorry,” by asking “What do you need?” and then trying to make it real.