Pastoral Reflections

HOLY THURSDAY – 2017

Today we begin the first of three great solemnities in which our salvation is clearly set forth. The Sacred Tridium, takes us from the Mass of the Last Supper, through the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, and onto His promised resurrection.

Today’s liturgical celebration highlights a couple of critical yet very complimentary teachings. First, Jesus takes great pains to instruct his immediate followers on a core understanding of what true discipleship means. To be Christ-like is to assume a role of service to others – serving the least of the least.

When Peter refuses to have his feet washed by Jesus, he was relating to the world of his time. In Peter’s world, foot washing was a task performed only by the most menial of slaves. To have the Master or Teacher kneel at his feet to do this intimate, personal, disgusting thing was to reverse impossibly the order of things. Peter could not imagine Jesus lowering or demeaning Himself to perform that task. What does this tell us? It tells us that even after three years at his Master’s side, Peter still hadn’t gotten it right.

Jesus displayed the ultimate example of servant leadership. As King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He humbled Himself to our service by living as one of us, healing us, disciplining us, feeding us, forgiving us, and ultimately surrendering His life for us. God-style leadership shows love through service. As we read in 1 John 4:19, “We love because, He first loved us.” When Jesus commands us to lay down our lives, He is not demanding anything of us He has not already done. He is leading by example.

I see this same structure in our families. Our children love us because we first loved them. We lay down our lives to serve them every day and in turn receive their love and respect and the right to correct them and direct their life choices while under our care. We should also lead by example by loving and showing respect for our parents. If we bad-mouth or speak disrespectfully about our parents, our children will learn and behave likewise.

Also in a healthy marriage, husbands and wives serve each other. We serve each other through earning finances, working to create a home and life together, caring about one another’s needs and concerns. Rather than a spouse demanding love / respect / happiness by trying to control the other through a multitude of possible means, we serve each other and try to be the best wife / husband / parent we can be. Again, if we want to be respected by our spouse, we must first show respect for them. Lead by example. Servant leadership earns trust, love, respect, and the right to teach, correct, and discipline without coming off bossy, judgmental or arrogant, but rather as caring and loving.

In the Corinthian church during the time of St. Paul, the wealthier and classier members of the congregation gathered for the Eucharist at their own table, perhaps with their own private apostle as celebrant. They partook of the very best food and drink, leaving the poor, the less reputable members of the congregation with only crumbs. They were not getting it.

In our second reading, St. Paul admonishes the followers of Jesus to not receive the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily. Herein is the second important lesson. From its origins, the fledgling church of Christ clearly understood that the bread and wine were indeed the corporeal and spiritual presence of Jesus. This was not somehow a re-enactment of the Last Supper. The last Supper in its origin, was prefiguring Jesus’ death on Good Friday – it was a way to prepare the disciples for the events to come. Did they understand it as such? No, probably not.

St. Paul reminds us that we should not participate in the reception of Christ lightly. As we are indeed receiving the actual presence of Christ, we need to do so in a state of sanctifying grace. This is why our Mass includes a confession and absolution at the beginning. To do otherwise, is to profane the Body and the Blood of Jesus. This is what St. Paul means when he is exhorting us to not receive unworthily.

In addition to following the correct doctrinal belief – unworthiness also takes the form of receiving this great sacrament while shunning some of the Body of Christ aside. In receiving the Body and Blood of Christ for ourselves, we must also be prepared to recognize and receive the Body of Christ, that is, our brothers and sisters. We cannot separate our own personal devotion to Jesus, from a profound appreciation of our connection with one another and our need to be servants to one another.

It is not by accident that our church brings the readings that we have heard tonight together – they have a common theme – devotion to God and service to others. These are inseparable like the Great Commandment of love – love of God and your neighbor. As a traditional Catholic hymn articulates – “Where Charity and Love prevail – there God is ever found; brought here together by Christ’s love, by love are we thus bound.”

This evening, as we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist, let us ask God to enrich our devotion to this sacrament and let it enable us to serve each other with a genuine sense of love and purpose.

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