So, I don’t know if I’ve reminded you of this lately, but I’m relatively new here. And I’m pretty new at all this. So this is my first Holy Thursday as a priest. And as I was reading and preparing for this homily, I thought to myself: “Self, there is a lot of stuff to talk about!” You’ve got the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, the greatest gift to our faith. You’ve got the institution of the priesthood, which of course is near and dear to my heart. You’ve got the washing of feet, a great external sign of what Christ asks of us. My entire life, I’ve been going to Holy Thursday Mass, soaking it in! I’ve been studying the mysteries of this day for 8 years in seminary. I’ve been imagining this for longer than that! So what should I talk about? I want to talk about all of them! So I came to think, well, what is tonight really about? Ultimately, after a lot of nerves and prayer and procrastination, I think I can sum it all up in one word: Love.
All of us have two essential needs in our lives, needs deeper than any food or drink, deeper even than Cardinal baseball. Maybe. Each of us needs, at our very core, to love, and to be loved. Yes, we need food and water. Yes, we need shelter. But if you have that, even in abundance, but you aren’t loved by someone unreservedly, or if you have no one to express love to, your life is nothing but misery. The love I’m talking about here isn’t feelings or emotions. It’s not cute butterflies or puppy dogs or fluffy hearts. That real love is active. It’s costly. It’s a gift of self.
Each of us desires in our hearts to be loved, and of all nights, that is offered to us here tonight. Tonight, we remember the greatest gift of love, the greatest gift of self, that anyone can possibly receive, in the Eucharist. Take a second and put yourself there at the table during the Last Supper. Christ knows what’s coming. He knows that he has to die. He knows that one of his best friends is about to betray him – with a kiss of all things. He knows that the rest of his friends, who have travelled with him healing the sick, performing miracles, and listening to his teaching, are about to turn away from him and flee in the end. And yet, he sits down at supper with them and washes their feet. Can you imagine how agonizing that must have been? To look at your friends, enjoying time with them, seeing them laugh and smile, and knowing that in a few hours, they would turn away? But then, to turn to them, in the midst of suffering, and to say, “This is my body. This is my blood.” That is love. It’s an anticipation and a participation of what would happen in only a few hours with the Cross. He didn’t pause and clarify, “Well, no, I mean, it’s a symbol of my body.” It’s not a symbol, it’s not a cute idea, it’s not a commemoration of a time long ago. If it’s only those things, how do we know it’s real? Here in the Eucharist, we can see and taste and touch love. We are assured that it is with us, waiting for us, ready to take us back. It’s a love that defines us. And if we’re not centered around this love, if we’re not centered around the Eucharist, then they might as well shut us down and turn us into a community center. Because that’s the love that makes us Catholics.
Of course, one of the most memorable things of this evening is the washing of the feet. Now, foot washing in the ancient world was kind of a gross thing. It was something reserved to slaves, because the feet were so full of grime and dirt from walking those simple roads that it was not a service one looked forward to performing. But when Christ does this, it’s more than a sign; it’s a commandment – to love others in the same way that Christ has loved us. What Christ is trying to show us here is that if we really understand what it is that he gives us in the Eucharist, then we are compelled to follow his example. Our foot washing of others comes in a variety of ways: charity (donating time and energy to those in need), prayer (commending others to the love of God) and maybe even forgiveness. Remember, Jesus washed Judas’ feet and Peter’s feet, even though he knew what they would do.
It’s easy to give of yourself when things are convenient. In a few moments, we’ll relive the experience of the washing of the feet at the Last Supper. But everything is set up so perfectly and comfortably. The chairs will (hopefully) be set up fine. They’re even the padded folding chairs, maybe even more comfortable than your pews. Everyone hopefully knows what to do. I even paid for each of them to have pedicures before Mass; I guess that’s a business expense. This foot-washing will be easy. But it’s when it gets tough when it becomes all the more important. We know that love is real, and we learn to have it imitate Jesus, but especially when it’s put to the test.
So what is tonight about? It’s about love. Self-sacrificing, self-giving, enduring love. It’s the love that brings together a man and woman who barely know each other at first, and which holds them together for 30, 40, 50, and even 60 years. It’s the love that embraces new life, sharing and growing to make that child the man or woman God desires them to be. It’s the love that draws a man to enter the seminary, the love which keeps him there, and the love which empowers him to go before his brothers and sisters in faith and promise to imitate that same love for them. It’s the love that holds the door for an elderly woman. It’s the love that helps pick up a bag of groceries spilled on the driveway. It’s the love that donates time, patience, and energy to the poor. It’s the love that flows forth from the side of Christ as he gives himself to us as the everlasting covenant of love. And it’s the love that leads us now to celebrate the Washing of the Feet and the transformation of ordinary bread and wine into Christ’s own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. May we, who desire to follow Christ to Calvary and to the empty tomb, open our hearts to receive that love, and share it with others. Amen.