Friday, March 25, 2016

Love to the End - Homily for the Holy Mass of the Lord's Last Supper

+ Before Holy Mass this evening, as the choir was singing its prelude, I commented to Father Chrismer how that song—“How Beautiful”—is quickly becoming a favorite at weddings and also how it fits perfectly with the theme of tonight’s Holy Mass. That is, tonight we see a divine marriage play out. So, let me explain…

The Divine Marriage

In the Sacrament of Holy Marriage, there are certain readings to which most couples gravitate: St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, how love is patient, and love is kind. Or the Gospel of St. Matthew where we hear Our Lord Jesus teaching that, in marriage, the two become one flesh. Some throw caution to the wind and choose Ephesians, chapter 5, the famous reading about husbands and wives.

It is in that last reading on Ephesians that we hear these words:

Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word.

Cleansing her by the bath. This is baptism. But tonight, I couldn’t help to think of Jesus as He pours the bath of water for the apostles’ feet. He kneels, “emptying himself, taking the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7) to free, as a New Moses through a New Red Sea, the slaves of Pharoah, that is, those enslaved to sin. Jesus washes our feet—feet that walked down wandering paths, feet lost in the muck. He tenderly washes our feet as a husband lovingly cherishing his bride.

Paul continues,

For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church…

Nourishes and cherishes it. How? With His own Body and Blood. At that same Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine and said, “This is my body… take… eat…” This eating was to undo the sin of Adam and Eve that was brought about by… eating. And so Jesus, the divine bridegroom, gives His mystical bride, the Church, His body and blood, so that His body and blood may mingle with her body and blood—in other words, that the two might become one flesh.

*          *          *

Union of Sacrament and Example

This Holy Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper, tonight, celebrates the divine love of our Savior for us, His bride. Pope Benedict XVI calls this the “sacramentum et exemplum” of our Savior’s Love. The Sacrament and the Example. What does this mean?

Typically, we look at the Last Supper as containing two separate events: 1) The Institution of the Eucharist and then 2) the Washing of the Feet. And in them, we see one as a Sacrament (the Eucharist) and the other as a lesson in morality and ministry-- that is, the Example (Washing).

But there is a problem with that, a problem that plagues modern Catholicism: namely, that modern Catholicism compartmentalizes the two. What do I mean by that? Well, for many Catholics, their faith consists solely of “the Sunday thing” (Sacramentum)—but the rest of the week consists of doing our own thing without any recourse or thought of God (Exemplum). There is Sacrament, but no Morality or Ministry.

From a more secular perspective, Catholicism appears simply an ethical system that teaches people how to be good (Exemplum), but which ultimately has no connection to the superfluous meetings on Sunday (Sacramentum)-- hence the "I'm spiritual, but not religious" movements.

In the Last Supper, however, Jesus unites Sacrament and Example. The Eucharist and the Washing are both the outpouring of Jesus’ total gift of self. At the Eucharist, Jesus is pouring out His body and blood. And, just in case we cannot see it or doubt it (because of its hiddenness under the appearance of bread and wine), Jesus pours out His body and blood as water over His apostles’ feet.

We see this union of Sacrament and Example among those who receive the Sacrament of Holy Marriage. They receive the Sacrament, but also the Exemplum:

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.

Both the Eucharist and the Washing are one: they are both the outpouring of Jesus’ total love for His bride, the Church.

And He wants us to receive that.

*          *          *

Receiving Love and Giving Love

This is why Peter’s protest to not have his feet washed is quickly rebuked:

            Unless I wash you, says the Lord to Peter, you will have no inheritance with me.

Peter must receive Jesus’ outpouring of love. If not, it does not matter what Peter does—he will not have eternal life.

And yet, at the same time, Judas has his feet washed, but Jesus remarks that

not all of you are clean.

What is going on here? Judas receives, but he does not give back a return of that love. Indeed, he betrays Jesus. Judas has received, but then does not give that love back through an integral living; his eternal inheritance is also in jeopardy.

In other words, Jesus, who is love, desires that we both receive His love and give a return of His love. We must receive the outpouring of God’s love for us—through the reception both of the Sacraments and the reception of other’s kindness to us. And as we receive, so we must give: we must give the outpouring of God’s love in us through liturgical service (that is, worship in the Sacraments) and through service to others which is charity (Example).

In this way, then, we see that Holy Communion is the source and the summit of our faith; the font from which we must receive love; and the summit of outpouring which to which we aspire to imitate.

And, as such, it unites us to God (“the two become one flesh”) and to others (“we are one body, one body in Christ.”) And since we are one body in Christ, whatever we do the least among us, we do to Him. This is why Mother Theresa, a Missionary of Charity, would comment that serving the poor is not “like” serving Jesus; it IS serving Jesus.

This is love. This is the “very process of passing over, of transformation, of stepping outside the limitations of fallen humanity… of one’s closed individuality… breaking through into the divine.” (Pope Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, pp 54-55). That is to say, as we love, we are transformed into God who is love.

And yet, because the Eucharist is the God who is love, the greatest act of service that both God and man can render, one to another, is the Holy Eucharist.

*          *          *

A Priest’s Love to The End

Let me make this a little more tangible. You may have heard the recent story of a Father Tom. Father Tom is a priest in Yemen and, earlier last week, he had offered Holy Mass for the five Missionaries of Charity in his care and then continued with his morning. This would be his Last Communion. ISIS arrived and began to hunt down the Missionaries. Four were martyred. Father Tom was kidnapped.

But before he was kidnapped, he was faced with a decision. He could run and try to escape, or he could run and save the Eucharist. He ran to the church, went to the tabernacle, and consumed as much of the Eucharist as he could so that the Body and Blood of our Lord would not be profaned. And, perhaps, too, Father Tom went to the church, not only to save the Eucharist, but to be united to the One Jesus who is love and whom he loved.

It is rumored that Father Tom will be crucified tomorrow.

For myself, as one who is ordained and offered my life so as to bring the Eucharist, I must admit feeling a union with Father Tom. I am pained to know my brother is pained. But this pain leads me not simply to tears or changing my Facebook profile picture to a tri-color flag. Rather, it leads me here: to the Eucharist, where I offer my prayers in union with Jesus and the whole Church to the Father.

This is the greatest service I can give to my brother. And, wonderfully, by giving his life for the Eucharist, Father Tom has given the greatest service to me. He has shown me how much this Eucharist is worth, this Eucharist that we are about to receive-- it is worth more than my life; and he has also shown me the great outpouring of love this Eucharist can bring-- to the outpouring of my life in total love.

In other words, Father Tom has allowed me to enter into that sacramentum et exemplum of Christ who pours out His life in Eucharist and in Washing—it is just that, sometimes, the washing is not with water, but with one’s own blood. But it is here that I understand what the Gospel meant when it says:

He loved them to the end.

I pray that those words may enter my heart and all of ours, and that they may become our own. I pray that I may say them to Jesus at the end of my life here on earth: “Jesus, I loved you to the end”—You who loved me, loved me to the end!

No comments:

Post a Comment