After three weeks of visiting her father every day at the nursing home, Sarah could not bear to see him there anymore. After talking it over with her husband, she decided to take a leave of absence from her job and allow her father to live out the last few months of his life at home. They set up a hospital bed in the living room of their small home and prayed to God that he would help them.
At this stage of his life, her father was like an infant. He needed to be washed and fed. Many times he cried out in the middle of the night not remembering where he was. A few days into it, Sarah thought she had made a big mistake. But then she noticed a change in her family. Rather than complain that they were not able to watch TV in the living room anymore, her sons enjoyed sitting around talking with their grandfather. Her husband, even though he came home exhausted from a day of work, would pitch in with the laundry and other duties. They were all willing to make the necessary sacrifices so that he could spend the last months of his life surrounded by his loved ones.
When Sarah's father did eventually pass away several months later, they realized what a gift it had been having him around. Even though it was an inconvenience and even though their friends and neighbors wondered why they would take on such a burden, they knew that the sacrifices they made to have their loved one home with them brought them together as a family and taught them that there is nothing more important than showing love to the people God has placed in our lives.
Many of us are not fortunate enough to be able to take time out of work to care for a loved one. But, no matter what our situation, Sarah's story teaches all of us an important lesson. When we sacrifice ourselves out of love for another person, we get a glimpse into the heart of God and are forever changed.
On this day - Holy Thursday - we begin the great celebration of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection. Before he died, Jesus wanted to share one last meal with his apostles, the traditional Passover meal which is described in the first reading from the book of Exodus. As the meal began, he knelt to the ground and began to wash their feet. It was customary that a host offer to wash the feet of his dinner guests, but it was a job for a lowly servant not the master of the house. We see how shocking Jesus' actions are when Peter at first refuses to let him do it. But Jesus wants to teach them that if they are to be his disciples, then they must also serve each other, even in the most humiliating way.
Whose feet is Jesus calling us to wash? Sarah and her family learned the way of self-giving love through taking her father in to live with them. Who in our life is in need of the attention and love that only we can give? It could be the homeless person in the subway on our way to work. It could be a family member who is alone and could use a visit from us. It could be a classmate who is having trouble making friends. If we look hard enough, we will find people in our lives who are aching for a simple pat on the back or word of encouragement. Are we willing to stoop down to them and wash their feet as if they were the feet of Jesus himself?
It was also at the Last Supper that Jesus gave us the gift of his Body and Blood to nourish us in our journey through life. Jesus feeds us so that we may feed others. He gives himself to us so that we can give of ourselves for others. The mystery of the Eucharist is of a God who never fails to pick us up when we fall and who comes to our aid when we are in need. He is a God who promises to be present among us always. If that presence is to be real and active in our world, then we must follow his example not by waiting for needy people to come to us but by going out and finding them. Then the power of the Eucharist to heal and transform us will also be real and active in our lives.
Saint John says of Jesus in the gospel that "He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end." Jesus gave all he had to give, even to the last drop of his blood. There is no limit to the love Jesus shows our world. He continues to give himself in the form of bread and wine to a world hungry for truth, meaning and love. If we feel that there is something missing in our lives, we need only turn to Him. He longs to wash our feet and feed us. And once he has strengthened us, we must go out and share with others the good news of the Savior we have found. Then the love and mercy we celebrate at this altar will spread itself out and embrace all people.