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Archives for March 2013
You might be tempted to think that tonight’s homily is merely a repetition of Palm Sunday since, “we heard the Passion homily just a few days ago.” Well, true, we did hear a homily on the Passion according to Luke, but the Passion shared every Good Friday (for about the past 1600 years) is the Passion according to St. John…and it’s a very distinct passion narrative (one filled with fruitful reflections on theology), very different than any of the other gospel writers’. In order to keep you invested in Good Friday liturgies far into the future—so that you’ll keep coming back year after year—I’ll only focus our attention on a few of the unique images given to us this night.
Of course, I am so very aware that the attraction of this night is not the homily at all, but rather the movements of the Triduum in their entirety: from the Lord’s washing of feet and the Passover meal, to his trial and the judgment of his death; from his crucifixion and our veneration of the wood of the cross, to the sacred fire burning brightly in the night to dispel the darkness around us; from fresh water of new birth to the celebration of a new covenant. These are the reasons for our entry into the Sacred Triduum, and tonight we are brought first, to a betrayal.
St. John gives us a more complete view of this encounter in the Garden of Gethsemane than the other Gospel writers. He skips over the agony and moves straight to the arrest. Let’s examine three details of this encounter more closely:
First, Judas and the soldiers arrive to arrest Jesus carrying “lanterns and torches”. John intends a strong irony here: Jesus is the light of the world and so the irony should not be missed in the fact that those opposing him come to him by the guidance of artificial, unnatural and flimsy light. This suggests, among other things, that they prefer darkness to light…that they know what they are doing and they know it can only be done at night—under the cover of darkness—for shameful deeds would be exposed in the full light of day!
Second, John uses a particular Greek word (speira) to describe the cohort that came to arrest Jesus and it can mean three possibilities: either a normal Roman dispatch of 600 men, or it can refer to a troop of non-Roman troops which would number 1,200 men…or it can sometimes refer to a smaller, tighter body consisting of 200 soldiers. Any way we take it, the picture this word paints is of the lone Jesus flanked by his frightened eleven apostles courageously facing a small army. We can imagine that the tough soldiers and Temple guards are now more confident by their great numbers, though perhaps irritated that they had been sent out on a cold, dark night for just this One. With confidence they state their intention and the name of the one to be arrested. But when Jesus responds, “I am he”, their confidence, their strength, their singular purpose all disappears as they are immediately taken aback and fall prostrate to the ground. Jesus’ conviction stands before them as Truth…awesome to behold.
Third, as Simon Peter witnesses the soldiers’ withdrawal, he unwittingly finds the strength to battle them, wounding Malchus. Clearly trying to maintain the upper hand and take advantage of the soldiers’ apparent retreat, immediately, Jesus excoriates the one who was simply trying to help, to defend. But Peter, in his haste, has lost sight of Jesus’ mission in its entirety: to do the Father’s will, and that alone.
For Rick, our Elect, and for Shakir and Brian, our Candidates, each of these three details are significant for you in a very new way. As you come to celebrate our Catholic life, you realize how essential it is for believers to continually grow in faith; to see themselves as apart from the True light yet summoned to that same light—Jesus Christ. Apart from True light when we carry torches and lanterns amid the darkness of our own sin, within our stubborn confusion…even our willful deception; apart from True light yet summoned to the Light of Christ through the gifts of the sacraments, the offering God makes to share His grace with us, and the life of the Church as the Body of Christ in our midst.
For you, as well, you now know that the Truth of your convictions—of your faith—can be your greatest strength when faced with fear or trembling. Declaring simply, yet boldly, “Christ is my life” will be your sure defense, and the way to share Life forever. And to be about doing the Father’s will is a clear sign that you are on a path trod already by the Master, the One who has been raised from the dead…and is forever victorious.
May each of us witness—alongside of you three—the deep and awesome and powerful rewards of our lives lived in and with Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ask any Jew during these very days and they will tell you of the solemnity and reverence of their recollection of the Passover. Indeed, even now, Jews gather with a significant purpose and intense meaning as they join to offer the Passover meal. This has been their tradition for millennia—a tradition we’re recalling this evening in our own Catholic liturgy of the Lord’s Supper…His Passover meal with his disciples. Rich with symbolism and steeped in time-honored tradition, the sacred meal is stopped abruptly. What could possibly be more important than completing the offering of the four wines? What cannot wait until the consummation of the offering; what on earth or in heaven could prevent it’s fulfillment that night in the Upper Room? In essence, what and why is Jesus doing?
Let us recall all that we have seen and heard from the Lord Jesus prior to the Passover meal: how he ate with sinners, how he touched the unclean, how he associated with the outcast, the widow and the orphan. All of this while serving their most basic of needs: closeness and restoration with him and the love of the Father. Now let’s return to the Upper Room: he stands up from the table, removes his vestments and washes the feet of his followers.
In ancient Palestine, washing feet was a job reserved for slaves…and no wonder: it was one of the most unpleasant and humiliating tasks imaginable. People wore sandals or went barefoot, and the roads and paths they walked were the same ones used by herdsmen to drive their animals to market, as well as travelers and traders who moved their goods by ox and camel. The dirt, then, of these unpaved byways was blended with dung. Even a short jaunt would cake one’s sandal-exposed feet to with the pungent mix. And it was this earthly combination of elements, this unattractive mire that Jesus washed from the feet of his disciples. Jesus—God made man—the King of kings and Lord of the universe, lowered himself to the status of a slave and freely, willingly, and gladly “showed how perfect his love was” by this utterly self-forgetful act of service.
He didn’t have to do it. He certainly felt no natural pleasure doing it. But still he did it, at the most solemn moment of his ministry, when common sense would dictate that he be more focused on his coming passion. Why?
Because the mark of the Christian is self-forgetful love! Sin once divided the human family…and still does. But Christ, the conqueror of sin, reunites all people. You see, he has taken the first step toward us: He has come to save us by reaching out to us in loving service. He reaches out to us by serving us. The washing of his disciples’ feet is an icon of Jesus’ entire mission, and a revelation, a miniature portrait of the heart of God. Even when we are caked in dung, God sends His Son to wash us clean, to create in us a new heart of love, to restore us to purity and innocence. Sin is dirty, and so he washes sin away. And not only does he wash us, but he invites us to enter into this same service of self-forgetful love. In a sense, Jesus is saying, “if you wish to regain your place in the family of God, you are to enter into to this same dimension of self-forgetful love.” There is no other way: he says, “You should wash each other’s feet….”
For our fallen nature, such a lesson is extremely hard. For that very reason, Jesus taught it so insistently and so graphically. The cross of self-sacrifice is so offensive that it repels us, so Jesus climbed onto it before us to make sure that we make no mistake about what he means.
In these last couple of weeks, we’ve begun to hear the gentle words of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. But more than this, we’ve witnessed his actions, his behavior, his example. He’s lowered himself time and again in order to show us how gospel words can and ought to become gospel actions. This very night, escaping pageantry and rich rites, Pope Francis has gone to a youth prison to wash the feet of incarcerated children. For one of them, a teenage boy, he was hopeful to meet a man who claimed, finally, to be his father! How profound an opportunity; how rich an encounter. And such can be ours as well: if we wash the feet of others in the same self-forgetful love of Christ, our encounter with the face of God may be just around the corner: in the forgotten, the unwanted and the unloved.
If we respond in such a way, true happiness will be ours.
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As Christ entered Jerusalem, dozens—even hundreds—of his disciples follow him. Just minutes ago, we remembered that glorious entry and we joined with them (recall that when the Church “remembers”, it actually ‘makes present again’ the event, the happening). The entry was glorious because for each of them, they had seen the marvelous works of Jesus and gave God praise. For us, too, we praise God for the wondrous and glorious deeds that the Lord continues to work in our midst, deeds like:
- The compassion he instills in us as we visit the sick or comfort the dying;
- The mercy he inspires when we grant forgiveness to someone who has harmed us;
- The courage he gives us when we stand up for the oppressed, the bullied, or the victimized;
- The fortitude he grants us when we face, time and time again, an injustice that won’t go away;
- The persuasion of the Spirit that he offers when we are faced with temptation or doubt.
Yes, in these instances, and more, we come in contact with the Christ who we follow into Jerusalem. He comes to his Holy City as our King, and we followed him with palms as an expression of our joy; a joy which recognizes that Jesus has invited us into his friendship, and we have accepted him and his love for us. That’s our joy: it’s an expression of our “yes” to Jesus, and our willingness to go with him wherever he takes us. This joy is rooted, then, in our “following Christ”.
But what does “following Christ” actually mean? At the outset, with his first disciples, the meaning was simple and immediate: it meant that to go with Jesus, these people decided to give up their professions, their affairs, their whole life. It meant taking on a whole new way of being, that is, “discipleship”. Their work, their efforts and endeavors were all focused and aimed at accompanying Jesus…entrusting themselves to his guidance.
Now, sure, while they actually walked behind him—following him—on his journeys, that was not the whole of their discipleship. The rest of their “discipleship” remained in “abandoning themselves to him”. Being totally at Jesus’ disposal—for Goodness—was their interior discipleship.
Alright: what’s that got to do with us?
Well, we remembered the entrance into Jerusalem, and we joined our voices and our very selves to the throngs of disciples, as we held palm fronds in our hands, and followed him. We began again to place ourselves into “a discipleship”…being followers of the Lord Jesus. As we accomplish spiritual and corporal works of mercy in our own times, we further cement this relationship with the Lord.
But, there is “the rest of discipleship” that we might now need to embrace. More than external works, which are still good, we might now be invited to enter more deeply into an interior discipleship; allowing ourselves to be invited and embraced into Truth itself, Beauty itself, Love itself, God Himself.
This invitation of Holy Week draws us to give ourselves over more completely…more fully…more authentically…to the One who is our True Good, our Just Aim, our Right Path. Without counting the cost to ourselves, we are asked to trust the Lord who proved his love for us; we are called to no longer withdraw into our own selfish desires—no longer consider our own fulfillment the main reason for our existence; but rather take hold of the promise held out for those who abandon themselves to Goodness, Truth, Beauty, Right and Love.
And these are not simple abstracts: no, embodied by Jesus Christ himself, these virtues have been enfleshed and can now be acquired by us, Christ’s disciples, who follow after him and the path he trod; who enter into Jerusalem, the Holy City, to accomplish with Christ the works of salvation.
May our hearts—and our souls—be most open to Christ’s invitation this week; he invites each one of us: “Follow me” says the Lord, ”and I will give you life”.