Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for Holy Thursday

Mass of the Lord’s Supper

April 14, 2022
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, TX

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-15

Jesus chose to take our sins upon Himself, and to do this He was not condemned but freely handed Himself over to death. In dying, Christ freed us from sin and manifested how absolutely God loves us. That love is made present in the sacrifice and sacrament we share tonight.

Our celebration is actually a double remembrance, first remembering when God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, leading them across the parted Red Sea with their feet dry into the Promised Land. This itself was a foreshadowing of the slavery to sin from which we are delivered by Jesus’ death on the cross.

Holy Thursday begins the Triduum and so it is a night of reversals. Christ’s Last Passover is the celebration of the first Eucharist. The majestic and all-powerful Lord who led the Israelites out of slavery with dry feet through the sea, now in lowliness bathes the feet of His disciples with cleansing water. The Good Shepherd reveals Himself to be the Lamb who willingly lays down His life as the New and Eternal Covenant, always present and always available for our ongoing transformation and conversion. The feet of the Israelites that were kept dry for their escape from slavery in Egypt foreshadow in reverse the drenched and pure feet of Christ’s Apostles and disciples that they might make the journey in carrying out their share in being sent on the mission of Jesus that He shares with the Church — the salvation of the world and its liberation from the power of hell.

What we celebrate tonight is Christ’s anticipation of His death that He shared with His Apostles at the Last Supper. Each time we celebrate what happened at that Last Supper, the Eucharist, the grace of Jesus’ death on the cross is made present to us. We absolutely need His grace to do what Jesus asks of us in the Gospel this evening. This is the significance of His washing of the feet of the disciples and in His strict correction of Peter’s protest that Jesus not wash his feet.

As Benedict XVI observed, “Peter had to learn repeatedly that God’s greatness is different from our idea of greatness; that it consists precisely in stooping low, in the humility of service, in the radicalism of love even to total self-emptying. We too must learn it anew because we systematically desire a God of success and not of the Passion; because we are unable to realize that the Pastor comes as a Lamb that gives itself and thus leads us to the right pasture.”

The washing that Jesus offers His disciples and us today is first and foremost simply His gift of purity of heart that comes with the transforming power of Baptism. His purity of heart that is truly His as the Son of God, becomes ours through His grace and love. This purity becomes our humble openness for God’s actual and abiding presence in our lives that He gives us in love. This gift of Jesus then becomes an example for us to do likewise, the obligation and responsibility to serve and to love others in humility to the point of sacrificing our lives for others.

Jesus offers us a new commandment. We read, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you.” This is not a new set of rules, nor is it a new code of ethics. What is new about this commandment is that Jesus gives us the actual capability through the gift of His life, His Body and Blood poured out and consumed by us at the altar, to live it without fear and without sin with the same obedience of Christ’s sacrificial love. We are freed from sin, immersed in the Blood of Christ, truly transformed.

This transformation is not something passive. It requires a radical change on our parts of our interior and exterior actions. Saint Basil teaches, “We must not only pattern our lives on Christ’s by being gentle, humble, and patient, we must also imitate him in his death…We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism…We have to begin a new life…Our previous life must be brought to an end.”

This world is dying because of a lack of love. Our self-forged chains of fear and sin keep us from giving and receiving saving love. Those who keep faith with Christ crucified in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass can have those chains broken. Our hearts can be transformed from self-seeking to self-giving by the foot-washing of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our only hope for union with God is to become love as He Himself is Love. We cannot transform ourselves on our own. To die and to rise with Christ purges us from sin. Then we may rightly do as He commanded and eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, so that we might become one with Him. This night calls us to keep watch with Christ, to humble ourselves, to give ourselves, to let ourselves be fed, and to let ourselves be converted in love. Please, during these holy days, let us, like Our Lady before us, ponder these things in our hearts at the foot of the cross.

%d bloggers like this: