29 March 2018Holy Thursday

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Holy Thursday
Holy Thursday - Cycle B - John 13:1-15

In the now classic The Little Prince, written in 1943 by Antoine de Saint Exupery, the fox tells the little prince, "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye." A distressing Gallup Poll tells us that more than fifty percent of Catholics do not understand the teaching of the Church on the Eucharist. Furthermore, only one third of their number agree with the Church that bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Consecration. For these people, the Real Presence is the Great Absence. Unhappily, too, my reading of the US college students I have worked with suggest that if anything, the Gallup Poll figures might well be conservative. Many Catholic students bring more reverence and awe to the bars in which they drink their beer than to the chapels in which they drink the Precious Blood.

All of this would puzzle our non-Christian friend Mahatma Gandhi. It was he who wrote, "In a world where millions go to bed hungry every night, the only form in which God would dare appear among human beings is food." Perhaps though, in the words of my Irish mother to her young brood of years ago, "Ye all have it much too easy." Yet, one thinks of the university students in Czechoslovakia and draws hope. This was during the period of Communist domination. Secretly they would slip into darkened, damp basements to celebrate the Eucharist with their "outlaw" priest. Were he caught, he would only go to jail for a time. But they would be expelled from the university. Their careers would come to an abrupt halt. Better put, they would have no careers. These young people would answer the Gallup Poll far differently than the unbenighted Catholics who opened our tale. They realized Jesus talks only to those who make the time to listen to Him. Furthermore, when the Teacher said unequivocally, "Do this as a memorial for me," these Czech and Slovakian students understood Him perfectly.

They knew He was not inviting them to debate the subject of Transubstantiation in committees. Rather, they instinctively judged He was telling them, "JUST DO IT!" Indeed, one senses that they concluded that the Master wanted them to become the cup and bread for one another in their daily lives. And the record attests that these young people became precisely that. They must have made the Teacher proud. Like de Saint Exupery's fox, they saw rightly with their hearts. They fully realized that what is essential is invisible to the eye. With Thomas Merton, they realized the way of faith is necessarily obscure, for all Christians drive by night. These persecuted Christians would have enjoyed this insight of Eugene LaVerdiere. "The Eucharist is a proclamation of the Gospel. Just as Christ, our Lord and Saviour, is the Word-made-flesh...the Eucharist is the Gospel-made-sacrament." Remember John, who wrote this Gospel, never speaks of the institution of the Eucharist. He wrote the last of the Gospels. By that time, the practice of the Eucharist was widely observed in the rapidly spreading Christian world. Thus, his information would have been considered superfluous.

Like most everyone else, I was outraged by the imprisonment of journalist Terry Anderson by terrorists in Lebanon from 1985 to 1991. He described a Eucharist celebrated by fellow captive Father Martin Jenco. His congregation in addition to Mr Anderson were three other prisoners. His prose poem about the event is one of the most moving pieces I have ever read. I share sections with you. "Five men huddled close against the night and our oppressors, around a bit of stale bread hoarded from a scanty meal...The priest's voice is calm, his face serene. This is the core of his existence, the reason he was born. Behind him I can see his predecessors in their generations, back to the Catacombs, heads nodding in approval...adding the power of their suffering and faith to his, and ours. The ancient words shake off their dust, and come alive...Once again Christ's promise is fulfilled...The miracle is real." Today you no doubt will want to receive the same Eucharist which was so precious to Mr Anderson and his companions in their Beirut prison. We Catholics are indeed a fortunate people. But do we really realize it? Or was my Irish mother correct? Do we have it much too easy? Perhaps, as we prepare for tomorrow's day of strict fast and abstinence, we should make Julia Wemple's prayer our own. "Lord, help me to eat more heartily at your table and more sparingly at mine." 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Holy Thursday
The Solemn Mass of the Lord's Supper:
The New and Eternal Covenant

Throughout Lent, the first readings have largely focused on the concept of covenant. In the Masses I had, I attempted to develop each covenant in its own right, but at the same time, I did this with an eye to tonight's celebration, as well as the heart of every Mass, the celebration of the New and Eternal Covenant. There was a visible sign for each of the ancient covenants we heard about the first three weeks of Lent. The first covenant was the one made with Noah. In this covenant God said that he would never again destroy mankind with a flood. More than a flood, God would never give up on his people. He will not give up on us as individuals either. The visible sign of the first covenant was the rainbow. When we look at the rainbow, we need to remember that God will never give up on us. We do not have the right to give up on ourselves. The visible sign for the second covenant, the covenant of faith, the covenant made with Abraham, is quite a bit harder for us to understand. This visible sign is circumcision. Now, that is not something that we talk about readily or something that Christians practice anymore for religious reasons. In American Christian society male babies are circumcised for health reasons as recommended by the American Pediatric Association. But why did the Jews and why do the Jews practice circumcision as a sign of the covenant of faith made with Abraham? To understand this we should remember that the ancients believed that life was generated by the man.

They didn't understand the female role in conception other than the womb being the place the man's seed grew. Circumcision was an earthy reminder for the Jews in the very part of the man's body that transferred life, that their lives belong to God. It was the sign of commitment to the covenant God made with Abraham. Circumcision was so important that the Jews who were adamant that no work should take place on the Sabbath, still would perform circumcisions on that day as well as the high holy days. In modern times, during the Second World War, Jews in Germany circumcised their babies even though this could mean a death sentence for the child if they were caught by the Nazis. Their adherence to the faith of Abraham was infinitely more important that their physical lives. Circumcision is a visible sign by which the Jewish people say, "We are the people of Abraham. We are the people of God's covenant.? The third covenant is the covenant of the law made with Moses. The visible sign of this covenant was the tablets of the Ten Commandments. This visible sign was treated with reverence. An ark or carrying vessel was built to house the tablets, the Ark of the Covenant. When the Temple was built, the tablets were solemn installed in the Holy of Holies.

These tablets were never seen as being God, but as representing God's presence in the law. On Holy Thursday, Jesus Christ instituted the New and Eternal Covenant. The covenant itself was that God would deliver his people from the ravages of sin. The people would no longer be condemned to eternal death. Death would be defeated by death itself. Jesus would sacrifice himself to the will of the Father, offer himself as a reparation for the sins of mankind. This sacrifice would restore eternal life to mankind. This would be the new covenant, a covenant infinitely greater than those made with Noah, Abraham and Moses. It is the eternal covenant, the covenant of eternal life. It is the covenant of Blood. Life is restored through the Blood of Christ. Like the first three covenants, there is a visible sign of the New and Eternal Covenant. That visible sign is the Eucharist. At the Last Supper the Eucharist was given to us as the sign that there is a new and eternal relationship to God through the Blood of Christ. The first three covenants were made once. The covenant of the Eucharist is renewed every time Mass is celebrated. The fathers of the ancient Church wrote that every Mass is another victory in the battle of the Kingdom of God against evil. Every one of us has a share in the New and Eternal Covenant of the Blood of Christ every time we receive communion.

What is this covenant really about, this covenant of the Blood of Christ? It is about evil, and slavery to sin. It is about darkness, and the desire for light. It is about life, and the desire for more than physical life. It is about heaven and the triumph of the spiritual. During these last five years, Pope Francis has asked us to look first to those on the fringes of society. He tells us to look to the poor, to the homeless, to those disenfranchised in any way. He directs us to consider the life of Christ, consider who the people were to whom Jesus directed his energy: the poor, the sick, sinners like the tax collectors and prostitutes. He has said that it is better for the Church to be messy than for it to ignore the least of the Lord's people. A good analogy of this is seen in the Pope's inviting the homeless of Rome to view the Sistine Chapel. Perhaps some or even all of these people carried with them the dirt and smells of the streets and of not being able to bathe regularly or perhaps at all. "Well,? Pope Francis would say, "It is better that the Sistine Chapel be messy after their visit then they should be excluded from seeing it.? It is better that the Church should be messy and totally inclusive than any of God's people should be excluded from the heart of the faith.

Pope Francis reminds us that when we bring God's kindness and love to others, we liberate them from darkness. And their light liberates us. You know, we may think that we are enlightened, but when we reach out to others, we realize that we are the ones who are benefitting the most from our ministry. The very light of Christ we bring them glows through them and enlightens us. You would be hard pressed to meet Christian missionaries who will not agree that they have received more than they have given. Recently, I was speaking to a young doctor who spends a week every year caring for people in a clinic high in the mountains of Haiti. She goes for the people, and she goes because she needs to experience Christ in these people. This is the work of the Christian We are in the business of eliminating the darkness, in others and in ourselves. How are we to do this? We are to do this by serving others. The people whose feet we wash tonight represent all people, not just of the parish but of the world. It is a symbolic act, this washing of feet, but there is nothing symbolic about the mandate of Holy Thursday: "What you have seen me do, you are to do.? Mandatum. There is nothing symbolic about the actions of Christians which bring light to the world. When we do this, when we reach out to others, particularly the least of His people, we are participating in the New and Eternal Covenant, the covenant of life, the covenant of love, the covenant sealed with the Blood of Christ.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Holy Thursday
A Girl Gives her Life Jesus (March 29, 2018)

Bottom line: If an eleven year old girl can risk her life for Jesus, can we not find time tonight and this coming year to pray before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament?
This homily will be mainly in English with a summary in Spanish. El Obispo Sheen - que era el Billy Graham de los Catolicos - cuenta como una niña china lo inspiró. Cuando los comunistas arrojaron Hostias en el piso, ella volvió por 32 noches para adorar y consumir el Cuerpo de Cristo. Al final dio su vida. Si una niña de 11 años puede arriesgarse la vida por Jesus, ¿no podemos encontrar tiempo para rezar ante Jesus en el Santismo? All of you have heard of Billy Graham's death. The closest we Catholics had was Bishop Fulton Sheen. A few months before he died in 1979, Bishop Sheen gave a television interview. The reporter asked, ?Your Excellency, you have inspired millions. Who inspired you? Was it the pope?? Bishop Sheen responded that it was not the pope or a cardinal or another bishop or even a priest or nun.

It was an eleven-year-old girl. He explained that when the communists took over China in the late forties, they imprisoned a priest in his own rectory. Looking through the window, he saw a soldier enter the church and break open the tabernacle, scattering the Blessed Sacrament on the floor. The priest knew the exact number of hosts: thirty-two. Unnoticed by the soldiers, a young girl had been praying in the back of the church and she hid when they came in. That night the girl returned and spent an hour in prayer. She then entered the sanctuary, knelt and bent over to take one of the hosts on her tongue. The girl came back each night, spent an hour in prayer and received Jesus by picking up a sacred host with her tongue. The thirty-second night, after consuming the final host, she made an accidental sound, awakening a soldier. He ran after her and when he caught her, he struck her with his rifle butt. The noise woke the priest ? but too late. From his house, he saw the girl die. Bishop Sheen said that when he heard about this, it inspired him so much that he made a promise that he would spend one hour each day before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He always said that the power of his priesthood came from the holy hour. Tonight, brothers and sisters, we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist. At the end of the Mass we will have a procession inside the church to adore our Savior. I invite you to spend some time with Jesus. If an eleven year old girl can risk her life for Jesus, can we not find time tonight and this coming year to pray before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? From him comes our strength. Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Holy Thursday

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Holy Thursday

There are very few occasions in the Roman Missal when the rubrics give an instruction as to what must be preached. In fact, I think Maundy Thursday is the only occasion when such an instruction is given. It says: 'The homily should explain the principal mysteries which are commemorated in this mass: the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood and Christ's commandment to love.? Well if you've got all night?! This evening we celebrate first and foremost the institution of the Eucharist, the Last Supper of the Lord which took place immediately before his passion, death and resurrection. In this meal Christ was in an extraordinary way able to sum up all that was about to happen and leave it with us ever after as a constant reminder and link with those wonderful events. We know that Christ ate numerous meals with his disciples and was often present as an honoured guest in many great households for formal meals at which local worthies could show off their interesting guest and get the opportunity to quiz Jesus about his teaching. These various meals were all a lead up to that one most important meal of all that took place in the Upper Room the night before he died for us. At that Last Supper Jesus offered his Apostles the bread and the wine saying that these were his body and blood; in this way he gave the Church a powerful sacrament which would represent the sacrifice that he was about to make and become for us the spiritual food that would sustain us as we live out the Christian life. In the mass we are united with Jesus in a most powerful way possible this side of eternity; those events of his death and resurrection are made present on our altar so that we can share his body and blood in the most intimate communion there ever could be.

The watchword for us Catholics down through the centuries, especially in times of persecution, has always been: It's the mass that matters. In this simple phrase we hold the very core of our faith. If you are a Catholic you go to mass; you reverence the Eucharist, and you know that through sharing in it your faith is strengthened and sustained. We take those words of Jesus very seriously: Do this in memory of me. And every time we celebrate the Eucharist we bring him and his message of love not only to mind but also made present on the altar; his body and blood hidden under the form of bread and wine. The Eucharist is then at the very heart of our worship of the one, true God. This deep and powerful connection that we have with Our Lord in the mass helps us to keep true to everything he taught us, it helps us to keep faith with him and to constantly rededicate our lives as his present-day disciples. We reverence the Eucharist because we believe that in the Eucharist Christ is present among us in the most powerful way imaginable. And we who are Priests hold the Eucharist especially close to our hearts because it is our privilege and duty to preside at it day by day, week by week, month by month. And together with our special ministers we have the great honour of distributing the Eucharist to those who approach the altar to receive the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. At the Last Supper, Jesus showed his disciples how to exercise their ministry.

He put on an apron and went around and washed their feet. He took on the role of the lowest servant in a household and carried out this task of washing feet with great humility and love. In this way he provides us with the model for all Christian ministry and shows us that the greatest among us is the one who serves. Imperfect though our lives might be, we are not afraid to follow his example, because by doing so we are sure that we will learn to become more like him. Getting down on our knees before others and performing for them the most basic of tasks, just as Our Lord did, we know will do us the greatest possible good. Conversely, by humbly baring our feet and letting someone else wash them will also unite us with Christ just as it did for the Apostles in the Upper Room. Receiving care graciously from others is just as edifying as giving care to others. We would do well to remember this and refrain from rejecting those who wish to serve us. But this evening, as only a few can actually participate in the washing of feet, the rest of us, in witnessing our brothers and sisters literally following Christ's command, are also drawn into this greatest of all mysteries.

Whatever our role is, tonight in this mass we more deeply take to ourselves Christ's command to love one another. We learn from him who is the greatest of all educators; who teaches us by example that there is nothing higher than to give loving and humble service to our brothers and sisters in the human family. There is another task that we perform tonight; we receive the Holy Oils blessed by the Archbishop yesterday in the Cathedral. These oils are used throughout the year in the various steps of Christian Initiation and in the Sacrament of the Sick. These Holy Oils have their special role in opening the way to salvation through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation and in the healing of the sick. They remind us of the tremendous work of teaching the young and caring for the sick that is carried out in every parish. These ministries of teaching and caring are in themselves a wonderful expression of Christ's great mandate to love one another. This work goes on continually in this parish; may it ever flourish and cause our community of faith to be an ever more perfect sign of Christ's love for the world! This is where the word Maundy comes from. It is a direct translation from the Latin word 'mandatum' and it refers to Christ's mandate or law that we should love one another. Here we arrive at the very heart of the Christian faith: love. The universe itself was created as a result of the overflowing love the members of the Trinity have for each other. The gift of free will is the result of the desire of God that we should have a completely free choice whether to love him or not. The salvation Christ won for us is too is a profound act of love and forgiveness. And from all these things, we see that what Christ wants from us above everything else is love. Love and nothing more. Love in return for love. Love which will draw us inevitably into eternal life.

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