Friday, April 3, 2015
Three themes of Holy Thursday: Eucharist, Priesthood, Service
(Listen to this homily here).
Holy Thursday is one Mass of the year in which we priests are told what we need to preach. This evening we are expected to cover three things: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood and fraternal charity. These make sense if you think about what we do tonight—celebrate the Last Supper, hear Jesus tell the apostles, “Do this in memory of me…” and witness the washing of feet.
The institution of the Eucharist…We must remember that the Last Supper is set in the Jewish feast of the Passover. This feast commemorated the freedom from slavery to Egypt and the beginning of the exodus to the Promised Land. The night before the fled, the Israelites were to sacrifice an unblemished lamb, spread its blood on their doorframe and eat the land. Doing so would ensure their salvation from the angel of death.
The Last Supper took place in a Passover meal. But this time, there wasn’t a baby sheep that was sacrificed. Jesus offered his own body to be sacrificed. His blood was spread on the cross. He commanded us to eat his body and drink his blood in order to receive salvation.
Think about the great mystery of God becoming man—stooping down to our level. And before Jesus was a man, he was a child. Before a child he was a baby. He began his life in his mother’s womb like all of us. In fact, his journey as a man began as a few cells. That’s how low God goes for us. And now Jesus gives us his body in what looks like bread, and his blood in what looks like wine. That’s what we receive in the Eucharist!
The institution of the priesthood…As I begin my holy hour every night, I thank God for giving me another day to serve Him as a priest. Every morning I thank God for the gift of the priesthood. The priesthood, in which I was ordained on June 22nd, 2015, is the greatest gift I have received.
I remember something I said shortly after being ordained: “I would go through six years of seminary, and go through every challenge I faced along the way, all over again just to say another Mass and hear another Confession.” This remains true today.
As this is the most sacred time of the year in our parishes, it is also special in my ministry. This is the first year I will celebrate as a pastor the Sacred Triduum in its entirety. It is the first time I will confirm—Tonya, Willie, Colleen and Jane, you will always have a special place in my heart! It is an honor to serve as your pastor. It is humbling to walk with you as your priest.
In his public ministry, Jesus fed thousands by multiplying loaves and fish. But how many have been fed the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass through the centuries? Jesus forgave the sins of a relatively small number of people while in Galilee. How many sins has Christ now forgiven through his priests in Confession? Jesus healed and even raised from the dead. But how often today does Jesus heal the sick, terminally ill and elderly through the Anointing of the Sick?
Dorothy Day (who is well known for her work in social charity but not as well known for her devotion to the Eucharist and the priesthood) said it well: “I think of our priests. What would we do without them? They are so vital a part of our lives, standing by us as they do at birth, marriage, sickness, and death—at all the great and critical moments of our existence—but also daily bring us the bread of life, our Lord Himself, to nourish us…”
As I preach, I am not doing so to toot my own horn. I, too, am grateful for the priests God put in my life that baptized me, that have heard my confessions, that gave me counsel and led me to priesthood. Please pray for me and for all of our priests.
Finally, fraternal charity. The one who stooped down in an eternally humble way now takes a towel and washes the feet of his apostles—and they didn’t wear shoes and socks! They walked around in sandals in the dirt, dust and scat.
We, too, must be washed. Peter was going to refuse this gesture of Jesus. Jesus’ reply: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Peter’s eager response, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Our sins, failings and weaknesses have to be washed by Jesus, especially in Baptism and Confession.
Then we are called to wash the feet of others. This refers not just our loved ones—family and friends. We are called to walk with the downcast, the addicted, imprisoned, hungry and naked. We are meant to go out to the fringes of society to be Christ’s hands to serve.
We begin this sacred Triduum—the three days—grateful to God’s gifts of the Eucharist and the priesthood. We pray for discernment in our response to serve God and neighbor in return.