Homily For Holy Thursday: Given At Our Lady of Guadalupe, Co-Cathedral, Anchorage
“The Church draws her life from the Eucharist.” (Ecclesia De Eucharistia #1) With these words, St. John Paul II began his final Encyclical in 2003, in which he chose to write upon the mystery of the Eucharist and the life that we as Church draw from it.
On this Holy Night when Jesus gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate the First Eucharist, The Church was born. This is the basis for our understanding that our life as Church is drawn from the Eucharist, because it is so firmly rooted in the person of Jesus himself.
Likewise, at this banquet of the New and Everlasting Covenant, Jesus united to himself his chosen Apostles, and bestowed upon them the gift of Priesthood. Our Opening Prayer for Mass this evening calls this meal “the most sacred Supper” and a “banquet of love.” It is in this banquet that the Church finds her truest nature – which is to continue to express the heart of Jesus in the world today
This June, I will celebrate my 25th anniversary as a priest. Every year on Holy Thursday, I take time to recall the different assignments I have had as a priest and the many people whom God has blessed me with through this sacred ministry. And this year, I find myself in my second episcopal assignment as an Archbishop. I want all of you to know three things about me tonight; how much I love the Church, how much I love the Priesthood, and how much I love all of you. Of course, at the heart of all of this is my deep love for Jesus Christ, who has bestowed these loves upon me. At the same time, he looks to me as he does to every priest, to be a font of love in the midst of his people.
My prayer tonight and most days is best expressed in the silent prayer the priest prays just after placing a piece of the consecrated host into the chalice of precious blood: “Lord Jesus, Son of the living God, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your death gave life to the world, free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood, from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.”
When we truly understand the mystery of the Eucharist, the final phrase of this prayer becomes the prayer of every Catholic: “Jesus, let me never be parted from you.” Indeed, this is what the Eucharist promises and accomplishes, because this was and is Jesus’ intention when he said: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Our goal is to remain always with Jesus, which the Eucharist makes possible.
Now, I wish to sketch a few Correlations which can be drawn from the Eucharist.
First, there is a powerful Correlation between the ‘banquet of love’ which is the Eucharist, and the washing of feet. This act of charity is far more than a symbolic gesture on the part of Jesus. The washing of the feet is closely associated with the Eucharist, because it is intimately associated with the cross, which is Jesus’ greatest act of charity and selfless, redemptive love. The Eucharist calls all of us to continually grow in love of our brothers and sisters.
Jesus’ invitation to his disciples following the washing of the feet is more than an instruction towards charity: “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13: 12-15)
There is a strong Correlation between the ‘banquet of love’ which is the Eucharist, and the sacrifice of love upon the cross where Jesus pours forth his blood which is offered for our salvation. Jesus tells us at the last Supper: “’Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:26-28)
There is a strong Correlation between the ‘banquet of love’ which is the Eucharist and the priesthood which is a participation in the sacrificial love of Jesus. A closely similar, but different association with Jesus is shared by all the faithful in the ‘common priesthood,’ by which we associate ourselves with the charity and love of Jesus which does not hold back in providing for the greatest needs of the world and humanity of our time.
There is a strong Correlation between the ‘banquet of love’ which is the Eucharist and the unity that we share in Jesus. St. Paul expresses this union well when he says: “Our blessing cup is a communion with the blood of Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:16)
St. Pope John Paul II said something similar: “Eucharistic communion also confirms the Church in her unity as the body of Christ.” (EDE #23)
We need Jesus. Humanity always has and always will need the salvation won for us by Jesus, which is represented and perpetuated in every Eucharist we celebrate. The need for Jesus is perhaps best demonstrated in the world today everywhere we experience division, intimidation, hatred, oppression, terrorism, indifference and isolation.
St. Pope John Paul II went on to say in his encyclical on the Eucharist: “The seeds of disunity, which daily experience shows to be so deeply rooted in humanity because of sin, are countered by the unifying power of the body of Christ. The Eucharist, precisely by building up the Church, creates human community. (Ecclesia De Eucharistia, # 24) Therefore I believe that we as Church have a moral obligation to live the unity that we share in Christ, so that we can be a healing presence in the midst of the world, leading people along the paths of mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. Do the people of the world see joy and unity in the members of the Church?
The mystery and power of the Eucharist lies in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, we should not be surprised, discouraged or scandalized when our unity with Christ, which the Eucharist secures, leads us to share in his suffering. Jesus anticipates his passion at the Last Supper when he says: “this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many …” (Matthew 26:28)
There is not a member of the Church who does not know suffering. And yet, how often are we led to believe that suffering is somehow a sign that God does not love us, or that God is punishing us? Rather than seeing it as a privileged moment of deep association with and identity in Jesus?
Jesus is the man referred to by the Prophet Isaiah: “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) As the Letter to the Hebrews says: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8) From Jesus we learn that in our suffering God is creating something new, just as God did not forsake his Son on the cross, but preserved him from eternal death through the Resurrection. When we suffer, it is a sure sign that God is up to something, just as from the cross, God through his Son gave us the Eucharist, the new and eternal covenant.
Tonight, as we profess the Mystery of Faith once again, in commemoration of the Last Supper, let us resolve, as best we can, never to separate the elements of the Mystery, from each other, or from our life. Let us resolve, as best we can, to express within the reality of our life, the profound Mystery of the Eucharist which makes us one with Christ, which makes us Church, that in each of us, Christ suffers, dies, and rises again.