Holy Thursday 2015:
Here we are my friends, we have entered into the Holy Triduum. Over the next three days we walk with Christ, tonight we gather with him for the feast of the Passover. Tomorrow, we will stand at the foot of his cross. Saturday night, when everything seems dark and hopeless, we will be there as he rises from the grave. This Holy Season is like none other. These three nights summarize our whole Christian faith. This is the very center and summit of everything we believe.
In some ways, these next three days will seem like a whirlwind. In a way, it’s like trying to take a drink from a fire hose. No matter how much we take in, it seems like so much goes past us. But, that’s ok. I think that is the wonder of this Triduum. Don’t worry if you are not able to process this whole mystery. That would be impossible. Rather, just come here open and ready to hear what God has to say to you. As I was preparing this week for the Triduum, one line from tonight’s gospel really stood out for me. In fact, I think this one line helps us to understand what is happening over the next three days. In fact, I think it gives us the key insight into Christ’s mission here among us. We just heard: “he loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.” This weekend is all about love. Love explains why Christ does this. He loved his own, and he loved them to the end.
His love is pure and genuine. So often, in our own lives, our love can be pure and genuine at times, no doubt about it. But, very often, because of our sinfulness and our weakness, our love is not always as strong as it should be. Sometimes our love is mixed with self-interest. Sometimes we fail to love. Christ shows us what love looks like. “You call me teacher, and Master, and rightly so. If I have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet.” In this profound moment of love and humility, Jesus shows us what love looks like. Love always looks like service. Love always looks like self-denial. Love always ends up looking like the cross. But, that is for tomorrow. Tonight, love looks like bending down and serving one another.
Over these past 2 years I have been so edified by the loving response of this parish to the needs of others. Over the past two years I have seen countless acts of self-sacrificial love. Whether it is food collections, giving trees, financial donations, gifts of time or talent, our stations of service projects, and more, I think this parish takes the words of our Lord quite seriously. If Christ is going to stoop down and serve each one of us, then we must serve those around us.
I think tonight is a privileged moment for us to think of two ways that Christ serves us in love and humility. The example he shows us in the washing of feet is lived out daily in the life of the Church, for the service of Christ lives on in the priesthood and in the Holy Eucharist. Both of these gifts are gifts of love, both are gifts in humility. Christ has never stopped bending down and washing our feet, but he does it in these two sacraments.
Tuesday evening this week I was in the Cathedral with many priests, gathered around the bishop. During this Chrism Mass, the bishop asks us to renew the promises of ordination. This was my 5th time renewing my promises. It was a powerful spiritual experience for me. There are two main promises that stood out for me. The first promise asks me if I am ready to renew my commitment to growing closer to Christ. We never stop in our growth as disciples. Hopefully, we are always moving closer to Christ. I know that in my own life, this is precisely what is needed. The second promise asks me if I am ready to renew my commitment to serving as a priest, by celebrating the sacraments and preaching the Word of God.
In a way, these two promises helped me to see the mystery of the priesthood. First, it is about normal men, like me, who in spite of our weaknesses and sinfulness, have heard the call from Christ to follow him in a special way. This call means that I have given my whole life to Christ. On the day of my ordination, I gave myself completely to Christ and his Church. There is something scary about giving myself away, about placing myself in the hands of another. But, I’m putting my life in Christ’s hands. He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end. The mystery of the priestly vocation begins with an experience of Christ’s love. I wouldn’t be here tonight if I hadn’t known Christ’s love for me, if I hadn’t heard him calling my voice down this road. So, that first promise is all about me remembering Christ’s love.
But, that second promise reminds me that the priesthood is not simply for me. It is not all about me getting a chance to experience Christ’s love. The priesthood is precisely a chance for me, and all priests, to live out the commandment that Jesus gave to the apostles: I have given you an example, as I have done for you, you should also do. Since Christ has loved me, and gave his life for me. I love him in return, and give my life in service. This is the gift of the priesthood, the love of Christ gets reflected in the world.
Of course, this love comes to us through the priest in one very special way, the Holy Eucharist. He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end. Is there a better description of the Eucharist, than the love of Christ for us to the end? Just as Jesus stooped down to serve his disciples and friends, he continues to do that at every Mass. In lowly and humble signs, Jesus gives us his very body and blood. He has never stopped loving us. His love is poured out for us at every mass. Whether it be a huge mass at St. Peter’s with the pope, or a small early morning mass at a parish: it is Christ who serves and loves us to the end.
The next three days are all about the love of Christ. Tonight, he stoops down to wash us clean. He sends out the apostles as priests to serve others. He gave a special sacrament whereby his love is poured out until the end of time in the Eucharist. Tomorrow and Saturday we will have more opportunities to continue our reflection on the love of Christ. But, tonight, this holy night, we draw near to Christ in this Last Supper. We peacefully sit with him as he bends down to serve us. We attentively listen to him as he inaugurates a new covenant in his own blood. After this dinner we sit with him in prayer, not in the garden of Gethsemane, but here in this Church. As I said earlier, be open. Listen to the voice of God who speaks in your hearts. I believe you will hear one message quite clearly, “he loved his own who were in the world, and he loved them to the end.”