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Pope Francis Will Celebrate Holy Thursday Mass in Prison, Washing the Feet of Jesus

By Deacon Keith Fournier
March 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

For those paying close attention to these early days of the pontificate of Pope Francis, this should come as no surprise. There is a saying attributed to St Francis of Assisi.  Whether he actually said it or not matters little. It expresses the heart of his charism, "I preach the Gospel at all times and sometimes I use words." St. Francis became a word from the Lord through the witness of his life. It seems Pope Francis is following in his footsteps.

VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - On March 21, 2013, theVatican issued the following notice: "On Holy Thursday, 28 March, the Holy Father Francis will celebrate the Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in the morning and then, at 5:30pm in the afternoon, will go to celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Casal del Marmo youth detention center instead of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, where it had been traditionally held in past years."

It continued, "The Mass of the Lord's Supper is characterized by the announcement of the commandment of love and the gesture of washing the feet. In his ministry as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio used to celebrate the Mass in a prison or hospital or hospice for the poor and marginalized. With this celebration at Casal del Marmo, Pope Francis will continue his custom, which is characterized by its humble context. The other Holy Week celebrations will be held according to tradition, as established in a notification by the Office of Liturgical Celebrations."

For those paying close attention to these early days of the pontificate of Pope Francis, this should come as no surprise. There is a saying attributed to St Francis of Assisi.  Whether he actually said it or not matters little. It expresses the heart of his charism, "I preach the Gospel at all times and sometimes I use words." St. Francis became a word from the Lord through the witness of his life. 
 
Chapter 11 of the Legenda Maior, the masterful work of Bonaventure of Bagnoregio on the life of Francis of Assisi, is entitled "The Understanding of Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy" It explains what Bonaventure called the "spirit of prophecy" in the life of Francis of Assisi. He was a "word walking". He lived the Christian life and vocation in a manner that is intended - through example- to invite others to follow the same pattern. It seems his namesake, the 265th successor of Peter, Pope Francis, is following in his footsteps.

Whenever I read the 25th chapter of Matthews Gospel  I am drawn to my knees by the words of Jesus,  "I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you gave me clothing; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison, and you visited me." (Matt. 25: 31-46)

How well I understand the question posed by his stunned disciples, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs." (Matthew 25.35-36) It was an extraordinary statement! However, as I have aged I have come to see the many faces of poverty and I am just beginning to learn to recognize the face of Jesus revealed in them all. Pope Francis will become one of my teachers.

Have you ever considered the significance of the fact that the same Jesus who promised to be with us always also told us that the poor would be with us always? That is because they are connected. Indeed, in a sense, they are one and the same - in a way that is revealed with the eyes of living faith. "The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me" (Jesus, Matthew 26:11) "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Jesus, Matthew 28:20)

The face of Jesus is found in the face of the poor, for those with eyes to see. The word of Jesus is spoken through the poor, for those who cultivate the ears to hear Him. The cry of Jesus is heard in the cry of the poor, at least for those who stop to listen. That is the deeper meaning behind this sobering scene recounting the last judgment recorded by the Evangelist Matthew in the 25th Chapter of his Gospel:

"Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'"

Those who love the poor - like Jesus loved the poor- are given as a gift and instruction manual for the rest of us. They are a sign of the kingdom, making it present in their wake. We have a Pope named Francis who is teaching us in this visit to the Jail on Holy Thursday. As he washes the feet of those prisoners, he washes the feet of Jesus. 

Pope St Leo the Great once wrote of Jesus: "He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he, who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself."

God became the least of these. Will we? Will we allow the truth revealed in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ to become our pattern for daily living? Will we cooperate with the grace of conversion and be emptied of ourselves for others? We are invited to experience this mystery of faith and to make it real during this Lent.

When we empty ourselves, He comes and takes up His residence within us. Then, we can become His arms, embracing the world; His legs, still walking its dusty streets; and His Heart, still beating with the Divine Compassion manifested in Jesus Christ, the One who became the least of these in order to bring all of us into the full communion of Love.

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