April 7, 2010 // Uncategorized
HOLY THURSDAY 2010 (Saint Matthew’s Cathedral)
“Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.”
With these words of Saint John at the beginning of today’s Gospel, we begin the Easter Triduum. We contemplate and we celebrate during these holy days Jesus’ hour, the hour of the redemption of the world by the redeeming love of Jesus Christ, His love unto the end, to the extreme.
The Triduum begins with this Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We remember the Last Supper, the beginning of the drama of the Paschal Mystery, when our Lord instituted the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and the ordained priesthood. It is no mere coincidence nor an incidental aside that Jesus knelt before the apostles and washed their dirty feet.
When Jesus came into the world, God descended and became a servant, a slave, in taking on, or assuming, our human nature. When his hour had come, He showed us again the humility of His Incarnation which now reached its climax in the humility of the Redemption. This is why He had come. His redemptive Passion was the very reason for His Incarnation. In the washing of the disciples’ feet, the entire mystery of Jesus Christ is expressed. In this, what redemption means becomes visible.
Jesus took off his outer garments and tied a towel around his waist. When He became man, when He came down from His divine glory, He cast aside the clothing of His divine glory and put on the garb of a slave. At the Last Supper, this is dramatically seen again at the hour of the redemption. He who had come down from heaven, taking the form of slave, kneels before the disciples, kneels before us, and carries out for us the service of a slave. He washes our dirty feet so that we can be admitted to God’s banquet and be made worthy to take our place at His table. God descends and becomes a slave. He washes our feet, purifies us in His love, so that we can come to His table, the Eucharistic table and the table of the banquet feast of heaven.
God gives Himself to us without reserve, to the very depths of His suffering and death. He cleanses us in the sacraments of Baptism and Penance. He is continually on His knees at our feet, carrying out for us the service of a slave, the service of purification, which makes us capable of receiving God’s grace. Why else would He say to the protesting Peter, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” We are sinners – we need His cleansing. That’s why Jesus tells Peter that His washing of his feet was necessary for him to share in Jesus’ inheritance which is eternal life. Jesus is referring to the necessity of His death. His death brings us our heritage with Him and cleanses us of sins. And, of course, this becomes actual for us through the purifying sacraments of Baptism and Penance.
There are other words said by Jesus at the washing of the feet that are also important for our reflection this evening. He tells the apostles: “You are clean, but not all of you.” Jesus offers this great gift of purification, but not all are made clean. There is the possibility of rejecting His gift. Our Lord’s redeeming love, the gift of Himself, knows no bounds, but people can reject His love. Such rejection is rooted in the sin of pride, when one does not admit or recognize the need of purification. We can freely choose to close ourselves to God’s saving goodness and to reject His love. Judas is the sad and tragic figure who reminds us every Holy Thursday of this possibility. For him, power, money, and success were more important. He was greedy and betrayed His Master, the Lord of love, for thirty pieces of silver. When Jesus said, “You are clean, but not all of you,” He was obviously referring to Judas, but this statement also refers to those coming after Judas who would refuse His saving love, the hard of heart, the proud, who put other things before God and His love. These are the un-prodigal sons and daughters who refuse to convert and return to the house of the Father, the unrepentant, those who refuse to let Jesus wash their feet, those who reject His merciful love. We need to let the Lord remove the dirt from us with the purifying power of His love, which He does with the water of Baptism, but also in confession, the sacrament of purifying love for us who sin after receiving the purifying grace of Baptism.
The drama of the washing of the feet ends with the important words of Jesus: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” We are to wash one another’s feet. The service of the washing of the feet illustrates our vocation as Jesus’ disciples to imitate His love and service. This entails forgiving one another, serving one another, loving one another as He has loved us. This instruction of Jesus to wash one another’s feet is but another expression of the new commandment that He entrusted to the apostles: “love one another as I have loved you.” We serve our Lord by the charitable service of loving one another, especially the sick and the suffering, the weak and the poor. We are called to be committed to washing the feet of our brothers and sisters, expressing in gestures of mutual service the love which is the synthesis of the whole Gospel. And this is intimately connected to the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the Lord, which nourishes us to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
In his apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum caritatis, the Holy Father reminds us that the Eucharist is a mystery to be lived. How is it lived? By washing one another’s feet! The grace of the Holy Eucharist transforms us into Christ. Pope Benedict recalls the teaching of Saint Augustine that it is not the eucharistic food that is changed into us, but rather we are mysteriously transformed by it into Christ, into Christ who kneels down and washes the feet of the disciples, into Christ who takes up the cross and gives Himself in loving sacrifice on Calvary. That is why for us Catholics, the Eucharist is so central to our life and embraces our entire life! It equips us to live Christ’s charity in all our thoughts and deeds, to do as He has done for us!
We firmly believe in the most holy mystery of the Eucharist. We are to devoutly celebrate every Mass and we are to intensely live the mystery we celebrate. An authentic Christian spirituality is a Eucharistic spirituality. This is our way to holiness.
God’s love is inexhaustible. He has indeed loved us to the end. We see this in the symbolism of the washing of the feet. We will contemplate this love in a very intense way tomorrow, Good Friday. We experience this love every time we celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice. May our lives be immersed in this great mystery of love, the love of Christ present in the most holy Eucharist!
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