Reflection for April 9
Readings: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15
Today we begin the Sacred Triduum, the most solemn time of the entire Church year. Holy Thursday is the day on which our Blessed Lord established both the Sacred Priesthood and the Most Holy Eucharist. It is with a sense a real heaviness of heart that we commemorate this day because, while the priesthood is a great gift to the Church, and the Eucharist is the greatest gift to the Church, neither will be celebrated in their fullest form today. I say this because the Faithful are deprived of the Eucharist and because the priesthood, without which we would not have the Holy Eucharist, is not going to be exercised in its fullest manner for the good of the people.
What I mean by this is that the priesthood is not for the sake of the priest. The priesthood is for the people of God. While it is true that the man called to be a priest will become a saint or fail to become a saint by the way he lives his priesthood, his priesthood is not primarily for his own good. God established the priesthood so His people would have access to the Sacraments. As we see in the Gospel reading today, our Lord tells us that in washing the feet of His disciples, He gave them a model to follow so that “as I have done for you, you should also do.”
Obviously, by doing what He has done does not imply literally washing someone’s feet. Rather, it means placing one’s self beneath the others as a servant. It means pouring out one’s life like a libation, as St. Paul said of himself (1 Tim 4:6) for the sake of others. Jesus, Who is Lord and Master, told us that the greatest among the Apostles is the one who serves the rest (Mt 23:11, Lk 9:48). He Who is both Lord and Master made Himself the slave; He came, not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28, Mk 10:45).
As priests, we have continued to offer Masses for you, the people of God, and we have continued to pray for you. While this is imperative, it is still not the same as being with the people. Anyone who has a loved one who goes away for a while, whether that be for school, military service, work, or whatever, it is good to write letters and talk on the phone, but it is not the same as having the person there physically. As I have stated many times over the past couple of weeks, Mass is not for me, it is for the people. Yes, I am part of the people of God, therefore, Mass is for me too, but it is not primarily for me; Mass is primarily for you. It is the offering of the sacrifice of Jesus for the good of the Church, not merely for the good of the priest.
Wallowing in our miseries, however, will not help the situation in any way, so we need to look at things in the best light that we are able. Perhaps this time can make us appreciate more the gifts our Lord has given us. First and foremost, is the gift called Thanksgiving, Eucharist is Greek. Perhaps we have taken our Lord’s presence for granted. Perhaps we have not been as grateful as we should be for our Lord’s humility and charity in giving Himself to us in this form. Perhaps we have taken His presence among us lightly. Many Catholics have lost the sense of reverence in the presence of the Lord. The Prophets tells us we are to silent in the presence of the Lord (Zep 1:7, Zec 2:17).
If we have all but forgotten that God is present in out midst, this time can be one in which we work to develop our union with Him in prayer. The parish church is open every day from 6 in the morning until 8 at night for personal prayer. All too often we struggle with our issues and problems within ourselves, but we do not bring them to our Lord and discuss them with Him. People have been so busy with so many activities that prayer has been pushed out of our lives. With life slowing down suddenly, we have the chance to put prayer back to the center of our lives. Make prayer the priority, begin to develop your relationship with Jesus and grow in love with Him. When we can gather once again for Mass it will have a far greater meaning for those who have used this time draw closer to Jesus.
Two thousand years ago on Holy Thursday, I think we can be reasonably certain that the Apostles did not understand the gravity of what was given to them at the Last Supper. Only when the Apostles gathered around our Blessed Lady so she could teach them did they come to understand the dignity of the gifts of the priesthood and the Holy Eucharist. It is to her that we also should go since there is nothing she wants more than for us to know and love her Son and to be able to receive His love for us.
Think of how many times we have received Holy Communion without the love and reverence we should have for our Blessed Lord. It is certainly a human problem that “familiarity breeds contempt.” Not that anyone is actually holding our Lord in contempt, but perhaps this hiatus will help us to think about whether or not we need to make any changes in our approach to the Eucharist. The second reading speaks about the institution of the Holy Eucharist, but in the lines immediately following the reading we have today, St. Paul speaks of the unworthy reception of Holy Communion and how that has caused many of the people to become weak, ill, or even to die (1 Cor 11:30). A greater love for our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, as we can see from this statement of St. Paul, will not only help us spiritually, but in many other ways as well.
If we look at things from the other side, it is possible that the priests have taken the people for granted. Not only is the Eucharist entrusted to the priest, but the souls of the people have been entrusted to his care. Maybe this time apart will help priests to consider what is truly most important. God said through the Prophet Malachi that “the lips of the priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction for his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts” (Mal 2:7). Even more, Jesus told us we cannot serve both God and mammon (Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13). Too many priests and bishops fail to speak the fullness of the truth to the people because they are afraid. Sometimes they think they have to preach an easy listening message because then people will put more money in the collection basket. If priests would take care of the spiritual needs of the people and the people will take care of the needs of the parish. We need to get the focus off mammon and put it on God and the good of souls.
Just as we can use this time to grow in love with Jesus, bishops and priests need to use this time to truly love and respect the flock God has entrusted to their care. True charity seeks only the good of the other. This is what the priest is supposed to be about in his prayer, in his preaching, and in his words and actions. Too often a sense of entitlement has crept into the lives of priests; this has to go. We need to go back to the institution of the Sacred Priesthood and look at the model Jesus left for us. We need to mold ourselves to that model and follow His example, even when that is difficult. St. Peter, who fought against the idea of our Lord washing his feet, later came to understand the deeper meaning of our Lord’s actions, and said: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pet 2:21). Looked at from this perspective, perhaps God is allowing this time so that we can come to appreciate and be more grateful for the greatest gifts He has given us and, thereby, grow in love for God and for one another.