About a month ago, the Catholic Community Alumni of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture ant Technology, of which I am a member, went to visit a children’s home in Nairobi. It is not the first Charity event we have gone to but this one struck me because of the story the lady who runs the place told us. She is a mother, I don’t know what profession she is trained in, but she left it all to start taking care of girls. She had around 21 girls at that time under her care and she was expecting some more. The girls are in primary and secondary school. She did not have anything when she started out, just a dream to be there for girls, girls who really need someone to hold their hands, to make them believe in a future, girls who need to be put on a road towards a worthy future. I cannot say she has much, but she depends on divine provisions to sustain the home. This comes in form of donors, charity visits like ours, volunteers among others.
Each of us is born with an innate desire to succeed, a desire to become someone who we can be proud of. These dreams range from having loads of money, driving the best cars in the season, taking our children to the best schools and any other means we can define success. Every once in a while, some come, who dream of making a difference in the lives of others, reaching out to the hopeless, dreaming for those who do not have a dream, loving those who think they have no love, restoring dignity to those who have none left, touching one life and inspiring them to touch others in return; those who just live their lives so that others may become, who literally lay down their lives for others.
Christ taught in John 15:13 that “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends”. And John, the writer of the Gospel of John, reiterates this teaching in 1st John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers”. Jesus did this practically by dieing on the cross so that we may have life. However he advises us to do likewise and many at times we are left wondering, how do we really lay down our lives? Should we die like Christ for our friends? Or should we die like Christ for him (Christ)? What is the significance of this teaching in our lives as Christians?
Laying down your life for others means putting them first and making their need more important than your own. The verse is about being selfless and sacrificial in our actions towards others rather than selfish (JesusCental.com). Selflessness implies being more concerned with the needs of others than with our own needs. An example of selflessness is a mother’s devotion to her child causing her to always put the child’s needs first, before her own. At the core of it all is the commandment of Love. “Love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This implies that certain selflessness is an intrinsic part of the Reign of God, where we treat others as though they were Christ, since we see Christ in them. We love them, hence our acts towards them are guided by love, and hence end up being selfless.
One of the examples that come to mind when I think of laying down our lives is that of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe, a polish Conventual Franciscan Friar, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Nazi German Concentration Camp of Auschwitz, located in German during World War II. Another is that of St. Macarius the Younger of Alexandria, who lived about the fourth century and was one of the Desert Fathers. He lived in a tiny hermitage as a member of a desert community called the Cells, so called because everyone lived in a cell. Each hermit built his own cell and, when a new member came to join them, each offered the newcomer his cell, willingly building himself another. They lived in silence and out of sight of one another except on Saturdays and Sundays when they gathered together to celebrate Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist. They made baskets and mats and in this quiet way contemplated God and loved one another. One time St. Macarius was given a bunch of fresh grapes. He thanked the donor of the gift, and when the latter had gone carried the grapes to a neighboring monk who was ill. That monk thanked St. Macarius and when he was gone, carried the grapes to a neighbor who, as soon asthat monk was gone, carried the grapes to his neighbor, and this continued. Late that same evening St. Macarius saw a monk coming to his hut bearing him his bunch of grapes, and “gave thanks that he had seen in the brethren such abstinence and such loving-kindness.” In the recent times, we have Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, the tiny woman recognized throughout the world for her work among the poorest of the poor. In 1946, while riding a train to Darjeeling to make a retreat, Sister Teresa heard what she later explained as “a call within a call. The message was clear. I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them.” She also heard a call to give up her life with the Sisters of Loreto and, instead, to “follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor.” For the next four decades Mother Teresa worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor. Her love knew no bounds, nor did her energy, as she crisscrossed the globe pleading for support and inviting others to see the face of Jesus in the poorest of the poor.
What about us, here, today in a day today life? In the book, In pursuit of Devine Mercy by Fr. Paul Ng’ang’a, the author talks of expressing mercy to those around us, our neighbors by; performing acts of mercy e.g. by giving a merciful word, by forgiving or by comforting; we can pray for mercy and; through deeds of mercy. The author further categorizes acts of mercy into spiritual and corporate. Under the spiritual works of mercy, we can admonish sinners; instruct the uninformed, comfort the sorrowful, exercise patience with those in error, praying for the living & the dead and forgiving offences. Under the corporate works of mercy, we can feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, cloth the naked, shelter the homeless, and comfort the prisoners even in prayers, visiting the sick and burying the dead. At http://catholictruth33.blogspot.com, in an article Deeds of Mercy to author urges us to try Showing it by our example in Deed, Word, and Prayer acts of mercy in just one day. “Let us try this together, for one day, be an example of his Endless Mercy. Every time we are offended, do not wish revenge, but offer a prayer up out of Love for Christ. If we see someone in the hall who needs our help, stop to help them. If at work there is someone that you don’t particularly like, as hard as it might be, smile at them, maybe even say hi. If we have a quick tongue, think before every single word that you say today… At the end of the day see how well you did. See if the next day we can do better. Let us be examples of Christ’s mercy, and be an advertisement for the great abyss”.
From all this we learn that it is not the great one time things we do that counts, it is the continuous act of being selfless in every act. One of the simplest acts I find very touching is being prayed for. I have a friend who once in a while sends me a text and says, Judy today I prayed for you. I get very touched, that of all the things he thought of praying for, he found me worthy of his prayers. How many times do we pray for others? Others include the daily calls to check on our friends, a once in a while visit and sleep over’s, responding to that distress call, finding time to share nothing and everything with that our dear one, giving an inspirational talk, guiding a young pregnant girl who needs someone to talk to so they may make a decision they will not live to regret, appreciation, complimenting sincerely, writing a thank you note to someone, looking for something around you that can be fixed up, picked up, or attended ie, put shopping carts up, pick up some trash laying around, pick up something that has fallen over, Cut an article out of the newspaper that would interest a friend and mail it to them or in our generation, post the article in their facebook wall, share a smile, share a burden that is weighing someone down, listen to a friend, visit a friend in hospital, accompany someone to hospital or somewhere they are scared of going, Put change in a charity change bottle (there are so many in our supermarkets today), take one of your family members out or do something kind for them, give someone stranded a few coins to get him home, whether genuine or not is not your worry, give a tip to a kind waitress or waiter, give way on the road during traffic, forgive when wronged, smile when someone steps on your shoes, cry when you have to empathetically, to a joyful occasion or a sad one, give a hug a full palm full bodied hug, say hi to the gateman at the office, tell the secretary thank you, recommend a client to someone else for work you could carry out, be a role model … The list is endless. The kind of things we do that dispute the fallacy that this world is a “me world”. The kind of acts that make us believe that, just like we were created to love, we are indeed loving and being loved. The kinds that make us believe in the word of John, that we have indeed the kind of relationships where we lay down our lives for others.
I conclude by quoting Arvind Devalia whp says, “Kindness is contagious – and as part of Personal Socially Responsibility we might want to consider carrying out random acts of kindness on a daily basis. It is truly a win/win/win situation. The person we are being kind to benefits through our help. We feel good for having helped someone. And the world is a better place through our kindness. Never underestimate the impact of a single act of kindness”. I also quote the Late Princess Diana of Wales who once said, “Carry out an act of kindness, with no expectation of reward or punishment. Safe in the knowledge that one day, someone somewhere might do the same for you”. And Finally, I quote Merciet who says, “I believe we were all placed on earth for each other, we can’t live on our own. When am raised to a higher level, when I prosper in life, it is not for my wellbeing but rather for the sake of others. We all can make earth a better place, not by the big things we do but by the little acts of kindness that lifts and inspires a broken heart.” The rest is our decison to be or not to be examples of those who literally lay down their lives for others…