Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Evening of the Lord's Supper

For me and, I am certain, for every priest and deacon throughout the world today is indeed the day of the year.  While we celebrate our ordinations on specific but different days of the calendar, we, all of us, mark this day with special prayer and reflection.  This is the day the Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  This is the day we truly mark the cause of our calling from God to serve his people.

But, but, but this is also a very important day for ever Baptized Catholic.  This is the day when, at the final gathering with all of his disciples, this man I call my friend, Jesus during the time he broke bread and drank wine with his closest followers, gave to them and to each of us the remarkable gift that unite us with Jesus himself.  On the Thursday evening, before his trial and condemnation, my friend, your friend. with his disciples gave the gift of the most holy Eucharist. This is the inheritance that was given for each of us from God the Father.

In  your mind's eyes and in your heart gaze for a while at the face of this man I have presented to you in
numerous postings, your friend.  See him sitting at a long table.  See the twelve who really have not idea what an inheritance was being given to them.  And your friend has read a part of the will to you as well as the his beloved apostles.  We remember quite well his words:  "This is my body which will be given up for you" and "This is my blood which will be pour out for you and for many."  Most unusual would it be for a Catholic not to recognize the words of this gift.  And every day all of us have the gift of sharing in the gift of the Eucharist, in eating and drinking the very Body of Christ.

But there is another aspect of the final supper with the apostles we recall, I am sure, but not all of the words that Jesus spoke about this very special gift and obligation.  When the dinner was progress, Jesus, because he was aware of the event the lie ahead, stood up and tied an apron around his waist and proceeded to wash the feet of the Twelve.  That was a practice in the culture of the time for a host to wash the dirt and dust from the feet of his dinner guests.  It was and continues to be a humbling moment.

Well do I recall the very first time I was privileged to be the celebrant of the liturgy on this particular feet.  This event brought to mind the days when I was a Jesuit seminarian (Scholastic) we had a practice during the season of Lent that was encouraged.  Once everyone had completed the prayers before dinner and had taken their seats, one volunteer would actually get on all fours and climb beneath the table and begin to kiss the feet of the eight brother Jesuits seated at the table.  That exercise in humility did not have the impact on me as that first time I was the Holy Thursday celebrant and knelt before twelve very different people:  some with feet gnarled by advanced aging and arthritis, some with carefully applied toe nail painting, some who didn't think of cleaning out beneath their nails, and other with well manicured feet.  It was then that I felt the impact of what Jesus did on the night before he died.  It was then that I realized that he had given me one of the greatest gifts possible for an inheritance.  Neither money nor possessions:  what became so real was that he was teaching me the role of service in the life of priesthood.  It is not a life of pomp and circumstance.  It is not a life of power and glory.  Indeed, it is a life of taking a person's life into my hands, a life that probably has been a journey traveled over many miles of different kinds of roadway.  And each time I begin to wash the feet of anyone on Holy Thursday, I am pulled into an extraordinary awareness of these words of Jesus, my friend, your friend:

Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me..
I have given you a model to follow, 
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.

My brothers and sisters, your friend and my friend has not suggested service as something that might be enjoyable or something that you might do to lose some weight or to be an example to others for a special event.  Our brother has told each of us:  You should also do this!