Holy Thursday

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Holy Thursday

Scripture Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15 

“I believe in Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, died, and buried.”

“Do this in memory of me.” Not, anymore, in memory of the mighty acts of God, the deliverance from slavery in Egypt that is the reason you give, if you are a Jew at Passover, when the children ask why we do what we do on that holy day. Now, but still at Passover, it’s “in memory of me.” It would be a blasphemous thing to say if the one saying it were not the very redeeming God himself: “I have come from God, and I am going to God”; the Father and I are one.”

So we continue, even today in eastern Iowa in 2018, to do this celebration of the Sacred Triduum, in his memory, who has led us out of darkness into marvelous light, from death to life, from gloominess to joy, from isolation to communion that is his Body, the Church. “God loved the world so much that he sent his only son,” who then “loved those who were his own in the world, and loved them to the perfect end.” This love, perfect and complete, is the content of the memory we keep, and the content, too, of our imitation: “I have given you an example, so that as I have done to you, you may also do.” An example of what? That it is more than meets the eye, more even than a sign of humility, is implied in Jesus’ words, “What I am doing you do not know—yet—, but after these things, then you will understand.”

The washing of the feet is the Eucharistic feast in other words, the Holy Mass under another sign, requiring no hierarchy to preside at, but on the contrary subverting all hierarchy, so that, not the greatest becomes as the least, nor the Master the servant, but as God became man, the two become friends. No chasuble, but the waiter’s towel, no chalice but a basin, no wine, but water that here at the end as at the Wedding at Cana is the best wine. Jesus has turned the upper room into the lovers’ garden in the Song of Songs: “I have come into my garden, my sister, my Bride. I eat my bread, I drink my wine; eat, my friends, drink and get drunk, my loving companions.” Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, whom by doing so he turns into friends.

The word wash occurs nine times in ten verses of today’s Gospel, only six times in all the rest of the New Testament. We are meant to pay attention. Before his crucifixion the foot-washing is the last of his signs; it is the crucifixion, its inner meaning. Wanting to wash his friends’ feet, Jesus is the Bridegroom in the Song, pleading, coaxing, enticing, “Open to me, my sister, my friend, my perfect one.” In his own homily today, Pope Francis said that in washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus took a risk. Reaching out in friendship is always a risk.

The Friend objects, “I have washed my feet; am I to dirty them again”—as Peter does—“Lord, you shall never wash my feet.” But by washing our feet Jesus would establish an intimacy with us —”I no longer call you servants, but friends”—that at the same time signals our access to everything that he has received from his Father, even to the glory that had been given him as Son. Refusing Jesus’ act of service, which includes the command to pass it forward, we reject the death of Jesus of which it is a sacrament, the laying down of his life for his friends, for those he loved to the perfect end, and so we risk forgoing our part in Jesus, the inheritance he offers, the eternal life that is his very abiding friendship.

I don’t think there will be any Triduum celebration this year that does not include mention of Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame of France. He is the policeman who took the place of a hostage held by a terrorist last Friday and was killed. Lt. Col. Beltrame merited this remark from the French President. It is encouraging and remarkable to hear a modern western head of state capture in so few words the essence of the Gospel, and the entire mystery that we are celebrated and are heirs to: The President said of Lt. Col. Beltrame, “He would not have allowed anyone to take his place, because he knew the example has to be set from the top . . .the light he has lit in us has not gone out.”

In other words, “do this in memory of him.” Saint Paul confessed that “Christ loved me and gave himself for me,” and Saint Peters says, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Following in his steps, our feet will become dirty, even bloody, but that is part of the redemptive cycle. We don’t have to wait for terrorists: Scripture itself challenges us, like this from the Letter to the Hebrews “Keep on loving one another, show hospitality to strangers, be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the abused, since you also are in the body. . . . and by everyone, let marriage be honored.” “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

 

 

 

Holy Thursday

Scripture Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

Our Triduum this year takes place in the middle of Jewish Passover. The three days of the Christian Triduum usually fall within the eight days of Jewish Passover. Our respective feasts do not only coincide on the calendar; the also coincide historically and theologically. As the synoptic Gospels tell us, the Last Supper of Jesus was Jesus’ Passover Seder that year. He celebrated it, though, not with his blood relations as expected, but with his new family, the Twelve, the embryo of his family, the Church, of which we are all members, thanks to the Holy One, blessed be He.

At Passover, Jews gather, but not in synagogues. Passover you celebrate at home, with the family. The father is the leader of the meal, but it is the children who really kick things off with the leading question, “What does this mean?” Then the father can hand on the central event of the Jewish People: “With a strong arm the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” The main feature of the Passover Seder is this narrative, this Haggadah, the telling and passing on of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. By the annual celebration of Passover and the repetition of the Haggadah year by year, generation to generation, Jews know who they are, and why. Forgetfulness is anathema. So not just once does the Torah say that parents must pass on the story to their children at Passover; it says it four times.

The rabbis noted this four-fold admonition.  They said it was because there are four kinds of children, the wise, the mischievous, the simple, and those who don’t yet know how to ask. The point is that all children matter, and that all must hear so that the story stays alive, because only when the story lives do the people live, too. Paul understood this. Paul was an observant Jew. He was a Pharisee. We hear the clear echo of the Seder ritual in the second reading today: “I handed on to you what I myself have received.”  Paul uses this phrase again in this letter to the Corinthians. This time, he uses it to introduce the Haggadah of the Lord’s Supper; the second time, in Chapter 15, he uses it to introduce the Haggadah of the Lord’s Passion, Death, Burial, and Resurrection. Put the two together, and you have the what we are beginning to celebrate this evening, the Paschal Triduum of the Lord’s Supper, his Passion and Death, his Burial, and his Rising from the Dead.

The Triduum, then, is the Christian Passover. It is the repetition each year in word and symbol of all that makes us the family of Jesus, the Church, and the People of God. And it is not just a retelling; it is a real sacramental re-presentation of the events of our salvation, of our liberation from the bondage of sin, from selfishness, and from all conspiracy with death that the actual death of the body is a mere symbol of. The Triduum is the way we both ask and respond to the children’s question, “What does this mean?”

But I ask myself a prior question, “Where are the children?” Where is the next generation of Catholic Christians for handing on the faith to? Perhaps we don’t expect children and youth in a monastery church, but then, why not? And if they are not here, are they flocking instead to their parishes these holy days? I am reminded of some challenging words of Pope Francis. The family, he says, is the “place where parents pass on the faith to their children” (EG 66), yet “in many cases, parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk”; “many families no longer even share a common meal. Addictions abound, including an addiction to television” . . . making it “all the more difficult to hand on the faith to their children” (AL 50).

Recently on my visit to Gethsemani Bishop Flores of Brownsville, TX, spoke to the monks. He said parents ask him, what can we do? And he tells them, read the Gospel to your children every day.  Read, and then say something about it. He says, Jesus must become real, not just an idea, as real as the Devil is real for the youth of Brownsville in the guise of drug dealers and cartel functionaries. The plain sense of the Gospel, Bishop Flores says, makes Jesus real. Make the family, he said, like the Church, the place where the Word of God is housed, heard, and responded to. Bishop Flores was certainly echoing Pope Francis: By their witness and words, he said, “families speak . . . of Jesus. They pass on the faith, they arouse a desire for God and they reflect the beauty of the Gospel and its way of life” (AL 184).

Of course, our story is not told only in Word and ritual, as Jesus himself shows. Washing his disciples feet, he translates liturgy into humble service. In countless concrete ways— charitable outreach, works of mercy, and political advocacy— Catholics both lay and religious are proclaiming the Christian Haggadah loud and clear, often, too, by the shedding of their blood. But it is false to separate liturgy from life, sacrament from service, contemplation from action, religion from spirituality. Francis talks about the via pulchritudinis, the way of beauty. “The incarnate Son, as the revelation of infinite beauty, is supremely lovable and draws us to himself with bonds of love. So a formation in the via pulchritudinis ought to be part of our effort to pass on the faith” (EG 167). Liturgy, the Mass, and especially the Sacred Triduum, should be nothing but and encounter with the beauty and the Beautiful that is also the True and the One.

Now, in word and symbol, let us begin the sacred Triduum. Let us keep asking ourselves, “What does this mean,” and as we tell our story again, may its beauty touch our hearts so that the truth and goodness of the Risen Christ may radiate from within them to all who long for freedom (see EG 167).

 

Holy Thursday

[Scripture Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15]

Every year in the Catholic world we have the ceremony of foot washing on this day. If we had it everyday or like we used to do Trappist monasteries, every Saturday evening, it would lose some of its effectiveness to impress us. After Jesus washed the feet of his disciples he said to them, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” And so we do.

In our modern world this action seems out of place however it is not the act itself that is most important here it is the attitude that is important. Washing someone's feet is not a very glamorous thing to do. The feet after all are at the bottom of glamour scale. We think the face is more significant and in the face the eyes are considered windows into the soul. There are any number of poems written about the eyes but I wonder are there any about the feet!

What is Jesus trying to tell us by washing his disciples' feet and how is this connected with the Eucharist which he just instituted at the supper? I think we have to see this in the context of other examples Jesus gave us. He was the recognized leader of the twelve but he never accepted that as a power position as other religious leader did. He said the greatest must be the least, and the last shall be first, and he has come among them as one who serves. He called blessed the poor and the meek and those who hunger for justice, he touched Lepers and healed the blind and lame. He was a man for the poor. He really upset the social order of the day and this led to his death. The Jewish leader understood very well that if he continued they would lose their power. A few days before he was arrested they held a meeting of the Sanhedrin and proclaimed that if he was not stopped, “the Romans will take our land and our nation.” Caiaphas, the high priest, gave them an out when he said it is better for one person to die than the whole nation parish. John expands this by saying not only the nation but all the scattered children of God. But what Caiaphas said was his death sentence no matter what false witnesses brought to the trial. The real and immediate reason was that the leaders were going to lose their power. I think it is safe to say Jesus died because his social teachings and examples were about to reverse the order of social justice established by the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Remember Jesus was crucified between two revolutionaries or as one translation had it insurgents. Jesus was really put to death because his teachings were revolutionary and they still are. Washing someone's feet is about as lowly a chore you can do and yet it is the attitude that is important here. Jesus wants his followers to have the attitude of servers, ones who serve others more than themselves. If I am your Lord and Master, he said, and washed your feet you should do likewise. John tells us this action took place during the last supper so it was not just tacked on as it were. It is a moment in the Eucharistic mystery. The goal of the Eucharist after all is the unity of the body of Christ or as John says, gathering together the scattered children of God. Serving others is a Eucharistic act. It is a dying and rising. In fact we are in an Eucharistic school-a school of the Lord's service where we put into practice the teachings of Jesus. It is a learning by doing. Every time we serve one another we are strengthening the bonds of unity in the Body of Christ and fulfilling the purpose of the Eucharist.

Holy Thursday

[Scripture Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15 ]

I believe it was St. Augustine who said, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” In these few words there is a world of wisdom; a key, if you will, to personal peace of mind. They have been used by religious leaders for centuries. In fact, Pope John the XXIII used it in his first encyclical letter.

I would like to use it this evening to guide us through the labyrinth of instructions we have just heard in the three Scripture readings chosen for our liturgy. I use the word labyrinth because the instructions outlined in the readings are very detailed and sometimes hard to follow. While on one level the readings seem clear and to the point at another level if we try to take them literally we can get lost in a maze of confusion on what is essential and what is non essential. For instance can we take the words at face value that we just heard from the book of Exodus about how to celebrate the Passover? Are we to sacrifice a lamb and put the blood on our doorpost? I am not sure even what a door post is! Another example, Jesus tells his disciples to wash each others feet. Does this mean everyday, all the time? Do St. Paul’s words, “the written law kills but the spirit gives life” apply here“? (2Cor. 3:6).

There are groups of people who take the Bible literally. I think the Hasidic Jews would follow Exodus 12: to the letter in preparing the Passover. How do you extract the essentials from the non-essentials in a passage like we just heard? Here is something a little closer to home: our Cistercian Order is founded on the principle of a stricter interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict than was current at the time of our founding. Our official name is, “Cistercian of the Strict Observance“. There have been some pretty nasty feuds even up to modern times among monks on how to interpret the Rule of St. Benedict. As late as the 1960’s our Abbot General forbade any Trappist to visit a monastery of the Common Observance.

To bring this even closer to home, at least for me, I received a call from a man in Florida several months ago who was all upset because his pastor was not genuflecting at the Consecration at Mass. When he reproached him about this the pastor replied that the Trappists do not genuflect, they bow. He wanted to know if this was true? I told him yes but only because we were allowed to keep our Cistercian Rite after Vatican II. Because it was over 200 years in use or was it 500? These are small points but how we interpret written text is extremely important. Many terrorists seem to be able to find justification for their actions in their holy book just as crusaders found justification to kill infidels in the Bible. There are radical Americans who think they can take down the Federal Government because the end times are near and our government is pagan. So the phrase, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty and in all things charity” is very important, especially the last words, “in all things charity“.

The second reading from St. Paul’s instructions for public worship are a different story. After giving some non-essentials such as women should have the heads covered when praying, which Catholic women followed whenever they came to church up to Vatican II, Paul describes how the Eucharist is to be celebrated. This is the earliest account we have of the worship of the new Christians. The Church takes his words literally and we are suppose to follow literally what Jesus said at his Last Supper when he instituted the Eucharist if we want a valid Mass. “This is my body which is for you, do this in remembrance of me”…”this cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this whenever you drink it in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25).

If we move to the Gospel, the account of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, we can ask what is essential here? Certainly not washing each other’s feet each day. I think the meaning of this act is found in the words, “You address me as teacher and Lord, which is fitting enough for that is what I am. But I washed your feet. I who am teacher and Lord” In Luke Jesus says, “I am in your midst as one who serves you.” (Lk. 22:26). This is an essential message of the New Testament. This is the law of love in action. As Jesus says at the end of the Gospel today, “Blessed are you if you put this into practice.” Putting the words of Scripture into practice was the way the Desert Fathers used their main principle for understanding the Scriptures. If you did not live it you really did not understand it. And John, by putting this message at the place where the other Evangelist describes the institution of the Eucharist is saying that mutual service is essential to the Eucharist. We have to live out the Sacrifice of the Eucharist by sacrificing ourselves for our brothers and sisters, by serving each other, or as St. Benedict says so beautifully, “..bear each others weaknesses of mind or body with the utmost patience” (RB 72:5). That word “bear” is the same Latin word used in the Vulgate for Jesus carrying his cross.

The whole Christian life is a unity; one link leading to the other and all connected to the Eucharist. This evening we remember the first time Jesus celebrated the Eucharist with his disciples. It was also his last meal on earth. He will not drink the fruit of the vine until he drinks it new in the kingdom of heaven. We who act this evening in remembrance of him hope to have a place at this heavenly banquet.

Holy Thursday

[Scripture Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15]Fr. Brendan

It is amazing how quickly words become popular for a few years and then seem to disappear. A word you hear often today is tweak. I’m not even sure what it means, but I often get messages and statements from, say the manager of Trappist Caskets, asking me to “read this over and tweak it.” I think it means to change it around or expand on it or alter as I see fit. Now we don’t want to “tweak” the Scriptures, but there are passages we can understand in different ways — I suppose we could say extrapolate.

One of the great creedal statements of the Old Testament is called the shema.1 It begins, “Listen, Israel, the Lord your God is one; there is no other.” The phrase is a declaration of monotheism, but if we “tweak it”, extrapolate a little, we can take the words literally. God is one, there is no other. But we do not experience life as such. We have a dualistic view of life. The “other” is so present and pressing in on us.

Reuel Howe begins his book on dialogue with the sentence, “Every person is a potential adversary, even those whom we love.”2 At first I found his stance quite negative, but then I realized we don’t have to live very long to experience the truth of this statement. Yet God is one; there is no other. We are all one in God — the otherness of life comes from sin, the rupture, the separation and alienation we live in now.

Today’s feast is all about reconciliation. Over the centuries, it has been loaded with meaning. It is the day the Eucharist and the priesthood were instituted, the day penitents were reconciled, the day the oils were blessed. It is impossible to address all of these, but since they are all connected perhaps one can lead to the others.

One of the oils blessed at this time is the Oil of the Infirm. Last Tuesday as Fr. Stephen and I were driving into the parking lot of the Cathedral for the Chrism Mass, a priest was driving out on his way to Rochester for a final consultation on his lung cancer. I was thinking what a lonely drive that must be. How alone he must feel. Perhaps he will need a serious operation. Perhaps he will hear that there is nothing the doctor can do, that the cancer has spread. Serious illness can be such a devastating experience. No one can endure it for you; no one can save you from it. You can be so alone and separated, even alienated by such an illness. It can be the ultimate otherness — the other — a stranger taking over your body, your health, your well-being. And yet we have a thing called Oil of the Infirm used in a sacrament to transform this experience of illness.

When you are healthy, you forget about illness. In fact it is easy to forget about a lot of things, even God. But when you are ill, you cannot forget. It presses in on your life, takes over your thinking, pre-occupies your mind. It ultimately separates you from your body long before you die. The Oil of the Infirm may not heal your body but it brings reconciliation between the experience of illness and God. God can be present to us as powerfully as an illness. He can occupy our mind, take over our thinking, be in the illness — transforming our experience into the redemptive suffering of the Cross.


The Oil of the Infirm is one small expression of the reconciliation Jesus brings into our life. Bodily illness is only one of the things we suffer. The ancient monks spoke of seven capital sins that affect our whole life. The worst of these is pride. In today’s Gospel Jesus demonstrates the remedy for pride. He shows us that humble service reconciles us to God. It heals us in our deep spirit.

Pride can be like a physical illness. It can occupy our thoughts, press itself into our thinking. But does not the example of Jesus show us that all the physical and spiritual illnesses that afflict us are only invitations to practice his way of healing? His presence enters our life at the exact location where sin abounds because it is there that grace super-abounds.

Listen, Israel, the Lord your God is one; there is no other. “In Him we live and move and have our being”.3 Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all things to myself.”4 At this Eucharist, we are lifted up with Jesus and made one body, one spirit, with Him.

Holy Thursday

[Scripture Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15]

There is a curious sentence in the letter to the Hebrews that was read at Vigils yesterday. The Lord is quoted as saying, “I will once more shake not only earth but heaven.” And the ‘once more’ shows that shaken created things will pass away, so that only what is unshaken will remain” Heb. 12:26-27.

There are people who believe something like this will happen soon. The Lord will just grab things and give them a good shake! They don’t say it that way but they do speak of the great trial or chastisement. Maybe they are right, maybe they are wrong. There is only one way to prove it — when it happens.

This is not all darkness. Whenever God acts it is for our good. The light shines in the passage above in the words, “what is unshaken will remain.” A call to repentance is a call to hope. It is a movement toward reconciliation. Speaking of his passion and death, Jesus says, “I tell you this now before it takes place so that when it takes place you may believeJn.13:19. Christ’s passion shook the disciples to the core. They literally lost faith in Jesus. This must have been terrible suffering for him, to be abandoned by his friends.

I like to believe the great trial, the chastisement, the shaking of heaven and earth took place already in the passion and death of Jesus. “Now has judgment come upon this world, now will this world’s prince be driven out, and…I will draw all things to myselfJn. 12:31. The resurrection inaugurates a new creation. It establishes the unshakable kingdom in which the baptized live. Death has lost its sting, in fact we proclaim the death of the lord until he comes.

Christ suffered for us leaving us an example, that we may follow in his footsteps. He uses the same words in explaing to his disciples why he washed their feet. It is an example for them to follow. They are to wash each others feet. “As I have done, so you must doJn. 13:15. This is a universal teaching of Jesus and the Church. As he did so must we do.

The Fathers of the Church would read back into the scriptures this teaching. St. Augustine uses a passage from Proverbs to advance our understanding of how we are to follow Jesus. In Proverbs we read, “If you sit down to eat at the table of a ruler, observe carefully what is set before you; then stretch out your hand, knowing that you must provide the same kind of meal yourselfPro.23:1. This meal, of course, is the Eucharist and we must provide the same kind of meal to those we live with. In other words we must do what Jesus did, pour out our lives for our brothers and sisters, wash their feet.

The earth trembles at the crucifixion. The earth still trembles at the crucifixion of injustice and violence. Our faith in the resurrection is the only unshakable thing we have. As we continue this Eucharist observe carefully what is set before you for you will be called upon to provide the same. Your blood must be poured out for the salvation of the world. You are now the body of Christ for He lives in you and me. He has given us an example and a mandate: “As I have done, so you must doJn.13:15.

Holy Thursday

[Scripture Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15]

We have had a lot of rain recently which is not unusual for Springtime in the Mid-West, so I was pleased when I ran across a passage in the Letter to the Hebrews which speaks of rain: “Ground which drinks in rain falling on it again and again and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whom it is cultivated receives the blessing of God. But if it bears thorns and thistles it is worthless and is cursed” (Heb. 6:7-8).

In the Scriptures the ground, soil or earth are often used as an image of the human heart and anything falling on the earth like rain or seeds for example are images of the Word of God, or the grace of Christ or even the Holy Spirit. These images are very beautiful and true because they combine the action of God and our response. True also because they acknowledge the possibility of failure, not just any failure but the worst failure of all: not to respond to the grace of the moment. This leads to moral degradation and Divine judgment, the ground that brings forth vegetation is blessed the soil that brings forth thorns and thistles is cursed.

We usually apply these images to ourselves which is wise but they can be applied to a society or a civilization or the whole world. If we look at our world we see how true it is that God lets his rain fall on the just and the unjust. We see also a lot of brambles and weeds mixed in with the wheat. Just looking at the dark side for a moment, let us ask ourselves what does our world need the most? I suppose everyone will have an answer to this question but I thought it would be good to do a more scientific search—well not real scientific but at least something more objective than just a personal opinion. I looked at the petitions from the Prayer of the Faithful we have every Sunday. We do not have copies of these of course but just from your memory there is one petition that is used in various forms almost every Sunday. It is world peace. From this we could conclude that peace is our greatest need—if we only had peace. This could be true, but there are all kinds of peace—a cease fire can bring a modicum of peace but war is just under the surface. If I could choose a word that sums up more accurately what the world needs today it would be reconciliation. Reconciliation goes deeper than a superficial peace. We really need reconciliation between nations, races, religions and even genders.


This evening’s liturgy is all about reconciliation. Jesus instituted the Eucharist as a way for us to share in his great act of redemption, our reconciliation with God. The early Church chose Holy Thursday as the day when penitents would be reconciled with the Church. When we hear the word sin we normally think of personal, individual sin. It is difficult for us to think that our sins affect the whole Church. Individualism is the air we breathe and because of it the great social sins of our society can be below our moral radar. Because monks practice separation from the world does not mean we separate ourselves from the suffering of the world or the sin of the world. Each day at the Eucharist we sing, “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world have mercy on us.” Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we share in bearing the sins of the world just as Jesus did before us and won our redemption and reconciliation.

I believe that the Gospel story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is a sign of God reconciling us to himself. Peter at first thought it was a simple gesture of service but when he realized it was a sign of something much deeper, a cleansing of the soul he wanted not only his feet washed but his whole body. Peter was still on a personal, individual level here. Jesus had to wake him up with these dramatic words, “If I do not wash you, you will have no share in my heritage.” The heritage of Jesus is reconciliation with God and we right now share in this heritage, as St. Paul says we are ambassadors of Christ in his ministry of reconciliation. By washing his disciples feet Jesus shows us what lengths God will go to reconcile us to himself. He stoops down and becomes our servant. And he tells us to go and do likewise.

Holy Thursday

[Scripture Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15]

The first word in the Rule of St. Benedict is, “listen“. In a society that prizes independence, spontaneity, self-realization and the, no-one-is-going-to-tell-me-what-to-do attitude, listening is not high on the priority scale. It presupposes there is someone else in your life, an “other” who is worth listening to. But to Christians and anyone following the Rule of St. Benedict fostering an attitude of listening is critical.

We are in fact gathered here this evening not as a spontaneous happening but out of obedience to what we heard, and what was that? To put it at the most practical mundane level, it was the bell; it rang and we came to church. The next thing we listened to were the words in the ordo called rubrics. They tell us what to do. We are not making up this liturgy as we go along. It is all well planned out; what we are to say and do and sing etc. Usually rubrics are low on the totem pole of importance, but if you think about it we are following what Our Lord told us to do after he said the blessing over the bread and wine he said, “Do this is remembrance of me“. The church tells us if we do it another way or change the words it will not be the Lord’s Supper. Likewise in today’s Gospel, after washing the feet of his disciples Jesus says, “What I have done, so you must do” and so this one time of the year we have the foot washing in the liturgy.

Liturgy is called the public prayer of the Church and there is a long tradition on how it should be performed. St. Cyprian, a Bishop in the early church, helped establish some of the laws and norms on how to pray. Listen to what he says: “When we pray our words should be modest, calm and disciplined. When we gather together we should not express our prayers in unruly words. The petition that should be made to God with moderation is not to shouted out noisily and verbosely. For God hears our heart not our voice (Breviary, 11th Sunday of the Year).

God knows our heart, he hears what our heart says in sighs too deep for words. Now God is listening. God does not judge by appearance, he sees right into the depths of our heart. So, the listening that is required at the liturgy is on two levels. We have to do what the rubrics say and our heart has to be in it. St. Benedict says it like this: “Let us stand to sing the Psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voicesRB 19.

This evening’s liturgy has three parts, the foot washing, the Lord’s Supper and the procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose. We know from sad experience that we can perform all these ceremonies according to the rubrics and not engage our hearts. Our bodies go through the motions but our mind, our heart is somewhere else. Such is wound sin wrought in us. We can control our physical motions more than we can our minds. But, if we keep at it our body will educate our mind. The foot washing for example is so foreign to modern life but is still a powerful sign that we should be humble servants to each other. Jesus came to serve and not to be served—we are only asked to follow his example. The ceremony takes about ten minutes but it sums up a whole way of life. It is a way of putting on the mind of Christ. After Jesus washed his disciples feet he said to all who want to be his disciples—that is to us, “What I did was to give you an example, as I have done so you must do(Jn. 13:14-15).

The procession through the cloisters with the Blessed Sacrament surely sanctifies our home and is an act of adoration. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the only ones we can adore. Adoration is a total self giving. We cannot surrender ourselves completely to another human being. We can only do this to God. So as we process with songs of praise and adoration on our lips, let our walking and singing be an expression of our heart’s adoration of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Finally as we celebrate the Eucharist as God’s priestly people we become what we are—the body of Christ. The Eucharist is the source and center of the life of the Church. It brings us into the life of the Blessed Trinity. In older terminology it is called the “unbloody sacrifice.” This means that at each Eucharist what Jesus did on the cross—pour out and hand over his life to the Father—is re-enacted this time with our participation. Here at this moment there is neither Jew or Greek, male or female all are one is Christ.

Holy Thursday

[Scripture Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15]

Fr. BrendanLast Tuesday the Chrism Mass was celebrated at St. Pius X parish in Cedar Rapids. The parish just completed a multi million dollar renovation project. I found the placement of the tabernacle especially thought provoking. The instructions from Rome on the placement of the tabernacle says, among other things, that it should be “readily visible(GIRM no. 314) .

At St Pius X the tabernacle is in a separate glass enclosed chapel. This provides a space for private adoration while keeping a visible connection with the body of the church, especially the large baptismal fount and the altar. During an explanation of the renovation the pastor, Fr. Donald Kline, said that the chapel of adoration within the church highlighted the key notion that prayer is the center of our liturgical life. It also brought out to me that the Eucharist is the center of our prayer life.

Liturgy, as we know, is an action of the Baptized people of God. But as an activity we all know how hard it is not to get caught up in the multitude of ceremonies, and forget the heart of the matter, worship and adoration—in a word prayer. This evening for instance we recall the institution of the Eucharist in the context of a Passover meal, we re-enact the foot washing ceremony, and we have a procession to the altar of repose. These are once a year ceremonies that can kind of throw us off balance or at least keep us thinking on what comes next. Amidst all this activity we can become liturgical Martha’s, busy about a lot of necessary things but forgetting the one thing necessary: reposing with Mary at the lord’s feet.

The Mandatum This evening’s Gospel is about an activity. Jesus gets up from table and washes the feet of his disciples then he asks them, “Do you understand what I just did for you?” This is a wonderful question that we should ask ourselves frequently whenever we celebrate the liturgy because the liturgy is not just our action it is really the action of Jesus to the Father and we are participating in it with him. We have to retire to the tabernacle of our heart which looks out on our whole life and ponder what Jesus asks, “Do you understand what I just did for you?” What a wonderful way to begin thanksgiving after Mass. Listen to Jesus say to you, “Do you understand what I just did for you?”

In today’s Gospel Jesus does not wait for an answer. He explains what he did for his disciples and asked them to do the same. He said he is their teacher and lord and yet he washes their feet. They in turn should wash each others feet. There is a beautiful sanctification of life here. Let the Light of Christ enter inBy placing the washing of feet in the context of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the very day the Eucharist was instituted, the Church is telling us that by serving one another we are living out what we celebrate in the Eucharist each day. The Eucharist was instituted as a way of letting us share in the death and resurrection of Christ. The death of Jesus was not just the end of his biological life it was the end of death as a punishment for sin. Jesus experienced the estrangement from God that sin brings. He became sin for us. At his death the reign of sin is ended and our redemption begins. It is not a once and for all activity. It is continually going on in heaven and for us every time we celebrate the Eucharist we are brought into that mystery of Jesus handing over his life to the Father through the Spirit. The Eucharist is the heart of our spiritual life and it must inform everything we do. From it we get the grace to serve one another. I think one could say that serving one another is just another expression of the Eucharist. It is a way of saying yes, we understand what you just did for us.

That little glassed enclosed tabernacle chapel must be in our heart. Glass lets light in and light out. We receive and we give. We cannot live with only the one or the other. It must be both. At the center of both is the presence of Jesus, whether we are celebrating the Eucharist or serving our bothers and sisters. Never leave the center.

Now we will have the foot washing. Afterwards there will be a brief period of silence. During that time listen in your heart as Jesus says to you, “Do you understand what I just did for you?” (Jn. 13:12).

Holy Thursday

[Scripture Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15]

Fr. BrendanThe event just described of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is so important that we will re-enact it together in a few minutes. St. John lets us know how special this event is by telling us it takes place at the Passover and that Jesus realized that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. It is possible that Jesus came to this realization just a few weeks before. He knows his days are limited and wants to leave his disciples a teaching they will never forget. Finally, John tells us Jesus loved his followers and wants to show them just how much he loves them. In a few sentences John builds up the tremendous importance of what is about to take place. And what is it? Jesus gets up from the table puts on an apron and washes the feet of his disciples! Is this all there is?

Taken as an isolated incident is the life of Jesus we might ask just such a question but seen in the context of his whole life we can truthfully say the foot washing is another expression of the cross and as such another expression of the Eucharist. We are after all celebrating the institution of the Eucharist this evening.

To unravel this story we have to bring our questions to the Gospel. They have to be our questions and not the questions of another age. As I was reflection on this my mind wandered to some questions my parents used to ask my sisters when they were dating and from what I hear my sisters are now asking their children.

The Last SupperThe first question my parents would ask is, “What parish does he belong to?” The second question was, “What is his last name?” And the third question was, “What does he do?” If the poor guy had a German last name and went to the local Lutheran church and wanted to make a career out of delivering pizzas – well it didn’t look good for my sisters. If on the other hand if he had an Irish name, went to Blessed Sacrament Church and was studying to be a lawyer he was a keeper. Looking back on all this it seems very prejudice but it wasn’t meant to be. The three questions, with a little bit of accommodation do tell us what a person thinks, what he feels and where his desires are – his thinking, willing and feeling, important things to know about someone. The real problem came when someone was excluded because they did not think, feel and will like us.

In today’s Gospel John is telling us what Jesus is thinking, doing and feeling. First his thinking: twice John says Jesus knew this hour had come. He knew these were his last days. Jesus had to come to knowledge the same way we do – so this realization of his final hours makes what he does all the more important. And what does he do in this hour? He washes his disciple’s feet. A humiliating gesture. His disciples are downright shocked because this in not the way things should be. The master does not wash the disciples feet – it should be the other way around. However, if we look at Jesus’ life as a whole this last gesture is consistent with his behavior. He never sought prestige or honors. He never was out for power. In fact, people could not understand what he was about because he took the route of humility. Something that to this day is hard to grasp. It is so against the grain.

The Mandatum, Washing of the Disciples' FeetFinally, John tells us how Jesus is feeling He is feeling deep love towards his own in the world and he wanted to show the depths of his love. This is such an important part of the story. Think for a moment. As Jesus goes from one to the other washing their feet he loves them – each one of them and he wants to show this love, express this love by humble service.

The story closes with the words, “I have given you an example so you can copy what I have done to you”. Granted there are all kinds of ways of understanding this Gospel, all kinds of hidden meanings and symbolism – one of the most poignant is Peter’s cry for total cleansing, a washing of his whole being. Which we understand as Baptism – but the simple straightforward meaning of the Gospel is that to be a disciple of Christ means to love as he did and to serve one another lovingly with complete humility.

The foot washing we are about to enact states that we want to live as Jesus did – we want to live out the love he shows us by loving one another and serving one another as we do in community. There are hundreds of ways to show love. It is not that any of us has to leave his own family or community to find people to love. Our neighbor is right next to us – Jesus is right next to us if we have the love and faith to see him.

Thanks to Hermanoleon Clipart.